Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hike 2015.007 -- Rainbow Rock Canyon, Whitewater Preserve, CA

Hiked Sunday, January 25. 7.1 miles roundtrip, approxi-mately 1,000 feet of altitude gain, per this article and others.

Whitewater Preserve is managed by the Wildlands Conservancy, the same folks who manage the Oak Glen Preserve, which I visited several times last year, and previously. I've also been to Whitewater numerous times, going as far back as 2010, my first full year with this blog.

I have also approached Whitewater Preserve from the Haugen-Lehman (Cottonwood Trailhead), and the Canyon View Loop Trail.

I still want to walk between Mission Creek Preserve and the Whitewater watershed, and from the Whitewater ranger station to the Mt. San Gorgonio Overlook (The latter trail used to appear on the flyer/map they handed out at Whitewater, but not any more--not sure why).

Yet, despite my familiarity with the area, I learned of a new trail in the area last week: Rainbow Rock Canyon. This one is not on the handout, either. It's sort of a "secret menu" hike.

But I came across a descrip-tion online, and I had been hoping to get back to Whitewat-er for quite some time, so this one worked fine.

The trail starts as nearly all Whitewater trails begin--by passing between the two palm trees to the north of the preserve. From there, continue towards the Pacific Crest Trail. That's a mere half-mile away.

There's a couple of sign posts there; they tell you that a left turn will take you towards Mexico (or to the Canyon View trail, previous noted, above), while going straight takes you towards Canada (or the Mission Creek Preserve, which is much closer than Canada!).
To get to Rainbow Rocks Canyon, you go straight. About a 1/2 mile further along the way, there's an unsigned junction. The main trail crosses a small, dry creek bed, and runs closer towards the Whitewater River. The trail to the left, however, is the one you want.
There was a small rock pile (cairn) at the junction.

This alternate trail, while unmarked on the Whitewater Preserve map, is very well defined on the ground. It heads towards a prominent rocky peak, where the canyon begins to narrow.
I only passed a few of these "rainbow rocks," but they were quite pretty (prettier than the photos do justice). Don't know the science of why they appear as they do, though.

The canyon continues to narrow as you head up, and you keep gaining altitude. In places, you need to duck under branches or over fallen logs. But the trail remains easy to follow.

After about a mile on this spur trail, the ravine bottom begins to get moist. Then occasional pools are found, and sometimes little "waterfalls" are passed.

This area must be sheltered from the elements, as the cottonwood tree I passed still had some leaves, as did a few of the willow trees.

As the trail became very narrow, I passed under a thin, tall (but truncated) coniferous tree, possibly the only one I saw today. Short needles. Didn't notice any cones. I'm guessing it's some sort of fir or spruce.

Eventually, I came to what is probably the end of the trail for most hikers: This was now basically a slot canyon, not much wider at places than a person, and very deep. Rocky cliffs and boulders formed the base for numerous small waterfalls (2-10 feet in height).

I could easily bypass the first few, but then reached the taller fall. This one, I was pretty confident I could climb *up*, but had less confidence in my ability to descend this same little rocky barrier.

While a fall would have been no more than 5-6 feet, it would have been to an uneven, stony floor with numerous boulders in the area. So I determined the risk of injury were I to continue was too large to risk the ascent (which very well might only have gotten me another ten yards, before reaching another barrier).

I do this a lot now that I'm a little older, but, especially, because I'm usually hiking alone. I like to think that one advantage of hiking alone is that you don't get into a "group think" situation where you convince each other that you can do something that maybe you shouldn't be trying to do.
So I climbed various other points nearby and shot pictures up the canyon, relaxed for a bit, then headed back.

I don't know for sure if this water is perennial or not. I sort of assume it mostly is, since there hasn't been that much rain, recently. Water must percolate between cracks in the cliffs around me, then seep out into the ravine.

Because of the sheltered nature of this ravine, the water supports a riparian habitat that is quite different from the main stem of the Whitewater River.
I assume that's why this little stem of a trail is not publicized by the Wildlands Conservancy--it provides vital habitat for the resident mammals and birds, and the habitat is a lot more fragile than the boulder-strewn wash of the larger river into which these waters would eventually flow (underground).

