Friday, April 17, 2009

Calaveras Big Trees

The last weekend of March I went up to Calaveras Co. with friends who wanted to go skiing at Bear Valley. I'm not a skier anymore, but I didn't want to say no either. I had planned to hike or snowshoe depending on the amount of snow. Thought about doing the trail by Lake Alpine, but my work and a funeral delayed me and I could only head up Saturday afternoon. I don't work on Mondays so I figured if the weather was nice, I'd find a place Sunday night to camp.

We were all enjoying each others company Sunday morning, so we got late starts off to our various destinations. Me? I was headed to Big Trees by myself. Calaveras Big Trees State Park was the place to be. The weather was gorgeous. A lot of the snow had melted at 5000' elevation. And they have camping year-round. But first, I spotted an American Robin, a Dark-eyed Junco, and a Hairy Woodpecker outside of the cabin as I was getting restless waiting for the others to finish their packing so we could clean the rented cabin.

By the time I got to Big Trees it was nearly lunch time. But I stopped in the visitors center to grab a map and see what was up. I asked if the River Trail was open and the answer was no. I probably could have still walked it, but I wanted to be good :) It was suggested I could try the Grove Overlook. The docent I spoke with said she had tried it the weekend before and couldn't make it all the way without losing the trail, but encouraged me to give it a try.

It was a nice walk with much less people than the North Grove Trail. I stopped at the height of the ridge for lunch. Here's my lunch bench and my view... nice :)

Enough snow had melted to be able to follow the trail just fine. There was one section that it was tough, but I saw what seemed like the likely position of the trail - and it was. Although the temps were well above freezing, maybe in the 50s, there was still some snow in odd places, like in this Sugar Pine cone.

Yet in others, there were big signs of spring, like within the Father of the Forest, a large Sequoia that fell a very long time ago and the trail of the North Grove can go right through it and the Big Tree Creek flowing.

The trails take no time at all to walk around and the entire time I had my camera handy, but the hour of the day must have been wrong. I could hear the birds, but never got a good enough glimpse of them. I had been getting mocked by a Pileated Woodpecker and only caught a look for a fraction of a second. Lucky they are easy to identify. No chance to take a picture though. He hid on the other side of a tree in the distance and I would not have been a good example to all the city folks walking their strollers on that trail had I chased after it.

So I headed to the campground area to check it out and choose a spot for the night. Most people who camp there in the winter use trailers or motorhomes. Technically it was still winter up there, but I'm a nut and slept on a tarp in my sleeping bag. I knew it wouldn't rain or snow, so the air temps and wind were the only concern. The air temps were fine despite such a high elevation. I don't think got below freezing. The only trouble I had was the wind. However the tall trees surrounding the campground prevented much of that from coming in.
Here's my campground... #2, the nicest in the first loop that was the only loop open.

I had only 2 other 'neighbors' and they were on the other end of the loop. Obviously all of us were experienced campers. The day-trippers however could really use some tips. They obviously didn't read the stuff the ranger gave them when they paid their usage fee. One family had the nerve to not only tramp through my campsite, but as I was unloading my stuff asked me if they could use the picnic table. Say what??? I was so stunned I didn't answer, so one of them said, "Never mind, there are a lot of others." All I could think was "Well, duh, and even more in the DAY USE PICNIC AREA!" But I just rolled my eyes and turned my back on them.

So I spent my afternoon trying to stay warm as the sun was getting lower and reading a book. Something else caught my attention though - besides hearing more birds that remained unseen. I lost my mojo I think. Anyway, I spotted this little thing warming itself in the remaining patch of sun. It's a California Tortoiseshell. Amazing to see so early in the season. In the lowlands on the drive up, I passed thousands and thousands of migrating Painted Ladies, but never figured on seeing a butterfly so high up.

Sundown came all too soon and since I had no matches, let alone wood to build a campfire, I just went to bed. It was nice until about 10:30 p.m. (after quiet hours) two minivans filled with, um, doofuses to be nice, went round and round and round the loop. I'm not sure what exactly they were looking for, but they pulled into 4 different sites (of only 12) and the one across from my site twice! At one point, the lead vehicle's driver yelled out his window, "They're all campsites here." Under my breath I said "Thanks, Captain Obvious. I had no idea."

Well, they finally chose the campsite across from me and out piles 2 families with 3 noisy rambunctious children. While the family noisily set up their lanterns and fire first (remember, it's after posted quiet hours), they let their stupid kids go running around chasing whatever animals they could find. Hello, it's now 11:00 at night, your spawn should be asleep by now... at the very least told to be quiet and respect other campers. The families then set up 2 tents and finally by midnight or a bit after, they all went to bed. I was a bit cranky to say the least... then the wind started to blow. It wasn't the best night in the world, but I would have been perfectly happy with the weather if I weren't woken up by these fools.

Next morning I was up early and ready for a wonderful walk on the trail without anyone else about. Stay tuned for the next episode... (especially you birders!)


Lynne said...

It sound slike a really neat place inspite of the camping "neighbors"
I'm using that term loosely...

Natural Moments said...

You visited a beautiful place Red. Those woods look ancient and quite balanced. It looks like you had the best of spring and the remnants of a long winter. I look forward to your next installment.

Red said...

@Lynne... It is really neat, just apparently too well travelled. It's kinda like Yosemite Valley in that way.

@Bernie... It was definitely an in-between season. Gorgeous weather too. It's a very ancient forest. I love that I live in an area where those are accessible within a few hours.

Zhakee said...

Your pics are great, sounds like you had a very nice outing, sans the noisy campground neighbors. This time of year, just a tarp? Brrr.

Red said...

Hi Zhakee. It was nice and I've almost forgotten those noisy neighbors. The sights though, stick around much longer.

The camping was kind of spur of the moment. I checked out the weather forecast before I went up there and found it was only going to get as low as the 30s. My sleeping bag is for 30 degrees, so I figured as long as it was dry (and it should be in winter) then I'd be fine. I didn't bank on the wind, but once I managed to curl up in the bag and close the flap I was perfectly warm. I probably should have had my mummy bag though. That would have been smarter.

RuthieJ said...

Isn't that always the way it goes.....12 camping sites and wouldn't you know they would pick the one right across from you. AAACK!

RC said...

nice shots. the butterfly picture is nice...shots like that can be so challenging!!

Red said...

Well thank you RC and welcome :) Come back anytime! Yep, the butterfly was a challenge. I did also get a shot of it on the ground, but not as nice a pic as in the tree. Luckily it was cold and it wanted the warmth of the sun.

Red said...

Yep Ruthie :) Figures.


Current skin is Spring Green 2009
Best viewed on Firefox at 1024x768, larger or widescreen.
If you must use Internet Explorer, update to IE8 or the sidebars will look funky.