On Fear

Arrakis

Arrakis - The Desert Planet Every Bit As Empty as Ourselves

Paul Atreides came so close! But like so many others before him, Frank Herbert’s protagonist from the awesome Dune series (the Muad’Dib himself) looked into the abyss, then entirely missed the point.

I’m referring, of course, to one of the most prolific lines from his incredible inter galactic epic; that famous Bene Gesserit litany against fear:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Which at first glance sounds strikingly similar (at least to me) to FDR’s own quintessential quote:

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Each are inspirational to be sure, in their affirmation of the human spirit and our ability to transcend the constraints of our own mental limitations, and of our ability to rise above them. These men of conviction seem to invoke that famous and perhaps most interesting of all literary conflicts – that of man vs. himself.

In their message, both Herbert and FDR attack fear as little more than a passing fancy, a product entirely of the mind, one that is somehow less “real” than the world around us, or especially less real than ourselves. But if you’re asking me (which you are since you’re reading this), each of them entirely miss the point after pointing out the essentially illusory or transient nature of fear. Put simply, their conclusions are not logically reached by the premises argued on their behalf!

Where they go wrong is in the idea that while fear is in and of itself entirely unimportant, our other more valorous emotions, like “valour”, “bravery”, or perhaps even “productivity”, are entirely worthy of adoration.

Am I wrong in calling it a contradiction that calling fear illusory and impermanent somehow leads to the affirmation that these other mental states, or even the beings that produce them in such a temporary and capricious fashion are somehow more permanent?

Shouldn’t watching fear pass through ourselves, witnessing it’s effects, and understanding its ethereal nature guide us to the understanding that all other mental states (even those like “bravery”, “altruism”, and “valor”) are essentially no more real? If “fear” is false, and hardly worth acknowledging, then why is are these other emotions so worthy of worship? How are they not essentially identical, except through our subjective appraisal?

If fear comes and goes, simply as the product of our previous experiences, our biological and chemical make-up, and the configuration of our present surroundings, then shouldn’t bravery be dismissed as an equally fleeting fancy? Isn’t it brought about by the very same process?

Why deny one while affirming the other?

And – I’m asking both myself and you now – What is a person beyond his or her thoughts, feelings, beliefs and mental events? What am I, and what are you, without consciousness, without that mental spark of self-awareness, or of awareness at all (since most of humanity seems to lack real self-awareness).

What are we without our values, our principles, and our cherished moral codes?

If they’re as illusory as fear, then are we any less real than we previously assumed?

Please answer this question for yourself before continuing on.

If all of our beliefs, our morals and values are every bit as transient as fear (and of course they must be!), then why do we so cherish that subset of so called core values that we’ve determined are essentially commands from on high? Why have we transformed these transient ideas, these passing fancies, into the words of the Divine, into the rules governing the entire universe?

How can people place the Ten Commandments – again, no more than a set of ideas – ahead of other ideas, like Chemistry, Physics, or perhaps Evolution? At least there’s evidence that Gravity and Dinosaurs once existed. What do we have of the supposed event on Mount Sinai (other than the pile of rock itself?).

Shouldn’t we realize that these things – these “eternal principles” – are equally as impermanent as fear? And aren’t they every bit as irrelevant, at least in the universal sense?

Or – is there something to all this religious mumbo-jumbo, to this spiritual gobbledygook, and this pseudo-philosophical (but mostly ideological) attachment to our seemingly impermanent selves?

Are we something more than this crude flesh; this physical accumulation of atoms governed by the same laws of physics, chemistry, and biology that operates on everything else in the universe? Are we really so different from the other species that coexist with us on this planet? And from those that were here before?

Does the divine spark live within us? Does something like a soul exist? If it does – is it worth defending, protecting, and valuing over everything else in the world? Is there something permanent to our very being (as humans) which is more valuable than that which exists “out there” in the world at large?

Or are we just kidding ourselves?

Have we created this strange fiction to encourage our own selfish ideas, selfish agendas, and selfish behavior?

Are these systems being used to keep the downtrodden from rebelling, the underprivileged from revolting, and those born with a silver-spoon in their mouths firmly established as no less than Lords on Earth – rulers established by Divine Right (read: the status quo?).

It seems quite foolish, at least to me, to argue only that fear itself holds no value, while arguing the very opposite for the exact same thing – that state of mind and those emotions like “reverence”, “conformity”, or especially “faith”, which prop up these rigid systems of hierarchy, of authority – of indifference to the very nature of reality itself.

While these men – Herbert and FDR – visionaries in their own right, each came so close to creating something beautiful, something extraordinary, or even revolutionary, it seems to me that they dropped the ball at the point of departure from tradition and at the point where we needed them most.

They made their way to the edge of the abyss, stared down into the void, and trembled at the edge of that cliff, allowing the terror to pass through their minds, then reaffirmed the very thing that their experience should have led them to reject: that we are permanent beings with a stable self.

In reality, we are selfless, impermanent, and illusory in every sense of the word.

The only thing permanent about us is our constant state of flux, which makes us superficial, causing us to feel fear.

And it’s quite obvious to me that we’ll take any step – no matter how ridiculous, no matter how immoral, and especially no matter how self-defeating. to grasp at some sense of permanence!

We’ll give up our very freedoms, those same freedoms that we’d refuse to relinquish in the political sense, but are equally as willing to surrender in the realm of the spiritual, to convince ourselves that we can find some heavenly grace, that we are loved by God, and that we’ll exist beyond our deaths.

We’ll affirm the exact opposite of what reality and our daily experience clearly points out to us- that we will one day wither away and die, leaving behind only the trail of our acts, of our everyday behavior, and our influence on both the planet and those around us.

And it’s in this way, and only in this way, that we can find some sense of a permanent nature.

It’s in this way, and only in this way, that some us think we can find some sense of meaning in our impermanent nature.

But like I just said, in our fleeting and temporary existence, in our insecure, terrifying, and all too dreadfully short lives on this earth and in this realm, what’s important isn’t to deny reality, to reject that we are illusory beings, but to celebrate it, to rejoice in it, and to use it to develop a deeper and more realistic understanding of ourselves, and the universe at large.

As a final thought, with his thinly-veiled reference to “the little-death” (le petit mort, anyone?) just what exactly was Frank Herbert trying to say about sex, if anything?

Please let me know if you’ve got any ideas about this. It’s been a while since I’ve participated in literary criticism, and as you are probably well aware, my once well-honed skills are now more than a bit rusty!

