Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Lost Horse Loop, Joshua Tree National Park, California, April 12, 2018

Lost Horse Loop via CA Hiking and Riding, Big Trees, and Lost Horse Loop trails, JTNP, 4/12/18.

Mileage:  10ish miles (includes road walk)

Elevation gain: 1,200'

Trailhead: Juniper Flats is a popular backpack staging area located on Park Boulevard in Joshua Tree National Park. The hike begins where the California Hiking and Riding trail crosses Park Boulevard (the park's main road), a few hundred feet north of the Juniper Flats parking area, and ends at the parking area on Lost Horse Mine Road. 

Use either the north or west park entrance (during busy times the west entrance can get backed up). $25 entrance fee gives you a seven day pass into the park. 

Hiked with Sandy today.  After renting a car in Phoenix, we drove the 3+ hours to Twentynine Palms, California with plans to spend two nights backpacking in Joshua Tree National Park. We're new to backpacking and it was critical that we check out our gear prior to a five day trip with our more experienced friends.  

I did the research. Some of JT Park's backpacking rules include registering at one of thirteen staging areas (permits are necessary but free), no fires, and camping at least one mile from a trailhead and at least 500' from a trail. We brought all the stuff we felt we needed, including a very heavy seven liters of water (no water is available in the park). One of the rangers recommended we start from Juniper Flats because the area is filled with Joshua Trees and cactus.  I liked it because it was close to Keys View and Ryan Mountain (which we never did visit).

The plan was to spend one night in the Juniper Flats area, hike back to the car the next day to get more water and supplies, and then drive to the northwestern side of the park, hiking in and spending our second night there.  

What we didn't count on was an approaching cold front and its fierce wind.  A high winds warning had been issued by the weather service, expecting gusts of 50-70 mph.  

Foolishly we figured we'd deal with the wind later. It has to calm down at some point right?  It could be worse, we could be dealing with torrential rain.  

So instead of scouting out a suitable overnight spot early in the day, we went sightseeing - the Cholla Cactus Garden, Skull Rock, Arch Rock and Keys View, and didn't get to the Juniper Flats parking lot until 4:00. We filled out the permit and made sure we had everything (we forgot to pack our wine, very sad).  

Parking area.
Map and permit registration.
Trail crosses just up the road.

With our gear on our backs, we crossed the road and turned left, walking the few hundred feet to where the California Riding and Hiking trail crosses. We headed east on the trail, toward the intersection of Lost Horse Mine Loop trail.  The path is unmarked but wide and sandy, with Joshua trees standing by.

Cactus in bloom.

Signs mark the trail junctions and we were baffled when we reached the junction of Big Trees trail.  Big Trees trail isn't on the National Geographic map or the map the ranger gave us! This was the last thing we needed at 5 pm trying to head into the desert. But the map on the sign clearly showed our destination so we kept going.

Big Trees Trail - not on the map.

Trail is well maintained.

Three miles in... shadows were getting longer, the wind was whipping and we hadn't found a spot.  What we thought would be nice desert sand was a floor of chips of rock and prickly scrub. We'd hoped to reach the next junction before choosing our spot but it seemed we'd gone far enough and no sign of an intersecting trail (did we miss a sign?). 

It was getting too late.  At 5:45 we chose a spot on a knoll, opting for a nice view over a lower, sheltered area with wind protection (not a smart decision).  The tent threatened to blow away from us as we struggled staking it down.  Heavy rocks were moved onto the stakes and I totally forgot about the guy lines (wondered what those ropes in the stake sack were for!).

It was cold too; out came the down jackets, wind pants, hats and gloves.  We hadn't bothered to get fuel for my Jetboil, instead relying on a solid fuel cook stove.  We know now we should've brought fire starters as lighting the fuel cubes was nearly impossible and only accomplished by building a fort around the thing, and leaning in with hands and heads to break the wind.  It took about 35 minutes to boil water as the flaming cube would die when the wind gusted, needing to be relit.

Definitely a nice location for a less windy day.

Sandy and I were trapped in the tent by the weather, going out only to add hot water to our dehydrated dinner and to secure the site for the night. To pass the time, we read the "Accidents" section of AMC's hiking magazine Appalachia - maybe not the best choice of read! 

We didn't get much sleep. All night that wind threatened our fly, which remarkably stayed on, however the wind did bend a pole (which I proceeded to break in half trying to fix the next day).  Even the stars didn't cooperate - JT is a designated International Dark Sky Park, with the promise of millions of visible stars on a clear night.  We got up at 3 am, went outside to see and the sky wasn't presenting the stars we'd hoped (maybe the moon was too bright).

Hours later as the sky lightened, the wind held back just a bit, though temps dropped into the 40s. 

Sun rising behind me.

I went out to attempt to light the stove for coffee and noticed just where we were, way too close to the trail (more like 80 feet, not the 500 feet required).  Oops.  There, peeking around the corner I could see the back of the junction sign!  Not sure how we missed it last night.

Trailhead is 4/10 mile away (too close for us to be camping here). 

