Sarah, myself, and our upstairs neighbors Gwen & Dave went to my family’s cabin in the Sierras last Saturday for a couple days of R&R and snow-fun. We left Saturday morning, which was great, as it avoided the typically-terrible Friday evening Bay Area escape traffic.
Since we made great time to the foothills, we stopped in the quaint Gold Rush town of Murphys and browsed the stores and got some tasty old-timey hard candy at Nelson’s Candy Kitchen (they have horehound, clove, and sarsparilla candies – yum!). Continuing onward, we got groceries for the weekend in Arnold and arrived at the cabin at around 2:00.
Adam Paul, treehugger
After settling in and getting the heat on, we ate a light lunch and headed west to Calaveras Big Trees State Park. This park, one of my favorites in the expansive California State Park system, is just a few miles from the cabin, and as such I’ve been there a great many times.
Dave & Gwen, standing in a fallen sequoia
Although most of the park is closed in winter, the North Grove loop, a gentle 1.3-mile walk, is open. It’s always lovely to visit in winter, as the white snow and red bark of the Giant Sequoia trees (Sequoiadendron giganteum) make for a pretty contrast.
There were a few people around, but not too many, and we enjoyed the clear weather and moderate temperatures. We soon rounded the carcass of the Mother-of-the-Forest, denuded of her bark by shortsighted humans in the early 1900s, eager to make a buck by showing off the skin of one of the largest trees on earth. Predictably, the tree soon died. Sadly, nobody believed that the bark was from a single tree (not too surprising, as there’s nothing very close to the size of a Giant Sequoia anywhere else on earth – the largest one currently standing is 274 feet tall and 102 feet in circumference), and it burned in a warehouse fire in NYC some time later. See the wiki page on Giant Sequoias for more interesting facts about these amazing trees.
“Do behold the King Sequoia! Behold! Behold! seems all I can say. Some time ago I left all for Sequoia and have been and am at his feet, fasting and praying for light, for is he not the greatest light in the woods, in the world? Where are such columns of sunshine, tangible, accessible, terrestrialized?” – John Muir
Our little walk soon ended, and we spent the remainder of the day sledding on the hill next to the cabin. I was reminded of how darned tiring it is hauling a sled from the bottom of the hill back up to the top, only to plunge down, nearly always crash-ending again.
I woke up early (too early) on Sunday, fixed breakfast, and once we’d all eaten and prepared, we headed east up the mountain to Bear Valley XC.
This was Sarah & my first time XC skiing in nearly 2 years, but it came back to me quickly enough, and I even managed not to fall once. Dave & Gwen had never XC skied, so they got a rental, pass & lesson package. We glided up and down the near meadow for 15 minutes to get them started, then left them to their lesson and skied on our own for a couple of hours.
Weather was clear and mild, about 38F, though a chilly wind gusted from time to time. Due to the previous day’s warm temps, the snow was pretty icy, making herring-boning up the hills rather difficult, and control on the downhill sections a dicey proposition.
I talked Sarah into an intermediate loop, which I enjoyed, but she wound up walking a bit due to the icy conditions. Seeing a woman nearly crash into a tree on a downhill didn’t help! We met back up with Gwen and Dave at around noon. Everyone else was tired, so we decided to head back to the cabin. I’d have enjoyed another hour or two, but the odds were against me.
Dave & Gwen had to return home, but I’d taken Monday off, so Sarah & I enjoyed a quiet evening by the fire, then packed up the cabin and left at 11’ish on Monday.
On a whim, I decided to take the extremely-scenic route home through Yosemite Valley. Not at all on the way home, it’s about a 3-hour detour, but I figured Yosemite in winter on a Monday should be pretty darned quiet. I was pleased to see that the photo of mine that the NPS purchased was on the back of the visitor’s map, given to every vehicle entering the park.
Yosemite Falls and North Dome
Traffic was actually pretty bad getting into the valley, as there is much road reconstruction going on, and several long one-way traffic controls. I wouldn’t want to be driving in the valley this summer, as the work looks far from complete!
We drove slowly through the valley, stopping here and there to enjoy the views, and eventually wound up at Yosemite Village.
A walk, however short, seemed in order, so we decided to visit the base of Yosemite Falls, which you can drive to as well. Walking through the village we stopped in at the Ansel Adams Gallery, a photographic wonderland with many great prints of Adams’ work, and even a few originals (at around $10,000 each) . I always enjoy visiting this store/gallery, which was the working studio of Ansel for many years when he lived in Yosemite. One of these days I’ll have to pick up a fine art print there, as most are under $400, which isn’t unreasonable.
After this diversion we continued to the falls. We unintentionally wound up on the wheelchair-accessible path to the falls, which meandered prettily through the forest and along the cliffs before joining the main path at the bottom of Lower Yosemite Falls.
Yosemite Falls was flowing nicely, but not nearly as heavily as it will come spring, when the high country snowpack begins to melt. According to its Wikipedia page, the falls, the 5th (or 6th) highest in the world, are comprised of Upper Yosemite Fall (1,430ft), the Cascades (675ft) and Lower Yosemite Fall (320ft), for a combined drop of 2,425 feet. Funnily enough, given the scale of everything in Yosemite Valley, the falls don’t seem all that large. Or maybe that’s just because I’ve been there so many times 🙂 As usual, the lighting was uneven on the lovely vista of both falls at the trailhead, but I did what I could.
We walked back on the main path and returned to Yosemite Village, then headed out.
Not much wildlife was out, just a bunch of White-tailed Deer and some noisy Acorn Woodpeckers, chasing American Robins around.
I was frustrated on the drive home by a lack of safe turnouts on Hwy 120, as the sunset was absolutely spectacular, with plentiful silhouetted oak trees, but there being nowhere to stop, I contented myself with enjoying the views.
It probably goes without saying that this was a fantastic trip, and we managed to see quite a lot without ever feeling too rushed. Good stuff!