2022 March: CA: Pinnacles NP & Redwoods. OR: south coast.

From March 4-15, we enjoyed visiting California’s Pinnacles National Park and redwood coast plus Oregon’s southern coast via RV camping. Highlights from the trip are described below. (Click here to view a more extensive gallery “2022 Mar 4-15: CA Pinnacles NP, redwoods; OR coast“)

Pinnacles National Park, California

Jumbled rocks atop the High Peaks loop (hike 5.4 miles, 1650 ft gain). Pinnacles National Park, California, USA. This panorama was stitched from multiple images. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Jumbled rocks atop Pinnacles National Park along the High Peaks loop (5.4 miles, 1650 ft gain).

Turkey feathers reflect a rainbow of colors. Pinnacles Campground, Pinnacles National Park, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Turkey feathers reflect a rainbow of colors in Pinnacles Campground.

Sunset in Pinnacles Campground in Bear Valley. Pinnacles National Park, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunset in Pinnacles Campground in Bear Valley.

Bear Gulch Cave Trail. Pinnacles National Park, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Bear Gulch Cave Trail.

Suspended boulder. Bear Gulch Cave Trail. Pinnacles National Park, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: One of many boulders suspended over Bear Gulch Cave Trail.

Bear Gulch Reservoir. Pinnacles National Park, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Bear Gulch Reservoir, Pinnacles National Park.

Atop Pinnacles National Park on the High Peaks loop (5.4 miles, 1650 ft gain). California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Jumbled rocks atop Pinnacles National Park on the High Peaks loop (5.4 miles, 1650 ft gain).

Estero Bluffs State Park, near Cayucos, California

2017 shipwreck, Estero Bluffs State Park, Cayucos, California. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: 2017 shipwreck, Estero Bluffs State Park.

Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, California

Invasive iceplant at Leffingwell Landing Park, part of Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, California, USA. Iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis) is a coastal succulent shrub native to the coast of South Africa, where the climate is similar to that of coastal California. Iceplant was introduced to California in the early 1900s as an erosion stabilization tool beside railroad tracks, and later used by Caltrans on roadsides. Iceplant is ecologically bad for a number of reasons. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Above: Invasive iceplant at Leffingwell Landing Park, part of Hearst San Simeon State Park.

Iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis) is a coastal succulent shrub native to the coast of South Africa, where the climate is similar to that of coastal California. Iceplant was introduced to California in the early 1900s as an erosion stabilization tool beside railroad tracks, and later used by Caltrans on roadsides. Iceplant is bad for a number of reasons. It’s invasive and releases salt into the soil, raising the salt level high enough to inhibit other plant seeds, especially grasses.  It doesn’t serve as a food source for animals and can out-compete the native plants for water, light, and space. It’s actually bad for erosion control. Having weak root systems, these heavy plants can cause the hill to start sliding, taking existing topsoil from the slope. Although the soft succulent new growth has a high water content which doesn’t burn, the slow-to-decompose dead leaves layered underneath create a fire hazard.

Cormorants. Leffingwell Landing Park, part of Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Cormorants at Leffingwell Landing Park.

California ground squirrel. Leffingwell Landing Park, part of Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: California ground squirrel at Leffingwell Landing Park.

Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae). Leffingwell Landing Park, part of Hearst San Simeon State Park, Cambria, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae) at Leffingwell Landing Park.

San Simeon Pier, William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach, California

San Simeon Pier, William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Historic San Simeon Village Schoolhouse (1881 to 1950), below Hearst Castle on the hill. California, USA. The one-room Pacific Schoolhouse saw generations of ranching children — including George and Phoebe Hearst’s son, William Randolph Hearst. Other students included Pete Sebastian, the last Sebastian to own Sebastian’s General Store, as well as Hearst’s grandson, John Hearst Jr. William Randolph Hearst started to build a fabulous estate on his ranchland overlooking the village of San Simeon in 1919. He called the estate "La Cuesta Encantada" - Spanish for The Enchanted Hill. By 1947, the hilltop complex included a twin-towered main building, three sumptuous guesthouses, and 127 acres of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Historic San Simeon Village Schoolhouse (1881 to 1950), below Hearst Castle on the hill. The one-room Pacific Schoolhouse saw generations of ranching children — including George and Phoebe Hearst’s son, William Randolph Hearst. Other students included Pete Sebastian, the last Sebastian to own Sebastian’s General Store, as well as Hearst’s grandson, John Hearst Jr. William Randolph Hearst started to build a fabulous estate on his ranchland overlooking the village of San Simeon in 1919. He called the estate “La Cuesta Encantada” – Spanish for The Enchanted Hill. By 1947, the hilltop complex included a twin-towered main building, three sumptuous guesthouses, and 127 acres of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools.

Big Sur coast, California

McWay Falls at sunset, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Big Sur coast, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: McWay Falls at sunset, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

Big Creek Bridge silhouette at sunset, Big Sur coast, State Route 1, near Lucia, California, USA. The Big Creek Bridge is an open spandrel, concrete deck arch bridge (589 feet long) on the Big Sur coast of California, along State Route 1 near Lucia. Opened for traffic in 1938, it crosses Big Creek Canyon. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Big Creek Bridge silhouette at sunset, on State Route 1, near Lucia on the Big Sur coast of California. Opened for traffic in 1938, it crosses Big Creek Canyon.

Bixby Creek Bridge (1932), Big Sur coast, California, USA. 120 miles south of San Francisco and 13 miles south of Carmel in Monterey County along State Route 1. Completed in 1932 for just over $200,000, the concrete span, one of the highest bridges of its kind in the world, soars 260 feet above the bottom of a steep canyon carved by Bixby Creek. Iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis) is a coastal succulent shrub native to the coast of South Africa, where the climate is similar to that of coastal California. Iceplant was introduced to California in the early 1900s as an erosion stabilization tool beside railroad tracks, and later used by Caltrans on roadsides. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Iceplant blooms near Bixby Creek Bridge. Completed in 1932 for just over $200,000, the concrete span, one of the highest bridges of its kind in the world, soars 260 feet above the bottom of a steep canyon carved by Bixby Creek. Bixby Bridge is 120 miles south of San Francisco and 13 miles south of Carmel in Monterey County along State Route 1.

Non-native Calla lilies on Doud Creek, Garrapata State Park, California, USA. These non-native Doud Creek calla lilies bloom in late January through mid April (photographed March 8, 2022). The plant is originally from Malawi and South Africa. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Non-native Calla lilies on Doud Creek, Garrapata State Park, California. These non-native Doud Creek calla lilies bloom in late January through mid April (photographed March 8, 2022). The plant is originally from Malawi and South Africa.

Non-native Calla lilies on Doud Creek, Garrapata State Park, California, USA. These non-native Doud Creek calla lilies bloom in late January through mid April (photographed March 8, 2022). The plant is originally from Malawi and South Africa. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Non-native Calla lilies on Doud Creek.

Redwood National and State Parks, Northern California coast

Light rays in foggy redwood forest in Murrelet State Wilderness, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Light rays brighten a foggy redwood forest in Murrelet State Wilderness, California.

Coastal redwoods are the world's tallest lifeform. Stout Memorial Grove, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, California, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Coastal redwoods are the world’s tallest lifeform. Stout Memorial Grove, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

Samuel Boardman State Scenic Corridor, Southern Oregon coast

Secret Beach, Samuel Boardman State Scenic Corridor, Oregon coast, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Secret Beach, Oregon.

