Monday, March 20, 2017

Mural Hill, Bisbee (6502')

This is a seven mile hike. The hiking club had done this hike while I was still in California on Saturday.  After reading the hike report sent by club secretary Rod via email today, decided to try this trail out this afternoon.  I had never been up this prominent peak, the one with the slanted rock relief visible as one drives into town via SR92.  The land belongs to the Phelps-Dodge mining company, but people are allowed to hike the trails as long as they don't vandalize the terrain, hunt or litter.  (I saw no trash!)  There are two cattle fences that must be kept shut along the way.

I took Sadie and Zeke again and drove to Bisbee in the afternoon.  It was quite warm out, mid 80s, warmer than I thought, but intermittent cloud cover provided cooling effects.  The warmth was quite a bit for both dogs and I had to stop for water.  Even I felt thirsty.

The hiking group started this hike just below the Old Bisbee Brewing Company and walked uphill on OK Street.  Wanting to cut some mileage, I started this hike at the Mimosa Market in Brewery Gulch, cutting off .7 mile roundtrip.  This allowed me to avoid leashing the dogs as we walked up the stairs to the end of OK Street and took the Youngblood Hill trail up.  This is the same way I hike up to the Shrines.

The trail to Mural Hill goes around the north end of Youngblood Hill before continuing on east and down into a gully.  The Bisbee white Cross is visible from here and becomes a landmark for the return hike.  One can see the cross for the first two miles.  The trail is rocky though, and is lined with prickly fairy dusters (Calliandra eriophylla) which are now in bloom all along the hillsides. Hummingbirds are attracted to these red-pinkish flowers. There are also yucca, agaves, manzanitas, Mountain Mahogony, scrub oak, cholla and a variety of grasses. The only shade is what's in northern slopes.  Starting at 1:34pm, I had a strong afternoon sun on us the entire time.  

We arrived at the second saddle after a mile, and then descended into a gully which had a Gabion dam (rocks bounded in a wire cage) before dipping back up a steep slope before starting on the continuous climb of 2.2 miles and 1170 ft. to the top of Mural Hill.  There was orange tape tied to a branch at the top of this steep gully, from where the trail took a left and went in a northeasterly direction on what was once a mining trail and now slowly growing over. This part of the trail was very obvious

The views from all directions were all new to me.  One could see into the Lavender Pit up close, and see where the mining operations are currently working.  There's a lot of mining going on that isn't visible to the passers-by on SR90.

It took me 1:55 hours to get to the top.  That last scramble up to the peak wasn't easy, as it was steep and the trail very loose and the manzanitas very thick.  There was no defined trail; the rule was to just "hike uphill!"  The views from the top are rewarding.

We finished our half gallon of water at the peak.  It was 3:40pm and I wanted to get down off the peak.  I could tell the dogs were warm.  The descent was a bit easier, with more shade in the northern slopes but more sun in the western slopes.

I was watching the trail closely for snakes and missed the sharp right turnoff for the steep gully.  I ended up taking the dogs and me on an extra .6-mile detour.  So much for shaving mileage off the hike now!  I would have ended up at SR92 if I hadn't stopped myself when I did.

The dogs were walking faster the closer we got to the end.  I noticed a transient camp in a shallow mine right off the trail, a mine I had never noticed before.  There were some belongings right outside the mine entrance.  A few hundred feet past the mine, I noticed a man walking ahead of us wearing a black trench coat; most likely the owner of those bags at the mine.  The dogs were acting cautious but didn't bark.  The man, however, saw Sadie and got nervous.  He was on the same trail as we were and was also heading down the same stairs as we.  He wanted to jump out of the way but when he saw that Sadie meant no harm and even came up to him gently, he relaxed and walked more at ease.  I kept my distance behind him but at 50 feet I could smell him.  He didn't even look that old.

The grand hike took me 3:39 hours. There was 1553' elevation gain.  I'll definitely do this one again.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mojave Preserve: Mid Hills ramble

The first rays of light woke me up.  Without so much as combing my hair, I got the dogs ready to walk cross-country.  I had no hike planned other than my morning jaunt.  Today's jaunt took me to the northern section of the Mid Hills, walking in a westerly direction.  I figured a few miles in two hours would be a nice start.  I had hilltops pointing the way.

The terrain here was surprisingly soft.  Sometimes it was so soft, my shoes got stuck in compressed air pockets.  Nothing prickly was on this ground, although I came across a few mining relics.  I had no goal, but saw a rocky hilltop and went for it.  Once on the hilltop, I saw another one, a higher one, that I had to bag. And so it went.

As in so many areas of California, there was evidence of an old wildfire.  Dead oaks marked the landscape.  More interesting were the many boulders piled on each other, as if placed there by a higher being.  We spotted a deer that Zeke attempted to chase.  I spotted a radar tower that intrigued me, only to see another human on the hilltop that had me curious, too.  Who was this person?

