Sunday, October 28, 2012

Brown Canyon and Pomona Mine

I wasted too much time in the morning reading up on Frankenstorm Sandy hitting the Mid Atlantic. This hurricane is expected to touch land in NJ Monday morning as it meets a cold front coming from the West. I have a soft spot for New Jersey and any other area I've lived in, but this storm may be the storm of the century. But what can I do here? Nothing. I only hope all my friends back there are prepared and suffer no damage.
So off I went with Sadie and Minnie after 1pm, toward Brown Canyon off Ramsey Canyon Road. There was one car in the parking lot. I drove further on the trail and parked up and off the dirt road and walked into the canyon by 1:40pm. This way if there are any other hikers or bikers coming, the dogs wouldn't be in their way. It looked so dry everywhere in the canyon. It had been over six weeks since I was last here with Beth in September. Seedheads are everywhere. The flowers are gone. I was hoping to see some fall foliage, but other than a few yellow-orange-brown on the sycamores, there wasn't much color, even as we made it to the Miller Peak Wilderness boundary at the horse trough. What we needed for better fall color was a drenching rain two weeks ago. Instead, we are so dry we could face another fire season.
The trail was rather void of people. One woman went ahead of me at the start. Only one biker came down the other way and I was able to get the dogs off the trail for him without much ruckus. Both dogs stayed close to me. Sadie was the perfect hiking dog and stayed right behind me. Even a few deer that jumped across the trail didn't get her running. I had packed plenty of water and food for the dogs. There was some water in a few areas and I stopped to let them drink. But even higher up the colors were rather bland. What a let-down! I also may have left the house too late. The sun was already setting low in the west, preventing sun rays from getting inbetween the leaves. That would have added contrast to my photos. Instead the shade was a relief for the dogs.
On our way back I decided to hike up the Pomona Mine trail. It had been years since I was here, perhaps more like ten years? I remember it was steep, followed a ridge, and there was some mining equipment on top. I underestimated how long it would take me to get up there, though. The mines are long buried shut. They once were just below rocky cliffs on the north side of the canyon, an area full of illegal ridge trails made by illegals coming over from Mexico. It was after 4:15pm when we made it to the mines, and an illegal trail I don't remember being here took hikers further into the deep and steep hillside. This was perfect hawk habitat with the nearby cliffs. I saw one adult fly away as I approached, but I turned around here when I realized the trail was fading.
I was now playing with the last of today's rays. I didn't want to be too far up the trail when it got too dark. I'll have to come back up there and explore some of those illegal trails. I took a few photos and hiked back down again, arriving back on the main Brown Cyn trail at 5:15pm Fifteen minutes later I had the dog's collar lights on; a few minutes later the first hunters got into the canyon. The hunting couple left their two daughters alone at the pick-up a mile up the road. I don't think that was too smart of them, not with smugglers coming through this area after dark. The girls seemed not to care. The full moon was already high in the sky when I got back to the truck, the dogs' blue collar lights now an aid for maneuvering. I got home after 6pm, with a dinner of meatloaf waiting for me. The dogs were hungry, too.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

West Hunter Canyon Trail

West Hunter Trail starts at the end of Hunter Canyon Road, off State Road 92, and is the main forest road in the canyon. It travels uphill for two miles and ends at the Miller Peak Wilderness boundary. I usually go here to walk the dogs in the lower canyon, but with hunting season in full swing have been going higher up for everyone's safety. The West Hunter Canyon trail was built years ago by the local Girl Scout Troop, starting at the Miller Peak Wilderness trailhead parking area (a small area for three cars) and ending two miles up at an old homestead site where once apple trees grew. The Forest Service no longer maintains this trail (perhaps because Mother Nature keeps insisting on changing the water's course?) and also because it's a popular trail with illegals, who hike down Hunter from off the Crest Trail near Miller Peak and follow the creek bed as closely as possible. There is no sign indicating the name of this trail, either. The Forest Service would rather people not know about this trail. A hundred years ago this was the home of an unknown homesteader who had apple trees on his land. But how quickly the land changes. The apple trees are long gone and there isn't much left of civilization other than rusty water pipes laid down in the 1880s. The trail's still popular with hunters and target shooters, who leave their brass and trash along the road for others to clean up. A bullet-holed yellow "Burned Area" sign now marks the small trailhead parking. Sun-bleached backpacks and clothes line the treeline in parts.
I had wanted to hike up Brown Canyon today but didn't leave the house until past 1pm. I didn't do a very good job preparing my backpack for this hike; all the dogs wanted to go hiking with me and I couldn't say no. To keep Sara happy I opted for a shorter (but steeper!) hike up this canyon, and to hopefully see some fall foliage. It was overcast and I was already in the shade of the mountains, which made it easier on us all.

