Some days I am being productive, cranking out many pages of writing, but I am also going stir crazy. Today was like that. My life is also going through some big changes right now, and I really needed to go for a good walk with my buddy Jackie Chan. We drove to Mount Tabor, a popular park, but from the east side. I wanted to explore new avenues of approach. .
I found a way to wrap around to 72nd Avenue, and that provided access from the east. When I first parked at a pullout above Warner Pacific College, I realized how wet it was outside. I was suddenly not too motivated, but Jackie was whining, so we walked. Then I decided to find a better spot up high, in the trees.
Despite the drizzle, there were plenty of other walkers and cyclists. One cyclist was doing laps at the top, passing me at least three times. I remember thinking how lucky we are to have such a place, with access for all. Hiking, biking, driving. There are playgrounds and basketball courts, and best of all, slices of nature in the city.
We hung out on top briefly while I snapped some photos of the rainy city. Views are interesting to me, as I like to see the layout of the streets from above. The photos were not great, as I was fighting the rain and gloomy grey skies. Oh well.
The best part I saved for last. I got a bit wet, but then the sun came out, and I knew what that meant, so I started looking. Rainbow time. A nice one appeared to the east, which topped off the afternoon walk.
Jackie Chan and I had a nice walk and play session in Laurelhurst Park yesterday. After chasing sticks for a while and ignoring other dogs, he found the chilly pond.
The sign amused me. It suggests that humans should refrain from feeding ducks so they will forage for their own food. I imagined Jackie saying “Hey, it doesn’t say anything about dogs. Feed me, dude! I’m not going to forage for my dinner!”
Back in the land of grey and rain, I found a bright spot in the weather and headed out to the massive Forest Park. To put the scale into perspective, the Wildwood Trail, which traverses the whole length of the park, and a bit more, is over 30 miles long. Exactly.
I began this jaunt with my pup at the end of Leif Ericson Drive, where I hadn’t walked in years. I turned up the Wild Cherry Trail at the first junction to get away from joggers and cyclists (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Going north on the Wildwood trail, I saw few people. One speedwalking gent wearing ear buds passed me. I compared notes with a couple other dog owners, then headed uphill on the Dogwood Trail. The forest was very stark in places with smaller trees and minimal groundcover.
The path ended up on top of a broad ridge, and opened up a bit, where I got a couple peek-a-boo views of downtown Portland. The photos aren’t great, but I could see a skyscraper or two.
Once the trail skirted a parking area on N.W. 53rd, then plunged downhill to a junction with the Wildwood Trail. I headed south this time. I saw people every few minutes, but it was a quiet day on the muddy trails. At one point, I found a great tree seemingly backlit with angel wings of ferns.
The Aspen trail directed me back towards the car. All told, this was a decent four-plus mile loop that took about an hour and a half. I got a bit muddy, but it felt good, and I reminded myself that no, I haven’t hiked all of Forest Park. It’s not Joshua Tree or the high Cascades, but it’s a worthy destination for an afternoon adventure.
Sadly, all vacations come to an end. After saying goodbyes to friends with whom I felt closer now, it was time for Denise and I to leave Palm Desert. We picked the highway headed through the mountains to Idyllwild, where we would rendezvous with another old friend and former firefighting comrade, Scott. The drive was dramatic in the beginning as we wound through many tight turns to climb out of the desert and move into the cooler pine forests of the San Jacinto Mountains.
As it turns out, Idyllwild is a classic cute mountain town filled with log cabins and faux Swiss chalets. We had a great lunch with Scott, who had just officially become a firefighter in Idyllwild. Denise wanted to get some computer work done, so she found a great cafe, while Scott pointed me towards a trailhead before returning to the fire station. I drove uphill and found a trail with little trouble. Unfortunately, once I was up there I realized that I didn’t have the correct parking pass. I just hoped I wouldn’t get a ticket, and I headed up, feeling the elevation as I started up hill. Idyllwild itself is a hair over a mile high, so the trail must have started about 6000 feet. It had been many months since I’d hiked at that altitude. I know it’s not that high in the greater scheme of things, but I was huffing and puffing fairly hard at first. It is as though I need to warm my engine up, and then I can hike all day.
