Scrambling up a steep side of the Butte, I fumble for footing on the scree that made up the trail near the top of Saddleback Butte. The trail was simple enough until the summit came. The dark made it harder, but the sliver of light had appeared on the horizon, and I felt an urgent need to go faster so as not to miss the opportunity to get to the spot to take the perfect shot. Up until that moment my mind had been wandering on the thought “why sunsets were considered romantic, and sunrises “spiritual?” when I almost tripped on a rock outcropping as the trail took a steep incline.
Up until the last mile, where the steepest elevation gain occurred, some thousand feet made me think if Moses had such a hard time climbing up Mt. Sinai to commune with God. My journey was not spiritual in nature, and I wouldn’t dramatize it as being death inducing or anything adventurous like that. Though it would be sad to die at Saddleback Butte, an ugly brown dump of large rocks and scrabble, surrounded by dead plants.
Its really something else when the wildflowers are in bloom, from March to end of April. Its now transitioning into a green-brown state of affairs, and I am, as usual, late to the party. Unless it snows, or some dramatic monsoonal storm makes its way into the High Mojave Desert area the Butte is located in, its a bleak and desolate place, harsh on anything trying to make a living.
Saddleback Butte was one of the prominently visible geographic features from Antelope Butte, my previous hike at the California State Poppy Reserve a month ago. Buttes generally are dramatic geological landscapes in the minds of folks who have driven across the country, our local Butte’s are humble expressions of nature. Their geological presence offer us locals momentary breaks in the flat monotonous shades of khaki landscape, and I am happy I had this diversion to climb today. This once was known as Joshua Tree California State Park, but in the sixties the state decided to change the name so as not to confuse it with the popular, and maybe more scenic, Joshua Tree National Park. Both places contain “groves” of Joshua Trees, but Saddleback Butte is significantly smaller in size and scope of protection. Both parks are located in the Mojave desert, its just that Saddleback lies in the high desert where the weather allows for more of a savannah atmosphere, hence the display of wildflowers. I had to consider the worthwhile nature of my hike since I missed the bloom, so I concluded a sunrise could be quite spectacular to photograph. In hindsight, I realize now just how tricky the light situation and the challenge it presents to capturing a good sunrise shot. For example, even in the picture below, I saw the mountains crisply with a haze blanketing the lower portions of the range, but I just couldn’t get that crispness of the mountain range that I saw. Worse yet was that post production tweaking didn’t significantly amplify the mountain range. Though we had been experiencing some brutal wicked winds, the morning I scrambled up to the top of the butte had been calm and still. Much of the High Desert and mountain areas have been under high wind advisory and warnings for the past week. A low pressure built up to the north east had been driving forty mile per hour wind and Saturday night we were expecting the brunt of the severe winds, clocking in at sustained hour long gales, scattering millions of tons of dust particulates into the air (see below picture!). Locals contend with bitter clouds of desert sand- dust clouds- racing across the valley floor making everything sandy and gritty. I could barely make out Antelope Butte some sixty miles west from here. Its a bit more effort then I had intended for a weekly adventure. Waking up at 400AM to drive an hour to the park and begin a hike so I would reach the summit of Saddleback Butte by the time the sun rose at 552AM. There was the lugging of equipment, plus the fact that it was pretty chilly. Worse yet was that I couldn’t really capture the sunrise appropriately, any advice on camera setting for sunrise lighting situations will be greatly appreciated!
A saving grace of the whole experience was that I found a summit register at the top. I signed the register, which can be found in a blue plastic container. They also happened to have a pen (and pencil) along with a little notepad containing blank sheets of paper for other to sign. I also was able to find the USGS’s marker, however, I read that there are supposed to be two. That got me to searching for more peaks to climb up to so I could register myself there!
After the sun was fully visible above the horizon, and I felt I squeezed out as many shots as I could from whatever angle I could, I began my decent. I needed the down time to get my morning banana settled back down into my stomach. The climb had not only left me breathless but I felt incredibly nauseous. Having come up in the dark, I was surprised I was able to make it all. I realized I couldn’t make out the trail, much like Vasquez, I veered off the trail several times. The only problem with the butte part of the descent was that its a hundred foot drop, or more, for misplaced steps!
I wonder if Moses had this much problem with the journey up and down the mountain. The Bible and Quran tell us much about his troubles once he got down off the mountain but not much else. I sure felt like Moses though, with my walking stick coming down off the Butte which is a few hundred feet higher in elevation then Mt. Sinai.
Soon enough as I got into the swing of going down on the trail, I lost myself in my thoughts. Moses went in search of God and to receive the commandments, the Prophet Muhammad similarly went up the mountain and stayed in a cave searching for God. Uniquely going into the wilderness and up into the mountains seems like a solitary endeavor; watching the sunrise similarly is about seeking something before anyone is stirring and the daily grind has gotten underway.
Driving back, the spanish guitar strummed along with Rodrigo y Gabriela keeping pace of one another in utter brilliance, and I wandered back to the mornings reflection about sunsets and sunrises. Sunsets involve the culmination of people having grown accustomed to the day, being with other people, looking forward to making it home safe or going out to enjoy the evening. Its rather a a social and communal time, therefore, watching a sunset is “romantic” because its a moment shared with others, often portrayed in popular culture as the “significant other.”
The essence of a sunrise is that it symbolizes loneliness, its the essence of the spiritual because its a new beginning. As I watched the sunrise, I remember there was a magical moment where time hung still, where I thought about the moment being where the living transition out of their “mini-death” (Prophet Muhammad described sleep as a form of death, except it was one in which we woke up, therefore, in Islam people refer to it as the “mini-death”). In that way a sunrise is not communal, everyone dies alone and is resurrected alone, and we only take our deeds with us into that transitionary stage. After a very productive morning hiking and capturing some decent shots of the adventure, I got home, started the laundry and was about to jump in the shower when I realized I should drop my sweatshirt into the washer. I took it off, put it in the washer and only realized a few minutes later that my iPhone was in the sweatshirt pocket! Now I am crossing my fingers, praying that the implementation of these steps from this website will save my iPhone! Keep you updated!