In May we packed up our San Francisco studio apartment – the one which has kept us “cramped up” – and we busted out of the Bay Area with one thing in mind: to get out.
We got out of our routines, out of our jobs, out of our apartment, out of our comfort zones. Outside, out of town, on and off roads, in and out of our typical notion of civilization. Five weeks zig-zagging our way across the United States, knowing it was only the beginning of an entire three and a half months we would spend on the road; plane tickets awaited us on the East Coast, bound for Europe.
But first this. Our first week was spent working our way down the 395 through the great state of California, our now former home, enjoying its beauty and slowly preparing to detach. Quickly remembering what it feels like to roam free.
Photo Locations (from top to bottom): Route 62 driving east from Joshua Tree; Yosemite National Park; Hike near Lake George in Mammoth Lakes CA; Crystal Crag from trail in Mammoth Lakes; Shepherd’s Hot Spring in Mammoth; Fossil Falls off CA395; view off Route 62; Desert life in Joshua Tree National Park; Friend’s re-furbished trailer in Joshua Tree; Warm sunset in Joshua Tree; Plant silhouette in Joshua Tree; Ready for bed in friend’s trailer Joshua Tree; Joshua Tree starry night.
Photos taken on Canon AE-1 with 35mm film and on Canon Rebel SL-1.
Ridge Trail from Mesa Road – Bolinas – 7 miles out and back
We’re social people. We like friends. We like meeting people. And we even like making new friends out in the wild. But when you get to the trailhead for a certain Alamere Falls trail on an overcast Saturday and encounter 300 cars and possibly every active person that lives in the Bay Area, it’s just too much.
So we froze bewildered, briefly, then chose another trail that was hidden behind the wall of parked cars. A trail that led to nowhere in particular, that went an unknown distance. We chose solitude and uncertainty over notorious sights and big crowds. We were rewarded with all of the wildflowers and lush woods that our eyes could soak in, free from the masses just a few miles away.
All photos in this post taken on a Canon Rebel SL-1.
We drove and we drove, down dirt roads until they got too gnarly, around in circles trying to find the spot that suited us, stopping, getting out, looking around, getting back in, and moving on. We eventually found the spot we needed, threw our gear out, set up the hammock, stripped down and jumped in; while it was still swimmable, it was cold, we could tell that the dog days were gone and they were taking summer with them.
We cracked beers and cracked jokes, lazing about on the rock rim of the Utica Reservoir (no boats this time), and when the sun started to fall, retreated to the insulated camp we had set up, protected from the cool breeze by a stand of trees and some boulders. Dinner was prepared, sweaters were donned, and we scarfed on camp fajita’s as the sun dipped into the water saying goodbye to summer.
As night came on and the fire gave us some warmth, we talked of how we hadn’t done enough this summer. We hadn’t gotten out enough, were too busy with work, with obligation, responsibility, and everything else, kicking ourselves in the ass as we watched our prime season slip from our grasp.
Its dry, hot, dusty, cold, windy, snowy, rainy; unforgiving. Its big, grandiose, epic, awesome, righteous; spiritual. The Eastern Sierra kind of rules all of California, reigning over it from the east side and laughing in the face of those in the west who think the trip is too much work; the east doesn’t want you, the east doesn’t need you, and most importantly, the east doesn’t care.
The area in and around Mono Lake is full of secret hot springs, craters, and fourteeners no one has heard of. It boasts memories of our presence and departure through abandoned towns, mines, cave dwellings and petroglyphs. This area tells us the story of its history through volcanic shapes and remnants.
The Fissures are a kept secret of the East side; hidden in plain view atop a hill made of volcanic ash just waiting to be explored and treasured. They are a series of slot canyons 20-50 ft deep and 2-6 ft wide, shaped volcanically telling an intrinsic piece of the geological history of the Eastern Sierras and Mono Lake. Finding them can be tough but is worth the short jaunt for such a massive reward.
1 Packet of Taco Seasoning – mix with dehydrated beef in a ziplock at home
Block of cheese of choice
Bell Peppers (optional)
Hot Sauce Packets (steal from your local taco bell)
Boil two pots of water (one full, one 1/4 full). In the full pot toss in the instant rice packets (follow the box instructions, usually needs to boil for 10 min). In the 1/4 pot, stir in your dehydrated beef with taco seasoning, add more water if needed. Keep cooking and stirring for about 10 min until the beef is hydrated and tastes flavorful. Meanwhile have a friend heat the can of beans in the fire, or re-hydrate your dehydrated beans in the third pot.
As an extra not-necessary-but-delicious addition, we fire roasted some bell peppers. Once hot and lightly charred, slice up for serving. Slice up the avocado. Slice up the cheese into thin easily meltable shreds. Display your hot sauce packets.
Once everything’s cooked, lay out your tortilla, load it up with all the fixings of your choosing, and roll it up tightly. Burritos!
One of our favorite things to cook in cast iron is cornbread. This time we decided to try it out over the fire to go with an easy-speedy version of Chicken Gumbo. Now Gumbo Purists may scoff, but for a fast, flavorful and we think quite tasty stew cooked over a fire, this does the trick. The spice heats up your body real fast, making this great for a chilly night.
