June 05, 2013

Photo Essay: Arthur B. Ripley Desert State Park, In Wildfire's Path

When I was in Lancaster last weekend, I didn't know why, but I was drawn to the Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park. I'd never been, and I had to go.

I didn't know it was directly in the path of the Powerhouse Fire that was burning nearby in the Angeles National Forest. But I could see the smoke plume getting bigger.

I wasn't even sure if the park was still open, it was so poorly signed with no officially designated parking.

It doesn't provide much grounds for hiking either, with a half-mile nature trail and the mile-long Rare Juniper Trail, which I decided to take just to get a longer walk.

This state park hosts one of the last virgin Joshua tree forests in the Antelope Valley, an area known better for its poppies than probably any other plant.

Both trails loop around the forest, but like many other parts of the desert, you can wander off and meander pretty much wherever you like.

Eventually, pretty much every clearing looks like a trail.

These yucca are smaller than most in, say, Joshua Tree National Park or Death Valley...

...barely rising above 14 feet in height.

They are surrounded by juniper bushes, as well as a variety of desert flora... beavertail cactus, sage, and Mormon tea.

Eventually, as I made my way back to my car, the view of the wildfire smoke plume became unavoidable...

...and seemed to grow...

...and get closer.

But in this quiet little desert garden off Lancaster Road, it still felt far away.

I felt far from everything.

And although I followed the tracks of other explorers before me, I was alone. It was silent.

Later that day, and the next, the Powerhouse Fire advanced down the mountain and into Lancaster, forcing evacuations and street closures - not only because of the flames, but because of poor air quality. The nearby Antelope Valley Poppy Preserve got clipped by the fire.

Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park was spared.

For now.

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