Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Cataract Trail Loop

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Today's route should have been about waterfalls and mushrooms. Instead we found little sign that it was actually the first day of January. It was sunny and warm when we started hiking from Rock Spring at around 9:30, but still a little chilly in the forest shade along Cataract Creek, making me glad we'd started the hike a little later than usual.

There were lots of cars at Rock Spring, even more than you usually find at that hour on a weekend. On our way down to Laurel Dell we even ran into a couple small groups of hikers already heading back to Rock Spring. The weather is weird for the time of year, but it was spectacular for hiking.

In a normal year, this ford would not be possible to make with dry feet.

We passed a few people hanging out at one of Laurel Dell's picnic tables as we continued down to Cataract Falls. I wouldn't have been surprised to find the falls completely dry, but there actually was a tiny bit of water running in the stream -- enough to make a gentle purling sound like one of those Zen waterfalls you can buy. Almost all of the light-colored stuff in the background of this shot is bare serpentine rock, not running water.

I'd brought along a picture I shot in late December 2012 so I could show the difference between then and now.

A large group of hikers began to arrive near Laurel Dell just as we were leaving. Instead of just hiking back up the Cataract Trail, we picked up the Mickey O'Brien, which took us right back to...

...Barth's Retreat, which was a stop along our last hike a few days ago. We were quietly munching on almonds and sunflower seeds, getting hydrated, enjoying the peace, the light, and the slightly bay-scented air, when the big group of hikers showed up. It seemed like they might have been planning to take a longer break there, but we were occupying the picnic table. Many of the hikers took advantage of the rustic pit toilet. One of the two dogs hiking with them was having a ball, obviously a lover of the woods.

As the big group continued to Potrero Camp, we headed back up the Simmons Trail for the return trip.

Enjoying a break in the sun among the Sargent cypress trees at the top....

I was surprised to find a bay laurel in bloom. We'd just been finding bay nuts, or peppernuts -- the seeds of last season's flowers -- on the trails down below.

Hiking through the chaparral on the way back into the forest....

It was about noon when we got back to Rock Spring, and there were cars parked everywhere. It was a great day for a New Year's hike, and it was good to see that so many people were taking advantage of it.

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