Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hike 2012.030 -- Whittier Narrows

The Whittier Narrows aren't anything like the Zion Narrows. They just the spot between the Montebello Hills (to the west) and the Whittier (or Puente) Hills (to the East). Between these hills flow the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo Rivers, both of which drain the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains. They run generally north to south, and largely parallel to each other. Historically, the two rivers would switch channels with some regularity. Now, both are mostly encased in concrete and are not exactly the most scenic waterways in the world.

Set in the heart of the Whittier Narrows is the Whittier Narrows Nature Center. Its entrance is at 1000 E. Durfee Road. Most likely, you'd get there by taking the Pomona Freeway (CA-60) to Peck Road, head south on Peck for 1/4 (if coming in on the eastbound 60) to 1/2 (if coming from the westbound 60) of a mile, then turning right at Durfee.

After passing a McDonald's and some commercial strip office develop-ments, South El Monte High School will be on your right. As you reach the athletic fields on your right, the entrance to the Nature Center will be on your left. It's a little tricky to get into because there are raised yellow bumps in the median, designed to keep students coming out of the school parking lot from trying to make a left on to Durfee. Your left is immediately after the bumps end.

You can also reach this place by coming north on Peck Road to Durfee, or north or south on Rosemead Blvd to Durfee, or taking the Rosemead exit from the Pomona Freeway, then turning east on Durfee. If you're coming from Rosemead Blvd, the corner with Durfee (to the east) is also the corner with San Gabriel Blvd (to the west). From Rosemead Blvd, continue east on Durfee about two miles, with Legg Lake park on your left, past one traffic light, then be looking for the entrance on your right. If coming from either side, there are "approaching" signs several hundred feet before the actual entrance.

The head-quarters for Whittier Narrows Nature Center is an old building, probably built in the 1930s. It's dark and filled with really worn taxidermy. A number of snakes are in aquariums on one wall. They do not seem to have a current detailed map of the trails in the area. I get the impression that most folks visit for the bird watching, which means you're not really trying to walk a trail so much as get to where the birds are.

A small gift shop is attached to the museum, although it was closed when I wanted to visit it. There's also a small detached restroom with running water, several drinking fountains and several benches with shade.

The museum building is surrounded by large and relatively old but non-native trees. As a result, despite your proximity to Durfee, you get a somewhat sheltered feel.

From the visitor center/museum, you have two trail choices: to the south or to the west. The west path begins as a nature walk. I didn't go further that way, so I don't know for sure what you'd see. I went to the southeast end of the parking lot and headed under a wooden sign announcing the Tim Bulmer Memorial Trail. This one heads about 1/4 mile, to "the gates of the San Gabriel River." They mean this literally, as there is a lockable chain link gate where this trail intersects with the San Gabriel River Trail.

I've mentioned the San Gabriel River trail a few times; it's a paved bike/pedestrian/equestrian path from Azusa to Long Beach.

Because I had hiking boots on, I had no interest in walking the pavement towards either Azusa or Long Beach. Instead, when I reached the San Gabriel River Trail, I turned around. There's another paved path that rims the Whittier Narrows Nature Center, on the east side of a small channel or canal that breaks off from the San Gabriel River. Meanwhile, on the west side of that channel, the path is sandy dirt. I stayed on the sandy dirt side, heading towards the southwest.

After about 1/2 mile, I reached a fork in the road. A bridge crossed the canal. Two turkey vultures ate what I eventually discovered to be a dead rabbit.

Straight ahead would go towards the corner of Rosemead and Durfee. Left would take me to the the Dam. I eventually decided to go left.

I crossed the bridge and continued to the southwest, eventually reaching a dam that spans the San Gabriel River's bed. I would have assumed this was the Whittier Narrows Dam, although Google maps lists the dam blocking the Rio Hondo as the Whittier Narrows Dam. Of course, practically-speaking, it's one big dam, and one interconnected floodplain, so maybe the Whittier Narrows Dam applies to both parts?

