Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Kern River Valley

After spending two days exploring the winter version of Yosemite National Park, two friends and I spent a day in Kern River Valley, near Lake Isabella.  We chose this location on a whim really, seeing that it was near Sequoia National Forest and thinking it would be forested, or, immediately accessible to, well,  forests.  And it was close to a pine region...but due to logistics of our trip...we didn't end up having time to get to the pine area further down the road.

At first we were a little uncertain what to think of the arid terrain.  We had just been in lush, snow accented, rainy Yosemite and now we were in a sunshine-sky, dry, treeless foothills landscape.  But, we soon grew to love it.

We had little daylight, so went to the closest trail head we could find, which was actually the Audubon Kern River Preserve.  There is an easy, flat nature trail that goes through a cottonwood and willow forest.  Most of the trees were nearly leafless and a crunchy-leaf carpet lay upon the trail.  The wind through the trees and the lighting of the afternoon and the fact that we had the trail to ourselves amplified the peacefulness of the walk.

We drove further down the road and pulled off to walk along some boulders near the Kern River's edge.  The sun was approaching sunset then, so gave an amber hue to everything.  And the sound of the white water flowing over rocks was ... well ... the best sort of music.

From there we drove into the dried bed of Lake Isabella.  The drought was made evident here, but also allowed us to have a bit of fun - there is something completely electrifying of driving through an area where water should be...and driving through mud and getting a truck filthy.

We took in the sunset near our camp area and sunrise the next day as well.  There was this open grassland nearby, with these eerie, leafless, dead-looking trees with branches stretching to the sky like skeleton arms. 

All in all, it was a great place to wrap up our few days of nature adventure.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Yosemite December

Two friends and I spent two days in just days before Christmas.  We didn't plan too much going in, just knew we'd hit up Yosemite and figure it out as we went, since we were unsure what weather would allow, and because we just wanted to let the trip unfold itself as it would.  I am usually a big planner...but if felt like this trip shouldn't be unplanned, I strangely couldn't rally to the task. And I'm glad I did not.

Anyways, due to traveling logistics and weather, etc., we did not have too much time in the park each day.  At first, I think that this reality frustrated us all a bit.  Because we hungered for time in the mountains and woods, and we all had been fantasizing about a long, rigorous hike, up to an elevation at which we'd gain a grand perspective of the valley.  However, try as we might to enable this to happen, it did not.  But, as I looked back at this during the trip and now, it seems that it was for the best.  Because, if you are focused on the miles to get in and your central purpose is to go up and on, you do not get to take in the beauty around you as much.  Both physical exertion and absorption of beauty have their place in wilderness recreation, and I am appreciative that, in this case, I was reminded that slowness is sometimes the best means to digest wilderness.

So the first day we pulled over near a footbridge (Sentinel Bridge?) that had a trail that went over the Merced River and gave us a view of Yosemite Falls (?).  To be honest, I wasn't really looking at maps and signs to identify where we were...which is strange for me. I usually am so fixated on "what am I looking at" and need to know, but this time I was just content with being and seeing.  Strange.

Anyways, I had been to Yosemite in the fall, and I thought it beautiful then. But I think winter is superior here.  Everything had a melancholy blue hue to it.  The December chill had the effect of making you feel you were breathing in the place. It was delicious.  It was addictive.

Daylight was fleeting so, we went to our campsite in the foothills with plans to return on the morrow.

The second day we were greeted by rain and heavy, grey skies. We were thrilled about it.  We took a few stops along the road before getting to our trail head to explore some areas in the glorious damp.

Then, we were greeted with a view of the valley in fog.  The clouds hung eerily to the thick conifer forests below and accented the valley's peaks in wisps.  We stayed to drink in the view for quite a while, truly awe stricken and loving the gloom, before continuing on to our day hike.

We hiked up a portion of the Four Mile Trail, getting caught in the rain.  The sound was intoxicating.  And everything comes alive in the damp: the smell of wet dirt and wood, the aroma of sap, and the color of everything around us popped.  Moss hung thickly on rocks and tree branches, and although the view below us as we climbed up was compromised, we were not at all disappointed.  In fact, at least for the three of us, we rather prefer the clouds and rain to a clear view.

As we piled in the car just before sunset, we were damp and happy.  And the gloomy conditions ushered us all the way back to the foothills.  Two brief days in Yosemite is certainly not enough, but seeing Yosemite in December is well worth it.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Skeet Shooting - Dinkey Lakes Wilderness

Before going our separate ways for the holidays, a few friends and I took a day trip out to Dinkey Lakes Wilderness for some skeet shooting.

This was quite the novel travel for me as I have never shot any sort of gun before in my life.  It has been something I've wanted to try for a while but have thus far not had the opportunity, or the gumption, to try.

The weather that day was cold and overcast, whispering of coming rain and snow.  In other words - it was the perfect day to spend out in the woods for the melancholy, gloom-loving, soul.  The drive up on the winding Forest Service roads was blissful beauty.

