USA: CALIFORNIA

This article is packed with California photos and captions with travel tips by Tom Dempsey. At bottom, see recommended guidebooks.

Favorite California images


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Travel tip: Rent a recreational vehicle (RV) for campground comfort in beautiful parks:

  • www.CruiseAmerica.com: Carol and I have enjoyed their fully-equipped 19-foot RV and larger.
  • Jucy Rentals, jucyrentals.com (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and New Zealand): The Jucy “Champ USA” (a converted Chrysler Town & Country car) has back gate cooking, two double beds (one made up inside and one via outside ladder in a pop-up tent/storage on top), inside eating table, 17-20 mpg gas mileage. (No toilet, no hot water, no hot shower.) Check for special off-season and one-way rates.

Below, view more extensive galleries of California:

  1. California: Sierras: Hoover Wilderness, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest
  2. California: Sierras: Yosemite National Park
  3. California: Sierras: Inyo National Forest
  4. California: Sierras: Mono Lake
  5. California: Sierras: Bodie ghost town – gold rush – State Historic Park
  6. California: Sierras: Alabama Hills, Western Film / History
  7. California: Sierras: Mokelumne Wilderness
  8. California: Sierras: Lake Tahoe area
  9. California: Deserts
  10. California: San Francisco Bay Area
  11. California: Sacramento Valley, foothills
  12. California: northern mountains: Klamath, Cascades
  13. California: northern coast, redwoods

Tom’s California photos come from trips in August 2021, March 2021, 2020, 2018, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2004, 2000, 1996, and 1994.

1. California: Sierras: Hoover Wilderness, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest

Staying below 8000 feet elevation, the Leavitt Meadows Loop Trail helped us acclimatize before attempting higher trails in the Eastern Sierra mountains. Our clockwise circuit of 8.9 miles with 1570 feet gain included a ridge extension above Lane Lake, in Hoover Wilderness of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. The best ambiance is at Secret Lake. Roosevelt and Lane Lakes also provide pleasant views. The Trailhead is at Leavitt Meadows Campground (GPS 38.33401 N, 119.55177 W).

Also in Hoover Wilderness, our scenic backpacking trip from Green Creek Trailhead to Summit Lake covered 7.6 miles one way with 2360 feet gain and 310 feet descent over a leisurely 3 days, then back down on the fourth day. A day hike from our Green Lake campsite to West Lake was 3.9 mi with 1830 feet gain to 8896 feet elevation. From Summit Lake, we day hiked east to Burro Pass for a pleasing view to Virginia Lakes (2180 ft gain over 4 miles round trip). Unique and colorful rock patterns delighted my photographer’s eye!


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2. California: Sierras: Yosemite National Park

Photos below from Yosemite National Park include: El Capitan, Half Dome, Cathedral Peak and Lake, waterfalls, reflections, ice patterns, backpackers, Virginia Peak, bird nest, Yosemite Museum, reconstructed Indian Village of the Ahwahnee. In 1984, Yosemite National Park was honored as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.


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3. California: Sierras: Inyo National Forest

The vast Inyo National Forest is a fun playground for great day hikes and wonderful backpacking in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. Photos below include: Inyo National Forest is a vast playground for great day hikes and wonderful backpacking in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. Photos below include: Schulman Grove, in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, in the White Mountains; Mammoth Lakes area (Shadow, Thousand Island, Garnet, Ediza, Iceberg, Cecile, and Minaret Lakes); McGee Creek Canyon; beautiful Little Lakes Valley; Bishop Creek watershed hikes from South Lake (Bishop Pass Trail, Treasure Lakes Trail), Lake Sabrina (Piute Pass), and North Lake; Onion Valley Campground; Brainerd Lake; Mount Williamson; Mount Whitney; and Silver Lake reflections along June Lake Loop road. Flower images include: Giant blazingstar or smoothstem blazingstar (Mentzelia laevicaulis), Opuntia fragilis (brittle pricklypear), white Datura flower flower blossoms, Coville’s columbine or Sierra columbine (Aquilegia pubescens), Alpine Penstemon (Penstemon davidsonii), Iris missouriensis (or Iris montana), tiger lily or Columbia lily (Lilium columbianum), prickly poppy (Argemone Genus), Castilleja (Indian Paintbrush or Prairie-fire).


