Monday, July 29, 2013

A Night-time Visit to Mt. Wilson

I recently spent a half-night with a group that rented out the 60" telescope at Mt. Wilson. A short post (with more pictures) is at my seldom-used sidewalk astronomy blog.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Hike 2013.040 -- Griffith Observatory to Ferndell to Bat Caves and Back

Hiked Saturday, July 20. I'm going to roughly estimate this as 6 miles. It should be more, since I was walking for about three hours, but 6 is a fair ballpark. First serious hike in several weeks.

I started my hike from the Griffith Observatory. Getting there is pretty straightforward, and you can google those directions easily. Also, on weekends, there's a 50-cent DASH bus you can catch from the Sunset and Vermont Red Line station up to the Observatory

In a tree just northeast of the Observa-tory was a fair-sized raptor. He looked kinda large, but the tail feathers did not look reddish, so I didn't think he was a red tailed hawk. Looked too big to be a Cooper's hawk, though. I do know he kept a keen eye to his left, so something tasty must have been down there.

Meanwhile, in the shrubbery across the horseshoe from the Observa-tory, there are a number of flowers with really narrow buds. The hummingbirds were having a feast, and also being very territorial about their favorite buds.

As you approach the Observatory from the north, you may notice a trail comes up from the left.

If you go down that trail, then turn left, left at the major true junctions, you'd pop out on Vermont Canyon Road, near the Greek Theater. But if you go right, left, you're on East Observatory Trail, which is the shorter way down to Ferndell.

By "true junction," I mean on the wide, road-width dirt trails that are the official trails in Griffith Park. Most of the narrower ones are not official trails, even if they are often heavily traveled.

In the upper reaches of Ferndell, you've got a dry "stream" bed, flanked by trees. I'll have to come back again in the winter/spring to see if any water flows up here then. Because of the small watershed, I'm assuming not.

Continue going down-stream, and eventually, the bed becomes a seep, then stagnant pools, then trickling water. Earlier in the season, the water flowed nicely and the waterfalls fell. Now, it pretty much stays a trickle, and the smell of wet mud is strong.

Despite the low water, it was still a relaxing walk down here. A scattering of golden leaves on the water, coupled with the atypical (for July) clouds (which even dropped some water on my head on this segment of the hike), made it feel almost fall-like.

Also new since last time I was here, it looks like someone's "planted" some small koi in the water here. Not sure how long they'll last. If not captured by a cheap person's net, I figure once the raccoons figure out there are fish here, they'll be toast.

There's a cafe down near Ferndell, in the Park, but just a bit north of the watered portion of the trail, I think. I haven't explicitly gone to look for it, but maybe one of these days.

Meanwhile, I continued heading south. Once out of Ferndell, I took the paved walkway that eventually drops down and joins Los Feliz, just before that road ends, at Western. I went south on Western Avenue what seemed just a 100 yards or so, then headed west on Franklin Avenue. After a half-mile on Franklin, I turned north (right) on Canyon. From there, it was a longer-than expected 1 1/4 or 1 1/2 miles north before I reached the end of the road, in Brush Canyon.

My first hike in Griffith Park actually started right here, in Camp Hollywoodland. That was an amazing three years ago.

Then, as now, from the end of the road, you cross a small bridge (doesn't really qualify as a bridge, but it does cross a ditch), heading east, and take the dirt road the climbs up and to the south. After a short 1/2 mile (or long 1/4 mile, depending on if you want to round up or down), Bronson Caves (AKA "The Bat Cave") is on your left.

Someone was exploring the caves (or, actually, just standing by the entrance, staring at the wall), so I just snapped a few pictures from a distance and walked on to the north. There's a pretty serious ridge that way, and I was thinking maybe there'd be a shortcut from there back to the Observatory.

Turns out there's not. There is a large hangout for a huge murder of crows, who will send scouts to keep tabs on you if you get even kind of sort of near to them. Since I did not want to be the star of an impromptu reenactment of "The Birds," I decided to keep my distance. I also determined that there would be no shortcut, and retreated back to road level.

Once back down and on the Brush Canyon Trail, it's a long 3/4 of a mile, sweeping up along the east slope of the canyon, before you reach Mulholland Trail. Near the start, I looked back, at a large oak tree. Among its gnarled roots was a green box, which, I would suspect, was a geocache.