Whittier Narrows Dam is huge, probably over a mile long. There's a small concrete area, with large mechanical spillways. But most of it is earthen. Recent reports by the Army Corps of Engineers say that the dam is also subject to total failure in the event of an earthquake. At least in part because of that, there's no reservoir behind the dam. There are a few small ponds, but mostly it's just a field of weeds and trees. Currently, there are lots of wildflowers, and it looks nice. Usually, I think it's just dry and dusty.

At the small pond nearest the dam, I walked off the trail and along the rocks to get closer to the water. I inadvertently startled some heron, who flew over to the other side of the pond, then settled down, again. The wide shot is at the top of this post; the closer crop of the heron is below.

The bike path climbs up to the crest of the dam. From there, you can look east, towards the Whittier Hills, including Rio Hondo College, Rose Hills Memorial Park, and the methane gas electrical generating plant.

Looking to the south, you overlook Pico Rivera's little par 3 golf course. The bike path continues south from there, on towards Long Beach. Alternatively, you can ride or walk the path that goes along the crest of the dam, eventually intersecting with Rosemead Blvd about 1/2 mile north of Gallatin Road. Since going there would either require a long backtrack or a long walk along the shoulder of Rosemead Blvd, I decided not to go that way.

Instead, I went back to the earlier junction, and took the long, straight walk along what Google Maps labels "Siphon Road." I walked straight off for about 4/5 of a mile, until I reached Durfee and determined there was no alternate, northern route back to the visitor center.

Somewhere north of Siphon Road, the map I picked up at the visitor center showed several lakes. Yet none were visible on my walk, and none are visible on the Google Maps satellite shot of the area.

After having returned about 3/5ths of the 4/5ths of a mile I had walked the other, I found a trail that seemed to offer an alternative. However, it eventually petered out. It also ran smack into what looked like stacks of honeybee colonies. I also came across a renegade colony, living in a wooden spool that probably once had cable.

My route eventually returned me to Durfee Road, somewhat west of Santa Anita Avenue. When the shoulder vanished on the south side of the road, I crossed over to the north. Pleasantly surprised, I found myself looking at an interesting bit of what was probably Depression-era architecture. It looked like a modified Mission style, with the bell tower looking more art deco than Spanish missionary.

Unfortunately, the building is fenced off. It must have been quite impressive in its time, when one approached this building from Durfee.

I continued along the north side of Durfee, skimming the edge of Legg Lake Park. I walked past several holes of a Frisbee golf course, and came across a fenced area where new, larger electrical transmission towers were rising. This area, like many places I've been hiking recently, is part of the Tehatchapi renewable power transmission project, which will close off access to the Whittier Narrows Nature Center from some time in July through October of 2012).

When I got back to the entrance of the nature center, I came back in, and wrapped up my hike.

I'm figuring 3.5 to 4.0 miles for the day, and essentially no altitude gain. It's low-difficulty hike, but not very scenic, and the San Gabriel River smells funny down here. I think it might make more sense to come here with bikes, and ride the paved trails through and around the nature center, including some of the San Gabriel River Trail. However, even there, you need to pay attention, because some folks on that bike trail take their riding seriously. Kids weaving along the path would drive them nuts.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Annular Solar Eclipse, Cedar City, UT

Didn't do any hiking the past week. This last weekend, I had a busy one, full of driving and astronomy, but no hiking.

I've got a picture of the annular phase, taken with my "point and shoot" through the eyepiece of one of my telescopes. Because of the picture approach, you can see a lot of reflections off the glass of the telescope's eyepiece. You can also see the "ring of fire" that was visible by looking through the telescope.

A link to my sidewalk astronomy blog write-up is linked here.

My hiking schedule for the coming week is starting to look pretty compacted, too. Still, I'll definitely get something in over Memorial Day weekend, if not before.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hike 2012.029 -- Mt. San Jacinto from Mountain Station

Hiked Saturday, May 12. I got an intention-ally late start on this hike because I wanted to hike in twilight, thinking maybe I might see some wildlife. I also figured hiking from Mountain Station would be pretty quick and easy, since the net gain is only about 2,300 feet.

