Volcanic Tablelands Petroglyphs

To me, one of the hardest things about being a twenty-first century adventurer and social media presence is determining how much information to share with you, the general public. I’ll admit that I have no trepidation sharing certain adventures with you – they exist on well defined trails in well regulated areas that are well known. For these types of adventures, I don’t worry about the information that I am divulging, as I know there are a plethora of other sources that contain the same – or identical information. These posts are easy for me write, as I can focus on providing additional insights or information to a spot that may not already be in the pool of general knowledge.

 

Harder are the posts that involve a degree of risk, as it is hard for me to craft a one-size-fits-all description of a route or trail for unknown parties that may have greater or lesser skill than me. The most difficult posts for me to write, however, are the posts that involve locations that are relatively unknown, or flat out unknown. It’s hard to believe that in the early 21st century, where the internet is ubiquitous, and maps can be stored on handheld devices that these black spots in the world still exist, but as I’ve seen, they most definitely do, and on many occasions, they contain amazing things.

When I do make it out to these spots, I am torn between a number of conflicting desires – the desire to protect and preserve the spot – and the desire to educate and inform people about the spot. Sometimes these desires can co-exist in my mind, because by educating people about the spot, it helps to protect what exists there. On other occasions, I look at things, and sadly realize that no amount of education on my end will preserve the spot, because it is something that is fundamentally vulnerable that lacks third party oversight. On such occasions, I’ve erred on the side of caution – and focused on protecting the site by not providing directions. In this respect, I’ve developed a basic test of whether the site would survive for my son to see it if I provided directions to the public – or if I did not. While it’s not the most perfect test in the world, it works for me, because I feel that these spots should be preserved for future generations.

In the case of the Volcanic Tablelands petroglyphs, my decision on whether to provide directions was fairly easy. The Volcanic Tablelands are an area outside of Bishop, California that was formed over 700,000 ago by the Long Valley caldera. In more recent times, the Paiute-Shoshone Indians resided here and created a great deal of rock art – petroglyphs – throughout the Tablelands. Although there are petroglyphs throughout the area, there are a number of large – and stunning groupings in certain specific areas. Even though this land is public land – managed by the Bureau of Land Management – and a protected area, it is a large area that cannot adequately be patrolled by the BLM.

Correspondingly, over the years, as the area has become more popular, some of the art has been defaced; and in 2013, some of the art was physically cut out of the surrounding rocks. Although the panels were ultimately recovered by the BLM after a large public outcry, it is clear to me – and I think to everyone that this is a vulnerable area. While it was an area that I had visited before; I had never been to the actual main petroglyph sites. When I was recently researching how to get to the sites, it was not lost on me that the information on how to get to the sites was largely hidden from public view. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have a great resource who provided me with directions, and based on his directions, I was able to see the sites pictured above.

I am not going to represent that getting to the sites is the most difficult task once you have directions, as it is not – which is, and has been part of the problem regarding bad conduct at the sites. What I will say is that if you are near Bishop, and you want to visit the sites, you can visit the BLM office, which generally will provide directions for this adventure after educating you about the region. If you go on the adventure, as I did, you will find a number of sites with a number of fantastically drawn figures, shapes, and other designs. For me, seeing these sites in person was an amazing experience, and one that filled me with wonder and inspiration. Hopefully, if you go, you will feel the same amazement I did, and exercise leave no trace principles at the sites, in order that they can continue to be protected and preserved for future generations.

Directions: The Public Lands Information Center for the region can be found at 798 North Main Street, Bishop, California, 93514.

Cathedral Lakes

Without a doubt, Yosemite is one of the iconic parks of the entire National Park System. Despite being an icon of the National Park system, not much is known about where to go in Yosemite by the general public other than destinations in Yosemite Valley. While there is nothing wrong with Yosemite Valley, this is a shame because Yosemite is much greater than just the locations in and around the Valley. The park is actually divided into several regions by the National Park Service – the Wawona region, located at the southern end of the park; the Valley region, near the center of the park; the Big Oak Flat region, on the western end of the Tioga Pass Road; the Hetch Hetchy region at the far north end of the park; and the Tuolomne Meadows region, near the eastern end of the Tioga Pass Road. As Yosemite is as big as Rhode Island, none of these regions are small. But, as over ninety-five percent of Yosemite is designated wilderness, there is a large expanse of spots for visitors to explore in the park.

                                                                                                

The Tuolomne Meadows portion of the park is commonly known as “the high country” of Yosemite, and the reason for this is that this area is above 6,000 feet of elevation. During the winter months, this area is also inaccessible to visitors, unless they have skis or snowshoes, as the main access route – the Tioga Pass Road – becomes snowed in, and is not plowed by the National Park Service. It is also an area that is chock-full of beauty. There are high alpine lakes; there are high mountains that are part of the Sierra Nevada range; there are waterfalls; there are wildflowers; and there is wildlife. It is a stunning portion of the park, and one that every visitor should take the opportunity to visit; and it is also an area that is far from the crowds of Yosemite Valley. While there are many great hikes in the region, one of my favorites is the Cathedral Lakes hike.

