Down through the centuries, Indian culture has always held their mountains in profound respect. The first ancients to walk this country left their mark around and on those granite sentinels. Although much of their mythology and ancient teachings associated with mountains has been lost over time, some examples still exist today.
The Blackfeet have their Chief Mountain. The Potawatomi have their Chequah Bikwaki Mountain. More recognizable is Tse’bit’ai (rock with wings.) We call it Shiprock and it’s located in the state of Arizona. Our neighbor is not alone. California has a long history of Indian folklore centered on its mountains.
Down through the centuries, the Cahilla Indians of the Coachella Valley have long spun folk tales centered on the San Jacinto and San Bernardino Mountain chains. Early settlers, explorers, hikers and long distance travelers have often reported feeling the presence of others while alone on the trail. There is a special reverence most of us desert rats feel on those mountain trails.
Palm Springs and its surrounding communities have an abundance of hiking trails for both the casual hiker and serious mountain goat. The mother lode is one called ‘The Skyline Trail’ or for those in the know ‘C2C’ which translated means Cactus to Clouds. It’s a ten hour (minimum) mountain climb that travels ten miles uphill for an elevation gain of over 8000 feet. It traverses three eco-zones and can be a killer for the uninitiated, especially in the summer months. Four hikers have died on the trail over the last dozen years from heat exhaustion. No wonder my kids just roll their eyes when I mention a desire to make that climb. ‘No way!’ is all my better half will say.
Another challenging climb, though not as dangerous, is called Murray Peak. Although it’s called a ‘hill’ at 2200 feet on most maps, Murray Peak is, in fact, the highest peak in the vicinity of Palm Springs. It’s been labeled a moderate to strenuous hike with a total distance of almost seven miles and a vertical gain of over 2200 feet. It takes an average of five hours for completion with only a few rest stops along the way. For the seasoned hiker it’s a refreshing walk up the mountain. For less conditioned souls, it can be a gut-buster and taxiing on the lungs. In other words, a worthy challenge and goal for a seasonal visitor like myself.
When I first started hiking in the Coachella Valley I found a trail closer to home and a fun Saturday morning endeavor. It’s called the South Lykken Trail and is part of the North and South Lykken Trail that stretches for nine miles. It takes about five hours of moderate hiking to traverse the entire trial. The elevation gain is only about 800 feet and it’s considered a moderate hike by local standards.
Something magical, almost spiritual, can happen during a mountain hike. It’s a physical as well as a mental challenge. At face value, it can be a day of hiking, climbing or finger-probing the rough crags and fissures of the mountain face. On a more spiritual level, it’s an assent into the vaulted realm of oxygen deprivation, aching muscles, sweat-drenched clothing and overall mental exhilaration…all to put your head in the right place.
When I do Murray Peak this fall, I intend to seek out another tabernacle. Not just any mountain plateau but another sanctuary of solitude and comfort similar to the one I found on the Lykken Trail years ago. (My tabernacle) It’s my granite respite for reflection and contemplation. A slab of rock that warms my bottom as well as my soul. An escape for quiet soul-searching amid the shadows of Indian lore and homes of the rich and invisible.
After a successful summer of producing my play ‘Club 210’, Self-publishing two new novels ‘Follow the Cobbler’ and ‘Chasing Ophelia’, attending several book fairs and conducting two writing workshops, I need a place to reflect and plan my next writing ventures. A thousand foot precipice overlooking the Coachella Valley seems like a good place to start that process. And I won’t be alone in my reverence for this cathedral of granite and shale.
There’s a culture here among a small group of old goats who work and hike these mountains year-round. They care for the trails as an elder does his tribe. They endure scorching summer heat and windy overcast winter days. Most are rail-thin. Their skin looks like weathered copper or dried up old parchment. Most of them are lithe as an antelope. They’re the desert rats of the higher altitudes.
Following that elite group of desert denizens come another eccentric group of trail runners and new age meditators. They frequent the mountains like others hang out at Starbucks. Finally come the tourists, snowbirds, and occasional weekend explorer (many with families in tow.)
In the spring, the trail is accented with blooming yellow brittlebush and flowering cacti…and at times an abundance of rattlesnakes. These rattlesnakes are usually very difficult to see since their coloration blends in perfectly with the rocks and gravel on the trail. One bite and it’s off to the hospital for several vials of antivenin serum. It’s an expensive proposition at several thousand dollars each.
As I’ve written about in past blogs, this is my Vision Quest. I say that with a reverent nod to Native American lore. Only this year it’s different. Hopefully I’m a little wiser if not a bit older. Reflections seem to trip forth easier with age. Here I reflect. I meditate and I plan for the future. The San Jacinto mountain chain is a wonderful place to recharge one’s creative juices.
I’ve tried yoga, marathons and long trail runs. Collectively they can punish the body all the while soothing the soul. My tabernacle is no different. It just takes a longer climb to get there.