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged | Leave a comment

Island Paradise

The Lookout Point - Ko Phi Phi Don Island, Thailand

The Lookout Point - Ko Phi Phi Don Island, Thailand

Shot in February 2007.

Pentax K10D with DA 18-55mm

Posted in Photography | 3 Comments

Backpacking to La Jolla Canyon – Point Mugu State Park, CA

Point Mugu State Park Directions:

Head 21 miles north from Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway1), or South 15 miles from Oxnard along the same. The official address of the Point Mugu State Park is 9000 West Pacific Coast Highway, but you’ll see the signs along the road once you make it to the campground.

Point Mugu Campground Details:

There are three different campgrounds in Point Mugu State Park, two for car-camping and one for backpacking. Car campers should try to make reservations for Thornhill Broome Beach or the Sycamore Canyon Campground. These fill up just about every weekend (even in Winter), so be sure to use Reserver America or call the Rangers well in advance of your trip.

Point Mugu State Park Trail Map

Point Mugu State Park Trail Map

Thornhill Broome Campground offers 69 sites, all directly on the beach, each with its own picnic table and fire ring. There’s no shade whatsoever here and the sites are fully exposed to frequent wind-storms, so make sure to bring a tent and protection or you’ll be in for a windy time. There are no flush toilets and only a couple outdoor, cold-water showers. RVs are allowed, but no hookups are provided.

Sycamore Canyon Campground is more developed, with hot showers and flush toilets. It’s on the Eastern side of PCH, but offers quick access to the beach and plenty of shade at each of its 58 sites. Each campsite offers a fire ring and picnic table, and some of them are relatively private.

The La Jolla Canyon Campsites must be hiked into at about a mile from PCH.The Rangers are only aware of the couple group sites available, and have no idea that there are also 9 individual spots. You may have to argue to get a permit for the smaller campsites, but its worth it since they’re very private, and well worth the short hike. There’s plenty of shade and a couple of porta-potties here, but no running water. You’ll need to carry in all of your supplies.

With that said, here are the details of my recent trip in April, 2010.

With all of the recent rainfall and the official beginning of wildflower season two weeks ago, I figured this weekend would be the perfect time to return to Point Mugu. I’d been there two or three times before, but it had always been dusty, dry, and brown. It seemed ripe as a Spring destination though, and my instincts were correct. This place is breathtaking right now!

Hiking Into Point Mugu State Park via Mugu Peak Trail

Hiking Into Point Mugu State Park via Mugu Peak Trail

Camping overnight at the walk-in campground sites in La Jolla Canyon requires first registering with the ranger station at Thornhill Broome Beach. It’s an easy spot to find, just across the Pacific Coast Highway from Sycamore Canyon, but the Rangers don’t seem to know a whole lot about the area they manage.

Point Mugu State Park Trail Scenery

Blue Skies & Beautiful Scenery

In fact, when I arrived on Saturday afternoon (having not called ahead, of course) I was informed that they were full up. I was essentially shit out of luck, and I wasn’t too happy about it since I’d just driven through LA Marathon traffic for two and a half hours. Making matters worse, the Ranger said told me that all four of his camp sites were already reserved, with five groups amongst them.

Early Blooming Wild Flowers

Early Blooming Wild Flowers

This wouldn’t have been so aggravating, had I not known that there were at least double that many sites in La Jolla Canyon. I guess that no one from the National Parks Service has been in there lately, just like none of the Rangers at Joshua Tree had ever seen Munsen Canyon. Seriously NPS; get it together already. Stop claiming that my destinations are “inaccessible”, “too dangerous” (Devore Campground), or “non-existent”. I’ve accessed them, they’re not dangerous, and there are NINE additional campsites in La Jolla Canyon. I’ve even got the pictures to prove it.

"Dr. Seuss" Canyon - Point Mugu State Park

“Dr. Seuss” Canyon – Point Mugu State Park

Once a line of cars had built up behind me during our discussion, the Ranger asked me to pull off to the side and said he’d call his supervisor to double check my assertion. I did as he asked and waited patiently for about 10 minutes, stretching the stiffness out of my legs and watching the waves crash along the beach shore. It was a beautiful day, but seemed spoiled by the prospect of having to drive all the back home to Irvine. I did not want to lose this fight.

Pond in La Jolla Canyon – Point Mugu State Park

Fortunately, my persistence paid off. After a few more minutes I walked up to the Ranger’s booth and asked if he’d had time to contact his supervisor. “Let’s get her right now,” he said, picking up the phone. After salutations he dove right into it:

“I’ve already got five groups in four sites, but this guy here says there are more spots. Earlier they told me not to let anyone else in, but… what? Yeah? Ok, thanks.”

He turned back toward me and quietly remarked “She said to let you in.” I paid my $7 for the camp-site reservation and parking (a great deal since it’s $8 just for day-use permits in Point Mugu State Park) and was on my way back across the highway. I triumphantly texted Sean to let him know that my earlier message about not being able to get a spot had now been rendered invalid.

Wild Datura Growing in La Jolla Canyon

Following final preparations, I started the familiar hike through rolling hills and coastal scrub, though I was shocked by the area’s drastic change in appearance- Everything was green!

La Jolla Canyon Greenery – Point Mugu State Park

Flowers were blooming on the hillsides, grasses has grown in every bare patch of soil, and Spring appeared to be in full bloom. It’s incredible how massive a transformation this place undergoes. From a dust-bowl in Summer, to a gorgeous blanket of grass in the Spring, Point Mugu is like the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the California State Park system. I’m certainly going to be avoiding it in the Summer, Fall and Winter from now on.

Purple Flowers in the Meadow

Maybe 15 minutes into the hike I came around a bend in the trail approaching the rocky canyon and staircase-like ascent into the Park’s higher elevation area when I stumbled across a large group of people sitting under a gigantic oak tree. Ten to fifteen twenty-somethings were all crowded around a couple grungy looking dudes holding musical instruments, and for a second, I thought I’d walked up on a band of gypsies (some of them looked pretty dirty- not that I care).

La Jolla Canyon Self Portrait – Point Mugu State Park

The sound of this wilderness band (guitar, harmonica, and some kind of drum set) followed me the rest of the way through the canyon, making for an odd but interesting soundtrack. It was certainly a different sort of backpacking experience to be taking in live music while in transit, and I have to say it was quite enjoyable. As far as folksy back-country rockers go, they were pretty damn good too, and now I wish I’d stopped to get their name. Hopefully someone who was there ends up somehow finding this post. One can hope, right?

