Sunday, March 26, 2017

San Pedro River Trail to Clanton House

Walking with Nina Friday morning gave me ideas of other hikes I could host, but I like to walk the hikes first before I lead them.  It's been years since I've been to the Clanton House and that was with the hiking club via Escapule Road to the north, off Charleston Road.  From Escapule Road the Clanton House is less than a mile away; not much of a hike!

Today I started the hike on SR90 at 3:15pm, across the street from the San Pedro House, and hiked 3.3 miles along perhaps the most boring stretch of the San Pedro River Natural Conservation Area (SPRNCA) River Trail, a 40-mile hiking trail that starts at the Mexican border and ends south of St. David.  What makes this stretch so monotonous is partly because there is no shade along the way.

I took all four dogs with me, knowing it was risky taking Sweetie along, but she hadn't been hiked in a week and needed some run time.  Luckily there were no cars in the lot and no one on this trail.  The only evidence I had of recent use was horse shit from earlier in the day.

I don't think I've ever done this part of the San Pedro Trail.  Hiking north from SR90, there isn't much scenery this time of year.  Hues of brown and grey surround you, with a break perhaps from the sky if it's blue. The trail is a dirt road for two miles, traveling nearly straight in a northwesterly direction, with tall dead grasses along the road.  The river is .3 miles to the east.  The terrain is mostly flat, with less than 200 elevation gain.

The flora on either side of the road is dense thorny brush and creosote.  No wildflowers burst here in the spring as the terrain is very alkaline here, with patches of white salty residue evident.  Heavy downpour creates deep ruts in the soil that with time create steep canyon walls, that are hidden by the dense thorny brush.  Quail and brush birds live here, but this terrain is unsuitable for cattle that would fall into the deep crevices or break a leg stepping into a snake hole. This hike is best done on a cool, cloudy day after a rain, when the creosote fills the air with its spicy aroma. On a sunny, warm, cloudless day this trail is a toll on the human psyche.

Weather was mild, in the upper 60s, but the afternoon sun shined brightly.    At the 2.5 mile mark the trail reaches the Murray Springs Trail and the small gulch that flows into the San Pedro.  I stopped here to let the dogs drink.  Minnie had been panting the entire time up to this point.  I had water with me, but wanted the dogs to drink from a fresh source.  Zeke, Sweetie and of course Minnie splashed around and got drenched. The water was a much-needed cooling point.

From the stream crossing we continued in a northeasterly direction for another half mile.  I made a sharp east (right) turn by two railroad posts at the three-mile mark although there was no directional sign to the Clanton House.  Another .3 mile and we arrived at the adobe ruins, littered with rusty metal pieces, broken glass, and protected by several trees trying to grow over the foundation.  This was not a very big house, but it did have a high view of the lower ground to the south, and a long view of the Huachuca Mountains.  No historical signs described the past, but one can feel the spirits of lives long gone now.

There was no place to rest other than on a broken brick and the dogs were bored.  They were ready for another dip in the water, so we turned around and walked back at the 1:10 hour mark. It was now almost 4:30pm and the sun was getting low.  I rested a bit longer at the stream this time, to let the dogs play in the water.  Even Sweetie was animated now.

Somehow at the 4.9-mile mark I got off the trail.   There were many shorter trails at this intersection and no marker visible. I was surrounded by that nasty thorny brush that caused me to scream out a few obscenities. I was not wearing a jacket and the thorns were scratching my arms.  My nylon pants were getting caught in them as well.  It took me almost .8 mile to get back on the main trail.  I had my app running and knew I had to go east, but the thick brush prevented me from doing so sooner.

This minor misstep really took what little fun there was left with this hike completely out of me.  I was glad to get back to the truck and I think the dogs were, too.  If I ever lead a hike to the Clanton House again, it would be from the Murray Springs trail head off Moson Avenue.  This is a shorter and more scenic hike.  I got back to the truck just after 6pm.  We had hiked 6.8 miles at just around 4000' elevation.
This section is recommended for hikers who want to feel the history of the old West.  If I were to rate this in a hiking guide I'd give it two out of five stars.  Two because it's easy as far as elevation goes, but also because it offers little scenery or psychological stimulation.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Tinker Canyon (Fort Huachuca)

Tinker Canyon is a narrow canyon on Fort Huachuca that borders Brown Canyon to the north.  I had never been in this canyon and was delighted to see this hike offered as a hike by the hiking club's fast hiker, JimA.