However, having just woken up from that hike just an hour before writing these words (though many days before I finished the entire post!), I can report feeling pretty stiff from this little hike. Despite the head start in altitude, it's still about 11 3/4 miles roundtrip, and the gross gain is several hundred feet more than the net 2,200 feet.

To get to this trail head, I rode the aerial tramway from Valley Station to Mountain Station. To get to Valley Station, I took Interstate 10 east, about seven miles past Cabazon and about 1/2 mile past Hagen-Lehman exit (That's the exit I took to get to the trailhead for one of my Whitewater Preserve hikes, along the Pacific Crest Trail).

CA-111 splits off from I-10 here. I took CA-111 about eight miles, to Tram Way. There's a large sign on your right (I mean a LARGE sign and visitor's center). Turn right and head two miles up a somewhat steep two-lane road. When you get to the top, an attendant will direct you to a lot, where you'll either have to walk or catch a tram up to the Valley Station.

Here's a link to the website for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. This was my first time riding up there, so I can tell you what's on the website, but can't tell you about how crowded or how long the wait might be later in the season.

Currently (May 2012), a ride up and back costs $23.95 for adults, $16.95 for children under 3-12, and $21.95 for seniors. I seem to recall seeing a reduced price for twilight tickets, but I don't see that on the web page. An annual pass is $150, and a summer season pass (good until the end of August) is $70. Buying a pass gives you the advantage of boarding the first available tram without needing a reservation and a 10% discount on gift shop, food, and guest ticket purchases. I bought the summer pass as an inducement for me to go visit the high country here at least twice more this summer (Note--later in the season, I was informed that the summer pass did NOT entitle me to a discount in the gift shop. I was peeved by this change of policy, and by the way the snooty little shop worker informed me of this).

The elevation at the Valley Station is 2,643. Mountain Station is at 8,516. It takes only 11 minutes for the ride up, and the view is impressive, to say the least.

Despite the express ride up to over 8,500 feet, the hike to the summit of Mount San Jacinto is still not a piece of cake. From the ranger station (which is, itself, about 1/2 mile from the Mountain tram station), the hike is 5.8 miles to the summit, so figure on about 12 1/2 miles roundtrip, with a net altitude gain of just over 2,300 feet.

By contrast, the Marion Mountain Trail approach I took to San Jacinto two years ago was only 10.6 miles roundtrip, though with 2,500 more feet of vertical gain.

The other difference between this trip and my last trip is that I haven't had a chance to work up my endurance. Yeah, I hiked Mt. Wilson the previous week, but that was my first hike with really serious vertical gain of the season, and the first hike over 10 miles since early February. Unlike 2010, I haven't been up Mt. Baldy, nor even up Icehouse Canyon. I haven't spent any time over 6,000 feet, either.

Thus, I knew I would have to take it easy.

I felt like a real dog as I sloooowly made my way up the trail, while other folks were practically bounding down the other way, having started at a more typical hour and, thus were already nearly back as I was barely heading out. I have to say this trail seemed to have some of the fittest collection of hikers I ever saw. I was still only passed heading up by one hiker going up, but that had more to do with the small number of hikers starting after me than my own slow hiking pace. Several passed me on the return trip, and some quite swiftly.

Also somewhat unusually, I'm pretty sure the women outnumbered the men on this trail. Not quite sure what makes this trail different from most others I've been on, but there you have it.

One difference might be that this is a pretty heavily traveled trail, despite it being high and far and relatively long.

People also seemed to be talking louder on this trail than many others. I heard numerous voices long before I could see the bodies with which they were associated. For all I know, that could be because hikers' ears get stuffed during the ascent on the tram. In fact, the tram ride back was REALLY loud.

I didn't mind the voices too much, as there were still spots along the way where the trail was not distinct (I was forced off the trail path by several patches of snow), and hearing voices let me know which way I would eventually have to go.

Despite being only mid-May, the light snowfall and recent warm temperatures left 98 percent of the trail free of snow. I was counting on as much when I made plans for this hike. There were a few drifts I had to navigate, and I post-holed my boot a few times. But those times were rare. I would wager nearly all of those areas will be clear this weekend.