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Backpack 4 days from Pine Creek to Granite Park, near Bishop

From August 16-19 in 2021, we backpacked to Honeymoon Lake, Granite Park, and Pine Creek Pass in John Muir Wilderness, in Inyo National Forest. Six months in advance, I was lucky to reserve the “Pine Creek JM11” entry near Bishop for a group of three.

  • Day 1: Backpack from Pine Creek Pass Trailhead to Honeymoon Lake (6.2 miles with 2900 feet gain). We ascended a spectacular gorge overlooking the former Pine Creek Mine (1918-1990). Opened in 1918, Union Carbide’s Pine Creek Mine was once the largest tungsten producer in the United States, also yielding much molybdenum and silver. During World War II, the mine supplied tanks with tungsten armor plating and armor-piercing projectiles. Proceeding upwards, monumental scenery drew us ever upwards, with sparkling drinking water (sterilized with Steripen) regularly available from tributary streams, Pine Creek, Pine Lake, Upper Pine Lake, and camping at Honeymoon Lake.
  • Day 2: Backpack 3.1 miles with 1300 ft gain to Granite Park, a rocky alpine route which felt tiring due to the high altitude and effort yesterday. A GPS map was helpful to find the cairns and boot track.
  • Day 3: The golden sunrise on granite spires took our breath away, truly awesome. Then we descended 1300 feet with backpacks for 2.7 miles to Honeymoon Lake to set up tents; then day hiked 4.4 miles round trip with 900 ft gain to Pine Creek Pass, overlooking the broad head of French Canyon capped by Mount Humphreys.
  • Day 4: Backpack 6.2 miles with 2900 ft descent to the trailhead.

Backstory: Captured in Granite Park in summer 1983, “Flourishing photographers” became my first published photo, appearing in February 1987 Modern Photography magazine. 38 years have passed since our group of seven family and friends backpacked to Royce Lakes, Royce Peak, Granite Park, and Italy Pass. Revisiting in 2021 enhanced the significance of both trips.

Sunrise illuminates peaks reflected in Honeymoon Lake in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Sunrise illuminates peaks reflected in Honeymoon Lake in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California.

Day hike Devils Postpile to Rainbow Falls as a loop, near Mammoth Lakes

Hexagonal tops of basaltic columns in Devils Postpile National Monument, near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Devils Postpile National Monument, in Ansel Adams Wilderness. These basaltic columns formed underground about 90,000 years ago when hot lava dammed behind a moraine. As the lava lake cooled and shrank, cracks extending from the top and bottom merged to form vertical columns which were hidden underground. Then 20,000 years ago, grinding glaciers scalped and polished the hexagonal tops.

A loop day hike to Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls (6 miles with 780 feet gain) helped demystify Mammoth’s complicated parking and Shuttle system. From a reserved campsite in Mammoth Lakes, we drove past Minaret Summit Entrance Station (before the 7am-7pm daily cutoff for private cars) to reach Devils Postpile’s limited parking. Five days later, this would be our second backpacking trip’s exit point via Reds Meadow Shuttle. By the way, Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls can be hiked with less effort from their separate parking lots connected by the Shuttle bus.

