Thursday, December 24, 2015

Fish Canyon Falls Hike - December 24, 2015

Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, December 24, 2015
What a fun adventure it’s been endeavoring to hike to Fish Canyon Falls every month for a year to experience the changing seasons. I started in March so my hike today represents the tenth month in a row. And it’s the first time I’ve hiked Fish Canyon in December. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve ever hiked on Christmas Eve day (that I have record of). I had planned my hike for two days ago but it got rained out. So thankfully I had this morning free before heading out of town for Christmas. I arrive at the trailhead and there are five cars in the lot. It’s 48 degrees and windy. Gosh it’s cold! Do I need to put on my third layer? Do I really want to hike?! Well, I’m here, so gotta go for it. Heading north from the trailhead on the Fish Canyon access trail into Vulcan’s quarry

View of west wall from the Fish Canyon access trail in Vulcan’s quarry
7:45 - Begin hike. Soon I warm up as my body generates heat and the canyon blocks the wind. The sun feels good, but within minutes I’ll be in the shade of the canyon. The quarry equipment sits quite; I guess Vulcan is on Christmas break. Parts of the access trial through the quarry are quite muddy from recent rain. I transition to the riparian section and am greeted by a lone occurrence of golden yarrow in bloom. It has been dependably blooming here for months. The only thing else in bloom in this section is California buckwheat. As I approach the bridge I’m delighted to hear the sound of running water.

Invasive cape ivy (Delairea odorata) in a riparian setting along Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
8:03 - Cross the bridge into the national forest. The water flows briskly. I’m now in the shade of the canyon. Everything is fresh from recent rain, which has also washed debris onto the trail in places. The air is brisk and the aromas of nature are wonderful. Deciduous trees and plants, like alder, sycamore, maple, tree of heaven, and poison oak are mostly leafless now. Birds are chirping. It’s peaceful here as I saunter along and relish the beauty of my beloved canyon. Invasive cape ivy (Delairea odorata) blankets sections of the creek. Invasive cape ivy (Delairea odorata) in a riparian setting along Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest Its bright green leaves and golden yellow flowers are beautiful, but the insidious plant destroys native habitat. I wonder if the dead alders surrounded by the cape ivy were killed by this alien species (the destructive weed covers 500,000 acres in California).

Heading north on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
Just past the tree of heaven jungle, another tree has fallen across the trail since my hike on November 22. Tree fallen on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest The leaves of this white alder indicate that it was alive when it fell. A little further, the tree that had fallen across the trail previously has been moved off the trail…no small feat. Tree fallen on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest Golden autumn leaves of willow add a colorful splash to the winter scenery. Toyon sports its bright red berries for Christmastime. An occasional sunflower greets me with its happy countenance. Spike moss (resurrection plant) has returned to life. Fluffy white clouds grace the blue sky. I am so enjoying the delightful beauty that surrounds me. It’s so peaceful. A gentleman with a bag of trash passes me heading down; I’m always thankful for those who care for our wild places. A pile of orange peels is a reminder that there are those who either don’t care or are simply ignorant that peels are garbage and should be carried out. I step into the full sun at 8:45. First sun on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest I take a side jaunt to Darlin’ Donna Falls and it is flowing nicely.

Heading north on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
9:08 - Main creak crossing. It’s flowing! (It hasn’t been flowing since May.) I enjoy the rugged scenery as I climb the canyon’s east wall. There’s been virtually nothing in bloom today. The native plants blooming in season with multiple occurrences are California buckwheat (many), common sunflower, and wild cucumber (tiny white flowers). Most of the other blooms are the introduced landscape plants like jade and oleander near cabin sites, and non-native weeds like mustard, sow thistle, and redstem filaree. This is quite a contrast to the spring and summer where there will be dozens of species in bloom with thousands of flowers.

A group of six young men pass me coming from the falls. Some other male voices are behind me so I keep a pace to stay ahead. I’m always am eager as I approach the falls. The sound of tumbling water is music to my ears.

