May 31, 2010

Photo Essay: Solstice Canyon

It's nice to have a partner in crime sometimes, someone to help you navigate your way through trails, to point things out, to lend a hand when you need a boost. But I explore so much on my own, I sometimes get a little stressed out when there's a new person involved. I put too much pressure on myself to keep up, assuming that I'm terrible at what I do because I haven't been doing it that long.

Today I was lucky enough to be accompanied by a fellow explorer who lives in Santa Monica, who has done enough recon work nearby to know that I would love the hike through Solstice Canyon, and who was brave enough to bring me there without knowing whether I'd be able to scramble the rocks to the waterfall.

I did. I went. And I was.

There were enough rusty relics strewn about - an old bathtub, some ranching equipment - to make me ask, "What's the story with this place? What was here?" Like many national parks, including Joshua Tree, Solstice Canyon wasn't just "forever wild" land: people had lived and worked there, and the signs were everywhere.

We came across what's left of the old Keller homestead, its most recent stone and tin incarnation having burned in 2007, already rebuilt from the original wood cabin destroyed in a canyon fire in 1903.

Various fires over the years had also ravaged a lot of the surrounding tree line, especially as we climbed higher, but there were still plenty of interesting and colorful wildflowers to gaze at, some of which already crumpling in the increasingly hot summer sun.

Solstice Canyon is also infamous for the Roberts Ranch House (also called "Tropical Terrace"), built in the 1950s, designed by architect Paul Revere Williams, and burned to the ground in 1982. What remains - kitchen appliances, chimneys, and other stone structures built right into the canyon, along with a pond and some ancillary structures with even some statues - creates a kind of ghostly blueprint of the original estate that you can walk through.

Just beyond the ranch house, we started following the rocks to the waterfall, whose creek we'd already been following for a while. We stopped when we got to a vertical climb assisted only by a recently-placed log. Although a few guys passed us and shimmied up it, I was pretty confident that I would never make it.

So instead, we took off our shoes and hung out by the pools, listening to the rush of the water, lying out on the smooth rocks on our backs to stare up at the sun from behind our sunglasses, me dozing off and my companion contemplating how much rocks, in fact, do rock.

After a leisurely rest, a few folks passing us to brave the log (and making me think I should have at least tried climbing it), we put our shoes back on and headed on back down, noticing flowers we hadn't noticed on the way up.

It's rare to find someone whose pace matches yours, who just as readily waits for you to get the perfect shot as they pause to get one of their own. When you encounter a(nother) person like that, it makes you wonder what all that solitude has done for you lately...

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