Click the trail you want to follow:
of Toro and Santa Rosa Peaks
Drive up Santa Rosa Mountain Road, Short hike to Santa Rosa Peak and
Mountain Bike ride down mountain
trip to hike bench below Toro Peak
Can mountain peaks be shapeshifters,
tricksters playing with travelers attempting to venture too high? On our first
attempt to reach the tallest peak in the Santa Rosa range in April, a freak
storm had dumped snow in rivers of white down deep ravines. At 7,000 feet, deep
ruts in the snow on the steep road turned us back. This hot September day finds
us under blue skies trying again to reach Toro Peak’s 8,716 foot mysterious
Winding by car 19 ½ miles up the Palm to Pines
Highway 74 from Palm Desert, T.M.
and I reach its junction with the Santa Rosa Mountain road marked with a large
red wooden sign. Mom and Dad have decided to forego this bumpy twisty ride up a
On the Trail
of Toro and Santa Rosa Peaks, the road takes us into a land of
ribbonwood and manzanita. Only a painter could do justice to the melding of
first mile is the worst; ruts and potholes wrench the gut. By mile 6, the life
zone gives way to a bower of weathered oaks and by mile 9, tall Jeffrey pines
mingle with firs on shaded slopes. Epithets are scrawled on the rocks and
written on the trees. “Rocks don’t burn but trees and man will.” Dire
warnings from the erstwhile
Arkansas preacher we had read about? Certainly not the usual Forest Service
an hour of bumping along the rutted rocky path cut into the mountain in the
1940s, at mile 10, we limp to the side of the road with a flat tire. Santa Rosa
calling the shots again?
As T.M. fiddles with the jack, I begin a unexpected
leisurely roadside study of the forest. Crushing pine needles between my fingers
releases an aroma of lemon and vanilla. The Jeffrey pines stand guard; a wild
flower daisy with a delicate face the size of a quarter cheers me up. Perfection
so small can easily be overlooked against the immensity of the pines. Blooming
rabbit brush stains the open woodland with yellow. Hunters with bow and arrows
but no deer across the hood of their Jeep stop to ask if we are OK.
valley near Pinyon Flat swirls below in a smoky hazy brew. Up here at 8,000
feet, this is the coolest place in Southern California to have a flat. The
unforeseen incident has caused us to forego a cross-country hike to Toro Peak
for a saunter up the road to her near twin, 8,070 foot Santa Rosa Peak.
three-way fork in the road, we ramble to the right. The woods silent except for
our footsteps crunching, our setting is idyllic. Then the piercing sounds of a
radio and distant voices tell us we are no longer in isolation. Campers claim
flat beds of two old pickups hold several campers lying on mattresses. Four dogs
bark at us. T.M. explains we have come to see Desert Steve’s cabin. The
friendly camper asks if we know him? We laugh to ourselves knowing Desert Steve
Ragsdale came to the Santa Rosas in the 1930s, died in 1970 at the age of 87. In
a way we feel we do know him from his roadside warnings and the story of his
cabin on 560 acres of mountaintop.
individualist and pioneer of the desert hailed from Arkansas. An itinerant
preacher with a feel for the future, he opened a gas station and lunch counter
in the Chuckwalla Valley in the early 1920s, offering free water to the few and
far between travelers. When the road to Desert Center was paved, Interstate 10
ran right through his now thriving enterprise. Desert Center later became the
gateway for the southern entrance of Joshua Tree National Monument, now a
that is left is the two story chimney,” the camper points out. “The cabin
burned down 4 months ago.” Heedlessly, he talks of the fire they built just
last night here and we wonder if the cabin burned because of another camper’s
carelessness. We had read Steve posted signs at the cabin: “Decent folks
welcome” and “enjoy but don’t destroy.”
that the pioneer’s landmark cabin has disappeared despite Desert Steve’s
dire warnings, we walk cross-country away from the blackened chimney, climbing
ridges and rocks to a private picnic haven. Here, we loaf on the rocks of
Steve’s lush green peak high above the somber palette of the brown desert
below. Toro Peak, about a 1 ½ mile away rises
toward the east then drops precipitously to the canyons below.
are cradles of myth and legend. According to Patencio, the Cahuilla called Santa
Rosa mountain “Weal um mo.” Yellow Body, an Indian cultural hero, sat down
here to extract a troublesome cholla cactus spine from his foot. He threw the
spine on top of a stone and it blossomed into a mountain. Weal um mo.
Peak, from which we have been turned back twice, was taboo; a place of evil
spirits. Today, it is owned by the Indians and the summit is leased to the
finds a hawk feather and we joke saying our trip up the mountain could be a
feather in his cap. A lone hawk,
possible owner of the feather, soars, drafting off the air currents. A small
gray bird swoops down and catches a black and yellow butterfly in his beak.
Purple flower clusters lift their blossoms to the sun on finely branched Santa
Rosa sage. Wind blows in the tree tops.
long resting at its end, I am the lucky one who gets to vibrate, bounce and
plummet on my mountain bike down the road while T.M. tails in the car. I go down
past the pines out of the shadows quickly into the sunlit chaparral.
Plumes of ribbonwood flowers have turned champagne gold and rust, tinges
of fall. Thunderheads of afternoon clouds cause black silhouettes to play hide
and seek on the green hills. Bike and car finish at the same time;10 miles of
bone-shaking road fun in 51 minutes. Later inquiry at the Idyllwild Ranger
Station tells us that Desert Steve’s cabin fire is still an unsolved mystery.
we led astray by mountain vagaries? Does Toro Peak twist the plot or was it just
fate turning us in a direction we had not planned and did not resist. Perhaps we
will find out when we test the upper reaches of
“Weal um mo” once more.
Excerpt from Peaks, Palms and Picnics Day Journeys in the Mountains &
Deserts of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley of Southern California ©
Linda Pyle 1999
UPDATE RETURN TO TORO PEAK SPRING 2001
On Memorial Day we once more drove up Santa
Rosa Spring Road wondering if today would be the day. The deep marine
layer the coast was experiencing filled in the valleys to the west with white
clouds but the mountain was all sunshine. Our Tundra truck gave us a soft
rocking ride up the rough road like being on a horse or in a stagecoach.
After about an hour of driving, we passed the area
where we had the flat. As we jumped out of the truck we were warmly greeted by violet green swallows swooping over our
head. Instead of climbing to the top of Toro Peak with its intrusive
microwave tower, we chose to follow a lower cross country trail which provided spectacular
overlooks to Anza Borrego.
The wind was cool and pine-scented. A woodpecker made a tat-a-tat-tat sound on
the Jeffery pine. Our hiking shoes crunched on the fragile soil. Blue butterflies
lit on blue penstemons.
We remarked the
show of wildflowers to be the most spectacular we have seen. We picnicked
on rocks surrounded by Indian Paintbrush and odd looking plant called Bladder
It was possible we were walking an Ancient Indian
trail used by the Cahuilla Indians moving back and forth between desert and
Driving up the mountain requires a high
clearance vehicle. Snow may be encountered in winter, early spring and late
fall. From Palm Springs take Highway 111 and turn right on Highway 74 (the Palm
to Pines Highway) in Palm Desert. Proceed
up Highway 74, 18.9 miles to Santa Rosa Spring Road marked with a large wooden
sign. Drive up the road and at mile 10, park and walk or continue driving the
one mile up to Santa Rosa Peak.
To reach Toro Peak, pass the turn off to Santa Rosa
summit to a locked gate 1 mile past Stump Springs. This will be a total of
12 ¼ miles from Highway 74. Park and proceed on foot past the gate 1¼
miles going right at two forks to the summit. There is communication
equipment installed here.
Fires are allowed at the Toro Camp and Santa Rosa Springs with permit.
CDF permit can be obtained by mail from the Cleveland National Forest office:
will need a National Forest Adventure Pass to park vehicles in the Forest for
recreation purposes. You do not need a Pass to travel through and not stop.
Information: 909-620-6208. Daily pass: $5.00, annual pass: $30.00.
They are available for purchase at local Sport Chalet’s or REI Coop
1/2 cup pitted and chopped oil preserved black olives
2/3 cup green olives, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped fine
2 tablespoons capers, drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
½ pound Provolone cheese, sliced
½ pound ham or turkey ham, sliced
½ pound Genoa salami, sliced
6 large bakery buns or crusty baguette
together black and green olives, cilantro, capers, garlic and marjoram.
