Sunday, January 31, 2016

Back to the Inyo Mountains

Map Link

Bird List

Heading out from Little Cowhorn Valley
The weather was nasty in the Sierra on Friday, so off we went to the Inyo Mountains again for what we hoped would be better conditions. We chose a spot close to our Deadman Canyon hike from a few weeks ago, but this time approached it from the east side of the crest - near Little Cowhorn Valley. We left the highway on a jeep road to the west at 7,200 feet elevation, then north, generally meandering here and there until it was time to turn around. We guessed right on the weather, it was calm for most of the day as the wind and storms raged across the Owens Valley in the Sierra. Birding was marginal at best as would be expected in a pinyon and juniper habitat in the middle of winter. One fun sighting was a large flock of Pinyon Jays, over a hundred in number, wheeling about as they moved down a ridge. 

As noon approached we decided to bag the nearest peaklet for a lunchtime view. From our approach perspective this peak was cone shaped with black lava formations at the top. We nicknamed it Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was a fun scramble to the top and had spectacular 360 degree views. We backtracked the route ending a lovely day in the mountains.

Our first glimpse of the Sierra once we gained the crest of the Inyo

Great old juniper

The Sierra in the distance from near our lunch spot

Looking south from the top

South and west panorama

Scrambling to the top

One more outstanding view across to the Sierra

From the top looking north to the White Mountains

Traversing the top

"Mt. Kilimanjaro" from the base

Traversing the crest of the Inyo in a sage and pinyon/juniper habitat

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Desert Hiking (Susan)

Three hikes over the last week.

No Name Canyon

Up canyon to Sierra crest
Bob and I needed to get some exercise in, so we decided to fill an eBird gap close to home.  Off to No Name Canyon we went.  Yes, it really is called No Name Canyon on the map.  No Name is one of the east side Sierra canyons.  This one is entirely in Inyo County.  It has no amazing views and most of side branches of the canyon are so rugged that I have failed to make much headway in them. It is just a place to get some exercise without people. 
I typically drive up into the canyon and park just below the aqueduct pipe, hike up the road until it ends, and then follow the cow trails up curving to the north.  Eventually, it gets so rocky and steep that I just declare victory and have lunch before I head back down.  And that is what we did this time.  I expect 10-15 species on a hike like this in the winter, so was happily surprised to end up with 18 species.  Nothing unexpected, but having a singing California Thrasher was very nice, and the group of noisy Pinyon Jays escorting us up the canyon was a joy.

Riparian habitat

Up canyon toward crest


View south down canyon

Looking down canyon to the Indian Wells Valley

Upper LA Aqueduct at the finish

Upper LA Aqueduct

Amboy Crater

Bird List (such as it is)

Bob and I have an annual trip where we meet friends at Lake Havasu to bird and laugh a lot.  On the way there we look for birds and flowers.  This year’s good bird to chase was a Lark Bunting in Helendale.  When we got there the wind was blowing 40+ miles per hour and all the birds were hiding on the wrong side of the fence.  Fortunately, I hadn’t yet used up my all patience for the year.  So, I waited in the car burning through it until our bird hopped through the fence.  Very nice.

The wind ended any more thoughts of birding in the area, so we decided to see if Amboy Crater had any flowers.  We choose that as Death Valley already has a nice bloom in progress and Amboy has had amazing displays in the past.  We figured it would be a bit early, but we could scout it out.  

Along the drive we lost the wind, and while we weren’t greeted with stunning fields of desert gold, bummer, we needed to stretch our legs so we started to wander out to the crater. There is a 2-3 mile loop trail that goes to the top of the crater for nice views of the surrounding area.   Along the way we discovered blooming sand verbena, and dark-eyed evening primrose.  We were happy to see any flowers so we kept wandering, taking photos, and enjoying the day.  

Sand Verbina
Dark-eyed Evening Primrose
Sand Verbina
Desert Gold

Mystery flower.  Maybe popcorn flower?? Help me out if you know.

Animal tracks before the wind

It didn’t take long to get to the crater, so we headed up for the views.  When we got to the top, the wind found us.  Not a little breeze, a howling wind.  I crab crawled off the summit into the crater and thought I would be OK. Not so, the wind was being funneled through the crater and was rushing over every bump and ridge. As I walked along the wind kept blowing my legs out from under me.  Eventually, the wind got both my legs at once and I was down on the trail holding onto a rock for dear life.  Bob showed up and grabbed hold of me.  He had a death grip on my arm and I had my other hand on my shoulder.  While I was on the ground my hat slipped over my glasses, so while we headed down the trail I could see Bob’s shoes with one of my eyes.  Every time his shoe moved one of my feet went into that spot.  After we got off the crater, the wind was just howling and I was able to walk on my own, getting sand blasted along the way.  In the time it took us to get down from the crater our footprints in the sand had disappeared.  

Amboy Crater from a distance

Amboy Crater

Amboy Crater and surrounding area

Descending the crater rim
Battling the wind on the crater rim

The wind was really howling!

We followed the BLM signs back to our car and safety from the wind.  We were so covered in grit it even stuck to our teeth and filled our pockets.  We were glad to have a shower and clean clothes that night.

The BLM brochure can be found here.

Barbour Peak Loop Trail and Hole in the Wall Trail

Bird List

Sunrise on approach to Hole in the Wall
Many years ago Bob and I did the Hole in the Wall Trail.  It is a fun short loop that requires you to use rings in the rock and pull yourself up to the next level.  I did it by myself last year and it took about an hour and a half, lots of looking at birds and trying to figure out where the trail really went.
This year, I knew the route, and the birds seem to have been elsewhere.  I did the loop in about 15 minutes.  It is an easy wander through the desert to the entrance of the canyon, and then I pulled myself up the two sets of rings.  I was happy to be in good enough shape to do this as soon I will be an old retired person. 

Bob was happily taking photos, so I decided to head into the Barbour Peak Loop Trail, which connects with the Hole in the Rock Trail.  This is also marked as Barber Peak.  I guess spelling wasn't that important when it was named.  Barbour Peak is an easy 5-6 mile loop, up and down through the rocks and out into the desert.  Once upon a time there was a nice section of juniper pinyon to travel through, but that burned years ago.  It doesn’t look like it will grow back anytime soon, a general lack of water and grazing cows.  There is in other sections an amazing diversity desert plants.  I had four species of cholla, a yucca, a prickly pear, and two different cactus.  There was also a bush with cat claw thorns on it that I got a bit too close to.

Along the way my first bird was a singing Crissal Thrasher.  I did not expect that at 4000’.  I was thinking it was a confused bird, but as I had several more, I guess not.  I also ran into several flocks of Black-throated and Brewer’s Sparrows.  My funnest bird was a Golden Eagle.  It was perched on a cliff and was calling loudly, perhaps looking for a mate or defending territory.

I ended up having a nice hike with fun scenery, plants, and birds and Bob took photos of several cooperative birds.

A bit about the Hole in the Wall trail can be found here.

Hole in the rock


Entrance to Hole in the Wall

The trail complete with trail marker on the left

Up I go

Looking back down the first set of rings

Looking back down the second set of rings

The trail is worn in the rocks on the right

Desert grassland

Barbour Peak

Barrel cactus

Prickly pear

Rock formation

Opalite Cliffs

Opalite Cliffs with a few junipers and a pinyon

Hedgehog cactus

Cholla garden

A different prickly pear


Promontory Crag

Promontory Crag