Sunday, April 2, 2017

Monsoon At The Oases

So, we're going back in time a bit with this trip. I completed this tour-de-oases after my first Boulder Bushwhack. My body was super sore and tired after that hike but I couldn't in good conscience just sit at home on my day off, so I popped a bunch of Advil and poked around the Mountain Palm Springs campground area to see what I could find.

I had spent most of the morning screwing around trying to decide where I wanted to hike. The wind was whipping and it was hot and muggy with a storm rolling in from the west. By the time I hit the trail it was already about 1pm and crazy humid. I sweat buckets on this super easy hike, but I didn't mind, the trail was empty and the clouds were amazing. The desert doesn't care if you are sweaty and smell like a thousand butts in your dirty hiking clothes, in fact, I think it prefers you that way.

The trail follows a wash, for the most part, which makes it a challenge to get lost. Even with the easy route there were still a bunch of rock cairns showing the way. The sand here is interesting, much of it feels like concrete with boulders sprinkled throughout. The Tierra Blanca mountains as a whole have some kind of trippy geological stuff going on that I don't understand with my limited education. But it is obvious, even to the layman rock hound, that this range is different. To me it feels like they are young mountains not yet completely solidified, like the range is really just a bajada that decided it was going to be a mountain range when it grew up. 
I don't know what I'm talking about, these are just the things I think about while I hike.

I passed under a series of boulders and noticed some faint markings on one of them. Could it be? Could there be pictographs on such a popular trail? I had to find out. I climbed through a catclaw bush up to the base of the boulders and noticed another rock in the vicinity had the same blue markings. Much to my disappointment they turned out to be old graffiti. I don't know why people do that, it's a bummer.

I squeezed my way back through the catclaw and continued down the washy trail. I knew I was close to my first oasis when the soil composition changed and little pools of bug filled water started running down the middle of the path.

I stopped briefly to wipe off my sweaty face and heard some rocks crumble on the hill above me. When I looked up I saw what I think was a young bighorn ram traversing the hill. I sat on a boulder and watched him for a while as he posed majestically and then tripped on a loose rock like a derp. I can relate, Mr. Bighorn, I've been tripping on rocks all day!

The bighorn went one way and I the other, and entered my first palm oasis of the day; North Grove. The native vibes were palpable here and I could almost see the Tribe sitting in the rocks adjacent to the palms. I tapped my poles on rocks and bushes in front of me to alert any rattlesnakes and passed carefully through two palms with long skirts.

I continued climbing the wash and the canyon narrowed as I passed a smaller set of trees. Rock cairns pointed the way up the side of the canyon walls to what I think is Surprise Canyon grove proper but I opted to skip that climb. My legs were super tired today and the wind was howling everywhere but down in the canyon.

Eventually the canyon opened up to a large valley that was no longer sheltered from the wind and Palm Bowl Grove came into view. I pushed through the soft sand, animal tracks and scat to the oasis hoping there was a way to loop around.

It felt a bit eerie here and I'm not sure if it was because of the wind or if there was an animal watching me from the grove but I didn't stay long. Errant raindrops started to hit my cheeks and I thought it'd probably be best to head back the way I came instead of traversing an unknown pass for more cross country. I'll save that for another day.

I turned back toward the narrow canyon and walked quickly as thunder rumbled in the distance. The last place I want to be in a thunderstorm is a canyon wash with an already high water table.

Sometimes out-and-back hikes are nice because you get to see the stuff you may have missed on the way in. Some of these rock formations are really interesting!

I made my way back to the end of the canyon and it seemed the weather was holding for the moment. I decided to hit up another oasis that I think is called Mary's Grove in a tributary wash. There is a lot of exploring to do here. I'll have to return when my legs are strong and climb all of these ridges and boulders. After checking out as many oases as I could, I took some time to poke around the trail head by my truck looking for potsherds and other interesting things. I only found a few tiny pieces, not like the big chunks I found earlier and I wondered where those pieces had gone. I hope people aren't taking that stuff home with them. That would be a bummer for both the next visitors who won't get to experience it and this desert that is one with the Kumeyaay and the rightful owner of their artifacts. 

All said and done I'd hiked an easy 3 miles but I was super sore from the day before and since my legs were so tired I made a lot of missteps and rolled my ankle a couple times. Hiking when you're tired is tough! I packed it in and headed out the S-2 toward home under a dramatic display of mamatus clouds. I just love it out here. I'm sad the season is almost over.

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