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.
For this week's Fun Photo Friday we're bringing you some moving pictures. This past weekend we went up into the Sierra to celebrate Renee's birthday at a mountain lake. Given the tremendous snow year, there was still a snowdrift coming all the way down to the shore, so we took advantage to do a little impromptu winter play! And happy birthday sweetie!
By Renee Aldrich
Pine Forest, our home mountain. It means so much to us. It's where Dan grew up and has been his axis his entire life. For me, I have been lucky enough to spend increments of time here over the last 13 years. I fell in love with the area the first time I visited, before Dan and I even became a couple. I feel so fortunate and happy to call it my home now too.
This summer we have spent more time in the Pine Forest Range than we have in the past 13 years. It has been wonderful. We've spent a lot of time in Chicken Creek and up near Bartlett peak. So over the Perseids weekend we decided to head in a different direction and went up to Rodeo Flat, an area high in the range and nestled up next to the newly designated Pine Forest Wilderness.
We packed light, as we were just taking one ATV. We brought our sleeping bags, pads, a ground tarp, headlamps, our backpacks because we were going to attempt to hike Duffer Peak (the Pine Forest's highest peak) on Sunday, about 2 gallons of water, cheese, meat and crackers and a couple of fleece jackets.
On our ride up to Rodeo Flat we took our time, stopping to check out the odd sculptures that grace several rocky outcrops on and near New York Peak. We took in the views overlooking the Black Rock Desert, the Black Rock Range, Pinto Mountain, Elephant Mountain, The Jackson Mountains and King Lear. Driving up to Rodeo Flat in the evening, the light turned golden and the Pine Forest Wilderness lit up like the desert jewel it is. With my love of rabbit brush and all the amazing light I couldn't stop taking pictures of the landscape.
It was a great spot to watch the annual Perseids meteor shower. The big, wide open skies were incredibly dark, making star gazing an intensely beautiful experience--even without the meteors. But when the meteors started we witnessed a wonderful starry sky show. We sat up and watched shooting stars for hours, but the moon eventually made it's way into the night sky and tempered the show. We eventually laid down and fell asleep, the next day was going to be a long one.
Something about sleeping outside makes me sleep in. I always want to get up early and enjoy the morning light, but for some reason it's really difficult for me to do so. On Sunday morning I slept in till 8:00 am. When I finally woke up, we got moving. We wanted to hike Duffer Peak and we knew it was going to be a steep, hot hike.
We followed an old jeep trail from Rodeo Flat up to where it ended and where we then dropped down into the north fork of Snow Creek. There is a horse trail there that runs down to the creek, but we missed it so we bushwhacked our way down. At the creek bottom we were able to find the trail, which led us right up to Bare Ass Pass, known on most maps as Bare Pass--not it's real name. Atop Bare Ass Pass we paused a few minutes for some handstand pics.
From Bare Ass Pass to the summit is a short, but steep climb, however it's a little unclear where the real high point is so we climbed up the humpback ridge and followed it along, stopping here and there to enjoy the views of the drainages spread out below us. We found and signed the register but it was so cool so trace the line of that summit ridge that can be seen for hundreds of miles.
At the top of Duffer peak we enjoyed the immense views of the Basin and Range region that surrounded us. There was a bit of haze so we didn't get to see as far off in the distance as usual, but it was still impressive.
By the time we headed down the mountain, it had become fairly late, so we pretty much boogied down and got back to the ranch just before nightfall. It was a wonderful weekend and a great way to enjoy the meteor shower. We hope you all were able to find a piece of dark sky to enjoy the shower in too!
One of my favorite oddities are the three metal sculptures that adorn different rocky outcroppings on New York Peak. The one on the peak itself is the subject of this week's Fun Photo Friday.
I don't know who made them or even when (I first saw them when I returned from the east coast in 2004). They are an intriguing oddity on this mountain. If anyone knows more about them I'd be interested to learn more, so please leave a comment, but in the meantime I'm happy to have them remain a mystery!
By Renee Aldrich: Originally posted on 11/4/2016 on womenbewild.com
In Fall 2016, I headed to the Santa Rosa Range, north of Winnemucca, NV, to check out the fall colors. The trees were turning, but I was a bit early for the brightest of the fall leaf show. I decided while I was there I'd hike up Granite Peak. It's the highest peak in the Santa Rosa Range, but is a relatively short hike, as a road goes most of the way up.
As I hiked up the mountain, I took in the scenery, the fall colors, and the vast, wide open expanse that is Nevada. At the top of the mountain it was windy and a bit chilly. I ate a snack and enjoyed the 360 degree view and headed back down.
On the way down, I got a little rock stuck in my shoe. I sat myself down on the steep, scree slope to remove the unpleasant intruder. I took off my shoe, shook my boot and a little pebble, smaller than a pea, rolled out. I put my shoe back on and got ready to go on my way. As I started to stand, I realized how pleasant I felt. How comfortable I was right here in this place. So I stayed. I stayed seated right in that spot and savored the nice warm sun on my shoulders.
It was a wonderful experience. It was a bit chilly, but the sun on my shoulders provided the perfect amount of warmth. Sitting there, on the side of Granite Peak, I noticed I was perfectly content, not hungry nor overly full; not thirsty nor needing to pee; and my seat was quite comfortable--not one single sharp rock poking at my gluteus maximus. As I was enjoying the moment, I realized if nothing changed, I could sit here forever. I could be completely content to sit here forever if it all just stayed the same.
Unfortunately of course, things change. They always do. I would eventually have to move. The day would turn into night, I'd get cold, I would become hungry and thirsty and, well, at some point I would have to get up and pee. But in this moment I took the time to sit and enjoy this perfect, peaceful space I found myself in.
