On the Trail of the Elusive Borrego (Bighorn Sheep), Borrego Palm Canyon Hike, Anza Borrego State Park, CA

Anza Borrego State Park is named after the 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista deAnza and borrego, the Spanish word for bighorn sheep.

The park covers 600,000 acres and is the largest state park in California and, the second largest in the contiguous United States. It contains 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 designated wilderness areas, and 110 miles of hiking trails.

The endangered peninsular bighorn sheep, often called desert bighorn sheep, make their home here. It’s said that visitors and residents seldom get to see them as they avoid human contact.

We arrived at the park about 45 minutes before sunset (golden critter hour) and decided to go for a quick run up the scenic and pleasant Borrego Palm Canyon Trail (3.25 miles) before dark.

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We looked up the steep rock studded canyon walls at precarious boulders, wondering if they ever dislodged…We walked part of the way back hoping to see some wildlife.  I told Ken to keep his eyes open. I have terrible eyesight and the stone and sunset shadows are perfect camouflage for anything that wants to evade notice. Then I heard something that sounded like a boulder crashing down…and Ken saw something in the distance…The head bangers in action! A group of 5, the one sitting on the rock officiating looked frail, perhaps an elder. I felt like I was in a National Geographic show. It was amazing!

The next morning we had breakfast at the local coffee shop and while we there we struck up conversation up with a ranger and local at the next table. We shared our adventure and the video on my phone. There was an elderly couple standing nearby, watching me with annoyed faces and their arms  crossed. (Was I talking too loudly or did I steal their table?) Nope, that poor couple had been hiking the canyon nearly ever day for years and had never had a big horn sheep sighting – not even 1. That’s how lucky we were.

Turns out one of the fellows that we were chatting with was the co-creator of the Desert Bighorn Sheep Book that I was browsing through. How cool is that?

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And if all that wasn’t magical enough, on our drive out of the park, this healthy coyote couple appeared to see us off.

Coyotes Close up A B

What are your most memorable wildlife sightings?

Mt. Biking Noble Canyon, Pine Valley, CA: from Heavenly to Hellacious

Was gunho to get away to somewhere new this weekend. Perhaps a little too gunho…Wasn’t quite as thorough with the research as I usually am, but had done enough to know that the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area is a great spot for mountain biking and enjoying great scenery as you traverse 3 ecosystems: mixed-conifer/black oak forest, alpine meadows and desert.

And it certainly served up some heavenly single track around Laguna Meadow and beyond.

 

 

Sublime, right? And so it went for about 6 miles before things took a gnarly turn for the worse. Scattered rocks, became bulky blocks with jagged edges,  boulders and ankle bashing bruisers galore. I didn’t get pictures of these tortuous areas because, I was too miserable fending off hordes of face flies while hike-a-biking my hefty 35 pound bike. Even if I’d had a Go Pro, you wouldn’t have been able to see beyond the blur of flies – that’s how bad it was. Brutal – yes.

We only saw 2 other mountain bikers on the rough lower portion. They were wearing completely padded body armor suits with full face helmets. Another clue that I was way out of my element…I’m tough, but I’m not technical and have horrible eyesight and depth perception so this it was more than a bit hazardous. I’m extremely lucky to have escaped with only a handful of bruises and scratches.

( I later discovered – post-research – that this area is notorious among mt.bikers and is affectionately called Stairway to Hell and Roman Road.)

Here are a couple links to youtube videos on the area.

We kept looking for a route that would loop us back as a couple people at the trail head had mentioned, but we never found it. And there was no way we were going back up the Stairway to Hell…I even thought of abandoning my beater mt. bike and hiking out even though I only had my bikes shoes.

