California Highway #21 winds a tortuous path through the Southern California desert along the border with Mexico, stopping in sun-baked sleepy rural towns and kissing the Mexican city of Tecate. San Diego bus #894 follows this route 50 miles to Campo and is a common method used by PCT thru-hikers to access the southern terminus.
Waiting for the 894 this morning, I met Lauren and Brian, from Tacoma, WA and the San Francisco Bay Area respectively. They had also met just this morning at the bus station. Lauren is a thin, athletic woman in her 20s wearing running shorts and a long-sleeve button down white shirt. Brian, also in his 20s, has a California tan and a good-natured smile. We rode the bus together into Campo, Brian napping in the back seat after staying up all night outside a 7-11. The bus moved fast, taking all sharp turns at a good clip. I watched out the window for most of the trip, noticing all the dry creek beds pass by.
On our arrival into Campo, two gentlemen in an SUV offered rides to the border, a mile walk up the road. Calling himself “Shrek,” one of the men noted that while many creek beds were dry, we should find water 15 miles north at Hauser Creek. Armed with up-to-date water information, Lauren eliminated one of her three gallons of water from her pack. I held onto my 3.5 liters, but took a big swig. Lauren and Brian accepted the ride while I walked up to the post office to mail a package to myself at Warner Springs. Leaving the post office, a local woman gave me a lift to the border.
The U.S.-Mexico border is highly visible, marked by a 6-7 foot tall metal fence and a dirt road.
Perched atop a small ridge just north of the fence stands a gray wooden monument, marking the start of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (PCT). Looking north of the ridge you see a barren, rock-strewn mountain-desert landscape with wind power turbines dotting the horizon to the northeast (I think). The trail itself is perhaps more winding that Route 94, for after 10 miles of trail, I could still see the border. This was the first exposure to blazing heat and I was glad to have my sunhat, shades, and SPF-50 sun block as mid-day temperatures climbed up to 98 degrees.
Save for the heat, the day was uneventful until, rounding a corner I heard a loud rattle, looked down, and saw a rather large rodent-fed rattlesnake hissing up at me in full strike position.
Brian and Lauren almost bumped into me and we took pictures until the snake slithered off and let us pass. The afternoon wore on, and despite my hat, the sun and dust took its toll, making feet and shoulders ache. We were glad to arrive at Hauser Creek, although none of us were pleased to find that the creek was dry, contrary to our information. I, thankfully, still had water, as did Lauren (obviously) and Brian, so we elected to stay here the night along the shady creek bed. Others, upon finding themselves and the creek waterless, had pushed on earlier, making the 1,000 foot climb past Hauser Mountain and down to Lake Morena.