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Slowing Down in the Sierra

More than 30 years ago, my dad found what is now his only camp spot. For the last five of those, I've been lucky enough to join him at least once over the course of the summer for a few days of relaxation and soaking in of the sights, fresh air, and some staying-in-one-place rather than the usual travels of my adventures.

This year - like last - was up in the air for a while. Much of the Sierra National Forest is still recovering from the Creek Fire of 2020, and there are quite a few places that are not yet open to recreation. Luckily for us, after a few calls for clarification, we surmised that we'd have to take an alternate route to camp, but that there were no restrictions on us actually being there. Whew!

And so, on a Thursday - morning for dad, and evening for me - we rolled into camp. It wasn't without incident, but luckily for me, Dad showed up first and was able to take care of the manual labor.

Showing up late has its perks when there's firewood down over the road.

We'd roll out again, several days later, having spent much of our time in camp chairs, thoroughly enjoying ourselves as we slowed down in the Sierra.

For now, though, it was time to settle in. Ultimately, since we didn't move around much, I sort of just carried the camera around. This report then, will be a collection of photos and a few stories of our time. Enjoy!

Set up in my traditional camp spot, I opted for a different orientation of the Tacoma than previous trips. This worked out nicely, since I had a view out the back window when I woke up in the morning.

There's that morning view.

 

Around Camp

We spent the bulk of our time hanging out around camp - chatting in our chairs as we gazed out at the granite landscape, reading, and in Dad's case, birding. The weather was rather varied - warm the first day, cloudy with wind the second, and clear but cool on the third. Ultimately it was good news for our coolers, which didn't have to work so hard, but a little chilly for us.

New growth on a nearby fir.

Lichen cascading down an old growth Juniper.

Flowering succulent. (Sierra Stonecrop)

Pale white flowers of the Morning-Glory.

Nature's pipe cleaners. (Pussypaws)

The Botanist in his natural habitat.

Our view from camp.

Even under cloudy skies, ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮  was majestic in the distance.

I finally learned the real name of Sleeping Bear on this trip. (▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮ )

The ground was covered in new pinecones, their precious payload critical to the reforestation after the Creek Fire.

Birdious Brainious in his natural habitat.

Apparently, a traditional pose.

Crackling warmth into the cool night.

 

Scarred Landscape

Reminders of the Creek Fire were all around. A few trees that we'd seen the year before and wondered as to their survival had died; others had fallen through the winter. In the years to come, the danger will increase as more of the standing dead succumb to the elements. Still, we were thankful for what was left - it certainly could have been much, much worse.

Fallen giant.

Colorful cross-section.

A brush with death.

This tree burned from the inside, out. When the bark was too weak to support it, the entire thing folded to the ground.

A forest of feasting fungus.

 

Lost Knife Knoll and Tip of the Spear Point

As nice as it was to relax, I couldn't sit around camp the entire time. On our second day, I decided a hike to Lost Knife Knoll was in order, as well as - pending conditions along the ridge - a possible extension to Tip of the Spear Point.

Setting off across the creek.

Water is looking a lot clearer this year compared to the charcoal-filled pools of last year.

My previous hike to Lost Knife Knoll - the first after the fire - had been an eye-opener. Dozens of trees were down over the trail, and it was obvious that I was the first presence in quite some time. Expecting the same this year, I was delighted to see that some significant trail work had been performed and the trail was in better shape than ever before; albeit through a charred landscape rather than a towering pine forest.

New life in a sea of death.

Abundant sun streamed down to the forest floor, which was teaming with spring. (Woolly Sunflower)

In the shade near a running stream, Crimson Columbine hung in the air.

Light streamed through leaves.

Scarlet Gilia.

Nature's centerpiece.
(Indian Paintbrush, Woody Sunflower, Yarrow, Gay Penstemon)

With relatively cool temps, I made it to the ridge leading to Lost Knife Knoll in relatively short order. The views - as always - to the ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮  were dramatic, the water raging in the river below.

A wilderness wonderland,

Up here on Lost Knife Knoll, the fire spared much of the vegetation, and so, views of the surrounding monoliths were familiar.

Below the ridge, the fire had raged, much of the landscape now shades of brown rather than green under puffy clouds in the sky.

Of course, the reason I'd come was to check on the status of the "Lost Knife." I'm always a little nervous when I get to this point, wondering if I'll find the stone that guards the knife, its location never quite where I think it should be.

Still there!

After a few moments on the Knoll - some chatting with Dad over the ham radio, a few checking my phone with the first LTE service I'd had in two days - my next steps were obvious: it was time to make my way to Tip of the Spear Point for the first time since the Camp Fire.

It has seemed that one of the side effects of the fire has been a decrease in the four-legged wildlife in the area. So, I was happy to see that along the ridge, there was evidence that at least two recent inhabitants.

Shortly after leaving the ridge, I happened to startle a group of four deer who hopped away and kept an eye on me from a distance.

"Hello, bear," he thinks, looking around nervously.

Mostly downhill before a steep climb to the summit, I soon found myself in a place I'd only been once before - the highest point at the Tip of the Spear.