But I slept horribly the night before, waking up at 1:30am and never getting back to sleep.  By 4:30am I was getting tired again but never fell asleep.  I knew I could not hike safely in a tired state and opted not to meet the group at the designated 7:30am meetup.

Instead, I followed the group an hour later and did my own hike, hoping I'd run into them along a ridgeline.  I had followed the driving directions.  A herd of proghorn antelope were in the middle of Garden Canyon Road on my way to the trailhead, which got the dogs barking.  I stopped to photograph them. The herd ran off to the safety of the nearby field, looking back at me and wondering why the truck was barking at them.

The trailhead was the Tinker Pond Land Navigation course near the post aerostat.  The post had conducted a control burn a few  weeks ago and I could still smell the chemicals used to burn the grass. Even while on active duty and assigned to Fort Huachuca, I had never done land navigation training here; it was always on the northern site closer to Black Canyon.

I was hoping either Zeke or Minnie would be able to sniff out where the hiking group had gone, but to no avail. They seemed more interested in sniffing out the area.  All the trails here were wide firebreaks and I took the main one going in a southwesterly direction uphill through a gentle slope.  Burned hills were on either side of me.  If it hadn't been for the smell, this would have been a nice hike.  The hills around me had craggy tops.

I wanted to find Tinker Pond.  I'd heard of the pond but had never been to it.  Where was it?  Even as the road gained in elevation, I couldn't see any semblance of a pond.  At 1.7 miles into the canyon I was now deep enough to be away from the burned area and hidden from view.  I could have continued going higher and deeper into the canyon, but opted to cut south and take a ridgeline (the Sheelite Ridgeline, according to my GPS) that borders with Brown Canyon.  From here one can see into Brown, see the Brown Canyon Ranch house and Sierra Vista.   It gives a new perspective of Brown from this vantage point.  It also reveals an old rusty barbed wire as post boundary; not a very secure border in these times.  Part of the barbed wire fence was cut open and surely that was done by border crossers coming up from the Brown Ranch House.  Who else would take a steep slope up into military property?

I spotted a water gathering tank below and went down from here to explore.  This was "Site Boston."  I also spotted a "Gobblers Guzzler," a small water fountain placed here by the Forest Service to provide water for the wild turkey that roam through.  Although I had my own water for the dogs, I let them drink from this source.  Zeke even placed his paws in the water.  The burned spots still felt warm to the touch (but were not hot).  Nearby was a rusty old car chassis laden with bullet holes.
I was now at the four-mile mark.  The official hike was 6.7 miles so I simply didn't go deep enough in the canyon to copy the posted hike.  I didn't want to be hiking through the burned fields and went back to the perimeter road and a more level terrain.  Here the road bordered the fence with the Connector Trail of Sierra Vista.  The heat of the day was starting to become noticeable and I walked back to the parking area, looped around for another mile and hiked 5.4 miles before calling it quits.  It was just after 11am and I was done.  The group was still out hiking.

I gave Sadie her ice cubes and sat in the shade of the cars.  She likes munching on ice. Thirty minutes later the rest of the group came by.  Rod, SteveS, SteveA, Mell, JimA, ColeM, Jody, Stephanie and Kent were in this group. I looked at Rod's GPS:  I had turned south and back along the perimeter one firebreak too soon. Tinker Pond was just the next intersection higher in the canyon.  ARG!

This would be a lovely hike once the green grass grows back and the smell dissipates.  I want to do this hike again soon as it's remote and scenic.

Friday, March 24, 2017

San Pedro House Loop, Brown Canyon sunset hike

Nina posted a last-minute meetup hike around the San Pedro House at 8am.  Since I was only working a half-day, I jumped on the opportunity to meet with her and walk the trails here before my shift.  It's a 25-minute drive to the San Pedro House on SR90 from my house.  I got there at 8:07 (knowing Nina would be late) and she arrived at 8:10am.

We had two hours to saunter around the trails, enjoying the morning light and the birds.  I did not take any dogs this time as this is a popular birding area and I didn't want to bother birders with my dogs.  That was a wise decision. Nina commented that she can't remember ever hiking with me without a dog by my side. While dogs are allowed here, they must be leashed around the house.  I kept my dogs at home so that I wouldn't need to drive back home again before arriving at the school, saving 50 minutes and 30 miles.

We had no route planned.  Nina had a map and I suggested we stay in the trees closest to the river where the birds are.  We lucked out.  Not only did a maintenance man show us an owl in the cottonwood tree by the house, we also saw the red-bellied Vermillion Flycatcher.  The first time I saw this pretty bird was on this trail years ago.  I didn't have a good camera to capture its beauty.

