Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Pacific Crest Trail, Near Haugen-Lehmann Way, Whitewater, CA

Hiked April 19, 2023. Very short hike on my way to an astronomy outreach event in Twentynine Palms, at Sky's the Limit. This was an NPS-sponsored event, with Joshua Tree National Park recognizing its volunteers, and welcoming visitors to a small night sky event.

I had driven by here the previous Saturday. And, had I been in the slow lane as I passed Haugen-Lehmann Way (Exit 111 on I-10), I would have exited and explored it, then. As it was, I ended up heading to Mission Creek Preserve, where I had a very nice hike.

But when I got a last-minute notice of an event at Sky's the Limit, I decided I would take advantage of this, both to try out my new 10" Dobsonian telescope under dark skies, and to stop by along the way for a visit to this area around Haugen-Lehmann Way. So I used four hours of vacation time, left work around noon on a Wednesday, and headed home to pack.

Got on the road before 2pm. Unfortunately, there was an accident on the freeway not far from my home, which delayed me. So, by the time I got out to Haugen-Lehmann, I figured I only had about an hour or so, maybe a bit more, before I would need to continue on. I'd need to get to Twentynine Palms with enough time to eat dinner and set up my telescope before it got too dark. Didn't want a repeat of what happend the previous Saturday, when I got to an observing spot well after dark, but then couldn't figure out how to assemble my truss-tube telescope without the manual.

I've had the telescope since December, but only set it up a few times at home. Weekends came and went with either clouds, me being sick, or me having conflicting commitments, so I never got to take it out under dark skies. Indeed, the time before I made it to Joshua Tree (when I hiked to the Golden Bee Mine), the evening turned completely cloudy.

So, quick visit. I exited at Haugen-Lehmann, headed north, drove until the road t-bones into Cottonwood Road, then turned right (north). When the pavement ended, I parked and walked the few hundred yards until the Pacific Crest Trail crossed the road. Then I walked along the trail about 3/4 of a mile, taking a lot of pictures along the way (I also took a few before I got to the end of the pavement-- I think that first shot is from the roadside). Spectacular, thick brittlebush all around. A few patches of Fremont pincushion. Very few lupine and other flowers. But, man, that brittlebush!

Happily, after my hour or so of poking around here (too short to qualify as a formal "hike" under my traditional definition of three miles, minimum), I continued to Sky's the Limit, and had a successful outing with my new telescope. Some quirks, that I'm still figuring out, but I'm happy with the purchase.

It's likely that the summer-like temperatures are rapidly drying these flowers out, but a pretty immediate trip might still be rewarding.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Mission Creek Preserve (Sand to Snow National Monument), Hiked April 15, 2023

Hiked Saturday, April 15. Hiked out this way once before, almost two years ago. The difference in the appearance of the landscape was striking.

Unlike last time, this trip was in the midst of a very good wildflower bloom, the product of well-above average rains in southern California this winter.

Also unlike last time, this trip was rather impromptu. I was driving east on I-10, towards Joshua Tree, and the hills to my left were covered in yellow flowers. Britlebush was thick.

I gave some thought to making my way off the freeway at Haugen-Lehmann Road, and heading north from there. The Pacific Crest Trail passes near here, crossing over those mountains, then heading along the Whitewater River. I hiked this segment of the PCT during my original 100 hike year. I covered sections of the PCT further "north" on several other trips, including 2010 and 2011. Haven't been in the Whitewater drainage must since then, however. It seems likely I haven't been here since 2015. I should probably try to visit again, soon.

But that's not the point of this post. :D

Since I hadn't planned this hike, I didn't have the gate code or permission to drive beyond the boundary gate. I had lots of company, as the small lot at the gate was full, and cars parked along the edge of the dirt road. I joined them there.

If I just wanted wildflower photos, I could have gotten plenty just on the drive to the gate, and within 100 yards of the gate. But I'm a hiker, and I was going to hike. So I laced up my boots and headed past the gate.

Wasn't sure how far I was going to hike, but I only stuck one 28 oz bottle of Powerade, and one .5 liter bottle of water. But it wasn't that warm, so this seemed sufficient.

Started out photographing right near the gate, then crossed through the gate, and shot some more right around the picnic area. Took a while before I got actually moving along the road. According to the signage, it's 1.6 miles to the end of the road, where there's running water (not recommended for drinking) and flush toilets. Yeah, it's kind of a surprise to find that out in the middle of nowhere.

Near the gate were lots of brittlebush and lots of Fremont pincushion. Purple phacelia were also common. Later, I came across patches of purple owl's clover.

The purple phacelia were tricky. They grew under the protection of other plants, so they did not stand out directly. But their density gave a purplish tinge to many of the longer viewsheds along my hike.

When I finally got to the "Stonehouse," I saw why the parking outside the gate was full: The parking at the Stonehouse was also full. Lots of people who did call early enough and got the gate code had been approved, so later would-be visitors were denied.