It turned out to be a woman camped out at the official Mid Hills campground below.  I had walked just under two miles at this point (it seemed longer) and there were many vehicles around this shaded campsite. Most of the vehicles were large 4Wheelers.  The women went back down the hill without talking to me and I turned around to resume the descent and return to my van.  The mountain shade was slowly fading as the sun rose.  I wanted to get back to the van before we all got thirsty.

I don't normally enjoy cross-country walks but this one was a pleasant one.  This enabled me to walk the dogs off-leash, without disturbing anyone.  Both dogs stayed by my side, but Sadie did take off in the last .3 mile to get back to the van, only to return to me far away.  Everyone around me was awake.  The large Jeep group behind me was also breaking camp.  They had come here to drive the famed Mojave Trail, a wide wash that bisects the Preserve.  They had four dogs, a GSD, a Doberman and a Zeke-looking dog.   I didn't see the fourth dog.

I didn;t want to leave this tranquil place.  I would have been content sitting in my van for an hour to read a bit more, but then a blue Honda Element pulled up.  Henry from Eugene, Oregon asked if he could set his tent up and reserve it for tonight so that he'd have a guaranteed place to stay once he finished his hike in Hole-in-the-Wall.  He'd been on the road three months and isn't returning to Oregon until he can move into his new home.  He didn't want to pay rent for two months during the closing process and decided to travel the country.  He slept on a homemade platform in the back of his Element.  "I have all my belongings in a 10 x 10 storage locker!" said Henry.  Ugh.  Wish I could say the same.

I left my little patch of nature and ended up right behind Henry on Black Canyon Road.  A Jeep had overturned on the road, crushing the windshield but luckily saving the couple that haphazardly sat on their camper cooler while a National Forest Service Law Enforcement was filing a report.  The vehicle allowed just enough space to slowly pass the couple.  How did they manage to overturn the vehicle without speeding?   And how long where they out there? With no cellphone service getting help would be an eternity.

Henry and I both ended up stopping at the Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor's Center again.  The ranger on duty knew about the accident but didn't know much detail.  He had no idea how long the car was overturned.  He was being unbiased, citing perhaps a sudden stop for wildlife as a possible cause of the vehicle flip.  There is two feet of straight up dirt along the road that the Jeep may have hit at just the right angle.  After seeing other Jeeps pass me by just yesterday, I doubt any of the ranger's speculations are true and believe speeding is the cause.  Whatever the couple was doing, it ruined their visit to the park and surely added to unnecessary expenses.  I am thankful I have been spared such grief, despite temporary panics of losing keys and/or wallet at various times during my trip.

Henry stayed and got ready to hike but I decided to drive on.  I bid Henry farewell on his road trip as I continued south on Black Canyon Road back to I-40 and eastward.  The ragged mountains were now to my south as I neared the Colorado River region, a swampy area on both sides of the river. I got on Route 66 briefly and drove through the dead town of Goffs, a once-beaming railroad town that now just offers a place for tired RVers to spend the night.

What I lost in high terrain I gained in wildflowers again.  The roadside was dotted with yellow and blue flowers and the fields became more dense the closer I got to the river, especially from Lake Havasu City and points south.  I stopped briedly to walk a nature trail in the new Bill Williams Wildlife Refuge but at 94F deemed it too hot to enjoy and turned around at the mile mark.  This Refuge was once a popular ATV site and now all the roads are closed to vehicles.  That didn't stop three ATVers from racing past me as I drove out of the Refuge and back on AZ95.

Another colorful display was along CA62.  Yes, I did drive back into California at the Parker bridge but only ventured ten miles.  The two-lane hilly road was treacheous enough with all the truck traffic.

I made it to Quartzsite, AZ at 6pm.  That gave me a chance to visit the Hi Jolly Monument.  Hi Jolly was a Greek camel herder born in Syria who was hired by the US Army to tend to a herd of camels.  These camels were tested for field duty before the Civil War but the experiement was abandoned and the camels set free in the desert.  Hi Jolly was the Americanized name of the man buried in this cemetery whose tombstones face the south.

I knew I was going to spend the night in Quartzsite.  A meal at the McD's and then a few hours behind a Pilot Gas Station provided plenty of entertainment.  One of the dogs was snoring for most of this time.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Mojave Preserve: Teutonia Peak, Rock Springs, Amboy Crater

I was parked outside the Mad Greek Cafe until 2am going over this blog and email and no one ever told me to leave.  I parked across the street at an empty RV parking area and left for the Preserve at 5:45am.  It was still dark out yet Baker and its neon lights was like a bright beacon in the desert. I'll definitely stop by this town again and eat at the Mad Greek cafe!

My van sputtered going on I-15 toward the Preserve.  Elevation in Baker is around 2000' but I gained 2000' in the 25 miles to the Preserve exit off Cime Road.  The only thing there is a Shell Gas station on the south side, recessed on a hill.  Signs warning of a ROUGH ROAD weren't joking.