The mountain immediately southwest of San Jacinto (Folly Peak, I think) had a north-facing slope that was still well-covered in snow, but I didn't have to hike there. So most of the way was just a brisk walk.

Despite the lack of snow cover, spring hasn't quite come to the high country. I expected to see wildflowers, but the grasses were looking like late summer, which I'm assuming is because they haven't started growing, yet. I saw one spot where I'm pretty sure in a few weeks there'll be a thicket of mule-eared plants (probably not the actual mule's ear, but something I've always thought should have such a name). Rapids of snow melt ran along much of the trail, and gave me a soothing song to make the miles go by quicker.

Chatted with a scout leader on the way up, too. As I often say, it's not that I'm anti-social---I just don't mind hiking alone. But I also don't mind having someone to share the experience with. They had started from down in Idlewyld, which made this a really long day for him and his group.

I spent a fair amount of the last mile or so debating if I had time to finish the hike. I caught a 12:45 tram ride up, wandered near the station and took in some views for a bit, then wandered a bit near Long Meadow before making my way to the Ranger Station to get my state wilderness permit (free, but required). Didn't leave the ranger station until about 1:30pm.

For the 11 mile roundtrip, I was estimating a bit under six hours, which would get me back to the ranger station (still at least a half-mile from the tram) by 7:30pm, which would be right about when things start getting dark.

Given the altitude, I had some concern the temperatures might drop quickly once the sun went down. Still, I figured shorts and a hoodie would be sufficient, since I wouldn't be out THAT late.

So, during that last mile and a half, I kept checking the time on my cell phone. First, I said I wanted to turnaround at 4:20. Then 4:45. Then, well, hey, I'm only 3/10ths of a mile from the top, so I might as well go all the way.

Reached the summit around 5pm. That meant I had used up my entire margin for error. If I managed to get seriously lost on the way back, I'd be walking in pitch darkness.

So I only spent about eight minutes at the summit before making my way back down.

It's a bit of boulder-hopping at the very top, before the actual trail resumes. Then there's a long run to the east. I had just hiked this up, so I knew there was a long lateral. That part's really weird, because you can see the tram station during your lateral, and it sure seems like there ought to be a more direct trail between here and there.

So, on the return trip, as I was racing the sun, I kept feeling like I was going the wrong way. But I suppressed my urge to try a more direct route and stayed on the trail. I still lost it briefly around several of the snow patches, just as I had on the way up.

Also, as I descended, I could see that I'd be walking in the shade. The ridge line blocks out the sun early, so pretty much the whole return was in the shade. I started feeling a little cool, and stopped to pull on my hoodie.

Except my hoodie wasn't in my backpack. Crap.

Turns out I pulled it out of my backpack when I checked to make sure I had the sunblock, just as I left the car. Forgot to put the sweater back in. So now if I got seriously lost, this was really going to suck.

Fortunately, I did not get seriously lost. I would have preferred the sweater to no sweater the last 90 minutes or so of hiking, but I only felt uncomfortable, not cold.

The last bit of the hike was tough. I knew when I got started that there was going to be the paved sidewalk, switch-backing up to the tram station level. Feels like solid 100 feet vertical, at least. Yeah, 100 feet isn't much. But there's the altitude, and being at the end of the hike, and knowing from past experience that if I get my heart rate up at altitude, I'm going to get a headache.

So when I heard the PA announce the next train was leaving in ten minutes, boy, but that was a long way up.

But, of course, I did make the next tram. As I said earlier, it was REALLY loud in there on the way down. Also, the rotating floor seemed to mess with some people's sense of place, so I got completely squeezed out from where I stood and had to move back about two feet. No biggie--it's not like you could see much in the dark. Didn't stop one doofus from shooting flash photos of. . . Well, I'd guess, when he got home, he had some really nice pictures of the window of the tram car! And then he's talking about wanting to shut off the flash, which made me laugh, because if you're shooting a dark landscape, hand-held, you're going to get a picture of darkness, no matter what ISO you set.

