Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Moonlight Hike

Saturday, November 15: Devil's Punchbowl
4,740' elevation

1 mi loop trail [300' (down and back up) elevation change]

A drug I was taking in September and the first part of October ended up causing undesirable side effects in me, including making every single muscle in my body ache and giving me a pounding headache. Not the ideal condition for hiking!

And while I was trying to get medications straightened out and dealing with the awful side effects, I'm sure my muscles were atrophying, which makes them ache, too. I got off that medication, and have been slowly coming back from both the side effects and the symptoms we were treating. I finally decided it was time to go try out the muscles, as the aching was definitely reduced.

The perfect opportunity arose to stretch my muscles again. A rugged and amazing county park that normally closes at sunset was holding a moonlight hike on the one-mile loop trail. Although only one mile in distance, the trail drops down 300' into a canyon and then climbs back up. The terrain is sandy and rocky, perfect for training to climb more mountains. To cinch the deal, the Leonid meteor shower is starting to show itself more and more, as we'd seen a beautiful and brilliant blue-green falling star on the Wednesday night before the hike. Hmm...this hike sounded too good to pass up!

Click on map to enlarge.
You can also click on any photograph.

So we went. When we arrived, Venus was just setting behind the mountains rising up to the south, and Jupiter was shining just above them. The ranger's son, Jonathan, had a small telescope set up through which we enjoyed viewing Jupiter. We wandered around, visiting the animals there while people were arriving for the hike.

Horned owl.

Barn owl.

Shy boy. He never would show me his face.

My daughter was thrilled to see a scorpion almost identical to her former pet one. She really misses hers since it died.


Jonathan led us all on the hike, while a young lady brought up the rear. There were something like 95 people on the hike! We started off with no moonlight at all, as the moon had not yet risen. After a short way down the trail, we all turned off our lights and let our eyes adapt to the darkness. Although it's a sandy trail over rock with lots of places to slip and slide, my feet could feel the trail easily and my familiarity with the terrain helped. Of course, I had the purple stick with me! I only slipped once the entire time; no big deal. But I notice it still makes DH catch his breath!

We paused to let the column of people behind us close up the gaps, as the trail was still quite dark, especially passing through brushy areas. I was just standing there waiting when all of a sudden, my thigh muscle pulled. I hadn't even shifted my weight! What's up with that? OUCH! It was very painful. I can't believe I'm still having this much trouble with my muscles after taking and getting off that prescription.

Nothing to do but walk it off, especially since walking is the only way out of this place...unless you want to call in the rescue team. Not me! Just another nuisance, like so many cancer and treatment side effects. Painful though the injury was, I knew I could still get myself out of here no problem. And the pace of ninety-something people is a pretty slow one, since we're all just out to enjoy a moonlight hike.

We stopped at the very bottom of the Punchbowl, a little off the trail, to continue admiring the stars.
The Punchbowl Creek had run dry long before now, leaving behind sand and rock dropoffs where waterfalls normally are. Perching on the giant boulders, we all craned our heads skyward. Cassiopeia was visible, as was Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper), the North Star, and the Pleiades.

After enjoying the stargazing, we hit the trail again and began the climb up. As we crested an incline near the cables by the witch/devil in the rocks, the glowing orange, nearly full moon was a breathtaking sight. Sadly, I hadn't felt like carrying a tripod to get the picture; so I can't share the vision of the moon with you. It was definitely one for the memory chips!

The moon lit up the trail such that it was like daylight to our night-adjusted eyes. We climbed slowly up, pausing often to let the howling hordes behind us catch up. It wasn't long before we were back at the top, and crossing the picnic area toward the parking lot. The ranger station provided hot chocolate, which we happily drank while chatting with Jonathan. Thanks for loaning my daughter the jacket!

We ended the night with a late dinner at a restaurant in town. Too bad we couldn't return two nights later for the meteor shower party, when the ranger station planned to have its bigger telescope out for stargazing. But something tells me we'll be back again before too long.

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