Thursday, August 19, 2010

Buck Rock, July 2010

We had big plans for this year, but we discovered that we are not completely in control of events. So, as a consolation prize, we took a spur-of-the moment six-day trip into Sequoia National Forest, sandwiched between visits to the doctor. Using our National Geographic topo map program and Google Earth, we spotted some potential boondocking sites north of Buck Rock, between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. We approached the area, unhitched the trailer, and scouted the sites with the SUV.

We found a really good place a hundred yards off a dirt road, on an open knoll at about 8000 feet, with astonishing views of the Monarch Divide to the east. The access road was very difficult -- we had to creep along for more than a mile at 5 mph to avoid damaging the undercarriage of the trailer on the rocks and the potholes. Worse yet, to get anywhere else from this campsite took us an extra half-hour each day of "commuting" in the SUV over extremely bumpy roads (far too bumpy for the trailer!). And hauling fresh water back to the trailer in jerry cans was a bit of a chore.

But it was more than worthwhile: the views, the privacy, and the silence. At times, the silence at our campsite was so profound that our ears hurt a little. All we could hear was our heartbeat, whooshing in our heads. Every so often, a bird would chirp or the wind would blow to relieve the silence. On any given day, we usually saw one other vehicle: a white forest service truck slowly driving up the road to the fire lookout tower in the early morning and then driving down the road in the late afternoon.

That first evening, we took a sunset hike up to Buck Rock, a forest service lookout at 8500 feet. [Remember to click on the picture to enlarge and click "back" to return.]

Felice climbed up on a boulder to watch the sunset:

That night, I played time-exposure games with my camera. Here is a five-minute star track -- if you click on the image, you will see that the tracks are slightly curved due to the Earth's rotation:

The next day, we drove to Lodgepole at the north end of the park and hiked to Tokopah Falls, encountering the inevitable marmot on a talus slope:

The falls were thundering; there had been heavy snow until late in the year, and it was in full flood:

It was so spectacular that I couldn't stop myself from taking many, many shots of the falls. Here is a time exposure of one section of the falls -- note the braided trails within the water, which can't be seen without a time exposure:

This is almost the same shot, but for somewhat less time -- note how the texture changes:

We have a tradition (borrowed from Shelley, Felice's sister) of taking pictures of notable places with our boots in the shot -- one foot is mine, and the other is Felice's:

It looks like we are about to slide into the river, but the rock was very rough and held us in place:

And now, just to mix things up, some little pink flowers along the trail:

After the hike, we "swam" in the Marble Fork of the Kaweah at Lodgepole. Since the water was fresh snowmelt, we didn't swim for more than a few seconds. Here is the sunset from our campsite that evening:

The next day was rainy, but we decided to hike to Weaver Lake anyway. (The picture-taking was dull because of the dim light.) That afternoon, it cleared up temporarily and we went swimming in Big Meadow Creek. I managed to get a shot of Felice and the trailer in our campsite, giving you some idea of how remote it was:

Almost every evening, the sunsets were mesmerizing:

It rained on and off that night; there are few things as cozy as the patter of rain on the roof of the trailer. The next morning, the storm clouds were just starting to clear over the mountains to the east:

This was the view from our front window toward the Obelisk, a rock formation on the north rim of Kings Canyon:

Later that day, we hiked through Evans Grove and down to 13S05, a fire road skirting the south rim of Kings Canyon. We passed a meadow choked with shooting stars:

We just had to take the obligatory “look how big these trees are” shot -- if you click on the picture, you will see Felice at the base of the tree. It is rare to get a view of an entire Sequoia tree:

We came across a leopard lily in a patch of sun, framed against the red trunk of a Sequoia:

That afternoon, we went swimming down in Boulder Creek, at the bottom of a canyon reached by 13S23 -- a very twisty and long forest road. A beautiful spot, but a tough drive. We came back to the campsite via the south side of Buck Rock -- the lookout tower is on the tip of the rock:

And of course, gin and tonic on the edge of the canyon to end the day:

The next day we drove down to Wolverton to tackle the Panther Gap/Merten’s Meadow hike, toward Alta Peak -- very long (for us), with a lot of elevation gain. But it was worth the effort. In the early part of the hike, we came across lots of flowers:

Then a big black bear wandered out of the woods and crossed the trail not far away -- he took no notice of us at all:

A few minutes later, a deer walked slowly alongside us, through a field of flowers:

Once we got to Panther Gap, the view of the Great Western Divide was stunning -- and the storm clouds were gathering:

At Merten’s Meadow, the flowers were out in full force:

There was quite a bit of lightning and thunder over the mountains across the valley -- we watched the storm for a while, listening to the thunder as it echoed back and forth between the mountain ranges. We marched quickly back down, since the trail was on an exposed cliff -- not a good place to dawdle when there is lightning nearby.

When we got back into the trees, we saw another bear, much smaller than the first. He was crawling around in some fallen logs, and then he appeared to get stuck -- he was draped over a large log and was wiggling back and forth. We felt sorry for him. Here he is, struggling to get over the log -- his head is toward the camera.. (I had to tweak this shot with a photo editor so that you could see him in the shadows; thus, the image quality is not great.)

But after watching him for a minute, we soon realized he was not stuck at all -- he was just scratching his tummy on the rough log! In a minute, he waddled slowly into the meadow, across the trail in front of us, and over a snowbank:

As we approached the trailhead, yet another deer came to pose nobly for her portrait:

On the next day, our last in the area, we made the required pilgrimage to Muir Grove -- you can see the ridge of bulbous Sequoias behind us, very unlike the sharply-pointed fir trees:

Since we had plenty of time, we decided to explore the whole grove, rather than staying on the fairly level east side (where most people stop). We were very glad that we did: as it turns out, the grove was very extensive, spreading west over a hill and down a gully. There were hundreds of old-growth trees, marching across the hillside, with very little underbrush. We were able to "bushwhack" carefully down the gully; it was steep but the footing was good. To celebrate, Felice and I performed a joint tree-hugging ritual:

The flowers lined the trail coming back from the grove:

Later, we went swimming (splashing) in Dorst Creek:

I think this is a great back-lit shot of Jeffrey’s shooting star in the late afternoon light. (I can say that because I'm not the one who took the shot -- Felice did.)

Just below Dorst Campground, there is a little tributary stream lined with ferns:

After sunset, but before dark, the mountains east of our campsite were a deep purple: