Tag Archives: road trips

A dome without deciding.

When we departed Mammoth Lakes on our last morning together, my family kept going north toward their home while I soon must cross the mountains westward. I was glad that while I was still on Highway 395 the road passed through forests of Ponderosa and Jeffrey Pine with sagebrush underneath. That is one of my favorite sights, the huge trees somehow adding a depth to the quiet, and standing in relief to the dry and scrubby desert. I also took extra time to drive off of the highway on a dirt road, trying to get closer to the mountain pictured above. I still needed to zoom in to see the beautiful geology streaked with snow.

That snowstorm our first morning had been a blessing in two ways. It cleared the air of the smoke that had masked the mountains when we approached the evening of our arrival back in California; and it added contrast to all the colors, highlighting the lines and textures of the rocks.

The decision about which mountain pass I would use that morning had remained a point of discussion for most of the trip. Google maps wanted me to go via Hwy 50 by Lake Tahoe; I suppose the program chose what would normally be the fastest route. But as a result of wildfire damage in that area the highway had been closed, and while the date of its reopening remained unknown, I leaned toward one of the other passes to the south, either Sonora or Tioga, and I booked a lodging in a little town that would be convenient either way. As the day drew near, Tioga Pass closed because of snow.

But it was opened again, and meanwhile it had become my first choice. The picture just above is from that road, Highway 120, which passes through Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. I had finally decided on this road because of all the memories associated with it, especially Tuolumne Meadows, starting with the day when 50 years ago last month my husband and I became engaged to be married.

This picture is just a closer view of the one above; you can see the aspens turning….

I stopped many times at turnouts, to get a look at Wright’s Buckwheat and a surprising number of other botanical roadside attractions:

But soon enough, around noon, I arrived at Tuolumne Meadows, and thought I would at least investigate the trail that leads up the back of Lembert Dome, which I mentioned just last month in connection to another granite dome. All my memories of this hike were foggy, it had been so long ago that we accomplished it.

I was curious, and entered into the process of continuing on the trail without quite deciding to do it. If there ever was doubt about my being a process- and not a goal-oriented personality, it has vanished, as I observe my rambling and meandering behavior that has created some problems for me, in this era when I have no goal-oriented husband around to keep me in check.

If you like maps (and domes) you might be interested in this one. I parked my car near the bridge over the river, so my trek started lower left at the doubled purple line.

I began to walk around the northwest side. At first the way was fairly flat and easy…

…but it quickly steepened, and ascended through the forest, where patches of snow still lay on the path and I could occasionally see the dome through the trees. It was lonely and lovely. In the first hour I saw only one couple, and listened to the sort of quiet that is full of small bird songs, the wind murmuring through the pines, and chipmunks chirping.

Looking back the way I’d come:

I heard groaning as of a door swinging on its hinges, and looked up to see a slender tree trunk that had fallen into to the branches of a larger tree, and was sliding back and forth the slightest bit when the wind blew.

Tramp tramp tramp, swish swish crunch, tramp tramp splish splish…. My boots were adding the only not-quiet sound, as I pushed on through snow and mud and plain dry dirt. I was glad that I hadn’t come too early, or I might have lost the trail in the snow, but tread marks showed me the way. After nearly an hour I saw this sign:

Really?? Still that far to go…? I realized that I hadn’t looked at the map beforehand to see how many total miles I was in for — because “it was an easy hike a toddler could do,” after all. Well, I was not going to give up at that point! Then it was, I suppose, that I knew I had a goal.

That next  mile was pretty easy, and only took 40 minutes. When you get behind the dome and the trail bends around to the approach, soon you start to see blue between the trees and down to the ground, and you know that you are high.

The last part is very root-y and rocky… and then, the bare granite is in front of you…


Lembert Dome sits on the meadow, which is 8500 feet above sea level. In less than two miles of climbing you gain 900 feet to the top of the rock, so the trail would naturally have to be steep. The grade, the length, the time it took, the difficulty — none of it was as I remembered. Nor had I remembered how old Pippin was — she was three, not two years old — and now that I have been up there again I can hardly believe that she walked the whole way, but that is the story that we’ve all been telling, and it’s true that she was a child who climbed everything from the start.

Looking down to the bottom, from where I’d come:

It’s such a wide space, you want to walk all around, and talk to the other rare people one finds in such a spot. I met three pairs of folks: First, a couple who mentioned several times that they were both afraid of heights!  They stayed in the middle of the expanse, and we took each other’s pictures. If you squint you can see them on the left below, eating gluten-free peanut butter pretzels which they also shared with me.