Dan Simpson at Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, December 24, 2015    Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, December 24, 2015
Chris and friends at Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, December 24, 2015    Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, December 24, 2015
9:18 - Fish Canyon Falls. What a splendid sight! With so many months of it being dry or merely a trickle, it’s so nice to be greeted by a showy waterfall. Both the lower and upper pools are full. And the golden yellow leaves of the black willow add a wonderful splash of color to the scene. There is no one here, but four young men are seconds behind me. It’s Chris! We hiked here together with some others in March 2014 as a last time to experience Fish Canyon before the access trail opened in June. Chris is with his friends John, Joel, and Stephen. Soon a couple with two dogs arrive. We chat some. I look around and just enjoy the beautiful setting. The sun makes its way down the falls. I’d like to stay to photograph the falls in full light, but I need to head home to head off to a family gathering.

Tree of heaven jungle along on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
10:00 - Leave falls. I retrace my steps down the trail. I love this canyon. It’s become such a familiar friend. My pace is earnest. Occasionally others pass me heading to the falls. Past the junction to Darlin’ Donna I finally step into the sun; it feels good. I continue to take pictures in a different light as I stroll down the trail. I cross the bridge at 10:57 and walk through quarry. Others come up the trail.

11:15 - End hike. There are nine cars in the lot (aside from mine). The wind has died down and it is 58 degrees. My Fitbit recorded 13,050 steps for the hike (for 5.4 miles plus walking around at the falls).

Jade along on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
Epilog - What a thoroughly enjoyable hike. It’s been so rewarding to experience the canyon through the seasons. It’s good to be back to in the recommended hiking season range for Fish Canyon (November through May). I’m delighted that the falls have returned and rain has brought back some vibrancy to the vegetation. Leafless trees create a different texture to the scenery while lingering autumn leaves splash their warm colors. I’m eager to see how the forecasted El Niño rains will affect the falls as winter unfolds. icon

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NEXT > Fish Canyon Falls Hike - January 16, 2016
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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Joshua Tree - Crown Prince Lookout - December 20, 2015

The amazing beauty of Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP) always exceeds my expectations in providing superb hikes. It’s been one year since I’ve discovered JTNP and this hike to Crown Prince Lookout is my sixth hike in this incredible high desert landscape. Previously I’ve hiked to an oasis, climbed two 5,000-foot peaks, experienced a wonderful nature trail, and enjoyed a cross country scamper to a massive boulder pile.

A visit with my daughter this weekend in Twentynine Palms for some Christmas festivities yielded one three-hour window for a hike. I needed something short and close so I turned to my three books, and On Foot in Joshua Tree National Park by Patty Furbush detailed an ideal hike: 3 miles rounds trip, road-trail/cross-country, 181 feet in elevation change, a destination of a 4581-foot boulder mass, and less than 20 minutes from the house.

As I get ready to leave the house in the early afternoon, I’m surprised how fast the weather changed. During the morning it was sunny with a cloudless sky. Now it’s cloudy, foreboding, and cold. I leave the house in Twentynine Palm and head east on Hwy 62, then south on Utah Trail to enter the park from the Oasis Visitor Center/North Entrance. I’m thankful there are no cars in line at the entrance station. I have my park pass and driver’s license ready (I bought another annual pass for $30 yesterday). I enjoy my drive through the picturesque desert landscape. I pass Skull Rock and a minute later pass the entrance to Jumbo Rock Campground, and in another 0.2 mile park on a wide shoulder (north side of road) across the street from the trailhead.

2:15 - Begin hike. The route is an old dirt road that angles southwest from the highway. Several large rocks have been placed along the highway to block the dirt road from vehicle use. It’s cloudy and brisk with a stiff breeze. I may have to add my third layer and knitted gear. This is not my favorite hiking weather. But there is a beauty to the desert. I can see my destination rising from the desert floor to the southeast. In several minutes the route cuts southeast. It gets a lot of foot traffic. The streaked clouds with intermittent sun create a fascinating sky and cast modeled shadows across the desert. The sand is soft beneath my feet. Gawky Joshua trees accent the creosote-dominated landscape. Jumping cholla cactus are so beautify but oh so threatening. In fact, most of the plants out here can inflict pain. Aside from the cold, I’m really enjoying myself. It’s so peaceful. I crest a slight rise and the rocky mass of Crown Prince Lookout strikes a full profile from the desert floor. I see some tiny figures up ahead and soon I realize it’s a couple with two young girls heading back. They are all bundled up and seem to be enjoying themselves.