Rainbow Falls, on the Middle Fork San Joaquin River, in Devils Postpile National Monument, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, near Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. The water plunges from a lip of hard volcanic andesite down 101 feet to hit the lower layer of more-easily eroded volcanic rhyodacite, which has undercut, forcing the falls to move 500 feet upstream from its original location. A loop day hike to Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls (6 miles with 780 feet gain) helped demystify Mammoth's complicated parking and Shuttle system. From a reserved campsite in Mammoth Lakes, we drove past Minaret Summit Entrance Station (before the 7am-7pm daily cutoff for private cars) to reach Devils Postpile's limited parking. Five days later, this would be our second backpacking trip's exit point via Reds Meadow Shuttle. By the way, Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls can be seen quicker from their separate parking lots connected by Reds Meadow Shuttle bus. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Rainbow Falls, on the Middle Fork San Joaquin River, in Devils Postpile National Monument. The water plunges from a lip of hard volcanic andesite down 101 feet to hit the lower layer of more-easily eroded volcanic rhyodacite, which has undercut and moved the falls 500 feet upstream from its original location.

5-day traverse: High Trail to Thousand Island, Garnet, Ediza, Iceberg, Cecile, & Minaret Lakes

For many years I’ve wanted to return to Thousand Island Lake, where as a child in 1967 and 1968, I horse packed with family, friends, and a folding double kayak. This year, precisely six months in advance, I luckily reserved the “High Trail / PCT AA09” entry point for our backpacking group of three in Ansel Adams Wilderness. In this popular area, Inyo National Forest requires securing food in an approved bear canister, which added 2.5 pounds. The trip was more spectacular than we had imagined, with perfect golden sunrises and majestic mountains every day. Trip log for August 22-26, 2021:

  • Day 1: Starting with the earliest reserved ride on Reds Meadow Shuttle bus from Mammoth Adventure Center to Agnew Meadows Trailhead, we backpacked the High Trail for 9 long miles with 2000 feet gain to Thousand Island Lake, on probably the dustiest trail I’ve ever hiked, albeit scenic. Hikers should use the Shuttle, otherwise trailhead parking is quite limited and most vehicle entries are blocked from 7am to 7pm. Multi-night parking is allowed in the Shuttle lot at Mammoth Adventure Center.
  • Day 2: Backpack from Thousand Island Lake to Garnet Lake (3.1 miles, 650 ft down, 500 ft up).
  • Day 3: Backpack from Garnet Lake to Ediza Lake (7 miles / 1400 ft down / 1000 ft up).
  • Day 4: Tom and Rebecca backpacked an exciting use-trail via Iceberg and Cecile Lakes to Minaret Lake (3.1 miles, 1130 ft up, 630 feet down) on steep scree and boulder rock-hopping, where a GPS trail map helped find the safest path to avoid cliffs. Older paper maps don’t mark this use-trail (a beaten boot track). (Earlier in the season, steep snow and ice can make the route unsafe for the unprepared; but our intentional pick of late August was snow-free.) To regain RV comforts, as planned, Carol returned on the attractive and familiar Shadow Creek (day hiked last year) to Agnew Meadows shuttle bus (8 miles, 400 ft up, 2700 ft down), back to Mammoth Lakes.
  • Day 5: Exit with backpacks from Minaret Lake to Devils Postpile Ranger Station (7.1 miles, 135 ft up, 2240 ft down), where we caught the frequent Shuttle (backpackers can return using Day 1’s round trip ticket).

Below: departing from Agnew Meadows, a packer on horseback leads mules on the dusty High Trail portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest.
Above Agnew Meadows, a packer on horseback leads mules  on the dusty High Trail portion of the Pacific Crest Trail in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, near Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Banner Peak and the Moon reflect in Thousand Island Lake at dawn in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Banner Peak and the Moon reflect in Thousand Island Lake at dawn in Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Below: At sunrise, Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak, and the Moon reflect in a pond at Garnet Lake.
At sunrise, Mt. Ritter, Banner Peak, and the Moon reflect in a pond at Garnet Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Rays of sunrise illuminate our ledge campsite on the southwest side of Ediza Lake, under the Ritter Range, in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Rays of sunrise illuminate our ledge campsite on the southwest side of Ediza Lake, under the Ritter Range, in Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Below: Under the Minarets, Mount Ritter, and Banner Peak, we cross one of Ediza Lake’s inlet streams on Day 4.
Under the Ritter Range, hikers cross an inlet stream at Ediza Lake, in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The Minarets (part of the Ritter Range) rise over Cecile Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. Clyde Minaret is at center. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: The Minarets (part of the Ritter Range) rise over Cecile Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness.