The Teotonia Peak trailhead is off Cime Road, across from the White Cross Memorial.  I saw the cross first and had to turn around.  I parked the van and got on the trail right away.  I was the only one on the trail.  The dogs enjoyed getting out.  Zeke seemed especially interested in the smells here.  It was 53F and my face was chilled.  This 3.8-mile hike was a great way to get the morning started.  The peak was ahead and easy to keep in site.  This park of the Preserve has the thickest concentration of Joshua trees.  There are also cholla, sage and a low bush, several deep mines, but no wildflowers.

I got to see the sun rise from the peak.  I saw three bighorn sheep jump up the cliffs.  What solitude there was on this hike!  Best of all, it stayed cool even after the sun rose.

It was now approaching 10am.  My next goal was visiting the Kelso Depot.  The place doesn't open until 10am and I arrived at 9:20am.  I walked around, took photos, but was generally disappointed that not more of the old town remains.  The depot is now a Visitor's Center for the Preserve.  A post office remains, with its faded paint visible on the facade.  Lush green grass was cared for via irrigation, but in excess as far as I was concerned.  Pigeons were bathing in the small pools!

I drove past the Kelso Dunes but didn't stay, since hiking on hot sand is probably not what the dogs think of as fun.  Instead, I made an impromptu decision to leave the park and see the Amboy Crater, not realizing that was 40 miles away and out of the park.  The Crater is off historic Route 66 and south of I-40 and run by the BLM.  It's 250 feet high, a mile around, and made of ash and cinder.  I would have hiked it if it hadn't been so hot.  The dogs were in the van and I only went out long enough to take some photos.  On a winter's day I'd have taken the trail, but not in 84F heat on  hot lava rocks.  The geology certainly is interesting, and the ground was covered in yellow flowers.

I now took Route 66 west back to I-40 and Ludlow, where lunch was a Dairy Queen meal and treat.  That place is popular, as there were lines of hungry visitors.  I'm glad I stopped.  I ate the fries and ice cream cone, but that sandwich was my dinner hours later.

The Mojave Preserve is big.  It takes up three interstate exits on both I-15 and I-40.  These main roads like Kelbaker, Cime, Black Canyon are paved.  Many more are not and those are for the diehard 4Wheelers. I returned to the  Preserve to explore Rock Springs Canyon, and entered the Preserve via Black Canyon Road off I-40, perhaps one of the more remote entrances to the park.  Sand was collecting on the road.  No other drivers were on the road.  The higher mountains were safely guarded in the middle of the preserve, rising high to my north.  The closer I got to these mountains, the cooler it got.  What a relief!  I stopped briefly at the Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor's Center for a map; Rock Springs Canyon was still 15 miles away and most of that was on a curvy dirt road that had a few deep ruts from last month's heavy rains.  This was cattle country, with several active private ranches and its windmills marking the landscape.  This was clearly a popular park of the Preserve, as several 4Wheelers passed me by.  I guess I wasn't driving fast enough for them in my clunky van.

We arrived at the Rock Springs trail head at 3:30pm.  There were several cars parked here, including a red Roadtrek with three young guys carrying  beer cans.  Another photographer was out taking pictures.  The three guys walked over to the Rock House where the trail starts but then went back to their van.  The dogs and I took off on the trail.  I had it all to myself again! Weather was mild with cirrus clouds high above.

This trail is the site of an old army fort, Camp Rock Springs, but not much remains of it.  The rock house didn't get built until 1929 by Bert Smith, a WWI veteran who lived here 25 years.  Then an artist, Carl Faber, used this until the 1980s as his gallery.  It's now closed but I could see old furniture in the rooms.

The well-marked trail went down into Watson Wash.  It then turned away from the springs, which is what I wanted to see, and there was water trickling in it.  The dogs drank from the water.  Here I went off-trail and continued up the rocky canyon, rock hopping the whole way.  The longer I was on this trail, the more difficult it got so I turned around to resume the official trail.  And that's when I realized I had lost my keys.  Oh god.  I retraced my hike back to the van (the parking lot was now empty) to no avail.  The dogs were wondering why I wasn't opening the side door.  I then hiked the trail again, keeping my eyes on the trail.  Thoughts of being stranded in a dark parking lot in the desert night spooked my mind.  All my windows were closed, too.  I then realized I may have lost the keys when I went into a rock corner to pee.  And sure enough, my black van keys were barely visible in the brush.  They had fallen out of my pants pocket!  I scolded myself, as I tend to place my keys in my chest pocket to avoid losing them, but today I violated my own rule.  Never again will I place keys in an unsecure pocket.  The pockets to my UnderArmour hiking pants, while very comfortable, just don't have deep enough pockets.

I hadn't felt so relieved finding my keys as I did at this point.  I apologized to the dogs for repeating the hike but they didn't complain.  We finished the 2.8-mile loop hike in 1:18 hours.  I hadn't been this thankful for getting back to my van as I did tonight.

