People: get one of these. Art's senior pass ($10 for a lifetime) provides free entry into US national parks, normally $15 here. Plus half price for a campsite. Are you ready? These views?
$5 per night.
The stunning sunrise almost instantly warms the rocks and everyone in their vicinity, and in this campground that means mostly 20- and 30-something rock climbers. Awesome kids, every one of them, and mostly tent camping. Our immediate neighbors practice yoga and t'ai chi, saluting the sun in silence, perhaps visualizing a perfectly executed climb.
We pack up for our hike, heeding the park instructions to allow 2 gallons of water daily for vigorous activity and taking a half gallon each. Today will be a hydration challenge, starting with the discovery that Art's camp guide had the trailhead wrong from Ryan Mountain. It doesn't begin at our campground...it starts 1.5 miles away, adding 3 miles to our, uh, walk. OK, then. Let's begin.
The first mile and a half on the camp road.
Past massive rock formations that started eons ago as a result of volcanic activity. You can see why climbers are in heaven.
Hard to believe, but Art discovers a melon/squash-like plant growing in this desolation.
We reach the trailhead, and while the pictogram illustrating the 1000-foot rise in 1.5 miles tells a little of the story, the descriptive text calls this a moderately strenuous hike. Moderately strenuous for a mountain goat maybe.
...but quickly steepens. See tiny Art up there? Motorcyclists have a saying: you gotta ride your own ride. Same goes for hiking, but I'm back here making photos, aren't I, not gathering my breath.
This path is not for the height-averse.
Shout-out to my climbing pal Trish: I might be rock climbing!
After several hydration stops (the park guide sagely advises "when it's half gone, it's time to turn back"), the summit. Hard to convey the landscape below. Time for a rest and our V8 (salt), orange (sugar), and cheese. The avocado I brought turned out to be too long in the tooth to enjoy.
Simply stunning vistas. Oh joy and thank Buddha for protected landscapes. On the way down, we have gravity in our favor, Art noting it's more a mental exercise. With all this rock, foot placement is everything. I pass a man with his family saying "Think of all the people we know who have gone to fabulous destinations like Costa Rica and all over the world but have never visited this California national park." Amen.
The one and a half mile hike back takes place under relentless sun, blasting our skin. The air temperature is 68, but we are dry dry dry. We each have a bottle of water remaining and we ration, pausing in the shade to take in the incredible maneuverings of these climbers. Can you see the people on both rocks, line dipping between them?
Art got me this hat at the Goodwill in Portland. Thanks, honey. I got this Ralph Lauren linen shirt at the same place.
Back at the campsite, Art shoots a pic of a guy at the top of that pointed rock. Happily, he's set up the indispensable shade umbrellas.
It's time for lunch: steaks, sweet potatoes, and onions. Boy are we hungry.
While we eat, a group playing bocce ball on this desert landscape plays through. Do you mind? they ask? Such nice kids. Of course we don't.
This is Princess, who travels with Diane and Ron, a couple camping down the way. What happened to my photo of them I'll never know. They're now back on land after spending 5 years on their boat in Latin America, but not for long. Such good people. We drank up the stories of their travels.
A bit later, the bocce-ball playing group comes over to check out our camper. Their "wizard sticks" are created from beer cans taped together with a drink cup at top. Needless to say they were happy.
I have a dichotomous relationship with being connected. No phone cell towers or internet access available in this park, and as a result attention is focused acutely on the splendid distraction of nature. My theory: this brings moments of perfect clarity unavailable to the wired mind.
This park is mystical, magical. Wizard sticks or no, I wish we could stay for a week.