It all seemed too perfect in the beginning. My cousin and her husband, along with my sister, brother in law and their kids, met up with my family and some friends for a little hiking. The reviews for Millard Canyon and Dawn Mine created no small buzz among our little group with their depictions of bubbling streams, breathtaking vistas surrounded by beautiful flora and fauna and topped off by the intrigue of possibly exploring an old shut-down gold mine straight out of California Gold Rush Days. Yes, the day was starting out just perfect.
Almost right away, a small crack showed itself in the perfect foundation of our day when two of our group, in training to run the Saint Louis Marathon, decided to run 6 miles up the fire road and then meet us back at the cars. I wondered at the time if perhaps we had a failure to communicate and should all stay together, but honestly, I was so excited about the hike that the thought slipped in and then slipped right out. As we started down Sunset Trail, the vistas of the Canyon were breathtaking, just like the reviews said. Yep, it was going to be a great day!
I was a little worried when it dawned on me that we had hiked in a good ways and my sister, brother-in-law and two nephews were still with us. As crazy as it sounds though, the trails and rocks and streams deceptively drew you further and further into the canyon until finally, we were much farther in than we imagined. Jumping over massive boulders, keeping watch out for poison ivy…heck, keeping watch out for each other created a sense of bonding that made time come to a complete stop. So close to the hustle and bustle that Los Angeles is, and yet so far away. The only sounds were those of the birds chirping, the water cascading down the rocks and the sound of leaves rustling and sticks snapping as we reveled in the beauty.
I will tell on myself a little bit here: I didn’t pack a lunch and while we did bring a back-pack and water, we left all that extra weight in the car. And so, long about 1:30p, when we stopped for a little breather, I began to wish that I had planned a little bit better. Thankfully, Daniele’s mom had lovingly wrapped tuna sandwich halves individually and as luck would have it, was quite willing to share in their bounty. And let’s be honest…hiking in the fresh air brings on the appetite.
By several hours into the hike, the trail was nearly impossible to find and the rocks and boulders we were climbing over were HUGE. I started to get a little bit nervous when I looked at my sister’s face. Her face told me that they had bitten off more than they had intended to chew and now were faced with the reality of just getting through…with two boys who by now were getting a little tired from all the walking and hiking and had found the great out-of-doors to have lost a bit of it’s luster.
In a stroke of excellent luck, we stumbled across a guy who apparently lived in the Canyon (either that or explored it every other day). He pointed us to the exact path that would take us up the side of the canyon wall to the fire road…some 1,600 feet above us. He also told us that it would be easier to go back the way we came (a mere 3.6 miles). Being the experienced hikers that we are, we chose to go up the side of the canyon wall. In front of me, my youngest nephew, Canon, decided he had had enough and began to wail. He wailed and I walked behind him making faces (probably had more to do with the wailing than his tired feet). Making faces at a two year old can be exhausting, especially when attempting to keep my balance on a narrow dirt trail cut into the side of a canyon wall. As such, quite a ways up the canyon wall, I took a moment from my face-making duties to view the most excellent scenery spread far, far, far, far, far…damn that’s a long way down…oh crap I’m afraid of heights…slowly sitting, just breathing, in and out, in and out…
Whewwww…Eventually I did pull through. Daniele and her mom sandwiched me and we continued on until we finally, finally reached the fire road and looked back down in total shock and awe at how far we had climbed on that most narrow of loose rock and dirt trails (let’s be honest…sometimes you had to turn sideways to avoid falling into the unforgiving beauty below). It was such reliefs to hit the fire road on the ridge and to start the short (honest) 1.6 or 2.4 mile (we really don’t know for sure) walk back to the cars (thankfully all down hill). In the meantime, we did manage to get a hold of the two in our group who had splintered off to run. Being from Kansas City (out for a visit), I’m sure it must have been a bit horrifying to be left on the side of a canyon, with no car keys for hours on end wondering where the hell we were (and no food by the way, or water, during the hottest part of the day…oops…for people who plan well, we somehow let the ball drop on this one).
Usually, by now, I would have managed to weave a good faith building, better-life having analogy…but frankly, I’m still worn out from all that fresh air. Instead, I’m just going to wrap this up by telling you that we got back to the car hours after our initial depart time of 11:30a having given everyone a hasty “love you, mean it, bye” hug and peck on the cheek. We hopped into our respective cars and got the heck out of dodge. As for the gold mine (and the analogy on how to live a better life because I climbed some steep ass canyon wall while nearly wetting myself)…well, you’ll have to wait until next time. And yes, there will be a next time, at least for me, simply because we got really close…but not close enough. And while the sounds of civilization (i.e. traffic from the 210) were some of the most welcoming sounds I had heard in a long time…I feel the need to head back down sometime in the near future because there’s “gold in them thar hills y’all”!
Mad props to Daniele for being the organizing genius she is, her parents for their guidance, walking sticks and for sharing their vittles, Susie and Aaron (all the way from KC), Sherilyn, Allan, Ty and of course, the toughest of us all…Paris (7), Gordon (4) and Canon (2).