Wednesday, April 29, 2009

PCT: Fuller Ridge Trail to San Jacinto Peak

My first hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) was in July 1991 when I hiked along Fuller Ridge in the San Jacinto Mountains in preparation for a hiking trip I did with my scout troop on July 27th, 1991. Fuller Ridge is one of the most beautiful hikes in Southern California. It follows the craggy ridgeline west of San Jacinto and Folly Peaks and provides alternating views of the Banning Pass and Mt. San Gorgonio to the north and Idyllwild and Mount San Jacinto State Park to the south.

To get to Fuller Ridge you take the Black Mountain turnoff, off Hwy 243 outside of Idyllwild, and drive 7.5 miles up a dirt road. We camped Friday evening, July 26th, at the trailhead and were hiking the next morning by 7:00 a.m. Below, Glen Provence, Ryan Kalama, Noah Kalama, Damien Gray and Ricky Cromar near the beginning of the hike with the San Bernardino Mountains in the background.

The trail, although relatively stable elevation wise, has lots of dips and turns as it switchbacks back and forth to avoid rocks, trees and crags. The trail follows Fuller Ridge for 3.9 miles. One of the most beautiful portions of the hike is a view of Folly Peak. Below, Gregg Palmer, Damien, Ricky, Noah, Glen, Ryan Belka and myself.

Below, Gregg, with an even better look at the spectacular Folly Peak.

After traversing Fuller Ridge, the PCT switchbacks up 1.9 miles and nearly 1,000 feet until it connects to the San Jacinto Peak Trail, at 8,725 feet. Along that section there are two small streams that provide water. They are the upper portion of the North Fork of the San Jacinto River. Below, Gregg obtains water at the stream closest to Fuller Ridge while we wait for some of the others to catch up.
At the junction of the San Jacinto Peak Trail we turned left to go to San Jacinto Peak. The PCT goes right and in a short distance reaches Deer Springs and Deer Springs Camp. Below, I stand in a meadow with skunk cabbage in Little Round Valley.

Below, Damien Gray and Scott Brennen sit in the rocks at the summit of San Jacinto Peak, at 10,804 feet. It is one of the most spectacular summit views anywhere, with a precipitous drop on the north side. It was a smoggy day, so the view was not as nice as it can be.

On our way back, I have a photo of the second stream which is part of the North Fork of the San Jacinto River, the one closest to the San Jacinto Peak Trail.

Gregg's knees were hurting him as we switch-backed down to Fuller Ridge.

A view of the craggy Fuller Ridge.

We did not get back to Fuller Ridge Trail camp until 7:00 p.m. and were very tired after the 16 mile round trip hike.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I love the desert, and in particular, the diversity of plant and animal life that has evolved to live in that harsh environment. One of my favorite desert plants is the ocotillo, also known as Jacob's staff, coachwhip and vine cactus. The ocotillo is found in the deserts of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It is a V-shaped shrub with spiny, whip-like stems that branch upwards from its base. It can grow as high as 20 feet and is found in open, rocky, well-drained, slopes and plains up to 5,000 or 6,000 feet in elevation. Below is a solitary ocotillo near the mouth of Borrego Palm Canyon in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Below is another ocotillo near Eagle Mountain (south of the 1-10 freeway, east of Chiriaco Summit).
The ocotillos, below, were growing together in a small area near Eagle Mountain.
The red flowers at the tips of the stems are tubular, 1/2 to 1 inch in length.

The flowers appear in clusters about 10 inches long, from March through June, or perhaps later, depending on rainfall. Hummingbirds and carpenter bees are the major pollinators and the spring hummingbird migration is timed to coincide with the flowering period as the nectar is crucial as a source of energy to the migrating hummingbirds.
The ocotillo has two types of leaves. The primary leaves are produced when the stem grows. Those leaves have a stout center midrib which form spines after the leaves are shed. The secondary leaves grow rapidly in response to rainfall, sometimes within 24 hours, then wither quickly after the soil dries out. Therefore, the ocotillo is always spiny, but is leafless most of the year. The secondary leaves are oval, about two inches long, and grow from the axils of the spines (the angle between the stem and the spine). Below is a close-up of the secondary leaves. These pictures were taken in March 2009, shortly after some rainfall, and I have never seen secondary leaves so large, plentiful and green.

