Polulu Valley, Hawaii: #hike7 of the #52hikechallenge

Yes, I know I skipped #6. It was a great hike, in the rain, through a volcanic crater. I’ll get to it later, though, because hike #7 was one of my favorites this year so far. My photos from this hike, taken with my new wide angle prime lens, will tell the story.

First, some background. Polulu Valley Lookout is as far as one can drive on the north shore of Hawai’i, also known as the Big Island. Pololū means long spear, and carves a long cleave on the northern side of Kohala Mountain. The valley is at the head of the Kohala Coast, the oldest part of the island with deep valleys towering over picturesque beaches. Coming from the Kona coast, as I was, it’s a magnificent drive to get there, and the view from the lookout (which has minimal parking and no turnaround and therefore is full of vehicular confusion, to quote my guidebook) is pretty great.

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However, there are wonders to behold if you venture beyond the lookout.

Part 1: Switchbacks to the beach

The necessary disclaimers: this is not a hike for those with balance issues, mobility issues, fear of heights, or those not wearing sturdy/grippy shoes. This hike features steep rocky “trails”, abrupt and railing-less ledges, the potential for rock falls, muddy paths, and dangerous surf.

However, the results are worth it if you can pass up this wall of terror:

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The good news is, if the first 100 feet of steep rockiness freaks you out, you can get a much better view of the beach and the valley by stopping at one of the first overlooks on the trail. Take your picture and go back with no shame in your heart.

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If you continue on, you will switchback down the cliff trail pretty quickly, with incredible views at every turn. As you emerge from the jungle-like greenery, you’ll find yourself with a choice. To your left, a magnificent black sand beach with huge surf (at least it was huge the day I visited). To your right, a peaceful and majestic view up the valley. I was drawn to the valley, for obvious reasons:

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But the beach wasn’t too bad, either:

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A note of caution; don’t swim here. The waves are big, the rocks are substantial, and the current strong.

Just behind the beach is a fairy wonderland of dunes covered in ironwood trees; there are even a few rope swings among them. I have read differing accounts saying that the land behind the beach is private property, but many people seem to take the risk to venture back there. I wandered blissfully up and down the dunes for a while, gazing back down the valley, which seems almost too magical to be real:

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Part 2: Up the cliff to the 2nd lookout

Eventually, I found my way to the beginning of the second part of the trail:

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This section was glorious and far too short: strolling on black sand among lush greens with the sea roaring to the left.

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Abruptly, the trail changed and became dense with greenery, steep, muddy, rocky, and very narrow.

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Here, the sea breeze goes away and the humidity sets in. Basically, you are heading up the steep green “cliff” that you viewed from atop the first overlook. The uphill quotient is fairly significant, but everyone I passed assured me that it was worth it. 600 vertical feet of switchbacks will eventually lead you to the top of the cliff above the second “valley” along the coast, called Honakane Nuie.

My pictures don’t seem to adequately capture the wow factor of emerging, sweaty and panting, from the trees to encounter this view:

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I guess you’ll have to see it for yourself someday. There are two lovely benches at the overlook, which beg the tired hiker to sit and contemplate, but beware of the wind, which could snatch an unwary selfie-taker’s phone right out of her hand.

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I met a couple who went beyond this overlook to the next beach; the continuation of this hike requires ropes and ladders to complete it, which wasn’t on my agenda, especially since I was alone and this trail struck me as relatively poorly maintained.

The return hike was much faster heading down, and emerging from the vegetation onto the beach was breathtaking:

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Speaking of breathtaking, hiking back up the switchbacks to the parking area was pretty tough for me. That final uphill is the 5th mile, so the rocks can seem pretty formidable. Luckily, there are a lots of places to stop and “admire the view” while catching your breath.

