Thursday, June 17, 2021

Palm Desert, Calif., trail offers great workout

The Mike Schuler Trail is a hike more for those seeking exercise outdoors
 than those looking to commune with nature.
Mike Schuler Trail aerial map. Click for larger version.
The following article originally was written for and appeared in Uken Report.

Sometimes trails aren’t about getting back to nature but just for exercising outdoors.

Such is the case with the Mike Schuler Trail in Palm Desert’s foothills. Though short at 1.6 miles, its 272 feet of elevation gain up and down two foothills, makes it a fantastic workout.

The trail overlooks both Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage. For backpackers or trail runners looking to get an even harder workout, the trail connects to the Bump and Grind Trail and as often done in conjunction with it; in fact, some trail maps identify this route with that name as well.

To reach the trailhead, from Calif. Hwy. 111 in Palm Desert, turn west onto Fred Waring Drive. Go left/south onto Painters Path. The trailhead is in about 100 yards on the right/west. Park along the street.

Up and down
At the trailhead, you can go one of two directions. The Mike Schuler Trail heads right/north and connects to the Bump and Grind. The section heading left/south runs to the Hopalong Cassidy Trail in Palm Desert.

Go right/north onto the Mike Schuler and enter the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. You’ll start gaining altitude quickly as the trail is steep. The views of Palm Desert – and later of Rancho Mirage – are quite striking at night.

After switchbacking up the side of a small foothill, the trail heads west along its rolling tip. This offers a nice view of the Santa Rosa Mountains to the south. The Little San Bernardino Mountains and the Indio Hills are to the north.

There isn’t much in the way of wildlife or interesting flora on the trail. You will see a lot of people, though, as it’s a popular route.

Bump and Grind
From the hilltop, the trail steeply descends – it’s a mean 9 degree grade – and crosses three washes. From there, it heads up the side of a foothill.

At 0.8 miles, you arrive at the top. The trail junctions with the Bump and Grind, which heads left/west, and the Desert Drive Trail, going right/east. The latter descends to the end of Desert Drive in Rancho Mirage. This marks a good turnback spot.

The trail memorializes long-time Palm Desert resident Michael Schuler, who designed and built many horse and hiking trails in the area. Among them are the Hopalong Cassidy Trail, the Art Smith Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail segments. Schuler passed away in 2012.

You’ll want to wear sneakers with good tread if exercising. Water and sunscreen is a must, though, depending on the season the trail can be largely hiked in the shadows of the mountains to the west. Dogs are not allowed on the trail.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Trail crosses forest on way to outcropping

Suicide Rock is a granite outcropping rising to 7528 feet elevation near
Idyllwild, Calif.
Suicide Rock Trail topo map. Click for larger version.
This article originally was written for and appeared in the Uken Report.

With summer’s annual baking of California’s Coachella Valley, the best way to beat the desert heat is to to gain some elevation. Pine-studded Mount San Jacinto State Park nicely fits that bill.

Hikers can head to a granite rock outcropping that offers great views via a route that heads through the park.

The 6.6-mile round trip to Suicide Rock – consisting of the Deer Springs and the Suicide Rock trails – begins in Idyllwild. You’ll need to pace yourself as the trail gains 1,900 feet at mile-high altitudes. The hike requires a wilderness permit, which can be obtained for free and is self-issued at the ranger station off of Calif. Hwy. 243.

Deer Springs Trail
To reach the trailhead, from Palm Desert take Calif. Hwy. 74 north. Turn right/north onto Calif. 243 and drive through Idyllwild, stopping at the ranger station for the permit. After passing the road for the Idyllwild Nature Center, look for an unpaved parking lot on the road’s right/north. The lot is the trailhead. You will need an Adventure Pass to park.

The hike starts at 5,600 feet on Deer Springs Trail. Oak trees line the route, but you’ll soon pass through a grove of manzanita, bushes that boast stunning red bark.

At 0.25 miles, the trail officially enters the Mount San Jacinto State Park and State Wilderness. Dogs are not allowed in state wilderness area.

