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Sometimes you get a sense of a place as if it had a personality and will unto itself - not literally, of course, but in the way your own thoughts and experiences relate to it.  Traveling through, you get to know the environment as if it were a companion with specific tendencies and intentions rather than a set of morally neutral circumstances.  I've had this sensation before - and usually it's a positive thing - but last week I had a chance to get acquainted with some wilderness that just rubbed me the wrong way: A spooky, holistic undercurrent of unease and hostility.  I get why people have spiritual feelings about wilderness, even though I know that's not really what's happening, but it's still worth sharing some of what I saw and felt.  

Where I'd gone was the environs of an old truck trail above and going into Cucamonga Canyon that's no longer used by vehicles, and also hiked some of the bike trails surrounding the trailhead into the mountains.  Unlike many of the places I've hiked, this is not a wilderness park - not a place cultivated to suit the human imagination of a primordial paradise - it's just plain wilderness: Nature more or less left to its own grim devices.  












Since the first time I went there, something about it weighed on me - something it took a while to understand.  The thing of it is, the place isn't ugly or desolate - there's plenty of life and sweeping vistas to enjoy on many levels.  But somehow it all adds up to less than the sum of its parts, and makes you feel vaguely diminished for having experienced it - as if you had swam through something mildly caustic and come out the other side a few skin layers short of when you dove in.  There's a tragedy and sadness to it overall that defies easy identification if you're not breathing the air, feeling the strange chill of the shadows, and walking the ill-proportioned scale of the old truck road.




There's a tangible air of ruin throughout much of the way, hammered home by the scarred, crumbly rock of the mountainside, the spooky plays of light, and the disheartening warping of perspective that convinces you you're close to something when you're actually nowhere near it.  Nothing is whole - everything is a fragment of a fragment: The rocks, the trees, the trail, the shadows, everything.  Charred wood from old wildfires sits randomly strewn around, and the living trees poke out at each other at odd angles from violent winds going back who-knows-when.  The sense of scarring and unrecovered trauma piled on trauma is hard to avoid noticing and being infected with.  

Mountainsides that would be awe-inspiring in another context just seem to loom ominously, creating pools of disquiet between them.  It puts me in mind of Stephen King - not in the hokey sharp-toothed-monster sense (although, being bear, rattlesnake, and mountain lion country, there are probably those too), but in the creepy, atmospheric sense that makes his works worth reading.  You don't realize it immediately, but there's a seeping sense of foreboding that creeps into the unexamined crevices of your thinking, and creates a distinct impulse to move through as quickly as possible so you can leave.  "Strong with the Dark Side of the Force, that place is," and so on.  

Every time I go, the few people I run across are vaguely sinister oddballs (which must surely say something about me...?) - a weirdo in a straw hat who was spinning two trekking poles like Charlie Chaplin canes while his three dogs of varying sizes and colors ran around; a guy who looked like an ex-con with tattoos all over his chest and back walking by shirtless with a couple of rottweilers, a shirt wrapped around his head like a Bedouin, and a cigarette hanging off his mouth; three assholes on loud, sputtering, smoke-belching mini-bikes despite regularly-posted prohibitions on motorized vehicles; and, of course, the Army.  Yes, the Army.

The first time I visited, the Army was using the place as training for Afghanistan, and let me hike through their drills - not exactly an auspicious introduction.   I've now been there four times, and not one of them was a truly satisfying experience - they were all troubled by petty mishaps and the pervading atmosphere of anxiety and yawning spiritual abyss that distinguishes the place from maintained wilderness parks I've visited.  There's a great set of terraced lookouts accessible from a side-trail, but the path is way too steep and strewn with pebbles that act as ball-bearings, so I only went there once and had to take one step at a time going up (and half a step at a time going back down).  

The next time I went, I took a detour on to some bike paths and ended up in a Sisyphean nightmare of relentlessly up-sloping, rock-strewn, concave trails that I kept being certain were almost done, only to turn a curve and see them heading off into forever.  Then I ended up with chills and a fever halfway into the wilderness, and had to hike all the way back sick, with every light 70-degree breeze feeling like an Arctic blast.  

Most recently, I'd set my sights on climbing a mountain called Frankish Peak, whose satellite map looks deceptively doable.  This is about when I started to realize the area is not the most psychologically inviting environment.  The old truck trail descends again from the mountains back into a higher part of the canyon and trees reappear along the trail, but I found something foreboding in them that wasn't typical - usually I find trees very welcoming, even when they're leafless and gnarled.  Instead it all just seemed sullen and bitter, with hints of menace behind it.  I don't know if that comes through in these photographs, because it's still pretty - but there's something troubling beneath the superficial appeal:




I've been to deserts, but all I feel from them is obliviousness - a sterile lack of memory, absence of substance, blankness.  They make no impression beyond the purely visual and coarse sensory information like temperature and texture, as opposed to the deep chemical/instinctual wholeness of being in a pleasant forest.  But this is something else - a drooping, collapsing entropy.  Dysfunction.  You get a real sense of the ad hoc, default basis of Nature there - how things only occur a certain way because they collide and bitterly compete for a scrap of existence.  It's strangely easy to become demoralized in such a setting - to feel like your efforts are wasted, if not actively opposed by some eldritch grudge.

