desert

Saddleback Butte State Park, 4.8 Miles RT, 1,037' +/-, 3,651' Max Elevation, April 14, 2019

Saddleback Butte State Park, 4.8 Miles RT, 1,037' +/-, 3,651' Max Elevation, April 14, 2019

We hiked Little Butte and Saddleback Butte this weekend. I was here last year, but had not gone during the wildflower bloom. It was magical! We started our hike on the Dowen Nature Trail which connects to the Little Butte Trail and eventually the trail leading up to the top of Saddleback Butte at 3,651’. I immediately began to see carpets of wildflowers blanketing the park and the Fiddleneck flowers were covered in thousands of caterpillars. We took our time and admired all the beauty being offered to us here at the western edge of the Mojave Desert. I took note of some of the many wildflowers we observed. We saw: Coreopsis, Fiddleneck, Desert dandelion, Sun cups, Desert candles, Davy gilia, Fremont pincushions, Dune primrose, Wild Rhubarb and in addition, the Joshua Trees were in full bloom. Eventually, the sandy trail gave way to rocky terrain as it began its steep ascent up the top of Saddleback Butte. The wind was strong as we climbed and after a few easy rock scrambles, we were at the top enjoying the 360 degree views. To the south we could see the snow capped San Gabriel Mountains and further off in the distance we could make out Mt. San Gorgonio and Mt. San Jacinto. This was a really wonderful hike and being able to see the park in all it’s wildflower glory was a special treat!

Read More

Joshua Tree National Park, January 20, 2019

Joshua Tree National Park, January 20, 2019

After our snowshoeing excursion on Mount San Jacinto, we drove an hour to Twentynine Palms to spend the rest of the weekend at our favorite bed and breakfast, the Campbell House. We arrived early enough to relax for a bit before heading out for dinner and drinks at the Twentynine Palms Inn. It was a great way to end the day. I slept very well that night until I awoke around 5:45 am and decided to wake my husband up so we could head into the park by 6:48 am in time to watch the sun come up. As much as I would have liked to sleep in, I never miss a desert sunrise. We quickly put on some clothes, threw our backpacks and some extra water in the car and drove into the park. The colors were phenomenal as always! It was chilly, but I was bundled up so I barely noticed. It was quiet with not many people around since it was still very early. The only sounds we heard were the birds peacefully singing and I saw a huge hare hop by. His feet were quite large and he had long, black tipped ears. I took a some photos as the sun came up and then we spent some time simply enjoying the tranquil morning before heading back for breakfast. Later on, after checking out of the bed and breakfast, we decided to drive through the park. We had mixed feelings about it since all of the issues going on with the government shut down, but we wanted to see for ourselves. We discovered that there were rangers working both the West and North entrances (without pay). The park looked like it was being well taken care of by the volunteers. The ranger told us that the Visitor Center on Park Blvd. was open and being operated by Joshua Tree National Park Association. We stopped off at the visitor center and made a donation. It was the least we could do to help their efforts. If I lived near and worked in Joshua Tree National Park, I'm sure I'd be working for free too. Joshua Tree is a very sacred and special place. I was happy to see it being well cared for.

Read More

Snowshoeing on Mt. San Jacinto, Desert View Trail & Round Valley, 6.6 miles RT, max elevation 9,100', 900' +/-, January 19, 2019

Snowshoeing on Mt. San Jacinto, Desert View Trail & Round Valley, 6.6 miles RT, max elevation 9,100', 900' +/-, January 19, 2019