The route gentle curves east. Interesting rock formations begin to punctuate the scenery. My rocky mass gets bigger and looks intimidating with boulders the size of cars and small houses. At about one mile from the start, adjacent to a large outcropping on the left, the route splits. I take the one to the right heading south. In a few minutes I approach the base of my destination. A use path curves around the east flank of the boulder mass. I’m feeling a little anxious because the massive boulders seem to forbid guests from climbing to the summit, and I’m still humbled by being rejected by Mount Mel a year ago. But the guide says, “A short scramble up (ten vertical feet) the rocks leads to a more obvious trail.” So I’m banking on it. The trail reaches a gentle ridgeline projecting east from the rock pile providing a splendid panorama south.

I decide it’s time to put on my third layer and a beany and gloves. Why not be more comfortable?

The path curves west and leads to a shire rock face. A crease jutting to the right behind a rock face appears to be what the trail guide describes. Up I climb. It’s not bad. I’m thankful for long legs and gloves. At the top a clear path heads west toward the top. I’m relieved and excited. The huge boulder pile is basically flat on top and so my gentle route takes me toward the highpoint. The views are amazing. A vast desert sprawls out before me. In about 150 yards I reach the top.

3:05 - Crown Prince Lookout (4581’). Wow, this is great! The lookout point is on the south edge of the large mesa-like summit. There is a 3 by 3 foot concrete block which provided the foundation for the lookout structure. The book says it was an airplane warning station possibly built during World War II. However, one concrete footing indicates 1961. At any rate, it is easy to see way this location would be selected as a strategic vantage point. The 360 degree panorama is stunning.

It’s too cold to mess with getting my maps out to see if I can identify landmarks. I recognize Ryan Mountain (5457-61’) silhouetted to the west. I climbed it a year ago as my first peak in the park. To the southwest I recognize Malapai Hill (4280), a volcanic dome rising sharply from the floor of Queen Valley. I’m guessing that highpoint on the northern horizon is Queen Mountain (5677’). I walk toward the northern edge and soon am greeted by a jumbled assortment of huge boulders between me and the northern rim. I attempt to find a manageable route but soon realize that it will take some serious bouldering to get over there. So I’m content with where I am.

I shoot photos in all directions. Then the sun on the western horizon dips below the cloud layer and relights the whole setting. I have to shoot the photos all over again, now in wonderful lighting. If it was warm and I had more time, I could easily spend a long time up here. The desert beauty is spectacular.

3:41 - Leave summit. Climbing down the 10-foot crease in the boulders is a little more tricky than climbing up, but not bad. I circle back around to the north side of the rocky mass and explore some. It looks like any approach to climbing Crown Prince from the north would require rock climbing expertise. I wander off trail some to photograph amazing rock formations from different angles. The sun creates wonderful lighting. Wispy clouds add beauty to the sky. I’m so intrigued by the surreal landscape. It’s so different from my San Gabriels. The moon, high in the southeast sky, stands stark against a deep blue backdrop.

Back on the trail, I retrace my steps. I see tiny figures climbing on the rock formations to near east. As the sun dips near the horizon, I’m on the lookout for the best vantage point to capture the sunset. I look back over my shoulder often to see to Crown Prince in different lighting. The surrounding beauty mesmerizes me. I take a number of shots of the disappearing sun and hope I get something that captures the beauty of a desert sunset. The sun vanishes at 4:31 and immediately the lighting is dramatically different.

I saunter slowly and soak in the stunning scenery. Gangly Joshua trees stand silhouetted against the twilight sky. A pinkish strand highlights the horizon. The moon gets brighter. The air is brisk. I ponder the words to describe this amazing setting. The sound of cars on the road ahead is a sign that my adventure is nearly over. I take a final shot of distant Crown Prince before crossing the street to my car.

4:42 - End hike.

Epilog - What a superb hike! It was only a short scamper across the desert to a boulder pile, but immensely enjoyable. A splendid route, amazing scenery, picturesque rock formations, intriguing plants, sweeping panoramas, beautiful clouds, satisfying destination, lovely sunset, and welcome solitude. What a thoroughly enjoyable hike. I am eager to return for my next adventure in JTNP. icon

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