Saturday, May 5, 2018

Spring Wildflowers in Maryland



Periwinkle with variegated leaves










It seemed like warm weather was never going to come this spring in Maryland. Winter seemed to keep it's frozen grip on the area until mid April. This past week temperatures exploded into the 90's for two days in a row, and suddenly the leaves on the trees burst open and the area has been flooded with green and color once again. Bird song fills the mornings and a bright high sun dominates when it is out. Many wildflowers that were once on the seen a couple weeks ago have already gone and others have made their arrival. It's a great time of year in my opinion, despite the pollen.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Death Valley Part 4: Badwater Basin/Mojave National Preserve/Joshua Tree NP/Salton Sea/Anza Borrego SP

Sunrise on Telescope Peak

Morning


Badwater Basin Salt Flats


"Sea Level"


Mojave National Preserve



Full Moon Over the Mojave

Mojave Morning


Joshua Tree NP: Wonderland Ranch

Ocotillo Cactus

Fantastic trees just before the Salton Sea. These trees appeared to be very old, although I don't know for certain.

Salton Sea


Anza Borrego State Park
About a month ago, Moosie, Camo, and I finished the final leg of our "Southern California Desert Excellence Tour." Our last couple days took us out of Death Valley National Park. We spent a night in the Mojave National Preserve, continued on through Joshua Tree National Park, stopped by the Salton Sea, entered Anza Borrego State Park, did some trail magic on the Pacific Crest Trail at Barrel Springs, and then continued on towards San Diego where our trip ended.

We woke up on April 29th to our moonscape campsite overlooking the Badwater Basin, just below Telescope Peak. We had a steady warm breeze the night before. On this particular morning, the breeze stopped just after the sun came up over the mountains. Suddenly we were swarmed with noceum type gnats that bombarded our heads and faces. We quickly packed up the car and drove down towards the valley. 30 minutes later, we parked the car along the salt flats, and enjoyed a peaceful, warm, sunny breakfast in the shade of the car. Our goal for the day was to check out the Badwater Basin, and then head towards Mojave National Preserve and spend the night there.

After breakfast, we drove to the Badwater Basin parking area. It's a popular spot, and the lot was already filled with other tourists walking out on the flats. It was also getting hot quickly. Moosie, Camo and I spent about an hour walking out onto the flats and then back to the car. We then began driving towards the Mojave. First, we stopped in the small desert town of Tecopa for a refreshing lunch.

We arrived in the Mojave Desert Preserve in the late afternoon. This was a place I would love to spend more time some day. Gone were the hordes of people, and at this time of year, the desert was greener and appeared more diverse than Death Valley. We found another campsite off a rugged jeep road and were able to enjoy the peace and solitude of the area. After spending the late afternoon and evening exploring the granite mountains nearby, Moosie, Camo, and I enjoyed a fine dinner and campfire. The full moon rose over the mountains. I cowboy camped another night on the desert floor. This was also our last night camping.

The following morning, I went for a short hike up the granite boulders while the sun came up. I could see Moosie and Camo down below beginning to wake up, so I returned to our car. Our goal for the day was to drive through Joshua Tree NP, the Salton Sea, Anza Borrego on our way home.

It was a full day of driving but scenic. We stopped briefly in Joshua Tree NP and did a hike near the abandoned Wonderland Ranch. It was Easter Saturday and the park was filled with tourists. After leaving Joshua Tree we stopped by the Salton Sea, first stopping to eat lunch in a raggedy canyon area filled with free public campsites. In the canyon were these fantastic trees that appeared to be very old, judging by their twisting gnarly trunks and branches. Eventually we reached the Salton Sea, my first time seeing this odd lake. The surrounding area was much greener than I imagined, all types of successful agriculture taking place. The water of the sea looked heavy and unhealthy, the body of water much larger than I imagined. The apocalyptic neighborhood we stopped by added to the strange effect, a local resident blasting industrial rock music out of his run down shack.

Finally, after leaving the Salton Sea, Moosie, Camo, and I drove through Anza Borrego State Park on our way back to San Diego. We had one more thing to do, and that was to stop by the Pacific Crest Trail at Barrel Springs and give some beer and snacks to any possible thru hikers that may be there spending the night. The area near the PCT is beautiful, giant old oak trees dotting the landscape. We reached the PCT just before sunset. Sure enough there were a couple of German women spending the night there heading north on the PCT and one man heading south on a section hike. After gifting the beer and sharing in some trail talk, Moosie, Camo, and I finished the final leg of our journey in the car in the dark. We stopped by a small market that sold pies from Julien. Camo bought one and feasted in the back seat of the car. Another great trip had come to an end...

