Joshua Tree National Park is chock full of evidence of former inhabitants and land use. We had a fun time exploring old gold mines as well as the residences of past miners. Joshua tree is a place where you can just imagine cowboys and their herds roaming. But the preservation of Joshua tree is in thanks not to these rustic cowboys and prosperous miners who used the land to their advantage. Those who saw the area as a special place that must be protected were women who saw the beauty, not the bounty, of the land.
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.
Death Valley, California
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.
Hiking in the Needles – Canyonlands National Park
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.
Camping in an alpine meadow – Kings Canyon National Park
Oobee meets a Big Tree – Sequoia National Park
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.
Hiking Down South Kaibab Trail – Grand Canyon
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.
At camp – Lassen National Forest
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.
At the end of August, we spent a week (not nearly enough time) exploring the Olympic Peninsula. Upon entering the otherworldly rainforest, my imagination was immediately captivated. It seems that every fairy tale that has ever been told could have taken place here. The lush rainforest is at once alluring, and at times foreboding. In the midst of our hike to Enchanted Valley, I imagined Snow White singing to the birds in the meadow. Moments later, coming upon a wooded forest once again, the trees seemed ominous, as if the big bad wolf was lurking just behind the next grove. Many times I expected to come upon some cottage made of sweets, or to see a fairy nestled amongst the intricate moss.
Little Red Riding Hood’s Territory – Olympic National Park
The massive and ancient Coast Redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) are master survivors from a prehistoric time. They are built to withstand fire, to ward off insects, and, most impressively, to regenerate themselves through burl sprouts. When a redwood is distressed from, say, fire, the cells or burl sprouts within it react by shooting out sprouts which can become new trees! It is not uncommon to see a redwood, dead or alive, with a younger cloned tree shooting up from beside it or even from within it! Is there any other species on this planet that has the ability to clone itself in such a way? While looking up a massive trunk to the tree branches and the reiterated trees sprouting from it, I said “This…this is higher power.” These trees have survived thousands of years because of their design. I am not a religious person, but being out here, I don’t doubt that there is a creator. Here, in nature, is where my church lies. Come out here yourself, and maybe you will be reminded that it is by honoring nature that we honor our maker.
The thickness and dampness of Redwood bark protects the trees from wildfire
Aside: I feel blessed to have spent a full month in the Canadian Rockies. I still have more to write about the area, as well as the amazing Olympic Peninsula, but for now I just wanted to skip ahead to Redwood National Park due to the level of influence it has on me.
Even before the wildfires in Banff started, the locals knew they were coming. We had just taken a relaxing dip in Radium Hot Springs at the south end of Kootenay National Park, after which we bought some snacks in town and I gave in to my bad habits and bought my first pack of Canadian cigarettes. As I lit one on a bench located on the boulevard between the filling station and the road, a small gas station attendant came frantically toward me. “If you’re going to smoke there, be very careful” she pleaded. “We have a small ashtray on the pavement you could use instead. We are very worried. Storms are coming.” “I understand,” I told her. I relocated myself outside the station.
Then, on our drive back into Kootenay, we noticed the fire danger sign now read “EXTREME”. This was a strange sight indeed, as I’ve never seen a Minnesota fire danger sign exceed “Moderate”. Sure enough, that night, as cracks of thunder echoed over the blazer where we were camped in Kootenay National Park, a burst of lightning started a wildfire near Sunshine Village Ski Resort, not 30 miles from where we slept. Fortunately for us, we had only just finished our hike to Egypt Lake. All the trails we had explored for the past three days were hereafter closed due to wildfire.
Most of my Rockwall Trail photos are shrouded in smoke