03-Jan-2010 -- New Year, New Decade. A perfect time to clear the head and hike in the desert. I had just flown into Palm Springs and would be putting in some long hours at ESRI in Redlands during the week, so to start the week off right, some time spent in the field sounded perfect. I was looking forward to our education meetings and our participation in the first ever GeoDesign Summit. The only problem with a planned visit was that I had alredy visited all of the nearby confluences in southern California during previous trips here. I had been eyeing 34 North 115 West, but after learning about its longer height, was undecided about trying it, even after landing. After departing the airport, I had one more chance to bail out. Deciding to try it, I headed east on Interstate Highway 10, stopping at Coachella for some snacks and water. It was a good thing I stopped there, because immediately afterwards, the road rises out of the valley into some beautiful terrain but a land devoid of any stores, but dominated by cholla, ocotillo, and bare soil.
After another half hour, upon exiting the interstate highway at Desert Center, California, I was in for a real treat. The crossroads at Desert Center was littered with all sorts of things that are featured in late-night movies--broken palm trees surrounding a building that had long since removed, boarded up gas stations, old Volkswagen buses, perhaps abandoned, but on second thought... The next stretch of road, California State Highway 177, spread out before me as straight as an arrow toward the northeast, rounding the toe of the mountains to the west, and then continuing north-northeast. I joined Highway 62, spotting the branch that led off to Twentynine Palms, and taking the fork that led to the east. Numerous recreational vehicles approached me, returning to Los Angeles from the New Year's weekend along the Colorado River to the east. When I crossed the aqueduct, I slowed and looked for the dirt road that would take me to the south, even though a vehicle was right behind me. I found the road, turned right, and was once more alone. I was encouraged, for the road was passable, and would lessen the hike that I knew was before me. I came to the aqueduct "T" intersection and found a turnaround just beyond the aqueduct to the south, exactly where I had spotted it on the satellite image.
I got out of the vehicle, stretched, and gathered supplies--batteries, GPS, camera, camera pole, water, and food. I donned sunblock and considered leaving one of the water bottles behind to lessen the heavy pack. I then decided to err on the side of caution and take it with me. The desert is nothing to trifle with, even during a hike on fairly flat terrain. I set out with the GPS reading at 5.1 miles (8.2 km) to the confluence.
I hiked just as I had planned, on the four-wheel drive trail that led to the south, on the east side of a wide wash that runs down the valley. The wash was filled with interesting shrubs, and the landforms surrounding the valley made for a scenic hike. I set out right at noon, with the GPS showing 1 hour and 35 minutes to the confluence at my current rate of speed. I quickly saw that to conserve energy and to make the most rapid progress, I should avoid the sandiest places where my shoes sank fairly deeply with each step. This was easier said than done as I was, after all, hiking on a desert floor of sand. At times I would walk east of the four-wheel drive trail on the harder packed earth, but then I started thinking about snakes, given the numerous holes in the ground, and stayed on the trail for over an hour as I trod steadily southward. I became a bit weary but did not stop the entire trek. With about 850 meters to go, I tacked to the southeast, uphill toward the confluence point. I climbed up and down a few ravines and made it to the confluence at approximately 1:45pm.
The confluence lies on ground sloping 5 degrees to the west. It was on a lobe of higher land sloping off of the bluff to the west, between two ravines, the nearest being about 3 meters deep, off 5 meters to the southwest. The temperature was a pleasant 65 F (18 C) under sunny skies, with a low sun due to the winter solstice being only 12 days past. The winds were much more moderate than they could have been, even though they sound quite ferocious in the video. The ground at the confluence, like that on most of the hike, was about 2/3 bare soil and 1/3 low shrubs, cactus, and grasses. I saw no animals except a solitary lizard during my entire hike, not even a rabbit, and no snakes.
I spent 15 minutes at the confluence, taking in the marvelous view. The longest views were north and south up and down the valley, dozens of kilometers, with a perfect scene of the mountains directly in front of me, to the west. The most obscured view was to the east, as the land rose to a knoll about 600 meters to the east. I had stood on 34 North numerous times before, in California, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina. I had also stood on 115 West a few times, in California one degree to the south, and a bit north of here, in Nevada. This was my first confluence visit just after New Year's Day and I considered that 2010 was the year in which I had hoped to visit my 200th confluence.
I hiked back the way I came, up and down the ravines to the four-wheel drive road. I stopped about 1/3 of the way along the road to drink water and have a snack. After awhile I called my sister and then my confluence colleague Barb Wallner. I was amazed to have cell phone coverage out here. I kept thinking I would see the vehicle, but to no avail. Finally, there it was. I reached the vehicle at 3:45 pm local time, for a total hike of just over 10 miles, of 16.5 kilometers. I was glad to see the car, and took a few photographs of the lowering sun. I hated to leave the desert, but needed to drive to Redlands and get some work done this evening. I eyed the route through Twentynine Palms on the way, but opted for the more rapid I-10 journey. I encountered some traffic at Yucaipa but made it without incident to my final destination after the sun set.
One thing I found out later in the evening as I was uploading my photographs in the hotel room, is that while I was hiking, another explorer, Richard Smith, was hiking at the same time, just one degree west of me, up the ridge to 34 North 116 West, in Joshua Tree National Park. It was satisfying to think about two people hiking in the desert for the same purpose at the same time, just one degree apart. It made me wonder how many people around the world are at any given moment, searching for a confluence. At any rate, this was a wonderful way to start the new year and my week in southern California.