Aspen aspirations achieved!

Autumn-tinged aspen leaves, artfully arranged by a fellow camper.

Autumn-tinged aspen leaves,
artfully arranged by a fellow camper.

Just returned from 3 days in the California Alps, where the nightly temperatures are dropping to the freezing point and causing the quaking aspens in the area to display leaves of vivid gold, orange, and red.

Stay tuned: photos are forthcoming, including some photos of dead trees that I’m sure a certain Mr. Mangan will enjoy.

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Why I hike, too

Tom Mangan, in his blog Two-Heel Drive, this week posted some eloquent reasoning behind why he got started hiking. They’re good reasons, and they match my own. Often there are people who make an impression upon us, giving us just enough cause to make the leap, buy the gear, and get out there to where Nature waits. The following is from my “feedback” response to Tom’s post.

There are moments out there – real, honest, emotion-inducing moments wherein the eyes well up, the spine tingles, and the captured memory – of such a single astounding yet fleeting blip in your Life – finds itself inescapably resonating with you long after you’ve left the trail. Be it a tree growing out of a rock and thriving, or two rattlesnakes mating, or a night filled with horizon-to-horizon meteors, or directly making eye contact with a bobcat, there is nothing like hiking in Nature to bring balance and absolute harmony to one’s Life – not to mention endorphins and the smell of a forest.

We need to be thankful that we have such bounty around us that we can escape into when the feeling calls. I, for one, cannot fathom what it would be like for me to forsake regular visits to the wilderness – even when it’s just the local paved bike path along the creek at lunchtime.

Come to think of it: there was an extraordinary man in my early life who shaped much of the person I am today, and his name was Don Carre; he was my music teacher in high school, but also (lucky for me) an avid backpacker who advised our student’s backpacking club. I learned so much from Don about organizing trips, menu planning, wilderness ethics – even how to tie climbing knots. I remember less about playing the tympani for him than I do the fundamental grounding – and desire to be out there – that he left with me.

If you and your wife Carol are still out there tramping trail, Don, I sure hope to walk with you again.

~winehiker

Reaching the Pinnacles of early Spring

This past weekend, I led a group of hikers over the singularly unique trails of Pinnacles National Monument. There’s something about this place that attracted me – really gripped me – right from the start. Could it be the Spring wildflowers? Could it be the bat caves? Or, possibly, the chance to see California Condors on the wing? Maybe the wildlife, the chiseled trails, the far-off vistas? The tunnels, coves, grottoes and groves? Perhaps the rock itself?

Late afternoon shadow descends upon the Pinnacle's High Peaks.

Late afternoon shadow descends upon the Pinnacle’s High Peaks.

It is difficult to pick out any one thing about Pinnacles that makes it so attractive, but in combination, a weekend camping and hiking experience at Pinnacles is so magnetic to me that I can’t ever resist wanting to bring other people there to share the experience with me. And you really do need at least two days to experience the full magic of Pinnacles. So, for the 5th straight year, I reserved two contiguous campsites at Pinnacles Campground for a weekend of outdoor fun and frolic in this uncanny, holy place among the hoodoo rock.

The end of March is a fine time to be at Pinnacles, too, when the wildflower blooms are beginning to peak and before the heat of Summer arrives, which it always does at Pinnacles well before it hits the San Francisco Bay Area. Having chosen the last weekend of March each of these past five years, it has been interesting to note the differences in wildflower blooms from year to year. This year, the weather has been much wetter than normal, and as a result, the wildflowers at Pinnacles haven’t quite cranked up to their full showy potential.

A Douglas Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) blooms along the Condor Gulch Trail.

A Douglas Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum) blooms along the Condor Gulch Trail.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t see them! In fact, many species of wildflowers were popping out there on the trails, beckoning to us to take a look as we passed by them. From buttercups to blue dicks, bush poppies to golden poppies, indian paintbrush to indian warrior, and purple lupines to purple witch nightshade, there were quite a variety of wildflowers to see – just not as many of them as I’m used to seeing.

But it’s only going to get better as the rains taper away and Spring gets more than just a foot in the door. I hope to return to Pinnacles in the next few weeks just to note the difference. If you can, dear reader, snag yourself a campsite and go there for a weekend, before the 90-degree days of late April begin to fade Pinnacles’ many blossoms.

Lowland Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon clevelandii ssp. patulum) add joy to the living art that is Pinnacles National Monument.

Lowland Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon clevelandii ssp. patulum) add joy to the living art that is Pinnacles National Monument.

~winehiker