Man, I must be in a grumpy mood as I write this. Too much caffeine today, I guess. I kept feeling like I was going to fall asleep at work, so I drank three cups of coffee and two cups of cola. And another large glass after I got home. Still. What a doofus.

Haven't started packing for my Mojave/Utah trip, yet. I have the star party on Saturday, the solar eclipse on Sunday, and Guilder to frame for it. . . . Heh, heh. Even grumpy, I still have an odd sense of humor.

OK, bottom line: twelve miles of hiking, a bit over 2300 feet. But the key is the altitude. You start at over 8,500 and your turnaround point rises to over 10,800. Even some people who are very fit at sea level can have trouble at high altitude. Give yourself plenty of time and drink plenty of fluids. The trail junctions are well-signed and heavily traveled, so as long as you don't wander off the trail, you'll be fine.

No time for any other hike this last week. I had to spend the week wrapping up a night class I'm teaching this semester. That means I'm heading out to the Mojave without a well-thought out observing plan. So I'm a bit rushed as I get ready to take off. No time to proofread. Not sure what I'll look at tonight. But it will be dark, and that pretty much guarantees a good night.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mojave National Preserve Star Party

Weather-permitting, I'll be heading to the Mojave National Preserve next Saturday (May 19) for a dark-sky star party.

I've helped out (with a telescope) at this semi-annual party about 4 times in the past, and it's almost always gone well (a few times it was a little windy for telescopes, but we still got to see something!). By May, we're hoping the high winds will be gone and we should get some excellent viewing in.

I've linked the flyer in the first paragraph, above. I'll also probably move this one back up to the top of the blog in a few days, a day or two after I get my next hike or two blogged.

The Preserve has outstanding dark skies and plenty of open space for hiking. I've got a few of my hikes from the preserve linked below:

Table Top Mountain

Barber Peak Loop

Teutonia Peak

The Black Canyon group campground mentioned in the Mojave Preserve linked at the top is north of I-40. Yes, it's quite a drive (about 4 hours), and you'll want to fill your tank in Barstow.

If you take I-40, you'll parallel historic route 66 for a good chunk of the drive, so you can take that scenic route, too. Amboy Crater is right adjacent to historic route 66. If it's not too hot, it's definitely worth a stop.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hike 2012.028 -- Garcia Trail to Glendora Mountain

Hiked Monday, May 7.

As I drove up from work on Monday afternoon, the 605 freeway looked like it might be moving okay past the 10, so continued north, so I continued north on I-605 (San Gabriel River Freeway) to the 210, then took I-210 (Foothill Freeway) east, to Azusa Avenue. I went north on Azusa, through "Old Town" Azusa, past the new Target store, to Sierra Madre Blvd. There, where the venerable old Stop-and-Go Store (I'm actually not sure if it's still a Stop-and-Go) sits on the southwest corner of Sierra Madre and San Gabriel Canyon Road, I made a right. (Actually, you could take the soft right just before you reach Sierra Madre Blvd. That's Azusa Drive. It hits Sierra Madre about 30 yards east of where San Gabriel Canyon Road does).

Head east about 1.5 miles, passing through two traffic circles. The Garcia trailhead is right behind the fire station that's on the northeast rim of the second traffic circle. There's no parking on the south side of Sierra Madre here, so you can either pass through the traffic circle, then make a U-turn and park on the north side of Sierra Madre, just before the traffic circle, or you can exit the traffic circle at your first right, which would be Macneil Drive. Because of the limited parking on Sierra Madre, most hikers end up parking on Macneil. In fact, right now, I'm looking at the google maps satellite photo of this traffic circle, and, sure enough, Macneil south of Sierra Madre is lined with cars.

Dan Simpson gives the distance of the hike to Glendora Mountain (or Glendora Peak) as 4.8 miles roundtrip, with a net gain of about 1800 feet. Gross gain would be slightly more than that, since you give up a little altitude as you pass behind Azusa Peak, on your way to Glendora Peak.

