Lizards and Birdies and Wind, Oh My!

May 9, 2017

Birds! After two days of wind, the weather has calmed, and birds are everywhere! Just before lunch I saw a spotted towhee, sitting on a bare branch, giving out both its calls, first the nasal “tweeee”, then the squeaky door hinge “creeee?” While eating lunch we were entertained with the flittings of several goldfinches. This afternoon a bird with a bright blue body and black wings darted from the side of the trail, nearly under my feet, winging its way to hide in a tree. Perhaps a blue grosbeak? With only a second to see it, I couldn’t nail its identity. In the late afternoon, a bird gave me about two minutes of unobstructed observation time, sitting on a bare tree branch, turning back and forth in the slanting sunlight. Gray body and wings, white eye stripes, a single spot on a gray chest, and white tips to each tail feather – even with all that, I’m still not exactly sure of its identity. Perhaps a sparrow?

Most of the morning we hiked through high desert scrub with bushes and junipers. Warm sunshine brought out the horned lizards, so many I lost count. I remember an elementary school friend telling me that lizards squirted blood from their eyes. This sounded so strange, I refused to believe my friend. Much to my amazement, when reading Wikipedia about these ‘horny toads’, it says 8 of the 22 species can squirt blood from the corners of their eyes when threatened! Evidently the blood tastes nasty to canine and feline predators, perhaps due to the lizards’ diet of venomous harvester ants.

The spines on its back are modified reptile scales, while the horns on its head are true horns with bone cores.
Easy to see that its first defense is camouflage!

We met a total of five PCT hikers headed south today. Pain and Panic had skipped from Tehachapi to Kennedy Meadows to avoid several days of wind, and were thoroughly enjoying being ‘southbounders’. “This way, we aren’t camping with a large group of hikers,” Panic explained. “Most of the northbounders are so focused on getting their miles in, they don’t even have time to say hello! At first we thought y’all were section hikers because you stopped to talk with us. We’ve met so many nice people since we flipped!”

We met Noodles and Long Skirt in the early evening. We talked for a few moments, but lengthening shadows pushed us both on to begin searching for a campsite.

Grady was the final hiker we met, happily covering miles with a ground-eating stride. Once again we stopped to talk, trading information about water sources.

This afternoon, as the vegetation changed from high desert scrub to live oaks and pines, we walked across several hillsides covered in purple lupines. The scent of warm grape cool-aid surrounded us. What an experience, to be enveloped in scent and purple beauty! Jay used a flower app called California Wildflowers to find the name of these aromatic beauties.

Walking through grape soda lupines!

May 10, 2018

The soft sand of decomposed granite on the trail provided a perfect canvas for morning visitor tracks. Quail tracks raced along in wavering lines, scuttling from side to side. Soft furry rabbit footprints crossed the trail. Deer hoofs left exclamation points down the middle of the path. Tiny mouse tracks skittered back and forth several times. Squirrels left deep claw marks on the tips of their footprints as they bounded along. Though we were early, this trail had already seen many morning visitors.

Birds continued to be abundant on this beautiful day. A spotted towhee put its heart and soul into its morning melody. I watched, entranced, as it settled upon a branch and put back its head, throat swelling. What glorious aria was about to grace the air? “Tweeeee!” Harsh and buzzy, the loud nasal trill issued forth. Not exactly melodic, but sung with such enthusiasm, one couldn’t help laughing in delight.

Near lunch time, Jay and I caught up with a PCT hiker from Germany, Chris. Just as the three of us came to a dirt road, a slowly moving vehicle pulled up and stopped.

“Do you need some water?” a man called. Steve got out and offered us cookies, cheese, and water. He and his friend, Larry, were checking out trail heads, preparing to bring a group of young people on a backpack trip in a few days. We talked about trails, enjoying the instant bond of fellow hikers. Before they left, they took our garbage, which was even better than the cookies and cheese, in my estimation! (Chris, however, was most grateful for the cookies!)

Chris, Steve, and Jay talk while Larry looks on from the car. Thank you so very much!

