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La Vida Locavore
Well, shucks. I've got tendinitis in both ankles. My doctor sentenced me to 2 weeks without hiking. Even though it's raining, I'm still longing to get out into the mountains. The John Muir quote, "The mountains are calling, and I must go!" comes to mind. Then I wonder if John Muir ever got tendinitis.
The only good news is that it's raining for several days, and after that I'm going to Wisconsin to check out the grad school there. (I'll probably be going there in the fall.) Some I'm not missing much hiking anyway. By the time I get back, I'll be allowed to go hiking again. And I won't miss any backpacking trips, although I'll have to sign up for a really easy, gentle one this time around.
Since I'm definitely leaving the state at the end of the summer, I've made a bit of a California bucket list. The top item on the list is: Go to Yosemite. And I just signed up for a 4th of July Yosemite trip. I need to get in shape for it. Tendinitis would be a real bummer.
Right now, I'm stuck resting and icing my feet. But before I head back out on the trail, I want to do more to prevent this from happening again. The key seems to be in doing stretches and exercises such as those found here, here, here, and here. Of course, I can't even do any of that right now. It's driving me absolutely crazy.
California's wildflower season is like Christmas to me. It hits its peak in March and April near the coast (a bit earlier in the desert), but it's already beginning. And I am just giddy. Here are some of the photos from my backpacking trip to Noble Canyon.
The hike is a 10 mile hike near Pine Valley, CA in the Laguna Mountains. It's a popular spot for mountain bikers, which is a major downside for it for me, because I despise having to repeatedly dodge bikes as they speed toward me on the trail. We did not do the entire 10 miles, but we did do about 7 miles of it. It's a very interesting hike from a plant point of view because the vegetation changes several times. I do not know the elevation where we started, but we camped at just below 4000 feet, and we hiked up to about 5000 feet.
I began taking photos in the parking lot, when I saw a granary tree. Granary trees are trees with hundreds of holes pecked by acorn woodpeckers, each one stuffed with an acorn. In this case it was a large pine tree. If you click on the photo, you can go to Flickr and zoom in to see it in more detail.
Another plant we saw all around us was sagebrush. This plant goes by several names, but its scientific name is Artemisia tridentata. As an Artemisia, it's related to wormwood and mugwort. I believe the tridentata refers to the serrated edge of the leaves, as each one appears to have three "teeth." We arrived at 8am and it was the "golden hour" for photography. The sagebrush appeared illuminated by the sun.
Sagebrush is medicinal. You can drink it as a cold tea to stimulate your digestive system. It's also carminative (helps with gas) and diuretic. When drunken hot, it's good for fevers. It's also antimicrobial and anti-parasitic. According to Medicinal Herbs of the American Southwest by Charles W. Kane, it inhibits Salmonella and E. coli, which makes it good for treating food poisoning. And you can use it for pinworms and roundworms. Also, ladies, it stimulates you to get your period.
In addition to drinking it, you can use it topically for its antimicrobial and antifungal traits. For example, it's good for athlete's foot. It's also analgesic (painkilling), so you can apply it to booboos of all kinds (including menstrual cramps) as a warm poultice. And you can pour hot water over sagebrush and inhale the steam to help clear mucus out of your airways for bronchitis or sinus infections. This is one impressive plant!!!
Also found in the parking lot: pineapple weed. Another name for this is wild chamomile. It smells like chamomile, and it's medicinally very similar too. You can make a tea with it to aid digestion.
And then we began our hike!
Despite the pines in the parking lot, we were mostly hiking among oaks until we reached a much higher altitude with pines. We saw coast live oaks, interior live oaks, black oaks, and probably some others too.
We also saw a lot of this strange-looking plant, likely something in the genus Keckiella:
The experts among us had an idea of what it was, but I cannot seem to figure out how it's spelled in order to look it up.
Then we came upon an area dominated by Red Shank (Adenostoma sparsifolium). It's common in areas transitioning between chaparral and oak woodland.
On many trees, the bark was peeling off in long ribbons:
We also came across a few wildflowers - paintbrush and monkeyflowers
We also saw a ton of mountain mahogany, a plant in the Rose family, and another plant, which the botanist on our trip thought was likely some sort of Ceanothus, in the Buckthorn family.
