Day 1: IN A WHATEVER MOOD
It was about 7:30am when we awoke, which was a little later than normal. But considering that it had been awhile since I felt like we had at least 7 full hours of sleep, I figured we were due.
Last week, we were supposed to have some April showers, but the storm that was supposed to hit us last Thursday was nothing more than an April Fool’s joke. Nonetheless, we wanted to do something today, but the hikes we wanted to do – Trail Canyon Falls, Millard Falls, Cooper Canyon Falls, and Soldier Creek Falls – were all closed thanks to either damage from the Station Fire last Summer or from access road repairs that have yet to be completed.
Plus, I had learned that I didn’t have to come in this weekend on the night shift for work, which gave me even more reason to try to make something of this weekend before my anticipated third shift when the week starts.
On top of that, we had finally received the long awaited Canon 18-200mm Zoom Lens, which probably came a few years too late considering we had some missed opportunities out in the field during our world travels. But I guess that’s life sometimes. I chose Canon instead of Nikon, and got burned, but at least now I can finally say I’ve gotten the all-in-one lens I needed, and now it was time to try it out.
So this set of circumstances kind of put me in a whatever mood, and so we ultimately decided at the last minute to repeat a pair of waterfalls done around this time last year – Tenaja Falls and Ortega Falls. Sure, repeats this close together weren’t high on the priority list for us, but at the very least, we could probably get a little more info about how temporary the waterfalls are or how well they’re performing considering the El Nino rains we’ve been getting this Winter. But even with all that said, it had been at least a month since we had gotten any appreciable amount of rain as March turned out to be pretty dry.
So by 8:40am, we finally left the home. It was cloudy and looked like a change in the weather was in store for us, but we knew the forecast had called for partly cloudy conditions under fair skies today. So we weren’t worried.
The drive out east towards the Lake Elsinore area felt like a long drive. But then again, we had done this one not long ago, and I guess we must’ve forgotten that it was at least an hour or more of driving to even get this far south on the I-15.
When we reached the familiar Clinton-Keith Road exit, we followed the familiar road towards some rural ranches as the road eventually became Tenaja Road around a sharp curve. We continued on Tenaja Road, which made another sharp turn (could be confusing since going straight ahead here meant going onto Via Volcano), and followed this winding passage towards its end.
We must’ve forgotten how easy the drive was because as Julie and I were having a heated political discussion about how complicated our tax laws were and how the mortgage interest deduction had a big part in that, our Nüvi was tripping out, and my memory was failing me as I didn’t recall some of the things seen during our drive versus what was playing in my mind’s eye from last year. Plus, Ann Marie Brown‘s directions indicated that we should look out for Rancho California Road, which was nowhere to be found. I recalled this was supposed to be a pretty straightforward drive, but somehow I wasn’t getting that vibe this time around.
In any case, we missed a turnoff for the Cleveland Forest Road, which I somehow suspected was the one we were supposed to take but Julie talked me out of it, and ended up at the end of Tenaja Road. Fortunately for us, there was a handwritten sign that said, “Looking for the waterfall? Go back 1 mile to Forest Service Road.”
And so we obliged and were back on the Forest Service Road that we should’ve taken. But even then, we were wondering whether there was a closer access because my memory was failing me. So we proceeded on the paved but rougher Forest Service Road getting to an overlook and still having doubts about whether we were going the right way. So we turned around and went backwards towards the Tenaja Trailhead where we saw a map sign. And it was there that we saw definitively that we were going the right way after all!
Indeed, it’s a good thing they have these map signs for times like this where you aren’t quite sure you’re going the right way.
Finally at 10:30am, we made it to the familiar car park for the Tenaja Falls. This time, there were fewer cars parked at the unpaved lot than last time. Plus, the cloudy skies seemed to have cleared up big time way out here in the desert-like scene.
Knowing that last time there was a stream crossing, we came prepared with hiking sticks while wearing our Gore-tex boots. And we also learned about that false Fisherman’s Camp path so we were certain to take less time on this hike than last time.
As we were crossing the stream, we couldn’t help but notice lots of stalks of poison oak all over the place. It’s funny how we never really paid any attention to these things until there was a sign at McWay Falls in Big Sur that finally broke it all down and showed us exactly what they looked like! Now, it seems like these things are everywhere!
As we were re-joining the main trail, we heard some low buzzing sounds somewhere nearby. We suspected there was a big swarm of bees nearby, which made us tread even more carefully so as to not disturb them or else become pin-cushions. We’re not sure if bees (wondered if they were Africanized bees) typically stalked these parts or not.
