Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Desert Days: High Desert Trail Time

Settled in our RV park, Sam's Family Spa, in Desert Hot Springs, we are a bit of a drive from many of the trails and things we want to do in the area. Fortunately we're getting an excellent rate by staying a month, so the savings are going in our fuel tank! We've done a couple of hikes in the high desert North of us, where it's a good 10 - 15 degrees cooler than Desert Hot Springs.

When we visited Thousand Palms Preserve the other day, the extremely helpful host (who has lived and hiked in this area for 40 years) told us of his favorite hike in Joshua Tree National Park. It's a combination of the North View, Maze and Window Rock trails (in that order). This hike is not on the park map yet, possibly because there is limited parking, but there is good signage throughout the trail and it turned out to be an excellent 7.5 mile loop hike.

To reach the trail head from the town of Joshua Tree, head South on Park Blvd. and go 1.7 miles past the National Park entrance kiosk. There will be a dirt pullout on the East side of the road with room for about four vehicles. This was about 40 miles from our home base.

We're back in the land of boulder strewn hills!

The fantastic stacked rocks frame views into the desert towns to the North.

This amazing landscape was created by magma intruding into the existing rock eons ago,
then ages of erosion from groundwater, then the surface soil eroded away leaving us with this wonderland to explore!

Bright pink baby barrel cacti caught my eye all day long...

Sometimes the eroded rocks look like a wall stacked by a person!.

Good camouflage!

The Park's namesake Joshua Trees show up in pockets on this hike.

All aglow.

Balancing act.

The deserts version of fall colors.

The Maze was a great spot to stop for lunch and do a little boulder exploring.

Bad hair day.

Window Rock is visible at the top of the peak on the right.

Rock fan.

Hans walks through bouldery beauty.

It's always a treat to hike among trees and greenery when you're in the desert and we found a beautiful high desert oasis waiting for us at Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. Located about 20 miles from our RV park near the small town of Morongo Valley, the Preserve has about four miles of trails looping through and around wetlands, plus you can hike another four miles down Big Morongo Canyon towards Desert Hot Springs. We decided to save the "down the canyon" hike for a cooler day and instead hiked all of the trails around the wetlands.

Boardwalk trails protect the fragile wetlands.

Yucca Ridge Trail took us above the wetlands for some fantastic views of the contrasting landscape.
It's easy to see where the water is around here!

With miles of dry, scrub covered hills around the Preserve it is easy to understand
why this is a major bird stopover site in spring and fall.

Looking North, the Preserve is densely packed with fremont cottonwood, honey mesquite, dwarf willow and much more.

The river of green continues into Big Morongo Canyon.
Plenty of sitting areas are scattered throughout the Preserve, great for bird watching.

The Marsh Trail winds through the thick of it all with inviting places to sit along the way.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Desert Days, Week One: Variety Spices up our Life!

We're settled in to our nice big site (#168) at Sam's Family Spa in Desert Hot Springs for a month and our first week has flown by. It's still pretty warm, most days this past week have hit the mid 90's, way too hot for us to enjoy hiking, so we've spent a lot of time both exercising and relaxing in the various pools here at the spa resort.

What a way to start the day!

Sam's is unique among the many hot springs resorts in Desert Hot Springs; their four hot mineral pools are emptied every night and the water is recycled into a lagoon, then used to water the oasis-like plantings around the property. There are also two non-mineral pools, with cooler temperatures, that have just a touch of chlorine added to keep them fresh.

At the lagoon.

One warm day we ventured out early to Sunnylands. Once the estate of Walter and Leonore Annenberg, former US Ambassadors and philanthropists, the property is now a meeting/retreat space used by world leaders plus a lovely desert garden and hospitality center which is free for the general public to enjoy and learn about the Annenbergs. One can also tour the original estate for a fee.

Modern formal native gardens at Sunnylands.

One afternoon we had the great pleasure of meeting blog readers, Zsuzsa and Tom. They live in Palm Springs and as soon as they sell their condo they will hit the road full time too. We had fun hanging out in the pools at our park followed up by happy hour; sharing the many little tidbits we've learned in our two years on the road. It was great to see their enthusiasm for this lifestyle!

Sorry "Z", I caught you with your mouth full!

Our good friends David and Wendy live just over the hill in Yucca Valley so one day we headed over to their place for lunch and had a blast riding mopeds on their track, so cool!

David and his moped cave!

Hans and David flying around the track!

We finally had a cloudy and breezy morning, bringing the temperature down just enough so we wanted to hike. Just a few miles from our park is the Thousand Palms Oasis Reserve.  Part of the Coachella Valley Preserve System, this site has miles of trails taking you through palm oases and the rather stark desert surrounding them.

Several faults that make up the San Andreas Fault flow through this area
and are the cause of the springs that allow the oases to grow.

Into the palm forest!

I had never visited a palm oasis that held so much water!

