31-Aug-2006 -- I realized a short time ago that this year I might be able to attempt at least one confluence during each month. And so, on the last day of August, I made an attempt on 34 North 117 West in southern California. A group of us geography educators were gathered at the headquarters of the largest Geographic Information Systems company in the world, that of ESRI, a short distance away in Redlands. I left the group at 6:05pm and was soon winging my way eastbound on Interstate Highway 10, with about 90 minutes until dusk. I considered stopping for water but pushed onward. Would I make it in time?
"Winging" doesn't exactly describe the slow pace that one invariably encounters on California freeways, but nonetheless, I reached County Line Road that divides Riverside to the south from the largest county in the continental USA to the north, San Bernardino, by 6:25pm. I headed due east, toward the hills. A large wildfire had been burning not far from here the evening before, and I wasn't certain if the roads would be open. Tonight was a different story. The winds had died down although it was still hot.
At 6:35pm, I parked at the end of the new cul-de-sac where several large homes were clustered. As a geographer, I reflected briefly how these neat, tidy homes and lawns pushed the edge of the wilderness one bit more to the east. I found a trail leading southeast toward the confluence. So far, so good. A medium-sized black dog that I named "Connie, the Confluence Canine" trotted along with me. The dog wore a collar, a bandana, and what appeared to be a GPS around its neck. After 100 meters, the trail switched to the southwest. I took a different path that led down a gully, up past a large water tank, and up onto one of the ridges. Thus far, everything was going quite smoothly. I kept to the trail as long as possible, as on both sides grew extremely thorny and dense vegetation. This was, after all, the chaparral biome, not all that widespread in the world, but home to some amazingly diverse vegetation. The trail was very steep but soon afforded wonderful views in all directions.
Fifteen minutes later, my luck abruptly came to an end. My plans to traverse the ridge and approach the confluence from above and to the east were thwarted when I saw what lay ahead of me. Where the aerial photograph from a few years ago showed a nice ridgetop trail, now stood a large house fronted by a "No Trespassing" sign and a barking dog. Therefore, when I had reached the 117 West meridian, about 100 meters west of the house, I was forced to dive off the trail to the south.
I immediately noticed three things: (1) Connie had wisely decided not to venture off trail. (2) My geography professors had been right--people ARE an efficient carrier of plant seeds. I was rapidly becoming covered in them--my neck and shoes, in particular. Unfortunately, many were rather nasty burrs. (3) This was going to be rougher than I suspected. I had to traverse 4 gullies and ascend 4 ridges. Each was steep and thorny, with loose debris. I fell numerous times. I tried to make a lot of noise so any snakes would hear me approaching. I couldn't help but think of what it must be like up here during an earthquake. Also, judging from the blackness of the larger bushes that was rubbing off on me, a wildfire had not long ago been through here. Indeed, the chaparral vegetation with the dry climate is quite fire prone.
At 7:30pm, with the sun barely above the horizon, I hit the bottom of the last gully before the confluence. I started up the steep slope, but was forced to concede with 321 meters left to go. With the roughness of the terrain, me without a flashlight, and the lack of a trail, I considered it too dangerous to be stumbling around here at night. I quickly took photographs and a movie, trying to keep my balance on the 45-degree slope. The confluence, according to my calculations, was another 15 to 20 minutes of a hike due south.
Even after I had turned around and was stumbling down the gully, I thought about making another effort. However, at 34 latitude, it becomes dark rather quickly, and I moved as rapidly as I could. There was no way I'd make it before dark if I returned the way I had come, so I headed due west, adhering to the gully as much as possible for a more rapid trek. I fell down a few one meter drop-offs but sustained no serious damage. The sun set. After about 15 minutes, I left the gully and tracked northwest in the gathering gloom. The going was extremely slow and rough, requiring numerous hands-and-knees crawls through the underbrush. Just as I reached the water tank, it became pitch dark, but by then, I could see the lights of the houses in the cul-de-sac. I reached the vehicle at 8:10pm, very thankful that I had turned around when I did.
At a Calimesa convenience store when purchasing some much-needed liquids, the clerk asked me where I had been. Apparently I was covered in seeds and sported some nasty neck scratches. She also said that I smelled like tea: It was true--the sagebrush and other chaparral vegetation is quite fragrant!
And one more word about my one visit per month this year: I rechecked my visit log and discovered that I had already missed it for this year, as I did not attempt a confluence during April. This confluence was a short hike in terms of distance, but I rank it in my Top 10 difficult confluences, one that affords plenty of bodily abuse. Still, it was a wonderful experience in the chaparral on a late summer's eve.