Movie Night…in Spain

It’s been 2 years, and while I completed this “movie” about our 2015 thru-hike of the Camino de Santiago last Fall with Paul’s sister and brother-in-law, my relic of a desktop computer was unable to “talk” with the internet, specifically YouTube, to upload the final cut.  I made this using Cyberlink and have since learned quite a bit with regard to creating videos/movies of our journeys.  With any luck I will be able to rework and upload the one I made for our 2014 thru-hike of the PCT and post it by end of summer…if not sooner.

I’ve titled it “Our Way”.  This is 52:50 minutes long.  I hope you enjoy it, and more importantly hope it will inspire you to take a walk and explore the world.

 

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Casa Grande Ruins

We wanted to avoid going through Phoenix on our way back to California and take the “roads less traveled”, so on our way back to California we of course missed our turn (or rather, took a turn too soon) and ended up taking an even more circuitous route through what we learned (via Google) was certainly the historic “Wild West”.  It also weaved through “native lands” (that was pretty much stolen) of some of the oldest peoples of the southwest dating back thousands of years.  As history’s hindsight is generally 20-20, these peoples were ironically thought of as “savages”, during the westward expansion of “civilization” and of the United States’ Western territories.  When in fact many were fierce warriors protecting their lands.  From what we later learned, at the Casa Grande Ruins, they had a sophisticated society, rich in culture, with innovative farmers who created a widespread and amazing irrigation system, that survives today.

Fun Facts:  Arizona is home to two of the largest Indian Reservations (or rather sovereign Nations…under which the United States claims Plenary power), the Navajo and the Tohono O’odham.  Arizona has the second highest population of Native Americans in the country. 

When we left Safford, we drove through small non-descript, often hard-scrabble towns that obviously held some significance in their “hey-day”.  Places like: Thatcher (pop. 4,800) founded in 1881 by Mormon settlers and the childhood home of Jess Mortensen, former world record holder of the Decathlon in 1931.  He is well known in the annals of USC’s athletic history as an athlete and coach.  Pima (pop. 2500) founded in 1879 also by Mormon settlers, originally called “Smithville”. In 1882 Jesse N. Smith predicted a Mormon Temple would be built in Pima, or was it Thatcher (two separate accounts)? Anyhoo, in 2010, The Gila Valley Arizona Temple was built and dedicated ironically between the two towns!  Fort Thomas (pop. 374), home of Melvin Jones, founder of Lion’s Club International.  It was originally one of the “earliest” military posts in the west (Camp Goodwin), and considered the “worst fort in the Army” due to its persistent problem with malaria.  It’s low population makes sense now.  Globe (pop. 7500) established in 1875 and whose downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places, with a “wild and wooly” history of Indian conflicts,old west outlaws, stagecoach robberies, gun fights and ruthless murders, as well as the discovery of and mining of silver, and more recently cooper.  Florence (pop. 10,000) founded in 1866, is the Pinal County seat, and rich in history, with its “old town” registered as a “National Historic District”.  During WWII, Florence was home to “Camp Florence”, the largest POW camp in the United States that housed over 13,000 POWs namely from the North African Campaign.  As we worked our way back to the I-10, and about the time we were considering looking for a campsite or campground, we spied a Walmart Superstore that happened to be in Coolidge and on the corner of the one square mile set aside for the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.  We considered just setting up in the parking lot of Walmart,  but then thought a shower would be nice, so we searched for a nearby campground and/or KOA.  We found a KOA not far from our location, which sent us to the I-8 (again) and to the Picacho KOA (of which was located next to the I-8…and a railroad!).  We decided to go to church the next morning in the nearby sleepy town of Eloy, with a “shuttered” Main Street, and an exuberant priest, whose homily was as entertaining as it was insightful.  This was followed by breakfast burritos, sponsored by the parish’s Knight’s of Columbus.  From there we headed to the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.  While we were originally not too excited, and in fact considered just getting on the road toward home, we decided that we should not pass up a ready opportunity to sample our Nation’s National Monuments.  At least this one we wouldn’t have to hike to.  Turns out we were pleasantly surprised and completely awed by the monument.

In 1892 President Benjamin Harrison designated this one square mile as a prehistoric and cultural reserve.  It was the first time that open land such as this had been put aside for protection and preservation. Go figure!  On August 3, 1918 it was later reclassified as a National Monument, now the third such designation in our National Parks history (even though it ACTUALLY was the FIRST).

