Same But Different: Return to the Eastern Pine Valley Mountains
Though our first visit to this section of the Pine Valley Mountains was only two weeks ago Tom, Terry, and I agreed to return on the first sunny day to do it again. Or rather, we agreed to hike some of it again and do some exploring along Harmon Creek instead of following Ash Creek up to the Browse guard station.
We arrived at the border of the national forest to picture-perfect cumulus clouds and bright blue sky, congratulating ourselves on the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful area again. We intended to drive the 5 miles towards the mountains and park at the gate again but much to our surprise the gate was open despite Terry having confirmed with the forest service that it would be closed for another month. We thought that the first mile or two at least would be marginally passable in my high clearance vehicle and so we decided to give it a whirl. It was doable for a mile but some rocky dropoffs combined with uphill grades forced us to park and walk a little sooner than we anticipated. But no worries.
As before, we set off down the road heading straight towards the peaks but took a detour to walk down to a section of Ash Creek lined with ponderosas. From here we returned to the road until the junction with Harmon Creek to the south which happened to be a tralihead for a now-defunct trail. We had planned to walk up this creek thinking that the drainage would open up for some different views of the mountains and possibly some lush meadows, but the creek banks grew more clogged as we went on and the hills rose on either side of us, slowing our pace and obscuring any views. Before the third mile of this we unanimously decided it wasn’t worth it; Tom scrambled up the nearest hill and confirmed that cross-country exploring didn’t look promising either. The clicher was that the clouds that had steadily been gathering to the south had taken on a decidedly-gray hue and we knew my vehicle would have no chance of getting out if the road became wet. So we turned around.
After picking our way back to the junction where we had better views of the sky we reevaluated the weather situation and our confidence in the conditions remaining dry increased. So without an immediate need to leave we explored downstream a bit – which was pretty for a stretch – and through the lush, grassy meadow. We milled about here taking photos while Abby rolled in the grass. At this point we agreed to head back to the car and discuss another place to explore but after the 2 miles of additional walking we decided to pack it in and go back to the house for food and beer: not only were 2 out of 3 of us unusually tired but we had really just enjoyed the wandering and laid back character of our walk.