Saturday, October 24, 2009

Strolling Through Joshua Tree

A Hiker's journal.

3/13/05, 29 Palms Inn, Gold Park cottage

7:30am. The sun has been up for almost two hours; the cool of the night already surrendering. The chords of a light breeze strum a soft accompaniment to the birds. We drive 20 miles or so into the park to the Ryan’s Mountain Trail Head, Cal a little skeptical that the hike would be demanding enough, and thus unworthy of him.

8:00am. We did not find the trail head, but went down the Indian Cave path to a pile of huge boulders. We skirted around them, and cut parallel to the road, freestyling thru the terrain. Quickly, but by chance, we came to the main trail, a well marked and well worn path in a beautiful ascent of random height stone steps. We wondered at the toils of a crew to build such a sculpted trail. It was not long before we were panting, our legs tired at the persistent ascent running diagonally up the mountain. There were 2 mountains, actually. The 2nd was behind and to the right of the first (looking from the trail head origin), and substantially higher. I was glad the trail appeared to ascend only the nearer and lower mountain.

I was carrying a small backpack with 3 bottles of water, 2 oranges, a handful of trail mix, a cell phone (for a clock; no reception in the park), and binocs. Saw a big flying insect that had a brilliant red spot on it; oops, a ruby throated hummer. We saw plenty of lbj’s, ravens, one or 2 hawks with red-tail coloration (but no positive ID), plenty of grey-mottled Side Blotched lizards, a couple of Zebra-tailed lizards (white, long-legged, and speedy) and we were on the lookout for lumbering tarantulas (that’s good), or maybe even a rattler (that’s not so good). Floral sightings: an abundance of little yellow flowers (scale bud?) interspersed with navy blue chias (look like clover buds with spikes) and some yellow desert poppies; an occasional brittlebush (look like daisies); some Canterbury bells, which are brilliant purple trumpet shaped flowers about a half to 2 thirds the size of my little finger, hanging on tall gangly shoots. Subtly but abundantly painting the ground were little light purple blooms, not an inch tall and maybe a half centimeter or a little more in diameter – my best guess is that it was purple mat, but I’m not convinced. Stunning. The cute but viciously unforgiving chollas were scarce, but there were a lot of creosote bushes and other low ground cover, plus a few pinyon pines clinging in the shelter of the rocks, often in seeming defiance of a functional root system.

Our stops became more common and our legs a bit wobbly, and it was clear we weren’t even half way up. Sweating heavily, and breathing heavily, when I stopped I could feel my heart thumping. But the scenery and vistas kept changing, and becoming more spectacular. As we looked closely we could see the hillside was a vast palette of colors working around a basis of deep-gray green and deep gray-blue, with light green tender plants filling in the Cezanne-like color patches, and a thousand highlights of white in the bark and rock, and of course the milky way of star-like yellow flowers, amid the light gray boulder outcrops.

As we became increasingly tired, we wondered if we got this tired on the 6 mile Kauai hike or the climb at Organ Pipe with Rick and Isaac, or the 8-miler back and forth to Lost Palms Oasis in the south of Joshua Tree with Rick, Isaac, and David. We must have, but the memory of it is washed away. Even now, writing this, not 5 hours later, I can’t remember what it felt like, only that we discussed it at length as we made regular stops on the trail.

We passed a few hikers coming down, and they assured us we were closing in on the peak, when suddenly we got to a saddle between the two mountains. The peak of the lower one was at hand, but, woe and despair, the trail turned right, up towards the higher peak. But now, for some reason, perhaps the carbs were kicking in from the snack we had 15 minutes before, but first me, then Cal got 2nd winds, and we began to pick up the pace. Also motivating us, we saw that a couple, maybe in their late 30's or early 40's were catching up to us. That was not acceptable.

The views were stunning. I mentioned that a moment ago but got sidetracked. The vast flat valley, once a seabed; the sharp, jagged rock out crops, both small and large; the mountain ridges, some totally barren and unearthly rugged, others gray green from the exuberance of a wet winter. Then the further ridges fading into the light blue gray, and beyond to the faded blue horizon, with the cerulean blue of the sky quickly turning brilliant, almost crystalline, as your gaze rises towards the zenith. With every turn in the trail the view would change. Now a valley lowland would disappear and only the higher mountain ridges would be visible; now the vista would open up into a vast expanse. We coiled around to the far side of the mountain, to a whole new panorama. And now we began to close in on the summit. The climb leveled off to a modest slope, and the trail went from rock to smooth fine gravel and dusty sand/soil. Cal began to run, pushing himself to the limit, and I walked faster, unable to drive myself to run.

The peak was at about 5400+ feet, and I estimate the vertical climb was 1500-2000 feet, on a 1.5 mile trail. Is that possible? We did it in about one hour or a tad less. The view from the top, as all the climbers we passed assured us, was unparalleled in all 360 degrees. The seabed valley extending south for 20 miles or more, enclosed by layer after layer of upthrusted ridge. We sat on a great pile of rubble rock that marked the summit, eating a bit, drinking, resting, drinking in the view, arrested by it. After about 15 minutes we headed back down, Cal wearing the backpack now. We started out about 3-400 meters behind the couple that had “pushed” us on the way up. We decided we wanted to pass them, but we really didn’t think we could since they were clearly hustling. Nonetheless, in short order, almost running, we caught them, exchanged a few niceties, and powered on, walking pretty much at top speed all the way down, keeping them in our rear view mirror, and stretching our lead little by little. The walk down was easy, shockingly fast and easy, and my knee didn’t start aching at all, which surprised me. I thought we were only about a quarter down, when suddenly we saw we were almost at the trail head! We freestyled it the last 300 or so feet of vertical descent, as the rigors of the climb had already faded almost out of memory.

We headed back to our cabin, and just before the park gate we pulled off to explore a wide wash leading to two low but steep hills. They looked like a piece of cake to climb, but appearances are deceiving. This whole hike was freestyle, and the hill we dubbed “little round top” was a hard climb over and around boulders and slippery fine gravel. When we reached the top both of us were ready to turn back and head home. Only this to say: the flowers on this hike were even more dramatic and dense than on the mountain trail. We were back at the car after about an hour’s hike, and more than ready to chill.

Profiles: Cal is ten years old, medium height and weight, strong. I am 54 years old, slim, and losing my muscle tone: too much thinking, not enough sports.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Scientific Poetic Fragments

Arkettekcherrel Fragmenz Ammung the Ruwenz

You are not what you appear to be.
Consciousness is not a clear glass;
The world is not a polished mirror.
As a drop of water is distinct
     From the vapor that expressed it,
A different state of itself;
As salt dissolved is distinct from its crystal form,
So are we,
From a finer matter condensed into living crystal,
And distorted by sense, and the coarseness of thought.

Speken on the sixth day:
     “O mordel Addom
     “I will kreyate a werl with yu.
     “I will brake yu
     “An grate lite will por frum yur mienz.
     “I will replakkate yu,
     “Bilden bloks aplentee,
     “All simmaller an uneek.
     “I will press yu and twist yu
     “An stress yur hart
     “Tu make yu a lume
     “An weev a bodee a lite
     “Kompilen yur faent flashen.