April 19, 2011

The One Who Loves Alone

I've never been in love with anyone.

Oh, I've loved people, but I've loved them alone. To be in love with someone, you have to be in love with someone, in love together. In love, as in life, I have always been alone.

I love many things. I love cold leftover pancakes and pizza and margaritas. I love Christmas trees and Christmas music and Christmas lights and Christmas cards.

I love swimming and floating but I do not love waves. I love shearing through the summer stillness on a bicycle downhill, but I do not love wind.

I love the desert. I love to travel. I love to write.

I love to sleep. I love to lie in bed.

I love to lie in bed with you.

I love to kiss your face.

I love to sing with the radio.

I love to drive.

I love driving you home.

I love the way you smell.

I love to make things.

I love to make you happy.

I love watching the moon rise while it's still light out, and I love to stay up until its last, huge, bright moments hanging in a black blanket sky.

I love the sunrise.

I love pink and red and purple and turquoise and royal blue and bright yellow and slate gray.

I love metal and wood and ceramic and tile and mirrored glass.

I love texture and flavor and sensation.

I love animals, domesticated and wild.

I love in my dreams.

I love without trying.

I love your breath on my ear.

I love your eyelashes on my neck.

I love thinking about you.

I love being alone, and I love all of these things on my own, when I wake and sleep and hike and eat.

I wish that someone wanted to try and love me back, and love something with me.

Plight of the Independent Woman
All Is Full of Love

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April 18, 2011

Photo Essay: Franklin Canyon Night Hike

I don't like the dark. I don't think I ever have.

I quite like the night, but I like its darkness sprinkled with a bit of casino flicker, neon buzz, disco ball swirl, dance floor pulse, campfire spit and ferris wheel glow. I like headlights, candlelight, lantern light, and dashboard light.

I hate walking into a dark room, and upset my earth-friendly self by leaving a light on when I go out at night.

So the idea of hiking at night, in the dark, has always terrified me. I got a little freaked out during a night rafting trip once, but we sailed past so many street lights wearing so many glowstick necklaces under a celestially-active sky that I could actually see quite well and managed to survive.

I decided to face my fears this weekend, take advantage of the full moon, and return to Franklin Canyon to see it again through the lens of sunset, dusk, twilight, and, ultimately, night. Thankfully I didn't have to go it alone.

It was light enough when we met up with our guide, a volunteer with the MRCA, the organization that runs Franklin Canyon (though it's also partially considered national park).

Water was flowing freely down Lake Drive, along its shoulder and straight down the middle. A chorus of frogs drowned out our small talk.

We started on the Discovery Trail, while it was still light enough to see its wildflowers...

...and bunnies.

We climbed for about 15 minutes, until we hit the road at the top where private land had been developed a few years ago.

We only took part of the trail, choosing to stay on the well-cleared section rather than trudging through the snake-frequented overgrown areas.

As night fell, we headed back down to Lake Drive and crossed the street to the Hastain Trail, a steeper but wider path to one of the park's most popular overlooks.

We couldn't see the moon yet, though we thought we spotted a planet or two in the sky. I thought we'd be able to see something once we got to the fence that's been erected by more private developers, but about halfway up the trail, we were greeted by a new fence, much lower down the trail than the one I'd bypassed a few weeks ago.

So instead of looking upwards, we kept our eyes on the uneven ground beneath us, eroded by rain, ravines revealed.

It was too dark to take any more photos. There was no full moon to guide our way.

We saw a few lights from the houses up in the hills, and we carried flashlights to illuminate the path.

I spotted a frog crossing our path while still up on the hill, far from the rest of his singing friends at the bottom. The brush rustled and we imagined the coyotes, bobcats and cougars that wouldn't be pleased by our intrusion. Birds chirped as though it were dawn.

And the sound of rushing water never seemed to relent.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Franklin Canyon Ranch & Lake (Updated for 2018)

Photo Essay: Coldwater Canyon, or Life Among the Tree People

I first stumbled upon Coldwater Canyon while hiking through Wilacre Park, and was totally baffled how I'd gotten there or how to find my way back, other than turning around and transforming my loop trail into an out-and-back.

I returned to that junction this weekend, having approached from Coldwater Canyon, and I finally understood how the two parks coexist, practically overlapping at one overlook.

Unlike Wilacre, Coldwater is a tree-filled, shady canyon park with a soft, mulchy train underfoot, a quiet, cool escape on a hot sunny day.

