Friday, May 29, 2009

Down by the old swimming hole (Hermit Falls)

What's so great about it? The hike to Hermit Falls in the Angeles National Forest is almost as soothing and picturesque as a dip in the swimming hole above the falls. You hike for less than five miles along a single-track dirt path, through groves of cottonwood, eucalyptus and oak trees, bordering a cute, trickling stream. The swimming hole is deep and bordered by huge granite boulders, perfect for kamikaze cannonball dives. Then dry off on the warm rocks.

A note of warning: Jump at your own risk. There are no medical emergency services nearby. You get injured and you are going to have to limp back out.

Directions: From Interstate 210, take Santa Anita Avenue north to the Chantry Flats. Go past the gate and down the paved road into the canyon. Trail signs direct you to Hermit Falls. A large metal pipe on your left marks the swimming hole.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

April showers bring desert flowers (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park)

Anza-Borrego Wildflowers

What's so great about it? From the window of a jet, flying overhead, the desert east of San Diego seems like a vast stretch of wasteland, devoid of life and beauty. But in the spring, Anza-Borrego flourishes with wild flowers that carpet the desert floor with brilliant shades of purple, white, crimson and yellow.

What you'll see: Sand verbena, ocotillo, desert lilies, chuparosa.

Favorite thing to do: Give everyone in your party a camera and challenge them to come up with the best flower photo. I did this with my ten-year-old daughter and we had a great time.

When to go? The flowers start to sprout and bloom in March and begin to fade by the end of April. Call the park for updates and directions to the blooms. (760-767-5311).

Directions: Drive in along Highways S22 and 78. From the coast, these highways descend from the heights of the Peninsular range of mountains with spectacular views of the great bowl of the Colorado Desert. Highway S2 enters the park from the south off of Interstate 8. Look for the Anza-Borrego Visitor Center, 200 Palm Canyon Drive, Borrego Springs.

For more details go to the park website.

Mountain biking on the cheese! (Cheeseboro/ Palo Comado Canyons)

What's so great about it? The fire roads and trails at Cheeseboro/Palo Camado Canyons in the Santa Monica Mountains in Agoura Hills cut through grassland hills and oak woods, skirting along babbling creeks and climbing to peaks that look down on the Conejo Valley. These trails are perfect for beginners and intermediate riders. Nothing too technically difficult. The toughest sections you'll encounter are steep drops over "baby-head" rocks.

My favorite feature? The land is home to a menagerie of animals, including some beautiful hawks and majestic deer. Take your time to spot the critters and breathe in the scent of wild flowers.

Where to ride? First time riders should stick to the Cheeseboro Canyon trail from the main entrance off Chesebro Road. It follows a stream bed, past picnic areas and near a sulfur springs where you can smell the odor of rotten eggs. (Maps of the trails are available at the trail head.)

For a more challenging ride continue beyond the "Sheep Corral" near the north end of the park and follow Palo Comado Canyon Trail to the Simi Peak at 2,403 feet above sea level. The view is worth the climb.

A word of warning: There is no drinking water in this park so pack plenty. Shade is also minimal so dress appropriately on hot days.

Directions: From Highway 101, take the Chesebro Road exit near Agoura Hills and head north, following the signs to the main park entrance. Bathrooms are located at the trail head. Click here for a trail map.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

This spring is really hot! (Deep Creek)

Deep Creek 018

What's so great about it? Deep Creek has a series of hot spring pools, each one hotter than the other. The hottest spring pool is searing hot and it feels great to soak for a few seconds and then jump into the cool waters of Deep Creek. The hot springs are in the cradle of a bend in Deep Creek, surrounded by massive granite boulders, willows, cotton wood and Joshua trees. The scenery is breathtaking.

A few notes of caution. The hot springs are located in the desert south of Apple Valley, where temperatures can be brutally hot. Plus, you will be soaking in water over 100 degrees, so dehydration is a definite danger. So, bring lots of water. In fact, bring twice as much as you think you will need. One more thing: The springs are clothing optional so if you are uncomfortable with nudity, beware. Lastly, bring sunblock. During my last visit, I spent so much time standing naked in the sun, staring at other naked bathers that I got sun burned in parts that should never get any sun.

No overnight camping.

Directions. From Los Angeles, drive north on Interstate 15 toward Hesperia. Exit east on Bear Valley Road and continue for about 10 miles. Turn right on Central Avenue and go about
three miles, turning left on Ocotillo Way. Go two miles to Bowen Ranch Road. Paved road becomes dirt. Continue on Bowen Ranch Road for about six miles.

When you reach private property known as Bowen Ranch, you will come to a stop sign. The ranch owner charges $5 to park on the land. Slip the money into the supplied envelope, write your license plate number on the outside and drop the envelope into the metal slot. Take a trail map offered at the ranch entrance. Trail posts numbered “3W02” mark the route. Follow it two miles to a bend in Deep Creek, where you will see a rope stretched across the water. Cross there.

For more detailed directions go to