I still had plenty of daylight but now I wanted to find a campsite, preferably a free dispersed one this Preserve is popular for.  And I found one right off Black Canyon Road, north of the Mid Hills turn-off to the campsite.  Two windmills marked the turn-off. A mound of granite rocks formed a huge circular drive around which were fire rings and wide spaces for campers.  A motorcyclist, a tenter and a large group of Jeepers were already here.  I parked facing the north and got to watch the calming sunset.  With no internet to distract me, I got out a book and started reading it, before by 9pm I got tired and climbed in the back.  Despite the many people around me, I neither heard nor saw anyone.  It was the best sleep I had on this roadtrip.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Driving to Mojave Preserve

I boondocked in a dark area of the large parking lot off the Holiday Inn Resort.  The lot wasn't crowded at all.  I had been up late the night before going over this blog and its photos and fell asleep exhausted.  It was already 7:20am when I awoke.

I do the usual every morning, and that is find a grassy, secluded area for the dogs to pee.  That area was a block away but I noticed Zeke was limping.  What happened? I hadn't noticed him hurting himself in any way.  He wasn't putting pressure on his front right leg.  He also didn't eat his lamp chop for breakfast and gave it to Sadie.  Now I was worried Zeke had caught a bug; nothing can ruin a trip than an illness or injury to a pet.  Zeke rode shotgun as usual, with his head resting on the armrest pillow as he gazed with his sad eyes toward me.

I didn't want to leave Big Bear.  I had a good experience here. The town seemed quiet in those early hours, with the Village Main Street still quiet.  I breakfasted at the Jack in the Box and then took CA18 west, past the dam and down the curvy road I was on briefly that first night.

I had no concrete plans.  I knew hiking the big peaks in the San Gabriels was out, as I read the winds are harsh and snow is still above the peak summit.  The singletrack follows a thin ridge.  That sounds like something I'd rather come back for anather time when the snow's gone.

I instead now focused on the road ahead, stopping at roadside picnic areas to walk the short trails.  One nice one was the Heap Arboreum site with its .75-mile Sequoia Trail.  I walked it twice.  No one else was there and no one else was at the Spritzer trail, either.  Where was everyone?!  I could see a small fire off a northern ridge from Spritzer.  I also did a short circular loop around Strawberry Peak, a lookout tower just off CA18 with nice views west.  I was now around 5000' and the smog was evident.  It also got hotter.

The big prize today was an unplanned stop in Miller Canyon off the Silverwood Lake exit off CA18 and the western San Bernardino mountains.  I knew that the PCT crosses here.  The roads into the canyon were closed  for work completed by the California Conservation Corps (CCC) volunteers, but we were allowed to walk the trails and roads according to a mountain biker getting ready to leave.  That is what I did and what a pretty trail that was!  I stayed along a singletrack along Seeley Creek that flowed west into the lake.  There was some notable flood damage the CCC was focusing on.  I forded the water twice in my Keens and the cold water actually felt good against my sockless feet.  Again we were alone and beside the CCC volunteers, only saw three kayakers on the lake and two other cars of hikers while in the park.  Hard to believe there was all this solitude within the Inland Empire.

I wasn't sure if I was in a State Park or a federal recreation site, but when I got to the end of the trail off the Miller Canyon trail and saw that the lake was part of the California State Park system, I panicked.  I know the state parks do not allow dogs on their trails, so I immediately turned around and returned the way I came.  None of the CCC volunteers told me the dogs were not welcome, and back at the parking lot I saw no signage about dogs.  Only hours later did I learn that dogs are allowed on the trails and are prohibited from the public beaches.  According to the website, Miller Canyon is still officially closed for repair.

The 5.8 mile walk took me 2.5 hours.  Back at the car I took advantage of the creek water and used my portable camp bucket to wash my hair, brush my teeth and rinse off the dust on my van's rear window. I changed into some summer hiking gear as well.  The clothes I wore at Big Bear Lake are now in the laundry pile.  This unplanned pit stop was refreshing.  I could sit there under the sycamore tree and just listen to the water rush by.  The dogs rested in the van.  They looked like they were done for the day.  As for Zeke, whatever was hurting him this morning had passed. We had hiked 7.7 miles today once all the smaller walks are added into one.

Now began my drive north-northeast on I-15 toward the Mojave Preserve.  I've driven this stretch of interstate twice when I lived in Pacific Grove, CA and always at night to avoid the heat.  Today I was excited about seeing it in the day!

Traffic was still light but the temperatures were back in the 80s.  It was late afternoon and I knew I'd get to Baker, CA by dark.  I stopped in Barstow for a meal at DelTaco (my worst meal while on this road trip, ugh) and gassed up for $2.79 and I'm glad I did because when I rolled into Baker at 7:11pm I saw gas was $3.59.  There were no massive wildflowers on this stretch, just patches of yellow flowers along the shoulders.  A burned-out tractor trailer was still smoldering when I drove past it at the Bastor Exit; while it was burning and on the local traffic news, it had stopped southbound traffic for over 1.5 miles.

