Category Archives: Hikes

The Elephant Trees Trail of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

IMG_8973On our drive leaving Fish Creek’s wind caves Katie and I found another small trail, the Elephant Trees Trail off Split Mountain Road. There was still some light in the sky and we weren’t quite ready to leave the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park so we decided to see what the 1 mile nature trail was all about.

We turned off Split Mountain Road and quickly bounced down the 1 mile dirt and rock filled road to the trailhead. I believe a high clearance vehicle is best, but a lower vehicle could possibly make it if you went slowly. On the day we were there we had only seen 2 other cars in the park so we knew we wouldn’t run into any other cars leaving the trail. Good thing because the road is only about the size of one vehicle, very narrow, and is lined by stones to prevent vehicles from driving off the path.

After our short laughter full jaunt down the road we parked the truck right by the entrance to the trail. The same stones outlined the round-about at the end of the road as there really is no parking lot. We grabbed our packs and a nature trail pamphlet from the trailhead and started off on our self-guided nature walk.

There is basically no shade on the trail, not a problem if you go later in the day before the sunsets, but if you plan to go mid-day in summer be sure to bring your hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and some loose light clothing. The trail is very easy and is great for people of all ages. It is clearly marked and easy to follow with only a couple questionable spots that can be distinguished if you just keep moving a little farther down the path.

The  first stop is to welcome you to the trail. The following couple are very close together and include a catclaw plant, a creosote bush, and a desert lavender plant. You learn a little about each plant at each stop.

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The trail tends to get farther and farther between each point as you continue. An indigo bush which developed light-colored bark to reflect the sun’s rays, a brittle bush which leaves brittle stalks behind after producing bright yellow flowers, and an ocotillo which drops its leaves and grows new ones up to seven times in a year. After reading about each plant’s flowers and leaves I can only imagine what it would look like in the flower blooming season, February thru April.

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The smoke tree was the next to see along the trail. Apparently their seeds need a flash flood before they will sprout in the newly moist sand to grow into seedlings with big green leaves.

Number 9 is the plant the trail is named for. The Anza-Borrego  Desert is the only place in California that the elephant tree grows. We finally reached the only one along the path with its trunk that stores water and its gummy sap that bleeds when it is injured.

The desert trail ended with barrel, fishhook, prickly pear, and cholla cacti. This last stretch is your chance to observe all the different cacti and see if you can locate a few plants that were pointed out along the trail. The desert is an amazing place with plants that have adapted to the conditions around them.

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With one final look at the desert trail we headed back to the truck as the sun set behind the mountains of Fish Creek. The sky lit up on fire as streaks of red, pink, purples, and blues colored it just above the horizon. I absolutely love desert sunsets in Anza-Borrego. They are something that everyone should see at least once in their lives.

Off Road 2-Wheel Driving to Fish Creek’s Wind Caves

IMG_8973The weekend at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park was one of the best and most fun weekends ever. Ranger Don at the Arroyo Tapiado mud caves was one of the reasons it was so much fun but my visit to Fish Creek’s wind caves were also a major part of it. If you ever head to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park be sure to visit Fish Creek. You won’t be disappointed.

After much discussion with the Ranger Station, the Visitor Center, and Ranger Don the reviews were mixed. One ranger from the station had said we would be fine with our 2×4 high clearance truck, while the visitor center could only advise us that we needed a 4×4. Ranger Don seemed confident that we wouldn’t run into any trouble, but then a completely different ranger at the station would tell us she couldn’t advise us on Fish Creek conditions because it was not her section of the park. Finally Katie and I decided to head over to the dirt road that leads out to Fish Creek and make an educated decision as to whether we thought our truck could make it or not once we got there.

We drove east on Route 78 and then south down Split Mountain Road until we arrived at the dirt road. We immediately knew we would head out to the Fish Creek Campground. The road centered in a sandy wash was an easy 1.5 miles of packed sand due to the rain storm of a previous weekend. It was so easy we almost completely missed the campground, barely noticing the small sign to our left quickly continuing to the narrow passage between Fish Creek Mountain and Vallecito Mountain. As we rounded the corner and came to the iconic raise fossil reef we stopped the car to take a look at our first section of tricky large rocks. We chose our route, a slight bare to the right and a hard left and we were through. We stopped several times along that section of the route to make sure we were picking the best path to drive. We wanted to make sure no large rocks would sneak up on us and any loose sand was avoided.