How Many Miles to PCH?

How Many Miles to PCH?

The rest of the hike to La Jolla Canyon’s campground went pretty quick. All told it’s hardly 2 miles from PCH- just the kind of “piddly shit” backpacking that I’ve come to hate (yet love). It’s not quite enough of a trip to get the real feeling of being out there battling with nature, but just enough distance that I can carry a ton of extra gear (two down jackets, my tripod, extra lenses and filters, etc.). On the way I was treated to hundreds of yards of vegetation tunnels, absolutely breathtaking trees in full bloom, and unfortunately a ton of mosquitoes. I guess they come hand in hand with the beauty, but the bugs sort of ruined it for me.

Beautiful Bridge Along La Jolla Valley Loop Trail

The mosquitoes were swarming around me for most of the last mile or so, giving me flashbacks of last Summer’s maddening infestation during the Rae Lakes trip (Blog post not yet written). Stopping my hike for even the ten seconds required to take a photo meant having to swat one or two of the bastards from my forearms, and I’m against killing of any sort. It’s a rough spot to be put in, as a vegetarian and believer in equanimity, to have to battle off a ton of bugs. I don’t want to kill the stupid things, but it’s nearly unavoidable because of how fragile they are! I couldn’t take more than three frames in a row without getting bit, so I gave up on photographic efforts and pressed on to camp, figuring I’d return to shoot the area early Sunday morning.

Mount Mugu’s Summit – Point Mugu State Park

Arriving at the campground I found it quite noisy. The Ranger had been right – and as an Eagle, I should have known better – Boy Scout troops are loud! But even worse, someone had brought in a radio and they were blasting it at full volume, right in the middle of the solo campsites. I got as far from them as I could, heading all the way to campsite number 9 (the last one) before dropping my pack to reassess my options.

Wildflowers Near Mt. Mugu’s Summit

My site seemed somewhat small (hardly enough space for two tents), but it was well outfitted with a picnic table and excellently cleared of debris. Whoever carved these spots out of the surrounding trees did a really good job of making sure they’d stay that way. Those same trees also provided me with some lovely shade, and the cleared canopy offered an excellent view of the sky. I figured it’d be best to set up sans-tent so I could look out on the stars at night, like I’d done on the recent trip to Munsen Canyon in Joshua Tree.

Scattered Wildflowers on Mount Mugu

Five minutes later the arrival of more flies than I’ve ever seen before changed my mind, and I decided to try and go for a hike until the bugs went to sleep (which typically happens just after dusk). I snatched my camera and made my way back down the trail, heading North toward the Navy’s Radar Facility that overlooks the entire area.

California Poppies in Point Mugu State Park

It’s an eerie site, the peaceful rolling hills, gorgeous wildflowers, and deep blue sky, juxtaposed with one of the largest radar dishes and military observation facilities in Southern CA. And if I’m not mistaken, Point Mugu’s military base even houses some of our Anti-Ballistic Missile interceptors, which is both pretty cool, and entirely ridiculous (a conversation for another day!).

Tunneling Train Vegetation Near La Jolla Canyon

I hiked back and forth along the trail, looking for the best spots to take a self-portrait, and played around with the long shadows of the late afternoon sun. I planned out my shots for the next morning and afternoon, paying attention to the direction of the sun across the sky and the relief of the terrain. I was pretty stoked for a full day of shooting, especially since I had so many potential subjects and had seen nothing but deep blue skies all day long.

Gorgeous Wildflowers in Point Mugu (Anyone Know What These Are Called?)

By the time I made my way back to camp, the mosquitoes had gotten much worse, so I felt compelled to set up the tent. I hid inside it until just after dark, waiting for them to finally disappear (which they eventually did), then tried something that I’ve never done before. I had the ingenious idea (never doubt an Everyday Inventor!) of sliding my sleeping pad out the tent’s vestibule so I could gain an unobstructed view of the moon and stars, which I later observed for some time while meditating to the sounds of croaking frogs.

My Every Day Invention – Optional Night Sky Views

On Sunday morning I woke up much later than expected, some time around 10, and was greeted by heavily overcast skies. For a bit I thought it might even rain, but it never got too nasty. All that overcast skies do here in Southern CA is ruin photography, which is probably why we pay so much for rent! Unfortunately, all the skies in my Sunday shots are completely blown out, making for some ugly images, which was a bit of a let down. I was really hoping to shoot the entire area so I wouldn’t have to return later (since it’s a pretty long drive for me), but now it looks like that’s inevitable. Next time I’ll bring bug spray =)

More Incredible Wildflowers

In spite of the weather, I had a great day, with an awesome afternoon meditation in a field of tall grasses. I sat and watched the wind play with the reeds while listening to the sounds around me and was just taken away by the area’s beauty. It was almost as if time had stopped. There I was, in the ‘ancestral environment’, making my way through a grassy savannah to parts unknown, and carrying all that I owned on my back. It all seemed so natural. And it’s moments like these that I truly feel alive. It’s moments like these that can’t be had in a cubicle, or trapped within walls or under a ceiling of any sort. If you haven’t been outside lately, make sure to do so soon!

Dr. Seuss Like Scenery in the Canyon

Though I didn’t have a map, I figured I had enough daylight to get myself lost and found again, so I headed North on an unmarked path, hoping it would lead me closer to the radar installation. It did for some time, before veering directly towards the ocean and taking me straight up Mount Mugu. I hadn’t really planned on climbing it, but it was totally worth the extra exertion! This isn’t that tall a “Mountain” (and personally I’d say it’s more like a “hill”), but it sure was steep heading up. By the time I reached the top my calves were burning like they haven’t in years.

Alternate View From Mt. Mugu’s Summit

The view from up there was tremendous, and the wildflowers near the summit were just absolutely splendid. This is a spot I’d highly suggest visiting, no matter how long it takes to drive there. The scenery is unmatched; rolling green hillsides, a gigantic meadow in the valley floor, interesting terrain with tons of relief, and the beautiful Pacific Ocean and Channel Islands resting just off the coast. Truly a sight to behold, and one well worth the extra mileage. I sat up top and marveled at the scenery while eating my typical lunch of bread, cheese and grapes. In terms of trail-food, this is the apex of culinary art.

Mushroom Dandelion Plant Portrait (What Are These Called?)