Although difficult to see because of the secondary leaves, some spines are visible in the picture below.
The ocotillo below has secondary leaves that are red. It was photographed on the Chuckwalla Bench in December 1991.
Note that there are tinges of green on some of the leaves. I don't know whether it was green and turned red, or vice versa, or whether the leaves never turned green.
The picture below is of an ash-throated flycatcher resting on an ocotillo stem in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in March 2008. Note that the flowers have not fully bloomed and the stem has no secondary leaves, exposing spines.
Ocotillos grow slowly, reaching maturity in 60 to 100 years. Some are 150 to 200 years old.
The best source of information for this post was the Living Desert website. I also used the Desert USA website and Wikipedia, Ocotillo.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


In the summer of 1967, between 5th and 6th grades, my family took a vacation to Lake Powell. We were camped somewhere just off the lake, with our boat, and Layne and Scott Sorensen had a metal canoe. One morning I discovered several huge lizards in the crevice of some sandstone, right near our camp. I grabbed one of the big lizards near the base of its tail and tried to pull it out, but I couldn't. It inflated its stomach with air and I felt like I couldn't pull any harder without either pulling off the tail or killing the lizard. The lizards had rough, sandpaper like skin, were gray, and had very thick tails, particularly at the base. I had my brother, Chris, fetch me an axe, and I started to hammer the sandstone with the back, flat end, of the axe head, using my one free hand. After three hours, I was finally able to pull the lizards free of the rock.

Upon getting home, I discovered they were chuckwallas. I took them to school at the beginning of 6th grade and kept them at school the entire year. Following 6th grade, I let them go behind Shawn Schow's home on North Hills Drive in Salt Lake, near some large boulders. I heard reports from Shawn that he saw them the next summer, but in looking back, it was not the right kind of habitat and I'm sure they did not have a long-term survival.

Several years later, in the June/July 1970 issue of Instructor Magazine, a magazine for teachers, Howard Rogers, my teacher was featured, and discussed some of the outdoor adventures we had in his classes. The article was titled, "They caught a rattlesnake," and focused on a summer school class we had during that summer of 1967. A closer look at the picture in the magazine reveals Howard Rogers holding one of my chuckwallas. I am in the middle, and Steven Gould holds a leopard lizard that I also caught at Lake Powell on the same trip.

I have loved chuckwallas since then, but have not had any luck getting a good look at them in the wild. One spring I caught a glimpse of one at Joshua Tree National Park, deep in a crack, and I got a good look at one at the Living Desert, and got some photos, but that's not really in the wild.

However, this past March, on my hike to Carey's Castle, near Eagle Mountain, I spotted a chuckwalla on a ledge above the trail. I was able to get a relatively good photo, below.
I climbed up the rocks to see if I could catch the chuckwalla, but it darted in a crack and I was not able to get to it, although I had a good look at it. The hike was wonderful, but if I had done nothing else but see the chuckwalla, it would have been worth it.

On May 30, 2009, driving home from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, I saw 2 large desert iguanas run across the I-10 freeway within about a half mile of the Corn Springs exit. Because I've never had a good close-up look at a desert iquana and based on my recent experience of seeing lizards in the desert in the heat that I don't normally see in the spring, I decided to take the exit and drive to Corn Springs. It was about 95 degrees. About 100 yards below the palm tree oasis, I spotted what I thought might be a chuckwalla from the car. I took out my telephoto lense - and it was!

I got out of the car for a closer look at the chuckwalla and it moved up a little on the rock so I had a better view.

However, as I got closer, the chuckwalla scurried on the other side of the rocks. When I investigated, I found it wedged in a crack between the rocks.

As I reached my hand in the crack to try and grab its tail, it whipped its tail at my hand, similar to what I've seen green iguanas do, then it curled its tail to the side, making it so that I could not touch it. So I went to my car, pulled a hanger off a shirt in my suitcase, and used the hook end of the hanger to coax the tail down to where I could grab it. With some effort, I was able to get more and more of the tail, until almost to the base, and was then able to pull the chuckwalla out of the crack. He was a big, beautiful lizard, with black and rust colors that matched perfectly the rocks he was in.

The sandpaper rough skin gives them more friction as they brace themselves from being pulled out of the rock crevices.

I took photos of it in my hand, as I was not sure how I was going to get any more photos of it when I put it back down.

It is a good thing, because when I put it in the middle of the dirt road, hoping that I would have a chance to take photos of it when I put it down, I was shocked to see the chuckwalla beeline back to the rocks in a shockingly quick run. I was fast on its tail, but not fast enough. The chuckwalla made it back into the rocks and wedged himself quickly into another crevice. Lesson learned: chuckwallas are very fast, despite their big bulky appearance. After many trips to Corn Springs, in the Chuckwalla Mountainas, I finally had seen my first chuckwalla there. Another lesson learned. They like heat and I need to go back in the heat in order to see more of them!

