2. The Sierra Nevada mountains & California!…August, 2021

Day 6 8.14 
I made coffee in camp this morning & just watched the sun’s rays shine through the trees.  The temp this morning was great!  

I drove out of the forest & into cell service & had a really long nice conversation & FaceTime with Danny, then I drove up to the June Lakes area.  I’d read that breakfast at the Silver Lake Lodge was really good, so I stopped for bacon, eggs & pancakes.  It was good, but did not sit well with my stomach.  I’m not a breakfast eater & struggle to eat much before a hike, & I don’t really like to take food to eat on a hike…such is my food dilemma.  It was already hot out by the time I started the trail to Gem Lake.  The trail is all up…2,000’ & I’m learning that so many of the trails out here are made of what I’m calling “the Sierra steps”.  Big huge rock ‘steps’, some natural & some steps made from the rocks & put there by the trail builders, but some are giant steps.  I swear there are always some that are about 3’ high…they just make me laugh they’re so tall.  So, up I went with great views of Silver Lake below me.

The first lake you come to is part of a hydro electric plant…so there are lots of lines in the air….lots of stuff that is un-natural.  But, there’s this really cool waterfall too.

The trail along the side of the mountain.

I think this lake is man made from the power plant.  At this point in the hike, I’d gone 2 miles & was hoping to soak my sun shirt in the water & dunk my head.  But, the trail was way way way above the lake.

I finally made it Gem Lake & it’s gorgeous!  Not sure if you can see the mountains in the background, but I was pretty sure I was looking towards Yosemite.  The water was crystal clear but no way I could see to easily get down to the water.  The trail on one side of me ended at the dam & the trail on the other side went around the lake, but it looked like I’d have to hike for another good bit…lots more up & down, before I might find a way down to the water.  And, even though I’d filled my water bladder before I left, I’d been drinking & drinking all the way up.  I knew I didn’t have enough to soak my shirt & hoped I’d have enough to get back down.  So, I just sat up at this amazing lake for about 30 minutes & took in the views.


I was so hot by the time I got down…my counter said I’d hiked 8 miles.  I took the short cut trail at the bottom, crossed the road, pulled off my shoes, socks, shirt & hat & took a big swim in Silver Lake…it felt great.  I got out my scrubby gloves & ‘sand-papered’ off the dirt.  I dried off with my Buff, put my shoes back on, grabbed my pack & everything else & walked the road back to the 4Runner.

Then I went to June Lake brewery.  I had a double IPA & sat outside…no indoor seating at all.  A lot of California is still strict with masks & indoor dining because of Covid.  Or maybe they just started being careful again, since there are so many new Covid patients.  It sprinkled a few times, but I was at a big picnic table under a tent, so all was good.  A young family joined me & we chatted while we all drank our beers.

I drove back south a few miles & found some forest camping close to an area I’d camped in before.  I was the only one back there! I don’t know where everyone is…it’s still summer.  Maybe it’s Covid, but that sure didn’t stop the droves of campers last year & at least 1/2 of us are vaccinated this year.  Maybe it’s the smoky skies.  Whatever the reason, I had my choice of campsite.

It sprinkled off & on & at one point, & I found myself hooping in the rain…it was all pretty mellow.

Chillin in the lounge while it lightly rains outside.

IMG 3757.jpg

Day 7 8.15 
I got up early thinking the trail I wanted to hike would be super crowded on a Sunday.  I drove the narrow Tioga Pass, which must climb at least 3,000’ & pulled over to make coffee at this picnic table I remember from the last time I was here.

I really wanted to hike the Saddlebag Lake to 20 Lake Basin.  When I was here in 2018, there was still so much snow, that I could only go as far as the first lake in the basin, then backtrack to the last lake.  So, I was looking forward to doing the whole 8 mile loop.  There was a ferry you could take to cut out the hike around Saddlebag, but it honestly didn’t seem that far to me & was ready for a long good hike. It’s named Saddlebag because of the way it’s shaped.

I didn’t see 20 lakes, but I bet saw about 8 or so.  Plus I think you can go off trail & find more.  The trail started out easy & dirt/gravel type surface.


Then it got more sketchy about mile 3.5 or 4.  The surface changed to these big rocks….kind of hard to walk on, but sometimes the trail was hard to see.  I came down the trail in the photo below.

Then hiked around this lake.


