Day 1 (Click on photo to look at photos)


After several fruitless attempts at letting my wife know I had arrived safely, and failing to reach my daughter's mobile, breakfast was had at McDonalds before setting off.
I'd planned firstly to drive into the National Park via Marathon, stopping on the way for a good cactus hunt, and then walk the Dog Canyon trail, and drive the Dagger Flats road. The weather looked a bit ominous, dark clouds and a light shower on the road to Marathon.
I stopped about 3 miles south of Marathon at a likely looking hillside, and parked the Blazer safely on the roadside. All the sides of the road were fenced, but there was no-one around to ask, so I stepped over what wire was left on the Eastern side of the road and with camera in hand started to carefully climb up the hillside. I'm no geologist, but it was fairly clearly a limestone type of rock, pretty shaly, but safe enough, and soon I came across some plants amongst the grass and rocks. Amongst them were Escobaria hesteri, Echinocereus davisii, Thelocactus bicolor (flavidispinus, I think), and a couple more that I didn't recognise fully, of which one is probably Echinomastus intertextus v. dasyacanthus, but the other ??
It was fairly hard going so although I spent well over an hour and a half searching and looking, and taking photographs, I guess I didn't get much more than a half mile from the road. I'm aware that Escobaria minima grows in this area, but I didn't see it.
So then on and into the Park. The Ranger at Persimmon Gap station told me quite a lot about current road conditions as a result of the rain that the Park had experienced in the week or two before I arrived, and the weather still looked pretty ominous. Dagger Flats road, normally OK for 2 wheel drive vehicles, not even high clearance, was badly water damaged, but he thought I should be OK in the Blazer.
So I then drove on a little further, to find the start for my first hike. I'd chosen Dog Canyon because it was a fairly flat hike, and therefore one that I was confident I could easily do, and one that would get me into a bit of practice before I hit the steeper ones. And flat it certainly was! But what I hadn't anticipated was the mud. After a few hundred yards my boots weighed a ton, and every step lifted and scattered clods of muddy earth across the desert floor. And then it started to rain, lightly at first, and then more steadily, so it really wasn't getting to be a lot of fun. After about the first mile, I decided that I could save myself a lot of effort by returning to the car, where I jumped in and took off my boots. Not having expected such mud, I had no spare pair with me, so it was barefoot (well, baresocked) driving from then on. Just as I had shut the door, the heavens really opened, and for the next 1/2 hour I waited in an increasingly misty cabin, whilst the rain simply fell down.
Eventually it started to ease, and I decided to eat my sandwich lunch in the car before proceeding. Once it had stopped I was then off to Dagger Flats. This probably was the scariest drive I've done for many a year - the road was flooded in places, quite deeply, and clearly the road surface was badly damaged. One section was heavily marked with danger flags, and there was just enough room to scrape by, although the vehicle bottomed several times in the process. Thank goodness for 4wd, but once through and looking at the giant Daggers in the area encircled by the loop at the end of the road, I realised I had to do it all over again. Apart from that same section ,which seemed even worse this time, and deeper in water as well, the road was just very, very wet.
As I was nearing the blacktop again, rain started, and it showered intermittently until I reached the Park HQ. I talked to the Rangers there about the weather and got a further update on the state of the roads - River Road, both East and West were impassable, as was Old Maverick Road - all through mud!
Rather than attempting any more walks, I stayed in the car and drove back up to Alpine, arriving at about 5:30. It was enough for the first day, as my internal clock told me it was somewhere between 5:30 and 11:30pm, and all that remained to do was to take the Blazer to a car wash and hose of layer after lay of mud, which seemed to have got everywhere.
And hope the Weather channel had some better forecast!