The charge up the Garcia trail is a steep one, though a surprisingly large proportion of hikers on Monday afternoon and evening were committed to running up and/or down the trail. I stepped aside at least a dozen times to let runners go past or around me. Nearly all of them continued their jog without even a grunt of acknowledgement.

I maintained a modest but continuous pace up the trail, stopping only occasionally to take some pictures. There were plenty of sunflowers in bloom, as well as sage, fountain grass, wild mustard, and other flowers I did not recognize. I saw a relatively small number of blue penstemon. Most of these, I've taken many photos of recently, so I kept my walking, huffing and puffing up the steep incline. Probably nothing this steep beyond the Poopout Trail in Glendora, or some of the trails in Rubio Canyon.

It was another hazy afternoon, so views were somewhat limited to the south and west. The Santa Ana Mountains did rise above the haze, to the southeast. The views to the north were better, though not crystal clear.

Once I reached the crest of the ridge, the trail leveled off for a while, and the crowds thinned. Most people either pause at the crest, or continue to the top of nearby Asuza Peak. Instead, I continued around the back (north side) of Azusa Peak). A partial but robust canopy of oaks (with a lower canopy of poison oak!) gave me some shade. The north slope here has a really thick mantle of trees. It's quite a contrast to the south-facing side.

I got to enjoy ten or fifteen minutes of solitude as I made my way towards Glendora Mountain, to the east. On that last 1.2 miles or so, I passed only the exer-hiker/mountain biker pair that had passed me near the start of my hike.

Although there's a trail that heads up the west slope of Glendora Peak, I continued around to the east side, then took the use trail on that side up towards the rounded crest of the mountain. As I started up, I saw an adult male deer kept an eye on me. I moved slowly, firing off a few frames from my camera as I walked. Soon, I saw there were actually two bucks up there.

I debated turning around and leaving the summit to them. But, eventually, they retreated to the thin band of oaks along the north side of the ridge, and I continued to the summit marker, taking a round-about route to give the deer some space.

At the summit is a stake with the numbers, "3547," which you might think is the altitude of this point, but is apparently not. So what do the numbers mean? I have no idea.

I spent only a few moments there before going back the way I came. I didn't want to be too big of an imposition on their evening feeding.

On my way back along the dirt road that is the trail here along the ridge, I enjoyed the view back down the trail, with Azusa Peak now well below where I stood. Then a vehicle that looked an awful lot like an oversized, gasoline-powered golf cart came rolling up the hill, with a middle aged man at the wheel and about five youths and two trashcans in the bed. Not sure where they were going or what they were up to, but I suppose it's their road and their land I'm walking on.

Got back to my car about two hours after I left, feeling great and happy about getting the opportunity to take this late-afternoon/early evening hike in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hike 2012.027 -- Mount Wilson via Toll Road

Hiked Sunday, May 6.

I considered several trail possibilities on Sunday before settling on the Eaton Canyon to Mount Wilson route. It's little long, considering I haven't managed much hiking the past few weeks. However, it's a short drive, which would give me the most time hiking versus driving. Also, there are several logical turn-around points on the way to Mount Wilson, so if I got tired, I could always bail early and head back down.

The Eaton Canyon route strikes me as the easiest way up Mount Wilson, and it's probably the way I've gone the most frequently over the past few years. The shortest way to do this is to park near the corner of Crescent Drive and Pinecrest Crest Drives, in Altadena.

To get there, take the 210 Freeway to Altadena Drive. Head north about two miles, passing a park and several lights along the way. As you pass New York Drive, you'll see the entrance to Eaton Canyon Nature Center on your right. You might choose to park there and visit the nature center or take some of the nature trails down there. However, if your destination is Mount Wilson, continuing north will knock two miles off your hike.

Continue another mile past the nature center. The road will reduce back down to one lane each way and make several sweeping curves as you continue north, then northwest, then north, again. When your road begins another turn to the west, you'll see a road splitting off, to your right. That'll be Crescent Drive. Turn right there, and start looking for somewhere to park.

The stop sign about 50 yards up this road is Pinecrest. There's no longer-term parking (over two hours) on Pinecrest (and, on weekends, there's no parking at all on Pinecrest), so aim to park somewhere before the stop sign.

