Friday, September 28, 2018

Sierra Loop - A Visit with Mr. Goldie - Tuesday, September 11, 2018

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Waxing Crescent Moon

Yesterday was one stroke of good luck after another. After my Paradise Creek hike, I picked up, broke camp, and headed north on the narrow winding road through the park toward the Giant Forest, where all the really big trees are. A Giant Blinking Sign informed me to expect one-hour delays due to construction on an eighteen-mile stretch of the road coming up P Darn Quick. But nope, no delay for me. I pulled up to the end of a Giant Line of Cars and was about to shut off Spugly's engine when presto, a Giant Portly Gent with a red flag started waving everybody through. Total wait time? < 10 seconds. Perhaps it was luck or perhaps it was my trusty vehicle's spectacular ugliness, I will never know for sure.

I drove past the construction to the Lodgepole Campground, the most popular campground in Sequoia NP, and began to explain to the friendly young miss in the Giant Ranger Hat at the tiny little kiosk how difficult it is for a person of my age and disposition to plan very far ahead, far enough ahead to make and keep campground reservations for example, and how that did not necessarily make me stupid or a Giant Dufus. She was sort of amused. Then she said I was in luck because she just that minute got a cancellation notice for site #93 and furthermore I could have it for the Senior Pass rate of $11. Cool.

What followed was probably the most fortunate happening of this very fortunate day. I found my campsite, got all set up, went for a leisurely walk to get the lay of the land, and returned with the keen sense that I smelled like Giant Cow Poo. After two hikes that day, I really needed a bath. I gathered my soap and camp towel and washcloth plus a clean set of clothes and moseyed over to the restroom that serves D Loop, my local collection of sites.

I was really looking forward to not smelling like Giant Cow Poo. I made a beeline to the propped-open door on the side of the restroom nearest my camp. Inside, there were three stalls with closed doors along the back wall and two clean sinks, one on each side of the propped open door. I immediately stripped down and began my oft-practiced routine of taking a cold water hobo bath, using my washcloth to clean my body with a minimum of wasted water. I am really, really good at this. I can get very clean and refreshed in a few minutes, dry off and get dressed and out of the restroom in a few more minutes after that.

On the way out of the restroom, feeling squeaky clean, I happened to glance back and notice something that made me feel like a Giant Idiot. The sign above the restroom door read "WOMEN." Whoops! I had been bare-ass nekked in the Women's restroom for at least six minutes. I was so lucky that nobody was in one of those stalls or that nobody walked in on me while I was rinsing off the Giant Cow Poo smell in the nice clean sink. Whew!

This morning, I awoke rested and fragrant and after a bowl of gruel and a Giant Mug of coffee, I headed straight for the Tokopah Valley Trail. Actually, I stopped at the propped-open door that read "MEN" for a minute first. But then I hiked to the trail head and began the 1.7 mile easy peasy walk up toward Tokopah Falls along Tokopah Creek. It was nice!

This was a perfectly cool, sunny morning. I met very few other hikers and I enjoyed the smells and sounds of the forest and the muted water in the low-flowing creek. It was obvious that in.other seasons, the flow in Tokopah Creek was much higher, but it was still fun to be in the woods. 

Gaining elevation, soon there were fewer trees and more exposed Sierra Nevada granodiorite twinkling in the sunlight. A sign warned against leaving shoes and packs untended because marmots would probably chew on them to get a little snack of salt left behind by your perspiration. Marmots. Cool. Who doesn't love marmots?

There was no water at all up by the falls, so I was not tempted to take a dip and test the marmot shoe/pack/salt theory. I did, however, at the end of the trail below where the waterfall would be had there been water, immediately encounter a marmot. Sure enough, he (I think) was doing what marmots always do - he was licking the rocks to get that fine taste of salt from the sodium rich plagioclase feldspar in the granodiorite. A handsome specimen of marmotry was he.

I attempted to converse in English with this marmot with little success. The more I talked, the more he eyed my trail runners, like he was trying to convince me with telepathy to shed my shoes so he could give them a good chewing. He was not interested in my thoughts or advice. He was interested in my salt. In the middle of my lengthy monologue about the Sierra Nevada batholith and what he might expect rather soon from human-caused climate change, he got bored and hustled off, leaving me alone to ponder the water-less Tokopah Falls.

Subsequently, I learned from a friend who should know that this marmot is rather famous locally and that he even has a name. According to my friend who herself shall remain nameless, I had been visited by the one and only Mr. Goldie, the mascot marmot of Tokopah Falls. Man! Talk about lucky!

