Day 24: Elements of the Desert: Fire, Water, Dust, and Gnats

We hiked twenty-two miles today, through desert mountains that were different than anything we’d hiked through before, and beautiful in their differentness. I know I wrote before about how the terrain always changes out here, but today really demonstrated it: we walked through wide canyons with logging on one side and a strip mine on the other, entire forests consumed by fire and slowly starting to regrow, next to a creek stream river in the middle of the desert…and got attacked by every gnat within a hundred miles.

Part of the reason things kept changing today is that we were slowly descending: over the course of those twenty-two miles, we lost about 3,400′ of elevation (like descending from Yosemite Valley all the way to the Pacific Ocean), and elevation is probably the single biggest factor in what kind of landscape you’re walking through.

Yet it wasn’t just that, either. I’m used to, at least in the past, hiking through National Parks (like Yosemite), where you’re prohibited from doing just about anything to affect the landscape. (For example, picking flowers is a ticketable offense.) We’re in and out of National Forests, however, where the rule is, basically: do anything you like! As a result, we cross logging roads frequently, and, today, walked down one side of a canyon, staring across at an enormous strip mine on the other side. All around us, the trees were simply sticks; a fire had clearly come through…oh, maybe five or ten years ago, I’m guessing?…and wiped out everything. The forest starts to renew itself fast, though: the ground was thick with baby pine trees, bushes, plants, and flowers, and it was actually quite beautiful. Being able to see so far was a big part of what made it pretty cool terrain to walk through.

So that’s the fire. The water? Today we spent miles walking alongside unquestionably the biggest river we’ve encountered yet. It was still crossable on foot (with the aid of strategically located rocks), but a real river, not a creek. Honestly, I have absolutely no idea where rivers like this come from: there doesn’t seem to be enough water sources anywhere to create even a small creek, let alone a real river…but here it was, flowing down a canyon, giving us some needed relief from the heat and the dust.

The dust will have to wait for a different post (as, frankly, it very much deserves a post all its own)…but the gnats? Ugh. So far on this trip, we’ve had typical California this way: no annoying insects practically at all, with only interesting stuff like beetles and ants going about their business. Today, however, for whatever reason, we got attacked by those horrible, horrible, awful gnats that enjoy hanging around your face for no clear reason other than to annoy the living crap out of you. I’m actually honestly curious if anybody knows why they do this: they dart around about an inch from your eyes, driving your visual systems absolutely insane, making you swat at them constantly…yet they never seem to land, bite you, or do anything else. What do they want? Why do they keep hanging around? We don’t know, but we decided today we completely loathe them, because we got so sick of them so fast. I know we’re in for serious mosquitoes later in the hike, but that’s another month or two away…these guys were totally unexpected and horrid.

In other news today: we hit our 300th mile since starting this hike! It’s a pretty major achievement and feels great. I have a post in mind for that, along with other signs of progress. But you know what? Hiking twenty-two miles makes you tired…and so that post will have to wait for another day. 😉

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