California Part III: Sequoia, Yosemite, and Mammoth

On my way to my AirBnB in 3 Rivers, I stopped to get some clothes; I didn’t know when I’d have access to laundry machines again. I was headed to Sequoia National Park, Yosemite National Park and the Eastern Sierras– totaling about a week. I figured a couple leggings should do. If I wanted a T-shirt I’d buy it at the parks as a useful souvenir. I arrived to my AirBnB a bit perplexed. I couldn’t find it?! I pulled into a gas station with a few attached deli’s- this is where the address led me. This was it. It was about 17:30, if it were dark I would’ve never found it. Once I opened the door I was in awe, this place was perfect!! Then I walked out to the back, it could not get any better. I had views of the mountains with a river at my feet and the best part was watching the sunset. I watched the sky transform with amazing pink skies painted above me. I was staying in my own private “casita” which included laundry! How could I be so lucky? Seriously, though… I’m starting to think I’m above average when it comes to luck.
I spent my evening here- watching the sunset, working out, and doing laundry. I am reorganizing my entire car. Oh yeah! On the way I found a fruit/vegetable stand with avocados priced 10 for $1.00?! This is unheard of anywhere else in the states.

SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK

I am balancing as I walk toward the camera on a huge granite monolith- Mono Rock in Sequoia National Park. The Sierra Nevada mountains surrounding me.

I woke up early to spend my day at Sequoia National Park. I had 2 small avocados and my green juice for breakfast. I left with more than half a tank of gas and arrived to the gate right before 10:00; and that is when my luck ran dry. The guy at the gate informed me there was construction going on and they only let cars pass every 2 hours. He said I wouldn’t make it in time for the 10AM pass so I’d have to wait until noon or I could go through Kings Canyon National Park- an extra 1.5 hours. I figured I’d try to make it, how naïve. It was obviously my first time here; I didn’t realize how windy these roads were- I’m driving switchbacks up the mountains, afterall! This also meant I was using more gas. I am now sitting on Moro Rock writing this; a monolith. I am quite literally sitting on the rock, right passed the barrier that we are not to cross, but practically within it. It would be rude to sit within the barrier and block the people on the pathway. The pathway to climb to the top is very narrow and at the end there is nowhere to go, nowhere to sit, it’s just a dead end.
Ok, so me sitting there lasted all of what I’d typed…
(Side note- the picture of me on the stairs below, is beyond the barrier. I believe the barrier continues to recede as the rock ages and cracks.)

A couple passed me and I thought it would be a great opportunity to have a picture near the edge. The edge was a lot farther than where I thought. Needless to say I played on the granite sloped rock for a couple of hours. I had the place to myself for majority of my time there! It was surreal and full of solitude, the views were outstanding. I honestly didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay until sunset, and then for star gazing, I would’ve loved to see the sky from there. However, I was in Sequoia National Park and I came to see the largest tree in the universe, so off I went to see General Sherman.

I walk between two Sequoia tree trunks- they're GIGANTIC

Before I started trying to locate General Sherman I wandered throughout The Giant Forest and made sure to check out Tharp’s Log. Then I was off to find the biggest tree in the World. I don’t know why it was so difficult for me to find. I stopped at the museum, not to go in- it was too late, but I thought General Sherman was definitely in the Big Tree Loop trail. I was inclined to look at the sign near the museum before just traversing on the trail; I had been so fascinated with what I’d learned about the Redwoods, I was excited to learn about the Sequoias, too. I’m so happy I read the sign- I noticed the map showed ‘you are here’ and I was still a few miles from General Sherman. It was getting late so I hurried back in my car and on the road and alas, I finally made it to find… lots of stairs. MORE. STAIRS. I thought my climbing was over.
As expected, there were crowds of visitors around the tree and pictures were difficult to capture due to sheer size. As I circled the trunk I noticed in the distance a bright colorful sky, it was sunset and I was going to miss it. I walked quickly and didn’t miss it entirely, but all views where I could stop to take pictures were obstructed by none other than… trees! I should’ve known, after all this is Sequoia National Park. 
Some parts of this park aren’t meant to be shared I suppose. Come to think of it, many of these special moments are much more than the view, they’re a state of mind. I hope everyone will experience these feelings- I hope people understand the importance of exploring the wilderness and themselves; to be in the moment without distractions or expectations. One of these particular moments of my own included this beautiful sunset. On the way out I witnessed a moon rise as well- everyone needs to add this to their bucket list: A full moon rising over a mountain. This one was better than the ones in Moab, bigger and completely full. I watched for a bit and continued back to my place. I needed to get back for dinner. Most places are closed for the season and the ones that are not close early. I made it back in time to order a carry out pizza just 20 minutes before they closed. After dinner I was ready for bed. I had a full day planned in Yosemite.  

