While I realize some items on this list may seem normal to those who live in the western states of America, as a city slicker the following things puzzled and/or astounded me:
Everything is more expensive than I would have imagined. The prices for gas, food, clothing, toiletries, cooking supplies, etc all factor in the cost of transport. A sign in the local general store here in June Lake mentions they charge five dollars to hear how much cheaper other places are.
Gas stations are a hub of life, with cafes, restaurants, and gift shops springing up around (or often inside of) them. The Mobile Station restaurant, located by the entrance to Tioga Pass (highway 120), is by far one of the best places to eat out around here. This Mobile Station showcases bands in the summer and has a complicated trapeze contraption.
One of the only radio stations that you can pick up clearly is KMMT Radio, and they have multiple broadcast stations to transmit around the mountains. This radio station also airs lost dog information. Some of the animals have been missing for over a week and I have to wonder if it’s politeness that keeps the announcer from joking that the pet must be cougar food by now.
Despite the amount of snow on the ground, walking around in a t-shirt and jeans is quite comfortable. The sun at this high altitude is powerful, but somehow not powerful enough to melt all the snow.
There are an abundance of ghost towns, or abandoned and decaying buildings. A large one of interest nearby is the Bodie State Historic Park. 10,000 people lived in this town at one point, with the population dwindling dramatically in the beginning of the 1900’s.
Along the highway you will occasionally see a sign for a more scenic route. A more scenic route? What would be more scenic than mountain ranges and lakes?
Another highway oddity: little wooden framed signs that have a picture of a house burning, with a caption that reads “Could your house be saved?”
I realized I need to stop personifying Nature; the Chicago Police Department can be benevolent or malevolent, but Nature will always do her own thing.
We started the day off by driving to Mammoth Lakes in search of the Devils Postpile, but the roads leading to the monument were not plowed. The gate was still open, but I was not up for a day-long hike in the snow. All around town, Mammoth Lakes businesses were preparing for the opening of the ski lifts. This is the earliest the ski resort has opened since 1994. At least all that snow was working for someone.
Having abandoned that particular detour, we decided to visit Wild Willie’s hot springs. After a few wrong turns, we happened upon Hot Creek, a “river” that runs through Long Valley Caldera. Only in this part of the country can you take a wrong turn en route to a geological wonder only to run into another geological wonder. This 10 x 18 mile depression was formed over 760,000 years ago during a volcanic explosion that knocked 50 cubic miles of molten rock from beneath the earth’s surface into the air. Today, the caldera is far from stable, with geysers erupting, the earth moving, and the water temperature reaching a scalding temperature unpredictably. When you’re hanging out in the Travertine Springs, it’s easy to think that these “hot tubs” were made just for humans, but at Hot Creek it’s these same inviting small pools that will kill you. Warning signs are posted every where you look, and include pleasant tidbits like: “fourteen people have died or been seriously burned while countless others have been injured since 1968 and arsenic levels in the water may rise to dangerous levels suddenly”. Basically, no swimming. We did see some steaming rocks though, and I got a short driving lesson on the way back to the highway (don’t ask me to go over 25 miles per hour. I can’t do it!).
Once we found it, Wild Willy’s Hot Springs was thankfully tamer than Hot Creek, and was located off a long, rough dirt road. Wild Willie’s has just one pool, and the bottom of the pool is harder and rockier than the clay bottom of Travertine Springs. Wild Willy’s was also warmer, at least on the day we went. The water that flows into Wild Willy’s
travels down a small waterfall and the sound is louder and more soothing than Travertine’s. The spring is located in the middle of a meadow so cow dung was everywhere, but the hot spring has a pathway that resembles a narrow boardwalk. The pool itself has hard edges with indents for bottles and cans. All these little details convinced me again of nature’s benevolence, and the dangers at Long Valley Caldera were forgotten. The pool I was bathing in was made just for that very purpose, right? It seemed so until I spotted what I like to call a proverbial hot spring shark: clumps of mucous-y algae, moss and other green stuff floating in Willie’s water. It looked like God hocked a loogey directly into the hot spring. Any sort of movement knocks the goo off the wall, and after some getting in and out to take photos, pee, and get some drinks, there were giant slimy green and brown “jellyfish” just waiting to latch onto our arms and legs when we came to a rest. When one such “jellyfish” grew larger than a pizza, it was time for me to leave.
