Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Hike #32 Morena Butte

52 Hike Challenge 2016 Adventure Series

10.25 miles | +1500'

The uniqueness of Morena Butte is in the dramatic divide of the different landscapes. You first weave past Lake Morena along the Pacific Crest Trail, through rock fields and chaparral slopes, then along a pleasant meadow with scattered oaks and pines. As you approach the summits, the well-marked trail disappears, making the rocky climb one of adventure and reward. The climb over rocky ridges and tight passageways offers spectacular views of Lake Morena and Hauser Canyon. This hike also has the bonus of offering a loop, instead of just a there-and-back route. This trek is best in the spring and early summer, when wildflowers are on display.

Hike #31 Cowles Mountain via Barker Way

52 Hike Challenge 2016 Adventure Series

3 miles | +1000'

Hike #30 Crucifixion Thorn Natural Area

52 Hike Challenge 2016 Adventure Series

1.25 miles

The Crucifixion Thorn Natural Area is an interesting place to view desert plants and wildflowers. Located southwest of the Yuha Desert on Highway 98 in Imperial County, this fenced area has excellent stands of crucifixion thorn, ironwood, palo verde, ocotillo, mesquite, and creosote. Spring is usually the best time of year to visit the area. When nature provides sufficient winter rains, an abundance of wildflowers and blooms from a variety of desert plants can be seen.

Also known as corona de Cristo, the crucifixion thorn (Castela emoryi) is the highlight of the area. Although fairly common in other southwest desert basins (Arizona and Mexico), crucifixion thorn is rare in California. This stand is one of a few in southwest Imperial County. The name crucifixion thorn comes from the resemblance of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during his trial and crucifixion.

In spring, small pink flowers can be found on the thorny branches of the crucifixion thorn. Fruits also grow, and are usually scarlet in color. The fruits can stay on the plant for years and it is usually possible to identify each season's fruit clusters by the degree of weathering. As the fruit ages, it turns black and brown. The older fruit is often mistaken for parasitic growth or the result of disease.

The flat terrain of the area offers easy hiking. There are no facilities in the area, so visitors should bring their own water.

Hike #28 & 29 Coyote Canyon Backpacking Adventure

52 Hike Challenge 2016 Adventure Series

27 miles | +430' -3200'

While I've explored this area of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park extensively with my Jeep, hiking down the length of Coyote Canyon has been on my list for a while now. This was truly a memorable adventure, with mud stomping, water crossings, and cactus dodging in abundance.

Coyote Canyon is the primary path of Coyote Creek, a meandering 35-mile monument to Anza-Borrego history and Mountain Cahuilla civilization. It offers challenges to backpackers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, and 4-wheel drive enthusiasts, and opportunities for day-hikers to get away from well-travelled roads.

Coyote Canyon can be approached from Borrego Springs in the south and Anza in the north. The Coyote Canyon Jeep Trail is closed to all from June to October, allowing the local Peninsular Bighorn Sheep free access to the water in the creek. The jeep trail ends at Middle Willows at the north end of Collins Valley. From here north it is mountain bikers, hikers, and horsemen only, all the way to the Terwilliger Valley in Anza.

In the 1770's, Juan Bautista de Anza led two expeditions across the desert to the California coast. One was to explore the route, the other was to bring over 200 people and 1,000 head of cattle to colonize San Francisco. The Anza expeditions left the desert and its hardships at Nance Canyon, which was where our trek began.

Lower Willows is a two-mile slot of dense green foliage along the banks of Coyote Creek. It fills a meandering narrow slot between the mountains west of Anza-Borrego (Bucksnort Mountain, Hot Springs Mountain, San Ysidro Mountain) and the Santa Rosa Mounains. Access is on foot or on horseback. All others must traverse two creek crossings and a difficult bypass road.

This is a hike with many rewards, not the least of which is being able to walk in the cool waters of Coyote Creek on a hot day. Feel free to walk barefoot. The deep mud can pull sandals right off your feet. Shoes will get wet. Wear shorts or hiking pants that convert to shorts. Protect your camera and any other fragile possessions in case you slip and fall in the water.

Middle Willows, at the north end of Collins Valley, is a place where the waters of Coyote Creek rise to the surface, and the greenery is dense, particularly willows. Wild and remote would be good words to describe Upper Willows and its environs. This area is miles from just about any place, and when it rains or snows and the roads develop bumps and washouts, they tend to stay bumpy and washed out.

Hike #27 Buckman Springs to Lake Morena via PCT

52 Hike Challenge 2016 Adventure Series

10 miles | +1000'

Back on the Pacific Crest Trail! From Cottonwood Creek, the trail here briefly parallels Buckman Springs Road before crossing under a bridge and ascending a chaparral slope. From April through July, this arid landscape comes alive with wildflowers.

A series of switchbacks climb the ridge around mossy boulders, leaving the road behind. Large granite outcroppings along the way offer an idea spot to stop and admire the landscape. Distance views of Hauser Mountain and Lake Morena come and go around every bend.

Soon, the route drops into a shaded oak ravine and and crosses several Jeep roads. After passing through a metal gate, the isolation of this pleasant trail begins to fade. Houses line this stretch of the PCT, which leads to the shoreline of beautiful Lake Morena.

Hike #26 Sweetwater River Loop

52 Hike Challenge 2016 Adventure Series

8 miles | +1000'

The Sweetwater River Loop at the base of the Cuyamaca Mountains is a great local hike. It's a very scenic route with a variety of terrain. Water crossings, steep climbs, oak shaded gullies, thick brush and poison oak to avoid, meadows, waterfalls and old diversion dams that beckon further exploration... and all in the rain and fog for me on this trip!

The Sweetwater River is a 55-mile long stream in San Diego County, California.

From its headwaters high in the Cuyamaca Mountains, the river flows generally southwest, first through rugged hinterlands but then into the urban areas surrounding its mouth at San Diego Bay. Its drainage basin covers more than 230 square miles, all of it within San Diego County. Towns on the river include Descanso, La Presa and Chula Vista.

The term "Sweetwater" is a name often given to freshwater which tastes good in regions where much of the water is bitter to the taste. The Spanish called the river "Agua Dulce", a name they applied to good clear water anywhere they lived.

Hike #25 Boulder Oaks to Buckman Springs via PCT

52 Hike Challenge 2016 Adventure Series

5.25 miles | +200'

Stretching from Mexico to Canada, the 2,650 mile PCT is traversed by more than 350 thru-hikers annually. In addition, thousands of day hikers drop on and off the famed trail, officially designated by Congress on October 2, 1968.

As a native San Diegan, I've been so pleased to find the stunning beauty of the Pacific Crest Trail practically in my own backyard.

This hike is generally made only by PCT thru-hikers those on their way north towards the Laguna Mountains from Lake Morena. From Old Highway 80, the flat trail enters Boulder Oaks Campground, which has horse corrals and 30 campsites. The trail narrows leaving the campground and skirts large outcroppings of gray boulders, atypical of the red rock formations usually found in the Laguna Mountains. 

Nearly half of this hike parallels Buckman Springs Road, so the sounds of passing cars often intrudes on the solitude and tranquility. A meadow of live oaks provides welcome shade on sunny days. This section of the PCT ends just below a white bridge spanning over Cottonwood Creek at Buckman Springs Road. From here, the trail continues uphill towards Lake Morena.