Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Hiking the Garstin Trail

The trail climbs up over two miles on old goat paths that switch back and forth and practically stumble over themselves in the process. Elevation rises from roughly 700 feet to 1500 feet up Smoke Tree Mountain. The trail rises to a plateau connecting up with the Shannon, Berns, Wild Horse and Eagle Canyon Trails. Even for the most ardent, experienced hiker it can be a gut-sucking, deep-breathing endeavor. Nevertheless, the views are well worth it.

After another summer of several new self-published books, speaking engagements and play productions, I thought I’d return to my old hiking haunts. My old favorite is an eleven hundred foot climb overlooking the Coachella Valley. One of the first things I did upon my return to the desert…was climb a mountain. I started with last year’s favorite, the Lyyken trail but quickly realized there was another mountain trail, twice as long, that was calling to me. It’s called the Garstin Trail and after a couple of forced summits, I’ve become a true devotee.

The Garstin Trail has no granite plateau like the one often mentioned on the Lyyken Trail . Instead there are over two miles of switch-backs that twist and turn as they wind their way up to the top. Each turn in the trail offers spectacular views up and down the broad expanse of Palm Springs.

From its summit one gets a panoramic view of my neighborhood, Indian Canyon, the San Jacinto and Little San Bernardino Mountains, the depth of Palm Canyon and the broad expanse of the community of Palm Springs. To the east, one can see the entire eastern Coachella Valley.

The pinnacle of this mountain top has become my second sanctuary of solitude and comfort. It’s not my granite tabernacle for reflection and contemplation (on the Lykken trail) but instead is a wide slab of rock that warms my bottom as well as my soul. It’s still an escape for quiet soul-searching amid the shadows of Indian lore and homes of the rich and invisible.

I took some visiting friends up the trail recently. Paul’s an old classmate of mine from high school. Both he and his wife, Joyce, are ardent hikers. We stopped frequently for photo ops and to give me a chance to catch my breath. They also taught me the fine art of walking with ‘sticks.’

I’m a little wiser if not a bit older from these many mountain hikes. Reflections seem to trip forth easier with age. Here in my new sanctuary I reflect, I meditate and I plan for the future. These mountain trails are a great place to recharge one’s creative batteries.

Aerial view of San Jacinto Mountain chain

The Coachella Valley is shouldered by several mountain chains which have imbued this area with numerous opportunities to seek solace, quiet reflection, exercise and release from the routine of our daily lives. The Garstin Trail offers it in spades.

Something magical, almost spiritual can happen during a mountain traverse. It’s a physical as well as mental challenge. On one occasion a touring biplane flew below me, almost invisible against the surrounding mountains. Another time, a flock of birds soared below my feet.

At face value, it can be an afternoon 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.

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 on this mountain top. It just takes a little longer to get there.

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