At Mulholland Trail, a left turn there would take you towards Mt. Lee and the Hollywood Sign. A right, on the other hand, would take me back to the Observatory. I went right. A 1/4 mile later, I reached Mt. Hollywood Drive.

From there, I headed south. There's a choice you need to make after another 1/4 mile: Do I want to climb up the "3-mile Trail," towards Mt. Hollywood, then descend from there into the north end of the Observatory parking lot? Or do I stay on Mt. Hollywood Drive, give up all sorts of altitude as I descend towards Vermont Canyon Road, then either regain that altitude by walking up West Observatory Road, or gain even more altitude by taking the short, steep spur trail that joins up with the Charlie Turner Trail?

Today, I decided to stay on Mt. Hollywood Drive. It's paved, which means bicyclist can come flying by you at 30 mph or more. It's also tougher on the hiking boots. But I took the "high road" the last few times this way, so it was time for a change of pace.

Along the way, I saw a gibbous, almost full moon rising. When I reached a point where I could capture it and an impressive looking yucca stalk, I stopped for a picture. I also got a nice view of the Observatory at twilight, with long lines on the front lawn and on the roof to look through the Observatory's telescopes.

About six miles for the day. Skip the little adventure up the ridge near Bronson Caves, and everything else is on wide dirt- or paved-road. No reason why a youngster who's able to walk significant distances couldn't do this trail. Also, dogs are allowed, though they should be leashed and picked up after. The leashed part is particularly important if you come across equestrians.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hike 2013.026 -- Brown Mountain Truck Trail -- Millard Campground to Ken Burton Trail

Hiked Saturday, May 4.

This is a hike from over two months ago, that I never quite finished blogging about. This is also before the format for my posts changed. I don't know why it changed, but instead of giving me small pictures like here, they've been giving me oversized pictures. Not sure what I clicked on to change it, but I prefer this older format.

It was a pleasant surprise of a hike, because, despite over three years of trying to do 100 hikes a year, and despite this one being only about ten miles from home, I had never done it before. However, while hike the Altadena Crest Trail in early April, someone I ran into mentioned this trail. So, on the day of this hike, that recollection returned, and off I went, to Millard Canyon.

There's a waterfall in Millard Canyon, but the trail to the base of that weaterfall has been closed since the winter after the Station Fire. As a result, the parking lot down in Millard is almost always mostly empty. Most of the trails you can access from there, you can access from elsewhere, and either not need an Adventure Pass or have several hundred fewer feet of altitude to gain to get out of the canyon.

Despite the empty parking lot, I ran into plenty of trail users. Most were mountain bikers, many of whom like to ride fast. Fortunately, my hearings pretty good, and, since I'm hiking by myself, I can usually hear them before I can see them (and they can see me), so I can step off to the side before the bikes reach me.

And step aside you must. For, one thing I have noticed about the Angeles: Just 'cause they call it a "truck trail" doesn't mean it's going to be wide.

In this case, the generally flat area was relatively wide, but the area free of plant growth and suitable for hiking or biking was very narrow. It has obviously been a number of years since a truck has actually driven the length of the road, I would guess.

The parking area for the trailhead is at the end of Chaney Trail Road. Chaney Trail heads north, off of Loma Alta Road, and is about 1/3 mile west of Fair Oaks, and about 1/2 mile east of Lincoln.

An Adventure Pass is required to park in the lot, and along most of the rest of Chaney Trail Road, once you get into the hills. At the crest of a hill, before you descend into Millard Canyon, there's a stub of a road where people interested in hiking the Sunset Ridge trail (towards Echo Mountain and/or Mount Lowe) will park. That area is often pretty crowded (much more so than at the bottom of the canyon).

To get to Brown Mountain Truck Trail, stay on the paved road (do not park in the stub of a road at the crest) and continue down into Millard Canyon. On most of this road, there is no line in the center, and it's winding and narrow, so drive slow. In addition to cars, you need to be on the look out for bikes and hikers, in addition to the occasional fallen rock.

Once at the bottom of the Canyon, the road heads into the parking lot, with room for about twenty cars. Brown Mountain Road is the gated dirt road on the near (northeast) side of the parking lot. There's another gated dirt road that starts off from the southwest side of the lot, but I did not investigate where or how far that road goes.

Basically, you start out as though you are either heading towards Millard Canyon Falls, or as if you were going to take the trail back up towards the Sunset Ridge Trail. You'll pass by the fenced off section that forbids entry further up Millard Canyon, passing the caretaker's trailer along the way. There are several cabins down here, apparently inhabited year-round. Pass them as the road winds to the south and begins gaining altitude.

