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.

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