Adventures in hiking…

Desert

San Bernardino Mountains – Cedar Springs Trail

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Where the pavement ends, the fun begins.

 

U.S.D.A. Identifier: Cedar Springs Trail-4E13

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

Distance as hiked: 6 miles

Approximate elevation: Trailhead-5,400ft., Top of trail- 6,800ft.

Temps:50-57 degrees

Difficulty: moderate

The Mountain Fire in the summer of 2013 devasted a large area of the southern San Bernardino Mountains.  Located near Mountain Center and Idyllwild, Ca. the fire eventually spread to over 25,000 acres and burned in steep, difficult terrain.  I don’t know of any deaths, but unfortunately homes were destroyed.   Some info and pics here:  http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=81677

The fire affected an approximate 10 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail and a half-dozen trails throughout the San Jacinto Forest area.  PCT hikers in 2014 and again in 2015 will have to detour onto Hwy 74 before getting back on the trail near Idyllwild.  It also destroyed one of our favorite trails – Spitler Peak.

We would find a trail just south of the burn perimeter named Cedar Springs Trail. It’s located off of Hwy 74, about two miles from the junction with Hwy 371 and four miles south of Lake Hemet.   There is a trail marker along the highway and a paved road takes you up and over a ridge several miles to the trailhead.  The trail is located on private land, named Camp Scherman – a 700 acre camp owned by the Girl Scouts of Orange County.   The pavement  ends about 100 yards past the trailhead and parking is very limited, you basically have to angle your vehicle on the inclined hill.

The path starts out on a fire road and makes its way into a wooded area through a gate.  There are several gates on this hike; not sure why but suspect there are horses or maybe some free range cattle.  We paralleled a dry creek bed and the trail becomes a rocky, rutted path that appears to be a dry creek.   The oak trees are the dominant tree and offer nice shade.  We came up to a picnic area consisting of two tables near a meadow.  To the right, the trees and shrubs are concentrated in a riparian area.  We noticed a ribbon of a stream about 25 yards off-trail.   Ahead was an ominous sign that made us giggle.

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An ominous sign

Up until this point, it was a leisurely walkabout along a fire road and a riparian path through the woods.  Now, we would hit some switchbacks and begin a gradual climb.  The views usually get better when you have switchbacks.  If nothing else, the perspective changes.  The hillside was covered with young yucca plants and skeletons of the old ones.  It’s an interesting plant and can live for many years.  I suspect the average life of this variety is less than ten years.  Some species live to be over a hundred.

We rounded a switchback and were confronted with a mixed breed Rottweiler off-leash who was barking angrily at us.  I got in front of my wife and held out my poles in case he charged.  Three women were about 50 ft. behind and his owner tried to get him to stop advancing and barking at us, but he wasn’t very obedient.  Eventually, she got him under control and we passed.  I love animals, but some breeds are a bit intimidating on the trail.   I reigned in my frustration over the incident and hiked on.

As we hit a summit and intersection with the PCT, we also saw some other signs which were disappointing.

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Sign at the junction of Cedar Springs Trail and the PCT. Aww man!

Oh well, we will just hang a right and go south on the PCT for a bit.

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We removed the graffiti sticker on the PCT sign.

The wind picked up as we trekked south and eventually we found an area sheltered from the wind looking down into the desert.

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View from the PCT into Anza-Borrego Desert.

As we enjoyed the solitude and had our lunch with some hot tea, I noticed someone passing about 30 ft. behind us moving fairly quickly.  I don’t believe he saw us because we were down behind some rocks.    After lunch, we hit the trail for our return trip.   Within a few minutes, we ran into the guy who passed us.  He looked a bit frazzled and stressed.   He had a distinct British accent and mentioned that he had been lost for several hours just south of here and was supposed to meet his wife at a restaurant nearby.  I assured him that he was on the PCT heading back in the right direction.  This gentleman was out alone, no map, no backpack, a GPS with a dead battery and a 20 oz. bottle of juice.   We made sure he was ok and followed behind him.  He was moving quickly and eventually disappeared.

Our descent was uneventful as I reflected back on another enjoyable day on the trail.  While the beautiful Sierras are the ultimate eye-candy, the short hikes on the PCT near our home are a good prescription for the office cubicle doldrums.