The sandy trail can be dusty if the area has gone a few days without rain. Plenty of small, harmless lizards can be seen sunning on the sand and rocks in open spots.

Suicide Rock Trail
At 2.3 miles, the trail splits. Go right/northeast onto Suicide Rock Trail. The route has gained about 1300 feet elevation since the trailhead, and this is a good spot to rest.

In short order, the trail crosses the intermittent Marion Creek. If hiking in spring, snow melt will feed it and offer up a three-foot waterfall visible from the trail.

The trail dips before ascending to Suicide Rock. Watch for breaks in the trees that offers a fantastic view of Lily Rock which tops out at 7924 feet to the southeast.

At 2.5 miles, the trail enters the San Jacinto Wilderness portion of the San Bernardino National Forest. In addition to jurisdiction changes, you’ll also notice the trees changing to pines as entering subalpine elevations.

Suicide Rock
The trail finally reaches Suicide Rock at 3.3 miles. The outcropping tops out at 7528 feet.

If a fan of 1980s slasher films, Suicide Rock may look familiar to you. The outcropping played a vital role in the movie “Prey,” where it starred in the role of a Colorado mountain on which a group of campers is stalked and murdered.

The outcropping got its name from a legend in which a Native America princess and her lover, ordered to separate, instead committed suicide by jumping off the rock. There’s probably no truth to the story, though, as that legend is popular at a number of high points from California to the Midwest. It probably was appropriated for the rock in an effort to boost local tourism.

Though standing at the edge of Suicide Rock, imagining how the story might be true isn’t difficult. It’s a long, sharp drop down. Because of that, the outcropping with its 27 different walls is a popular rock climbing destination. More than 300 climbing routes have been identified on the rock wall.

Views from the top
Stay clear of the dangerous edges, though, and instead enjoy the impressive views. To the southeast is Strawberry Valley and Idyllwild below you. The peak on the other side of the valley is Lily Rock and beyond it Tahquitz Peak at 8721 feet. To the southwest is Bear Trap Canyon. Behind and above you to the north is Marion Mountain, peaking at 10,362 feet.

After taking in the sights, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

During summer, go early in the morning when Idyllwild’s temperatures are in the low 60s. By afternoon, temperatures will climb to the low 90s. Going down the hill in the late afternoon, however, does mean more shade.

Also, bring plenty of water. Though cooler than the valley floor, the mountainside still is fairly arid, and you’ll work up a sweat on the ascent.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

PCT segment heads through chaparral, pine

01 The Pacific Crest Tail crosses through chapparal and past interesting rocks north of Calif. Hwy. 74.
The Pacific Crest Tail crosses through chaparral
and past interesting rocks north of Calif. Hwy. 74.
PCT Plate 1 The red hashmark is the Pacific Coast Trail. Click
for larger version.
Plate 2
Plate 3
Plate 4
The following originally was written for and published by Uken Report.

As the Coachella Valley bakes with summer’s arrival, the best way to beat the heat is to gain some elevation. One great place for day hikers to do just that is the Pacific Crest Trail near Thomas Mountain.

The 12-miles round trip (6.5 miles each way) segment of the PCT between Calif. Hwy. 74 and Live Oak Spring Trail (4E03) sits high in the San Bernardino National Forest. It does sport an 1800-foot elevation gain, but the temperature at the trailhead can be 20 degrees lower than in Palm Springs – and it only cools as going up the mountain.

To reach the tailhead, from Palm Desert take Calif. Hwy. 74 (the Pines to Palms Highway) south into the mountains. After passing Bull Canyon Road, look for a turnoff to the parking lot on the road’s right/north side. If you’ve reached the intersection with Calif. Hwy. 371, you’ve gone too far. A couple of short connector trails run from the lot’s northwest corner to the Pacific Coast Trail. Go right/north on the PCT.

