CALIFORNIA DESERT LOOP: Sandstone Peak (3,111') 2X, Whale Peak (5,349'), Inspiration Peak (5,560+') 2X, Ryan Mountain (5,457') 6X and More February 27-March 3, 2011

Time to go back to the Desert and do another road trip, I left home to take Interstate 5 south. Fresh snow had fallen in Southern California, and it would be a fine photo op. I saw by electronic signs that the Grapevine was closed in the morning, but I figured it would open by the time that I got there. Taking my time driving, I came to the pass and it was now fine.

Having gotten up early, I was great on time. I took the 405 to the 101 and came to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area visitor center. I spoke with the rangers, and saw my planned first peak would be fine. Taking the roads to the trailhead, I worried a bit, but that was needless.

Starting my hike from the Sandstone Peak Trailhead at about 1 p.m., I hiked up the trail. My first time, in December, 1998, the clouds had set in and I got no view. Excited about the snow on the other peaks, and the clear vistas, I came to some melting ice next to the trail. I shortly topped out, with other hikers about, and started with my photos. Fabulous! Why I cannot get partners for any of this is well beyond me! There were plenty of other hikers coming up, all enjoying the day, and I finally had to leave. The hike down went fast, and I was back to my car at 3:38 p.m.

Having some dining plans, I headed back to the 405 and headed south to Torrance, where I checked out a noodle house reviewed by the L.A. Times. It was then to the 22 and over to Santa Ana, and my motel. Watching the Academy Awards on TV, I shortly went to bed, with an easy day tomorrow.

Nearly running out of gas, I had to pay $4 a gallon to get some. It was south on Interstate 5 to CA 76 east. This was a highway that I never had driven before, and I had new sights to see. Snow lined the highway at parts, and shortly, I was descending into Anza Borrego Desert State Park. I had some views from the highway, then arrived at the visitor center.

Motoring to the wildflowers to shoot at Coyote Canyon, I did many close-ups. Next, I explored off S-22 on the approach route to Rosa Point, where I had seen desert lilies at two times. Seeing only one cactus bloom, I hiked maybe 2 miles in, but felt safe enough, familiar with desert hiking. Back to Borrego Springs, I then hiked the Borrego Palm Canyon trail. Taking movie clips of the bubbling creek, I came to the stand of palms that had survived the 2004 flood. The shadows of the late afternoon covered the canyon, and I started to get cool. Hiking back briskly, I came back to my car, and went for dinner in Borrego Springs. Deciding to camp at the Borrego Palms campground, I paid the self-service $25 camp fee using the fact that I had already paid a $8 day use fee.

Tuesday morning, I awoke early, and checked out free Wi-Fi ops, said to be at the ranger station. Finding none there, I motored to the library in town and surfed to my heart's content. This was excellent! I had breakfast, and motored south to S-3 where I was to meet a HPS group to carpool into 4WDs and hike an easier route to the top of Whale Peak, the highpoint of the Vallecito Mountains. Coming to Blair Valley at 7:45 a.m., I hiked to the top of a small ridge to do some view photography, and then the group showed up. It was a fine friendly set of hikers, game for the peak. One of the leaders might be the foremost peak bagger ever, if you go by numbers and multiple list completions! I got a ride with a hiker, and we motored up a poor road to our hike start.

Successfully coming to the northern start for Whale Peak, we began our climb at 10:24 a.m. Scrambling up a rocky gully, we came to a plateau where a good use trail led us on. We crossed over two ridges before coming to the summit ridge, with some drop, and two rests. As good navigation as you might ever get brought us to the top. I stood atop the highest rock and shot pictures for the duration of our stay. Snowy desert peaks and distant views with the Salton Sea comprised our fine vistas.

It was time to head down, so I signed in the register and we hiked back to the cars, with more views on the way. Such a fine day with great company! I had thoughts of doing another hike, but as we came back to our cars at Blair Valley by 3:20 p.m., I said my thanks and motored back north. Taking CA 78 east to CA 86, I headed north.

I had never been to the city center of Palm Springs, CA, except to drive through once, so was anxious to see it again. Indeed, it is a high end everything, with haute couture. I obtained a reasonable rate at my motel, and then went for dinner. In the heart of the upscale part of town, I found a nice restaurant and had another one of my most expensive meals ever. Going for a walk down Indian Canyon Drive, I shot many night photos. Almost as good a photo op as the Vegas Strip, for me!

The next day, I headed to CA 62 and Joshua Tree National Park, with a stop and coffee at the visitor center, to do two more repeat peaks, as I was down here. I arrived at Keys View, where a ranger interpreted the scene to tourists. It was as clear as I have ever seen it! Hiking from the parking lot, I hiked over two small hills to come to Inspiration Peak, where I had more views. Running into another solo hiker on my way back, I had lots of time.

Hiking then the Ryan Mountain trail for some major summit photography, I donned some heavy layers for a long stay on top. The light played on the Wonderland of Rocks, and I captured panoramas and telephotos. The sun went behind the clouds, and distant Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio were ensconced in clouds. One fellow came up to conduct a long conversation on his cell phone, then I had the summit to myself. Waiting for good, orange, dusk light on the rocks, I shot a few last photos, and headed down at 5:25 p.m. as I saw the light was fading. Hurrying down the trail, the reddish glow in the sky made for a sight, as did the long shadow of the peak. There was still light in the sky as I got back to the car.

Motoring back in the night to CA 62, I had snack and drink in Yucca Valley, CA, and took CA 247 north to Barstow, CA. With more drink and snack in Kramer Junction, I saw gas now well over $4 a gallon. Getting my motel room by 10:15 p.m., I had a light meal, and watched TV before retiring.

Thursday, I had to decide whether to take U.S. 395 north or head home on U.S. 99. Interstate 80 required chains. I wanted to do some photography of the winter High Sierra, but being so poor, figured to head home the safer way. I opted to visit Red Rock Canyon State Park, for some morning photography. I declined to pay the $6 day use fee as the facilities were still closed this early in the day. I made a stop at Red Cliffs across the highway.

Going back to Mojave, I took CA 58 to Bakersfield, motoring north on U.S. 99. Stopping for breaks, I had coffee in downtown Merced, seeking another last, fine dining op by my handheld, but not very hungry, got only a cup of chili in Stockton, CA.

Hiking about 21 miles with 5,300' gain, I captured some 2,300 images and movie clips. My drive totaled almost 1,500 miles, and I spent $300 cash. My lodging came to about $130 total, and I used maybe 39 gallons of fuel. Gas ran a total enroute of $138, from 3.559 to 3.939, for special gas.

It seems that I still have no partner ops, so will refrain from any snow trips to the Rockies. Still hoping that someone will come forward to join me, I will maintain this record of my little adventures, and maybe some interested person, some day, will want to hike, climb, and ski, with a highly experienced peak climber and photographer!