Once on the main road, you generally bear to the right. Do not go down the narrow bike trail you pass within the first 1/4 mile or so, on your left. Do not take a diversion on to a dirt road further up the mountain, either. Both would take you down, towards JPL. Instead, just go up, stay on the "main" road, and head into the hills.

I passed two trail signs with distances along the way. The first said I had gone 2.9 miles from Millard Campground, and the second said I had gone 5.5 miles. The second also said I was at the Ken Burton Trailhead.

After I got back home, I looked at my Tom Harrison Angeles Front Country Trail Map and easily traced my route. I could see that I started at about 1800 feet and ended at about 2900 feet. This means it's a pretty low altitude hike, and more fitting for spring than for summer. Fortunately, on the day I hiked, it was pretty cool.

At the end of the trail, you're rewarded with a rather impressive view into the Angeles National Forest. Several views of Angeles Crest Highway are also available on your way up.

At the time of the hike, there were quite a bit of wild-flowers. I image things are a lot drier, now. As I mentioned earlier, this seems like a spring hike rather than a summer hike.

I also mentioned that this hike could (apparent-ly) be linked with JPL. I've never hiked out of JPL, but, despite the guarded gate, I am told there are certain hikes they'll let you go to. You should probably consult additional sources for where and when you can hike out of that area, though. And, if you find out, feel free to post here so I'll know, too!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Hike 2013.036 -- Momyer and Alger Creek Trails, San Bernardino National Forest

Hiked Saturday, June 22. 10.6 miles.

Figured on hiking in the San Bernardino Mountains this day, but wasn't sure where. Kinda wanted to go up Vivian Creek again, figuring the creek would be shaded and scenic at this time of the year. However, the visitor center at the mouth of Mill Creek answered the question of where to hike quite succinctly: By the time I got there, the only wilderness permit opening left was for Momyer-Alger Creek trailhead. So that's where I went.
This trailhead is just past the town of Forest Falls. You need an Adventure Pass to park there.

No real plan for my hike. As I noted earlier, I hadn't even planned on hiking out of this trailhead. But I did have a San Bernardino National Forest Recreation map, which I bought a few years ago, during a previous visit to the Mill Creek visitor center. The map is labeled as from "Fine Edge Nautical & Recreational Publishing." I note this, not to praise the map, but to bury it. More on that later.
This map was a large-scale map, with the whole forest on a large sheet of paper. Trails had little detail and few landmarks labeled along the way. But it did show a stream crossing, not too far down the way.
In fact, as I looked at the map more closely, it showed a possible loop I could make: After crossing Alger Creek, I should be able to link up with another trail that would head back down to Mill Creek. I'd have to walk a mile or so along the highway at the end, but it would keep me from having to backtrack.
So that was the plan as I crossed Mill Creek. The creek bed here is white sand and large boulders, and not a lot of water. At least that's how it looked on the day I hiked. On the other side of the creekbed was a sign, informing me that the wilderness boundary was three miles away.
The trail begins a good climb as soon as you get into the forest. The forest, by the way, is surprisingly thick. Areas of pine and areas of live oak. Higher up are some other varieties of oak. Some yucca, too. And, before long, you've got a nice view over Mill Creek, with the mountains rising high across the way.
I eventually passed a junction for San Bernardino Peak. One day soon, if I have all day, I may try to conquer that peak. Unlike San Gorgonio, it seems to be a doable day hike for me.

No other signage along the trail until I reached Momyer Camp, which was just before the Momyer Creek crossing.
At Momyer, I found plenty of columbine, again. It's funny that I had started to miss this flower. But, after my Icehouse Canyon hike of a few weeks back, I've managed to meet my old friend on a surprising number of hikes.
I also came across some pretty, puffy, pale purple flowers, just like I had seen near the end of my Mt. San Jacinto Hike, from three (!) years ago.
Shortly after passing those flowers, I reached a junction that was NOT on my map. Then I started to panic, because I knew I was losing light. The plan was to do a loop back down to Mill Creek. But I was rapidly reaching the point of no return: If I didn't turn around soon, and still failed to find the trail looping back, then I'd end up walking back in the dark. So I turned around.
Good thing I did. When I got back home and looked at my Tom Harrison map of the San Gorgonio Wilderness, I discovered that, at least according to Harrison, there is no "loop" trail possible. Had I kept going, I would definitely have been totally screwed. So, lesson for all: Just 'cause you have a map doesn't mean you know where you're going!
Instead of coming down in darkness, I came down as the sun set over the hills south of Mill Creek. It was a gorgeous day of hiking. 10.6 miles, according to Tom Harrison, who is clearly more trustworthy than Fine Edge. A bit over 2,000 feet of altitude gain. And a perfect day for hiking.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Hike 2013.038 -- Mary Jane Falls Trail, Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, NV