Below: Clyde Minaret (12,281 feet elevation) cuts a sharp shadow in late afternoon over Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range.
Clyde Minaret (12,281 feet elevation) cuts a sharp shadow in late afternoon over Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

At sunrise, the Minarets reflect in Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. At 12,281 feet elevation, Clyde Minaret is the highest, sharpest peak of the Minarets. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, & Minaret Lake. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above and below: At sunrise, the Minarets reflect in Minaret Lake.

At sunrise, the Minarets reflect in Minaret Lake in the Ritter Range, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, in backcountry near the town of Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. At 12,281 feet elevation, Clyde Minaret is the highest, sharpest peak of the Minarets. We backpacked for 5 days from Agnew Meadows to Thousand Island Lake, Garnet Lake, Ediza Lake, Minaret Lake, and Devils Postpile Ranger Station, reaching trailheads using the Reds Meadow Shuttle from the town of Mammoth Lakes. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Comfortable yet lightweight overnight backpacking gear
  • 1.8-pound TarpTent Stratospire Li double-wall tent for two: saves weight by using two hiking poles for support.
  • 2.5-pound Enlightened Equipment “Accomplice” Quilt covers two people, rated 10 degrees F, includes pad straps.
  • Big Agnes Insulated QCore SLX sleeping pads 20×66″, 3.5″ thick, comfy, 18 oz each
  • Food: freeze-dried dinners. Calorie-dense lunches and breakfasts. For the Pine Creek Trail, tying bear bags onto tree trunks away from camp at night protected our food (and protected bears from the falling risks of pursuing a higher-hung cache). We encountered no bears this summer, as most hikers seem now better-trained to protect food. In Mammoth Lakes area, we stored food in mandatory hard canisters.
  • Luxury items: one Helinox 1.1-pound chair, carried by “chairpa” Tom; Kindle E-reader; Samsung Note9 Smartphone for GPS maps; battery bank charger 10,000 mAh
  • Carrying the pocket-sized Sony RX100M6 camera saved several pounds compared to my RX10M4 system.
Sierra acclimatization day hikes done August 7-19, 2021

Off of Highway 50, popular Wrights Lake Campground was full, so we found free dispersed camping nearby in Eldorado National Forest. Sadly, heavy smoke crept in that night, aborting the next day’s hike on Grouse Lake Trail into Desolation Wilderness. Acclimatizing our lungs would have to start higher than at the locally moderate elevation of 7000 feet. Darn. We had to drive 4 hours southwards to find healthier smoke conditions. Turning west of Highway 395 at Toms Place reached the wonderful retreat of Little Lakes Valley.

On August 7, from Rock Creek Lake (at a gasping 9700 feet elevation) we puffed upwards to reach Dorothy Lake at 10,560 feet elevation (6 miles round trip with 960 feet total cumulative gain and loss). Despite our destination lake being a little smoky and 80% shriveled by drought, the quiet trail and surrounding scenery refreshed us. Whew, not bad. Little did we know — the following day’s popular hike to Gem Lakes featured stunning pyramidal peaks reflected in multiple lakes and streams, with beauty around every corner (7.9 miles round trip with 1040 ft gain). Having been here once 6 years ago, we knew to avoid the extra grunt to humdrum Morgan Pass.

For the next three nights, we car camped at Willows Campground, out of Bishop. From Bishop Pass Trailhead at South Lake, we day hiked 7.2 miles round trip with 2040 feet gain to a third lake above the first two Treasure Lakes. Wow, it’s another impressive hike surrounded by pyramidal granite peaks reflected in pristine alpine lakes.

On August 10, we walked Tyee Lakes Trail, next to Willows Campground (6.4 miles, 2000 feet gain). Rebecca continued upwards from Tyee Lakes on a traverse over to Sabrina Lake (8.6 miles with 2530 ft gain), where we drove to pick her up, then return to Willows Campground.