I wasn't expecting much from Baker.  I read the reviews for this truckstop town on TripAdvisor.  It's got the "World's Largest Thermometer" (a digital tower lighted up at night) and Alien Jerky and the "Mad Greek" diner, the one place that had a lot of diners.  And oh, there were plenty of trucks and RVs in this little town. I stopped in at the Mad Greek Cafe for a gyro which I didn't need, but the ample seating, bright neon lights and the constant traffic called me in.  It's not a bad place at all, with an extensive Greek and Mexican menu.  It's open 24/7 and has free wifi!

More later.  I'll get photos done from here on out when I get back home on Sunday.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Bertha's Peak

Bertha's Peak is a 8186' granite outcropping on the north side of Big Bear Lake and the Pacific Crest Trail. It was one of those peaks I was interested in hiking if conditions allowed.  It's a 7.1-mile hike that starts off CA38 and the Discovery Center.  It's accessible via the Cougar Crest trail and rated as moderate to strenuous because of the steep grade.  Today was that day to hike this peak, albeit with some caveats.

As usual, I enjoy short early morning walks with the dogs to stretch their legs and get some miles in. I had nothing planned other than a remote trail where I could take the dogs that didn't require a lot of driving.  I can usually find such a trail in a foothills neighborhood.  I was driving North on CA38 looking for a Van Dusen Canyon road (which turns into a forest road) but that road was closed due to snow, so I turned around and went up Eagle Mountain road, a hillside road lined with million-dollar cabin homes.  At the end of the street I spotted a sign that said "Bertha's Peak" and took that.  This wasn't the official trail, as nothing was marked and there was a plethora of roads leading along the neighborhood and up the peaks.  It's like a neighborhood jogging trail/mountain bike trail.  I spotted a rocky outcropping and took that as my goal.  It wasn't Bertha's Peak at only 7541' but it was close, proving the same views of the lake and the snow-capped mountains.

Getting up to the top was not easy as the hillside was rocky, the terrain still saturated with melted snow water, and dead snags made for excellent obstacles.  Junipers lined the hillside.  We walked past an old mining site with remnants of a shack, a spring mattress and rusty cans.  This area was hit with its own Gold Rush in 1859.  There's even a 12-mile forest road loop on the north side of the lake, the "Gold Fever Trail" that is a combination of several forest roads that go past historic sites.

The little rock scramble was a mere 2.5 miles.  The dogs were happy and rested in the van at campsite #30 as I returned to shower.  Although the campground is expensive, it's a quiet place with good views and close to some great hiking trails.  I sat in the van and just enjoyed the views and smells.  I didn't want to leave the area, but I know that if I want to hike one more big peak and see the wildflowers in the Mojave Preserve, I must leave early tomorrow if I want to drive at a relaxing pace.  Temperatures in the valley will be ten degrees cooler for the rest of the week, so I planned this mountaintop resort just fine.

I stopped at Von's one more time for more raw meats for the dogs.  I'm going to miss that store!  I parked in the lot and surfed the net and discovered the directions for the Gold Fever Trail, which starts near Fawnskin off Polique Canyon Road, one of the roads that Chuck recommended I boondock that first night.

The canyon road is wide and two cars can pass each other as the dirt road meanders uphill.  But at 7300' there was too much ice on the road and rather than risk getting stuck, I pulled the van over to the side to allow other vehicles to pass me, and walked up the road for a bit.  I didn't take my backpack or any water since the dogs could drink from the snowmelt rushing down the road.  Indeed I expect this area to experience some rockslides once the melt begins in earnest.

The road meandered uphill and at a mere half mile I came across the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Holcomb Valley was below.  I could see abandoned mine trailings against one hillside and what looks like a cattle ranch elsewhere.  Just my luck!  I could see Bertha's Peak and the communications towers on the peak (which reflect in sunlight) to the east so I decided I would try bagging that peak from this approach.  How far would I make it before the snow overcame me?

All the way, it turns out.  While there were sections on the north side of this crest that covered the PCT in three feet of snow (it came to the dogs' bellies), there were only small sections in the grand scheme.  The trail to the peak then went off the PCT at .75 miles farther before a wider maintenance took over and we took that to the peak.  It was only 2.1 miles from where I had left the van.  The views north toward the lake and the higher peaks was even more impressive from this elevation.  Winds weren't too bad.  I took some photos and then began the descent.  I couldn't stay long since I had my van off the road still and didn't want anything to happen to it.

