June 29, 2009

Photo Essay: Palms to Pines to Palms

Who knows what I felt like I had to get away from today - the hi-desert is moving pretty slow now that the heat has hit - but I felt like getting out of town and taking a scenic drive. Having tired from the sore muscles, sweaty head and sunburn that has accompanied most of my excursions, I just felt like admiring the scenery, without necessarily having to climb up into it.

There are plenty of scenic drives around here that I now know well: Pioneertown Road, Dillon Road, and Twentynine Palms Highway to name a few. But since Edith, Eric and Jon had all experienced the panoramic, harrowing, hairpin scenic byway through the San Bernardino National Forest and lived to tell the tale, I decided today was the day I'd take it on.

Of course, I picked the easiest time to tackle it: no snow and no fires (though fire hazard today was posted as high).

I started at the Palms to Pines segment on 243 from Banning, which rises quickly in elevation to reveal the valley below and the surrounding mountainous terrain.

Plenty of colorful wildflowers were still out, especially at the higher elevations. Pops of yellow and purple bent towards the sun along the side of the winding road. A pop of red turned out to be a ladies' kitten heel shoe cast aside, though carefully positioned on a rock.

The road is so dangerous, fluctuating from 55 mph speed limit to 30 at a moment's notice around a bend, with UPS trucks and school busses and RVs driving straight for you as they round a turn. I wasn't surprised to see this roadside memorial for someone who'd been killed along the way.

I didn't find the familiarity of the forest, which reminded me of my childhood, comforting - only the drop in temperature.

Although no fires were burning today, many areas were closed off for fire restoration.

I felt a little lazy in my vehicular tourism, especially when I realized how many hiking trails there are in the forest. I passed trailhead after trailhead.

I turned off onto 74 (technically the Pines to Palms segment) in Idyllwild, sneering at the Christian propaganda that was coming at me from all directions. The forest has some amazing vista points along the way, especially where you can see the evergreen landscape transition back into the desert. The last overlook at the border of the Santa Rosa and Mt. San Jacinto National Monument is a must-see. Just outside of Palm Desert, but still at a high elevation, the entire lo-desert looks like an oasis, a bright green patch in a land of sand and rock. I expected a camel to pose for a photo.

I didn't have to look far for signs of American civilization.

As the last vista point's view took my breath away, I was being encircled overhead. This guy was practically divebombing me. The flies must have told him about me.

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