We also came across a few pools lined with "red stuff." The botanist among us (I love hiking with a botanist!) collected a sample and looked at it under a microscope after we got back. The red color came from a species of green algae that happens to be red.
Peonies were just getting started, but weren't blooming yet:
At our camp, our botanist found a stick insect. When he first showed it to me, he also had some bits of dead grass in his hand, and the bug was indistinguishable from the grass.
After setting up camp, we continued hiking. This part of the hike was from about 4000 to 5000 feet in altitude. We saw these white berries on branches without any foliage. It wasn't poison oak, but I don't know what it was.
We saw a lot of large fungi, but all of them were dried up and hard:
And we saw ferns and moss (moss not pictured):
Mushrooms, moss, and fern all tell you that this area has lots of water. Fungi tend to like wet conditions, and moss and fern require water for their reproduction.
Then, the strawberries began. I got very excited when I saw the first plants, but before long, the trail was just lined on both sides by strawberries.
Better yet, some plants had flowers and will soon have fruit:
We came across some California Coffee Berry.
And some really spectacular phacelia:
This flower looks to me like Summer Snow, in the Phlox family.
We saw a lot of California Bay Laurel. If you use bay leaves in your cooking, this is one place they come from. The other alternative is a related species from the Mediterranean.
As we hiked back to our camp, the late afternoon sun illuminated the California wild rose plants that lined the trail in some areas. The plants looked almost like dead sticks but they had just started to grow their spring foliage. (No flowers yet.) In the late afternoon light, they were gorgeous.
The next morning, before we left, I walked around near camp and took a few photos of the deergrass by the stream:
Deergrass is a cool plant. The Kumeyaay use the flower stalks (with the seeds removed) in their baskets. When deergrass gets wet, it expands, making the baskets watertight.
I also found quite a bit of mugwort. This is Artemisia douglasiana, as opposed to Artemisia vulgaris, the common form of mugwort sold in herb stores. It's said to stimulate vivid dreams, and it's medicinal for some purposes, although I've heard recommendations that you should not eat it. You are supposed to be able to get the vivid dream effect just by smelling it. My favorite use for mugwort is rubbing it on my skin to wipe off the oils of poison oak. The two plants often grow in the same places.
And, near the water, the willows were in bloom. Here are flowers from a female.
Another member of our group found Indian grinding stones (morteros) a few feet from here. They would have used the willows for building houses, making granary baskets, and making medicine. With the roses, strawberries, acorns, and more, this area would have been a fantastic home for the Kumeyaay.
Wild flower season has not started in earnest yet, but it's starting. I'm hiking this trail again in a month, and by then the flowers will be absolutely glorious. There might even be strawberries by then. (That is, there will be berries growing - the question is whether they will all have been eaten.)
This weekend was my first backpacking trip. It was truly just a learning trip. We went on a marked trail, not too far out of town, in a place called Noble Canyon. We hiked 4.5 miles with our packs on and then set up camp under the shade of oaks and near a stream. Then we did another 4.5 mi as a day hike. The next day, we packed up and hiked back to our cars.
The beautiful thing about the stream? It meant we did not have to carry all of our water.
Less beautiful about it? I got a few mosquito bites. I bet you no one else in the group did - just me. It's always like that. I'm delicious. At night, the bugs came out and so did the bats (who ate the bugs). I've seen bats before, but I've never seen so many, swooping around all over. It made me glad to be vaccinated for rabies.
I did plenty of things wrong when I packed for this trip, but I got the food part RIGHT! Details below...
Let me start by saying that backpacking food, in general, disgusts me. The easiest way to go - and most people in the group did - is to buy a freeze-dried meal packed into a single serving disposable package, boil water, add it directly to the package, and eat it out of that.
To the extent possible, I try to keep my food away from plastic, and I especially make an effort to keep anything HOT away from plastic, because I worry about chemicals leaching into my food. So I will never, ever go the "pour hot water into a pouch of freeze-dried food" route.
That means that I'm stuck washing dishes. In this case, I brought a stainless steel bowl. Titanium is lighter, but also more expensive. Many people bring a cup, often an insulated cup, so they can enjoy hot beverages while they backpack. I didn't.
