The Great Smoke Out, August & September 2017

Our original route would have taken us to Crater Lake and then we would have moved eastward to Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately, we had to scrap Yellowstone in favor of getting Goose’s cast removed. We were able to get to Crater Lake, and we opted to head south to Yosemite. This seemed like a great plan, until the fire season caught up with us. But, more on that later.

Our first stop was Medicine Lake, sacred to the local tribes and very close to Lava Beds. I loved this campground, the lake was beautiful and different every time I walked down to it.

My other favorite thing about this Lake is that the banks were teeming with little frogs. I would clap as I walked through, to get them moving away from my feet. I didn’t relish the idea of squishing tens of frogs with every step. These little critters would also fill the evening with their calls, adding to the peacefulness of this spot. There were also a few sights around the area that could be hiked to, but unfortunately, we didn’t do much of that.

We took a day trip to Lava Beds, which was pretty heavy with smoke. That kind of ruined our plans for a scenic drive or any hikes above ground, but luckily, many of Lava Beds attractions are under ground in the form of lava tubes. The first thing we did, as usual, was to stop at the visitor center to learn more about the park.

It turns out the volcano we were standing on, Medicine Volcano, is the largest shield volcano within the Cascade Range.

After we did our formal education part, we went over to the rangers to be screened for white nose syndrome so we could safely enter

the caves. White nose syndrome is a fungus that has been decimating bat populations and, so far, the western US is free of it. If you plan on caving in these areas, be sure to bring no equipment with you that have been in any infected areas. There are handy maps and helpful rangers to assist you in this. After you’ve been screened, you get a pass for your car, any equipment you might need, and a handy map detailing all the cave options. They range from easy walks, to more difficult adventures that require tight squeezes and crawling. As we didn’t have much time, we opted for the easiest and only lit cave, Mushpot. This tube is about as accessible as a cave can get, although I don’t think it’s suitable for wheelchair as the path is uneven and the entrance has a good amount of stairs. It’s an interpretive trail with many informative signs along the way.

Our next adventure took us to Crater Lake National Park, a place both Bear and I were really excited to see. We kinda saw it.

There were several fires in the area, the closest about four miles away from us and right on the rim. We spent the day under raining ash and thick smoke and decided to flee to Mount Shasta.

We had one great day in the area. We hiked the Old Ski Bowl trail and found a good viewpoint for lunch.

My parents and Bear decided to hike up the trail further, and the girls sand I stayed to admire the cairns. The rocks in the area were great building material! They stacked very easily, so we decided to build our own.

The next day, we were smoked out again. So we continued our trek southward and quickly realized, we were not escaping. By the time we got to our camp outside of Yosemite, the air was still smoky. It was slightly improved, but we knew we weren’t going to hike in this. So we visited the nearby town of Groveland, hitting the library and the local museum.

We did take one smoky day to drive into Yosemite. We found a spot above 7,000 feet with no smoke. We had a picnic lunch and did a little exploring. We also made time for one visit to the visitor center, had to say hello to our dear friend John.

Finally… the day arrived!!! Cast off! Time to start heading east!

Sequoia National Park, August 2017

I adored our visit to Sequoia National Park. Sequoia National Park is part of a complex of national parks (including Kings Canyon National Park), monuments, and forests. It has a great amount of designated wilderness and is a paradise for backpacking. We got a great spot at the Lodgepole Campground, right next to the amphitheater! There were Ranger talks there every night, and we got to catch a few, including one on the Buffalo Soldiers and one on mushrooms!

We had about 10 days at the park. After we got Goose’s sling off (see Santa Barbara, adventures and misadventures) and cast on, we were able to get started.

We kicked the trip off with the Tokopah Falls Trail – a 1.7 mile gentle uphill which finishes at a grand falls. There are some fun parts of the trail where you get to squeeze through giant boulders.

That hike took us about half the day, so we took the afternoon to go see the biggest tree in the forest. (And the world). General Sherman. It’s a high traffic destination, and during the regular season a shuttle is available. They have two stops for Sherman, one at the top of the trail where you can walk down to the tree, and one right by the tree itself.

The same shuttle system, or a network of paved paths, can take you to other well traveled groves. You can spend a few days exploring these sections and we did. We hit the Big Trees trail which featured… big trees. We didn’t thoroughly explore this area, but we know we’re going to come back.

We did a few other hikes as well. A favorite of ours from previous trips is The High Sierra Trail. This is a great backpacking entry point. It starts in the forests, climbs a small ridge, and passes some sequoias along the way. One you reach the end of this section, you’re greeted with amazing views into the foothills and

further into the sierras.

The trail continues along the side of the ridge, and frankly it was terrifying with the girls. I’m pretty sure Bunny almost walked off the cliff at some point. I use my hiking poles to tap them back towards the safer part of the trail. We walked until we found a good rest spot.

Dorst Creek was another repeat trail for Bear, but new for me. It’s a short an easy trail to a hidden grove of Sequoias. Unlike the more accessible trails to Sequoia groves, this one is quite solitary. The trail travels up Dorst Creek under heavy forest. We kept busy by playing scavenger hike. I give the girls certain trees, plants, rocks, etc to look for and they get a point whenever they spot it first. This time we looked for granite (easy), incense cedar, and shelf mushrooms.

Along some potions of the trail, you can see the destination grove across the creek. It’s pretty cool spotting the “broccoli tops” of the giant sequoias. Eventually you cross the creek and walk back towards the grove. We found a nice picnic spot at the foot of a tree.

We did one driving day, where we headed towards the neighboring Kings Canyon. We found some LTE signal at a neat overlook filled with Cairns and had a surprise visitor in the truck. A giant red and black wasp thing that nearly made us drive off the cliff! No photo, we were too busy screaming.

Between hiking, sightseeing, and just plain relaxing- I really loved our time at this park. The forest is amazing, the big trees are awe inspiring and the whole experience left me feeling rejuvenated and content. We’re planning to return next year and introduce the girls to some backcountry multi day hikes.