If desired brush bread halves with olive oil. Spread
olive mixture on one half of each bun. Top with cheese and meats. Press down
make day ahead, use crusty baguette, scoop out soft bread, layer filling and
wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Serves 6.
Weekend in Julian
Mountain Biking Big Laguna Trail, Laguna Mountain,
Cleveland National Forest
Bundled up in fleece jackets, we wheeled down Big Laguna
trail. Fallen oak leaves crunched and acorns popped under our tires. We had
ridden the Grand Loop in Rancho Cuyamaca the day
before. Still saddle sore, we
agreed to a moderate, short ride today. Parking at the Pioneer Mail
trailhead thinking it was Penny Pines, we made a mistake which caused us to cross the
Sunrise Highway and slip down the road looking for the trail. Something was
wrong. We doubled back, checked and rechecked the map. “This must be
it?” Still unsure, we pedaled back down Rattlesnake Valley. Being a little
lost didn’t subdue the joy of four friends sharing the cool, crisp November
wind and blue sky of Laguna Mountain.
San Pasqual Battlefield State Historical Park
Our annual Julian weekend had begun at a place
where the bloodiest battle of the Mexican-American War took place. For years
we had zoomed past the San Pasqual Battlefield State Historical Park, (east of
Escondido) and each time vowed to return one day to explore. Today, we had
finally allotted time to stop on our way to Julian. Unfortunately the Visitor
Center was closed on Friday, so we wandered up the hiking trail overlooking
San Pasqual Valley. Solemnly, we stood to read the plaque mounted on a huge
State of California Honors with this monument the American soldiers who under
the leadership of Brig-Gen Stephen W. Kearny, Captain Abraham R. Johnston,
Captain Benjamin D. Moore, Edward F. Beale, U.S.N. and Kit Carson, the Scout
gave their lives in the battles of San Pasquale between the Americans and
Mexicans December 6-10, 1846.
The U.S. and Californio armies clashed
here. After it was all over, both Generals Stephen Kearny and Andres Pico
claimed victory. This peaceful valley seemed an unlikely battlefield where
fixed bayonets slashed and shots rang out, leaving 21 Americans dead. The
soldiers had no trees for cover, just the broad green paddles of tangles of
prickly pear cactus and low brush. The trail wound up over the high ground
where we could view the battleground below us and in the other direction, the Wild
Animal Park boundary.
At the end of the short trail, the details
of the battle still a mystery to us, near the visitor center we found another plaque
that said it had been originally mounted under a large sycamore tree on Camp
Pendleton. This tweaked a memory from several years ago that tied into the
planning of this battle by the Californios. My nephew was married at a chapel
on Camp Pendleton Marine Base to the northeast. Camp Pendleton once
was Rancho Santa Margarita Y Las Flores, a Mexican land grant to Californios
Pio and Andres Pico. As we had waited for the wedding to start, we had
wandered outside the chapel to a grove of old sycamore trees where a sign
read: Under this tree Leonardo Cota and Jose Alipas planned the battle of
San Pasqual in 1846. The sign here today explained: that as officers in
Andres Pico’s command, these men were interested in the recapture of San
Diego. As the battle at San Pasqual was unplanned up until several hours
before it happened, it is more likely that Cota and Alipas were planning the
recapture of San Diego or the capture of Captain Archibald Gillespie and his
California Riflemen and sailors.
Planning to return in December to witness the
re-enactment of the Battle of San Pasqual and learn the hard-to-come-by
details of this fight, we slipped back along the winding pastoral road to
Julian. T.M, usually in a hurry, surprised us by stopping the car in Santa
Ysabel; a small hamlet nestled at the elbow of Highway 78 and 79. At the Apple
Country Restaurant we enjoyed a superb lunch and trotted across the street to
meander through the books and art at the General Store. The shopkeeper’s
dogs mugged for the camera.
Back across Highway 78, the Santa Ysabel
Art Gallery Halloween exhibit had us laughing at ghoulish, outlandish art. An
original oil painting in the very back of the gallery revealed a lone black
oak tree in yellow fall splendor against a cerulean blue sky. The painting
foreshadowed the scenery that was to unfold to us while riding the Grand Loop
through Cuyamaca Rancho Park and Laguna Mountain in the days to follow.
In Julian, we stocked up on mountain berry
and an apple crumb pies before the weekend crowds descended on the tiny town.
Pies in hand, we headed for “The Palace.”
The Pines Palace
Always searching for the perfect secluded
cabin accommodations, just two weeks earlier I had cancelled a reservation,
which upon inspection was found to be part of a dense cluster of crowded cabins. At the
last minute, I located a cabin on the Internet and booked it sight unseen. My
companions were skeptical. Why was this place still available at the height of
the apple season and why did we have to bring our own linens?
Upon first inspection, the upstairs of
this tri-level cabin in the pines was pleasant, sunny and warm. A loveseat and
couch invited lounging near a great fireplace. A lovely deck with table and
chairs overlooked towering fragrant pines. Nestled on a ridge of
pines, the secluded location was a ten. The last rays of the setting sun
drenched the ridges viewed from the living room. “Ah, it is a palace you
see!” I said feeling vindicated.
But further examination revealed flaws: a
kitchen on the middle level that was sunless and drab, suspect old food
particles clinging to each dish and utensil pulled out of the cabinets,
requiring washing before use. The 2nd of two promised
bathrooms, (really a ½ bath) off the kitchen had an unusual appliance, a microwave
installed in it. The toilet came with a permanent “do not use until plumber can fix” sign on it. The full
bath sported a squishy, soaking wet furry bath rug. (The source of the
leaking water was never discovered.) The bedrooms, dark cave-like chambers
where one might imagine mushrooms sprouting, chilled to the bone.
T.M. and I opted to sleep on the loveseat
and couch by the fire while our friends slept in the bottom full-sized bunk
bed, happy to have brought their own linens. The 1960’s vintage TV received two
fuzzy stations. “What about the football games?” After a lot of grousing
and recriminations from T.M. for booking this place, we settled in with a
sense of humor about the Pines Palace. After all we were here to mountain
Pine Hills Lodge Dinner Theatre
That evening we escaped to Radio Gals,
a musical comedy at the Pine Hills Lodge and Dinner Theatre. Set in the late
1920’s, the play has enterprising Hazel Hunt of Cedar Ridge, Arkansas broadcasting on the
local airwaves then coming under the scrutiny of Herbert Hoover. “Toe tapping, rib
tickling array of novelty songs that set hearts a- thumpin,” our program
read. It did deliver all that and some local top-notch musical talent.
Big Laguna Trail (so we thought)
On Sunday we packed up the Toyota Tundra,
then locked up, bid goodbye to the Pines Palace and drove to the Laguna
Mountain Recreation area. The Pioneer Mail trailhead sign at the parking area
made for good picture taking. So there was no
doubt as to where we were. The only problem was the Big Laguna Trail started at the
Penny Pines area not Pioneer Mail. We followed a jeep trail south through
Rattlesnake Valley two miles enjoying moderate, rolling terrain. So it gave
way to plenty of hike-a-bike and plenty of grumbling. Arriving at the first
trail signs, we soon discovered we had earlier started at the wrong place. We had
ended up on Indian Creek Trail and turned left up to Noble Canyon Trail. We
calculated now to complete the Big Laguna Loop would mean biking 20 miles
today. This daunting mileage dashed high hopes fed by blue-sky
optimism and we retreated. Finally after several miles and about an hour of
pedaling, we dropped down to the Penny Pines parking area where we should have
started. It now crawled with
hikers and bikers. We sped down Sunrise Highway back to the solitude of the
Pioneer Mail trailhead picnic grounds.
Seated at a picnic table, we wolfed down
sandwiches. Surrounded by a ring of many ancient black oak trees and soaring
pines, the dappled sunlight filtered through golden leaves burning like hot
yellow suns. I leaned back to
take in the royal splendor of the spreading crown of oak trees that formed a
rooftop canopy over us.
“This is it!” I said with a mouthful.