On this particular trip, I'd only just barely started getting somewhere when the light turned murky and it was clear I wouldn't have enough time to complete the trip.  As it turned out, despite having set out around noon, I was only halfway along the trail by the time I approached the turn-back point where I'd have to terminate the journey to get back before dark.  I crossed the stream over a graffitied cement path, and despite the plain evidence of civilization having been there, ironically the artifacts of human passing just seemed all the more chaotic and degenerate for being out in Real Wilderness because nobody looks after them or does much of anything to make them look nice.  So at first it was heartening to see something people had built, but closer up it was somehow worse for being so dismal, minimal, and careless - like something dropped and abandoned by passing tourists who hadn't bothered to return, only to be swept down on by Krylon-toting vultures:  




From there, the trail ceased to be a truck road and became a two-foot-wide dirt track with encroaching brush on both sides and periodic washouts.  I decided to go for a few more minutes to get a sense of where it led, but my intrepidity dissolved when I heard something substantial moving around in the trees just below, loudly cracking branches in ways that had to involve an animal much larger than a coyote.  In the afternoon gloom sinking into evening, I really didn't feel much like sneaking alone through the domain of a bear in cub-rearing season.  In that psychic atmosphere, it was just too easy to picture my own gnawed, red-stained rib cage laying amid the shattered wood of the riparian corridor in the fading light.


On the way back, the gloom seeped into me and I felt like a walking Kipling poem or the original Bob Dylan version of All Along the Watchtower - as silly as that impression is for a day-hike a few miles away from suburbia.  Things seemed apocalyptic and ominous, and I didn't run into a single person on the return trip.






The lesson of places like this is that the world is not naturally the way we would want it to be - we have to make it that way by imagining better than we inherit, and being better than the environment would shape us to be.  That's the oddest realization of all: All these negative feelings don't deter me from going back there - they're a challenge I can't ignore.  Places like this, both in nature and inside ourselves, exist to be defied and conquered - whatever bitterness they engender exists to be passed through and dissipated like fog in warm sunlight.  Next time I'll bring other people though - one thing I know is that in human terms, two is infinitely more than one.    

Originally posted to Troubadour on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 04:35 PM PST.

Also republished by DKOMA and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  well rest assured it's not a designated wilderness (7+ / 0-)

    none of them allow mechanized travel, like mountain bikes. From the description of the people it sounds like some open space near a major metro area. LA?

    I'd bring a can of bear spray, sounds a little weird and I don't mean animals.

    "Slip now and you'll fall the rest of your life" Derek Hersey 1957-1993

    by ban nock on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 05:51:37 PM PST

    •  That's the thing, it's "true" wilderness. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aunt Pat

      As in, nobody does anything to make it more pleasant or accessible than it is.  It's in the Inland Empire - the Eastern exurbs of LA.

      I've been seriously considering buying bear spray, although I oscillate between thinking it's a good idea and feeling like complete chickenshit for even considering it.  The bears in the area are black bears, so they're not known as being particularly aggressive or lethal, and supposedly mountain lions are cowards if you make a lot of noise and wave your arms around.  But I still keep looking over my shoulder and pausing like a deer whenever I hear a twig snap nearby.  Ugh - damned if you do, damned if you don't.

      A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it. --The First Law of Mentat

      by Troubadour on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 06:24:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Don't worry about the mountain lions (8+ / 0-)

        California mountain lions stay away from people. They almost never attack. There have been only three or four mountain lion attacks on humans in California in the last fifteen years. This is not a risk to worry about.

        I wouldn't worry about the bears either, if you're day hiking.

        I found it hard to reconcile the photos and the text in this diary.

        •  That's the thing about subjectivity. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Aunt Pat, marina, kaliope

          It's all contextual.  Take away the dialog and scary faces from the Blair Witch Project, and it's basically just camping.

          What you say about bears and mountain lions is similar to what I see on official websites, but they also give dire warnings like "Never hike alone."

          A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it. --The First Law of Mentat

          by Troubadour on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 07:44:30 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  miss that U.F.D. (6+ / 0-)

          I worked for the B.L.M. doing wilderness inventories in wilderness study areas (W.S.A.)  in the CA desert 20 years ago. I lived in a government trailer that was in a pretty remote place (Hole in the Wall) within the Needles Resource Area.  I've gotta say, the desert is, on first glance, a really inhospitable and desolate place. But I learned to love it, and yearn to go back. Thanks for the photos, I get an entirely different vibe off them. (My co-workers jokingly called it the U.F.D.,  a bureaucratic abbreviation for ugly f**** desert).

          'How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.' -Annie Dillard

          by prairiesmoke on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 05:40:14 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Many decades ago. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            My uncle (half-Cherokee) taught my cousin and me to love - I do mean love - the UFD/Mojave. Equally as much as I love the North Coast and the Sierras.

            dear joshuas, I'm still grateful for his shared-vision of that "UFD".

            "Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. And don't be attached to the results." -- Angeles Arrien

            by Sybil Liberty on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 09:40:24 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Try the "Track of the Cat" which is an Anna (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Troubadour, CitizenScientist

            Pigeon mystery (the character is an NPS ranger).  That or the one that takes place at Mesa Verde.  Of course, Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey or any of the Hillerman books.  They're what put me into a good mood in the desert wilderness.