Natural Bridges Viewpoint, Samuel Boardman State Scenic Corridor, Oregon Coast Trail, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Natural Bridges Viewpoint, Oregon Coast Trail

Bullards Beach State Park, Bandon, Oregon

Wild male turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), Bullards Beach State Park, Bandon, Oregon, USA (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Wild male turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) in the Campground at Bullards Beach State Park.

Related pages: California | Oregon

A Mammoth summer 2021: hiking Olympics, Sierras, Rockies; Nebraska

Our summer 2021 went from Mammoth Lakes to woolly mammoths!

Hiking mostly new trails for training in Washington kept us motivated and fit, climaxing with superb backpacking for 9 days in California’s High Sierra. That breathtaking acclimatization helped tackle Chasm Lake Trail, an impressive alpine cirque on Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, Colorado.

Continuing by RV to Indiana, we visited family then returned to Seattle via hypnotic Midwest cornfields. Along the way, Nebraska revealed some hidden gems: the SAC & Aerospace Museum, International Quilt Museum, Chimney Rock NHS, Agate Fossil Beds NM, and Fort Robinson SP. Sightseeing finished on a high note in South Dakota’s Black Hills region at “The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs” — an active paleontological site containing the world’s largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains!

Granite Park at sunrise in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Eastern Sierra, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Granite Park at sunrise in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Eastern Sierra.

This blog page describes summer highlights in 2021, where clicking any image loads Tom’s Portfolio site (where you can view a more extensive gallery, “2021 Aug 1-Sep 12: CA Sierras, CO, NE, SD“).

Related pages: Washington; California; Colorado; The Midwest (including Nebraska & South Dakota).

California: hiking in the Eastern Sierra Nevada

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, 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 (2.5 pounds). More spectacular than we had imagined, the trip gave us majestic mountains and perfect golden sunrises every day. (Direct sunset light tended to be blocked by high mountains to the west.) 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!

Colorado: Chasm Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness

We hiked 8.5 miles round trip with 2500 feet gain to Chasm Lake, nestled under a majestic cirque of Longs Peak, in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, near Estes Park, Colorado.

Longs Peak (14,259 feet) rises above Roaring Fork Creek, which is Chasm Lake's outlet, in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, near Estes Park, Colorado, USA. Hike 8.5 miles round trip with 2500 feet gain to Chasm Lake. Longs Peak is in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Longs Peak (14,259 feet) rises above Roaring Fork Creek, which is Chasm Lake’s outlet.

Rock pattern on Longs Peak seen from Chasm Lake Trail, in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, Estes Park, Colorado, USA. Hike 8.5 miles round trip with 2500 feet gain to Chasm Lake. Longs Peak is in the northern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Rock pattern on Longs Peak seen from Chasm Lake Trail, in Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness.

Nebraska

After a family visit in Indiana, we pointed our RV back to Seattle. Bonus sights in Nebraska included the following:

Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, NE

Well worth a visit, the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum’s ominous aircraft and missiles are a sobering reminder of the Cold War, when the SAC served from 1965–1992 as nuclear air defense. In 1992, SAC was disbanded and reorganized into other units.

Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird (USAF s/n 61-7964) inside the entrance of the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Nebraska, USA. The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is a long-range, high-altitude, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft that was operated by both the United States Air Force (USAF) and NASA (from 1966-99). During aerial reconnaissance missions, the SR-71 could outrace threats using high speeds and altitudes (85,000 feet). As of 2021 the SR-71 continues to hold the official world record it set in 1976 for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft: 2,190 mph or Mach 3.3. This museum focuses on aircraft and nuclear missiles of the United States Air Force during the Cold War. The US Air Force's Strategic Air Command (SAC) served 1965-1992 as nuclear air defense during the Cold War. (In 1992, SAC was ended, by reorganization into other units.) The museum's imposing aircraft and various war exhibits are a sobering reminder of the ongoing nuclear era, of which the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was the scariest event. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is a long-range, high-altitude strategic reconnaissance aircraft that was operated by both the United States Air Force (USAF) and NASA (from 1966-99). During aerial reconnaissance missions, the SR-71 could outrace threats using high speeds and altitudes (85,000 feet). As of 2021, the SR-71 continues to hold the official world record it set in 1976 for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft: 2,190 miles per hour or Mach 3.3.

Below: A Vajen-Bader smoke helmet for firefighters. Its round eyes have mica for fireproof viewing and even wipers to clear condensation! Made in Indiana in the 1890s, the helmet let firemen carry their own oxygen supply in an attached compression tank and protected them from smoke and falling debris. The technology would later be applied to high-altitude flight.

Vajen-Bader smoke helmet for firefighters displayed at the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Nebraska, USA. The round eyes have mica for fireproof viewing and even condensation wipers! Made in Indiana in the 1890s, the helmet let firemen carry their own oxygen supply (in an attached compression tank) and protected them from smoke and falling debris. The technology would later be applied to high-altitude flight. This museum focuses on aircraft and nuclear missiles of the United States Air Force during the Cold War. The US Air Force's Strategic Air Command (SAC) served 1965-1992 as nuclear air defense during the Cold War. (In 1992, SAC was ended, by reorganization into other units.) The museum's imposing aircraft and various war exhibits are a sobering reminder of the ongoing nuclear era, of which the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was the scariest event. Also included are space exhibits. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

International Quilt Museum, Lincoln, NE

Although the International Quilt Museum has the world’s largest publicly held quilt collection, our timing was off, arriving between shifting exhibits. In a later year we’ll return to this attractive building, operated by the University of Nebraska.

Chimney Rock National Historic Site, NE

Acclaimed in the mid-1800s diaries of pioneer emigrants, Chimney Rock is worth a stop. Its Museum concisely reveals the travails of westward prairie emigrants who passed this 325-foot-high natural rock landmark along the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail. Modern travelers can see it along U.S. Route 26 and Nebraska Highway 92. At 4228 feet above sea level, the distinctive formation towers 480 feet above the adjacent North Platte River Valley. Its layers of volcanic ash and brule clay date to the Oligocene Age (34 million to 23 million years ago).

Below: Prairie emigrants used covered farm wagons like this (instead of heavy boat-shaped Conestoga wagons), displayed at Chimney Rock National Historic Site.

Prairie emigrants used covered farm wagons like this (but not heavy boat-shaped Conestoga wagons), on display at Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Bayard, Nebraska,  USA. At Chimney Rock, a slender rock spire rises 325 feet from a conical base, serving as an impressive natural landmark along the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail during the mid-1800s. Modern travelers can see it along U.S. Route 26 and Nebraska Highway 92. At 4228 feet above sea level, the distinctive formation towers 480 feet above the adjacent North Platte River Valley. Its layers of volcanic ash and brule clay date to the Oligocene Age (34 million to 23 million years ago). (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, NE

Agate Fossil Beds boasts the most well-preserved Miocene fossils in the world. Exhibits also elucidated local native American history and culture.