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

(The original entry name was: Yosemirrr down)
I arrived to Yosemite National Park 2 days ago. I stayed at Big Trees Lodge. Wow, I’m having déjà vu as I type this; I wonder how many times I have written this entry in my head whilst driving the winding roads here. Currently I’m sitting at Tenaya Lake, careful not to step on anything but rock. The lake is currently closed for restoration, meaning I have the place to myself, I’m on my way out of the park today and only have one more stop before my next destination. I have mixed emotions about this place- let me explain.

Picture of Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View.

Day 1: The heart of Yosemite National Park

My first two days here I spent mainly in the valley and at Glacier point. I skipped the sequoias section here because I just came from Sequoia National Park. This park really has it all. I arrived my first day at about 14:00 and I checked in early. Due to fires earlier this year the Wi-Fi was down- this had me consulting my park map, which wasn’t too helpful, and I read the seasonal newspaper. From this, I decided I would go to Glacier Point first and then make my way to Yosemite Valley after because this is the order in which I would approach them by car. I made my first stop at an overlook spending way too much time taking pictures of half dome. I actually mistook this overlook for Glacier Point. Upon entering back on the road I noticed Glacier Point was still a little farther down the road. I also noticed I had a few messages from my sister, Kim: she told me 2 people were just found dead in Yosemite- they plummeted to their death from Taft Point. From the pictures she’d seen me JUST post to my IG story it looked like I was at that exact location. I wasn’t, I was about 4 miles away on the opposite side of the road. I never went to Taft Point while I was here, seemed a bit morbid and sad- although I sat at the trailhead in my car debating a night hike by the second night. From the overlook, I continued on to Glacier Point where I found 3 news reporters, most likely reporting the incident. I took more pictures of Half Dome, it reminded me of the Grim Reaper at this angle. I eventually made my way to Yosemite Valley, too.

A picture of Half Dome, where it looks like the Grim Reaper, taken at Glacier Point.

I stopped at Swinging Bridge but did not make the hike. It was getting late and I wanted to make it back to my lodge for dinner. I took pictures of the domes and El Capitan. I think Sentinel Rock stood behind me, Half Dome is obvious, but some of the others are harder to differentiate. I don’t even know if I saw the 3 brothers!? So anyway, I made way back to my car to drive to the lodge for dinner. Then I stopped at Tunnel View to take pictures of the stars, they were just peeking out. That’s when I realized I left my tripod by the tree when I was playing on the slippery rocks at Swinging Bridge. Now I had to go all the way back, while the Valley isn’t that large the loop is a one way full of traffic- always, surely I would miss dinner now. I retrieved my tripod and raced back to my Lodge, I had been living off of Cliff bars for my meals throughout the day.  
Gratefully, I made it back just in time and had a satiating lamb burger. There was a piano player in the lobby, all the guest gathered around the fireplace where he played and they sang along to some western songs- classics from movies, mostly written by Russians. This was where I sat as I finished my entry about the Sequoia National park. (I am editing this post now, in 2020 during COVID-19’s quarantine, and while I would love to have a lamb burger I just reached in the pantry for a Cliff Bar because even though I have food, I still find a craving for these organic rolled oat energy bars.)

Day 2 in Yosemite National Park

The first day seemed rushed but I thought I figured the park out. I’d spend my second day north of the valley, at Hetch Hetchey Reservoir. I thought I’d have plenty of time to hike but on my way I had to pass through the valley. I couldn’t help but stop to grab some pictures of the Dawn Wall face of El Capitan. When I turned to get back in my car I saw a waterfall. Still not sure which one- I think Bridal Veil? Of course I then walked to the trail to get closer. I found a great spot that wouldn’t take me too much time to shoot. Then I was back on my way… for about 10 minutes, ha! That’s when I saw Foresta… I don’t remember seeing this on the map.

