Water and weather 17 August 2018

For details of the condition of high country trails following the 25-30 July 2018 Cranston Fire, see an earlier posting linked here.

Four hikes to San Jacinto Peak in the last five days via various routes included two full loops to review almost all water sources and the extent of recent rains. Yesterday, 16th August, I was able to review the springs and creeks around the Tahquitz area meadows en route to my fire lookout shift.

Weather Finally some reasonable rainfall from thunderstorms three days in a row, 15-17 August. At Idyllwild, the rainfall has been poor – although it is now raining heavily as I write this – with only a trace at 5550′ elevation on 15th, and 0.04″ on 16th. However many other areas of the mountain received good rainfall yesterday (16th), with roughly half-an-inch reported from such widely spread areas as Keenwild, Vista Grande, and Long Valley.

Spectacular clouds around San Jacinto Peak yesterday afternoon, 16th August 2018, as seen from Tahquitz Peak.

On the trails, yesterday there was evidence of light rain from the 15th all the way on the eastern side of the mountain from Humber Park to San Jacinto Peak. Judging by today’s hike, the rain yesterday afternoon (16th) was focused on the east side of the high country, again all the way from 6500′ to San Jacinto Peak. However on the west side, there was only evidence of much lighter rain, and some sections of the PCT/Deer Springs Trail were almost dry.

At San Jacinto Peak at 0740 today, Friday 17th August, the air temperature was 54°F (12°C), with a modest windchill temperature of 50°F (10°C), 78% relative humidity, and a light 3-5 mph ESE breeze. The previous two days, 15th and 16th August, the weather was very similar both mornings at around 0800 and starting to feel autumnal. The air temperature was 51°F (10.5°C), with lovely fresh windchill temperatures of 43°F (6°C), 80% relative humidity, and a firm SE breeze at 8 mph gusting to 15 mph.

There is a possibility of thunderstorms almost daily at present, and a high likelihood next week, at least on 20-22 August. Hikers should always be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions in the high country in summer. Thunderstorms with lightning and rapidly falling temperatures can occur at or near the high peaks even when such storms are not forecast for lower elevations.

Flash flooding yesterday afternoon, 16th August, at the Round Valley junction (photo copyright Jeremy Odom).

Highway closures Note that during and following rain storms, highways through areas that were denuded by the Cranston Fire are being closed abruptly due to elevated risk of flooding and mud/rock slides. The last two days Highway 243 from Idyllwild to Mountain Center, and Highway 74 from Hemet to Lake Hemet, have been closed for up to several hours in the afternoons. Factor this in to travel plans if there are storms in the forecast.

Trail overview Prior to the rains of the last couple of days, flow rates at all water sources were at their lowest of the year, and far below seasonal norms. Despite recent rains, some well-known water sources remain dry or are very close to drying up and should not be relied upon by hikers at this time. There is no snow anywhere on the mountain (all trails have been completely clear since early May).

Muddy trails following rain are perfect for recording animal tracks. This Mountain Lion track was near 9800′ above Wellman Divide early this morning, 17th August 2018. The lip balm for reference measures 2.6″ long.

EASTERN SLOPE WATER FEATURES

The Round Valley faucet was dry by Monday 13th, having apparently dried up a day or two earlier. It started flowing again after rain on Thursday 16th, but was only a steady trickle. [Thanks to Jeremy Odom for this information.] Nevertheless, this may only be temporary relief for a few days or weeks at best. Hikers and campers to Round and Tamarack valleys from the Tram are advised not to rely on this ephemeral water source and to pack in all their water.

The flow rate at both the northern and southern springs at Wellman’s Cienega doubled from Monday to Wednesday, and doubled again by today, Friday. These springs are the sources for Willow Creek, which continues to flow gently where it crosses the Willow Creek Trail.

Wellman’s North Cienega, 17th August 2018.

Tahquitz Valley has been completely dry for at least two months, and recent rains have not changed that situation.

Tahquitz Creek continues to flow steadily at the northern (lower) end of Little Tahquitz Meadow.

Lower (north) end of Little Tahquitz Meadow, 16th August 2018.

Tahquitz Creek has briefly flash-flooded twice in the past three days further upstream at its source (known locally as Grethe Spring) where it crosses the PCT at the northern end of the fire closure (approx. PCT Mile 177). However shortly after rains it has returned to a very low flow. Immediately after crossing the PCT, the creek dries up and disappears subsurface.