      •  Uhhh... take it from someone who lives.... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        marina, Troubadour, Nulwee, ban nock

        ...within 15 minutes of REAL wilderness, have both black and brown bears as well as moose, black bears are FAR more dangerous than brown bears.

        Brown bears will kill you and prefer the meat to rot, which is why they will attept to bury you and either go away or settle down nearby.

        Black bears will tear the living flesh and muscle right off your screaming skull....

        I've lived in Alaska 32 years and have seen a lot.

        "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

        by CanisMaximus on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 10:51:46 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah, but California black bears? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I'm getting conflicting information here.  The Fish & Wildlife Dept. website says black bears are shy, generally non-confrontational, and will run away from people, and contrasts them with grizzlies who are supposedly vicious bastards (though that's not a problem for me, since they're extinct in Cali).  There's no record of anyone ever dying in California in 50 years from a bear attack other than a few  trainers of captive bears, and that's saying something for the most populous state of the Union.  Like hundreds of people have been struck by lightning in California in that time.

          Still scary being in the presence of something with the physical capacity to kill me with a swipe of its paw, of course.  It's just a very different thing to be talking about some Boreal monster vs. a skittish, Great Dane-sized predator trying to survive a few miles from millions of people on the food supply of a semi-desert chaparral climate.

          But what's the solution if you're right?  Bear spray?  Air horn?  Stun grenades (heh)?  

          Live by the principle that nothing you do can kill you. You'll only be wrong once, and never have to suffer the embarrassment of it.

          by Troubadour on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 12:20:59 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  You're right... don't worry too much (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Tyto Alba, Troubadour

            Alaska must be different, or are named differently... that commenter's concern does not apply in California.

            All adult bears may have the capacity to kill you; for that matter, so do other humans.  What you need to be worried about is whether they are likely to do it, and California black bears are very very unlikely to attack you.  Carrying bear spray anywhere in California is over-precaution, in my opinion.  

            If you run into a black bear, back off slowly, observe it from a distance, and consider yourself to fortunate to have encountered such a fine creature!

            •  in Cali the bear spray is for 2 legged predators (5+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              skymutt, elfling, ColoTim, Troubadour, kaliope

              Vaya con Dios Don Alejo
              I want to die a slave to principles. Not to men.
              Emiliano Zapata

              by buddabelly on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 08:10:59 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Edit: (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                buddabelly, ColoTim, Troubadour

                Carrying bear spray FOR THE PURPOSE OF SPRAYING BEARS anywhere in California is over-precaution...


                •  agreed, here in the Sonoran desert I've found (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  skymutt, ColoTim, Troubadour

                  lion and bobcat tracks in my yard as well as 'yote, feral dogs,  javalina and deer plus all the little yet dangerous ones such as the various rattlesnakes and Gila Monsters....I had at least 5 different adult Gilas raiding my eggs this past year....No coons at least but the higher elevations have our version, the Coatimundi....

                  One thing I'd be on the watch for in Cal is feral hogs.  Evidently there's a decent population of them out there and honestly a hog is way more likely to attack than any of the "real" predators and if they're hungry, they'll eat you too......

                  We're lucky here in Az, we're one of the only states without a feral hog problem though supposedly there's a small herd near the border in the Buenos Aires NWR...

                  My brother found a wallow and the Rangers say they've seen some but it's a small group, less than 30 hogs.....I don't understand why they haven't opened season on them as the last thing we need is feral hogs here....the desert is too fragile and takes forever to recover from the damage that hogs (and humans) do to the ecosystem....

                  The Border Patrol has done more damage to the desert than you can imagine and the migrants aren't much least the migrants aren't constantly destroying the desert with their quads and 4x4s cutting new roads wherever they feel like it....Here a new track can take decades if not centuries to recover from the damage...

                  Vaya con Dios Don Alejo
                  I want to die a slave to principles. Not to men.
                  Emiliano Zapata

                  by buddabelly on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 10:05:37 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

          •  I live in a black bear area. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            All the ones I've seen have seen me and fled. Maybe a different situation, being on horseback.
            The only time I turned around was seeing some young ones running up a  wooded hillside, bleating. They looked about weaning size. Since the trail intersected their path, I opted for the turn around, having just read that momma bear will sometimes track her young'uns for a couple of days after weaning. Did not want to get between momma and the cubs.
            Stay safe, k? A bit of bear spray would not be a bad idea.

          •  Well, strictly speaking... (0+ / 0-)

            ....Alaskan Black Bears are generally as NOT used to people as their Lower 48 contemporaries. In his very first book, author Larry Kanuit tells a story of a female surveyor who was stalked, attacked and had her living flesh stripped from both her arms. She survived the attack. The bear was later shot and found to be a young male only about 125 lbs.  I watched a 300 lb boar flip over a 500 lb rock like it was nothing. Black bears are nothing to fool with. And they can climb. Brown bears cannot as adults.

            Screw bear spray. Make LOTS of noise. Carry a shotgun, alternate the loads with 00 Buckshot and slugs. Blind them then knock them down.

            Works on human critters too.

