Yosemite Wilderness: Chapter 07 (The End)

Day 04:   

They Say That Travel Broadens your Mind Til’ You Can’t Get Your Head Out the Door

Turns out I’d passed out in the living/dining room, in a big green lawn chair.  This I learned at some point during the morning.  It was hard to tell just when, because all of the cabin’s shutters were drawn, there were no clocks on the wall, and my phone was…more than 2 feet away.  Oh well- back to sleep for awhile.

Ow! Ow! Ow! Can you please talk a little quieter? Good god, thank you. (photo by K. Riley)
Ow! Ow! Ow! Can you please talk a little quieter? Good god, thank you.
(photo by K. Riley)

After an exceedingly slow start to the day, the three of us were all up and about- each hurting in the head to varying degrees, each dimly aware of some of the previous night’s high-country drama.  Nobody felt totally right, nobody felt totally wrong; and nobody wanted to dredge the whole stupid thing up anyway.  We gave each other space where it was needed.

Peanut breaks the Fourth Wall. (photo by K. Riley)
Peanut breaks the Fourth Wall.
(photo by K. Riley)

Some of us went on a hike out towards the north rim of Tenaya Canyon, others decided to catch some rays laying out on the granite balds that hung over Snow Creek Canyon, a short distance from the cabin.  It was a good day.  Mellow.  Necessary.

Half Dome. Late afternoon. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Half Dome. Late afternoon.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

It Ain’t Exactly Rocket Science.  Oh Wait…It Is

By the time the group reconvened at the cabin around sunset, we weren’t dancing around each other with felt boots any longer; and so we got back to the business of being a unified bunch of hungry folk.  I can’t remember what we had for dinner that night; but I do remember that we had dinner; and that in itself feels like a mental victory under the circumstances.

Fresh out of wine, and nearly out of bourbon, and with precious little interest in either of them anyway, we were just beginning to settle in for a mellow, early night, with no distractions, when a quintet of lights suddenly appeared in the darkness just outside the living room window, bobbing and flashing and exploding their beams through the multi-paned glass.  Surreal and freaky at first, coming as the lights did from the least intuitive direction (having semi-circumvented the nearby meadow before finding the cabin), the lights proved to be nothing more than the headlamps of newcomers, and not cyborgs, aliens, or UFOs after all.

Space people. They're alright. (photo by K. Riley)
Space people. They’re alright.
(photo by K. Riley)

They were a group of astrophysicists from Stanford University in Palo Alto, of varying Northern European and North American descent.  They were all good folk, and they were even nice enough to help us take down the last of that wretchedly insidious bourbon, though they were understandably pretty wrecked from their day’s ascent from Yosemite Valley.

After a brief walk through the full-moon-lit meadow (the offer of which, incidentally, the dogs turned down in their utter exhaustion), the team sacked out, nice and early, as did the newcomers.  The cabin must have been silent by 11 PM; and aside from an unbelievably loud crash which reverberated through the whole structure sometime around 1 or 2 AM, a crash caused by my bumbled attempt to get out of my bed-chair and cross the room in the blackness, it remained so until the morning.

The weary crew sets off for civilization, whatever that means. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
The weary crew sets off for civilization, whatever that means.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Day 05:  Back To The World of Man   

Burning Up My Fuse Up Here Alone

Come morning, minds were on things like civilization, red meat, beds, and showers; and little was going to change that.  After an efficient, no frills breakfast of crispy toasted tortillas, sausage patties and oatmeal, we gathered our gear and set off from the cabin, after recommending a few area hikes to the rocket scientists , who were staying until the next day.

(Author’s note: for the record, astrophysics is actually not the same thing as rocket science.   In equating the two in the above text, I have employed a bit of what I call “literary license”)

Dog and woman embrace the abyss. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Dog and woman embrace the abyss.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

We made it down through the snow zone in 10 minutes, then took off the snowshoes and made even better time through the woods.  Stopping for a break at the Snow Creek crossing, we continued on down, consuming the switchbacks in an hour and a half, about a fifth of the time it had taken to get up them, and touching down in the valley around noon or so.

Being far from these places means I'm near cold drinks and flush toilets. I'll take it. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Being far from these places means I’m near cold drinks and flush toilets. I’ll take it.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Soaks aching feet in Merced River.  Retrieves vehicle.  Begins to load gear into back of same.  Readies to exit the park,  to return another day.