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The external “roof” was erected by the CCC to protect the remaining prehistoric structure

Although this structure was actively used by the ancient Sonoran desert people in the 1300’s (or possibly sooner), it was seemingly suddenly abandoned around 1450 and not “discovered” until 1694 by Padre Eusebio Franco Kino, who gave it its name, “Casa Grande”.  It still is considered one of the largest prehistoric structures ever built in North America, and to date we still haven’t figured out its purpose.  We have however figured that there are three specifically placed “holes”, based on the structure’s orientation, that are in solar alignment with the Spring and Fall equinoxes (two on the East wall) and the setting sun of the Summer solstice (west wall), which may have “aided in sustaining life” (aka. farming).

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In the visitor’s center, built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 1930’s we perused the well done interpretive displays, and watched a short movie chronicling the “known” history of the Casa Grande Ruins.

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Seeing that it was early morning and not too hot, we wandered through the site’s ruins.

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We marveled at the engineering feats of the ancient Sonoran desert people with regard to the structure(s) they built.  This particular structure was originally 4 stories with wooden plank floors whose walls are 3.7 ft thick and made of “concrete” adobe.  Additionally the compound has several other structures/walls in various states of decay, and once was fed by an intricate and wide-reaching irrigation system (which tapped the Gila River), that based on further studies enabled them to establish a thriving farming community.  Apparently they hand dug miles of irrigation canals often 9ft wide and 6ft deep, perfectly graded to allow water to flow evenly from the Gila River.  Some of the irrigation ditches and canals are still in use today!

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“J. W. Ward 1871 Sgt. 1st Calvary

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D. Henness 8-13-1886

We also marveled at the time, the not-so-honored “tradition” of graffiti carved into the remains of Casa Grande.  Having a stagecoach route run within yards of the structure didn’t help either.  I would hate to be related to these guys who so prominently and permanently etched their names into “history” for an “I was here” moment.   Further research (because I’m a nerd) revealed a paper published by Department of Interior (National Park Service), complied by A. Berle Clemensen titled “Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Arizona: A Centennial History of the First Prehistoric Reserve 1892-1992“,  chronicling the “evolution”of the management of the Casa Grande Ruins.  I found this paper (156 pages…yes I read it in its entirety) absolutely fascinating and completely enlightening on how the preservation, study and interpretation of property, artifacts, structures and cultural icons of the Casa Grande Ruins evolved under the purview of the Department of Interior, more specifically our National Parks.

We left Casa Grande and ultimately Arizona with a much greater respect and appreciation of our Native Americans, early pioneers and this beautiful and highly interesting state of the Union, that is Arizona.

 

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Turkey Creek…and out

Having just sucked down our first cup of cowboy coffee, the quiet enclave that is the Eastern approach to Aravaipa Canyon was rumbling with activity. IMG_20170429_122131618 A dust cloud proceeded the entourage of 4wd vehicles that poured into the creek and our serene abode.  Looks like all the permits will be used today!  7 vehicles and 13 people later, the East end 20 were sloshing through the canyon.  Luckily we were going the opposite direction.  Today was to be an easy day.  We were in search of what was to be an intact early Indian cliff dwelling.  Off we trod over a wonderfully compact BLM dirt road.  One creek crossing, then two, three, four, five (dry does this count?), six, and seven but no corral or sign.

Maybe we counted wrong.  Okay, two more and whaa-laa there is the corral and just beyond that is the sign.

From here we follow a narrow trail that leads to a well kept cliff dwelling.  BLM has repaired it a bit, but for the most part it is fairly well intact.  We climb up and explore a bit. It was built somewhere around 1300 AD and was “abandoned” around 1450 AD.  The best we can surmise is that it was a seasonal “hunting cabin” of sorts.  We imagine the creek ran a bit wider, deeper and faster, so this was on the edge of the creek above the high flow line, and thusly kept one “high and dry”, and out of the weather for the most part.   Deer, coatimundi, rabbits and other furry edible creatures were obviously in abundance (otherwise why build such a sturdy structure).

And either these hunters were much smaller than we are today, or the tiny doorway and small interior were a means of staying warm and keeping unwanted critters out with greater efficiency.  Minimalists take note.

