Sunday, May 9, 2021

Mt. Madonna County Park

 Waning Crescent Moon

Thursday I fired up Spugly and rumbled over to Mt. Madonna County Park near Hecker Pass between Watsonville and Gilroy, CA. The peak of Mt. Madonna itself is barely higher than the surrounding ground, which is covered in forest, so as far as peak-bagging excitement goes, it's a dud. But there are lots of cool up-and-down hiking trails and the ruins of the Henry Miller estate to explore, making the park one of the best places to recreate within 25 miles of my camp. Part of the Loop Trail and all of the Merry Go Round Trail are included in the Bay Area Ridge Trail (BART) mileage, so I hiked the pieces I had not done before, adding to my BART total. I am now up to a whopping 33.2 miles. Wowza.

I also found out there is something called the Nifty Ninety, a Sierra Club list of 90 peaks in the Bay Area which you can legally climb (walk up, mostly). I have already walked up to Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. Diablo, Mt. Umunhum, and Mt. Madonna, so I'm getting niftier and niftier. Maybe I will finish by the time I am ninety. 

This is a crazy thing to do when you factor in all the gas money and day use fees I have racked up already. Somebody needs to intervene and make me stop this nonsense. Or volunteer to take me to the trailheads and pick me up after my hikes. At least I have enjoyed the walks and benefited from the exercise and enjoyed some pretty scenery. Here is a sample of what Mt. Madonna had to offer this past Thursday. 

This BART thing is just a side hustle to keep me entertained until the snow melts in the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades. I am toying with some mini-goals for this summer that will help me get in better shape and place me in the thick of the holy and joyful woodsy woods woodsy. You can help by praying as hard as you can for a milder fire season in 2021 than we had last year. Please please please.

Peace, Love, and Hope,


Saturday, May 8, 2021

Road Trip - 4/26/2021 to 5/1/2021 - Finale

 Waning Gibbous Moon

The morning after my spend-happy night at Yosemite Lodge brought me right back to Earth in a hurry. After using the one-cup coffee maker to heat water for a one-cup drip brew of Peets Major Dickason (never leave home without it), I used the coffee maker again to heat enough water for a hot-soak serving of rolled oats and walnuts. I mixed up a cup of powdered milk to wash it down and presto, I was fed. I am very good at motel room breakfasts when they are called for, even though I much prefer a counter in a small town diner.

I knew I was only about a four-hour drive from home, but there was no hurry so I decided on another little walk, ending up at the Miwok Village behind the Museum. This is the site of an actual Ahwahnechee village prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Were the Ahwahnechee people part of the Sierra Miwok tribe? The info provided at the park's exhibits says they were. I think there may have been some disagreement about that over the years, but I don't have any proof one way or the other at the moment, so I will just let it slide for now.

The buildings here were similar to the ones at Chaw'se, but smaller and a little more weathered. They have a roundhouse and a few individual shelters plus a sweat lodge, which are still used by Miwok descendants for ceremony on special occasions. The site is so overwhelmed by the nearby hustle and bustle that it is almost an afterthought in the Valley experience. I have been there many times and I am glad I stopped by again, but it was hard to focus my attention. It was more like visiting a graveyard than anything else. Kind of a what-have-we-done moment. There is an ice cream store and a coffee shop right around the corner. Would you like sprinkles on your genocide, sir?

This was a Saturday, so I had a big advantage. Hardly anybody was heading for the exits except me, so I could lollygag around the turns and smirk out loud at the long lines of weekend warriors stuck bumper to bumper going the other way. It went on for miles from the Valley past the Mariposa Grove. 

Just before leaving the park, near Wawona, I turned on the narrow road leading to Chilnualna Falls. This is one of those places that I had always left out of my plans, probably because either I was hyped to get somewhere else or I was too tired to see one more thing. I definitely want to go back to hike up the the Upper Falls, but this day I only had time and energy for a quick walk to see the beautiful Lower Falls on Chilnualna Creek. As it was, on this busy Saturday, I had to take my pictures quick as a cat to avoid getting a bare-chested dude with a beer in his hand or his practically bare-chested girlfriend in my photo. The trail and the rocks were Instagram-pose Central. But the creek and the falls were great. The sound of the rushing, falling water was sensational.

I'll be back...

Peace, Love, and Quite a Trip,


Friday, May 7, 2021

Road Trip - 4/26/2021 to 5/1/2021 - Part Six

 Waning Gibbous Moon

There comes a time in the life of every stimulus check recipient/patriot when he or she must decide: how can I best waste this money? This was the conundrum facing me on my last day of my California road trip. I could continue to dribble out my $600 on breakfasts and gasoline for another week or so - I knew I would enjoy that. Or I could plunk down a wad of cash for a spiffed-out room in the Cedar wing of Yosemite Valley Lodge, a mere five minute walk from Lower Yosemite Falls in the stunning heart of Yosemite National Park, an Aramark production. 

I did my duty. I stimulated the heck out of Aramark.

