Monday, January 23, 2006

I'm stunned. I'm speechless. I'm ...

This morning I hiked the 1 1/2-mile trail to the First Palm Grove in Palm Canyon. I've made this 3-mile round trip hike at least 50 times during my 11 years as a Bighorn Sheep Census Volunteer. Today was the first time I've hiked it since the canyon flooded in 2004 and 2005.

The "old" trail
Here's a description of the "old" trail, which goes up Palm Canyon: It was a well-defined, and well-used trail. The first one-third of the trail was a gently rising sandy path. It crossed a bridge over a usually dry creek. The next third, steeper than the first part, was partially sandy and partially rocky. At the end of this section, a hiker got the first look at the palm oasis in the distance. The last third of the trail crossed another bridge over the often-dry creek before getting steeper. Hikers had to go over and around good-sized boulders.

Along the entire trail were a few scraggly trees, numerous cacti, desert bushes and grasses. The canyon gradually narrowed. In the midst of a bunch of palm trees at a narrow point, a trail arrow showed that the trail again crossed the creek - no bridge here - requiring rock-hopping while dodging low-hanging palm fronds. The trail continued up and over rocks until it came to a promontory that overlooked the creek and trail below. It was here we set up our sheep-counting camp on a good-sized level dirt area. From this place, we could watch both sides of the canyon. There were many palm trees around this area.

The "after-the-flood" trail
I had heard that the flood had drastically changed the trail, but I was not prepared for what I saw. The area definitely shows the power of water. Here is what the area was like today: As soon as I left the RV camping area, I started seeing trunks of palm trees scattered and stacked like pick-up sticks. Many of the rock and wood cabanas were destroyed. Before even starting up the trail, what once was a shallow dry creek is now a scoured, wide and deep-in-places flowing creek. The first two thirds of the trail bore little resemblance to the old one. It somewhat parallels a new, deep gorge with the creek at the bottom. Both bridges were gone, so I had to rock-hop my away across the creek.

All along the way were piles of debris from the plant growth that had been ripped from the sandy soil; and a LOT of palm tree trunks were scattered. The last third of the trail gains altitude as it hugs the side of the rocky canyon wall, and the trail itself was only slightly changed. Except that now the canyon is much deeper because it seems like most of the sandy soil was washed away. I kept expecting to see the palm trees for the last trail crossing - but there were none. Absolutely none! And, the promontory I sat on so many times to count sheep also was gone - washed away down to bedrock. I stood there, looking around in utter amazement. I was stunned. I sat on a huge boulder to let it all sink in and took some pictures.

The picture with the palm grove in the background: These palm trees were a couple thousand feet behind our counting site; and we could not see them from the site. So, the area in the foreground of the picture used to be the level, dirt promontory.

I got back to Jeremiah shortly after noon. I made a delicious salad using the lettuces and other veggies I bought in Yuma. I took my lunch outside on the picnic table, and let Cat out to explore. There are hundreds of birds and chipmunks. Cat was content to just watch them, perhaps calculating the odds of actually catching one.

It was a beautiful day - not too hot - and many RVers were sitting outside. So, after lunch, I put Cat in the motorhome and set out to walk around and meet neighbors. I talked to Iris again and learned that this is her first solo trip into the USA. Next I met Mary Ann Multer. She also travels solo and has a small, older Winnebago Class C. She lives and travels full time. Mary Ann is just starting a stint as the camp host. Her next volunteer assignment is a park somewhere in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We've exchanged email addresses and will be keeping in touch.

Just as I was making my last walk around the park, I came upon Charlie and Clari Clapp. They are both 75 years old, have a home in Salt Lake City, and take trips in their fifth-wheel. We got acquainted while we made another lap of the park. We were still deep in conversation, so when we neared their RV, they invited me to have dinner with them. When Clari mentioned that she had been a tennis pro and had worked for Prince Mfg., we started comparing notes. She knew ATS and USRSA (both tennis-related companies that my husband Rick and I had started); and we both knew many of the same people in the tennis industry. They are such interesting and active people - more proof that the "older ages" are not necessarily "old."

In the morning, I'll leave for the coast. I have a reservation at Guajome County Park.