Get the hell out of my way. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Get the hell out of my way.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Too Late, Lawman- I’ve Got a Lunch Date.  Now If You’ll Excuse Me…

Just before we roll out, a white-haired old ranger walks up to us through the afternoon sunlight, greeting us and politely letting us know that we’re parked in a no parking zone.

Yeah, I know, I’ll be moving out in just a minute, sir.  Thankful not to have seen any park authorities until now, when we were no longer under threat of being called out on our rule-disregarding insolence, we headed out of Yosemite Valley, tracing the Merced river down through its lower canyon.

Lower Merced Canyon. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Lower Merced Canyon.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

We stopped at a roadhouse-type bar and grill in Mariposa, not a moment too soon.  I had a French dip on crunchy roll.  It was good.  Or maybe it wasn’t.  At that point I probably would have enjoyed a gasoline and rotten egg sandwich, with a dipping sauce of raw sewage on the side.  No matter.

Peanut conveys the group sentiment. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Peanut conveys the group sentiment.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Previous:  (Chapter 06)

Yosemite Wilderness: Chapter 06

Day 03: Snow Creek Cabin to Mount Nameless

Quacking to the Oldies

It started with dreams of sizzling bacon, the aroma indistinct yet unmistakable.  Before long the disjointed, nebulous smell began to coalesce into something almost palpable, seeming to hover just beyond the walls of conscious perception, occasionally wafting in and out of my shell of awareness.  Then suddenly I snapped awake, and opened my eyes to greet the day.  It was around 8 AM.  I could hear voices from below, bleeding up through the floorboards.

Morning sun in the lower Merced Valley. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)

The cabin is not the kind of place where you’re bound to sleep very late.  Not if there’s anybody else there, anyway.  Every footfall in the house resonates as loudly as a set of wooden cellar stairs when you’re hiding under them and Michael Myers is making his way down, with that chilling non-urgency that is his trademark.   But that was fine with me, as I knew the Ducks were supposed to be departing for civilization sometime this morning; and Steve had told me last night that he had some basic things he wanted to go over with me before he left, regarding the proper procedures for closing up the cabin when we left at some point later.

First light penetrates the forest in the high-country. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Eggs.  Bacon.  Sausage patties.  Coffee.  And I even choked down a little oatmeal.  A veritable lumberjack breakfast.  These mountain days will make a man hungry; so might as well get ahead of it with a power breakfast.

By 10:30 AM, the Ducks were packed and ready to go.  Steve bestowed his wisdom on me, as promised; and then I walked outside to bid them adieu.  Moments later, the two wilderness soldiers were swooshing away into the wild white yonder on their skis, with the noble bearing of seasoned veterans.  As they disappeared through the trees, I thought of those brief sketches appended to the end of those 80’s G.I. Joe episodes, wherein a Navy SEAL, or equivalent irrefutable bad-ass, happens upon a group of kids who are somewhat short on common sense, and imparts a nugget of hard-earned advice just in time to avert some catastrophe or another.

“Remember, kids- never venture out onto a frozen pond if the ice hasn’t been tested and approved by a responsible adult.  G.I. Joe!!

“Remember kids- don’t pet strange dogs.  G.I. Joe!!

“Remember kids- in the event of a fire, stay low, take the stairs (never the elevator!), get out of the building immediately, and report to your pre-arranged emergency meeting spot.  Wait there for an adult to issue further instructions. G.I. Joe!!

 

Where the Eagles Fly, On a Mountain High

One of nature’s majestic mysteries, the Clown-Footed Pean Wolf tracks silently across a snowy ridge, its jumbo footprints betraying any attempt at stealth. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)

The day was spent on a glorious snow-shoe hike, sans backpacks, up Mount Nameless (not its real name), a rounded mass of forested granite looming immediately beyond the cabin’s front doorstep.  I can’t tell you the true name of this pig, as I am bound by the code of the cabin to not betray its precise location, which I would in essence be doing were I to reveal the identity of its neighboring mountain.  If you really want to know what specific pile of rock I’m talking about, between the narrative and the photos there are more than enough embedded clues to furnish an astute individual with this information.

