March 28, 2017.
I rolled out of my tent to a splendid view of the Sierra behind me. The wind had died down enough for me to get a fire going, eat breakfast and plan out my day. I had 270 miles of driving to do in order to get to my destination, and there were a few stops I’d planned along the way.
Whitney Portal Arch
In the weeks before my roadtrip, I borrowed a couple of California hiking books from the local library. While most of the epic hikes were located high in the Sierra, there were a few interesting, short hikes that were low enough for me to access this time of year. One of these was a 1 mile scramble to Whitney Portal Arch.
I’d put a post-it note with rough directions to the trail head in my map book and took a photo of the route with my phone. Between these two pieces of beta I was able to find the unmarked parking area and set off in the right direction. Just a short walk along a trail brought me to a view of the arch, then I ambled cross-country to get over to it.
The nearby hills cast long shadows over the desert so I stayed bundled up in my down jacket as I trekked through the desert sand, avoiding snagging my pants legs on the cactus. I hiked up to the arch and then all around it, looking for the perfect perspective. In my mind, I had envisioned the arch framing Mt. Whitney inside from just the right angle. It was, after all, called Whitney Portal. But without ropes or a step ladder there was just no way for me to capture the image in my head. Nonetheless, it was beautiful and quiet. I enjoyed the morning sunshine and then picked my way back across the desert.
I backtracked away from the mountains and pulled into the maze of roads surrounding the Alabama Hills. This place was surely no secret. Cars and RVs were everywhere. Miraculously I ended up at another unmarked parking lot that would be the start of my second hike: the Arch Loop Trail.
The trail wound up, down, over and through undulating sandy and rocky terrain. Wildflowers were just beginning to come in, and carpets of tiny flowers turned the ground yellow. The Arch Trail connected with another unmarked trail that I followed to a parking lot. Another trail branched off in another direction, and on and on. This would be an incredible playground to explore with many more days to hang out here. I didn’t have that luxury, so I retreated back to the loop. There were lots of people scrambling around the biggest arch. I took a quick look and finished up the hike.
Back on 395, there was one more quick and easy stop: Fossil Falls. I drove down a gravel road that took me to a parking area with a picnic table and pit toilet. I would have sat and eaten my lunch here but the winds had picked up again and it was brutal just being outside.
I took the short walk to the overlook above the dry waterfall. It looked familiar. Blocky basalt columns and water-worn potholes sprung out of the desert cinder, seemingly from nowhere. I noticed some pretty, delicate flowers struggling to stay upright in the wind. I took one photo and when I reached for my phone again, it had turned itself off. Weird. I powered it on, waited, and it started to reboot again. This cycle continued several times before I got frustrated and sat down out of the wind. I relaxed in the sunshine, phone tucked away in my bag, annoyed that I couldn’t document this place. Before I left, my phone came on temporarily and I hastily took a few pictures before it died. Time to hit the road again, and there was no way to find directions to any other parks…
Without a phone, I thought. What do I lose? My camera. My navigation system. My address book and phone numbers. My email, text and social media. My calendar. I couldn’t just buy a new one. It was under warranty, and they’d ship a new one to me…at my home address. But I’d be on the road for nearly two weeks. So that meant I needed to think on my feet. Fortunately I had all my hiking information in my journal and on paper maps. When I could get my phone to work I scribbled down any addresses I needed and drew maps of driving directions to get from place to place.
The one thing I couldn’t live without: a camera. I bought one at Best Buy the next day, so that I could continue to document my travel in photos. Lucky for you, I’ve got lots more pictures to share along with my ranting and carrying on.