The pointed stone still stands tall above the granite landscape.

Familiar views in the background.

Tabs were being kept on my progress. A few seconds later, I got a call on the ham radio.

Heading down from the point, I soon found myself back in the burn area, the devastation here, as stark as any I'd seen so far.

Monstrous match-sticks.

142 rings.

A Subalpine Mariposa Lily pushed up through the barren ground.

Making my way back towards camp, I soon found myself crossing ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮  Creek, where our traditional swimming hole was looking fine - the water higher than it has been the last few times I've visited, requiring me to wade across, rather than my usual hopping from rock-to-rock.

Down by the water, fewer trees had been scorched, and the swimming hole sported a newly deposited sand beach from the winter runoff.

Western Azalea thrived in this wet environment, the long stamen beckoning pollinators.

 

Winged Wildlife

As always, one of us was more attuned to the winged wildlife than the other. Still, I happened to capture a couple of our flying friends when I happened to have my camera in hand. Of course, the most interesting sighting - described to me as "an impossible bird" - wasn't captured on film, but it was the first time Dad had seen a Lawrence’s Goldfinch in his 34 years visiting this place.

Yes, we had three hummingbird feeders hung around camp. This Anna’s Hummingbird was appreciative.

The coloring on this male Western Tanager was stunning.

 

Chrome Grills

And now, for a fun story.

I don't remember exactly what we were talking about that led to the specifics of this discussion, but at some point, we were talking about a few of the spots on the Tacoma that could use a bit of touch-up paint. The most obvious is the dent in the bedside that I got when running the Oregon Backcountry Discovery Route. I ultimately - after purchasing a kit to repair it, including some color-matched spray paint and clear coat - decided not to repair it, realizing that it was likely only first of many.

Our conversation of paint prompted Dad to tell me about the time he'd painted his Jeep in his parent's garage, using dozens of cans of spray paint, picked up at the local hardware store. After a good chuckle, he then related to me a story of some of his friends at the time who went so far as to paint the front grill of their Jeeps a chrome silver.

"It was just so wrong. Jeep grills shouldn't be chromed," he chuckled.

Whatever you say Pops.

 

Back Down the Mountain

Eventually, it was time to pack up and make our way back to civilization. As always, it was a bittersweet process - happy to have had a few relaxing days in this special place, and yet wishing that we had more time to remain.

As we packed up, I mentioned to Dad that I was thinking about heading out via a different route than we'd come in. We knew there were two - at least - bridges out on this route, but I was curious as to the state of bypasses, and whether we might be able to use this route on future visits, assuming bypasses that the chromed-grill Jeep could navigate.

And so, with final glances and a plan to regroup once we reached pavement, we each turned in separate directions and made our way through the blackened forest and out of the mountains.

It will take time, but the green on the ground will return to the canopy, eventually.

A bypass at a burned bridge seemed passable.

Two years later, no work has started to repair this site.

The fire was hot through here.

In the end, this alternate route seemed passable. Who knows, maybe it will be our way back in, the next time we visit!

 

 

 

7 Comments

  1. Kenny
    Kenny July 18, 2022

    How wonderful you got to spend time with your dad, these memories will last a lifetime. Beautiful scenery and good to see new growth starting back. In another lifetime the forest will return back to its original glory.
    Thanks Dan!

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 18, 2022

      Thanks Kenny! It certainly is nice to get out on trips like this - lounging around and chatting the day away. A nice change of pace from the usual exploring (which of course, I also love!) Hope you're getting out as the weather improves and snow recedes - it's shaping up to be a great summer!

  2. Tim Augustine
    Tim Augustine July 20, 2022

    I lived with my parents during and after the Cedar Fire in 2003. At the time, the largest wildfire in CA. It burned the entire area around their house, and many of the surrounding houses, but theirs survived. I lived there until 2015, driving through the burn area everyday. After about 8 or 10 years, you really had to look to find signs of the the fire. Most of the trees and plants regrow from the roots and trunks and fill out fully. It was interesting to watch over the years.

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 20, 2022

      First of all - sorry you had to go through that in 2003. Having lived through the Oakland Hills fire as a kid (where multiple friends lost their houses, though my parents houses were luckily spared), I can only imagine what it'd be like to have it right around the house.

      I don't think we'll be seeing many of the trees around the camp site sprouting back, but there are definitely many new pinecones on the ground, and lots of light for new growth. I surely hope that in ten years we're seeing lots of new saplings, but that will largely depend on the amount of water the area gets. As with the rest of the state, water over the last several decades has been lacking, leading to a lot of beetle infestation - and tree death - even before the fire. 🤞

  3. John Fleischhauer
    John Fleischhauer July 22, 2022

    Thanks, Dan! So glad you and Bob could make this trip. Great photos and report! Looking forward to joining you there again some day.

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 28, 2022

      Hey John, puts a smile on my face to hear that you enjoyed the story. It would be great to get up there again with you, I had a great time on that trip a few years ago!

  4. Jim
    Jim July 25, 2022

    Good job on showing what that camp is all about. Some excellent wildflower photos. UJ

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