Foresta is on the left-hand side of the road if you are heading west from the valley- it is off of Yosemite National Park road. I wouldn’t recommend going too far down this path unless you have 4WD. There is a small village like resort down this road, made in the early 1900’s it was soon after abandoned but has since been restored and I assume rented to the public. I continued passed this resort on the route toward a waterfall- I continued following my Google Maps satellite to “Foresta Falls”, I never made it though, I do not drive a 4WD vehicle and realized when I’d gone too far as I had gotten my Jetta stuck 3 times and no longer wanted to push my luck. No one travels passed the cabins here, so I was quite alone and would actually be stuck until the next day if I couldn’t get out. Eventually, when I realized I wouldn’t be able to go much farther I turned around- a 5-point turn, getting stuck again; by the time I got back to the main road I’d wasted well over an hour!
I finally was back on route to Hetch Hetchy, the dam outside of the park- a forgotten attraction. It was a dam that sourced power as well as all the water for San Francisco; this was also built in the early 1900s. I spent only about an hour there, although I’d say it took over 2 hours to find. I wanted to be back in the valley for sunset and to make it to dinner at the lodge again.

I made it back to Yosemite Valley, but not back to dinner. I went to Sentinel Beach, also referred to as yellow beach. At the time of my visit Yellow Beach was fitting as the ground was covered by the yellow autumn leaves. I got in the water getting reflective shots of the domes. Then I made my way to 3 stream spots to try and capture the sunset as well as Tunnel View. The sunsets I am experiencing are far prettier than my ‘skills’ will allow me to capture. I gave up and just watched, I couldn’t fathom adding my own obstruction to my view. Yet again, another moment captured just for me- filed away in my memories.

Sentinel Beach with the yellow autumn trees. Sentinel rock in the background.
Me standing in the water at the Yellow Beach, Yosemite Valley.

Do I have a death wish?

I decided if I left before complete sundown I could make it to Glacier Point for nighttime shots before the moon would illuminate the sky again. I made it! I thought my shots were coming out great on my small screen but upon download I’d find they were shaky, even though I’d used a tripod- bummer. I also did the craziest thing. I went to the ‘DO NOT ENTER-Danger Zone’ to climb the rocks in complete darkness. I had only my headlamp. I was looking for what is referred to as ‘driving board rock’. I couldn’t find it and thought maybe it was in a different part of the park. I perched up on a different boulder overhanging the cliff to get the shot of me with the stars and half dome. As I was there taking the pictures I saw to my right Diving Board Rock. How would I get this shot? The camera needed to be on the boulder I was currently on. I put my faith, all of it, into this moment. I set my tripod at the edge of this boulder, the original one. I then made my way to the other rock platform, hanging more so off the cliffs edge. I was praying the wind would not blow, I’d lose so many photos as well as the camera. It would tumble down to the valley shattering all the equipment on the way and possibly stopping somewhere in between. I slipped twice on my way up to this overhanging rock. No wonder this is all barricaded. I could see the moon was rising and I didn’t have much time.
I stood on what I thought was close to the edge, it was close enough- I couldn’t see more  than about 1 foot ahead of my feet. My legs were shaking. I turned my headlamp off and stood as still as I possibly could for 12 seconds while my camera processed the light and made the image visible. 12 seconds on this rock in the pitch black felt like much longer. I am not afraid of heights, but my body has a way of detecting danger regardless. My life was in danger- one shot would be enough, but I took two. Then I made my way back to the other boulder to grab the camera and then back to the actual viewing point designated for people. I’m not entirely sure this was “Diving Board Rock” but I have officially stopped looking.

Photographers were set up. I met a group of 3 guys. One of which, I will call Camera man, he helped me learn a bit about manual and bracket shooting. He just changed over from Canon to Sony. I guess we connected on that. Eventually I made my way back to the lodge… way past dinnertime. I ended up having avocados and a Cliff bar. While lying in bed my mind raced with all the ‘what-if’ scenarios of me on that rock. I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t be more thankful for my life. I set my alarm for 05:45. I still had half the park to see and less than a day to see it.
This morning was rough, I ended up leaving the lodge before 08:00. Within the first hour of driving I’d passed 2 life threatening accidents; one was a car- not sure how many were injured and the other I didn’t see but the helicopter landed in the valley. It is 11:00 now and people are ignoring the signs at Tenaya Lake and have started to populate the area, trekking all over the restoration land. I think I’ll head to the meadow now.

