Monday, April 26, 2010

Hike 51b: Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree NP

Me and my shadow, looking east, from Ryan Mountain

After getting back to my car in Cottonwood Springs, I drove to the visitor center, washed up, ate lunch, and rehydrated.

I had stopped at the Fresh and Easy in Indio on the way in. They're kind of new to the US market, and they have a unique business model. Most of what they sell is prepared and packaged, and is either ready to eat or requires only a microwave. That means they're bad for the environment, but great if you're lazy or eating on the run or on the road. In my case, lunch consisted of a container of cut cantalope, expired wheat pita bread and humus. I also downed a 20 ounce container of Gatorade.

Not too surprisingly, I was feeling a whole lot better after lunch than I was feeling before lunch. So now, it was about 4pm. Prior to lunch, I was contemplating just heading on home. After lunch, I definitely was up for the Ryan Mountain hike.

It's about an hour's drive from Cottonwood Springs to Ryan Mountain (most of the way, the speed limit is 35 mph; in some areas, it is either 45 or 25). It's actually a little less than an hour, but I stopped for a few minutes at the Ocotillo Patch along the way. Here, as along I-10, there were expanses of red-tipped ocotillo, in full bloom.

When I finally arrived at the Ryan Mountain trailhead, I discovered that, like at Cottonwood Springs, the hike mileage here was the subject of conflicting information. The metal trailhead sign indicated it was 1.5 miles to Ryan Mountain, while the colorful sign right next to it said it was 2.8 miles, roundtrip.

That's NOT Ryan Mountain. The trail climbs around this hill, where you discover that Ryan Mountain is actually not visible from the trailhead.

Because of the distance uncertainty, plus the fact that my last two hikes were only marginally at my 3 mile cut-off, I decided not to count Ryan Mountain as my 52nd hike. Instead, it became just part 2 of my 51st hike, or Hike 51b.

Unlike at Cottonwood Springs, this trail was pretty deserted. There was a car or two in the lot as I arrived, but my car was alone by the time I headed up the trail. I passed no one on the way up, and didn't run into anyone on the way back until I was 2/3 of the way down. That means there was a total of four people on this trail (myself, included) during a two hour stretch.

With the sun approaching sunset, my view to the west was pretty impossible to photograph. Nonetheless, the view from the top is spectacular. Vistas extend a dozen miles or more in all directions. As a result, my cell phone actually worked here (in pretty much the rest of the park, once you put a hill between yourself and either I-10 or CA-62, there is no cell coverage).

Ryan Mountain tops out at 5,461 feet. I don't recall the starting altitude, but I would wager it may very well be about 5,000 feet. There's obviously some climbing involved, and it's at altitude. That makes the air even drier than it is in the rest of the park. Still, on this day, in the late afternoon, a wonderfully cooling breeze greeted me at the top.

The trail is steep enough that I needed to take some care on the way back. It was about 6:30pm by the time I got back. Shadows were getting longer, and the light on the hills was getting warmer. I ended my day of hiking with about twenty shots of the rising moon and various rock formations near the trailhead.

From there, I headed out along Park Blvd, passed through the town of Joshua Tree, then headed west on CA-62, through Yucca Valley. I decided I wasn't hungry enough to stop for dinner there and drove on home.

Didn't sleep all that well that night. Despite the sunscreen, my skin still felt warm. I was physically tired, but not sleepy tired. But I was still happy about this long day trip. Roughly 9 miles of total walking, including the first extended incline in quite a while.

Hike 51a: Lost Palms Oasis, Joshua Tree NP

In the six days since my previous trip here, the desert has begun moving towards full summer. The wildflowers that were still thick at the Bajada nature trail were now well past peak, and a parking lot that was full on a Monday was empty on a Sunday.

Meanwhile, with National Park Week coming to a close, the Cottonwood Springs area remained packed. All of the marked parking spaces were taken, and several cars parked outside of designated spots.

Still, once you got about a 1/2 mile away from the parking lot, things opened up nicely.

Today, I took the trail to Lost Palms Oasis. The distances is variously given as 3 miles, 3.1 miles each way, and 3.4 miles each way. I won't hazard a guess, but I will say that, with temperatures in the upper 80s, the 3 miles or so each way were pretty tiring. Partially, this was aggravated by my forgetting my backpack at home. All I carried with me on this hike were a .5 liter bottle of water and my camera. The trail is so heavily traveled that it's not dangerous, but having more to drink and maybe a Cliff bar to eat before heading back would have been nice.

