Quick trip report on a day hike in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

Our original plan on Saturday June 25th — my buddy's, my two kids' plan and mine — had been to hike up the five-plus miles of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River to The Bridge to Nowhere in the San Gabriel Mountains, but nearby wildfires had made access to the trailhead doubtful, and even had access been available, the smoky haze and residual poor air quality, combined with the excessive, oppressive heat that weekend, made a lower elevation hike at the time less and less appealing, anyway, so we weren't too disappointed in opting for plan B.

Plan B was a mountain range to our east, an "island of pine forests in the sky" as our iconic and beloved regional hiking guide author and mountain historian, John W. Robinson, has called it, that was not yet affected by wildfires this summer — the San Jacintos.  The San Jacinto Mountains rise abruptly, dramatically, out of the hellishly arid deserts of the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs.  We were on the road Saturday morning at 6:30 and arrived at the lower terminal of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway by 7:35. Being summer (and a Saturday), the terminal was already packed. Upon entering the terminal, signs announced "All Campgrounds Full". And even though we bought our tickets twenty minutes before the first tram was scheduled to depart up the mountain at 8:00, we had to wait for the second tram at 8:15.  Not a big deal.  We weren't in a rush.  Gave us time to apply our sunscreen thoroughly and to observe an interesting, culturally diverse, and motley mix of outdoors adventurers, some very young, and some not. About half of those waiting to board the first tram up appeared to be backpackers with bedrolls, walking sticks, and lug-soled hiking boots.  The other half, of which our modest group comprised, carried smaller day packs and wore tennis shoes.

Our longtime family friend — my buddy, Mardi (credit him with the photography in this post) — noticed the fallen tree (pictured at right) with what looks like "etching" of some sort.  This shot was taken just off the trail that wanders through sparsely forested, boulder rimmed sandy flats, that would make great dry campsites, toward Hidden Lake Divide.  I'm not positive as to what could've caused the interesting patterns in the tree beneath its bark (I'm certainly no naturalist or pine tree expert, after all) but might this be the result of the bark beetle infestations that have plagued our national forests for the last several decades of historic drought throughout the western United States?

That's Cornell Peak (9,750', pictured at left) jutting up beyond a surprisingly green and relatively lush Round Valley — green and lush even despite our ongoing drought. Directly below Cornell Peak, a bit to the left and at the bottom edge of the photograph, in the shadows of tall pines, is the back of my ten-year-old son's head.

We didn't make it much farther beyond Round Valley this day.  The trail beyond Round Valley, on its way to Wellman's Divide — the last major trail junction prior to attempting an "assault" from the east on the summit of Mt. San Jacinto (10,833') — becomes about three times as steep as the previous 2.7 miles of gently ascending grade that got us the 800 feet of elevation gain to Round Valley in the first place, via the lesser traveled trail from Hidden Lake Divide.  None of us, except my nineteen-year-old daughter, who could probably day hike Kilimanjaro or Denali in her sleep as much stamina and energetic youthful fervor as she has, felt like working that hard uphill, so we found a scenic rest stop near a switchback ensconced by giant granite boulders, one of which had a pine tree growing out from one of its cracks, and called it a day.  Two of us, the old, out of shape huffers-and-puffers, Mardi and me, rested our sweaty heads on our daypacks and took an early afternoon nap. While we napped, my daughter read several chapters of The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor, and my son sought to capture him a long-tailed lizard or two.

So what if we didn't make it to the summit of Mt. San Jacinto (our goal when we set out?), we'd all been there before. Most photographs don't do justice to the view from the summit, though I think this shot I found online comes pretty darn close.

The environmentalist extraordinaire, John Muir, has been quoted widely as saying "The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime spectacle to be found anywhere on this earth!"  Now, granted, the obviously overexcited, arguably hyperbolic, Mr. Muir, didn't have the opportunity to travel exactly everywhere across the earth, but he did travel everywhere throughout the Sierra Nevadas and Yosemite, so I think when you consider the majesty of the glorious views afforded by those spectacular places, the stunning and rare grandeur of the view atop the summit of Mt. San Jacinto is put into an appropriately comparable and well deserved perspective.  

John Muir's famous quote about Mt. San Jacinto originated in
K.P. Frederick's Legends and History of the San Jacinto Mountains,
published ninety years ago in 1926.


John O'Brien's autograph (Leaving Las Vegas)

I was leaving L.A. yesterday, but the 110 and 10 were being absurdly difficult—they had different ideas:  You're not going anywhere, Pal.

Tired of traveling slower than a sloth, I got off on Maple and headed north toward downtown. Find a place to eat. Have a beer. Watch some baseball. Wait. Coronado's was the perfect place: authentic tacos, chile rellenos, and an open view directly across the street to ... no way ... The Last Bookstore!

What better way to beat L.A. traffic than checking out the whimsically designed book sculptures; perusing the eccentric shelves and former bank vaults housing obscure horrors of grim books; or simply strolling into the arched grottos—through the labyrinths made literally out of books—of The Last Bookstore.

Inside the Rare Books Room, Leaving Las Vegas caught my eye behind the glass.

Sydney Zekley, as engaging, enthusiastic and helpful a curator of rare books I've ever met, was delightful to talk to. She schooled me on the fine art of identifying first editions. As I left The Last Bookstore, I found it amusing how frustrated I'd been trying to leave L.A. two hours ago, and yet how happy I was now leaving downtown with Leaving Las Vegas instead. My drive home was a breeze.

Signed first editions of John O'Brien's first novel are scarce. I was lucky to find it.

more autographs


Orange County Noir autographs (edited by Gary Phillips)

Orange County Noir is one of the eighty-two short story anthologies of noir fiction that have so far been published by Akashic Books—an independent press devoted to championing mostly urban, culturally diverse, outsider writers who've been ignored or marginalized by the masters of the universe in publishing, and who therefore have understandably zero interest in being published by them anyway; by this conveyor belt of bad and soulless book crowds—industrious peddlers of ubiquitous bestsellers.  Edited by Gary Phillips, Orange County Noir explores in depth the ugly (often opioid addicted) backside of the county's infamous Orange Curtain, beautifully.  

"The day had started out with me shitting blood" is indeed an ugly but beautifully rendered first sentence, courtesy of Rob Roberge's harrowing story "Diverters".  "Diverters" follows a desperate resident of Tustin, CA, undergoing opioid withdrawal while looking to score.  He'll steal whatever he can get: Vicodin, Valium, Oxycontin, anything.  "I heard morphine and said yes and committed my last five hundred bucks from a poker win a few nights before. " His distaste for what he considered useless "fentanyl lollipops" couldn't help but remind me of Prince's tragic demise.

Akashic Books publishes books that are unforgettable.  Tour the entire world, for example, in their Noir Series of anthologies: from Beirut to Belfast; Cape Cod to Copenhagen; Haiti to Helsinki; Kingston to Manila; Mumbai to Moscow; New Orleans to Portland, Oregon; Singapore to Stockholm; Tehran to Tel Aviv. . . . Each anthology has been curated by an editor intimately acquainted with the authors and their noir stories in her or his local literary scene.

In time for the 2016 Olympics, Rio Noir will be published this Tuesday, June 7th. That's timely planning and smart marketing, I'd say.  And no, I do not work for Akashic Books. I am not affiliated with them in any way.

Contributing authors to Orange County Noir who were kind enough to sign my copy included: (in no particular order) —

Barbara Demarco-Barrett,
Patricia McFall,
Mary Castillo,
Nathan Walpow,
Gordon McAlpine,
Dan Duling.

more autographs