Below, a skeleton diorama of the Agate waterhole of 20 million years ago (Miocene epoch) shows two entelodont mammals and a small beardog scavenging a chalicothere carcass (related to horse and rhino). The entelodont (Dinohyus hollandi) was a hoofed mammal 6-8 feet tall at the shoulder, with powerful jaws and teeth for eating both carrion and plants. The smaller skeleton in the foreground is a beardog (Daphoenodon superbus, the most common carnivore at the Agate waterhole site), which preyed upon juvenile rhinos, camels, and oreodonts. Notice that someone with a sense of humor put a blue mask on the beardog during the pandemic! The chalicothere (Moropus elatus) was related to the horse and rhino, standing 6 feet tall at the shoulder and having 3-toed, claw-like hooves.

A full-sized skeleton diorama of the Agate waterhole 20 million years ago shows two entelodont mammals and a small beardog scavenging a chalicothere carcass (related to horse and rhino), at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Harrison, Nebraska, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Fort Robinson State Park, NE

Continuing north towards Crawford on the edge of the High Plains, Fort Robinson State Park provides large campgrounds with attractive bluff scenery in the Pine Ridge region of northwest Nebraska (resembling the Black Hills 50 miles to the north). Fort Robinson was a US Army base (1874-1947) which played a major role in the Sioux Wars from 1876 to 1890.

The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs, South Dakota

Here is the largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains in the world. Although the Black Hills of South Dakota offer many other great sights, don’t miss this fascinating museum and active paleontological site. Sheltered under the Mammoth Site’s roof is an ongoing excavation of a prehistoric sinkhole filled with the remains of animals and plants preserved by entrapment and burial around 140,000 years ago, in the Late Pleistocene. Since mammoth bones were found here accidentally in 1974, the remains of 61 mammoths have been recovered (including 58 North American Columbian and 3 woolly mammoths as of 2021). The Pleistocene, often referred to as the Ice Age, is the geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth’s most recent period of repeated glaciations. The most recent glaciation period reached peak conditions some 18,000 years ago before yielding to the interglacial Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago.

The Mammoth Site is a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. It is the largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains in the world.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: “The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs” in the Black Hills.

Sinbad is a life-sized replica skeleton of a Columbian mammoth at the Mammoth Site, a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. The Mammoth Site is the largest collection of in-situ mammoth remains in the world. Sheltered within the building is an ongoing excavation of a prehistoric sinkhole filled with the remains of Pleistocene animals and plants preserved by entrapment and burial. Since mammoth bones were found here accidentally in 1974, the remains of 61 mammoths have been recovered (including 58 North American Columbian and 3 woolly mammoths as of 2021). Due to geological conditions after the animals were trapped around 140,000 years ago, the excavated "fossil" bones are not petrified or turned to stone, so are very brittle, requiring professional handling. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Sinbad is a life-sized replica skeleton of a Columbian mammoth, featured at The Mammoth Site.

The giant short-faced bear (Arctodus sumus) was the largest land carnivore in North America during the Ice Age. See this full-scale skeleton in the the Mammoth Site, a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. Sheltered within the building is an ongoing excavation of a prehistoric sinkhole filled with the remains of Pleistocene animals and plants preserved by entrapment and burial. The Pleistocene, often referred to as the Ice Age, is the geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth's most recent period of repeated glaciations. The most recent glaciation period reached peak conditions some 18,000 years ago before yielding to the interglacial Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Skeleton of an extinct giant short-faced bear (Arctodus sumus), the largest land carnivore in North America during the Ice Age.

A replica of Dima, a mummified baby woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) who died 41,000 years ago and was discovered in 1977 in Eastern Siberia. The skin color and hair presence on this replica was modified to match the original's appearance at the time of discovery. See the Dima replica at the Mammoth Site, a fascinating museum and active paleontological site in the town of Hot Springs, in the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA. The Pleistocene, often referred to as the Ice Age, is the geological epoch that lasted from about 2,580,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the earth's most recent period of repeated glaciations. The most recent glaciation period reached peak conditions some 18,000 years ago before yielding to the interglacial Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: A replica of Dima, a mummified baby woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) who died 41,000 years ago and was discovered in 1977 in Eastern Siberia. The skin color and hair presence on this replica was modified to match the original’s appearance at the time of discovery.

Above are highlights. For a more extensive gallery of The Mammoth Site, see Tom’s Portfolio site.

Washington hikes in summer 2021

Before going to California’s Sierra Nevada, we trained on the following trails that were mostly new to us and easily drivable as day trips from Seattle:

  1. June 16: Soaring Eagle Regional Park (Sammamish): pleasing loops
  2. June 18 & 29: Oyster Dome Trail, and North Butte Loop, in Blanchard State Forest: impressive forest and views
  3. Redmond Watershed Preserve: several nice loops on non-muddy trail
  4. July 1: Chuckanut Mountain: good exercise through forest, if you’re passing through the area
  5. Issaquah Alps: Margaret’s Way in Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park; and Wilderness Peak on Squak Mountain
  6. July 12-13: Mount Rainier National Park: Sunrise: Skyscraper Pass on the Wonderland Trail; and the Palisades Trail to Hidden Lake
  7. Little Si including Boulder Loop (North Bend): a rewarding loop, familiar
  8. Lord Hill Regional Park (Snohomish): walk a multi-use loop through disturbed land (slowly rewilding)
  9. July 19: Ira Spring Trail to Mason Lake (I-90): steep and rewarding, hiked regularly in past years; avoid doing on weekends due to crowds
  10. July 21: Pratt Lake Trail (I-90): nicely graded and forested, crossing pretty streams
  11. and the following adventurous loop hike to Grand Valley on July 27…
Olympic National Park: loop hike from Obstruction Point to Grand and Badger Valleys

Reached by turning left just before the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, Obstruction Point Road provides Olympic National Park’s best views of shy Mount Olympus from a vehicle (open from about July 4 through October 15 depending on weather and snow on the steep, narrow gravel surface).

July 27, 2021 hiking report: Starting from Obstruction Point Trailhead, we day hiked a vigorous loop over Lillian Ridge to Grand Lake, with short side trip to Moose Lake, then returned the longer way along Grand Creek via Badger Valley Trail (9 miles with 2740 feet gain). Despite numerous backpackers and fellow day hikers along this popular National Park entry point, the wilderness feels refreshingly remote. For relaxation, allow two or more days round trip from Seattle to explore the Olympic Peninsula.

Mount Olympus (7963 ft elevation) seen from Lillian Ridge, near Obstruction Point, in Olympic National Park, Washington, USA. From Obstruction Point Trailhead, hike 9 miles with 2740 feet gain in a loop across Lillian Ridge to Grand Lake, plus side trip to Moose Lake, then return along Grand Creek via Badger Valley Trail. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: See majestic Mount Olympus (7963 ft elevation) from Lillian Ridge, near Obstruction Point, in Olympic National Park. I fondly recall climbing to the False Summit on May 30, 1982, just 80 feet short of the highest peak of Mount Olympus (45 miles round trip over 3 days with 7400 ft total gain and loss).

A Tiger Lily (Lilium columbianum) flower blooms in Grand Valley, Olympic National Park, Washington, USA. From Obstruction Point Trailhead, we hiked 9 miles with 2740 feet gain in a loop across Lillian Ridge to Grand Lake, plus side trip to Moose Lake, then return along Grand Creek via Badger Valley Trail in Olympic National Park. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A Tiger Lily (Lilium columbianum) flower blooms in Grand Valley.