30 minutes later we finally arrived at a large fork in the road. To our left was a tiny sign that read, “wind caves” the start of the trail. We were the only ones there so we parked near the entrance, packed our camel packs, put on our sunscreen, and started up the rugged path.

The trail is relatively short, about 1.2 miles total, with an incline to begin that gradually levels out. Eventually you reach a small rock where the path splits. Either way will bring you to the wind caves the question only is do you want to start at the bottom or the top of them. We chose the left path and were brought to the top.

I have to say the wind caves are amazing. They are so much fun to crawl around inside, through, and over. Many of them are large enough to stand up straight and tall inside. They reminded me of where the Flintstones would have lived. The caves are made as the wind whips through and around the sandstone wearing it away over time.

If you climb on top and look under your feet you can see lines and grooves where the sand is wearing away. If you look up and across the creek you have this unbelievable desert view of the Carrizo Badlands. You can see the road you drove in on and miles and miles of sand mounds. If you look closely you might even be able to see the imaginary eyes and nose of a person on the mountain side.

I have to say that out of all the places I’ve been the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park has been one of my all time favorites. Once you reach the wind caves it is so quiet and peaceful. Maybe it’s different on a weekend, but our Monday in December was perfect. All we could hear was the wind and birds for miles. We could have stayed there all day, however, knowing our trek back to the main road wasn’t going to be easy we left with enough time to reach the paved road before the sun set.

Borrego Palm Canyon’s Panoramic Overlook Trail

IMG_8973After Katie and my fun day with Ranger Don in the Arroyo Tapiado mud caves we headed over the the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park’s Visitor Center to ask about the road conditions in Split Mountain for our plans for the next day. Two days prior I heard that it was do-able in a 2×4 truck, but every day after that everyone kept telling me we needed a 4×4 vehicle. While we were there we decided to take a walk to a short trail out of Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, the Panoramic Overlook Trail.

From the parking lot of the Visitor Center in Borrego Springs we hiked .5 miles along the paved path to the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground. It’s kind of cool and has the planets in our solar system placed along the way so you can somewhat see how far apart they all are in terms of a .5 mile.  Once at Borrego Palm Canyon Campground we quickly turned to the left and easily found the start of the Panoramic Overlook Trail, a one mile hike with great views of the Borrego Valley.

The first part of the hike is through the desert valley floor with small shrubs a desert plants along the pathway. Though I tend to feel as though most desert hiking is a little confusing, this trail is pretty straightforward. Basically, just keep walking straight through the sandy ground.

After a short walk you come to a trail marker at the base of a hill. Yep, you guessed it, Panoramic Overlook Trail goes up to the top of that hill. In order to get great views you usually have to be up high overlooking something below. The trail narrows to one person wide and zig zags in small switchbacks all the way up to the top. Take a moment to check out the way the hill was formed. It looks like layers of rock that once laid flat have been pushed up to now lie diagonal across the ground. The colors of the rocks are amazing too, from bright red to dark, almost black colorations.

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As you go, stop occasionally to check out the valley below. The view just gets better and better the further you go. The path stops and there is only one choice left, a short climb up through a narrow and almost no existent path. Once there you are at the top. A collection of big black rocks lay there marking the end of the trail. It almost looks like a fist cheering you for making it to the top.

From the top you can see the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground below. It’s dark paved roads stick out like a sore thumb against the mountains that surround the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail. You can also see Borrego Springs, a green thriving town in the middle of a vast brown land scape. If you go in the late afternoon you can watch the sun set on your way back down the hill. I have to say that the sunsets in Borrego Springs are one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. As the sun falls below the mountains to one side it lights the other mountains across the way with brilliant pinks, oranges, and bright reds that you won’t see anywhere else. Pictures can’t seem capture the true essence of the beauty, but I still try every time.

We headed down to the valley floor before the sun had begun to set, but once you are done taking in the view head back down the hill the way you came up. Finding the route you came up on is probably the trickiest part of the whole short hike. It seems like no matter which way you choose you are setting yourself up to fall off the mountain, but once you find it again you will see the narrow path and be able to follow it back down. Once you reach the bottom head back the same desert trail you followed out. Be careful not to veer off it. Usually there is a rock in the center of the path to tell you not to go those ways.

