Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hike 2014.024 -- A Return Trip to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve SNR

Hiked Saturday, April 12. I had previously visited the Poppy Reserve just two weeks previous. At the time, poppies were dense in spots, but most of the area was green and un-poppified. However, with favorable weather and possibly even some additional rain since then, the state park's website and other sources suggested the bloom was progressing nicely. So I decided to return to the Antelope Valley California Poppy State Reserve to see for myself. I also intended to combine this with a stop at Placerita Canyon on the way back.

This I did yesterday. I'll try to blog the Placerita Canyon hike within a few days. Also, I still have a number of earlier hikes that require blogging.

The short answer for how things are at the reserve is, "Very Good." It's still not an outstanding year, in the sense that it's not completely covered, as is shown on the cover of the state Poppy Reserve's informational flyer. But, especially on the western side of the reserve, it now seems like it's more "flowers" than "not flowers.

To start the day, I headed I stopped at the nearby purveyor of Vietnamese iced coffee and bahn mi, and bought my lunch and coffee. I had a large one yesterday, and still had the craving. This, despite the fact I knew drinking all that wouldn't necessarily be a good idea.

However, for this part of the day, it worked fine.

Having rad the earlier flower reports, I knew I was heading to the west side of the park. But even without the reports, I would likely have headed west, since I had headed east the time before.

The trail system at the reserve could broadly be described as consisting of a large western loop, a large eastern loop, and a "super" eastern loop, tacked on to the east of the east loop. Both the eastern and western loops also have a trail that cuts across each loop's middle.

The eastern and western loops are each about two miles around, while the tacked-on bit of the eastern loop would add about 2 miles to that. There's also a sort of "mini-loop" that goes around the visitor and picnic areas, so you've got plenty of distance options.
As is apparent in the pictures, there were several expansive areas that were almost entirely covered in either California Poppies or by other wildflowers. The Poppies were NOT the dominant flower in several sections of the trail, where goldfield (I think) and phacelia (I'm sure) dominate, instead. But there were still significant sections of orange where the Poppies were thick.

This is in contrast to the last visit, where the dominant color was green, with only occasional (though still very dense) patches of high poppy density. Of course, in those areas, the poppies were *really* dense, so I already considered the last trip worth the drive. But this time, it was far better.

I did not walk the eastern loops, so I can't say that things were as dense there as to the west. But, clearly, there will be significant blooms going on here for at least another few weeks. Peak bloom may already be at hand, however. No more rain is likely this spring, and the temperatures will be turning high next week.

So, if you're thinking of heading to the Poppy Reserve this year, now is the time. That is all. :D

P.S. Forgot to mention that, after my hike, I sat down in the picnic area and ate my bahn mi and drank my coffee. They were both delicious. Perhaps because it was still only about 11am, I had my choice of benches, despite the crowds. The parking lot pretty much reached capacity by about 11:15am yesterday, by the way. I'd suggest arriving early if it's a weekend during the bloom, or at least early-ish. Currently, the park opens at "sunrise," and visitor center opens at 9am on weekends, 10am on weekdays. Parking is $10. I think the fee and visitor center days and hours vary by season.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

HIke 2013.023 -- Miller Canyon Trail, Lake Silverwood State Recreation Area

Hiked Saturday, April 5.

The California State Parks website's Trail description is here.
When I was younger, my family used to go fishing quite often, and Lake Silverwood was a pretty good trout fishery at the time. Then the striped bass made it into the lake, and the DFG trout plants just became a really expensive way of feeding the striped bass. Also, I eventually figured out that I enjoyed being outdoors more than the actual fishing part. So it's been years since my last trip to Lake Silverwood. It was a familiar place, but one not recently visited.

Of course, on every drive to Las Vegas or towards the Mojave Preserve, there was the exit for Lake Silverwood. I'd been thinking about visiting for years. Finally did so on Saturday.

To reach Lake Silverwood State Recreation Area, take I-15 (probably north, unless you're already on the other side of the Cajon Pass), and exit at CA-138. Head east from there. The first four miles of CA-138 are surprisingly winding for a state highway, so take your time. After ten miles, you'll pass the "main" entrance for Lake Silverwood State Recreation Area.

To reach the Miller Canyon trail, ignore that exit. Instead, continue an additional four miles, to the signed Miller Creek group campground area. It'll be on your left.

As of this weekend, the camp-ground was closed, but there's a small parking area just 100 yards or so down from CA-138. There are several gated roads there, and one road that is not gated but that has a sign saying there's a California Department of Corrections facility down that road, and that no civilian traffic is permitted.

You are now in San Bernardino National Forest, by the way, and there was a sign indicating an Adventure Pass was required. However, at this parking area, there are no facilities, so I'm pretty sure that under current San Bernardino National Forest policy, this area does NOT require an Adventure Pass. I'll leave it to you to decide if you ought to display yours or not. I hung my tag, because I already have the American the Beautiful Pass, anyway.