Hiking Chain Lakes loop, Mount Baker Wilderness in autumn

Our summer’s mammoth momentum continued through fall. On October 19, we enjoyed one of our favorite hikes in Washington:

  • Galena Chain Lakes loop, for 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). Start early in the morning and hike counterclockwise for better photographic lighting on the peaks.
  • When the road to Artist Point is open (from July until the first snowfall, by early October), the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center, in Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest.

Dew drops on leaves (2021 October 19) in Heather Meadows, Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Dew drops on leaves in Heather Meadows.

Mt Shuksan and red fall colors seen from the ascent to Herman Saddle on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, in Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Mt Shuksan and red fall colors seen from the ascent to Herman Saddle on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, in Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest.

Mount Baker & Iceberg Lake seen from Herman Saddle in Mount Baker Wilderness, on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: See Mount Baker and Iceberg Lake on the descent from Herman Saddle into Mount Baker Wilderness, on the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail.

Mount Baker rises above Iceberg Lake in Mount Baker Wilderness, a part of Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, in Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)Above: Mount Baker rises above Iceberg Lake in Mount Baker Wilderness.

Below: Mount Shuksan, seen from Kulshan Ridge in Heather Meadows.
Mount Shuksan seen from Kulshan Ridge, along the Galena Chain Lakes loop trail, in Heather Meadows, Mount Baker – Snoqualmie NF, Washington, USA. On October 19, we hiked Galena Chain Lakes loop 7.3 miles with 1800 feet gain and loss, starting from Bagley Lakes Trailhead (Ski Area parking lot). (When the road to Artist Point is open, the circuit can be shortened to 6 miles starting from Heather Meadows Visitor Center.) (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Above are the day’s highlights, where clicking any image loads Tom’s Portfolio site, showing a more extensive gallery, “2021 Oct 19: Chain Lakes loop, Mt Baker Wilderness”.

Related pages: Washington; California; Colorado; The Midwest (including Nebraska & South Dakota).

2021 March: California desert: Kelso Dunes, Joshua Tree NP, Mecca Wilderness, Indian Canyons

As the winter pandemic gradually waned, we enjoyed hiking four desert areas in Southern California: Mojave National Preserve; Joshua Tree National Park; Mecca Hills Wilderness; and the Indian Canyons, a great “tour de fronds” at Palm Springs.

Kelso Dunes Trail, Mojave National Preserve

Starting the Kelso Dunes Trail before sunrise allows positioning for better photography and cooler walking as the sun rises (650 feet gain in 3 miles round trip). It’s two steps forward and one step back on the steep sand, making hiking to the top harder than would be a trail on solid ground.

Providence Mountains, seen from Kelso Dunes Trail, in Mojave National Preserve, near the town of Baker, in San Bernardino County, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunrise over Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve, near the town of Baker, in San Bernardino County.

Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve, near the town of Baker, in San Bernardino County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above and below: Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve, near the town of Baker.

Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve, near the town of Baker, in San Bernardino County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Joshua Tree National Park

On the delightful 49 Palms Oasis Trail in Joshua Tree National Park, a walk through hot desert leads to natural ponds embraced by California fan palms with full skirts soaring above the cool retreat, with a soundtrack of hidden frogs croaking musically (3.1 miles round trip, 450 feet gain). On the return walk, a large rare desert tortoise grazed along the side of the trail! Be sure to start early, as the wonderful natural ambiance is easily interrupted by the noise of fellow visitors. The California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera, in the palm family Arecaceae) is native to the far southwestern United States and Baja California. Today’s oasis environment was protected from a drying climate, restricting this cold-tolerant palm to widely separated relict groves.

49 Palms Oasis, palm panorama in Joshua Tree National Park, near the City of Twentynine Palms, California, USA. The California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera, in the palm family Arecaceae) is native to the far southwestern United States and Baja California. Today's oasis environment was protected from a drying climate, restricting this cold-tolerant palm to widely separated relict groves. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: 49 Palms Oasis, palm panorama in Joshua Tree National Park, near the City of Twentynine Palms. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama.

Desert tortoise. 49 Palms Oasis Trail. Joshua Tree National Park, near the City of Twentynine Palms, California, USA. The park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, which is higher and cooler. (© Carol Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A desert tortoise seen along the 49 Palms Oasis Trail in Joshua Tree National Park. (Image by Carol Dempsey)

Parry's nolina ((Nolina parryi). Joshua Tree National Park, near Twentynine Palms, California, USA. The park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, which is higher and cooler. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Flowers of Parry’s nolina ((Nolina parryi) bloom on huge stalks in Joshua Tree National Park. The park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, which is higher and cooler.

Further south, the Park’s Cholla Cactus Garden looked impressively healthy:
Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park, near Twentynine Palms, California. The park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, which is higher and cooler. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mecca Hills Wilderness: Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail

The Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail (5 miles round trip with 1050 feet gain) lives up to its reputation as “California’s best slot canyon.” Using a good GPS map is recommended to choose amongst the network of trails. The circuit cuts through the Mecca Hills, a deeply-eroded sedimentary badlands north of the Salton Sea, bounded on the west by the San Andreas Fault. Several parallel faults split this geologically fascinating region. The original sediments were primarily lake and Colorado River deposits, later covered with alluvium as the uplifting hills eroded. Mecca Hills Wilderness is managed by BLM’s Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office.

Sunset illuminates eroded land in Mecca Hills Wilderness, seen from a BLM dispersed campsite off Painted Canyon Road, Mecca, California, USA. The Mecca Hills are deeply-eroded sedimentary badlands north of the Salton Sea, bounded on the west by the San Andreas Fault. Several parallel faults split the region. The original sediments were primarily lake and Colorado River deposits, later covered with alluvium as the uplifting hills eroded. Mecca Hills Wilderness is managed by BLM's Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Sunset illuminates an eroded landscape in Mecca Hills Wilderness, near Mecca, California. We camped at this BLM Dispersed Campsite along Painted Canyon Road with nice sunset view of badlands, although litter and ORV tracks somewhat scarred the area.

A hummingbird sucks nectar from a red ocotillo blossom. Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail, Mecca Hills Wilderness, managed by BLM's Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office, near Mecca, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A hummingbird sucks nectar from a red ocotillo blossom in Mecca Hills Wilderness on a ridge along the Painted Canyon Loop Trail.

Hikers descend into a slot along the Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail, Mecca Hills Wilderness, managed by BLM's Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office, near Mecca, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Hikers explore a slot on the Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail, in Mecca Hills Wilderness. Below: Carol Dempsey photographed Tom scrambling up Ladder Canyon.

Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail, Mecca Hills Wilderness, managed by BLM's Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office, near Mecca, California, USA. The Mecca Hills are deeply-eroded sedimentary badlands north of the Salton Sea, bounded on the west by the San Andreas Fault. Several parallel faults split the region. The original sediments were primarily lake and Colorado River deposits, later covered with alluvium as the uplifting hills eroded. (© Carol Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Below, erosion exposes conglomerate rock in a slot along the Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail:
Erosion exposes conglomerate rock in a slot along the Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail, in Mecca Hills Wilderness, near Mecca, California, USA.  (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Palm Springs: Palm Canyon, Indian Canyons, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians

The beautiful Palm Canyon Trail takes you through the world’s largest California fan palm oasis, a great “tour de fronds.” We enjoyed hiking the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and looped back via Victor Trail (6.8 miles round trip with 1200 feet gain and loss). Be sure to carry extra drinking water. As in the adjacent Joshua Tree National Park, this lush oasis environment was protected from a drying climate, restricting this cold-tolerant palm to widely separated relict groves. This was our first time visiting the Indian Canyons, which are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Arriving 5 minutes before 8:00am opening time at the admission gate put us towards the front of the line of cars to enjoy a cooler start time for hiking.

