Monday, March 28, 2016

Hike 2016.014 -- Wilson Canyon

Hiked Sunday, March 20. Still many hikes behind in blogging. And, fortunately, I finally had a decent weekend of hiking, this weekend. So I'm now four hikes behind; I'll be three behind after I finish this post.
I visited this park, twice, in 2010, during my first year of blogging. The first visit is linked here; the second one is linked here. I feel like I'd been here at least once additional time, yet I could not find a third post in a quick google search, so perhaps those were my only visits; if so I should visit, again.

My initial plan was to head for the ridgeline between the Sylmar side fo the mountains and the Placertia Canyon side. However, as is often the case, I got distracted.
As has been mentioned in past posts, Wilson Canyon Park (under the authority of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy), is located immediately adjacent to Olive View Medical Center, in Sylmar. Take Olive View Drive just east of the Hospital, and you'll see access points (there's probably an access point just west of the hospital, too).

The paved road to access Wilson Canyon Park is well-signed. However, parking there requires a $5 fee, and you sometimes feel like a sucker when you pay for something you could so easily not pay for. And you do not pay if you park on the street, and walk in.
I walked on up the driveway, and came across a dirt road that seemed to head directly north, where the paved road turned west. Well, with no particular destination, I took the dirt road.
No idea as I walked up where this trail would lead. I hoped it would continue on up to the ridge, as an alternative to the Pinetos trail. It does not, at least not as a trail. I get the feeling some do use it as a cross-country route straight up, but it would be very steep, and probably not the wisest way up.

Instead, the trail appears to lead to an old home site. There's brick walls or brick retaining walls, flat concrete pads, and the remains of a power box attached to a wooden power line pole. There were also red oleander in bloom, and burned skeletons of what might have been a few fruit trees or shade trees. I'd guess it very roughly as one mile up.
You could go a bit higher, but not easily.

Meanwhile, for the return, there were several options. I could return the way I came, or I could head down the canyon to my west. A well-defined trail headed down into that canyon.

At the bottom, it was wet, though I could not tell if this was a perennial source of water.
The trail then headed down canyon. But there was another spur, that headed east, again. It went up a narrow break in the ridge, then descended into a narrow ravine, into the next canyon over.

As I neared the ridge, the Canterbury bell became thick. Yellow flowers of wild mustard were also common. And there were a WHOLE bunch of large caterpillar, perhaps several variety.
The caterpillar seemed to be eating a plant that was not yet in flower, so I could not identify the plant.

Overall, I had seen a nice collection of flowers: lots of blue dick, lots of filaree, lots of morning glory, some scattered lupine, and several concentrations of purple nightshade.
The way from this ravine back to the Los Pinetos trail was a pretty good walk, so I'd estimate another mile and a half, to that trail. Then probably 3/4 of a mile or more to get back to the car. Somewhere about four miles for the day, maybe five miles. I did not measure it well.
On my return, I passed by several large datura, or Jimson weed, near the parking area. I also passed the remains of a miniature golf course.
Walked between the parking lot and back on to Olive View Road. Then back to my car, and a drive home. Nice walk, lots of green, a fair amount of wild flowers. It was a good, easy walk. Enjoyed it, immensely.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Hike 2016.013 -- Lower Monarch Canyon, Death Valley National Park, CA

Hiked Saturday, March 19. About 7 miles.