The Panoramic Overlook Trail is a great walk for people of any age to explore. It’s short, easy and everyone will feel comfortable on this gorgeous hike. The views are bound to having you telling all your friends about it time after time.

Swept by Fire at The Corriganville Movie Ranch

IMG_8973Early in November Katie and I headed over to Simi Valley to see Corriganville Movie Ranch. What was once a thriving western movie set in the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s caught fire in the 1970’s, seeing it’s last film crew in 1976. Today Corriganville Movie Ranch is a public park with various concrete and brick foundations as the only remains of a once magnificent set.

Inside the park is a short, .5mile interpretive trail that tells about the different sights along the path. We first came across the remains of a lake which was used in many Western movies and an overhang that looked out into it. You can even see where they would shoot any underwater shots down by what looks like a dried up dam now. The lake is completely dry and looks like there hasn’t been any water for years.

We crossed the bridge that ran over the lake and soon reached a rock that was often used in films as the entrance to the valley. It can be seen in the 1951 movie Jungle Manhunt. Our next stop was at Trail Blazer Cave, seen in Dracula and Billy the Kid. It’s actually a clever fake cave according to the sign. We scurried up looking for the cave, but only found a ver small cave that I’m sure isn’t the one they used in the films. Next time we’ll have to see if we can find the real one.

We continued on and soon came to the remains of the Corriganville Movie Ranch. The town had many different names in Hollywood such as Dodge City, Mineral City, Tombstone, and Lone Ranger Ranch. However, it was known as Silvertown to many visitors. As we read the signs around the edges, I tried to imagine what the set looked like back when film crews were running through the streets. The pictures helped a bit, but the town was really big and with just the foundations left it was hard to tell where the stables, jails, saloons, and banks were. In the 1950’s and 60’s people could visit the ranch on weekends for only one dollar and experience live western music, stagecoach rides, pony rides, and boating on the now dry lake. They could also watch stuntman shows, see movie and TV actors signing autographs and posing for pictures on the real western street movie sets. It’s sad to realize that all of those things will never happen again here due to the fires that ran through the area in the 1970’s.

Corriganville Movie Ranch is a fun short walk and history lesson for people of all ages. Every one will enjoy exploring the area and trying to guess what it used to look like back when the set was being used every day.

Razor, Yucca, & Beach Trail at Torrey Pines

IMG_8973For a little less than a year now I have wanted to check out some of the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Trails down in San Diego. Specifically the Beach Trail is the one that everyone has spoke to me about. They told me of the beautiful beach and the ocean views from lookout points as you make your way through the different scenery with bushes, trees, and sculpted sandstone until you finally reach the beach and what they call the Flat Rock. A couple weekends ago I finally got my chance when Katie and I were in La Jolla for a short weekend trip.

We headed over early in the morning to the north entrance, paid our $15 parking fee and drove up toward the Visitor’s Center to park near the start of the Beach Trail. Turns out the center was closed on the day we went, but they had a temporary information booth set up at the beginning of the trail. The sky was still covered with the morning haze, but we grabbed a map, took a few minutes to look at it and headed out on our hike.

Instead of just taking the .75 mile trail to the beach and Flat Rock and back we decided to add a little distance and see a few more destinations along the way. We started out on the Beach Trail. The trail is very clearly marked with occasional fences and wires in case there were any questions of the dirt path surrounded with bushes. Within .1 mile we came upon an option to take the Razor Trail, which we had decided we would do. We followed it and in about 5 minutes we had reached the Red Butte, a big compressed sandstone structor. We climbed around on top of it and took a few pictures before continuing down the well kept path toward Razor Point.

We trekked down stairs and passed distant ocean view overlooks. There were several very interesting looking trees and spots were we could see how the wind had weathered away the stone on our short trail to Razor Point overlook. It looked mystifying. We couldn’t quite figure out how the holes were created. They couldn’t have been manmade. Eventually we reached the point and the path ended into a sharp narrow section which  people were not allowed to venture out onto. I could only imagine the grown sliding away underneath someone’s feet and them tumbling down the cliff to the beach below. That wouldn’t be pleasant. We could see the ocean and beach below even though it was still hazy. It was beautiful.

We continued over toward Yucca Point, our next destination as the haze began to fade away. The trail began to get very warm as we got closer, but reaching the point gave us some relief as the cool breeze washed over us. It was very similar to Razor Point only it was much more rounded with two overlooks to watch the ocean from. If we looked toward the south we could see Flat Rock, our final destination. It looked so small from where we were standing.