            "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

            by CanisMaximus on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 11:26:09 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  A gun would be way outside my comfort zone. (0+ / 0-)

              Weapons of any kind are a humiliating thing to carry - they're very much a concession to fear.  If I'd feel cowardly carrying bear spray, not likely to walk around with a shotgun.

              Live by the principle that nothing you do can kill you. You'll only be wrong once.

              by Troubadour on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 02:53:08 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  great comment and well written, I liked the (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          buddabelly, bnasley, Troubadour

          screaming skull part especially

          "Slip now and you'll fall the rest of your life" Derek Hersey 1957-1993

          by ban nock on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 06:19:35 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Ya, those words immediately brought ... (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ColoTim, Troubadour, ban nock, kaliope

            ... Werner Herzog's documentary about Timothy Treadwell to mind.

            "Timothy Treadwell (April 29, 1957 – October 5, 2003) was an American bear enthusiast, environmentalist, amateur naturalist, eco-warrior and documentary film maker. He lived in Hessel with his girlfriend/fiance Vicky Scott, they lived happily among the bears until she left to pursue a career in Npower. He was disappointed and went to live with the grizzly bears of Katmai National Park in Alaska, USA, for approximately 13 summers. At the end of his 13th summer in the park in 2003, he and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were killed and partially eaten by a grizzly bear.[1] Treadwell's life, work, and death were the subject of the 2005 critically acclaimed documentary film by Werner Herzog titled Grizzly Man.[2]"

            Wiki Link

            •  In Alaska, Treadwell was considered.... (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              estreya, Troubadour, ybruti, ban nock

              ...a complete moron. Fish & Game repeatedly warned him. Other bear experts were telling him he was an idiot. Anyone who has had Bush experience in Alaska would tell you the same thing.

              Alaska is NOT the Lower 48. The animals are different. You cannot imagine the vastness of the wilderness up here in which these creatures thrive. Most never see a human in their entire lives.

              Actually, moose are a much, much greater danger than all the bears in the state.

              "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

              by CanisMaximus on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 11:32:50 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  I was thinking more of the two legged critters (4+ / 0-)

        meth brewers and body stashers.

        "Slip now and you'll fall the rest of your life" Derek Hersey 1957-1993

        by ban nock on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 06:17:03 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Serial killers are extremely rare (0+ / 0-)

          and the kind of gangsters we have in this area are of the drive-by variety, not the digging-holes variety.  Meth cookers are, I think, more likely to be found in nondescript desert locations at the end of unposted dirt roads, not in mountainous canyons where the Army trains.

          Live by the principle that nothing you do can kill you. You'll only be wrong once.

          by Troubadour on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 03:07:08 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  the grafitti in the parking lot offers a clue (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ban nock, buddabelly, Troubadour

      as to the sort of wildlife one is likely to encounter along the trail.

      "By your late thirties the ground has begun to grow hard. It grows harder and harder until the day that it admits you.” Thomas McGuane, Nobody's Angel

      by Keith930 on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 05:59:55 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Right before the last bit (9+ / 0-)

    I was wondering if you might feel differently about this place if you were not alone in it.  It looks very beautiful to me, but also very empty.  Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I am a high desert person, so I am not used to lush places.

    •  PS (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JoanMar, Troubadour, Aunt Pat, marina, 4Freedom

      I very much enjoyed the pictures and your narrative.

    •  Probably would feel differently with others. (4+ / 0-)

      I think the undercurrents of the place would still be there, but I wouldn't care nearly as much.  That's what human beings have that gave us such an advantage over other species - we have each other.  Even other social species basically just have a little tribe, and can't relate even to others of their species beyond that immediate circle.

      And I probably would have agreed that this is "lush" a few years ago, but I've since been to Yosemite and dense, old growth temperate forests that I swear sometimes feel like they're singing when the wind moves through them - places as spooky in a good way as this is spooky in a negative way.  I've been in forests that are like a single organism in how they move and breathe.  This place is more like a perpetual war zone - lush enough to be fought over, but never won by anything.

      My sense is that in deserts, all you find is what you take with you.  And in some "good" forests, they really fill you up with life and energy even if you go into them not feeling well.  This is something shady - "tenebrous" is a good word for it.  Not quite sullen, but kind of carrying the potential for menace.

      A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it. --The First Law of Mentat

      by Troubadour on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 06:34:54 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I find the desert around here (4+ / 0-)

        (New Mexico) to be rich with gifts, in it's own right.  But for some reason it doesn't feel so empty as your photos.  At least not to me.  Don't know why.

        •  I've seen rich deserts, so I know what you mean. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          GeorgeXVIII, lissablack, elfling

          Part of what makes the area I'm talking about sad is that it's one of the areas where the San Gabriel mountains go to die - where their chalky, unstable rock crumbles to dust.  I've walked by as rockslides happened, and the rock faces are full of the evidence of past ones.  It's like the dandruff of the Earth.  

          In glacial valleys on the East coast and Pacific Northwest, you can touch rock faces that saw the Sun when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.   Here, it's questionable whether the exposed rock was there when Rick Astley was on MTV.  You can kind of see it on the rock of the waterfall pics in this diary, how the rock is "leprous."  Usually you see that kind of thing in open pit mines, but there it's totally natural and a lot more tragic.  

          There are old rocks, of course, but they're fragmentary - bits and pieces of a Whole shattered a long time ago.  