On my way back out of the park I promptly got myself lost and ended up circling around for about two and a half additional miles, but I wasn’t in a rush, so it wasn’t too much of a problem. I’ve been wanting to increase my mileage recently anyway and I got a much better work out because of the added distance, so I might use this same strategy on future trips. Next time I visit Mugu though, I’ll certainly be bringing along map- or taking a picture of the one at the trail-head before departing (that’s a pro-tip for you newbies out there).

More Crazy Foliage in Point Mugu’s Canyon

In a nutshell, despite the bugs and foul weather, I had myself a great time at Point Mugu. I’d certainly recommend the place as a day hike. However, due to the bugs, you might want to consider camping or backpacking elsewhere, unless your idea of “getting into nature” involves a lot of sitting in your tent. But if you want to catch Mugu’s beauty, you better get out there soon, because it’s already drying up. In a month or two it’ll probably be back to the dust-bowl I’d always experienced before, so grab your gear and get moving you couch-potato!

Posted in Backpacking, California, Featured Posts, South West, Southern California, State Parks, Trip Reports, United States | 7 Comments

What Does it Mean to be “Religious”?

Truth is a Pathless Land

Truth is a Pathless Land

=== JKrishnamurti.org Daily Quote ===

The religious mind is something entirely different from the mind that believes in religion. You cannot be religious and yet be a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist. A religious mind does not seek at all, it cannot experiment with truth. Truth is not something dictated by your pleasure or pain, or by your conditioning as a Hindu or whatever religion you belong to. The religious mind is a state of mind in which there is no fear and therefore no belief whatsoever but only what is – what actually is.

– Freedom from the Known The Second Penguin Krishnamurti Reader

=== Thoughts ===

What is the difference between “a religious person” and “a person who belongs to an organized religion”?

Most people would probably answer with “absolutely nothing”.

After all – we’ve invented a new word for those types of people, right? Don’t we call them “spiritual”?

Well I reject that label!

I reject it because it has no meaning. Just like organized religion has absolutely no meaning.

And while I don’t mean to offend anybody’s “religious” sensibilities (or do I?) – I would argue that followers of any organized religion are essentially not religious at all!

Perhaps it’s because the word “religious” has been so watered down in ordinary parlance as to have lost all it’s meaning, just like the word “love” (a topic for another day).

Let’s turn to Dictionary.com and take a look at their definition of religious to find out if my assumption is correct.
What used to mean “strict faithfulness” or “devotion” (see the archaic usage) has since devolved into:

  • “A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhumanagency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

So many words, yet so little meaning. Truly “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing“.

Why don’t we do the Dictionary a favor right now and agree to change the definition to “Dogmatic acceptance of fantastical beliefs”, or even better yet- “Ideological slavery”? We’re likely only a few years from that revision anyway; in fact I’d argue it’s well past due!

I guess you could say that the ultimate cosmic joke- and the penultimate expression of irony- is that people attempt to “find God”, “know Truth”, or “reach Enlightenment” through blind devotion to the very barriers which block them from achieving their spiritual goals in the first place. Isn’t it a pity?

And what could possibly be more destructive to real Freedom than attachment to ideological thought, ritualistic behavior, and rigid beliefs?

It’s the obsessions with such systems, with such paths, and with what others have said before that’s holding you back from reaching your own enlightenment and experiencing your own awakening.

Lighting incense, chanting mantras, and prostrations to the Holy land will not get you Truth.

For Truth lies in the very negation of these things.

Let them go and reincarnate now!

Posted in Philosophy | 3 Comments

Backpacking to Munsen Oasis – Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Backpacking in Joshua Tree National Park has been a personal dream of mine for some time now. Though I’ve camped and hiked there a couple times in the previous year, I had never been able to work out the logistics for a real backpacking trip- mostly because I couldn’t find a specific destination that seemed worthy of the extra effort required for desert backpacking. It’s no easy task to carry all that extra water (at least twice as much as is required elsewhere), and I didn’t feel like taking the plunge wander around in an alien landscape that I could just as easily explore on day hikes from a comfortable campsite. I love backpacking, and especially difficult trips, but I’m not out to get myself killed.

Victory Palms Trailhead Oasis - Joshua Tree National Park

Desert Fan Palms Near The Lost Palms Oasis Trailhead

But the Backpacking Gods had other plans for me, and they led Sean to strike gold a couple weeks back by forcing him upon a day hiking trip report detailing some dude’s adventure to Munsen Oasis- the most secluded and difficult to access of all of Joshua Tree’s Desert Fan Palm Oases. Munsen Oasis  instantly became our personal Shangri-La. The trail would be arduous, the water scarce, and all the boulder fields immense, but we didn’t care. We prepared for an arduous adventure, and we found it in spades.

Ocotillo Plants on the Way to Victory Palms - Joshua Tree

Ocotillos Along Joshua Tree National Park’s Lost Palms Oasis Trail

Joining us on this trip was our good friend Tommy, who made the journey all the way down to Southern California from Sacramento. Whenever we gear up for epic trips, Tommy seems to be the only one brave enough to throw himself into the mix. He was with us on last Summer’s absolutely breathtaking trip through the Rae Lakes Loop in Kings Canyon and Sequoia Natonal Parks, and I was glad that he could join us for this one too. I’m not sure I would advise doing this trip with any less than three people either, as there are simply too many opportunities for serious injuries, and a two man team would mean leaving an injured man behind, by himself, if something truly terrible were to happen. The Desert is no place to tempt Fate.

Rock Formations along the Lost Palms Oasis Trail - Joshua Tree

Interesting Rock Formations on the Lost Palms Oasis Trail

We arrived at Joshua Tree long after nightfall on Friday evening, entering the Park off the 10 East through the secluded and much less trafficked Southern Entrance near Cottonwood Springs Campground. Finding everything completely full, we had to manage by posting up for the couple hours at a group site, camping in a wash recently flooded by the massive storms that rolled through Southern CA last week. I know it’s not technically what you’re supposed to do, but we were in basically an emergency situation. The weather reports were all clear for hundreds of miles, so it didn’t seem like much of a risk. Definitely not very Eagle Scout-like of me, but whatever.

