In my travels around the country, I knew I was going to see many different landscapes and seascapes – from the desert to the mountains, from the cozy harbors of the Atlantic to the expansive beaches along the Pacific. But I really didn’t think of the depths and heights that I would be exploring in this great country. In this month of May, I have seen the lowest point on the North American continent, and also glimpsed the highest point in the contiguous 48 states. Who knew that they were only about 130 miles from each other?!
In the past month since leaving Utah, I have traveled through Nevada and into Southern and Central California. From the mountains and high desert of the Utah national parks, I have traversed into the lower terrain of this country into the arid desert. Never having lived in the desert, and only visiting it a few times, the desert was a new experience for me.
The desert in the spring was likely the most beautiful time to be there. The temperatures were certainly cooler, and the cacti were blooming with their strikingly simple flowers in bright fuchsia and golden yellow. Hiking through washes (riverbeds with no water in them) alongside reddish and golden boulders, I felt like I was in another world at times. Some of the desert landscapes resembled the face of the moon, and others looked like a tempting oasis with all the different vegetation.
At first, I enjoyed the desert hikes around Las Vegas, and then into Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, but then the temperatures began to rise. The days in the 90’s became more common, and the challenges of desert living became more evident. Staying in an RV park near Joshua Tree, I saw the number of people in the park begin to dwindle. The RV park, a winter retreat for many people from the northern states, had a fitness center, indoor pool and spa, and clubhouse. While I was there, they were almost completely empty. It was time to move north again.
After a week, I traveled north by the Mojave Desert, and onto Highway 395 which is also called the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway, winding its way through some spectacular scenery with the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains on one side, and the Inyo National Forest on the other side. As I left the desert behind and began to see the mountains, I could feel the shift in my spirit. The mountains had become my other home when I lived in California all those years. I had driven this same route from the north, but never, all the way south.
Now, I would finally discover where this amazing highway began in the desert. I had seen the signs for Death Valley National Park, and knew I had at least one more desert experience in my near future, but I had no idea what this park encompassed. Driving from the west may have led to a more diverse experience. As I traveled towards the park, I rode through hills that then turned into mountains. Driving a winding road through the mountains, I dropped lower and lower into the park, and finally the desert valley opened up before me. After the steep descent into Death Valley, there were windswept sand dunes, golden canyons and salt flats that shimmered like mirages. The temperatures also began to rise. Stopping at one of the visitor centers, they have a permanent, large thermometer outside the door, recording the latest temperature. A perfect picture spot. When I was there in mid-May, the temperature fluctuated from 90 – 95 degrees Fahrenheit. I can only imagine what it’s like in July.
Of course, that wasn’t the temperature of the lowest place in the park. Driving further down into the park, you arrive at what is called – Badwater Basin, another salt flat with some puddles, but best known as being the lowest elevation on this continent. At 282 feet below sea level, I had reached a new low point, and didn’t realize how close it was to the highest point in this country.
Staying in Lone Pine, California right off of Highway 395, I was in the town closest to the highest point. After exploring the town and visiting their film history museum and the Alabama Hills where many westerns, easterns, and sci-fi movies have been filmed; I decided to venture up near the highest point in the contiguous forty-eight states – Mount Whitney, a snow-capped peak in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 14,495 feet.
On a clear morning, it appeared to be a perfect day to drive up near Mt. Whitney for a hike. Driving up a road just outside of town, I traveled higher and higher on switchbacks, lined with rocky cliffs, and purple lupine. That’s when the clouds began to drift across the surrounding peaks. What appeared to be a calm day in the valley turned into a snow squall in the mountains. Snowflakes drifted down onto the windshield of the truck. It looked like I’d have to postpone my mountain hike.
As I crested the peak, the elevation rose to over 10,000 feet and the temperature dropped to the 30s with Mount Whitney hidden by the clouds. It looked like I’d have to turn back, but not before, looking around this mountain top plateau. And who do I spot under some trees? Not the wildlife I expected to see, but some weary hikers, loaded with backpacks. A couple of minutes later, they are loaded in our truck for the ride back to town. It turned out that they were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and ran into the stormy weather so they needed to take a break to warm up and refuel.
With my own travel plans in mind, I had forgotten about the many people who venture out each year to tackle the challenge of the Pacific Crest Trail which runs all the way from the Mexican border to the Canadian border – over 2,600 miles across the west coast. The hikers usually begin in the spring, and hike all summer, and sometimes into the fall. The trail begins in the desert which I had just left behind, and follows the mountain ranges beginning in central California, and then up through the Northwest. I had no idea that I was also following a similar route with my Bighorn RV. Hearing these three hikers’ tales was enlightening. It was also a good reminder for all the conveniences that I do live with, traveling in an RV with most of the comforts of home. Even with my love of hiking, I don’t think I could take on a challenge like them though I did enjoy hearing about their own adventures. The hikers called us their “PCT Angel” so hopefully, we can help more hikers along the way who need a break from the trail, or a ride back into the mountains.
And so the journey continued up Hwy. 395, arriving at Bridgeport, California – our last stop before heading for our former hometown of Grass Valley. Soon after our arrival in this small town at 4,500 feet, the weather got even colder as much-needed rain and snow came through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
With an on-going drought, any precipitation is a welcome sight. It may have delayed some of my hiking plans, but I managed to see some other sights including Bodie State Historic Park, an old gold rush town that had been preserved in “arrested decay” from when it was abandoned back in the 1940s. The town of Bodie was once a booming town from 1877 – 1881 when about 8,000 people resided there with over 2,000 buildings. Only about 5 percent of the town is left, but it is still a sight to see with some of the remaining homes, stores, dance halls, and even the town jail still standing. In its heyday, Bodie was known as a lawless town with over 60 saloons, dance halls, and brothels. A gunfight leading to a death happened about every other day. You can really feel the Wild West when you’re there, peering through the windows of the homes with their remaining furniture, and the stores with their merchandise on display. It is certainly a sight to see for anyone who wants to discover what gold mining towns used to look like.
Once the storms passed, I headed back into the mountains to do some amazing hikes. Some of the higher elevations still had snow like around Saddlebag Lake, not far from the Tioga Pass entrance of Yosemite. But one hike into Lundy Canyon was absolutely magical with cascading waterfalls, and trees brilliant with green buds of spring. Hiking through aspen trees, and by beaver damns, and alongside alpine lakes, I could feel the high energy of this outdoor paradise. Climbing rocky paths and crossing rivers, I traveled further into the canyon, spying ribbons of rivers flowing down the high cliffs into spontaneous waterfalls. This one trail made me fall in love with California mountains all over again.
As I head north later this week, I will be driving back to my former hometown of Grass Valley, California where I lived for 10 years. It will be a bittersweet time, seeing my old home, and meeting up with friends. My time there will be exactly a year from when I last lived there. I know it will be a special time for re-connecting with familiar faces and places before I head out on the road again. And so the journey continues into the Northwest.
By Donna Fisher-Jackson, M.A. © 2015
Donna Fisher-Jackson, M.A., CHT is a Certified Hypnotherapist, Western Astrologer and Author who counsels clients through her business of Iris Holistic Counseling Services on the road at http://www.DonnaFisherJackson.com. She has published the self-help book, The Healing Path of the Romantic: Type Four of the Enneagram Personality Type System and a novel, Clara & Irving: A Love Story of Past Lives, based on the true story of a Romantic. Both books are available in a print and Kindle edition on Amazon.com. ♥