Autumn: Great Basin NP

bristlecone
Click for images from Great Basin NP

“Now there’s an old-timer,” the late 20-something hiker shared with her 4 companions. She didn’t see me photographing a short distance away.

“I’ve been called a lot worse,” I blurted impulsively, less for the irony of her comment (about a fabulous 3,000 year-old Bristlecone pine) and more because you don’t get these opportunities often. She blubbered something but her companions’  laughter drowned her out.

Going on day five of the Phil Miller road trip and two national parks to show for it. Click the images for a gallery of images celebrating the journey.

Butte Lake campground – Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA
Arrived late afternoon after a mid-morning departure from Ashland and hit the trail first thing. Or “hit the beach” would be more appropriate. The ground lava trail was just that—beach sand consistency and slow trekking. But also entertaining as the low, warm light played with a sprinkling of Ponderosa pinecones, layering hillsides with a bed of golden needles, ever so crispy.

Click for images from Butte Lake.

Butte Lake was way down and looked kinda pondy. Heading west from the quiet campground, the Cinder Cone trail passes a massive, uninviting lava flow and soon after offers an alternative hike up the enormous Cinder Cone. After all, this is the source of the “Fantastic Lava Bed” that shares the trail’s name. I’m at 6,061′ and the summit is another 846′ further up. The skillfully crafted trail to the summit rises at a ridiculous angle. And on beach-like sand. But, hey, you gotta give it a shot. Coming down was really fun. (I never took my eyes off the LED display—once!)

Great Basin National Park, Baker, NV
Culminating the 368 mile saga known as “America’s Lonliest Highway” and all gassed up in Ely, huge raindrops washed the truck the final forty miles to Baker. After that drenching reception and forever grateful for our cozy pop-up camper (night #227), the morning was chilly, windy and clouds shrouded Wheeler Peak. I learned that rising winds off the desert climb the western slopes and condense into clouds. The setting was ominous theater; clouds playing among the jagged peaks.

aspen
Click for more autumn colors.

From the campground parking area & trailheads, I selected the Alpine trail since it would meander through Aspen groves up to Stella & Teresa lakes. ¾ of the way up to the lakes (about an 600′ ascent) the “summit” trail shares the path. The origin of that trail is a ½ mile before the campground and higher elevation. I hiked the 1-mile section the following day at dusk and captured many images of the constantly changing valley.

The Alpine hike intersects the one to the Bristlecone grove less than a mile up the valley. It’s unbelievable how those botanical monuments survive thousands of years in such harsh conditions. And when they die, their wood is so dense it defies decomposition and is slooowly sanded away by the weather in which they somehow thrive.

Morning at the campsite.

Mornings at the campsite were enriched by what only back-lit aspens are capable of. The Lehman Creek Trail connects Wheeler Creek campground with Upper Lehman campground. The first mile down (2200″ descent over 4 miles) was life-changing. The rest was daunting, as the pine forest gave way to river rock, and the recent rains clearly flow down the trail. The casual cruiser hike through big pines and aspens gave way to paying careful attention so as to avoid injury. I learned that when hiking at 10,000+ feet, frequent pauses for hydration provided the additional surprise of allowing you to see where you hiked from. The sun does funny things in autumn at high elevation in Kodachrome light.

Epilogue
Sooney and I have committed to refrain from any appointments Sept. & Oct.. We’ll see how that goes.