The river was very calm this morning as the early sun shined through the trees.  Birds were chirping and twittering in the branches, hidden from site.  The cool shade felt good.  Why do I not come by here more often?  We met a family from Kansas who moved here one by one after the adult daughter moved here for a job.  Her mother and brother joined her and all hike the three-mile loop every morning.

The trail map visitors can pick up at the San Pedro House is not very detailed.  We hiked a few loops twice trying to figure out where to go.  We really didn't care as it was calming just being here.  There were several others enjoying the trails, cameras in hand.  Get away from the cool shade and out on the open trail, though, and it's less pleasant.

Kingfisher pond and the giant cottonwood are the charms of this loop hike. The tree has a symmetrical canopy unlike most trees in the area.  We walked this entire pond, took photos, laughed at our repeated loop around the water.  Nina brought along a cardboard figurine she named "Flat Stanley," mailed to her from Texas.  Flat Stanley will be accompanying her on all the hikes for the next month before he gets mailed back to Texas.

We hiked north along the river, went under the SR90 overpass, spotted a new cross marking a gravesite I'm thinking is to commemorate a border crosser found dead here.  A volunteer organization has been placing crosses along the border to mark the deaths of people found dead. I found my first such cross several months ago in Lutz Canyon.  The Forest Service frowns on religious monuments on public land (that hasn't stopped the crosses from popping up around here) but this land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Nina had a dentist appointment and needed to be done around 10am.  That gave us 3.5 miles together.    We were done shortly after 10am.  What a lovely walk this was, walking at a leisurely pace, chatting and enjoying the sounds.

* * *
I had a pleasant afternoon at the school, got home at 4:15pm and hosted another sunset hike in Brown Canyon.  This time I brought Sadie and Zeke along.  AJ was there and two new gals, Madelaine and Cindy, both registered nurses from Delaware and Michigan showed up.  Madelaine and Cindy were behind AJ and me and I slowed down to allow the gals to catch up with us, but at one point Madelaine bluntly told me, loud enough for everyone to hear, that "I'm going to be very honest, I don't think I'll be coming back again!" because the pace was too fast for her.  She was expecting a more leisurely walk where we would stop, photograph the sites, and chat.  This was the first time anyone has told me I hiked too fast.  I was a bit taken back by that.  I didn't advertise the hike as a leisure walk and mentioned in the write-up that I like to maintain a 22-minute-mile pace.

The gals did relax and we slowed down once we got to the 2.5-mile spot at the water trough.  From here it's all downhill back to the Brown canyon ranch house.  We chatted more spiritedly, AJ talked about his experience with atrial ventricular tachycardia he swears he developed after a tetanus shot, and together we enjoyed the waning daylight as we exited the canyon.  We had no clouds and thus no color scheme across the sky.  We could hear coyotes howling when we got to the ranch house.  The others saw two coyotes dart across the trail and they warned me to leash the dogs (which I did), but I never saw the coyotes.  The pond was calm.

We got back to our cars in 2:07 hours and departed amicably.  I don't think I'll be seeing the gals again.  I did enjoy our conversation once the pace slowed down some.

Both hikes totaled 8.96 miles.  I'm on a run!

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 toward the hills to the west.  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 and my GPS app on to guide me.

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 didn't carry any water because this was supposed to be a quick morning jaunt.

I don't normally enjoy cross-country walks but this one was a pleasant one.  Bushwhacking across the desert in Arizona means stumbling over hidden boulders, stepping into holes, or having one's legs jabbed by shin daggers or the dreaded cholla.   This walk 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 trail consisting of old Indian trails, old army supply routes, and washes that bisects the Preserve east to west.  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's been on the road three months and isn't returning to Oregon until he can move into his new home in May.  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 on my drive south back to the Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor's Center.  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 agent was filing a report.  The overturned vehicle allowed just enough space to slowly pass the couple without detouring off the road.  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.  There were too many people to make this an enjoyable hike with the dogs.  A Scout troop was getting ready to head out, young families were on the trail, and a lot of hikers were mingling around.  The ranger said leashed dogs were fine.  Hiking with leashed dogs up steep trails is no fun!  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 off the Colorado River 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.  One young transient was camped in the front of the store under the marquee.  I later saw him walking around the dumpsters.  The next morning when I returned for breakfast he was back again.

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.