As soon as I embarked on the trail, I saw a sign mentioning a wilderness permit. One more omission. On Mount Hood, you can self issue a permit at the trailhead or wilderness boundary, but I found no place to do that. In less than an hour, I met a ranger. Rejected! I needed to go back to the ranger station to get a permit. “This is one of the most heavily traveled forests…” Blah blah blah. I hate bureaucracy, even as I know it may be necessary. Thus I turned around. It was enough.
Idyllwild was a cute town. I was disappointed we couldn’t find a room for the night. It was a holiday weekend, so vacancies were rare. Onward. I pointed straight for Ontario, where it was still challenging finding a room. Vacation was effectively over, but it had been a good one.
P.S. This is the first time I’ve tried these photo galleries. Let me know what you think. Cheers. –JB
Vacations are funny creatures. They are so jam packed with fun activities, it seems as though they will never end. Then…poof! You are home. Visiting Joshua Tree National Park was like that. After wonderful short hikes at Hidden Valley and Barker Dam, we’d had a pleasant drive to Key’s Point, the highest spot in the park. Our next destination was uncertain.
I had no agenda in particular, but I knew we had miles to go before we slept. We didn’t have time for more significant hikes. Still, there was a vast range of desert sights to enjoy. Skull Rock sounded interesting, so we stopped there. And what do you know, close to the road, there was a rock with concavities which, when seen from a certain angle, lent it the appearance of a skull. An alien skull, perhaps, but a skull nonetheless. Fellow touristas were scrambling around the base of it, posing for silly photos. Not me. I am too dignified for that. Oh, wait…
Denise and I wandered around the Skull Rock area with Jackie Chan, finding cool rocks to climb on and bumping into dead end spots from which we couldn’t continue. It was a seemingly endless maze of rocks and sandy troughs with scrubby desert flora. Navigation was a challenge, but from any high point we could see the road. I could have stayed there for hours, happily getting lost in the afternoon shadows.
Alas, we needed to move on. The drive trended downhill soon after we turned towards the south entrance of the park. Major rock outcroppings became rarer, but the views extended further. It was a stupendous shift between the immediacy of rock piles near Skull Rock and vastness of views stretching dozens of miles across a desert without roads. My eyes shifted from focusing on a handhold right in front of me to ridges ten miles away.
The Joshua Trees disappeared, but now we saw cholla and ocotillo dotting the landscape. We had made the transition to the Colorado Desert, a sub-region of the greater Sonoran Desert. It reminded me of the brief period in my dreaming early adulthood when I lived on a ranch in Arizona, wanting to be a cowboy. I’d got more than a few barbs in my skin through curiosity then. Not this time. We found pullouts designed to look at the views and plant life. The pleasures of these spots were very different than those at the mazes of rocks above but equally enthralling.
The wide open spaces were gorgeous, punctuated with occasional rock piles or bumpy ridges alongside smooth looking plains. We surmised that the smooth part had been the bottom of the ocean in another geological era. A few times, we got out of the car a few times to stretch our legs and soak up the solitude. In this part of the park, cars might pass on the road every five minutes or so, but there was nobody else around.
Eventually the dramatic scenery tailed off as we approached the southern entrance to the park. A couple motorcycle riders sped around us, stopped roadside, then sped around us again ten minutes later. I can’t help but think they missed some of the beauty of this desert world by focusing on the mundane pleasure of speed. Maybe I am just getting old, but I wish I had missed nothing. Joshua Tree National Park is an amazing place, and I hope I am lucky enough to return, perhaps with climbing gear and a tent, perhaps with a four wheel drive rig to check out some side roads with mining history. So many places to go! Our drive back to Palm Desert was filled with smiles.
I highly recommend a trip to Joshua Tree. If you visit, carry plenty of water.
Since I first heard of Joshua Tree National Park in the eighties, I have wanted to visit there. Well, duh, it’s my name, I love to climb rocks, and U2 was one of my favorite bands in the mid 80s when they came out with their breakthrough Joshua Tree CD. It seemed a destination carved in the stars. Why it took me decades to get there is one of the many mysteries of my life, but I finally went there last week with my wife and our dog, Jackie Chan. I was not disappointed.
