11:13pm... finally got to eat the last of my trail sandwich. Would have been really nice to sit on a rock and enjoy that 6-8 hours ago. Instead, about then I was getting really focused on moving, and not stopping for food or water, or anything.
The day started early, drove over in the dark and hiked cross desert to the mouth of the canyon. Getting light just as I dropped down and into the drainage from the old cattle/mine works (now a shooting gallery for the locals). I was impressed with the canyon... open and far vistas with huge towering buttes... morning light was not ideal to capture the moments in pics, but it was great for being there. The canyon stayed beginner easy for the first few miles, and for the first time on these exploratory hikes I was following someone else's footprints. That was a first. Then there came a point where it was no longer easy... it was still really nice, and perhaps even better, but no longer a place for a beginner hiker to be. And all footprints faded away.
About then, I came across a bear carcass... looks as if passed away over the last month... had crawled up under a ledge in the drainage.
The bouldering demands became ever harder in the last 1.3 miles leading up to the big waterfall ledge... but fun and interesting. I did not linger at the falls, but scrambled up and around it on the south side, then enjoyed the next half mile of narrows before the basin opened up wide. When I'd first reviewed this drainage on a map, it appeared that I'd be able to follow it from this point another two or three miles then walk out on the south side, and over to FR 90A, to follow that back up the ridge to Mule Peak. For some reason, instead of following that original plan I exited the canyon bottom and moved immediately up and onto the ridge, heading for an old jeep route that was showing on the GPS unit. It was an easy climb out, and sure enough, the double track was right where is was supposed to be...
I followed that route until it started to loop around to the south side of Mule Peak, and instead of following that looping route, once again headed off cross country up a meadowed draw. Climbing out on top of that I was very surprised to discover an old Paved road! I turned towards the peak reflecting on why pavement (asphalt)... and soon discovered: an old and abandoned observatory installation. There were some run down living quarters, work rooms, and a large building with it's roof built on tracks such that the entire roof could slide off and back, opening up the upper levels of the building... which housed a contraption that looked to be straight out of "Alien". It had a seat towards the rear wherein someone would straddle a multi- tubed device, which I have to assume was some type of telescope.
Now, though the scientists are long gone, I think there are still active antennae installations up there.
So far, this peak hike had been diverse, entertaining... and really fairly easy.
Instead of heading back down canyon the way I came up, I now decided instead to track further down ridge and enter the drainage like I had originally planned, creating a lasso loop.
Very bad idea.
Initially, the side canyon was just too densely blocked to drop over the edge. Finally, I was able to descend, but it turned into a descent to hell. The drainage this far up was just a steep defile... a rocky ravine... and, filled with snow! There was no safe footing... so the progress was way too slow. I finally exited the ravine on the other side just for safeties sake, only to discover that ridge filled with dense oak scrub... and thorny things. The next few hours were all about thorny things, and amazingly slow progress. The slow progress is where the not getting to eat came into play. As I projected ahead, time wise, I realized that I could get caught in the canyon after sunset. Now, moving through that lower mile might not be so bad, but scrambling down and around that 100' water fall feature in the dark would not be fun... and, that 1.3 miles below the falls had numerous down climbing areas that I would have some trouble with in full daylight. After dark... no way. So, for those remaining afternoon hours I simply kept moving. The sun did set before I made it out, but I was in the lower canyon, below all the hard bouldering. There was enough glow to make my way down and out, and only the couple of miles of desert back to the truck were in the pitch black.
Now I know. A great hike up to the waterfall. A nice peak hike if the upper portion of the canyon is avoided. No real reason to go above the falls unless you are doing the peak (unless you brought along some rope and plan to make coming down the falls easy!) That upper canyon... sort of glad I did it, just to know, but I'll never go through there again... unless there is some compelling need to recreate the feel of visiting a hell dimension.
So... finally getting to eat my sandwich here after 11pm...