“This is how the story ends! The palace setting we’d been searching for
all weekend is here! The true Palace is this clearing in the forest at Pioneer
Mail and we weren’t even supposed to be here!”
My companions kept eating without
responding to my revelation. I pulled out a small red notebook and jotted down
so I wouldn’t forget: The true Pines Palace is the clearing at Pioneer
Mail. The other was a fake. There are no flaws here.
Then the wind blew through the Palace
chilling us. We packed up the last bits of food, secured the bikes to the rack
and headed home leaving the picnic grounds empty. Snow would fall on the
Palace that same week.
I checked Webster’s dictionary on the
definition of a “palace.” It said: the official residence of an exalted
personage: a large and stately mansion: a building and a large and usually
ornate place for entertainment. I’ll add to that a personal definition: “a clearing in a forest of black oak and pine trees."
San Pasqual Battlefield State
Historic Park Operating hours: open Saturday, Sunday and holidays 10-5 Located adjacent to the San Diego Wild Animal Park,
15808 San Pasqual Valley Road, 8 miles south of Escondido on Highway 78.
Santa Ysabel Art Gallery 30352
Highway 78 at Highway 79. Santa Ysabel, CA 92070 760-1676
The Apple Country Restaurant 30270
Highway 78, Santa Ysabel, Ca 92070 1-760-765-3495
Pine Hills Lodge and Dinner Theatre
2960 La Posada Way, Julian California 760-765-1100 Call for current
productions and calendar of events
Laguna Mountain Recreation Area
From Julian: Drive south on Highway 79
for about 6 miles to the Sunrise Highway (S1) turnoff. Laguna Mountain
Recreation Area, Cleveland National Forest is about 7.5 miles
From Interstate 8: About 45
miles east of downtown San Diego, take the Sunrise Highway exit and head
north about 5 miles.
PLEASE NOTE: To park must display the Adventure Pass. Can be obtained at the
Visitor Information center open Friday –Sunday.
Big Laguna Trail
Follow directions above and park at the Penny Pines Parking area between
mile marker 27 and 27.5. Maps available at visitor center. Display Adventure
Pioneer Mail Trailhead Picnic Area
On the Sunrise Highway at mile marker 29. Maps available at visitor
center. Display Adventure Pass.
Copyright © All rights reserved 2000 Linda
Oakzanita Trail, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park (near Julian)
"Curses!! Foiled Again!" The villain, Desmond
Delancy, a giant of a man wearing a black stovepipe hat, twirls his handlebar moustache then draws his black cape
over his face as he exits the
stage. Boooo!!! Hiss!!!! The audience taunts. Sweet Amanda is in danger of being
lured away from the hero, Archibald Gimlet. "Don't go
with him, don't get into the carriage!" We shout warnings to her. She
doesn't listen and takes Mr. Delancy's arm. If Archibald doesn't return to save
her what will happen to his fiancée up on the mountain? And what will happen to
the miners of Cuyamaca?
Is this The Young and the Restless? No.
It's Friday night in Julian. After a delicious dinner at Romano's, we are seated in the back of the Julian town
hall. While out strolling the dark street we heard the hoopla and caught the last act of the Stalwart Surveyor, this
year's annual Triangle Club's play.
The Stalwart Surveyor
It is opening night and the cast, the
play and first night bloopers have us laughing all the way to the end. Very
funny and professional! Bravo, we tell the cast waiting outside to greet us.
"You are a great villain, Mr. Delancy."
"Why yes," he says. "Everyone of
us has some villain in them!"
The streets roll up. Back at the 100 year old
Julian Lodge we go to get a good nights rest before biking the Oakzanita trail. The
next morning after an expanded continental breakfast in the antique-filled lobby,
we buy a cherry/apple pie at Mom's and hit the trail before the mob of tourists
We park at the East Mesa Road trailhead. Early
morning breezes and a gradual uphill ride keeps us cool and pedaling
easily up the road. I am always struck by the nostalgia of a bower-covered road.
A simple passage, so civilized and lovely. I have a series of pictures of my
beloved bike on the road in the foreground with oak trees in the background.
When I turn around to make another such image, I notice a marine layer,
dark and thick smothering the coast like a black pillow. I'm glad to be up
here breathing the pine-scented air in the sun.
Soon we come to a junction where a right turn
takes a single track trail to the summit of Oakzanita Peak. We continue straight
ahead through a flat area and come to rest at a favorite oak tree which might
take 4 or more people to encircle with clasped hands. We've ridden about 50
minutes but this will be our turn around spot. We munch on snacks sitting
beneath the oak's sprawling umbrella of leaves.
"Meet you at the car," T.M. speeds away
from me. The sweet reward of the downhill is made sweeter by Bob Dylan's
song, It's All Over Now, Baby Blue playing over and over in my
further information: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, 12551 Highway 79, Descanso,
CA 91916 Park Headquarters: 619-765-0755
to Julian/ Lake Cuyamaca-
From Los Angeles if you are south of the Garden Grove Freeway (22) take
I-5 south to I-805 south to I-8 east to State Highway 79 north until you come to
Lake Cuyamaca. (It is approximately 2 hours from Santa Ana.) Others
take the 91 or the 60 or the I-10 east to I-15 south to State Highway 79 south
at Temecula. (Once you leave the freeway you are about 1 hour away.)
From downtown San Diego take I-8 east to State Highway 79 north. ( about
15 minutes after you leave the freeway.)
Oakzanita Trail is accessed from
the East Mesa trailhead of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Maps available at the
visitor center. Moderate climb. The singletrack to the peak is more technical.
Watch for hikers and horses.
Julian Lodge Built in 1885 it is one block
off the main street of Julian. 1-800-542-1420
Julian Melodrama Stalwart Surveyor
at the townhall October weekends of 6-29. Tickets: $5.00 for adults and $2.00
for children 4-12. Performances: 7:30 pm Friday and Saturday; 1;30 pm Saturday
and Sunday. Well worth going!
Photo Gallery of Blue Sky Ecological Reserve
Blue Sky is located on Espola Road about 1/2 mile north of Lake
Poway Road in Poway, San Diego. The 700 acres of hilly terrain covered
with coastal sage scrub and fragrant chaparral also includes cool shady hollows
bowered by coast live oak, willow and sycamore trees. We hiked 3 miles to reach
the dam and Lake Ramona. Fishing is allowed at the lake. The reserve has guided
nature walks on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 9:00 am.
Click on pictures for large photos
of Palomar Mountain
Mountain Biking up the Nate Harrison
thick coastal fog near the intersection of Interstate 15 and
Highway 76, we drove 12.8 miles farther along pastoral Highway
76. Turning the car up the Nate Harrison
Grade Road lined with
citrus groves, we parked our cars on the side of the road and began
our attack up the southwestern flank of Palomar Mountain.
was the reason my husband and I were there. Though we had never
met Steve, he had met our
biking companion at a party and they had set
a date to do this ride. We were invited to tag along. Steve was a no-show
that morning which should
have been our first clue as to what was in store
for us---4100 vertical feet of climbing.
spread out single-file, like a chain
gang, and pedaled steadily up.
The climbing paid off immediately with views to the coast where fog
still shrouded the landforms and of Mexico in the deep distance. We
out of the sizzling Pauma Valley. The hot benevolent sun beat down
on the neat rows of citrus trees cultivated on the
shifting gears whined shrilly as if the Indy 500 race was
along the roads below us.
mile 5, I found my red-faced husband sitting on the side of the road
black oak tree munching his sandwich—bonking big time. After
food, rest and
some mutual encouragement, we mounted our bikes and
resumed climbing. Old trucks filled with ranch hands drove
waving, flashing sympathetic smiles. Stiff-kneed and saddle sore, we
pushed on and on and on.
after several hours, we reached an altitude where
trees cast deep
shadows over the road. The shady lane
renewed our spirits for a brief moment before bugs swarmed us
as if we were cattle. Plagued by gnats, we steered with
one hand and
used the other to flutter our bandannas in front of us to keep them
We rode. We walked. We rode some more. Still the endless climbing
not stop or offer any respite. A small voice in my head urged me to
call it quits. My head pounded.
