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Day 16 – April 19, 2022

Mile 213.4 (Mesa Wind Farm) to 232.1 (Mission Creek)

18.7 trail miles | 17.2 tracked miles | 4,894 ft elevation gain | 82.4 F / 28 °C

Our gracious hosts at the Mesa Wind Farm had invited us to visit again in the morning, which was a wonderful excuse to get up later than usual. We anxiously waited for the staff to come in and, once again, invaded their break room.

One of the staff members brought cupcakes—I’m not particularly fond of sugar under normal circumstances, but they somehow tasted fantastic in the middle of the desert. But the highlight of breakfast was hot coffee; it was a welcome break from my daily tepid concoction.

It was difficult to leave the comforts of civilization, but we had to hit the trail. At 7:30am we bid our hosts farewell, picked up our packs, and started walking.

The trail quickly started gaining elevation, and the temperature dipped to a comfortable 70 degrees.

Suddenly, the landscape changed dramatically. Standing on a ridge, we could see a vast expanse of white rocks that contrasted sharply with the dominant brown hues. It was rugged, raw, unadulterated beauty. Once again, photos don’t do the views justice.

Overlooking the Whitewater Preserve

Ahead of us laid the Whitewater Preserve, a natural area with a canyon nestled between the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains. The preserve is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, because we couldn’t possibly have too many government agencies in charge of public land in this country.

As we descended into the canyon, the character of the trail changed dramatically. We found ourselves walking on a seemingly-endless dry river bed. The experience felt like an echo of yesterday’s desert walk: a straight line in a flat, monochrome landscape baked by the sun.

Joe, Christie and Michael leading the charge in Whitewater Preserve.

But relief didn’t come in the form of a drab highway underpass like yesterday. After a mind-numbing walk through rocks and sand, my jaw dropped in disbelief as I laid eyes on a flowing river in the midst of the parched and barren land.

The Whitewater River was a surreal sight. While it is a minor and silty stream at this time of the year, it still felt nothing short of miraculous.

We took a well-deserved break and went for a refreshing dip. It was a remarkably freeing experience.

Water in the desert!

The trail followed the Whitewater River for a while, and we were able to carry minimal water, which felt like a stunning reversal of fortune.

We eventually crossed the river—a quick and easy rock hop on this low-snow year–and started climbing the northern wall of the canyon. The ascent was challenging. The wind was relentless, making each movement feel like a battle against an unseen force.

Six miles later, we reached Mission Creek, and stopped for lunch in a shaded area. The gentle sounds of the water and the respite from the sun made for a perfect fleeting yet timeless moment. It was merely serendipity. Nature was finally showing her most perfect, gentle side.

The reprieve did not last. The next segment of the trail officially followed the stream, but it was either washed out, or perhaps merely designed for maximum punishment.

The next six miles were an ankle-twisting obstacle course. We had to navigate a faint network of cairns and bushwack through overgrown areas, while staying balanced on rugged terrain and loose rocks that threatened to shift with each step.

I lost the “trail” more times than I can count. Somehow Michael was forging ahead, supported by some kind of supernatural intuition that allowed him to sense the location of the next cairn, while I was struggling behind and had to constantly rely on my GPS. It was mentally and physically draining, and I hardly took any photos.

This is the only picture I could find that might give a vague idea of the terrain.

Eventually we climbed out of the river bed and found ourselves once again on a smoother path.

We stopped for the night near the Mission Creek South Fork at a large and welcoming campsite with water just a hundred yards away.

The last two days have been challenging, and today was a roller coaster—both literally and figuratively—but it was also a day full of blessings. I look forward to more climbing tomorrow!

Camping near Mission Creek

The Big Picture

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