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Tovo-Wa-Ha is the Native American name for the White - Inyo Mountains
It was an errant move. When she felt it tear, she knew it was the meniscus in her left knee. This was familiar territory for the Lady with what she calls her “well loved” knees. These knees have served her well. As a young freshman she made the varsity woman’s basketball team at Oregon State. She plays hard. Throughout college and beyond she regularly ran 6 to 18 miles a day. Hiking, backcountry skiing, mountaineering, biking; these knees have carried her to wonderful adventures. “Well loved” is a good description.
Ah, but what a way to start her summer break. A teacher who loves her job and her students, she hates to miss a day of work. This is the woman who insisted on going back to school the day after having her finger amputated. Now could we get surgery, the tear repaired, and recovery well underway before the start of the next school year? A firm and knowledgeable stance when the orthopedic doc initially suggested a few weeks of physical therapy and an MRI for evaluation and a lucky opening in his schedule led to arthroscopic surgery 10 days from the office visit. And, a weekend outdoor class we were teaching for California Department of Fish & Game (the Lady hobbled about but did fine) fell between those dates so we did not need to cancel or reschedule, eliminating an inconvenience for all those signed up. This was good luck. Let’s get it fixed!
Surgery went well (her fourth knee surgery, two on each – she’s even now), the tear was found and repaired, a general clean up done, and the expected evaluation – this knee has seen a lot of use. Post op therapy was elevate and ice, bear weight as tolerated, no excess walking.
The Lady has little patience for sitting around.
This happened the second morning waking up in the camper. As it started to get light outside, we listened for the first stirrings from wildlife. First a Douglas squirrel chattered, a robin sang, a Stellar jay squawked, and then a woodpecker went to work on a tree top. The lady stretched in our bed and said, “I love our camper. This is the best way to get healthy. I’m glad I passed my test!” We both burst out laughing.
Surgery was noon on Friday. Sunday morning I popped the top on the camper and set it up. The test. The Lady sat and watched from our swing. “Okay, show me how you do climbing in and out of the camper.” I got out of the way and watched. With ease she was soon sitting inside. I climbed in with her and pulled out the bed. “Let’s see how you can get up into the bed,” I started to say but she was up before I could finish.
“See, I can do okay in the camper. Anymore tests?” She smiled and added, “Let’s go somewhere, somewhere fun for me to sit around!”
Monday morning we arranged schedules to get a few days off. In the afternoon we packed the truck and were off – to someplace fun for the Lady to sit around.
Monday evening this was our dinner spot at Leavitt Lake in the Sonora Pass area.
The evening light that we so much enjoy delighted us.
The near full moon came into view.
The next morning the Lady elevated and iced as the new day came.
We resisted temptation but took note of the many places to hike to from here with wonderful opportunities to explore. Our objective for this trip was to explore the White/Inyo Mountains. Boundary Peak, Nevada’s high point is a fun little scramble we’ve enjoyed. We have accessed the Wilderness from the Trail Canyon Trailhead on past trips and have wanted to check out the alternate Queen Mine access.
It is a long steep climb up Queen Canyon but nothing a Toyota Sienna can’t handle.
The road continues as a 4x4 route about a mile further to a high saddle on the ridge. Our thought was possibly this would make a great camp spot for the night. Leaving the Lady to ice and elevate – she really was a good patient – I walked up the road to see if we could safely drive it. At the top I found a lifted F-250 with mud terrain tires parked with four tents pitched in the open flat spot. Two tents were flattened by the wind and duffle bags, cooking pots, and light shoes were scattered around. It looked like this was purely from just sloppy people. They were off to the summit, camp was a disaster, they didn’t care. There was evidence they had also turned off the road and just driven straight to the top, spinning tires on the way up. Plan B for this night’s camp was in order. It did not look like these folks would make pleasant neighbors.
I rejoined the Lady. She had her chair out on the edge of the large pile of tailings, a spot with a view. There are extensive mining ruins in this canyon.
Plan B for the night was Sawmill Meadows on the east side of Glass Mountain south of highway 120 west of Benton. We were alone with no evidence of anyone else in the area.
In the morning, after sharing our laughter about the “test”, we sipped our cups of coffee and watched the sunlight creep down the trees and enter the meadow.
Today we were heading to the White Mountains, home to the ancient bristlecone pines. The Lady’s cell phone rang as we passed through Bishop. Friends from southern California, also instructors with the Becoming an Outdoor Woman program, were in the area. They would join us at Grandview Campground. Our trip was turning into a special occasion!
We got settled into a campsite.
Our friends, avid geocachers were armed with a GPS unit loaded with nearby caches. We were off.
We stopped at the Schulman Grove Visitors Center where work is progressing on the new building, replacing the one tragically destroyed in an arson fire in 2008. The grand opening celebration will be September 1, 2012.
We worked our way up White Mountain Road and above 11,000 feet to the Patriarch Grove of bristlecone pines. In the late afternoon light and in the clear high elevation air with our two friends we walked among the bristlecones. It is impossible not to feel spiritual about these trees, this place.
We returned to our camp at Grandview. After our dinner – our friends are civilized campers with a well equipped cache of camping supplies, complete with a table cloth. They eat with utensils such as forks and spoons. It was good for us, the two “hungry heathens”, to be in company with such sophistication – we readied ourselves with extra layers to enjoy the coming night. This was Independence Day, the Fourth of July.
At another campsite, folks added accelerant to their campfire.
Loud booms came up from the Owens Valley as Big Pine and Bishop celebrated a traditional Fourth. We watched the full moon rise and then hide behind clouds.
Up before dawn the next morning, our coffee made, the Lady felt like trying an easy walk out to the west and a view of the Sierra Nevada in the rising sun.