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Final thoughts

I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places in the these past years of adventures. Polulu Valley is definitely in my top 5. The variation of landscapes on this hike – steep rocks, beach, peaceful valley, tree-filled glade, messy jungle trail, and sweeping vistas – they made the hike completely engaging and challenging enough to be interesting. Even on a hazy day, the colors and the views were incredible. I had heard that the Big Island was a “hikers paradise”, and I was skeptical, because most of the best hikes I’d read about involved just a mile or two of tramping to a beach and back. But this hike changed my tune. I recommend it unreservedly and only wish that I’d been able to bring some of you along with me to enjoy it. Though you might have had to wait for me at the top a bit as I plodded like molasses up the steep switchbacks. Slow and steady gets the views, right? 🙂

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PS: Thanks to the lovely lady from LA who offered to take my picture in the crazy wind. She got a kick out of my involuntary exclamation of “Ohhhhh, wow” when I came out of the trees onto the overlook. I guess I didn’t know I’d said it aloud until she laughed and said that’s exactly what she and her husband were thinking. 🙂

Summary: Hike 7 of the 52 hike challenge (read more about the challenge here)

Location: Polulu Valley Lookout, Kapaau, Hawaii.
Date: March 1, 2018
Distance: 4.4 miles
Wildlife: Birds
Notes: Parking is free at the Lookout, but crowded

 

 

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Juniper Springs, FL: Hike 4 of the #52HikeChallenge

A quick visit with my parents is always a great opportunity to invite/force them to enjoy a hike. On this visit, we had a Superbowl to get to that evening, so we couldn’t go far. I am completely unfamiliar with Florida’s hiking options, but I know a little more now. Basically, everything’s flat, and there are apparently alligators.

We had heard that Juniper Springs was a pretty place, so we headed into the Florida National Forest to check it out. The last “springs” I saw were in Yellowstone National Park; we don’t have them here in the northeast. But apparently, they are a given for Floridians (my folks had already been to several).

Anyway, this “hike” wound up being kind of a joke in terms of actual hiking – we just wandered a campground for less than 2 miles, and we saw everything there was to see. Well, except for the giant alligator called Big Daddy who apparently lives at the end of the river. We didn’t paddle or canoe the river, which we discovered is one of the main attractions of the campground. But yeah, we barely got beyond an amble on this one; even my dad remarked, “that was kind of a short hike.” For the record, The Nature Trail hike was closed due to damage to the trail, so a significant portion of the hike was off limits.

Still, there were lovely things to see and it was absolutely delightful for me and my pasty, sun-deprived skin to be outside in 70-degree weather. And the springs were really quite cool. Below are some photos for your enjoyment.

The campground was built during the era of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which began in 1933 and is described as a work-relief program for young men. This is is the spring that gave Juniper Springs its name. You can’t see where the spring actually bubbles up, but you can swim in the water, which maintains a steady temperature of 72 degrees. It must be a wonderful place to cool off in the heat of summer.

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This wheel powered the electricity for the camp back in the day.

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A short stroll through the woods and campsites will bring you to Fern Hammock Springs, which has a delightfully shabby look about it – there’s nothing more to do there than walk around in the woods and look at the springs. Isn’t that blue color marvelous?

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My favorite photo of the day; this looks like something out of a fairy tale. Sprites should be flying about, don’t you think?

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The Beznoskas give Juniper Springs the thumbs up.

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Hike 4 of the 52 hike challenge (read more about the challenge here)

Location: Juniper Springs Recreation Area, Florida National Forest. About 35 minutes from the town of Summerfield, FL.
Date: February 4. 2018
Distance: 1.87 miles
Wildlife: Squirrels. No alligators were sighted.
Notes: There is a fee to get into this campground. $5 per person for a Day Use pass.

Lost Palms Oasis Trail: #hike2 of the #52hikechallenge2018

I was visiting California, so palms trees were to be expected. Not, however, in the middle of the desert.

Welcome to #hike2 of my 52 Hike Challenge for 2018: Lost Palms Oasis Trail. If you’re interested in knowing a bit more about this challenge, check out my #hike1 post.

Hike 2 began not long after hike 1, in Joshua Tree National Park, on the same day. The trail began in the lower desert portion of the park about a 40 minute drive from the high desert section. This part of the park has no Joshua Trees, but lots of other shrubs and cacti, including an entire garden of these crazy things, called Cholla cacti:

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Lost Palms Oasis Trail begins at Cottonwood Springs, which is full of palm trees, which seem entirely out of place amid the desert landscape. Normally, there is a visitors center, but we were there on the first day of the government shutdown, so all the services were closed. It didn’t stop the tourists and hikers, though; there were quite a few folks at the Springs.

