Monday, March 31, 2014

Hike 2014.020 -- Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

Hiked Saturday, March 29. Although I had no reason to expect much of a show at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, I figured I'd take a peek and see how things were going there.

Turns out it's been four years since my last visit there. (I am often surprised when I see how long since I've been to certain places). So, on Saturday morning, I headed up I-5, then took CA-14 to Lancaster. The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is located about equi-distant from CA-15 and I-5, but coming up CA-14 means you're coming through Palmdale and Lancaster, for what ever that's worth.

From CA-14, you exit at Avenue I (a large sign on the freeway indicates this is your exit). At the bottom of the ramp, turn left.

Once you turn, there's a large multiplex on your left, and a Jack in the Box on your right. Other than that, there are essentially no services between here and who knows how far. So, if you're running low on gas, turn right at the bottom of the ramp, instead. An ARCO and a Chevron station are a block to your east.

If you are heading west on Avenue I (towards the Poppy Reserve), it's about 15 miles. Your road makes a couple of sweeping right and left turns along the way, so pay attention and don't speed.

Along the way, I saw several fields covered in goldfields. Only scattered poppies (although I also saw some poppies on the north-facing slopes of the hills as I descended into the Antelope Valley).

At the actual Reserve, poppies were common, but far from a carpet. In other words, it's not a great year, nor even necessarily a good year for poppies. But it is, apparently, better than it was the last two years.

You'll find numerous patches of poppies, and some long "avenues" (where the poppies are growing along a drainage crease). And, within those patches, numerous bees, flies, moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds are making the most of things.

At least one of those butterflies had a close call. The second photo in this post shows a painted lady butterfly that lost at least two-thirds of its wing surface to predation. The third photo shows another member of the same species, with wings intact.

There were also some tremen-dous, humming-bird-sized butterflies, with mouths that look to be two inches long, sipping from flowers. they were drinking from the phacelia. The painted ladies, by contrast, preferred the fiddlenecks.

The day was somewhat windy, and got windier as the day went on. I'm told the poppies close up when it gets too windy, so I was fortunate to be there somewhat early. It was perfect hiking weather.

After I finished my two hours or so wandering a part of the Poppy Reserve, I then headed for the Ripley Desert Woodlands State Park. These woodlands are just about seven miles west of the Poppy Reserve, also on Avenue I. Figured I'd take a peek there, too. But, as of this past Saturday, absolutely nothing was blooming there.

As my previous post notes, I then turned back to the west, and drove to Saddleback Butte State Park. My post on that hike is here.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hike 2014.021 -- Saddleback Butte State Park

Hiked Saturday, March 29. As you can see from the current Hikes of 2014 list, I've been pretty busy the past few weeks. I'm now all the way up to 21 for the year. Lots of hikes, but they're all pretty short. Used to be, one hike would be 10 miles, 12 miles, or more. Now, even with 3 or 4 hikes, I'm only getting that kind of mileage. It's a little sad, but also more realistic, given my limited time.

This is the latest of my hikes (one of 2 from Saturday). It was also my second trip to Saddleback Butte State Park. My first trip was three weeks ago.

FYI, the State Park's website for Saddleback Butte is here. The brochure with a map of the park is here.

Saddleback Butte is about midway between CA-14 and I-15, so whether you approach it from the east or the west depends on where you happen to live. In my case, it it essentially equidistant from both sides.

But I wasn't coming from home today. I was coming from the west, having visited Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve (state park, to be blogged soon) and Ripley Desert Woodland State Park. The Poppy Reserve is about equidistant from I-5 and CA-14. If heading from the Poppy Reserve to Saddleback Butte, you can shoot right under CA-14 on Avenue J. Once on the east side of CA-14, shopping and eating (and gasoline) options are plentiful, though I didn't know it at the time and stupidly bought a couple of gas station hot dogs for lunch at the first station I saw.

Had I continued even a few hundred more yards, I would have seen many more choices. Oh, well. Live and learn.

If heading down Avenue I, look for Sierra Highway, and make a right (this was several blocks past the gas station, though not so far away that I'd bother moving into the left lane without a really good reason. Don't go into the right lane too early, though. Most of those become right turn only lanes, and you don't want to be forced to turn too early.
After the right on Sierra Highway, you'll pass by Lancaster Blvd. That would have been the main "Old Town" area of Lancaster. Next, you'll pass the Metrolink Station, on your left.

Immediately after the station, the next signal, on your left, is Avenue J. Turn left and continue an additional 17+ miles. At 170th Street East, you're there. Continue straight a bit past that corner, and the day use entrance is on your right. Or, turn right at 170th Street East and continue about 1/2 mile to the campground entrance, on your left.

On my first trip here, I drove to the camp-ground and hiked the Saddleback Butte Peak trail. My plan today was to hike from the day use area. I took the Little Butte Trail tot he Saddleback Butte Trail, then returned via the dirt road that connects the day use and campground areas.