IMG_20170426_171711349_HDRUpon returning to our camper, it was time to pack up and head out.  Our goal on the way out was to check out the “resupply” point at the Klondyke Post Office (which is for sale?).  And after that to find the “turn” on the Grand Enchantment trail “out of Klondyke”.

After surveying the “Post Office”, we went in search of the next “turn” out of Klondyke on the Grand Enchantment Trail.  We believe we discovered the “turn”, but unfortunately signage is not good, and deft knowledge of map reading, GPS devices and their corresponding waypoints is a must, something we are going to have to really practice if we are going to do this trail.  And with that he headed back to California.  But NOT without another exploratory stop.  More tomorrow.

 

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On the Flip side

It is amazing when you do not have to get up and really get anywhere…significant.  We slept in till it was fully light, and were happy to discover that we were not sore and/or stiff.  With the exception of the hiking the Grand Canyon, we really are more of the “one and done” kind of hikers.  Going through the same area, again, is really not something we like to do, unless of course it is to show said area (or hike) off to others, or it’s out of necessity like the trails behind our house we use to train on.  That being said, this was a horse of a completely different color.  We saw sights and tread we had no recollection of having seen the day before.  As with everything, I suppose, it all has to do with perspective, or rather viewing things from another angle.  Today was a treat, of which we thoroughly enjoyed.  We had a list of critters we hoped to see, but discovered two that we had never seen before.

This white toad blended in with the boulders and in the water looked more like leaves floating down the creek.  Had this guy not been moving perpendicular to the creek, we never would have seen him.

The other critter was a Coatimundi. (White-Nosed Coati) He’s like a light colored raccoon whose a little slimmer with a longer snout.  A family of three was noisily headed to the creek when we surprised them en route.  They quickly scampered back up the canyon’s craggy rock face definitely annoyed with our presence.

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Up until that point we had seen, a bear, turkey, a snapping turtle, deer tracks (no deer), fish, and lots of cactus and flowers.

We also looked up a lot more, and pondered the creation of this amazing canyon riparian ecosystem.

By the time we finally strolled back to our Alaskan Camper, it was nearly 2pm.  We had seen 7 people in total and they had hiked in from the West end.  Counting us, there were only 9 out of the 50 allotted people in the canyon.  Not that we were complaining, but we thought all the permits had been pulled.  In actuality, they had only been reserved, and only 9 had actually used their permits.  Seeing it was Friday afternoon, we were surprised we were still the only ones parked at the East end.  Even before we had embarked on this mini-adventure, the BLM reservation website had shown that all of the 50 available permits had been reserved.  By 5 pm however, a caravan of vehicles arrived and about 7 people unloaded (with what appeared to be 50lb packs) and began their hike into the canyon.  We talked with some people from the Nature Conservancy that were “pulling weeds” about the area, and asked how far the “early Indian cliff dwelling” was into Turkey Creek.  “Not far”, was the reply.  When we asked for a little more specifics, we were told “7 creek crossings.  Past a wooden corral.  There will be a sign on your right and a short trail to the dwelling”.  You can’t get more specific than that!  With that we decided to stay another night and try that hike in the morning before packing up.

 

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Back in the Saddle again…

IMG_20170427_072405892Up and at’em, and we were off in a flash, ah not really.  It was more like, finally a great night’s sleep… let’s linger just a bit longer.  This was to be a no alarm trip, and as such we (I) decided we would be waking up “naturally” and get ready to hike at our (my) leisure, as opposed to Paul’s obnoxious 5 AM alarm on his watch.  When we finally awoke…”naturally”…We remarked to eachother how incredibly dark it was last night.  So dark, you literally could not see your hand in front of your face, and it was not for the lack of trying.  I remember touching my nose and then moving my hand away just a bit, and it was still black as coal.  Now I understand the term, “black as night”, for it truly was.  We went through our gear once more, and dumped some food items, as we doubted we would experience “hiker hunger” in two days worth of walking.  I dumped my sun umbrella, but kept my rain jacket as there was a 10% chance of rain, as I know how fond of us Mother Nature and Mr. Murphy are.  Paul kept his umbrella (for the rain) and dumped his jacket.  Even still our packs seemed a little heavier than we last remembered.  After lowering our Alaskan Camper and backing the tailgate up to a tree, we were off…it was 8 am.  We knew this was gong to be a wet walk, but we did not think we would have to walk in Aravaipa Creek immediately.  Obviously we thought wrong.IMG_20170426_182301196

I stepped timidly into the ankle deep creek, while Paul cajoled, “It’s not like your feet are going to get any drier”.  Thank you Captain Obvious.