Departing the first grove, we entered a grassy/ riparian area.

Which gave way to a wash, still heavy with plant life.

The next palm garden held a substantial pond!

Leaving the oasis, the trail continued into the desert.

We crested a small hill and looked back at the palm garden.

So you can see we're getting into the swing of the desert, the heat was an adjustment after our relatively cool and comfortable temps of the summer in the Pacific Northwest but we're hitting our stride and doing some exploring and a lot of hot springs soaking!

With this fabulous sunset we knew we were back in the desert South West.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mountain Memories

I'd stayed in Lone Pine, CA twice before, both times in an attempt to day hike Mt Whitney. The second attempt, in 2005 with my hiking buddy Kathryn, was a success.

The memories of that hike were strong as we camped practically in the shadow of that venerable mountain: the predawn start, the alpen glow as the rising sun hit the mountains, the still icy snow melt as we hiked the 99 switchbacks, the steep drop off of thousands of feet on both sides as we scrambled over boulders in the Windows section, the looong, slooow trudge up the last mile to the summit, the sense of awe and wonder and accomplishment as we stood upon the summit of the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. Then facing the 11 miles and over 6,000 feet of elevation drop back to the trail head, my knees protesting mightily the last two or three miles, the celebratory champagne in the hot tub at Dow Villa Motel afterwards. Memories that will last a lifetime.

Five months later I met Hans, and the rest, as they say, is history. Though we no longer tackle extreme day hikes (Hans calls them death marches), preferring to save our knees for the anticipated decades in front of us, we do hike almost every single day, and often in scenery so beautiful it makes you want to cry for joy.

In fact, our campsite at Tuttle Creek BLM campground was just that awesome. It's a dry campground, first come, first served, with only vault toilets and a dump station and water (both already closed for the winter during our stay), roads are rough and sites can be pretty unlevel. Hans insisted on a site backing up to the creek, and site #40 was quite a challenge to get into being both bumpy and unlevel. But after we finally got level we discovered the secret to this camp site. Not only did we have an expansive view of the mountains around us, but there was a hidden creekside oasis just steps from our door!

The serenity of this special place cannot be understated. Sitting in the grass on the edge of this rushing, tumbling, sandy creek, my soul felt cleansed and my spirits lifted as only a tranquil natural space can do. Hans felt the magic too when he joined me and created new music on his guitar accompanied by the sound of the creek.

Site #40

Our sitting area opens up to a view of the fabulous Sierrra Nevada mountains.
See that ponderosa pine on the right? That's where the creekside oasis is...

Our magical hidden oasis!

Hiking options from Lone Pine include the first three miles of the Mt Whitney Trail (you need a permit beyond that), but that can be very busy on a beautiful Saturday, and I knew it would pale in comparison to the amazing hike we just did near Bishop. Another option is to drive 20+ miles up to Horseshoe Meadow at about 10,000 feet to gain access to miles of trails into the Sierras. Alas, we had a very long drive planned for the following day so this was not appealing to us.

Then Nina mentioned the Ashram hike. Now this was a trail we could take right from our lovely camp site...perfect! We just had to walk up the road at the West end of the campground until we reached the Tuttle Creek trail head, then the Ashram would be a mile further. I guesstimated about 7 or so miles.

I underestimated the distance from our campsite, we ended up hiking almost 9.5 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 2,700 feet. During the long ascent we just kept telling ourselves that the return would be almost entirely downhill!

Morning alpenglow on the Sierras.
Our hike would take us right into the canyon beyond our neighbors truck.

Getting closer to the canyon we started seeing trees!

Looking back into the valley we had left.

Finally entering Tuttle Creek Canyon.

Upon reaching the end of the road/start of the Tuttle Creek Trail we could look up the center of the canyon
in front of us and see the Ashram.

It's in the very center of the photo!

We made it! 

It's in an amazing setting and felt like a pilgrimage just getting to it from the campground!
This serene place included Buddhist statues and incense to set the mood for contemplation.

Making our way back down the mountain admiring the massive granite slabs on the walls around us.

Later we took a drive over to the Alabama Hills to look around. When we discovered how large the area is we decided to save it for another trip through this area, we were more in the mood for hanging out in our creekside paradise!

Perhaps we'll camp among these fabulous boulders next time we come through Lone Pine!

This Lone Pine stopover was an excellent end to our quick tour of the 395 corridor. Another year we'll devote more time to this magnificent stretch of California...it was time to move on to the desert.

Rosie loved this campground too!

The creek was cold but I couldn't resist!

We're now settled in for a month at Sam's Family Spa in Desert Hot Springs. It's still pretty hot in the desert but this is the time frame that happened to work for us. The park is pretty empty and quiet, the pools are lovely and we are ready to relax and maybe party just a little!

First night in town: tiki drinks with Rick and Lori visiting from Santa Cruz mountains!