Then route finding became even more challenging.  The trail started to climb—not straight up, but up rocks.  There were a few cairns to mark the trail, but there were rock piles & falls everywhere.  I had to pay super close attention for about 2 miles.  I lost the trail a few times, but then would find it again.  I saw a few other hikers…all backpackers going the opposite direction than I was,  headed down to Lundy Canyon.  There was only one trail sign along the trail & that was at the intersection for the turn off for Lundy.  There are some trails I hike…usually ones that are about 5 or 6 miles out, when I feel really far away from everyone & way way out in the backcountry.  This one, at only about 4 miles out felt that way.

But, I could finally see the big huge Yosemite-like mountain in the distance, so I knew I was going the right way.  Once I was up high enough, I never lost sight of it for the rest of the hike & was confident I was headed the right way.

This is the next to the last lake on the loop & it was my favorite.  

Look how clear that water is!


The last lake.  Just love these huge mountains in the background!  

There were about 6 or 7 people fishing at the last lake, near where the ferry dropped them off.  I wanted to tell them all they should just hike 1.5 miles back to the next to the last lake & have their mind blown by it’s beauty, but they all seemed to be enjoying taking it easy in one spot.  And, I enjoyed the solitude of my hike…even if it was sketchy at times.  I watched as some of them got on the boat to speed back to the other end of the lake.  I took the other end of the loop & hiked back to the trailhead.  I’m really glad I was able to do the whole loop this trip!

I drove slowly back down Tioga Pass…going down you’re on the drop-off side!  It’s normally a fabulous place to stop at the pullouts & take photos of this beautiful pass, but todays smoke either washed out the colors or totally hid the view.

Then I stopped by Whoa! Nellie Deli on my way back to the 395 for their famous fish tacos (oh the mango/pineapple one is amazing) & a Mango Margarita…yummy.  Normally you sit out here with a view of Mono Lake…such a beautiful & fascinating lake with unusual Tufa formations.  But, today, the smoke had made the lake & it’s view, disappear.

I drove to my favorite secret free NFS campground that I promised the camp host back in 2018 I’d never tell anyone about it.  Same host this year…super nice guy that’s been coming here in the summers since he was a little boy.  Last time I was here, I got one of the last places (the camp probably has about 30 or 40 sites).  Today, there were only about 6 or 7 campers here…crazy-not-busy.

I chose one spot near the stream, washed off in the cool water & made a cup of tea.  There were signs warning of an aggressive bear in the area & so many bear marks on the surrounding trees.  I had no cell service in camp, so I read my book about Powell & his exploration down the Colorado River.  I’m also considering what to do next.  The smoke is supposed to be worse tomorrow.  The sky above in this photo looks clear…not sure how that happened, because the skies are milky, ghostly & white. So, I packed up & left the campsite & drove back out & up the road to where I had service.  I considered just staying up in this pullout for tonight…I didn’t want to mess with all my stuff in a bear box in camp.  Also, without service I couldn’t find out what roads were closed due to fires & which were open for me to cross the state.

But then I changed my mind & drove back down to the campground.  I chose a bigger space, more open & not so much in the trees.  When the camp host & his wife came by, we chatted about the scarcity of campers, the smoke & the bears.  They told me Id be fine to leave my stuff with me in my carjust cover the cooler & food so the bear couldnt see it.  That the aggressive bear was currently bothering the campers in the north camp…not this one. 

So, I read, then looked over my atlas.  Tonight would be my last night along the 395 & I’d figure out the rest of my trip, or at least the next step, tomorrow.

Day 8 8.16 
It was the smokiest day yet.  I drove up the highway wondering what was ahead of me.  I turned off the 395 & said goodbye to this cool stretch of highway that has some amazing beauty & fabulous mountains that line the sides of it.  So many places to explore here!  Highway 89 was open over Monitor Pass & I’d never gone into Tahoe that way, so I took it.  Up & down over & over.  I could smell something burning….I stopped & checked my brakes but they were fine.  I was getting into a burned area…I think it was the Tamarack fire burn, but it didn’t smell like wood burn, it smelled like rubber burn.  There were two vehicles in front of me…one a giant Class A towing a trailer with a jeep & the one directly in front of me was a huge truck camper also towing a trailer with a jeep.   Then I saw it was his tires that were smoking…or maybe his brakes.  He finally pulled over & I was sad for him, but grateful it wasn’t my 4Runner.  

I got into the burned area soon enough & it was devastating.  I passed a staging area, multiple utility trucks, NFS personnel…it’s just sad to see all this burn.  And, super scary to see how close it came to the homes in the area.  

