by Daniel Montero
We love to have a good time here at RaD Explorations and so when it came time to think about what we were going to do for Renee's birthday, there were ideas all around. After a bit of wrangling, we settled on Highland Lakes just across Ebbitts Pass. I was just introduced to these lakes last summer by our good friend Martin, and Renee and I went and camped there late last summer, so I was a little hesitant. "We were just there," I whined, but it fits the bill perfectly for what we want in a birthday weekend: beautiful locale, a chance to just put up our feet and relax a bit, but with lots of opportunities for adventures. In addition to it being Renee's birthday weekend, it was also going to be the eclipse, so I took Monday off from work and we figured, well, we weren't going to be in a prime location (for seeing it, in all other respects a very prime location), but at least we would see it partly and would experience it in the outdoors.
After work on Friday we came back and packed up. And didn't pack light, we brought the kayak, we brought the pool tube, and everything else in between. It has been a bit of an odd summer in a bunch of ways, but one of them has been that while we've been out exploring and playing a lot, we haven't camped that much, not even car camped. So it took us a while to pack and we barely even made out of Reno until dusk was starting to gather. Then south toward Markleeville. There is a Forest Service campground at the lake, which is ideal for birthday party, so we loaded up at Trader Joe's and then packed up some firewood and so by the time we crossed Ebbitts Pass and started up the narrow paved, then dirt, road to the lake it was ten at least. The campground was definitely not empty, but even at that late hour, on a Friday night we were able to find a very nice spot. No fire by then, and having driven the whole way, Renee went straight to bed, but Larry and I stayed up a while to enjoy the Milky Way light show on an incredibly crisp and clear night. One of those nights when every single star shines out bright. We walked down along the upper lake. As we walked in the dark, I noticed what seemed to wide bands of light shining across the mountain above us and all the way down to the lake shore. I puzzled for a bit, and then realized that they were snow drifts. All the way down to the lake! We walked to the bank where I stood and gazed up at the Milky Way and just soaked in the moment. Larry, not so much, I'm still not sure what happened, but I must have shifted and stepped on his toe because suddenly I was yanked from my reverie by Larry sqealing and jumping. Somehow I had the idea that a bear or rattlesnake was attacking and I yelled at the top of my lungs to frighten away whatever it was. Then I switched on my headlamp to find a shaken, but otherwise unharmed Larry, and to realize that most likely I'd been the bear. I also thought for sure I'd woken up the entire campground with my shouting, so we hightailed it back to the tent.
The rest of the night was without event and I awoke pretty early and emerged for my business. Returning, I noticed that the meadow across the way from our campsite was ablaze in blooms of all kinds, red, yellow, white, and blue, just shining. I went and walked in it and then when Renee came out she joined me and we wandered in the little meadow bedazzled by the show. It turned out that Highland Lakes, on this weekend in later August, was just in perfect bloom and the whole time we were awash in colorful flowers that had apparently just been waiting for Renee's birthday to put on their show! Our late night campspot was very nice, but on a trip to the bathroom we saw that the very front site, which just opens up straight onto the lake, had opened up, so we moved our camp over to a new spot and set up.
Then we lazed. Since it was Renee's birthday weekend, I had volunteered to do most all of the cooking, which is pretty unusual for our camping explorations, in general we pretty much share. Since we were car camping, we hadn't held back either and we feasted on eggs, bacon, tortillas, salsa, and all the fixings. The morning was just beautiful and we dawdled and dawdled, eventually wandering around the lake. It was only maybe 10 or 11 in the morning, but by the time that we ventured out packed up to walk, thunderheads were already building heavily in the mountains. On the far side of the lake from the campground the wildflower show that had already bedazzled us just supernova'd into one of the most spectacular wildflower displays I've ever seen. One of the finer shows on earth. The snowdrifts that I had seen the night before also had their attraction, specifically some skiers were climbing high up the shoulder of the mountain to the top of the high drift, maybe a thousand feet above us, and doing turns. Which delighted the skiers' friends down below and added to the whole sense of it being a party.
The thunderheads that had been building all day didn't want to be left out either, and they started to rumble even before we had started our circuit of the lake. By the time we made it all the way across from our campsite, they were rumbling closer and the wind was picking up. On the far end of the lake there is a trailhead entrance to the Carson-Iceburg Wilderness and we walked out a bit to watch the clouds building, at least until a crack of lightning and immediate thunder just down the canyon from us sent us packing back toward camp. We timed it pretty well, because pretty much as soon as we got back to camp, now about 2 in the afternoon, it started to pour on us. And then it rained. Rained and rained.
