Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Cold Day in the Desert

Day 26-May 9th
Deep Creek Bridge
18 miles

Last night was pretty cold. We had a campfire, and everyone was in rare form (probably due to the short day). The Mayor spent twenty minutes trying to untie a bag of cookies before he gave up and tore it open, to share his sugary bounty with us. Afterwards we all stood close to the fire with our shirts pulled up, warming our bellies.

When we awoke this morning, it was still very cold, but I was expecting a hot day. We were going to walk through an area that was recently burned, so we would have little, if any, shade. As such, Apricots and I got an early start on the day. With gloves, hats, and down coats on, we began our day with a small climb. This put us back in view of Big Bear Lake briefly, as well as a distant view of the still marshmallow white dome of Mt. Baden-Powell which we will be hitting in roughly one week.

After reaching the top of our small climb, we began what would be a day long gradual descent, largely through the scarred remains of a forest fire. As we walked along, the pine covered tread slowly gave way to a simple dirt tread, highlighted in rich black-browns of decaying charred bark. The needleless trees with few limbs gave no resistance to the cold breeze. The temperature was great for walking, but as soon as we stopped moving we had to put on our jackets or huddle behind a large rock.

I have always enjoyed walking through burn zones. It is the closest way to see a full life cycle of a forest. A few tall trees remain untouched, with their bases only charred by a fast moving fire. Other less fortunate trees are reduced to tall blackened towers reminiscent of dark towers found in books by Tolkein and others. Still other trees have lost all their bark, but stand bleached white like over sized toothpicks stuck in a pile of charcoal.

Burnt manzanita reach skyward with hundreds of gnarly crooked fingers, all bone white. Yet, a burn zone, although looking dead, is still very much alive. The first plants are taking hold, laying down the vegetation, and restoring the soil chemistry for secondary plants to start growing. Today, while walking through the burn zone, I saw several varieties of flowers. Ones I have grown accustomed to seeing while walking through the desert.

There were patches of tiny white flowers, smaller than a childs pinky fingernail, scattered a thousand strong, painting a small patch of land white. We saw five petaled fuscia flowers, as well as ones in a rich magenta. The yellow and white flowers were abundant, but the splashes of purple and blue always drew our attention.

Nearing the end of the burn zone, we entered a hillside covered in large granite boulders, similar to the lead up to San Jacinto. We walked over or around these white and rust-red rocks working downhill to Holcomb Creek, where we spent lunch after two knee deep river fords.

I desired an afternoon siesta, but just as I was dozing off, Jackass and Molasses walked up. We had hiked a portion of the first leg with them, but the jumped north to get a southbound walk in to allow for more snow melt time on San Jacinto and the San Gorgonio mountains. We chatted with them for a short bit, and expect to cross paths again in two weeks when they jump back to Agua Dulce.

Parting ways, we crossed Holcomb Creek a third time, before putting on our boots and making the final five miles to our desired campsite. The sky was grey, and our bodies were cold from the wind and stream crossing, so Apricots and I walked faster so we could get to camp soon.

We arrived at a pic-nic shelter late afternoon. Shortly after arriving, we had our sleeping bags out and we ate dinner. Now we are laying in our bags under a small shelter, ready for a short day tomorrow... Or at least a quick walk to some Hot Springs tomorrow.

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  1. I enjoyed your narrative on the burn zone. Regeneration, and new beginnings. Aqua Dulce is not too far from Lauren's Aunt Phyllis, not close but not too far.

    Hope the hot springs provided the rejuvenation to your muscles, joints and spirits. Journey on with blessings.