Now that I am home, I can state with approximately 95% confidence that Tokopah Falls a) has a marmot mascot, b) his name is Mr. Goldie, and c) I actually met Mr. Goldie and not one of his stand-in stunt doubles. Naturally, as an actual Great Big Skeptic,  I am about 5% suspicious that my friend is just pulling my leg. 

Peace, Love, and Mr. Goldie, Maybe,


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

SPECIAL REPORT! Andrew Molera Loop Hike

Waning Gibbous Moon

BREAKING NEWS: We interrupt your previously scheduled programming with this Palomino Special Report.

Today I traveled to Andrew Molera State Park twenty-one miles south of Carmel,CA on Highway 1 with my erstwhile, intrepid, sometimes hiking partner Mike "Captain Chem" Carroll. The goal? Hike the 8.4 mile loop around the park that includes the Ridge Trail, the Panorama Trail, the Bluff Trail, and the Creamery Meadow Trail. The thick morning coastal  fog lifted briefly, but the Sun just couldn't burn it all away. Here is a map that shows our route. We chose the clockwise direction, just to go with the flow of Wednesday.

This is a moderately strenuous walk that features wide, climbing views of the Big Sur Valley, panoramic vistas of beautifully isolated sandy beaches, a narrow section of winding rutted eroded poison oak lined sand track, and a leisurely wide path on bluffs overlooking the sea. If you don't want to tackle the whole thing for whatever reason, I suggest an out and back on the Bluff Trail and a walk on the beach from any of several obvious access points.

Looking down into Big Sur Valley and across to the Santa Lucia mountains from the Ridge Trail.
The Ridge Trail is fairly steep and straight and very exposed. On a sunny day, you would trade sharper views than we had for buckets of sweat. On this cool day with a come and go marine layer, I still produced at least half a bucket. Fortunately, that is never a big concern for me. Working up a sweat is healthy. One of the rewards of the gain in elevation was standing in a grove of beautiful redwoods near the end.

The Panorama Trail is narrow, relatively short, and switches back down toward the bluffs through a heavily eroded sandy track lined by poison oak. I leaned pretty hard on my Leki poles in that section. The panoramic vistas from here, though, were pretty awesome.

My favorite part of this hike was the Bluff Trail because of the almost constant views of kickass beaches. Again, if you want to only do one part of this loop, do the Bluff Trail. The fog didn't do justice to the attempted pictures here. Go see for yourself.

At the beginning and end of the walk, you get to cross this simple seasonal bridge across the Big Sur River, which in early Fall, is not very scary. It's fun!

Peace, Love, and Big Thanks to the Molera Family for Giving Us This Invaluable Land,

Monday, September 24, 2018

Sierra Loop - Paradise Creek - Sunday, September 9, 2018

New Moon

From Walker Pass, I drove through Kernville (the river was really low), over Greenhorn Summit (good thing I don't get carsick), through Porterville (I liked about two blocks of Main Street downtown) and Three Rivers (see below) into Sequoia National Park (yay!).

Three Rivers has grown a good bit since I was last there. They have a pretty nice little museum and lots of motels/bed & breakfasts/resorts compared to what I remember from way back in the 20th century. I stopped to check out the museum grounds, but I didn't go inside. I was preoccupied by some fun nature art.

I think this looks like a raccoon. My friend thinks it's a cat. A sign says it's a bear. What do you think?

There was a sort of feeble attempt to honor the First People. One shelter was pretty cool. The other one was not. It looks like Thing.

I am not really sure that Paul Bunyan was ever actually in the these parts, much less Babe the Blue Ox. I always thought he was a rainy cold weather Pacific Northwest type or maybe Maine or Michigan. I like wood carvings, though, so whatever. The museum needs to step up their Native American game a LOT.

I used my Senior Pass to enter Sequoia National Park for free at the Ash Mountain station. I love that pass, especially now that it costs Juniors and their cute little rug rats $35 to get into the parks. I paid ten bucks for mine when I turned 62 and it's good til the day I die. Recently they upped the fee to eighty bucks, but it is still the best deal for Seniors on Earth.

I lucked into a campsite at Buckeye Flats, surprised by how many campers there were after Labor Day, especially European visitors. The fee for the campsite was $22, but my righteous Senior Pass let me pay half price. Right on. It sucks to get old. We should get all kinds of perks if you ask me. Paradise Creek runs right past the back of Buckeye Flats Campground. Even though this time of year the flow is not great, it's still pretty and it sounds nice, especially when it's time for bed.