The coreopsis that were near peak bloom last time were mostly past peak, now. Many still bloomed, but even more had begun to dry and go to seed.

Meanwhile, there were several new additions, not all of whom am I sure about their names.

It was also very windy, which made taking some pictures pretty impossible. All of the desert dandelion I saw, for example, were being blown into ovoid shapes. Not very picturesque that way.

In addition to what's shown, I also saw a lot of fiddleneck. But nearly all were the same yellow variety I've been seeing in all of my other recent desert hikes (most of which I haven't blogged, yet--I'm working on that!). But one, and only one, fiddleneck plant I saw had these orangish buds. So that one made the cut. :D

On my way back the dirt road, I came across a large banner for the Antelope Valley Astronomy Club. This being a new moon weekend, they were optimistically awaiting the clearing of clouds and dying down of wind so they could do some astronomy at a nice public park. I chatted with them a bit, because even on my first trip here, I considered the astronomy potential of Saddleback Butte. It's not super dark, but it is darker than the Angeles National Forest.

It's got dirt roads and camp areas, but it's a hardened dirt that shouldn't be that dusty once night falls. And it has flush toilets, which are always nice. It's also less than two hours away from my house (depending on traffic), and at a much lower altitude than Mt. Pinos. So it's something I'm considering, for future reference.

At any rate, about a 3 mile loop for my second hike of the day. Minor elevation gain and loss of maybe 200 feet. Easy, scenic, and I got to talk to some fellow amateur astronomers. All in all, a good day.

Incidentally, after the hike, I tried tracking down two county "parks" I saw on the map: Butte Valley Wildflower Sanctuary and Carl O Gerhardy Wildlife Sanctuary. Near as I can tell, both county "sanctuaries" are just signed areas. No designated parking or trails. I guess the long range plan is that, when housing someday covers this area (yuck), these areas will remain "wild." That's something, but I really hope the areas around the sanctuaries stay wild for a good long time, too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hike 2014.013 -- Pine City, Joshua Tree National Park

Hiked Saturday, March 15. This was over a week ago, and, therefore, six hikes ago. I'm falling further and further behind in my posts. In fact, I noticed a few weeks ago that I still haven't blogged my first hike of the year. Still trying to catch up. The good news is that part of falling behind is due to my going on so many hike recently.

I can't even remember the circumstances of this one, other than thinking that it would be a good chance to see if the wildflowers that had come to Saddelback Butte by this time had also made it to Saddleback Butte had also come to Joshua Tree. Of course, this now being almost two weeks after the fact, it won't serve as a very useful update.

The short answer is, "no."

There were definitely a number of wildflowers to be seen on this hike, but the vast majority were just in the road cuts. On the trail I took, at least, there were rather few. In fact, ironically, the densest wildflower blooms I saw were right at the start of the dirt road that leaves Park Blvd and heads towards the Pine City trailhead.

At the trailhead, a sign says it's 1.2 miles to the end. Meanwhile, the infor-mational kiosk says it's 1.5 miles. It certainly feels longer than 1 1/4 mile, and even more than 1 1/2 miles, but that's probably just being in lousy shape.

Once on the trail, the going was easy and the trail well-defined (with one exception). Shortly after starting, I saw the snow-capped Mount San Gorgonio to my left, and I shot several pictures.

This was one of my earlier trips with several new additions to my photogra-phic arsenal. I had my 35mm and 50mm fixed focal length lenses, and the 70-300mm Tamron. The Tamron is much sharper than my old 55-200mm zoom, while the 35 and 50mm ones seem at least a little sharper, and are obviously several stops faster, which will come in handy when shooting in low light, especially for astrophotography. Haven't tried shooting the sky, yet, but it's on the agenda.

This trail has a constant incline that you don't really notice until the return route. It's also a mostly sandy, which adds effort to the hike. Still, I got to a split in the trail soon enough. What was not obvious was, where to go, next? I bore to the right and admired the stacked, weathered rocks. I shot with my prime lenses, trying to capture their texture.

The trail, however, had not clear destination once it reached the rocks, so I eventually backtracked back to the main trail. In fact, I think that's what you're supposed to do. The "right" trail does simply peter out.

Once back on the main trail, I continued heading more or less to the north. Eventually, at a rise, there was a sign announcing this as the end of the maintained trail. Having not really studied the trail map ahead of time, and being unreasonably tired for the distance traveled, I was ready to turn around, anyway.

Still, I shot forward, backwards, and to the side. Right near this "end," there was a large depression in the landscape. Not sure if there's a story behind that or what. There's also supposed to be mining remnants in the area, though they were not immediately visible to me.

The return walk seemed much shorter than it seemed on the way in, which is why I figured I must have been gaining altitude on the way in. Soon enough, I was back at the car.