Once we got onto the trail, though, the crowds shrunk a bit. This hike is nothing fancy; it’s 3.6-3.7 miles out and back (for 7.2 ish round trip), and it’s a steady up and down tromp through the desert. Most hiking sites say it’s moderately difficult, and I imagine it would be in the blazing sun; there’s no shade on the trail except at the Oasis. We were blessed with partly/mostly cloudy skies. The last descent into the canyon that holds the Lost Palms Oasis is treacherous, but the rest of the trail is pretty chill. Not to say I wasn’t sucking wind occasionally (I totally was), but there’s plenty of down to go with the up.

But I get ahead of myself. On the way out, a few features of note included several sections of hiking through a wash through soft sand, and about a billion different kinds of cacti. This was one of my favorites – from afar it looked like a red pouf.

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Closer investigation revealed it was definitely not poofy.

I will confess, at about 3 miles in, I was starting to feel the fact that I hadn’t hiked in several weeks. Then we came up a little rise and this view was laid out before us, which gave me a boost:

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When we reached Lost Palms Canyon, a little spur took us to a view of the Oasis from above:

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Weird and random, right? Then it was down into the canyon, which, on my rapidly tiring legs, was a slow trek. Once down there, we marveled at the huge palm trees, climbed a few more rocks, and had lunch in the sunshine. Lunch featured oranges picked from a California backyard, and an attempt to eat avocados before they were ripe (not recommended).

Then it was back the way we came, and this part of the hike quickly became about adapting our paces to the other folks out on the trail; as the day got older, more people appeared. I briefly led us astray as I followed some girls ahead of us onto a trail that wasn’t the one we wanted, but Shawn brought us back on track. And as we neared the end, I realized the importance of drinking lots of water while in the desert; though I had been drinking, it wasn’t enough, as my leg muscles started to cramp. Luckily, I was able to drink more and keep it from getting too bad.

Later that day, when we looked at our hiking ap, Shawn remarked that we actually made pretty good time, which was a pleasant surprise to me, since, as the one leading, I was sure I was going way too slow. This brought to mind another moment from a hike a few months back when I encountered random strangers – twice – on a loop trail, and on our second meeting, one of the guys looked at me in surprise and exclaimed: “wow, you made good time!” I’ve decided I like it very much when I hear that phrase. 😉

Moral of this hike? Drink lots of water, wear sunscreen, wear a hat, don’t rush. Take time to stop and smell the cacti. And pack a yummy lunch to eat under palm trees in the middle of the desert, which, no matter which way you look at it, is pretty cool.

Starting the #52hikechallenge at Split Rock Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Greetings blog readers! I’ve decided to join the 52 Hike Challenge, both to get outside as much as I can in 2018 and to blog more regularly because, well, both are my cheapest forms of therapy. The challenge is simple; hike 52 times, once a week at a minimum. I’ve decided to do mine in a calendar year and see what happens.

I’ll be documenting my hikes, trying to surface any deep thoughts or revelations that come up. Or, if none of those exist, I’ll just share pretty pictures. If any of you are doing this challenge, let me know in the comments!

Without further ado, let’s get to #hike1: Split Rock Loop Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

As 2018 dawned, I felt decidedly tired and worn out. Being single, I don’t have the pressures of partners or kids and family that most people do, so I feel a bit guilty complaining. Still, between big and frustrating projects at work, travel obligations, and lack of sunshine during a New England winter…I was grumpy. So I made the somewhat indulgent/selfish decision to take a weekend off, and fly a bunch of miles to get as far away from my normal life as the continental US would permit. Hence, Joshua Tree National Park in California. I wanted a couple of days to put sandy, rocky miles under my legs and point my camera at pretty, non-New-England-ish things.

