I parked my car along a small dirt cliff that towered over the dry riverbed of the Santa Ana River. The warm summer wind blew in my face as I exited my car. I did not come alone though, my two dogs joined me for the adventure. We stood on the edge of the cliff and gazed upon the rocky landscape that seemed to resemble the surface of the moon. Only if the moon was warm with wild palm trees scattered throughout the sandy bottom. We walked down the wide dirt path into what was once a flowing river in the winter time. My dogs, a Scottish terrier and Fox terrier, struggled to climb up the small sandy mounds that surrounded thousands of small boulders. Why did we come to this seemingly lonely spot? To discover what secrets lied in this seldom sought destination. Palm trees are not native to California and for them to grow wildly in the San Gorgonio Wilderness is a strange sight. So I explored.
We pushed through the difficult terrain of the dry Santa Ana riverbed and made it to an old dirt road. A dirt road that was barely intact and sees no use. It was a lead. The sun began to set and the sky was filled with an orange haze shadowing every object into a silhouette. The air was warm but the temperature slightly cooled, the wind came to a sudden end.
We pushed forward onto the road and wrestled with endless groves of overgrown brush. While my dogs chased rabbits and birds, I searched for the wild palm trees in the distance. It seemed that the further we walked the steeper the road became. It seemed that I was making progress to reaching my destination. Soon the road grew into a small hill and each step I took drew out a heavy breath from my mouth. Step after step I finally made it to the top of the hill and I could finally see the Palm trees. These giant structures of nature were now only 100 meters away from me. I am almost there! I could see in the distance, where the Palm trees meet the Earth, a small cement foundation. Something that I did not anticipate seeing in the early wilderness. There is only one problem, the road was completely covered by aging brush. The brush that grew over seemed to have called this old road home for a long time now since the trunks were fat and developed and bore the scars of aging plants. They were green at the base but transformed into a golden brown as the plant reached towards the setting sky. Nevertheless, I moved forward, despite the brush stabbing my sides, as if intentionally preventing me from intruding into their home.
I managed to make it to the first Palm tree and lo and behold, an old cement foundation surrounded by old grass. The grass was a light water green and looked as if it did not fit the region. As if this area was an oasis of some other power. The grass was soft but yet it had a hidden firmness. I sat down to watch the sunset and to think about the strange cement foundation that I had discovered. I looked to my right and I see a small wooden structure decaying. I got up to explore it and I found that is was an old wheel barrel. Now I started to notice the broken brown tools surrounding me. They were well rusted and could barely be made out, but one thing was for certain, they were farming tools. One looked to be a pickaxe while another seemed to be a hoe. Two shovels were found nearby.
I walked around for a while and then I made a discovery that sent shivers down my spine. The bones of large animals, maybe horses or donkeys. They were old though, I could tell by the chipping of the bones, the weathered damage, and being semi buried in the ground. I was on the site of an old farm, maybe from half a century ago. Time seemed to stop while I was on site, the wind stopped and no noise for a mile could be heard. The reality of the sun dropping out of the sky didn’t hit me until I heard the howls of dozens of hungry coyotes. The howls were not far from me at all, maybe around 300 meters. That is too close for comfort. So I called my dogs and we immediately left this puzzling location.
That was not the end of our journey though. As we left, we noticed that the howls grew louder and they seemed to get closer. We moved quickly but we didn’t move fast enough, we heard the soft footprints of the coyotes closing in behind us.