Adventures in hiking…

Archive for November, 2012

Boondocking and Levitation Photography in the Anza-Borrego Desert

Sunset in the Anza-Borrego Desert

Bloggers have various reasons they write.  For some, it is to share their thoughts.  For others, it is a release or an outlet for the passion that they may have for a particular activity.  Many are amateur photographers and enjoy posting their work.  This episode is dedicated to a recent overnight camping trip to one of my favorite places and a quirky area of photography that is fun.

Anza-Borrego State Park is about 75 miles from my home in North County San Diego.  From late fall to early spring it provides a variety of activities due to the milder weather.   This mid November day found us heading out to an area a few miles east of Borrego Springs to hike and camp.  One of the neat things about this state park is the freedom to move about and explore, including free camping.  Free? In a state park?  Sure, just stay outside the park campground and you can pretty much pitch a tent or park an RV without paying a dime.

The campsite

While researching camping in Anza-Borrego on the Internet, I stumbled on a blog that discussed “boondocking”.  A strange word, the last I heard anything close were the boondockers – black chukka boots that we had in the Navy.  However, boondocking is basically free camping in remote areas or private property – with the owner’s approval.  At times, there is probably a fine line between legal camping and trespassing, but I’ll only go where it is legit.

So a boondocking we went down Rockhouse Canyon Rd. near Clark Dry Lake.  It’s a nice valley located between two mountains – Coyote Mtn to the west and Villager Mtn to the east.   Rockhouse Canyon is a dirt road located approximately 5 miles east of Borrego Springs on SR22.  You can usually see a cluster of RV’s near the highway as most don’t venture too far down the sandy road.  During the week, you can drive a mile or two and find a secluded campsite.     There is one rule in the state park: you must use a metal container for fires.  However, we noticed there is an abundance of homemade fire rings throughout this area.    We pulled in, looked around and noticed the nearest neighbor was almost a 1/2 mile away.  Yes, this will work.

We would stay in the valley and hike north toward Clark Dry Lake on the jeep road.  Overall, the road was in good shape this time of year.  We ended up walking out on the lake bed, passing Coyote Mtn on the left and came up on a quarry.  It was a good opportunity to have fun with some levitation photos.

If you look up levitation photography, you will find some very creative shots of people seemingly flying or floating through the air.  I’m not very good at it, but it is fun to try and will make for a good laugh a few years from now.  The trick is having someone take the pics or to use a remote.  The auto settings on the DSLR usually work, but if the light is low, you may need to play around with the the shutter speed  and ISO to prevent blurring.  Anyhow, this is just another offshoot from being outdoors.  You see, hiking opens up all sorts of possibilities.  Just use common sense and don’t try levitating in front of a busy highway or railroad track. 🙂

Clark Dry Lake

My wife even got into the fun of levitation.

The real visual treat in the desert occurs after the sun sets.  You just have to experience it.  Tonight, it was nearly a new moon and the stars almost outnumbered the grains of sand on the beach.  Next time, I must bring a telescope.

The stars at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Anza-Borrego…

In my opinion, a campfire is an absolute necessity for a night in the desert and knocked the edge off the rapidly dropping temps.  The forecast called for 43 degrees, but we came prepared with several layers of clothes and some 3 season sleeping bags.  By the morning, it would drop to 33 degrees.   The animals were most active around sunset and we observed many jackrabbits.  Several desert foxes ventured within 20 ft. of the campsite – curious little creatures with bushy tales.  The coyotes began their yelps and would call out from the east and west.  Once in the tent, the silence of the desert lulled us into a gradual sleep as I dreamt of the Bighorn Sheep jumping over Coyote Mountain.

An Anza-Borrego Desert sunrise.

Huddled in our sleeping bags, the dawn began to faintly illuminate the tent.  I scrambled out and encouraged my wife to come out to see the sunrise.  The air was dry and cold, but the sky was beginning to blossom with various hues of light.  After watching an amazing display, we made our hot chocolate and enjoyed a nice, hot breakfast.  My wife’s first car camping experience turned out very well.  I think that she might try it again.  Hopefully, next time it will be a little warmer at night.  I encourage you to try camping in the desert – it will be a real treat.

Up, up and away.


Spitler Peak Trail – Just Listen

Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil.

Distance as hiked: 9.6 miles

Approximate elevation: Trailhead-4,900ft., Top of trail-7,000ft.

Temps: 60-75 deg

Difficulty: moderate to strenuous.

http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/sbnf/recreation/outdoorlearning/recarea/?recid=26509&actid=50

Autumn is a great time to hike in the San Bernardino National Forest.  The cool mornings and eastern winds from the Anza-Borrego make for great trekking weather.    There are many trails that intersect the Pacific Crest Trail in southern California.  Today, I would do a solo hike on Spitler Peak Trail, a 10 mile out-and-back near Lake Hemet.

While I prefer to hike with my wife, occasionally I venture out alone when she is working.  It really is a different experience when one can get away from the hustle and bustle to soak up some nature.    Hiking gives you the opportunity to use all of your senses.  In my previous career, I was an airborne sonar operator in the Navy.  I spent countless hours listening to the underwater sounds and tuned my hearing to pick out the manmade noise from the ambient and biologic sounds.  Often, I would close my eyes to “see” what I was hearing.  On this trek, I focused on the sounds on the trail.

Wind blowing through conifers is distinct sound.  Comforting during the day and eerie at night.   The same wind through deciduous trees like oak has a lower frequency and often sounds like rushing water.    Speaking of water,  it was interesting to see a trickling stream up here this late in the year.  Crossing the gurgling stream several times on the trail, it would eventually disappear underground as it descended into the canyon.

This trail is a gradual ascent and is spread out over 4 miles to the top.  Like so many others, the grade sharply increases for the last mile.  The quail were clucking out their warning calls to each other as I passed by.     The bushes rustled a few feet off the path and I stopped.  After so many miles on the trail, a shuffle in the brush still makes the hair rise on the back of my neck.  No snakes today, hopefully they have settled in for the season.

Nearing the summit, you begin to see blue skies through the foliage.  This particular trail intersects the PCT just north of Spitler Peak.  The trail signs have recently been replaced.

At the top of the trail, you are rewarded with awesome views of the Palm Desert.  To the left, you can see what may be the outer limits of Palm Springs.  To the right, about 40-45 miles away, the Salton Sea.  But, you really notice the silence.  Other than the occasional wisp of the air through the foliage, it is amazingly quiet.  The serene surrounding is part of the reason I put myself through a little pain and sweat.

Sitting on the garnet colored boulders, my head began to clear.  This is a snippet of the backcountry experience, one where you get away from the sounds of civilization.   Even the absence of sound is welcome.  Oh well, enough of this peaceful stuff.  This late in the year, the days are shorter and I knew that I wanted to be back to the car by dusk.

Heading down, my thoughts turned to the sounds.  In my experience, other than the shuffling of my feet, the animals on the trail make most of the noise.  The chatter of the various birds, the occasional hawk and if you really listen, the rare hoot of an owl who is waking up.  The ground squirrels and chipmunks who sometimes fuss as you stroll by.  At the end of the day, the steady symphony of the crickets remind you of the cool night that is soon to arrive.

Next time on the trail, slow down, stop and listen.  What you hear may just surprise you.