Park carefully, turning your front wheels appropriately to set yourself against the force of gravity. Then walk right at Pinecrest, keeping an eye out for traffic. About 80 yards this way and you'll see the gated entrance to Eaton Canyon, on your right. If you plan to get back before dark, there's no problem. If you don't get back before dark, this gate will be locked, and you've got a two mile detour to get back to your car. That's something to keep in mind as you begin your hike.

Fortunately, it's now late spring, and it doesn't get dark around here until about 7:45pm. So even starting relatively late (about 9:30am, for me, that morning), there's plenty of time to make the hike. It usually takes me about eight hours, roundtrip. That's with a modest, 20 minute rest at the top, plenty of short stops for pictures, but no long rest periods either way. Depending on your own hiking speed and rest or picture taking requirements, you could do this slightly quicker or it could take you a whole lot longer.

The trail starts out as a paved road, but it's only paved to the old bridge that crosses Eaton Canyon Wash. After that, it's mostly a broad dirt road, wide enough for truck travel. It's used by the Forestry Department to staff their station up on Henninger Flats, and for deploying fire crews elsewhere along this route.

That makes this a pretty easy route up, even if there's snow on the ground. That's part of why I head up this way so often--in the winter time, I usually try to manage at least one hike up from the lowlands to the snow line. Didn't make it this year, though

The first incline was frequently covered by rock slides, so they put in a really large set of fencing and rock blocks to hold the hillside back. I saw an interesting red flower, which I assume to be some sort of poppy. It's the first time I remember seeing this flower anywhere, and right along this incline was the only place I saw it today. I suspect they scattered some seeds for it during their last construction period here.

From the bridge, it's about 2 1/2 miles to Henninger Flats. That's a logical turnaround point, and my first bailout point if I got tired. Normally, it's just where I turn around when I'm doing a short conditioning hike. I can do the hike from the Pinecrest entrance to Henninger Flats and back in somewhat less than two hours, so I know if I want to, I can park on Pinecrest for that. Nonetheless, I usually park down on Crescent just so I always have the option during my hike of turning around on heading on.

At Henninger, there's a soda vending machine, flush toilets and a number of campsites. The campground had been closed for quite some time, but it's been open for a while, now. Still, never camped there.

The vast majority of hikers and mountain bikers turn around there, so things usually thin out somewhat after Henninger. No body passed me going up from here besides maybe one or two mountain bikers. Coming down, the mountain bikers were pretty common, but even more so when I began my return trip, many hours later.

I've hiked and blogged on this hike a number of times, so I'll keep my comments here as brief as my longwindedness will allow.

Along the way, I noticed it was pretty hazy to the south, so there were no expansive views to be had today. There was the mysterious sound of bagpipes, however. I couldn't figure out where they were coming from, either there was a troop of bagpipes not too far away, or someone in town had their stereo set at ear-blasting volume. I'm pretty sure it was the former.

I also ran into a huge influx of hikers heading down as I neared Mount Wilson. I'm pretty sure they took a bus up there, because several stopped and asked me how to get to Chantry Flat. I'm assuming their ride was going to meet them there, and I did my best to convey accurate information.

Meanwhile, there's another rock slide partially obstructing the Toll Road, just 1/5 of a mile or so past the junction with the Jones Saddle firebreak. It's pretty much exactly where rock slides have been the past two years. I'm assuming it's been cleared and re-covered, though it's possible I've never noticed that the original slide was never cleared.

Also, just past the rock slide, I came across a gopher snake. It's the third time I saw one just stretched out across a path. Seems like a dangerous way for a snake to lay, since these gopher snakes never seem to move when I approach them. I'm not convinced they'd move out of the way in time if a mountain biker were coming down to bisect them.

Seemed like hundreds of lizards. And I discovered on this hike that garter snakes eat lizards. I small one (maybe ten inches) tried to catch a lizard right in front of me, and the blur of the snake chasing the lizard startled me.

