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.
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.
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.
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:
I was pleased to discover many bushes of ephedra or Mormon Tea growing near the creek.
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.”
Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain, and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as creeks will. The creeks are all the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there. But the mountains are home.
– Annie Dillard
A granite dome was the focus of my mother’s most memorable hiking experience. She told me many times the story of how, at the urging of my father, she climbed Moro Rock when she was great with child (me). That is, so far, my only experience of it.
On our yearly camping trips decades later, my own children’s father would hike to the summits of other domes of rock with them, and a few of those times I was along. Lembert Dome was long my favorite, looming over Tuolumne Meadows on the Tioga Pass, in Yosemite National Park. Even at three years old Pippin could get to the top of it, with someone to hold her hand on the gradual ascent up the back slope.
In the latter half of my life, my favorite dome is the one behind our mountain cabin. Several features of it make it accessible to me, the most important one being that I can walk to its base in a few minutes. I read recently that one summer, a small group of us climbed to the summit of this dome in the morning and again in the evening of the same day. My late husband took the picture below of our companions coming up behind him, about eight years ago. You can see why I wouldn’t want to try it alone.
During my recent mountain retreat, I set out one morning before breakfast, thinking that I would just walk over that way to get a view of the lake from the other side of what we have nicknamed Gumdrop Dome. Within ten minutes I had changed course and decided to approach from a different direction and to do a new thing: walk all the way around the base. I came through the trees to the north side, and headed to my right, around the west side of the rock. That side is a steep wall, decorated by veins of different colored minerals, and by lichens.
I refreshed my memory just now about different types of clast, or broken rock. I think what lies there at the bottom of the wall would not be classified talus or scree, but is just plain clast. On this side you can clearly make out where the base of the dome is.
I walked along in the clast, it moved under me, and then — whoopsie! Down I went on my behind. While I sat, I thought I should take advantage of the camera angle:
It wasn’t the only time I fell. A few minutes later I stumbled forward, and scraped my hand on some of that sharp granite. My euphoria was untouched; it was such incredible good fortune, that I should find myself completely alone, yet in rich company: God, and a friendly monster of a rock. Still, I navigated more carefully after that. The boulder to the right of the pine cones in the picture below is an example of the coarsest grit of granite imaginable; and the one below it, also.
I began to search for stones, keepsakes of my solitary walk around “Gumdrop.”
On the back side, the line between dome and not-dome is vague, as that granite face stretches away in an ever flattening grade, down into the trees. There is still lots of rock there, but giant conifers grow out of cracks in it, and their duff lies thickly on top. Granite domes like this are called bornhardts; there are several theories about how they form.
For a long time I gazed at the wide views from my high perch, a flattish boulder-bench, and felt the cool breeze growing warmer as the sun rose to my left.
“O, Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all.”
From here you can see other domes in the distance, but of course you can’t get a good idea of what the dome you are standing on looks like. The best vantage point I’ve ever had is from the lake, as in this picture that was taken some years ago:
This area below I call the amphitheater. It’s a good place from which to watch the show!
If I had brought a snack, I might have stayed hours longer. It was all delicious and satisfying as a feast for the soul, but pure bliss was not going to prevent me getting shaky (elevation about 8500′) if I kept putting off nourishment such as was waiting for me back at the cabin; so I stood up and continued my explorations.
This couplet below does not at all fit with the stones that I collected on the dome, as far as their smoothness, or the number of them. But the poet’s metaphor echoes somehow that of Annie Dillard at the top of this post, and they both understand what I left behind on that mountain dome, and what I brought home.
“may came home with a smooth round stone as small as a world and as large as alone.” -E.E. Cummings
Here is my last look at Gumdrop, when I had circled around to my starting place. From this angle it seems that it might not be impossible to climb that particular slope. I wonder…. Well, next time I have a companion, I’ll have to bring him or her to this place and give it a try! But for now, Good-bye Gumdrop! Good-bye mountains! Thank you for inviting me. I had a good time!