The trail is well-marked, with rocks and signs indicating the correct turn at regular intervals. Nice to have the running commentary on distance, because when the desert heats up, each mile can seem longer than that.

Not surprisingly, the general scenery, flora and fauna are pretty much the same on this hike as the last week's shorter hike to Mastadon Peak.

The oasis itself was a little anticlimatic. I guess being raised on "Get Smart" and cartoons, I imagined the oasis would be a large pool, surrounded by trees. Instead, even though it's still April, water was limited to some REALLY small drips of water. Desert willow and California fan palms grew vigorously, indicating where the water was closest to the surface. But this definitely wasn't any place you would want to (or be able to) go swimming!

Edit--Last note on Lost Oasis--

The final .2 or so miles from the rim down into the actual oasis is very steep. You probably shouldn't try heading down without some grippy shoes. Take care and take your time and the trip down isn't dangerous. But get careless and lose your focus and you can easily trip or slip on your way down. The risk is compounded if you get here tired and thirsty. (It doesn't help if you're overweight and clumsy, and I was all four of those things on Sunday--came uncomfortably close to making a high-speed entry into the oasis!)

New stuff:

Crop of the picture at the top of the post, zeroing in on the chuckwalla that's sunning himself on the rock.

Zebra tailed lizard

Something I'll call "Jar Jar Binks Rock" :D

Same chuckwalla as in the other picture, but taken from the otherside. Mojave aster are blooming at the base of the rock.

Desert mallow, at Lost Palms Oasis.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Hike 50: Eaton Canyon Falls.

Yep, half way to my goal for the year. I can't believe it.

Hiked Thursday, Apr 22. Three miles.

Yesterday's weather was iffy, to say the least. The forecast was for showers, so I knew if I went hiking, it would have to be short and low--someplace where I could get out of the rain if it started to really come down.

By noon, I concluded (incorrectly, it turns out!) that the rain would hold off for at least a few more hours. I went across the street to see if my neighbor (who had indicated a few weeks back that he'd be game for some hiking) was free. He was, so we both headed up to the Eaton Canyon Nature Center (Altadena Blvd, just north of New York). I've previously mentioned this is my closest access point to the San Gabriel Mountains.

When I got there, I was a little surprised to find the water in the lower wash was high as it was. I didn't think it rained much the day before. It took a few minutes of poking around before we found a good place to cross the wash and get on the north side of the wash. Then we headed mostly west, to the falls.

Although I've hiked this falls many times, I still don't know the exact number of crossings involved. The first crossing is just after you walk under the Mount Wilson Toll Road Bridge. The last time I did this hike, crossing over on a downed tree was the only reasonable way across. Today, you also had a possibly boulder-hopping route. But the tree still seemed the easiest way to stay dry. I'm happy to say I made that crossing both ways and managed to maintain my balance enough to stay dry.

I also managed to make the other crossings with nothing more than the bottom of my shoes touching the water. I'm still not nearly as sure of my balance as I used to be, but the falls was much more accessible than my trip in February.

Water was also lower, though still running strong for Eaton Canyon.

On the return trip, I decided to try crossing to the south side of Eaton Canyon wash closer to the bridge. In retrospect, this was a mistake. The trail up there is much less defined than it is if you just have the patience to stay on the "real" trail.

Meanwhile, the rain that started as an intermittent drizzle was becoming pretty steady. My sweater was just about soaked through by the time I got back to the car.

Still, hey, it was Earth Day. It seemed like it would have been a shame to let the day go by without doing something to recognize the occasion.

Broom in full bloom, beneath Eaton Canyon and under April showers.

Hike 49: Big Dalton Canyon

Hiked Weds., Apr 21.

Sort of like Joshua Tree (but for a completely different reason), this was another busted hike plan. I am not even sure if I got my three miles in.

Somehow, I got it in my mind that you could walk from the gate at the "end" of Big Dalton Canyon to the dam that holds Big Dalton Reservoir. Turns out you can't.