Lessons Learned:

– When hiking alone, pack the 10 hiking essentials and always let someone know where you are hiking.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Essentials

– When day hiking, I carry a little extra water and snacks in case we run into a lost hiker.

– If you get lost, take a break, calm down and try to get reoriented.

– If you are hopelessly lost, do not get off the path.  Stay put, eventually you will be found.

Gear we use:

Garmin Foretrex 401 Waterproof Hiking GPS

SPOT-3O Spot Gen3 GPS Satellite Messenger

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A yucca looking down from the top of the stalk

 


Kidnapped on the Trail

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…. He found the 550 para-cord in my backpack and used it to bind our hands behind our backs and to the trunk of a large manzanita bush.  We were beyond scared and prayed for deliverance knowing that when “el jefe” returned, we would be on our way south of the border to be held for ransom, or worse.  Dusk was coming quickly as I made eye contact with my wife and gave her a wink.

The Espinosa Trail is a well-known trek for locals in the greater San Diego area.  The goal is normally Corte Madera Mountain, a distinct rock formation on a plateau in the southern Cleveland National Forest.  I actually found the hike in our local guidebook while looking for something closer to home.  Normally, we would head north toward the San Bernardino Mountains.  Today would be a bit different with views of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

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View from the Espinosa Trail looking north.

We loaded up our packs with the typical days’ fare of 2-3 liters of water, a lunch and some extra snacks.  With the microclimate in this area the temperatures can vary 40-50 degrees within 60 miles, so we took our layers of clothing.

Making our way out on the I-8 freeway, we passed El Cajon and a handful of smaller communities in eastern SD county.  Zipping by the exit for Mt. Laguna, we noticed a Border Patrol checkpoint on the eastbound side.  The exit to the Corte Madera Mtn trailhead came up and we headed south toward the small town of Campo.  It’s well-known for the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  The southern terminus of the PCT is very close to the Mexican-U.S. border.  We turned down another road with a gravel washboard for a surface.  It bounced the heck out of us until we came up on a military installation (Navy SEAL training base) behind a barb-wired topped fence.  Of special note, we were behind a Border Patrol SUV.  Hmm, that is interesting, but we are near the border.  We also noticed that this road led to an Off-Highway-Vehicle (OHV) recreation area and noticed quite a few trucks pulling Jeeps and hauling dirt bikes.  The road changed to a mostly one-lane black top as we drove the 4 miles to the trailhead.

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The trailhead wasn’t labeled, but the gate to the private road was noted in the trail guidebook.  There was a USDA placard describing how this area is subject to closure due to the mating season of the raptors.   Like many trails, this one was diverse.  Beginning as a dirt road, we exited at a handmade trail sign sitting on top of a trash can.  “Espinosa Trail”, yes that’s the way.  Starting our 1,800 ft. climb we emerged into a nondescript area of chaparral and scrub.  Apparently, the Espinosa Creek was nearby, but there was no evidence of water.  We could see a fire tower in the distance, one of the last remaining ones in the county.  Emerging on a jeep trail, we took a right and proceeded up a winding dirt road to the next trail junction.  Noticed our second set of hikers today, but this would be a fairly uncrowded trail.  To the north was Hill 4588, as the Forest Service calls it on their maps.  Topped with Coulter pines, it was our first objective.  The trail narrowed and began a steep ascent.  Scrambling over rocks, this became the hardest part of the hike.  My wife – as nimble as a billy-goat going uphill,  steadily traversed the path.  I huffed and puffed while taking an occasional drink from my hydration pack.

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The cleft of a rock…

The view from Hill 4588 was nice as we could see for miles in every direction.  The trail was full of those senseless up-downs (SUDS) and we finally leveled out on a plateau.  Now, we could see the cliff, a notable 300 ft. drop into the canyon below.  We stopped, found a trail log and had our late lunch.  The view was amazing.  So this was Corte Madera!  The Pacific to the west, Mexico to the south and the rest of Cleveland National Forest to our north.  It was getting late as the days were getting short.  I estimated that we had less than two hours of daylight left.  We set a decent pace as our hiking poles helped us to skirt down the hill, the sun setting quickly behind the mountain.  We entered the last leg near the jeep road and I was looking forward to a hot shower to knock of the trail dust.