Four hours of cloudburst in the Sierras. Our tent stayed dry and out of gathering puddles (with a little bit of flood control engineering), but we retreated into the Subaru for a good bit of time and busted out some of the wine that we had brought for the birthday celebration. It sounds like we got rained out, but in reality it was just what the doctor ordered. A sort of completely enforced opportunity to just stop. Something neither of us do that well, but that is important and that we welcomed on this late summer afternoon. We talked about this and that, we read, we petted Larry (who was quite happy to take up residence in the car), we read, we talked, we sipped wine.
All things come to an end and at about 6 the rain did finally move past and we emerged into the well-washed world outside. It was funny to see all of the other campers starting to emerge as well, smiling and greeting each other, but reminding me of moles or some other subterranean creature venturing from our dens into the outside world. Renee and I then walked down along the bigger, lower lake, where there were some handstand shenanigans and other playtime essentials, then back to camp to start a fire and make dinner. The night descended while we ate and talked and stoked our fire. We cooked hamburgers and sausages over it and then s'mores and then it was bedtime.
The next day morning was glorious again, and we decided that at least the beginning of the day was dedicated to boating. Then in the afternoon, thunderstorms permitting, maybe climbing one of the peaks ringing the lake. So we unpacked the Sea Eagle and our floating tube and started putting them together when Renee had a glorious idea—across the lake from us there was a big snowdrift going all the way down to the lake, and we had a tube, why not go sledding?!? Skiers had been skiing the day before. Sure our tube wasn't made for it, but it might work. So we pumped up and embarked into the water with the tube tied along behind. The water was still and empty in the morning with only a couple of anglers along the bank and we pedaled into the lake in high spirits. Our first stop, on this sunny morning, was in the wildflower extravaganza across the way. We pulled up on a small beach with access to the snowfield, flowers, water, sun, fresh air, and great company! It was a new experience being with the flower fields in the bright morning sunlight compared to the day before' approaching thunderstorm cast across the sky. Then I was bound and determined that I was going to swim and wasn't sure if I'd be cold in the aftermath of our snow excursion, so I jumped in. Given that there was a snowdrift down to the lake a few yards away, it was a cold one, but I made it. Then the sledding, with deep laughter, the kind that only comes with a true fun exploration, we sledded down the snowdrift and into the water again and again, each time picking up speed. And at the end of the run the big splash into the water. We decided that the tube needed more air so we pumped it, then we really started to pick up speed and made some big waves in the lake, but the poor little pool tube wasn't quite made for this introduction into the real world and after a few more runs it popped and sledding was over. We were rosy and laughing and can now say we've sledded in the high sierra in August! Afterward, it warming up, Renee went for a swim and then we started paddling around the lake again. Check out the video we posted at our Fun Photo Friday post last week with some of our sledding fun!
The wind started picking up as we rounded the far end of the lake and the tiny whisper cloud that Renee had earlier said, "there's the beginning of it," had indeed blossomed into a cell and so as we disembarked and returned to camp, we had a decision to make. We were determined to stay outside for the next morning's eclipse, but Renee had to be back to Reno by 3 pm and we while the day before's rain delay had been great, we weren't sure we wanted to do two of them in a row, so we decided reluctantly to pack up and descend. The plan was to find a place down lower, closer to home, and with less chance of heavy rainfall. The thunderheads did chase us off Ebbitts Pass, and were dark behind us as we neared Markleeville.
A cool afternoon in the hot summer called for a soak, however, so we decided to make a quick stop off at Grover Hot Springs. The attendant warned us that the pool would close if the lightning got too close, but we really only wanted a quick soak anyway and so we risked it. It was so cool that we did because within about five minutes of getting in the pool a cloudburst started. I've been in the springs when it was snowing, but it was a different and utterly cool experience to be in it with giant drops of summer cloudburst pelting us. The pool is always pretty crowded and in good spirits until, of course, there was a giant crack and a split of lightning straight down to the mountainside across from us that emptied the pool with an bang even before the attendants came and yelled, "pool's closed!"
We made a dry and fireless (now being down with the dry cheat grass again) camp at Indian Creek Reservoir, which I re dubbed Catches the Valley Light Reservoir because it does overlook the light of the Carson Valley below. This is a great little camping place just east of Woodford's Junction and we enjoyed the afternoon light and watching the thunderstorms go by high in the Sierra to the west.
The next morning was all about the eclipse. We were far from the totality, and didn't have much in the way of eclipse viewing gear, but it just feels really special to be awash in that kind of light. Renee did make us a few makeshift viewers, but we found the best place to experience it was just in the shade of a tiny little baby aspen along the lake shore, using one of our camp chairs as a makeshift screen to catch the eclipse's reflections. There were only a couple of fishermen down at the lakeshore and for a little while during the eclipse it felt strangely like we were the only people in the world, and that the shift in the light had changed everything. A reminder of how tiny we are, and how little the scratchings we make on this world compare to the grandness of the cosmos.
Then home, tired and full of a great weekend.
This blog is dedicated to stories and ideas from our explorations. We hope you enjoy!
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.