 

Directions: The trailhead for Cathedral Lakes is located directly off of the Tioga Pass Road. The nearest location to the trailhead is the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center, which is a half mile to the East of the trailhead. While there is trailhead parking, this is an area that has become popular over the last ten years. The trailhead is part of the John Muir Trail, part of the High Sierra Camp loop, and popular with climbers and other overnight backpackers alike. Because of these “crowds”, the lot is sometimes full, especially as it is not large. Fortunately, the National Park Service has instituted a shuttle service to alleviate these parking concerns during the summer months; and the Cathedral Lakes Trailhead is stop number seven (7). If you are taking the shuttle, the trailhead is a short ride from the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center. Irrespective of whether you park at the trailhead, or the Visitor Center, you should be sure to store your food properly, as this is an active bear area.

 

From the trailhead, the trail begins with a half mile of relatively flat terrain, which allows you to take in the majesty of the high alpine plateau before entering a forested area. It also allows you to somewhat adjust to the elevation present, as the trail begins at 8,500 feet. However, at the half mile mark, the trail begins to ascend a series of switchbacks. At the one mile mark, the trail levels out, and there is minimal elevation gain and loss for the remainder of the trail. Along the way, you will have intermittent views of Cathedral Peak, and if you are hiking during the late spring or early summer, you will likely pass seasonal waterfalls, seasonal flows, and wildflowers along the trail.

At the three mile mark, there is a well-signed turnoff for Cathedral Lakes. Follow this turnoff through the high alpine meadow (or if it is early in the season, high alpine swamp) to Lower Cathedral Lake (Elevation 9,290 feet). Once you are at the lake, you will have great views of the lake, and Cathedral Peak. After you are done admiring the views, return the way you came for a moderate seven mile roundtrip hike.

 

Tips: While the scenery is always spectacular, sometimes the conditions are a little more challenging. During the early summer months, portions of the trail can be hard to traverse due to the runoff from the winter snowmelt. Similarly, during these early months, the section of trail across the meadow to Lower Cathedral Lake can be quite difficult to pass through because of the mud and mosquitoes. 

Top 5 Things to do in Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park is one of my favorite National Parks. From its tall, majestic trees, to its secret underground caves, and its high lofty mountains, it is a National Park that has almost everything an outdoors aficionado could want. Unfortunately, it is located next to a number of other fantastic National Parks - Kings Canyon, Yosemite, Devil's Postpile; and a number of other great wilderness areas. As such, many people who visit Sequoia have a limited amount of time to see the park before they head onward to their next destination. If you're one of the people who is on the Sierra Nevada park circuit, this list and itinerary is for you; but let me say that if you do have the time, Sequoia is a great spot to spent an extra day or two at. But, without further ado, here's my list of the top five things to do at a day in Sequoia National Park!

1. Visit Hospital Rock. Hospital Rock is located seven miles from the Ash Meadow Visitor Center in the park, right off Highway 189. Assuming you enter the park from this entrance station, you will start your journey through the Foothill area of the park, which features different plants and terrain than the Lodgepole and Giant Forest Areas. Hospital Rock is a great area to see some well-preserved Native American petroglyphs before heading up the General's Highway to see the big trees. Bonus tip: the Ash Meadow Visitor Center is one of the locations in the park where you can purchase tickets for the Crystal Cave tour.

2. Drive through the Tunnel Log. How many chances do you get in life to drive through a tree? Much less a Giant Sequoia?!?!? Even better, there's no reason to feel guilty about driving through this tree - it naturally fell back in 1937. The Tunnel Log is a park icon, and, assuming your car fits, its a great photo opportunity and a good time. The Tunnel Log is located just up the General's Highway from Hospital Rock, and is located in the Giant Forest portion of the park.

3. Climb Moro Rock. In my opinion, if you're not out hiking in Sequoia National Park, you're not truly exploring the park. The best day hike is the hike through the Giant Forest of the park to Moro Rock. The hike allows you to pass underneath many Giant Sequoias, and culminates in a steep climb up the granite side of Moro Rock. From atop Moro Rock, you will be able to see the foothill region of the park and the Central Valley to the West, along with stunning views of the Sierra Nevadas to the East and North. This is a great hike that is accessible to all as it is only four miles roundtrip. The trailhead for the hike is located at the Giant Forest Museum in the Giant Forest portion of the park.