I've gotten off to a very slow rate of hiking this year. I'm also still struggling to find the time to blog what hikes I do take. This hike was taken at the end of last week. It was my second visit to Death Valley this spring.
Despite having come mostly for the spring bloom, I have also managed a few hikes over new terrain. Not as many new hikes as if I was not spending a half day or more each trip along the road. The previous blog entry, for example, included a mere 3/4 to one mile, along the road. Very pretty, though. Also, the pictures do not fully convey the feeling of looking over those rolling hills of yellow. It's an amazing sight.
Another slowing factor to my posts is my ancient computer. On days like this, when it's updating, or downloading updates, or running a virus scan, what I type can literally take 20 seconds to appear. It's very frustrating.
My choice of Monarch Canyon was due to having read some wildflower reports from the NPS, which mentioned Monarch Canyon as a place to see a wide variety of flowers. But, though I could see it on my map, an actual description of the trail or hike there was much harder to find.
The best description of the lower canyon section (which, unlike the upper section, is accessible without a four-wheel drive vehicle), was here.
In retrospect, I'm not even sure if the NPS intended to suggest a hike of the lower canyon, or a drive of the upper canyon. Nonetheless, there was a nice selection of flowers in the lower canyon.
My Trails Unlimited / National Geographic map of Death Valley National Park shows a trail that appears to start about a mile east of "Hell's Gate," where the highway that heads into Death Valley from Beatty, NV, and Daylight Pass, splits into a pair of roads, one of which is intended for those heading east on CA-190 (Beatty Cutoff), and those heading west on CA-190 (Daylight Pass Road). You take the Beatty Cutoff Road from Beatty. If coming from Beatty, you take the cutoff east, and the mountains are to your left. Monarch Canyon is the most obvious opening in those mountains.
If there's still an actual trail to this canyon, it's trailhead is very non-obvious from the road. I just picked a spot where my eyeball suggested I was at the same altitude as the mouth of the canyon. That left me more or less on a line between the mouth of Monarch Canyon and the distant Death Valley Buttes, pictured, above.
My plan was to use the buttes as an obvious marcker for getting back to my car. Didn't exactly work flawlessly. And I felt bad, walking over ground that had wildflowers, trying to grow before it got too hot.
Despite feeling like I was walking randomly, I actually did come across a wooden marker that was pictured on the other trail write-up I had come across. And, after that marker, I could see a trace of an old road that I could follow. Didn't manage to find that road on the return walk, though.

The descriptions I read gave a distance of three miles to the waterfall at the canyon's end, with about half that distance being the walk across the relative flat of the alluvial fan to get to the canyon mouth. In real life, however, I felt as thoough, distance-wise, it was more like 2/3 of the distance was spent on the flats. Much of that was just cross-country.
Numerous washes came down off the mountains. I continued heading east, looking for the largest wash, which I figured would head back into Monarch Canyon. Finally found that one.

The wildflowers became more common once in a wash.
The wild-flowers pictured in this post are, in order: desert primrose, brittle-bush, Bigelow's Monkey flower, lessor mojavea, brown-eyed evening primrose, and pebble pincushion. I also saw a few desert five spot, but they were closed, and not that photogenic. A few other flowers that I did not photograph, as well.
Once in the canyon, I came across a few spots with small puddles of water. It had clearly rained a bit, the night before, even in Death Valley (it had poured on me in Beatty).
This canyon, like many in the area, had very twisted rocks. Just a few narrow points before the wall where the water fell. It was mostly comfortably broad, and not claustrophobic.

The waterfall is described as perennial. Still, the flow was not that high, despite this being winter, and with the heavy rain the night before. Probably more magical in the summer time, when it's crazy hot.
This was still. la very nice hike. For starters, it was mostly just me and the canyon. There was one couple heading up canyon as I neared the mouth on the way out. There were a few other cars parked along the road where the owner was not obviously just walking along the road, taking pictures of wildflowers (though, when I left, there were plenty of those, too). And I'm pretty sure that, if they had headed in or back out of Monarch while I was heading in or out, I'd have seen them (It's a pretty unobstructed view on the slope heading towards the mountains).

So whether the other car owners went up some other canyon, or just left their car there and road off with someone else's car for a while, I don't know. But I didn't see them during my walk to and from Monarch Canyon.
By the time I got back to my car, I was ready to go home. Just seeing the crowded parking areas at the more popular trailheads and parking areas deterred me from making an additional short walk. Well, I should say, it made it easier. I was tired enough to call it a day, and the full parking lots just reinforced that inclination.

It's probably a record visitation year for Death Valley National Park.