When you're out in the wild remember to take some time to sit and enjoy the space you're in. Appreciate the perfect moments. It's so easy to forget to take that time, we get caught up in reaching the summit or reaching our destination without fully appreciating the journey that gets us there. Often the journey is hard, you ache, you strain, you're uncomfortable, but when the perfect moments arise, take the time to enjoy!
Hahaha I love this so much!
If if you don't know, I (Renee) love doing handstands. Check out #reneehandstands on instagram.
International Handstand Day (IHD2017) was on June 24, 2017 . We happened to be at the ranch on that day and spent most of the day on horseback. Being IHD2017, I would periodically hop off my horse to allow Dan to take pics of me performing handstands so we could commemorate the day. At the end of the long day Dan's mom started heckling him, she wanted to see Dan come out from behind the camera and share in the handstand spotlight.
So, of course, Dan kicked off his shoes and obliged--with a little help from his brother.
By Daniel Montero
Reading Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks this morning came across this entry: “winterbourne, a creek dry in the summer and running in winter.” A course of water borne by the winter, born in the winter. Born on a good winter. It reminded me of a winter afternoon we hiked in the Mesa, Pine Forest’s easternmost ridge, tipped by the notable crag of Sentinel Peak. We left our car along the county road and climbed up the basalt ridge line until we were high above the desert. We looked south across what was—just a blink ago—an inland sea while high fast clouds moved quickly along the passage of the planet. In Annals of the Former World, John McPhee writes, “lakes are so ephemeral that they are seldom developed in the geologic record.” The lake bed below us, with watermarks washed into the rocky hillsides for a hundred miles as far as we can see and farther, is just a splash of the ocean that was and will be again. There was fresh snow on that winter afternoon and the Mesa was uncharacteristically white, so that high above the playa we floated on a different kind of ephemeral lake.
A few weeks ago I reread this passage in Craig Child’s beautiful book, The Secret Knowledge of Water, “We are not as ephemeral as clouds. We cannot dissipate at the first downtrend in humidity, then expect to re-form elsewhere.” Remembering being on that ridgeline, with snow blowing around us that would be gone in a day if not hours, and with the remains of an ancient lake at our feet stretching as far as the eye can see, I think that maybe we are more ephemeral than clouds, who also graced the sky of the dinosaurs and beyond. And even more so: we’re not going to re-form anywhere. Reading and thinking about the water moving along, appearing and disappearing, I realize that it is only reappearing and disappearing for our eyes, that ephemeral as a word and a concept is only a matter of perspective, and from that perspective, from the vision of our bodies as we make our way along the planet’s curve, the water disappears and reappears. But it is always there and we are what is just transitory on this sphere, as Child’s writes elsewhere, we are in fact mostly giant bags of water. Ephemeral water.
It's no secret that Renee and I like snapping snapshots. Our newest team member, Larry, photobombed Renee's framing of the shot out on the Humboldt Sink for this Fun Photo Friday.
By Daniel Montero
On our drive south for Christmas, Renee and I stopped at Rhyolite, a ghost town nearby Beatty right off the main highway to Death Valley. Despite going by many times I'd never been there before and it was a stunning ethereal experience of standing in what had clearly been an important place for many people now tumbled into ruins among vivid colored cliffs, only tempered by a threatening overcast extending all the way along the line of Nevada. We stopped and parked along the old railway station and walked down the entrance road, which had most likely been the main street, now just tortured facades reminiscent of photos of bombed buildings. The emptied building dominates the skyline.
It's an idea that has interested me for a while. We are, well, future dwellers, at least it has always been a persistent feeling I've had—and the pace of human development, of the development of human population and technology leads to the idea of our being on the crest of a wave. But being in a place like Rhyolite begs you to consider that, in the midst of all of this population growth and networks of communication, culture, industry, et al., why do those of us who want to explore out in the reaches of the West find ourselves in a much less populated planet than anyone would have experienced at the turn of the century? Where there were thousands of people there is now no one.
Rhyolite existed more or less from 1904 to 1909 (if you're interested in details of the history, based on my fairly cursory research and just based on the quality, read the wikipedia article on Rhyolite, in addition to telling you all you want to know about the town, it is, in my opinion, a really great example of a Wikipedia entry). In those five years of existence it came to boast a train station, a bank with Italian marble and stained glass, two railroads, a building made of emptied bottles, thousands of people, a school and then another school, concrete sidewalks, maybe some more pools (based on this ghost towns' site, by the way the as far as I could see uncited, but clearly best text on this site's entry begins "one of the most interesting stories").
Thinking about Rhyolite and how it represents the conundrum of the West in modernity, where even with the explosion of outdoor recreation we are still just a shadow of past use, I got curious about ghost town. Its specific naming seems pretty obvious, but I wondered, when did that term come into use? It had to have been in some way cultural, there had to have been a moment when "empty" or "abandoned" town became "ghost town" and based on my quick search, the date is 1931. The term seems to have been in use before this, based on a footnote appearing in Western Places, American Mythology: How We Think about the West by Gary Hausladen (which I found randomly, and is published by the UNP, and is now on my must-read list!), but based on a search of "ghost town" and 1931, that date is most likely the result of photographer Paul Strand and his striking photos. I don't know anything beyond this, nor even if this is correct etymology, but it is really striking to come from 1931, when the West went for the first time from untapped area for exploration, to closed, to Dust Bowl and "nowhere."
After walking the main street, we stopped at the Goldwell Open Air Art Museum, where Belgian artist Albert Szukalski created The Last Supper and, even more pertinently for me, the Ghost Biker. They capture really perfectly the idea of absence in presence that overwhelms me in Western ghost towns.
This blog is dedicated to stories and ideas from our explorations. We hope you enjoy!
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