          I don't want to sour anyone on experiencing the area for themselves, of course - I'd like to stress that half of any experience is what you bring to it.  Someone else may pass as lightly over the area as a cloud, finding some nice vistas and slightly messy foliage, but nothing more sinister.  

          A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it. --The First Law of Mentat

          by Troubadour on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 08:36:55 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  For one thing... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          lissablack, elfling, Troubadour

          Rock in the Southern California coastal ranges typically is not very colorful, and the shapes are rounded because the mountains are old and eroded.  It's not the most photogenic area.

        •  Totally agree! (4+ / 0-)

          But then I would fall into that "odd" group - field biologists!

          I've lived in Arizona, New Mexico and Florida and I loved the wild places, even if they sometimes gave me the willies - like being totally alone in the Davis Mountains at night and hear coyotes start calling).  On the other hand I have hiked Sycamore Canyon on the Arizona-Sonora border alone (probably a silly idea even then) and was not disturbed at all. It was glorious to hike down the winding stream between pinnacles and cliffs without another person for miles (I am not sure I would want to do this all the time - you tend to get funny after too long in the wilderness.)  Now days I would not think of doing it for fear of the two-legged predators with semi-automatic weapons.  I also liked swamps, woodland and forests in Florida. I went from being a desert rat to being a swamp rat and then a desert rat again. Yay flat woods ponds and wild rivers like the River Styx!

      •  years ago (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        we were moving to El Paso from central Texas, a move that I didn't want to make. As we approached Van Horn and Sierra Blanca about sunset, the purplish mountains slumped off the sides of the road struck me as very sinister, almost creeping towards the road to pounce. It was almost like actual reality was going to collapse and let in something very, very unpleasant- something that might be hungry.  I've never known whether that impression was because they actually were the 'tenebrous' that you describe, or just my general mood at the time.

        Also, too, I agree that King does that well. I always enjoy being creeped out by his descriptions, but only in the safety of my own home, with the lights on.

        Anyone who scoffs at happiness needs to take their soul back to the factory and demand a better one. -driftglass

        by postmodernista on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 08:26:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think every kind of environment (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          postmodernista, Joieau

          has variations on the theme.  King writes about Maine, and I've seen enough pictures of Maine wilderness to imagine it can be pretty spooky too.  It's all about a sense of disorder, of things falling apart and bearing ill-will toward everything around them.  I don't literally think there's anything magical about it, but it's evocative and I wouldn't doubt it empowers certain instincts in the wildlife that lives there.  People too, I think.  The paradises and hells of human imagination are all extrapolations of real environments that we can experience.  I don't think it's any more dangerous in actual terms than, say, Yosemite - or probably even less so - but it engenders negative emotion.

          A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it. --The First Law of Mentat

          by Troubadour on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 08:57:31 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  My reaction to hiking in arid areas... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Tyto Alba, Troubadour different... I cut my hiking teeth in the chaparral and dry pine of Southern California, and have a special fondness for it.  I get a special feeling of freedom hiking in such areas.  The living things may not be individually inviting or pleasing to the eye, but they are tough competitors who make the most of what nature gives them-- gotta respect that!

  •  asdf (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

    by bernardpliers on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 09:06:00 PM PST

  •  Backcountry Ranger & Horse Packer for 13 yrs (6+ / 0-)


    That country you were in was steep, beautiful, of geological  and fluvial interest, but it wasn't wilderness. San Gabriel Mts?
    Or nearby? The San Gabriel are the fastest growing and fastest eroding mts in North America. I could be wrong but I hope its true.  

    To me Wilderness was always a place where I felt I should just take care of myself, help others if need arose, and act with a lot of respect for all that was around me.

    Thanks for the diary, that is lovely terrain.

  •  the proximity of metropolis (8+ / 0-)

    Real wilderness is unnerving because it has no interest in being convenient or life-sustaining for you. If you die in it, it simply doesn't care. It can be frightening but doesn't inspire revulsion. Normally.

    It always has its own integrity, which we may experience as beauty. I have never been in a real wilderness without experiencing this, desert, rainforest, glacier, prairie.

    This is not that kind of wilderness. I wouldn't call it wilderness at all, because it's been messed with and left damaged, all over the place. It's wounded, and the wounds of deserts heal much more slowly than other places. The whole history of its wounding is visible and will continue to be for hundreds if not thousands of years.

    Any un-built-on area with random city people wandering about with tattoos and rottweilers is no wilderness. It's just a big wide open weird playground near a city, with few rules, easy access for humans to visit and make more wounds on.

    I'd be creeped out myself. And I'd never hike alone. At minimum I'd take a large protective dog. To protect me from the people, not the wilderness.

    •  I realize it's not "untouched," (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      estreya, kaliope

      but there isn't much on planet Earth that really is without being so inconvenient that it's just a pointless hassle.  I can think of some places - the Sahara, the Gobi, Antarctica, Greenland, Svalbard, etc. - but I think the place I visited fits your description of somewhere that doesn't care.  It's not part of any incorporated jurisdiction, there are no buildings in sight anywhere along that trail, and the Ranger station is like 20 miles away.  