I was watching my GPS app.  Since I like loop hikes over out-and-back hikes, I opted to try coming back via the Cougar Crest Trail, which I discovered follows Polique Canyon along the ridge.     I could see the road, I walked up, too.  I had to guide the dogs off the snowy trail and down the hillside to get down to Polique Cyn Road, but we managed despite the snow.    The slide down was only .15 miles and in under .3 miles we were back at our van.  Another car, an older Buick Cutlass, however, was parked ahead of me (uphill) in the middle of the road.  It looks like the driver had the clearance but didn't have the traction to get uphill.  That ice on the road was at least six inches deep.   I'm glad I was smart enough to not try getting uphill.

So thus ended another fine day of exploring around Big Bear Lake.  I didn't get to see more of the popular spots, but what I did get to see was worth it.  I was so excited I stopped by the Broadway Cafe in Big Bear City to let Chuck and Brenda know about my adventures.  Chuck was off but Brenda was there.  I ate my dinner there, chatted with Brenda for a little, but had to let her go since she was busy.  Maybe next time I drive through I'll mingle more with her.  The advice she and her husband gave me went really well.

I stopped one more time at Von's.  James and his ten-year-old dog Chinook were outside playing guitar again.  This time I got out of the van and tipped him $5.  That man plays his heart out and I noticed many others stop and chat with him, too.

If I enjoyed the community this much during my spring break, how must the summers here be?!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Hanna's rock (San Bernardino Natl Forest)

I wanted to stay in Big Bear Lake and hike some of the intermediate trails.  I chose Butler Peak Lookout (8537'), but learned once I got to the trail head that it was snowed over in the upper elevation.  I needed poles which I purposely didn't pack  The forest road was gated at the trailhead and closed to OHVs, but hikers were allowed.  I could see the lookout in the distance.   It looked decivingly close, but I knew this was a 9-mile hike.

The trail was a forest trail that was flooded at the 1.5 mile mark, so I went cross-country toward Hanna's rock, a huge granite plateau of boulders of all kinds of sizes.  The peaks were clear and the terrain still soft from the melted snow.  Elevation was from 6997' to 7235' so nothing too difficult. At one point I could see the snow-capped peaks to my west. No one was around and I used my GPS app to guide me.  The trails weren't marked, but I ended up circling around the Hanna Flats group campsite, Camp Whittle (a YMCA camp) and a water tank.  I hiked 5.75 miles on mostly exposed dirt roads.  It wasn't a streneous hike but it was a perfect hike where I could go off by myself and not worry about other hikers or dogs.  I didn't even see anyone until the last half mile, when a group of motorbikers came through.

I was now hungry and drove into town, a bustling town much more crowded than last night.  Big Bear Boulevard, the main thoroughway, had half its lanes closed due to construction/repair work on the many potholes in the road.  Hot tar and car exhaust filled the air.  I wanted a simple lunch, nothing too fancy.  A small diner like last night would have been fine, but instead I had a good cappuccino at the Big Bear Coffee roasting company and ate at a Carl's Jr on chicken tacos.  I stopped at the Visitor's Center for  trail information, learned that the Serrano cam site run by the California Land Management (CLM) is open and discovered that there is a USMarine Corps Recreational Facility near one of the ski lanes, Summit Mountain, but when I got there the first thing the gentle clerk told me was that dogs were not allowed.  The area looked nice, with cabins for rent and a few RV sites open, but absolutely no pets.  He gave me directions to some local trails nearby, the Southfork network that lead up and around Summit Mountain, but most were still under a snowpack.  I want to go hiking, not ice climbing.

I wanted to stay in town tonight and rented a campsite at Serrano.  One night just for non-electric is $31 but the clerk reminded me that that includes a free hot shower.  I desperately needed to wash up, but that water was no way "hot!"  It was more like spurts.  Luckily it was 3:30pm and not 35F outside.  I needed to clean up before I ventured back out.  The dogs were resting and content just laying there.

I drove around the touristy part of town, the "Big Bear Lake Resort Village" and went into the namesake brewpub but no one waited on me.  That pale ale looked good but I had an excuse not to drink beer. Instead I ordered a Shamrock shake at McD's to stifle my still hunger.  For dinner later I had fried chicken legs and coleslaw at the Von's grocery store.  I never expected a grocery store to be so hip, but this one in town brought in all the bootlaced skiiers as well as the local bearded lumberjacks.  The place feels more like northern California rather than SoCal.  The older man from yesterday wasn't around playing his guitar.  I sat inside, surfed the net and no one told me I had to leave when my 30 minutes were up.

It was a quiet day for me.  Back at the campsite, I parked the van, let the dogs rest, and walked down to the lake for a few shots.  The lake never seemed to benefit from the added snow the state got last month as the lakeshore is still rather low.  There's still plenty more snowmelt coming down, though.

