Thursday, June 7, 2012

Day 47: Spanish Needle Creek to Long Valley Loop Road

Camped in the shadow of Mt. Owens, rising just east of our camp, the morning was cold and sunless. Packing up quickly, we began hiking to warm up.

The trail crosses several small streams, each more beautiful than the last. One was shaded by enormous oak trees. Another was lined by beautiful, fragrant wild roses. A third ravine, with little more than seep to dampen the dry ground, looked like a jungle, with ferns, moss, and a tangle of vine-like branches.

Reaching a small saddle, we continued climbing on the other side, passing through a denser forest of sugar, pinyon, and Jeffrey pine, fir, and a broad leafed oak. Eventually we topped out on the ridge. There we enjoyed views of the Spanish Needles, Lamont Peak, the desert to the east, and the endless range of Sierra Nevada mountains to the north.

We reached a stream in mid-afternoon. While I filtered water, Sierra admired the dragonflies flittering just above the water. She called me back over to show me a large dragonfly. With a beautiful black and yellow body, and thin, transparent wings like an onion skin, the dragonfly's black legs were clinging to a tall blade of grass next to the stream.

Fluttering its wings like a helicopter preparing to take flight, the dragonfly suddenly leaped from the grass to my pant leg. A hitchhiker!

Even after I began hiking, my pant leg swaying with each stride, the dragonfly continued to cling to me with the tenacity of a drowning man clutching a life preserver. But I was reluctant to remove the dragonfly from its natural habitat. I carefully coaxed him onto a stick and carried him back to the water.

We ate dinner at Fox Mill Spring before climbing up to the ridge. Blue mountains towered over the 8,000 foot ridge, looking more and more like the tall, impressive peaks we call home. Cresting the ridge, we saw the sun just touching the mountains on the distant western horizon. As we descended, the sun slipped behind the mountains and disappeared.

We continued to descend, hiking in the waning light of dusk, searching for a campsite, any campsite. As the pale glow of dusk all but disappeared, I spotted a flat dirt and gravel area not far from the trail. We camped under the stars, falling asleep before the moon rose.

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