We rode on. After all if Steve had done
it, couldn't we?
urged each other on until finally a sign on the road read "Palomar
headquarters 1.7 miles." With 4100 feet of vertical conquered,
the first time in over 3 hours I was able to shift out of my granny gear.
pavement never felt so good! My husband muttered, "Thank
heaven for small favors!"
Silvercrest Picnic Area
At the Silvercrest
Picnic area at 5000 feet it seemed the trees welcomed
our arrival. The gnats were
gone and we sat in a lovely picnic area
surrounded by thick-trunked incense
cedar trees. Their fragrant scent
revived us. After resting and filling our camel
backs with fresh cold
water, we buttoned down for the chilly downhill ride.
freefalling downhill is a great joy but after this punishing climb,
each rut jarred stiff necks, bumps taxed tired legs and speed blurred the vision.
Finishing the 18 mile ride in 4 1/2 hours,
including our time at the top,
my husband remarked with sarcasm, "The only smart one today was
as with all difficult rides, on the way home, we forgot the pain
in the tired glow of accomplishment. Steve was the catalyst that
pushed us beyond our limits to reach a pinnacle called Palomar. Thank
you, Steve, whoever you
Intersection of Interstate 15 and State Highway 76, proceed approximately
12.8 miles and turn left on the Nate Harrison Grade Road. About 3 miles up, park
off the road. Stay off private property and citrus groves. It is 18 miles out
and back. Bring plenty of water. Water available from a spigot in the
Silvercrest Picnic area.
1999© Linda McMillin Pyle
of the Grand Loop
Rancho Cuyamaca State Park,
near Julian in San Diego County
My mountain biking
friend and I are Libras, our birthdays two days apart in October. Our tradition
is to celebrate by treating ourselves to a weekend
mountain biking trip to
Rancho Cuyamaca State Park. Just forty miles
east of San Diego, this well-kept
secret haven features over one hundred
miles of riding and hiking trails winding
through rolling oak
woodlands and climbing into forests of white fir, incense
and four different kinds of pine trees.
My husband and I met
our friends for lunch at the Julian Café in Julian, California. This
trip we were introducing a new mountain biker to the
Grand Loop trail.
Once a gold mining town, that day Julian was filled with car-rally drivers and
tourists. After a delicious lunch and a quick stroll along the falsefront store
facades, we purchased our apple
pies, another tradition---one crumb-style from Apple Alley and one regular crust from
Mom’s---and the crowds were left behind. Instead of staying near Julian,
we headed south 9 miles to Lake
Cuyamaca and an A frame cottage called Hansen’s
into the cabin zapped us back into the 1970s---a snapshot frozen
in time of
classic yellow and brown color theme accented with pictures,
doodads we all recognized from our own family homes.
soon forgot about the decor while gazing from the living room
decks at an idyllic scene, the wind rippling
the water on Lake Cuyamaca.
quiet location satisfied our need to get away from asphalt, concrete and the
fast pace of the city. While we unpacked, Scott, yelled for us to come down
stairs right away! “Look---two foxes outside the window near the apple
tree! There! Right outside the picture window!” That was why we had come here!
that night, a confusing array of stars shimmered against the dark sky.
At home, we rarely bothered to
look up. Here, after some searching, I found
the Summer Triangle, three bright stars, Vega, Altair
and Deneb. I’d come to
know this formation while stargazing on our last trip
next morning, lunches packed, we headed out with great anticipation
to ride the Grand Loop. Instead of
the usual cool fall weather,
Santa Ana winds blew hot and dry. At our
altitude of nearly 4000 feet the
morning sun foretold of a hot afternoon. We
spun up the dirt road into the
familiar territory of the Soapstone Grade Road.
rolled along the now dry woodland meadow dotted with slow-growing, long-lived
California black oaks. Their broad rounded crowns provided
wind whispered in the crackling leaves of the stout spreading
branches. It whooshed in
my ears as I pedaled faster. The dry grasses flowed
over the graceful curves of the hills like spilled golden-yellow paint.
blueberry-purple stained the mountains.
a moderate, steady climb, the descent was a steep fun-filled
rock-strewn drop. At the bottom we
collected our thoughts on the
cool oak-shaded lane. The trail now followed the
flew down Upper Green Valley Road, I
half expected to
see a horse-drawn carriage trotting along the bowered road. In
San Antonio stage line did run through the Park, then called Green
on its way to the coast.
riding 8 easy miles in 80 minutes, lunch was devoured
under the oaks at
the headquarters for the Park near the stone building. Once the family home of the
this haven exists because in 1933, the generous
sold their Green Valley estate to the state of California for
half of its appraised value! Prior to their ownership, James
Lassator had bought
the land from the Indians in 1855 and lived peaceably near them. The Julian gold
rush of the 1860s
brought hundreds of prospectors. The Kumeya’ay Indians
who walked these
trails for at least 7000 years before the coming of the Spanish
were then forced
onto a reservation.
the inviting brown stone home, a ranger told us we
were lucky to have spotted
those gray foxes at the cabin.
Seems now they are quite rare. Back outside, a
raven perched stories above scolded warnings down on us. Perhaps he knew of
what deception my husband was hatching for us. Here, our new biker called it a
day, wanting to be rested enough to ride again tomorrow.
We bid him goodbye and followed my husband along the
Loop riding Highway 79 for a section. Then back on the
dirt trail the earnest
climbing began along Japacha fire road. Heads,
necks and backs strained forward---up and up.
birthday friend, eleven years younger than I, disappeared into the bliss of
climbing, her forte and passion. We lagged behind. I cursed the hot weather and swore at the gnats swarming around my sweaty
head. Around Fern Flat fire
road, rebelliously, I finally came to a halt. Standing, inhaling the pungent
scent of pine needles, my gratefulness for the strength to
master this ascent sparked a smile.
a refreshed attitude my tired legs pumped up the road. We
passed the intersection with the Cuyamaca Peak trail. If followed, the peak
to 6512 feet. At the top looking south is Mexico, to the west the Pacific
Ocean and to the east the Salton Sea. We
continued on the Azalea Spring fire
road and abruptly the climbing stopped.
suddenly than expected we were booming down the finish on Milk Ranch
Road, slowing only for uphill hikers and downhill horses. At the car, Scott was
evasive about our mileage for the day. Later, he confessed he had shortened our route by cutting off three
quarters of Japacha Road by starting on its north end.
He had failed to inform us in case we insisted on the full grueling climb. We
have! We completed the shortened loop of
in the time-warp kitchen, my friend and I sat with empty pie plates, drinking
our second pot of English Breakfast tea while the guys watched football. With
heavy eyelids, deeply relaxed, I wondered how I
could take home the camaraderie
of the trail, the connection to the earth. Then it came to me. You can’t. That
is why we return every fall to celebrate another year rolling along the Grand
further information: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, 12551 Highway 79, Descanso,
CA 91916 Park Headquarters: 619-765-0755
to Lake Cuyamaca-
From Los Angeles if you are south of the Garden Grove Freeway (22) take
I-5 south to I-805 south to I-8 east to State Highway 79 north until you come to
Lake Cuyamaca. (It is approximately 2 hours from Santa Ana.) Others
take the 91 or the 60 or the I-10 east to I-15 south to State Highway 79 south
at Temecula. (Once you leave the freeway you are about 1 hour away.)
From downtown San Diego take I-8 east to State Highway 79 north. ( about
15 minutes after you leave the freeway.)
The Grand Loop
can be ridden starting at several different parking areas. We began at the dirt
parking area across from the Boy Scout camp. Purchase a trail map and free list
of mountain bike rides from the Park Headquarters. Yield to hikers and
Hideaway is located at 34585 Navajo Road in the Cuyamaca mountains.Julian is 60 miles northeast of San Diego along Highway 78.
click here to visit their http://www.hansenshideaway.com
© Copyright Linda Pyle 1999 All rights reserved
new state-of-the-art Swiss cars equipped with
floors that rotate as the cars ascend and descend.
Trail of San Jacinto Peak
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ride to
Long Valley, easy Desert View walk or challenging hike to top
of San Jacinto
"Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light"
The first quatrain of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the eleventh century
astronomer-poet of the Persian desert, echoes on a high country trail in the San
Jacinto wilderness on an early morning hike. The magnificent granite turret,
Mount San Jacinto peak, with the boldest escarpment in North America, is the
spire upon which the sun rises and sets so compellingly in this our Colorado
Desert. Forming a backdrop of incredible soaring heights for Palm Springs, now
in summer the bald peak rises smoke gray. In spring, fingers of white gleam in
rivers of snow. Winter brings a pinnacle of alabaster white lending a sense of
grandeur to all the surrounding land.