From the gate, I walked up the pavement. After about 1/2 mile, the pavement splits. I followed the fork that went right. But within another 1/4 mile, I reached a bridge. On the side of the bridge was a sign that said, "No Hikers or Bicyclists Allowed Beyond This Gate." Next to that sign was another sign, indicating the boundary for the Glendora Wilderness Park.

I turned about and tried the fork that split off from this road, heading sharply to the left (as you were going up hill). That road switchbacked repeatedly and climbed quickly upward. I thought perhaps it would provide an alternative route to the dam. Instead, it just ended, at the top of a debris basin. In the debris basin were stacks of boxes that were just what they appeared to be--honeybee hives.

With the weather cool and overcast, the bees were not very active.

The view looking south (away from the bee hives) was pretty impressive.

I walked back to the fire gate. Roundtrip time was about 50 minutes. Since I knew this wasn't three miles, yet, I headed up one of the trails that headed to the south from near the end of the road. The sign said "Pavil Canyon Trail" and "To Keiser Trail."

When I reached where those trails diverged, I continued on the Pavil Canyon Trail. This trail soon became very faint and overgrown. Within another 1/8, the canyon split. Neither side seemed the obvious choice. First, I went up the right canyon. After 100 yards or so, this route became steaper and unclear. Since I was only wearing basketball shoes (At the start of my hiking that day, I only planned to walk the road to the dam and back), I decided continuing was unwise.

Backtracked, and tried the left fork. After about 200 yards, this direction also became steaper and undefined.

In either case, if I really wanted to, I could have continued. However, this was basically bushwacking, which I was not in the mood for. Roundtrip walking time up this leg was about 25 minutes.

Made my way back down to the car, and looked for Glendora City Hall, where I had heard there were trail maps for Glendora's parks. Turns out the trail map was on a rack outside the Public Services building, just to the east of the stately old City Hall building.

The map is nice and colorful, but not to scale and lacking any topographical indicators. In short, it's pretty useless as an actual hiking aid, and nearly useless even in figuring out where I was and how far I actually went. Nonetheless, the "Big Dalton Canyon" Trail is given as 1.0 miles in length. It is not clear where it officially starts. Also, it's drawn as being on the left side and separate from the road, and I didn't see any separate trail when I was on the road, but I'll check again at some future point.

The map also gives a distance of .3 miles for the Pavil Canyon trail, but, again, does not clearly indicate where it officially ends. I'll assume I made it to the end, which would give me .6 miles round trip on that leg.

My guess of three miles is mostly based on my time--I spent about 1 hour and 20 minutes in total walking. Even at a slow pace, that should be three miles.

In looking at the Glendora Parks trail map from the comfort of my home, the longest single trail distance mentioned on the map is 1.5 miles (for the Colby Trail, which appears to start near the end of Loraine Avenue, and for the Glendora Wilderness Trail, which is marked as "Under Construction" on the map. The combination of the Colby and Colby-Dalton Trail is given as 2.0 miles. That means it would be possible to build a hike comprising several of these short segments and walk them as a roundtrip, with total mileages of 3-5 miles or more. However, by looking at the official city trail map, it is difficult to know exactly where one trail starts and another begins.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hike 48--Joshua Tree National Park

Hike 47 was Echo Mountain. I should do a regular post about that hike, but still haven't written one up!

Hiked 48 was on Monday, Apr 19. 3 miles.

On the downside, the hiking aspect of this trip turned out to be kind of a bust. However, I did get to spend some time on a roadtrip with my wife, and that definitely counts for something!

We approached Joshua Tree from the south. Even before we reached Cottonwood Road, yellow flowers (Mostly brittlebush, I think) lined both sides of I-10. Turning up Cottonwood, the flowers grew thicker. Unfortunately, we were unable to stop for pictures or even walk the little Bajada nature trail, at the south end of the park.

No walking or pictures until Cottonwood Springs.

It was not exactly a spring on this day. I think I could see a slight stain from a seep behind the palm trees. No standing or running water. But looking and walking a bit "downstream," there were plenty of palms and cottonwoods, indicating the water table was not far below the surface.

There is a fairly large parking lot at Cottonwood Springs, and it was full of cars. So I was a little surprised to encounter so few people on the trail. I guess most either just walked down the wash that heads south from Cottonwood Springs, or went on the longer hike to Lost Palms Oasis. (Lost Palms was where I was originally planning to go--If I am able squeeze in another day in Joshua Tree during National Parks Week, I'll definitely do that hike!).