The beautiful Palm Canyon Trail visits the world's largest California Fan Palm oasis, a great "tour de fronds." We hiked the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and looping back via Victor Trail, in the Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, California, USA. The Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera in the palm family Arecaceae) are native to the far southwestern United States and Baja California. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Hiking the Palm Canyon Trail.

West Fork Falls of West Fork Palm Canyon Creek, at Palm Canyon, in the Indian Canyons, on the Reservation of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Palm Springs, California, USA. The beautiful Palm Canyon Trail takes you through the world's largest California Fan Palm oasis. The Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: West Fork Falls of West Fork Palm Canyon Creek, at Palm Canyon, in the Indian Canyons, on the Reservation of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Palm Springs.

Scenes from hiking the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and looping back via Victor Trail, in the Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, California, USA. The beautiful Palm Canyon Trail visits the world's largest California Fan Palm oasis. The Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera in the palm family Arecaceae) are native to the far southwestern United States and Baja California. Today's oasis environment was protected from a drying climate, restricting this cold-tolerant palm to widely separated relict groves. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Hiking the Palm Canyon Trail, on the Reservation of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, immediately south of Palm Springs.

Engelmann's Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii) with bright magenta flowers. We hiked the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and looped back via Victor Trail, in the Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, California, USA. The beautiful Palm Canyon Trail takes you through the world's largest California Fan Palm oasis. The Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Engelmann’s Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii) with bright magenta flowers on the Palm Canyon Trail.

Yucca plant with yellow flowers. We hiked the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and looped back via Victor Trail, in the Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, California, USA. The beautiful Palm Canyon Trail takes you through the world's largest California Fan Palm oasis. The Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A yucca plant blooms with prodigious yellow flowers on the Palm Canyon Trail.

Stone Pools with palms along Indian Potrero Trail. Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, California, USA. We hiked the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and looped back via Victor Trail, in the Indian Canyons, just west of the city of Palm Springs. The Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. California fan palms (Washingtonia filifera in the palm family Arecaceae) are native to the far southwestern United States and Baja California. Today's oasis environment was protected from a drying climate, restricting this cold-tolerant palm to widely separated relict groves. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The Stone Pools are a quiet retreat with palms along Indian Potrero Trail. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama.

Barrel cactus with yellow flowers on the Victor Trail. We hiked the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and looped back via Victor Trail, in the Indian Canyons, Palm Springs, California, USA. The beautiful Palm Canyon Trail takes you through the world's largest California Fan Palm oasis. The Indian Canyons are the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Barrel cactus with yellow flowers on the Victor Trail above Palm Canyon seen in the background.

San Jacinto Mountains reflect in Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park Campground, La Quinta, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: The San Jacinto Mountains reflect in Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park Campground, in La Quinta, California. This spacious campground was a relaxing escape in the Palm Springs suburban area.

Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus). La Quinta, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: A greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) at a strip mall in La Quinta, California.

Gallery show: all images from “2021 Mar 26-30: CA desert: Joshua Tree, Mecca, Indian Canyons”


Click “i” to read descriptive Captions in the above animated gallery show. Click the dotted square to scroll a set of thumbnail images. Add any of the above images to your shopping Cart at this link: “2021 Mar 26-30: CA desert: Joshua Tree, Mecca, Indian Canyons” in my Portfolio

Southern California route map

In Southern California, from March 26-31, we drove the following scenic route shown starting at Bishop then proceeding through Death Valley southwards:

Round Valley near Bishop

Old cottonwood trees line a rural road under the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains in early spring 2021, in Round Valley near Bishop, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Old cottonwood trees line a rural road under the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains in early spring 2021, in Round Valley.

Cattle graze under snowy Sierra Nevada mountains, early spring 2021. Round Valley, near Bishop, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)
Above: Cattle graze under the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains in early spring 2021, in Round Valley near Bishop, California.

Our complete trip itinerary 2021 Mar 21-April 22

In brief: Seattle > Chico family visit > Lake Tahoe > snowy Mono Lake > Bishop > Mojave NSP > Joshua Tree NP > Mecca Wilderness > Palm Springs > Hualapai Mountain Park > Grand Canyon rafting for 16 days > Valley of Fire SP > Cathedral Gorge SP > Seattle

In more detail:

  • Mar 21 Sun: depart Seattle.
  • Mar 22 Mon: visit family in Chico.
  • Mar 23 Tues: On Highway 32, we tour the Big Chico Creek Environmental Reserve (BCCER) to adopt acres for the Dempsey Family Endowment in Memory of David P. Dempsey. Our group includes family members, CSUC president Gayle Hutchinson, and BCCER staff.
  • Mar 24 Wed: Finally, my first visit to Dad & Mom’s senior living apartment since 15 months ago, isolated by the pandemic!
  • Mar 25 Thurs: drive from California’s Central Valley via Tahoe and snowy Mono Lake to a friend’s house at Round Valley, near Bishop.

[You are currently reading the article that covers “2021 March: California desert: Kelso Dunes, Joshua Tree NP, Mecca Wilderness, Indian Canyons.”]

  • Mar 26 Fri: spectacular snowy Sierra peaks and warm Death Valley on drive to Kelso Dunes Trailhead Campground in Mojave National Preserve, to meet with nephew Griff & friend Marianna.
  • Mar 27 Sat: Kelso Dunes was a fun hike in Mojave National Preserve. Drive to Joshua Tree NP. Check in spontaneously at Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground (which had many available sites despite the big weekend traffic), a refreshing oasis with delightful duck pond. We drove the Park Boulevard loop counterclockwise, which was crowded on this spring weekend. We weren’t expecting the long lines of cars backing up the Park’s entrance and every available parking lot, until we remembered that this was the weekend of Palm Sunday and accessible as a day trip from the populous Los Angeles area. We admired a huge Parry’s nolina, Mojave mound cacti with red buds, and other natural botanical wonders. We walked to the dry Barker Dam on a warm afternoon (2.6 mi round trip lollipop-shaped loop, 110 ft gain.
  • Mar 28 Sun: 49 Palms Canyon Trail. The dense Cholla Garden is vibrant yellow. Drive south to camp overnight in BLM Dispersed Campsite along Painted Canyon Road with nice sunset view of badlands, albeit somewhat scarred by ORVs and litter.
  • Mar 29 Mon: Mecca Wilderness Area: Ladder Canyon and Painted Canyon Loop Trail. Drive to Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park Campground for night 1 of 2.
  • Mar 30 Tues: Hike the Palm Canyon Trail to Indian Potrero Trail to Stone Pools, and loop back via Victor Trail. We do laundry in La Quinta. Stay at Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park Campground for night 2 of 2.
  • Mar 31: drive 4 hrs to the nice Hualapai Mountain Park Campground, on a paved road 14 miles south of Kingman. The 42 degrees F low overnight was warmer than expected at this 6300-foot altitude.
  • April 1: In Hualapai Mountain Park, we hiked East Potato Patch Loop Trail for 2.6 miles with 700 feet gain to pleasant views of surrounding desert, but ice on a cliff ledge turned us back. In Flagstaff, we stayed at Woody Mountain Campground for 2 nights.

