Saturday, November 28, 2020

Carmen's Trail

 Waxing Gibbous Moon

Carmen's Trail at Fremont Peak State Park, eleven miles up San Juan Canyon from my camp, is named after former Ranger Rick Morales's daughter. It starts at the upper parking lot near the trail to the peak and winds down through grass and ferns and oak trees past the Observatory, hooking up with Tony's Trail (after Rick's son) which takes you to the park entrance. 

From there, you can walk the road back up to the parking lot. Or, if you want to stay on dirt (the more funner option), you can take the Cold Springs Trail through oaks and madrones and pines to the Valley View Trail (with views of the valley, duh) circling back around the campgrounds to complete a long, rolling, hilly loop hike back to your vehicle. 

If you are feeling frisky, then you can hike up the Fremont Peak Trail to get the whole 360 degree pano shot of the Salinas Valley, Monterey Bay, the Santa Cruz Mountains, San Juan Bautista, the San Juan Valley, Hollister, the Diablo Range, the Hollister Hills, and the Gabilan Range. That loop-o'-the-park is a pretty sweet hike that hardly anybody ever takes on (or knows about?), probably because the park is understaffed and they can't patrol it. This is the perfect time of year to do the whole thing, though, because it's cool and because the poison oak has been tromped on enough to be almost inconsequential to all but the most urushiol-sensitive. You are welcome, by the way.

The highlight of my walk yesterday was a brief but fun exchange of stares on Carmen's Trail with a small group of mule deer. They were sort of trapped between me and the road so there was only one safe way to avoid trouble. After freezing in place for a minute or so, they boing-boing-boinged lickety-split past me to safety. 

I spoke to them in reassuring terms but I have no idea if my words had their intended effect. I looked at it as a win-win. I got to see them for a minute and they got to haul booty outta there without getting murdered or maimed. From a deer's point of view, that's basically what parks are for, methinks.

There were lots of cars in the lot, but the campgrounds were not full and I didn't see a soul on the trails (except for the deer souls) until I got around to the Fremont Peak Trail. That was sort of too crowded for me, so I went back to Spugly and crept back down the winding road to home. 

Another "Black Friday" successfully avoided! Yay!

Peace, Love, and Opt Out of All That Mess,

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Mudstone Ranch - No Turkeys

 Waxing Gibbous Moon

Yesterday I really wanted to go to the beach. I didn't go, mainly because COVID-fricken-19 is out of control in Monterey and Salinas and I figured traffic would be O.O.C. as well. But I wanted a change of scenery and a bit more of a challenge than my usual walks around San Juan Bautista, so I decided to go to Mudstone Ranch. 

Mudstone Ranch is only about ten miles from here, part of the Hollister Hills Off Road Vehicle State Park, a rolling piece of grazing land set aside for hikers and mountain bikers and equestrians as a buffer zone between the noisy dirt bikes and the burgeoning suburbs of Hollister, CA. I only hike there in the shoulder seasons due to the blasting heat exposure in summer and wet, slippery trails in winter. Yesterday's conditions were perfect and I enjoyed a hardy two-hour hike featuring steady climbs and beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. On the Razorback, AMME Connector, and Roadrunner Trails, I was the only bipedal creature, alone with my thoughts and working up a fine Tuesday sweat.

On the Razorback Trail, you climb pretty quickly up a drainage into oak and buckeye forests and the breeze picks up, lending a little chill to the air. I was glad to be wearing my vest up there, zipping it up to keep my core warm. The trail here is shady and the tread is smooth. 

Toward the top, before the Razorback Trail ends and the AMME Connector begins, the views east and north are outstanding. It's good to stop and catch your breath, be still and look for wild critters. I didn't see any turkeys. Maybe they know better than to show themselves this week.

I spotted a couple of alert mule deer at the crest. They were giving me wary attention before they hightailed it west toward the trees on the AMME. 

I think the AMME Connector is my favorite part of this hike. It's short, but woodsy and full of side trails with deer prints and acorns. It doesn't last long, though, taking you to a cow trough with some very healthy algae and a picnic table with long views down into the Hollister area. 

If I was so inclined, and equipped with a lunch and water, I could have headed out on the Glen Loop Trail, adding four or five more miles to the day, but I was already hungry by that time, so I settled for a return to the parking lot via the Roadrunner Trail, completing a healthy six mile loop, which seems to be about par for my daily course right now. The cows were not impressed. Generally speaking, cows do not see the value of hiking longer distances than those required to eat more grass or wash it down with some algae water. To each his, her, or its own.

Peace, Love, and Gobble Gobble,

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Pinnacles National Park Day Hike

 Waning Crescent Moon

Cold nights and shorter daylight hours don't exactly make me want to camp out at Pinnacles National Park right now, but for day hikes, the cool, sunny weather is just about perfect. Yesterday, a Tuesday, it wasn't very crowded, so I had great fun poking around in the drainage of Chalone Creek and Bear Creek off and on the Bench Trail. I have hiked all the park's trails multiple times, but I have never explored this one very much - it's kind of a connector trail between the campgrounds and the more popular trailheads - but if you wander around the stream channels and take the time to study the rocks, it's a nice way to spend a couple of hours. The well-studied geology of the park is as interesting as the volcanic formations are beautiful.

If you plan a camping trip to Pinnacles this time of year, bring some extra blankets. The evening cold is sneaky. Daytime temps of 65-70 degrees F plummet into the teens overnight on a regular basis. But don't let that stop you. As national parks go, this one is relatively uncrowded and the hiking is great in the shoulder seasons. Summertime is hotter than most folks can safely operate on the longer trails, so be prepared. 

The Bench Trail is a good one for families with younguns and for seniors with crummy knees. It connects to the Bear Gulch Trail and the Old Pinnacles Trail near the Bear Gulch Visitor Center if you care to turn it into a longer, more challenging hike. Here is a link to maps of the park's trails.

This year, all I am trying to do is to stay consistent with daily hikes to reach my modest goal of 2,020 miles in 2020. The Bench Trail and some side trips fit right in with that. So far, I have walked a little less than 1,800 miles with one day off due to the fires. I miss the fun of planning and attempting bigger adventures, but the writing is on the wall - I need to adjust my dreams to fit the limitations of aging, so we'll see how that goes. Hikes like the one from yesterday definitely lift my spirits.

I like the Chalone Creek braided stream beds for the variety of rock types washed down from the peaks.

The sky was amazing near the campground.

As I moved upstream in the Bear Creek drainage, the vegetation 
changed and I began to see a tiny bit of Fall color along the trail.

The higher you go up toward Bear Gulch, the outcrops and canyon walls get more and more interesting.

And the views of the sky change as the canyon narrows.

The forty-five minute drive to the Pinnacles from my camp is well worth the time and gas. I hope to make a few more trips to see the High Peaks again later in the year. Support your local parks!

Peace, Love, and Wandering,