 

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A smile (or grimace) of relief after surviving Stairway to Hell

Instead, we made it out to the Pine Valley picnic area and then out the road. Realizing then that we would have to ride up the mountain via Sunrise Highway. Not much of a shoulder there, but a lesser evil than Stairway to Hell. Climbing 8 miles and 3K feet back to the car after the tortuous Noble Canyon was its own purgatory, and certainly, I’ve learned my lesson about doing my research. Perhaps next time, my BF will read the links I send him prior to departure too. (Snarkyness aside – selfreliance is critical even when you’re with a partner. If we both had read the trail reports thoroughly, one of us likely would have retained which trail to loop back on – though we still might not have found it…)

This day certainly put us to the test. Even though we both keep a fairly high fitness level – it kicked our butts. And to both our credits, we didn’t bite each others heads off. I did come close to meltdown with the face flies on attack while I was hefting my bike over boulder after boulder, but I held it together. We both did, taking the punishment mostly in silent, focused suffering. What was going to be a pleasant morning adventure, ended up being a whole day ordeal. Great workout – not so fun.

I’ve reread some of the trail reports and it sounds like there are other options if you want to avoid the burly section of Noble Canyon. I may be back, but need a cooling off period and time for my bruises to heal first.

Where: 40 minutes from downtown San Diego, near Pine Valley, off of Pine Creek Road North of I8 or off of Sunrise Highway to go top to bottom

What: Noble Canyon Trail, Laguna Mountain Recreation Area

Distance: 19.9 Miles out & back

Elevation  gain/loss: 3,346

Rating: For hiking: Moderate. For Mt. biking: Advanced+++

Notes: Adventure Pass required.

Tip: Bring bug spray and plenty of water. Consider a car shuttle for a 10 mile option. Given that it’s single track and a mountain biker destination, it’s not the most peaceful option for hikers…The trail head maps aren’t great, do your research first. ; )

Have you had any small adventures turn into challenging ordeals? Do tell.

 

Free Flowing in Fallbrook: Santa Margarita River Trail

The Santa Margarita River, aka Temecula Creek / Temecula River, is one of the last free-flowing rivers in Southern California.

The park is said to contain 1400 acres with 14 miles of trails that loop and crisscross the river. Not sure about that, but I do know that the main trail is about 5.5 total out and back. There are a number of offshoot trails, but it’s hard to imagine that they add up to 3x as much distance…

The main trail is a pleasant meander along the river under a canopy of trees.

There are a couple of swimming holes within the first mile or so if you care to take a dip. Before too long you’ll encounter your first of a half dozen creek crossings. Since the terrain is mostly smooth path or sandy, you might consider Tevas, instead of running shoes or hikers as you’ll be taking them on & off frequently. (That being said, if you don’t mind getting your running shoes wet, it’s not a bad spot for a little trail trot.) There are also a couple of lovely little oases along the way.

Apparently, this river corridor is known for raptor sightings and home to deer and other large mammals. We saw one shy turtle basking on rocks and a little fishey who seemed to be guarding her eggs – see video below.

Certainly a great spot to spend an afternoon, have a picnic or take a dip. (I wouldn’t drive too far for it, but if you’re in the area by all means.)

Note: It gets super hot in Fallbrook in the summer, be prepared and bring water.

BEWARE: Abundant poison oak &  quick sand???

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Distance: ~5.5 out & back

Difficulty: Easy – family friendly

Location: Fallbrook near De Luz Road & Sandia Creek Dr intersection, right on Sandia Creek Dr. then the parking area and trailhead are 1.2 miles ahead on the right.

Happy trails!

Santa Ana River Trail: Unsafe, Unsightly & Truly Unfortunate

As a triathlete, I’ve cycled the 30-mile Santa Ana River Trail on multiple occasions. Designated a National Recreation Trail in 1977, it’s the county’s longest cycling and walking trail, running from the Pacific Ocean at Huntington Beach to the Orange/Riverside county line. The vision, now lost, was to create the longest multi-use trail in Southern California with planned extensions to reach as far as Big Bear Lake in San Bernardino County.

Fairly bland for most of the ride, it starts to get pretty near the far end as you pedal along a park in the Anaheim Hills / Yorba Linda area. Here the river opens up to an oasis with green marshes and rolling water frequented by great blue and white herons, geese and other birds. On a clear day the San Gabriel Mountains reveal themselves as the alluring backdrop. If you squint just so, you can block out the concrete that frames the river and the traffic-jammed freeway on the other side. You might even imagine for a moment that you’re in Idaho or some other idyllic place.