Hiked Saturday, June 29. 4 miles. Yeah, I still don't know why my blogspot pictures are posting so different. You need to click on the pictures to get them to display in the same format that I took them. Oh, well.
Spring Mountains National Recreation Area lies to the west and north of Las Vegas. They're adjacent to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, but are in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Of course, the Humboldt-Toiyabe consists of a series of discontinuous tree-covered ranges that divide the various basin regions of Nevada. The national forest has patches scattered over virtually every end of the state.
From Las Vegas, you'd take US 95 north. At NV-157 (Kyle Canyon Road), about 25 miles north (west) of I-15), turn left. There's a sign for this, and a left turn pocket, which is nice, because the cars are moving fast through here. Then just driving "straight," staying on NV-157 until you basically reach the end. Follow the signs for Mary Jane Falls Trail when you get near the end. It's really hard to miss.
There's a visitor center along the way, but it doesn't open until 9am. And, in southern Nevada, in the summertime, 9am is about two hours later than you want to start your hike, anyway.

I got there around 8am. At that time, there was plenty of parking. And I only passed maybe a dozen people coming in. There were a lot more on the way out, but it was still not hard to get away from it all.
The trail begins at an informational kiosk, with a running-water toilet station. You head on past both those structures, along a nice, flat, obvious trail. It's a mixture of Ponderosa pine, white fir, and aspen, so I image the fall color here must be pretty nice.
To my left, I saw the gibbous moon, setting over a towering limestone cliff. To my right and in front of me, more limestone cliffs. This whole area was once under a shallow sea, and the shells of billions of dead sea creatures have been compressed and cemented into the limestone that dominates the scenery.
After about 1/2 mile of easy going, the actual trail makes a sharp right and begins switchbacking upwards. If you were to continue straight at this split, there's a place called "Big Falls" up that drainage. I explored that way somewhat on the way back, but turned around before reaching where the waterfall might be. I was a little tired and was pretty sure there would be no actual falling water to be found there on this day.
As you gain altitude on the main trail, the views across the canyon get more and more spectacular. The rocks here have been twisted and contorted into crazy shapes, folded over itself repeatedly.
My first view of the falls was underwhelming. I made a switchback, and saw a dark, wet patch along the wall. A few moments later, I could hear the trickle of water (four pictures up).
However, once I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found at the base of the falls: Shooting stars. First, I saw just the one patch. Then I turned around and saw more. And these colorful little bees were busy working those buds.
Mixed in with the shooting stars were columbine. A bit further down the hill were a bunch of thistle, with more shooting stars and columbine mixed in. While the bees preferred the shooting stars, the hummingbird seemed partial to the thistle.
It was a peaceful place, made more so by the relative solitude I could enjoy. There were about five other people in the area, and they were quiet enough that I could concentrate on my attempts to photograph hummingbirds and bumble bees, and enjoy the trickle of the water at my feet. A tiny stream, maybe one foot across and an inch deep, flowed away from the "falls," and soon seeped into the ground.
After about 20 minutes, I headed on down. As I mentioned earlier, I made a detour up the alternate trail. I saw areas where snowslides had felled large pines, and young aspen were filling in the void. These areas also looked like they'd be gorgeous in the fall.
I also had a large and pretty butterfly land nearby. But I only had my 18-55 mm lens on, and, as I expected, when I tried to change lens, it flew away.
The way up the alternate trail is slow, with lots of boulder hopping. I fell once, and didn't have the motivation to keep going for the expected non-payoff at the end. So I turned around after about 1/2 mile of this slow going.
As I got back to near the trailhead, I passed a couple of really large, pyramid-shaped plants. Literally at the start of the trail, I found one starting to bloom. They look like moth mullein.

About four miles for the day. It's about 20 degrees cooler up here than in Las Vegas, by the way. It's a nice place to get away from the Strip, if you're looking for cooler outdoor recreation in the summer in Las Vegas.