Tahquitz Creek at Grethe Spring, 16th August 2018, drying out after a brief flooding event.

Skunk Cabbage Creek remains largely dry where the trail crosses Skunk Cabbage Meadow at the small wooden bridge.

WESTERN SLOPE WATER FEATURES

The North Fork of the San Jacinto River continues to flow steadily both where it crosses the Deer Springs Trail, and where it crosses the Fuller Ridge Trail on the PCT (approx. PCT Mile 186.2). These two crossings are the most important water sources for hikers on the western side of the mountain. Prior to recent rains the flow rate was the lowest in living memory. About 100′ downstream from the river crossing on Fuller Ridge Trail the river runs dry and disappears subsurface.

O’Sullivan Creek (PCT Mile 186.4) on Fuller Ridge Trail remains completely dry.

The spring in the creek in Little Round Valley remained completely dry this morning despite recent rains, as it has been since early June.

Shooting Star Spring – 0.28 trail miles below Little Round Valley – is flowing at about twice the rate of Monday. For hikers it is possible to filter water from the source at the base of the obvious huge rock, but a better option is to descend to the North Fork crossing mentioned above.

The minor creek crossing (sometimes known as Rock Spring) on Deer Springs Trail midway between the North Fork of the San Jacinto River crossing and Shooting Star Spring remained completely dry this morning, and has been dry across and below the trail since June.

The Deer Springs stream crossing at the PCT (approx. PCT mile 185.6) is dry, and the pools just upstream (and downstream) of the trail are also dry. The Deer Springs camp just downslope has been occupied by a crew from the California Conservation Corps since late May (although not since the fire evacuation on 25th July).

Switchback Spring – the small spring just below the eight switchbacks on Deer Springs Trail about 0.4 miles north of Strawberry Junction – continues to flow well. There is a tiny pool on the upslope side of the trail where water can be filtered if necessary.

Switchback Spring crossing the PCT, flowing well today, 17th August 2018.

The little spring in the rock crack at Strawberry Cienega (PCT mile 183) is now flowing at least at double the rate of last week. For filtering, there is a tiny pool among the rocks (currently heavily obscured by plants), and a permanently placed tent stake makes a clean accessible trickle out of the mud.

On Devil’s Slide Trail, Middle Spring has been completely dry since 26th July. There was a little muddy rain puddle there this morning, not even enough for a dog to drink from.

On the Ernie Maxwell Trail, Chinquapin Creek just below Humber Park has been diverted by Fern Valley Water District to their storage tanks more-or-less continuously since 1st July, drying the creek where it crosses the trail. However good pools receive some fresh flow immediately upstream from the trail. This can be a very important water source for the many dogs walked on this trail.

Water conditions 13 August 2018

For details of the condition of high country trails following the July 2018 Cranston Fire, see the prior posting linked here. Today we were able to check all high country water sources on a lengthy loop hike to San Jacinto Peak via Devil’s Slide Trail, descending via Deer Springs Trail, with a couple of side hikes to check other sources too. Last week I was able to review the springs and creeks around the Tahquitz area meadows.

Weather At San Jacinto Peak at 0740 today, Monday 13th August, the air temperature was 52°F (11°C), with a lovely fresh windchill temperature of 45°F (7°C), 54% relative humidity, and a pleasant 5 mph SSE breeze gusting to 13 mph.

There is a moderate possibility of thunderstorms for the next three or four days. Hikers should always be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions in the high country in summer. Thunderstorms with lightning can occur at or near the high peaks even when such storms are not forecast for lower elevations.

Trail overview Flow rates at all water sources are at their lowest of the year, and far below seasonal norms. Some well-known water sources are dry or are very close to drying up and should not be relied upon by hikers at this time. There is no snow anywhere on the mountain (all trails have been completely clear since early May).

EASTERN SLOPE WATER FEATURES

The Round Valley faucet was dry this morning, having apparently dried up in the last day or two (it was still just trickling on Friday 10th). Hikers and campers to Round and Tamarack valleys from the Tram must pack in all their water.

Both the northern and southern springs at Wellman’s Cienega are flowing weakly, but with no notable change since last week. These springs are the sources for Willow Creek, which continues to flow gently where it crosses the Willow Creek Trail.