On the drive back to June Lake, we checked up on that deer carcass, and it’s amazing what California ravens can do in 24 hours. The entire torso was picked clean, while the head and legs were still intact (I was going to post a photo but it’s pretty gnarly). The deer still had her eyes in her sockets. The smell wasn’t too bad unless you stood 10 feet downwind. I was clever enough to pick some sage and hold it to my nose. Sage grows abundantly out here and makes about a quarter of the scrub in the lowlands, and by lowlands I mean about 7,000 feet. The sage worked so well in masking the scent that I had to wonder… no, it was just a happy coincidence.
Despite forecasts saying the snow storm would last for two days, the skies were sunny today and the snow that kept us indoors melted as quickly as my disappointment (and I thought Chicago’s weather was unpredictable!). Despite not being able to access the park, my boyfriend and I explored the eastern outskirts of Yosemite. Our destination? The Travertine Hot Springs, just outside the town of Bridgeport, California.
We started the day by buying an ace bandage for my knee, which came in handy when we had to ditch our rental car at the shooting range halfway up the hot springs. If we had a truck we could have made it past the ditches and large potholes in the road, but our little Kia couldn’t handle such terrain. One of the most genuine gentlemen I’ve ever met (a BLM ranger) suggested we take a short cut through the shooting range. The gun-toting modern cowboys were nice enough to pause in their target practice and watch me gimp through their field of view. I’ve never been to a shooting range, but from what I’ve seen in movies it’s not usually a free-for-all with people bringing their own targets and leaving their bullet casings on the ground. Then again, when are movies accurate? The juxtaposition between the well kept hot springs and no littering signs versus the piles and piles of used ammunition nearby was not entirely lost on me.
Upon reaching the Travertine Hot Springs, my boyfriend and I promptly got lost looking for the group of four pools. There is one small pool right at the entrance, but we were looking for the secluded set. By climbing up some rocks, we were able to spot our springs and catch some folks in the state of re-dress. Not wanting to be mistaken as pervs, we made our presence known and the folks were nice enough to redirect us to the proper path.
Clothing is optional in the springs, but we kept our underwear on. The bottom of the pools are muddy in a clay sort of way, and smell heavily of sulfur. Each pool has its own water supply and distinct temperature, and investigating the source of the water atop the rock structures is fairly easy, even for wobbly me. We hung out in the springs for a good half hour or so, undisturbed, alternating pools when we got too hot. Taking in the view took a while, as did the fact that this was all free, all public land. I own these springs, President Obama owns these spring, as does Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and every American citizen! Even the echo of gun shots nearby couldn’t bring me out of my relaxed state. Everything was peaceful and right with the world. The temperature of the hottest pool is said to be above boiling, so we did get a bit light-headed, prompting us to leave (or maybe it was the sulfur?). Nevertheless, the warmth stayed with us and we went sans hoodie and jacket on the hike down to the car. The hotel concierge explained that the hot springs are popular at night; she herself has only gone after dark, and sees shooting stars every time.
Ironically, I saw more animals yesterday than I did at Yosemite. It was almost as if nature had heard my digital complaints. Off the side of the highway, we witnessed a freshly dead deer being shredded by six or so ravens. These ravens were surprisingly aggressive. When my boyfriend tried to take a picture of the carnage, they rose up around him in a circle, squawking manically and a scene from Hitchcock’s Birds flashed through my head. While walking to the hot springs, we startled a large jack rabbit and shortly thereafter discovered a newly car-crushed black and white snake. No bear or mountain lion, but I’ll take what I can get.
Thanks for honoring my wishes, Mother Nature.