The Lost Palms Oasis in Joshua Tree National Park

Lost Palms Oasis – Joshua Tree National Park

I set up camp sans-tent for the first time in months and really enjoyed being able to simply open my eyes for panoramic views of the stars.  It was a new moon while we were out there, so new that I never caught a single glimpse of it, and I was certainly watching for it to appear. While there’s still a little bit of light pollution from nearby 29 Palms, Joshua Tree (the city), and perhaps even the distant cities of Palm Springs and Thousand Palms, the sky was dark enough that we had some pretty incredible views of the stars. And since I didn’t spot any Scorpions, Spiders, Snakes, or any other of scary desert denizens, I decided to forego my tent for the rest of the trip. I’m glad I left it behind.

Desert Fan Palms at the Lost Palms Oasis

Desert Fan Palms at the Lost Palms Oasis

Waking up at dawn on Saturday morning we drove to the Visitor’s Center to check for last minute information and verify our directionsto Munsen Oasis with the Rangers. We made it to the Lost Palms Oasis trailhead relatively early and found ourselves in the middle of a pretty strong wind storm. It was nice and cool at this point, but the weather didn’t hold for long. After registering at the Backcountry Board and completing final preparations in the parking lot, we set off. Though it was still quite breezy, it was also far warmer than we had been expecting. I made the huge mistake of forgetting to bring along a non-cotton tee-shirt, and I paid dearly for it by sweating like a pig. I was locked in a constant struggle to stop my wet shirt from chafing under the strain of my pack’s hip belt. Next time I won’t forget!

Southernmost Pair of Palms at Lost Palms Oasis

Southernmost Pair of Palms at Lost Palms Oasis

The trail started off relatively easy, with gentle slopes and a pretty minor grade, winding through heavily vegetated desert canyons and some truly barren flash flood washes. Just over 3 miles in we reached the ledge the big canyon that’s home to the Lost Palms Oasis. We paused at the overlook to soak in the incredible view. Joshua Tree is my favorite of the National Parks I’ve visited, due to it’s uniqueness and rugged beauty, and while this Southern part of the Park (Colorado Desert) is much different from the more familiar and more distinctive North-West section (Mojave Desert), it certainly rivals it in natural beauty. The Desert Fan Palms are really an incredible sight, especially after walking through miles of relatively barren desert. I’d rate Lost Palms Oasis as a must see destination.

Boulders Between Lost Palms and Victory Palms Oases

The First Boulder Field Between Lost Palms and Victory Palms Oases

We stopped briefly for lunch under the shade of the last pair of trees at Lost Palms Oasis. I couldn’t believe how much water we’d seen already- small pools, tiny waterfalls, and a gurgling stream made up the majority of the trail through the Oasis itself. I hadn’t expected to encounter anything but stagnant, disgusting, festering cess-pools, and yet, there we were amongst a literal stream right through the heart of the desert. I had left my water filter in the car because of our expectations, but I was already regretting that mistake. From now on, I’m carrying that thing everywhere. It would have saved us quite a bit of trouble (and probably around 10 pounds of weight each).

Gigantic Boulders in the Most Difficult Stretch of the Trail

Gigantic Rocks in the Second Boulder Field

I love the desert for it’s resourcefulness and efficiency- especially for it’s ability to make so much out of so little (water that is). And this canyon’s abundance seemed excessive compared to the much more arid surroundings- it was almost as if the desert was being wasteful here. Temperatures dropped substantially near the water, dipping down into a much more comfortable range and providing a welcome respite to the screaming desert heat. Each of the Oases that we visited during the trip was at least 10 – 15 degree cooler than being in the sun. I can totally understand why people lost in the desert hallucinate these things, because they’re absolute Godsends!

Self-Portrait to Provide Scale for Boulder Size - Joshua Tree

Self-Portrait – Provides Scale for Boulder Size – I’m 10-15 Feet Off the Ground

We had each started the trip with around 10 liters of water (Tommy is smartest and brought the most), planning to use around a gallon a day for our proposed two-night trip. But by the first evening it had become eminently clear that we were going to run out too soon and would have to head back the following day. In most environments, a gallon of water is plenty for even the most strenuous of activities, but the desert is another animal entirely. I should have known better, considering I ran into the same problem last October during my solo foray into Saguaro National Park. Next time I certainly won’t leave my water filter in the car.

Unmarked Cholla Cactus Garden South of Munsen Oasis

Unnamed Cholla Cactus Garden – South of Entrance to Munsen Canyon

Following lunch we began the real daunting part of the trip- passing through the harrowing Boulder Fields between Lost Palms and the much smaller Victory Palms Oasis. This part of the trek is a tough nut to crack, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who’s afraid of heights or doesn’t have at least a little bit of experience in rock climbing. It’s one thing to scale boulders the size of large trucks with a day-pack, and something entirely different to do it while carrying 40-50 pounds. At times I was forced to lower myself (pack weight and all) between gigantic rock cracks using just my arms. My camera spent most of this part of the trip swinging around from my neck like a pendulum. I’ve got to figure out a better system for carrying it at times like these…

First Sight of Summit Spring Oasis - Joshua Tree National Park

First Sight of Summit Spring Oasis – Joshua Tree National Park

Up and over, around the side, and even underneath at a couple points, we slowly made our way through the three sets of truly enormous boulder fields, occasionally meeting with such difficult points that we had to take our packs off completely and pass them to each other just to continue forward progress. It was as physically demanding as anything I’ve ever done with a full pack, but also incredibly fun. Before I knew about leave-no-trace backpacking (many, many years ago), I used to love bushwhacking trails, but creative route-finding through gigantic boulder fields is something even more exciting. I felt quite fulfilled after making my way through the unique set of obstacles this part of the hike presented.

Lush Green Foliage at Summit Spring Oasis in Joshua Tree

Lush Greenery at Summit Springs Oasis – Joshua Tree National Park

When we did reach Victory Palms, the smallest of the oases we encountered on the entire trip, we stopped to rest and sit amongst its cool shade, giving our bodies the chance to cool down. I took the opportunity to dry out my now-soaking shirt. It seemed odd that any Desert Fan Palms could make it in this location, because I didn’t see or hear any running water. I began a rudimentary exploration of the area around the sole giant’s trunk, trying to determine how it managed to survive there. Climbing up a steep rock face I caught a glimpse around it’s massive fans and noticed that it’s shade created a cave-like area about the size of a small living room between the trunk of the tree and the canyon wall. I descended into it and found signs of human activity.