I was prepared and happy to go solo, but got lucky when a friend was available to join up. We arrived in the 29 Palms area after dark, so I didn’t know what the terrain looked like until the following morning. When I woke up, the ground was wet from recent rain, which seemed odd to me given that we were in the desert, but just goes to show how little I know about deserts. As we drove into the park, the delightful weirdness of Joshua trees began to appear, along with occasional huge piles of giant boulders amid a sea of desert brush and cacti.

Joshua Tree National Park straddles two different desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, and our first hike was in the high desert, where to our great surprise and delight, we discovered that the rain we’d experienced at our hotel had turned to SNOW at the Split Rock trailhead. We have a history of magical snow on our hiking trips, so I guess this just proves we’re on to something. I mean, how often do people get to see snow on Joshua Trees?

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This “hike” was more of a ramble/scramble; the loop is a 2-mile one, but we quickly got distracted by the big, climbable rocks. My friend, with whom I’ve been hiking/exploring for the last couple of years, is a fearless climber, with actual rock climbing skills, who loves to get to the highest point possible as quickly as possible.

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I am not so fearless, nor do I have any such skills. So, I tried to get up there, too, but there came a point when I felt my shoes slip a bit on the snowy granite. Involuntarily I did some quick physics in my head, and my overactive imagination obligingly modeled what it would look and feel like if I slipped, so I chickened out and climbed slowly back down.

It’s worth noting at this point in our narrative that my personal hiking and exploring goals are usually about getting over myself. See, I am often self-conscious about the extra weight that I carry around, and tend to obsess about whether or not I am physically capable of keeping up with everyone else. It’s been that way my whole life, no matter how many sports I’ve played or miles I’ve run. There are times, like this one, when it has really impacted my ability to enjoy myself in the outdoors.

So, that little moment of timidness was a red flag. The good news is that I know myself well enough to shrug it off and give myself another challenge, which I did. I decided to see if I could find my way around the large rocks my friend was currently conquering, which I did successfully. The only problem was, when I got back to the front side of the rock feature, my friend was nowhere to be seen.

We are not strangers to losing each other while hiking/exploring, and we were no more than 1/4 mile from the car, so there was no real danger. Just empty, windy, chilly desert under a sky full of rapidly changing cloud formations. I wandered the trail a bit to no avail, and then, eyeing a large, seemingly easy-to-scale-but-pretty-high-up rock formation, braved my way to the top to look for my friend. I stood up there for a long time, scanning for a human among the rocks…

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…and also taking inventory of my body, which hadn’t been challenged in this way for quite a while. I noted that my ankles were trying to remembering how to be supple on the rock, that my knees were trying to loosen up. I took huge breaths of desert air, calming my heartbeat. I shook out my hands and noticed my posture, which is always at its strongest when I’m on top of a high place.

After a while, I got chilly and headed slowly down, feeling that familiar war between my brain and my gut; my brain KNEW that my boots would hold on the rock, but my gut was convinced I was about to tumble arse over teakettle (isn’t that a delightful saying?). As I neared the bottom, and my boots held, my confidence poked its head out for a look, and I bounded quickly down and set off on the trail to find my friend.

I didn’t get very far before we found each other, and like a little kid, I proudly pointed out the big rock slab that I’d just been hanging out on, feeling unreasonably satisfied with myself in that moment.

As we headed back to the car, my friend suggested we climb a large, boulder-strewn crack in another set of rocks, which we did, albeit slowly since I was in the lead. Here, we had to navigate around some prickly bushes…

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…but we were rewarded with a gorgeous view.

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It was my first “hike” of the year, and I have no idea of the mileage, but it was probably pretty minimal, since we never even made it around the 2-mile loop. Still, it was enough to shake me out of my funk and careen me through the roller coaster of self-analysis that seems to begin every adventure I find myself on. At the end, my muscles felt stretched and my hands were gritty and my camera was full of gorgeousness, and we had an entire day of more adventures in Joshua Tree ahead of us. It was a good start to the 52 Hike Challenge.

Where do you find wonder?

I’ve been a bad arts person lately. I haven’t been to see a lot of live shows. A few years back, I lived for going to theater and dance and music. These days I’m lucky if I go to one show every couple of months.