4. Explore the Crystal Cave. One of the little known facts about Sequoia National Park is that if the trees did not exist, the area would be protected because of the massive cave network underneath the ground. While many of these caves are hard to get to, or have yet to be discovered, the crown jewel of the cave system is the Crystal Cave, which is accessible to all. Tours leave on the hour; but as it is a popular item, you will need tickets. Be sure to have your tickets before driving out to the cave; and be sure to be prepared to be amazed by what you will see in the cave. Tickets can be purchased at Ash Meadow Visitor Center (Foothills); or the Lodgepole Visitor Center.

5. See the General Sherman. The General Sherman is the largest tree in the world, and a stunning Giant Sequoia. No visit to the park would be complete without seeing it. From the Giant Forest, the General Sherman is located a short drive up the General's Highway in the Lodgepole Area of the Park.

Bonus Activities.

6. Look for Bears. Sequoia is home to many black bears, which are very active during the summer months. While I can't guarantee any bear sightings, both the Giant Forest area (Moro Rock) and the Lodgepole area (General Sherman) are popular with the bear community. Be sure to obey all park regulations and store your food properly while in the park!

7. Go to Mineral King. Although the road to Mineral King is narrow, and appears somewhat treacherous, this area of the park is remote, and very beautiful. Be warned that this drive takes quite a bit of time due to the road conditions, so if you are heading to this region of the park, be prepared to spend a great deal of your day in this area. However, if you have the time, this area of the park is well worth your time, and a great spot to hike.

General Sherman Tree

In this life, some things just have to be seen to be believed. One of these things is the General Sherman, the largest tree by volume in the world. I realize that statements like the “largest tree by volume in the world” provide no context, so let’s talk hard facts about the General Sherman. First, the General Sherman is a Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) that was named for General William Tecumseh Sherman, one of the famous generals of the American Civil War. In terms of essential information, it is 275 feet tall from its base to its top; the circumference of its base is 102.6 feet, its maximum diameter at its base is 36.5 feet, and its estimated total volume is a whopping 52,500 cubic feet! (All statistics provided by the National Park Service here). Or as I say, there are Giant Sequoias – and there is the General Sherman. If those statistics weren’t impressive enough, the General Sherman is also an old tree, estimated at over 2,000 years of age. The General Sherman is located in Sequoia National Park, and based on its enormous size and impressive notoriety, is one of the signature attractions of the park.

Directions: The General Sherman is located directly off Wolverton Road, which is accessible by the Generals Highway, and is located in the Giant Forest and Lodgepole Region of the park. Even though it should be obvious, because of the tree’s popularity, this is one of the most popular areas of Sequoia National Park, if not the most popular area. Because of this popularity, during the summer months I would highly recommend that any potential visitor who is not disabled take the free National Park Service shuttle to the area. While there is a parking area at the trailhead to the tree, this parking lot regularly fills to capacity during the off-season; and during summer months, it is nearly impossible to find a spot.

So: if you are not disabled, and you are attempting to visit the General Sherman from Memorial Day to Labor Day, save yourself some trouble: take the free shuttle. It will save you the hassle and stress of looking for a parking spot that you cannot find; and it will make your visit to the tree much more enjoyable. From the parking area or shuttle drop-off, it is a half mile one way walk on paved paths to the tree. Although there are many Giant Sequoias in the grove by the General Sherman, there will be no doubt in your mind which tree is the General Sherman once you see it; and even if there is doubt in your mind, the tree itself is very well signed. Once you are done admiring the tree, either walk back to your car or the shuttle to continue your Sequoia National Park adventure.

Tips: All of Sequoia National Park is home to black bears. These bears are active during the majority of the year. Be bear aware; and utilize the food storage lockers that are present in the parking area to store your food from your car. Irrespective of whether you will be at the tree for five minutes, or five hours, bears can and will break into your car for food, which will most definitely ruin your visit to the tree and your visit to the park. Even though this is a high traffic area for humans, I have seen bears in the forest on many occasions, so don’t take any chances: store your food properly. Finally, I am always asked if the tree is worth visiting, as it is so popular, and usually has a crowd of people around it, or in the area. While everyone has to answer this question on their own, I don’t see why you wouldn’t visit the tree if you came to Sequoia National Park. Clearly, there are more remote – and less popular giant sequoias around the park that you can get up close and personal with, but the fact remains that there is only one General Sherman. Also, if you are truly looking to beat the crowds, the time to visit the tree is anytime after September 30 through May 15th. 

Suicide Rock

One of the things most people don’t realize about Southern California is that while we do have beaches and deserts, we also have mountains – and those mountains have a number of great spots for hiking. Idyllwild, California, is a small mountain town that is close to both Los Angeles, and San Diego; it is located on the Western side of Mount San Jacinto, and can be utilized as a jumping off point to climb the mountain; and is also a great spot to go day hiking in or around the city year-round. While I love climbing San Jacinto, and have done so many times, it is a strenuous climb, and is one that is not for everyone. Fortunately, in this case, you don’t have to be a climber to get a great view of Idyllwild, and the surrounding portions of San Jacinto State Park and the San Jacinto – Santa Rosa National Monument as these views can be seen from the best day hike in the area, Suicide Rock.

