Wednesday, September 30, 2009

No Right or Wrong Way


Leaving the house I planned to do a short flat hike with Kahlua. That didn't happen. Instead we went to see if I could find the pathway up to a cross on a hilltop that I've gone to a couple of times this year. The last time I came I was attacked by a swarm of bees and received several stings. For that reason I was reluctant to come back.

High on the hill I'd discovered a trail the last time I was here but I never was able to find where it came down. The bees made sure of that. Today I thought I could find the start of that trail, if nothing else.

At the bottom of the hill there are several options on which way to head up the hill, none of them the obvious "right" way.

We get to this place where the "trail" gets steep and I while I could easily climb it I don't think Kahlua will be able to.

So we scramble down and look for another way to get to where I want to go.

We traverse the side of the hill to determine if there is a feasible way to go up. There isn't.

Since there's not a reasonable way up for Kahlua and I, I decide to go and hike up to a cross stuck in this rocky gully.

As I work my way across the steep, loose rocks on the hillside I wonder why I didn't just go on a nice flat hike. It is something I often wonder.

The gully gets steeper and I wonder if I should go all the way up to the cross. Kahlua wouldn't let me turn back so up we went.

Lying there broken in the rocks is the cross. It is not a wooden cross like others I've seen but plastic. It is cracked and broken, garbage.

It also has someone's initials on it. I decide to carry it down and dispose of it. Thankfully, it's very light and not too unwieldy.

We make it down without mishap and find where someone has put some rocks to outline a nice, easy, flat trail. A trail that holds a lot of appeal when I think of all of the loose rocks that I have just passed over. There's really no wrong way for me when I go on a hike but I know for sure that the way I came was not the right one.

But at least we cleaned up the hillside a little bit.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hopalong Cassidy Trail from Cat Canyon


This afternoon when I got out of my Jeep to go and hike I was struck by something odd. It wasn't scorching hot. Most afternoons when I start hiking the temperature has been in the 100s but today it was in the 90s and quite possibly the low 90s. It feels nice and gives me hope, hope that the weather is finally changing and the desert will become a hiker's heaven rather than perdition. It's as if I am moving from purgatory into paradise.

Cat Canyon in Palm Desert is the starting point for three possible hikes. There is the canyon itself, filled with palm oases and varnished boulders. Heading south is the Schey Trail created by the hand of Harold Schey.

Then heading north is the Hopalong Cassidy Trail which starts in the south at the Art Smith Trail and on the north side behind Target on Painter's Path.

The trail quickly gains elevation and in minutes I am hundreds of feet above Cat Canyon.

At the top of the trail is a wonderfully quiet wilderness. With no views of anything except mountains you feel as if you are forever away from civilization and, in a way, you are.

Quickly, the view changes and while you are able to see homes, roads and civilization they seem insignificant and temporal. Perhaps because they are.

At the highest point along the trail you can look out at the Little San Bernardino Mountains in the distance. A friend of mine used to always refer to these as the Fake Mountains because their beauty seems utterly unreal as if they were the painted backdrop of an old Western, a Hopalong Cassidy Hollywood movie.

As quickly as it gained elevation, the trail now loses it, heading toward the Stone Eagle Golf Club and the Palm Desert Cross beyond.

There are a few sections of erosion along the trail where rain has washed it out. It's a shame this trail does not draw the attention of those who religiously hike the Bump and Grind. I feel blessed that I alone am able enjoy this trail today but I feel sad for those to whom hiking is merely a matter of physical fitness, an outdoor treadmill. If just a few more people hiked the trail it would see better maintenance although perhaps solitude is a worthy tradeoff for rough trail conditions.

The trail itself continues on toward its northern terminus at Painter's Path but I decide to walk through the neighborhood of the Cahuilla Hills to get back to the start.

It's either that or back up the steep trail and back the way I came and while its tempting I don't want to get back home after dark every night. The wife can only stand so much worry.

I have now hiked every day for nearly nine months without a major mishap or injury, mostly alone. It has been a great experience and I can only hope it continues to inspire me. In the next three months there are lots of places I'd love to visit and many I look forward to revisiting but mostly I've enjoyed discovering areas right near my home that are special little pockets of wildness. You don't have to travel far to find places of wonder, you just have to get out there and look for them.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Martinez Canyon


Once again family responsibilities got in the way of hiking aspirations. This morning my wife woke me with the news that my son, Harrison, was sick and would have to stay home from school today. That meant I would also be staying home. So instead of going to the Tram and hiking in the cool alpine air of Mount San Jacinto I had to wait until this afternoon and head out again to the desert.

