Poodle dog bush covered the trail, lining both sides of the trail in places, leaving little room to walk. In a few places, small plants sprouted from the middle of the trail itself. Our pace slowed to a crawl as we contorted our bodies to try to avoid touching the poodle dog plant that would give us a terrible poison oak-like rash. We successfully avoided contact until the earth gave way underneath Sierra's feet and she fell, landing squarely on top of a poodle dog bush.
Our trail continued through the Station Fire burn area. Charred and blackened trunks and branches rose from the earth more barren and desolate than a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. But purple poodle dog blossoms were not the only color added to the burned land. A rainbow of wildflowers added color to the grassy hills.
We reached the North Fork Saddle Ranger Station by mid morning. Todd, the resident ranger, provides a shaded picnic area for hikers. Although his own water and electricity are not functional yet, he also provides large bottles of Alhambra drinking water so that hikers have adequate water in this long, hot, dry section.
The "descent" down to Soledad Canyon Road near Acton didn't feel like a descent at all. The trail meandered over and around several hills and ridges, spending as much time climbing in the hot sun as it did descending, before finally dropping down to Soledad Canyon in the last half mile.
Once there, we followed Soledad Canyon Road to the Acton KOA, where a horde of PCT hikers were already swimming and relaxing in the shade.