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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