On our Trail of the San Jacinto Peak,
we are drawn up into the sky on this ageless mountain with its forever vistas of
wilderness and endless desert. But first we must begin at the station.
Chino Valley Station
At the north edge of Palm Springs, Mom, Dad, my husband Scott and I follow
Tramway Road climbing the alluvial fan to the Chino Canyon Valley Station at an
elevation of 2,643 feet. Imposing sheer rock faces press down as we drive into
an awesome canyon.
This canyon was once summer home to the Cahuilla Indians. Chief Francisco
Patencio, a respected desert Cahuilla Indian, often quoted on the history of the
Coachella Valley, was born in Chino Canyon in the 1840s and died at about 100
years of age. He recalled the flat lands high in the canyon were good for fields
and gardens but also in great peril during floods. He said his ancestors could
take refuge here from the exploring Spaniards passing through the lower valley
and later from the Californios, people born in California of Hispanic ancestry
in the 19th century. Chino Canyon was hidden from the desert floor.
These early explorers were using an ancient Indian trade route which ran
through the San Gorgonio Pass. Trade routes were important to the Cahuilla as
luxury items such as food, shells, animal and mineral products were exchanged
with Chumash and Gabrielino coastal tribes. Travelers carried important
messages; they were the newspapers of the people. Like them, we have traveled
from the coast not to trade goods but to trade moist ocean air for warm dry air
of the desert.
Palm Springs Aerial Tram
A 14 minute vertical tram ride past five supporting towers whisks us up, up
and away, ski lift fashion, past life zones not often seen stacked together
horizontally. Enthralled, we stand at the rear window of the enclosed 80
passenger tram reveling in the exhilarating rise of the red car. Others with
less affection for heights stand in the middle, eyes averted, concealing their
Leaving the creosote and brittlebush of the desert, the tram travels past
five geological life zones ranging from Sonoran to Arctic fringe and stops at
the 8,516 foot mountain station with its gift shop, restaurant, snack bar and
observation areas. A 22 minute movie on the history of the tram plays in the
Stepping from the station into the cool forest, the scent of pines envelops
us. The dry breeze blows now a comfortable 40 degrees cooler than on the valley
Before entering the wilderness, we fill out day-use permits at the ranger
station box at Long Valley, a short walk from the tram station. Long Valley with
a short nature trail and a desert view trail invites with picnic tables and
barbecue grills. Here, we part ways with Mom and Dad. Concerned about altitude
changes, they will meander toward Round Valley staying in the flat of the
valley. Scott, my husband and Trail Master, nicknamed T.M. and I are on a
mission: lunch at the top of the Turret.
In the past, a hike into the high country for us was from the other side of
the mountain. Then, bedraggled from a night in the tent and dusty from the
trail, we met Palm Springs tram hikers, in spotless white clothes and sandals,
with jaundiced eye. They seemed to be cheaters. Now, delivered by the same tram,
fresh and ready to meet the challenge, it didn’t seem so much like cheating as
we still had an 11 ½ mile round trip to hike. Plus, Mom and Dad would be able
to share the high country forest experience.
A march of two miles to Round Valley begins our ascent. T.M., always alert to
signs of animals, spots several bushy-tailed coyotes. Eyes glowing in the dark
forest, observing curiously, they remind that this is their wilderness too.
Once these forests were the habitat of the most dangerous animal the Indians
encountered, the grizzly bear. Like the bald eagle, the bear was sacred and not
hunted. With difficulty and foreboding the Cahuilla men would ascend into the
mountains with bows made of mesquite or desert willow; then descend, deer slung
over shoulders, down through the steep cactus and chaparral infested slopes.
This may have been a fearful task for them as the mountain top was also the
realm of the ubiquitous evil spirit, Tahquitz. With a penchant for stealing
souls and concealing himself as solid rock, he could also appear in angry
thunder and lightning and travel in frightful whirling dust devils.
No thunder claps or lightening strikes as we reach a stream, our last chance
to filter water. A trip to the outhouse is fast as spiders and bees have claimed
it as their own. From Round Valley, we climb the trail past the sign marked
"San Jacinto Peak."
San Jacinto Peak Trail
Our pace picks up after resting in the shade of lodgepole pines at Wellmans
Divide, the junction of the Saddle Junction Trail and San Jacinto Peak Trail.
The San Jacinto Peak Trail turns right. Soon we find ourselves out of the
stately pine forest and into the bright sun on dry slopes switchbacking through
an elfin forest of manzanita bushes. Branches and berries crown this large
evergreen with its reddish-brown twisted trunks. Manzanita means "little
apple" in Spanish and the mealy berries are eaten by wildlife and were made
into a cider by the Indians.
Soon we meet the Summit Trail and other hikers with the same destination.
Pressing on, closer to the top of the mountain, a stone shelter built by the
Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s provides emergency shelter.
A scramble up boulders advances us another 300 yards to the "top of the
world." No peaked pinnacle to inspire or awe, but rather a conglomeration
of gigantic granite boulders balancing one atop the other creates this
"summit of the exalted mountain."
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the bough,
A flask of Wine, a book of Verse -- and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness --
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
From this elevated place, the pale purple horizon circumscribes the
wilderness and our paradise. Our wine is thirst-quenching water, our bread is
eaten next to a windswept limber pine tree and a travel journal is our book of
An eagle’s vista, a wide panning view, spots the mighty San Gorgonio peak,
old "Greyback," the highest peak in Southern California. The 10,000
foot precipitous drop of a perpendicular escarpment falls away into thin air
before us. This, the northeast face of San Jacinto Peak, is recognized as the
most severe escarpment in North America.
Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley cities string out below on the tawny
floor of the Colorado Desert. Disappearing in a haze, the Colorado Desert
reaches eastward almost 250 miles to Phoenix and southward slips past the blue
Salton Sea into northern Baja California and the Mexican state of Sonora.
In the deep western distance, the Pacific Ocean gleams only on a rare clear
day. The Little San Bernardino Mountains to the northeast rise dim blue with a
gilding of gold. Hidden behind them are the Mohave Desert and Joshua Tree
National Park. The Santa Rosa Mountains to the south and southeast with
windswept ridges stand out in sharp relief.
Our vistas and visions of the desert and mountains along many of the trails
of the Coachella Valley would have belonged to Cahuilla Indian, Spanish
explorer, Californio or American pioneer. These paths, worn by the feet of many
travelers, mark places where visitors can not now remain; a patchwork of Indian
reservations, National Forests, State and Federal Wilderness, BLM land and Santa
Rosa National Scenic Area has insured this. Perhaps, someday in the future
development will string all the way to Arizona but foresight and cooperation
will have preserved some of this unique Western landscape.
The sudden rise to a high altitude and the hike begins to blur the senses and
returning down the trail, legs straining, toes jamming, the last mile seems
endless. Exhausted, collapsed on the waiting room floor at the mountain station,
we are thankful the tram will keep us from having to descend another 6,000 feet
on foot. I describe this hike as long, long and arduous, T.M. as a piece of
cake. We are anxious to know how Mom and Dad fared in their ramblings.
Desert View Trail
They are not worn out but have a story to tell. Starting confidently up the
Round Valley Trail behind us, talking and laughing, they proceeded until Mom
spied six or seven coyotes slinking along on their own trail. With an abrupt
about face with fearless leader Mom leading the retreat, they exchanged their
scant knowledge of what to do when facing a coyote pack --- stand tall and not
run? Or was that for mountain lions? They weren’t exactly running but when
they chanced upon a ranger and described their encounter, he had smiled. Seems
the coyotes here are looked upon as merely part of the scenery.
Heartened by this news, they headed out again, this time on the 1 ½ mile
Desert View Trail, an easy loop, pleasant with a slight rise to the brink of an
escarpment dropping abruptly to the desert floor. After scenery gazing and
resting among giant boulders, they proceeded close to the rim to another lookout
with a similar spectacular viewpoint and then back down the easy slope to the
picnic table area of Long Valley. Their adventures on the mountain and ours tell
us that whether you are 40 or 75 years old, time is fleeting.
