Monday, April 18, 2016

HIke 2016.016 -- McCullough Hills Trail, Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, NV

Hiked Friday, March 25. 4 miles. First time on this trail. Out on that Bird and Hike website, which had a page on the McCullough Hills Trail. I was unaware of this trail previously, but was trying to find alternate access points to Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, since my access to the Petroglyph Trail became spotty on account of construction in the Inspirada development.
The pictures I saw on the Bird and Hike site made me curious. However, as is often my habit, I only read directions to the trial head carefully. I like to keep the actual hike a bit of a surprise for me.
Access was from the road adjacent to Del E. Webb Middle School and Anthem Hills Park. From St. Rose Parkway (or the Southern Beltway, I-215, which is only a mile or so north of St. Rose Parkway at this point), I took Eastern Avenue south. After about 1.5 miles, Eastern splits, and I stayed to the left, which was Anthem Parkway. At the first light (Reunion Drive, about 1/2 mile away), I made a left. Another half mile on Reunion, and I took the first left, at McCullough Hills Parkway.
McCullough Hills Parkway is a short spur of a road, which runs immedi-ately north of Del E. Webb Middle School, and immediately south of Anthem Hills Park. It ends right after the school, and turns into the trail. The park is on your left. Once in the parking lot, trail parking appears to be to your right, though I'm sure you can park anywhere in the park you want. The park has several ball fields and restrooms, picnic areas, and basketball courts.
The trail is to your east. The Anthem "E" Trail appears to have a formal trail head at the end of the parking area. It's a paved, ADA-accessible trail. (On the other hand, on Google Maps, this trail appears to continue in unpaved form for quite some distance).
I didn't pay enough attention to the write-up to know this. Instead, I just walked back down to McCullough Hills Parkway, turned east, and walked past the End of Road barriers. This put me on the dirt access road that runs along the big brown power line towers. These appear to be the same power lines that run by the access to Petroglyph Canyon, although, in looking at Google Maps, they appear to get down towards Petroglyph Canyon trailhead by making a long job to the southwest, along something labeled "Nevada Power Trail." I guess I caught the east end of this trail during my hike in Sloan Canyon National Conservation area.
For my own hike on this day, I decided to try to stay on the "McCullough Hills Trail," and followed the markers where they were. But there are many crossing trails, and signs that indicate hikers, bikers and horses on one side or the other of parallel trails, and it's not always obvious which trail is meant for which. I tried to stay on the "main" trail, although I clearly got off it for a while, then rejoined it, a bit later.

I somewhat wanted to make it all the way to the tallest mountains to the southeast, but didn't have the time or motivation. I did notice mile markers on some of the signs for the trail, and passed two mile numbers, so I figured I covered something around two miles out. I turned around at the large metal structure, with a nice view of the surrounding hills.
The trail along the way alternated between being smooth, and road-like, with scrubby grasses and creosote, and hard, volcanic rocks. The view also varied, from being dominated by power lines at spots to feeling somewhat isolated. In fact, on my two hours or so on foot, I only saw one or two mountain bikers (I'm not sure if the biker I saw at a distance at one point was the same one or a different one I saw earlier; I don't pay much attention to stuff like that) I saw no other hikers.
And this was a wonderful, comfort-able, warm, dry afternoon. Early spring. One of those days when you think, "What a wonderful day to be alive."
It was also quiet; for the most part, all I heard was the sound of the blowing wind. I guess the planes were using the "diagonal" runway (7L/25R, I think). In any event, they were approaching and leaving far from Henderson this day (a little unusual, since their normal approach is west, parallel to Sunset Road, and right over the condo I stay in when I'm in the Las Vegas area.
I returned the way I came. There were some nice views as the sun dropped, and we got those long shadows and soft lighting that is somewhat rare in the desert, except at sunset or sunrise, and, sometimes, not even then.
Nice view os the Las Vegas Strip in the distance, too. And Henderson, in several directions. Nice trail system that's building here; not sure what it will look like when it's done, nor where, exactly, the housing will stop forever, and what might yet be swallowed up by urbanization. For now, however, it's a nice hike.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hike 2016.015 -- Mount Hollywood, Griffith Park, CA

Hiked Thursday, March 24. I'm very far behind in my blogging, and not easily catching up. This one was from the Thursday before Easter. Just a short hike, before a night shift at the Observatory.
From the Observa-tory, I walked around the parking lot. The first shot is from the parking lot, looking to the east of the trail, which runs along the ridge, over Vermont Avenue.
Lots of wild mustard in bloom. A fair amount of sunflowers, too. And a few phacelia, and fewer Canterbury bells.
Since I'm often at the Observa-tory, this is by far the most common hike I take. I like it because it's great views pretty much the whole way. Los Angeles at the start, then the Hollywood part of Los Angeles below you, then Glendale to the west, the Burbank to the north. Lots of mountains, too.
It's a bit under three miles if you just hike from the start of the trail, up Mount Hollywood, and back. If you add in the distance in and around the Observatory, and take the long way around the mountain top, you might be able to squeeze in a full three miles. Close enough to call it a hike. So a short write-up for now. More to write-up, still.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Hike 2016.014 -- Wilson Canyon