I still wasn’t ready to call off my hike to Aloha Lake in the Desolation Wilderness…I was waiting to see how it was closer to South Lake Tahoe.  But as I drove the twisty road up to where I wanted to camp, I found signs on every road that those places were all closed.  So much burn, downed trees & what’s not downed yet, is dangerous to camp or hike around.  The skies went from white & cloudy to a dull gray & for the first time I could smell smoke.  So, it was time to find Plan B.

But first I had to stop at their nice grocery store in town to pick up ice, half & half, & a box of It’s It bars…only this time I found the Cappuccino flavored ones…yummy!

IMG 3834.jpg

The store wasn’t too far from the beaches, so I never had to go into the Village (which is not my favorite part of Tahoe).  I bought a day pass & the parking lot was practically empty.  It was still early in the morning, but I’m guessing most people don’t want to come play in the heavy smoke.  I put on my swim trunks, grabbed my water, phone, picnic blanket & a towel & went to the beach.  I pulled off my shirt, & went in the cool water.  Normally a photo like the one below, would show the bluest water you’ve ever seen, with bright blues skies & mountains across this beautiful lake.  But, not today.

I swam then dried in the sun, caught up on the phone (I finally have service!) with my sister-in-law & swam again.  


Then I packed up everything & hit the road for a long, long, hot, hot, day of driving.  I chose highway 20 to cross the state to go West.  The 299, which I normally would have taken to get to the boys house, was closed due to the Dixie fire.  And, since I had to cancel my hike, I decided to spend a little time on the 1…another beautiful stretch of highway in California.  But the 20 is a two lane highway, with many areas having no cell service.  It’s about 100 degrees here today as I passed through Sacramento to get on highway 20.  The road is curvy & many ups & downs.  

Then a red light came on my dash board…”A/T oil temp light’….or something like that.  I found a place to pull off the road & shut off the 4Runner.  No cell service & I was about 1/2 way between towns…about 20 miles in either direction.  I got out my manual & started to look for what the problem was.  I followed the directions…to leave the car off for a bit to cool, then turn it back on.  If no light comes on, it’s ok to drive.  If the light comes back on…well, I was hoping that pesky red light would stay off. And it did.  But, by now I was sort of freaked out.  Whenever I freak out about car stuff, I always turn off my A/C.  I’m never sure this is an answer, but I feel like I’m trying to bring less stress on the car.  So,now for the 2nd time on this trip, I’m in over 100 degree temps, with A/C off, windows down & spending an abnormal amount of time looking down at the dashboard for any warning lights.  I pulled over one more time & sat for 20 minutes….just because.  But this time, I actually found a pullout with a shade tree above it…I was trying to give comfort to my poor girl.  And trying not to think the worst.  And, I knew I’d make the dreaded phone call to Danny whenever I got service again.

I had decided to keep going west rather than to backtrack.  I made my way into a town called Clearlake & made the call to Danny.  He is so calm & patient & told me what to do & I found an auto parts store about 10 minutes away.  I felt so grateful, because to me, it seemed like I was still in no-mans land.  I went & bought transmission fluid & a funnel.  I probably put too much fluid in the tube, but I got the job done, check the stupid bendy stick for like the 5th time & crossed my fingers it would work.   I stored the 1/2 filled bottle & funnel, next to the 1/2 filled gallon of radiator fluid…all that stuff now filling the passenger floorboard.  I hope this is my last visit to an auto parts store on this trip!

For some stupid reason, I chose to take State Highway 175 rather than stay on the 20.  I think I chose it because I thought I might find camping farther south on the 101.  But, I have never, never, never been on such a curvy road in my life! (Now I think I need to check my power steering fluid because I worked that steering wheel to the right to the left to the right to the left about a gazillion times on this road.  I was laughing it got so crazy.  And of course, it was up & down too.  Probably all the wrong things for a vehicle that’s a little bit sick.  But, it was a beautiful drive!  If I could avoid the nerves of thinking about what might go wrong next, I could look around & see how gorgeous this area is.  Those beautiful soft California mountains I love so much, just rolling in big open spaces.  Before the climbs up & after the climbs down I drove through all types of vineyards…it was all just lovely.

I finally made it to the 101, palms sweaty (because I wouldn’t use my air conditioner & I was still nervous & that wasn’t the easiest road to drive) but now I needed to find camping.  I felt worn out from doing nothing today.  Camping is super hard here in California.  They have wonderful but super expensive State Parks & they are always filled up.  The place I thought was good on the south part of 101 near Hopland, wasn’t.  So, I found a casino parking lot.  Not the best choice, but I was allowed to camp there, felt safe & just wanted to sleep for the night.  It was finally cooler on this side of the state, but I rolled all my windows down a bit & let the cool air in.  And, then I slept.