I started off on the Magical City Forest Trail...

...and headed down to the Barker Fire Road, which turns into the Oak Trail.

I then hit the Betty Dearing Trail, which runs through both Coldwater Canyon and Wilacre Park as well as Fryman Canyon.

I tried to find my way down to the Toyon Trail or the Torrey Pines Trail, but the trail map doesn't do a very good job of indicating the different levels of trails, making them look like they're next to each other when one is actually above the other. So I circled the Cistern and Conference Center a few times...

...before turning down Lloyd's Walk...

...and back to the Magical City Forest Trail.

Back to the parking lot, I found the trailhead for the Toyon Trail...

...ambling past more trees...

...and up to the Torrey Pines Lookout Area, where I stopped for a breather.

The Torrey Pines Trail signage warned of dangerous conditions, but I only encountered one mudslide, which had hardened and become tightly packed from all of the foot traffic, so I walked right over it...

...past wildflowers...

...up to the Oak Mesa...

...and back down through the shade to my car.

It's a hike I should have done a year ago, when searching for quick and easy trails near my meetings. This weekend, after all the hiking I did in Joshua Tree the weekend before, I felt like I was cheating a bit. But the completionist in me was happy to hit another of LA's urban parks, and to finally be able to do pretty much all of it, nearly every part of every trail.

I know I've only been in LA two months. I know I've got a lot of time to explore. But there is so much to explore.

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April 16, 2011

Photo Essay: Ryan Mountain Trail

When I was staying at the Desert Lily in Joshua Tree two summers ago, I went on a different hike every day, attempting to explore as much of Joshua Tree National Park as possible as well as trails in the surrounding areas in the Inland Empire.

But it was summer, and even in the high desert, it got HOT, often hitting 80 degrees by 6 a.m. So most of my hikes had to happen early morning or very late afternoon. As a new hiker, I kept most of them to under 3 miles and only about a 500 foot elevation change.

Carrie, my hostess at the Desert Lily (and B&B proprietor extraordinaire), is an avid hiker herself and tried to help me on my journey, suggesting I try her favorite hike, Ryan Mountain.

"But you'll have to do it really early in the morning," she said, "Or maybe one night during a full moon."

"Yeah, that's not going to happen," I said, maybe out loud, or maybe just to myself.

Since that time, as I've become a better hiker, I've held Ryan Mountain in the back of my head. Now that I climb longer and higher than I did that first summer, I'm now undaunted by a "Strenuous" difficulty rating.

In Ryan Mountain's case, the difficult rating can be attributed to its rocky trail and dramatic elevation change, but since it's one of the park's most popular trails, surely I could do it too...


It starts out looking easy enough, relatively level, with gradual stone steps leading the way up.

And then the stone path starts to get steep.

And the stones give way to a dirt path along a ridge.

And you keep winding...

...going higher...

...until the path levels off to a vista point marked by a single joshua tree.

But you're not quite at the top yet, you have a bit farther to go...

...until you reach 5457 feet, an elevation gain of over 1000 feet...

...and reward yourself with a tangerine.

At the top, I became chatty with a young KLM pilot named Tim from Holland (born in Britain), who was camping in the park for three days and who was the only hiker to pass me on the trail. We swapped stories of mines and campgrounds, California and air travel, and when I was ready to head back down the mountain, I asked if we could stay in touch via email or Facebook or...

I was turned down flatly.

"OK, well, then, have a safe flight back!" I waved, turned around with my tail between my legs and my tangerine rind in my pocket, and scrambled down the rocky inclines back to my car.

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April 14, 2011

Photo Essay: Joshua Tree's Pine City

After my tour of Keys Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park, I wanted to see as much as I could, under threat of a government shutdown and the anticipated resulting closure of the national parks. (Thankfully, that didn't happen.) So I embarked on a couple of short, easy hikes to the Desert Queen Mine, and the old mining camp of Pine City [click for map].

The trail out to Pine City looks like much of the rest of the park.

Until you hit a wall of rocks, behind which lies Pine City.

There's not much left to Pine City except the remarkably dense population of pinyon pines...

...and pinecones strewn about.

You can see a couple old stone walls or foundations...

It is about as abandoned as it gets in Joshua Tree.