The hawk dropped down to the shoulder of the road just ahead of where I was driving down the mountain. It was at the elevation where you start to see the elderberries that don’t grow much higher, about 6,000 feet. He carried something in his talons that touched the ground just before he did.
I didn’t see any cars in my rear view mirror, so I slowed to a stop in the middle of the road and looked out the window at him, a few feet away on the other side of the road. He looked calmly at me. I should say, he looked in my direction, because I don’t know… what if I were the first human he had ever seen? Does a bird focus on another creature’s face and eyes, the way a human baby does? I stared and he looked a little bored, for ten long seconds, and then he flew into a tree nearby.
That meeting was one of the exciting events of my drive down from the mountains this week. I’d stayed at the cabin two more nights after my family departed, and had anticipated that when I finally left I would do my typical stop-and-go meandering for at least the first few thousand feet of descent, say, from 8,000 to 5,000 feet elevation. Because in July there are many more wildflowers than in September, the month in which I most often have visited this part of the High Sierra.
When the rain began to fall, and fell harder the morning I was to leave, it seemed my plans would have to change, and I might only be collecting rocks for my garden, instead of wildflower pictures. I always love rain at the cabin, so I did not complain at all. And it surely wouldn’t be a bad thing if I got home sooner rather than later. But — about the time I’d finished closing up the place and packing my car, the clouds began to break up, so that this was my last view of the lake:
The first wildflower I found, one I hadn’t seen for years, was Mountain Pride, bordering the road. It and Wavyleaf Paintbrush had few flowers remaining, but they provided a bright contrast to the sky, water and granite. This is a picture of them taken four years ago nearly to the day, in the same place. The snow melted earlier this year, as there was not much of it, so the bloom peaked before I got here.
I noticed or met for the first time no fewer than 18 different species of wildflowers that day, most of which I wrote down in a little notebook each time I got back into my car to drive further along the road, going slow and keeping my eyes open for spots of color, or whatever else might appear. Some of the flowers that I won’t show you were:
My favorite flower of the day by far was Bigelow’s Sneezeweed, a darling thing which I first saw in this area many years ago. I pulled over for it several times, and the last time was the best display, with bees and two kinds of butterflies drinking at the blooms.
One of them was the Field Crescent, of whom I didn’t get a good shot, but here is one I found online of this little insect:
Should Nature at times, on our awakening, propose to us The very thing to which we were disposed, Then praise at once swells in our throats. We feel we are in paradise.
The corn lilies were blooming, and a beetle was on site for that glorious event, seeming to have lost its head over pollen:
Fireweed waved its purple flowers in the breeze. “It earned its name because this plant is the first colonizer in the soil after forest fires.”
This next picture shows an area ripe and ready for some fireweed to sprout and grow; it is a landscape resulting from the Creek Fire last fall.
That was the huge fire that necessitated closing the highway that we use to get to our cabin, the same week that Soldier’s family and I had planned to be up there. We went to the beach and took smoky pictures instead.
Already I saw wild roses blooming among the stumps, and this healthy milkweed:
I often have run across wildflowers with buckwheat as part of their common name. This page shows you how vast is that family, called Polygonaceae, that includes mountain sorrel, curly dock — and rhubarb, of all things. But the strange species I saw a lot of on my drive was Naked Buckwheat.
It has strong, wire-like stems that are tall and bare for most of their length, with white puff-balls at the tip.
I wanted to get a nice picture of the elder bushes in flower, and when I squeezed in close this bright and rather large beetle got my attention:
I began to think of all the fascinating and complex creatures that live their (often short) lives in “obscurity.” I bet no one else had ever seen that bug. God lavishes the earth with life and beauty as an expression of His generosity and love.
As I went down the mountain, it was like an hours-long birthday party with Him saying, “Stop here. See that flower? It’s one of the special gifts I’m giving you today.” Then, “Look there! A red and black bug I chose just for you.”
He gave me sneezeweed because they are my old friends. He introduced me to a hawk for something new. Butterflies fluttered, proposing the very thing to which I was disposed. This place was not paradise, we can tell that by the fire damage, and many other aspects. But there was a little taste of Paradise in my soul, and praise swelling in my heart.