Saturday, December 15, 2018

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Thursday, November 22, 2018

SoCal trail passes ponds, conifers, sequoias

A small grove of giant sequoia - an unusual sight in Southern California -
grows off the Oak Glen Nature Trail.
Oak Glen Nature Trail map; map
courtesy of The Wildlands Conservancy
The following article originally was written for and published by the Uken Report:

As the Coachella Valley simmers in triple digit heat through the summer, there are plenty of nearby hikes that deliver comfortable warmth and greenery. The Oak Glen Nature Trail at the Oak Glen Preserve is one such escape that’s easy to reach.

Nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains, morning temps at the preserve usually hover in the 70s. The 2189-acre preserve sits close to a mile above sea level and is run by The Wildlands Conservancy.

The trail is a roughly 2-mile loop. A number of small side trails that loop back to the main route allow you to personalize the adventure based on your interests and energy.

Apple grove
To reach the trailhead, from the Coachella Valley take Interstate 10 west toward Cabazon. In Beaumont at Exit 94, turn right/north onto Beaumont Avenue. The street naturally becomes Oak Glen Road as rising into the foothills. Park in the first lot in the preserve’s entrance. Look for the Ranch Entry Gate to the west of the parking lot; that's the trailhead.

The first portion of the dirt trail includes a couple of short interconnected loops on one side with a Double Red Delicious apple grove on the other.

Next the trail transitions through a small patch of fragrant conifers common to the Golden State. Mountains loom behind the trees. For a few moments, you actually feel like you’re in northern California.

The trail then circles around the Red-Wing Pond, which includes a small dock and next to it tiny frog ponds. One side of that loop passes a duck pond. The setting is quite tranquil, offering a beautiful reflection of blue sky and mountains.

Heading south from the Red-Wing Pond, the trail runs alongside a stream. It grows steep as gaining elevation; if you have trouble hiking steep areas, consider bringing a trekking pole or skipping this section and turning back the way you came.

Chaparral foothills
If you do climb the hill, great views of the preserve below and the San Bernardino Mountains to the north await.

Near the top is another side trail, the Chaparral Loop, that heads through standard Southern California foothill terrain and fauna. It’s an interesting trail, especially as it nicely contrasts with the apple groves and conifers crossed earlier. Be aware that there's no shade on this side trail.

A picnic area with open space for kids to run around on sits off the trail’s southern portion. It’s a great place to enjoy a snack or even an early lunch.

Coming off the hill, the trail heads through a more wooded area and circles back to a knoll thick in oak. From there, parallel the preserve road back to your parking lot.

Giant sequoia
Along the way, keep an eye out for giant sequoia. Extremely young and so not as tall compared to what you’ll find in northern California, especially at Sequoia, Kings Canyon or Yosemite national parks, they still are immense. They are an unusual sight, to say the least, in Southern California.

Among the many animals you’ll spot on the trail are quails, ducks, various songbirds, and possibly even deer. Coyote and bobcat tracks from their prowling the night before sometimes can be seen in the loose dirt.

After hiking the trail, you can visit the neighboring Riley’s at Los Rios Rancho Apple Farm – which is leased to apple growers by the conservancy – and pick apples, if the season is right. They usually are ripe September through December.

Dogs are allowed on the trail if kept on a leash. Bring your own water. Preserve entry and parking is free.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Trail runs through oasis below sea level

Springs created when action on the San Andreas Fault brought water to the
surface created oases of hundreds of fan palms.
Aerial photo of San Andreas Trail
Day hikers can enjoy a massive desert oasis that hosts some of California's rarest flora and fauna at the Dos Palmas Preserve.

The 0.9-mile San Andreas Trail weaves through an oasis and wetlands that sit atop expansive alkali flats. Much of this lollipop trail is below sea level; in fact, the entire preserve at the base of the Orocopia Mountains is an average -112 feet elevation.

To reach the trailhead, from the Coachella Valley take Calif. Hwy. 111 south of Mecca to along the Salton Sea. Once past North Shore, turn left/northeast onto Parkside Drive. Go right/southeast onto the dirt Power Line Road. Then turn left/east onto the dirt Dos Palmas Road (some maps show this as Sea Breeze Drive). In about 1.5 miles, you'll reach a metal gate. The parking lot is on the right. At the lot, look for the "San Andreas Trail" sign and follow the sand path, bordered with rocks, toward the oasis.

The stem of the trail heads across the flat dotted with scrub and mesquite bush common to the Colorado Desert. It nicely gives the feeling of desolation as the hope of a hazy green oasis grows on the horizon.

The gradually gradually descends. Several times during and since the last ice age, the preserve sat beneath a freshwater lake, most recently about 600-1100 years ago when Native Americans fished the shores of what geologists call Ancient Lake Cahuilla.

At 0.3 miles, the trail crosses a service road and reaches the wetlands portion of the oasis. It is one of at least three oases in the preserve with the larger ones to the east.

Artesian springs and seepage from the nearby Coachella Canal feed the oases. A shift in the San Andreas Fault during the 1800s allowed underground water to reach the surface as springs; during the mid 1800s, only two fan palms grew at the oasis; by 1900, there were 40 palms at the site, and by 1940 several hundred were counted in three distinct locations.

Endangered species
Three rare and endangered species make the oases home.

The Yuma clapper rail will be the easiest to spot. Building its nest in the oases’ cattails, the large footed brown clapper eats crayfish, clams, isopods, fish and various insects. It can be found in isolated spots across the Southwest – the Gila River in Arizona, the Virgin and Muddy rivers from Utah to Las Vegas, and here. It is disappearing in large part because its wetland habitats have been eliminated.

Kneel next to the oases’ warm pools and see if you can spot the desert pupfish, which was far more common in the Pleistocene era when ice covered much of North America and lakes much of the California desert. Less than three inches in length, during the breeding season males turn bright blue with a lemon yellow tail. They exist in remnants of former Salton Sea and Colorado River habitats that are disappearing due to evaporation and by man’s heavy use of the Colorado. Unlike other Ice Age creatures that have gone extinct, the pup fish has hung on thanks to its ability to tolerate extreme environments.

If the air smells a bit like lavender, you’re probably near the rare and endangered orocopia sage plant. A low, rounded shrub that tops out at about three feet high, it usually can be seen in floodplains and along washes. It’s found only in California and then only in the area between the Salton Sea and the Little San Bernardino Mountains.

A common sight at the oases but rarely seen across the rest of the Coachella Valley are damsel and dragonflies, which flit over the ponds and wetlands. The Blue Dasher, Western Pondhawk, and Marl Pennant are the most common.

Much rarer but still worth keeping an eye out for is the Rambur's Forktail, whose colors seem to glow in the desert sun. Also watch for the Red-tailed Pennant; the males with their aptly named tail are quite striking.

Jungle-like environment
The trail soon winds through hundreds of fan palms swaying in the desert. Thick dead leaves surround their trunks, helping protect the tree from the desert heat.

Once the trail reaches the service road, turn left. In 0.1 mile, the road intersects the stem trail you walked in on; turn right onto it and retrace your steps back to the parking lot. As doing so, keep an eye to the sky for various birds. Both osprey and the snowy egret use the oases while the northern harrier and prairie falcon hunt in the surrounding desert.

Because of the desert heat, the trail is best done October through May and then only in the mornings during late spring. Always bring and drink plenty of water, even in the oases. As part of the hike is unshaded, wear sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.

The preserve is administered by the Bureau of Land Management and sits within the Salt Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks series.