Several hikers were coming up the other trail. At least now we knew where we were, though clearly we weren't more than a mile from a trailhead. Rookies!  

We packed up as the wind once again started getting hateful.  It was decided we would complete the loop rather than retrace our steps back to the car.

At 9:15 we were back on the trail.  Overall, the trip was pleasant; our packs weighed less as we were carrying less water. A LOT less.  Overnight, the mouthpiece on Sandy's Platypus had leaked and dumped out all but a smidge of water.  I still had a good amount in my Camelbak and since it was a chilly, we felt we could make it okay (there would be a half liter remaining in my pack when we finished). 

The route gradually ascends (and descends).

The hills to our right appear to have signs along the ridge. Actually they're not signs but small Joshua Trees, the shadows of their thin trunks and bristly tops tricking us.   

It wasn't long before we reached Lost Horse Mine, an old gold mine.  

The mine is fenced - here's the history.

It's pretty cool and we explored for a bit before returning to the trail to complete our loop.

Beyond the mine the loop trail crests then heads left and down, offering a beautiful easterly view of desert hills and basins, then wraps around Lost Horse Mountain. The wind was back to fierce but it was bright and sunny and at least it had warmed up.

Skirting the mountain.

Remnants of a cabin.

On the map there's a spur to the right that leads up the mountain but we never found it.  Right after we passed the cabin ruins, the path widens to an old road, leading us to a desert wash, the very flat and windy finale of the loop.

The wash consists of a whole lot of scrub and cactus, and it seems to go on forever. And it's VERY windy.  There are several old roads and paths but it's well signed so if you pay attention you'll stay on course.  

A long stretch of flat

When we saw that the Joshua trees had returned to our surroundings we knew we were close to the Lost Horse Mine parking area.  At the very end the trail turns right but straight ahead we could see the road leading in to the Lost Horse Mine parking lot so we jumped on that and headed out toward Park Boulevard.  It's a long walk back to the main road and when we reached Park Boulevard we were able to catch a ride back to our car (that mileage is included in total miles above).

It's 1.4 miles from this road (where we came out) to our car.

Road walk (til we found a ride to the car).

There was sand in my eyes, ears, teeth -  powdery grit permeated my clothes and pack.  The unrelenting wind beat us down and we weren't look forward to another night backpacking so we made other plans for our second night.  Our goal was to try out our gear on an overnight and we'd accomplished that.  

We did enjoy the unusual scenery of the Joshua Tree deserts.

Our route.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Croom B Loop Day Hike, Withlacoochee Forest, FL, March 11, 2018

Distance: 10ish miles (B, BC and AB Loop)

Trailhead: This hike starts at the Tucker Hill Day Use area, 26414 Croom Road, Brooksville, FL. The parking area opens at 8:00 a.m. and there's a $2 fee to park.  "B" Loop trail starts just past the kiosk - same side of the street as the fire tower (I've included a map at the end of this report). 

Croom Tract is one of three areas in the Withlacoochee State Forest. The tract has three hiking loops (A, B, and C) and connector trails. A portion of the orange blazed Florida National Scenic Trail (referred to here as the Florida Trail) runs within the Croom tract.  The area is also widely used for horseback riding and off-road cycling.

Yesterday Carol and I decided to hike with full packs to the primitive campsite on B Loop and spend the night. We needed to check out the condition of our backpacking gear (for future, more intense adventures).

Day 1: Trek in five miles.  We got to the Tucker Hill Day Use area around 2:30, paid our parking fee and informed the camp host (he's across the street) that we planned to spend the night at the B Loop primitive campsite.   We were disappointed to learn that a boy scout troop was also camping there. 

Located five miles down the trail, the site is actually less than a quarter mile from Croom Road (trail crosses the road just before the Nobleton Croom intersection). We decided to keep the original plan but first drove to the road crossing, walked in, spoke with the scoutmaster and dropped off our water (any water needed must be brought in to this site).  The scouts were already set up - sites are first come first served but apparently you can reserve a backcountry site if you have five or more intending to stay the night.

After returning to Tucker Hill, we headed on foot to the campsite (it was after 3:00 by then).  Skies were overcast and gray and we worried we might lose the light we needed to set up our site.  But we got there about 4:40 and were having dinner in the daylight.

Parked here. B Loop begins beyond the kiosk.
When hiking here, keep in mind that the Croom tract has many equestrian and off road cycling trails.  Stay on the blazed trails (don't follow the rings painted around the trees - those are horse trails).

Carol checking out some flora.

After about a mile we went left onto B-C Loop for 1.24 miles, then connected back up with B Loop. 

Open pine flatwoods, well marked.

Quite a few forest road crossings meet the trail, each well marked so it's easy to to orient via the map.  

Several miles beyond the B-C Loop/B Loop junction the trail turns left.  I don't have a photo of this intersection -  it's clearly a trail junction and consists of hand made signs and Florida Trail orange blazes.  Turn left here onto the Florida trail.  Don't go straight, don't take the Silver Lake Connector. It's confusing because the sign indicates straight will also get you to Croom Rd (further down).  But go left and you'll cross the road right where we stopped the car to stash our water.

