Long-Distance Walking, Streams, Creeks & Rivers, USA
Comments 4

The Suburbs Come to Deep Creek

This was my 22nd day on the Pacific Crest Trail. I was around 300 miles into my journey, still feeling strong, and stomping out a few big-mile days just to see if I could. I did 27.5 miles on this day, but it’s memorable for me also for the amazing scenery, my total independence, and a brush with the uglier side of the world hikers are usually happy to leave behind.

MAY 2010

View from my cowboy camp

I woke among the broken boughs of fallen pines high above Deep Creek, best camp I could find in the fading light after just scraping a 30-miler the evening before. The creek bank was the prize, but it was claimed by some rowdy people in a car, and you can’t be too careful.

The Bridge

I felt good, free and light and alone; yesterday I’d busted free of the little trickle of hikers around me, said, “No offence, but I wanna try hiking alone for a bit,” and cruised on, reclaiming my independence, a long, fast day out of Big Bear through mile upon mile of fire-blackened hillsides. The miles came surprisingly easily, and nothing hurt, so let’s try some more. And there was another drawcard: hot springs by the creek not too many miles ahead. Happy flashbacks to Japan, where hot springs and hiking go together like pickled ginger and sweet vinegared rice wrapped in tofu skin.

The hills are alive

I crossed the bridge, and was soon goat-dancing along a contour in the canyon wall, the river — yup, more river than creek — ever more inviting down there as the sun climbed. Lush little thickets of bee-buzzing foliage spilled onto the dusty path while across the canyon, and as far ahead as you could see, everything looked like Road Runner country, faded and desiccated by millennia of scorching heat.

Colour above the creek

It was one of those mornings where you sing as you stride along, your head swims with grandiose schemes, you pluck a few flowers to press into your notebook to send to your girlfriend — yeah, I have ’em sometimes. I stopped where a stream gurgled across the path on its way down to the river, rinsed my clothes and gave myself a kind of pre-bath scrub-down, Japanese-style. No illusion is sweeter on the trail than that of cleanliness.

At last the path reached creek level, and I heard the springs before I saw them: choruses of weird, primate-like grunts, like a mating ritual on a National Geographic special. Maybe there were some very lost snow monkeys soaking in the springs?

A glimpse of Deep Creek

By the time I reached the springs, little pools at the bank where the warm water reaching the surface had been ensnared by walls of rocks, I’d lost all appetite for some civilised hot-springery. There was a deep swimming hole, you see, and the ledges and rocks around and above it had been colonised by sunburnt, chubby rock apes, teenaged youths being loud and obnoxious, as youths will when concentrated about any otherwise pleasant store of H2O.

No warm bath today. I raced on, dodging grunts that might have been greetings or threats.

Small mercies

It was a Saturday, and the Trail, though as remote-looking as you could wish for, was evidently highly accessible to local folk. Resting in some precious shade with my billy-can of tea, I briefly shared my idyll with four suburban teens in jeans, one doubling as pack mule for the others (teen society is so stratified); an Indian blanket and even a baseball bat dangled from his overloaded pack while they paused to inhale cigarette smoke, expel it in my direction, grunt a couple of impolite requests for directions, and move on again without thanks.

Rock Ape art, Late Moron period

I followed, giving them ample time to get ahead, crossed the creek and was soon depressed again, and then angry, as the amazing vistas of miles of path carved into canyon wall were marred by spray-can tags, obscenities, low-rent yahoo philosophy and other primitive cave art scrawled across every convenient boulder or wall. I passed more rock apes congregated on ledges at the water far below; dodged more grunts and bellows and squatted to dig a dumped candy-bar wrapper from a convenient crevice. It was very hot and I was exceedingly dispirited, marring what should have been a magnificent stretch of Trail.

The second bridge and the Trail beyond

Ahead, like ticks burrowing into the canyon flank, the four sullen youths slumped down the trail, with their baseball bat and hopefully only harmless ball games on their minds. I turned on my iPod and lost myself in rock’n’roll. My pace quickened with my heartbeat. I forgot the heat and the small-mindedness of others, found my second wind and returned to cruising mode.

I remember one of the songs was by Television. Many years ago, on my first trip to the States, I was driving across the Mojave from LA with my then-girlfriend, Television blaring from a ghetto-blaster on the backseat — I can’t hear the band nowadays without seeing Joshua trees, sunburnt hills, the neon oasis of Vegas glowing on the horizon. Today, as I cruised, I tuned out the graffiti and the idiocy; enjoyed epiphanies and transcendental raptures as I rode the soaring wings of a Tom Verlaine solo along the canyon walls. It was incredible; add a melting Snickers bar and it was perfection.

Too soon I saw the massive concrete buttress of Mojave Dam, too soon I was switchbacking down into the exposed glare-trap of bare rock and gravel, where two hikers huddled like sun-blinded moles under silver umbrellas, and a strip of vegetation in the distance signalled a river bank and sweet, cold water…

The view that ate my anger

Torn Curtain reveals another play

Torn Curtain, such an exposé

I’m uncertain when beauty meets abuse

Torn Curtain loves all ridicule…

Turn Curtain’ ~ Television

The dam


  1. Jenny says

    You may be happy to know that a group of folks are working on cleaning up that graffiti in Deep Creek canyon this year. A very large project since it has been pretty much negleted for decades!
    Thank you for your wonderful blog about the hike through the Deep Creek Canyon. One of my favorites and you have captured perfectly the beauty and the damage. Wonderful. Hopefully there will be much less damage next year when the thru hikers come this way again.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jenny — and that excellent news! Sometimes areas like that just need a bit of committed attention from locals to turn the tide, and then the renewed pride takes care of the rest. Apart from the damage and a couple of weirdos I encountered that busy day, it was a dramatic and enjoyable section. The PCT-ers and other hikers would certainly appreciate your efforts.

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