Staying cool by getting high (elevation!)

Well, it is still hot in Tempe…. surprise surprise. So to cool off, I fled the mountains of Arizona and California over the past two weekends. First I went car camping in the White Mountains in Eastern Arizona, and got hailed on again. BUT, I was in my car the whole time so it was fine! The second trip was cabining near Big Bear Lake, CA with my long time friend Steve and his girlfriend Stacey. Both were great trips, where I was able to get nice and cool (especially while camping!) and enjoy some beautiful hikes and breath-taking views!

img_1273

A view across the Blue Range Primitive Area in the White Mountains

For those who are new to this blog, I adore the White Mountains in Arizona. The White Mountains are a large range along in central-eastern Arizona, full of high-elevation mixed coniferous forests and aspen trees. They also seem to get quite a bit more water than other high-elevation places in the state, like Flagstaff, because there is a lot of moss and lichen all around. The forests here have actually be called similar to those found in Washington and Oregon. And of course, since it was monsoon season, it was still raining quite a bit in the mountains, and I actually lost half a day of hiking because of  a storm (so I napped in my car). Another thing I like about the White Mountains is that they are so remote – a 4 to 5 hour drive from Phoenix – so that there are few people in the area. Yes, I am a slightly anti-social camper, mostly because whenever I seem to camp around other people they are loud or blaring music. #getoffmylawn

img_1226

One of my camping spots during the trip; it was in the middle of no where with no one around = quite and peaceful

I spent my first day near the town of Greer in the northern part of the mountains. I hiked a local trail called Squirrel Spring Trail, which was nice forest hike. Then I camped at an established campground called Winn Campground, which is where I had stayed before. It is a fairly large campground on top of a forested hill that I have never seen close to full. Unfortunately I did not get to spend much time there the next day, because it started raining at 7:00 AM. I had luckily just finished packing up, so I left and headed south on Highway 191, which is just a gorgeous drive through the mountains. I ended up picking a random side road at some point in a gap of rain to cook breakfast, since I did not have time to eat before the rain. After a nice breakfast I then drove to a trailhead near the Blue Range Primitive area, where I napped until the rain and hail stopped. Then I started along the trail, but was immediately disappointed. This trail had been completely burned from the 2011 fire that ravaged this area, and the nice forested hike I read about was no longer there:

img_6114

The landscape around Greer, AZ.

img_6125

A hike through the forests around Greer, AZ.

img_1152

The recovering burned area in the Blue Range Primitive Area.

img_1160

An example of how extensive the 2011 Wallow Fire burned areas are in the White Mountains.

After 45 minutes of hiking along this trail, I turned around and decided to find another trail. Luckily, just down the road was another trial that had been mostly spared, so I got another lovely forested hike, but with a different tree make-up from the Squirrel Spring Trail. Then after hiking along that trail for a while – not as long as I wanted as my phone kept changing time zones because I was close to the New Mexico border – I found a random forest road and camped alongside of it. Here are my photos from the hike:

img_1167

The lush, green understory of the forests in the White Mountains

img_1179

Another view of the forest, showing some trees with mosses and lichen on them.

img_1189

A small strand of aspen trees through the forest.

img_1193

This was one of the burned areas, and hiking through this patch of thistles on the trail was definitely not fun.

Before I made the sad, long drive back to Phoenix, I explored the lower(ish) elevation part of the Blue Range Primitive Area, and was totally taken aback by what I found. As I was driving, I realized that I was actually descending the Mogollon Rim (very prominent geological feature that cuts across Arizona), and the area reminded me a lot of the Sedona/Oak Creek Canyon area, which was awesome. At the bottom of the road, I was met by Blue River and a lush mid-elevation riparian area with giant cotton woods. I always love going through the transition from this habitat to the high-elevation coniferous forests, and this forest road was a great example of that.

img_1223

A view across the Blue Range Primitive Area from the road that descended into it.

img_1230

The road from along the Blue River after descending the Mogollon Rim.

img_1234

The lush riparian areas around Blue River.

img_1255

A view from the road as I ascended back up the Mogollon Rim.

This past weekend – Labor Day weekend – I again escaped the heat and joined my friends in the San Bernardino Mountains near Los Angels. We went to this area/town called Big Bear Lake, which was around 6,500-7,000 ft. Instead of camping, we got a place in town for the weekend and explored the area by car and by hiking. The town was very nice, full of interesting shops and restaurants, and the surrounding area was very beautiful. There are so many activities in the area, much like Lake Tahoe, but smaller, and it seems like a four-season place. While we were visiting, we hiked several trails in the surrounding area, namely Castle Rock and Cougar Crest Trails, giving us great views of the lake. We also explored the many small shops, where we saw some pretty awesome looking woodcrafts. We also explored several of the local restaurants and breweries, so we ate very well!

img_1287

Myself, Stacey, and Steve a top Castle Rock.

img_1289

A view of Big Bear Lake from Castle Rock.

img_1293

A view of the San Bernardino Mountains from Castle Rock.

img_1305

The forst and ephemeral stream bed along the Cougar Crest Trail.

img_1315

Another view of Big Bear Lake, but from the Cougar Crest Trail, which is on the opposite side of the lake from Castle Rock.

img_1318

An example of the beautiful woodwork found in the town.

img_1321

Another example of some of the woodwork from Big Bear Lake.

