Our midweek adventure — a scheduled event of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks conservancy — took us four and a half hours to finish, counting the short breaks at The Sinks and Box Spring. The trail began at a notorious local dead end. We followed the water lines up Agua Chinon (“wavy water”) Canyon with no real trouble until we hit a steep loma as hellish as the south slope of Whiting’s Dreaded Hill. The summit brought us face to face with the western section of The Sinks
An inland sea or lake deposited the layers that appear in The Sinks formation about 40 million years ago. A long period of wet weather — sometime in the last million years — super-saturated the hills and caused the looser soil to slide away. The badland that was left exposed layers of harder red and white sediments that draw hikers and bikers to special “open days” at the Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park.
I remember reading about how the head of Duke University’s Medical School died of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever because a tick bit him and he didn’t realize it.
The fever and vomiting begin early. It is not until it has nearly killed you that the infamous spots appear. That is the start of the death knell.
So nothing creeps me out quite like finding a tick on my person. Or the dog. Or you.
Thomas F. Riley Wilderness wasn’t very big: we rounded the loop in under two hours despite the heat. The park’s bottom lands were covered by some fine live oak forests offering cool shade and thick with poison oak. Much of our route, though, was through open grasslands where the sun burned through our hats. The best part of the journey was the trail end known as Skink Point. The interpretive sign directed you to look at the Santa Ana mountains, but I found the best view lay behind us:
Summer offers mercies to the chaparral hiker. One of these is the change of the colors of poison oak from a glossy green to an autumnal red. Poison oak cannot be called an herb or a shrub or a vine or a tree: it can be any of these. I know of patches where it sprouts as a bush and other places where it throttles a tree. There is a spot in O’Neill Regional Park where it stretches to the forest canopy as a large sapling. If there is shade, there is probably poison oak mixed in the ground cover. And if there is sun, it may well be there, too. The pretty leaves tricked one hiker I know to use them as a wipe. How could anything so beautiful cause suffering? was the reasoning that passed through her head. Toxicodendron diversilobum is a most devious plant, the closest thing I can think of as an argument for intelligent design if not by a benevolent creator, then by a demon.
I say this too often: “They call it the Harding Trail because it is hard.”
The fire road begins at the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary where you find the only trees that shade the trail during midday in the first five miles. It winds up the foothills that lie between the Santiago Creek watershed and Harding Canyon, sometimes curling like a sidewinder and sometimes vaulting straight like a javelin. I don’t hike it much in the summer because I have already had my encounter with heat exhaustion and it wasn’t fun.
A followup to my post about spirochetes and ticks:
We think of Lyme Disease as a particularly human affliction. Nonetheless, it was only identified 40 years ago. Studies of ticks preserved in amber revealed that the spirochete predated humans by 15 million years! Science Daily reported:
“Ticks and the bacteria they carry are very opportunistic,” said George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus in the Department of Integrative Biology of the OSU College of Science, and one of the world’s leading experts on plant and animal life forms found preserved in amber. “They are very efficient at maintaining populations of microbes in their tissues, and can infect mammals, birds, reptiles and other animals.
“In the United States, Europe and Asia, ticks are a more important insect vector of disease than mosquitos,” Poinar said. “They can carry bacteria that cause a wide range of diseases, affect many different animal species, and often are not even understood or recognized by doctors.
“It’s likely that many ailments in human history for which doctors had no explanation have been caused by tick-borne disease.”
Dr. Poinar found evidence of spirochetes in tick specimens fossilized in Dominican amber. He also discovered evidence of Rickettsia bacteria — which are the cause of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The discovery pushes our knowledge of such pathogens presence back from 5,300 years — the age of the Tyroleon Ice Man who was sick with Lyme Disease.
Ticks and their pathogens been waiting for us for a long time…. When they bite you, you are being bitten by History.