They came out of the bushes to our right and shouted something unrecognizable in spanish.  There were four of them, two with guns drawn.  Shocked, we dropped our hiking poles and raised our hands.  In broken english one of them pointed to the woods and said something like “go to there”. They herded us off the path about 50 yards or so into the woods.

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Next – Kidnapped on the Trail – Part II – Time for a Decision

I recommend these hiking poles.  They are lightweight and fairly sturdy.  Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles, Ano Blue

We use this Nikon camera forour treks: Nikon D3300 DX-format DSLR Kit w/ 18-55mm DX VR II & 55-200mm DX VR II Zoom Lenses and Case


Grand Canyon – South Kaibab Trail

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Near Mather Point, South Rim

A winter hiking trip to the Grand Canyon has been on my bucket list for some time.  If you can hit it during mild weather, this year-round national park offers some beautiful scenery with fewer people than summer.

Last year on a return trip from visiting family back east, we carved out a couple of days to stop by here.  However, temperatures around 0 deg F near Williams, Az. knocked out the hope of hiking as the water froze the RV pump.

This year we hit it at the right time.  A winter storm had passed through before Christmas  which we ran into while eastbound.  During this visit, the temps were forecast to be in the 50’s during the day and high teens at night at our campground.  Trailer village, one of the commercially run sites within the park was fairly empty and ended up being a nice place to stay.

The visitor center of Grand Canyon National Park is a busy place, but we needed to find out the trail conditions for our hike the next day.  We planned for the South Kaibab, which was open and other than some ice near the top, showed good conditions.

The shuttle service along the South Rim is an awesome way to get around.  We made our way to Mather Point to watch the sunset and walked along the Rim Trail.  This is where most of the tourists hang out.  It was a leisurely walk with amazing views.  We talked about our hike the next day and noticed some lenticular clouds along the North Rim.

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Lenticular clouds along the North Rim

We’ve come to learn about cloud types and this type meant one thing – wind is coming.   Oh well, as long as it wasn’t like the hurricane force winds we encountered in Anza-Borrego last spring.

As the sun went down, the temperature dropped dramatically.  A stiff breeze brought the wind chill to around freezing.  We made our way back to a warm RV and made a nice pot of coffee.  Oh well, so much for roughing it.

By morning, the winds were gusty but overall a decent weather day.    We made our way to the shuttle and missed it.  While waiting for the next one, the sun made its way up, creeping over the trees and creating a sliver of sunlight.  We stood in the light and amazingly it was a few degrees warmer.

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Off the shuttle. Where are the people?

Catching the shuttle to the South Kaibab is fairly easy; they don’t allow cars there in the winter.  As we exited the warmth of the bus at the trailhead, it became obvious why we were the only ones that got off.  The wind was gusting 35-40mph and it was chilly.   We bundled up, found the trailhead and started down.  It starts out at 7,200 ft. and gets a bit of snow.  The dust swirled from every direction and we put our bandanas on to keep it out of our mouths and noses.  Within a few minutes, the only exposed skin was the area between our sunglasses and bandanas.

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Trying not to get blown off the trail.

There was spotty ice on the trail and we slowly made our way down.  The wind was buffeting my wife as we descended.  I hoped for a respite from the wind and within 5 minutes, we reached a protected area of the trail and adjusted our packs and clothing.  The wind and subfreezing temps were going to make this a challenging hike.  I estimated that it would warm as we went down and the winds should hopefully let up some.

The switchbacks near the top are frequent and fairly steep, but this is a well maintained and frequently traveled trail.  Soon, we would be passed by a small pack mule train.  While on the John Muir Trail last year, we saw over a dozen mule trains and it was usually easy to step aside and let them by.  Today, we backed up against the wall and the mules passed inches away.  The riders were friendly as they guided their train down a steep stair step that had been carved out of the canyon.

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We just can’t get away from the pack-trains.

We made our way down to Ooh-Ah Point which was appropriately named.