[Read Tom’s article covering “2021 April: rafting Grand Canyon 226 gorgeous miles, Arizona.”]

  • April 2: Due to April temperatures in Flagstaff expected to be in the 20s degrees F overnight, we winterize our RV. We attend the Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA) meeting at 7pm in preparation for boating 16 days.
  • April 3-18: With Arizona Raft Adventures (AZRA), we boated for 16 days covering 226 miles by raft and dory down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park!

[Read Tom’s article covering “2021 April: Nevada: Valley of Fire & Cathedral Gorge State Parks.”]

  • April 19: Drive to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, where we claim the last campsite in Arch Rock Campground around 4:00pm (first come, first served).
  • April 20: Starting just after sunrise at Valley of Fire State Park Turnout #3, we walked a great 3.5-mile spectacle-shaped loop (with 450 feet of gain and loss): first to the Fire Wave, then along the Seven Wonders Trail through Kaolin Wash, then around the complete White Domes Trail Loop back to the movie set remains, then repeat a quarter mile of Kaolin Wash, then turn north on Seven Wonders Trail past Thunderstorm Arch, and then return to the parking lot at Park Turnout #3. Drive to Cathedral Gorge State Park Campground. Sunset walk 2.5 mi to Moon Caves, etc.
  • April 21: Cathedral Gorge State Park: 2.75 mile loop walk in morning, mauve formations. Stay at Farewell Bend SP Campground, Oregon.
  • April 22: Drive to Seattle.

2020 July: Eastern Sierra hikes & backpack, California

Walking outdoors is a great remedy for pandemic confinement. On the east side of California’s impressive Sierra Nevada range from 18 July to Aug 3, our family group undertook four day hikes plus an easy 4-day backpacking trip. To help prevent spread of COVID-19, we and the overwhelming majority of fellow hikers considerately wore masks or bandanas or kept 6+ feet of distance as we passed.

Backpack from Green Creek Trailhead to Summit Lake in Hoover Wilderness

In Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, our scenic backpacking trip from Green Creek Trailhead to Summit Lake was 7.6 miles one way with 2360 feet gain and 310 feet descent over three leisurely days, reversed 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. Our favorite campsite was nestled above quiet Nutter Lake. From our Summit Lake campsite, two of us 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! The next day, half of our party hiked over Burro Pass to Virginia Lakes Trailhead, to be picked up by us driving around from Green Creek Trailhead. (This makes a great one-way hike via car shuttle for those with two vehicles, as we did in 2000. In 1972 at age 15, I hiked from Green Creek to Summit Lake with my 3 brothers, parents, and friends.)

Sunrise at Green Lake in Hoover Wilderness of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Eastern Sierra Nevada, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sunrise at Green Lake in Hoover Wilderness of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Eastern Sierra Nevada, Mono County, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)



Glacier-scoured exfoliating rock pattern in Hoover Wilderness of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Eastern Sierra Nevada, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Glacier-scoured exfoliating rock pattern at Nutter Lake in Hoover Wilderness of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Eastern Sierra Nevada, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)



View Virginia Lakes from Burro Pass in Hoover Wilderness of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Eastern Sierra Nevada, Mono County, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

View Virginia Lakes from Burro Pass in Hoover Wilderness of Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Eastern Sierra Nevada, Mono County, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


We trained for the backpacking trip with the following four day hikes.

Day hike 1: Leavitt Meadows Loop Trail in Hoover Wilderness

Staying below 8000 feet elevation, the Leavitt Meadows Loop Trail helped us acclimatize before attempting the higher trails on this page. We hiked Leavitt Meadows Loop clockwise (8.9 miles with 1570 feet gain including a ridge extension above Lane Lake) in Hoover Wilderness, 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).

A crayfish pinches a finger at Secret Lake. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

A crayfish pinches a finger at Secret Lake in Hoover Wilderness, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Day hike 2 of 4: Hike Crystal Lake & Mammoth Crest Trail, at Mammoth Lakes

Pandemic closures of many indoor activities has sent hikers onto trails in record numbers. Advance reservations resolved the stiff competition for campsites in Mammoth Lakes village and for overnight backpacking permits.

Starting early to find parking and avoid crowds, we walked from Lake George Trailhead to beautiful Crystal Lake (side trip) then to volcanic Mammoth Crest for 7 miles round trip with 2000 feet gain. Both the scenery and high altitude (exceeding 10,000 feet elevation) were breathtaking. Mammoth Crest trail ascends the rim of the Mammoth Lakes Basin, an impressive glacial cirque, to attain far-reaching views of the Ritter Range and Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River Canyon.

If you have extra energy, consider hiking a rewarding loop including Deer Lakes and Duck Pass (13.2 miles with 2765 ft gain, using a car shuttle. Or break this into a separate hike from Duck Lake Pass Trailhead to Duck Pass (7.2-8 miles round trip with 1680+ feet gain). If backpacking, reserve it many months ahead, or check for “walkup” reservations on shorter notice.

See Lakes George & Mary below Mammoth Crest Trail. Inyo National Forest, Mammoth Lakes village, California, USA. Mammoth Lakes lies on the edge of the Long Valley Caldera, geologically active with hot springs and rhyolite domes that are less than 1000 years old.(© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

See Lakes George & Mary below Mammoth Crest Trail. Inyo National Forest, Mammoth Lakes village, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Day hike 3 of 4: Shadow Lake Trail, Ansel Adams Wilderness

Shadow Lake made an excellent day hike for 7.5 miles with 1200 ft gain in Ansel Adams Wilderness. An early start from Mammoth Lakes village allowed us to squeeze two cars into the small parking lots at Agnew Meadows Trailhead. Normally required for day hikers, the “Reds Meadow/Devils Postpile Shuttle” was cancelled during the pandemic summer of 2020, and a limited number of vehicles were allowed to drive in and park.

Hike to Shadow Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest. Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mount Ritter and Banner Peak reflect in Shadow Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest. Mammoth Lakes, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Yellow green and purple rock pattern along the trail to Shadow Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Sierra Nevada, Mammoth Lakes village, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Yellow green and purple rock pattern along the trail to Shadow Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Sierra Nevada, Mammoth Lakes village, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Historic Benton Hot Springs, Mono County

Historic Benton Hot Springs is worth an hour to view the rusting old cars and farm equipment. Benton Hot Springs (elevation 5630 feet) saw its heyday from 1862 to 1889 as a supply center for nearby mines. At the end of the 1800s, the town declined and the name Benton was transferred to nearby Benton Station.

Cracked windshield on rusting car in Benton Hot Springs, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Cracked windshield on rusting car in Benton Hot Springs, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Mono Mills ghost camp above Mono Lake

With views of Mono Lake and Mono-Inyo Craters, the gravel side roads around the site of the historic Mono Mills offer free primitive campsites partially shaded by handsome pine trees, cooled at 7356 feet elevation in Inyo National Forest. (From Lee Vining, drive south on U.S. Route 395 and turn east on California State Route 120, for 9.1 miles to Mono Mills.) Luckily, in addition to developed campgrounds, our National Forests designate many free “dispersed camping” areas along the more-remote gravel roads.