Turning the tables in this high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse, hunted becomes hunter as the woodsman creeps on the Pean Wolf, as the beast succumbs foolishly to its own vanity, mugging for the camera when it should be maintaining its vigilance against predators. (photo by K. Riley)

Anyhoo…after chipping our way across an annoyingly sloped forest on the flank of Mt. Nameless (wink!), we reached its long, bald summit plateau, which rolled gently southward along the rim of Tenaya Canyon, whose namesake creek frothed and tumbled far below, rushing through narrow crevices and spilling over precipitous cliffs.

Suddenly, reinforcements arrive unlooked for, and the woodsman flees, once again pursued, now by multiple fell beasts. (photo by K. Riley)

 

Upper Tenaya Canyon

Tenaya Canyon is such a narrow and virtually inaccessible 10-mile run of V-shaped granite, overhung by perennial glaciers which cling precariously to the opposite wall of the canyon, that park maps have the area scratched out, (like the faces of the kids I didn’t like in my junior high yearbook), to indicate the inadvisability of entering into its treacherous depths.  Hanging beneath the lip of Clouds Rest, a staggering viewpoint which towers over everything around it, these glaciers routinely break off without warning and slide down the sheer granite walls, issuing arena-sized ice chunks of packed snow and ice into the bed of Tenaya Creek with a thundering report which, if you’ve ever witnessed it, as I have once, drive the point home definitively that you best not attempt to travel through the canyon.  But of course crazy fucks do do it.  Even John Muir did it, actually; and he ascended the canyon (without ropes, to boot), which is incalculably more complicated and perilous then descending.  But his (albeit flimsy) excuse was that nobody knew yet at that time just how dangerous the place was.  Anyway, you’re no John Muir.  And neither am I.

The deep, V-shaped basin of Tenaya Canyon has no soil to absorb water flow; so runoff here is swift and treacherous. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)

 

Nameless Point

Trekking as far as we could out over the steep cut of Tenaya Canyon, we reached the point where Mt. Nameless drops off abruptly in a nauseatingly steep vertical near-mile.  Immediately we corralled and leashed the hounds, so as to ensure against the possibility of having to watch helplessly as they disappear over the cliff edge into the yawning abyss below (Tenaya Canyon on one side, Snow Creek Canyon on the other), We posed for some pictures, backed by the majesty of Half Dome, North Dome, Basket Dome, and far behind, Yosemite Valley, all of this beneath perfectly blue skies, with nary a cloud in sight.

Critically anxious with the fear of imminent death, a pair of beasts cling precariously to the precipitous lip of Point Nameless, in abject terror. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)

 

 Let’s Stay In For Dinner and Have a Boozy

Supper was a delicious concoction: Mac and Cheese with fried Pancetta, a dish that has become a backcountry staple for this crew since its introduction into the culinary repertoire a couple of years ago.

By the time dinner was done and the kitchen cleaned, it was fully dark; so it seemed more or less safe to assume that no other travelers would be arriving this evening.  We had the cabin all to ourselves. This we celebrated by digging in hard to our booze stash; though, had anybody else shown up, we would have commemorated their arrival in precisely the same manner.  I mean, what were we gonna do- carry out a bunch of whiskey and wine, after lugging it all the way up here?  Fat chance, Smiley.

Heedless of the imminent train wreck bearing down upon them, the revelers proceed undaunted into blind madness. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Whiskey.  Wine.  Tobacco.  Whiskey.  Cannabis.  Wine.  Cannabis.  Tobacco.  Whiskey.  And so on and so forth.  Yes, we tied one on that night (to vie for the Understatement of the Year award).

Memories dashed in and out, never showing more than a glimpse of their full selves; but this much has been pieced together in the aftermath of that evening:  Somewhere around 3 AM we collectively lost our shit, deep in the throes of wastoidity.  Communication began to break down.  Left and right brains became increasingly indistinct.  Regulation of volume became wildly inconsistent, like a driver swerving about dangerously in an attempt to compensate for an overly-responsive steering wheel. Chill vibes metamorphosed into ungovernable drama. Long-established bonds of pal-hood fell away, and were insidiously replaced by skepticism, unfamiliarity, and impenetrable walls where historically had been revolving doors of understanding, semi-permeable membranes of two-way comprehension and empathy.  A carelessly opened window collided with a hanging lantern.  A forehead was gashed.  There was yelling.  Someone violently swept a backgammon board across the room and into the far wall.  Drinks were spilled amid the commotion.  There were tears.  Stairs were stomped up and down.  There was restless pacing, incredulity.  Frightened dogs scattered and cowered in corners, dodging in terror even their most trusted and beloved persons.  Attempts at cooling tempers by standing out in the bitter cold met with marginal success at best.  A backpack was irrationally packed, though we still had another night here.  Feelings were hurt all around.  An attempt to clear the air and reboot fell flat, coming too soon, and too forced, as it were.  Sleeping bags were angrily crawled into.  Exhaustion prevailed, and consciousness failed.  And all the while, the whiskey just laughed; for the malice of its design was now full-wrought.