Wellmans North Cienega, 13 August 2018.

Tahquitz Valley has been completely dry for at least two months.

Tahquitz Creek continues to flow gently at the northern (lower) end of Little Tahquitz Meadow.

Tahquitz Creek is only flowing very weakly further upstream at its source (known locally as Grethe Spring) where it crosses the PCT at the northern end of the fire closure (approx. PCT Mile 177). Immediately after crossing the PCT, the creek dries up and disappears subsurface.

Skunk Cabbage Creek is dry where the trail crosses Skunk Cabbage Meadow at the small wooden bridge.

WESTERN SLOPE WATER FEATURES

The North Fork of the San Jacinto River continues to flow gently both where it crosses the Deer Springs Trail, and where it crosses the Fuller Ridge Trail on the PCT (approx. PCT Mile 186.2). These two crossings are the most important water sources for hikers on the western side of the mountain. However, the flow rate is now the lowest in memory, even weaker than in the autumns of 2015 and 2016, today at only about 2.9 gallons per minute. About 100′ downstream from the river crossing on Fuller Ridge Trail the river runs dry and disappears subsurface. In addition, the North Fork is dry at all three of its crossings of the Seven Pines Trail.

North Fork of the San Jacinto River at Deer Springs Trail, 13 August 2018.

O’Sullivan Creek (PCT Mile 186.4) on Fuller Ridge Trail is completely dry.

The spring in the creek in Little Round Valley has been completely dry since early June. [See photos below of the newly-constructed toilet in the LRV campground.]

Shooting Star Spring – 0.28 trail miles below Little Round Valley – is flowing weakly but consistently. For hikers it is possible to filter water from the source at the base of the obvious huge rock, but a better option is to descend to the North Fork crossing mentioned above.

The minor creek crossing (sometimes known as Rock Spring) on Deer Springs Trail midway between the North Fork of the San Jacinto River crossing and Shooting Star Spring is virtually dry, and has been dry across and below the trail since June.

The last remaining trickle at so-called Rock Spring just above Deer Springs Trail, 13 August 2018.

The Deer Springs stream crossing at the PCT (approx. PCT mile 185.6) is dry, and the pools just upstream (and downstream) of the trail are also dry. The Deer Springs camp just downslope has been occupied by a crew from the California Conservation Corps (CCC) off-and-on since late May.

Switchback Spring – the small spring just below the eight switchbacks on Deer Springs Trail about 0.4 miles north of Strawberry Junction – continues to flow quite well. There is a tiny pool on the upslope side of the trail where water can be filtered if necessary.

Switchback Spring crossing at the PCT, 13 August 2018.

The little spring in the rock crack at Strawberry Cienega (PCT mile 183) is now flowing very weakly. For filtering, there is a tiny pool among the rocks (currently heavily obscured by plants), and a permanently placed tent stake makes a clean accessible trickle out of the mud. The current flow rate at the tent stake is too low to reliably measure (<0.01 gpm), down from 0.07 gallons per minute on 20th July.

On Devil’s Slide Trail, Middle Spring has been completely dry since 26th July.

On the Ernie Maxwell Trail, Chinquapin Creek just below Humber Park has been diverted by Fern Valley Water District to their storage tanks more-or-less continuously since 1st July, drying the creek where it crosses the trail. However good pools receive some fresh flow immediately upstream from the trail. This can be a very important water source for the many dogs walked on this trail.

Above and below, the new pit toilet in Little Round Valley completed in the last week by a scout troop from Indio

Post-Cranston Fire trail conditions

The following is a final trail-by-trail review of the impacts of the Cranston Fire in the high country of the San Jacinto mountains, likely to mainly be of interest to readers most familiar with the trail system. This is NOT an official Forest Service assessment of trail conditions. Nevertheless, this information from a variety of sources is detailed and reliable.

Pacific Crest Trail The PCT on the Desert Divide was not significantly damaged as it was in the Mountain Fire. The Cranston Fire burned up the ridges from May Valley to the western and north-west flanks of Antsell Rock, and to the peaks of South Peak and Red Tahquitz. This section of the PCT was still closed from the 2013 Mountain Fire, but rehabilitation work had just been completed and the PCT was tentatively scheduled to reopen later in 2018. This plan may be in jeopardy, as the Mountain Fire closure order has been absorbed within the new Cranston Fire closure order which runs through July 2019.

