Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Forty-Nine Palms Oasis: Joshua Tree National Park

     Hidden under the high ridges of the north side of the Little San Bernardino Mountains, Forty-Nine Palms Oasis provides both an essential water source for wildlife in the range and serves as an exciting destination for the desert hiker.  Located just outside the small town of Twenty-Nine Palms, this serene, verdant oasis grows in stark contrast to the Spartan and hearty arid vegetation of the lower Mojave.  Desert familiars such as Brittlebush, Almond, Acacia, and Barrel Cacti give way in the low trenches of the canyon to willows and California's only native palm tree, the California Fan Palm, found only in a middling collection of desert ravines in Southern California.  In springtime after a rainy winter, annuals appear in brilliant fashion across the trail serving as a vivid backdrop for various reptilian natives.  As enter the the canyon and climb over the wide ridge in a landscape marred by time, heat, and little water, it is remarkable indeed how profoundly ordered the diversity of this desert ecosystem truly is.   


Category: Easy
Miles: 3
Elevation Gain: 550'
Location: Joshua Tree National Park

The Trail:  From the trailhead, enter the trail as it climbs through time-tested jumbles of granite flanked by small, patchy stands of Brittlebush, Beavertail, Mojave Mounds, Hedgehog, and Prickly Pear cacti.  Keep a sharp look out for various species of lizards, snakes, and even the endangered Desert Tortise, who enjoys a meal of plentiful springtime blossoms.  As the trail crests the wide ridge, the view expands into the canyon bottom below and the heights of Desert Queen Mountain above.  Soon, the oasis itself comes into view as the path drops into the ravine below.  During the descent, surroundings of Barrel Cacti and other brush in the foreground are vigorously contrasted with the verdant grove of palms in the background; echoing a theme of contrast familiar in all of nature.  After arriving at the canyon floor, the path takes a few hundred yards before arriving in the midst of the life-giving waters of the mountains.  Over the eras, the ground below, through faults and distinct geological conditionsl have allowed fissures  to spring forth water thus giving perspective on the delicate balance of life here in the Mojave.  You cannot actually go down to the water, as it is an area of special environmental concern, but the the stately groves of palms are more than a worthy substitute.  After enjoying the calms of this desert vale, ascend the ridge, and then descend its backside returning to the trailhead.  
Saint Vincent Ferrer, Pray for Us! 

Hiked 4/3/2017.   San Bernardino County, CA      

Encelia Farinosa: Brittbush

Early Trail

Spring Bloom!

Ascending trail...

Oasis below

Little San Bernardino Mountains

Lower canyon


California Fan Palm

Desert Spiny Lizard

Chuckwalla hiding

Long Nosed Leopard Lizard

Western Fence Lizard

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Barker Dam Loop at Joshua Tree National Park

      In times gone by, these high elevations of the Mojave Desert were a verdant grassland for many months of the year.  Even as recent as the late 1880's were the temperatures slightly more pleasant and the average annual rainfall higher.  In those days ranchers used the haunts of Hidden Valley and its surrounding plateau as grazing country for cattle.  Needing an assurance of a regular water supply in the dry summer months, one of these ranchers decided on building a modest dam to hold water enough for man and beast alike even in the most torrid days of the Mojave sun.  Today, while no cattle nor active ranches can be found, the dam remains, as does its small basin of water; an important oasis of sorts for wildlife and appealing destination for the Joshua Tree visitor.  While the Barker Dam loop trail is very short and usually crowded on pleasant weekends, it and its surrounding country, are locations well worth any hiker's time.     


Category: Easy
Miles: 1.3
Elevation Gain: 100'
Location: Joshua Tree National Park
Directions: HERE

The Trail: From the Barker Dam trailhead, follow the well-used path through the hearty stands of Mojave montane scrub; the dominant vegetation on this trip.  Notable plants in this community include the Desert Scrub Oak, Ironwood, Smoke Tree, Mojave Mounds, Hedgehog and Prickly Pear Cacti, Mormon Tea, Creosote, Desert Almond, Acacia, Cholla, Single-Leaf Pinyon, California Juniper, Mojave Yucca, and of course park's namesake Joshua Tree.  All of these neighbors here compete for limited desert resources and their claims to these are made manifest by their sparse growth among the surface.   As you walk gently up a small pinto-gneiss canyon, pay special attention to movements on the cliffs above, as herds of Nelson Bighorn roam free among these parts.  Soon, the trail intersects the lake headed by historical Barker Dam, before descending into a plain of Joshua Trees and its supporting vegetation.  Keep a sharp eye out for reptiles of various kinds, with particular care to heed the signs and sounds of the rattlesnakes which frequent the area.  Before making a final turn back to the trailhead, the path takes a detour towards a small collection of Chemuhevi petroglyphs carved (and painted now by vandals) into the rock.  After enjoying this indigenous work, follow the mild trail back to the start.  