Summit Springs Oasis - Joshua Tree National Park

Summit Springs Oasis – Joshua Tree National Park

What I had first thought might be some sort of voodoo shrine turned out to be a couple fence posts blocking off a deep cave. It was only 2 or 3 feet high, so I got down on my belly to get a better look, realizing that it was far deeper than I had originally guessed. I then heard the sound of dripping water. There was a large pool of it deep in there- probably 10-15 feet away based on the rocks that I threw- being fed by an internal spring within the base of the hillside. A cool air blew from the cave onto my face, cooling my body, and tempting me to crawl inside. Looking around the little cavern created by the fan palm I felt like I was in a scene out of Apocalypse Now. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have sworn that I was deep in the jungles of South East Asia.

Another Shot of Summit Springs Oasis - Joshua Tree National Park

Standing Water Near Summit Springs Oasis

After 20 minutes or so we left Victory Palms behind, heading further East and beginning to watch for the “steep dry fall that’s easily mistaken for nothing more than another canyon wall”. Sean pointed it out (correctly), but Tommy and I both thought that we hadn’t gone far enough yet, so we kept walking. Our cursory glance of the Topographic Map (which wasn’t detailed enough to provide us with much certainty about our location) made it seem like we hadn’t arrived at the correct location yet. And our directions, which had been excellent up until this point, failed us miserably. Rather than telling us to look for a random, impossible to identify canyon, they should have guided us to follow the rusty copper piping we’d seen everywhere since Lost Palms Oasis!

Pool of Standing Water Between Summit Springs and Munsen Oases

Pool of Water Between Summit Springs and Munsen Oases

We continued for about another half mile down the wash, which opened up into a wide canyon basin here, offering a view of distant mountain ranges hundreds of miles to the East. At this point we figured that Sean had been right, and that we were probably already past the turn off up into Munsen Canyon, but we wanted to make absolutely certain before turning around. Stumbling upon the largest Cholla Cactus garden I’ve ever seen – far larger than the famed “Teddy Bear Cholla Garden” in central Joshua Tree- we took a break to reassess our surroundings and try to pinpoint ourselves on the map. A couple minutes later we were relatively certain that we had gone too far.

Solitary Desert Fan Palm Near Munsen Oasis in Joshua Tree

Solitary Desert Fan Palm Just South of Munsen Oasis – Joshua Tree National Park

We lingered for some time amongst the cacti before deciding to return West. We set up camp along the Northern bank of the dry riverbed, hoping that a flash flood wouldn’t arrive that evening. Tommy and I took a quick scouting trip to the base of the hillside we thought led to Munsen Canyon, where we uncovered all the clues necessary for determining that it was in fact, the correct one. The piping heading out of the main canyon and up that offshoot was our first strong indication, followed by the discovery of a very dry, but very obvious stream bed that we figured had to be Summit Springs. We returned to camp and started to settle in for the night.

First Set of Desert Fan Palms at Munsen Oasis - Joshua Tree National Park

First Grove of Desert Fan Palms at Munsen Oasis – Joshua Tree National Park

As the sun dipped beneath the towering canyon walls to the South, we put on our evening clothes and began collecting up deadfall for a fire. It didn’t take long to amass quite a collection that would last us through most of the night. I set up my tarp just a few feet from the fire, then relaxed in my camp chair and enjoyed the stillness of the impending darkness. Lighting the fire was so easy I could hardly believe it. The stuff out here was even drier than what we found in Death Valley. No kindling whatsoever was necessary- a single chemical block managed to light logs the thickness of my forearm in mere seconds.

Second Grove of Desert Fan Palms at Munsen Oasis in Joshua Tree National Park

Munsen Oasis in Joshua Tree National Park – Second Grove of Desert Fan Palms

About an hour after darkness fell I finally noticed the beauty of the night sky, which was just absolutely filled with stars! It was clear enough that we could spot the haze of the Milky Way, a couple different constellations, and what I still think was Venus and Mars. I really enjoyed sleeping without a roof over my head so I could take in the view. On previous trips I’ve always planned to wake up in the middle of the night for stargazing, but the comfort, warmth, and security provided by my tent has kept me from doing so. I will most certainly be traveling without that extra two and a half pounds on future trips, whenever possible.

X Marks the Spot at Munsen Oasis

X Marks the Spot at Munsen Oasis – We Must Have Arrived Right on Time

We got up early the next morning and packed up everything but water and food. Leaving it behind in Sean’s tent, we set off for Munsen Oasis. The trip there was certainly no cake walk, though I think the boulders between Lost Palms and Victory were probably more difficult to navigate. It certainly made things easier that we were able to leave so much weight behind at camp. Had we attempted the climb through the boulder fields with full packs the day before, I’m doubtful we could have even made it through. It took a lot of energy just to reach Summit Springs Oasis, and Munsen was considerably further North.

Returning North Toward Victory Palms Oasis

Canyon Leading to Boulder Fields South of Victory Palms Oasis

The first view of Summit Springs was incredibly rewarding! At this point we knew without any doubt that we were, in fact, in Munsen Canyon, and heading the right direction. This area hosted some of the largest pools of water I had yet seen on the trip, and I would have wanted to stay a bit longer if I thought we had time for it. There were some bees in the area though (as our directions had warned), and Sean doesn’t know if he’s allergic or not (somehow he’s never been stung…) so we set off after only a momentary stop. I shot some great pictures in this area though, and I’m really glad that I took a couple extra seconds to get them right!

Looking South From the Third Boulder Field

Looking South Over Victory Palms Oasis From the Third Boulder Field

After some more difficult bouldering I finally caught sight of another set of Fan Palms that turned out to be Munsen Oasis itself. This spot is every bit as beautiful as it is difficult to reach. Secluded, serene, and absolutely splendid. An oasis in the very heart of an unforgiving desert, it is a true gem to behold. There’s nothing quite like the rush that comes after wandering through the desert for hours and climbing your way through gigantic boulder fields before finally finding a welcoming grove of Desert Fan Palms. Sitting in their shade, listening to the sounds of the trickling stream, it was hard to believe that we were in the middle of such a hostile environment. It was quite the trip, and entirely worth the extra effort.