Years ago, riding solo I passed a small group of homeless people by a restroom on the trail and remember feeling slightly uneasy. Recently, I heard on NPR that the police had cleaned up the area so I thought I’d give it go since I was going to Orange County for a friend’s 50th birthday party. I guess I should have done my research before I talked my boyfriend into doing the ride with me…

Since the last time I was there, the homeless population has exploded. There was zero evidence of any so called clean up. The area by Anaheim’s Angel Stadium is a wasteland with hundreds of tents and semi-permanent makeshift dwellings strewn on both sides of the bike lane and garbage everywhere. This goes on for a couple miles.

 

 

Homelessness is becoming as American as apple pie and baseball in a society where baseball players make millions and cities can’t help those in need or police their confines.

Who are these people? From what I’ve heard the population is a mix of felons, drug addicts and dealers, the mentally ill, veterans, illegal aliens, variations of all of the latter and other misfortunates. And yes, they are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children.

Are they the new Bedouins or gypsies of 21st century? No, they aren’t nomadic or transient. Make no mistake about it; these squatters have set up homesteads here. They have claimed their corner of concrete, creating walls around their “property” with wooden crates , bamboo screening, solar panels and generators. Several camps fly the American flag and have garden chairs placed in front. Others are less hospitable with wooden “Keep Out” signs propped against the tarps that comprise multi-dwelling compounds. Even in homeless America, bigger appears to be better.

I was relieved to see a volunteer group organizing trash collection. As you can imagine, the path is littered with debris of every kind. A church group was there handing out containers of food. There were a couple of car batteries lined up outside tents along the trail – presumably someone charges them too. These services are doubled edged swords, clearly addressing needs while clearly encouraging the permanence of an untenable situation.

Beyond the main encampment strip that runs a couple miles, I saw a tall, older man emerge from a pop-up tent. He was well groomed and completely buttoned up in an oxford shirt and belted jeans, looking like he might be heading to work. He reminded me of my father.

My boyfriend wanted to turn back at the first signs of  the squalor. He was concerned that we’d get a flat riding over scattered broken glass and be accosted. Since we’d gone that far, I wanted to hold out for the restorative glimpse of natural beauty at the end…

It’s obvious that the situation is entirely out of control. It’s unsafe and utterly unsanitary.  It looks and smells like something from a post-apocalyptic movie, a version of 3rd world lawlessness ―all within walking and biking distance to a couple of Southern California’s wealthiest communities (Newport Beach, Anaheim Hills, Yorba Linda).

The “oasis” was greener than ever; the streaming water sparkling in the sun. The herons, egrets and geese were plentiful. We cycled by two fisherman, surprised when one of them reeled in a good size fish. It was as if we’d been transported to another time and place—an entirely different movie set.

We had 2 near misses on the ride. On the way out, a disheveled woman with 1 front tooth riding an expensive triathlon / time trail bike veered into the path at me from the side lines. Luckily, I was able to swerve and avoid a collision. The ghost of Christmas future or stolen goods?  On the way back, I was behind three cyclists when we went under a bridge. In the darkness, a half naked man ran at us yelling something undecipherable. Luckily, the cyclists in front of me managed to maneuver around him. If I’d entered first, I’m not sure what would have happened. Thankfully, disasters averted.

Apparently, the lack of policing and the escalating homeless population are due to jurisdictional disputes between the Anaheim Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff Department. Whatever the case is, it’s absolutely appalling and a shocking reality of life in 21st century America. It’s hard to imagine this colossal problem being addressed effectively anytime soon while it’s easy to imagine it getting worse. This is another skid row in the making – one among many. (Homeless populations are increasing everywhere in California down the coast from Santa Barbara to Laguna Beach and San Diego.)

