A Good Day


Chamisa in the morning light is a beautiful sight.

I slept so well last night! It was decidedly warmer, and every time I had to get up was a treat—first the brilliance of the stars against the inky blackness, and then the waning half moon lighting up the forest around us. I stayed in bed until 7:30. Woke hungry and refreshed. Oatmeal and tea for breakfast, and then a hike from camp down to Grey Cliffs and up Pole Canyon to Timber Trail, and back to camp. 8.3 miles of a gentle trail through piñon and juniper and then aspen and Engelmann and mixed conifers. Meadows and clumps of sage, winding through thickets of wild roses (all long through blooming and fruiting), past stands of rugged mountain mahogany. And everywhere the brilliant gold blooming chamisa. My knee is letting me know it’s there, but nothing like yesterday.

The trail down to the Grey Cliffs led through aspen gardens, alive with butterflies and wet with dew in the crisp morning air.
This area has lots of pictographs, but they are in unmarked locations. We saw a few, in a sheltered rock overhang, the red paint mostly obscured by many years of campfires below them These cliffs look like likely places to find more, but I’ll save that search for the next visit..
Barbara communes with the aspens along the trail.
The Pole Canyon trail wandered alongside meadows and through forests.
So many slender aspens, growing in an old fire zone. We could see old, decaying burnt stumps of pines scattered among them.
The Timber Trail led up and over a little pass, giving us views down Pole Canyon and the surrounding forests.
Who lives there?
The landscape is a far cry from the glory of the Sierra, but it has its own beauty and scale, contrasts and soaring views.
The summit of the Timber Trail, at around 9,000′, looking back from whence we came.
Looking ahead, we could see the peaks and the high country above us. But we aren’t going there today…waah!
B standing on the bridge over Baker Creek, almost back to our camp.

Now, at noon, we are back at camp and B is working on my leg again. I forgot to mention that she did this yesterday, too. She has a great touch, and strong piano-playing hands, and has really helped in the rapid healing of my injury. Lucky me!

A chipmunk joined us for lunch at our campground. We didn’t feed it (not intentionally, anyway)

We saw only one person on the trail, and when we got to the trailhead, we met two young women and a man about to take off with their backpacks. We talked for awhile, and they said they had planned on hiking up to Young Lakes in Yosemite (very close to where we had been planning on going), but the apocalyptic smoke drove them out here, same as us. They also said that they had received a message from the Park Service cancelling their permit because of the smoke and fire. From Marin County, so close by us in that sense, too.

Baker Creek. This area is so dry, it is always a thrill to see the water flowing, especially so late in the summer. It’s amazing to me that there is enough rain and snow on the peaks to keep these streams running all year long!
All the trail markers, parking lots, and pit toilets are in perfect shape. Your tax dollars at work.

8:00 PM

After a lunch of crackers and peanut butter, rooibos tea, and dried fruit, Barbara and I had a nice little mid-day siesta. So pleasant. About 2:00 PM, we headed to the Wheeler Peak parking lot for a recommended 3.2-mile hike to Stella Lake. It’s one of the few fairly level paths in the park, because I am still babying my knee. It did fine until the way down, almost to the van. Suddenly, it started hurting a lot and I was trying not to limp. Then it was down the winding road to Baker, and a side trip to the Baker archeological site. In 1994, they uncovered a Fremont Culture large camp or small city on the site of a former creek (it had been re-channeled by white settlers for farming, and now was dry). The Fremonts had a large five-story building, surrounded by lots of adobe homes, and farmed corn, squash, and beans, as well as hunting for meat (elk, deer, and whatever else) in about 1200AD. The entire archeological dig is now just an expanse of sagebrush flatlands, and there really isn’t much to see there now, for the untrained eye.

The trail up to Stella Lake went through miles of aspen groves. So beautiful in the slanting afternoon light.
Through a break in the aspens, we caught views of Wheeler Peak. We had intended to take a day to hike up to the summit, but my knee changed our plans.
Stella Lake. Too cold to swim. And maybe too shallow and mucky.
more aspens…
The road from Wheeler Peak trailhead down to Baker is about 20 miles of lots of turns. Here, we were able to see where we are going.
Kerouac’s. Apparently, Jack Kerouac stopped in Baker at some point.

Then it was off to Kerouac’s for an amazing dinner. I have never passed through Baker when this restaurant has been open, and it was a real treat! It’s open Thursday-Sunday in the summer months. We had pizza with pesto and zucchini and fried Brussels sprouts. B had a couple of beers and I had a couple of glasses of a very good Sangiovese. This is a whole new backcountry experience for me, and not my usual sort of blog entry.


The young owners of Kerouac’s are from Manhattan. On a trip to GBNP 7 years ago, they fell in love with the area, and happened to see a place for sale, and bought it. They run a 3-room year-round motel (The Stargazer Inn) and the restaurant, which is open seasonally. It’s a great scene. COVID-19 precautions were in full swing, everyone wore masks, the servers were behind plexiglass, and we sat outside socially-distanced at picnic tables and along the porch on stools. We were waited on by the people who had made our espressos at the coffee hut down the street. We chatted with folks from San Mateo and Colorado and then came back to our little camp. Heard in a phone call home that the AQI in Berkeley is over 300. We are so lucky! Clear blue skies and cool weather.

They are anywhere the action is.
Some 20 years ago, on a previous trip to GBNP, I spent a couple of nights at this lonesome motel.


I woke up when I think I heard a branch break, thinking of the crackling of fire. There are no campfires permitted here anywhere, and this evening while strolling around the campgrounds, we saw a fire at one of the sites. It was in a fire ring, and people were tending it. But just now I woke up panicked about wildfire and imagining that it had escaped the ring and was burning the forest. So scary. I’m too awake now to go back to sleep for awhile.

Critters have been pretty hard to see here, except for the nonchalant deer and the few brazen chipmunks. But we did see that ringtail, and a beautiful big owl, so we know they are out there. Today on the Timber Trail we saw elk prints, and today at dusk a fine big buck. And of course, we have heard lots of Clark’s nutcrackers and various little birds flitting through the trees. I wish I could identify them all.

Today’s mileage shows as 11.8. Not bad for a gimpy knee.

One last aspen forest, before I sign off for the night.

3 thoughts on “A Good Day

  1. 👍 Mel Smothers “I Painted Over Andy Warhol” http://www.melsmothers.com

    On Tue, Oct 20, 2020 at 4:19 PM High Sierra Rambles wrote:

    > Laurie Lewis posted: ” 9/10/20 Chamisa in the morning light is a beautiful > sight. I slept so well last night! It was decidedly warmer, and every time > I had to get up was a treat—first the brilliance of the stars against the > inky blackness, and then the waning half moon l” >


  2. I’m happy that you had a better night and day. Hope your leg continued to improve. I visited this park in 2014; no extensive hiking except the bristlecone trail at (I think) Wheeler Peak trail. It’s truly a hidden gem.


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