Fortunately, the Cranston Fire largely did not burn over to the east side of the Desert Divide due to the lack of fuels caused, ironically, by the widespread destruction of the Mountain Fire. In this area, the PCT largely runs along the eastern flank of the Desert Divide. Only at the saddle between Red Tahquitz and South Peak, and just north of Antsell Rock, did the Cranston Fire reach the PCT, but in these relatively rocky areas there was no damage to the trail.

Although the Cranston Fire did burn a short way north between Red Tahquitz and Grey Tahquitz (Peak 8792), it did not reach the PCT here. The fire did however reach north to the PCT at Chinquapin Flat, having burned completely around Anabel Peak (Peak 8860), the high point of the ridge just east of Tahquitz Peak proper. The fire jumped the PCT by fewer than 100 feet in a couple of locations just downslope from Chinquapin Flat.

In summary, the PCT is essentially unchanged from its post-Mountain Fire status. Plans to reopen this section soon should be unaffected. This will be especially important given that the PCT Alternate through Hurkey Creek campground and May Valley – that we helped develop in 2014 and 2015 – was completely burned over by the Cranston Fire and may be closed for some considerable time (possibly years rather than months).

The Pacific Crest Trail at Chinquapin Flat, August 2018
The Pacific Crest Trail just east of (below) Chinquapin Flat, August 2018.

South Ridge Trail This is the high country trail most impacted by the Cranston Fire, and the only high country trail that remains closed under the reduced closure order. Vegetation along most of the trail side was not directly burned, but in a couple of areas the fire did jump the trail. Nowhere was the tread of the trail itself damaged. Specifically, vegetation on both sides of several switchbacks burned roughly midway between South Ridge Road and Old Lookout Flat. Just above Old Lookout Flat the fire started to descend the west side through the forest by about a hundred yards over a fairly wide area. In addition, significant vegetation cutting occurred at the top of South Ridge Road, and along the trail from there to Old Lookout Flat, as a measure to reduce spread of the fire.

Old Lookout Flat, looking approximately north, August 2018
South Ridge Trail just above Old Lookout Flat, looking South, August 2018

The fire was allowed to burn up Hurkey Creek Canyon all the way to Tahquitz Peak, and some vegetation burned to within about 40 feet on the south and south-east sides of Tahquitz Peak fire lookout. Despite what was implied (or in some cases boldly stated) in inaccurate information disseminated by multiple irresponsible individuals – I’m trying to be polite here – the Tahquitz Peak fire lookout did NOT burn down in the Cranston Fire.

Tahquitz Peak fire lookout looking west-south-west, August 2018.

South Ridge Trail (from South Ridge Road south to Keenwild fire station) This multi-use trail, a popular mountain bike trail, was completely burned over, and will likely be closed for some considerable time.

May Valley Road (and adjacent bike trails) This dirt road very popular with locals for biking, hiking, running, and dog walking, was completely burned over from its crest just beyond Cowbell Alley all the way down to its junction with Bonita Vista Road. The latter burned from near Fleming Ranch west all the way along Keen Camp Ridge to Hwy 74.

No other high country trails were directly affected by the Cranston Fire. This includes all the trails around the Tahquitz area meadows, Devils Slide, Ernie Maxwell Trail, Willow Creek Trail, Ramona Trail, etc., all of which have now reopened. Black ash flakes were visible throughout all the trails of the mountain, even all the way to San Jacinto Peak, at least for the first few days after the fire. That there were not more spot fires scattered around the high country is very fortunate, to put it mildly.

Fobes Trail The Cranston Fire did not reach this far south in Garner Valley. However, dozer lines were inserted along/near Fobes Ranch Road, which is currently not open to non-residents, limiting trailhead access.

Spitler Peak Trail Although the fire burned both sides of Apple Canyon Road, the Spitler Peak Trail itself was unaffected. However, it may be some time before Apple Canyon Road – the access for the Spitler Peak trailhead – is fully open to non-residents.

Zen Center Trail This informal trail was unaffected by the Cranston Fire, although it remains in fairly poor condition, particularly in its upper elevations, since the Mountain Fire.

