Up At the Crag Of Dawn

5 June 2014 in Camping, Hiking, Memories, Trails/Hiking, Traveling

We are becoming very accustomed to sleeping on the ground, most often in a tiny tent that is technically built for one. Car camping last night—as opposed to backpacking—allowed us the luxury of sleeping in a small—but not tiny—two person tent. It felt huge. None of my appendages were touching any of the walls! And I wasn’t bumping into Lindsay every time I moved. It’s amazing what you can get used to. We went from large apartments to a tiny trailer and then we went from a reasonably sized tent to the smallest tent we could possibly both squeeze into. And I don’t mind any of it. Our lives revolve around the outdoors now. There’s no lazy Sundays spent watching TV because there’s no couch and there’s no TV!

So while I slept like a baby—or at least like a man who could spread out a little in his tent and breath in the cool, fresh, mountain air—I was still up early. As soon as I sense any noticeable change in brightness I’m too curious about the world outside to sleep. I might be missing a beautiful sunrise, but the rainfly of my tent is obstructing my view. This morning my watch confirmed that it was no time to sleep. Once I can read the numbers by the light of approaching dawn it’s time to bear the cold and slip out of my cozy abode for a peek.

And boy was I glad that I did. The glow of daybreak was just beginning to paint the craggy mountains that surround June Lake in the rich colors and deep shadows of sunrise. I took it in for a short while before stepping over to the truck and grabbing Lindsay’s camera in a hopeless attempt to capture and save the moment. I really had no clue what I was doing and so my picture were complete and utter failures. I decided to rouse Lindsay and hopefully her efforts will provide some better results.

Silver LakeAfter sitting for some time and taking in the splendor of morning we had some cold soaked oatmeal and were on our way. First we did a brief drive through the June Lake area, skirting the banks of Silver Lake and Grant Lake—two lakes that lack any resemble whatsoever besides their containment of water. Just a couple of miles apart Silver Lake is much like June lake – cool, blue, rock lined, surrounded by trees and towering forms of jagged granite. But Grant lake is more desert-like. It almost looks like a reservoir because it seems so out of place. Confined by slopes of barren, loose, red rock with little to no vegetation to speak of, it’s a little ugly to be honest. It kind of reminded us of Lake Mead. The water looks like it’s been pumped in and could evaporate in the coarse of days. The whole scene kind of casted a spell of unease over me. It would not be a place I’d wish to camp or to even spend the afternoon.

Devil's Postpile National MonumentNext it we were off to Mammoth Lakes to visit Devil’s Postpile—a geological wonder—as well as tour a brewery, eat out, and find a place to camp. First stop – Devil’s Postpile National Monument. We had to thread our way through a massive cluster of a vacation town choked with overpriced restaurants, shops and vacation homes of varying sizes from your mini mansions all the way up to places that looked as though they were plucked from Vail. It was all quite overwhelming and a little nauseating to me. I have spent the summer amongst the uncontested beauty of nature’s slow, but skillful hand and here in the middle of it a group of investors and speculators took a break from worshipping their piles of riches to take a shit composed of glorified strip malls and extreme sports shops that allow visitors to spend vast amounts of money doing everything, but enjoying their natural surroundings. Why hike up that mountain and take in the view when you can strap on a helmet and googles and fly down it at forty miles an hour? Why enjoy the free and bountiful offerings of nature when you could be in a shop purchasing goods of all kinds with reproductions and artists interpretations of nature plastered all over them?

Yeah I’m getting old and curmudgeonly, but maybe these sentiments just require time – both in long and short form. Time in years, that accumulate and lift the naivete of youth that allows us to be so easily misled. And time in months, the time I’ve spent away from the misguided masses and the crusading drone of the media. I’ll be an old kook someday. Just give me a little time. But for now I’ll get off my high horse—actually a squat donkey dressed up as a horse—and back to the day’s events.

We made our way through my waking nightmare and to the parking area where visitors are forced to take a shuttle to the monument. This was not what I had expected. Again the area screamed “BUY SOMETHING!, NOW!” There were plastic climbing walls, trampolines and other “outdoor” related activities. Mountain bikers were darting this way and that, coming off of mountains sides carved with ruts from their knobby tires. Restaurants and shops blared music and pumped the scents of fried foods completing the attack on our senses. There were mountains, but they were not to be enjoyed. They were to be shred by extreme sport junkies and people pretending to be extreme fort junkies.

But I held my simmering agoraphobia—which has only escalated living in such an isolated area. Somehow despite my daily encounters at work with hundreds and sometimes thousands of visitors I have been able to compartmentalize things and without my uniform I am defenseless against the aggressive anxiety brought on by hoards of people. The bus was crowded with listless vacationers looking to see something different and take a picture of it. Some seemed honestly enthused while others just looked confused as to why they had ever left their TV.