 

Previous:  (Chapter 05)

Next:  (Chapter 07)

 

Yosemite Wilderness: Chapter 05

The Elder Statesmen of Backcountry Bad-Assery

As it happened, all of our vaguely-paranoid anti-fantasies of angry rangers, bitter assholes, and super-citizen cowboy types proved entirely unfounded; for the returning trekkers were not the least bit hostile or unwelcoming, in no way possessive of this cabin to which they had come sometime before us.  Rather, these new folk that had just now skied up to our front doorstep, a pair of middle-aged men in their mid-sixties, were instantly revealed not merely as amicable and tolerable fellows, but seasoned mountain men, rich in lore, experience, and knowledge of the cabin, as well as its environs, and the history of the local high country.

I don’t know why I inserted a picture of Mirror Lake at this point in the narrative; but deal with it. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)

And so joined the party Steve and Sonny, a pair of jovial Vietnam vets, who welcomed us warmly to what we soon learned was a back-country abode whose very existence owed itself almost entirely to their efforts.  Having “rediscovered” the forgotten 85-year-old cabin after years of neglect and faded history had relegated it to mythical status, these guys and their crew of fellow bad-asses, collectively known as “The Yosemite Ducks” (which explained the row of ducks on the wall) went to work.  About a decade ago, the Ducks, acting with the blessing of senior park staff (most of whom had forgotten about the cabin- that is, those precious few who had ever even known of its existence in the first place), gutted, skinned, and rebuilt the cabin, fortifying it sufficiently to allow for relatively safe public access, at the park’s (and the Ducks’) discretion.  The kitchen wall was festooned with photos documenting this rebuilding process.

The Ducks rebuild the cabin, while you sit on your ass being a pussy. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)

 

Up From The Ruins

By the cheerful orange glow of the woodstove fire, dinner was begun, whiskey and wine bottles found eager and willing mouths, and the Ducks regaled us with tales of their many adventures in Yosemite and beyond.  They were very interesting- all build-a-cabin-with-our-hands this and traverse-the-range-on-skis-in-the-dead-of-winter-under-heavy-packs that.  It was on one of these hard-core missions that they had stumbled upon the cabin, which was at the time in a state of utter disrepair, but all the more of a relished challenge for that.

Our evening began In Peter Sichel’s comfortable study In his New York townhouse Where the candlelight was just right The hi-fi was in the background And the wine, was delicious. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)

These guys took “manly” to a level that would have easily shamed somebody less secure than myself (or perhaps I’m just saying that).  They came off as the types who preferred to test their mettle against the wildlife, topography, and glacial granite of the upper country than to share their experience with pussy-ass layfolk.  Whereas most of us would only do so while skiing fresh powder or riding a rollercoaster, I imagined Steve and Sonny jubilantly screaming “Wheeeeeeee!!” while plodding laboriously uphill, laden with tools and nails and steaks, so rugged were they.  Their salty gray beards didn’t say “old” so much as “seen it, done it, conquered it”.  When our pasta dinner was just about finished cooking, Sonny offered to augment our adequate but relatively meager red sauce with- get this– meat of wild boar, leftovers from their own hearty supper.  No shit.  I mean, who the fuck has wild boar?  Extra wild boar, no less.  For all I could tell, Sonny probably had the thing’s tusks hanging as a necklace against his sternum.  And I imagined this boar having begun the day as a free beast, unfettered and wild- that is, until these two powerhouses happened along, set a pick for the hapless beast, and wrestled it to the ground with their bare hands.  At any rate, that was what I was amusing myself by picturing.