Starting from this parking area (as opposed to starting from the campground), it's only a two mile roundtrip to Masadon Peak. Plenty of brittlebush and Mojave Aster, plus several other species (some of which I could identify and some I could not). Saw a few squirrel-like creatures. Lots of lizards, too. Several desert iguana, just like the ones I saw in Amboy Crater. Many darker lizards of unknown variety. A few sightings of what I have to believe (based upon its striking appearance) is a leopard lizard. And the tail end of a colorful lizard that dived under a rock and had more patience than me. No picture of that one.

Pleasantly clear skies when I reached Mastadon Peak. Although the sky was defintely hazy, Salton Sea was blue in the distance.

Other places I took short walks at were the Cholla Forest and the Oasis of Mara. A number of quail were calling to/at each other there.

Yellow flowers are brittlebrush. The red ones are desert mallow.

Cracked rock, nearing the top of Mastadon Peak

Huge boulder that obviously split some time in the past

Salton Sea from Mastadon Peak. Not exactly obvious at this scale, but it's there, and it's blue.

Whole bunch of Mojave aster. From the side, they look almost translucent, and appeared like primrose. From the top, they were obviously aster.

Leopard lizard

Desert daisies. Again, just like Amboy.

Canterbury bells, taken between the split rock and the rock crack. They're also very common in the Puente Hills and the San Gabriel mountains, where I've been hiking a lot, recently.


Not sure. Could be Bigelow Mimulus, though the color was off.

Desert Stars, with a dime for perspective. They look like tiny daisies.

Quail at Oasis of Mara

Cholla garden. All of the cholla were blackened in their lower portions, so I suspect this whole area must have burned during the year of big brush fires, two or three years ago.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hike 46: Sycamore Canyon and Hellman Park

Hiked April 14. I am continuing my hiking of the trails of the Puente Hills. I guess this is sort of like a few months ago, when I was walking all the segments of the Altadena Crest Trail I could find.

Today, I started my hike from the Sycamore Canyon trailhead. The entry to this area is about 150 yards south of Rose Hill's Gate 17. There are no signs pointing to the trail parking area, but if you're looking to your right and slowing down as you approach this area (from the south), you'll see what has become the familiar sign indicating a Puente Hills Landfill Native Habitat Authority area, pointing you to a small parking lot.

I just parked on Workman Mill Road.

There's a large map display at the trailhead, with a small pocket for trail maps that may or may not be stocked when you come by. It's just like the sign I saw at the Seventh Avenue and Lower Turnbull Canyon trailheads. The map has mileages between trail junctions. Because many of the junctions on the ground are unsigned, the mileage and directions are very helpful to know.

The dirt trail soon crosses one paved road, then heads up another one, trending eastward, up Sycamore Canyon. At the lower reaches, there are homes high up either rim of the canyon. Lots of cactus. Some pepper trees. However, you soon leave the road noises behind you; only the sound of singing birds and amphibians, and the trickling of what is probably a season stream accompany you further up the trail.

At 1.3 miles, a sign indicates Dark Canyon trail is straight ahead, while Sycamore Canyon (switchback) trail is to your right.

I went straight. There was no running water up this way, but the native oak trees became denser.

About 2/10ths of a mile up this trail, I saw a faint trace that would have headed to the left, and would have run into Rose Hills. However, the main trail continued forward. It was very overgrown in places, but not too difficult to follow.

About 4/10ths of a mile later, I came across a sign marking the park boundary. I don't know who owns the land ahead. It was not posted, but I figured this was the end of the trail, so I turned around and went back to the Sycamore Canyon Switchback trail.

This one was very steep in places as it headed due south. Thistle grew close on both sides and I scratched my arms and legs (not severely) along the way up. In .6 of a mile, it dead-ends into the Rattlesnake Ridge trail. There is no signage at this junction, and the entry from Sycamore Switchback Trail to Rattlesnake Ridge is far from obvious. I found a rock to mark the junction, then headed west (to the right).

A large water tank with a blue bird wearing a "Whittier" sash was in front of me.