The next morning I got up early to be the first hiker on the Paradise Creek Trail. The first mile or two is nice, then it gets narrow and poison oak infested. I practiced dodging the three-leaf buggers for a while before turning around and re-tracing my steps. From one spot just off the trail, I had a sweet view of Moro Rock, one that I imagine most people don't get unless they hike this trail.

Doing these little day hikes is growing on me. I guess that is how I first started hiking - I don't really know why I became so enamored with distance hikes. These one and two and three hour walks I have been taking on this trip have been terrific. I may have found a way to keep going in my twilight years after all. Day hikes and car camping! Who'd a thunk it?

Maybe I will just try to do all the little trails I can think of until I can't think of any more.

Peace, Love, and Adaptation,


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Sierra Loop - Walker Pass Tiki - Saturday, September 8, 2018

Waning Crescent Moon

Leaving Lone Pine, it was over 100 degrees and my main concern was for the health and safety of Spugly the Spectacularly Ugly Palomino Transporter. That silly little needle on the dashboard started to creep from the "C" toward the "H" ever so slightly, indicating that Spugly was not so happy about transporting Palomino in the "H" of the day.

I played games with Spugly to see if it would respond. For instance, I said out loud with an optimistic tone, "Let's see if we can get to Haiwee Reservoir without exploding, Spugly. Maybe we can find some shade and a breeze there." Right then, about 200 yards ahead, a mountain lion crossed the southbound lanes of the highway. When I say "crossed" I mean it shot across the road like a rocket before it disappeared into the thick, neck-high sagebrush on the super-wide median. How can anything going that fast be under such total control? It vanished into the thicket as fast as it streaked across 395. Voosh!

Then, after Haiwee, I said. "No shade there, Spugs, let's go for Coso Junction" and then "Fossil Falls" and then "Pearsonville." We never stopped until we got to Brady's gas station and desert souvenir convenience establishment, where I snagged a marginally cold blue Gatorade and a bag of ancient, possibly Pleistocene, Fritos. I popped the hood, hoping against hope that the slightly sub-boiling heat of the engine fluids would transfer to the brain-stalling, asphalt-melting, Kern County desert troposphere.

It worked. A quart of sugary blue energy drink and a sack of stale salty corn chips later the needle was back to normal and Spugly roared to life. In no time, I was cresting over the much cooler pass and staring at the roadside plaques touting the "discovery" of this pathway across the Sierra Nevada. Do they really think anybody still buys that B.S. in 2018? What a joke!

The history of the world apparently began in 1834. Way to go, Joe!

Around and down a few hairpin turns is the entrance to the Walker Pass Campground, a free BLM  site with a potty and a few pull-in campsites, plus room for tents to sprawl in the meager shade. The Pacific Crest Trail runs alongside the dry camp and crosses the highway at Walker Pass, heading for the promise of water and cooler temperatures of the South Fork of the Kern River and the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada beyond that. I was eager to set foot on the trail again after several years. I have hiked this section between Bird Spring Pass and Kennedy Meadows more times than I can count. It feels like home.

There it is, a couple of feet wide and 2,650 miles long, the PCT.
I walked slowly from the campground to the pass, about a mile, stretching my legs and filling my head with memories from every season. Those little brown plastic markers with the stickers on them seem to last forever, except of course when people shoot at them.

The trail is hot and  dry now, but I have walked this section in snow up to my knees.

One of the things I most wanted to see was the carved wooden tiki statue and meditation bench at the base of a Joshua tree on the north side of the pass about 20 feet to the east of the trail head. I first saw it in about 1994 or so. The last time I saw it was in 2010. In between, I stopped and paid my respects whenever I was nearby. These are the only two pictures I have, taken in 2010.

This time I was deeply saddened to find the large Joshua tree toppled, the tiki gone, and the bench nearly destroyed. Natural disaster? Human destruction? I don't know, but as maudlin as it may sound, I felt like a piece of my life had been stolen from me. I wish I knew the true story of the tiki's demise. I hope with all my heart that the artist who created the tiki and left it here for so many hikers to enjoy for so many years got it back intact.

Peace, Love, and Hope for the Tiki,


Friday, September 21, 2018

Sierra Loop - Lone Pine Museum of Western Film History - Saturday, September 8, 2018

Waning Crescent Moon

The mercury skyrocketed to a hundred degrees after leaving Manzanar. My plan (not a real plan) to scamper up Mt. Whitney and back this afternoon was eighty-sixed in favor of ducking into the Museum of Western Film History on the south end of Lone Pine. Wayyyy better. Wise choice haha.

