Saturday, March 31, 2018

Eastern San Diego County: March 2018

(Remember that you can click on the photos to see a slideshow; hit "escape" to get back to the text.  As always, both Felice and I took these photos.  I do the editing on light room, trying to reproduce just what we saw.)

We took advantage of Spring Break (my last semester!) to see the mountains of Eastern San Diego County, as well as Anza Borrego State Park. 

March 5:  The drive to the Julian area took us less than four hours, at a very leisurely pace.   We had planned to boondock in the Pine Creek area, south of Sunrise Highway; but when we scouted the potential campsites, they were all very muddy due to the recent rain.  So we headed for Laguna Campground, right nearby.  As expected, it was virtually empty. 

March 6: We hiked up to Garnet Peak, not a very strenuous route.  There was almost no shade along the trail; fortunately, it was a cool and breezy day.  The views of the desert and the mountains to the north were spectacular – on the horizon behind us, along the left side of the shot, are Mt. San Jacinto, Mt. San Gorgonio, and Mt. Baldy:


The views to the west were also excellent – we could see the Coronado Islands off the coast of Baja, as well as San Clemente and Catalina islands, over a hundred miles away.

After lunch, we walked south along the Pacific Crest Trail, which follows the rim of the mountains overlooking the desert.  We encountered a few early-season through-hikers, on their way to Canada from Mexico.  This is a view from the PCT of the east side of Garnet Peak:


March 7:   Since it was a cloudy day (not great for views), we drove down from the mountains into Anza Borrego.   It only took an hour each way.  We decided to take the Palm Canyon hike.  The guidebook said that if we were lucky, we might be able to spot a few bighorn sheep high up on the walls of the canyon.  As it turns out, we happened to hit lambing season, and there were a lot of sheep all over the canyon!

This female struck a noble pose for us:


Her lambs soon stole the show, nursing vigorously:


The lambs raced each other across the steep canyon walls:


They stopped to peer down at us, bleating quietly:


Although there were no adult male sheep (the ones with the big spiral horns), there were groups of adult females grazing near the creek:


Felice captured several videos.  In this one, the lambs scamper across the rocks, following their mother:



This shows the lambs on the cliff:



At one point, several lambs cross the trail right in front of us:



We had read that the canyon had been hit by a huge flash flood back in 2004, washing out half of the palm trees in the canyon.  There was plenty of evidence of violent flooding, rolling enormous boulders down the stream:


Note the palm trunk trapped by the boulder:


Wherever tributary canyons joined the main canyon, there were fairly recently-deposited debris flows, cemented by mud and sand:


The trail eventually led to a palm oasis -- these are very young palms that probably sprouted after the 2004 flood:


We have been informed by Scott, our expert Pool Technician, that no blog entry is complete without a "boot shot," preferably with a waterfall in the background.  This is the best we could do -- Anza Borrego is a desert, after all:


There were quite a few "old growth" palms at the end of the trail -- they were sheltered by big boulders and had survived the flood intact:


Back near the trailhead, we saw what we thought was a beautiful red-leaf ocotillo:


It turns out that the leaves turn red and die whenever the bush dries out, only to sprout again when there is a little rain.

After Palm Canyon, we drove into the middle of the park to a slot canyon.  (Although the roads are rough and sandy, I am pretty sure that an ordinary passenger car could handle the trip.)  The slot was quite narrow -- we had to take off our backpacks:




Some of the walls of the slot looked like the "drip castles" that kids make at the beach:


Parts of the slot were very deep, narrow, and dark:




March 8:  We hiked up to Cuyamaca Peak.  The Azalea Glen trail led us past some bedrock mortars, surrounded by old oak trees.  The Indians used the mortars to grind acorns into mush:


By the way, almost every trail at Cuyamaca is named "Azalea Something."  Very confusing, and the trails are poorly marked and take a roundabout route to the peak.  Also, the trail maps are poor.  Next time, I would recommend simply walking up the paved fire road that goes from the campground to the peak.

There was some snow at the top of the mountain, and there were some trees up high that had not been burned in the big 2003 Cedar fire: 


The views from the peak were just fair, because the day was pretty hazy. 

Much of the burnt area is now covered in thick stands of ceanothus, or mountain lilac.  We could see that work crews had been clearing acres of brush, and we eventually came across the "Macerator" that had chewed it up so thoroughly:


We did not get to see this machine in action, but here is a similar unit:



This shot shows the border between the cleared area and the wall of uncut brush, with Stonewall Peak in the background:


And this is a huge swath of territory, fully cleared, with many of the dead trees left standing:


I later called the park headquarters and talked to a ranger -- the park is trying to replant the mixed oak and conifer forest, but the ceanothus is crowding out the young trees.  That is the reason for the aggressive mulching of the chaparral.  Some environmental groups are opposed to the clear-cutting on the ground that it interferes with the natural process of fire recovery.  It will be many, many years before this forest is fully restored, if ever.

To end on a happier note, this photo shows Laguna Campground -- the fire-fighters were able to save most of the trees:






      



Sunday, January 28, 2018

Kings Canyon: January 2018

(Remember that you can click on the photos to see a slideshow; hit "escape" to get back to the text.  As always, both Felice and I took these photos.  I do the editing on Lightroom, trying to reproduce just what we saw.)

We had a free week just before the start of school, so off to the mountains!  Rain and snow were predicted, which was good news; our "winter" had been dry and warm for weeks on end.