Sunset at Mono Lake seen from Mono Mills, a nearly-vanished ghost town 9.5 miles southeast of Lee Vining in Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Sunset at Mono Lake seen from Mono Mills, a nearly-vanished ghost town 9.5 miles southeast of Lee Vining in Mono County, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Day hike 4 of 4: Piute Pass Trail in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest

The following giant boulder tumbled from cliffs above and nicked the corner of this restroom at Sabrina Campground!

This giant boulder tumbled from cliffs above and nicked the corner of this restroom at Sabrina Campground, in Inyo National Forest, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Ill-fated restroom at Sabrina Campground, in Inyo National Forest, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)


Situated along Middle Fork Bishop Creek, Sabrina Campground is a great base for reaching several good hikes within a short drive. We enjoyed hiking Piute Pass Trail via attractive ponds, lakes, and wildflowers (9.7 miles, 2200 ft gain) in John Muir Wilderness.

Hike to Piute Pass Trail via ponds and lakes in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Hike to Piute Pass Trail via ponds and lakes in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Mono County, California, USA. Multiple overlapping photos were stitched to make this panorama. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The tiger lily or Columbia lily (Lilium columbianum) is native to western North America. Piute Pass Trail, John Muir Wilderness, Sierra Nevada Mountains, Inyo National Forest, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

The tiger lily or Columbia lily (Lilium columbianum) is native to western North America. Piute Pass Trail, John Muir Wilderness, Sierra Nevada Mountains, Inyo National Forest, Mono County, California, USA. (© Tom Dempsey / PhotoSeek.com)

Tom’s extended photo gallery show from “2020 Jul 18-Aug 3: CA High Sierra”


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2018 April: SW USA. UT: Druid & Delicate Arches. AZ: Monument Valley; Hermit Trail. CA: Death Valley.

On a campervan trip to southwest USA from 7-26 April 2018, we enjoyed photographing some great sights shown in galleries below. Carol was delighted by her first visit to Death Valley National Park (further below), including sunrise at colorful Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon, and Mesquite Flat Dunes.

Photo highlights from this trip


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Trip summary

Our 17-hour drive from Seattle to the desert playground of Moab in Utah was split with an overnight rest in pleasant Three Island Crossing State Park on the Snake River in Idaho.

Important tip: By scheduling the trip to avoid the full week before and after Easter Sunday (both hectic school vacation weeks), our stay in tourist hotspots like Moab was markedly quieter and more enjoyable! Avoid crowded Jeep Safari week. We prudently booked our campgrounds several weeks in advance. Furnace Creek Campground in Death Valley was first-come first served after mid April, with no problem getting a site, though shade is in short supply. Despite checking 4 months in advance, we couldn’t get into scenic Devils Garden Campground in Arches NP, which allows reservations up to 6 months in advance.

Our favorite Canyonlands RV Resort & Campground hosted our pop-top VW Eurovan Camper for four nights conveniently in downtown Moab. On nearby BLM land, red rock Hunter Canyon was a delightful hike of 4.5 miles round trip, blooming with fragrant yellow barberry flowers along a gentle potholed stream. A massive cottonwood tree nicely framed photos of Hunter Arch. Check out the roadside petroglyphs on Moonflower Panel and walk its half-mile canyon. In fantastic Arches National Park, we hiked from Klondike Bluffs parking lot to impressive Tower Arch via the Marching Men rock formations (2.8 miles with 1280 feet gain). The freshly snow-dusted La Sal Mountains provided a dramatic backdrop, such as seen southwest of Balanced Rock. Just before clouds rolled in, golden late afternoon sun illuminated iconic Delicate Arch (3.8 miles with 900 feet gain). Its parking lot was thankfully only half full during mid week. Don’t miss seeing the Ute Rock Art (1650-1850) on Wolfe Ranch side trail. A pullout southeast of Garden of Eden allowed off-trail access to Cove of Caves area on the back side of Double Arch. Walk on rocks and don’t disturb the black biologic soil crust. Also in the Windows Section, we visited Turret Arch and looped a mile around North and South Windows.

In the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park, Whale Rock and Upheaval Dome (beware of limited parking) made short but rewarding walks of 1.0 and 0.8 miles. We moved camp to spend 2 nights at dusty Needles Outpost Campground, picked for its hot shower (though Canyonlands’ nearby Squaw Flat Campground is more aesthetically attractive, at trailheads). Best of all was a long-anticipated 12-mile lollipop loop with 1980 feet gain from Elephant Hill Trailhead via Chesler Park to charismatic Druid Arch in the Needles District.

Driving south, I liked exploring little-known Recapture Pocket near Bluff. Fascinating Goosenecks State Park overlooks deep, curly meanders of the San Juan River near Mexican Hat. A side trip on Mexican Hat spur road gives a closer look at the red wavy patterns of Raplee Anticline (Lime Ridge) along San Juan River.

Just across the state line, don’t miss the spectacular sunset or sunrise at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in Arizona. At sunset, I reshot a favorite balanced rock in the foreground with West and East Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte on the horizon beyond. Sunrise was easy to photograph, as The View Campground looks directly east to the iconic West and East Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte.

We booked three nights in Mather Campground in Grand Canyon National Park, served by a handy free shuttle along on the South Rim. On the way into the park from the east, don’t miss the impressive Hopi artwork inside Desert View Watchtower, which was built by architect Mary Colter in 1932, integrating work by other southwest artists. Starting west of Yavapai Geology Museum, we enjoyed walking the 1.3-mile Trail of Time interpretive exhibit, backward in time from today toward the oldest rock in Grand Canyon, Elves Chasm gneiss, 1.840 billion years old. Our main hike was the scenic Hermit Trail from Hermits Rest to Lookout Point (7.6 miles with 2200 feet gain, plus walking between shuttle stop and campsite).

Death Valley National Park


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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 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.

See also articles on each state: Southwest USA (Arizona, ColoradoNew MexicoNevada, Utah), California, and Texas.

2015 July hikes, history: Eastern Sierras + Castle Crags SP, California

On a hiking trip via our VW Eurovan camper July 5-23, 2015, we rediscovered the beauty of the Eastern Sierras, and for the first time hiked spectacular Castle Crags State Park in Northern California. Below, I share our itinerary and my favorite images in day-by-day trip order.