      It literally exists in the cracks, both of the mountains and of civilization - halfway between the mountain communities and the valley cities, with none of the amenities of either and zero road access once you step beyond the old truck road and on to the thorny dirt trail.  I've walked for hours on end and seen no one, and even the sound of my own footsteps rang hollow in the canyon, as if any sound at all but the breeze were being stamped out.

      Five, fifty, or five hundred miles from civilization, that's as wilderness-y as it gets.  You are right about people though - statistically they are far more dangerous than wildlife.  Still, they don't scare me as much outside the environments associated with human violence.  To see a person out there is a relief - you get to understand why primitive wilderness communities were so big on hospitality.

      Live by the principle that nothing you do can kill you. You'll only be wrong once, and never have to suffer the embarrassment of it.

      by Troubadour on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 10:29:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  That's the paradox of wilderness (6+ / 0-)

    isn't it, that is both dangerous and yet (as Thoreau said, and many before him have felt and told) in wilderness lies the salvation of the world.  Most do not stray in too far; that may be wise.  

    When I lived in LA I used to walk in the San Gabriels too.  My favorite part was around Mt. Disappointment and Mt. San Gabriel and Mt. Lowry.  Sadly that area burned in the Station Fire- all the wonderful yuccas and oaks and bushes with blooms.  The best days to go those peaks were the clear day after a day of rain washed the smog away- you can see the Catalinas and Palos Verdes, the San Bernardinos, the ocean, the front and central ranges of the San Gabriels and the San Sebastian Hills.  There were deer there to be seen, and coyotes.  Bobcats.  Lizards.  Snakes. Owls.  Occasionally an eagle or hawk.  I'd love to see the bighorn sheep if they still exist, said to be mostly on and round Iron Mountain.  Hopefully soon.  :-)

    Life is hard and fairly scarce up on those heights.  I'd guess the noise you heard was a deer or two breaking away- they hate making the noise but the combination of oversharpened slopes and overgrown hard brush often leave them no option.  

    The San Gabriels are dark places under dark clouds and a high desert under light.   Deserts are about your Other.  At first the things you fear and hostile to life- and that is why most people abhor desert.  But if you can let those go and the powerful light and barrenness and silence do their work it all becomes all about the few people and things you deeply care about in truth.  Desert experience makes passionate people- some of the most wonderful and thoughtful human beings you'll ever know and some of the cruelest and worst.

  •  Forest Noir is a memoir of a forest ranger (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nulwee, Troubadour, jcrit, ban nock

    in the American River system while it was a no man's land. It was designated for a dam, but the project was stopped. While the process to settle the fate of the river took years, the Forest Service "policed" the area, which had no official designation.

    All kinds of people found their way into the area, and it became a model for Forest Service personnel as armed sheriffs.

    Your story reminded me of the book.

    Thank you.

    Science is hell bent on consensus. Dr. Michael Crichton said “Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing to do with consensus... which is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right,”

    by Regina in a Sears Kit House on Sun Feb 05, 2012 at 11:19:35 PM PST

  •  Your photos depict a land that has given up trying (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to live.  Wilderness areas have a lifeward energy
    that gives us a strong sense of wellbeing, but  your pictures show a  landscape so forlorn it almost makes one think the land witnessed something unspeakable.

    •  Forlorn is a great word for it. (0+ / 0-)

      "Ragged."  "Threadbare."  "Forsaken."  Even after all these words, I still can't quite put my finger on why it's like that.  Something about the shape of the surrounding mountains makes the light sickly and ominous, and fills the air with a draining emptiness.  Thinking about it, I actually feel a kind of dread.  It's totally silly and irrational, but there it is.

      Live by the principle that nothing you do can kill you. You'll only be wrong once.

      by Troubadour on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 01:22:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sounds and looks like a vision... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, melo

    of Mordor after the "Great War".

    I live in the Adirondacks. Many acres of old growth forest, and millions of acres recovering for the last century, or so.
    To me, it's welcoming, restful feeling,  kind of place.

    If you are ever over this way, give it a try, for contrast.

    "I was so easy to defeat, I was so easy to control, I didn't even know there was a war." -9.75, -8.41

    by RonV on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 04:27:44 AM PST

  •  the only thing demoralizing about nature (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, melo

    is when you seek it out, as you did here, and the first thing you see at the trail head is a bunch of spray painted grafitti on the parking curbs like in your pics.  As to your comment:

    you get a real sense of the ad hoc, default basis of Nature there - how things only occur a certain way because they collide and bitterly compete for a scrap of existence.

    I've most often had this feeling when I find myself in a distinctly urban environment...and the rougher and more down on its heels the neighborhood, the more that observation holds true.

    "By your late thirties the ground has begun to grow hard. It grows harder and harder until the day that it admits you.” Thomas McGuane, Nobody's Angel

    by Keith930 on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 05:56:40 AM PST

    •  I agree, although that pic (0+ / 0-)

      wasn't of the parking area - it was a cement footpath over the stream a few miles into the mountains.  There's actually not much graffiti in the parking area, because it's down among the hillside ranch estates.

      Live by the principle that nothing you do can kill you. You'll only be wrong once.

      by Troubadour on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 03:15:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is a fascinating topic (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Nature is what it is - your 'ad hoc, default' statement is an excellent pithy summary of evolution and ecology.  One of the amazing things about biology is how much complexity, elegance, and beauty arise from collision and bitter competition.