The wind returned this afternoon, buffeting us a bit as the trail followed an exposed ridge line. At 7:00 p.m., we left the trail, following a faint track onto the lee side of the ridge, seeking shelter from the insistent breeze. Jay finally found a hollow surrounded by pines and sand dunes. We set up our tent with the wind building in the treetops. Much of the night the wind howled across the top of our hollow, occasionally reaching down to shake the tent. I was grateful for the shelter!

May 11, 2018

We woke to birdsong and sunshine. The wind continued above our hollow, but gentler with the new day. Jay and I couldn’t resist taking pictures of more grape soda lupine in the early morning light.


Here’s a closeup of this lovely flower.


We also saw a lizard with spots and stripes!


The wind gained force as the day progressed. It was tough to find shelter when stopping for a rest or meal. Lunch was eaten with my back firmly towards the wind, hood pulled over my head. We passed Gopher, a PCT hiker from London, eating lunch while crouched behind a boulder. “Epic wind,” he shouted cheerfully.

By early evening, forceful gusts were sending me staggering across the trail, buffeting me back and forth. At 5:00 p.m., Jay pointed to a small herd of cows in the grass and bushes on the steep slope below us. “Cows aren’t stupid,” he observed. “If all the cows are gathered here, this is probably the best shelter we’re going to find for a while. Let’s eat dinner.”

Cows mark the most sheltered spot for dining!

After dinner we continued, searching for a flat, sheltered spot. We headed downhill across a giant bowl below Bird Spring Pass. At 8:00 p.m., we gave up on shelter, spread our tent flat, weighting it with rocks, and rolled out our sleeping bags on top. Alternately today the wind had roused in me anger, fear, and self-pity. By now, I was simply tired of it.

“I just hope the cows stay on their side of the valley,” I mumbled as I flopped onto my bag.

At 11:30 p.m., the wind abated. Jay woke me, wanting to put up the tent. I was so sleep-fogged, I could barely stand upright, and was not much use in pitching the tent. But I gladly crawled inside once it was erect, and knew nothing else until the dawn.

In Which I Meet Two Followers

May 5, 2018

A living stick greeted me from atop my pack this morning.

There are over 3,000 species of stick insects, ranging in length from one half inch to 12 inches. I didn’t even know walking sticks could be white! This one was about 4 inches long.

We partook of breakfast in the shade of a juniper tree while a meadowlark serenaded the morning.

Juniper tree – easy to identify with the characteristic blue berries, which many birds eat.

Numerous Joshua trees dotted the landscape. This one sported fruit, the first I had seen, and stimulated my curiosity about this unusual plant. Wikipedia informed me that the leaves, fruit and flowers were used by the Cahuilla Native Americans, and early ranchers used the trunks and branches for fence posts and fuel. Also, it is theorized that the now extinct giant Shasta ground sloth was a key to the spread of the Joshua tree, as the leaves and fruits have been found in ground sloth dung. (Side note: The giant Shasta ground sloth went extinct 13,000 years ago. Dung has survived that long??? Hikers, remember this next time you are burying your waste. The desert preserves!)

We worked for our miles today, climbing 2,000 feet of elevation, then dropping down to a stream in Tylerhorse Canyon, then climbing another 2,000 feet to end on a mountain top. Fatigued muscles protested, but wildflowers carpeted the desert, birds sang much of the day, and grace and beauty abounded.


We reached Tylerhorse Canyon at lunch time, sharing the shade of a juniper tree with a bold scrub jay.

Scrub jays are known to have a very precise memory for food caches of seeds and berries.  I’m sure this one was disappointed when we didn’t share our lunch!

At the base of the canyon, we met two sets of volunteers from ACE (American Conservation Experience) which partners with the PCTA (Pacific Crest Trail Association). These young people will be repairing trails for six months as volunteers! All I can say is a very humble, “Thank you!”

Louisa and Brady kindly pose for my camera.
Arthur, Zack, and Kinsey pause to graciously answer my questions.