I hadn't been up here all year. Upper Hunter Canyon is badly burned from last summer's fire. Most of the trees have been destroyed. Even worse, though, is the severe water damage in the creek bed. When I took all the dogs up the trail west from the wilderness boundary, I failed to see the trail continue on the other side of the heavily-eroded creek bed and hiked up steep boulders instead.
Poor Sara struggled, and I stopped a lot for her. She's gotten too old to hike more than a mile at a time and today's hike was too much for her old body. I looked for side trails off the creek bed so that she didn't need to jump much over tall boulders. I had hiked the creek bed years ago and it was steep and rocky then, but today noted deeper crevices. Recent floods have done more damage to this area, and Mother Nature wants to cut a new creek down many smaller ravines.

The hike was a challenge to us all. Sammy did well and Sadie, Minnie and Zeke enjoyed getting out and running around. None of the dogs strayed far, though. Sara was getting tired from the boulder hopping and I had no water, but knew there was water near the old homestead area for her to cool off in.
Or had the spring been buried in the monsoonal floods? The higher we got up this steep ravine, the more worried I became about venturing so far away from the old trail, getting lost or getting injured. I didn't bring any water because usually the dogs water up at the end from the springs. It's a two-mile hike on a steep and rocky trail, but today's route made it a rock challenge.
I couldn't find the old homestead, either. Had it washed away in the monsoon? Weeds are taking over the area, and what once was a secret hiding spot for me in the shade is now a dead and overgrown rockslide. What a shame, as this was always such a nice hide-away, a steep but cool summer retreat close to home, with splendid views of the valley. Although I always came across illegal trash I never came across the people here. (They usually stay high as long as possible.)

When I found the original trail I was surprised to see more water damage here as well. The crevices were so bad that the dogs would stop and wait for me to show them the way.

Target shooters were busy shooting in the lower canyon. But what concerned me was seeing two USBP, an AZ Highway Patrol and two Sheriff Deputies parked near the cattle guard as I drove off. An agent told me not to stop and to drive on out, which is what I did. I'm really curious to see what that was all about. I see USBP on forest roads a lot, but seeing sheriff deputies and even Highway Patrol cars is rather odd.  (I later learned several illegals in the area called for help because they claimed a target shooter had fired on them and the deputies were out to investigate.)

The dogs were very tired once we got home. Sara slept well and I had to come to her later in the evening for her canned treat; she was too sore to walk. Tonight's meal included chicken legs and the dogs got some skin and bones. On another note, since I always think about current events while out in the wilderness, SD Senator George McGovern, a staunch Liberal who always opposed the Vietnam War, died early Sunday at the age of 90. He had been unresponsive for several days. His death was smooth and calm. Lance Armstrong, once the boy wonder of the cycling world and 7-times champ of the Tour De France, was stripped entirely of all his medals, banned for life and his name removed from all official race records in the Tour because of his proven record of cheating with biochemical supplements. Yikes. But he has only himself to blame.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Carr Peak in October with Ellen, Patrick, Sadie and Minnie

Ellen emailed me a few days ago asking me if I were interested in hiking with her to Miller Peak via Carr Peak. I said I was interested, although that distance so late in the day (after her church services) was a bit daunting. Ellen recently had surgery and is still feeling fatigued. I was surprised she would want to go so far so soon.

We started the hike just before 1pm from the Old Sawmill Trail at the lower Reef Townsite campground. I hadn't gone up this way in years, preferring the upper trail for the easier ascent. This trail has suffered serious erosions with deep crevices down the lower trail. Someone hiking this section at night not expecting a dropoff could get seriously hit.

We never made it up Miller and just made today's hike up Carr Peak. Patrick, who was with us last year hiking up Blackett's Ridge, had never been up Carr Peak.
I had been up here just two weeks ago, when the Golden Rods were in full bloom. Now the yellow colors have faded to dull seeds of brown. Only a few aspens were still leaved, and what yellow we saw were from elms at the same elevation.

The dullness around me translated to what I expected to be a boring walk: no wildlife, no wildflowers, no wild weather other than some wind. There were no hawks or ravens overhead. I didn't see other birds, either. But instead of birds we spotted paragliders over Reefs Campsite. Today was the first time I've hiked up Carr Peak to see paragliders below me. There were at least three of them gliding along: a white, green and orange glider took turns sailing overhead. We stopped several times to watch them. The two dogs were oblivious to all that.

People were coming down as we were going up. Today's traffic was already so much busier than two weeks ago. And when we got to the peak there was already a couple resting in the sun with a Cheasapeake Retriever who never let his eyes off my dogs. Then another woman came up with two more Aussies so that there were five dogs on the peak at the same time.

It was remarkably calm on the peak. I never had to put on my wind breaker. I sat with Ellen and Pat and the two dogs facing the north, munching on an apple while the dogs got each a can of high-end dog food. We finished off the water I had carried up.

We were up on the peak for almost an hour, although it didn't feel that long. We were the last ones to descend, giving the other dog owners time and space between us. We got back to the car at 4:30pm, perhaps my latest time on the peak so late in the year. The shade was dark as we climbed down, and we all agreed that it's getting cold this time of year after sunset.
The dogs were exhausted when I got back.