Photo gallery: “2015 Jul  5-23: all: Sierra Nevada + Castle Crags, California”


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More details

Tips and notes for our July 5-23, 2015 California itinerary, in order of visit:

  1. Off Highway 88 near Carson Pass (near South Lake Tahoe), 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. 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).
  2. McGee Creek Canyon makes an excellent moderate day hike through fields of summer wildflowers in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Sierra Nevada, near Mammoth Lakes. Swirling patterns of fractured red and gray metamorphic rocks rise impressively above this hike of 6 miles round trip with 1200 feet gain to the beaver pond on McGee Creek.
  3. View Indian baskets and history, plus outdoor machinery used in the construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct 1908-1913, at the Eastern California Museum, 155 N. Grant Street, Independence, California, 93526. The Museum was founded in 1928 and has been operated by the County of Inyo since 1968. Its mission is to collect, preserve, and interpret objects, photos and information related to the cultural and natural history of Inyo County and the Eastern Sierra, from Death Valley to Mono Lake.
  4. See Mobius Arch and other curious rock formations in BLM Alabama Hills Recreation Area, in the Owens Valley, west of Lone Pine in Inyo County. The Sierras tower 10,000+ feet above you to the west, and Inyo Mountains rise to the east. At a certain angle, Mobius Arch frames Mount Whitney (14,505 feet or 4421 m elevation), the highest summit in the contiguous United States and the Sierra Nevada. 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.
  5. We were enthralled at the Museum of Western Film History, at 701 S. Main Street, Lone Pine. Fans of movies and television shouldn’t miss this trove of memories, including their good video presentation. Scenes of actor Russell Crow riding through “Spain” in Gladiator (2000) were filmed in nearby Alabama Hills Recreation Area with looming Sierra Nevada peaks as backdrop. See the actual car from the film High Sierra (1941) – in the climactic movie sequence, “Mad Dog” Earle, played by Humphrey Bogart, flees from police by accelerating this 1937 Plymouth Coupe automobile up the old Whitney Portal Road. See the exploding head graboid puppet from the film Tremors (1990), starring Kevin Bacon.
  6. Along the Cabin Trail, see an historic mining cabin built of old-growth bristlecone and limber pine logs, in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Schulman Grove, Inyo National Forest, in the White Mountains, near Big Pine. In terms of its ancient logs, you can think of this as one of the world’s oldest cabins. The Mexican Mine for extracting lead and zinc ore was first established in 1863 as the Reed Mine, but it suffered various weather and supply problems at 10,000 feet elevation and was abandoned in the early 1950s. The world’s oldest known living non-clonal organism was found near here in 2013 — a Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva) 5064 years old, germinated in 3051 BC. It beat the previous record set by the famous nearby 4847-year-old Methuselah Tree sampled around 1957. Starting from the visitor center at 9846 feet, we hiked the Cabin Trail loop, returning along Methuselah Grove Trail (highly recommended, to visit the world’s oldest living trees), with views eastward over Nevada’s basin-and-range region. An important dendrochronology, based on these trees and dead bristlecone pine samples, extends back to about 9000 BC (with a single gap of about 500 years).
  7. My favorite hike in the Bishop Creek watershed goes from South Lake to Long Lake and Saddlerock Lake, looping back via a steeper, poorly marked route to Ruwau Lake, Chocolate Lakes, and Bull Lake, in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest. The rewarding semi-loop is 9 miles with 2220 feet cumulative gain. (An easier walk is 7.2 miles round trip with 1500 feet gain to Saddlerock Lake, out and back via beautiful Long Lake.) One of my favorite shots of the trip is cirrus clouds streaking over Mount Goode (13,085 feet) and Hurd Peak (12,237 ft, center) in a panorama stitched from 12 overlapping photos.
  8. Also in the Bishop Creek watershed, enjoy a scenic hike from Lake Sabrina to beautiful Blue Lake, Emerald Lakes, and Dingleberry Lake. The good trail is 8.5 miles round trip with 1850 feet cumulative gain. (Beyond Dingleberry Lake, the trail splits to Midnight Lake and Hungry Packer Lake.) A memorable image is Mt Thompson (13,494 feet) and Thompson Ridge rising above beautiful Blue Lake in John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest.
  9. Also in the Bishop Creek watershed, enjoy a scenic hike from North Lake to Lamarck Lakes. The moderate trail to Upper Lamarck Lake is 5.5 miles round trip with 1550 feet cumulative gain, which we day hiked along with other family members who were backpacking onwards.
  10. Enjoy an easy, very rewarding hike from Mosquito Flat through Little Lakes Valley to Chickenfoot Lake and Gem Lakes. An impressive array of pyramidal peaks reflect in the creeks and lakes in spectacular Little Lakes Valley. To reach the trailhead, turn off Highway 395 at Toms Place (15 miles south of Mammoth Junction) onto paved Rock Creek Road, and drive 10.5 miles to the end. We hiked the moderate trail to Morgan Pass, 7.5 miles round trip with 1250 feet cumulative gain; but you should skip the left turn to redundant Morgan Pass and instead turn right to visit the pretty Gem Lakes.
  11. At Mono Lake, intriguing towers of calcium-carbonate decorate the South Tufa Area and reflect photogenically in the lake, in Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve. Don’t miss the Visitor Center in Lee Vining along Highway 395. 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 tributary 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.
  12. Bodie is California’s official state gold rush ghost town – Bodie State Historic Park lies in the Bodie Hills east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Mono County, near Bridgeport. Bodie fascinated me for 4 hours photographing reflections in glass, dilapidated historic buildings, mining equipment, doors, interiors, and more. Afternoon thunderstorm clouds loomed over my panoramas of historic Bodie and the Standard Stamp Mill. After W. S. Bodey’s original gold discovery in 1859, profitable gold 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. .
  13. Peaks of Desolation Wilderness rise above a popular lake in Wrights Lake Recreation Area, in Eldorado National Forest, near South Lake Tahoe. In summer, reservations are required to get one of the crowded campsites. Arrive early before 9am or mid week to get a parking spot for great hikes; or park as we did in the day use area for a nice walk around the lake (which connects to excellent Twin Lakes Trail and Grouse Lake Trail). 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).
  14. On our way back to Seattle, in Castle Crags State Park in Northern California, granite pinnacles soared majestically above krumholtz-formation trees atop Castle Dome Trail, just west of Interstate 5, between the towns of Castella and Dunsmuir. One of my favorite hikes in the state is to Castle Dome, an excellent trail 5.8 miles round trip with 2100 feet gain. Geology: although the mountains of Northern California consist largely of volcanic and sedimentary rocks, granite plutons intruded in many areas during the Jurassic period. Heavy Pleistocene glaciation eroded much of the softer surrounding rock leaving soaring crags and spires exposed. Exfoliation of huge, convex slabs of granite made some impressive, rounded towers (California’s look-alike for Huangshan, the Yellow Mountains, in China).

See the above photo gallery for the following Sierra flower photos:

  • 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).

Previous California trips:

In 2015, we were overdue to return to the Eastern Sierras, having last visited 15 years earlier, when we saw Mono Lake & Bodie and backpacked the scenic Virginia Lakes – Summit Lake – Green Lake loop. More recently in 2011, we enjoyed camping in Yosemite Valley (see gallery) in November, a time highly recommended to avoid the overwhelming crowds of summer. A separate article covers all of my images from California (and integrates all photos seen above).

2014 spring road trip to Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, California

From March 15 to April 9, 2014, my wife Carol and I drove our VW Eurovan Camper from Seattle to Texas (6000-mile loop), gathering images in great parks in Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas and California.

Favorites (from March 15 to April 9, 2014 road trip)


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Click here for a more extensive gallery of All Photos from our March 15 to April 9, 2014 road trip in my Portfolio (where you can Add images to your Cart for purchase).

The following related blog articles consolidate our multiple trips by state:

My Portfolio photo galleries consolidate multiple trips into labeled geographic areas.

Recommended guidebooks from Amazon.com:

2018: 2019: 2021:

Search at this link for latest Texas travel books at Amazon.com (look for updates every 1-3 years).

2021: 2020: 2020:

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, Pinnacles National Park, and the Big Sur coast.


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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).