We had quite a bit of rain over the past few days and I really wanted to try snowshoeing. We had already made plans months ago to spend the weekend in Twentynine Palms, but instead of hiking in the desert like we normally would have, we decided to take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up to Mt. San Jacinto. We rented snowshoes from REI in Burbank and were lucky to get the last two pairs available for the upcoming weekend. Seems everyone had the same idea: Take advantage of the snow while you can. I got up at 4 am and we were on our way by 5 am. When we arrived in Palm Springs at 7 am, the parking lot was already getting filled up; families with sleds, coolers, snowshoes, etc., all gearing up for a winter play day. We got our tickets for the 8 am tram and were on our way up the mountain in no time. The tram is a unique activity to do in and of itself. I never get tired of being hoisted up a steep cliff inside a floating bubble travelling up a cable. The transition from desert floor to sub-alpine is amazing and in just 10 minutes we went from the desert floor at 2,643’ at Valley Station to 8,516’ at the top of Mountain Station. The air at the top of the tram was in the 30s. The snow was hard packed and crunchy with some ice. We headed over to the Desert View Loop to try out snowshoeing for the first time. It was actually quite easy. To me it felt a bit like an elliptical machine. The Desert View loop is a short trail with a gentle incline and five notches overlooking wonderful views. It was the perfect place to start. After we had gotten the hang of things, we headed over to Long Valley Station where we filled out a permit and continued on into the San Jacinto Wilderness with our destination being Round Valley. By this time, more people had arrived, some wearing microspikes and there were many groups of snowshoers and winter backpackers. I really enjoyed being able to “float” on top of the snow in the snowshoes. I also liked having a sturdy grip with the snowshoes’ crampon that dug its teeth into the hard packed snow for traction. I felt very secure both ascending and descending. There were a number of people on the trail today, but we were still able to enjoy some alone time. After arriving at Round Valley, we contemplated going up one more mile up to Wellman’s Divide. But instead, we changed our minds and decided to start heading back, knowing we had a cozy room waiting for us in Twentynine Palms. The weather was warming up now, and the snow was starting to get slushy. I think it was a little after 2 pm when we arrived back at Mountain Station. We had no problems getting on the next tram down and were headed out to spend the rest of the weekend relaxing and enjoying the desert. It was a wonderful day. I think I am hooked on snowshoeing and I cannot wait for the opportunity to do it again!

Read More

Devil's Chair, 6.7 miles RT, 1, 260' +/-, 5,396' max. elevation, December 27, 2018

Devil's Chair,  6.7 miles RT, 1, 260' +/-, 5,396' max. elevation, December 27, 2018

I love the hike to Devil’s Chair. We did it in October of 2017 and it’s a beautiful part of the San Gabriels hidden away to the far north. The geological formations that have been formed throughout the years by the San Andreas and Punchbowl Faults are an incredible spectacle to witness firsthand. This area is also a transition zone between high desert and subalpine, and it’s interesting to see how the plants change as you travel the undulating trail. This time it seemed the trail was a bit more eroded in sections then the last time we hiked it, but it was still easily passable without being unsafe. As we approached the Devil’s Chair we descended the switchbacks and navigated the over narrow, rocky cliffs. Thankfully, there’s a metal fence put in place here that allows you to go all the way out to the edge. Otherwise you would not be able to hike here. The views from the Chair were spectacular. Once we’d taken it all in, we climbed back up and had a quick snack break before starting our return. The clouds were starting to roll in and it looked pretty chilly up in the higher elevations on Pleasant View Ridge and Mt. Lewis. The temperature dropped to about 43 degrees as we made our way back and the wind kicked up making it a chilly end to a beautiful winter day.

Read More

Red Rock Canyon State Park, On our way to the Eastern Sierra, July 9, 2018

Red Rock Canyon State Park, On our way to the Eastern Sierra, July 9, 2018

Red Rock Canyon State Park is a nice place to stop along Highway 14 if you're headed up to the Easter Sierra.  There are a few hiking trails here that meander through the dramatic Red Cliffs.  If you're into geology, this is a place you'll want to stop!  I wish we could have explored the area, but it was over 100 degrees.  It was a nice, scenic place to stop, get out of the car and stretch our legs before heading up the 395.  There are also some vault toilets here as well. 

Read More

Mount Pacifico 7,134', 2,398' +/-, 14 miles on the PCT from Mill Creek, June 3, 2018

Mount Pacifico 7,134', 2,398' +/-, 14 miles on the PCT from Mill Creek, June 3, 2018