Day 9 8.17
I was up early & drove back a little south to Ukiah to a Starbucks…wasn’t going to make coffee in the casino parking lot.  I drank & worked on my website, trying to get caught up.  Then I headed west on a winding road toward Anderson Valley Brewing & arrived just as they opened to try a small pour of stout.  Picked up a 4 pack of Porter for Leia, then continued on up the road.

IMG 3862.jpg
IMG 3863.jpg IMG 3864.jpg













The road took me through a beautiful redwood forest…dark & cool.  Then I followed the Navarro river to its destination into the Pacific.

This is what I wrote for a post on Instagram about what happened next….

"Then I see where the river disappears into something big & void. I see the empty expanse of the sky…no trees no hills & then my breath catches as the road climbs higher & I see the ocean.  Turquoise waters where river & ocean meet.  It’s magnificent & it’s a treasure to see. 

I continue on unable to pull over wanting to take photos of all this beauty but there’s no where to stop. The first pullout is crowded with vehicles but somehow not so many people. I walk to one side of the beach alone in my space & in my thoughts 

Last January I watched, listened & touched the water of the Atlantic; a couple of weeks ago I lived in & with the muddy cold Colorado River for 8 days & now I’m watching the salty waves of the Pacific wash over my feet. It somehow feels full circle; like living poetry & I’m so grateful for these experiences.”

I soooo love driving this wild coast!



I walked around Jughandle State Reserve then spent about an hour or so in Mendocino walking around the cute little shops & buildings.

IMG 3883.jpgIMG 3888.jpg









IMG 3889.jpg




IMG 3886.jpg











I drove through one of the state park beach campgrounds, which had room, but everyone was packed too close together.  I’d found a boondock list of legal places to stay in this area along the coast & I had taken a screen shot of it.  I ended up on this beautiful pullout.   


Another solo woman traveler pulled up in her mini van, then a local woman & her dog came.  We had some fun conversation, but mostly watched the sun going down, the birds all take flight at the same time & the tide come up…it was a peaceful gorgeous evening.





Day 10 8.18
At 4am I was woken by an emergency alert on my phone…a fire warning.  I read it, looked around at the dark sky, did not see smoke or fire, but could smell it when I got out of the car.  But, in the end, decided to stay where I was.  I had trouble falling back asleep, but it’s never wasted time to open a door & listen to those waves crashing against the shore.

I drove back south a bit into Fort Bragg, went to the store for ice, 1/2 1/2 & fill up on gas.  Then I went over to Glass Beach…which I hit at high tide…the wrong time.  But, I’ve been here about 3 or 4 times before & a walk on the rim was great.  I had received calls over the past few days from Luke & Pete inviting me to come early & hang out.  I was still trying to decide this morning if I was going out to Shelter Cove, which is very isolated & I’ve been to before, or head up to the boys.  Luke & his girlfriend had plans to leave for a couple of days, so I could see him if I went up early.

I decided to do that.  And, I’m glad I did.  Because, my A/T oil temp light came back on. UGGH! I drove through Avenue of the Giants which is a breathtaking forest filled with Redwood trees.

The smoky orange sun was shining through the dark forest making it even more magical!


Huge burl on this tree.

You can’t tell from the photo, but this trunk is gigantic!

Then I drove until I got to Arcata where I met Luke, Pete & Leia with giant hugs….I miss them so much!  We went to Dead Reckoning which has the best beer selection in the county (in my opinion).  Then the conversations began….love these three!

One of my all time fave beers & hard to get fresh on tap…Russian River’s Blind Pig.

IMG 3999.jpg

Luke picked up pizza & brought it back to the house.  Pete & Leia bought a house last August & the three of them have worked so hard to remodel it.  They still have a couple of bedrooms, an upstairs suite (which includes adding a bathroom), a downstairs bathroom & a kitchen to do.  But, it’s so comforting & nice!  Leia has done a wonderful job decorating…she has the touch.

I met all three goats—Peanut Butter, Jelly & Nutella & then we all had deck time with pizza, beer, laughs & interesting conversation.

Then I tucked into bed…a real bed, with lovely sheets & went to sleep!


home    1  3  4  5  6 

 vikhill@gmail.com                                                                                                                                                    © Vicki Hill 2022