I met two 20-something boys, one of whom was ultra friendly and reminded me of the Jesus People of my own youth; I kept expecting him to ask if I knew Jesus. I liked him a lot, even though he asked my name as soon as I said “Hi.” I guess it’s okay to be forward with a grandma. And there was a father with his teenage son; we also took each other’s pictures, and told stories about Yosemite.

It was odd not to be talking about the names of the peaks. I don’t remember any of them, though their locations and the hikes linking one to another have been a realm of study and exploration for many people in my family, including my father and my husband.

In the picture above, we are looking around the west side of the dome to see Tuolumne Meadows as a tan strip in the distance, approximately in the middle of the frame. And below, Tioga Road is snaking through the forest. It’s a big expanse, but it is not exactly flat anywhere, so just standing around you have to brace yourself more or less.

I was up there more than an hour, but the time flew. I did not go around the side of the “knob,” as I call it, to the front of the dome, but I did feel confident to walk up on the broad and slanted slope just below. If I had not been alone I would have explored that last little area; when I told my fellow dome acquaintances why I was not going “all the way,” several of them offered to have me go with them. I was warmed by the camaraderie they were feeling, but was not at their level. I was content with my own solo feat.

And I had many miles to drive that afternoon, before I would get to my Airbnb home in the foothills down below, so I did not even sit down for a minute. I had a goal of getting to my resting place before dark, and it would take at least an hour to get back to my car. But I stopped on the way to chase after a tree frog for a snapshot. I think he was cold, and wanted nothing more than to sit in that patch of sunshine.

I also was looking forward to resting my aching body, and hoped there would be a tub in which I could soak, where I was headed. But it was extremely uncomfortable, psychologically, to be so driven in my driving, to keep pushing on toward my goal, with only a fleeting glance as I passed swaths of wildflowers and compelling rock views.

I allowed myself a brief stop at Olmsted Point, which was always a favorite place when we had children with us, and we would walk among the slabs and boulders of granite that we loved to explore. That spot might be more fun than a dome, because you can be freer to run and play. People who like can gaze up at the peaks and name them one by one.

I didn’t make it to my Airbnb before dark, but it was all okay. There was a tub to soak in, and a good bed, and my pictures to start sorting through. My last day’s drive was short and to the point, and I came home surprisingly energized and rejuvenated, having received in eleven days a thousand gifts.

This completes my October road trip story.

Enchantment on a road trip.

Truly, it seemed that I had posted more than enough pictures of mountains and children and drying-up flowers seen on my travels with family. But when the Professor shared one of his own captures of a moment in a place, I said, “Now I will have to write at least one more post about this trip.” You can skip to the end to see it if you are in a hurry.

The day after my last post, we went to Convict Lake in the morning:

At the end of the lake where Convict Creek comes in, there is The Enchanted Forest, of aspens and cottonwoods.

In the afternoon we drove north to Mono Lake, with a brief detour to get closer to the Mono Craters, where some red form of “wild buckwheat” was adding splashes of color to that area. (I don’t have a picture of the craters.) Pippin and I compared Antelope Brush and Common Sagebrush, and found the two growing close together, which was helpful. Sage has softer leaves.

Ivy persuaded me to collect sand out there for my collection, which I will label “Mono Crater Vista.”

At the lake, we saw the tufa and the beautiful rabbitbrush and sage at dusk:

I’m in a bit of a rush to finish this wrap-up post, before I get home and too busy. It turns out it will not be the last post about my trip after all; I had a great adventure at the end, after I parted ways with the family.

But to return to the Enchanted Forest, the Professor took this picture of my daughter and me, which shows the mood and the glory and the specialness of our time together. To God be the glory and the thanks and the praise for all these people and experiences and beauty. Thank you, Lord.

 

The mountains rise up and startle you.

We arrived in California and settled in our lodging (together) in Mammoth Lakes, on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. The next morning was pretty cold, requiring several layers of clothing as we set off for a hike in the Little Lakes Basin, along Rock Creek and to Marsh Lake. The trailhead was already over 10,000 ft in elevation, which meant that we were enjoying a very high mountain experience with minimal effort.

There was ice in several places along Rock Creek, which just made for more fun for Jamie. Three of us reveled in expansive or micro views in our camera viewfinders, and the youngest ones scampered like goats up and down boulders and cliffs.

Purple Mountain Heath

On the western side of the Sierras, you start from the Central Valley, nearly at sea level, and have to climb through foothills and lower ranges before you get to the high elevations. But on the east side, the valley is already at 4,000 feet elevation, and from there the mountains rise up immediately, and startle you.