J Tree, as many climbers call it, features the boundary of two great deserts, the Mojave and the Sonoran. The first is relatively high in elevation and features the park’s namesake trees. We approached from the north after gaining a significant amount of elevation on the road through Yucca Valley. I wanted to smile when I started seeing Joshua Trees, AKA yucca brevifolia. The rocks were not yet dramatic, but finally the outcroppings popped up more and more often until their rounded granite domes and crags seemed ubiquitous. We stopped at a picnic area for a first taste of the rocks, and then we made our way to the famed Hidden Valley area, so named because supposed rustlers a century ago or more would hide their stolen beasts amid the chaotic jumble of rock which would deter most people from finding them.
We started seeing climbers carefully scaling a few of the crags, rope snaking upwards, and I was nostalgic for my climbing days. Scrambling sans rope on a small boulder is fun, but it does not produce the same thrill as climbing a vertical face 80 feet high. Ah, well. The trail was a loop winding around the interior of the so-called valley. After a while, it became very difficult to orient myself. There were hundreds if not thousands of house sized rocks to pass. Luckily, the path was easy to follow, and the sun was out, gloriously warm. I was actually surprised at how few climbers we saw, but I guess it’s an odd time of year for some people. March through May might be prime time.
After leaving Hidden Valley, we drove nearby to the Barker Dam trail, where locals augmented a natural water source with a dam to save water for their cattle in the early 20th century. The trail was similar to Hidden Valley, but more wide open in spots. On the return leg, we encountered a rock with petroglyphs. Unfortunately, some movie studio geniuses marred the images by painting over them to make them more visible.
At this point, we had done enough hiking for while, and I thought driving to Key’s Point, the highest point in the park, would be a nice change of pace. On the way up, we saw some great stands of Joshua Trees.
The golden rocks faded away. The land sloped upward. On top, there was a big parking lot with a dozen or more vehicles. The views from the short paved path were stunning. Rumpled brown ridges fell away in all directions to the low desert and the Salton Sea beyond. Dozens of people milled about, gawking and talking, pointing at views and posing for photos.
We drove away from Key’s Point, already amazed the by scale of Joshua Tree. I could spend days here hiking and scrambling and working on a tan. Unfortunately, that was not in the cards for this trip, but we weren’t done yet. There would be more to come. Tune in next time for more images and tales about Joshua Tree National Park.
The Palm Springs aerial tramway is reminiscent of the tram I rode outside Albuquerque, New Mexico last summer. Both gain a lot of elevation in a hurry, transporting passengers from the desert to a subalpine ecosystem. The Palm Springs tram wins the innovation contest, because its cab spins two complete revolutions during the ten minute trip up Chino Canyon. Thus each passenger can effectively see in all directions.
At the upper end of the tram, there is a lodge with a restaurant and bar, a mini movie theatre, viewing decks, and access to wilderness trails. We soon had a group of folks traipsing around the mountainside on a loop trail. Interpretive signs dotted the path. I learned that the bark of a Jeffrey Pine smells like vanilla (some people say butterscotch). Who knew?
Our path led us from a pleasant meadow through pine forests forest to cliff’s edge on five occasions. The views ranged from great to spectacular. Ridges and canyons plunged more than a mile to the vast desert plains where across the Coachella Valley we could see the Salton Sea.
I felt at home in the mountain environment, and I could have stayed there for days, hiking off into the wilderness and peakbagging in perfect weather. Mount San Jacinto, one of the tallest peaks in Southern California, is nearby. The only concern is water. Signs on the highway below don’t tell drivers to be safe. They tell drivers to conserve water. I can’t help but wonder what will happen for Southern California residents if the drought continues.
Our loop skirted the edge of the massive escarpment looking down onto the desert. I loved popping up to various viewpoints amid the rocks with slightly different views of desert, crags, and canyons. It was also interesting to see the streets and land plot geometry of the dry cities in the brown world below. Our group met back at the lodge on top of the tram for round of Bloody Marys. Not bad at all.
