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Monument at Campo
We got up at 4 the next morning and drank the coffee Bob had made for all of us in the car. We stopped at a fast food place, Jack in the Box, I think, on the way out of town, for a quick bite to eat. By 6 a.m., we were at the trailhead. We took photos of the wall that divides Mexico from California and put our hands on the ground beneath it to touch the land that is Mexico. We took photos of us at the monument that marks the beginning of the trail. We signed the register there and said our goodbyes to Bob.
It’s hard to describe how we felt that fine April morning. There was always a lot of planning that went into a trip like this but by coming to the Mexican border to begin at the beginning, so to speak, it made our decision to hike the trail, real and quite daunting. We were keenly aware that we weren’t in our beloved Sierra Nevada where its unpredictability was predictable and the terrain was familiar. Here the land was flat by comparison.
We headed North in the cool morning air. Everything was wet from the night’s pounding rain and our feet quickly became soaked through, a condition they were to remain in for the next three days. I anticipated that the desert would be sparse and treeless; wide open spaces and not much diversity in plants. I expected a harsh environment and a lot of dry sage. In places it was like that, but more often it was so much more! Right from the beginning the desert was alive with birds singing and the blooming flowers and plants bore witness to a symphony of color. There had been quite a lot of rain recently and the desert had come alive.
The daytime temperatures were warm but not too hot and consequently there was a proliferation of new life around us: shrubs like sage, madrone, ceanothus and grease wood(?) bush, all laden with flowers. Their colors added depth and the grays, greens, browns and creams created a richness I had not anticipated. There were many flowers that I noted, hoping to identify them later knowing full well that this would be difficult at best and realistically would just prove frustrating. Never the less, among the myriad of flowers, I took note of a few of my favorites. There was a peony type flower in yellow and red and a wild giant vetch in bright magenta. We even saw some orange Paintbrush and a little star-like flower on a stickly bush in a cream color. The madrone was glorious with its red bark, green leaves and red stalks with white cream flowers on them in full bloom. The ceanothus added beautiful blues together with a peach-colored monkey flower bush, yellow gorse and so many other flowers and shrubs created a collage of textures and color. While our eyes feasted, our noses were assaulted with their scents: a wonderful mix of menthols and sage so peculiar to the desert floor.
Some time in the morning, as we came up over a point I saw what I thought was a duck on a high rock, perhaps a balance rock, but Kerry pointed out that it might have been a hawk, it was quite still. A little later, looking down we saw our first rattlesnake, a little baby coiled tight on the path before us. It was a good introduction, because being curious, we took a long look at it before carefully skirting it and walking on. It never even stirred.
We traveled all morning, eventually stopping for lunch. The clouds started to gather keeping the air cool, making for a pleasant walk, but portending the coming rain. We had read about the climb just before Lake Moreno and were a little concerned about climbing it in the heat. As it turned out, we climbed it in a misty rain that kept as cool. We had a bit of trouble finding the trail into Lake Moreno Campground. Like a lot of trails close to well-traveled areas, there appeared to be any number of little trails we could take. We started to see RVs and beside one sat a man drinking a beer, which even in the sullen weather looked good to us. We asked him if he could tell us the way to the ranger station, He immediately asked rather sharply, why we didn’t have a map. After explaining that we had a trail map and it didn’t show the layout of the campground, he pointed us in the appropriate direction and went back to drinking his beer.
When we did find our way, it turned out that every camp space had been reserved by a local Cub Scout pack. At this point the rain was coming down and it looked like there were quite a few empty spaces in the campground so we asked one of the Cub adults if we could possibly stay the night, as we would be off first thing in the morning. He told us that because of the rain, he didn’t think that they would fill up that night and we were welcome to stay. He thought more of their group would arrive the next day when it was supposed to clear. Needless to say, we were hopeful to hear that the rain would stop.
We put up our new Henry Shires single-wall lightweight tent and I prepared our evening meal. It was ghastly! I made too much and I think I was too tired. We ate what we could and since we were at a campground, I was able to throw the rest away. This proved prophetic of the rest of the trip; I’m not sure why, but we had at least 30% too much food. By the time we got to the Hiker Oasis, I had to leave a lot of food behind.
I don’t remember sleeping that night, I remember the near constant patter of the rain and noise from late arriving vehicles. In the morning when we got up, we had to put on our cold and sodden shoes. The inside of the tent was wet from the rain but mercifully everything was dry enough; meaning that everything was soaked but the sleeping bags which were only damp. I had a moment of near panic about this, thinking how foolish I would feel if the whole trip blew up on us our first day out because of rain. I thought about what a problem it could be for us if the rain kept up, and then reminded myself that this was southern California; no matter what, the sun would shine again and relatively soon. If we could just make it through the rain, we would dry quickly when the sun returned.