I returned to the main road the way I had arrived, which seemed to be about 1.5 miles over dirt. The road was cut into the dirt, meaning there were pretty high berms on either side. This meant it was effectively a single lane in parts, with no room to pull out of the way of oncoming traffic.

Fortunately for me, I encoun-tered only a few cars on the way back, and always near a place where room did exist.

Once I got back to Park Blvd, I crossed over and parked in the large lot near the start of the Geology tour road. This was so I could return on foot back up the road I just drove.

As noted earlier, the start of this dirt road was where I had seen the densest floral displays of my day. Verbena was everywhere, and thick. Desert marigold was mixed in, as were a number of what I assume to be dune primrose.

After shooting here for probably 30 minutes, I turned and headed towards my car.

Looking to the north from here, I was surprised by how rugged the rocks up near what I believe to be Hidden Valley looked. Great lighting, too. And, obviously, plenty of Joshua Tree in the foreground.

Once in the car, I considered stopping at Hidden Valley on the way back, both as another short walk and because of the chance there might be some flowers there. However, I decided against that. Not sure if I was thinking with my stomach again, or not. In any event, I drove directly towards the West Entrance.

Along the way, I passed some floral displays, but, again, mostly just along the road cuts. But as I approached the West Entrance, the flowering seemed to peak. So I parked in the spaces just inside the park and walked back the way I came, camera in hand. More desert marigold and dune primrose, plus plenty of desert dandelions. Also, some Mojave pincushion.

Spent another 30 minutes or so along this 1/8 mile of road, just shooting wildflowers along the side of the road (and obviously keeping an eye on traffic). As I returned to my car, I fired off several shots of the entrance station. I wanted a shot of the cars, Yucca Valley in the distance, and, of course, a fluttering American flag.

The wind wasn't cooper-ating, however, so the flag never fully unfurled. Oh, well. It was still a pretty sight.

I then drove down into Yucca Valley and stopped, as I suspected I would, at Santanas for a fish burrito.

I have to admit to being slightly disappointed. Either they've gotten smaller, or I've been spoiled by the burritos at another place by my work. It was still tasty, though, and plenty large enough to fill me up.

From Yucca Valley, it's still about 2 1/2 hours back to my home. Long drive. Not feeling all that tired, though, so the drive was pretty easy.

Overall, the day was fine. I mean, any day I can go hiking is a good day, right?
However, the wildflowers were a bit less than I had hoped. Still got plenty of flower pictures, so there were plenty of specimens. But, compared to Saddleback Butte the week before, I guess almost anything would be a let down.

Many, many hikes since this one. I'm now up to 19 for the year, which is on pace for another 80-ish total. I'd still like to get back up to 100, with more mid-week hikes once the school year finishes. One hundred is a tough target, though, especially with the hours I'm working. Speaking of which, gotta run! Work awaits.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hike 2014.012 -- Saddleback Butte State Park, CA

Hiked Sunday, March 9. My Facebook feed showed me a page from KCET's page, about wildflowers blooming in Saddleback Butte State Park. It looked gorgeous, so I spent some time Sunday morning figuring out exactly where it was and how to get there, and looking for my California State Parks Foundation entry vouchers. My lack of organization probably cost me 90 minutes, at least. But, finally, I did find my vouchers (they used to give you seven day passes for the "Park Sampler" level of membership; now, it looks like they only offer you four, which means you can't "make your money back" by visiting lots of parks. Still, the money goes to support state parks, so I'm okay with that, for now.

Saddleback Butte is located north of the San Gabriel Mountains. Depending on where you live in the L.A. area, you would either want to drive north on I-5 (Golden State Freeway), then take CA-14 (Antelope Valley Freeway) north, to Pearblossom Highway. After 4.5 miles, Pearblossom changes to Avenue T. Continue driving east an additional 11.1 miles, to 170th Street. Turn left there. After a little over 8 miles, you'll find the park on your right. You'll first pass the campground (which has a trailhead and day parking), then reach the visitor center and the "official" day use area.

Alterna-tively, if you live further east, it's faster to head east on what ever convenient freeway you have to I-15, then head north. Exit at CA-138 and cross over the freeway. After 26.5 miles, you'll reach 165th Street. There's a traffic signal there. There's also a sign saying right is towards Lake Los Angeles. But there is NO SIGN that says "Saddleback Butte State Park." If you were expecting a big ole sign there pointing towards the park, you'll miss the turn (yes, that was me). There IS a big ole sign if you're coming eastbound on CA-138, however.

Once heading north on 165th, you just go straight. The road makes a slight curve to the right at one point, and the road is renumbered to 170th Street. It'll also drive right through the town of Lake Los Angeles. There are a couple of stores and restaurants there. One market, attached to a gas station, is where I stopped to buy a pair of socks. It had some, which semi-saved my bacon on this hike.