We then went on the sun-exposed trail that passed by some native shrubbery as well as some blooming wildflowers. The wildflowers always seem to add color to the scene and put us in a good mood. I didn’t recall seeing as many flowers last time (as patchy as the scene was on this go-around), but I guess that’s what makes Spring hiking typically a special event here in the Southland.
Eventually, we got to a familiar bend in the trail where wer could see the entirety of the Tenaja Falls. It seemed to have a little more water volume than last year, which was saying something about how much rain we got this year considering that it hadn’t rained for over a month, and last year followed some three or four straight days of rain, which we timed our visit.
So Julie and I were content to take photos and movies from here. Sure, we could’ve spent more time (like last time) hiking all the way to the top of the falls, but we already knew what that was like, and we weren’t all that stoked about doing it this time around, knowing we wanted to get home sooner rather than later today with still Ortega Falls to go.
We did meet an elderly couple who brought water shoes and waded through the concrete ford at the start of the hike. They seemed to have enjoyed it, and asked us if we did likewise. We told them we found a drier scramble (which strangely seemed easier than the last time, but maybe it was hiking sticks we brought).
Anyways, when we returned to the concrete ford’s front side (having crossed the way we originally came), we couldn’t help but notice that there was a manageable rock-hopping/log-walking path to the left of the flooded part. I guess this must’ve meant that the creek was lower than last time, considering you couldn’t even entertain getting your feet dry across this ford – until now!
Oh well, it didn’t matter to us anyways as we were back at the car by 11:30am. The car park was pretty much full as it was this time last year.
On the way out of the Forest Service Road, there were a few more cars headed the other way. Some of them were moving real fast and could easily cause an accident around some of the blind turns, which prompted Julie to remark, “Some people drive too fast!”
As we returned to the Tenaja Road and then the Clinton-Keith Road, the GPS told us to take Grand Ave towards the Ortega Highway. At first, we ignored it thinking the GPS was taking us on silly side streets again, but the more we thought about it, the more it seemed to make more sense to take the shortcut instead of going all the way back to the I-15 and then back around to Grand Ave and the Ortega Hwy.
And as usual, there was lots of traffic going on Hwy 74 shared with tons of motorcycles. We eventually made it to a large pullout where I stole a few glimpses of Lake Elsinore against the bright and hazy sun.
By 12:30pm, we made it to the familiar pullout just El Cariso Village. A bar or some kind of establishment always has some colorful things to say on its sign out front. This time, it said, “If you believe in political correctness your a pussy!” Yep, grammar wasn’t exactly their strong suit I’m sure.
The pullout had quite a few more cars than the last time we were here. But it was also right at the height of high noon so the sun was beating down pretty hard as loud bikes were zooming past.
And right off the bat, I could see in the distance that the falls were definitely flowing, but we also saw some brightly colored shirted people hanging on to harnesses while suspended on some vertical rock faces. Indeed, there were some abseilers here this time.
Learning from the lessons of last time, we knew exactly where to scramble in order to get right up to the falls this time around. And in no time, we made it right to the base of the waterfall where there were a few people around, but it was by-and-large pretty quiet.
We took the photos of the falls in the brightness of the scene as well as getting a kick out of seeing the rock climbers making the ascent and descent down the vertical rock face just to the left of the falls.
We also paid attention to the fact that were were more stalks of poison oak. It seemed like this place more than the other places we’d been to in recent memory that it was real easy to rub skin with the poisonous oils of poison oak.
When Julie and I had our fill of the falls, it was just in time as large groups of people started to descend upon the scene. So we got in our peace, and these folks were about to indulge in a little fun, I’m sure.
And by 1:15pm, we were back in our car. And at this time, both of us were quite hungry and were ready to go for a late Shin-sen-gumi lunch in Fountain Valley.
We decided to head south on the Ortega Highway where we joined the caravan of cars following the slow-poke who refused to use any of the many pullouts available to them on this route (this occurred twice, with a real annoying RV causing the most traffic for the longest time).
I don’t know if this is characteristic of the stubborness of city driving or what that causes people to ignore the pullouts in winding mountainous roads, but it’s certainly causes potentially dangerous situations when those directly behind the inconsiderate slow-poke are forced to pass onto oncoming traffic complete with plenty of blind turns (especially given the high speeds of Hwy 74).
At 2:05pm, we made a brief stop at the Samy’s Camera in Irvine to pick up a polarizer for our new lens. And only thereafter did we finally have our ramen lunch at 2:30pm.
By 3:20pm, we were finally heading home where I at least got to see some March Madness Final Four action just to unwind from this pretty busy day.
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