Sunday, April 29, 2012

Day 8: Barrel Springs to Agua Caliente

Many people have warned us of a myriad of dangers along the trail: bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, poison oak, poodle dog bush (similar to poison oak). But few talk about a smaller predator, which can also be dangerous and is far more prevalent: ticks. PCT hikers have been bitten by ticks along the trail, and at least one has contracted Lyme Disease, which can be very debilitating. I discovered a tick crawling on me this morning, and will be much more careful to avoid these nasty parasites in the future.

Shortly after rejoining the trail at Barrel Springs, a long snake with a diamond shaped pattern on its back slithered across the trail less than six feet in front of me. I froze in place, watching for its tail and confirmed what I already knew: a rattlesnake. The snake disappeared into the camouflage of the brush next to the trail, leaving only its rattle covered tail visible. And then it stopped. I waited for the snake to move. And waited. And waited. I was reluctant to continue down the trail just inches away from a rattlesnake's tail, and yet I sensed that the snake was waiting for me. Finally, we gave up and hurried past, leaving as much respectful distance between us and the snake as the narrow trail would permit.

Nearby, I noticed something blue in the crook of a Y-shaped Joshua tree. Cautiously, we crept closer to inspect. Nestled behind the broad green leaves of the plant was a blue jay on its nest, peering back at us.

Continuing down the trail, we reached the grassy hills and oak-lined gullies of the rolling ranchland that surrounds the now-defunct resort of Warner Springs Ranch. Wild animals were replaced by domesticated ones, as herds of cattle freely roam and graze throughout the hills.

Cresting the top of a hill, we spotted the form of a large granite eagle off in the distance. Eagle Rock is a natural rock formation in the shape of an eagle, with wings outstretched ready to take flight. We stopped there for lunch, and Sierra quickly scrambled to the top, eating her lunch perched next to the eagle's head.

The trail continued through grassy fields dotted with bright orange poppies, deep purple lupine, cheerful yellow flowers, and an occasional prickly pear cactus.  Then we descended into a ravine shaded by tall, majestic oaks. Rounding a corner, we found ourselves facing down two huge cows blocking the trail, reinforced on all sides by the rest of the herd. Usually cows lumber away from people, but these cows, reputed to be very aggressive, held their ground. "Hey!" I shouted, stepping forward. The cows eyed me nervously, but did not move. "Hey!" I demanded again and again, slowly inching forward. The cows finally bolted up the hill.

We were treated to delicious cold drinks when we passed through Warner Springs and, shortly after, we discovered something magical: a tire swing hanging from a large oak tree next to the trail!  After testing it thoroughly, we highly recommend it! We are now camped at Agua Caliente Creek, listening to the gentle babble of the creek.

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