Yellow monkeyflowers (Mimulus genus) thrive along splashy South Fork Bishop Creek above the first two Treasure Lakes, in Inyo National Forest, Bishop, California, USA. From Bishop Pass Trailhead at South Lake, we dayhiked 7.2 miles round trip with 2040 feet gain to a third lake above the first two Treasure Lakes. In the evening, we car-camped at Willows Campground. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Yellow monkeyflowers (Mimulus genus) thrive along splashy South Fork Bishop Creek above the first two Treasure Lakes, in Inyo National Forest, near Bishop, California.

On August 15 we tackled a harder hike, from Big Pine Creek South Fork to Brainerd Lake (aka Brainard Lake), 9.2 miles round trip with 2800 feet gain from the day hikers parking lot (which would have been 10.7 miles round trip from the overnight hikers lot).

Gnarly pine trees along Brainerd Lake Trail. Big Pine Creek South Fork, John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Gnarly pine trees along Brainerd Lake Trail. Big Pine Creek South Fork, John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, California.

The Brainerd Lake Trail affords striking views of the Palisades, along Big Pine Creek South Fork, in John Muir Wilderness within Inyo National Forest, west of Big Pine, in California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Brainerd Lake Trail gives striking views of the Palisades around Mile 3.6, in John Muir Wilderness. From left to right are Middle Palisade Peak and Glacier, Norman Clyde Peak, Firebird Peak (aka “Peak 3862,” rising most prominently in the center foreground), Palisade Crest, and Mount Sill (14,153 ft). The Palisades group runs for 6 miles along the Sierra Crest, dividing the Owens Valley watershed (here) from the Central Valley, on the boundary between John Muir Wilderness and Kings Canyon National Park on the other side.

For final acclimatization before the two backpacking trips (described at top), we drove high into the White Mountains to find free dispersed camping in Inyo National Forest east of Bishop. Since last visiting six years ago, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest was well worth repeating, for the Methuselah Walk (4.1-mile loop with 705 feet gain) amongst the world’s oldest living trees, more than 4000 years old. Nice Visitor Center!

4. California: Sierras: Mono Lake

Intriguing towers of calcium-carbonate decorate the South Tufa Area, in Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, near Lee Vining. The Reserve protects wetlands that support millions of birds, and preserves Mono Lake’s distinctive tufa towers — calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. Mono Lake has no outlet and is one of the oldest lakes in North America. Over the past million years, salts and minerals have washed into the lake from Eastern Sierra streams and evaporation has made the water 2.5 times saltier than the ocean. This desert lake has an unusually productive ecosystem based on brine shrimp, and provides critical nesting habitat for two million annual migratory birds that feed on the shrimp and blackflies. Since 1941, diversion of lake water trubutary streams by the city of Los Angeles lowered the lake level, which imperiled the migratory birds. In response, the Mono Lake Committee won a legal battle that forced Los Angeles to partially restore the lake level.


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5. California: Sierras: Bodie ghost town – gold rush – State Historic Park

On the east side of the Sierra Nevada, explore weathered wood buildings and artifacts in Bodie State Historic Park, a fascinating ghost town that thrived on gold mining 1876-1917. The park lies in the Bodie Hills in the Basin & Range physiographic province, in Mono County, near Bridgeport. After W. S. Bodey’s original gold discovery in 1859, profitable gold and silver ore discoveries in 1876 and 1878 transformed “Bodie” from an isolated mining camp to a Wild West boomtown. By 1879, Bodie had a population of 5000-7000 people with 2000 buildings. At its peak, 65 saloons lined Main Street, which was a mile long. Bodie declined rapidly 1912-1917 and the last mine closed in 1942. Bodie became a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and Bodie State Historic Park in 1962.