As we headed back over to the connection between the Yucca and Beach Trail the sun only got hotter and hotter. We walked down numerous stairs and finally came to a clearing with stairs that led up and over toward Broken Hill Trail and a path that pointed down towards the beach. We headed down the passage as the trail narrowed and then gave us one final look at Flat Rock before it narrowed even more and became metal steps.

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Our last step landed us on the sand below the towering cliffs, just a short walk from Flat Rock. We made our way over, staying clear of the base of the cliff just in case the sandstone fell like it has before. Right as the rock and cliff meet we scrambled around and made our way over to the other side. We were trying to find the easiest and least likely way of getting wet to get onto Flat Rock. It didn’t seem to matter much so we waited for the waves to rush out, waded into the water. The cool water was quite refreshing.  We made our way to the little stair-like crack that everyone was using to climb up and down and we quickly scurried up before the waves came.

We took some time exploring the tide pools on Flat Rock. They were so much fun to explore. Each hole and crack had something else for us to see. We saw a few fish, many small crabs, and even some snails that had gotten trapped as the ocean’s tide lowered beneath the rock.

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By the time we decided to head back the haze from the morning had completely lifted. Walking up the Beach Trail, which was the most direct route back to the parking lot was not as easy as any of the other trails we had taken that morning. What we didn’t realize, was that the Beach Trail was also the route with the most stairs and we would no longer be walking along the water’s edge so our breeze would be gone. Plus, the sun had also gotten very high as it was somewhere around noon and it was extremely hot that day. We made it to our car, but we took a few water breaks along the way. As we reached our car we were glad we were done. It was fun, but the heat made it exhausting.

The trails at Torrey Pines Natural State Reserve are great fun for every age. Old or young there is somewhere to hike for everyone. Stay on the beach for a cool relaxing walk or get a great workout by taking a trek from the top of the hill to the beach and back for something a little more rigorous. Whatever you choose it is sure to be an adventurous and fun filled day.

Lizard Rock & Paradise Falls at Wildwood Park

IMG_8973My friend Arpy and I went for a hike at Wildwood Park to check out Lizard Rock, Paradise Falls, the teepee, and Indian Cave. The park is located in Thousand Oaks, CA and we had mapped out a route to make it about a 4-5 mile hike or so we thought. According to some websites the route to Paradise Falls is 2.5 miles, adding on about 1 mile to make the additional trek to Lizard Rock. However, there are so many paths once you are inside the park and head out to Lizard Rock that it starts to get confusing even with a map. Some trails are not on the map while other trails seem to be missing from the land. Our hike ended up being about 8 miles after we were all finished exploring, getting lost, and seeing the different attractions we planned on seeing.

In general, the hike was supposed to be pretty easy. We started out on the main trail, Mesa Trail, and headed toward Lizard Rock. The trail was wide, smooth, had a gradual incline and descend to start and looked promising. You could see the mountains in the distance as we walked through fields of high, dried, golden grass. We passed many cacti and easily followed the signs marked along the pathway.

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As we approached Lizard Rock the trail signs became few and far between, but we were able to easily navigate the map and figure out the correct way to go. The route gradually got harder with a steep incline. At the end of our climb we finally spotted Lizard Rock. We took some time exploring the area, climbed up onto the top of the rock, and took pictures. We were excited we made it and it didn’t seem that far from where we started, maybe a little over a mile or so.

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Things were going well, so we headed down the zigzag switchbacks, down the steep mountain on our way to our next stop, Paradise Falls. We followed the only trail available which on the map had us believe that it would only take about a mile to reach the waterfall. This route seemed to take forever though. We didn’t see any paths to take along the way and it took us far out of the way, pass a lake that wasn’t even on the map. When we finally passed the water treatment facility on our right I knew we were back on track. At least we were finally in an area where we would hopefully be able to find ourselves on the map.

The path became very narrow with plant growth on both sides and we started to follow a river. We hoped this would lead us to the waterfalls. We crossed the river at this really cool double tree in the middle of it and came to a picnic area. We finally passed a side trail noted on the map and stayed to the trail we thought would be the most direct route. This turned out to be a dead end so we double backed and tried the other trail.