Water conditions 4 August 2018

For details of the current status of trail openings, see the previous post here. For vehicle access to the mountain, Highway 243 will apparently reopen with no restrictions from Mountain Center to Idyllwild today at 1200. Highway 74 from Lake Hemet to Mountain Center and on to Hemet will reopen this afternoon with significant restrictions (one-way traffic and pilot car). [Highway 243 from Banning to Idyllwild has been open for a week.]

Yesterday, 3rd August, I was able to check all high country water sources in the State Park on a very circuitous hike (due to the Cranston Fire closure of Forest Service lands). During this hike I had the pleasure of a long chat with friends and San Jac regulars Ellen and Marilee, the only other folks I encountered on the trails all day. Meanwhile, good friend of the Trail Report Florian Boyd was hiking in Round Valley and checked the faucet there. Immediately before and after the brief fire closures, I was able to check all water sources on Forest Service lands during multiple hikes.

Weather At San Jacinto Peak at 0915 on Friday 3rd August the air temperature was 55°F (13°C), with 71% relative humidity, and a barely noticeable NW breeze gusting to 2 mph.

In general, temperatures for the next week will remain above average in the high country. As much as we could use more rain, heavy thunderstorms right now would be catastrophic in the recent burn areas. Thankfully, the likelihood of thunderstorms is diminished for the next week or so. Nevertheless, hikers should always be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions in the high country in summer. Thunderstorms with lightning can occur at or near the high peaks even when such storms are not forecast for lower elevations.

Trail overview Flow rates at all water sources are at their lowest of the year, and far below seasonal norms. There is no snow anywhere on the mountain (all trails have been completely clear since early May). The sections of trail that burned in the Cranston Fire were last described in the posting linked here and will be updated shortly.

EASTERN SLOPE WATER FEATURES

The Round Valley faucet flow rate on Friday 3rd August was only 0.06 gallons per minute, down from the previous low on 6th July of 0.10 gallons per minute. [UPDATE Friday 10th August: the faucet flow rate is <0.01 gpm, barely dripping and basically unusable for hikers.] [Many thanks to Florian Boyd for these data from Round Valley.]

Both the northern and southern springs at Wellman’s Cienega are flowing weakly. These springs are the sources for Willow Creek, which continues to flow fairly well where it crosses the Willow Creek Trail.

Tahquitz Valley is completely dry.

Tahquitz Creek continues to flow well at the northern (lower) end of Little Tahquitz Meadow.

Tahquitz Creek is only flowing weakly further upstream at its source (known locally as Grethe Spring) where it crosses the PCT at the northern end of the fire closure (approx. PCT Mile 177). Just after crossing the PCT, the creek dries up and disappears subsurface.

Skunk Cabbage Creek is dry where the trail crosses Skunk Cabbage Meadow at the small wooden bridge.

WESTERN SLOPE WATER FEATURES

The North Fork of the San Jacinto River continues to flow reliably but fairly weakly both where it crosses the Deer Springs Trail, and where it crosses the Fuller Ridge Trail on the PCT (approx. PCT Mile 186.2). About 100′ downstream from the river crossing on Fuller Ridge Trail the river runs dry and disappears subsurface. During a search-and-rescue mission on Wednesday 25th July, I noticed that the North Fork is dry at all three of its crossings of the Seven Pines Trail.

O’Sullivan Creek (PCT Mile 186.4) on Fuller Ridge Trail is completely dry.

The spring in the creek in Little Round Valley has been completely dry since early June.

Shooting Star Spring – 0.28 trail miles below Little Round Valley – is flowing weakly. For hikers it is possible to filter water from the source at the base of the obvious huge rock, but a better option is to descend to the North Fork crossing mentioned above.

The minor creek crossing (sometimes known as Rock Spring) on Deer Springs Trail midway between the North Fork of the San Jacinto River crossing and Shooting Star Spring is basically completely dry, and has been dry across and below the trail for more than a month.

The Deer Springs stream crossing at the PCT (approx. PCT mile 185.6) is dry, and the pools just upstream (and downstream) of the trail are also dry. The Deer Springs camp just downslope has been occupied by a crew from the California Conservation Corps (CCC) since late May (although they have been absent for the last 10 days due to fire evacuation).