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6. California: Sierras: Alabama Hills, Western Film / History

The photogenic Alabama Hills are a BLM Recreation Area on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the Owens Valley, west of Lone Pine in Inyo County, California. The Alabama Hills are a popular filming location for television and movie productions (such as Gunga Din, Gladiator, Iron Man, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), especially Westerns (Tom Mix films, Hopalong Cassidy films, The Gene Autry Show, The Lone Ranger, Bonanza, How the West Was Won, and Joe Kidd). Two main types of rock are exposed at Alabama Hills: 1) orange, drab weathered metamorphosed volcanic rock 150-200 million years old; and 2) 82- to 85-million-year-old biotite monzogranite which weathers to potato-shaped large boulders. Looking westward, the striking Mobius Arch frames Mount Whitney (14,505 feet or 4421 m elevation), the highest summit in the contiguous United States and the Sierra Nevada. Nearby in Independence, the Eastern California Museum is worth visiting to see fascinating old machinery and historical artifacts from building the controversial Los Angeles Aqueduct.


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7. California: Sierras: Mokelumne Wilderness

Off Highway 88 near Carson Pass, hike a varied loop through lush wildflower fields from Woods Lake Campground to Winnnemucca Lake, then Round Top Lake, in Mokelumne Wilderness, Eldorado National Forest in the Sierra Nevada. The excellent loop trail is 5.3 miles with 1250 feet gain (or 6.4 miles with 2170 feet gain if adding the scramble up Round Top).


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8. California: Sierras: Lake Tahoe area

Peaks of Desolation Wilderness rise in the background of this lake panorama at Wrights Lake Recreation Area, Eldorado National Forest, California, USA. Directions to Wrights Lake Campground: 23 miles east of Placerville on Highway 50, 11 miles north on Ice House Road (Forest Road 3), 9 miles east on Forest Road 32 (Wrights Lake Tie Road), and 2 miles north on Forest Road 4 (Wrights Lake Rd). This panorama was stitched from 9 overlapping photos. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Peaks of Desolation Wilderness rise in the background of this lake panorama at Wrights Lake Recreation Area, Eldorado National Forest, California, USA. Directions to Wrights Lake Campground: 23 miles east of Placerville on Highway 50, 11 miles north on Ice House Road (Forest Road 3), 9 miles east on Forest Road 32 (Wrights Lake Tie Road), and 2 miles north on Forest Road 4 (Wrights Lake Rd). This panorama was stitched from 9 overlapping photos. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

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9. California Deserts

Death Valley National Park

Late fall, winter, through early spring are good times to visit Death Valley National Park, which is otherwise beastly hot. During our visit 19-21 April 2018, some refreshing sprinkles formed a rainbow over the colorful geology. Parting clouds revealed fresh snow whitening Telescope Peak (11,043 ft), impressively high above Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America (282 feet below sea level). Cresting the Panamint Range, Telescope Peak has one of the greatest vertical rises above local terrain of any mountain in the contiguous United States. At our feet, evaporation from Badwater Basin concentrated crystalline mounds of sodium chloride (table salt), plus calcite, gypsum, and borax (famously mined 1883-1889 with Twenty Mule Teams). Artist’s Drive was worth the short side trip to explore the colorful geologic formation of Artists Palette. More than 5 million years ago, multiple volcanic eruptions deposited ash and minerals which chemically altered into a colorful paint pot of elements (iron, aluminum, magnesium and titanium).

We were delighted to photograph sunrise illuminating a tapestry of golden yellow striated landscape patterns at Zabriskie Point. Next, driving around to Golden Canyon Trailhead begins a great hiking loop uphill to Red Cathedral then back downhill via Gower Gulch (6 miles with 800 ft gain), our favorite walk in the park. Around lunchtime, I enjoyed photographing pioneer-era mining and transportation machines outdoors at the Borax Museum at Furnace Creek Ranch. In rising 90+ degree temperatures, we retreated into the nearby national park Visitor Center to absorb the excellent orientation film.

