June 2, 2013
The highlight of the second day in the Wichitas was hiking the trails around the lodge at Quartz Mountain Resort. Wendy and I enjoyed the breakfast buffet at the lodge’s Sundance Café and then set out on a 3.5 mile hike on a very sunny day up and over various hills around the lodge near the south end of Lake Altus.
We put on our packs and Tilley hats and began with the short hike up to the cave northwest of the lodge. From its mouth there is a nice view of the hills to the north. We then clambered down and proceeded west on a faded trail over to the wide Rock Creek Canyon. A sign mentioned a Sunrise Point Trail, but the trails around the lodge are neither blazed nor well-maintained. So rather than wander around the overgrown canyon looking for a trail not shown on the resort’s trail maps, we backtracked to the Sunset Loop and headed up the slope west of the lodge.
The hillsides had many prickly pear cacti with yellow blooms, their long spines waiting to prick our shins. A closer look showed tiny insects in the bloom and highlighted the spines which we would soon be unwillingly collecting. Ascending to the ridge of the hill provided a panorama of the lodge and Lake Altus below.
I was interested to find that the panorama my iPhone 5 allowed me to take in a few seconds, ready to post, was superior to the one I took with my Canon Powershot SX260 HS superzoom’s Stitch Assist mode. The Canon requires that you try to align each shot in the viewfinder and later stitch the images together with software, such as Adobe Photoshop Elements. So in the future I’m going to use the iPhone for panoramas instead of the Canon. The iPhone 5 takes great shots in bright daylight so long as you don’t need to zoom.
I posed on a boulder and we admired the parade of cactus blooms on the ridge. Then we tried to follow the Sunrise Trail, but it quickly faded out. Without any blazes, we couldn’t tell if the trail had become overgrown with cacti and plant life or if it was simply a fainter trail heading downslope. We followed the faint trail down, and then it faded into an animal trail heading down to Rock Creek Canyon. We bushwhacked downslope until trees and brush blocked our way. Then we bushwhacked back up to the Sunset Trail. The journey was arduous, and we could not dodge all of the cactus spines. An insect stung Wendy on her upper arm, so I broke out the first aid kit for some antibiotic ointment and a band-aid.
We retraced our steps and this time bushwhacked toward a visible marker, which turned out to be a private property sign. We could not find the Sunrise Trail (which is often closed due to hunting, so that may be why it has faded out). So we bushwhacked downslope to the bunkhouse, where I knew we could cross the long footbridge over to the Twin Peaks Performance Hall for the Twin Peaks and Mountain Pass trails.
After the double dose of somewhat painful bushwhacking, with some trepidation I asked Wendy for her impression of the experience. She responded, “If you didn’t HAVE to do it, why would you?” But, along with the cuts and scrapes on her legs, she still had a smile on her face as we exited the footbridge and headed out along the Twin Peaks Trail. It is paved and wide with fairly gentle slopes, a stark contrast to the mountainside scrambling we had endured thus far. We relaxed on a bench overlooking Lake Altus.
Refreshed and unable to find the Eagle Trail, which is supposed to head up one of the peaks, we took the narrow Mountain Pass Trail over the ridge south of Twin Peaks to a cove of the lake. The ongoing drought has taken its toll. The waterline has receded greatly, and the sandy shore was littered with the remains of dead fish after toxic golden algae killed off the entire fish population in the lake. So don’t zoom in too much on the panorama I shot, or you’ll spoil the mood. 🙂
We returned to the lodge, tired and dirty and ready to clean up and rest before a scrumptious dinner at the Sundance Café. That was followed with a return outdoors on the long paved trail and footbridge to circumnavigate the basin south of the lodge. We returned to the bench on the Twin Peaks Trail to enjoy the clouds at sunset. Then we raced back to the lodge, arms flapping to repel the clouds of mosquitoes looking for an evening snack.
Click here for a slideshow from this day hike