Zobeida "Pathfinder" Molina phoned Wednesday, "I just found out I
don't have to work tomorrow. Are you going hiking?" I wasn't, but I
never have to work, so why not? I knew she was in need of Meeks and
Bighorns (HPS 23 E and A) for List #2. I quickly formulated a plan to
get me explorer routes on both, with pathfinder routes for Ms. Z.M.
"Meet me at 5:30 am," I instructed. She didn't whine, many would
Meeks. HPS is providing more opportunities for strange emblems, which
serves to keep many of us neurotic obsessive-compulsives interested.
I planned for us to climb Meeks by hiking the usual road around to the
northwest side, then summiting via the west ridge. I had already
hiked it from the north and from the east, ergo an explorer by my
definition (especially since a private property issue precludes us
from hiking from the south side). From here we would drive to Bighorn
Mountains route 3, rather than make the easy road hike from the Meeks
road. After a gourmet breakfast at Carl's in Yucky Valley we sped in
my old 4Runner to the New Dixie Mine Road for the slow, bouncy, 10
mile drive to the Meeks trailhead. 4WD was necessary to negotiate the
soft sand starting about 3 miles in. Then there were a couple of
small ravines where the water flow had bared a few boulders and
created some actual stream banks, also requiring 4WD and high
clearance. The plains near Landers were loaded with yellow flora,
mostly desert dandelions and related asteraceae. A few miles up the
dirt road we were awed by a profusion of brilliant purple from Desert
Canterbury Bells (Phacelia campanularia). As we got above 5000' the
bright colors mostly changed to green and brown.
We started hiking about 1/4 mile short of the ruined cabin. About the
only flowers worth noting were the belly flower, Pringle's Woody Daisy
(Ericophylium pringlei), and the Lotuses - or Loti to you Latin
speakers - L. rigidus and strigosus. The hike was short and sweet and
uneventful except for an encounter with a 5 foot buzz worm that gave
ample warning, even to my aged and malfunctioning ears. The peak had
a perfectly good register that has not seen much traffic. The road
was almost as drivable as ever.
We had enough daylight left to climb Bighorns from the desert side.
Bighorn. We drove the prescribed 12+ miles north on 247 to
Bighorn Road, then south 2 miles to Cholla road, then a right turn to
search for the road toward Bighorn Canyon, as the peak guide directs
for route 3. My memory failed me (as usual). I turned south on the
first road I came to, which looked strangely familiar though route 3
was new to me. For the first 0.4 mile this road was fine, but then it
began to jar our bones, so I stopped after 0.6 mile. We donned our
packs and gear and set forth on this adventure. The road is so bad
that even hiking on it is a chore - it is easier paralleling the road.
We hiked through the common flora, Desert Chicory, White Tidy-tips,
Goldfields, Desert Pincushion (Chaenactis fremonti), purple Lace-leaf
Phacelia (P. distans), and violet Notch-leafed Phacelia (P. crenulata)
with the caterpillar shaped flower heads. Some of the less common
wildflowers in bloom were Desert Paintbrush, Sand Gilia, Forget-me-not
(Cryptantha possibly pterocarya), Western Tansy-mustard, Whispering
Bells (Emmenanthe pendulariflora), and Long-beaked Streptanthella
(S. longirostris). Then we came to the cabin. Something was rotten,
because there is another cabin exactly like it on route 2. We
continued up the gully and the terrain just didn't match the topo
(where we were supposed to be), hard as I tried to force it to match.
A quick check with the not-so-trusty Garmin E-Trex revealed that we
were, indeed, dead on route 2. We had to salvage our
pathfinder/explorer somehow. We could have traversed east for a mile
to join the real route 3, but we decided to go southeast, then south,
up a perfectly nice ridge right next to us which joins route 3 just
north of bump 5641 on occasional mild class 2.
On the ascent Zobeida yelled, "Hey, pseudo-expert, what's this red
flower?" I told her if it is red it has to be paintbrush. It wasn't
paintbrush. I looked it up at home. It was a Scarlet Milkvetch
(Astragalus coccineus), quite a nice bloom and not so common. A bit
later Zobeida said, "Oh, oh. Let's get out of here fast!" Then I saw
what she saw, a large, dark, fast moving cloud that consisted entirely
of honeybees. They passed without bothering to sting us to death. We
paused to reflect on life and its fragility. If the bees had decided
to sting us en masse it would have mattered not at all that we hiked
together and not alone. I know nothing of the inclinations of
swarming bees, especially Africanized bees. Probably they are too
busy searching for a suitable new home to bother stinging anything.
We were a bit uneasy at the concept. The unusual profusion of
wildflowers no doubt increases the likelihood of bee swarms.
On with the hike. No problem. We turned westerly along Bighorn
Ridge, crossed a few dips, and ended up atop the HPS summit at 5894'.
We returned via route 2 to patiently waiting cold beer, 2 more
pathfinders/explorers in our bags.