Take Heed! Time Fleets Fast Away
Forty or Seventy, Dark Shadowed Forests beckon Stay
Share Together the Mystifying Mountain Air
Soon the Fall shuts Another Day
The Valley Station is located in north Palm Springs. From Highway 111 turn up
Tramway Road and proceed 3½ miles to station. Cars depart year-round at least
every half hour from 10 a.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m. weekends and holiday
periods. Fees are $17.65 for adults, $14.65 for seniors, $11.65 for children
ages 5-12 and children under 5 ride free. Be sure to check time of last car down
mountain. Call 760-325-4227 for any changes or closures due to weather or
maintenance. Internet address: www.pstramway.com
Wear comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots and bring plenty of water for
longer hike to top. Be prepared for 40 degree temperature change from the desert
floor. Day hikers should fill out a day pass at the Long Valley Ranger Station
before starting the wilderness trails. Maps available in Long Valley and there
is a picnic area with barbecue stoves and picnic tables.
1 package fast rise yeast
3 ½ - 4 cups flour
1 ¼ cup lukewarm water, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup olive oil
Pinch of sugar
Dissolve salt and sugar in ¼ cup lukewarm water. Place 3 cups
flour on bread board. Make 6 inch well in center leaving some flour on bottom.
Add yeast to sugar and salt water.
Pour olive oil and yeast mixture into well. Start working
flour into well gradually adding remaining 1 cup lukewarm water. Continue
working flour toward center until a soft dough forms. Add more or less
additional flour to form a ball.
Knead dough 20 minutes on very lightly floured board picking
up edges and folding to center, pushing dough away from you with heels of hands.
Rotate dough ¼ turn and continue kneading until ball is smooth and elastic.
Place in large greased bowl turning dough to grease all sides.
Cover bowl with a cloth and allow to rise in a warm draft-free place such as an
oven. To warm oven, heat at 200 degrees for 3-4 minutes and turn OFF. Allow to
rise until double in bulk.
Punch dough down with fist. Form into 4 balls. Place balls in
greased bowl and return to oven allowing dough to rise 30 minutes.
Lightly sprinkle cornmeal on two ungreased heavy baking
sheets. On a lightly floured board, roll balls with rolling pin into 8 x 1/8
inch rounds. Place rounds on baking sheets 2-3 inches apart. Cover with cloth
and let rest 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake one pan at a time
on lower rack for 3 minutes until loaf rises. Transfer to rack 3-4 inches
higher. Continue baking 3 minutes more until light brown. Remove from oven.
Immediately seal bread in aluminum foil wrapping tightly. Let rest 10 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature. For the trail, pack cheese,
peanut butter and jelly or fruit.
© Copyright Linda Pyle 1999 Excerpt from Peaks, Palms and Picnics, Day
Journeys in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley of Southern California
Kayaking the South Shore of Mono Lake
In the classic western movie, High Plains Drifter, Clint Eastwood
battled the bad guys in a red clapboard town built on the South Shore of Mono
Lake. On the same shore we struggled not with good nor evil but
with gear and nervous anticipation of our first kayak trip. Clad, not in Western
hats and chaps but in quick drying nylon clothes and sunglasses we made ready to
challenge the Lake.
At 8:30 a.m. our motley group assembled in the parking lot. Sue, our guide
from Caldera Kayaks, handed out red and blue lifejackets and dry bags while
directing us to adjust the pedals of the rudders for steering. Unruffled by our
chaos, she was as calm as Mono Lake. After a brief paddling lesson on land, the
bow of our yellow double kayak slid into the beckoning water of the ancient sea.
The sun burned unusually hot for August. The lake mirrored the clear blue Sierra
Trepidation overcome, I soon found the paddling easier than expected. Unlike
a canoe paddle with just one end stroking, a kayak paddle has a blade on each
end allowing a natural one-two motion dipping left, then right. "Pull! Pull
from your toes," Sue and my husband, Scott, coached and exhorted.
South Shore of Mono Lake
A miniature high rise cityscape sculpted in white rose mysteriously from the
South Shore. At our first stop along the guided tour, we peered down into the
clear water to where a spring bubbled up from the lake bottom. Here, a white
tufa tower formed underwater before our eyes. The chemical reaction resulting from calcium
in the spring water and carbonate in the Lake water, deposited calcium carbonate
on a framework of tiny algae; the start of a new ghostly white tufa which may
one day rise out of the water like an upside down icicle, revealed by a lowering
of the water level. Next we paddled
silently through a narrow slot of water between more tall lacy tufa formations.
Two Great Horned owls nested high in the tower, eyes wide, witness to our silent
Mono Lake Success Story
Instructing us to gather together, forming a raft with our kayaks, our guide proudly explained the lake has
risen 9 feet since 1994. Diversion of water from streams that feed the lake at
one time dropped the Lake level 45 feet. Legal battles won by the Mono Lake
Committee provided that less water be diverted from the streams for Los Angeles
consumption. The Lake is expected to rise another 5 feet. During the ice age
glaciers fed this 1000 foot deep Lake and the ancient shore line can be seen
etched on the surrounding mountain to the west.
As we paddled on, graceful eared grebes dove into the glassy water and
California gulls wheeled overhead. This lake is a vital nesting and resting
ground for these birds. Thousands of adult alkali flies (Ephydra) swarmed in the
air and the water was filled with the pupae and larvae of the flies. It is this
fly that bestowed on the Lake its name. The local Paiutes once scooped the fly
pupae from the Lake, calling it cu-za-vi. They dried this food staple, an oily
kernel, and traded it with their neighboring Tribe, the Yokut. The Yokut called
the people from the Lake, fly people. "Mono" in their language.
Negit and Paoha Islands
Staying along the calm South Shore, we turned our attention to Negit and
Paoha, two islands that lie to the west. Sue pointed out that 85% of California
gulls breed on the volcanic islands. At one time the lake dropped so low a land
bridge formed providing access to coyotes which wreaked havoc on the breeding
birds. But with increased lake levels, the land bridge disappeared. The
trillions of tiny brine shrimp (Artemia) in the water, which the birds feed
upon, look like pieces of dissolving thread. A closer look reveals tiny heads
As the blades of our paddles synchronized, our voyage led to the place where
Rush Creek flows into the Lake. When fresh water mixes with saltier water it
looks slick, like vinegar and oil combining. With no outlet, evaporation
concentrates the minerals and the Lake is 80% saltier than the
ocean. The water left a white powdery film on our gloved hands.
Lunchtime found us beached on a stony shore where fractured pumice and black
obsidian stones lay like jig saw puzzles; evidence of volcanic activity. The
swaying sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata and yellow blooming rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnus
nauseous intensified the blue stain of the tranquil Lake. After relaxing on
the shore we shoved off again. Now change was in the air.
Paddling back, the afternoon wind distorted the mirror surface of the Lake
with dark cracks and ripples. Though not threatening, the wind and waves meant
more work for Scott to keep us moving straight and I stopped more often to rest
my fatiguing arms. Storms can blow in fast on the Lake and park rangers
recommend going early, staying close to shore and being prepared to stay
overnight in an emergency.
Back at Navy Beach, Stuart from Caldera greeted us pulling our kayak
from the water. Except for a little water in the seat bottom and wet shoes, I
was perfectly dry! We didn’t even need to use the spray skirts on the kayaks.
Thoroughly satisfied with our first kayak experience and promising to return
with friends soon we said goodbye to Sue and Stuart and returned to Mammoth
Lakes via the June Lake Loop on Highway 395. While drinking ice tea on the sun
deck of the new posh Double Eagle Resort restaurant, Scott declared we’d have
to get individual kayaks if we got into the sport. A double kayak would be too
heavy to get on and off the car. Translation: I got too much of a free ride in
Smith, Genny, Rinehart, Dean, Vestal, Elden, Willard, Bettie E., Mammoth
Lakes Sierra: A handbook for roadside and trail , Genny Smith Books, Fourth
edition. Seventh edition now available from
Reservations are required. Information: Caldera Kayaks PO Box 726, Mammoth
Lakes, CA. 93546 Phone/fax 760- 935- 4942 Cell phone 760-937-2215 Email: email@example.com
Tours depart from Navy Beach on the south shore of Mono Lake. From Mammoth
Lakes go north on Highway 395 to about five miles north of the June Lake
Junction to route 120 east. To reach Navy Beach from Lee Vining/Tioga Pass Route
go south on 395 about five miles to route 120 East. Take route 120 east towards
Benton for five miles. Turn left at the South Tufa Reserve turnoff. Follow the
right fork toward Navy Beach. Turn left at the "T". Follow road to
parking area. $60.00 per person includes paddling lesson, interpretive guide and
stop for lunch.