A picture of me on the rocks in Tanaya Lake.

Day 3: unplanned and perfect, Yosemite cannot disappoint

I arrived to the meadow with disappointment… but didn’t I say that doesn’t happen in Yosemite? I had conjured up a wildflower like meadow; at the least I expected a yellow grass meadow with dramatic contrasting blue peaks. I guess that’s what this was but it was a dull version in comparison to the one I’d created, the mountains not as dramatic because of the distance, they were hidden behind the tree line. There weren’t many people, yet there were so many cars. Then I noticed this was a start to many trailheads. I’m happy I woke up early. I didn’t think I’d get to hike Yosemite after yesterday’s long impromptu off-roading excursion. It’s funny I’d just left a lake but I was intrigued by the Cathedral Lakes trail. I looked at the map and it didn’t seem too far. I ventured out thinking I’d have until 15:00 or so to return to my car and still make it in time to my next destination. Its 14:15 now and I’m lying on a rock sloping toward the lake. I found the meadow I was hoping for along with the lake. This hike was much harder than the Delicate Arch hike in Moab. In full this hike will be a complete 7 mile trail, I ran out of water before the first mile marker. The hike back should be easier- lower elevation, more decline. I will have to wrap this up to capture some pictures and get back to my car. I guess I’m shooting to be back by 16:00- that might be doable.

I realized right after typing the last portion that there was no way I’d make it to my car by 4pm, I’d have to walk more than 3 miles/hr at a steady decline in uneven terrain. I did surprise myself and arrived to my car a little before 16:40. The hike back was a huge struggle without water. I was so happy to be back, I had a little water- melted ice waiting in my car. I took double servings of multivitamins, ate my huckleberry chocolate bar, and had some saltines. Oh, and I found my seltzer water from the AirBnB in Sequoia. I realized on my drive to my lodge that I haven’t had a substantial meal in over a day. I think I’ll treat myself tonight.

MAMMOTH

I arrived to McGee Lodge to find out there was a private party in the restaurant and I’d have to go elsewhere for dinner. I am currently waiting for a meatball sandwich at the general store. It’s a long wait because of a Dodgers game, really?! I was going to try to make it to the hot spring tonight to soak my muscles. At this point, I’m not entirely sure I’ll feel up to it, I’m so tired already.

Dinner was quite the disappointment. I ate all the meatballs from the sandwich but I couldn’t eat the soggy bread. The General Store is the gas station and only other restaurant within a 20 mile radius of my lodge. I did make my way to the hot springs and I’m so happy that I did. I ended up in a natural pool of my own- it was shaped like a heart and would’ve easily fit 3 people and the temperature was ideal. I don’t like scorching hot, and this was about bathwater temperature so maybe 85F with a little stream flowing to it. It was an endless bath, never cooling off and it was directly beneath the Milky Way. I arrived there shortly after sunset needing to use a headlamp to navigate to the pools. I stayed until moonrise and watched many shooting stars. It was literally perfect. I feel like this is a sentiment I use often to describe this trip… but it literally keeps getting better and better. I already appreciate the little things in life, so you can imagine how excited I get for the extraordinary.
The surrounding ground was muddy, understandably. Therefore, I didn’t want to put my boots back on. On my way back to my car I ended up getting a deep splinter on my right foot from the boards on the path. I think it might be infected. Good thing I didn’t plan any hikes in the Mammoth area. I added this stop to my journey for the hot springs, and to see Convict Lake; I also added another lake I saw postcards of when waiting for my soggy meatball sandwich- Mono Lake.

I sit in a natural hot spring pool under the Milky Way somewhere in the Eastern Sierras.
The Moonrise as I walk back to my car, the boardwalk to the right of the frame.

I’m writing from Lake Tahoe now- currently having dinner at Lone Eagle Grille. It’s a fine dining restaurant, a part of the Hyatt. I came to watch the sun set on their private beach and ALAS have a decent meal. I am so full and happy, but there was much more involved with my time in Mammoth earlier today.