Up and down multiple staircases and down trails with beautiful views and overgrowth of plants we hoped we were heading in the right directions. We finally came to another river crossing and a campground on the other side. We crossed and were at we thought was Skunk’s Hollow. A sign in the area read “Hoegeman’s Hollow.” We found a bathrooms, water fountains, and a really cool fire pit. I scouted the area for a bit to see which way we should go and luckily was able to find another sign nearby that pointed the way to Oak Grove which meant we were headed in the right direction to Paradise Falls.

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Just a little father and we finally arrived at the 40 ft waterfall, Paradise Falls. We were so happy to finally have finally reached it. We climbed down the stairs and reached the Arroyo Conejo and Paradise Falls’ pool. No one else was there except a couple people that looked like they were having a photoshoot. I found a dry path to cross the creek and climbed the rocks on the opposite side to get a better view. It was absolutely beautiful with it’s strong flowing water, green algae and yellow stained rocks contrasting against the dark water, green plant life, and brown rocks.

The temperature down by the base of the falls was much cooler than above. If there weren’t signs posted about not swimming due to water quality I would have taken a dip in the pool and swam right under the falls. We hung out for a bit taking it in and resting up for the rest of our hike back.

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Eventually we decided to leave. On the way back we stopped by the teepee. I’m not really sure exactly what the big attraction is, but it’s a man made wooden teepee with a fire pit in the middle of it. It took us all of a minute to look at it and then we moved on. Our last stop was at the Indian Cave, which was very interesting. We climbed up inside and through it and it put us out on a few smaller trails that overlooked another field. The view was nice, but the most fun part was crawling through the cave to get there. The rocks were rounded and it looked like there was even a little spot that used to be used for fires and cooking or such.

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We headed back to the car, once again picking the not most direct route, but it was a nice walk along another creek and brought us to another smaller waterfall. When we finally reached the road we were grateful to see the parking lot and some civilization. I couldn’t convince Arpy to walk through the field instead of along the road though. She was done.

What a fun hike. So much to see, so many different trails to try. As long as you stay inside the main park you shouldn’t have too hard of a time figuring it out. The signs are pretty clear to Lizard Rock, Paradise Falls, the teepee, and Indian Cave. It’s the trek from Lizard Rock to Paradise Falls that is iffy and hard to figure out. Definitely check it out next time you’re in the area though.

Hidden Valley Trail

IMG_8973While in Joshua Tree National Park I went to check out Hidden Valley Trail. The trail is located off Park Valley Boulevard, the main east-west road near the Hidden Valley Picnic Area. It is a 1 mile loop trail that often draws rock climbers eager to scramble up the tall canyon walls. With markers along the way to help guide through the valley it is easy to keep your eyes peeled for a view of someone overhead.

I reached the trailhead and took a moment to read the sign about the valley’s history. Turns out the narrow rock gap at the trailhead funnels into a legendary valley that was used for rustling cattle in the late 1870’s. William and Jim McHaney and their band of cowboys, known as the McHaney Gang, brought their stolen cattle and horses to this corral for hiding and rebranding. They then sold their stock to out-of-state markets for a respectable profit until the end of the 19th century.

After learning this I couldn’t wait to get started on my hike. I walked down the path that William Keys blasted open in 1936 giving us access to the valley we see today and reached the split off of the loop. Following the arrow I headed left and started my trek soon reaching my first nature trail stop. I learned that Hidden Valley has a special microclimate that supports many plants and animals due to the rocks ringing around the area that allow the space to collect moisture and avoid the harsh desert winds. This valley has had an appeal to humans both now and in the past due to it’s protection and sources of food that can be found within.

Today, the Mojave Desert is much drier than it was in the past. Pinyon-Juniper woodlands used to cover the lower slopes of the present desert ranges and even some of the desert basins. Now they are confined to higher elevations and areas such as Hidden Valley where there is enough moisture to support them.

I continued down the path looking at the beautiful rock formations and different plant life. I came across another pinyon-juniper tree and read a little about how the natives used the tree as food, glue and many other things. I snuck under the tree and off the trail for a moment as I noticed a small crevice in the rocks behind. It was interesting to see how the rocks has split apart, looking above to see a larger rock being supported by the tall walls of the crevice I was in I thought about how one small earthquake might set that hanging rock ajar to come tumbling down. Not being able to go any further and reach the other side I doubled back to the trail.