Shortly after passing Avenue M (and a sign for the Antelope Valley Indian Museum), you'll come to a sign for the campground of Saddleback Butte, on your right. I parked there, which is where the trailhead for Saddleback Butte Peak Trail begins. Had I continued 1/2 mile further, I'd have come to the day use area for the park, where the ranger station and visitor center is located.

Parking is $6, which you pay by putting your money in an envelope and sticking the envelope into the metal post near a self-registration kiosk. Tear off the stub and place it on your dashboard.

In my case, since I was using a California State Parks Foundation voucher, I placed both the envelope stub and my voucher stub on my dash, just to be safe.

Camping here would be $20, which seems kinda steep, but about what camping costs now, I guess. Each site has a nice shelter and picnic table, and a fire ring. I'm giving some thought to trying one of these spots out for a "dark sky" trip. It wouldn't be very dark, with Lancaster and Palmdale just 20 miles to the west, but it would be comfortable and easy to get to (somewhat quicker and less dusty than Joshua Tree National Park).

The camp host's mobile home is near the trailhead, as well. Next to that is a really large Joshua tree.

Also near the trailhead is a sign showing it's 1.6 miles to Saddleback Butte Peak, which makes this 3.2 miles, roundtrip. That's kind of a short hike for the drive involved, but the hike itself was just an intermission on the trip to see wildflowers.

Those started very shortly after I started walking. First it was a few. Then they got thicker. Most were Mojave coreopsis. They were by far the predominant species, and the one creating the rolling carpet of yellow in all of these photos.

Other flowers I saw included Mojave pincushion and Mojave evening primrose. Also, white tidy tips, and exactly ONE Mojave lupine.

The flower in the next picture, I could not identify. It looks pretty typical, but my books and fold-outs for Mojave wildflowers does not seem to contain that one.

Meanwhile, the trail, which begins as a pretty much straight-shot towards the butte, slowly gains altitude. Finally, as you near the end of the alluvial fan from Saddleback Butte, the trail turns sharply to the right. It makes for the saddle in Saddleback Butte. This means it also gets steeper. But given the shortness of the hike, and that we have not yet reached summer, the hike was not difficult. Though, of course, I was stopping frequently to take pictures, so maybe not exerting myself as if I was just walking.

The view from the saddle is itself quite impressive. Once over the top, you can see a wide swath of the San Gabriel Mountains, to your south. You can also see the generally flat expanse of the Antelope Valley around you. No antelope, of course.

Several other buttes (volcanic intrusions) are around you, as well. And, because this is a short hike, if you have a pair of binoculars or a long telephoto lens, you can see your car from here, too. :D

I show my share of photos, then continued the rest of the way. This part is even steeper than what you've done before, but very short. I took it at a comfortable pace and did not find it too challenging. As a result, even when I saw the can that contained the peak register, I elected not to sign it. Just didn't feel like I'd accomplished that much.

Along that last stretch of trail, I passed several healthy Mojave aster.

I also got to enjoy the first quarter moon, which I first saw on my approach, and was much higher in the sky by the time I got to the saddle.

The few days before this hike had been pretty busy. I had a large astronomy outreach event at a local private school (not alone, but there were LOT of folks coming to look). And Saturday nearest the first quarter moon is my regular sidewalk astronomy night in Monrovia. I was so beat from my Friday night even that I was late and slow coming to join my Old Town Sidewalk Astronomy friends in Monrovia. And I was still tired on Sunday, which partially explains the late start for this hike, too.

But, obviously, I was glad I came. I hadn't seen such a carpet of flowers in several years, possibly not since a Spring 2010 visit to Amboy Crater.

But that year was a wet year, and I was less surprised by the color riot. This year had been so dry I was pretty much resigned to another unimpressive wildflower season in the local deserts. That made Saddleback Butte a total surprise.

The view from the summit is not completely different from the saddle, but you are, after all, higher. If you go as far as the saddle, you might as well go for the summit. Doing so makes the total altitude gain about 900 feet, which, considering most of that is during just the last 1/3 of the distance, at least a little bit of an exertion.

Well, many photos still follow, but I think I've said all I can say about this hike.

I intended to get it posted quicker, in case folks wanted to make their own trip out there this spring. Once I looked at my collection of pictures and realized how long it would take to go through them, I knew posting would take a while. Didn't think it would take over a week, but, with my work schedule, that's not unusual. That's pretty much why I went and posted the link to the KCET story about the bloom.

Meanwhile, it's spring break at the school I teach part-time at, which means I've got a little more free time this week. I hope to get at least caught up on my posting (two more hikes after this one I've already walked, but haven't written up), and I also hope to fit in a mid-week, after-work hike. I'll probably just go to Sturtevent, since I forgot my camera the last time I went there.