From Arizona, we headed across the desert into Southern California. After missing the exit for Joshua Tree National Park and not wanting to backtrack, we detoured over to the Salton Sea,which is one of the lowest points in the U.S. at -234 ft elevation. Searing furnace-like heat scorched us as we got out of my air conditioned car and gagged on the rank, salty air that hit us with full force. No one was at the sea-side park that we pulled in to (probably because of the heat) and as we stepped onto the crunchy piles of barnacles that made up the seashore, I could picture some ancient civilization’s bleached white bones piled up along with hollowed skeletons of fish and small rodents in this seemingly post-apocalyptic zone.
Sand was scarce and the barnacles pricked my sandaled feet as I walked over to the 91 degree salty waters. We decided not to jump in, since our skin might simply fall off, and we returned to my car after about ten minutes of melting in the blazing heat.
From the Salton Sea, we drove towards Redlands, California to grab dinner with my super cool sister and her boyfriend. We passed numerous wind turbines and a huge wildfire before finally arriving at her boyfriend’s apartment. After a dinner of amazing food and freshly baked cookies, we drove over to my sister’s house and stayed there for the night. The following day after washing our clothes, we departed for the beach to meet up with my brother and go spearfishing.
We stopped at Wal-Mart for our fishing licenses and grabbed a quick bite to eat at Subway before driving over to the beach. Unfortunately, my phone’s GPS took me onto a toll road with an invisible toll booth and I ended up receiving a $245 toll violation in the mail months later, which was sent to my old house in Oklahoma. I was thankfully able to get the toll agency to forgive the $240 overdue fee and ended up just paying them $5. Anyways, we got to the beach and after checking out the water, we donned our wetsuits, grabbed our spearpoles, and swam out past the break.
We dove around several kelp beds and large rocks teeming with Garibaldi (the bright orange state fish of California – hence we couldn’t shoot them) and enjoyed the clear waters by Arch Rock.
After staying in the lukewarm Pacific for a couple hours, we swam back to the beach and peeled off our wetsuits. We dried off and then followed my brother back to Rancho Cucamonga to meet up with my sister-in-law and grab some pizza at Pieology.
On the drive to Rancho, I stopped for gas (side note: gas prices in California are insane) and upon getting back onto the crowded freeway, I came across a pickup truck that had flown off an overpass and crashed upside down onto the shoulder. There were already several folks who had stopped to help, but with the wheels still spinning on the truck, I remember wondering if I should stop to help. I kept driving, and later wrote in my journal, “I can’t wait to finish the W-EMT course next month so that I can actually help and not get in the way!” [Side note: Months later, I actually was able to help a lady who had rolled her mobile home on a backroad near the Oregon coast and am grateful for the training I received with NOLS.]
Following dinner, Thomas and I drove back to my sister’s house and spent the night before driving out towards the eastern Sierra Nevadas the following day.
Wildfire smoke made for an ash white sky speckled with hints of blue as we drove up through the Rancho area. After getting through one of the passes, the skies opened up and we enjoyed reasonably blue weather as we chugged up HWY 395. We made a few pitstops along the way. One was at an old Native American waterfall site and we stretched our legs as we walked along the dusty, rocky path.
The other pitstop was at a little beef jerky place that sold immensely overpriced beef jerky and dried fruits. They did give us each an orange to eat, so that was pretty nice.
From there, we drove up toward the Hot Creek Geologic Site where we had planned on camping by the hot springs.
Although the views were unique, we scrambled up and down looking for a place to camp outside of the Site’s boundaries and close to the creek. We couldn’t find a suitable spot, and after getting my car stuck on a large rock (which involved Thomas picking up my car’s front end and pushing it off the rock) we ended up going to the nearby Convict Lake to camp.
After talking with the camp hosts and taking a good look at the store’s map, we made haste towards the John Muir Trail and winded our way past Convict Lake towards the distant peaks.
The camp host told us to be on the lookout for a family of black bears that had been spotted that day, close to where we were planning on hiking through. So with limited daylight hours and bear spray at the ready, we trekked farther into the Sierra Nevadas.
After winding our way up a few switchbacks and pine trees, the trail opened up to a mostly straight shot up the canyon and into the hills.
We leapt over rushing streams and hiked up the grueling trail as crumbly shale clattered down into the valley behind our steps.
We arrived at the one of the lakes (Mildred Lake) shortly after total darkness had fallen, and besides for one other group of guys camping a few hundred yards away, we were alone. The moon was incredibly bright and the old man beamed down on us.
Morning came with clear skies and cold temperatures. We were around 10,000 feet of elevation, but thankfully neither of us had any effects of AMS (unlike when we were in New Mexico).
The distant slopes could now be seen and the still mountain air was incredible. This would be our last day in the mountains, because from here we would hike the six miles out and then drive all the way to Redding, California.
We shot some more pictures before packing up camp, retrieving our bear bag, and trekking out. The creek we had leapt over the day before was sourced from the lake where we camped at, and its overflow rushed down into the canyon below.
Then we were back on the trail. Six miles back to Convict Lake and a seven hour drive to Redding.
Once back at the lake, Thomas went the opposite loop around the lake and I hiked back the way we came. We met back up after checking in with the camp host, and we decided to go through Yosemite on the way to Redding.
There were so many other people in line to go to Yosemite that we started regretting our decision. Behind schedule, we ended up just rolling through the park without getting out and joining the masses of dayhikers. We did see a pretty cool sight as we drove through the park though, and that was the van that Alex Honnold lives out of. And then boom, we see Alex walking to it with several other climbers carrying a couple of racks and harnesses. So that was pretty neat. If we had more time, we probably would have checked out the actual sites in the park, but it was cool to see him nonetheless!
Then we were back on I-5 and off to northern California.
Next stop: Redding, California, 7 hours away. Continue to Chapter III.