    What humans make of nature when they see it is vastly varied.  Until the romantic era I don't think wild landscapes were perceived as beautiful - instead they were threatening.

    I have to confess that I couldn't see what you were talking about in your photos - they seem to be of similar habitat (California chaparral and some riparian areas) - the main difference was more photos from down inside a canyon rather than on a hillside or ridge top and, of course, more human alteration.

    "We are normal and we want our freedom" - Bonzos

    by matching mole on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 07:39:38 AM PST

  •  I'm wondering if it's wilderness, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trinityfly, Troubadour

    or a vast expanse of ruins.  How much has it been affected by humans?  Some of the things that could degrade a natural habitat;  roadbuilding, development, introduction of alien species, mining, human-induced drought (various ways), global heating, air pollution.

    I can understand your reaction.  I feel sadness at some of the bleakness I see in "natural" areas.  But I wonder how much of that is due to a sense that I'm walking through ruins.

    I'm not sure there is "pristine" wilderness anywhere on this planet, but there are still a few places where the human impact is practically undetectable.  I think.

    I am become Man, the destroyer of worlds

    by tle on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 07:56:05 AM PST

    •  Human involvement can be positive. (0+ / 0-)

      Yosemite, for instance, is very much a product of active restoration and wildlife management efforts rather than just a "hands off" approach.  Actual nature very rarely creates places that are so well-balanced and welcoming.  Most of it is pretty grim - tundra, steppe, the bitterer types of prairie, chaparral, and bog, etc.

      Live by the principle that nothing you do can kill you. You'll only be wrong once.

      by Troubadour on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 03:23:13 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  California Wilderness (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Troubadour, tle

      For a long time, there was no wilderness in the California Desert. There were proponents of wilderness designation, Senator Al Cranston for one.  The problem was what areas could be considered wilderness and how do you judge what makes wilderness in a desert?  There was the California  Desert Conservation Act that set aside areas for wilderness consideration (Wilderness Study Areas) and within those, areas that had special attributes, plant and or animal life (Areas of Critical Environmental Concern A.C.E.C.).  In the end, those areas that had little or no human impact would become the California Wilderness areas (much to the chagrin of the off-road crowd). This came to be sometime in the mid-90's.  It may not fit everyone's description of wilderness, but given the alternative (roads, housing developments, cattle grazing and mine sites) I'll take it!

      'How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.' -Annie Dillard

      by prairiesmoke on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 06:24:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  some places gots bad ju-ju (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    not bad for everyone per se, just out of phase with yours.

    S.F.'s Presidio area seriously creeps the sh*t outta me but other folks want to live there.

    And anywhere Florida south of St. Augustine.

    life: that awkward moment between birth and death

    by bnasley on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 10:56:05 AM PST

  •  Disagree with your use of the word (0+ / 0-)

    "wilderness" to describe what you encountered on your hike.

    "Wilderness or wildland is a natural environment on Earth that has not been significantly modified by human activity. It may also be defined as: "The most intact, undisturbed wild natural areas left on our planet—those last truly wild places that humans do not control and have not developed with roads, pipelines or other industrial infrastructure"  Wiki

    What you saw and experienced has been severely 'modified' by human activity...the road and the concrete should have been the first clue.

    And I strongly disagree with your conclusion:

    The lesson of places like this is that the world is not naturally the way we would want it to be - we have to make it that way by imagining better than we inherit

    Humans cannot 'make anything in nature the way we want it to be'.  Humans cannot manage their own waistlines, much less a natural wild place.  What humans need to do is not to meddle with or 'imagine into existance' that which they do not understand...humans need to forego their supposed "dominion".

    That place will recover someday...after humans leave it alone.  

    •  And one more thing (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Senor Unoball, ybruti, Troubadour

      The best thing you and whoever you take with you can do the next time you go there is to take trash bags so you can pick up and haul out all the trash that people tend to leave behind them when they go out "into nature".

    •  Can't agree with such a misanthropic narrative. (0+ / 0-)

      Human beings are not a corrupting influence on some magical, pure, sylvan Nature - we are a product of it in both positive and negative varieties, and our actions both reflect and reinforce it.  Before Join Muir and the movement he started, Yosemite was not the dense forest it is now - it was kind of a swampy meadowland with trees much further apart than they are today.  People made it into something more beautiful - it was an active intervention, not a decision to leave it alone.

      Graffiti and trash are just humans acting like animals - i.e., as if they were actually part of the wilderness rather than behaving as stewards and guides.  It's just Stone Age cave paintings with less mysticism.  It isn't possible to "leave nature alone" - either the responsible stewards are actively involved in cleaning up the messes of human animals, or they just abandon the environment to them.  One way or another, our existence shapes the environment - we have to choose which way it's to be.

      Live by the principle that nothing you do can kill you. You'll only be wrong once.

      by Troubadour on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 03:34:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Desert solo (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, wonmug

    You might develop a more profound appreciation of dry country if you spent some time alone in a true wilderness like southeast Utah or Death Valley.  But before going solo you might want to learn from companions who know what they are doing.

  •  Yes. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Because we must create anything that is good, we must understand why things are bad where they are, so we don't just replace one disordered system with another.

    The two things Teabaggers hate most are: being called racists; and black people.