This seemed to be the end of the trail. However, the map indicated it should have run .8 mile west of the Sycamore Switchback junction, and the water tower was only a 1/10th of a mile or so from there. Despite the "Private: No Exit Beyond This Point" sign, my map indicated the trail continued, so I also kept going.

In working my way around the fenced water tank area, I saw a bathtub with a pipe dripping water into the tub. This was clearly for horses, because the Rattlesnake Ridge trail (unlike the Sycamore Canyon trail) is a "multi-user trail," open to bikes and horses.

A well-defined trail continued further west, down the hill. Since that matched what my map showed, I kept going.

A small snake sunned itself at the edge of the trail. I snapped some pictures. The snake seemed to barely notice me.

At the end of the trail, a smaller, art deco-style water tank stood at the end of a road. The road indicated no parking near the trailhead, so I don't know how far down you'd have to park for access to the Rattlesnake Ridge trail.

Turned around and headed east one mile, back up the hill, past the bluebird watertank, past my original trail, and on to another unmarked trail that branched off to the right. My map indicated this was Hellman Park Trail, another hiker-only trail.

In just under a mile, you hit a covered, fenced, reservoir. Just before reaching the reservoir, there were several areas with thick bush sunflower blooms still going on.

The trail works its way around the right of the reservoir and empties into a small parking lot (room for about eight cars). There's another one of their map-containing signs at this parking lot.

After a bit of rest and time to consume a Cliff bar and a bit of Gatorade, I headed up the Peppergrass Trail. It's supposed to be 1.1 to 1.2 miles up this trail before you hit the Rattlesnake Ridge trail, again. This trail is also steep in places, but not as overgrown as either the Sycamore Switchback or the Hellman Park trails.

As I neared Rattlesnake Ridge, I could see several places in the Puente Hills that I've visited before. Turnbull Canyon Road, off to my right. I could also see the powerlines that I followed on my last hike in the Puente Hills.

To the north, I could see a line of eucalyptus trees that marked the landfill boundary. To my right, I could see the large, Chinese-styled pavilion in Rose Hills that I could see from the opposite side when I went to the Nike station.

Lots of rodents visible on this hike--ground squirrels and cottontail rabbits. Lots of lizards, too. And lots of birds--swallows, crows, hawks and turkey vultures, at least.

All told, 9.5 miles of walking. Relatively flat compared to most of the mountain hiking I've been doing, but steep in spots.

Probably just one or two more hikes I can do in the Puente Hills before I'll have to retrace my footsteps there. Still, these trails have given me a full week of alternatives, and have helped bridge the gap until I can start hiking the taller peaks around Mt. Baldy.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

National Park Week, April 17-25

It's actually nine days long, because it covers two full weekends. During this period, entry into nearly all National Park Service units that charge an entry fee is waived.

That's just another reason to consider a trip to Joshua Tree, Death Valley, or another NPS unit during the next week (Mojave National Preserve does not charge an entry fee).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hike 45: Amboy Crater

Hiked Sunday, Apr 11. Last edited Apr 13. Approximately three miles. One mile to crater, one mile back, one mile to circumnavigate the crater.

Off of Historic Route 66, just a few miles west of the town of Amboy, Amboy Crater is a national natural landmark. A well-marked trail leads the way to the crater, which is sort of shaped like Mt. St Helens. The east side of the crater would be the part pointing towards Spirit Lake, meaning it's the low part of the crater. From the top of the crater, lava flow are all around. The flyer available at this location said the volcano erupted just 10,000 years ago, which is practically yesterday, in geologic terms.

Today, the desert sunflowers were blooming in tremendous density and abundance. They were almost as dense as the California Poppies at the Antelope Valley poppy reserve.

This hike is relatively easy in the spring, as it's mostly level, except for the 80 foot or so climb into the crater, then an additional 80 feet or so from the crater lip to the crater rim. It's probably pretty strenuous if you do this hike in the heat of summer, however.

View from the crater rim, looking to the east

Once it warmed up, the lizards and chuckwalla were out in force:

Desert iguana


Desert lily

California Chicory

Desert Poppy

Sand verbena and desert dandelion

Stuck this other view of the inside of the crater on a different website. Picture one is from the northeast end of the rim, looking down the opening. You can see two thin white "scratches," about midway down the trail coming from the left rim. I blew up that section on the next shot, to show the little scratches are two hikers. It helps put a sense of scale to the shots.