I have one more trip planned for the park, in early April. So, I shall return. I'm hoping to get at least one decent hike out of that trip, but I'm mostly going for the astronomy outreach. That's assuming they get back to me with additional information, as I have requested. "Marsfest" is April 8-10.

Friday, March 18, 2016

More Death Valley Wildflowers -- 11 March 2016

Visited Death Valley again last weekend. These are either on the Beatty Cutoff to CA-170 or from Badwater Road, south of Badwater. The rolling yellow hills are almost entirely desert gold.

Other than that, the most common flower was what I assume to be notch leaf phacelia. Some looked quite different from others: Some looked like purple versions of fiddleneck, for example. But, near as I can tell, they were all just different growth patterns of the same flower.

Scattered, low patches of desert star were also spotted.

Desert five spot were also mixed into those hills of desert gold.

It was mostly cloudy on Friday, and, by Friday night, heavy rain fell outside of the park, in Beatty, NV. Scattered, lighter rain fell inside the park. Lots of virga, too.

Gravel ghost was common, mostly near roads. Not as common as desert gold, but often mixed in with them. Most were closed, because it was overcast, and windy. Only a few were open, to reveal the five purple spots.

Mixture of phacelia and desert gold.

Sun, breaking through, just a few moments after the dark of the earlier shot.
A wider view, with a person, for perspective. Those rolling hills of yellow were very impressive.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Hike 2016.012 -- Griffith Park, Charlie Turner, Bird Sanctuary, and Fern Dell

Hiked Sunday, March 6. It rained the previous night and early morning, and my initial goal was to try to get there before the clouds broke. I'm seen some nifty pictures of the Observatory, poking out above the clouds, and wanted to try to catch that. Alas, by the time I got underway (about 8:30am), the clouds had already broken.

So now I had no real plan. But I hopped in the car and drove to Griffith Park, anyway. I had figured out it only takes me about 25 minutes from garage to parking lot, which is as fast as I can get to the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. Weird, but true. Because I think I had previously noted that, growing up, Griffith Observatory always seemed so far away.
So I parked in the regular Observatory lot, and still had no real plan. Just up Mount Hollywood? Well, that's how it started, anyway. So off the north part of the lot, up the hill, over the Vermont Tunnel (which was soaking and muddy--good thing I had waterproof hiking boots on!

I went on up the Charlie Turner Trail, slowly gaining altitude as I walked to the west, and snapping many pictures along the way. Then I gained altitude while heading east. I snapped some shots of folks at the ridgeline, where the trail spits, with the choice of either looping around to the west or to the east, but either route giving you the option of reaching the top of Mount Hollywood.
Yet, as I reached this point, I had no real motivation to continue. My shot wasn't going to happen, since the clouds were already long gone. So I headed out to the overlook near this split. The trail goes on the ridgeline (where the folks I photographed were walking).
Snapped some more pictures here, then just continued on down. Eventually, I rejoined the trail that headed south from the junction, but that trail stayed to the west of the ridge. Probably an easier walk, but I didn't know they would meet, at the time I started.
At the meet, I could either continue on down the ridge, back to the Observatory, or take the trail that headed down towards the so-called "Bird Sanctuary." Not sure if I had walked this way before (I probably have, but couldn't remember, so it must have been a while!), so I took the trail down into the Bird Sanctuary.
That trail ends near the restroom, where Vermont makes a hairpin turn and begins a steeper ascent, up towards the tunnel.

