Winter Sojourn

Deserts, mountains, forests or beaches–choose any one of these as a preference for a day hike and you will be able to find it in the San Diego area. And, best of all, when it’s the last week in January and cold everywhere else in the country, the weather here is sunny and in the 70’s. Rainy days are a possibility this time of the year but we were fortunate to have nice weather during our visit.

The day that we drove here from Yuma, we took a slight detour off the interstate to go through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. In a previous visit to southern California we had been to the northern section of the park. The southern section is less populated and it was easy to find a place to take a short hike and bask in the desert sunshine.

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Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
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Hike to a California Fan Palm Oasis.

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Between Anza-Borrego and San Diego are the Laguna Mountains, which were a hiking destination for one of our days in San Diego.  As we drove on the Sunrise Highway that leads into the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area, our first stop was an overlook with a view east towards Anza-Borrego.  It is also a point where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the highway.

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Viewpoint from Laguna Mountains looking towards Anza-Borrego.

In addition to a 15-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Recreation Area map showed many other options for interconnecting loop trails to explore.
We picked out a section with the intention of hiking 5 or 6 miles to a “lake” and then maybe doing a short section on the Pacific Crest Trail. But we had problems following the map and the 5 or 6 miles turned into a 9-mile loop. By the time we got back to the car we were too tired to do any more trails.

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Hike in Laguna Mountains Recreation Area.
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Remnant of one of the lakes along the trail.
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Looking west through the haze from one of the ridges we could see downtown San Diego.
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A bird called the acorn woodpecker drills holes in Ponderosa Pine trees to create granaries for storing food.

The day that we hiked at Los Penasquitos Canyon we found ourselves competing for the trails with the many mountain bikers, as everyone seemed to be out enjoying the warm weekend weather.

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Off the main trail at Los Penasquitos, but it did avoid mountain bikers.

Our San Diego experience wouldn’t be complete without some time at the beaches. We enjoyed viewing the steep cliffs at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.
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For more of a hiking opportunity we spent an afternoon on the trails at Torrey Pines State Reserve.
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Then there was a morning spent at San Diego’s famous Balboa Park, a foggy walk another morning at Cabrillo Point and some afternoon strolls along the beaches to watch the surfers and sunbathers. With so much to see, there were sights that we missed, but I’m sure there will be other winters that we will come here as an escape from the cold.
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Lost Dutchman

I’m really enjoying the Arizona sunshine, but, unfortunately, today’s hike was a bit much for Lee.

Just kidding. We both enjoyed our hike at Lost Dutchman State Park in the Superstition Mountains. Maybe this poor fellow is the lost Dutchman.

When we left Albuquerque yesterday morning it was in another round of scattered snow showers. I don’t think that storm amounted to much, but I know it’s not as warm and sunny there as it is here in Arizona.

Our stop in Phoenix is just for one day, as we continue on tomorrow for our San Diego destination. We haven’t been to Lost Dutchman before and it turned out to be a good choice for a day hike, not too far from the city. Of course, there were a lot more people on the trails than what we see in New Mexico. But there’s plenty of room to roam for both hikers and horseback riders.

Trials or Trails?

This week’s quest to find a suitable area for a day hike led us to a familiar area of BLM land known as the San Ysidro Trials. I once thought it was a misspelling and was supposed to be San Ysidro Trails. But it’s “Trials” because a large section of it is used for recreational motorcyclists (aka ‘dirt bikes’) who want to test their expertise riding in and around the rocky arroyos in the area. Fortunately, during the times we have hiked there we haven’t encountered any of the roaring, noisy machines, although it’s obvious from their tracks that it is well used.

When we go there we like to walk past the trials area and get to a section of eroded sandstone that, even on a cloudy day, has colorful and interesting rock formations. As wet as the desert still is, we knew we probably would have to navigate through some muddy spots before we got to the rocks. But the parking area is right off a paved highway so we didn’t have to drive any muddy roads. In the spots where the trail got muddy we were able to pick our way through spots of grass along the trail.

This landmark lets us know we are crossing the arroyo in the right place. Look closely to see the “monkey face” rock.

Another reason we like hiking in this area is to check out the many tinajas. “Tinaja : a bedrock depression that fills with water during the summer monsoonal rains and when snowfall accumulates in the winter.” We’ve had a winter with snow accumulations and the tinajas didn’t disappoint. Here are a few of the interesting ones.

First Hike of 2019

After two winter storms passed through our fair state, it was a challenge today to come up with ideas for doing our first hike of the New Year. Here in town the ground is clear and dry, and even looking East to the Sandias, most of the snow on the visible slopes has melted. But we know there’s a lot more snow on the other side of the mountain and probably the trails on this side would be snow packed and icy. Most of the interesting desert hikes that we do require driving on miles of dirt roads. Those roads would still be too muddy for our car to handle.

The hike that we decided to do is an old favorite and is the one Sandia trail that we were fairly certain would be free of snow. The Three Gun Springs trail is on the south end of the mountain and gets plenty of sunshine so it, also, would be a warm spot, since the day was starting off quite chilly.