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”

W. B. Yeats

For the record, I’m not unsympathetic to the plight of my fellow man and understand that a series of unfortunate events and / or choices can have a cataclysmic impact. We also know that the human spirit can overcome and rise above most events with and without help. Regardless of your perspective, it’s a complicated tragedy. Some might say it’s just one of the many signs of Western Civilization’s decline.

Too melodramatic? Perhaps. What I know is what I’d hoped would be a stress-free bike ride on the Santa Ana River Trail was anything but. I’ve been waiting for my epiphany from this experience – yes, gratitude for my privileged life and what else?

A deeper conviction that I need to live closer to nature somewhere beautiful and under-populated, far away from Southern California. Am I running away? Yes, as fast and as far away as I can. I know, places like Idaho and Montana have their problems too, but I can face them better when I’m breathing fresh air and am surrounded by pristine wilderness.

I thought if it were me, my tent would be under the trees at the oasis overlooking the marsh – far from everyone else. I’d be fine walking a couple miles to partake in the free food and trash services. I would not be flying the American flag.

Do you have a large homeless population where you live? What are your thoughts?

My camera battery died so I couldn’t take more pictures, which is probably just as well as it’s not a place you want to be loitering. It is something you have to see to believe. Below are a couple recent articles in the OC Register with pictures and stories that better capture the extent of the problem.

http://www.ocregister.com/2017/07/19/santa-ana-river-trail-walkers-cyclists-fear-homeless-give-up-outdoor-jewel/

http://www.ocregister.com/2017/07/07/homeless-and-lawless-a-stretch-of-the-river-is-often-unpoliced/

Better yet, here are 2 videos by fellow cyclists – not sure about the happy music soundtrack in the one or the snarky commentary in the other, but they provide a live picture:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yRZbbJ9kyg

Trillium Lake Loop Trail, a place for quick reflection

Trillium Lake Loop Trail, a place for quick reflection

Location: Near Government Camp, ~40 miles southeast of Portland southeast via Highway 26

Distance: ~ 2 miles

Difficulty: Easy

History

This lovely little lake is a man-made gem formed by a dam at the headwaters of Mud Creek, tributary to the Salmon River in 1960. Local lore has it that the lake was created for President Roosevelt because he was so fond of lakes and would be able to see it when he visited Timberline Lodge. Nice story, but President Roosevelt dedicated the Timberline Lodge in 1937 and died in 1945. Anyway it’s a great spot for a reflection photo and  Timberline Lodge is a my top pick for a great spot a getaway.

The Trillium Lake Trail

The loop circles the lake via a series of pine needle paths that meander through a plentiful variety of trees with boardwalks that cross boggy marshland and a meadow via the boardwalks. Yes, you get all that and more  in under 2 easy miles.

As you can tell from my feature photo, this is a great spot to get that quintessential Mt. Hood postcard reflection shot.

Tip: In the summer, you’ll want to go early to avoid the crowds, or you may find yourself among SUP paddlers, canoers, boaters, inner tubers, kayakers, and people swimming and fishing – your reflection and solitude could be marred by the minions – but the beauty should provide some solace.

Looking for an idyllic hike that will take you away from the maddening crowds? Try Paradise Loop at Mount Hood.

Notes:

$ From May 15th – October 1st there’s a $5 day-use fee (Northwest Forest Passes don’t count. )

Winter fun: Apparently the roads around the lake are groomed for cross-country skiers.

There’s family-friendly camping adjacent to the lake too. (Hence the crowds.)

A little slice of something nice: Annie’s Canyon, San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve

If you live in the San Diego area or have visited, you’ve no doubt driven by picturesque San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve countless times via the coast road or the freeway. Perhaps you’ve ventured on trails as well. I have, dozens of times for a run or stroll and I thought I knew all the trails there. (Pretty, but mostly flat and easy fare.) I hadn’t heard about Annie’s Canyon until someone asked me about it. Of course I had to investigate…

But first a couple words about these coastal wetlands. The reserve spans 1000 acres with a total of 7 miles of trails that connect the varied habitats from salt marsh to freshwater marsh areas to coastal sage and chaparral. Wedged between the freeway and the coast highway and surrounded on all sides by Solana Beach, Cardiff and Rancho Santa Fe, the lagoon remains home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals – many endangered. Despite all the encroachment, it’s still a nice spot to savor nature and take in lagoon and ocean views.