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Not that you could tell, but that sign reads “Ooh-Aah Point”

The next stop was Cedar Ridge and this one had a composting toilet-nice!    We started seeing more people and got back on the trail because it was still fairly cold here.  The wind never really let up on this hike.

The colors are really amazing in this area.  As the sun moves across the horizon, the canyon walls seem to change various hues.   We also noticed how short the daylight was and determined that while we could probably handle the physical part of a hike to the river below, we would run out of light.  The thought of trudging up as the temps dropped helped us to decide to stop at Skeleton Point.  Some trail riders came up as we were taking a break and they looked tired.  Must have been a rough night down there and the wind was taking its toll on them.

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As I glanced up the return path, dust devils were sporadically dancing across the trail and off the cliffs.  The hike back up was different in that it was 3 miles of uphill.  This would be a tough one in the summer as the elevation change is roughly 700 ft. per mile.  No water on this trail, so bring enough for an all day hike.  Just because it was cool doesn’t mean you need less.  We went through just over 2 liters each.

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The wind never really let up on this hike.  Admittedly, it was the windiest, dustiest hike we’ve been on.  Still, it was awesome and is worth the visit.  Next time, we may do Bright Angel and go all the way across.

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Dressed like a bandito on the South Kaibab Trail.


Anza Borrego – Calcite Mine and a Slot Canyon

Rock Formation - Calcite Mine

A desert landscape is one of the most beautiful sights that one will ever see.  The openness and feeling of adventure while backpacking the vast Colorado Desert  can be an amazing experience.  Wait a minute, Colorado Desert?  I thought you were talking about Anza-Borrego!  Actually, the Colorado Desert is part of the larger Sonoran Desert – over 7 million acres with some of the most unique plant and animal life ever.  Anza-Borrego is the name given to the state park that encompasses 3 California counties and is the second largest state park in the U.S.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colorado_Desert, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anza-Borrego_Desert_State_Park)

In our opinion, the best time to hike here is during wildflower blooms in the spring.  However,  a winter day hike provides mild temps and relatively stable weather.  Winter is the rainy season is southern California, so you have to keep an eye out on the forecast to avoid dangerous flash flood conditions.   If you ever have the opportunity to hike near the palm oasis at the state park headquarters, you will see the results of a previous flash flood.  Palms over 4 feet wide were uprooted and washed away, boulders the size of cars were rolled around and thoughts of the great flood mentioned in the book of Genesis came to mind.

On this day, we would venture out approximately 20 miles east of the town of Borrego Springs on SR-22 to hike the Calcite Mine Trail.  We parked on the north side of SR-22  and walked to the trailhead that was about 100 yds. away.  You can actually park most vehicles in a dirt area by the trailhead.  At times, a popular area for jeeps and dirtbikes, the road up to the old mine is a challenge for a good driver in an off-road vehicle.  We would only see one vehicle coming down from the mine.

calcite mine trail - looking into anza borrego

The landscape here was so different from the area around Coyote Mountain to the west; that’s one of the things that we love about this desert.  The sandstone cliffs appear to be carved out of the ground by a majestic artist.  As the sun shifts and passes in and out of the clouds, the colors constantly change.  The contrast of the land with the sky and Salton Sea to the east present a palette for the amateur artist.

The Calcite Mine Trail, is an approximate 4 miles round trip.  It is an easy-moderate hike up the jeep trail and the elevation gain is around 500 ft.  Not much shade here, so hope for a cloudy day, bring lots of water, sunscreen and a nice hat.  As we made our way up the rocky road/trail, we scrambled up the side to peer down into one of many slot canyons.  Oh yeah, we just gotta check that out on the way down!

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If you’re thinking that the calcite mine is intact, you will be disappointed.  Filled in long ago, there are barely traces that it even existed.  There are shards and chunks of calcite, but like most other parks it is illegal to collect souvenirs.  An interesting mineral, it was actually used in Norden bombsight manufactured during WWII.  It’s quite possible that the bombsight used on the Enola Gay had calcite from this mine.  We would have lunch near the old mine marker, on a sandstone outcropping.  As is our new tradition, we would have hot tea.

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Having fun on the sandstone cliffs.