IMG_20170427_081842365_HDRAnd so began the day of full unabashed “soakers”, our feet were going to be pruned before the end of the day. Of course the moment I stepped into the water, which was somewhat tepid, I had to pee.  Hadn’t I already done that before we donned our packs?

Before we set off, we had read numerous journal accounts of the people journeying through Aravaipa Canyon.  We watched YouTube videos and scowered the Aravaipa Canyon Nature Conservancy’s Website, for what to expect, and especially things (critters) to look for and/or be aware of.  As we learned there are scorpions, snakes and bitey crawly critters, there would be NO “cowboy camping” this trip.  So it was with GREAT SUPRISE that not less that 50 yards in front of us we encountered, within 10 minutes of our hike, a BEAR!

This BEAR was head down, foraging in the creek and headed our way.  He appeared to be a juvenile, so the next thought was, where’s Mama?  We stopped dead in our tracks, while he kept slowly working his way toward us.  It was obvious that he had no idea we were there, until of course we “greeted” him, saying loudly “Hey Bear!”.  He raised his golden brown sun bleached head, tilted his head to the side as if to say, “WTF?  What the hell are they doing here?”  Another shout of “Hey Bear!”, with raised poles, and he turned tail and charged off in the opposite direction.  Three thoughts occurred to us: (1) WTF – a Bear?, (2) Wow, yelling ‘Hey Bear’ really works, and (3) HOLY SHIT, those bears can move REALLY FAST!  SO if we thought we hadn’t had enough coffee that morning, this made up for it.

Now walking in Aravaipa Canyon is not like canyoneering in let’s say Zion, or Glen Canyon, it’s more of a very shallow river walk.  Mostly ankle deep with some sections just below the knee.  The water is just cool enough, this time of year to be refreshing, but definitely not cold. The tread through the water varied between medium cobbles, to coarse colorful gravel and fine sand. And the flow is such that one can walk up or down stream with negligible effort.

While there were some side trails running parallel to the creek, it was often just “easier” to walk in the water, than to bushwhack and/or (for me) worry about being startled by a snake (rattlesnake, or really any snake when you get down to it) on the narrow paths away from the creek, lined with dried golden yellow foxtail grass, soft green pokey tree branches with barbs on them, and/or mini forests of tall green horsetail stalks standing at attention like a box of crayons on the banks of the creek.

Apparently the “social trail system” was “better” and more defined (kind of like the JMT in Tuolumne Meadows) with deep paths carved into the soil and sand before a devastating flood that wreaked havoc throughout the area July 28th and August 1st of 2006.  As a result, the creek bed and vegetation changed significantly, wiping out most of the thick vegetation and previously “established” social trails.  Bear in mind, there are no professionally maintained trails or signage throughout the Aravaipa Canyon, with the exception of the West and East Trailheads.  Evidence of the flooding and the awesome power of large moving volumes of water in a relatively narrow canyon can be witnessed the length of the canyon.

Spectacular erosion and piles of debris stacked high and entertwined with reminants of once full grown Sycamore, Cottonwood and Willow trees were seemingly wedged “expertly” amoungst “sturdier” stands of trees and boulders, and peppered both straightaways and bends in the now softly flowing creek, as if it happened in the recent past as opposed to over 10 years ago.

Our plan was to walk from the East end at Turkey creek to the West end, and then walk back toward the East end and find a suitable campsite for the night.  Per the interpretive sign, it had the mileage as 10.75 miles.  Piece of cake.  Plus a couple miles back to a suitable campsite, and we were golden.  Not so fast grasshopper…as 10.75 turned into 13.6 miles by the time we called it, and we hadn’t gotten to, nor found the West end trailhead.  As luck would have it, the paper maps of the area (I had printed) had inadvertently gotten destroyed.  The first copy fell out of the truck and into Turkey Creek.  When I saw a piece of paper in the creek with the GET (Grand Enchantment Trail) logo in the corner, I thought one of the GET hikers had dropped it on their way through.   Nope, it was me.  It slipped out of the truck as I got out to help Paul level our camper.  When I retrieved it, it was a pretty tie-dye design, but otherwise useless.  The second map I gave to Paul, who tried to give back to me to carry, but when I pointed what happened to the first map, he acquiesced and stored it in his shirt pocket.