I’m always looking to escape weekend crowds and find new trails to explore. This Sunday our hike was to the top of Mount Pacifico in the northern part of Angeles National Forest. We planned to start the hike at Mill Creek and follow the PCT which runs through this area. It looked like the trek would be around 12 to 14 miles depending on whether or not we did an out and back on the PCT or did a loop. The day was going to be hot, but I figured since we were heading up to a higher elevation, it might not be so bad on the ascent. If it got too hot, we would descend and save it for another time. The trail was very beautiful. There were many wildflowers and so much ceanothus (California lilac) which made for a very pleasant fragrance along the way. There was lots of wildlife activity too; squirrels, chipmunks, songbirds, bees, insects and butterflies. As we climbed higher, we started to see beautiful, tall pine trees. Much of the area was burned in the 2009 Station Fire, and we could see the effects of that as we hiked this route. But the area looks as though it’s been recovering nicely. Eventually, we reached a junction where we left the PCT and headed southeast to a jeep road that took us up to the summit. There are outstanding views of the surrounding mountain ranges along the way making the road more interesting. After about a mile or so we reached the summit. Mount Pacifico Campground is also here. There are picnic tables, a fire ring and vault toilets. That’s quite a luxury to have up on a summit! There are also a lot of very interesting rock formations to explore. There wasn’t anyone here today, so we took a good long rest and relaxed and enjoyed the peace and quiet. Soon it was time to head back and get ready for the heat as we descended to a lower elevation. We opted to come back the way we came on the PCT for a more scenic and enjoyable route. Both of us had been keeping well hydrated throughout the trip and we had no problems with it being so warm. We were even gifted with an occasional breeze as we hiked back down the mountain. I found this trail to be very nicely graded so although it was long, it was very pleasant. A very enjoyable hike!

Read More

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, April 29, 2018

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, April 29, 2018

Desert Adventures, Day 2 consisted of a visit to the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve which is easily accessed from the 62. You wouldn’t expect there to be so much green in the desert, but surprise! There’s lots of green here! This is because there’s a fault that runs through the canyon which causes water drainage from the surrounding mountains to form a marsh habitat. There are all kinds of birds here too; 254 species! If you’re a bird watcher, this is THE place to be!

There are trails here that are suitable for everyone. The Marsh Trail is an easy boardwalk that winds along the stream. It’s shaded by beautiful cottonwoods and willows. Yes shade! In the desert!! Lots of wildlife activity can be seen and heard here. The Yucca Ridge Trail takes you up to a higher elevation and is more exposed. From here you can look down into the preserve’s wetlands to appreciate just how green and lush it is. You’ll also have wonderful views of the surrounding peaks of Mount San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. If you have time and are looking for a longer hike, you can take the 9.76 mile round trip Canyon Trail. We didn’t have time to do this today, but I’d love to go back and try it when the weather is cooler.

To get an overall perspective of the preserve, we did a loop around it - Desert Willow Trail to Yucca Ridge to West Canyon Trail to Mesquite Trail and a loop around the Marsh Trail. There are maps and information at the kiosk at the trailhead. We saw so many critters en route, including a snake crossing over the trail. There were also many wildflowers in bloom. It was an enjoyable and relaxing way to wrap up the weekend.

Read More

Mojave National Preserve, Kelso Dunes, Amboy Crater, Joshua Tree National Park, April 28, 2018

Mojave National Preserve, Kelso Dunes, Amboy Crater, Joshua Tree National Park, April 28, 2018

Our desert adventures started with a trip to the Mojave National Preserve to hike the singing sands of the Kelso Dunes.  

The hike starts out on a sandy track that heads straight.  As you hike, the terrain is mostly flat until you get closer to the dunes where you’ll begin to cross many smaller dunes before arriving at the base.  There really isn’t an established trail because the wind is constantly shifting the sand, but you can make out footprints where others have made their way up.  Just keep heading towards the highest point, and try to avoid stepping on any vegetation.  As you begin to ascend, hiking becomes more strenuous.  Your feet sink into the deep sand and for every step you take forward, you’ll slide two steps back.  It’s no easy task, but getting up to the top is totally worth it!  Once you’re on top, follow the sandy spine all the way to the peak where it levels off.  You’ll have a great place to sit and enjoy the surrounding views.  

Now for the best part… When you’re done taking it all in, you’ll can slide your way down!  If conditions are right, you’ll hear the dunes boom or sing and feel them vibrate underneath you.  This phenomena is caused by sheets of sand cascading down and rubbing against the stationary sand below.  It’s really something to experience and there are only 30 other dunes in the world that can do this.  I was elated that we were able to hear them sing today!

Our next stop was Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark, just off Route 66.  The crater is a cinder cone type of volcano that last erupted about 10,000 years ago.  To get to it, you hike through a lava field and then up and into the crater where you can walk around its edge.  It’s about a 3 mile round trip hike.  Sadly, we were unable to hike all the way up today because the temperatures were already a scorching 90 degrees.  It was still fun to see and it’s on our list for when the weather cools down.

After the Amboy Crater, we made our way down to Twentynine Palms where we spent the night.  We had some dinner before heading into Joshua Tree National Park to relax and watch a gorgeous desert sunset before retiring for the evening.  