We enjoyed the solitude and the panoramic views from our lunch spot and began our way down to the slot canyon.  It was exciting to enter the canyon as the sandstone walls rose to over 75 ft.  Mary mentioned that this was not a good place to be during an earthquake.  Within a week of hiking this canyon, a 4.5 quake would hit near Anza, about 15-20 miles from here.  I checked the skies for signs of rain.  A storm to our north could bring flash floods that would make our fate like the dinosaurs of old.

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Mary really enjoyed navigating the narrow canyon.

We made our way down, the walls closing in and the path as little as several inches wide.  It was fun and one of the most unique experiences to date.  We would stop to examine the cliffs and formations carved from repeated water flows.  Sometimes, we would have to jump 5 feet or so to the next level.

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I was trying not to get my foot stuck. The slot canyons are not for the claustrophobic.

Eventually, we emerged from the slot canyon into Palm Wash, one of many that had its’ own ecosystem.  Other than birds, we would see mostly insects, beetles and huge colonies of ants.  One ant colony was carrying the blossoms from an adjacent bush to their queen.   Even in this sparse land, God sees fit for his creatures to survive.  We would encounter a few motorcyclists on their way back from exploring the nearby trails.

Slot Canyon - Calcite Mine Trail

This slot canyon opens up into a wash that goes on for miles.

As often is the case, I missed the turnoff if there even was one.  My GPS indicated that we were diverging from our original track to the mine.  A nearby cell tower was a good reference that indicated we were east of our goal.  We cut over a hill and headed west as the sun rapidly sank low in the horizon.  We were pushing 10 miles at this point, but the waypoint on my GPS indicated we were getting closer.  In my rush this morning, I didn’t print out a local map.  Duhh!   We were ok though, on day hikes, we tend to carry more than we need and are usually prepared in case we have to spend a night out.

The walkabout ended uneventfully and we chalked up another successful day in the wilderness.  I encourage you to get out my friends – regardless of where you live.  There is so much to see….


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.


Anza-Borrego Desert – A Real Oasis

Blacktailed Jackrabbit off the Palm Canyon Trail.

Type of trail: Out and back.

Composition: sand, decomposed granite, scree.

Distance as hiked: 3.1 miles

Approximate elevation gain: 600 ft.

Temps: 75-85 deg

The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park spreads out across three counties and is the largest state park in California.  In fact, the second largest in the U.S. after Adirondack Park in New York.  It was actually named after a Spanish explorer Juan Batista de Anza and Borrego meaning “bighorn sheep”. [¹]  Like much of the golden state, the Anza-Borrego is a contrast in landscape and an opportunity for solitude. Part of the vast Colorado Desert, it is home to so much flora with animal life that is often hidden to the casual observer.

My favorite route to Borrego from north county San Diego is up the 15, skirting Palomar Mtn on the 76 and up the 79. The drive one of transition as you leave the coastal desert, pass through orange groves, around the beauty of Pala and Pauma Indian reservations and the high arid landscape flanking the west side of Julian.  Early morning is the best time for the drive as the sun starts to burn off the marine layers and clouds blanketing the Palomar range. Yeah, part of the fun is getting there.

Having never seen an oasis, I headed toward the park headquarters and made my way to the campground where the trailhead to Palm Canyon Oasis began.  Little did I realize that there was an $8 day use fee to park.  Lesson learned, next time park at the visitor center and walk the extra mile on a sidewalk with interpretive signs about the area.  You can also take a side-path that is full of wildlife.

The trail meanders through a canyon with evidence of a catastrophic flash flood that washed away huge palms and displaced massive boulders.  Farther up, trickles of water are the first evidence of the oasis.  Soon, the trickle turns into a stream with small cascades.  The wildlife is drawn to this area in the morning and after sunset.  Frequent this area and you are likely to see small herds of Bighorn Sheep.

The trail is the most popular in Borrego, so I recommend going during the week if possible.  I know, most of you work for a living but Sat/Sun is the busiest time on this one and the number of people just takes away from the experience.  Nevertheless, it’s a trip worth taking.

1. Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anza-Borrego_Desert_State_Park


Hummingbird, Stars and Hedwig

Part II of the saga in the Borrego Desert.