© Copyright 1999 Linda Pyle Excerpt from upcoming book
Hiking the Mammoth Crest from Lake George
My husband Scott and the other fisherman descended down to Bentons Crossing
seeking trout. Knowing it would be hot down at the river and full of pesky
flies, I headed up into the cool pines on a familiar trail for a solo hike.
It was in the parking lot at Lake George, I first ran into "the
clowns." I began the dusty trail at the same time as 3 teenaged boys
dressed in urban city street clothes carrying fishing gear. One wore head phones
over his wool hat and sang, not rap nor heavy metal but early 70’s Crosby,
Stills and Nash songs off key in a loud voice. I stopped under the enormous
hemlock trees to adjust my pack and allow them to get far ahead. But as I
rounded the fifth switchback I caught up just in time to hear a rendition of Judy
I stopped. I took pictures. I rested. They stopped. They rested. He sang. I
passed them and they passed me over and over until finally I heard them hoot and
holler down the trail toward Crystal Lake. I was headed for the Mammoth Crest.
But soon I was down at Crystal Lake, too. Realizing I had taken the left fork
leading to the lake and had missed the trail split, I retraced my steps to where
the trail sign lay propped up on the ground. How I could have missed the sign? I
vowed to sharpen my sense of where I was going. Then it dawned on me, the clowns
had been standing in front of the sign covering it when I passed by.
Mammoth Crest Trail
I continued on the main trail enjoying the freedom of hiking at my snail’s
pace, taking lots of pictures of the deep green-blue lakes below and stopping to
identify penstemons and other wildflowers.
As I climbed, Gold Mountain rose in the distance to the east above Lake Mary.
From my vantage point high above the lakes, the wake of the fisherman’s boats
looked like a jet trail in the sky. Now my feet crunched into the red cinders
under foot, evidence of volcanic activity. I passed only one hiker going back
down the trail. When I reached the Crest I found myself isolated along its
gentle slope. The cool wind blew benevolently on the Crest today but its brutal
winter force and severity have scarred the Whitebark (Pinus albicaulis)
and Lodgepole (Pinus Murrayana) pines. These trees, my only companions on the
Crest, hunched in squat, ghostly silver shapes. Large portions of the trunks and
gnarled branches showed exposed wood.
I sat on a rock in my domain eating lunch. I claimed all the silence and
loneliness of the Crest and planned to stay for hours, not wanting to return to
the town. But curious bees hovered around my hat buzzing like saws. I abandoned
my post to sit by a rock near a patch of snow still covering the ground in
August. Immediately the tiny bees droned again around my hat. Reluctantly I
retraced my steps back down the trail.
At the split in the trail I heard a now familiar sour strain. Yes, the clowns
were headed back down the trail, too. I laughed, snapped photographs of Indian
Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) and passed many families now ascending
the trail carrying kids and a poodle. I stood ten stories above a gull
winging high over the lake and peered down once more into the depths of Lake
George before my final decent.
Back at Mammoth Lakes, I found the fishermen got skunked down at Bentons and
the tiny bees had driven them crazy, too. My first solo trip into the mountains
to over 10,000 feet left me tired but inspired and I even caught myself singing
a little Judy Blue Eyes off key.
Park at Lake George. Look for trailhead. Take the main trail to the right at
the split with the Crystal Lake Trail. The trail to Crystal Lake is 1 ¼ mile
each way. The Mammoth Crest Trail is 3 miles each way.
of Inyo Craters
and Deer Mountain
to the craters near Mammoth Lakes
A base of only 18-24 inches of
snow in mid-December at Mammoth Mountain due to dry La Nina weather! Oregon and
Washington were getting all the moisture. Still, Mammoth had some of the best
conditions in California, thanks to snow-making and expert grooming techniques.
But on this day another force of nature would change
our plans to ski.
the Mammoth Ski Area parking lot the wind blew so hard my husband,
Scott, and I with 3 friends from San Diego could
barely catch our breath as we hauled skis and boot bags, trudging head down
into the gale.
At a leisurely breakfast
of French toast, potatoes, hot coffee and tea in the cafeteria, we kept a watchful eye on the chair lifts. By 9 a.m. none
were running. Resigned, we inquired about renting snow shoes at the rental
department shop. They laughed at our optimism and chided us with good-natured barbs,
“The snow is bullet-proof! No need for snow shoes! Wear your hiking shoes.”
high spirits, we retreated to town at a lower, less windy elevation to find a hike.
Deciding on the Trail
of Inyo Craters,
we headed along the Mammoth Scenic Loop and up a dirt road to the trailhead.
Here, bundled up in hats, coats, gators, jackets and snow pants, we began our
hike to the edge of the youngest volcanic craters in the area.
Trail, beginning at an elevation of 8000 feet in the shade, was still covered
with patches of snow, dotted with the footprints of other hikers and easy to
follow. Climbing about 300 feet and walking a quarter of a mile through a
protective forest of Jeffery pines, we arrived at the Inyo Crater rim. Here, we
gaped into the deep pit. A volcanic explosion about a century
before Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain had created the enormous
easily along the crater’s edge on the trail, we began a steep climb up to the rim of
another crater. The pumice rock made footing slippery and footholds on these
light rocks could not be trusted.
continued another ½ mile past the craters to Deer Mountain. Sweating on the
steep climb, at the top at 8800 feet, we were rewarded with an eagle’s view of
windy Mammoth Mountain. No skiers on any runs.
Mountain’s volcanic history is much more ancient than that of the Inyo Craters. Many
violent eruptions 180,000 years ago created this gray hulking mountain. Skiers
don’t have to worry about eruptions closing the lifts. The last one was 40,000
years ago. But watch out for the wind!
town take the Mammoth Scenic Loop and turn left at the Inyo Craters sign. Follow
the road to the trail head sign. The hike to the craters is an easy ¼ mile out.
The hike to Deer Mountain peak is more strenuous, another ½ mile out.
Copyright 1999 Linda McMillin Pyle All rights reserved ©
with the Ancients: The Schulman Grove in the White Mountains of California
quietly along the dry ridge I thought this wasn’t exactly the place you would
expect to find the oldest living thing in the world! This trail wasn’t in a
lush giant Sequoia or redwood forest but in the bone-dry White Mountains of Inyo
National Forest, about a 5-hour drive northeast from Los Angeles. We were
looking for Methuselah, named for the biblical patriarch who lived to be 969
years old. This Great Basin Bristlecone pine tree has outlived that human
patriarch by nearly 4 millenniums!
examined and complimented each dwarfed tree as I passed on the trail. I wanted
to stop and have a silent conversation with each one. Instead, I snapped
pictures of my husband chin up toward their gnarled wooden faces and down to
exposed, burled roots. Root exposure is prominent in trees over 1000 years old.
We make our guesses as to which of the squat trees with many dead branches and
only a narrow strip of living tissue connecting roots to needles is “the
one.” Methuselah is not identified deliberately to protect it from humans.
other enemies of these trees are heart rot, small boring insects and heavy
winds. I think that the maladies that plague the humans are not so dissimilar.
Dr. Edmund P. Schulman
the man who identified the age of the ancient trees here, died at the young age
of 49. Dr. Edmund P. Schulman, a University of Arizona, Tucson, Associate
Professor of Dendrochronology (the science dealing with the study of the annual
rings of trees in determining the dates and chronological order of past events)
came up here to follow up on a rumor of some very, very old Bristlecone pines.
knew these trees could be found in
many of the dry mountain ranges of Nevada, Utah and eastern California. But,
here in the White Mountains the conditions were the most severe—less than 10
inches of rain a year. In 1957 his team began to analyze sample cores drilled
from trees along the ridge where we walked. Shouts of excitement must have
rocked the mountain as he dated the rings and counted down the millenniums.
