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Central Sierra Mountains

July 2021

Sage and I enjoyed five days exploring Calaveras and Alpine counties in the Sierra Nevada, from the foothills to a mountain pass. I traveled with Lynn, Sue, and Monica, plus Laika, Monica’s English Cocker. Dogs and humans got along great. The highlight of most days was swimming, especially at Lake Alpine. The highs ranged from 80o (27oC) to over 100F (38oC), depending on our elevation each day (a welcome escape from this year’s relentlessly foggy summer in San Francisco). Unlike at home, we did not see a single mask. We are all vaccinated, and our activities were outdoors, so I didn’t worry about Covid.

Monday, July 5 – Getting There, Leisurely

I picked up Monica shortly after 9:00, and we introduced Sage and Laika. They are both good travelers and got along fine. We stopped for lunch next to a cute small lake in White Pines Park, in Arnold. There was a logging museum nearby so we took a stroll through rusting equipment afterwards. Less than 150 years ago this was state of the art machinery, sadly used to destroy ancient forests. We stopped at a couple stores looking for swim noodles, but they were sold out everywhere, thanks to recent heat wave. I bought an inflatable ring instead. We drove up to Lake Alpine, took the dogs for a short walk, and scouted locations for the next day. 

We met Lynn and Sue in the late afternoon at our rented A-frame cabin in Camp Connell, a tiny community at 4760’ (1450 meters) in Calaveras County. I fixed dinner – salmon, mashed sweet potatoes, and brussels sprouts – which took twice as long to cook as at home. While waiting we enjoyed gin and tonics on the deck. After dinner, we moved indoors to get away from mosquitos and started a jigsaw puzzle. 

Tuesday, July 6 – Big Trees

We are each on our own for breakfast. I ate a piece of leftover salmon with goat cheese on a toasted slice of homemade sourdough, a tasty combo. Afterwards, we headed to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, arriving shortly before 10:00. I took the popular North Grove Loop, while the others, along with the dogs, took a longer loop on fire roads. At 1.7 miles, it’s the longest “hike” I’ve done since I pulled a hamstring a month ago. I went slowly and took lots of pictures of the remaining large sequoias (the biggest were logged more than a century ago).

After a stop at Big Trees grocery store in Arnold, we returned to our cabin for lunch, eating a variety of what Alex in his youth called “rabbit food” and what I might call “nibblies” – crackers, hummus, egg salad, olive, carrot sticks, fruit, etc.  We then packed up our swim gear and headed back to Lake Alpine. Sage rode on the front floor and Laika on Lynn’s lap. 

We went swimming just past the Marmot Day Use Area (more floating than swimming in my colorful ring which attracted fluorescent dragonflies). The water felt chilly at first but it didn’t take me long to get adjusted. Sage was very tempted by sticks but would not go deep enough to get her paws off the bottom.

Our challenge of the day was finding dinner. First, we headed to a restaurant in Arnold whose website and voice mail stated they were open. It was closed due to a plumbing problem or something. We drove by several other restaurants, all closed on Tuesdays. We lowered our sights and headed to a brew pub, only to find out they weren’t serving food that day. We finally settled on the Lube Room Saloon, which was only serving pizza that day, one fixed size, cheese or pepperoni, that’s it. I enjoyed my beer more than the couple small slices I consumed. Still hungry, we headed back to Big Trees, the store not the park, where the deli section was closed. I found a pack of frozen mini pot-stickers which I nuked back at the cabin.  After the kitchen was clean, Lynn, Sue, and I enjoyed a soak in the hot tub.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021 – A Cave, A Hammock, and Community Train

After breakfast, we headed down mountain to a trailhead leading to a cave along the river (more like a stream during this summer of a drought year); we left the dogs at the cabin. I slowly walked the mile or so each way. A nice woman from Guatemala greeted us with fresh herbs she’d just harvested; she was picnicking with her family on the rocks next to us. I used a trekking pole to carefully enter the water, the wet rocks were extra slippery thanks to bits of green slime. The water was a tad colder than Lake Alpine. We got on rafts and half floated, half paddled through a short cave. What fun! After lunch, I dunked my whole body, clothes and all, except hiking boots, in the water to provide portable air conditioning for the walk back to the car. 

Lynn and Sue were ready for another adventure so they headed off to explore a swimming spot near Boards Crossing Bridge (later reported to be a beautiful spot, but with water moving too rapid to swim much). Monica and I stayed at the cabin. I played fetch with Sage and dozed in a hammock. 

When the swimmers returned, Lynn fixed vodka tonics which we enjoyed with my avocado dip. Lynn and Sue cooked ribs, squash, and mashed cauliflower for dinner. We wrapped up the evening with several rounds of Community Train (a.k.a. Mexican Train, a variation of dominos). 

Thursday, July 8 – Hwy 4 (Ebbetts Pass to Murphys)

We headed up Highway 4, stopping here and there along the way. Our first stop being a fifteen minute wait for road pavers; we had a pleasant chat with the flag holder. Rather than leave his cats and wife behind each week, he drives two hours each way to the job site. Next up was the Bear Valley ski area where Sue worked in her ski enthusiast (a.k.a. ski bum) days. Even without snow, it’s a pretty location. We then winded our way up to Ebbetts Pass (8730’, 2660 meters) where we took a short walk to stretch our legs. On our way back down, we stopped for lunch at the picnic table we spotted on our way up. A few miles east of Lake Alpine, it offered a beautiful wide view of the mountains and puffy white clouds. 

We stopped at the lodge for ice cream, then headed to the Marmot Day Use area on the west shore of Lake Alpine, where we once again relished swimming and floating. Sage enjoyed fetching sticks along the shore, until a mean dog nipped her. Fortunately, she was fine and got to play again later when he departed. I was sitting on a stool, sketching, when I felt an earthquake, followed by a couple aftershocks. The women floating in the water also felt it. We later learned that the epicenter was only 35 miles east of us; it measured 6.0. 

We got back to our cabin later than planned, so I took a super quick shower before we headed down to Murphys, with the biggest selection of restaurants in the area. We enjoyed our meals and sangria at Rob’s Place. It was still in the 90’s when we completed our after-dinner stroll through this cute town and headed up the mountain. Back at the cabin, we finished the jigsaw puzzle we started a couple days back.

Friday, July 9 – Home 

Check-out time was 10:00, we almost made it. (That seems awfully early given that we couldn’t check in until 4:00). We headed in two different directions after cleaning up and packing. Lynn and Sue returned to Lake Alpine for a final swim, while Monica and I went to breakfast at Murphys Hotel. It was 101F (38oC) at 11:00 am; and we worried about the dogs’ paws crossing the asphalt. Fortunately, the shade and misters kept us comfortable. We split a delicious veggie omelet. We were back in the city by 3:00. Fortunately, it was sunny and relatively warm so I didn’t freeze in my sandals and capris.