Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is huge, and we only conquered a very small bit of it on a two-night backpacking trip towards the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne. On Friday night, we started out a tad later than anticipated due to car battery problems and the challenge of packing the required bulky bear canister. Beginning at the White Wolf trailhead, we hiked a few miles in the dark and set up camp in an ashy forest of several burnt trees.
Saturday morning, we headed towards Harden Lake. The forest smelled lovely, and it was filled with pinecones as big as footballs. Naturally, the trees were also huge, and in one area, so many had fallen that keeping track of the trail was difficult at times.
In one area of the forest, I kept hearing a strange, deep noise. At first, I thought it was the sound of air coming out of my pack as I walked, but when I stopped moving, the sound continued. Then, I started to hear it coming from multiple directions. Was it a group of elk? A sasquatch family? Hmm. Soon enough, I happened upon the source: a strange-looking bird with a weird featherless patch that revealed a texture resembling an osage orange. Interesting creature. His call didn’t sound very bird-like at all. Later, I learned it was a male sooty grouse.
After cooking dinner, collecting water in a babbling brook, and dodging mosquitoes, we set up camp and watched the sun set on a bluff overlooking the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, one of John Muir’s favorite places.
On Sunday morning, while I was retrieving the bear canister full of food that I hid in a rocky crevice a couple hundred yards from the campsite, I spotted two black bears climbing up a pine tree nearby, minding their own business. They were clearly heading the wrong direction if it was my food they were after.
After returning to the car after three days of hiking in Yosemite, my car wouldn’t start. I was pretty glad I stopped to pick up a spare battery on the way up, because who knows how far away a battery store would’ve been.
Night Cacti and Yellow Ooze
On Wednesday night of my week in the redwoods, I had plans to visit friends in Palo Alto. As I was about to leave, I discovered that my car battery was dead. So, in effort to not change plans, I rode my bicycle down the mountain to get to the city just before dark. I got an after-dark tour of Stanford University, including flashlight exploration of the Arizona Cactus Garden. I saw more gigantic cacti there than I did during my entire week in Arizona, but that was mostly because I didn’t have time to venture further south in the state, where the cacti are larger and more plentiful.
Thursday morning, my friend jumped my car, and after taking it for a drive to the grocery store, all seemed well again.
Later in the week, however, when I was all ready to head to Yosemite National Park, the car didn’t start. My friend wasn’t able to jump my car yet another time, so I tracked down a guy who was roaming the neighborhood from California Mosquito and Vector Control. He was happy to help and carelessly smooshed two large banana slugs during the car-jumping process, but since I was so grateful for his help, I decided it’d be best not to point out the fresh yellow ooze on his boots.
A Week Working in the Woods
After spending the weekend along the coast, I headed inland and visited a high school friend and her shy Welsh corgie, Della. I spent the week working at her home in the quaint unincorporated mountain community of Skylonda near the intersection of State Routes 84 and 35. The nearest grocery store was a 30 minute drive down the mountain near Stanford University, where my friend is working on a PhD in genetics. With an excellent view of redwood trees right out the front door, I decided that her secluded house in the forest would be an excellent place to write memoirs, much like the lighthouse I recently slept in. Unlike the lighthouse, though, her wifi actually worked, so I was able to stick around and be productive.
Living in a Lighthouse
Sunday night, I slept in a historic lighthouse keeper’s quarters at the foot of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse. It was pretty nice for a hostel. A crowd completely different than the hostel in Flagstaff frequented this hostel. It wasn’t anywhere near civilization, so it seemed like a good place to go to write a novel. Unfortunately their internet was barely functional, so Monday morning I had to head out earlier than anticipated in order to track down civilization in Half Moon Bay, CA to put in a day’s work. It was a little misty that day, so working on a bench overlooking the ocean might’ve not been the best idea anyways.
Driving up the Coast
Saturday was spent driving up the coast on highway 1. The plan was to set up camp before dark somewhere along the coast in one of the many state parks along the way, but all the campgrounds of all the state parks in the 70+ mile stretch were completely full. By 11:30pm, I finally found a free spot east of Monterey at the Laguna Seca Recreation Area. It was overpriced and conveniently located right next to the Mazda Raceway, but it did the job. Nothing like waking up in the morning to a fleet of cars revving their engines.
That morning, a bit of backtracking was in order just to see the portion of coast I missed while driving in the dark, particularly the area surrounding the Bixby Creek Bridge.
The Desert Tortoise Natural Area
On Friday evening, I camped in the Desert Tortoise Natural Area. Finding campsites after dark is always fun—you get the privilege of waking up in what seems to be a completely new and mysterious place. It just so happened that the most convenient legal campsite was a 12-mile drive down a sandy gravel road and a half mile hike down a sandy trail. I’d say it was worth the detour. Apparently the desert tortoises only come out in spring, but I did get to frolic in a lovely grove of joshua trees and examine them up close. They’re sharper than they look.
The State of California Confiscated My Apple Core
Thursday night, I departed Flagstaff and headed west. Right after crossing the California state line on I40, I had to stop my car so a man could politely inquire about the potential existence of fresh produce in my vehicle. I surrendered my apple core. Apparently California is quite actively looking to prevent the introduction of invasive species.
I spent that night camping in the desert. The Newberry Wilderness Area was a half hour east of Barstow, California, where I spent Friday working. Starbucks was the only place I could find with wifi.
After work on Thursday, my host, her dog, and I took a drive down to Sedona and went for a quick hike near Bell Rock. Everything was dry, dusty, and red—quite a contrast from the hike the day before, which was less than 50 miles away. She had a background in mycology and biology, so she was able to teach me about the different ecosystems and identify nearly any plant I pointed towards. The flowering agave was my favorite.
Kachina Peaks Wilderness
On Wednesday, I visited the Kachina Peaks Wilderness in the Coconino National Forest barely north of Flagstaff. Since I was only out for a quick after-work hike with my host, we weren’t able to climb the 11,000 foot mountain to see the only arctic alpine tundra in Arizona up close. We were, though, able to catch a glimpse of the peaks from a distance and briefly explore a nice forest of aspen, spruce, and pine.
The Unhostile Hostel
After a long drive from Chaco Canyon, I decided that camping in the Petrified National Forest Sunday night would make finding wifi for work the next morning a tad inconvenient, so I skipped the park altogether and head to a hostel in Flagstaff. Somehow, I ended up with a four-bed dorm room completely to myself and avoided the full hostel experience altogether. The following evening, I returned to the hostel and things were much different than the night before.
I shared: a room with three other females, my aloe with a girl from Canada, a kitchen with two guys from Australia, and a car ride to the grocery store with a different guy from Australia. 95% of the people I talked to at the hostel were from another country, and everybody I encountered was super friendly. I was in the minority—partially because I’m from the US, and partially because I was the only one at the Grand Canyon International Hostel who wasn’t there to see the Grand Canyon. Not that Couchsurfing hasn’t already taught me this already, but my hostel visit reinforced the notion that strangers are often quite friendly folks, and going out of your way to talk to them definitely makes life more interesting.