When your day is old And your toes are so cold Cocoa (photo by D. Speredelozzi)

After dinner, Robin fire-danced in the snow outside, while the rest of us watched through the large window in the dining room.  The Ducks were duly impressed.  In their day, I reckoned, this type of performance was probably the strict province of chanting revelers in grass skirts, with faces adorned with war-paint, or hidden behind terrible, oversized masks bearing devilish countenances, hopping back and forth from one foot to the other as if dancing on hot coals, while furious bongo drums rhythmatized the torch-lit clearings of their tiny islands, in far-off distant hemispheres, beneath strange and unfamiliar constellations.

Aww shit- I’m starting to get some sweet visuals. Niiice, dude. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)

 

And So To Bed…

Though I’m almost always the last man standing on these nights spent in the wilderness, be they at a cabin or under stars, my residual fatigue from the day’s brutal ascent could not be staved off indefinitely; and so after a time I became the first among us to sack out for the night, sometime around 10 o’clock.  As I lay upstairs in my sleeping bag, the metal cot creaking loudly with every shift in position, I let the muffled sound of voices, seeping up through the floorboards, be my lullaby.  As the night wore on, one by one the voices dwindled, until at last the cabin was silent.

I never said it’d be no bed of roses. (photo by D. Speredelozzi)

I awoke sometime in the dead of night, sweltering.  Thing about a tiny wooden cabin filled with people, its woodstove stacked with fragrant wedges of chopped pine- it gets fucking hot after awhile.  I cracked the window to let in the frosty mountain air, and returned to my slumber.

 

Previous:  (Chapter 04)

Next:  (Chapter 06)

Mountain Speaks, Natives Listen

A line of chocolate jimmies makes its way across the pocked surface of a bowl of freezer-burnt vanilla ice cream. (photo by Gurinder Osan, AP)
A line of chocolate jimmies makes its way across the pocked surface of a bowl of freezer-burnt vanilla ice cream.
(photo by Gurinder Osan, AP)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2610051/Most-Sherpas-decide-leave-Everest-season.html

Ahh, respect for the power and dignity of nature, remember that?  Legend holds that it once existed here in America; but that era ended the moment we “discovered” the place.

Get Busy Living, Or Get Busy Blogging

Sometimes it feels like that is my choice:  To either write about adventures, or have them.

“Oh poor you“, said Livia Soprano.

After all, there are only 168 hours in a week.  Which is why this kind of thing has to be done more or less to the exclusion of all else.  Kinda.

The cactus loves no-one The canyon couldn't be bothered with your bullshit The sun is pissed and spiteful The creeks avoid you like the plague And it turns out the flashlights aren't really filled with beans It's the Grand Canyon:  book your trip today! (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
The cactus loves no-one
The canyon couldn’t be bothered with your bullshit
The sun is pissed and spiteful
The creeks avoid you like the plague
And it turns out the flashlights aren’t really filled with beans
It’s the Grand Canyon: book your trip today!
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Now as you can see, in between blog posts I try to squeeze in a little fun here and there, wherever I might find it.  And this I have done over the past couple weeks- in between blog posts, as it were.  And best of all… this most recent time around I kept my (new) camera stapled to my forehead all week; so I can actually show you the proof.

Stories and long-winded yah-yah coming soon!

No, seriously.

Should I or shouldn't I?  I've only broken my neck diving once. (photo by K. Riley)
Should I or shouldn’t I? I’ve only broken my neck diving once. (photo by K. Riley)

StoryTime, Interrupted

A taste of the Lost Coast, courtesy of someone less ill-fated than myself.  (photo by Unknown)
A taste of the Lost Coast, courtesy of someone less ill-fated than myself.
(photo by Unknown)

The Lost Boast

I announced last week that there would soon be coming this way more fodder for the tale-telling hearth-fire, and that this fresh-spun batch of words would hail from California’s spectacular Lost Coast, and environs. And believe me when I tell you that there are such tales, quite indeed.