From 4919 feet elevation, the trail winds upward to the ridgetop, growing lusher with vegetation as gaining elevation. Penrod Canyon sits to the left/west of the trail.

Interesting rock formations and plenty of fragrant pines and juniper line the trail. If going in a year with a lot of rainfall, expect the route to be even more green in April. Prickly pear cactus and sugarbush can be spotted at the trail’s lower elevations.

The Pacific Crest Trail runs 2,653 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border southwest of San Diego to the Canadian border with Washington state. It generally follows the the highest ridges of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains, about 100-150 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.

After following the ridgetop on the Hwy. 74 to Lost Oak Spring segment, the trail descends via switchbacks into Penrod Canyon. While there are some ups and downs after that, there also are some fairly flat stretches.

During the sixth mile of the hike, the rail gradually climbs the mountainside. Butterfly Peak looms to the northwest. A few old mines sit on its southern flank.

After passing Butterfly Peak, two more summits rise before you – Lion Peak at 6868 feet to the northwest, Pine Mountain at 7054 feet directly north. Devils Rockpile, at 6600 feet, is southeast of Pine Mountain’s peak.

The junction with the Live Oak Spring Trail (4E03) marks the turnaround spot. If you have some extra energy, you can head about a mile (2-miles round trip) east/right on Live Oak to the spring, situated in a grove of pines.

As descending, you’ll enjoy great views of the desert valley below. Lookout Mountain is directly ahead, rising over Hwy. 74 near the trailhead. Thomas Mountain sits to the southwest and Vandeveter Flat is to the southeast.

Be sure to bring plenty of water for this adventure. Good hiking boots for the rocky surface and a trekking pole to maintain balance on the ascents and descents are recommended as well.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Wooded trail passes creek, Red Cedar River

The Birch Creek Trail loops across a wooded
bluff overlooking the Red Cedar River.
Day hikers can enjoy a woodland walk with wildflowers at the Keil Birch Creek Preserve in southwestern Menomonie, Wis.

The 0.75-mile Birch Creek Trail loops through the 28-acre preserve along the Red Cedar River. It is part of the Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area, which mainly protects prairie and oak savanna along the riverway and its tributaries.

To reach the trailhead, from downtown Menomonie take Wis. Hwy. 25 south. Turn right/west onto 490th Avenue, which becomes Scritsmier Avenue, then left/south onto 430th Street/River Heights Road. Park in the cul-de-sac at the road's end and head south onto the trail.

To save the more dramatic views for the hike's end, at the first junction go left/southeast.

Wild geranium blooms in profusion here during late May through early June. Lavender to purple in color, it has heavily veined five petals about 1-2 inches wide. Colonies in natural woodland openings are formed from long-lived clones of an individual plant. The flower grows all across Wisconsin.

When the trail splits again, continue left/southwest, as this takes you around the full loop.

A couple of other wildflowers that can be seen along the trail are false lily of the valley, starflower, and jack-in-the pulpit.

False lily of the valley's diminutive white flowers sit on a small spike cluster. Also known as the Canada mayflower or the wild lily of the valley, it produces green berries that turn dull red with white speckles. It can be found in both deciduous and conifer woods throughout Wisconsin.

Though small at only a half-inch across, the starflower’s all-white, seven-pointed flower stands out against its leaves like jewel on green velvet. It prefers moist areas and grows in the state's northern half.

Jack-in-the-pulpit blooms in spring. Its erect 2- to 3-inch long flower sits inside a green or purple hood at the top of a single stalk. American Indians cooked its below ground stem as food, so it's sometimes referred to as Indian turnip. The plant contains calcium oxalate crystals, however, so no part of it above ground is edible, as it causes a burning sensation in the mouth.

Birch Creek
At 0.19 miles, Birch Creek comes into view. By early summer, the upper creek usually is dry.

A short by steep side trail heads to the creek. During spring, the spur is worth taking as the creek spills over a small four-foot drop.

At 0.34 miles, a trail joins from the right/north. This is the other end of the trail at the second split when the hike began. Continue left/west.