After our incident on the mountain, our steps were a bit more deliberate.  At this point, we were both tiring from the constant shifting and sliding while stabilizing with the hiking poles.  Remember the old Nordic Track ski machines?  Yep, it was like that.  We descended to an area with a ledge and took a break.  I noticed something out of the corner of my eye and then I thought my mind was playing tricks on me.  In the bush about 30 ft. away was a blinking red light.  I thought about the burning bush but then the light moved.  No, the light flew!  In fact, it flew right at me and I remember saying Woah!

The light landed on another bush and then we saw what it really was.  A hummingbird?  The sun was setting and reflected off the bird’s chest which was an iridescent pink-red.  It shined like a light and appeared to blink as the bird moved about.  We must have been near a nest, because the aggressive little thing swooped at my head several times.  I thought about using my hiking pole as a bat, but he backed off and started blinking on another bush.  The sun and this bird’s reflective feathers created a phenomenon that was amazing.

We came out on the desert floor about a 1/2 mile from the car.  The sun was low and we would make it back in time to see it sink behind the San Ysidro Mts.  After dumping a good portion of the Borrego desert out of our boots, we spread the blanket out and watched as the sky changed colors from Carolina blue to various hues of pink, orange and blue.  Venus and I think Mars were the first objects in view and the rest of the stars came out of hiding ever so gradually.  The warm breeze turned cooler and the surroundings became even more tranquil.

Sunset behind the San Ysidro Mts.

After a few pics, we started to play around with some light photography.  I’m not very good at it, but Mary who is always willing to go along with my silliness, did a few poses like this one:

When you are miles from the nearest town, the night sky is so incredible.   To me it reveals the evidence of a creator.   His intelligent design never ceases to amaze me.  I love the book of Psalm and in 136 it says:  “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures forever.” In verse 9 it continues-“the moon and stars to govern the night; His love endures forever.”  We could have stayed on that blanket longer, but the 75 mile drive back home over winding roads convinced us otherwise.  We packed up and started down the jeep trail and passed a lone mini-camper on the side.  Hmm, that would be cool to do that sometime.  I imagine the sunrise is a sight to see.  The dirt road out was a bumpy one complete with an occasional boulder.  It was darker than dark so we proceeded slowly.

desert light

We came out on the blacktop, picked up speed and noticed that the critters in the desert  really move around at night, especially the rodents.  A few crossed in front of us and I made a comment – something like, “where there are mice, there are owls.”   Another one darted out and I lifted my foot off the accelerator to avoid hitting him.  Mary was texting our daughter  about our day and within 30 seconds, the left side of the windshield filled with an enormous white creature.  I heard a scream in the car which added to the excitement.  A huge, white barn owl had swooped down and was chasing a mouse that ran in front of us.  Hedwig narrowly missed colliding with our car.  I thought that I had used up my days’ adrenaline on the slopes of the Coyote Mountains, but that event kept me awake for the remainder of the drive home.

We’ve just got to go back into the desert and find that oasis.

JL


“There’s a rock on my arm”…

Parting of the boulders in Alcoholic Pass.

PART I:  The Anza-Borrego Desert is an amazing place.  I know,  to think of the desert as amazing is weird.  However, this desert in southeastern California is one of the most serene and beautiful places ever.  Anza-Borrego is well-known to southern Californians for its’ desert flower blooms in the early spring. It’s also known for the miles of jeep/RV trails and horseback riding paths.  Last year, we walked 7 miles down a jeep trail with the stiff desert wind filling our nostrils with the aroma of desert lavender.  This time, we were hoping to go higher and  find some elusive Desert Bighorn Sheep.

The intensity of the desert flower blooms in Anza-Borrego depends mainly on the amount of rain.  This past winter was one of less than average rainfall, so research on the Internet indicated that it would be a less than spectacular display.    Today’s goal was the Alcoholic Pass Trail, a path that would hopefully take us higher into the Coyote Mts for some views of the desert floor and Santa Rosa Mountains to the north.  Arriving just in time for lunch, we spread out the blanket in the sand behind the car.  It was almost like the beach except there was no water and lots of desert flora.

