Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chimineas Ranch and the Carrizo Plains

Chimineas Ranch is a remote and beautiful area just west of the Carrizo Plains National Monument.

The beauty is subtle; the fawn colored hills are sere and seemingly barren - even in early April.

The road meanders endlessly over the rolling hills, light and shadow playing across the far horizon.

Even in such a dry year, there are an amazing number of wildflowers spangling the bleached grasses, carpets of pure gold hugging the lean, sandy soil.

Lasthenia Californica - Common Goldfields

I am fortunate to be invited to view the wildflowers, along with a group that is led by an extremely knowledgeable botanist. Quiet, unassuming, he leads us straight to the areas of greatest interest. At each stop people tumble out of the vehicles, notebooks and reference guides in hand. Plants are scrutinized, animated discussions ensue. More than once loupes are employed to examine pistils, stamens, the tiniest of pollen bearing anthers. At first self conscious (I have no loupe! No field guide!) I soon enter into the spirit of the day and in short order am flinging myself into the grass, camera clicking madly.

In the early afternoon, the group disperses. But as always, the farthest hills beckon and K, L and I hike along a creek into a nearby canyon.

The slopes above the creek are lush with grass - weathered, lichen covered posts bear silent witness to the old cattle ranching days.

Under the trees, elk have matted down the grass as they rest. We spot their distinctive, cloven hoof prints in the damp ground.

As the sun slides over to the west, the colors soften and blur, and lavender shadows wash across the far distant mountains.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Mt. Baldy

We begin our hike in the cool, golden light of early morning. The pack is heavy - in addition to food and water, there are thermals, snow pants, fleece, down jacket, crampons, ice axe. I have a hard time hitting my stride at first - plagued by near constant anxiety for the past several months I am truly out of sorts.

The sight of the Sierra Club hut a few miles up the trail is a welcome sight. We pause to put on our crampons and chat with a few other hikers resting there.

It is cool but not windy on top; we lie back on the sun warmed rocks and for a few delightful moments I actually drift into sleep.

Then the descent to Devil's Backbone, along that frightening ridge line and down toward the ski resort of Thunder Mountain.

The idea is floated: Take the (ancient) ski lift down to the car? Enthusiastic "Yes!" from the others - for me a fear of heights is weighed against the idea of walking solo down the next several miles of dusty, rocky trail in the afternoon sun. I go with the ski lift.

There is a flurry of tickets paid, heavy packs given over to the attendant and almost before I realize it the chair has scooped us up and we are dangling high above the precipice. A squawk of alarm escapes me, I am reluctant to open my eyes.

At last we are safely down, gear collected and we relax with a cup of tea and some 'organic' gummy bears in the waning sunlight.