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: