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Winter wanderings

Seeking American nature

Friday, December 15, 2017

Julia and I left home and took to the road, our destination, the magnificent Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

We drove calmly through the very polluted central valley of California. The air was more poisoned than normal as the massive and destructive Southern California wildfires filled the atmosphere with carbon and smoke. For the five hours of our drive we were encased in a brownish smog-cloud that limited our visibility to just a few miles. After several hours of exposure our eyes began to sting from the astringent air.

Miles of boring freeway slid below us as we cruised along in our gas sipping Prius Prime, contributing to the total carbon in the heavily contaminated valley air, but considerably less than everyone else around us.

In time the mighty Sierra Nevada Mountains slowly revealed themselves to us from the dirty air. We climbed up from the cesspool that is the central valley to the slightly cleaner air at the 7,000 feet above sea level John Muir Lodge, which is to be our home for the next three nights.

After checking into the lodge, we walked to the famous Grant Sequoia tree. It was just a short six-mile hike, but we started so late that night set in before we got back. The Grant tree was sublime, but nothing compared to what we were about to encounter.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Panoramic Point was our chosen seven-mile hike this cold mountain morning. The hike took us out to one of the last manned fire-lookouts left in California. The views of King’s Canyon and its granite peeks and vast forests was enough to make our efforts worthwhile.

Did I mention it was cold? We were greeted by freezing temperatures in the morning that barely reached up to 45 degrees Fahrenheit by midafternoon. But all day we had blue skies, all be they a bit hazy from the polluted valley air far below.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Redwood Mountain Grove was our chosen nine-mile hike for this day. This picturesque location is noted as the world’s largest remaining forest of Sequoiadendron gigaremainin (Sequoia trees). Sounds awesome, and it was!

Sequoia trees are life changing to experience in person. They reach high into the sky, and hold secrets from thousands of years ago. On this wonderful hike we encountered so many of these giant beauties we lost count.

Monday, December 18, 2017

A sad day today as we left our home at the John Muir Lodge high up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, to descend back down into the polluted haze that is the Central Valley of California.

The good news is this day began our journey to Zion National Park.

We overnighted in Barstow, CA and took advantage of their local cinema to see the Last Jedi Star Wars movie. It was very good, but alas Barstow not so much.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

We dropped into Sin City (Las Vegas) as we made our way to Zion National Park. After picking up a few supplies we continued, on the long lonely highway-15 through the stark and dry Nevada high desert.

Just east of Las Vegas there was a horrendous car accident. The crash bought the traffic to a standstill for an hour or more as emergency crews dispensed aid.

Finally, we arrived at Zion just as the sun went down. The magnificent rocky canyon greeted us in its full glory, bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun.

We cannot wait to explore this wondrous place.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Up early this icy and chilly morning and a short drive to the trailhead that led us up the steep canyon walls to Observation Point. We climbed 2,500 feet through beautiful slot-canyons carved by wind and water into frozen waves of colored sandstone.

Up we went wiggling through the magnificent sheer rock faces towering above us on all sides. Until finally, we reached the rim of the canyon where we were blown away by the vistas of the valley below.

What an amazing place and hike.

The wind picked up this evening and the barometer plunged as a winter storm moved into the area. There’s talk of snow. Will it come? Only time will tell.

Thursday December 21, 2017

A light dusting of white snow greeted us this solstice morning. What a wonderful thing, it changed the whole canyon to a winter wonderland.

We bundled up and went out into the freezing cold snow-covered canyon and strolled the River Walk. This path takes you to the narrowing end of Zion Canyon. At the south end of the gorge there are several miles separating the canyon walls. At the northern end, on the River Walk, the canyon walls come together until one is finally forced to walk only in the Virgin River to continue. We stopped short of getting into the freezing river, but many intrepid folks donned dry-suits and walked in the shallow, but extremely chilly waters down the ever narrowing and ever harrowing canyon.

Because the River Walk was so short and so cold we headed back to the lodge and ate lunch in the warm. Then we continued our hiking reconnaissance of the gorge at the southern end of the canyon. There we hiked up an icy trail to the Watchman Lookout. Here we drank in stupendous views of the much wider southern end of the canyon.

To end our amazing day, after dinner, we donned our winter woolies once again and this time braved the chilly night air. We did this to photograph the clear, dark, and astonishing night sky.