Only the hardy ever get to stroll this field of coastal wildflowers, set as it is along stretch of Pacific coastline accessible only by travelers on foot (or wing), and that only after lugging a loaded backpack across eleven of the most physically demanding trail miles you're likely to see anywhere.  (photo by Unknown)
Only the hardy ever get to stroll this field of coastal wildflowers, set as it is along stretch of Pacific coastline accessible only by travelers on foot (or wing), and that only after lugging a loaded backpack across eleven of the most physically demanding trail miles you’re likely to see anywhere.
(photo by Unknown)

This past week, with three friends- two of them on two legs and one of them on four- I spent four of the most satisfying days I can remember having in quite some time, hiking the grueling, halting, and pitiless, yet gorgeous, untrammeled, and utterly un-peopled (save for a cute little old couple that it would warm your heart to meet, who, in their tiny little seaside log cabin, live the kind of quietly idyllic life that these days seems to exist wholly outside of time) black sand beaches and sprawling green bluffs of the rugged Kings Range of California, more famously known as The Lost Coast.

This is Tommy the Starfish. He gives advice, grants wishes, and judges not. Find him if you can.  (photo by Unknown)
This is Tommy the Starfish. He gives advice, grants wishes, and judges not. Find him if you can.
(photo by Unknown)

As stated above, they were four of the most perfect days I’ve had in recent times- unassailable weather, enviable temps, and more fresh water pouring off the seaward cliffs and bluffs than a thirsty dog could possibly drink (though he try).  Sharp, bright days of sweeping shadow and creeping, unlooked-for sunburn; and cool, calm nights of orange beach campfire and phosphorescent light from a waxing half moon.

A hiker traverses the long flat bench of Spanish Flat, midway along the route.  (photo by Unknown)
A hiker traverses the long flat bench of Spanish Flat, midway along the route.
(photo by Unknown)

And it was with the uttermost care, attempted professionalism, and attention to detail I could muster that I documented the finer points of the journey on my trusty camera, which I protectively kept lashed to my side the entire trip, even in sleep.  Which is why it was so gut-wrenchingly, soul-sucker-punchingly agonizing to lose my goddamn camera on the drive home, when I made the split-second tragic blunder of unshackling it from my hip and promptly depositing it somewhere along the old-growth redwood groves of Humboldt County.  And this is why all of the attached photos are stock photos I found online, and not my own painstakingly-labored-upon photographic handiwork, as fully intended, and deeply wished.

The Lost Coast is home to some of the luckiest Tule Elk to be found along the Pacific Rim.  (photo by Unknown)
The Lost Coast is home to some of the luckiest Tule Elk to be found along the Pacific Rim.
(photo by Unknown)

And it is for this reason that I cannot bring myself to go into any detail about this trip right now.  To quote Legolas Greenleaf in the safe haven of Lothlorien, speaking to Merry shortly after the tragic loss of Gandalf to that cursed Balrog of Moria: “I have not the heart to tell you. For me the grief is still too near.”

Every step taken on the soft, deep black sand beaches of the Kings Range is as two to three steps taken on solid ground, but only in terms of physical toll taken, not mileage covered.  (photo by QT Luong)
Every step taken on the soft, deep black sand beaches of the Kings Range is as two to three steps taken on solid ground, but only in terms of physical toll taken, not mileage covered.
(photo by QT Luong)

So please, give me a week or two to see if by some one-in-a-million chance my camera might turn up in the hands of some good citizen, thereby restoring to me both my extensive personal stash of photos from the trip, and my zeal to speak of it.

A blogger, perhaps somewhat overly prone to catastrophizing, reacts to the realization that he has lost his camera in the home stretch of an epic trip. The chick and the horse- I don't know what the hell they're doing there. (photo property of 20th Century Fox)
A blogger reacts to the realization that he has lost his camera in the home stretch of an epic trip. The chick and the horse- I don’t know what the hell they’re doing there.
(photo property of 20th Century Fox)

In the meantime, I’m headed off to the Grand Canyon to generate some more stories; and you best believe I’ll be picking up a new camera along the way.  Back after next weekend; and for chrissakes it will be with photos. Photos taken by me,for goddammit.

Humboldt Calling

It's not an end...it's a beginning.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
It’s not an end…it’s a beginning.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)

Phony weed-mania has bitten the dust.