Posted in Backpacking, California, Featured Posts, Joshua Tree National Park, National Parks, South West, Southern California, Trip Reports, United States | 11 Comments

Fire Photography Series 3 – Spruce Grove Campground

On a recent rip to Spruce Grove Campground in Angeles National Forest, I tried another attempt at Fire Photography. I’m not proud of this series and I don’t think the photos came out very well at all this time around, but I’ve got some ideas on how to make things better for next time. I do certainly like some of the long fibrous looking sparks, which remind me of don Juan’s supposed luminescent filaments. Perhaps he was onto something after all…

Fire Photography - Just Getting Started

Fire Photography - Just Getting Started

Combustion

Combustion

Inferno

Inferno

Afterglow

Afterglow

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Badwater Basin Photos – Death Valley National Park

Hexagonal Salt Formations at Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

Hexagonal Salt Formations at Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

These pictures of Badwater Basin were taken during a Photography tour through Death Valley National Park on Thanksgiving Weekend in November of 2009. Out of all of Death Valley’s incredible tourist sights that I visited, including Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, The Devil’s Golf Course, the Artist’s Drive, and the Mesquite Sand Dunes- I most enjoyed the short time I got to spend here.

The "Badwater" Puddle - Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

The "Badwater" Puddle - Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

Badwater Basin’s claim to fame is that it sits at the lowest point of elevation in all of North America, at 282 feet below sea level. Incredibly, the highest point of elevation in the lowest 48 states (Mt. Whitney) is only 76 miles West of here!

Looking North From Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

Looking North From Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

The area was given its name due to a small pool of water that now sits just next to the modern parking lot. This water was rendered undrinkable by the incredibly high concentration of salt, due to the unique geological features and geochemical makeup of the valley.

Clouds over Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

Clouds over Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

In all the traveling throughout Death Valley, this was the only place I saw any standing water whatsoever. And that’s probably not a shock to most of you who know a thing or two about the area (it’s one of the most arid environments in existence), but I was there during a massive rainstorm!

More Salt Formations at Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

More Salt Formations at Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

The entirety of Badwater Basin is covered in complex and intricate salt-crystal structures of magnificent beauty. This is one of the coolest, most beautiful, and most fascinating places I’ve ever been, and I’ve seen quite a few National Parks. I’d rank this as a must-see destination for anyone at all interested in natural beauty.

Contrasting Colors at Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

Contrasting Colors at Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

As the sun began to dip below the mountain range hugging the valley floor, the shadows grew longer, and the features of the terrain even more spectacular. I sat in awe, watching the landscape transform as it began to glow golden-brown in the late afternoon light.

Detail of Salt Formations at Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

Detail of Salt Formations at Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

The salt formations are created by an endless cycle of freezing and thawing that the area undergoes, when nighttime temperatures dip deep into the blue, while blazing daytime heat leads the thing salt crust surface to crack into hexagonal honeycomb-like shapes.

Close-Up of Salt Pinnacles - Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

Close-Up of Salt Pinnacles - Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

Occasional rainstorms, like the one I witnessed my last night in the area, flood the valley and cover the entire area with a very thin sheet of standing water, no more a few centimeters deep. These shallow lakes don’t last long due to the daytime temperatures, with an annual evaporation rate of 150-inches!

Mountains of Salt at Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

Mountains of Salt at Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

As Wikipedia points out, this is the United States’ “greatest evaporation potential”, and “means that even a 12-foot deep, 30-mile-long lake would dry up in a single year.” As the water evaporates, some of the salt gets dissolved which ends up being deposited on the sandy floor as clean crystals which eventually accumulate into the incredible oceanic-looking formations.

Salt Formations in Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

Salt Formations in Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

Close-up shots appear like aerial photography of the Himalayas, with the salt deposits creating the impression of snow-tipped peaks rising from the valley floor. Wandering around the salt plan gave me the impression of being a giant amongst a desolate, but captivating landscape.

Concentrated Salt-Crystal Structure at Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

Concentrated Salt-Crystal Structure at Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

And in areas of extreme concentration, the salt-crystalline structures became increasingly complex. Like a colony of some sort of self-propagating polyps, the appearance of this bubbly landscape took my breath away, and forced me to reevaluate my conception of the area as a dry and dusty desert.

Salt Lines in the Sand at Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

Salt Lines in the Sand at Badwater Basin - Death Valley National Park

Be sure to check out some of Death Valley’s other incredible sights by visiting the links listed below.

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Camping Spruce Grove in the Angeles National Forest

Fog Banks Rolling Over The Hillsides Near Sierra Madre

Fog Banks Rolling Over The Hillsides Near Sierra Madre

I was all set for another exciting weekend of backpacking with the usual suspects, when at the last second- everyone else bailed out. Fortunately, I’ve spent so much of the past year traveling, backpacking, and camping by myself that this no longer poses even the slightest problem for me. Going it alone has become a necessary evil since I started getting serious about my photography, bringing a tripod along on my trips, and needing quite a bit of freedom to “get the right shot”. That’s not an easy task alone, and becomes quite impossible when being hurried along by impatient friends!

It’d been just about a month since I last visited Spruce Grove Campground in Angles National Forest, and I wanted to see if the torrential rains Southern CA experienced over the last couple of weeks had caused any damage to the area. I was somewhat worried that the campground itself could have simply been washed away by the swollen North Fork of the San Gabriel River, but I found out that this was certainly not the case.

I’ve spent more nights at Spruce Grove than any other campground – or anywhere other than the places I’ve “officially” resided over the years – and have developed quite a kinship and appreciate for the place. Trips to Spruce now feel like “returning home”, offering a comfortable familiarity that allows me to quickly settle my mind, and really just enjoy the surroundings.

The drive up the hill to Chantry Flats held an ominous, but beautiful sight, of fog banks slowly rolling over the hillsides to the North (pictured above). In all the trips I’ve made to the area (at least 10-15 now), it was the first time I’ve ever stopped along the way to look out over Los Angeles, and I think it was entirely worth it.

When I arrived at the Chantry Pack Station I found that it was already too late to get a legitimate parking spot so I positioned my car along the side of the hill in a somewhat precarious position right over a drainage ditch leading off the hillside and down into Santa Anita Canyon. If it had rained hard enough, my car could have easily washed away.

Overlooking Santa Anita Canyon - Self Portrait

Overlooking Santa Anita Canyon - Self Portrait

I posed for a quick self-portrait (just in case someone came upon my camera, but couldn’t find the body), and then was on my merry way. I’m still getting used to the new backpack – a Deuter ACT Lite 65 + 10 – and spent a good deal of the hike adjusting it to try and make things perfectly comfortable. It took me much longer than usual to reach Spruce Grove as I took a detour to check out Sturtevant Falls, hoping to shoot it in even daylight. Unfortunately I arrived too late and wasn’t able to get even a half-way decent shot of it, as the sunlight had totally washed out the upper third of the falls. I’ll have to try again next time.