To escape increasing heat, we drove up Emigrant Canyon Road to 4100-foot Wildrose Campground, where faucets provided tasty drinking water. Helpful tip: dry air cools by 5 degrees Fahrenheit for about every 1000 feet ascended (or 3 degrees for wet air). Along the winding road, we luckily spotted some Desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) with two lambs. Campground quiet was suddenly shattered with the loud hee-haw braying of an alpha donkey keeping his herd in line. Invasive burros (Equua asinus, often called donkeys) can be found throughout the backcountry in Death Valley. Originally descended from the African wild ass, burros were introduced to North America. These invasive, nonnative burro populations can grow quickly, damaging native vegetation and spring ecosystems, thereby hurting native wildlife such as bighorn sheep and desert tortoise.

Along the hike to Fall Canyon’s dry waterfall (6.7 miles with 1250 feet gain) were some feisty juvenile chuckwallas (Sauromalus ater) with striped tails, some lusciously creamy yellow flowers of the desert rock nettle (Eucnide urens or desert stingbush) clinging to shaded canyon walls, plus some intriguing rock patterns. But this experience paled in comparison to our previous day in glorious Golden Canyon; so for dramatic build-up one should hike Fall Canyon or other hikes first.

Near Stovepipe Wells, the first light of sunrise high-lit Mesquite Flat Dunes so dramatically as to impress my wife Carol, who previously hadn’t been attracted by dunes. Optionally take your shoes off and enjoy this inland wilderness beach. I love being the first in the morning to form footprints across a tall virgin dune. Most nights, the slate of footprints is wiped clean and wavy. Discover why Lawrence of Arabia was personally attracted to the desert, saying: “It’s clean.”

Just outside Death Valley (on the way to or from Tecopah and Las Vegas), you can camp overnight at Shoshone RV Park and swim in a developed hot springs pool. Thought extinct in the 1960s, Shoshone pupfish (Cyprinodon nevadensis shoshone) were rediscovered in 1986 and protected by the land owner in nearby restored ponds. Found nowhere else on earth, Shoshone pupfish are unique to Shoshone Springs.


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Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Photos include Borrego Badlands Overlook, Ocotillo with red blooms against blue mountain range, coastal fishhook cactus, barrel cactus yellow flower, green spider camouflaged in datura flower.


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10. San Francisco Bay Area

Photos from San Francisco Bay Area, California, include: Bay panorama, verdant forest on Cataract Creek Trail in Mount Tamalpais Watershed, mushrooms, slug, city views, Lands End Park, Alcatraz Island, rainbow over Sailing Ship Balclutha, old millstone cocoa grinder at Ghirardelli Square chocolate factory.


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11. California: Sacramento Valley, foothills

Photos from the Central Valley and foothills of California include: Bidwell Mansion, California State University Chico (CSUC), Bidwell Park, Sutter Buttes panorama and sunny oaks with hiker silhouette, almond orchard leaves turning yellow, Manzanita tree flower blooms, pipevine flower, child’s hand in black bear paw print, California poppies, lavender poppies, Honey Run Covered Bridge built 1894 between Chico and Paradise.


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12. California: northern mountains: Klamath, Cascades

Photos below from the Cascades mountains in Northern California include beautiful Burney Falls, in Shasta County. In the Klamath Mountains, see images of Castle Dome Trail in spectacular Crags State Park.


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13. California: northern coast, redwoods

Photos include: See jellyfish/jellies, octopus, seahorse, anemone, Harbor Seals, and diver feeding shark at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Admire Bodega Head, Sonoma Coast State Park, Russian River, Bowling Ball Beach geologic wonder at Schooner Gulch State Park, sea stacks, crashing waves, coastal birds, natural patterns, Fort Ross State Historic Park (former Russian colony 1812-1842). Walk in Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park (where “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” speed racer sequence was filmed) in Del Norte County. Walk in one of the world’s tallest forests on Simpson-Reed Trail. Tree branches tangle in fractal patterns over fern lined trail at Patrick’s Point State Park, near Eureka. Stand up paddle surfing on a wave. California’s Redwood National and State Parks were honored as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980.


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Recommended California guidebooks from Amazon.com

Search for latest “California travel books” on Amazon.com (look for updates every 1 to 3 years).

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