Friday, May 15, 2015

Aqueducts and Windmills

After completing the section around Agua Dulce, I took a day off and started fresh at the Green Valley Fire Station.

There is a trail closure that starts here because of a fire a couple of years ago.  While there are several defined detours, all of them involve walking down a road for at least a few miles.  And regardless which detour you take, this road is involved.  The road generally has a wide shoulder, but there are a few places where it disappears around blind corners with heavy traffic.

The detour most people choose involves an 11 mile road walk followed by a couple of miles along an abandoned road and trail to get back to the PCT.  Up until the night before I left this is what I had planned on.  But that trail is mostly dry and moderately hilly.  One of the other choices involved walking along the California Aqueduct, and the more I looked at it the more appealing it became.  It involved a bit less than 5 miles on a road, followed by what was reported to be 22 miles of canal, although it actually turned out only to be 16.  That was half as long as the more popular route, plus it had easy access to lots of water, and was flat.  Walking the aqueduct was actually the best part of the section, at least to me.

They seem pretty serious about keeping cows away from the aqueduct, at least fat cows.  These little gates are at most of the road crossings, along with signs that restrict activity along the canal to walking and fishing.  They warn periodically against getting into the canal because of the chances of drowning, and have ladders every so often to aid in getting out should you fall in.

In contrast to the California Aqueduct is the LA Aqueduct.  These two intersect where the detour ends and the trail resumes.  This section of the LA Aqueduct flows through a large steel pipe, probably about 8 ft in diameter.  It is mostly buried, although the top is exposed and I walked on it for several miles.  In the picture to the left you can see part of the exposed pipe disappearing in the distance.  Seemed like about 4 miles before it changed direction and composition.

After the pipe comes to an end it is replaced by a covered concrete conduit that appears to the hiker as a paved lane running next to a dirt road.  Wikipedia says there is about 200 miles of this, although we only had to travel about 8-10 of it.  There is quite a contrast between the two aqueducts, most significantly that the one had water and the other is rumored to be dry.
While walking down the road along side the LA Aqueduct I found what appears to be a gopher snake working on its tan.  It just laid there while I took a couple of pictures and then went on.

I live in Washington and hike the Olympics quite a bit.  And ants are not uncommon.  But I do not recall ever seeing as many ants as I have in the past few days.  The mound at right seems to be fairly typical, 6-8 inches across with a hole over an inch in diameter.  And the roads/trails have these every 20 feet or so; at least it seemed like it.  And sometimes there were solid streams of ants running across the trail.  They are not large ants, and there are both black and red versions, nor did they seem particularly aggressive.  But they are everywhere: bazillions of them.

Periodically along the cover of the LA Aqueduct there were raised concrete platforms, and I had decided that they would make a nice platform for camp, up out of the sand and reach of any potential passing motorist. But just as dusk started to settle in I found a spot where there were a couple of small walls built across the concrete cover; perfect windbreaks.

I had not seen another hiker all day long; and I have been walking for 13.5 hours and close to 30 miles.  Just as I was fixing to crawl into my sleeping bag, along comes 5 hikers.  And then 3 more, and 2 more, and 3 more and 1 more ...  By midnight 18 had walked past me, mostly oblivious to my presence.  I knew walking through Antelope Valley was common at night to avoid the heat.  But it was cool all day.  I don't get it.

I still had a bit more than 30 miles to go before reaching the Tehachapi Willow Springs road, so I was on the trail by 5 A.M., walking by headlamp.  I have not done this very much, but the trail was really a dirt road and fairly flat.  It was a pleasant walk watching the sun come up in front of me.

The Joshua Trees in the early pre-sun morning were like ghostly shadows rising up from the ground.

It was not often during the day when you could not look around and see a big wind turbine somewhere.  I have heard some hikers complain about them, and how they spoil the beauty of the backcountry.  But I thought they were kind of cool, and much preferable to the smog.  This area has around 5000 wind turbines as well as some solar arrays spotted in the distance.

It is kind of eerie walking beside and under these giants.  You can hear the wind humming by the blades, and the shadows they cast are fun to walking through, zipping across the ground around you.

I take a lot of picture of flowers, hoping some will turn out.  In contrast to the massive wind turbines are some of these delicate little flowers that sometimes seem to rise up out of the sand with little to any foliage.  And they stand out in such stark contrast to the sandy hillsides that just a single flower is striking.  Imagine the hillside covered with these.

The Tehachapi Mountains must be a dirt bikers paradise.  There are trails everywhere, sometimes straight up and down.  The PCT intersects these trails quite often.  The horizontal trail to the left is the PCT.  The two running up and down are dirt bike trails.  The hills are covered with them.  I did not see any dirt bikes all day long, but it is obvious they have been out recently.

Here's another example of a pretty little flower growing up in the middle of a pile of sand.  I am guessing it is some kind of poppy.

This cache is setup at the top of a long climb and was a welcome break.  I flopped down into a plastic Adirondack chair for a half hour and ate a very late lunch and guzzled some of the water I had been carrying for the past two days.  There was water here, as well as at a stream a few hours back, but I am so afraid to rely on caches and potentially unreliable water sources that I seem always to carry way too much.  I carried 6 liters for this nearly 40 mile stretch, and ended up with 1 liter un-drunk.

After leaving here it was 8 miles to the finish, almost all downhill.  Plug in the iPod and charge, hoping to make it to the bottom, and the car, before dark.  And I did.

I love the horny toads; this is my third on the trip.  Glad he was only a few inches long rather than 20 feet.  He is pretty fierce looking even at his size.  I would hate to contend with a giant version of him.

I know it's just a partially burned log.  But after 25 or so miles already, with tongue dragging, when rounding the corner it gives quite a different impression.  The two dark upper spots are eyes and the lower spot is the nose.  Looks like a giant dog peeking out of the bush waiting for someone to come by.

Did I mention there were some windmills in the area?  The climb started through a wind farm and kept it in sight even after I was long out of it.  Then part way down another one came into view, with the trail ultimately passing through it as well.  The turbines in the first farm all looked pretty much the same.  But these showed a variety of shape and form.  This is apparently where it all started and the evolution of wind turbines was evident.

After 2, 30 mile days, I spent the night in the town of Tehachapi before completing the 9 mile walk through a wind farm that stretches between the Tehachapi Willow Springs road and Highway 58.  When we got to the trail head we ran into Growler, Puff Puff and Cool Breeze from a few days before.  They were the last group to have walked past my site the night before and it was good to see them again.

This is one of the few pictures I have taken that seems to show the big descents, or ascents, that the trail sometimes makes down to a road.  This one was only a thousand or so feet, so relatively short.

We have moved over to the town of Mojave for a couple of nights and will be taking a day off.  The weather man is forecasting cold, rain and snow for the high country, and I want no part of that.  My right quad is also giving me some grief so we are taking advantage of the day to run into Bakersfield to get some tights and see if KT tape and compression shorts/tights will make it more bearable.  Suddenly the end is in sight, less than 150 miles to go, and I don't want anything to derail it this time.  Kennedy Meadows here I come.

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