We hiked around for a bit while hunting for a spot well suited for shooting skeet.  The smell of pine mixed in with the chilly air, making each breath a blissfully biting drink of alpine freshness...or it least it seemed so to me.  Maybe it is because living near the woods is new to me, so I feel like a child at a theme park every time I'm up there.  But I hope this is how I feel every time I am in the woods, for the rest of my life. 

We eventually found a great spot for shooting, well off the road and with a wide clearing with trees on the far edges.  Before getting down to business, we took a short little hike / climb up some boulders and took in the surrounding woods...because the boulders were there and demanded climbing.  Even in the overcast light (or, for me, perhaps because of the overcast light) the colors of the rocks and trees had a savory, rustic quality, like a visual drink of a hearth. 

Since I was a novice, we started out with shooting targets (stationary ones) before doing skeet.  I had decided not to try skeet that day since this was my first time shooting a gun and would most certainly fail epically at shooting a flying target.

Before beginning, my friend who was most experienced with firearm use gave us all a safety brief and advised on technique.  This included how to properly hold a gun when using it or when not in use, how to set and release the safety, and how to put ammunition in the gun.  We put on eye and ear protection and then they had me go first (of course, the novice).

 They started me with using a Ruger Mark II, 22 caliber pistol, which has very little kick back and is pretty light weight.  Settling into a comfortable and proper posture / stance for shooting feels rather awkward at first.  Needless to say my first few shots went no where near the target.  My friend gave me some corrective advice (push your chest and weight forward, keep your arms straight but slightly bent, and put gradual pressure on the trigger rather than jerking pressure all at once), and then I actually started to hit the targets.   

After we'd all had a turn at the 22, we moved on to the Glock 19, 40 caliber pistol.  This had a little more power behind it, and had a slight kick back.  And then onto the Romanian M63, 7.62x39 caliber rifle.  Obviously quite a bit longer than a pistol so part of the difference is tucking the butt of gun firmly into your shoulder to absorb the kick pack, and you have to lean your cheek against the gun to get proper visibility of the front and rear sights.   I had progressed from two types of pistols to an assault rifle in an hour's time.  I felt satisfied for the day.  We picked up the brass off the ground (the empty shells that is) and then moved on to the day's next activity.


 We set up the skeet thrower and the boys got to "pulling" and shooting.  The basic way this works is the "puller" loads the skeet thrower and then when the shooter yells "pull" the puller launches the skeet disc for the shooter to shoot a nut shell.  So us two girls had a go at pulling as the boys shot.  And, in case you are not familiar, in skeet you shoot at brightly colored discs that are made of some sort of biodegradable clay material (so you don't have to pick up the bits after you shoot them apart).

As I said, I had decided not to try shooting skeet since a shotgun looked rather intimidating and I had only just fired my first gun an hour ago...but you see I have friends who don't let you just watch things.  And these two guys wouldn't let us two girls just stand and watch.  Plus, these days I am trying not to live my life by my lack of self confidence. So, we both ended up giving it a go.

The shotgun we used was a Winchester 12 gauge.  And shotguns are quite a different animal than a pistol and even a rifle.  And for someone of my height, they feel almost as long as I was high (although that is an exaggeration).  I felt awkward holding it, but I tucked the butt of the gun firmly into my shoulder, pressed my cheek against it to get as good a sight as possible and yelled "pull!" without over thinking it too much.  I missed.  But, the power behind that gun and the smoke that comes out of it after a shot was an instantly electrifying experience.  I racked the slide (pulling a bar on the bottom of the gun back to put your next shotshell in place in the barrel to shoot) and called for a "pull again."

And, miracles of miracles, I actually hit the thing on my second and third shot.  No one was more shocked than I.  I felt ridiculously excited about this fact, embarrassingly so. 

In fact, I believe a joyous squeal of victory escaped out of my mouth.  What?  But whatever, I mean if you look at me, you'd never think I'd be able to hit the broad side of a barn with a shotgun, so I was feeling pretty great I had been able to hit a small flying disc.

We rotated turns until, around 1600ish, we called it quits to head back down the mountain before daylight ran away from us.  And, if the day had not already been filled with enough wonderful adventures to sing praises of, the drive back included even more.

The beauty of having a hearty, 4-wheel drive truck with thick tires is that you had have a good deal of fun driving on Forest Service roads which, let's just say, aren't the best maintained roads in the world.  We took a scenic route (i.e. longer route) home through the woods down toward Pine Flat and the ride over pot holes and up some OHV turnouts made the ride more entertaining then the Indiana Jones rides at Disneyland...far far more entertaining. I couldn't stop laughing. 

We made some detour stops at a site of a recent control burn and visited the ruins of a former prison in a now dried portion of the Pine Flat Reservoir.  Since it was dark at this point, and the reservoir dry and barren, the boys decided it a good opportunity to give a go at creating the truck version of the Tea Cup Ride (Disneyland allusions continue) was worse than the tea cup ride...and by "worse" I mean "better" and also "worse." My stomach and face hurt from so much laughter.
All in all, a great day. I don't have the proper words really to give the praise due here, because I feel so blessed to have friends who invite me on fun adventures and who are patient with me when I am the only one who doesn't know how to do things.  And I am thankful for wild spaces like the woods that provide the perfect backdrop to experience something new.