Picnic in the desert

The weather in the desert is a bit unpredictable.  In the early spring, it is fairly mild with few thunderstorms and constant winds.  It was a mild 76 degrees.  We hit the trail and the incline was steady with plenty of switchbacks and a lot of lizards.  The perspective of the desert floor changed constantly as we went up.  The barrel and fishhook cacti was colorful today.

Alcoholic Pass Trail register

We broke out into an opening where we signed the trail register.  It was cool to write our thoughts and place them back inside a Vietnam era 7.62mm ammo can which kept the trail register out of the elements.  Up ahead, we could see the Santa Rosa Mountains as we did some light bouldering and dropped down into the canyon.  The vastness and beauty of the surrounding desert was awesome.

The trail ended at this point in a desert wash.  I suggested that we climb an adjacent hill, and we picked our way to the top around various sized rocks and boulders.    The terrain was so rugged that we had only walked 2 miles in a couple of hours.  Normally, we hike twice as far.  As we looked around, we decided to head back west toward a high ridge.   Going off trail is usually an adventure and is where this blog gets interesting.

As we looked to the west, we picked out a reference and started making our way.  The scrambling over rocks was challenging, but the grade was not too steep.  Making our way through a few ravines, I commented about not seeing any footprints or horseshoe tracks.   Mary casually mentioned that there weren’t any footprints because we were on rock.  Sometimes, I just say goofy things.   The late afternoon heat was apparent, but we each had 3 liters of water and were well hydrated.  We stopped frequently to catch our breath as climbing over the boulders on this summit really helped us burn some calories.

Up the summit..

We finally made our way to a high ridge and the terrain flattened out.  I showed Mary a beavertail cactus and mentioned how soft the pads were – kinda like leather.  I had touched one earlier in the day, and thought that it was weird that a cactus didn’t have needles.  Mary, who trusts me almost implicitly, gently stroked the cactus and agreed that it was “velvety”.  We continued up the ridge.  I was in the lead and within a few minutes, she said, “Oww, I have something in my fingers”.  Looking at her hand, I was surprised to see about a dozen or more tiny cactus spines lodged in her fingers.  I tried to get out as many as possible, but the plastic tweezers in the 1st aid kit, were too big. I felt bad for her and learned a valuable lesson – don’t pet the cactus.  Actually, Mary probably learned a valuable lesson too-don’t believe everything John says.

After reaching the ridge, we started to pick our way down the mountain.  No trail here, just an escarpment of boulders and scree (talus) that moved beneath our feet.  900 feet below, the desert floor teased us.  There was no path here, and the grade varied between 30-100%.  A 100% grade is equivalent to about a 45deg angle.  Covered with loose rock, it was not fun or safe, so I tried to avoid the extreme grades on the way down.  So, the off trail adventure turned into a “hiking down the talus slope” adventure.  My wife, who I am now convinced is one of the toughest girls you will ever meet, extended her hiking poles and followed me down the mountain.

Down the talus slope.

We were doing fairly well, and the altimeter on my GPS indicated we had dropped down about 500 ft. but picking the path down was difficult.  Oh, we did see evidence of the Bighorn Sheep.  Lots of “sheep dip” on cliffs and under boulders, but no sheep.  I remember our conversation going down as we joked about how crazy it was for two fifty+ year olds to be doing this and how the sheep were probably laughing at the bipeds slowly making their way down.  Then it happened.  I remember hearing rocks and gravel tumbling down behind me and by the time I turned around, she was on the ground with a dazed look on her face.  Mary had slipped and rolled down the hill about 10 feet.  Her hat and poles were behind her and she asked if her head was bleeding. She told me that other than bumping her head, she felt a bit lightheaded.  I did a quick assessment to ensure she wasn’t seriously injured and then she told me something that we will laugh about for years to come.   In a calm and monotone voice, she said “There’s a rock on my arm”.   I glanced over and yes, there was a 5 lb. slab of granite on her forearm.  Hoping that it wasn’t attached to her arm, I lifted it off and tossed it aside.  We spent the next 10 minutes or so ensuring that she was ok, prayed together and asked the Lord to give us a safe journey and we continued down.   Other than taking it a bit slower, she never complained or whined about anything.  She was a bit upset about the tear in her pants, but I assured her that REI would take anything back.

NEXT: Hummingbird, stars and Hedwig.