Me

Above, you can see three species of cinquefoil that Pippin and I encountered all along the trail. In this spot they were all in close proximity to one another, though one is ihard to see back there n the shade. They are Slender Cinquefoil, Sticky Cinquefoil, and Shrubby Cinquefoil, not necessarily in that order. I actually gave up on keeping them straight.

This weathered Whitebark Pine got my attention; the Professor identified it for me:

We had arrived in town just before a snowstorm, we could see it coming on our phones’ weather app, and anticipated having to stay mostly indoors the next morning at least, because we have no snow gear with us.

And that’s how it turned out. While the snow was falling thickly for a few hours, we ate rice pudding for breakfast, built a fire in the woodstove (fires hadn’t been allowed in the campgrounds) and read or did creative projects. I tried sketching one of the images from the day before, in a tiny notebook I had brought, using Jamie’s and Ivy’s colored pencils. Both Jamie and Ivy got into writing stories, picking out the words on my laptop, their first time at a keyboard.

Then the snow stopped, and after lunch we drove to Hot Creek to ramble and explore. This is a place in the lower part of Mammoth Creek where the water spurts from hot springs under the surface of the creek, and its name is changed. We all found so much to look at, and Scout fished.

Lots of types of lichens grow on the “moonscape” rocks. Two of my favorites were growing together in this group captured by Pippin:

Elegant Sunburst Lichen with a mound of Orange Rock Posy Lichen

And more:

I was pleased to discover many bushes of ephedra or Mormon Tea growing near the creek.

The green bush is ephedra.

We dipped our fingers in the water in several places, and were surprised that tiny fish were swimming in it, it was so like bath water. In many places along the bank just above you could put your hand in a hole or crack and feel the warm and humid air. The smell of sulfur was strong in places, too.

Ivy had an encounter with nettles. She said with great feeling, “I thought it was lemon balm but it was a baby nettle!” Her mother managed to find some purslane leaves which she reluctantly chewed, and put the poultice on her skin. Either the poultice worked, or the taste of it distracted her; in any case, she was not frowning for long.

When we walked back up out of the creek channel, there the mountains stood, like gods.

Considering these mountains, and all the wonders that have surrounded me in the last week, Isabella Bird well expresses my feeling:

“I have found a dream of beauty at which one might look all one’s life and sigh.”

What we found on Highway 6.

Driving from Baker, Nevada to Mammoth Lakes, California took most of the day, and filled our vision with wide views. Pippin took the picture above showing one fine example.

We stopped within a few minutes to take pictures of clouds. Scout rode with me for a while, long enough to tell me stories of third-century Rome, especially of the tetrarchy of the the emperor Diocletian. When we pulled over for car and human fuel Ivy took his place, and for about an hour we didn’t have enough of a mobile signal to listen to a book together, so I asked her to tell me about The Black Stallion, which she read very recently. She is a good storyteller; I think she remembered more details from her first reading than I even noticed the last time I read it.

As soon as possible, we started listening to The Call of the Wild, which she chose from my Audible library. I hadn’t read it since I was just a little older than she is now. We finished the whole book during our drive, and Ivy paid close attention. The next day on the trail, she was composing poems as we hiked, one of them about a husky dog in the northern wilds.

We saw plenty of mountains in the distance as we pushed on toward California, but the plant life seemed thin. Only when we parked our cars along a wide spot in the road in the Stone Cabin Valley did Pippin and I see the truth. Darling and diminutive flowers in a rainbow of pastel colors were scattered all over the gravelly sand.

The Professor was amused at the sight of our happiness in what many would call a “godforsaken place,” as we scanned the ground for just one more version of what the Seek app told us was “Saltlover.” Here is the picture he took of us:

What we learned later when we were able to research it online was surprising and a little sad. This plant Halogeton glomeratus is not a native plant but was introduced from Russia and China; it is a noxious weed of the amaranth family in rangelands of the American West, because of what it does to livestock and to the soil. Grazing sheep are especially vulnerable and can be killed by the high levels of oxalates it contains, and the mineral salts it excretes into the soil make it hard for other plants to survive. Two different species of plants have been introduced that tolerate the salts and might compete under the harsh conditions of that territory. The seeds of Saltlover “have the ability to germinate within one hour after being exposed to water.” That is vigor!

A bright orange flower stood up above these little spires in a few places, the Desert Globe Mallow:

And colorful rocks also caught our eye. I wanted to take this big one home,road but after I dislodged it I could see it was too large and heavy:

Not to worry, several other smaller ones were just as brilliant, and before we piled in our cars again and continued on our journey, I had squeezed a few in the back of my Subaru. I told the children that when I die, they should be sure to take these rocks out of my garden and keep them as their own continuing memorials to the time Grandma came along on their mountain and desert explorations.