If you want to visit the cleanest vault toilets in the entire national park system and probably all public lands in the U.S., then those found in Great Basin National Park are a good bet. This park on the border of Nevada and Utah is where Merissa and I have ended up after a good week of travelling and a lot of kilometres on Craig VanWagen. Normally it wouldn’t take a week to drive from Bishop to Great Basin, however, we took a detour in the opposite direction first, visiting some new, and some old favourites from our last trip.
We headed north from Bishop on Hwy 395 but didn’t get too far before deciding to rest our tired bodies at Whitmore hot springs. Since the springs are on BLM land, we spent the night nearby and enjoyed them again in the morning before heading out. Finding hot springs out in the high desert can certainly be a challenge, and sometimes they end up full of algae or dry, but thanks to some helpful locals we found our way. Also, I saw a scorpion. A reminder that walking around barefoot in the desert isn’t the best idea.
After a morning soak, we drove further north until we were able to cross the Sierra Nevada range via Hwy 88. The idea was to get to Yosemite National Park, and then continue to the Pacific coast. Since California has had such intense weather this winter (some ski resorts are looking at keeping runs open almost all year), all the passes were closed, warranting this detour. Though it was a long drive, it was beautiful. Nothing makes you appreciate tall trees and lush forests like being in the desert for nearly two months. Even humidity felt nice for a change. We passed through one town that was particularly memorable: Angel’s Camp. Quaint doesn’t even begin to describe this place. Not even its rustic charms could keep us still for long though, and we pushed on to Yosemite National Park, arriving pretty late, and lucky to find a campsite outside of The Valley.
What more can be said about Yosemite? It is magnificent. It really is. The various waterfalls that thunder over the granite walls into the valley were particularly vigorous and plentiful this spring, thanks to the previously mentioned snowpocalypse. We were surrounded by the intensity of The Valley, the spray of the falls refreshing and the looming formations awe-inspiring.
We were also, of course, surrounded by people. It is no wonder that so many want to experience Yosemite, but more so than any other national park (though in a similar fashion to Joshua Tree), the sheer volume of visitors has produced a culture around staying for any length of time. Merissa and I tried our luck at this game, waiting in line at 7am (though others were there earlier) to try and get a first-come, first-served campsite, or take advantage of an unlikely cancellation. After waiting an hour, registration opened for the day and the rangers let us know that there was one site available. The other dozen or so of us went on a waiting list. After this, we decided to just enjoy the day and head to one of the national forest campgrounds outside of the park.
‘Enjoying the day’ consisted mostly of wandering around and staring up. We didn’t undertake any serious hikes, but saw some amazing sights nonetheless. Though deeply tempted, we decided not to climb. This might seem absurd, but we were both looking to recover from a month of hard bouldering and just wanted to take in as much of The Valley as possible, instead of getting sucked into one or two boulder problems. I can say this: the boulders that we saw looked to be of outstanding rock quality, and were largely either exceptionally bold, or diminutive one-move wonders. I’m sure there is plenty of variety, and safer/more accessible climbing, but my impression is that pulling onto the classic lines of Yosemite would generally be a serious undertaking.
To go along with our sacrilegious decision not to climb, I’m going to mention how shitty Camp 4 seems. Maybe we are just bitter that we couldn’t get a site, but the “climber’s campground” appeared to be more the place that the Park corralled the climbers into, than a place to wait in line for. Of course, we checked out Midnight Lightning (if any boulder problem is famous, then this one is it), and I appreciate the history of the place, but the rebellious mythology that goes along with that history doesn’t seem to be present there any more. This negative impression wasn’t helped by the flooding and mosquitoes that had taken over much of the campground. But enough grumping.
After the day in Yosemite, we were relieved to find ‘Lost Claim’ campground on National Forest land just outside of the Park. Overjoyed because we got our choice of great sites, the bathrooms were clean, RVs couldn’t make it down the bumpy road, and it was blissfully quiet. Trying to get a site within Yosemite is a given, but if you must ‘settle’ for one of these campgrounds, don’t feel too bad for yourself.
The following morning we set off for the Pacific coast. On the way we checked out Point Reyes National Seashore, which is probably incredible, but unfortunately the fog was so thick that day we couldn’t even find the ocean! Our goal was Fort Bragg and North Coast Brewery, a favourite from our last trip that is worth the drive (as Merissa puts it – “best beer of life”). The stop in Fort Bragg would also be notable as the first time in over a month either of us had experienced the joy of hot, running water all to our selves. It was time for a shower (or three).
After blowing the budget at the North Coast Brewery store (we might just share with some of you lucky people back home, if it lasts that long), we also visited Café One, a vegetarian/vegan diner that serves up amazing breakfast and brunch fare. Fort Bragg isn’t as famous as some other touristy coastal destinations, in fact, much of the town is, or was, industrial (the Glass Beach found here is the result of glass from a nearby disposal site washing onto shore, weathering, and mixing with the sand and pebbles). However, we have found a lot to love there and it has been a highlight of both of our trips.
Travelling the coast is wonderful, but expensive (at least relative to what we are used to), so our visit was short this time. After spending the day in Fort Bragg we set off east, beginning the long drive back to Ontario. Over two days we drove across California and Nevada and made it to Great Basin. Instead of taking the Interstate we opted for Hwy 50, “the loneliest road in America”. If California roads are quintessentially winding and steep, Nevada is defined by this strip of highway cutting through impossibly wide basins, where a sense of distance and time seems to abandon you. Lonely in terms of a profound silence and openness (and more practically, a lack of gas stations). It is incredible how the landscape changes over these long drives – we get to see so much, but pass through too quickly. While the national parks are deservedly popular, it seems like you can pretty much pick any public lands in this area of the world and be blown away, and without the crowds.
You might have noticed that bouldering was almost entirely absent from this update. We are both taking a rest after a month of bouldering immersion and enjoying some other aspects of the places we visit. There are other things in life besides climbing, especially when your body needs to recover. If you are curious about how things wrapped up in Bishop, we pretty much burnt out on the volcanic tablelands, enjoyed a few days up at the Buttermilks and Pollen Grains, and finally, said our goodbyes to Manor Market and the Black Sheep.
We missed Bishop almost immediately, but knew that it was also time to move on. Luckily, there are always way too many projects to come back to. Now, to look forward to Joe’s Valley, Utah!
-K and M