On a beautiful Spring late morning, with my comfort and decadence assured for the night, with a pep in my step aided by a nearly empty wallet, with time to kill before my 5:00 check-in, I set out for one of my favorite easy walks in any national park that I have visited. A few minutes from my parking space was a feeder path to the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail, which would take me for as long as I wished alongside and across the Merced River, past all of the iconic valley landmarks. 

In the days of my youth, like a couple of years ago, I could easily manage the whole 11.5 miles, even with snow on the ground. But on this trip, I wasn't feeling the need for speed. I just moseyed along taking pictures and side-stepping the tourons (the new YNP thing appears to be to cart your mountain bike to the valley on your SUV and ride the Loop Trail with 7-10 of your closest and least healthy friends). The farther I walked away from the Lodge, the fewer pedaling chatter-people there were, so I could relax and take in the scenery, smiling and nodding at the occasional peaceful hiker I met on the trail. 

Passing Camp 4 on the way to El Capitan, a strong figure emerged from the white residential tent cabins where park employees live year 'round. He walked across about a hundred feet of rocks and duff, straight to me. With a broad smile inside his bushy white beard, he wished me a good day and disappeared into the forest. I knew this guy. More about him later. 

I was carrying water, a peanut butter and banana sandwich, and a an apple in my daypack, so I knew I could cruise as long as I wanted and stop as many times as the river and the rocks and the trees and the trail demanded. As long as I wanted turned out to be just over three hours, a pretty moderate course that didn't tax me too much, but let me see the park and fellow hikers in a pleasant mix. Compared to driving the roads and finagling the parking areas at the more famous sites, walking this trail is calm and refreshing. I wish that the Park would offer occasional days on which all vehicle traffic, even bikes, would be banned and visitors and staff would be required to take and abide by a 24-hour vow of silence. Go completely real for one day, observe a nature retreat, listen to the birds and squirrels, the falls and the rushing river water. That would be awesome. 

When the walk was over, I took a little nap and wandered the Lodge grounds for a while and soon I was able to access my spiffy room for a shower and an in-room trail meal. Even though COVID protocol was supposed to be followed in the eating areas, there were clumps of people from all over creation in pretty close proximity. I decided to continue the masked social distancing habits from the past year and avoid the crowds. My hot meal in a pouch was good enough. 

I love Yosemite Falls and I was lucky enough to be there when it was rumbling loud and strong. My favorite time to visit the Lower Falls observation area is right before dark. I could walk over there from my Cedar room in a few minutes, so at sundown I put on my rain jacket and headed on over. The spray from the falls can soak you pretty fast if you aren't careful. It was getting a little cool, so I suited up somewhat.

Several years ago, about 2006 or so, I saw God one evening at Lower Yosemite Falls. Not the real, actual God, duh, but I saw somebody step out of the shadows while I was watching the falls from the bridge. He passed right by me and smiled a big smile from behind his bushy white beard. Whoever he was, he looked just like those pictures of God they showed you when you were a kid. A strong, healthy fellow in his sixties or seventies, with long white hair and a full white beard and comfortable clothing  with a composed, happy countenance. God didn't say anything. He just smiled like yeah, you get it, this is the best time to experience this very holy spot on Earth. Enjoy. Then he sort of faded away into the darkness. I remembered God.

In 2010 or so, I was surprised to see God again. This time, he was sweeping and raking the grounds at Curry Village. Evidently, God is employed at the Park. He keeps it clean, to the extent one supernatural-looking being can. Once again, he smiled and nodded a silent, friendly hello. 

This trip, as I already told you, God actually spoke to me near Camp 4, wishing me a good day while I was on my walk. I feel pretty goshdarn special, to tell you the truth.

Anyway, it's hard to take sundown pictures of Lower Yosemite Falls standing there on the bridge shivering in the spray with your Smartyphone, but that didn't stop me from trying. It's a unique experience, trust me, God or no God.

Peace, Love, and Godliness,

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Road Trip - 4/26/2021 to 5/1/2021 - Part Five

 Waning Gibbous Moon

Chaw'se Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park off Hwy 88 is one of the finest state parks in California. The Chaw'se is mind boggling, the incense cedar slab structures are holy and inspiring, the nature trails are beautiful and instructional, and the Chaw'se Museum is top notch. A day spent here is way better than going to therapy or attending church.

Chaw'se is the Calaveras Miwok term for the multitude of bedrock mortars ground into the tough marbleized limestone outcrops that form the hub of a vast meadow in this peaceful, wooded park in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Jackson, CA. Approximately 1,200 mortar holes are spread across the carefully protected site, making it the largest concentration of mortars in North America. At 2,400 feet above sea level, the surrounding valley oaks, live oaks, and black oaks provide an ample supply of acorns to grind and process into flour. Standing on the observation platform or walking around the wooden enclosures, it's easy to imagine a sunny day in the meadow a few hundred years ago with people working and children playing.

A small village has been reconstructed near the Chaw'se as a model of the shelters and ceremonial structures used by the Calaveras Band over the centuries. The Chaw'se Hun'ge, or Roundhouse, is actively used for ceremony by Central California tribes, particularly during the Chaw'se Big Time celebration held every September in the park.

