From whitewater preserve to a creekside camp on the north fork of mission creek
“You don’t have to hike at all today if you don’t want to,” I tell myself. That’s so I get out of bed. Getting out of the tarp is bizarre – where have I ended up? We stumbled here in the dark, so I look around now. Apparently this place used to be a little trout farm for kids. The trout ponds are still here, filled with trout the size of my leg. There’s a fake waterfall and a big grass park, where we’re camped. Flush toilets. Huge sandstone cliffs straight out of Afghanistan rise above us, and beyond the grass is the vast, braided river channel – a scene straight from the Yukon. The morning is breezy with a cool film of clouds, a gentle break from yesterday.
At a picnic table next to us is Jacques, a retired teacher from Washington state. He looks as dejected as me, so I wander on over. He tells me about his younger days following the hippie trails through Afghanistan and Pakistan, hitchhiking across the states, traveling through Central America in the 70s… “this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he concludes. We commiserate for a while. Acknowledging that this is hard, that we’re having a hard time, seems to help more than anything.
J has had endless patience through my pity party, but he’d like to go. A deep breath – okay. Time to go.
The sky is gray, the huge river channel is gray, and the water flowing down it is the color of beaten metal. The morning feels blessed after the searing sun of yesterday. We start winding up the steep hills. The rocks change around every corner, blocky andesites, porphytic gabbros with pink phenocrysts like polka dots, entire hills of greasy fault gouge.
The clouds have burned off, but the views are stretching. The naked hills are speckled with mesquite, and although the rocky hillsides look bare, they turn out to be carpeted with microscopic blooms, purple, yellow, white. Spring comes to the desert too.
We rollercoaster over the hills, up, down. My heel blisters feel miraculously healed overnight, even if my toe blisters are like fiery volcanoes. The sun is burning the backs of our necks and when we finally cross into the Mission Creek drainage we spot angelic green cottonwoods with relief. Shade!
The rest of the day we follow Mission Creek. The drainage runs up a fault zone, and the rock outcroppings on both sides are just crunched. Smeared. Twisted. White bands with glittering black schist. The creek is small but persistent, and we cross it and re-cross it for miles. I’ve heard rumors about poodle dog bush infestations, but I’m not quite site what it looks like. There’s a shrub growing over the trail that I’m convinced is poodle dog – puffy white flowers with ominously greasy leaves – and I spend all day going to great lengths to avoid it. A rattlesnake is draped across the trail – so bloated from it’s last meal it doesn’t even rattle. We tiptoe around it and it makes a weak attempt to coil, then gives up. That’s how I feel after I eat too.
Evening is coming and we’re still not where we want to stop. We’re slow walkers. We’re well matched, J and I, but between blisters and knees and muscles, 2mph is about all we can manage. The last mile of the day sometimes takes us an hour, as we trudge, trudge, through our forests and flowers and golden hills. Tonight we’re walking through hillsides of orange globemallows, aflame in the afternoon. So lovely, so tired.
We walk into a small grove of oak trees besides a little creek. We’d lost the main flow of mission creek a while back, and I’d we stop here we’ll have water. Saint and Rocky IV are already cooking dinner and we join them. Tomorrow there is a 16 mile stretch without water, and we’ll have to make 21 miles for a wet camp I’d we stop here – sometimes you are just out of miles though. See what tomorrow brings. Today was one of our most beautiful –