There are reasons for this. One is that TV is so good these days and my couch is so comfy. Another is that I now live in one of the most expensive cities in America, I no longer get all my tickets for free, and I simply can’t afford to go very often.

But there’s a more disturbing reason that I’ve been pondering. Am I outgrowing “the arts” as I knew them in my 20s and 30s? It used to be that I’d go to a show to fill up something in my soul that needed filling. I don’t do that anymore. I wish I knew why.

These days, when my soul needs filling, I go outside. I go to my neighborhood Arboretum, or a hike in the woods, or, when I can swing it, to one of our glorious national parks/monuments.  It’s become a physical and mental necessity, actually; if I don’t get my outside time, I become a version of myself that I don’t like much: puffy, sluggish, grumpy, and convinced that the world is really as bad as it seems sometimes.

Recently, I attended a concert at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I admit it – it still gives me a little thrill to think that one of the best orchestras in the world is my hometown band, as they say. We were going to hear Mahler’s 3rd Symphony, which, I confess, meant nothing to me other than I’ve heard of Mahler and people seem to think he’s pretty good. On the way, I asked my musician friend why she liked this work, and she said, “Well, because it’s big and loud and interesting…it’s just one of my favorites.” She also mentioned that Mahler is a more programmatic composer, often trying to tell stories with his music, which is speaking my language. It was enough for me to get excited to hear the piece.

The first movement of the work was marvelous. I don’t know what story Mahler was telling, but it didn’t matter; I was along for the ride as the music changed and chased itself and contradicted itself and resolved and made me smile on more than one occasion. I kept trying to remember specific musical moments so I could tell my friend about how they’d resonated with me.

And then, something happened. As the musicians shuffled their music between the 2nd and 3rd movements, I happened to notice a trumpet player, with his instrument, get up and leave the stage. I figured this part of the score required one less trumpet, so that’s was why he was leaving. An idle thought.

The movement began and I don’t remember much about it until suddenly, a trumpet sounded in a clear and poignant solo…in a tone I’d never heard. It was slightly muffled, coming from far away, like an echo of itself, so soft and pure and lovely that it made me sit up in my seat. It wasn’t coming from the stage. My eyes darted around while my brain tried to catch up with my ears, and I looked at my friend in delight and like a little kid whispered, “It’s coming from outside in the hallway!” She just smiled (we’re not supposed to talk at concerts, after all).

The first refrain of the post-horn (that’s what my music friends tell me it’s called) solo seemed to go on forever, and when it was over, I heard the entire Symphony Hall release a collective breath. As the musicians shuffled their music again, I whispered to myself: “Come back, trumpet player, that was amazing,” and the stranger sitting next to me agreed, adding his own whisper: “That was extraordinary.” This was a case where it was just WRONG that we couldn’t clap between movements.

It was a moment of wonder. Complete, unexpected, delightful, awe-inducing, and I realized I have never experienced that in a concert hall during a symphonic concert. Ever. As I took the bus home that night, I ran over the memories of comparable gasp-worthy moments:

  • A certain moment in the Broadway show Next to Normal when the audience realizes a character that we thought was there, wasn’t;
  • The first time I saw Elphaba fly in Wicked
  • The first time I finished the Hamilton soundtrack
  • When I watched Sutton Foster tapdance as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes
  • The first time I saw the work of choreographers Ohad Naharin and Jyri Killian

Now I can add “The first time I heard the post-horn solo in Mahler’s 3rd” to that list.

Wonder, as defined by Google:

a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.

Just a few days after this musical moment, I found myself in Joshua Tree National Park. A whole weekend of wonder-full moments, and I realized at least one reason why I’ve been trading my concert/theater time for outdoor time.

See, when you can see stuff like this at every turn:

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It’s easy to get your hit of wonder. Since I started getting obsessed with parks and hiking and being outside, I’ve seen hundreds of these wonder moments and they never bore me. They are always a surprise even though I know they are coming. They always make it hard for me to believe that the bad guys will win.

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I’ve had to look harder for them in the arts lately, and I don’t know if that’s about me or the art. But it’s been easier to find them outside, so I’ll keep going there. But I’ll hold out hope for another post-horn solo moment, because it was really, really wonderful.