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April 13, 2011

A Peek Into Keys Ranch, Joshua Tree National Park

I haven't spent any real time in Joshua Tree in almost two years, since I spent a month there. I've been eager to go back.

In Summer of 2009, I spent a week exploring Joshua Tree National Park, and the rest of the month hiking the rest of its trails accessible without passing through the fee area kiosk. I saw a lot, but - given limited time in town and hot summer weather - I had a lot more to see.

Park rangers give tours of historic Keys Ranch in Joshua Tree only until May, so this was probably my last chance to see it. I was driving in from LA that morning, and, making good time, arrived early enough to grab some lunch, hit the restroom, and get a map at the Visitor's Center.

But what seems like it would take five minutes to drive to in and around Joshua Tree takes more like a half hour, so by the time I was forking over my $15 fee at the park entrance, I realized I was already running late, and had to hustle.

I careened down the park's winding roads. I turned off onto a dirt road, following the signs for Ranch Tours, and rumbled along at an inadvisable speed not only for the road conditions, but for the tin can that I call my car.

Surprisingly not getting lost, I arrived at the ranch gate at precisely 1 p.m. only to find that all of the other cars had already driven through the gate to the driveway on the other side, the ranger had re-locked the gate, and their procession to the ranch house had just begun.


I didn't honk my horn. I didn't jump out and up and down or scream and yell.

I simply parked, crammed my feet into a pair of sneakers, strapped a pack to my back, and started to hike my way there.

I could see the property in the distance, though the car procession was so far ahead of me, I no longer heard the crunch of the dirt beneath their tires, their engines revving, the dust clouds billowing.

Noticing the downward slope of my path, I started to run.

I probably ran about halfway, until the path became an uphill climb. The gravel sounded like broken glass in the cleats of my sneakers. My breath became heavy, and the cold wind whistled through my earrings.

Fortunately, by the time I arrived, meekly, sheepishly, I'd only missed about 10 minutes of introductory ranger chat in the parking area.

"Oh boy, did you walk from the gate?" the ranger asked me, as everyone else on the tour turned around in surprise.

"I sure did! Sorry I'm late," I huffed.

As the ranger finished her intro and walked us to the ranch's fence, she asked for two favors from the group: that we ask lots of questions, and that someone give "this nice young lady a ride back to her car." I waved and smiled like a bedraggled beauty queen.

An older man pulled me aside, saying, "We can give you a ride back if ya need one."

"Oh thank you..." I graciously accepted.

He started to walk away, and then he turned around with a wagging finger, and said, "You know, you made good time. What'd ya do, have a jetpack?"

My hike was only about a mile, the stress of tardiness being worse than the actual physical strain. But I was glad not to miss out on all the relics strewn about the property.

There's a rich history of homesteading and industrial pursuits within the boundaries of what's now national parkland, including gold mining, milling, and ranching. But back in the late 19th century, up until about the 1930s, Joshua Tree wasn't the dry (high) desert it is today. It was wet, fertile. Ranchers could raise cattle, grow alfalfa, and live off the land. But as the dustbowl hit the Midwest, California, too, dried up. And as the dryness increased, the government encroached on private property, limiting how far the cattle could go, and turning the land into a public Monument.

Because it's spring, it's quite green now (especially compared to how I saw the park two summers ago), but you can imagine in the heyday of ranching, when the grasses rose knee- and hip-high. But as the grass supply was depleted, and the cattle bent farther and farther over to nibble up smaller and smaller pieces of vegetation, sand intermingled with their food, clogging their stomachs, and eventually starving the beasts.

Bill Keys managed to thrive on his 80 acre ranch, long after most homesteaders arrived, attempted, failed and fled. Always resourceful, he dug wells for water. He sold equipment to his new neighbors, and then seized it when they abandoned their homesteads. He rented out parts of his property, and built his own schoolhouse. And he managed to survive there until his death in 1969.

The site is now preserved and protected, maintained by the National Parks Service, and accessible only when accompanied by a ranger (lest you pay the $75 fine, the signs for which I ignored when I galloped unaccompanied down the driveway past the locked gate).

ranch house




truck detail

water tank


house detail

You can't go inside of the house, but you can peek inside its windows and see the lace curtains that still hang, the kitchen table that still serves jugs of milk and water. Rangers do occasional sunset tours of the ranch, for which you get to carry a 1930s style flashlight lantern, and see the buildings illuminated from the inside.

Just another reason to go back in the fall.

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