The tram isn’t a freebie. For two of us, we spent $47 and change for our tickets, but the experience was worthwhile. Being able to make that quick trip to a completely different ecosystem was amazing. If I returned, I would love to explore the area for a few more hours and climb a peak. I hear there is a trail all the way back down to the desert that’s about 18 miles. Anybody want to join me?
When my wife and I drove to Bob Hope’s old stomping grounds in Palm Springs, I arranged to meet my friend Evan for a hike. I knew it would be a far cry from anything in the Northwest due to the combination of precipitation that needs to be measured over years, and the abundance of palm trees.
When we arrived at the parking lot which serves as trailhead for Murray Canyon and Andreas Canyon, it felt like I was on the set of The Flintstones. The palm trees just seemed like something out of another era in botanical history when trees had beards.
The hike started out casually across the sandy desert, skirting low hills. In all directions we had views of rugged, barren mountains and hills in varying shades of brown. Not the sort of place to be in August. Indeed, if it were hotter, the trail would not have been too pleasant, but 80 degrees in the sun felt fantastic to me. Plenty of people were walking, mostly coming back. Many seemed around retirement age and sported hats and wore sensible light hiking shoes.
After a mile or so, the trail dropped into a canyon entrance that looked like a green daub from a paintbrush splashed across the landscape. With tall palms lining a pleasant stream, it was a veritable oasis. Silt piled up on the banks suggested flooding in recent years. We followed the path upstream, crossing the stream a dozen or more times in the canyon’s winding course, hopping rocks, checking out the amazing cliffs and ridges that loomed above us.
At one point, the trail rose fairly sharply over rock, then descended almost as steeply in an area that was quite exposed, meaning a slip on the ball-bearing-like dusty gravel would send one plummeting to injury or worse.
The reward was the tighter upper canyon. As it got narrower, there were a few spots where the trail went multiple ways, but it all funneled toward a series of small waterfalls, beyond which the way was impassable without technical gear. In the shade of the steep walls, the temperature was very pleasant. We poked around, sipped some water, snapped some photos, and enjoyed the setting.
This is a great hike, and I felt bad for a couple women who stopped short where the trail got steep. In some places a handrail of sorts might be installed, but that generally detracts from the experience for me. A little scrambling in a couple spots lets you see more of the waterfalls. I would endorse this hike with a big fat thumbs up.
If you go, know that Murray Canyon is part of the Indian Canyons complex just outside Palm Springs. There is a $9 entrance fee per person.
Visiting relatives in the San Fernando Valley, and still relishing a change of weather, I craved hiking some of the many hills in the vicinity. Lucky, my sister-in-law was happy to lead us to a place near Topanga Canyon called Los Leones Canyon.
The scrubby hills are a world apart from green western Oregon. The trail had a couple steep pitches, but it was mostly easy. We passed fifteen or twenty people along the way. After a mile and a half, we reached a broad viewpoint that took in Pacific Palisades and the many rugged hills in the vicinity. A bench there beckons hikers to rest. We enjoyed the sunny views for a few minutes before descending. We could even see downtown L.A. It was pretty darn nice.
One thing we didn’t see was the ocean, which was fog bound. We joked about the ocean being comprised of clouds, and I thought that would make the setting of a nice little fantasy story. Hmm. Afterwards, we stopped along the beach, which was a nice counterpoint to the sunny hills. It was only a mile and a half by road from the trailhead, but it felt like another world. No sun in sight, just fog and wind!
I spied a gorgeous and fearless bird that seems similar to a snowy egret, but such a species seemed out of place on a beach. Regardless, the excursion was great success, and we stopped for cold drinks in Topanga Canyon on the way home.
We left the snow and freezing rain in Portland yesterday and headed south to see friends and family in Southern California. On a brief walk today with my sister in law , we walked past many orange trees. For some reason they seem magical to me.
I also found a pond on the Cal State Northridge campus with a lot of ducks and turtles sunning themselves. It was not an earth shattering urban hike, but it definitely felt good to walk in the sun.