Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mountain Home State Forest: November 2010

We figured that we had time for one more short trip this fall, so we decided on Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest, an obscure park in the southern Sierras. The forecast was for a couple of days of good weather, followed by some light snow. We were prepared: snow chains, tools, clothing, everything. I talked to the ranger, who said that after the storm, he would close the forest on Monday, after we had left. He also told me that the campgrounds were technically open but that we had to bring our own water.

The park is located about 60 miles northeast of Bakersfield (i.e., nowhere) at about 6000 feet. There is no easy way to get there: access is via Balch Park Road, a very twisty and steep one-lane road about 20 miles long. It took us an hour just to get up to the park; I don't think we saw any other cars during that time.

We decided to camp at Frasier Mill Campground, since it provided us with the best escape route from the park in the event of an unexpected heavy snowfall. As we later discovered (after looking at the other campgrounds), it was also the prettiest campground. There is a little stream running through it (which you can see right behind the trailer in the picture below), and there's plenty of shade. There are young Sequoia trees throughout the campground, with some very large old-growth trees right nearby:

We were the only ones in the campground; in fact, we later discovered that we were the only campers in the entire forest. It was almost eerie. Late that afternoon, after getting our campsite set up, we drove down to the Middle Fork of the Tule River and hiked along the fire roads through some old-growth trees. That night, after dinner, we took a moonlight hike along a fire road through more old-growth Sequoias. The next morning, we hiked north along the river from Hidden Falls. The big trees were everywhere -- the little dot at the base of the tree is Felice. (If you can't see her, try clicking on the picture to enlarge and then click "back.")

We were the only hikers in the entire forest; we didn't see anyone else all day. The hike was fairly steep but very pleasant. The air was cool, almost cold, and the turbulent river was within sight or sound the entire time. All along the river, the giant Sequoias were scattered throughout the forest. We hiked about 3 miles up into the adjacent Sequoia National Forest, gaining about 1300 feet, and then turned around after lunch.

In the afternoon, we hiked about a mile downriver from Hidden Falls to Moses Gulch campground and back up again. When we got to the car, we discovered a note on the windshield from the ranger, telling us that the storm had suddenly become much colder, faster, and wetter and that he had to close the forest and the roads the very next day. We had to leave a day earlier than we had planned, and there was no way around it.

On our way back to the campsite, we stopped off at Hedrick Pond, just after sunset. The water was completely calm:

This is the same shot, edited in Lightroom:

The next morning, while the storm was gathering (and just before we left), we took another hike through the big trees. Felice stood inside a hollow log near the trail:

The trail looped through a grove of Sequoias. This is called the "Adam" tree, one of the biggest in existence. As always, Felice is the little dot at the base of the tree:

We were sorry to leave, but it was the right thing to do (and besides, they kicked us out). As it turned out, the storm really was very intense, and we would have been snowed in. We probably would have had to abandon the trailer, which would have to stay there until the spring thaw (and it probably would have been crushed by the weight of the snow during the winter). The ranger told us that this very thing had happened to some other campers a few years ago. We will be back after the snow melts; there is a lot of hiking available in this area.


tiffany machado said...

I have been to all these places and it is an amazing place. Those trees are some of the most amazing antiques in existence and they are living!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan - Thank you so much for your post. We're thinking of going up there with a 20-foot trailer (plus tow vehicle). Do you know if that sounds doable based on your experience?