Wednesday, May 6, 2009

PCT: San Felipe Hills to Warner Springs

Rick DeLong and I met at 5:45 a.m. on May 1st at Scissors Crossing, on the south side where the S2 meets Hwy 78 in the San Felipe Valley. After a short walk, we crossed Hwy 78 and began a gradual ascent of Grapevine Mountain. We soon entered Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the first few miles were some of my favorite of the trip. We were at a lower elevation, starting at 2,254 feet, and the landscape was dominated by hedgehog cactus and agave. Below, some hedgehog cactus are sharing some rocks with some non-blooming agave.
Much of the hedgehog cactus was in bloom. There were also quite a few barrel cactus which were just beginning to bloom.
Below are some of the best blooms we saw on a barrel cactus. Most of the flowers had not yet opened up.
The hedgehog flowers can be purple or red, but most of what we saw were purple.

Agave were everywhere, in varying stages of development. Many dead agave stocks were still standing or lying on their sides. Others were shooting up, without branching out, and a few, like those below, were almost ready to bloom. We did not see any in full bloom. Agave is used in Mexico to make Tequila. There was enough agave here to start a distillery.

Below, looking out across the San Felipe Valley to the Cuyamaca Mountains.

Looking a little more north, the town of Julian is nestled in the mountains, just a little right of the middle. Rick, who is thru-hiking the PCT, had hitch-hiked in to Julian to resupply before I met him.
Rick, shading himeslf with his distinctive umbrella, waits patiently for me while I take pictures of blooming cactus.
A grouping of beaver-tail cactus with a back-drop of cholla.

Some of the cholla was just beginning to bloom.

The beaver-tail cactus were also pretty far along in their bloom.

Below, looking east into Grapevine Canyon and the Grapevine Hills.

An area dominated by cholla.

Many yucca were also in bloom.

As we continued on, we increased in elevation. The floor of the San Felipe Valley got farther away and the Volcan Mountains rose up on the other side of the valley, eventually reaching over 5,000 feet and containing pine trees. The Volcan Mountains suck up most of the moisture of passing clouds and create a rainshadow for the San Felipe Hills.

After almost 12.8 miles, we reached an area where "trail angels" had deposited gallon jugs of water. It was nearing 90 degrees and I'd drunk over 4 liters of water. I happily filled up with the donated water. In this vicinity, we saw at least four coast horned lizards. I saw a quick moving snake I could not identify and several other hikers mentioned seeing rattlesnakes along the trail.

At this point, we'd climbed almost 1,400 feet to a ridge crest of 3,600 feet, and then dropped down to the water at 3,485 feet. We began a slow climb of very long switchbacks, climbing another 900 feet to a ridge at 4,395 feet, and saw the Montezuma Valley in the distance and San Ysidro Mountain beyond it.

We camped Friday evening about 7:30 p.m., after going about 20.4 miles. Saturday morning, May 2nd, we headed lower toward the Montezuma Valley. We began to get a different kind of vegetation, including many beautiful flowers.

A closeup of the unidentified flower.

The Montezuma Valley, looms below, full of trees.
After 3.5 miles, we reached Barrel Spring, about 75 yards south of S22, Montezuma Valley Road. Barrel Spring has a pipe going into the ground to access the spring water, with a pipe draining the water into a cement catch-basin. A sign said the spring was mouse contaminated. The spring looked closed-over to me and I drank and filled up without treating the water (four days later, I'm not feeling any ill effects).

At Barrel Spring, we were entertained by the antics of some acorn woodpeckers.

The trail crossed S22 and entered into a completely different kind of terrain. There were small hills with scrub oak with valleys of dry grass.

Eventually we entered into some wide open areas of grassland, with some wildflowers interspersed among the grass.

A closeup of the beautiful yellow flowers in the grasslands.

We eventually entered into a more hilly area and found beautiful San Ysidro Creek, a spot that would make a very nice camp, shaded by a white sycamore.

We switchbacked up a ridge, through more scrub oak, and then entered into another wide expanse of open grassland. We encountered a beautiful area with wild California poppies.

Then a few miles from Hwy 79 on the outskirts of Warner Springs, we encountered what for me was a complete surprise, beautiful Canada Verde (Green Ravine), with a small stream running through it and protected by huge oak trees and full of luscious, green grass.

We picked a spot under a large oak tree and ate a late lunch, stretched out in the tall grass. After reaching Hwy 79 near the U.S. Forest Service Fire Station in Warner Springs, we continued on another 1.8 miles to my car located on Hwy 79 on the other side of Warner Springs. The 1.8 miles were pretty unexciting, most of it through a large cow and horse pasture, with some glimpses of Lake Henshaw in the distance. We did 14 miles on Saturday, for a two day total of 34.4 miles. It was a hike with some quite varied terrain and worthy of the PCT label that adorns it.

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