Switchback Spring – the small spring just below the eight switchbacks on Deer Springs Trail about 0.4 miles north of Strawberry Junction – continues to flow quite well. There is a tiny pool on the upslope side of the trail where water can be filtered.

The little spring in the rock crack at Strawberry Cienega (PCT mile 183) is now flowing weakly. For filtering, there is a tiny pool among the rocks (now heavily obscured by plants), and a permanently placed tent stake makes a clean accessible trickle out of the mud. The current flow rate at the tent stake is too low to measure (<0.01 gpm), down from 0.07 gallons per minute on 20th July.

On Devil’s Slide Trail, Middle Spring has been completely dry since 26th July.

On the Ernie Maxwell Trail, Chinquapin Creek just below Humber Park is – since 1st July – periodically diverted by Fern Valley Water District to their storage tanks, drying the creek where it crosses the trail. However, even when the creek flow is diverted, good pools remain immediately upstream from the trail. This is a very important water source for the many dogs walked on this trail.

Forest Service trails reopen 4 August 2018

The U.S. Forest Service has issued a reduced Cranston Fire forest closure order. All high country trails will be open starting 4th August 2018, with the exception of South Ridge Trail south from Tahquitz Peak. Trails that were already closed from the Mountain Fire – namely Caramba and Laws trails, and the PCT from Grethe Spring south to Spitler Peak Trail – remain closed. South Ridge Trail from Chinquapin Flat to Tahquitz Peak fire lookout will be open. South Ridge Road will remain closed.

Lower elevation trails such as May Valley Road and adjacent trails and roads will remain closed.

The reduced forest closure order is valid thru 31 July 2019 and is outlined on InciWeb, where the full text and map of the order can also be downloaded, linked here.

In addition, the entire wilderness of the Mount San Jacinto State Park reopened on Thursday 2nd August.

A full review of all the water resources on the mountain has been completed and will be updated as soon as possible.

Tahquitz Peak fire lookout, completely undamaged by the Cranston Fire – although it came close on the south and south-east sides – looking west-south-west.

State Park trails open 2 August 2018

For a full review of the status of access and trail conditions in the San Jacinto mountains high country following the Cranston Fire, see the previous post from 31st July linked here. Revised information is as follows.

The wilderness of the Mount San Jacinto State Park reopened today, Thursday 2nd August. Currently access is via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, as other routes pass through US Forest Service land, which remains closed (at least thru today, see below). This arrangement is outlined in a message on the State Park website (linked here). Also the Idyllwild and Stone Creek developed campgrounds reopened on Tuesday 31st July.

Currently all trails in the USFS San Jacinto Ranger District remain closed. The U.S. Forest Service issued an official forest closure order on the evening of 27th July, details of which are available at this link. However, a revised order may be released as soon as tonight or tomorrow, Friday 3rd August. This will likely reopen many of the trails that were unaffected by the Cranston Fire (and hence provide full access to the State Park wilderness). This will presumably include Marion Mountain Trail, Seven Pines Trail, Fuller Ridge and Black Mountain at least.

Black Mountain fire lookout reopened yesterday, 1st August. I accompanied Florian Boyd in having the pleasure of going back into service for the first time post-fire. Access is initially for lookout volunteers only, but hopefully this popular area will reopen very soon for all.

Cranston Fire: trail update

The following is a review of the status of access and trail conditions in the San Jacinto mountains high country following the Cranston Fire. Following a review of the current state of access, there is a trail-by-trail breakdown of the fire’s impacts. The latter section is likely of interest mainly to local and hardcore hikers very familiar with the trail system. The trail details could not have been completed without information and photos from a completely reliable (anonymous) source on the ground.

Access overview: Forest Service lands

All trails in the USFS San Jacinto Ranger District remain closed. The U.S. Forest Service issued an official forest closure order on the evening of 27th July, details of which are available at this link. This measure initially closes the entire San Jacinto Ranger District trail system until 31st August 2018.

Good news however. USFS informed me yesterday that because most trails received little or no damage from the fire (as discussed in detail below), a new forest closure order has already been drafted and is in the review process (i.e. head office and legal team). We should hear about this revised order as soon as Friday, 3rd August. It is therefore likely that many trails in the forest will reopen sooner than initially feared.

More good news. Black Mountain fire lookout reopened 1st August. Access will initially be for fire lookout volunteers only. However it is further evidence that the trail and access conditions are returning to normal rather quickly.