There are two nature trails that take you through the woods and introduce you to native plants, flowers, and trees. I walked the South Trail so I could use the park's colorful plant guide to learn about what I was seeing. I am notorious for forgetting the names of plants and flowers, so having a paper guide in my hand is useful!

I ended up my visit at the Chaw'se Regional Indian Museum, where I met the friendly and knowledgeable Ranger/Superintendent of the park named Pepper. After viewing the amazing collection of baskets and other weaving treasures on display, I had a great conversation about the hard-to-see petroglyphs that have largely weathered away on the Chaw'se. Pepper showed me a poster that detailed where they are located and she explained there are optimal conditions and times of day when you can still make some of them out. It won't be long, though, until Earth reclaims them from our sight. 

After pretty much striking out on my Ishi quest the previous day, this visit to the Chaw'se Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park was a home run. Bonus: they maintain a clean and quiet campground right next to the park, too!

Peace, Love, and Education,


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Road Trip - 4/26/2021 to 5/1/2021 - Part Four

 Waning Gibbous Moon

A short cruise west over the mountains on Hwy 36 from Susanville brought me to the bustling little town of Chester on the north end of Lake Almanor, a large reservoir formed by the damming of the north fork of the Feather River. Chester is the closest town to the mid-point of the Pacific Crest Trail, in ancestral Maidu territory. Before it was flooded by the creation of the lake, the big meadow on the valley floor was home to the original inhabitants of the area for thousands of years. 

I arrived a few days after the opening of fishing season, so there was plenty of optimistic commotion in and around the town. Aside from fishing and other lake-related recreational undertakings, Chester is at its heart a timber town. When you hike the surrounding trails, frequent signs remind you that the logging company that operates in the gorgeous forests is large and in charge.

My business was not in Chester, though. I wanted to stop about 8 miles west of town at the parking area for the PCT and say a brief hello to my old friend. I stretched my legs for a couple of miles south, turned around, and walked back to my car. A few patches of snow still lingered in the shade, but mostly I had a soft forest duff trail and tall, sturdy trees for company in the sunny, early afternoon - perfect! I was reminded that, as hard as all the logistics and planning can sometimes be, hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail is a beautifully simple act.

Next up was something I had wanted to do for a long time. I wanted to ride south along Hwy 32 and see if I could pick up any residual vibes from the past. This was Yana territory, between Mill Creek and Deer Creek in what is now the Ishi Wilderness. Ishi's story is well chronicled in many sources, but in general, Ishi was a man from a small tribe which lived in the rugged, steep terrain between Lassen Peak and the foothills near today's Chico, CA. He was the last surviving member of his band, the rest of whom had been starved and/or murdered in the late 1800's by settlers. California law at the time allowed (encouraged) the extermination of Indigenous people. The Yana had always been a little contentious, even with the peaceful Maidu, due to their difficult living circumstances in rough country, so when the Euro-Americans came along building roads over their ridges and tearing up trees, they fought back. And lost. Ishi, the last of the group, hid for many years, then wandered out of his homeland and was found by a ranch near Oroville, disoriented and hungry. There are books and videos that tell his story in much more detail.

I wanted to spend a little time walking along beautiful Deer Creek and feeling a little of the sense of the place. Had time and people covered up all footprints, real and otherwise, or would I be accepted by this mysterious place and allowed to see any signs of a past presence? I was sad to discover that this was not the day for me to be there. I felt it as soon as I left the car. It was like a wall with a keep out sign, holding back an atmospheric river of pain. I never ignore things like that, so I left. Maybe another day will be better. I really hope so. I took no pictures and I didn't speak a word. I just moved on.

Down the road, on the edge of the Great Central Valley, I entered Chico, a college town which had grown twofold since I was last there. It was a madhouse of car traffic and I couldn't wait to escape - completely consistent with all the feelings that had hit me on Deer Creek. This place was not for me, either, at least not this day. I decided to continue on to Oroville to see if there might be a historical museum with info or exhibits from which I could learn more about Ishi's exit from Yana territory. 

I holed up in a Motel 6 for the night to get clean and to rest from a few days on the road. In the morning I scarfed up some righteous vittles at The Cornucopia Restaurant, a pretty ordinary family diner with really good food.  This was the first time in over a year that I was able to sit at a counter and eat, which I believe is one of life's most enjoyable experiences. I was a happy lad. 

Oroville has a Main Street (Montgomery Street, I think) that runs through a lovely green tree tunnel in their historical district. They have a nice town park, a Veteran's Memorial, and a Pioneer Museum in a cool old stone building. But just like Deer Creek, I was thwarted, this time by museum closure due to COVID. A local walker told me to be sure to come back, though, because they have tons of Ishi stuff, including a wax museum style likeness of him from his time there. "Is that a good thing?" I wondered. 

I wandered over to see the bike path along the Feather River and the park that sits just above it. I was totally impressed. Oroville is a really pleasant place to walk.

Even though I didn't get to hone my Ishi knowledge like I had anticipated, I ended up feeling pretty good about this segment of the trip. I know better than to be disappointed or to give up. I'll come back and try again.

Peace, Love, and Patience,