Our friends were spending the day hiking in the high Sierra Nevada. Our plans were to explore an area a friend in the geology department of Sacramento State University had told us about - a wandering pluton of Sierra Nevada granodiorite that is exposed in the Inyo Mountains, outcroppings rising from a plain of fill, an exciting beautiful place where they have done field study. It sounded good to us, especially since it was a little off the beaten path.
It was also a special place for Native Americans.
It this vastness we found ourselves exquisitely alone.
Although we had planned to meet our friends back at Grandview Campground, we had to stay here. We climbed out the outcroppings to the west to find an overlook of the Owens Valley, well over 4000 feet below, an overlook that had cell service. Success and we made the call, a message that said we were okay but staying the night in this special place.
“Places like this are why we have the truck and camper. They will understand.” The Lady smiled.
We set up camp and the Lady found us a spot around a corner, shade under a mountain mahogany, a spot with a view.
We wandered some but mostly relaxed the afternoon away.
We splurged with our afternoon showers and the Lady washed her hair. An early dinner and we were ready for the show.
The Sierra, in the fading light, what can I say?
It was a wonderfully quiet night. We hoped the coyotes would sing. They didn’t, but the stars overhead and the smell of sage and the quiet engulfed us.
And the high point, Mount Whitney, above our humble abode just as the rising sun hit us.
We didn’t hurry with our morning coffee, breakfast, or our chores, but too soon it was time to be on our way. Unfortunately, very unfortunately, there was one chore we had to do before leaving. A trail led from camp. We thought it might lead to a favored overlook. How could we be so stupid? It led to a disgusting field of used toilet paper hanging from bushes, partial buried piles of human waste, used feminine products and applicators; a foul, so unnecessary, mess.
Folks we can do better than this. Never leave a piece of toilet paper behind. The Lady always has a ziplock along to carry everything out. We use WAG bags. You should too. I dug into my pack and my first aid kit and got a pair of disposable gloves. I grabbed the shovel and a couple of gallon ziplock bags and went to work.
Bottom line folks – if you can’t walk back down the trail and be proud of the way you have disposed of your waste, that you have left no trace whatsoever – stay home. I am growing tired of cleaning up after people, especially in a place as beautiful as this.
Essential for navigation on the Inyo National Forest are the free motor vehicle use maps. These show routes that are legal to drive and their marked route number designation. They can be picked up from the Inyo Forest offices and also downloaded from the Inyo’s website. Also be sure and check up to see if seasonal fire restrictions are in effect. This year restrictions went into effect 25 June 2012.
Late Friday found us back in the White Mountains.
We were planning on finding a high camp spot, above tree line. A wind out of the west, cold at this high elevation, and most likely would blow all night, convinced us to look for a more sheltered place. There is one numbered road that drops from the ridge down into the upper Cottonwood Basin. It gives access to the new White Mountains Wilderness Area.
We investigated it and I walked down the majority of the steep shelf road. We figured this would be a possible place to camp far away from people, the kind of place we search out. There was one rough bedrock section and at one spot a vehicle traveling up had dug some pretty significant holes. I considered the road doable for us but with the Lady on the mend there wouldn’t be the two of us to do road work and if something happened she would not be able to walk out of this steep basin. We decided to head down back to Grandview Campground and warmer temperatures.
Saturday it was time for us to leave Tovo-Wa-Ha. It had been a great adventure. We had plans to explore around Rock Creek or maybe do the June Lake Loop, popular places that we usually pass by, but driving out of Bishop we changed our minds. We explored the volcanic tablelands by driving Casa Diablo Road. We intersected the Benton Crossing Road and headed west to the Owens River. From here we decided to do a geothermal tour of the Long Valley Caldera.
The hot afternoon called for a stop at Lee Vining’s Mono Cone for soft serve. With our cones in hand we walked down a side street to the park and shade and a view of Mono Lake. Parked along the side street were a cowboy and his family, leaning against the end gate of their 4x4 F-350 Super Duty crew cab, enjoying ice cream also. The cowboy was dressed in a worn western dress shirt, blue jeans, boots, and a summer straw that looked like it has seen weather. This wasn’t a recent store bought outfit and it looked well at home on his tall but stout frame. The truck’s bumper was covered with political stickers, some were pretty rough, I thought. Another couple, looked like city folk, was walking ahead of us, returning to their large motor home parked across from the park. The man stopped and loudly began praising the views expressed by the bumper stickers. The cowboy shook his head and with a perfect drawl slowly said, “Ah, you know these here stickers were on this truck when I bought it and Lord knows right now I can’t afford another bumper.”
We had made some distance back toward home and started to think of a possible camp site. It was a summer Saturday afternoon in the popular Sierra Nevada.
“We should head up to Ted’s camping spot up by Dunderburg,” the Lady said. “I bet there is nobody there!”
How does she know these things?
Finding the area all ours, we settled in. Clouds had built and the occasional rain drop would hit the ground.
The views were spectacular from this high spot on the moraine ridge.
The sun dropped behind the Sierra as we sat and ate our dinner.
Mono Lake was below us to the southeast.
The skies cleared. We sat out late this night, the stars above and the lights of Bridgeport far below.
The coffee was ready well before dawn. To celebrate our last morning of the trip breakfast was out. We would eat at the Hays Street Café in Bridgeport.
As the light came in the east, Jupiter and Venus were still visible.
Dawn’s glow spread to Mono Lake.
Camp and Dunderburg Peak were silent behind us………….
………………as the sun moved closer to dawn.
This had been a different trip for us, a trip of healing. We had succeeded in our goal - “Let’s go somewhere, somewhere fun for me to sit around!”