29-Jan-2011 -- To a geographer, everything is on the way to everything else. And therefore I visited this confluence point en route to the Los Angeles International (LAX) airport, even though it was in the opposite direction to my starting point. As I and my colleagues had been discussing GIS all week, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect capstone to a successful series of geospatially-related educational meetings. I awoke at 4:05am and drove north on I-15, and then US Highway 395, I stopped at the junction of US 395 and State Highway 58 to purchase some food and beverages. My purchases included some food and a gallon of water, which would be heavy to carry, but probably wise. One never hikes in the desert without proper precautions. Would it be enough? As it turned out, it was enough, but the container was another story.
After stopping at this crossroads, I was on a road I had never before traveled, through some fascinating desert landscapes. At dawn I passed an interesting lake that appeared to have formed because it was dammed up by a lava flow on its south end. I saw the destination on the left--a row of mountains lit up by a pre-dawn glow. Despite having turned on the GPS a short time before arriving at Coso Junction, I overshot the correct turnoff. I then spent the next few hundred meters searching for a place to cross the median. Fortunately, I did find one, and access was not prohibited, so I was soon traveling south, turned right on Sykes Road, and then proceeded south-southwest for a few minutes. The quality of the road rapidly degraded, and not 20 meters after passing the crossroads of another dirt road alongside an old irrigation ditch, I was forced to concede to hiking the rest of the way. The road proceeded onward, but I was unwilling to trust a rental car to an increasing number of gullies and boulders, and an HHR car at that with low clearance. I turned around so I could be facing downhill as I departed. I gathered necessary supplies, including the gallon of water that I had purchased about an hour earlier. Unfortunately, I lacked sunblock. But it promised to be a magnificent time of hiking in the desert with the best weather imaginable.
The sun was just peeking over the mountains on the southeast horizon as I set out. I wore 2 shirts, a sweater and a light jacket, but it was already becoming warm. The GPS receiver was reading 5 km to the confluence, to the southwest. Due to the busy week we had just concluded, I did not have the time to check details of the previous visits except to glance at the photographs. But, I was here largely due to the fact that my last meeting had ended earlier than expected. Therefore, I knew what the view was like at the confluence, but I did not know how to best reach the point. This situation would prove to make my hike much more difficult, but would it prevent me from reaching the confluence? Read on.
0:20 into the hike: I abandon the four-wheel drive road, because it began curving to the south, and I aim for a beeline to the southwest along the "Go To" track. 0:30: I reach a fenced area with a rusted sign that was lying on the ground announcing it as a BLM aviary. Interesting. Sure enough, I also find a four-wheel drive track here and it made me think I should have stuck to it, as walking cross-country meant dodging numerous cactus and other thorny plants, holes, and keeping an eye out for snakes. At the far end of the aviary, I began climbing the nearest hill. My goal is to hike the ridge in the hopes that the confluence will be on this ridge. It was not to be. 0:45 Out of breath now climbing the steep ridge, I realize that with 3.5 km still to go, the confluence must be to the left, or south. I skirt the ridge along the south side, high above the valley to the south. I therefore trace a contour line with my track and see the abandoned homestead below, which is the starting point for a previous confluence trek that I recognize. The person reaching the homestead must have used a four-wheel drive vehicle.
0:52 I unfortunately stumble into the only cholla on the entire mountainside. They are beautiful, but extremely sharp! 1:00 The confluence must not on this ridge at all! It must be up the mountain straight ahead to the west. Sigh: It looks very steep indeed. 1:15 I am now at the bottom of the gully, and fortunately, fording the small stream is no problem. The problem is on the other side, where the hike seems straight up. It was actually a 45 degree angle, but it seems even steeper. 1:25 Going 100 steps and resting, thinking how great this rapid heartbeat must be to clear any plaque in the arteries. 1:30 I take my first break. Never did water taste so wonderful. Alas, I seem to have left all my snacks in the vehicle! The joshua trees in the sunlight in the foreground looked beautiful against the snowy mountain in the background. 1:35 Very slow going straight up the mountainside. 1:50 I reach the crest of the ridge and am still 2 km away from my goal! 1:55 Rounding the crest, I see an even steeper and snow-covered mountain in front of me. If the confluence is on that slope, I do not know if I will have the energy to tackle it. 2:05 For the second time that morning, I am following the very sandy and rocky south side of a ridge, making for difficult hiking. I am tracing a contour line with my path, not wanting to lose elevation and have to climb again later. A gully lies to my left (south). Far behind and below me in the valley, I see a few people and hear a few shots from target practice. Fortunately, the temperature is ideal and even a bit on the warm side (65 F) under bright blue skies, with the winter sun just barely over the ridge above me and on my left, which was south of the gully. 2:15 My goal is to get the destination to less than 1000 meters. Finally I meet that goal! Onward.
2:30 The last few hundred meters are very steep. Fortunately, I can see that the confluence was going to be near the gully, not up the slope on the left. Best news of the day!
At 2:45 into the hike, I arrived at the confluence site. The confluence lies on a large rock, at least 2 meters high and 6 square meters on top. The terrain in the vicinity slopes 40 degrees to the south, as the confluence is on the north side of the gully. The views to the east, in particular, are spectacular. The ridge to the south is very steep and I was thankful that I did not have to climb it. The snow on it probably would have thwarted any attempt to climb it. At the confluence, I spend what seems like quite awhile trying to zero out the GPS receiver while gingerly stepping around the rock. I also film a geography-related movie about landscapes. I have visited 36 North several times before, from California on the west to North Carolina on the east. I have only stood on 118 West twice before, one degree due south and two degrees due south of here. I saw no animals on this hike and no people except for those far below while I was on the ridgetop.
At 3:15 into the hike, I check my watch. Now that I know I could take an easier way back, via the lowlands instead of the ridges, I wonder if I can make it back in 1:45, which would mean a total hike time of 5 hours. Could I do it? I didn't get a very good start: On the way down, I went head-over heels a few times due to the loose stones below my feet. But then I was in the shade, which felt nice. If I got too close to the gully, there were some thorny brambles, so I stuck to the north side of the gully. A short time later, I realized my gallon of water was leaking. Not a good thing! After an hour, at 4:00 into the hike, I was in a magnificent joshua tree forest, and then abandoned this gully, because I knew I was too far south. Once atop the saddle between the two main gullies in this area, I found myself in another joshua forest, and took more photographs with the snowy peaks and blue skies to the west. At 4:30 into the hike, it was a bit steep descending into the next gully to the north, but ascending on the other side placed me back near the aviary. This time, I stuck to the four-wheel drive trail. The last 30 minutes seemed long and I was pretty thorny. I still had some water left despite the leak. I had magnificent views of the valley before me. This was one of the more difficult confluence treks in my experience, but one of the most scenic. The winter is definitely the ideal time to do it. I arrived at the vehicle exactly 5 hours after I began, at 12:00 noon. A magnificent day.
A few hours later, my reminder of the hike was when a shower of thorns and pebbles appeared when I took off my shoes at airport security.