When we stopped for our lunch break at the “half-way” mark  at noon in which we had done 7.5 miles (according to Paul’s mileage app on his phone which has been tested for accuracy numerous times) it was time to check the map and count the side canyons we had passed to see where we were in relation to the West end trailhead.  But alas, no map to check now, as Paul had rinsed out his sweaty shirt in the creek without having removed the map from his pocket.  His once “white” pocket was now dripping with color.  Aargh!  ‘That’s okay’, we thought.  It should only be a little over 3 miles away right?  Ha Ha, surely you jest!  The map on my phone from our Delormne InReach SE would have been more helpful if we (I) had memorized the number of canyons, their names and what the creek “bend” looked like just before the foot trail that leads to the West end Trailhead…but then I wouldn’t need a map then, would I?  SO we walked the 3.25 miles, and found no outlet to the trailhead.  I remembered something about there being a BLM boundary marker 1.4 miles out from the West end trailhead, and thought that when and if we came across it, it would give us a better idea of how much further we needed to go.   But in keeping with our mis-adventures, we couldn’t find (more likely didn’t see) the BLM boundary marker at what would have been 1.4 miles more to go.  We noticed three wooden fence posts in the creek (connected to nothing), but thought, ‘that couldn’t be it, right?’  When we had clocked over 12 miles, and were startled by an enormous rattler cleverly disguised in the horsetail grass at the north edge of the creek I was wandering toward, I (we) then decided that I (we) had had enough. It was either we somehow missed our turn, or maybe we didn’t go far enough.  In any event we were toast.  So we wandered back eastward looking for a suitable place to camp.

Eventually we found a sandy bench above the creek sheltered by cottonwood trees.  When Paul checked the mileage on his phone app, it appears that we were exactly 2 MILES from where we had turned around, and our fastest pace was 68mph (which we attributed to the snake).

After setting up, we purposely soaked our tired feet in the creek as we washed the accumulated sand and gravel out of our socks and shoes.  Tiny minnows tickled my toes as they nibbled on the edges on my callused feet.  I hear some women pay good money to do that to their feet during a pedicure.  As we finished dinner and crawled into our tent, the wind picked up, gusting through the narrow canyon causing ripples on the surface of the softly flowing creek.  Soon however, we were fast asleep to the sound of creaking branches and rustling leaves overhead.

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In search of…Aravaipa Canyon

So we’ve managed to squeeze in a mini adventure.  In planning for the Grand Enchantment Trail we had to obtain a permit to traverse Aravaipa Canyon.  These permits are hard to get especially this time of year.  In doing so , we had purchased and reserved two dates, this past Monday (April 24th) and Thursday (April 27th).  It is a 12 mile traverse with limited permits (50 total) per day, and we were not sure exactly when we would arrive at the West entrance.  Much to my surprise, I had purchased permits to enter from the East Trail head. This explains why it was so easy less than a month out.  The West Trailhead is fairly easy to get to, accessible by 2WD and relatively close to Phoenix and Tucson.  At this entrance they issue 30 permits/day.  The East Trail head is a completely different story!  The East Trail head is allotted 20 permit/day for those brave and adventurous souls with plenty of time on their hands…and a good 4WD vehicle.  Thus said, we clearly fit the bill for the East entrance.  Our plan was to thru-hike the 12.8 miles of Aravaipa Canyon, from east to west, camp at the campsite by the Brandenburg Ranger station, and then spend the next two days walking one of the alternate routes listed by Brett Tucker on the GET FaceBook page.  We did however call “Heidi” the Ranger for the Aravaipa Canyon to see if there were any “easier” routes back to our vehicle on the East end, and/or if she knew of any cancellations for Wednesday or Friday, in hopes of just doing a yo-yo (up and back the same way) of the canyon.  Unfortunately we were out of luck.  She, however, told us that we should check the recreation.gov website again to see if something opened up.  The bad thing is that unless someone actually goes back into the Recreation.gov site and cancels their reservation or calls “Heidi”, or the BLM station for that area directly, they would never know if people decided not to use their permit and “ate” the fee as you have to cancel two weeks in advance to receive a refund.  Being  conscientious people, we made sure to cancel our Monday reservation as soon as we were sure we wouldn’t be able to get out there by that date, which by that time, of course, was not within the 2 week period.  So out to Arizona we drive Tuesday afternoon.  Our plan was to get as far as we could toward Safford, where the BLM HQ was in order to get some better maps for our trek back to our car (from the West entrance)…and to get a better ideaof  what the water situation would be for said trek.  We made it as far as Gila Bend, AZ and stopped at Sophia’s Mexican Resturant.  It is a non-descript building just off the 8 interstate hwy, a place that only “locals” would gravitate to.  When we arrived it was full of “locals”, so we knew we were in the right place and the food had to be good.  Paul had a burrito and I had carne asada soft tacos with a tamale.  We were not disappointed .  As we were adjacent to BLM land, our thought was to take a side road and set up our camper and “homestead” for the evening, then we thought better of it, considering it was pitch dark, and frankly we were in Maricopa County close to the border.  As luck would have it, there was a KOA in Gila Bend 2 miles from where we were.   Our better judgement won out over adventure.

