Monday, January 19, 2009

A Tale of Two Deserts

"Take your time here, too, and let the desert take hold of you. Joshua Tree National Park provides a haven from everyday routines, space for self-discovery, a refuge for the human spirit, and a sense of place in the greater scheme of things."
- National Park Service

I've spent two of the three weekends of 2009 exploring the nooks and crannies of Joshua Tree National Park. Given the way things are going, I have a feeling I'll be there most weekends through February, and maybe even into March. There are lots of nooks and crannies to be explored.

My first visit to Joshua Tree was in 2005 with my friend Lizo. While that was a great trip, we didn't have much time to explore and probably spent less than 36 hours in the park. We drove the main road, camped at two of the campgrounds and did a short hike to an oasis. Back then, the park seemed to me to be filled with vast swaths of inaccessible desert landscapes. Boy was I wrong. Joshua Tree is criss-crossed with dirt roads and hiking "corridors", as they call them, leading into all sorts of exciting locations. In addition, a great portion of the park is wilderness, open for off-trail bushwhacking, which is surprisingly easy in the desert. See a big rock out there that entices you? No problem -- pull over and walk towards it. In 30 minutes, turn around and be amazed how far you've made it.

Getting to Joshua Tree requires a 2-hour drive to escape the L.A. Basin, often with rush hour traffic, but once there it feels amazingly isolated. Arrive on a Friday night, lose your worries in the milky way, soak in the desert on Saturday and Sunday, return to civilization Sunday night.

Rinse and repeat.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A SoCal Snowshoe

Today I woke up with an idea for adventure -- climb Mt. San Antonio (aka Mt. Baldy), the 10,064' mountain that towers over about 10 million people, and see the Santa Ana winds in all their glory at the same time. The Santa Ana winds come a few times a year and blow from Nevada down through southern California, they'll last a few days and winds gusts can be 40-50 mph in places. We had a wind event start yesterday, scheduled to end tomorrow, and while I don't even notice them where I live (thanks, mountains) I knew they'd be strong up on top of the mountains.

I've always had a strange attraction towards horrendous weather. Of course, part of me wishes for endless days of "sunny and 72", but there's something satisfying about standing on the shore of Lake Superior during a winter blizzard, or biking in a thunderstorm, that commands a deep respect for the power of nature.

The mountains have been snow covered for about a month now, so I strapped my snowshoes to my pack and headed out. The Baldy trailhead is a 20-minute drive from my apartment, and starts at 4,000' elevation. I made it to about 9,200' before the winds were too strong and my snowshoes weren't cutting it for the icy slopes, so I turned around.

The winds literally knocked me over 3 or 4 times, and their low humidity chapped my skin. At some point in the video below I think I said "feels like burning". Sorry for the poor audio quality.

Mt. Baldy + Santa Ana Winds from Jeff D. on Vimeo.

Pretty cool to have a snowshoe adventure in southern California, even cooler that 20 minutes after reaching my car, I was back to 65 degree temps and was able to squeeze in a short mountain bike ride.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2008 in Photos

December 2008 Mileage: 485.3
2008 Total Mileage: 5475.1

January, traveling through Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and southern jungles.February, trip to Albuquerque and XC skiing on my lunch breaks.
March, snowshoeing with Jay in Canada and visiting Canada's wind turbines.
April, I didn't take a single photo! For shame.

May, making the drive from Michigan to California, via Colorado and Utah.
June, seeing mountains while I wash my dishes.
July, trip to Yosemite to visit old friends.August, riding Glendora Mountain Road with a local bike club.
September, racing in 24 Hours of Adrenaline at Hurkey Creek.
October, getting my first taste of backcountry mountain biking near Wrightwood.
November, back to Michigan to visit the newest member of the family.
December, Christmas in San Diego with people I love.
It's been an eventful year, filled with some great losses and some great gains. Hard to believe that exactly one year ago I was wandering down a road near Cancun, Mexico, completely unaware that I'd be moving to California and starting an entirely new phase of life. It's very exciting to think what the new year will bring, but at the same time it's a little frightening how fast all these experiences have come and gone. It's almost like life is pouring through a faucet like water, and I'm holding my hands underneath trying to catch it all; most slips through my fingers, but I'm able to catch and hold onto a little. This is why I love taking pictures and documenting my experiences, partially to share with others, but for me these pictures hold much more meaning that what meets the eye. No words could ever describe their depth.

While I have no specific goals for 2009, I'd like to work on my ability to stop and "smell the roses". Happy new year to all!