Chicken & Okra Gumbo
12″ Dutch Oven
cutting board or cardboard
medium heat fire
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2-4 tablespoons of secret Gumbo spice, depending on how spicy you want it
2 red bell peppers, chopped [tip: chop these, onions and garlic at home so it’s ready to go]
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt + pepper
4cups water or chicken broth
1 package (10 ounces) frozen, cut okra
1 package of smoked andouille sausage (precooked), chopped into half-rounds
1 rotisserie chicken (about 2 1/2 pounds), meat shredded – remove skin and bones [do this at home too]
Place the Dutch Oven in the fire, where it’s over decent heat but not ragingly hot. Heat up the oil then add the flour and a few pinches of the Gumbo Spice to make your roux, and keep stirring it constantly until golden (this happens quickly over the heat, about a minute or two). Add in the red peppers, onion, garlic and oregano, season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Add 4 cups of water or chicken broth to the mix. Add the Okra in. At this point if you have vegans or vegetarians with you, let this cook for a bit (add more spice, salt and pepper to flavor), and then let them eat. Then add in the sausage, and let that cook for about 10 minutes to let the flavor set in. Lastly, add in the shredded chicken. Once it’s fully warm, dig in and serve with a piece of fresh cornbread (see below for recipe).
Click below for full cornbread recipe and more photos!
It’s difficult but well traveled and maintained as if it were a half mile loop in one of our national parks. Although you don’t necessarily see a ton of folks on trail, they’re in there, crawling around the tubs, waiting in line, calling dibs. To be honest, it’s off-putting.
Maybe we’re spoiled at this point having soaked all over the eastern sierra and elsewhere. Honestly, should we be feeling that because we do this all the time, we have more right to it than someone else? No way, these tubs aren’t ours, we didn’t make them and we most certainly do not own this land. So why is there entitlement seething beneath the surface and on the tip of everyone’s tongue upon the realization that you’re not the only one who came out here this weekend?
We all worked hard for this, we all dripped sweat up the steeps and felt our knees pop on the scree filled downs, we all jack-assed heavy packs with more food than we needed; we all did the research, made the effort, rounded up our friends and got here, didn’t we?
Maybe we should all just drop our attitudes and appreciate these places that exist for everyone to enjoy. After all, this isn’t the hip new bar your friends have been talking shit about lately.
The deep churning waters stretch as far as the eye can see. We imagine we catch the shadow of China, off in the horizon. Out there in the faraway ocean where tankers and fishing boats float, seaweed and waves crash, the migrating whales and the cold waters, and the endless sea lives on; that is what we look upon, humbly perched on giant rocks. We are ants, and we could be washed away with one rogue wave.
Emigrant Wilderness – Out and Back – Kennedy Meadows to Kennedy Lake
16 miles Total
Saturday – 7 miles in and creek side camp
Sunday Morning – A soggy mile out and back to Kennedy Lake
Sunday Afternoon – 7 miles out
The Emigrant Wilderness’s namesake stems from several groups of Emigrants (folks leaving one area to reside in another) that passed through this wilderness but eventually its use as a route was abandoned as the pass was too difficult and there were safer options. As we hike through fall fields walled in by sweeping granite mountainsides and side step small creeks meandering through the vibrant autumnal yellows, we can reflect on the people that made those difficult and dangerous treks through unknown lands and what that must have felt like.
The idea of leaving one’s home for another strange distant land, whether in search of wealth, opportunity, or community is baffling yet was and is commonplace. The essence of the unknown is a terrifying and at the same time enticing or exciting enterprise and so the mix of emotions that these people would have felt is mind boggling, and yet they did it; scared, unsure, nervous, and excited, they made it work and took that leap to the unknown. Their influence still holds true as there are numbers of us daily (young, motivated, inexperienced, and scared) making the decision to take the leap and see it through.
Despite the drought we are currently facing here in California, miraculously, the Forest Service is still allowing campfires in some wilderness areas, the Emigrant among them. With that said, we thought it apt to talk a little of campfires, wild fires, and your responsibility involving the two.
-Drown & Stir-
If you are going to have a fire, make sure it is fully extinguished; lots of water, lots of stirring.
We came across a runaway campfire not long ago where, whomever had enjoyed it’s warmth the night prior did not fully extinguish for whatever reason. Not only was their campsite and fire pit not by any source of water so as to extinguish, but it was in an extremely dry area with loads of debris and dry loose organic matter mixed in with the loose soil. This was a recipe for disaster where truly just an inkling of common sense could have told these folks not to make the decision to have a fire; they ignored said common sense.
-Do Your Part & Make Smart Decisions-
If you have a worry in your gut about having a campfire, it probably isn’t a good idea despite there not being a burn ban in the wilderness area you are in. The Californian natural lands are a tinder box at the moment and it is our responsibility as custodians of our wild landscape to protect what we have and prevent unnecessary wildfire.
Below are a few pictures of a helicopter picking up water out of Jewelry Lake in The Emigrant Wilderness to dump on a runaway campfire that got out of control. Big ups to CALFIRE and their continued commitment to protecting our most valuable asset.