For the final leg of our trip, we headed north again to the Sierra National Forest just south of Yosemite. Our next camp was only 15 miles geographically from our camp at Onion Springs, but to drive there it took us almost four hours on 60 miles of windy mountain roads.
We stopped at the roadside town of Prather to resupply our groceries and get some lunch. We went to a tiny Mexican restaurant and all five of us squeezed into a tiny booth together. Sage helped herself to handfuls of rice and beans right off my plate (she discovered real food on this trip- excellent timing little one!). Our waitress graciously overlooked our mess and unshowered appearance, and as we left she gave J & M two peppermints each. I’m not exaggerating to say that they held onto those peppermints like the rarest of earthly treasures. As we drove, the kids admired the colors of the mints. They discussed where they would eat them (perhaps when we got to camp, or maybe when they got home to their own rooms?) and wondered what they might taste like. Finally, Max decided to unwrap his. But he didn’t eat it- yet. They treasured those precious mints for almost two hours before finally deciding to eat them slowly, one lick at a time. It reminded me of the story in the *Little House In The Big Woods* when Laura and her sister put their Christmas candies on a shelf because they were far too precious and beautiful to eat. Now I can understand the awe that they must have felt.
We also stopped for a quick grocery trip for milk and breakfast foods. J went up and down each aisle, exclaiming in awe “They have cereal! They have candy! Mommy, did you see the pink balloon?” We had only been away from home seven days, but away from the comforts of electricity and the familiarity of living down the street from the grocery store, everything commonplace had a new vivid color in their eyes.
The simplicity of camping is something that Z and I crave, and it was amazing to me how much the kids noticed the ways that things were different in our temporary lifestyle. It definitely took a period of adjustment for them, and I think J felt the different-ness in a deeper way than M. But by the second half of our trip I think they had adapted to and accepted the simplicity of our new “normal.”
Leaving the wonders of the grocery store far behind, we ascended into the mountains once again. We arrived at the Clover Meadow ranger station in the late afternoon and picked up some maps of the area before heading a little way further to the Granite Creek primitive campground. “Primitive camping” in the government’s definitions is camping with pit toilets. There are usually picnic tables and fire rings. At this campground the only piped water was found at the ranger station, so we made a stop each day to refill our water containers before heading back to camp. Primitive camping is still too close to the neighbors for my dear husband, so we went a little bit further into the dispersed camping areas where we could truly make our own campsite. We crossed Granite Creek and it’s tributary and found a perfect spot right at the edge of a meadow above Granite Creek. It was so perfect I won’t give any more details, but it wasn’t hard to get to (as long as you have a good map and don’t mind crossing a few rivers 😉). The whole Granite Creek area was in a state of slow decay, but that gave it a certain kind of charm.
Our first outing was a hike to Norris Lake the next morning. J wasn’t in the mood for a hike and she complained almost the entire first mile. I was ready to give up and turn around, but Zachary persisted and demonstrated an exceptional amount of patience and love. Somehow he managed to entertain and distract J & M all the way to the lake.
We stayed for a while, tossing sticks in the water (M’s favorite), eating snacks, and dipping in our toes. On the way back, M walked on his own almost the entire way and J was in a much better mood as she scrambled after him. The trail was lined by a beautiful, flower filled creek and we crossed over on logs several times. Even M practiced his balance beam skills to cross the stream (Juni preferred to be carried).
The trail was filled with downed trees, many that were more than three feet in diameter. I told Juni how we tell the age of trees by their rings, and she wanted to stop and count one (we just estimated 😉). We also saw some carpenter ants amazingly busy at their work in a downed log.
In all, it wasn’t a horrible hike, except for the mental agony of the way up!
The next day, we explored the Green Mountain and Cattle Mountain OHV routes. Green Mountain was a short route that lead to turnaround near an old mining prospect. The wildflowers were incredible along the trail, at one point blooming so prolifically that I had to help Z find the trail by walking ahead through the meadow. On our way back down, we were shocked to come upon a large rattlesnake crossing our trail!! Suddenly, I didn’t feel so great about having tromped blindly through that brushy meadow! Lesson learned. We did some research and found out that rattlesnakes can be found up to 9,000ft in the Sierras. Just in case you also felt like galumphing happily through a field of wildflowers…
At the other end of the trail was the Cattle Mountain OHV route. This route was absolutely spectacular! The trail rose quickly up the rocky back of Cattle Mountain until it became a slim ridge line, just wide enough for our truck to grip and edge carefully along. The top of Cattle Mountain rounds out into a wide, bald dome and we enjoyed 360 degree views of a large part of the Western Sierra, all the way from the heights of Yosemite (and glorious Ansel Adams peak) to Mammoth Mountain. We enjoyed our lunch and views while the kids played “pinecone babies” until it was time to head back to camp.
We spent the afternoon splashing around in Granite Creek and soaking in the riverside”spa.” What a life!!
Our final day in the Granite Creek area we drove west a little way to the Red Top Mountain OHV route. This was the highest rated trail on our trip and it was definitely a rougher road, but no technical obstacles. We had the mountain to ourselves as we reached the road’s end at around 9,000ft elevation. The hillsides were covered in brilliant reds of Indian Paintbrush and the blue-lavender hues of Lupine.
J and I sat on a boulder and looked out over the expansive valleys below towards Granite Creek. She told me she wanted to hike the valleys below, and maybe live in a cabin by herself on the mountain someday. She said that I could visit, though. I love that she is learning to appreciate these vast wild places and that her imagination is filled with dreams of adventure.
Our time in the mountains was coming to a close, but as always, the end of one adventure brought a sense of gratitude for being able to have these experiences together, and a longing for the future when we can return again.