The next morning after an okay night’s sleep (it seems that every KOA we stay is located near freight train tracks), and a hot shower, off to Safford we headed.  We made it to Safford in the early afternoon and spoke with “George” at the BLM Office.  She had limited knowledge of the route wanted to take, but was able to find the appropriate maps and more importantly was able to rustle up an authority on the area.  After a long discussion of our intended return route (doubtful of water) and the fact that (for us) the navigation would be a little dicey, but doable, we were given permission to Yo-yo the Aravaipa canyon, even though all permits had been reserved for that Friday, and that we essentially had already paid for the additional day in the Canyon.  After a stop at the local supermarket (Thriftee Food & Drug) for ice and a few vittles for dinner, we were off to the East entrance.

Nearly 3 hours later over mostly graded dirt road (70.1 miles to be exact) and a stop at the Salazar Family Church (an adobe building, that is a functioning Catholic Church) we made it to the East Trail Head, where a sign said we could drive to and camp at Turkey Creek on BLM land (1.5 miles away).  This last 1.5 miles definitely required 4WD.  We parked at the trail head and set up camp.  With an hour or so of daylight left we took an impromptu hike down Turkey Creek (that was essentially dry) following a 4WD dirt road with several fairly good size campsites lining the route.  We passed by one site that looked like the occupants had moved in and had no intention of leaving for quite some time.  Back at our camper we readied for our next morning’s foray into the Canyon proper.

This is essentially what our 3 hour drive looked like.

 

**More to come, next week,  but first a girl’s ski trip to Mammoth #ForceOfNature #Springskiing

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Poppies! Poppies! Poppies!

Happy California Poppy Day!

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So mini-adventure #1 is in the books, thanks to my daughter’s Spring Break plans, and well, just plain old perfect timing.  Yesterday was quite the treat as we got to see and experience some amazing sights.

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Today we explored the Antelope Valley State Park Poppy Reserve.  I had been there several times while working for California State Parks, but NEVER when the poppies were even remotely visible or blooming.  As a result, I thought the purchase, and staffing of the park was a waste of tax payers money, for each time I was there, it was barren, brown and ridiculously windy.  I am glad to finally state with absolute certainty…I was WRONG!

IMG_4700This place is a definite treasure, if not for it’s preservation as an extraordinary natural resource, but for it’s design and accessibility that allows visitors to take a relatively easy walk amongst our state’s flower, the golden poppy (Eschscholzia californica).

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Beginning of the Poppy trail north loop just past the visitor’s center

The trails are well kept and afford visitors numerous extraordinary photographic opportunities of the Mojave Desert Grassland Habitat, for all walks of life and abilities.  For the most part, most of the visitors stayed on the well maintained park approved and mapped, trails.  Of course there were those “Special Needs” visitors who considered themselves “special” and they didn’t “need” to stay on the trail, but opted to trample the delicate poppies in order to get that one of a kind “selfie”, or family photo.  In my day, we called that kind of behavior, “Job Security”!  Knowing that the area gets pretty hot and is prone to high winds in the afternoon, we arrived (after nearly 3 hours of unavoidable “morning commute” traffic through LA ) just after 9AM.  Our daughter, who lives in the LA area, arrived well before us and had already snapped nearly 300 pictures!  Anyhoo, this turned out to be perfect timing as the air was still “cool” (65 degrees) and visitation was just beginning to pick up.  When we left the park around noon, to do some off-road exploring (see Side Note**), it was significantly warmer, and this was the line into the park!IMG_4701