From this little parking area, there's the gated road that's closest to a small structure (I assume where you'd be checked in for group camping). That road continues about 1/2 mile to a larger parking area, where the group camp is located. I followed that route.

The other road is about 30 yards further to the north. That one would provide paved access to Serrano Beach. As noted, both were gated. Both were on the left of the road you just came down on. Both also took you past "state park" boundary signs. I'm not sure if that means you'd need to buy a state park entry pass to park in those areas if those roads were open, or even if those roads are ever opened any more.

The road to the group camp is easy, though there were two stream crossings that required either a modicum of balance or a willingness to get your feet wet. The road also dropped and climbed a few times before flattening out near the end. Continuing to the west end of the parking area, I saw a very small "Trail" sign. There's also a paved bike path a bit to the north of this trail. That would be in addition to the other gated paved road I mentioned, meaning there are several biking opportunities here, as well as the the hike.

The water you've crossed is called "Miller Creek," a tributary of the Mojave River. The trail stays mostly on the north end of the creek, occasionally running right along the creek and occasionally rising well above the water line.

It's a sheltered canyon, which meant it was pretty verdant on this early spring day. Many wildflowers, most of which I could not identify.

After about 1/2 mile, I came across what looked like a wooden trestle bridge. On closer inspection, it was a wooden walkway. After I crossed under the bridge, I saw a use path heading up on the left, so I went up to the structure. One way led to a wooden decking, built atop a large rocky outcropping, and sitting maybe 60 feet above the water.

The water below is called "Devil's Pit." It's a possible swimming hole, and probably deep enough that trout could survive year-round in the water. Not sure if many live in the creek. I did not see any.

After enjoying my view, both down to the creek, and back up the way I had come, I crossed the walkway over the trail. At the other end, it looked like a barrier had been built on the walkway. A sign was facing the other way, towards the (closed, on this day) road. I leaned across the barrier to look at the sign, and laughed: It said, "Danger." The walkway was unsafe. Oops.

Walked back across again. Returned to the path the way I came.

Once back on the trail, I saw that about 20 yards past where I had headed up was an actual constructed trail that headed up on my trail's right. That one would have led me to the paved road, and to the entry to the bridge with the "Danger" sign.

The next significant landmark along the way is "Lynx Point." Like Devil's Pit, it's at a point where the trail and the road effectively meet. There's a small parking area and restroom (locked, on this day), with a small sign facing the road. As I noted previously, I don't know if this road is normally open or not.

Whether coming from the road or from the trail, there's a short incline to a clearing. From there, you've got a pretty impressive view in all directions. In particular, snow-capped Mt. Baldy was visible in the distance.

There's also a trail distance sign at this point. It says it's .9 miles forward, to Serrano Beach, and .4 miles back to Devil's Pit, and .8 miles back to Miller Group Camp.

I'm pretty sure the .8 miles is just to the actual group camp parking area, however. It's probably another 1/3 to 1/2 of a mile back to the gate, where I was actually parked. Definitely, it was less than half the distance between my car and Serrano Beach.

About 1/2 mile forward, the trail reaches a paved road, again. Bearing right at the road leads to Serrano Beach, where I was heading. Heading left would lead towards Sawpit Canyon.

There were several very pretty views of the creek in this segment.

After heading to the right, the lake is soon visible through the trees. I could see several people fishing along the shore. Not sure whether they came from where I came from or from the other side, or arrived by boat.

I soon passed another locked restroom, with an unlocked porta-potty adjacent to the structure.

The trail made another rise, going from near lake level on up about 20 or 30 feet. Looking down towards the lake, I saw several bush poppy. That was one of the more common flowers I saw on my drive towards the lake, as well.

Several waterfowl at the lake swam away from the shore once they saw me walking above them.

After another descent, I arrived at Serrano Beach. A large sign made it easy to know I was there. :D

There were picnic benches here, and an unlocked restroom. It's also got a dock, so I assume it's intended that boats on the lake may choose to dock here to eat lunch and/or relieve themselves without needing to head all the way back to the marina, on the other side of the lake.

Within a few yards of passing Serrano Beach, the trail had an "End of Trail" sign. There, the pavement ended. A footpath continued past the sign. I also continued past the sign.

After about 1/4 mile, the trail divided, with the clearer route heading down towards the waterline. A less distinct route climbed a bit and continued to the west.

Not long after that, the foot path became very indistinct. If I wanted to keep pushing on, I could have. But, by this point, I was getting hungry, so I turned around

Not sure about my total mileage for the hike. The state park site gives the roundtrip distance from Miller Group Campground to Serrano Beach as 3.4 miles.