January 7:  It took us only six hours to get to Azalea Campground.  We chose the most out-of-the-way spot we could find, and for most of the week there was no one nearby.  That evening, after setting up the trailer, we hiked up to Buena Vista for the sunset:




We brought headlamps and (for once) actually used them on the way back down the mountain.  It was surprisingly easy to see the trail, but of course this was not a very difficult route.  Still, this means that we can theoretically stay out past dark, if we really want (or need) to do so.


January 8:  As expected, it started raining before dawn.  After a leisurely morning (why rush into a downpour?), we hiked through Redwood Grove.  For some odd reason, we saw no one else, all day long:




With the ponchos, and the waterproof hats, and the knee-length gaiters, it took us several hours to get really, really wet.  Not a great day for photography, but we had fun.  The huge Sequoias looked like they were enjoying the rain, soaking in the moisture.


That evening was exactly what we had been hoping for:  the rain tapping on the roof of the trailer, a hot shower, soft cotton sweatshirts and sweatpants (not the synthetic hiking fabrics), hot chocolate with a little rum and eggnog, cold and dark and wet outside, warm and dry inside.  The very definition of hygge (it's Danish -- look it up!).

January 9:  It rained all night; excellent sleeping weather.  Another leisurely morning -- no reason to run out into the rain, and our equipment (hanging from every hook) was still pretty wet.  We had our usual grim trailer breakfast:  a big omelet with melted cheese, toast and butter, and zucchini bread for desert, all washed down with plenty of Starbucks coffee.


Just as we were finishing breakfast, the rain stopped.  We looked out:  big clumpy flakes of snow were drifting down and had already carpeted the ground:







Suddenly, we were energized -- let's get outside!



We hiked through Grant Grove (which is right near the campground); the snow had already encased the twigs of the willow and alder along the creek:




The snow would stop and start -- it was particularly striking against the darker trees.  This is a 1/15 second exposure, hand held:






Felice took this super slo mo video with her iPhone -- this is really worth watching, I think:



We then took the North Boundary trail, which loops around from the cabin in Grant Grove and eventually comes back through the horse stables.  That would be a long hot hike on an ordinary summer day, but it was fun in the snow.  (Note for a future hike:  not far from the stables, there were some rock outcroppings that would have some good views on a clear autumn day; the viewpoints are easily located on a topo map because of the small concentric circles at the summit.)

January 10:  The snow had stopped, but the highway was closed, so we hiked up to Panoramic Point from Crystal Springs Campground.  Due to the snow, we decided to walk up the roadway itself, rather than trying to follow the snow-covered trail.  The views were pretty good from the top, although the patchy cloud cover got in the way most of the time.  Here, the clouds lifted to show the ranges far to the east:




From Panoramic Point, we hiked for quite a while up Park Ridge, which would be a good hike on a cool day:  some shade and some open areas.  The whole hike (Panoramic plus Park Ridge) would be a good snowshoe route.


January 11:  The highway was still closed, so we started the day at Big Baldy, an old favorite.  Around the midpoint of the hike up to the summit, the trail passes through the contact zone between the intrusive granite and the metamorphic "roof rock," the ancient seabed that was pushed up by the rise of the Sierra.  We even found a boulder showing the exact point of the collision:




Although we've been here many times, it's always fun to be on top of the world, with the Great Western Divide on the horizon:




In this shot, Little Baldy (our next day's hike) is the gray dome just to the right of center:




When we got back to the trailhead, we decided to see if the highway had reopened during the morning.  Yes!  So, off to Lost Grove, which was (as always) completely deserted:









By the time we got back up to the highway, the late afternoon light made everything look somehow like a postcard from the 1930s, with "Wish you were here!" scrawled across the bottom.  While editing this shot, I had to actually tone down the luminance and saturation:



Driving back to the campground, we caught a spectacular sunset.  This shot (on Felice's iPhone) shows the Santa Lucia Range on the coast (about 200 miles away) on the western horizon:




As it got later, the sky overhead turned into a mix of pink and indigo:




January 12:  We hiked up Little Baldy, another perennial favorite; as was true all week, we were completely alone.  Or maybe not -- after some Internet work, I am pretty sure that this was either a gray fox or a very small coyote:




The view from the summit was worth a long look (at least as long as it took to eat a peanut butter sandwich):




Of course, the traditional boot shot:





The boots made their own distinctive tracks; ours were the only bootprints on the trail:




There is a large area about halfway between the trailhead and the summit that recently burned.  We were happy to see that the fir seedlings (hundreds, and maybe thousands?) had seized this opportunity to grab some sunshine:




Since we were already to Little Baldy Summit, we drove to Congress Grove, just another ten minutes away:







Bonus -- another great sunset on our drive back to the trailer.  The wavy fog in the San Joaquin Valley below us looked like the ocean:




Late that evening, we bundled up and drove down into Grant Grove, to see if we could get a shot of a Sequoia and Orion.  Yes!  (This shot may be worth clicking on.)




If you are a fan of astrophotography (and who isn't?), that is Sirius peeking through the tree.  Procyon is the bright one in the upper left.  Betelgeuse, Orion's left shoulder, is clearly visible as a dying red giant, as is Rigel, Orion's right foot.  (Actually, if Orion is facing us, with his sword in front of him, Betelgeuse is really his right shoulder, etc.)  The Orion Nebula is in the middle of the sword.


January 13:  We took a brief hike on the North Grove Loop before heading home.  (For future reference, the right half of the loop has more old-growth trees.  The left half goes through the area of the Rough Fire of 2015.)  First, though, we had to get a shot of the trailer with two Sequoias:




In the burnt area, we were encouraged to see that the forest floor was speckled with Sequoia seedings -- with a lot of luck, maybe a few of these little guys will see the year 4018:




And one more "big tree, little person" shot -- Felice is waving a red bandana: