Thursday, April 27, 2023

A Sea of Yellow

 The California rain appears to be over, but not its impact. Perhaps not a full blown "superbloom" year, but definitely better than average.
It's hard for me to drive by my local park without stopping to admire the wildflowers. The yellow blooms you see here are all over the hills of CA right now and belong to the black mustard plant.
The yellow blooms look beautiful against blue sky, but it's kind of a love/hate relationship. Black mustard is a highly invasive species. It seems to have snuck into CA with the Spanish colonizers in the 1700s, and it really likes it here!
It grows fast (up to about 6' tall in just 2-3 months) and crowds out native plants. It dries up and turns brown by mid-summer and becomes a huge fire danger, allowing fire to spread rapidly. The LA Times calls it "dangerous" and "fuel for the next fire."
It's nice to see something other than the ubiquitous black mustard. Google tells me this is Gentiana lutea, the great yellow gentian, but I don't think that's accurate. Looks more like bladderpod to me. Those bladder-like structures give it away. I guess Google can't be right all the time!

This small stand of lupine is surrounded by a sea of yellow. I wonder if there might be a lot more of it if it were not being crowded out by the black mustard?
Oxalis, which most people would consider to be a weed, is low-growing and doesn't pose the fire risk that black mustard does. With it's yellow flowers and shamrock-like leaves, it often decorates the sides of trails and rural roads.

Pink ice plant.
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Thursday, April 20, 2023

Mt. Wilson Trail

 And now for something completely different! I'm usually wandering across desert terrain, the more remote the better, but for this hike I will have to brave the freeways and fight the traffic of Southern California. The Mt. Wilson trailhead is in Sierra Madre, and I'll need to head up the 5, then up the 605, then west on the 210. All busy any time of day, and potentially gridlocked during "rush hour" or if there's an accident. Yuck!
Oh, and I don't want to spit this hike into two posts, so I apologise for the large number of photos. Pull up a comfortable chair and enjoy!
I know from experience it's a beautiful trail and worth the drive. I lived in Sierra Madre from about 5th to 10th grade, and this trail was like my back yard. But it's been many years since I've been back, and the memories come flooding back at every twist and turn. This Mt. Wilson Trail sign didn't used to be here.
Mt. Wilson is 7 miles from this spot, so 14 miles round trip. Even worse is the 4,740 feet of elevation gain from this sign. That's beyond my capabilities. So my goal today is a modest one: Just 1.5 miles to First Water. It's a short but steep hike, with nearly 1000' gain of vertical. 
Looking back at the start of the trail, there are oak trees and shade. But don't let that fool you. Beyond this, there's little to no shade all the way to First Water. It's not a hike I would recommend in the summer. Side note: As a kid, I hiked it all the time in the summer. Never carried water (it never even crossed my mind). I would get to First Water hot and tired, lie down on my stomach, and take a long drink right out of the stream! Never got sick, but I certainly wouldn't do that today.
Perfect day for a hike!
Early on the hike you get a peek of the Sierra Madre dam.

A typical Mt. Wilson Trail view as it starts it's climb up to first water. Much of the trail has sheer drop-offs. It's carved into the side of a very steep mountain. Funny thing, I don't recall these steep drop-offs from my childhood memories. But now as I'm closing in on 70, I'm not a fan!
We used to call this oak tree "first shade" and it's a perfect spot to stop and rest. I was so glad it's still here. It's gotta be hundreds of years old.
From nearly the start of the hike, I could hear a background "drone" noise that I couldn't identify. I figured it must be freeway traffic, but as I hiked up the trail, it got louder. It finally dawned on me that it's the sound of water rushing down the canyon! All the recent rain has turned what is usually a little trickle into significant water flow. In the photo above, you can see a section of the trail I've just hiked up with the canyon down below. You can't really see any water flowing from this view, but it's down there and you can hear it!
Finally I started to get some views of the water flowing in the canyon below. I never realized this area has so many waterfalls! I used a telephoto lens for these photos. The waterfalls are further away than they look, and a big drop down into the canyon, and there's no way to get to them unless you have some serious climbing skills and a rope!

This section is so steep it requires a railing!
Uh oh, trail washout! They are putting in a lot of work to keep this trail open. One guy showed me some big lagbolts in the rocks on the right. The bridge will eventually be secured with cable to the bolts. For right now, it's just those 2x4s holding things in place. The little sign says "WARNING: Use at Your Own Risk!"
Since I have no idea who Charlie is, I stay on the main trail.
I finally make it to the fork in the trail. To the right is First Water. The Mt. Wilson trail continues for 5.5 more miles on the left, and I'm thankful I'm not going left!
Looking back at the short trail (right) leading down to First Water (left). It's even prettier than I remember it, with a beautiful canopy of oak and sycamore trees and patches of golden light streaming through. The word "riparian" comes to mind, and for this old desert hiker, this is something I don't often get to experience. Photos really don't do it justice.


Flowers along the trail.
I enjoyed the hike so much that I brought my sister, brother-in-law, and granddaughter Lilly back and hiked it again a couple weeks later!
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Thursday, April 13, 2023

Pushawalla Plateau Sunrise & Moonset

 Still alive! Barely. I had nothing left in the tank. After hiking/climbing 1600' in the dark to the top of Pushawalla Plateau, I was spent, but also exhilarated that I made it.
I stop for a rest and drink of water as Mitch takes this photo. What the photo doesn't show are the cold temps (high 30's) and strong winds. Photography is going to be challenging up here. Even with tripods, stong winds will result in camera movement and blurred photos.
My first pre-dawn photo, and it's a little disappointing. My feeling of exhilaration fades to a feeling of doubt: I wonder if I can get any decent photos?? We're looking approximately west at what is called the Banning Pass. The dots of light are blurred by wind buffeting my camera. I think the first cluster of white light (center and a little left) is the Morongo Casino. The white line snaking it's way through the center of the photo is the 10 freeway. The red dots of lights are the top of wind turbine towers. I do like those red dots!
As things lighten up in the early dawn, the exposure times are less and camera shake by the devil winds is reduced. Things are looking up! That's the San Jacinto Mountains we are looking at, with the Palm Springs lights twinkling on the valley floor. Probably a view very few have seen! 
Looking east, you can see just a hint of the Salton Sea.
A much better view of the Salton Sea.
Meanwhile, looking to the west, the moon is starting to set over a snow covered Mt. San Gorgonio. Capturing the moonset was one of the main goals for this hike.
The sky is really starting to lighten up, and I'm having trouble deciding which direction I should point my camera. Beautiful moonset to the west, San Jacinto (above) to the south, or the Salton Sea to the east? Every photographers dream!
Salton Sea sunrise
Getting the moonset over snow covered San Gorgonio, with this Pinion Pine and Yucca in the foreground, was one of the main photos we were after. Our only miscalculation was we were hoping the golden sunrise would light up the Pinion Pine and Yucca. Instead it was lighting up the hill behind it, but that works! 
Golden light on the rocks.

Time to head back. It's only about 4 miles, but it's so unique and isolated up on the Plateau, it feels like we're leaving a different planet. We will head in the direction this fallen Joshua Tree is pointing. This time, we get to go DOWN 1600' 😊. I can't help feeling a bit bittersweet, like I will likely never see the top of this Plateau again. But I've learned... never say never!
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