If you are of a certain age, this museum might be as much fun as you can have for $5 in the 21st century. And yes, I am of a certain age, thank you. Practically every TV hero of my lily white 1950s childhood is on display here, including my personal favorite, Roy Rogers. I never really understood the appeal of Dale Evans. She was nice enough, I suppose, and she had that horse named Buttermilk, but other than singing bible songs on occasion, there was not much character development happening on her side of the buckwagon. Sign of the times, I guess.

Cardboard cutout cutesy cowpeople.
The museum is really really air-conditioned, so even if you aren't predisposed to look at every display and recall all the episodes on TV and film, wandering around the place is very pleasant. I did a little of both.

Sadly, my phone camera photo of the Cisco Kid did not turn out to be post-worthy, even on this lil old blog. Here's why I was sad. When I was about four years old, my family went to Knott's Berry Farm near our home in Anaheim and I got to meet the Cisco Kid in person. He had a real pistola and he rode around on his horse Diablo firing off blanks and raising all kinds of exciting hell. After a while, he pulled up to where I was, dismounted, and gave me one of the spent cartridges from his six gun and an autographed 8 x 10 glossy picture of him and Diablo. I still have the cartridge. The picture got lost somewhere along the weird trail of my life since then. Relax and check out this Cisco Kid episode on YouTube. It has a very loyal dog.

Here is a picture of Gene Autrey, who was not anywhere near as cool as the Cisco Kid, but was many times more successful in movies, TV, music, and business. Sign of the times, I guess.

Gene Autrey strumming a C chord. Give him credit. He could yodel.
In case you were wondering why the heck this museum is in Lone Pine, CA, the answer is because HUNDREDS of western films were made here, especially in the Alabama Hills west of town. With the High Sierra as a backdrop, there was no limit to the shoot-em up scenes you could create here, plus it is really close to Hollywood. Check out their web site to get the whole panorama of movies featuring the scenery of Lone Pine and vicinity. Even Bogey did a few.

How many times have you seen Bogey smoke and smirk?

This stage coach was in a lot of movies. Probably the real ones were not this pretty.
I left after watching a fifteen minute highlight movie of all the different types of films made in Lone Pine. This is a great, fun stop on U.S. 395 and I hope everybody gets to see it some time in their lives. But whatever you do, don't pick up The Hitch-Hiker! Unless it happens to be me, of course.

Peace, Love, and Fantasy,


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Sierra Loop - Manzanar National Historic Site - Saturday, September 8, 2018

Waning Crescent Moon

The Manzanar National Historic Site is a few minutes north of Lone Pine, CA on U.S. 395. It features a large Visitor Center, some rebuilt historic buildings, and the remnants of the Owens Valley Reception Center, aka the Manzanar Relocation Center, which from 1942 to 1945 served as an internment facility for Japanese Americans during World War II. "Internment facility" is a euphemism for concentration camp. More than 110,000 American citizens of Japanese descent were housed here. There were nine other such sites in America during those years.

War Detention Center was another name for it.

I arrived before the Visitor Center opened, but luckily, I had the Auto Tour Route to myself. The original barracks and other buildings are long gone, but signs and foundations tell you where they used to be and there are several spots where you can get out and walk. I was humbled and sad and deeply moved by my solo experience at this site.

Guard shack.
Owens Valley sits in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada. It is a frighteningly hot desert in summer and when the snow flies in the mountains, it can get bone-numbing cold. This is a climate only a coyote or a badger can love. Fierce wind and dust storms are frequent.  No one in their right mind would try to escape on foot without food, water, and an excellent plan to be whisked away in a vehicle or on horseback.

The last prisoners left in 1945. The mother of one of my teaching colleagues was one of these. Several residents of my home town are either former incarcerees or their descendants. Just as a person who has never been in combat can never really understand what a veteran experienced in war, one who has not been imprisoned in their own country, a country of immigrants whose ancestors displaced millions of indigenous natives to claim it as their own, can ever know the feelings of the residents of Manzanar. Visiting these grounds on a quiet morning, walking through the remains of gardens and barracks and infirmaries, might be as close as you can get. If you are not at least sobered by the experience, you have no heart.

Pleasure Park
It was so amazing how people worked together and built structures from scratch to preserve their personal dignity and capture the beauty of the natural surroundings.