I was limited in two ways: money and weight. I can't afford much more than I've already got (I've spent plenty, believe me) and I'm also not very strong or fast. I figured that if I had a 20 lb pack and everyone else has 40 lb packs, I'll have a better chance of keeping up. And that's exactly how it worked.
How did I keep my pack weight down to 20 lbs? In part by getting lightweight gear - and in part by just not bringing much at all. Here's my camp set-up:
That's right - no tent. And no stove, no fuel, no insulated mug, no water filter, and no pillow. I would have LOVED to have those things, but the cost and weight just adds up ($40 for a stove, more for the one I want, $25 for a pillow, $50-$100 for the water filter, $45 for a titanium mug, a few hundred for a tent). If I was camping somewhere else, I wouldn't go tent-less, but this is southern California in a historic drought, and rain was not in the forecast. It was fine. Chilly (it got down to freezing) but fine. At least I now know for sure that my down jacket and down sleeping bag do their job to keep me warm enough in freezing weather.
So what did I bring for food?
- 40 oz water
- 2 apples
- 2 peanut butter and honey sandwiches
- Bag of homemade trail mix (almond, walnut, cashew, coconut, raisins, and a few chocolate chips... ideally I'd like to add pepitas)
- 2 Raw Revolution energy bars
- A few carrot sticks
- Dried persimmons
- A bagel
- 2 cups dehydrated split pea soup
- Stainless steel bowl
- Titanium spork
This turned out nearly perfect.
Before leaving home the morning of the trip, I had a cup of coffee and a toasted bagel with butter, 2 eggs, and slices of melted cheddar cheese on it. It was delicious and really kept me full until lunch. Fortunately, I ate it a few hours before the hike actually started. Eating directly before a hike does not feel good.
I needed two lunches, a dinner, a breakfast, snacks, and something to share at dinner time. I ate the peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and the split pea soup for dinner. I got the soup mix from the bulk section of my local co-op. It wasn't organic but at least it had decent ingredients (green split peas, carrots, sea salt, onions, garlic, herbs, and spices). I shared the persimmons. And everything else served as snacks. I ate absolutely everything except for a little bit of trail mix and an apple, and I was never hungry. I also ate a bit of the stuff others brought to share. It was great.
Since I didn't have all the needed gear, I asked ahead of time and a fellow camper offered to share her stove and water filter. I planned to only need hot water once - for the soup. But I didn't plan for the weather to actually go down to freezing during the night. When I got up in the morning, I asked someone to boil me a cup or two of water to drink out of my bowl (since I had no cup). They did, and without me asking, another kind person offered me a tea bag. The tea really hit the spot in the cold.
If I had it to do over again, I'd bring coffee or tea, a cup, and my 64 oz water bottle instead of the 40 oz one. With such a small water bottle, I had to filter water more often than the others. For a trip longer than one night, I'd also want to bring some source of omega-3s - either an energy bar with more omega-3s than what I had, or granola with hempseed or chia seeds in it. And I'd add herbs like thyme to the split pea soup mix.
We were fortunate because there were no bears where we went. That meant we did not need bearproof canisters. I've heard that other critters, particularly marmots, are also rather adept at stealing food. Our trip leader put his food in a rodent-proof container and hung it from a tree. He instructed us to hang our food from trees too, or keep it in our day packs and bring it with us wherever we went. I did the latter, but at night my food was entirely vulnerable. Thankfully it wasn't eaten. But next time around I need a drawstring food bag to hang from a tree. On a longer trip, having your food stolen by a hungry marmot would be a disaster.
Yesterday I hiked the Deer Springs Trail to Suicide Rock in Idyllwild, CA. It's a dramatically different ecosystem from most of southern California, because it's at a high altitude. The forest is host to more species of pine trees than I've seen anywhere else around here and some have edible nuts. The Cahuilla Indians lived there, subsisting on rabbits, deer, pine nuts, acorns, manzanita, and strawberries.
Prints for Sale: I'm trying something new. I'm offering prints of my best photos for sale. Below, you'll find the best pics from this hike. They are gorgeous, if I do say so myself. I'll add a Paypal button on the right column of the site. I'll keep the prices reasonable - I want to earn a bit of extra money but not gouge people.
Photos from the Deer Springs Trail to Suicide Rock, Idyllwild, CA. February 15, 2014. The hike goes from 5000 feet to 7000 feet above sea level.