In addition to the little garter snake, I saw a larger one (two feet long or so, maybe more) slithering off into the grass. Unlike gopher snakes, that just lay there, and rattlesnakes, that rattle and hiss at me, garter snakes just seem to scurry off quickly when ever they become aware of me. Don't think I've ever seen one staying still.

The main wildflower I saw on the way up were wild mustard, but I've got plenty of pictures of them, already. In addition to the red poppy I mentioned above, there was a single bush of California Poppies and quite a bit of phlox in bloom.

Among the times I noted along the way, it was just over an hour from the start of the trail to Henninger Flat. I think it was 3 hours to the Jones Saddle firebreak, and about 4 1/2 total to the top. Got back to my car just about eight hours after I left. About 14 miles of walking for the day.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hike 2012.026 -- Rio Hondo College to Nike Missile Base

Hiked Friday, May 4.

Extremely short hike today. It's been a somewhat frustrating last couple of weeks, as I have had either obligations or weather conspire to foil my plans for hiking for nearly two full weeks. I was getting noticeably fatter and noticeably grumpier. So, finally, today, even knowing I was limited to less than two hours to walk, I went hiking, anyway.

I've been on this trail not so long ago, but it's where I wound up today. It was only a small part of that earlier hike, but it was all I had time for today.

I parked on Workman Mill Road, in the small lot adjacent to the Rio Hondo College Book Mart and a flower shop, right across the street from the college. Book Mart's address is 3323 Workman Mill Road, so you can use that to find out where you're trying to get to. The lot you want has a separate entrance, and is just north of the book mart/flower shop.

From there, you either jaywalk across busy Workman Mill Road or walk under the often muddy underpass. The ascent begins relatively slowly, taking you just west of the Rio Hondo College Police Academy. An obstacle course is accessible through an open gate on your right, if you're so inclined to divert yourself.

Otherwise, as you gain altitude, you get an overview of the 605 (San Gabriel River Freeway) and the San Gabriel River, itself, both to your west. Train tracks, a large FedEx facility, and other industrial uses are also to your west. Later, you pass an electrical generating plant that's powered by the methane produced by the trash you're walking next to. And your hike will terminate at a wonderful point overlooking the Puente Hills landfill.

Yeah, it's not exactly a scenic wonderland here.

On the other hand, it's tipping fees from the landfill that paid for a lot of the land that's been turned into hiking space, so why not? It IS kind of nice to have some places to go hiking right here in town.

There's also small wildlife in the area. I saw a couple of California quail along the way, and some pretty red-breasted birds that I thought looked like very large finches. No idea if that's what they are, since I'm not a bird-man.

The turkey vultures were also out in force, again. At least one crow wasn't happy about this, and showed his displeasure by harassing them away from his turf.

Lots of rabbits, ground squirrels, and lizards. And I'm sure when it gets hotter, they'll be plenty of rattlesnakes out and about, again.

But, today, it was just a place where I could get my pulse sped up in a nice way. I'm sure hiking up a hill is a better way to raise your pulse than to get annoyed at traffic or just drinking coffee at your desk, for example.

In addition to the freeway and powerplant, part of your hike takes you above and adjacent to Rio Hondo College, with views to the southeast, to Rose Hills Memorial Park. That's somewhat more peaceful than a freeway, but still not wilderness.

I'm estimating about a three mile roundtrip, though it could be a smidgen less. The incline felt good, but I sure would like to have had more time for a longer walk.

One thing I've been noticing a lot of the past few months is this weird orange parasite growing on a lot of conifers in town. I don't remember seeing it before, but it seems like it's all over the place nowadays. Kind of pretty, though probably not so great for the pine trees.

Unfortunately, tomorrow is also going to be broken up by an obligation. Might try for something more serious on Sunday. We'll see.Besides the dump at the end of the hike, the middle part of the hike (after you've left the west-facing slope that overlooks the 605) opens to the southeast, and Rose Hills Memorial Park. That's nicer than the dump, but still not exactly a place to get away from it all.

BTW, there's not much left of the missile base besides a plaque and the guard shack. Pictures of that here, although the plaque is from a distance and you can't read it from here.