The intermittent creek has carved a gorge out of the soft sandstone in the bluff. These rock walls grow increasingly striking as the gorge deepens.

At 0.42 miles, a very narrow, steep spur leads to the bottom of the lower gorge where the creek flows into the Red Cedar River. Due to the sheer drop-off, the trail is not recommend for children. Adults would be well advised to not take it either.

River views
Next the trail curves north. The Red Cedar can be seen through the trees on the left/west. The river flows 85 miles from Lake Chetac in Washburn County through the cities of Rice Lake and Menomonie on its way south to the Chippewa River near Pepin.

Maples, pines, aspen, birch and oak grow alongside the trail. Ferns often fill the understory.

At 0.73 miles, the trail arrives back at the stem leading to the parking lot. Go left/north on it.

Leashed dogs are allowed on the trail. Mountain bikes are verboten.

Topo map of the trail:

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

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

PCT segment heads up San Jacinto Peak

A great view of the San Gorgonio Pass awaits on the Pacific
Crest Trail.
Pacific Crest Trail topo map.
Click map for larger version.
This article originally was written for and appeared at Uken Report.

Day hikers can head up the northern flank of the San Jacinto Peak on a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The 5.32-miles round trip hike runs from a trailhead along Falls Creek Road to an intermittent stream that feeds a Snow Creek. Part of the trail technically is in the Palm Springs, Calif., city limits, but most of it sits in the desert portion of the San Bernardino National Forest.

To reach the trailhead, from Palm Springs, take Calif. Hwy. 111 northwest toward Interstate 10. Just before reaching the freeway entrance, turn left/southwest onto Snowcreek Canyon Road. Just before arriving at Snow Creek, go left/southeast onto Fall Creeks Road. When the road splits, turn left/east. The road gradually ascends the desert plain toward San Jacinto Peak. As reaching the first mountain ridge, watch for a pullout on the road’s right/west side. Park there.

Born with dinosaurs
The trail begins at 1660 feet above sea level by angling toward the ridge’s base. In about 110 feet, a couple of switchbacks take you up the ridge’s side. It’s a rarely seen view of the Coachella Valley’s northernmost tip, one of barren desert and isolation with only the tiny freeway and a few dirt road etched across the valley floor suggesting you’re not alone.

San Jacinto Peak’s summit looms above to the south. It tops out at 10,831 feet.

The mountain began forming more than 95 million years ago when tectonic plates slid against one another. The friction caused molten rock to rise and pool deep underground. As closing on the surface, it cooled and hardened into granite.

Erosion next wiped away the overlying rock, exposing the granite around 30 million years ago. At that time, only the upper portions of the granite block was above sea level.

Still growing
As rounding the ridge, the village of Snow Creek appears below. The view is short-lived, though, as the trail switchbacks up then continues roughly northwest while heading through desert scrub. Cabazon can be seen on the horizon at the other end of the desert floor with San Gorgonio Mountain to the north.

Beginning about 20 million years ago, parallel faults formed along the San Andreas. Thanks to earthquakes over millions of years, the granite formation’s eastern face rose dramatically, resulting in San Jacinto Peak’s sharp escarpment overlooking Palm Springs. Runoff water from rain and snowmelt formed the peak’s several ridges by carving out canyons.

At about 1.33 miles in, the trail switchbacks up the ridge and turns southeast. You’re at about 2600 feet elevation – and what a difference nearly a thousand feet gain makes. You’ll notice that bushes appear along the next stretch of the trail.

San Jacinto Peak isn’t done growing. So long as faults run alongside each side of the mountain, it will rise while the valleys below sink. How long that lasts and how high the peak will reach is uncertain. The Pacific and North American tectonic plates are expected to rub against one for a long time, though – Los Angeles will reach San Francisco in 10 million years and travel up Alaska’s western coast in about 50 million years – so there should be plenty of mountain building to come.