I continued south, past the restroom. Initially, I stayed on the east side of the road. But I crossed over to the Greek side when I reached the wide but short paved road that runs immediately south of the Greek Theater.
There was a bird of paradise blooming there, which I photographed. Then I continued just a score or two score yards west on the paved road, and took the dirt fire road on up towards the Observatory. Where the unpaved road hit another paved road to a water tank, I turned briefly uphill, then continued when the dirt trail continued to the west.
This trail intersects with another, at which point you can either turn right and return to the Observatory, or turn left, and have two choices of how to get down to Fern Dell. I took the left route, which is more direct.
Walked on down to the end of Fern Dell, then retraced my steps back on up to the split, and returned to the Observatory from here.
I think I ended the hike at 14,000 steps. Probably 1,000 of those steps were from home, before I started the hike. I feel I walked about five miles, though, based on the step count, I should have been closer to six miles.
Some wildflowers in bloom. Spanish broom and common sunflowers were probably the two most common. Filaree also present, as were some Canterbury bell. Additionally, of course, in the more civilized section of the park, there was the bird of paradise, and lantana at various places. Oh, and morning glory. Also some leaves with raindrops on them, which I also photographed.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Hike 2016.011 -- Antelope Valley California Poppy SNR, Early Season Hike

Hiked Sunday, February 28. About 5.75 miles. The Antelope Valley California Poppy State Natural Reserve is located near Lancaster. From CA-14, take the Avenue I offramp and head west. After about 11 miles, the road makes two 90 degree turns, one to the left, and one to the right. It also changes name to Lancaster Blvd. About 3 miles after that weave, the Poppy Reserve is on your right.
Peak Poppy bloom is typically in the first few weeks of April, but can vary, depending on how much and when rain fell during the year, if there were any late freezes or early heat waves, etc. In a good year, the hills can be covered by a carpet of orange. In a bad year, there's nearly no poppy to be seen.

I knew I was coming before peak, but I had the time, and the motivation to make a drive out here. Figured I'd check now, and maybe come back in April. But, because it was early season, I knew the trails would be empty and I'd have the trails largely to myself.

And, as expected, there were only a few patches of orange. Not enough rain, and the early warmth / late freeze killed a lot of the poppy plants.
However, even as I walked, I knew the extended forecast had a good chance of rain coming in the next week or two. And, in fact, as I type this (late on Saturday, March 5), there's rain falling on my San Gabriel Valley home. With luck, rain will also fall today and Sunday night / Monday morning, in the Antelope Valley. Heck, with a great deal of luck, maybe some rain will fall in Death Valley!
Anyway, that's just me, telling you that the odds are looking good for a late bloom in the Antelope Valley. It won't be all Poppies, of course. And there's still no guarantee, depending on what happens, next. But I think the odds are looking pretty good.
Last week, when I was there, the poppies were, as previously noted, very spotty. The fiddlenecks were much more dense, as were the goldfields. Several nice phacelia patches, too. The predominant color in the hills was still green, however.
I hiked all of the perimeter trails: The lower branch of Poppy Trail South Loop, the upper branch of Poppy Trail North Loop, then the South Antelope Trail South Loop, then the Antelope Butte Trail, then the Lightning Bolt Trail. Nice views from the high points, even without many flowers.
As hoped, the trails were largely clear, and I could shoot without fear of obstructing anyone else's walk or shot.
It was a little hazy, but snow on the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains were easy to see. I could also see Saddleback Butte, off to the east. I hiked out there a few weeks ago.
May try coming back here in two weeks, although I expect that will still be two weeks too early for peak bloom. Sometimes, my visits are dictated more by availability than by conditions on the ground.
Alternate-ly, I may also try to make a visit to Wind River Preserve. I still haven't figured out how visiting that Preserve (run by the same folks who run Oak Glen Preserve and Whitewater Preserve) works. But if I do visit, I'd like to come during wildflower season.
Another alternative would be, if I hear of a bloom in the Mojave, I may go to Whitewater or to Joshua Tree National Park in a few weeks. I think they may need more water than they've gotten so far for a good bloom, too.

As of today, I'm also planning to return to Death Valley next week, too. That's why I'm rooting for a bit more rain there this weekend.
If I do all those other things, and we get good rain the next few weeks, I may aim for the weekends of either April 15, April 22, or April 29 for a return to Antelope Valley. Depends in part, on where the flowers are blooming, and how fast the desert warms up, again, after the current bout of weather.

Previous trips have been drier, with poppies, without poppies, with some poppies, etc. It varies a great deal by year.