Hiked Sunday, March 20. Still many hikes behind in blogging. And, fortunately, I finally had a decent weekend of hiking, this weekend. So I'm now four hikes behind; I'll be three behind after I finish this post.
I visited this park, twice, in 2010, during my first year of blogging. The first visit is linked here; the second one is linked here. I feel like I'd been here at least once additional time, yet I could not find a third post in a quick google search, so perhaps those were my only visits; if so I should visit, again.

My initial plan was to head for the ridgeline between the Sylmar side fo the mountains and the Placertia Canyon side. However, as is often the case, I got distracted.
As has been mentioned in past posts, Wilson Canyon Park (under the authority of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy), is located immediately adjacent to Olive View Medical Center, in Sylmar. Take Olive View Drive just east of the Hospital, and you'll see access points (there's probably an access point just west of the hospital, too).

The paved road to access Wilson Canyon Park is well-signed. However, parking there requires a $5 fee, and you sometimes feel like a sucker when you pay for something you could so easily not pay for. And you do not pay if you park on the street, and walk in.
I walked on up the driveway, and came across a dirt road that seemed to head directly north, where the paved road turned west. Well, with no particular destination, I took the dirt road.
No idea as I walked up where this trail would lead. I hoped it would continue on up to the ridge, as an alternative to the Pinetos trail. It does not, at least not as a trail. I get the feeling some do use it as a cross-country route straight up, but it would be very steep, and probably not the wisest way up.

Instead, the trail appears to lead to an old home site. There's brick walls or brick retaining walls, flat concrete pads, and the remains of a power box attached to a wooden power line pole. There were also red oleander in bloom, and burned skeletons of what might have been a few fruit trees or shade trees. I'd guess it very roughly as one mile up.
You could go a bit higher, but not easily.

Meanwhile, for the return, there were several options. I could return the way I came, or I could head down the canyon to my west. A well-defined trail headed down into that canyon.

At the bottom, it was wet, though I could not tell if this was a perennial source of water.
The trail then headed down canyon. But there was another spur, that headed east, again. It went up a narrow break in the ridge, then descended into a narrow ravine, into the next canyon over.

As I neared the ridge, the Canterbury bell became thick. Yellow flowers of wild mustard were also common. And there were a WHOLE bunch of large caterpillar, perhaps several variety.
The caterpillar seemed to be eating a plant that was not yet in flower, so I could not identify the plant.

Overall, I had seen a nice collection of flowers: lots of blue dick, lots of filaree, lots of morning glory, some scattered lupine, and several concentrations of purple nightshade.
The way from this ravine back to the Los Pinetos trail was a pretty good walk, so I'd estimate another mile and a half, to that trail. Then probably 3/4 of a mile or more to get back to the car. Somewhere about four miles for the day, maybe five miles. I did not measure it well.
On my return, I passed by several large datura, or Jimson weed, near the parking area. I also passed the remains of a miniature golf course.
Walked between the parking lot and back on to Olive View Road. Then back to my car, and a drive home. Nice walk, lots of green, a fair amount of wild flowers. It was a good, easy walk. Enjoyed it, immensely.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Hike 2016.013 -- Lower Monarch Canyon, Death Valley National Park, CA

Hiked Saturday, March 19. About 7 miles.