Vista of Cabazon Pass
Following the ridge’s natural contour, the trail continues to climb the mountain. As it veers south, the trail dips into an intermittent stream that feeds Snow Creek.

The trail begins another switchback at about 2.66 miles in. Rather than continue up the PCT, take a short off-trail excursion to a vista overlooking the valley floor below. The windmill farm in the Cabazon Pass appear to the northeast. You’re at about 3252 feet above sea level.

For a day hiker, this is a good spot to turn back. The trail does continue all the way into Mount San Jacinto State Park, but it’s an overnight backpacking trip to get there and come back.

While the mountain’s shadow will leave the route in shade by late afternoon, it is otherwise entirely exposed to the sun. Be sure to don sunscreen, sunhat and sunglasses. Good hiking boots and a trekking pole are advisable to traverse the rocky ground.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

California trail heads to ancient fish trap site

Some 500 years ago, Cahuilla Indians constructed fish
traps on what used to be the shores of Ancient Lake Cahuilla.
Fish Traps Trail topo map.
Click map for larger version.
The following article was originally written for and appeared in Uken Report.

Day hikers can explore an ancient fishing site on an extinct lake south of Indio, Calif.

The 1.4-miles round trip Fish Traps Trail rambles past petroglyphs, pottery shards, bedrock mortars, and other artifacts at the Fish Traps Archeological Site. It sits in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.

To reach the site, from Interstate 10
in Indio take Jackson Street south. After passing 64th Avenue, the road curves east and becomes Avenue 
66. The trailhead is at the point of the curve where Jackson Street becomes Avenue 66. Park on the right/south side of the road.

Walk west on the rocks alongside the orchard fence. Upon reaching the fence's end and the foothill's base, go right/north. The terrain will be full of scree, so be careful with your steps.

Ancient Lake Cahuilla
About 500 years ago, this was a shoreline for Ancient Lake Cahuilla. The freshwater lake covered the southern half the Coachella Valley and all of what is now the Salton Sea. Any place in the valley lower than 40 feet above sea level was under water.

The first set of petroglyphs appears in about 200 feet. Etched into the tufa rock - which is calcium carbonate formed by precipitation from warm water - is a spiral shape, a lizard, etch marks, and other forms that look like either birds or palm trees depending on your perspective.

These markings were made by the ancestors of today's Cahuilla Indians. Lake Cahuilla sat at the southern end of their range, which covered about half of Riverside County and stretched across the Mojave Desert north into San Bernardino County.

Continuing along the foothill's base, in about 350 feet is a bedrock mortar and pestle in a small boulder. The mortar is the bowl while the pestle is the rock that fits into a hand next to it. This was used to crush and grind ingredients into powder.

Fish trap technology
About 50 feet beyond that is a fish trap. Rocks were piled in a circle so that when fish swam into them they could be more easily captured.

In other cases, stones on the lake bottom were removed to form pits. This can be spotted in about 1000 feet and then again in 1200 feet. Archeologists believe this site is one of the few places in the world where stone pits were built to trap fish.

With Lake Cahuilla 20 times larger than the present day Salton Sea, there was plenty of freshwater fish to go around. The stone fish traps were so effective that the lake supported at least 20,000 people and perhaps up to 100,000.

A small rocky trail heads up the scree to what once was an ancient campsite. As you ascend, watch for the change in the rock color forming a horizontal line across the scree; this marks the ancient lake's water level.

Pottery sherds, broken animal bones likely used as tools, and the shells of creatures that once lived in the lake also can be found along the way and in the scree. At about 0.7 miles from the trailhead, the artifacts no long appear, so that makes a good turnaround point.

Evaporated lake
When the Colorado River's changed course, Lake Cahuilla was left isolated and as with the Salton Sea today, evaporated. The lake dried up within 70-80 years, and the Fish Traps site was abandoned.

As the tufa is fragile, be careful where you step, and do not touch any of the petroglyphs. The tufa easily can break off, damaging the site or cutting you.

Do not take anything from the site or move about objects. Scratching your own initials into the tufa is considered vandalism so please refrain from doing so.