Hiked 4/2/2017.  Riverside County, CA            

Friday, March 24, 2017

Terri Peak (2,569') at Lake Perris State Recreation Area

     The high point of the Aramada Mountains in Lake Perris State Recreation Area, Terri Peak, is a block mountain overlooking the towns of Moreno Valley and Perris to the north and the watery haunts of Lake Perris on the south.  Bolstering pleasant views in all directions from its 2,569' summit, this trip is well worth a Spring time excursion to.   


Category: Easy
Miles: 4
Elevation Gain: 850'
Location: Lake Perris State Recreation Area
Directions: HERE

The Trail: From the Horse Camp trailhead, take the road as it transitions into a trail up the eastern side of the mountain, passing through stands of White Sage, Brisitlebrush, California Sage, and Buckwheat.  In spring, the lupines, goldfields, bells, nightshades, and even invasive mustard and stinking chamomile can turn these hillsides into radiant shades of color.  As the trail ascends to the north side of the range, around the 2,200' mark, you enter a grassy plateau, tranquil and vivacious in season, and dreary and dormant when not.  As you travel, be sure to stay onto the main trail and not be side tracked by the numerous side-paths cut by users, leading to unnecessary erosion and destruction of natural habitat.  Here on the northside as you climb, lupines become more populous as does Chamise, Sumac and some strands of Scrub Oak.  From the unfortunately grafitti-lade summit, enjoy the more appealing views in all directions here among the gliding hawks and wistling breeze.  If you have another car or bike, you can return along the western side of the range to the Regional Indian Museum and Lake Perris Visitor Center, a destination well worth your time.  If not, return the way you came.  

Hiked 3/23/2017.  Riverside County, CA     

Riversidian (Inland) Sage Srub


Lake Perris from summit and the Bernasconi Hills
Summit BM

2,200' Plateau 

Box Springs Mountains and Moreno Valley

 Lake Perris and Spring blooms on the east side

The Slot: Anza Borrego Desert State Park

       Carved over millennia by the sheer and raw power of nature, The Slot Canyon in exhilarating Anza Borrego Desert State Park showcases just how stark and beautiful those forces can be.  The easily erodible sedimentary soil elements of these canyons through eras of flash floods in rapid succession have created a natural wonder unlike any other in Southern California.  At only about a mile long, this narrow canyon is the perfect excursion for families or those visitors with limited time.  As you pass through floor of the canyon, and squeeze through its narrows, imagine the by gone eras of history etched between these walls and wonder at the awesome and still beauty of this desert mystery.  


Category: Easy
Miles: 1
Elevation Loss: 75'
Location: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

The Trail:  From the dirt trailhead (suitable for any vehicle), follow the signage as it points you into the canyon about 50' downward.  As you enter the canyon, surrounded by endemic Cholla and Ocotillo, the trail you will soon realize is actually he sandy floor of this sporadic watershed.  Consequently, this trek should leaver be left to a day which threatens rain as this sparse desert soil quickly diffuses all water into narrow slot canyon such as these.  Continuing along, the canyon starts out quit wide, but narrows as you continue through the meta-sedimentary formations to a points when you are surrounded by one hundred foot walls separated only by about the three feet you will be squeezing through at ground-level.  There are many notable features in this slot, such as gigantic boulders, fallen hoodoos, caves and eaves, and numerous side tunnels and canyon mouths waiting to be explored.  Travel with care to the end of the narrow sections and enter into a wider arid watershed, where the trail end and a dirt road begins.  Return the way you came back through this most remarkable feature of creation.  

Hiked 3/21/2017.  San Diego County, CA     

Road to The Slot

Beginning Trail

Canyon from trail

Going in

Ocotillio on the trailside 

Blooming Brittlebrush 

In the canyon...

Looking up

Odd formations

Squeezing through


Fallen hoodoo

Smooth walls


Desert Wildflowers

Trailhead Ocotillo 

Cresote Bush