Trail crosses here. Site is on the other side (north side).

At the site we picked a flat spot and pitched the tent, hung the hammock. The scouts were quiet; we were far enough away but did enjoy hearing their evening ceremony and the applause. They quieted down early enough (but were up very early).

Fairly close to the trail.


As with most woodsy overnights, I slept lightly and during the night could hear an owl hooting and another nocturnal creature shrieking (more mysterious than unpleasant).  I awoke as dawn was breaking (thanks to the scouts breaking camp).

A bit of the moon shining through this early morning.

After they left we checked out the main part of this large primitive campsite.

Fire pit and sitting log.

Plenty of room for camping.

Day 2: Trek out <5 miles. Packed up and back on the trail we hiked back at a decent pace - the day was warming up.  

It didn't take long to reach the A-B/B/A Loop junction.  Several handmade signs are here and it can be just a bit confusing but we went left toward Tucker Hill (and our cars).  The Florida Trail continues straight, onto A Loop (see previous report).

This area of the trail has small ups and downs, something you don't see much of in Florida flatwoods. I love a trail with character!

"A" Loop is straight if you want to add another 1.5 miles.

We're back with the blue blazes.

Exactly 2.78 miles later we were at our last trail junction. We went left and ten minutes later the Tucker Hill fire tower was in our sites.

There's another primitive campsite here.

Yellow blazed.

The Croom Tract is one of my "go to" places because of the ups and downs (small inclines that you don't see often in Florida).  I had a chance to check out my gear for an upcoming trip, and to see what this loop was all about. I hope to do C loop sometime soon.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Alston Tract, Upper Hillsborough Preserve, Zephyrhills, Florida, February 6, 2018

Alton Tract, Zephyrhills, FL, 2/6/18

Mileage:  11.6 miles (Loop)

Trailhead: The trailhead is located at 42144 Deems Road, Zephyrhills.  My Garmin (and Google maps) got me there no problem. The trail is just beyond Mosaic Company's facility. 

Hiked with Lindsey and Daisy today. Alston Tract has dozens of geocache* locations so we figured if our hike wound up being one big dirt road walk we could still get excited over finding caches.  And that' s exactly how the day went.  

The Alston Tract's hiking trails are nothing more than a series of roads within a labyrinth of other old roads.  (For more information on this tract, visit Southwest Florida Water Management District's web page)

Things to note:
 - We were in the sun for most of the hike.
 - Parts of these trails can be under water (just puddles today).
 - The map has numbers that match small signs posted at trail junctions, making for easy navigation BUT more than once we found ourselves at a junction with many road options and had to guess the way. 
 - We had no idea of distance from one point to the next and didn't intend to do over 11 miles today, but it's easy to make up time and distance on flat road.

We arrived at the trailhead/picnic area around 9:15 and grabbed a map from the kiosk.

Parking lot/picnic area.

Daisy sprinted ahead as we passed piles of lime rock and cows grazing.

Soon we got to marker #2, which marks the beginning of the loops. Here we chose to head north to #6, then #7, up to #12 where we found several caches not far off the trail.

 Following the map up the perimeter was easy as we checked off geocache sites.

Found a cache.

Daisy leads the way!

Number 11 is very close to 7 (see map below).  

We arrived at marker #12, where we poked around for a few more geocaches, then headed for junction number 13.

We arrived at junction 13 - the top of the map - and turned right.

At #13.

The road continues and a few minutes later there's a right turn.  There's also a road straight ahead.  The sign indicates we turn right (which we did) but we were only somewhat sure that was the way. 

The road straight ahead has a fence, we assumed marking a boundary.

The rest of the hike is in open field, as seen by the photo below. Pressed for time but still confident we could complete the loop quickly, we continued our moderate pace.

Lindsey and Daisy in front of the trail we took.

We were going the right way (small arrow sign in the distance).

There are small paths and other roads along the way and it's a ways between markers 13 and 10 so we were relieved when we reached #10.

At marker #4, we were confident that we were almost done. #4 marks a three way junction and the map appears to be indicating the quickest way to #3 (and back to the parking lot) is to go left, which we did.

We went left here. 

We found a nano cache here!

Turns out that's not the quickest way, in fact going left put us on the wide loop, a much longer way.  A sign would have helped, something like "this way to parking lot."

Rather than turn around once we realized we were headed away from (and not toward) our cars, we picked up the pace and completed the long easterly loop that (eventually) took us to #3.  

A few puddles were around.

Just before marker #3 we hit a boundary and a very interesting clearing.

At marker #2 we went left, completing our clockwise circle and heading back to our cars.

Back at #2, the beginning.

The junction.
High water gauge.

We got back to the car around 2:15 and headed out.  Not a lot for cool things to see on this hike but searching for the geocaches made it fun and interesting. 

Our route.

Route shown here in yellow.

*There are several geocache apps for your phone, complete with locations and tracking. We used the information on Lindsey's phone and a handheld GPS.