Saturday, April 28, 2018

Croom C Loop Day Hike, Withlacoochee Forest, FL, April 26, 2018

Croom C Loop Day, via B, B-C, and C Loops, Brooksville, FL, 4/26/2018

Mileage:  7.4ish miles (lollipop 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.  To access the "C" Loop trail you must first hike a portion of the "B" loop trail (about .7 miles), which begins 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 runs within the Croom tract.  The area is also widely used for horseback riding and off-road cycling.

Hiked with the Sun Coast Chapter of the Florida Trail Association, led by Joe. The Croom area was mined years ago and the hills and dips we encountered are overgrown quarry pits. 

This area is the place to train if you live in Florida and plan on hiking the Appalachian Trail. Trails total just under 20 miles, divided into three loops: A, B and C, with optional A-B, and B-C Crosstrails.   I've hiked here several times (see previous reports on A Loop, and B Loop hikes) but this is my first time on "C" Loop.

Tucker Hill parking lot (there are bathrooms!).

Tucker Hill fire tower.

We met at the picnic area at the far end of the lot. "B" Loop trail is accessed here. 

Started here.

"B" is yellow blazed.

The trail is wide and predictably flat. It wasn't long before the trail crosses a clearing.

In a little less than a mile we arrived at a trail junction. The plan was to hike "C" Loop clockwise so we took the B-C Crosstrail.

Went left.

Blazes are now blue - we are on the B-C Crosstrail.

Pine flatwoods are as far as the eye can see, though small oak "treelets" cover the floor, scheming to eventually dominate (which is why this area receives regularly prescribed burns).

We crossed Forest Road 5,  heading into more of the same.

There are several road crossings on this hike.

Baby longleaf pines.

We arrived at the next trail junction - the second "C" Loop intersection, and took the "C" Loop trail.

Out of the pines for now.

Forest Road 7 intersects shortly after the junction.

And busy Forest Road 10 (they're constructing a paved bike trail here).

The trail takes a sharp right turn and after crossing Forest Road 7 (again) we arrived at Twin Ponds camping area, a large clearing with quite a few overnight spots. This place, I am told, fills with campers during hunting season (check it out here).

Campground is on FR 7.

The campground is a good place to stop for lunch.  At this point we're just under five miles into the hike, over half way there.

Back on the trail, the group soon arrived at the limestone pit/ridge.  Heavily mined for limestone, Croom's pits or quarries make for a few ups and downs. Half of us dropped into the pit, the others walked the ridge. Nothing too grand about doing either but it added a bit of variation.

Down in the pit.

Up on the ridge.

Back on the flat.

Big snake skin (coachwhip perhaps?).

We crossed FR 5, then FR 10 again and wound up back at the junction of "B" Loop trail.

FR 10 - bike trail under construction.

Back on "B" Loop trail.

Ten minutes later we were back at the picnic/parking area.  

At the parking lot we checked out the old cemetery, located in back of the pay station sign, about a tenth of a mile in.

Wide trail behind this sign goes to the cemetery.

Headstones date as early as mid 1800s and late as 1930s.  

Our route.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Teutonia Peak, Mojave National Preserve, CA, April 14, 2018

Teutonia Peak (5,755') via Teutonia Peak Trail, Mojave National Preserve, 4/14/2018

Mileage:  4 miles (RT)

Elevation gain: 700'ish

Trailhead: Trail is located on the Cima Road in Mojave National Preserve, twelve miles south of I-15, and five miles north of Cima, CA. Directly across the street is the White Cross World War 1 Memorial.

Teutonia Peak is situated on Cima Dome, a 1500' rise in the desert floor.  To learn more about Cima Dome visit

Teutonia Peak (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

Hiked with Sandy today. After hiking in Joshua Tree National Park (see previous trip report), we headed to Las Vegas to fly home. Mojave National Preserve is on the way so why not visit?

By the time we left the Kelso Depot Visitor Center it was getting late - too late to really do anything but drive through the preserve. We wanted to get to our hotel at a decent hour to get ready for our early morning flights.  As appealing as the hike to the top of this peak was, we just didn't have the time.

As we passed by the Teutonia Peak trailhead parking we decided to stop and just take a short walk on the flat part of the trail  - about two and a half miles RT.  

The trail is almost completely in the sun; a few trees and large rocks provide some shade.  Joshua Trees line the path. These trees are different in appearance from those at Joshua Tree National Park, their trunks appear shorter and bristly branches more bottlebrush-like.  

Flat trail!

The path intersects with a dirt road.  We crossed the road and a few minutes later found ourselves gently ascending toward the peak.  Sandy wanted to find a viewpoint to take some photos. We hopped off the path to ascend a knoll, which is where we met Jared.  Jared had gone off trail and couldn't find the path to the top.  

Sign across the intersecting road.
Standing at the knoll (nice view from here).

I could see the main trail further up and wondered how Jared got off track so I started up toward the peak. There are some rocks on the ascent, which never gets steep. Sandy and Jared followed and within fifteen minutes we were at trail's end (which really isn't the summit peak but simply a safe place to end the path).

Path gets narrower.

Cima Dome is evident here (it's the curve on the horizon).

End of the trail (not really the top).

We looked for a continuation of the trail, perhaps it scrambles up the rocks (it doesn't) and figured the park service staff opted not to encourage visitors to go further.  In fact, looking at Teutonia Peak's ridge from the parking area, the trail ends in a dip to the right of the real bumpy stuff, not coming anywhere near the summit in distance or elevation.

Still not the top but pretty rocky terrain.

The view is beautiful, unusual, and we took a few minutes to take it in before heading back down. 

Heading down.

Shadows were lengthening in the desert - and the way the sun hit the dome was incredible. Everything glowed, then melted into a honey-gray tone.

As we headed back to the car I noticed a path on the left and took it.  It leads to an old mine, now covered with fencing for safety. (Click here for more information on the mining history of Mojave.)

Favorite shot of the Dome and late afternoon sun.

We got to our hotel later than planned but we had no regrets. In fact, we would have if we'd missed it.  

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. 

Note: There's very little shade on these trails. You'll be hiking in the sun.  Sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats should be worn. 

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.