“Goons” is one of the most original and enigmatic street artists in Chicago. He cultivates an air of mystery, won’t answer certain questions (he laughs if you ask him why he chose the name “goons”), and will contact you on his own time (trust me on that!). Over the past couple of years, he’s developed a devoted following on flickr and his identity has been the subject of much debate. The Viking, a member of his own crew, summed Goons up best by calling him “the most elusive reclusive alcohol abusive lurker of chicago streets.”
As a girl who grew up in New York City, visiting Yosemite for vacation is a surreal but pleasant dream: to traverse a land where the wilderness rules is the exact opposite of the environment I grew up in. The city I currently reside in doesn’t think twice about manhandling nature, even going so far as to reverse the flow of a river and dying it green on St. Patrick’s Day. Chicago doesn’t shut down because of a couple feet of the white stuff. When it snows out here, 9,000 feet above sea level, chains must be put on tires and people lock themselves inside. Driving up the winding and narrow mountain passes lacking guard rails is scary enough, so when it snows Yosemite closes its roads. Humans are so vulnerable out here, and lack any choice but to surrender to the whims of the wilderness. It’s not just the weather – the animals give humans a run for their money as well.
Before each nature walk, a sign warns you that you are entering the wild and that this is bear country. The sign goes on to explain that if you leave food in your car, a bear will damage your car to get to your food. Bear-proof storage containers are strategically placed next to the warning signs and their use is mandated.
Needless to say, I was stoked. To see a bear in its natural habitat? To catch a glimpse of a bobcat, or mountain lion? I was so ecstatic about meeting some wildlife that odd shapes in the woods, or any flickering movement had me freeze and stare. It was all wishful thinking. I saw a plethora of chipmunks (who seemed to have a little game of running out in front of moving cars) and a couple western gray squirrels. The western gray squirrel has larger ears and a less bushy tail than the squirrels I am used to, and while it was nice to see, the squirrel’s presence meant no bobcat or mountain lion prowled nearby. I realized that the animals I was looking for could smell me a long way off, and since this was the kingdom of the wild, these animals have figured out where the trails are and probably stay well away from them (going off the trail path is prohibited, as the park stresses you leave as little impact on nature as possible). Hence my surprise at finding some mountain lion scat in the middle of my hike up to Dog Lake. There I was, visibly excited (once again) over some cat poop. If only I had climbed faster, I could have seen a large defecating feline!
On my first day in Yosemite, my boyfriend and I hiked the lower Cathedral Lakes trail, and it was by far one of the most beautiful natural formations I have ever seen. The sky was a bright blue, without a cloud in sight. On the way down, we passed quite a few people carrying ski pole-looking things, and I scoffed at how ridiculous they looked. I would eat my words the next day when I realized what they were for. My right knee was done for when we got back to the hotel, the bone itself hurting whenever I bent it. Research on the internet revealed the cause of my pain: the constant impact of climbing downhill. How could I have avoided this? By having a damn hiking pole.
The second day saw us hiking small amounts due to my injured knee. We had heard about the approaching storm and I wanted to get the most out of our visit. No pain, no gain, right? Our first stop: Soda Springs. On the way there, a group of ten or more Clark’s Nutcrackers went wild for a good 5 minutes, calling back and forth over a river in the Tuolumne
Meadows. The Soda Springs themselves were copper, yellow and red. I’d never have thought of it myself, but a passing hiker let us know that drinking from the spring is a popular, if potentially dangerous right of passage. Good enough for me! The ice-cold water bubbling up from the bowl sized craters tasted a little like flat seltzer. Afterward, we climbed Pothole Dome to get a panoramic view of the meadow and mountains. We ended the day hiking up to Dog Lake, where I saw the mountain lion scat.
While it might seem disappointing to have a seven day vacation cut down by five days due to snow, the amount I did see in those 2 days was satisfying enough to hold me over until next time. I can’t complain, and the raging storm outside is almost fortuitous since I cannot walk without limping. Cabin fever is sure to set in, as the snow storm is steadily knocking out TV channels and cell phone reception is splotchy at best. In fact, this post would have done earlier if it weren’t for a power outage. Now the power’s back on and the internet is up. Your move, nature.
Photos and some audio to come…