Getting off the bus we made a run for it, ahead of the pack of the ambling mass and we were able to experience a short window of solitude before hitting the wall of people who had stepped off the previous bus. In no time we were at Devil’s Postpile peering up along with the rest of the crowd at the strange geological formation before us. Long, tall columns of hexagon shaped rock stood in a massive cluster that had melted over partially slumped on one side like a petrified wave. It was one of the strangest things I have ever seen. A product of volcanic activity that apparently oozed out of the earth millions of years ago and when it cooled the hexagon was the sturdiest shape it could take. It doesn’t look real. It’s far to uniform. And the explanation seemed a little odd, but I took their word for it.

After we viewed it from the bottom we headed up to the top and here we observed the uniformity of the hexagons. From this view point it looked as though we were standing on a piece of a giant, rock soccer ball. The whole of it even had a spherical shape to it.

Rainbow FallsHaving only walked a mile we wanted to stretch our legs a little more so we continued down the trail to Rainbow Falls. Again we were accompanied by hoards of people and a surprising number of dogs. In Yosemite dogs are not allowed on 99% of the trails, but here they’re allowed just about anywhere. Even on the shuttle bus. I’m totally a dog person, but it seemed ridiculous to haul your dog out on this hot, exposed trail in the middle of the afternoon. Most dogs don’t do well with heat or long distances, but I guess nowadays most people don’t do well without their dogs.

When we arrived at the falls it was crowded to say the least and it’s experiences like this that keep me out of Yosemite Valley in the peak season. You’re robbing yourself of the true wilderness experience if this is the only manner in which you see the sights. The falls itself was absolutely stunning, pouring thousands of gallons of water over a sheer, wide edge and down into a pool, the misty result producing a very vivid rainbow—I suppose hence the name. I waded in a ways towards the falls and stood in the mist knee deep in the pool below. The roar of the water and a bit of forced tunnel vision allowed me to take a moment to myself and forget that fifty people crowded the shores behind me and fifty more peered down from above.

I wouldn’t hurry back to Devil’s Postpile, but despite all my bickering I’m really glad we went. Next task, find a campsite. This proved to be a little difficult, but with perseverance and a little luck we snatched up the last site at a Forest Service campground near Lake Mary. We quickly set up and paid and were off to Mammoth Brewery.

Since arriving in California it has been hard to find the wealth of microbrews we’ve grown accustomed to back in Wisco. But some of the best we’ve tasted yet have been the beers we’ve had from Mammoth Brewing Co. And so needless to say we were very excited to taste some of their other concoctions. After seeing the commercialized monstrosity of a town we were in I all but expected we’d be sampling beers in some faux log cabin building where everything is meant to look old, but is coated in thick varnish and emits the characterless shine of a passing fad.

I was pleasantly surprising to turn down a nondescript road and pull up to a pole shed that not only housed the brewery, but also a t-shirt printing shop. The garage door was open and when we walked in we were greeted by a couple of busy bartenders bouncing from customer to customer with small pours of beer. The bar was rough cut wood planks stacked on kegs and with very little money or effort it had more character than most of the breweries I’ve been to.

Mammoth Brewing CompanyFor $11 we were treated—and I do mean treated—to seven year round beers and four seasonals as well as a swig of their root beer and complimentary pretzels. We had tried half of their year round beers already, but straight from the barrel they were even better. The ones we hadn’t tried were even more amazing. Their Hefe tasted like banana which was weird and awesome. They had a really great Amber and the IPA I hadn’t tried before was off the hook, with sage and juniper adding a complexity to the bitterness of an IPA that I still drool thinking about. Then their was the seasonals, how does a coffee infused ale sound? Amazing right? Now add wood chips soaked in Tequila. I’ve tasted a lot of beers in my days. I’m no stranger to the wealth of creative possibilities out there, but their beer was on another level completely. Five of their beers were like nothing I’ve ever washed over my taste buds before. The complexity and tones were inventive and successful. So successful that I plan to buy a barrel of it for my birthday.

After all the delicious beer was thoughtfully tasted and enjoyed the root beer was placed before us and the little that was left of our blown minds was blasted to smithereens. “Bark’s has bite.” Bullshit. Bark’s ain’t got shit. This was the best I’ve ever had. And it was all in the bite.

Our taste buds were beat, but there was still one more stop on the tour of Taste Town. We had to eat out since we were in the “big” city and so we headed over to a Thai food joint called Thai’d Up. The dining area was tiny. Five or six tables, most of which were just two seaters, but the food was great! Fresh herbs took the standard curry I ordered to an elevated level. By the time we walked out we could hardly walk. I’m sure between the beer and the food we probably consumed 3000 calories each.

When we got back to the campground we took a walk and almost ran right into a bear. Out the corner of my eye I saw a dark figure lumbering out of the woods and towards the road we were on. And sure enough it was a big, old bear. Mostly black with random patches of cinnamon. It wasn’t more than fifty feet away from us when it crossed the road we were on and crunched into the forest on the other side, heading towards the lake. After our walk we saw it again in the campground, right by our site. I must be getting a little too comfortable around our furry neighbors because an encounter like that a year or two ago would have had me sleeping in the truck instead of our tent, but until I just recalled the experience I hadn’t given him or her even a second thought. I slept perfectly fine in our tent. My belly still engorged with curry and brew.

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