The park boasts of 8 miles of trail, and our daughter had done the Antelope Butte loop trail, so we decided to do the Poppy Trail North Loop (a 2 mile loop…go figure), which also seemed to be the trail less traveled…at the time.  Now it’s important to note that on our drive out to the reserve, we passed many swaths of poppies in full bloom, but nothing compared to an impressionist’s palate of bright yellow Desert Daisies, glowing Gold Fields, periwinkle blue Lupine, intricate Owl’s clover, uniquely structured Fiddle neck and spatters of Blue Dick (I know, right?) to name a few, but mostly the neon orange of California’s State flower (Eschscholzia californica).

Truly a feast for the eyes and a bucket list must…especially during a “Super Bloom”!

Side Note** If you want to be more adventurous, have a vehicle capable of going “off-road”, and don’t want to pay the $10/vehicle entrance fee (even though it helps maintain the reserve’s trails, park road and restrooms), you can drive past the park entrance (westbound) on Lancaster Rd to 160 W Rd (go straight onto the dirt road instead of following Lancaster Rd on a 90 degree left turn).  Be sure to stay to the right and between the barbed-wire fence line so as not to trespass onto private property.  From here you will traverse 160 W for about a half mile till you come to a right turn, which is W AveF-8 road (also a dirt road).

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Our “lunch” stop

IMG_4704From here you will be treated to a rich flowing sea of color, that pictures can not aptly capture nor words dutifully describe.  Continue as you see fit.  Make sure you have sufficient fuel (for you and your vehicle), as well as water.  We had some cell service with Verizon, but don’t count on it to bail you out if you get yourself into trouble.  Stay on the hard pack and go slow as there are some soft pockets and significant dips in the road.

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Looking from inside the park boundary, the dirt roads off W AveF-8, via 160 W, invite for further adventure, and allow you to explore to your heart’s content

We found this road similar to an abyss that draws you in deeper and deeper, enticing you continue on, to see if there is something even more spectacular around the next bend or over the next rolling hill.  Be mindful of rattlesnakes if you veer off the beaten path and be sure to practice Leave No Trace (LNT) principles, and to NOT create new tracks with your vehicle.

The California poppy can also be viewed in great numbers as well, not too far from the Antelope Valley Reserve, on the Gorman Hills just off the I-5 freeway in the area commonly known as the “Grapevine”, and in super bloom years closer to my abode in Southern California (proper) at Walker Canyon near Lake Elsinore just off the I-15 (Walker Canyon Rd and Lake St.).  I caught a glimpse of this super bloom en route to ref several water polo games in Riverside one fine Saturday morning in mid-March.  Alas, no time to enjoy, or ability to snap a picture, whilst driving. Lucky for you there are many YouTube videos that have captured what I was not able to explore myself.  Below is a link to get you started.

I dare say however, that the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is a much less strenuous trek to view, up close and personal, the poppies and their corresponding colossal cornucopia of color .

Fun Facts: (courtesy of the Internet)

  • Native Americans in California valued the poppy as a food source and oil was extracted for medicinal purposes
  • April 6th is “California Poppy Day”, and has been since 2010 (good thing we visited on the 5th)
  • May 13-18th is “Poppy Week” (although I can’t figure why as they should be “gone” by then…maybe it’s a mourning period)
  • The Poppy is also referred to as the “Flame flower” and/or “Copa de Oro (cup of gold)…entirely fitting.
  • The California poppy was named the state flower March 2, 1903
  • The California poppy species was discovered and named in 1816 by Naturalist Adelbert von Charisso who was aboard the Russian exploring ship, “Rurick” in honor of their ship’s surgeon, J.F. Eschscholtz (it seems that Eschscholzia californica sounded better than Eschscholtzia californica…notice the “t” was left out in the naming)
  • Native to the Pacific slope of North America, the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) can be found as far north as Oregon and extending south into Baja California
  • The flowers of the poppy close each night and when it’s cloudy (hence the “tight” blooms when we arrived)

I expect the bloom’s life to extend for several more weeks (thanks to another bout of rain this weekend), in varying degrees of color.  But don’t wait too long, or people will tell you…”Ya should have been here yesterday!”

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