Cow Cove Petroglyphs and Kelso Dunes

http://photos.calipidder.com/Thanksgiving09/11282009-Cow-Cove-Petroglyphs/DSC7265/735877311_hTuuz-S.jpg
A fishadillo?

On our last full day in the Mojave we visited the Cow Cove petroglyphs in the northern end of the park. This is an amazing collection of petroglyphs and this was our second visit to them (last year’s visit). You can wander the rock piles for hours and hours, discovering all kinds of abstract images with meanings we can only hope to understand.

Cow Cove is approachable via vehicle but only ones with clearance and preferably 4WD (it’s sandy). If you know where to leave the vehicles, it’s a short and flat 1.5 mile hike down an old access road until you are at the glyphs. It’s just remote enough that they have remained relatively unscathed, although you can find some ‘modern’ rock art as well. I’d love to know the original meanings of the art we discovered – we just found what we would call strawberries, cell phones, decorated easter eggs, bananas, fish, dancing hot dogs, bowling balls, and armadillos. According to one rock art book we own, the bowling ball was really the God of Death. I have yet to identify the others.

Glyphs
Glyphs

Sooz and Robin and I spent quite a lot of time wandering the glyphs and finally the rest of the group dragged us away. We drove south and stopped for a late lunch at Kelso Depot, then headed down to the Kelso Dunes for sunset.

What an amazing hike! During the day storms had moved in over the Mojave and we drove though some of the rain on our way south. At the dunes, the sun was brightly shining on the ground, but the surrounding ranges were covered in dark storm clouds. I could smell rain in the air while enjoying the amazing colors and a breathtaking sunset.

After dark we returned to camp where we found the incoming system had dropped the temperatures quite a bit. The campfire was a welcome sight (thanks to the Navis who had returned early and started it for us), and after bed the rain started again. I dozed on and off to the sound of the desert rain, and in the morning we drove out across a snow-dusted Cima Dome.

Kelso Dunes
Kelso Dunes

Another successful and fun Thanksgiving Road Trip on the books. And already looking forward to next year!

If You Go

Cow Cove
I’m not going to be super specific about the location of the glyphs, but you’ll be able to find the location with a small amount of effort. The roads to access cow cove are mostly fine but they do get sandy and the ruts are deep – high clearance is definitely needed, and 4WD may be required if you get stuck in the sand. We went with a group, some of whom had high clearance vehicles but not 4WD. But we had 4WD vehicles that would have been able to help anyone get unstuck. Judge for yourself based on your equipment, experience, and group.

Kelso Dunes
Easy access, southern end of Park. Park at the trailhead and walk to the dunes. Look for animal tracks, and listen for the special noise of the dunes. Even in a light wind it may be difficult to reach the summit of the dunes – blowing sand stings!

Links

http://photos.calipidder.com/Thanksgiving09/11282009-Cow-Cove-Petroglyphs/DSC7440/736924992_Lp8Xh-S.jpg
Kelso Dunes

A Stormy Day at Evolution Basin and Muir Pass (Day 3 of 6)

Sunrise from Darwin Bench
Sunrise from Darwin Bench

On Day 3 we awoke to cloudy skies, but fortunately it made for a wonderful sunrise over Darwin Bench and The Hermit. Our day included a lot of mileage, but less than two miles with a full pack on our back. After sunrise, breakfast, and packing up, we picked our way down the John Muir Trail, a mere few hundred feet and short scramble/use trail trek below our campsite. Upon connecting with the JMT Freeway we turned south towards Evolution Lake.

At Evolution Lake, we made our way to my favorite campsite area and set up under clearing blue skies. It was warm and sunny and the campsite was perfect, overlooking Evolution Valley. I’ve stayed here before and knew what we had ahead of us come sunset. After setting up an enjoying a break we reorganized ourselves for a long dayhike and took off for Muir Pass.

Clouds and Sunlight on the Darwin Range
Clouds and Sunlight on the Darwin Range

Muir Pass is at the head of Evolution Basin, about six miles from our campsite. It’s a nice and gentle hike through the Basin, and I was looking forward to going through in this direction having come through in the opposite direction in 2006. Above us, clouds and sun battled for dominance, but nothing looked especially threatening as we climbed – most of the clouds were too thin to turn into any kind of storms in a short period of time. My Sierra experience told me we had plenty of time to make the pass and get back towards camp before anything really happened. Yeah, I should have listened to that one little voice in the back of my head that said, “hey, it’s the Sierra, stupid. Anything can happen.”

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Tuolumne to Agnew Meadows, Day 2: Donohue Pass to Thousand Island Lake

Climbing to Donohue Pass
Climbing to Donohue Pass

Donohue Pass is the first pass you have to climb when going the north to south direction along the JMT, so it has the reputation of being a tough one. I’ve gone over it a few times now and I have to say I disagree. It’s one of the most beautiful passes in the Sierra – gorgeous meadows with crystal clear glacier-fed lakes and streams, views of the craggiest peaks in Yosemite, and it even has fresh water for you right at the pass in the form of a tarn. The distraction of the scenery, while common on many passes, really keeps my mind off of the climb and a grin on my face the whole way.