Bridge over what was surface water at the time in Pleasure park.
The cemetery at the rear of the property is still maintained in honor of those who died while incarcerated. 

I have no words.
Over the course of my life I have had the pleasure of a few long friendships with Japanese American men and women. One gentleman in particular with whom I worked for several years impressed upon me the value and beauty of service to the community in which I was employed. His unwavering kindness and respect for himself and for others motivates me to this day. My dear friend Al Tanabe is gone now. I will never forget the quiet joy with which he worked. No complaints. Just quiet joy.

Peace, Love, and No More War,


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Sierra Loop - Lon Chaney's Cabin - Friday, September 7, 2018

Waning Crescent  Moon

Perhaps the best thing about Big Pine, CA is the classically appointed triple-roof gazebo that graces the center lawn of the otherwise unremarkable Big Pine Motel. Rather than try to describe its intrinsic motor-court, motellian rotunda-slash-yard-art style and its hexagonally supernatural Old West zeitgeist, I will simply allow you to feast your eyes on this little digital photo.

Big Pine Motel classic gazebo.

The equine weather vane - gosh, it is so powerful - evokes the promise and the memory of winter and sleighs, the ancient earthly theme of change over time, and the Martin Buber dichotomy of I and thou
or maybe just heads or tails. It also indicates which way the wind is blowing, in case you are lousy at directions. The deer are pretty cute, too.

But I did not come to Big Pine to stare at gazebos. No, I came to take a shower, but I did not really need the shower until I hiked my daily hike, this time 3.5 miles up the North Fork Big Pine Trail to Lon Chaney's Cabin. And 3.5 miles back, of course. This was not the first time I attempted to go to this cabin. About twenty years ago, I snowshoed this trail in the dead of winter with a backpack on, to practice suffering hypothermia and falling into tree wells. In a blizzard. What fun. It was a great success.

This time the weather was perfect and I only carried a tiny day pack with water, lunch, snacks and a jacket. Carrying a jacket on a day hike is like a reverse rain dance. If you bring it, rain will not occur. To my surprise, there were very few cars in the hiker parking lot and I made good time up the long, straight, exposed, initial stretch of trail, working up a good sweat and taking in long, clean lungfuls of mountain air with every breath. I passed some younger guys laboring with heavy packs. I was happy not to deal with all that this time. 

The first part of the trail is sunny and pretty straight with a little shade here and there.

Up ahead, I could see the falls and I knew the switchbacks would be coming soon. They were short and not as steep as I remembered, so very soon I was approaching the shady, cool, gurgling, restful paradise of "Second Falls." For this time of year, the waterfalls were still pretty impressive and I stopped to take pictures and chat a little bit with a large group of strong backpackers who were also enjoying the spot. 

One of the rocky switchbacks that lead to the falls.

The head of Second Falls on the North Fork Big Pine Creek.

From the falls, the trail leveled out and proceeded through cool, shaded woods a mile or so to the cabin. I picked out a place where my memory told me was probably the flat area I pitched my tent and froze my hiney off back when, definitely the coldest (and dumbest) night of my life. 

Lon Chaney, Sr., the Man with a Thousand Faces, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc., etc. built a cabin (had a cabin built) up on the North Fork during his heyday as a famous Hollywood actor in the old black and white movie era. Big Pine was and is fairly close to L.A. so the cabin provided him with a place to get away and chill whenever time and the weather allowed. Now owned by the U.S. Forest Service, it was beautifully built  and is still well maintained, set back thirty feet or so from the creek and shaded by tall pines. It is locked and boarded up to protect it from animals and vandals, especially the latter. The huge front porch and stairs are a perfect rest stop for hikers coming and going from and to the scenic lakes and the Palisade Glacier along this trail. 

The porch.

The large group of hikers from the falls stopped and ate their lunches at the cabin while I was there. They were from Bakersfield, many of them oil field workers, some in construction, all late 20s guys who work hard for a living. They have been doing trips like this together for several years, good, hardy folks with a love of the mountains. When they moved on toward First Lake, I was able to take the full peaceful measure of the cabin's locale and sneak in a few minutes of shuteye on Lon's porch. I didn't think he would mind. 

The porch.

You do need a fireplace up here.
I took a few photos of the cabin and headed back down trail to see about that shower. This little hike was my favorite of the whole trip. I don't tell you that so you and your friends will come here and love it to death. There are already enough initials carved into the rails of the porch, okay? If you come, be on your best behavior and respect the property.

Solid. Bear-proof.

Lon's privvy.
Peace, Love, and The Phantom of the Opera,