Some days are so full of bizarre occurrences that I have trouble wrapping my head around it all. This was one of those days…
I woke up in the enchanted forest (a camping area/maze of manzanita trees in the backyard of a trail angel’s house) and started my hike early hoping to finish my hike before heat of the day set in. Most of the time the PCT follows trails in the wilderness, but because of the 2013 powerhouse fire the trail ahead was closed and I was going to do at least 17 miles of road walking before the PCT resumed.
As I waved goodbye to the people just waking up at Hippie Day Care (as advertised on the sign above the garage) I felt a twinge of sadness. I was going to miss the amazing trail angels there and the fun times that I had shared with my fellow thru-hikers (~17 of them!) as we waited out the last heat wave.
Road walks are not my favorite part of the trail, but it was a nice cool morning and I was walking with another thru-hiker, which helped to pass the time. It was also kind of novel to be walking through civilization since we’ve spent so much time in the desert.
As we walked through the village near Lake Elizabeth a guy started talking to us through his upstairs window. We chatted with him for a little while as we walked by.
A few miles later a pickup truck pulled off the road in front of us, the driver got out, and started striding purposefully towards us. At that moment I was very glad that I was hiking with another person and not alone!
As he approached he announced that he was the man that had been talking to us from the window earlier. Though I think he meant to put us at ease with that statement I was definitely feeling unnerved. Perhaps picking up on that he followed up by asking if we knew and/or were interested in the history of the lake we’d just walked by, Lake Elizabeth.
I am always interested in the history and stories of the places that I hike through, especially when it comes from somebody that lives in and knows the area, so I was definitely curious about what he had to say. As we nodded in the affirmative he launched into his tale…
According to town lore, when the Spaniards first arrived at Lake Elizabeth they experienced a number of disasters and bizarre occurrences, including fires and the disappearance of livestock. They blamed these occurrences on the devil and thought that lake Elizabeth was the devil’s portal to the underworld and thus named the lake, “La Laguna de Diablo.” They also thought that the devil had left a favorite pet, a beast of some sort, to guard the portal. It was that beast that was responsible for the weird disappearances around the lake and became known as the monster of Lake Elizabeth. Finally, sometime in the 1800s one of the ranchers got fed up with the livestock disappearances and he and the villagers gathered near the edge of the lake (with guns loaded) to lure the monster out of the lake. Accounts vary, but a winged creature, some say a Phoenix, rose from the lake and was shot at by the villagers. The creature took flight, eventually ending up in Arizona, and never again plagued the people of Elizabeth Lake.
Being completely unfamiliar with the area, a tale about the devil was definitely not what I had expected! Though the fact that Lake Elizabeth lies directly on the San Andreas fault may explain some of the rumors and strange occurrences.
His next story was far more heart warming, telling the tale of how his horses survived the 2013 powerhouse fire. The fires encroached on the ranch so fast and furious that they couldn’t evacuate the horses and instead had to turn them lose. His mare, however, took charge of the herd, led them to safety, and then led them home again 4 days later.
Despite my initial misgivings, I really enjoyed getting to talk to him and to hear some of the local lore on my way through town. It made my road walk a much more interesting and worthwhile experience.
As the day heated up I arrived at HikerTown (run by trail angels) where I had a package of homemade chocolate chip cookies waiting for me :) As I walked up to the driveway to HikerTown I was in for another surprise, it was a completely fenced in area, with a weird mannequin guarding the front gate, roosters running around, and what looked like the movie set of a small western town.
After having my head filled with stories of the devil earlier that day I wasn’t so sure I wanted to walk past the creepy thing to see what lay beyond, but visions of chocolate chip cookies dancing in my head motivated me to remain adventurous.
I stared at the oddities around me and headed towards what were obviously thru-hikers milling about inside the garage. There was a nice, cool shaded area to lounge in, where I immediately plopped down to relax for a while (and to enjoy that chocolate chip cookie).
Though I’d already had a long day of hiking and the kind folks at hiker town allow people to spend the night there, I anxious to move on. I just envisioned the dogs keeping me up all night and then the roosters waking me up at 3 or 4 in the morning. I really value my sleep!
As I was sitting there contemplating moving on a section hiker walked up. He was sporting a very large external frame backpack that towered over his head and was topped of with a gigantic pillow. As he waddled up he greeted us over exuberantly and started asking us our names and if he could take pictures of each of us individually. I was already having a weird day and declined. As he continued talking he seemed more and more like a classic characature of an ill-prepared hiker. I was convinced that he must be an actor or a reporter trying to do some field research… It didn’t seem possible to me that he might really as clueless as he seemed.
At any rate, his constant chatter was a bit too much for me so I decided to head off into the desert to find a campsite away from all of the noise and excitement of town.
As we headed towards the gate to leave, the dogs started barking and going nuts and the woman working there asked us to come over to help her find the source of a weird hissing sound. I used my hiking poles to investigate the bushes near the porch to see if I could figure out what was going on.
The hissing/rattling sound never wavered or paused, but just went on and on as I determined that whatever it was, it was coming from under the porch. While we watched the pets and kept them away from the source of the noise one of the other thru-hikers went to get the caretaker, who returned with a shovel to try to deal with the problem. Since the caretaker was dealing with it we headed out.
About 100 ft down the trail we almost stumbled over a Mojave green rattler that had curled up in the middle of the trail. Even though it got our adrenaline going, it never bothered to move or to rattle… It think it was way too comfortable to bother moving, hidden where it was amongst the California poppies and the grass.
After regaining our composure we headed back down the trail. We didn’t make it far before we got another startle, some gunshots off in the distance. We later found out that the shots had come from HikerTown as the caretaker shot the rattler (the cause of the noise under the porch) three times.
As we followed the aqua duct out of town I thought that the days adventures might have finally come to a close, until I spotted another Mojave green rattler crossing the trail in front of us. It looked like the snake that the prince from “the little prince” had drawn, though I expect that it had a kangaroo rat in its belly instead of an elephant. I watched it slowly pass in front of us in the fading light of the setting sun. It was beautiful and absolutely unconcerned about us.
Eventually we left the last signs of civilization behind and set up camp in the desert amongst the Joshua trees. It was a gorgeous night so I decided to cowboy camp (just a sleeping bag under the stars, no tent). As I gazed into the Milky Way, I was reminded how much I love my life… The desert can be amazingly beautiful.
A roving pack of coyotes interrupted my moment of supreme serenity, and they were close… Closer than I’ve ever heard coyotes… And there were a lot of them. I listened to their cacophony with fascination tinged with a hint of fear. Do coyotes ever bother hikers?
It sounded like they were probably only fifty feet away from me, maybe closer. I doubted that they would find me or any of my stuff interesting, besides town was full of tasty meals for coyotes, like hens and roosters. Even as I reassured myself I made sure that my big knife was handy… If they came my way I would convince them that I wasn’t worth the effort.
Though the songs of the cayotes weren’t the lullabies I expected, they did seem a rather fitting end to my day. Before long the pack headed towards town and their chicken dinners and I returned to my star gazing. What a day!!!!