What an amazing solstice day this was. Merry solstice to you all.

Friday December 22, 2017

Up and out of bed on another freezing morning. A short walk across the road and the Virgin River. Then up the canyon walls once more to the Three Pools trail. This was our hike of the day and a tremendous one it was. The morning light illuminated the canyon walls and created a colorful collage that left us in awe. Then there was the frozen waterfalls and glittering icicles.

What a walk this was.

We ended the day by driving eastward in the park, which took us to higher ground and revealed more wonders of this amazing place.

Saturday December 23, 2017

We drove the lonely and seemingly endless highways from Zion to Las Vegas and then on to Death Valley. The deserts of Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and California are stark and foreboding, but at the same time they are timeless and alluring.

We ended our day at the lowest place on Earth without going underwater. We cannot wait to explore this place tomorrow.

Sunday December 24, 2017

The Golden Canyon beckoned us this morning and, so we ventured forth into the unforgiving desert that is Death Valley to walk its dusty and volcanic paths.

Starting below sea level we climbed up over 1,000 feet through the remnants of an ancient volcanic eruption, or in fact a multitude of volcanic eruptions. The extra oxygen in the air powered us forward as we traversed the chemical rich canyons of rock, pumice, dust, and sand.

Monday December 25, 2017

We left Death Valley this morning, but not before visiting the Mesquite Sand Dunes. The massive dune field is formed by sand blowing down from the huge ash mountains to the west. The sandy dunes are reminiscent of the Sahara Desert, which we visited long ago.

We drove onto Mammoth Lakes past some of the most spectacular mountains, volcanic plains, cinder-cones, ash mountains, and snowcapped granite peeks we’d ever seen. What a stupefying place.

We arrived late in the day at Mammoth, tired after our long drive and ready to sleep.

Tuesday December 26, 2017

Mammoth Mountain is surrounded by other wonderful mountains. McGee Mountain is just one of the many snow-capped beauties about Mammoth, so McGee trailhead is where we headed to this extremely freezing morning. The high peaks of all the snow-tipped granite giants that surround this hike added to the cold as they blocked the warmth giving light of the feeble morning sun. The delineator between sun and shadow drove us on, and when we passed into the light we immediately felt warm again.

The rest of this splendid hike kept us in the bright light of the winter sun. We lunched in its glow and continued up the incredible valley until we came to a dilapidated wooden bridge. Here other hikers told us of their sighting of a bear. This and the frozen river and path turned us around and back down the gorgeous valley.

Along the way we came across the dismembered hoof of a large dear. The only animal that we could think that might do this was a mountain lion, but we did not see one directly just the gruesome remains of its feeding.

Wednesday December 27, 2017

Gem Lake high up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada was our hiking destination this somewhat warmer morning. To get there we drove through the beautiful June Lake valley, dotted with little hamlets and lush green pine forests.

We arrived at the almost frozen Silver Lake where we parked the car, donned our hiking gear, and headed up the mountain side. Along the way we encountered many frozen waterfalls and an abandoned railway line. At the top of our climb we ate our lunch with a view of the frozen Gem Lake.

This hike offers a view of the valley and mountains one could only dream of. It was worth the effort.

Thursday December 28, 2017

We bid Mammoth Lakes and its gorgeous surrounds good bye this morning and continued our winter wondering to Truckee.

Along the picturesque eastward side of the mighty Sierra Nevada we stopped at Panum Crater. This enormous remnant of a past volcanic explosion is now littered with shiny black obsidian rock, which has been something Julia has wanted to collect in the wild for a very long time. She was so happy to see the unusual stone laying around all about her as we climbed the rim of the sandy cinder-cone.

Below the black glass covered crater is the unusual and alluring Mono Lake bristling with its volcanically driven Tufa formations.

We drove on taking in more glorious sights along the eastward side of the snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains.

Friday December 29, 2017

Donner Lake is a lake next to a busy freeway, which is a shame, as it is a beautiful area with many trails and a campground.

There’s not much snow in the California mountains so far, this year, but we found a little bit of it on the Zig Zag trail at the Donner Lake.

We had a wonderful trip wondering the natural beauty of the United States of America.

Given our ever-increasing population and escalating consumerism, Julia and I are both deeply concerned about the future of this country and the world.

I wonder what will happen to humanity in the next 20 years.


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