Along the way up the Lower Falls Trail I heard some odd banging sounds that I figured must have been one of the local denizens working on their cabin, but it turned out to be a man hammering away at the rocky floor along the trail. I stopped to chat with him no more than 100 yards from the “No Horses” sign posted where the Upper and Lower Falls Trails meet, asking him what he was doing. He said that he was “making the trail safer for [his] horse”, which I found hilarious. In all the miles along these trails, there’s only one “No Horses” sign, and this guy was within eyesight of it preparing the trail for his horse- you can’t make shit like this up!

He was essentially chiseling out some steps in the “decomposed granite” floor, creating a flatter and more even surface on which his horse could more confidently step. That part of the trail was pretty iffy, so I don’t mind that he was obviously breaking the local rules. I  figured he might even have been the guy in charge of the horse and mule trains used to resupply Sturtevant’s Camp, so I left the point alone and continued on my way. I later found out that he is somewhat of a local celebrity, “a real old time cowboy” I was told, who’s lead numerous pack trains all the way from the desert east of San Gorgonio to Chantry Flats (which is no easy task!).

At the top of the falls I stopped for another break to sit near one of the larger pools along this part of the San Gabriel River. This is one of my favorite spots along the river in the entire Angeles National Forest and perhaps even one of my favorites in all of Southern California. The sky, the canyon walls, and the river all come together so nicely here, and the roaring sound of the waterfall drowns out any other noise and creates a great spot for relaxation and meditation. I couldn’t resist myself and had to take another self-portrait (though I wish I hadn’t stood right in front of that little waterfall!).

Relaxing At The Top Of Sturtevant Falls In Santa Anita Canyon

Relaxing At The Top Of Sturtevant Falls In Santa Anita Canyon

When I finally arrived at Spruce Grove I was dismayed to find it busier than I’ve ever seen it before, to the point that I couldn’t even find an open picnic table to sit down at for lunch. I dropped my bag on the ground and used it as a seat (it’s more comfortable than a wooden bench anyway), and was lucky enough that a day-hiking couple cleared out just a minute or two later, making room for me. As luck would have it, I even managed to snag my favorite site! I set up my tent and unpacked my gear right next to a group of Koreans eating some spicy-smelling soup, then finished my peanut butter and jelly lunch.

All the day hikers cleared out no more than 30 minutes after my arrival, leaving only a large group of (very loud) Boy Scouts to the North. I set myself to gathering firewood, planning on collecting for more than usual. On trips like these, I typically go to bed as soon as I run out of wood, but this time I wanted to get enough to make sure that I could stay up all night, if I were so inclined. I went a little overboard though, as you can see below. If I had used it sparingly (hah!), it probably would have been enough to last at least two or three nights at the campground. I even considered trying to borrow the Sturtevant Camp phone to make an emergency call to work, letting them know I wouldn’t be making it in the following day.

Fire Wood Collection - Spruce Grove Campground

Fire Wood Collection - Spruce Grove Campground

Collecting fire wood is an art form that I think most people probably can’t appreciate – mostly because they haven’t done it. Over the past year I’ve turned it into a science, developing my skills and learning which woods to go after (and which to avoid), and how exactly to go about it. I used to try and muscle my way through the branches, breaking them arbitrarily wherever I felt they needed to be snapped, but I’ve since learned to be patient and let the wood do the work for you. I used to work up a sweat, get covered in filth, and typically end the process with at least a bit of blood flowing from each hand, but I’ve learned to calm down, take it slowly, and conserve my energy.

I’ve always really enjoyed snapping sticks, and will still do that if I’m just sitting around idly and have some at hand, but it’s just not as rewarding as shredding large tree branches, snapping them into smaller pieces, and creating a gigantic pile of fuel to protect yourself from the impending cold and dark. I even got to try out my new knife (the incredible SOG Seal Pup Elite TiNi) to make the process a little easier. If it weren’t for campfires, I’m not even sure I’d be able to continue backpacking with as much zeal as I currently exude. Gathering the fire wood and relaxing by the fire has become an integral part of the process. It’s hard for me to believe that I used to do this without having at least a little backcountry fire.

I set up the godsend that is my Therm-a-Rest Compack Chair, awaiting the fall of twilight by settling in to read the final chapters of Carlos Castaneda’s absolutely breathtaking work “Tales of Power”. There’s nothing quite like reading about don Juan and Castaneda’s adventures while sitting in dense forest, right alongside a winding stream, amongst gigantic oak trees and the steepest mountains in the lower 48 states. It was a powerful experience, to say the least.

I still get dirty looks from people when they find out just how often I go backpacking, especially once they realize that I often go it alone, but I that many of them would enjoy it just as much as I do if they’d only get off their asses and try it sometime. Unfortunately this couch-potato, consumerist society in which we live doesn’t value this sort of behavior, and I doubt that the glowing rectangles will lose their strangle-hold over the general population at any point in the near future, so for now it looks like they’ll all have to live vicariously through me. I’d rather it be uncrowded anyway.

Tim Lavelle Waiting for Night Fall - Spruce Grove Campground

Relaxing in the Late Afternoon - Spruce Grove Campground

When night did finally fall, it came damn fast – the rush of darkness was so quick that I hardly noticed the twilight, that “gap between the two worlds” as don Juan calls it. I got my fire going relatively easily, especially considering how wet all my wood was. It took me three matches and two Coghlan emergency tinders, which is much better than usual, though still far short of my goal of using just 1 match without any chemical assistance. I know that I’m capable of performing that feat, but I always end up being too lazy to properly prepare for achieving it. Maybe next time…

For the next few hours I sat quietly by the glow of the fire, snapping hundreds of photos for my Fire Art Photography series, and just enjoying the beauty of the environment. It’s times like these when I actually feel like a human being, rather than some sort of automaton worker sent here to labor away in front of a computer terminal. It’s times like these that make the daily grind worth all the trouble!

At some point (pretty late I think – though I’m still uncertain) – I let the fire burn down too low and was unable to resurrect it, forcing me to retire to the tent for the rest of the night. As I lay down I noticed that I had accidentally given myself a great view of the near full moon (1 day past full) rising through the trees. I fell asleep listening to the sounds of the forest, and didn’t wake up until 11 am the next morning. It was a great trip, but I’ll have to return soon to take care of some unfinished business since my camera battery died first thing the next morning.

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