Kahlua and I ended up heading out to Martinez Canyon. When I left home the temperature was 103º. By the time we arrived at Martinez Canyon, after a fun Jeep ride up the wash, it was nice. A breeze came from the South and made for very comfortable, if not cool, hiking. We would not have much time but we had enough to get a taste of what this fantastic area has to offer.

A lot of the landscape here is green due to the rains that fell here a couple of weeks ago.

The Palo Verde has even taken to bloom as if it were spring.

I'd stopped short of the wilderness boundary, anxious to get out and hike. I really should have kept driving but the rains caused a great deal of erosion and the going was slow. When I got to this sign I regretted my impatience. I could have hiked further if I'd only driven further.

Time counted in hours, of course, is not enough to explore what is perhaps the wildest place in our local area. There is enough here to enjoy that it would be necessary to spend days, years or a lifetime to experience the fullness of it.

A fully clothed Ocotillo is one of the many plants in the canyon arrayed in their resplendent spring attire.

As the last light shines on the upper reaches of Rabbit Peak I have to head back and find where I parked my Jeep. This canyon is wide at its mouth and I could wander in the dark until dawn trying to locate it if I get there too late.

But I am impressed, as always, at the possibilities that await in this wild and rugged canyon.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ranch of the Seventh Range


I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to the cooler days of Fall. While desert dwellers love the stark beauty of our harsh environment and would not trade it for all the mountains, beaches and plains on earth, we do grow weary of the infernal heat of summer. While it keeps the year round population of our area from becoming like that of Los Angeles it also limits my ability to explore beyond the few hours on the fringes of daylight. Thankfully, it will soon be coming to an end.

I had several ideas on where to go hiking today. I thought about going to the Tram, back to the Mecca Hills, to Joshua Tree. Ultimately I did not feel like driving to any of those spots and went over near Lake Cahuilla to hike near the site of the old horse stable, The Ranch of the Seventh Range.

The rocks here tell the story of water, when the ancient Lake Cahuilla filled the entire southern region of the Coachella Valley with a lake that was 27 times larger than the Salton Sea.

There are a few trails but mostly the area is open desert behind this flood control berm.

Or at least it was. There a now several reservoirs behind this chain link fence. It is part of a groundwater recharge facility intended to pump water back into the ground to replenish the aquifer which lies under the desert. We are, in a sense, lucky that our water is underground. Were it not Los Angeles might have stolen it like they did the water of the Owens Valley.

The sun leaves me alone with the stillness of the open desert and the unusual sound of water.

Wanting to see more of the recharge station I decide to climb up this little hill.

The recharge station spreads out across the desert.

For some reason I am now suddenly very thirsty.

Looking out toward the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument I look forward to the coming cooler days when I will be able to explore here more greatly. Tonight, however, I have to get home to watch the Ken Burn's special on the National Parks.

For some reason I have always been drawn to these twin mountains. On some cooler day in the future I will climb these. I'll let you know what's up there.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sheep Hole Oasis and Hidden Spring Oasis


I am so sick of this heat. It is less than a week until October and the high today was 117º. This is getting ridiculous. Thankfully, we are going to get some respite next week so I have something to look forward to. I seriously considered going to the Tram but didn't want to make the trip so I waited until this afternoon and headed over to the Mecca Hills for a hike to the Sheep Hole Oasis and the Hidden Spring Oasis. I'd hoped to make it to the Grottos but time wouldn't allow it today. I'll have to come back when it's cooler. As it was, I hiked an hour in the dark on the way back.

I get over to Box Canyon Road just as the sun is starting to set. The sun will be out maybe fifteen more minutes. I'm glad I brought a headlamp.

There's a sign at the turnout to the parking area now. Years ago there was only a gold painted rock to mark the right place to stop.

The sun is saying Buh-bye for the day. I figure I've probably got about a half an hour or so to get to where I want to before it gets dark.

Beyond here is a wilderness of canyons, coyotes and cacti.

Looking down from the ridge I can look down on the Sheep Hole Oasis. This oasis is a key watering spot for Bighorn Sheep in the area. There aren't many out here.

The sun gives off an orange glow and I try to move as fast as I dare; it's still over 100º.

These cliffs seem to me like they swallowed sunlight and are still giving off light.

It doesn't last long. As I make my way into the canyon, darkness descends.

At the entrance to the Hidden Spring Oasis I am required to bust out the headlamp. Tonight's half moon isn't much help.

About thirty palms surround a rock guzzler that's been built here. The oasis is growing with new palms coming up.

On the way back I hear a growling sound that startles me. I don't know if it comes from Kahlua, something else or my imagination. Whatever the sound was it paled in comparison to the yell I let out just after it. No doubt I scared whatever it was and it probably hasn't stopped running.

After an hour of hiking in the dark I finally arrive at a hiker's best friend.

Sorry, Kahlua. I meant second best friend. SECOND best.