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I continued on and eventually reached what rock climbers call the Great Burrito. This wall was massive and so majestic. I took a moment to take it in scanning for climbers and then read that the same holes in the rock that climbers used as hand grips are also homes for the lizards in the area. There were no climbers that day, but I’m sure the lizards were nestled into their homes hiding from the hot sun.

I eventually reached a narrow path with stairs where the rocks were much closer together than they had been before. The vegetation of the valley was much greater in this area and I learned that these cavities are ideal for vegetation. As the rocks serve to collect moisture and provide shelter from the winds it is easier for the vegetation to survive the harsh desert conditions.

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As I met back up to the beginning of the loop I stopped to look at the valley one last time. I learned a lot about this little world in less than an hour. The trail was pretty easy and good for all ages. It’s pretty straight forward with only one or two spots that are a little confusing. While I would try to stay on the trail, if you do take a wrong turn it usually puts you back onto the trail after a little bit so I wouldn’t be too worried. Get out and check it out. You won’t be sorry.

Short Cut to Ryan Ranch

IMG_8973During my trip to Joshua Tree National Park I decided to try the short hike to Ryan Ranch, a homestead established in 1896 made of adobe brick walls to secure a natural spring once located there, and explore it’s surroundings which according to the sign consists of a windmill, a stone covered well, several graves, and machinery.

This ranch, also known as “the gold brick house” supported the Lost Horse Mine. It pumped water 3.5 miles to process the ore and acted as a mining office and home. Raising cattle helped feed the 60 family members and works that lived at the ranch and mine during the gold boom. In 1908 operation of the mine ceased and the Ryan’s turned their attention fully to their cattle until the establishment of Joshua Tree National Monument halted grazing.

There are two entrances to the ranch. One off the main east-west road which makes the hike out and back about 1 mile long and another from inside the Ryan campground which is only about .5 miles long. I pulled up to the longer of the two hikes and parked my car in the spots along the road near the restrooms. I got out to inspect, but I couldn’t see Ryan Ranch due to the Joshua Trees blocking my view. I knew it was in the distance behind there somewhere, but my friend had left late the night before and I was by myself. With no cell service, the threat of rattle snakes, and hot desert temperatures, hiking in Joshua Tree alone made me super nervous. I decided to stay safe and check out the shorter route instead.

From the entrance of the shorter route inside Ryan campground, I could just make out the homestead. I was delighted to be able to see where I was going and that there were other people on the trail with me as well. I headed out quickly pasting the others and making little notes of the trail along the way. I stopped to take pictures of the interesting sights, taking my time getting there.

As I came up near the ranch I accidentally verde off the trail taking a less used, but more direct route over some rocks. The ranch looks completely different today than the picture from 1935 at the trailheads. In it’s current condition it’s hard to imagine that people lived there less than 100 years ago. I imagined that the ranch would have been much bigger than what I found, but the original structure is pretty small with about three main rooms.

You can easily see the adobe clay and brick in the wall as some of the adobe has weathered away. There is no floor just dirt and sand, no doors just doorways, no windows just openings where windows once were, and no roof. After exploring the building and trying to picture what it would have been like to wake up in the morning here, glancing out the window at the magnificent rock behind it I finally moved on to explore some more.

I found a watering trough which must have been used to water the cattle and the remains of the bunkhouse which was much smaller than the ranch. I can’t quite think of anything that they would have been able to use this space for it was so small. Maybe they used it to store food or as an extra room for guests to sleep. The space is so small even an old car would not fit inside it.

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I walked back to the main entrance of the ranch and the old wire fencing was still there which was really interesting to see how the wire was wrapped so tightly around the pole. I continued out to the Lost Horse Well on the other side of the rocks behind the ranch. A big black tank sat there with some more recent small buildings nearby it. I wondered why they were there and if someone had been using them recently.

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I little freaked out I headed back to my car near the beginning of the trail. The other people hiking were still exploring the ranch and slowly making their way to the bunkhouse as departed. I planned on coming back to explore a little more at another time. Maybe even taking the longer route as long as I have a friend to join me. Ryan Ranch is a great place to explore and experience desert life in an earlier era without all the crowds.

Climbing Cliffs at Hemingway Buttress

IMG_8973As I was driving through Joshua Tree National Park I noticed a pullout from the main east-west road for a trail that was not on the map. The main map that you get at the Visitor Center actually is missing  a lot of the attractions in the park and I don’t think this is a main draw so I was not surprised, but since it was early in the morning I pulled over to see what I was missing.