As the entire site is exposed to the sun, always don sunscreen, sunglasses and sunhat. Good hiking boots are recommended, as you'll cross or walk around scree.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Catch sunrise on trail to Palm Springs vista

Fascinating rock formations and great views await on the North Lykken Trail.
North Lykken Trail topo map
Click map for larger version.
The following article was originally written for and appeared in the Uken Report.

A glorious sunrise awaits on the North Lykken Trail from the side of San Jacinto Peak in Palm Springs, Calif.

The trail runs 3.5 miles one-way with steep climbs and plenty of elevation gain. You probably will want to have someone drop you off at the trailhead and then pick you up at the other end.

March is a great time to hike the trail, as temperatures are in the Goldilocks zone (neither too warm nor too cold but just right). You’ll be able to see desert marigolds and lupines in bloom – and if you’re lucky maybe even a couple of bighorn sheep. Sunrise (when the sun is halfway above the horizon) is about 6:13 a.m. on March 1 and 6:34 a.m. on March 31.

To reach the trailhead, from downtown Palm Springs take North Indian Canyon Drive/Calif. Hwy. 111 north. Turn left/west onto East Granvia Valmonte then left/south onto the one-way Hwy. 111. Next, go right/west on West Chino Drive, right/north onto N. Patencio Road, and then left/west onto West Crescent Drive. Turn into and park at the pullout on the street’s left/south side. This is the trail’s north end.

The trail begins at the pullout’s northwest side and immediately goes up the side of the rocky ridge line. Once you reach the crest’s top, you’ll keep ascending, but the path isn’t as steep.

At about 1500 feet, you’ll junction a trail coming from the west. This is an alternate trailhead for North Lykken Trail; while that ascent from farther up Tachevah Canyon is not as steep as the path you just took, it’s about three times longer.

Go left/southwest at the junction. You’ll soon switchback up to the main spine of this ridge coming off San Jacinto Peak. Upon reaching it, you’re at about 1400 feet, a full 92 stories about Palm Springs.

The view is gorgeous. Palm Springs spreads out on the valley floor to the southeast with the San Jacinto Mountains rising above it. Following the mountain range down valley, Cathedral City can be seen in the distance.

Looking north, a large patch of desert stretches beyond the city limits to the Little San Bernardino Mountains. Desert Hot Springs sits tucked into against the range.

This is a great place to catch the sunrise. Most times, the horizon behind the silhouetted mountains to the east will appear orange. Slowly the valley floor and the western mountains brighten in a warm glow. Once the yellow sun rises halfway above the horizon, its reflection begins to show in glass windows facing it, and the sky slowly turns a baby blue.

There will be plenty days to catch a sunrise. In all, Palm Springs and the valley enjoy about 269 days of sunshine a year. That’s nearly eight weeks more than the national average.

Even the days without sun aren’t bad. Only about 1 in 6 of those cloudy days sees precipitation.

Options for the rest of the hike
From the vista, you’ve got a few options for continuing the hike. You could simply turn back. That would make the walk about 1.7 miles total.

Another option is to take the steep Skyline Trail east to its trailhead at the Palm Springs Art Museum for a 2.1-mile hike. A driver might drop you off at West Crescent Drive and pick you at the museum. Be sure to pay them back by stopping at the museum’s cafe for some lunch. You’ll need to replenish your calories anyway.

A third possibility is to continue south and finish the trail. After crossing the Skyline Trail, the North Lykken gradually descends to where West Ramon Road ends at the base of San Jacinto Peak. Rather than hike back up, have someone waiting at the trailhead parking to pick you up.

Hiking boots and a walking stick are highly recommended as the path is rocky and steep. Pants, rather than shorts, aren’t a bad idea either as there are spots where your ankles can rub up against small cactus. As the trail is entirely exposed to the sun – except in late afternoon when in San Jacinto Peak’s shadow – always don sunscreen, sunglasses and sunhat.