Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Day 38: Highway 138 to Windmill Farm

We started our day by hiking to school: the trail passes right in front of Neenach Elementary School. Of course the school closed in 2008, but I didn't mention that to Sierra, who hurried past!

Just beyond the school the trail climbed to the California Aquaduct, following its large expanse of blue water downstream before turning to follow the dark, enclosed pipe that holds the Los Angeles Aqueduct. As we walked alongside and sometimes on top of the great enclosed pipe, I considered the irony: on this 16.5 mile "waterless" section of the PCT, we are almost constantly within a few feet of millions of gallons of drinking water (albeit inaccessible).

Our hike took us past a large Joshua tree forest, and the air filled with the songs of the many birds nested in and around the trees. We loved the Joshua trees, with their green tips poking up and out in every direction like a young boy's tousled hair after a long, sweaty nap. But eventually the trees grew more sparse, with large sandy expanses between them dotted with sage, rabbit brush, and other hardy desert varieties.

The afternoon sizzled, heat radiating from the light gray cement that now covered the Aqueduct and from our pale, sandy path. A hot, dry breeze provided our only relief, and I could feel it slowly siphoning every last drop of moisture from my skin.

As we approached the dry bed of Cottonwood Creek we began to see enormous white windmills dotting the landscape. All of them were silent and still despite a strong, persistent wind, as the windmill farm is not yet operational. Climbing up from the creek, gnarled juniper trees began to replace the Joshua trees of the lower desert. We settled underneath a grove of junipers with large blue berries to make a somewhat sheltered camp.

The night was full of sounds. We heard the frantic yips of the coyotes circling their prey, the creaks of the giant windmill straining against the wind, the rustling and flapping of our tent, and the lowing of the cattle grazing nearby. Eventually we heard the sound of silence, and drifted off to sleep.

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