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.
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
We spent a few days tooling around Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Canyon country is so beautiful. After our explorations, we learned that Trump had ordered to drastically shrink the size of not only Grand Staircase, but also Bears Ears National Monument. It’s unfortunate that Trump wants to diminish the land by opening it to commercial use.
Trump claims past administrations have abused the Antiquities Act, stating, “this law requires that only the smallest necessary area be set aside for special protection as national monuments. Unfortunately previous administrations have ignored the standard and used the law to lock up hundreds of millions of acres of land and water under strict government control.” 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.
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.
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.
I cannot stress enough how amazing the backcountry is. Camping in the backcountry brings us away from the crowds and into the heart of the wilderness, where natural beauty is, to a certain extent, unobstructed by man. Out in the backcountry, we are visitors to a gorgeous wonderland home to bears, elk, deer, mountain lions, coyotes, wolves, squirrels, bunnies, chipmunks, birds, and many more fascinating creatures.
Another benefit of the backcountry is the great people we meet out here. My goal from the start has been to get away from people altogether, but snow and water have prevented us from achieving complete solitude very often; we always end up staying with one or more other groups. As it turns out, this has been much more a blessing than a curse. In the month that we’ve been travelling in and out of backcountry paradises, we have not met one soul who has not been wonderful. Fellow backpackers share many common interests with us, and, best of all, they are full of amazing stories as well as great recommendations for local hikes and hot spots. Continue reading