On April 3, 2010, I took Andrew and Lauren to Carey's Castle. On our way back, hiking through a wash, I saw another chuckwalla,
this one walking across a large rock ready to go into a crevice.
I watched it for several minutes, taking quite a few pictures, until it went into the crevice so far that we had no chance of touching it, let alone catching it. The head was lighter and the blotched body matched the color of the rock very well.
The appearance is very different from the one in the Chuckwalla Mountains and even from the one I saw last year in the same vicinity. The powerful hind legs and tail.
The tail itself.

Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail stretches from the Mexico border with the United States, near Campo, California, to the U.S./Canada border above North Cascades National Park in the state of Washington. It was conceived in 1932 by Clinton C. Clarke and given official status by the National Trails System Act of 1968. It was officially completed in 1993. It stretches 2,650 miles from an elevation just above sea level at the Oregon/Washington border to an elevation of 13,153 feet at Forrester Pass in the Sierras.

It has been a dream of mine to do the entire trail, although it seems improbable at this point. However, I have been keeping track of my mileage along the trail and currently have completed 290.3 miles. The hikes to do these miles have spanned almost 18 years, from July 1991 to present.

As of the original posting of this article, on April 26, 2009, I had completed 178.2 continuous miles of the PCT (in multiple trips) from Snow Creek, south of the I-10 freeway in the Banning Pass, to Islip Saddle on the Angeles Crest Highway in the San Gabriel Mountains. I had completed 96.1 miles (not all continuous) in the Sierras.

On August 29, 1992, while I was scoutmaster, Paul Billings did trail maintenance on the Pacific Crest Trail as his Eagle project. He did a two mile segment of the PCT near Onyx Summit in the San Bernardino Mountains. The picture below is of a portion of the scout troop during that project with Mount San Gorgonio in the background. From left to right, are Jeremiah Brice, Brian Williams, Paul Billings, Ryan Belka, Peter Walker, Ron Kalama, Ryan Kalama and Brad Martinsen. Below, the boys work on a portion of the trail.
Peter Walker and Paul Billings stand next to a PCT marker.

More of a close-up of the PCT marker.

On April 24, 2009, my nephew, Rick DeLong, started at Campo, California, at the Mexico border, for his attempted thru hike of the PCT. I have some feelings of envy as he is doing one of my dreams. But I am getting some vicarious satisfaction out of watching him do it. He has been doing a blog of his planning for the PCT ( and presumably will update it along the trail. I plan on meeting up with him on May 1st and 2nd to hike a portion of the PCT and hope to make connections with him further along the trail.

Updated July 26, 2009:

This post is my launch for all posts relating to PCT hikes that I have taken and will post in the future, or that I will take in the future. The following are the posts so far:

I have currently done 352.6 miles of the PCT, 124.2 of them in the Sierras.

Mushrooms: Wood Ear and Oyster

Andrew has become quite a connoisseur of mushrooms. He used to dislike them; but then after doing a project on them in a botany class at UCLA and reading books like The Omnivore's Dilemma, he has developed quite an interest and taste for them. Because of Andrew's interest, I have decided to learn more about them, particularly the mushrooms other than the regular white cap mushrooms readily available in stores.

We visited the Los Angeles Times Bookfair at UCLA on Saturday and I took the opportunity, while in Westwood, to go to Whole Foods Market, which usually has a diversified selection of mushrooms. The selection was not as great as what I've seen in the past, but I was able to purchase wood ear mushrooms and oyster mushrooms, neither of which I am aware of eating in the past.

The wood ear mushroom is very unusual. It has a somewhat shiny dark-brown or black top and a fuzzy gray underside, that looks almost like mold. It is very thin and rubbery. It grows on the side of trees and looks like ears growing out of the tree, hence the name. It is also called the tree ear, dry black fungus, silver ear and mook yee mushroom. The top is usually 1 to 8 inches long and ours were on the larger side, perhaps 6 or 7 inches. Raw, it did not have much of a taste. It was thin, rubbery and had a bit of a crunch. It is not a mushroom I would eat raw.
Chopped wood ear mushrooms in preparation for frying.

The oyster mushroom also grows on the side of trees and also gets its name from the shape of its cap, which resembles an oyster shell. The top of the cap was primarily a creamy white, with striations resembling coral. The underside of the cap was a light brown, and lacked the striations of the top side. The oyster mushroom is much thicker than the wood ear, but it also has somewhat of a spungy feel, although much less so than the wood ear. The taste of the oyster is very close to that of the white cap mushroom, but the oyster mushroom is much larger and much less firm.