However, with the campground closed, this adds another 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile roundtrip. And, continuing past Serrano Beach probably added 1/2 mile to 3/4 of a mile.

So I'm going to call it a five mile hike.

Despite my many fishing trips here as a teenager and before, I'm pretty sure I never hiked this path before. Given how much I've hiked the past four years, I'm always a little pleased when I manage to hike some completely new ground.

Incidentally, the previous hike I took (not yet blogged) was also over some new ground. So the past three weeks or so were really good for my hiking psyche: Many hikes, several new trails, and lots of scenery.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hike 2014.014 -- Mt. Lee, Griffith Park, Los Angeles

Hiked Sunday, March 16. Hiked even before the previous one I posted, but still not the earliest of my year's hikes that I need to blog. But I figured I'd go with this one since I had little to say and relatively few pictures to go through. This was a weekend after work hike. Wasn't feeling all that energetic, and obviously I lost the light long before I finished. If I do this hike closer to the summer solstice, I could make it all the way to Burbank Peak and back, though probably would still be finishing in the dark.

Since this hike was taken even before we reached spring, the day light didn't last nearly that long. It did start in daylight, however, from the Griffith Observatory. From there, I headed up the Charlie Turner Trail (at the north end of the Observatory Lot). Snapped one shot from near the south end of the lot, then another from near the same spot, but zoomed further in.

Like the previous hike I posted, this was one of the first with my Tamron 70-300mm zoom, so I played around with it quite a bit. As noted in my previous post, this hike left me very impressed with my new zoom.

The top picture was taken with ISO 1600 but a shutter speed of just 1/8th of a second. It's zoomed in just a bit, to about 95mm, and the aperture is nearly wide open, at f/6.3. Nonetheless, the result is quite sharp, considering I am shooting without the aid of a tripod. I'm just standing, trying to stay steady, but without any complicating apparatus.

The shot shouldn't be possible, except that the lens' built-in image stabiliza-tion clearly works very well.

BTW, the thing that I like so much about the Charlie Turner trail is you get that nice view of the Observatory, with the downtown skyline as a backdrop. I've shot it many times, but I still think it's a pretty iconic view.

From the Charlie Turner Trail, I passed behind Mt. Hollywood, and took the set of "high" trails that dive behind, around, and in front of Mt. Bell and Mt. Chapel, and worked my way to the west, eventually joining the paved Mt. Lee Road then winds up behind the Hollywood Sign.

After spending a few moments there and helping a few tourists with pictures of themselves above Hollywood, I began the walk back to the Observatory. I never time this walk because I'm always stopping for so many pictures, but now I'm thinking it's a three hour hike roundtrip, with no stops, or typically a 3 1/2 hour hike. I usually figure the distance is about seven miles roundtrip, given the time it takes to walk. That probably makes it another 1.5 miles roundtrip if you add Burbank Peak.

Just rough estimates, anyway. It's a pretty long hike, though not necessarily difficult if the weather is not too hot, and/or if you have enough to drink in the summer.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hike 2014.015 -- Sturtevant Falls, Angeles National Forest

Well, it's been over two weeks since this hike, though it actually seems like it's been much longer. And, interestingly enough, it's still not the earliest of my hikes that still need to be blogged.

This was basically my first after-work hike of the year, with sunset finally late enough that I could make it up to the foothills after work and still have enough time for a short hike. I thought I'd get more of these in, but being limited to only Monday or Friday after-work times (having other jobs on the other nights) limits my flexibility. Also, Friday afternoons often have really horrible traffic, as the folks in the LA area head out of town for the weekend.

I've hiked this short one many, many times, so no details to add. Just head up to the end of Santa Anita Avenue and park. It's about 4 miles roundtrip from Chantry Flats to Sturtevant Falls.'

My main motivation here was to try out what were then some recently-arrived lenses, and to make up for the fact I had hiked here a few weeks previous, but forgot my camera. So most of my shots on this trip were with my 70-300 Tamron zoom. It's got image stabilization, and I have to say I am quite impressed with the result. Although I braced myself pretty well, the waterfall shots were in the 1/3rd to 1/4 of a second range.

Meanwhile, the wider view is taken with my 18-55mm Nikon zoom. That one also has image stabilization, and produced a very good result.

The only thing I don't like about the 18-55 is that it's a slow lens (f4 - f5.6, depending on the focal length you're zoomed to), so it needs a high ISO, which costs some sharpness. My 35mm and 50mm prime (fixed focal length) Nikons are definitely sharper, and the speed will come in handy when I next try to photograph the sky.

Incidentally, when I get around to blogging my hike previous to this one (to Mt. Lee), I've got some very sharp hand-held shots I took just standing up, down to 1/8th of a second and zoomed in somewhat from 70mm. They also came out super-sharp, so, again, I am very impressed by this new addition to my photo arsenal.