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Death Valley Part 3: Marble Canyon/Artists Drive/Badwater Basin


Hiking out of Marble Canyon




Sign at Stovepipe Wells

Getting hot in Death Valley

Artists Drive



Salt in the Badwater Basin


Moosie, Camo, and I woke up around sunrise and ate some breakfast. The plan for the day was to hike out of Marble Canyon, do the Artists Drive, and find some dispersed car camping near the Badwater Basin. First, we wanted to explore a side canyon near our campsite. Our hike was cut short when the canyon came to a steep cliff where a waterfall would exist during rain or a flood, and there was no easy way to continue exploring up the canyon. We decided to turn around and hike the few miles back to our car. Again, it was warming up a little more, we took a couple short breaks but mostly hiked straight to the vehicle. Camo arrived first, and when Moosie and I arrived, he was already sitting in the shade under the canyon wall, resting and snacking. We had beer in the car, so the three of us enjoyed a nice long break, drinking beer, eating olives, and feasting on the desert view into the valley. Again, it was the simple joys of this trip that I appreciated the most, and this was a good break.

After our rest, we drove back to the Stovepipe Wells visitor center to clean up, rehydrate, and buy a few resupply items. There, we found a nice bench in the shade and enjoyed sandwiches for lunch. After maximizing our lunch break, the sun forced us off the bench and back into the car. We drove to the Furnace Creek visitor center and checked out a few exhibits, and then hopped back into the car and did the Artists Drive.

Once we finished the drive, the full moon began to creep up over the mountains while the sun was setting in the west. We drove across the Badwater Basin and started looking for a place to car camp. We eventually found a road that led up into the mountains below Telescope Peak. We found a flat spot halfway up in an exposed, moonscape. There was a steady breeze, but nothing too extreme. We cooked dinner in the dark under the full moon. Camo put on some tunes, Moosie pulled out the folding chairs and we all popped open a few more beers. I have to say it was a surreal night. Warm breeze, full moon, moon rocks everywhere, and the most expansive view of the Badwater Basin all set out before us. All of this enjoyed in a folding chair pretty much made the night...

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Death Valley Part 2: Marble Canyon

Sunrise in the Panamint Valley: Just what the doctor ordered.





Moosie, Camo, and I leave the Panamint Valley and head for Marble canyon after stopping by the Stovepipe Wells visitor center.

Moosie drove her car as far as her vehicle would allow. An entrance to the canyon, but a couple miles from the Marble Canyon trailhead.

We begin hiking the hot, exposed jeep road towards Marble Canyon


Camo enters Marble Canyon.

Interesting spots on walls.








Near the camp for the night.
Moosie, Camo, and I woke up on day three on the desert floor of the Panamint Valley. Temperatures were perfect for sleeping and my soul rejoiced in the clean air and open space. I woke up just before sunrise and took a short walk. After breakfast, we all jumped back into the car and planned to drive to Marble Canyon and do an overnight backpack trip there. The day was quickly getting warmer. We stopped by the Stovepipe Wells gift shop/gas station/ visitor center and cleaned up a bit. It felt real good to wash the face. After milling around for a few minutes, Moosie confirmed directions to the canyon, and we began our drive down the bumpy dirt road.

We picked up a fellow hiker who parked his car several miles from the canyon and saved him a few miles under the intense sun and uncomfortable heat. Moosie drove her car and bottomed out a few too many times so we decided to park the vehicle right at the canyon's entrance. After packing up our packs carrying close to two gallons of water each, we still had a couple miles to hike before we reached Marble Canyon's trailhead. It was hot and exposed, but overall not too bad.

Once we reached Marble Canyon, Moosie, Camo, and I entered and enjoyed walking in shade when the opportunity presented itself. We tried to make sense of the canyon, the geology, the strange shapes in the rocks, the lack of fossil evidence. We took our time, stopping often, having no real destination, mileage or schedule to maintain. The highlight for me was the narrows and the interesting light from the afternoon sun on the canyon walls. We only hiked a handful of miles before setting up camp just after the narrows. We hiked a mile or two up the canyon in the evening after setting up camp since we had time to spare. By evening, bats were flying overhead as we made our way back to camp.

A near full moon rose over the canyon and we enjoyed the sound of crickets in the evening. Once again, it felt great to just throw the sleeping bag down on the ground and cowboy camp for the night. Stars were dimmed by the light of the moon, but I enjoyed watching a few satellites fly overhead.