The trail seemed short without much explanation or direction except that it was leading to a place called Hemingway Buttress and Banana Cracks that many rock climbers ascend each day. There were a few other people there already getting a closer look at the nature sculpted “classic lines.” Two of those people just happened to be rock climbers complete with backpacks full of gear and helmets and were heading down the path.

Eager to see them climb these giant monzogranite rock piles formed 85 million years ago from magma crystalizing 15 miles below the earth’s surface, then becoming stressed and cracked by earthquakes, being pushed up to the surface by movement where groundwater seeped into the cracks rounding and sculpting and weather continues to erode, I scurried after them keeping my distance as not to be noticed.

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Reaching the base of the cliff and a pile of boulders I stopped and picked a smaller boulder to sit on. I patiently waited for the climbers to scamper up the boulders to their final starting destination. They looked like they were talking everything through, equipment, routes, etc. They kept pointing at the rock and nodding. Eventually I got tired of waiting and decided to explore and come back. The wall was huge, at least 20 people tall. There was no way that I would miss them.

I walked down the path one way to basically a dead end. I turned and followed the wall the other way and eventually reached the Hemingway Boulders, or what I thought was them. To be honest it all looked the same to me. I didn’t see a big difference from where I left the climbers to where I decided to stop walking.

I turned back and reach where I had separated from the climbers. They were still in the same spot at the base of the cliffs talking. I realized that I would be waiting all day for them to finally make a move up the wall and headed back to the car stopping and looking back along the way. Maybe next time I’m in Joshua Tree National Park my timing will work out a little better and I’ll be able to see some climbers that are a little more advanced and prepared. Until then, at least now I know that Joshua Tree is a meca for rock climbers with some 5,000 routes described within the park and many more being pioneered every year.

Petroglyphs and A Dry Barker Dam

IMG_8973After the Wall Street Mill Trail at Joshua Tree National Park my friend and I walked the entire 20 feet over to the trailhead for Barker Dam. This loop nature trail is about 1.3 miles long. We took a brief look at the trail map and then headed out sending all caution to the wind as we walked to where the trail forks and had to decide which way to go.

We followed the first sign we noticed far off in the distance, missing the rocks along the path to the right, the correct way to go. We went left where people were exiting. This one incorrect turn resulted in our entire hike being backwards. We still saw everything there was to see, we just got to see the petroglyphs first and a lot sooner than we would have.

A short walk quickly put us at the big rock with petroglyphs on it and were too excited to not take a closer look. We scrambled up and over the rocks and into the little over hang. They were so cool. All different designs and colors. I wondered if they were real and if they were how many years they have been there. This was the one spot in the whole park that didn’t have a sign explaining the attraction that day like all of the other stops along the way. A little google search when I got home aided me in learning that they are real ancient Indian Rock Art.

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After our short stop we continued our trek. Walking backwards the trail was a lot harder to follow. Luckily we were able to figure it out and hang to the right at the forks where we normally would have took lefts. We eventually came across a sign that stated we were still going the correct way and we were relieved. We headed up some stairs and reached the base of Barker Dam where we could see a cattle trough behind the dam and the structure of the dam.

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In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s cattle ranching was an important business in Joshua Tree Park. Water sources were extremely valuable and often pitted ranchers against ranchers, ranchers against miners, and miners against miners. Barker and Shay Cattle Company built the dam out of stones in a natural basin to end the fighting in 1902. William Keys improved the dam adding the upper concrete layer in 1949.

We climbed a little farther and finally got our first look at the inside of the dam. There was no water in the dam when we got there, but there were lush green plants living at the bottom of the dam. Back in the early 1900’s there used to be 10 inches of rainfall a year in the desert. Today there is only 2-5 inches of rainfall a year. You can still see where the waterlines lay across the rocks today and imagine what it would look like completely filled. I wonder if we had come to the dam earlier in the spring if there would have been water collected.

We hurried the rest of the way around the loop stopping to take a few pictures here and there as the sun slowly lowered itself behind the rocks. We made it back to the entrance and noticed where our first turn had gone wrong. Either way you take to reach the dam it is still an amazing hike. One all ages can do and pretty easy with a little rock scrambling near the dam.

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