I read a bit but then by 10pm called it a night.  My left ankle was hurting and I needed to rest.  The dogs contined to stay quiet.  It was colder than the previous night but I never woke up in discomfort.  It dipped down to 40F.  The campground was quiet and no coyotes came to harass us.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Joshua Tree National Park

I camped for the night at the dry campsite behind the George Patton Museum in Chiriaco Summit, the same place I've been twice before.  But this time I actually visited the national park just north of there. I also had a full moon setting soon. Little did I realize that the dirt road off the campsite that I've taken the dogs on before for short walks goes straight north into the park wilderness.  I was up before sunrise to hike in the cool air.  The park boundary is less than a mile from the campsite, but I couldn't explore the park since I had the dogs.  I did get to see the sun rise and cast the golden hue over the hill side; that was quite beautiful.  There are no Joshua trees here, but there are plenty of big cholla!

I walked along a maintenance road that bordered the park along the southside.  I packed in three miles and an hour after sunrise I could feel the heat.  It turns out that maintenance, had I stayed on it, would have taken me straight to Cottonwood Canyon road, which is the south entrance to the park. The park was not on my itinerary, but the wildflowers were calling me.

And oh my, the wildflowers were out in abundance!  There were so many people camped outside the park in dispersed sites, and many were from photographers walking the Bajada nature trail at the main gate.  I stopped along the main road and kept the AC running to keep the dogs cool.  The desert was so fragrant here!  The flowers made this area quite nice, because otherwise the naked, cragged hills wouldn't offer much.

I even saw a desert tortoise off the road.

Once I got into the park, though, the flowers disappeared and the open basin came in. It's a vastly different terrain from the south side.  This terrain would be brutal in the summer, as it's a low elevation ancient creekbed.  More cholla and lots of pulloffs for photography.

The big granite rocks appear in the center of the park and with them are the short hiking trails in and around these boulders.  Lots of campsites and trailheads.  This would be a nice area to explore in the winter, but the exposed hills would tire me out.  It was 77F at 10am and felt warmer.  When I exited the park at noon it was 83F   and now I had to backtrack back to my original plan to Big Bear Lake, another 1.5 hours away which required me to drive on I-10W.  Traffic wasn't too bad and there was no slow-go this time.  I made it to CA38 by 3pm.  I stopped at a ranger station, got a few maps and some advice from the ranger, and off I was.   The heavy rains that California got here in the last month have really greened the hillsides up.

The dogs enjoyed the cooler air here.  I took them to Snow Creek off the Valley of the Falls, but the waterfall trail was closed due to snow and ice (although many people ignored the sign and walked up anyway).  I hiked the creek in the opposite direction, only to end up on private property.  Ooops.  It was a three-mile hike that felt like six because of all the rock hopping I did along the creek, which recently saw some serious mudslides along the creek.

It's an area I'd come back to explore more, but I wanted to get to Big Bear Lake before it got too dark.  CA38 meandered up the range, with mudslide warnings posted precariously at every curve.  Iced snow still hung off the cliffs against the road.  The snow from last month is melting, but the soft terrain is still dangerous.

CA38 is a designated Scenic highway and deserves the recognition.  I was driving 45mph and drivers were passing me.  It's nice to see the hillsides green again!  Big Bear Lake is 45 miles from Valley of the Falls and it took me two hours.  I could see the town in the valley below as I crested Onyx Pass (8443').  Big Bear was still 15 miles away! The Pacific Crest Trail also passes near here. The terrain now is alpine, with pines and junipers lining the road. It was in the 60s and I was quite comfortable in a light windbreaker.

I finally made it to Big Bear City at 7pm.  "City" is a misnomer; it's more of a quiet community next to the larger Big Bear Lake Resort Village where all the chain fastfood restaurants are.  I stopped in a small roadside Broadway Cafe diner, where I chatted with the owners Chuck and Brenda who gave me good advice about where to hike and camp for the night.  When the place closed at 8pm they let me stay for as long as I wanted.  It was a nice intro to the town.

Big Bear Lake is ten miles long, with the businesses on the south side of the lake and upscale cabins and rentals on the north side.  It's a four-season resort for skiing and hiking.  I drove around to get a feel for the town and ended up boondocking off CA18 11 miles south of town in lower elevation where the night time temperature was a pleasant 50F.  The only complaint was that CDOT's maintenance vehicles came through several times to clear the road of fallen rocks.  Rockslides are indeed happening, although the rocks were luckily little ones that wouldn't stop traffic.

More later.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Hunting for wildflowers

I have decided to not make concrete plans for my spring break road trip.  Instead, I will drive with the flow, stop and explore area sites along my drive.  The San Bernardino area will be my focus.  Hopefully I will see fields of poppy and other colorful delights.  Sadie and Zeke are with me.  Hopefully it won't be too hot in the desert so that we can do some hikes in the San Bernardino mountains.  I'm also hoping the crowds wont be too bad.

As usual, I didn't leave the house until 12:55pm, stopping at the Culver's in town for Orange Creamsicle  custard.  The dessert wasn't as good as I thought it would be.  By 1:38pm I was on the road; by 3pm I made my first stop below Picacho Peak State Park, a popular poppy field site.  There were no poppies, but there were plenty of brittlebush below the peak.