Access overview: Mount San Jacinto State Park

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway reopened 30th July, along with the Desert View and Nature trails in Long Valley. A message on the homepage of the State Park website (linked here) indicates that the Idyllwild and Stone Creek developed campgrounds reopened today, 31st July. All other State Park camping and trails in the wilderness remain closed.

Pacific Crest Trail Fears that the PCT on the Desert Divide would once again be badly damaged (as it was in the Mountain Fire) were thankfully not realised. The Cranston Fire burned up the ridges from May Valley to the western and north-west flanks of Antsell Rock, and to the peaks of South Peak and Red Tahquitz. This section of the PCT remained closed from the 2013 Mountain Fire, but rehabilitation work had just been completed and the PCT was likely to reopen later this year. Fortunately, the Cranston Fire could not burn over to the east side of the Desert Divide due to the lack of fuels. In this area, the PCT largely runs along the eastern flank of the Desert Divide. Only at the saddle between Red Tahquitz and South Peak did the Cranston Fire reach the PCT, but in this relatively rocky area there was no significant damage to the trail.

Although the Cranston Fire did burn a short way north between Red Tahquitz and Grey Tahquitz (Peak 8792), it did not reach the PCT here. The fire did however reach north to the PCT at Chinquapin Flat, having burned completely around Anabel Peak (Peak 8860), the high point of the ridge just east of Tahquitz Peak proper. The fire jumped the PCT by only a few yards just downslope from the sign at Chinquapin Flat.

In summary, the PCT is virtually unchanged from its post-Mountain Fire status. Hopefully plans to reopen this section soon will be unaffected. This will be especially important given that the PCT Alternate through Hurkey Creek campground and May Valley has been completely destroyed by the Cranston Fire.

The PCT at Chinquapin Flat looking towards Tahquitz Peak, July 2018.
View from Red Tahquitz looking WSW (Tahquitz Peak on far right), July 2018

Fobes Trail The Cranston Fire did not reach this far south in Garner Valley. However the Fobes Ranch Road area remains closed until further notice.

Spitler Peak Trail Although there were some spot fires ahead of the main fire front in the semi-desert area south of Apple Canyon Road, the Spitler Peak Trail itself was apparently unaffected. However, it may be some time before Apple Canyon Road – the access for the Spitler Peak trailhead – is open to non-residents. [I don’t have reliable information on the status of the informal Zen Center Trail at this time.]

South Ridge Trail This is the higher elevation (>6000′) trail most impacted by the Cranston Fire. Most of the trail was not directly burned, but many areas were heavily covered with phos-chek retardant. Between Chinquapin Flat and Tahquitz Peak, some vegetation burned right around Tahquitz Peak. [Unless you have been slavishly following highly irresponsible individuals online or by email, you know by now that the Tahquitz Peak fire lookout did NOT burn down.]

South from Tahquitz Peak to Old Lookout Flat, the trail is well below the ridgeline on the western flank. As the fire was held at or near the ridgeline in most places, this section of trail is unaffected. From Old Lookout Flat south to the trailhead at the top of South Ridge Road, the trail was heavily hit with phos-chek retardant. In addition, the fire broke through in a few minor spots here. While the surrounding vegetation is burned, the fire was not notably hot through these areas and the trail itself is undamaged.

Phos-chek retardant on the Tahquitz Peak to Chinquapin Flat trail, 26 July 2018.

South Ridge Trail (from South Ridge Road to May Valley Road) This multi-use trail, a popular mountain bike trail, was completely burned over.

May Valley Road (and adjacent bike trails) This dirt road very popular with locals for biking, hiking, running, and dog walking, was completely burned over from its crest just beyond Cowbell Alley all the way down to its junction with Bonita Vista Road.

All other high country trails were not directly affected by the Cranston Fire. This includes all the trails around the Tahquitz area meadows, Devils Slide, Ernie Maxwell Trail, Willow Creek Trail, Ramona Trail, etc. It is however amazing (and frankly disconcerting) to see black ash flakes throughout all the trails of the mountain, even all the way to San Jacinto Peak. That there were not more spot fires scattered around the high country is very fortunate. It is to be hoped that all these other trails can be reopened promptly once all necessary fire suppression activities have been completed.