If you look to the top left side of this blog, you'll notice a new Paypal button. I've got a problem with the backpacking course I'm taking... namely, that I can't afford it. Or the gear. Especially the gear. So I decided to put together a little cookbook to see if anyone wanted to help support me by buying it. It's just $5 - although I set up options for people to give more if they feel like it. But $5 is a fair price.
Here's what you get: The 23 recipes that constitute the majority of my diet. The ones I make over and over so that they are burned on my brain. Most of them are really easy. They are all vegetarian, and most are vegan and gluten free too.
What you don't get: Recipes for junk food. As much as I love a good chocolate chip cookie (or, let's be honest, the entire batch of cookies... I'll eat them all), I stuck to healthy stuff only.
Also, please note that I'm not a stickler for quantities when cooking, so often I write recipes with ingredients specified like "a few carrots" or "salt, to taste." If that is going to bother you a lot, don't get the book. Most of the time, it does not matter whether you put 2 or 3 carrots into the soup, or whether you put in 1/2 tsp or 1 tsp thyme. I usually don't measure. I tried to put estimated or exact amounts where I could so that you aren't totally clueless, but usually I just add a little, taste it, and add a little more if I need to, until it tastes right.
Thank you so, SO much.
My camping trip over the weekend took us to the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. It accounts for one-fifth of the land in San Diego county and it's the largest park in the Lower 48. Anza Borrego includes part of the Pacific Crest trail. The name comes from an explorer (Anza) who came overland to visit the region, and the Spanish word for bighorn sheep (Borrego). But good luck actually seeing a borrego inside the park - they are very shy.
I've found that my knowledge of plants helps in a few unexpected ways. First, I can use plants as landmarks to keep from getting lost. And second, I can instinctively find water if there's any to be found. You know, in case I am forced to be a tribute in the Hunger Games. Besides, I've always got a pharmacy at my fingertips - not to mention a food source.
When we arrived at our campground, I immediately hopped out of the car and went straight over to a strange-looking plant. As I got close to it, I saw it was the very familiar Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata). But what the heck was it doing in the desert? There had to be water nearby.
Then our trip leader called our attention over to Dos Cabeza Spring, a few feet away.
The presence of water was exciting, considering the rest of the terrain:
Cattails are edible, and Sugar Bush is both edible and medicinal. In fact, most of the common plants in the area were useful in one way or another. I did not snap a photo of the creosote bush, but we saw plenty of those, and they have incredible medicinal properties. If you use herbal medicine, they are marketed under the name "Chaparral leaf" and they taste bad.
Ocotillo is edible or medicinal in some way but I've always written it off as too difficult to bother with because it's prickly. As soon as there's a bit of rain, ocotillo grows leaves. It also has lovely red flowers on top that remind me of flames on candles.
Cat's claw acacia is very valuable as a medicinal plant - but for our purposes it was more of a plant to avoid since it is so effective at snagging your clothes or scratching up your legs.
Brittlebush is a plant in the sunflower family, and when it blooms it has yellow flowers. It's medicinal.
Related to conifers, ephedra is another medicinal plant found in the desert.
The Mohave Yucca is amazingly cool for its relationship with the wasp that pollinates it. But for the Indians, it was valuable for soap (its roots), cordage (leaves), and food (stalk and flowers).
Desert agave is another important useful plant. The Kumeyaay made cordage from its leaves and they ate the heart of the plant. When the plant begins to put up a stalk, they harvest it and roast it for two days in a pit before eating it. The pits used for roasting a four feet deep and a large number of agave hearts were roasted at once time. What wasn't eaten immediate was dried and eaten later.
Also known as the "jumping cactus," the cholla was the most common cactus found in this region of the desert. I've heard that "cholla buds" are edible and the plant's sap is useful on sunburns, but I have not tried either.
White sage, one of the most important plants to the Kumeyaay. In addition to its ceremonial uses, it has a host of medicinal uses. I like to drink the tea when I have a sore throat - or whenever I want a tasty cup of tea. One thing to note about this plant: it causes women to stop lactating, so don't consume it if you're breastfeeding.