Things didn't get colorful until I made it to Gila Bend on I-8 and turned north on AZ85.  I couldn't always pull over and stop to photograph the flowers, but I did manage to slow down enough to pull over in what looked like wide truck pullovers.  There was a lot of traffic here for being a Sunday. Here more blue flowers were along the roadside, as well as the orange mallow.

The further west I got, the more flowers I saw, but I was also losing daylight.  At a rest stop off I10, 33 miles east of Quartzsite, is where I really saw some poppies and other flowers, but now the sun was low.   The fragrant creosote was strong here. The dogs and I took a two-mile walk along a maintenance road off the rest area that seemed to go off into the distance along the powerlines.  The road was rocky and hurt the dogs' paws so I turned around.  This would have been a nice hike in cooler temperatures with some sunlight, as the hills were an interesting geology; they were as brittle as the flowers.  There were a few saguaros here, but cholla dominated.

Once the sun set, the temperature went from 91F to 77F, making the evening quite pleasant.  The moon rose from behind a hill.  Elevation was around 1400'.

Once in Quartzsite, I spent more time there than I should have, gassing up, eating and surfing the net while the dogs rested.  I'm seeing more electrical hook-ups now at rest stops.  I finally made the big jump and joined a Pilot/Flying J travel club.  Steve had advised me that the travel clubs for RVers are quite rewarding.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sunset from Carr Reef

I could not sleep last night.  At 3am I decided I would not drive to Tucson for the Festival of Books (and risk falling asleep at the wheel) so I opted to not go to the festival this year.  It would have been my 8th time since the festival's inception.  The predicted temperature of 88F didn't help either, or that no real big authors that I read this year would be there.

I kept dozing off all morning, I was so tired, but I pulled myself out of bed by noon and came to life.  I packed a few things for the road trip.  Since I was here at home rather than away in Tucson, and because it would be the dogs' last walk with me all week, I opted to take all four of them with me and drive up Carr Canyon Road to watch the 5:52pm moon rise.  The moon was at 99% today.

Carr Canyon Road was quite busy today, with hikers, drivers and a few reckless ATVers up and down the road.  Most of the traffic was coming down.  I was going up with four excited dogs barking out the window. At 5:03pm I started the 2-mile hike up the ATV trail to the overlook. There was little wind and all I had for protection was my black Mission wind breaker and an UnderArmor tshirt and jeans.  There was no snow left here, and what little water was left was captured in a small rock crevice.

I should have not started so soon, as there was plenty of sunlight.  I entertained the dogs by playing fetch.  While Sweetie entertains herself by running like a banshee all over the place, the other three dogs stayed near me, waiting.  They did get restless.  Sadie gnawed on some sticks, Minnie dug around for sticks, but Zeke focused on me.  I played a few games of Trivia Crack to idle away the time as I sat by some young manzanitas at 7465'.

But the moon never rose.  It was hidden behind a brown haze caused by the control burn on Fort Huachuca.  I finally saw it above the clouds at 6:10pm, 20 minutes after moon rise, when the sun was now behind the mountains and the temperatures dipped quickly.  I was on my descent now, feeling the chill.

I had the overlook all to myself again.  Everyone was gone by the time I got back to the truck and drove back home.  Everyone was off the mountain and they had all missed the moon rise.  While it wasn't a spectacular one due to lack of significant cloud cover, just getting up high to watch the sun fade is pleasure for me.  I owed all the dogs this as once I'm on the road trip, the dogs remaining behind won't get walked until I'm back.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Brown Canyon at sunset

This is my second Friday evening hike in the canyon and it seems to be a popular trail for locals.  I had 11 hikers tonight.  Three dogs were also in the pack, including my Sadie.  Everyone was on time, we took off at 4:47pm and we finished in a moderate paced time of 2:10pm, much like last week.  I only took one dog tonight because I knew Steve was coming with Trace and I didn't want too many dogs annoying the other hikers.  People did complement me tonight for how well Sadie stayed by my side despite being off leash.  She does tend to cut right in front of others, though, causing hikers to trip over her.

One couple, a Polish couple from Tucson, drove down to hike this route and then eat at the German Cafe in town.  The desserts there made by Annette the owner are to die for, especially the strawberry cream cake.

Several people whom I hadn't seen in a while were also there: BillK, EricS.  Angie, AJ, David, Steve showed up again, and several other newbies.  The varied pace of the hikers meant we stretched out a distance between fast and slow and I went from front to back to middle to socialize with everyone.  Many mountain bikers were also active tonight.

We didn't have cloud cover today so we didn't have the spectacular color scheme like last Friday.  The moon was at 98% and rose at 4:52pm; too early to be seen across the hazy horizon.
I'll plan another Friday hike in two weeks.  Now that the evenings are warming up and the days are getting longer, these hikes in the canyon are becoming pleasant again.  

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...Put me on a highway
And show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time...

(R. Meisner, D. Henley, G. Frey)


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