The one thing I have not been able to try this lens much on is birds in flight. If did a fine job on horses at Santa Anita (won't be posting those shots here, but, trust me, it's very sharp). But birds are always tough, because they're small relative to the sky and clouds behind them, and auto-focus lenses often have trouble keeping those guys in focus.

Of course, the nice thing about being able to take long exposures on waterfalls is you get that nice, soft, lacy look to the water.

Longer lenses also tend to give shallow depth of field (the part of image that is in focus). That helps the things you're photographing stand out better, so I do like how my Spanish broom shots came out on this hike, too.

Meanwhile, I switched out to my 18-55mm Nikon zoom for shots like this one. As noted above, the 18-55 is also a sharp lens. Not so the 55-200mm Nikon zoom, which I also bought as part of a kit with my camera. That's the whole rationale for the 70-300 I wound up buying.

Easily finished the hike, with time to spare. As I made my way back, unfortunately, I came to the disgusted realization that I forgot to hang my Adventure Pass on my rear view mirror.

I now regretted having stopped to take so many pictures, fearing my delays might end up costing me a ticket.

Fortunately, the when I finally got back to my car, there was no ticket on my windshield.

Now that I'm older, I don't mind paying for access to a trailhead. Well, OK, yes, if I still look for deals. And, for me, hiking as much as I do, the Adventure Pass is a deal. But I hate paying for something twice, or paying for something, then still getting a parking ticket. My empty windshield thus raised my spirits and made the day close enough to perfect that I felt invigorated going home.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Hike 2014.019 -- Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark

Hiked Sunday, March 23. As mentioned previously, I've had a couple of busy weekends. This was the last of my hikes a few weeks ago, when I squeezed four "official" hikes in three days, and five hikes in five days. All short ones, of course, but it sure felt good to get some mileage under foot.

Amboy Crater is adjacent to Old Route 66. The BLM webpage with info on Amboy and a link for driving directions is here.

From the parking area, the crater rises as a symmetrical cone, but missing its top. It's definitely not the tallest peak in the area, and wouldn't be even if it did have its full cone.

But it is also larger than it may appear. Here, I've got some pictures that zoom on to the western end of the crater, where you can see some hikers on the rim, for a sense of scale. The crater, for example, is supposed to be nearly a mile in circumference.

It's somewhat over a mile from the parking area to the base of the crater floor, which makes it about 3 miles roundtrip, if you also circum-navigate the crater rim.

Along the way, you may (depending on season) see some wildflowers. Occasionally, you'll see a LOT of wildflowers. Other times, you'll see a lot of reptiles.

On this trip, I saw a fair number of wildflowers, and very few reptiles. No chuckwalla.

The site flyer (they had a small number of pamphlets in a box near the vault toilets) said wildflowers are visible in April in May, so I suppose it's possible more are coming? But it's been a dry year, so I'm not sure.

The hike to the crater always seems longer than it is. It's only three miles roundtrip, of course, and only supposed to be a little over a mile from the lot to the rim of the crater. So "longer" doesn't mean "long," but, still, "longer." I hope that made sense.

If not, just ignore that part, but do remember to bring water. Despite the short distance, especially once it starts getting warmer, the water will provide welcome relief.

Once at the crater rim base (on the west side), you have a bit of an incline to scale. The trail first brings you up to the crater "floor" level. Sand has been deposited into the crater by winds over the past 10,000 years or so, so there's a flat area inside. A couple of igneous dikes create the containment for the floor.

On that floor, folks often rearrange dark rocks atop the light floor to write out messages or build figures. On this day, some of the rocks had been rearranged to spell out "LBCC," which undoubtedly was the name of the school with the geology class walking around the crater in front of me. They arrived in four 15-passenger vans, though I did not see 60 students. Only saw about 20. Not sure where the rest were hiding.

The students provided a sense of scale to what I photog-raphed, and also provided unexpected clues to what I would encounter. For example, as one group walked along the rim, it looked like they were swatting around themselves, for no apparent reason. Later, when I got to where they were, I discovered that the ants were swarming out of a dark depression on the rim. Of course, winged ants usually don't sting, so there was no danger of serious pain involved. But they were flying so thick that it was hard to ignore them. When I walked past the area, I eventually broke into a jog, just to get away from them faster.

This was my four short hike of the weekend before last. Earlier that day, I walked Teutonia Peak (not yet blogged). The day before, I took a number of very short hikes that collectively qualified as a hike, all off of North Lakeshore Drive, in Lake Mead National Recreation Area (not yet blogged). And the day before that, I took a short return hike to the Calico Tanks in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. I had hiked there a month or so previous, but forgot my camera. I still need to blog that one, too.

It's been a busy spell of hiking recently, but I like it that way. :D