It was a great day!  I’m really looking forward to exploring more of the Mojave National Preserve.  There’s so much to see!

Read More

Joshua Tree National Park-Day 2, Colorado Desert, Lost Palms Oasis, 7.6 miles RT, 856 +/-, Plus a Stop at Cholla Cactus Garden, January 14, 2018

Joshua Tree National Park-Day 2, Colorado Desert, Lost Palms Oasis, 7.6 miles RT, 856 +/-, Plus a Stop at Cholla Cactus Garden, January 14, 2018

Of all the times I’ve been to Joshua Tree, this was the first time we drove south through the Pinto Basin all the way to Cottonwood Spring to see the transition from the Mojave to the Colorado Desert. You won’t find Joshua Trees at elevations lower then 3,000 feet, but the Colorado Desert has its own unique beauty. Here’s where you’ll find the spindly ocotillo plant. I’ve always seen them in photos, but never made it down that far to see them in person. Our hike today was a 7.5 mile out and back to Lost Palms Oasis. Lost Palms Oasis has the largest concentration of Fan Palms in the park. Let me tell you this was a BEAUTIFUL hike! Undulating hills, lots of ups and downs on the trail, sandy washes, rocky canyons, plenty of cacti and views of the Salton Sea. We even saw a rainbow along the way. Once you arrive at the oasis, you can either scramble all the way down into the canyon under the palms, or you can enjoy the views from the overlook. If you don’t want to hike in that far, there’s a beautiful oasis right at the trailhead at Cottonwood Spring. This is a hike to do ONLY in the cooler months. They actually remove the trail from the park map in the summer to discourage people from doing it because some have died on this trail. While this was a much more populated trail then the CRH, it was still incredibly enjoyable. If you want to extend your trip, when you pass the junction to the Mastodon Peak loop, it’s about 2 extra miles to the top. We’ll save that one for another day. Before we headed out, we stopped off at the Cottonwood Visitor Center. It just so happened one of the rangers was giving a talk about rattlesnakes. I think I learned more about them today then I ever knew! It’s wonderful that these programs exist to educate people and get them outdoors to enjoy this beautiful world we live in and enjoy it wisely.

I've also included in this post some photos of our visit to the Cholla Cactus Garden.  It's on the way to Cottonwood.  If you're passing through the Pinto Basin on the way to the southern end of the park, I highly recommend taking a walk through the Cholla Cactus garden. You can't miss it. All of a sudden you'll see a patch of cute fuzzy looking cacti. But don't be fooled. These suckers will bite! Just a light brush against them and the spikes will penetrate your skin. They even have a first aid kit at the trail head with antiseptic and bandaids. LOL These little guys are known as the Bigelow Cholla, Jumping Cholla and also Teddybear Cholla. Unless you're a cactus wren or a desert woodrat, enjoy the view from a distance. 

Read More

Joshua Tree National Park-Day 1, California Riding & Hiking Trail: Juniper Flats to Geology Tour Road, 10 miles out & back RT, 594' +/-, January 13, 2018

Joshua Tree National Park-Day 1, California Riding & Hiking Trail:  Juniper Flats to Geology Tour Road, 10 miles out & back RT, 594' +/-, January 13, 2018

We were on part of this trail in November, and I wanted to go back and do more of it. I like this trail because it takes you into the backcountry and away from the more popular attractions in the park. You can really cover a lot of mileage in a short amount of time on this section because it’s mostly flat with only a 594’ gain/loss if you’re doing it as an out and back. Overnight backpackers will do the whole 35 mile trail in about 2 or 3 days. For this section, we parked at Juniper Flats, crossed Keys View Road and starting hiking. We past Ryan Campground and between Ryan and Lost Horse mountains. The trail leads up up from Lost Horse Valley to a pass and down the other side where it becomes more rocky and rugged. We passed the remains of an old prospector camp. There are actually quite a number of these located in the park and not just the ones noted on the map. The trail then took us down the other side of the pass into Queen Valley. We continued across the vast Queen Valley enjoying the immense open space. We’d gotten a late start today, so we gave ourselves a turnaround time since we didn’t have a car shuttle on the other end and would have to hike back the same amount of miles that we hiked in. We were just 1.7 miles short of Geology Tour Road when we had to head back. We still logged in a good 10 mile hike.

Read More