With so many useful plants around, it's hardly surprising that the Kumeyaay Indians made their home here. Odds are they lived in this cozy little rock cave:
If you go in the cave and look out, this is what you see:
The depressions in the rock were used by the Kumeyaay to grind food as well as clay for pottery. Near where I took the photo, I saw plenty of mesquite, a legume with a sweet tasting edible seedpod. The Kumeyaay would have ground the seedpods in these morteros. (They used the mesquite root to make bows and baby cradles too.) They would have also eaten the fruit of the California fan palm. In fact, they might have planted the nearby fan palm oasis.
After hiking along with a view like this:
All of a sudden you see this:
You can guess why they call it a fan palm:
Keep walking and you are utterly surrounded by an enormous cluster of these massive trees - each of which produces edible fruit.
They provide wonderful shade, and there is absolutely water below the ground here. Perhaps it was once above the ground too - prior to the massive drought we're having. In fact, another artifact you find around here isn't from the Indians at all:
So there was definitely water here at some point. The mesquite is another indication of water below the ground, although mesquite can send down its roots 100 feet to find the water, so it's not as valuable an indication as the palms or - better yet - the cattails.
Wildflower season is not here yet, but it's coming. I spotted a lupine, one of my favorite flowers, that is not yet blooming:
Fortunately, we were treated to a spectacular display of chuparosa and desert lavender:
The desert lavender is a bushy shrub, and it smells nothing like lavender at all. It's scent is more lemony. One look at its flowers tells you it's in the mint family, and with a scent like that, it's almost certainly medicinal.
As for wildlife, the bighorn sheep eluded us. We mostly saw poop - coyote poop, rabbit poop, mouse poop. Even human poop, which we should not have seen, since the responsible party should have dug a hole and buried it.
We spotted a cool spider web, likely from a Desert Grass Spider:
And, in addition to some ravens and phainopeplas, this was about as good as it got in terms of wildlife viewing:
This past weekend was my first camping trip for my backpacking course. It was just car camping. Some of the mishaps happened because the trip leader told us we were hiking 11 miles and in fact we hiked three. The rest was my fault.
The group was 7 people, including one vegan and myself (a mostly vegetarian). We needed to pack one dinner, one breakfast, two lunches, and snacks. This included an hors d'oeuvre to share with the group. And we weren't planning to have a campfire.
I got over being ticked about the lack of a campfire when the trip leader suggested people bring wine. OK, I can get on board with that. Since it sounded like several people were bringing wine, I considered bringing cheese. But I felt that, as the lone vegetarian, I needed to be nice to the vegan.
I settled upon Thai peanut collard wraps, a recipe of my own creation:
The collard wraps were a HUGE hit, but I should've kept them in a cooler. They were starting to rot, although it seemed no one else noticed. They weren't past edibility, so we still ate them. I didn't put them in a cooler because I wanted to kind of test them out to see if they'd work on a backpack trip when there wasn't a cooler to put them in. (Answer: no.)
The recipe is simple. Spread a bit of Thai peanut sauce on a collard leaf, add cooked brown rice, shredded carrots, and mint leaves, and wrap it up. For the peanut sauce, I just mixed up peanut butter, soy sauce, cayenne pepper, and ginger to taste. Great for car camping - if you keep them in a cooler.
Since I was a bundle of anxiety, I packed WAY too much food. That included: 6 savory herbed acorn muffins, 4 apples, 2 oranges, 1 big bag trail mix, 1 chocolate bar (85% cacao), hummus, celery, and a few energy bars just in case. Plus 2 gallons of water. Then I accidentally left my Kleen Kanteen at home. Oops.
And that might have worked, if it weren't for the pancakes. The trip was billed as two days of hiking. Saturday was a 5 mile hike, followed by a 6 mile hike on Sunday. I can do these hikes easily, but I didn't want to find myself hungry and stuck without food. I also didn't trust my fellow campers to bring potluck food that I wanted to eat - aside from the wine. And I wanted to be at my best on the hikes so that I wasn't slow and lagging behind the group.
The night before the campout, I made a big batch of pancakes. The next morning, I started chowing down. I ended up bringing a plate (sticky with maple syrup) with a few pancakes in the car since I could not cram them down my throat before leaving. It was just too much food - and all carbs. I also ate a hunk of cheddar cheese to add some protein and fat to the mix.