This means, if you come this way, you should trend softly. Even more so than in other areas of the Preserve, pack out what you pack in. And don't camp in the area on loiter around twilight. Especially in the summer time, I expect this is a place that is often visited by indigenous wildlife in search of water.

The return hike seemed much quicker than the hike out. It almost always seems to be the case, especially if the return is down-hill.
Once back at the ranger station / visitor center area, I wandered back down to the trout ponds. I had actually gone there earlier, which is when I discovered I had no SD card in my camera. I had to make a rather long side-trip into Palm Springs to buy one.

Heading up the other way, towards Banning and Beaumont, might have been quicker. Also, if the stupid truck stop /gas station I stopped at on the way to Palm Springs was properly stocked, it would have been faster (but probably more costly). So, instead, I had a ridiculously long detour to get an SD card. This happens way often than I'd like to admit. I really need to get better at double checking my camera before I leave home.
The trout pond hosts introduc-tory fly fishing for youth, as catch and release (though I saw a dead fish floating in the pond, so the "release" part may not always successful). This whole area was once a trout hatchery and commercial fishing pond. I'm not sure if the place still breeds trout; I suspect not.
There's also a large picnic area near the ponds, and a nice view of Mount San Jacinto.

To get to Whitewater, take the Whitewater exit from I-10 (just west of the junction with CA-62, and just east of a rest area), head very briefly east, towards the stone seller, then turn north, and drive to the end of the road. There is no entrance fee, although parking is somewhat limited considering the popularity of the place. There are good wildflower blooms in season, and the cold running water (runoff from Mount San Gorgonio) attracts all sorts of folks seeking relief from the desert sun. I'd suggest either coming early or possibly being willing to walk a fair distance to get here. (Also, I think sometimes they don't allow parking on the approach road, so the latter may not really matter).

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hike 2015.006 -- Shoemaker Canyon, Angeles National Forest

Hiked Monday, January 19. After another annoyingly late start, I was all set for an afternoon charge on up to Mt. Zion, which is above Chantry Flat. On typical weekday afternoons, there's almost always plenty of parking up there. I didn't think the MLK holiday would have that big of an effect, but I was wrong. So this wound up being something like a 30-40 minute useless detour before I got back out of the canyon and back on the Foothill Freeway (I-210).
From the 210, you exit at Azusa Blvd and head north, to East Fork Road. Turn right on East Fork Road (shortly after San Gabriel Dam reservoir), then left at Shoemaker Canyon Road (on the left, shortly after the Burro Canyon turnoff, also on your left). Follow the road to the end.
As previously noted (My last trip here was back in August, although I've been here a few times before that), this trail follows an old road cut from the early 1960s.
You start off with a nice overview of the East Fork trailhead (where the trails to the Bridge to Nowhere and Heaton Flat both start). Then you walk along the cut for about 2.5 miles, passing through two tunnels along the way.
The East Fork of the San Gabriel River is far below and on your right for most of the trip out. The roar is quite audible, despite the distance down to the water.

Last time here, I think I only made it to near the first tunnel, because I came across a pair of deer, walking the rocky cliffs before that tunnel. Not wanting to disturb them more than necessary, I turned around there.
This time, I saw no deer, nor tarantula, nor any other significant life, so I continued through the second tunnel, giving myself a somewhat longer overall hike than the time before.
My main surprise was upon exiting that second tunnel. The fire damage (this would be from the Colby Fire, which burned above Azusa and Glendora in May 2014) was quite obvious and up-close, here.

Where there used to be a foliage-covered ravine was now a denuded cliff. Water still trickled down the bottom of this ravine, but it supported essentially no growth. Erosion was quite evident.

Additionally, a large metal tank that used to be up the ravine a few feet was now laying on the road before the ravine. And there was no obvious way to get from one side of the ravine to the other. Oh, sure, I could have scrambled up there, but before the trail was obvious, though it soon petered out on the other side of the ravine, anyway.

