Vastness. Miles and miles of uninterrupted wilderness. Places where wild animals call home and man is estranged. Such places are characteristic of the west coast, and for this reason, I will be forever drawn to this side of the country. These places exist partly because of the efforts that went into preserving our most treasured places. Also, though, the vastness of the west is due to the harsh conditions of its mountainous and desert regions; here, even with all of our modern technologies, it is still difficult to build on and to live in. Death Valley National Park is a prime example of such a huge, empty, and arid landscape.
Moab is an interesting place. Some call it the mountain bike capital of the world. For others, off-roading is the name of the game. Climbers and canyoneers, too, love to explore the red rock landforms. Many events take place in Moab: Easter weekend hosts Jeep Safari. The fascinating hippy/slacklining/base jumping festival (GGBY “Gobble, Gobble, Bitches, Yea”) takes place Thanksgiving weekend. And let’s not forget that Arches National Park, which draws over 1.5 million visitors each year, is located just north of Moab. The diverse groups that Moab draws result in a culture-rich town which is always teeming with people.
Nothing but Utah could have pulled me away from the mountains of California. We ended up skipping most of Colorado (stopping only at Mesa Verde) in order to lengthen our time in the Sierra. But Utah is a place I had been yearning to explore, and not for the 4% beer. Mysterious photos I had seen of the bizarre red rocks had been drawing my attention for years.
Neighboring national parks Kings Canyon and Sequoia are known by locals jointly as “SEKI”. They’re even administrated jointly. The two parks, however, are vastly different. Kings Canyon is made up of a series of glacially sculpted canyons through which flow the ever beautiful Kings River and its tributaries. Sequoia protects groves of the Big Trees, beloved by all who meet them. One thing that both parks have in common is that they are predominantly wilderness areas, making them ideal places for hikers to get away from the crowds.
After our amazing two-month stay in California, It felt strange to leave. Alas, it was time to move on. There was red rock to see. Our first stop en route to Utah: the iconic Grand Canyon.
Driving into the park on a cold morning in early November, we headed straight for the backcountry office to try our luck at a permit. Surprisingly, we were able to get a permit to camp down at the bottom of the Grand Canyon that very night! Without further ado, we returned to the FunBus where we quickly readied our packs for a two-night adventure. We then jumped on a shuttle bus to Yaki Point. As we sat at the front of the bus and chatted, I suddenly realized how surreal it was that I was about to hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and yet had not even seen it from above yet. With this in mind, I glanced backward out the window, and was suddenly gifted a grand view. I nudged Stephanie. “There it is,” I said casually, pointing toward the giant hole in the ground. Stephanie laughed at my aloofness and she, too marveled at the pace at which this was suddenly happening.
Lassen holds a rich landscape full of coniferous forests and vast mountain slopes. Fascinatingly, all four types of volcanoes exist within its borders: cinder cone, shield, composite, and plug dome. We summited two of the four types on our visit in September.
Lassen is a little known wonder. Thermal features, mountains, volcanoes, forests: Lassen has everything except crowds. I unfortunately came down with a stomach bug while we were there, which trampled our plans to hike in the backcountry. However, for once we didn’t need to go to the backcountry to find solitude. We camped at a free national forest site outside the park and went on many day hikes. Continue reading
After our glorious first full day in the Sierra, I can say with full confidence that I am whole heartedly in love with this place. I’ve been reading John Muir’s The Mountains of California for some time now. I had always struggled to read it at home as it is meant to be read outdoors. I’ve been in many a beautiful place while reading it, and have thus guffawed at Mr. Muir multiple times while he boldly proclaimed the Sierra the finest mountain range in all the land. But after finally arriving here, it felt as though being here was what our whole adventure has been leading up to. Muir’s thoughts and observations echo through my head as I stare in wonder at the glacially carved peaks; or ponder the beauty of the pines, firs, cedars, and hemlocks.