These trees proved the old adage that what doesn’t kill you will make you
stronger. The harsh conditions, he speculated, made them survivors. The sample
core of Methuselah dated to be 4600 years old.
Something a Little Fantastic
found “there is something a little fantastic in the persistent ability of a
4,000 year old tree to shut up shop almost everywhere throughout its stem in a
very dry year, and faithfully to reawaken to add may new cells in a favorable
year.” Dr. Schulman thought the trees held clues to tree longevity. I clutched
at the idea they held clues to human longevity, too.
was four years since we had last traced this path. That day, inspired by their
tremendous age, I had left the trail wanting to have the strong heart of a
bristlecone pine tree. I didn’t know what that meant and still hadn’t
figured it out.
home in southern California, my husband, Scott, had told friends the trail was a
sacred experience. One friend commented he had never heard him talk that way
about any place. His praise made this friend, wife and son eager to join us this
trip. But the winding road and sudden ascent to 10,000-foot altitude grounded
our friends with motion sickness in the parking lot. Only their
thirteen-year-old son had joined us as we set off in the 50-degree chill about
an hour earlier.
seemed as if the misshapen trees surrounding us could easily pull out their
burled, exposed roots and dance around the forest on them. But they stood
motionless, mangled together on the slopes as they had for thousands of years.
Only a few lively pinecones bounced in the wind, another adaptation to the
adverse conditions. Expending only enough energy to replace 1/20th or
1/30th of their needles, Bristlecones conserve energy for survival.
The limber pine growing next to it replaces 1/4 of its needles each year.
stopped at all of the markers on the trail.
My husband, Scott, usually in a hurry, lingered to read out loud to us
each and every word of incredible facts about these trees and their ecosystem
from our informative self-guiding leaflet. We learned these trees grow only 1
inch every hundred years; the soil here has eroded less than one foot in a
thousand years; only a few seedlings are needed each century to maintain the
forest! Our young companion politely listened and then confidently took the lead
on the trail as we moved ahead single-file.
stop number 17, a section of tree cut off during trail construction stopped us
in our tracks. The birth of Christ was marked with an arrow. Our amateur eyes
read the tree rings. Narrow rings usually mean less rainfall and bigger rings
more moist conditions. Dr. Schulman’s research showed that trees in arid
climates produced significantly smaller, more sensitive growth patterns compared
to the tree rings in the forests of Coastal redwood and Giant sequoias.
The Final Stop
made our final stop, number 25. 2 ½ hours from the start, our young companion,
though feigning interest, fidgeted, restless at our snail pace and eagerly ran
the ¼ mile to the car where his parents waited. Feeling better, they had hiked
the shorter Discovery Trail.
munching on sandwiches at a picnic table, we were accosted by a bold ground
squirrel that licked the condensed moisture on my Perrier bottle and peeked into
the lens of my camera. Inside the
new ranger station, I bought mementos of the forest, another green Bristlecone
t-shirt and greeting cards with the ancient’s photographs on them.
The Heart of an
Ancient Bristlecone Pine
car coasted down the mountain road toward Big Pine and finally joined the river
of cars on Highway 395. Mentally reviewing the last 4 years, it dawned on me
that in researching my recently published book, Peaks, Palms & Picnics
Day Journeys in the Mountains & Deserts of Palm Springs and the Coachella
Valley I had discovered how beauty and life blossomed in the Desert under
the most adverse conditions on earth when a good rain fell. Like Dr. Schulman,
in the desert plants and trees I saw life and “a little bit of the
to have the heart of an ancient tree is to be able to see the darkness before
the dawn, to conserve and focus all your energy toward your dreams; not to speed
along the trail of life but to stop and savor even the details of an ancient
tree’s life high above the city. The ancients live a long dream.
From Highway 395 in
Big Pine turn east onto State Highway 168. (No gas or food will be available for
the next 100 miles.) 12.7 miles from Big Pine turn left at the sign reading
White Mountain Road. At 5.1 miles you will pass the Grandview Campground. At 7.7
miles you will pass a Vista Point. At 10 miles you will reach the Schulman Grove
parking area. The road is closed from late October until
Copyright 2000 ©Linda McMillin Pyle
Excerpt from upcoming Book All Rights Reserved
Cross Country Skiing Tamarack Lodge,
inches of fresh snow blanketed the bare ground while we slept snug in our bed, the first significant
snowfall for Mammoth in 3 weeks! We rejoiced at our good fortune. Hot tea, coffee and bagels at Schatt’s Bakery
fortified us. With picnic lunch in our packs we blazed by car 2.5 miles up
Lake Mary Road to the Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center. The lodge buzzed with
activity as Hollywood film crews prepared for shooting a movie called Peak
Experience. Little did we know our experience would be more like
Hitchcock’s The Birds!
Tamarack Cross Country Center
the center, we laced up ski boots, held poles under armpits to determine right length and exited with
the proper pungent wax for snow consistency applied to the bottoms of our skinny
a strong wind stung our eyes as we snapped into our bindings. Shoving off with the
familiar kick-glide motion we had learned as teenagers in Minnesota, soon we dropped
into the cross-country track grooves made by a special attachment to
a snowplow. Gliding along Lake Mary Road, tiny crystals of snow beaded up on our
jackets and glasses. The snowstorm had stalled over the mountain and it looked
as if another inch might fall.
passed the Lake Mary store and Crystal Crag cabins, now closed for the winter.
It was nice to experience this well-used campground and fishing lake in the
stony silence of a winter storm. The Crystal Crag, a gray monolith loomed above
us. It is all that remains of a once high ridge after glaciers carved out this lakes basin.
The road winds up the hill toward Lake George. Later a passing hiker told us he planned to hike out of Lake George,
by way of the Mammoth Crest
trail, up to Crystal Lake.
of continuing up to Lake George, we crossed over a bridge, stopped to catch
our breath at the east side of Lake Mary and headed to the trail’s end at
Waiting for T.M. to catch up with me, I looked up and
saw the first winter bird. “Look! Hello, little bird--” Before these words
left my mouth, ten or twelve black-capped fat little birds swirled out of the
tree and encircled T.M. approaching on the road. He stood frozen, crouched in
surprise, as the birds came to perch on his shoulders and backpack in a flutter of gray
"Don't be afraid."
“I’m not! I’m just trying to be still.”
They called clear whistles of “tsee-dee-dee-
tsee-dee-dee as if greeting a long lost friend. About the size of a sparrow,
one of the gregarious birds balanced gracefully on the tip of his ski. Another
perched on his backpack while still another soon replaced him on the coveted position.
Between black crowns and black throats, their tiny faces had comical contrasting
white eyebrows. As T.M. pushed off, they retreated back to the tree.
skied away touched by excitement. After clearing the snow off a picnic table top
with our gloves, we munched on our lunch, and mused, “Did
they know skiers carry food in their backpacks?” Chalking the whole incident up
to T.M.’s usual animal magnetism, we continued our kick gliding, kick-gliding
until we came to the end of the trail at the sandy shores of Horseshoe Lake.
happy to have chosen to picnic near Lake Mary, we find our usual picnic spot
closed due to natural toxic gas. Carbon monoxide collecting around tree
wells, buildings and the lakebed have caused surrounding trees to die, the deadly effect of this colorless, odorless
gas thought to be a
precursor sign of volcanic activity. We finished the track in about 2 1/2 hours
covering nearly 8 miles with no eruption yet!
home, I discovered the sweet birds to be mountain chickadees, (Parus gambeli)
one of the few birds that stay at high elevations in the winter. Telling the
chickadee story to friends, many wondered what it meant and some offered
opinions. My Chinese acupuncturist
said it was a great sign of T.M."s business success in the coming year! Another
friend proclaimed it to be so unusual that seeking deeper contemplation into its
meaning must be done! But T.M. just smiles enigmatically, as if he knows the
meaning and it will remain a secret between himself and the birds.
Lodge and Cross Country Ski Center Information 1-800-237-6879
pass and rentals $26 per person.
2000 Linda McMillin All rights reserved. From upcoming book Day Journeys in the
Southern Sierras in and around Mammoth Lakes.