All the cryin' in the world ain't gonna bring it back. (photo by Ian Stout)
All the cryin’ in the world ain’t gonna bring it back.
(photo by Ian Stout)

Coming soon:  Tales From the Lost Coast

When the ebbing tide retreats Along the rocky shoreline It leaves a trail of tide pools In a short-lived galaxy. (photo by Ian Stout)
When the ebbing tide retreats
Along the rocky shoreline
It leaves a trail of tide pools
In a short-lived galaxy.
(photo by Ian Stout)

The Fleeting Desert Spring

CA Highway 190 descends steeply into the Stovepipe Wells Basin, where last summer people were literally frying eggs on the pavement- simply because they could. (photo by Unknown)
CA Highway 190 descends steeply into the Stovepipe Wells Basin, where last summer people were literally frying eggs on the pavement- simply because they could.
(photo by Unknown)

Here’s the problematic duality with Death Valley, as some see it:

It’s a fairly well-known fact that the largest national park in the lower 48, which also boasts (or sheepishly admits to with a shy shuffle of its feet and a downward glance, depending on your point of view) the lowest point on the continent (in the entire western hemisphere, in fact),  is an absolute swelter-fest, for much of the year prohibitively stifling for many would-be visitors.

Don't be like this hapless steer- arm yourself with plenty of water before you set out on foot across the chapped wastes of Badwater Basin, lowest point in the western hemisphere.  (photo by Unknown)
Don’t be like this hapless steer- arm yourself with plenty of water before you set out on foot across the chapped wastes of Badwater Basin, lowest point in the western hemisphere.
(photo by Unknown)

Okay, so…the summer, a time when Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth, scares away a lot of potential tourism.

But what about the winter?

Death Valley sits in the middle of the enormously expansive Mojave Desert, which stretches from far southern California all the way up to the Canadian border in eastern Washington, an effective wall of uninterrupted aridity complicating all east-west passage.  At its westernmost extreme, Death Valley sits at the eastern feet of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Problem is, save for Las Vegas, Phoenix, and other population centers much further east, the people all live west of the range (Los Angeles, San Franciso, San Diego, Sacramento); and crossing the Sierra in winter-time is not so simple, being that all of the roads that span the range, save four (California Highways 58 and 178, both out of Bakersfield; Interstate 80, east of Sacramento; and California Highway 70, east of Chico- a total north-south span of over 300 crow-miles), are closed in the winter-time.  So, for instance, for people from the Bay Area, driving to Death Valley in the wintertime is sufficiently complicated to inspire many of them to refocus their plans on more westward parks, such as Redwood National, Channel Islands, and Pinnacles.

A Sahara-esque expanse of lofty, wind-crafted sand dunes stretches northward from the visitors center at Stovepipe Wells.  (photo by Unknown)
A Sahara-esque expanse of lofty, wind-crafted sand dunes stretches northward from the visitors center at Stovepipe Wells.
(photo by Unknown)

So then when the hell are you supposed to go to Death Valley?

Try the springtime.  If you hit it right, Death Valley can put on quite a show in the immediate post-winter, as its streaking alkali fields of acidic colors are visually augmented by an explosion of wildflowers that, while dramatic, doesn’t last very long.  And the temperatures during this time are far more palatable to your average human: high 50s to high 80s- at least 20 degrees cooler, on average, than the summertime temps.  And the roads over the Sierra are starting to open; so you can actually get there.

Where there is life, there is hope.  (photo by Unknown)
Where there is life, there is hope.
(photo by Unknown)

Now’s the time to beat the heat in the desert.  Check out this article on Death Valley from SFGate:

http://www.sfgate.com/travel/article/Death-Valley-in-spring-Beautiful-and-not-that-hot-5367269.php

Return From the Burn: Yosemite Reopens Hetch Hetchy, Other Toasted Areas

Much of the land surrounding Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was sullied by the Rim Fire, though you wouldn't know it to look at this photo.  (photo by Unknown)
Much of the land surrounding Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was sullied by the Rim Fire, though you wouldn’t know it to look at this photo.
(photo by Unknown)

Last year’s Yosemite Rim Fire scorched 77,000 acres of pristine national parkland, burning much of it beyond recognition.  But after an in-depth analysis of the region’s dental records, followed by repeat applications of various topical ointments, authorities have finally decided to re-admit the public to the affected area.

See the story at SFGate here:

http://blog.sfgate.com/stew/2014/04/02/yosemite-park-reopens-areas-scorched-by-rim-fire/#22122101=0

Lower Wapama Falls crashes across the Seven Bridges before plunging over a cliff to land in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.  (photo by D. Speredelozzi)
Lower Wapama Falls crashes across the Seven Bridges before plunging over a cliff to land in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
(photo by D. Speredelozzi)