Now for the unexpected delight of Annie’s Canyon. After a short, easy, less than mile hike to the canyon (look for signs), you’ll find yourself transported to a miniature canyon-land experience. Sure doesn’t feel like Southern California anymore, more like the slot canyons of Utah or Arizona. While it’s narrow, footing is fairly easy and there’s a steel ladder at the very top. Nothing treacherous here – just fun. It’s a super quickie (5 minutes), but super cool. What a great place to take young kids for a mini adventure with a little supervision and assistance. I know this kid at heart had some fun.

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The view from the top. And no, it’s not a nudist colony, my hottie BF is wearing pants. ; )

 

Notes

Dog friendly in the lagoon – not so much for the canyon unless, they are trick pups trained to go up narrow steel ladders

No bikes

There’s a bunch of construction underway as part of the highway and rail improvements program in the North Coast Corridor. Click here for trail closure updates before you go.

Apparently this spot was previously vandalized and closed and has only recently reopened, which explains why I didn’t know about it. Please enjoy, respect and protect the nature around you.

Location

There are a number of entrances to the lagoon. Here’s ine

Solana Hills trail head address is 450 Solana Hills Drive, Solana Beach. From I-5, take the Lomas Santa Fe Drive exit (exit 37) West. At 0.2 mile  turn right onto Solana Hills Drive for 0.3 mile. Park along the dead end street. There’s also a great nature center on the Cardiff-by-the-Sea side, which is quite nice and you can rent it for private events.

McGinty Mountain Trail: a sweet little gem in Jamul, CA

Location & directions

Trailhead: 13852-, 13998 Jamul Drive, Jamul, CA 91935

~25 miles from downtown San Diego.Take 94 East, exit at Campo Road. Follow Campo Road for ~ 4.5 miles, turn left onto Lyons Valley Road  and then left on Jamul Drive and you’ll see the dirt turnout / parking lot at 0.4 mile.Trail starts at the kiosk.

Main trail

~5 mile out & back

1,400 feet gain & loss

Moderate to strenuous depending on your fitness level

Dog and mountain bike friendly


My take

Drove down from North County for this one and so happy I did. Had low expectations as I’d never heard of this trail, but was pleasantly surprised. What a sweet little gem. This area is part of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. Not as well known as many of the popular SD area hikes nearby Mount Woodson, Iron Mountain, and Cowles Mountain, but definitely a contender for it’s beauty and views.

It’s a great hike with mostly friendly terrain, except for the steepest area not far from the top, which was a bit of a rock field. (If you have tender feet, you might be happier in hiking shoes versus running shoes.) Don’t worry, the steepest area is fairly short so you won’t suffer long.) Mountain bikes are allowed, but I didn’t see any and there were only a few hikers sharing the trail. It’s a good spot for a trail run too. It’s a relatively quick hike and a lovely way to spend a morning or afternoon.

Highlights

Late season wildflowers and wonderful views of San Miguel Mountain and Tecate peak to the East, Mount Helix , Cowles Mountain, El Cajon Mountain, and even Cuyamaca in the distance – apparently on some days you can see all the way to Coronado, Point Loma and the expanse of Pacific. And hiking uphill is always more rewarding —better views and better workout!

 

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Rock scramble at the top – optional.

 

 

Caution

There are no trail signs so stay on the most obvious (widest & well traveled)  route. (You can take a couple viewpoint detours, but return to the main trail.) Be on guard for rattle snakes and ticks and bring water. The trail is exposed the entire way so you’ll want to avoid hiking in the heat of the day.

For more info, visit:

US Fish & Wildlife Service: McGinty Mountain trailhead

View route or download GPX from CalTopo