The oyster mushroom chopped and ready for frying.

Judy cut up some large green onions and began to cook them in olive oil and a little butter. After the onions had cooked for awhile and started to soften, she added both the wood ear and oyster mushrooms.

The wood ear mushrooms retained their distinctive shape and color and the oyster mushrooms appeared much more like chopped up white cap mushrooms. The wood ear mushrooms were more flavorful cooked than raw, and were not as rubbery, but they still had a bit of a crunch. The oyster mushrooms were much more flavorful: I assume they assimilated the butter and salt flavors more readily. The wood ears add a fun look, but that is about as far as it goes for me. The oysters are larger than white caps and have approximately the same taste, so I would use them in the same way I use white caps.

We also combined both kinds of raw mushrooms in a salad with hard-boiled egg, tomato, some goat and blue cheese and lettuce. Judy did not like the wood ear. My feelings for them raw in the salad mirrored my feelings for them cooked. If there was much of a price differential between oyster and white cap, I would go with whatever is cheaper. If close in price, I would probably go with the oyster, as it is bigger and has more of a distinctive shape; although that would be enough to turn-off some picky eaters.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Roasted Guinea Pig & Grilled Alpaca

In February of this year we were in Cusco, Peru and visited the Incanto, a relatively new restaurant a few doors down from the cathedral. One of my priorities, while in Peru, was to eat guinea pig and alpaca. The Incanto served both.

Wikipedia, Guinea Pig, provides basic information on the guinea pig, or cuy as it is known in Spanish. The guinea pig weighs between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds and is 8 to 10 inches in length. They were originally domesticated for their meat in the Andes where they are fed the family's vegetable scraps. The meat is high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol and described as similar to rabbit and the dark meat of chicken (a fair desciption). It may be served fried (chactado or frito), broiled (asado) or roasted (al horno). Peruvians consume an estimated 65 million guinea pigs a year. Cuy t-shirts abound in the tourist shops and a famous painting of the Last Supper, in the Cusco Cathedral, just a few doors up from the Incanto, has Christ and the twelve apostles dining on guinea pig.

I ordered the guinea pig, as did two of my partners, John Mirau and Bill Tooke. It was served two different ways, both "al horno" or oven roasted. The restaurant had a large clay oven inside the restaurant in full view and we saw them roasting the various cuy dishes.

I was initially disappointed that our cuy came cut-up into pieces, without the head. I'd seen pictures of the cooked rodent, laying on its back, four feet jutting up into the air and the head still on. It just didn't seem like we were getting the full experience. However, I was happily surprised at how good it was. Bill got the cuy with gnocchi and John and I got it with potatoes. The cuy on both plates were prepared differently and tasted different, but I'm not sure what the differences were. Bill's seemed limited to the legs and thighs, As seen below.

John's and my version seemed to include the legs and thighs, as well as rib meat (what little there was of it). My first thought, in eating it, was prairie chicken. The leg bones seemed just about the same size and thickness as prairie chicken I've eaten. It is moist, like a dark meat, and had a wonderful flavor. I really enjoyed it for it's taste and not just for it's oddity. My potatoes were way too dry and I had to ask for butter, but the guinea pig was not inflicted with the same dryness.

The other unusal dish we had at Incanto was the alpaca. The alpaca is smaller than the domesticated llama and larger than the wild vicuna, which is believed to be the wild ancestor of the alpaca, which was specifically bred for its fiber which is used to make knitted and woven items, much like sheep's wool. Unlike the llama, the alpaca is too small to be used as a pack animal.

Judy and Susan Mirau both ordered the alpaca. Judy's dish was described as a "chinotto risotto" with green and black olives and it was grilled perfectly. It was nice and rare inside with a wonderful grilled taste on the outside. Judy described it as one of the best meats she's ever eaten and really loved it.

I did not have a chance to taste Susan's alpaca dish, but it appeared to be grilled similarly, but was served with a pasta and a creamy white sauce.

I was disappointed that we were not able to try cuy again. I did get another chance to eat alpaca, again in Cusco at a different restaurant. It was a disappointment. It was a thin, overcooked slice that had none of the flavor or moistness of the Incanto dish. I would best describe it as a tough piece of flank steak. It just served to highlight for me how wonderfully prepared the Incanto version was and the Incanto version was also a much better cut of meat.