Still, I heard the "ribbit" of a toad or frog down in that tiny little waterway.
Under a root ball that was no longer connected to any sort of tree or plant, there was an undercut. And that's where the sound of the amphibian came from. Whether he survived the fire, or made a really long hopping climb from the river to get here, he was here, now. Seems unlikely he'll find an answer to his calls, but you never know.

That was the end of my hike. It was getting near dark, so even if the trail was in better condition, I likely would have turned around there, anyway.

The tunnels were darker, and I was really annoyed my flashlight wasn't in there, any more. But walking slowly, no problem making it through without tripping.

Got back to my car shortly after sunset, and returned home uneventfully. It was another enjoyable afternoon in the San Gabriel Mountains, for me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hike 2014.005 -- Griffith Observatory to Glendale Peak and Back

Hiked Friday, January 16. 4 miles. Took some personal time from my day job to interview for a part-time position at the Observatory. I'm already working there part-time; this was for a different position. Higher pay, but fewer hours. Also, I may be losing my weekends. Well, weekend nights, anyway. I'll still have time to hike in the morning and daylight.

Finished up around 2:30pm. Walked outside and took some "winter" scenes, with the Astrono-mers Monument that's in front of Griffith Observatory. Then I crossed the parking lot and headed up the Charlie Turner Trail.
I wasn't 100% sure where I was heading, other than that I wanted to fit in at least three miles before dark. It was warm and relatively cloud-free, which is not all that atypical of winter in Los Angeles.
Followed the Charlie Turner (which starts at the north end of the Observa-tory parking lot) up and around Dante's View (the southeast shoulder of Mt. Hollywood), which required a bit of an ascent. From there, it was a pretty steep downhill segment towards the southeast. Shortly after crossing the metal bridge, the short spur trail to Glendale Peak is on your left.
I suspect walking round trip to Glendale Peak from the Observa-tory is longer and has a greater gross altitude gain than just going up to Mt. Hollywood, so I'm going to say four miles for the hike. Several good inclines to get the heart going.
Also, some different perspec-tives to seek the Observa-tory domes. Charlie Turner shows you it from the north and northwest. Heading to Glendale Peak gives you views of the domes almost due west from where you stand.
Along the way, I passed some nice, green canyons. All the recent rains have given an unusual greenness to the hills surrounding Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood Sign, among other places.
I like walking around here because you've got so many good ridges, with various backdrops to shoot against. With my moderate telephoto lens, you can get nice pictures of people just enjoying their walks without crowding them, and putting it all in a nice context of the hills above Hollywood.

BTW, looks like I'll be changing job titles soon. The reduced hours are a drag, because I really enjoy my current job there. This just seems like a "promotion," although, with the reduced hours, I may not actually come out ahead, at least not for a while. On the other hand, it may free up more afternoons, so I will need to consider how to shift my day-job's schedule around to maximize my opportunities.
So this was hike five of the year. I managed hike 6 or the year on Monday; I was hoping to fit in at least three hikes on a long weekend, so this is a bit of a disappointment. Still, I'm on track for a 100 hike year, so far. I'll no doubt fall behind in the coming weeks, but try to keep close to two hikes a week. Then I'll have to catch up and get ahead of schedule in late spring through early fall, when the afternoons get long enough to fit some hikes in after work.

So far, so good!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Short post on my sidewalk astronomy blog

I did some observing and photography on Friday. A link to the post and pictures is here, on my sidewalk astronomy blog. I photographed Orion, the Orion Nebula, and the Pleiades and Comet Lovejoy, all with my digital slr and 50mm or 70-300mm zoom lenses.

In this photo, the Pleiades are at the bottom left, while Comet Lovejoy is the small green ball at top center.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hike 2014.062 -- Living Desert Museum, Palm Desert, CA

Hiked Sunday, December 7. Not sure of the actual distance covered. It may have been less than three miles.