I've gotten off to a very slow rate of hiking this year. I'm also still struggling to find the time to blog what hikes I do take. This hike was taken at the end of last week. It was my second visit to Death Valley this spring.
Despite having come mostly for the spring bloom, I have also managed a few hikes over new terrain. Not as many new hikes as if I was not spending a half day or more each trip along the road. The previous blog entry, for example, included a mere 3/4 to one mile, along the road. Very pretty, though. Also, the pictures do not fully convey the feeling of looking over those rolling hills of yellow. It's an amazing sight.
Another slowing factor to my posts is my ancient computer. On days like this, when it's updating, or downloading updates, or running a virus scan, what I type can literally take 20 seconds to appear. It's very frustrating.
My choice of Monarch Canyon was due to having read some wildflower reports from the NPS, which mentioned Monarch Canyon as a place to see a wide variety of flowers. But, though I could see it on my map, an actual description of the trail or hike there was much harder to find.
The best description of the lower canyon section (which, unlike the upper section, is accessible without a four-wheel drive vehicle), was here.
In retrospect, I'm not even sure if the NPS intended to suggest a hike of the lower canyon, or a drive of the upper canyon. Nonetheless, there was a nice selection of flowers in the lower canyon.
My Trails Unlimited / National Geographic map of Death Valley National Park shows a trail that appears to start about a mile east of "Hell's Gate," where the highway that heads into Death Valley from Beatty, NV, and Daylight Pass, splits into a pair of roads, one of which is intended for those heading east on CA-190 (Beatty Cutoff), and those heading west on CA-190 (Daylight Pass Road). You take the Beatty Cutoff Road from Beatty. If coming from Beatty, you take the cutoff east, and the mountains are to your left. Monarch Canyon is the most obvious opening in those mountains.
If there's still an actual trail to this canyon, it's trailhead is very non-obvious from the road. I just picked a spot where my eyeball suggested I was at the same altitude as the mouth of the canyon. That left me more or less on a line between the mouth of Monarch Canyon and the distant Death Valley Buttes, pictured, above.
My plan was to use the buttes as an obvious marcker for getting back to my car. Didn't exactly work flawlessly. And I felt bad, walking over ground that had wildflowers, trying to grow before it got too hot.
Despite feeling like I was walking randomly, I actually did come across a wooden marker that was pictured on the other trail write-up I had come across. And, after that marker, I could see a trace of an old road that I could follow. Didn't manage to find that road on the return walk, though.

The descriptions I read gave a distance of three miles to the waterfall at the canyon's end, with about half that distance being the walk across the relative flat of the alluvial fan to get to the canyon mouth. In real life, however, I felt as thoough, distance-wise, it was more like 2/3 of the distance was spent on the flats. Much of that was just cross-country.
Numerous washes came down off the mountains. I continued heading east, looking for the largest wash, which I figured would head back into Monarch Canyon. Finally found that one.

The wildflowers became more common once in a wash.
The wild-flowers pictured in this post are, in order: desert primrose, brittle-bush, Bigelow's Monkey flower, lessor mojavea, brown-eyed evening primrose, and pebble pincushion. I also saw a few desert five spot, but they were closed, and not that photogenic. A few other flowers that I did not photograph, as well.
Once in the canyon, I came across a few spots with small puddles of water. It had clearly rained a bit, the night before, even in Death Valley (it had poured on me in Beatty).
This canyon, like many in the area, had very twisted rocks. Just a few narrow points before the wall where the water fell. It was mostly comfortably broad, and not claustrophobic.

The waterfall is described as perennial. Still, the flow was not that high, despite this being winter, and with the heavy rain the night before. Probably more magical in the summer time, when it's crazy hot.
This was still. la very nice hike. For starters, it was mostly just me and the canyon. There was one couple heading up canyon as I neared the mouth on the way out. There were a few other cars parked along the road where the owner was not obviously just walking along the road, taking pictures of wildflowers (though, when I left, there were plenty of those, too). And I'm pretty sure that, if they had headed in or back out of Monarch while I was heading in or out, I'd have seen them (It's a pretty unobstructed view on the slope heading towards the mountains).

So whether the other car owners went up some other canyon, or just left their car there and road off with someone else's car for a while, I don't know. But I didn't see them during my walk to and from Monarch Canyon.
By the time I got back to my car, I was ready to go home. Just seeing the crowded parking areas at the more popular trailheads and parking areas deterred me from making an additional short walk. Well, I should say, it made it easier. I was tired enough to call it a day, and the full parking lots just reinforced that inclination.

It's probably a record visitation year for Death Valley National Park.

I have one more trip planned for the park, in early April. So, I shall return. I'm hoping to get at least one decent hike out of that trip, but I'm mostly going for the astronomy outreach. That's assuming they get back to me with additional information, as I have requested. "Marsfest" is April 8-10.

Friday, March 18, 2016

More Death Valley Wildflowers -- 11 March 2016

Visited Death Valley again last weekend. These are either on the Beatty Cutoff to CA-170 or from Badwater Road, south of Badwater. The rolling yellow hills are almost entirely desert gold.

Other than that, the most common flower was what I assume to be notch leaf phacelia. Some looked quite different from others: Some looked like purple versions of fiddleneck, for example. But, near as I can tell, they were all just different growth patterns of the same flower.


Scattered, low patches of desert star were also spotted.

Desert five spot were also mixed into those hills of desert gold.

It was mostly cloudy on Friday, and, by Friday night, heavy rain fell outside of the park, in Beatty, NV. Scattered, lighter rain fell inside the park. Lots of virga, too.

Gravel ghost was common, mostly near roads. Not as common as desert gold, but often mixed in with them. Most were closed, because it was overcast, and windy. Only a few were open, to reveal the five purple spots.

Mixture of phacelia and desert gold.

Sun, breaking through, just a few moments after the dark of the earlier shot.
A wider view, with a person, for perspective. Those rolling hills of yellow were very impressive.