    "It takes balls to execute an innocent man." -- anonymous GOP focus group member on Rick Perry

    by Punditus Maximus on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 01:08:20 PM PST

  •  Have you been in the area around Barstow (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    between I-15 and I-40? There's a lot of the same feel, of abandoned human activity - and also hills of the most intriguing colors. It's surprising that it's so close to busy thoroughfares.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 01:17:29 PM PST

    •  I may have. I've been through Barstow (0+ / 0-)

      on the way to Vegas several times.

      Live by the principle that nothing you do can kill you. You'll only be wrong once.

      by Troubadour on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 03:35:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You have to get off the highway, and on to (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        the dirt roads, and then get out of your car. Lots of old mine sites.

        The desert becomes approachable and valuable in a way that's hard to appreciate from the car. You can see how fragile the surface is.

        Back in the dirt roads behind Calico, you'll see why it got that name.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 03:57:37 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Wilderness story in Idaho (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    At Craters of the Moon national monument, a ranger took us away from the camping area into an area marked "wilderness", where humans are not supposed to leave a trace. Our group came upon a 15-foot deep hole where a little rabbit was hopping around. The ranger said it would die there and provide food for other creatures in the hole. That's nature. We went on, but in our group were two young men with large coils of rope.  When we happened to see them the next morning, we asked them, "Did you get that rabbit?"  "Sure did," they replied.

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

    by ybruti on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 03:18:57 PM PST

  •  Have never been there, but believe that any place (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    with less people is an improvement and/or a preferred place to be. Your description almost makes the location seem sinister, but you are certainly entitled to your opinion. I will reserve my opinion until and when I may have the privilege of exploring the area. But regardless, I will none-the-less recommend your diary if for no other reason that your use of a great word: "Sisyphean".  Thank you for the Diary.

    •  Good idea. (0+ / 0-)

      A lot of impressions are just personal. I don't think anyone will find it to be a storybook sacred forest, but I'm sure plenty of people would find nothing more to complain about than how threadbare and tangled the foliage is.

      Live by the principle that nothing you do can kill you. You'll only be wrong once.

      by Troubadour on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 10:08:09 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Actually, I saw great beauty in many of the pix! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    •  It is beautiful. (0+ / 0-)

      But you have to smell the air and feel the strangely dead light on your skin to understand why it's spooky.

      Live by the principle that nothing you do can kill you. You'll only be wrong once.

      by Troubadour on Mon Feb 06, 2012 at 10:05:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  great writing (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        sounds like you could be a bit of a steven king yourself!

        i know what you mean about the creepy vibe, though it doesn't come through in the pix, some of which make the hike look beautiful.

        being alone will accentuate your subjectivity, natch.

        anywhere the armed forces are training, bombing or shooting has a creepy vibe, like the mountains in s.hawaii (big island).

        there's also an ugly vibe around the geysers geothermal plant, near SF. the country's stunning, then you see this wheezing belching monstrosity and realise it lays a weird energy all around it.

        a nuke plant'd be much worse though...

        sounds a bit like you enjoyed the negative energy, and why not? life -nature- is more than postcard views. beauty and harmony need contrast.

        why? just kos..... *just cause*

        by melo on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 01:58:52 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Parts of the San Gabriels are very rugged.. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I grew up in SoCal and hiked the San Gabriels a lot. I know what you mean about the terrain taking a psychological toll (but I love it and it is part of me). For a little history you might want to check out Charles Francis Saunders "The Southern Sierras of California" for an account of the mountains in 1923. It's probably in some of the libraries around there, and was re-issued in the '80's so there are relatively cheap copies out there.

    •  I don't think it's characteristic (0+ / 0-)

      of the whole range. Some of the maintained canyon parks in the foothills are unspeakably beautiful and invigorating (e.g., Claremont Wilderness and Marshall Canyon). And at least what I've seen on Youtube of the higher elevations is very attractive, and I hope to eventually hike higher and higher.

      Live by the certainty that nothing can kill you. You'll only be wrong once.

      by Troubadour on Wed Feb 08, 2012 at 05:18:40 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's drab winter light and vegetation. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Low light can make the landscape look gloomy and shadowy. The lack of green makes plants look dead.

    Maybe go back in spring after some precipitation.

    Also, maybe you could try going someplace that is less accessible and less traveled. This place looks kind of like a city park. Sometimes you have to really explore to find the good places. People don't advertise them so they don't get trashed.

    •  It's not the lack of green that disturbs me. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It's the tangled, thick underbrush - you can't see anything. When you get into the rough part of the trail that's only a couple feet wide, you don't know what's just around the bend. You hear things, but you can't see anything. Even if you had a clear line of sight, you couldn't see because it's so tangled and provides easy camouflage.

      Maybe it will be different in different seasons, or maybe it will just substitute the sepulchre feeling for one of a hot, buzzing chaos.

      Live by the certainty that nothing can kill you. You'll only be wrong once.

      by Troubadour on Wed Feb 08, 2012 at 05:21:38 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I can see your point. It does look like mountain (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        territory for sure. It can be creepy if you're walking along a steep slope that would give one a place to launch from and get you from behind.

        Have you ever seen the Modern Hiker website. I was surprised to see how many hikes are in the area.

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