Overall, both of these trips were excellent escapes from the heat and very fun times. I cannot wait to continue escaping the heat when I can and also visiting these two places again in the future to further explore them!

Out-running Monsoon Storms, and Getting Hailed on…

It is monsoon season in Arizona right now, which means frequent afternoon storms across a large portion of the state. Many parts of AZ get most of their annual rainfall from the annual summer monsoon season. However, sometimes this rain comes in the form of crazy and powerful storms. Some of you might remember what happened to me last year during monsoon, when a giant tree fell over just missing our house!

11953067_10153284323723019_4894544396761419498_n

For more information on this event, check out my post from last year!

While Phoenix and the surrounding valley may get the occasionally intense storm, monsoon for us is mostly sandstorms, also called haboobs, followed by a thunderstorm. If you are in the many mountainous places across Arizona, you might have a very different monsoon experience. High elevation places, such as Flagstaff, seem to get afternoon storms pretty much every day, which I have experienced. These storms sometimes involve a lot of lightning and/or hail. The temperature can also drop 20+ degrees very quickly, which is a nice way to avoid the summer heat…. sometimes. These rainstorms definitely shift people’s activity though. When I was doing fieldwork in Flagstaff this summer before my trip to England, I would have to make sure to finish everything by the afternoon or I would risk getting rained on – with near certainty.

IMG_3508

A distant storm from one of my field sites in Flagstaff.

IMG_3511

The aftermath of an intense hailstorm in Flagstaff.

 

You might be asking why I am randomly talking about monsoon storms. Well, being a mountain-lover and trying to avoid the heat of the desert, I typically try to hike in the mountains whenever I can, but monsoon adds certain complications to this. Last week, I went hiking in the Mazatzal Mountains, north-east of Phoenix, on a trail called Barnhardt trail. This is a very popular trail that climbs along a beautiful valley before getting into the heart of the Mazatzals. My problem was that I started my hike late – sometime after 12 PM. I knew that a storm was inevitable, so I figured I would only get to hike a short while before I had to turn around to avoid the storm. Well, I might have miscalculated my timing. When I started, storms were starting to close in all around me:

IMG_1104

This if a photo from the Barnhardt trailhead.

But the specific area I was in still have sunny clear skies overhead, so I started hiking. I eventually lost myself to the beauty of the hike, as you can hopefully see form these pictures:

IMG_1112IMG_1121IMG_1122IMG_1131

However, one I stopped to take a rest, I realized that the clouds had closed in much faster than I predicted:

IMG_1129IMG_1134

I immediately turned around and started hiking back at a fast past. It got dark very fast, but I was still hopeful that I could escape the storms. I looked out past the valley, across to the mountains on the other side of Highway 87, and saw this:

IMG_1128IMG_1130

With these fear-inspiring images, I managed to keep a good pace, and as the trail leveled out, I knew I was within half a mile or so to my car. Unfortunately, that is when the first few raindrops started to fall. At first I thought, well I have rain gear, so I can probably avoid getting too wet and will just have a less fun trek in the rain. That was true for a while, but things got worse. The sound of falling rain gradually got much louder, and I started seeing things bouncing on the ground. It was starting to hail!

IMG_1207

Hail on the ground; from my iPhone to avoid damaging my camera.

I knew I was very close to my car at this point, but once it started hailing hard, I could not have been close enough. The hail was not too big – around dime size – but it definitely still hurt has it fell on my head.

I finally found my car and quickly got in, started it, and tried to get the hell out of there. It was hailing and raining very hard at this point, and with a slight feeling of panic, I quickly drove a way – probably faster than I should have. I was afraid of the road flooding before I could get out, which would leave me stranded for a while, so I pushed my driving skills to the limit, hoping that the pounding hail would not break my windshield and that I would not fishtail off the road.

After what seemed like an eternity driving through hail and rain, I dropped quite a bit in elevation as I reached highway 87, and eventually the hail/rain turned into just rain, and then nothing. Along the highway, there was no rain at all. I looked back and could not even see the mountains I had just been hiking in.

IMG_1211

Looking back, from my iPhone.

Thankfully I had escaped the storm with no issues, but I think I got lucky. I knew monsoon storms were typically intense at high elevations, but this was the first time I had gotten caught in a hail storm. My advice to those who wish to hike in the mountains in the near future – keep a close eye on the clouds and play it ultra-safe!

I hope you enjoyed this post – it was a bit different than my typical travelogs, but this is also my 50th post, so I wanted to make it special! Thank you to everyone who has kept up with and supported this blog, and I hope you continue to follow me as I pave my way to the next milestone – 100 posts!