Then we got to the campsite and went on our "5 mi" hike. It was less than 2 mi, with about 200 feet elevation gain. I'd eaten a ton of food and had a LOT of energy that was not used up on our wussy little "hike." I was hardly hungry at dinner and did not eat much. After dinner I decided I was gonna get my 5 miles out of the day, dammit. So I took off and walked about 3 more miles in the dark, enjoying the gorgeous display of stars as I went.
I woke up the next morning, still not very hungry. Some wonderful person in the group made enough coffee to share (bless him) and I had some. As I did get a bit hungry, I ate my muffins, trail mix, and apples. Then we started on our "big" hike, which the leader promised would take 4 hours. Given that I can do a 6 mile trail in 2 1/2 hours even with a lot of elevation gain - and I'm slow - it sounded like we were going on a great hike.
End result? We got to our destination - a fan palm oasis - in an hour, after walking a half mile with 200 feet elevation gain.
In other words, I ate like a pig only to follow it up with minimal exercise. And I carried home almost as much food as I brought with me. I ate a tiny bit of trail mix, none of the oranges, very little hummus, less than half the celery, none of the chocolate, and all but one of the muffins. Whoops.
I'm not a fan of energy bars for nutrition or (most of the time) for flavor. But sometimes they are a necessary evil. If you want to stow a snack in your bag for emergencies, they are perfect. And they are a nice quick source of energy on long hikes as well, although of course you could get your energy elsewhere almost as easily.
My backpacking class recommends energy bars that are no more than 8 to 10g protein and no more than 4g fat per 230 calories. It also recommends 5g or fewer of fiber - and says to drink lots of water with your bar. The upshot of all of this is that your body isn't doing much in the way of digestion while you exercise, so you want to give it an easy job (i.e. carbs).
So if you're going to do the energy bar thing, which one should you buy? For a start, NOT THIS ONE:
- Product: The GoodOnYa Bar
- Flavor: Superhero flavor
- Price per bar: $3.65
- Selling Points: Raw, gluten free, organic, soy free, non-GMO, grain free
- Weight: 57g
- Calories: 283
- Protein: 5.5g (good)
- Fat: 17g (way too much)
- Fiber: 5.5g (a tad high)
- Overall Grade: D
A few weeks ago, I noticed a great sale on one brand of energy bars. After checking out all the options, I decided to load up on them because - among other things - they were cheap. But the GoodOnYa Bar had caught my attention. It looked so... healthy! OK, so it was super expensive. Maybe I'd buy just one and try it. I decided on Superhero flavor.
Organic Raw Cashew Butter, Organic Raw Ethically Sourced Honey, Organic Unsweetened Coconut Flakes, Organic Ground Chia Seeds, Organic Goji Berries, Organic Raw Lucuma, Organic Fair Trade Raw Cacao, Organic Raw Coconut Butter, Organic Ground Vanilla Pods, Celtic Sea Salt and Sol Raiz Organic Maca.
In theory, this bar sounded great. I love the flavor of cashew, honey, coconut, cacao, vanilla, sea salt, and chia. I hate goji berries plain (dried or fresh) but I don't mind them when they are covered in chocolate. And I've had products with lucuma and maca in them before and liked them.
Today, I waited until I was nearly to the halfway point on my hike and I decided to break out the bar. After hiking three and a quarter miles, I was starving.
First of all, the bar was really hard to chew. It was - thankfully - easy enough to swallow. But then it sat in my stomach like a rock. Probably because I did not chew it well enough. That said, I wasn't hungry for the rest of my hike (2 hrs 30 min, 6.8 mi, 800 foot elevation gain/loss).
Aside from that, the taste was disgusting. It tasted kind of like soap. I hadn't read the ingredients since I bought it at the store, so I knew that it only contained ingredients that I would willingly eat, not chemical additives. So as I walked and attempted to chew, I thought, "Dear god, what the hell is in this that makes it taste so bad?" The only thing I could come up with was goji, although there was only really just a hint of goji taste. It might have been the maca, or perhaps the lucuma.
If the bar wasn't so hard to chew or if the bar wasn't so expensive, I'd definitely consider getting the other flavors. After all, the ingredients in the Peanut Butter Chocolate flavor sound downright delicious. But for the price, and given the bad experience this time, I'll probably skip it.