So this was 1.6 miles later, and I still felt great. At this point, I was still debating if I would try to find the viewpoint for San Gorgonio or just continue on the PCT to the area I got to, last time. But I was definitely open for either.

When I finally got to where I assume the San Gorgonio view trail departs, I was still feeling like heading the other way. Just seemed like I'd get a better view from the high point I knew the PCT would give me, versus what I expected I'd see from the other point. But still haven't been there, so it's an open question. :D

More purple phacelia among the other plants. Desert Canterbury bells also became more common. Didn't see any desert poppies until I was well on my climb up to my PCT viewpoint. Oh, yes, and several yucca in bloom. One along the road looked like a Joshua Tree, but I didn't look carefully enough to be sure.

My turnaround point was about six miles total from my car (as measured by the Alltrails app on my cell phone). From here, with peripheral vision, you can see both Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Gorgonio, simultaneously. You can also peak into parts of the Whitewater watershed, to the left of San Gorgonio, and up and down the Mission Creek watershed.

While near the top, admiring the view and taking some shots, the hum of honeybees suddenly became loud, and a swarm started descending around me. While I'm told bees in swarming mode aren't aggressive, I didn't want to test that theory while the hundreds of bees came down. So I grabbed my bag and jogged a hundred yards or so, to get out of the LZ they had selected. Stopped, and took several photos of a yucca, with Mount San Jacinto as a backdrop.

While doing that, I heard the hum of a drone. Shouldn't be possible, given I was in a wilderness area. Not sure where the operator was, but I suspect he was back at the Stonehouse. Although I had walked over four miles from there, a lot of that was zig-zagging up to where I was, so possibly no more than two miles from the stone house. I mean, it's possible some longer-distance PCT hiker was carrying a drone on the trip, but drone operators tend not to be long-distance hikers, so I doubt he was further from the trailhead than I was.

Returned the way I came. Just about 12 miles for the day. My boots felt a little loose, but, thankfully, no blisters. But pretty tired. Longest hike of the year, I'm pretty sure.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Redstone, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, NV, March 26, 2023

This was a nice walkabout, from March 26, 2023. I've been here before, at least twice in daylight, and twice after dark.

It's adjacent to Northshore Road, NV-167, and there's a fairly large parking area and vault toilet nearby.

In this case, I parked about 1/2 mile west of the parking area. I wanted to explore a slightly different part of Redstone from on previous visits. Lots of photogenic sandstone here, too. I also continued south, heading up a ravine and out of Redstone, eventually achieving the edge of the watershed.

Took some video from the edge, but it didn't loaded right. May try uploading again, later.

Slightly disappointed to discover achieving the ridge did not give me a clear view of the Lake, to my south. Still many intervening rises. But the Lake to my northeast was blue and beautiful.

Meanwhile, from Redstone, staying low and heading further to the southwest were more red sandstone protrusions, so more places to explore on future visits. This is all the same "Aztec sandstone" that you have at nearby "Bowl of Fire" and "Valley of Fire," as well as Red Rock Canyon NCA and "Little Finland." No shortage of places to explore this formation. Still haven't been to Little Finland, and, with the weather suddenly turning to summer-like in southern Nevada, probably not heading there until at least the fall.

The nice thing about visiting less-visited areas is that the sandstone is less worn. Fewer feet to tromp down on the fine ridges that protrude from the surface. Of course, I try to minimnize my impact, and there are a lot of places I don't even try climbing. But I did detour and scramble for a lot of the arches I found.

I can't remember if I noted a website I found with geo-referenced arches, all over the area. The problem (not really a problem) is that there are so many arches that, at some point (in my case, a while ago!) you get more enjoyment out of just wandering and finding the arches yourself.

As the weather warms, my hiking may need to rise to higher altitudes. But, of course, there may still be some cooler weekends when I'm able to hike. If so, might yet do some more daytime hikes in the area. I also want to do some more night time hikes in the area, to aim for some nice skyscapes.

On a semi-related note, my America the Beautiful pass expired at the end of March. I'm likely heading to Joshua Tree this Saturday. Not sure if I'll buy a new pass this weekend, or wait until next month. If the latter, I'd have to do my daylight hiking outside of the park (maybe Whitewate Preserve, which I haven't been to in a while). Because this next trip is mainly for some night sky viewing, I don't necessarily have to do that inside the park. If Sky's the Limit were open, I'd probably do my viewing there. But pretty sure they won't be officially open on Saturday night. I mean, you can set up there, but without the vault toilets, it's much less convenient for night time use.

Since I know I'm going to be buying an annual pass soon anyway, waiting a month doesn't have much effect. I'll have to buy one some time this year, then one the year after that, then the year after that. Then (assuming they still exist and I'm still able to travel, of course) I'll be eligible for a lifetime Golden Age Passport.

Obviously, in the big scheme of things, spending $80 a year for unlimited federal land entry fees is still a bargain, and not that big a deal. But paying $80 (or what ever the price is when I get there) for life is even better, assuming I live long enough to be able to enjoy it.