The climb out of Tylerhorse Canyon, in the heat of the afternoon, began to take its toll. I found myself counting the switchbacks, and feeling extremely grateful that the trail did have switchbacks, instead of going straight up!

Along with counting each time the trail turned upon itself, I had to keep stopping for moments of beauty. Flowers continued to delight!


We reached our final mountain top just at dinner time. My weary legs rejoiced when I came upon a charming campsite/hiker home with folding chairs, plank counters, garbage can, and a water cache. A welcome sign from Daniel, Robert, and Patti instructed hikers to “Have a drink!”


Jay and I sat down, marveling at all this luxury, including a beautiful view!  I had just put a tin of sardines upon the chair beside me, when a truck pulled up.

Bounding out of the vehicle, a bearded man startled us with the question, “You must be Sarah and Jay. You’re not planning to eat those sardines for dinner, are you?”

How did he know our names? What was going on?

It turned out that Robert and Patti lived on this mountain, and made a habit of sharing their dinner with lucky PCT hikers at Daniel’s campsite. They also followed a few PCT blogs each year, and had chosen mine as one to follow! As they unloaded still steaming spaghetti and utensils from their truck, they told us they had been expecting us today, based upon our progress so far. I was overwhelmed with amazement and gratitude to this generous couple! After a long though beautiful day, this impromptu feast and fascinating conversation made the tough miles seem a distant memory!

“This is my mother’s recipe,” Robert explained as he spooned heavenly smelling sauce from a giant pot. “I’m from a large family, and my mother always made a huge batch. My siblings and I have tried cutting the recipe in half, but it only tastes right when it’s made with her proportions.”

As we ate (and swooned over the delectable spaghetti), Robert and Patti gave us a short historical perspective about the land through which we’d been hiking.

“We’ve been hiking past a great many windmills,” Jay observed.

“Oh yes, those ‘wind turbines,’ as my granddaughter scrupulously calls them, have been big business. Some years ago, quite a few of my neighbors leased options on their land to the wind turbine companies. Nothing ever got built up here. If the companies had asked, we could have told them that the winds are too variable on this mountain top. They never asked, though.” Robert laughed.

Patti and Robert told us about the fires, one in 2007, another in 2012. “You should have seen the dense pinyon pines up here,” Robert reminiscenced. “We harvested pinyon nuts every year. Some of those trees were 300 years old. The fire destroyed everything, including our house. We rebuilt, with the help of our family.”

I mentioned the ACE volunteers I had seen at the bottom of Tylerhorse Canyon.

“Oh, good, I’m glad to hear that section is being repaired! I’ve told the PCTA about it more than once,” Robert smiled.

“What happened? It’s pretty sketchy down there.” I leaned forward in anticipation of another story.

“Last August there was a flash flood. We got seven inches of rain in one hour here at home! You can imagine the amount of run off the canyon collected! There was a LOT of water sluicing through that constricted channel. Hikers told us they couldn’t even find the trail down there. It’s good to have it restored.”

We sat and ate and talked and ate some more. Time flew as evening shadows lengthened. I didn’t want this magical visit to end!

“Will you be camping here tonight?” Robert finally asked.

“It looks like we still have an hour of daylight. We should probably walk a bit further, just to give our stomachs time to digest.” Jay patted his midriff gingerly. “I was hoping there might be a small campsite down the mountain a ways.”

Robert glanced doubtfully at Patti. “It gets pretty steep once you drop off the top.” He thought a moment, then his face brightened. “Actually, about halfway down, there is a bit of meadow where the ridge extends out a ways. There might be a piece of flat ground for you.”

“Perfect!” Jay exclaimed.

Regretfully, we gave Patti and Robert hugs, took a quick picture, and watched them drive away before shouldering our packs. What an incredible encounter!

Patti and Robert – trail angels!

As we hiked through the last of the evening, spotted towhees called from trees and bushes. For the first time, I connected the sound of the squeaky-door-hinge-call to the towhee. Birds have so many sounds! It’s hard to keep them straight. I also saw three rabbits slipping into the brush as we passed. This mountain held an abundance of life!