Many of these shots are actually from my more recent return visit to the Living Desert Museum, but they were of the "developed" part of the museum, with the animals and the model train. Yeah, I like model trains.

This was the first full weekend in December. As noted in my post of my return visit to Living Desert Museum, the place is free to enter on that first full weekend of the month if you have either a Bank of America debit or credit card.

On this visit, I came with my wife, and we were here to be spend time together and not for me to hike. So all of these pictures are from my time in that developed section. It's by no means representative of the whole zoo.

I've got plenty of other pictures I might later choose to post, as well. But this just shows my favorite sections of the zoo.

The exhibit space for the bighorn sheep, for example, is a natural rock intrusion, full of fragmented boulders, just like their natural habitat. That makes it possible to get completely natural-looking pictures. Obviously, they can't wander as far as they would in the wild, but it's a fair-sized hill, maybe 80-100 feet tall, and 150-200 yards in diameter. As far as zoos go, that's a fair amount of space to wander, including half the hill that's facing away from the developed area and gives the sheep some privacy, if they want it.

Meanwhile, there's a large rolling grassland area for a combina-tion of three herbivores: giraffe, greater kudu, and ostrich. I figure this one is about 150 yards by 200 yards, though that's just a guestimate. Again, a large portion of the exhibit space is on the far side of a ridge, so I don't know how far that way the exhibit space goes.

Beyond the unseen back-fencing is who knows what? And far beyond that are the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. Those mountains make a striking backdrop to the grasslands, and makes the photos feel far away and in a much wilder place than they were taken.

There are three giraffe in the exhibit, which I'll assume are mom, dad, and baby. There's also two greater kudu (which I saw on my first visit but not on my second) and at least one ostrich (also seen only on my first visit).

The cheetah exhibit also has a naturalistic feel to it, although it seems smaller, perhaps 100 yards in diameter. There's a hill near the middle that catches afternoon sunlight, and where the cheetah seem to like to relax in the afternoon. They may spend all day there, but I've only come by in the afternoons!

By the way, the wildlife shots here are all taken with my 70-300mm zoom lens on a dslr with a CMOS-sized sensor. That increases the magnification by 50%. Also, the cheetah shots are cropped to make the animals more prominent in the picture.

Still, you'll be within about 50 yards of these animals, although they'll also have foliage obstruc-tions for privacy, so you may need to work for some of your shots.

I don't have any butterfly pictures with this post, but there were plenty of butterfly-attracting plants, especially in the actual butterfly garden.

The other animals I saw were in more typical-looking enclosures. Even some of the larger pens for grazing animals looked more desolate, since it was mostly exposed dirt. Of course, that may be what their natural habitat looks like. It's just not as photogenic as the rolling grasslands or rocky outcroppings or tree-surrounded hills of the animals I've photographed here.

The other thing I liked here was the very large model train set-up. I mean, it's not large compared to the animal enclosures, but probably 40x80 yards or so in dimensions.

Many of the depicted scenes are based in reality, like the one of the El Tovar hotel, overlooking the Grand Canyon, and the Cliff Palace representation, from Mesa Verde National Park. There's also a Mount Rushmore, and a collection of colorful wigwams for the epinymously named Wigwam Motel.

Others are more whimsical, like a giraffe riding in a VW micobus, or a Star Wars stormtrooper atop a house, adjacent to the Bates Motel.

Other scenes may represent actual places I haven't seen. There's a strip of Route 66, complete with tiny Burma Shave signs. There's a town with a streetcar that runs right down the middle of Main Street." There are mining operations and factories and all other sorts of buildings.

Some of the buildings have business cards as signs, which means you can sponsor buildings and get some advertising out of your support for the model train area. And there are lots of tunnels and bridges, so it's all very picturesque.

Regular entry to the Living Desert is $17.25, or $1.50 less for AAA, seniors, or military. Children 3-12 are $8.75. That makes visiting on a Bank of America free weekend day is a great bargain. If you do get in free, you ought to spend some money in the gift shop or at the food outlets, however, just so they get something out of you for your visit!