Directions: The trailhead for this hike is the Deer Springs Trailhead, which is located one mile North of downtown Idyllwild off of Highway 243. Prior to finding the trailhead, however, hikers will want to obtain a free wilderness permit from the California State Park Ranger station that is located half a mile outside of downtown Idyllwild on Highway 243. After obtaining a wilderness permit, follow Highway 243 for another half mile, whereupon there will be a large dirt parking area on the right (North) side of Highway 243 for trailhead use, but during summer weekends, the parking area can fill quickly. The trailhead is located immediately behind the parking area and heads directly uphill through numerous oak trees. For 2.3 miles, the trail switchbacks up the side of San Jacinto, before ending at a trail junction. Follow the trail right (South/Southeast) for one mile to the summit of Suicide Rock at 7,500 feet. From the summit, there are excellent views of the San Jacinto wilderness, Taquitz Peak, and the town of Idyllwild below. Once you are done admiring the view (don’t get too close to the edge!) turn around, and head back down for a moderate 6.6 mile roundtrip hike.

Tips: Although Suicide Rock does not have the best name, it does have quite a bit of history, and a little bit of myth and legend. The rock is named for two Cahuilla Native American lovers who threw themselves off rather than be separated – an ancient Southern Californian version of Romeo and Juliet. Interestingly enough, Suicide Rock was initially named “Suicide Peak” until the 1940s, until an investigation revealed that it was not a separate mountain or peaklet of the San Jacinto Range, but was instead just a rocky outcrop. Irrespective of it being a mountain or not, it, along with Taquitz Peak remains a popular area for rock climbers as well. During the summer months, the trail can be quite hot and dusty, and any potential hikers should plan on being well prepared with plenty of water. In my opinion, while the hike is pretty in the spring and summer, the best time to do the hike is in the winter as the area really shines with pristine beauty after a storm has placed some snow on the mountain. 

Mystery Mine, Panamint Mountains

One of the many things that I like about Death Valley National Park is its enormous expanse of open terrain. Its enormous swath of desert and mountain wilderness ensures that you will have solitude to appreciate the park's many amazing geologic features; and it also ensures that you will have the opportunity to have an adventure, and if you're lucky, the chance to discover things that have been lost. For example, earlier this year, when thepeakseeker and I were attempting the Shorty's Well Route (Trip Report here) to the top of Telescope Peak, we came across an abandoned mine. While abandoned mines are common in Death Valley due to the park's mining history, the location of this mine was unexpected. We had backpacked into the Panamint Mountains from the Badwater Basin; and had passed Shorty's Well, and Shorty's Mine. From the mine, we had followed a foot trail which had gradually become steeper deep into the mountains. At the end of the first day of backpacking, we had traveled ten miles from the nearest "road"; and were truly off the grid.

We made camp (pictured above) on a mountainous spur as night began to fall. As we relaxed and looked about, we saw debris strewn on part of the nearby mountain face - mining debris. Since we had nothing else to do but relax, we talked about it, and tried to pick out where the mine was. As night was falling, we thought we saw the mine shaft - but couldn't be sure. The next morning, as we traversed through several fresh inches of snow, we passed various pieces of mining equipment we had seen the night before - boards, giant gas tanks - before ending up at the mine entrance as the sun rose. At this point, we were at approximately 8500 to 9000 feet of elevation. We were nowhere near a road - in fact, the nearest road was at this point, eleven (11) to twelve (12) miles away. The equipment surrounding the mine was heavy - obviously mid to late twentieth century - and could not have been brought by foot alone. And, unlike other mines in Death Valley, this mine was still open and unsealed. We spent a few minutes poking around, and I even ventured into the shaft a short distance before coming back out. Nothing, however, provided us with any clues as to whose mine this had been, why it had been constructed there, or how it had been constructed there. It was a bona fide mystery. 

Since our return, I've wondered about this mine a few times - what inspired a man (or a company) to place this mine there - in the middle of nowhere in the mid-twentieth century. The terrain around it (as pictured) is truly rugged; and in my opinion, any mining effort there would have been absolutely brutal. I've also wondered if the mine has a name - or if anyone knows about it. So, I'll turn this over to you, readers, followers, and people who have stumbled across my site. Does anyone know about this mine? It's in the middle of the Panamint Range, at 8,700 feet, and slightly below Telescope Peak. If you have any information about it, feel free to post here. And, for those aspiring adventurers, let me again say, that Death Valley is a great spot to explore, because you never know what you'll find. Who knows, this could have even been one of the entrances to the "secret" tunnels of Death Valley!