Lakes all day

Wutsunupa or Convict Lake

Convit lake

I started the day kind of late. I woke up 2 hours earlier than planned but still did not manage to leave the lodge until exactly 11, checkout time. I figured I’d grab ‘breakfast’ at Convict Lake. There is a resort there that hosts weddings and other celebrations. Upon arrival I found out it was lunch time, I also found out the ‘restaurant’ was a food truck outside of the general store; hence my first decent meal is still hours from now in Lake Tahoe. Anyway, I had a trio quesadilla- way overpriced at $8. Next stop, the actual lake! The lake was very choppy but so pretty. This is one of the only drive to lakes in the Sierra Mountains that is natural. A mighty lake according to the Native Americans, this lake was high within the mountains- it climbed to settle here and thus is a powerful lake. It sits at 7,583 feet high in a box canyon. The lake was previously referred to as Wutsunupa (pronounced Wit-Sa-Nap) by the local Paiute Native Americans. They believe it was created by the Great Spirit and it holds great power and must be treated with respect. The lake is full of large trout- you can actually see them. The lake is crystal clear, but also pretty deep and cold! I found this bit of Native American folklore on a sign nearby. I also learned how it became referred to as what it is called now, Convict Lake.

Sometime around the Gold Rush, miners changed the name of the surrounding nearby creek to Monte Diablo Creek and thus the mountain to Monte Diablo which translates to Devil Mountain; this perhaps due to the struggle to get to the other side. Anyway, the name then changed again to Convict Lake following the events that happened in September of 1871. On September 17th, 3 convicts were found at the Convict/Monte Diablo creek where they avoided being captured by murdering the men who found them. These convicts had been on the run since escaping the Carson City jail in Nevada. They eventually were found and taken in by a citizen posse. The two older fugitives were hanged in Bishop, while the third was taken back to the prison- he was only 19 and too young to be hanged. Thus the name was changed to Convict Lake as a memory to the men who lost their lives, Morrison and Mono Jim. 
I much prefer the original name, Wutsunupa and have even had a tattoo designed after the Native American beliefs of the powerful lake.

I wanted a picture of the lake and mountains with no obstruction. Boats were fine, but the brush and rocks from the edge weren’t making this shot. I climbed out on some slippery rocks. Mainly slippery due to my shoes- I was wearing my sneakers, their like walking shoes, I don’t even think there is enough grip to run. Eventually people saw me out on the rocks and it drew a crowd. I think I had about 20 minutes to myself before this family of about 8 decided to try climbing out. I wasn’t going to be there if anyone fell. The conditions made that probability high, so I left. I began driving to the next lake when I noticed a field of aspens… TURN AROUND! I walked around as the leaves danced on the branches around me. I am obsessed with these trees!

Mono Lake

Mono lake- a petrified hot spring stands above the water surface. A

Onward to… Mono lake. I went against my navigation upon what I would like to call my better judgment (finally)… and turned off the main road 3 miles early. Mono lake in an ancient saline lake. I found the exact spot I had been looking for. I did the mile loop trail at the South Tufts where I met Kevin- he kindly shot a picture of me because my tripod and camera had already fallen into the water once from the wind. Any who, this lake was really cool. It was once a great basin full of hot springs. It’s still quite large today but in comparison it is only a fraction of what it once was. The tufas are what people are drawn to. The lake used to be much larger- the very ground/ parking lot I was standing on used to all be underwater. At that time fresh springs would flow into the lake and mix with the acidity levels and form calcium build up creating these tufas. As the lake started to dry up these became visible and are now very easily seen on the edge of the lake. It’s sad to read the story of what once was… it’s even sadder to find out it was ruined by humans. I always do my best to adhere to signage in the parks… about revegetation and preserving the land (not so much danger warnings) and it maddens me to see those who clearly could care less. I left the lake to head to one more, Lake Tahoe, where I sit now by a fireplace eating a 3 course dinner. I can see the lake from my table. It is HUGE with waves like the Atlantic- you know… measly. They’re big for a lake though! It is about 20:00 now. I think I’ll let the moon rise without me tonight. The extra day in Yosemite has set me back, but this splinter is also a minor setback. I’ll need to plan tomorrow strategically. My one day in lake Tahoe, the Nevada side.

Kaitlin

A traveler who has allowed the World to show her that extreme posing beliefs are necessary to find the sweet spot that is revolutionary. Because life is too complex; it’s a balance of black and white; we need to blend the two so we can live in the grey space of an Open Mind. Currently finding a balance in exploring the World and being sustainable everyday.

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