Close to the pass, the trail can be difficult to follow due to the landscape. It’s solid granite up there and since it is a gradual slope, there is no obvious trail blasted out of the rock. David ended up missing the pass by about 500 feet, as did I. I was able to catch my error since I’d been up there before, but it was all new to him and he ended up completely missing the real pass and wandering down towards another lake. Pavla, of course, kept to the trail with no problem. After a bit of worry we met up with each other again and continued on towards Thousand Island Lake.

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Tuolumne to Agnew Meadows, Day 1: Lyell Canyon

Lyell Canyon Reflections
Lyell Canyon Reflections

One of my goals for this summer’s backpacking trips is to get back to some of my favorite stretches of the John Muir Trail. I have two longer trips planned, and the first trip back was a five day stroll last week from Tuolumne Meadows to Agnew Meadows. The purpose wasn’t just to hike the John Muir Trail again – rather it was to take time to fish, relax, explore off-trail, and just enjoy the amazing surroundings. When I did the JMT I flew through this stretch in about 48 hours, so it was good to see it at a slower pace!

We drove out towards Mammoth on Wednesday night and crashed at the Glass Creek campground around midnight (less than a mile off of 395, it’s not perfect but it’s free and easy to get to in the dark). Alarms went off about 5:15 and we were quickly on our way to Mammoth to catch the 7 am YARTS bus after dropping a car at the Inn. At $8 a ticket for the one-way to Tuolumne, YARTS is a bargain.

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Chilnualna Falls Backpack

Chilnualna Creek
Chilnualna Creek

The passes are open but the high country isn’t yet melted out. Where to go on a weekend overnight that will give me my Sierra fix, but avoid the unknown conditions and snow/mud hybrid trails that are common at this time of year? The answer occurred to me last Wednesday – an easy, low elevation hike that has been on my ‘early season’ to-do list for a few years now. The destination was Chilnualna Falls out of Wawona. The falls are just above 6000 feet so I knew the trail would have long been free of snow. Also, Chilnualna Creek would be running strong with snow melt, fed even more by recent thunderstorms.

Wawona Dome
Wawona Dome

On Saturday morning David and I headed to Wawona. We weren’t in a big hurry – I had called and there were plenty of permits available, and the hike was short. I just wanted to get out there and enjoy the Sierra – I didn’t need a big hike. We got to the Wawona station and then sat in line for EVER. I’ve never come in this way during a busy time and I couldn’t believe the line. I’ve been in shorter lines on 120 on holidays. So after a long time of waiting to get into the park, we made our way to the wilderness office and finally had our permit in hand by about 11 am. Next time I’ll bite the bullet and plan on getting up for an early arrival, just to avoid sitting in line at the gate with the RVs and tour buses.

Shaded Trail
Shaded Trail

As we hit the trail my pack felt so light. Some of this year’s new gear helped, but also helping was the fact that David was along and sharing stuff. :) This was my first outing with some of the new gear that will be coming on this summer’s longer trips: the Bearikade Weekender Bear canister, Therm-a-Rest Neoair, a Montbell titanium mug, a womens Montbell down liner jacket (to replace an older poor-fitting unisex one), and some Icebreaker layers. All performed wonderfully, and together save me over a pound compared to last year’s gear.

We started off hiking in the sun but before long the clouds forming over Wawona dome turned into thunderstorms. The trail up to the Falls is nice and protected so I enjoyed the hike in the light rain, occasionally hearing the rumble of thunder. I really liked the trail – it climbs a little over 2500 feet in a little over four miles but it is so well graded I hardly noticed any climb at all. Wildflowers were everywhere and I’m still working on identifying the ones I was able to photograph.

On the hike in we didn’t stop much due to the rain (didn’t take many photos, either). We enjoyed the falls as we passed them, then continued on for another mile or so before getting off the trail to find camp. There is a point about 4.5 miles in where the trail crosses Chilnualna Creek and it is completely impassible at this time of year due to the high water. I had expected that, so as planned, we left the trail and followed the creek for a short distance until we found a lovely campsite next to a big cascade.

Indian Pink
Indian Pink

The rain stopped for the perfect amount of time for us to set up the tent, have lunch, and make tea. When the next wave of storms rolled through, we crawled into our dry clothes and sleeping bags to warm up. I dozed on and off to the sound of the rain, thunder, and nearby cascade. There is no better way to nap! As is typical in the Sierra, the storm cleared in the late afternoon and we were able to make dinner and use a small campfire to dry out. The creek was amazing – in the short couple of hours we had been in camp, it had risen almost 2 feet and was really churned up from the storms.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny, and after a leisurely morning of drying out and packing up we headed back down the trail. This time I was able to take photos since it wasn’t thunderstorming, although there were clouds forming for the storms that would strike later in the day (which we could see in the rear view mirror as we drove home). It was a quick overnight, but really satisfied that need for a night in the Sierra I’ve been itching for ever since the end of last summer’s season. Now, where to go next weekend….

My Pictures are here: Chilnualna Falls Album

Track Details:
Chilnualna Falls Backpack – Day 1 at EveryTrail