As we started up the trail it became quickly evident that we had underestimated the amount of snow and overestimated the amount of clothing we would need for warmth. Even under normal circumstances the steepness of the slope makes this hike a good workout, but today required extra work to keep from sliding off the packed down footsteps of previous hikers that allowed us to hike over the snow. Without those footsteps we wouldn’t have been able to do the hike at all. We were soon shedding layers of clothing and welcoming any small breeze that kept us cool.

I was ready to turn around after 2 miles. A nice ledge at that point provides an ideal sitting spot to have lunch and enjoy the view. I know, that’s pretty wimpy of me to turn around after 2 miles. But I have a good excuse since I’m still in recovery mode from the recent 10-day “stony” episode that sapped my usual strength. A good story for another time.

Someone’s sad, leftover snowman (snow bear?) about a mile up the trail.

Higher up, there is actually less snow because the sun quickly melts it off the exposed rocks.

Quebradas Sediments

A few weeks ago when we did a hike in the Manzano Mountains I got carried away taking pictures of rocks along the trail. The wavy, layered metamorphic rocks that are abundant in the Manzanos look to me like beautiful pieces of artwork. I couldn’t resist posting some of my photos here.

Yesterday we were hiking in another area that compels me to take pictures of rocks. We were in the Quebradas, this time not an area of metamorphic rocks, but, instead, mostly sedimentary rocks. But sedimentary rocks form in layers, also, and with the fractures, folds and faults that occur on the earth’s surface many sedimentary rocks end up with fascinating shapes and patterns.

In addition to folding and faulting that reshapes the sediments, sometimes there are certain chemical processes that change the colors of the rocks in interesting ways. I don’t know all of the details, but in the laboratory of the geology class I recently completed, I remember the instructor explaining the round white dots in some reddish sandstones as places where a chemical impurity in the sandstone as it was being oxidized (changing it to the reddish color) would prevent the oxidation, leaving a white space around the impurity. There were many rocks in the Quebradas that had that feature and I photographed several samples.

Quebradas is a Spanish word meaning “breaks,” a rugged or rocky area. The BLM owns most of the land along the Quebradas Back Country Byway, a 24-mile dirt road east of Socorro that parallels I-25. There are 10 numbered stops, places along the way to park and observe various geologic features. Official hiking trails are nonexistent–you just wander anywhere in the vast emptiness that happens to capture your interest.

We parked at Stop 4, which is in the upper reaches of the Arroyo del Tajo. A nice hike that we have done before is to walk about 2-1/2 miles down the arroyo, observing the rocks (in Lee’s case observing the wildflowers, which are few and far between this time of year) and then rounding a corner to find yourself in this amazing slot canyon.

Walking out the other side leads to a nice ledge to stop and have lunch, which is what we did, before turning around and retracing our steps back to the car. Altogether an enjoyable winter hike.

Nambe Badlands

It wasn’t a long hike and we almost didn’t go, but at the end of the day we both agreed it was a fun outing. The tail end of a winter storm in the north blew into Albuquerque last night and we knew it would be cold and windy today. I had been wanting to check out Nambe Badlands but thought another time might be better.

I really had second thoughts when we got to Santa Fe and saw that there had been some measurable snow there and in the area where we were headed. My hiking boots are not waterproof and don’t go above the ankle so I wasn’t prepared for tromping through snow.

To my relief, once we started up the trail I could see that the snow wouldn’t be a problem. Lee took the lead, making it possible for me to step into his footprints. The sun warmed us up quickly and the wind lessened a bit. We had some nice views of the snow-covered Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the distance. And now I can check Nambe Badlands off my bucket list.

A New Tradition

Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s–we all have special traditions that we celebrate this time of year. When children grow up and leave home and families are scattered far and wide many of our traditions are no longer meaningful. Then it’s time to think about creating new traditions.

I think I’m going to start a new tradition for me and Lee. Today was just one day short of being exactly a year ago that we hiked up Manzano Peak. As we hiked along I found myself pondering events of the past year. We have so much to be thankful for, not the least of which is the fact that we are both healthy and strong enough to be doing this hike again. With 9 miles of hiking and a 2000-foot elevation gain on the way up it’s not an easy hike.

Click on map for interactive version.

Observing a tradition once every year can be a milestone that allows us to measure changes over the course of the year. I thought about all that was different in our lives and what things had stayed the same. I remembered concerns I had last year that never materialized. There were obstacles and rough spots, but just like this hike, they were overcome as we moved along one step at a time.

I also looked for landmarks along the trail that I remembered from last year. One was this heart-shaped rock. It had tumbled a bit further down the slope but was still close enough to the trail that I spotted it. Lee moved it back close to the trail, in spite of my concern that someone might come along and remove it. I’ll look forward to seeing if it’s still there next year.

This year the weather was more sunny, but there were also some patches of snow at the higher elevations; whereas last year there hadn’t been any.




The left photo is last year’s hike and the right photo is this year. I’m looking forward to next year!