Backpacking Big Pine Lakes: Part I

Somewhere along the drive north on the 395, LA's top 40's radio station turned into static and right on cue, we popped in our go-to roadtrip soundtrack: Jason Mraz's "Yes!" album. It's one of two CDs we keep in the car and we've listened to it and Sara Bareilles' "Blessed Unrest" so many times that we practically know every song by heart. With our rooftop tent strapped to the top of the Outback and a snoozing pup in the backseat, we zoomed past large RVs and discussed the features of the dream CJ7 Jeep we'd buy one day. Two-door, soft-top, khaki interior, and of course it'd need one of those black and yellow California license plates.

Before long, we were passing the sign that welcomed visitors to the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada range came into view. Finally, vacation had begun. 

First stop was the Eastern Sierra Interagency Visitor's Center to pick up our overnight permits for the Big Pine North Fork trail. It was a warm but breezy 90 degrees in Lone Pine and Hoku waited outside with the other pups since no dogs were allowed inside. A friendly ranger refilled the water bowl by the picnic table and all the dogs took turns cooling off. I chatted with a fit, tattooed stranger who had just picked up a permit for Mt. Whitney. "Good luck!" I tell him. "I'm gonna need it," he chuckled, giving Hoku a pet on the head.

Inside, we picked up our permits and asked a ranger about trail conditions. It sounded like there was heavy snow cover on the trails past second lake so our plan to hike to Palisade Glacier was probably not going to happen without ice axes, which we didn't bring. "Regarding bears," he concluded, "They're waking up and they're hungry."

We weren't sure if he was joking.

Next stop was a little burger joint in town called Frosty Chalet. It could have been the heat, but anything with the word "frosty" in it was more than ok by me. We grabbed a seat at one of the tables outside on their perfectly manicured lawn and joked about it being our last civilized meal for the next few days. 

With full bellies, we drove north for another hour, stopping for gas and firewood in Big Pine before heading up a windy mountain road and blissfully losing all cell reception. Bye emails. Bye Instagram.

Our campsite at Upper Sage Flat was picturesque and relaxing. It was a little site at the far end of the campground right next to a rushing creek fed by the snow melt up in the mountains. We watched our camp neighbors fish for trout and did a little bit of exploring and gathering of fallen branches and pinecones for the fire pit before pitching our tents and unwinding from the long drive. 

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We set up the stove and dinnerware on the picnic table and our little camp kitchen was complete. On the menu for dinner was hot chili with corn and rice accompanied by ice cold beers. We ate around the campfire as the sunset behind the mountains darkened the silhouettes of the tall pines surrounding us. The temperature was just right and the sound of rushing water and a crackling fire made the evening even more perfect. 

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After dinner, our group shared a chocolate chip cookie and gazed at the stars and full moon before locking our food and other bear-attracting items inside the metal bins provided at the campsite. We climbed the ladder up into our rooftop tent and tried to get some rest, filled with a nervous excitement for our first ever overnight trip into the backcountry. I prayed that I wouldn't crumble under the weight of my 35-lb pack (which I had only practiced carrying around at home a day earlier) and thought about hungry bears before drifting to sleep, comforted by the pup at my feet who had not a care in the world. 

Desert Sunsets at The Aloha Ranch

We spent last weekend catching up with old friends in a cute Airbnb called the "Aloha Ranch," a fitting name for a group with Hawaii roots and a dog with a Hawaiian name. We explored Joshua Tree National Park, threw burgers and brats on the BBQ, played horseshoes, listened to old vinyl records, and sat around the fire pit laughing about past shenanigans, all as the sky transitioned from dusty desert pinks and purples to a dark canvas of stars with the Big Dipper straight overhead. Is there anything more lovely than the desert at dusk? It's my favorite kind of sunset. 

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(Anyone know where can I find a floor lamp like that by the way? It's awesome.)

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Hoku enjoyed the serenades of Elton John's greatest hits album spinning on the record player...

"And I think it's gonna be a long long time
'Till touch down brings me round again to find
I'm not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I'm a rocket man
Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone"

We recently discovered that Keys Point (the highest point at Joshua Tree National Park) is actually dog friendly, which was a nice surprise as most of the park is off limits to furry friends. Even at just 5300 ft above sea level, the panoramic lookout offers perfect views of the Salton Sea, as well as two of the highest peaks in Southern California, Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio (which we summited 2 years ago!)

It was one of the hotter days we've ever experienced in the park and the shade offered by the boulders was a welcome and surprisingly cool retreat. (After a quick check for rattlesnakes hiding in the cracks, that is.)

Back at our Airbnb, which had a strict no pets on furniture policy, this cinderblock + wooden platform in our closet provided the perfect pup perch for resting weary paws. 

Thanks Joshua Tree for more excellent desert memories. We'll be back when the weather cools.

May Gray

This gloomy May weather has been bumming me out. It's almost the perfect metaphor/ pathetic fallacy for the creative block I've been kind of feeling these days. While walking Hoku yesterday, I realized that I couldn't remember the last time I took my camera out on one of our daily walks. It's funny how easily things can become routine, mundane and ordinary when there's so much inspiration in the everyday. I also couldn't remember the last time I wanted to shoot...not to document a trip, not for a job, not because I felt like I needed to update my Instagram feed, but just for the joy of it. So today, I did just that. No headphones, no looking at a screen...just me, my camera and my dog. Just like how this whole crazy journey started.

Anyway, I love how this set of images turned out, and all thanks to the cloudy skies and overcast light I've been hating on. Take that, May Gray. You can't bring me down.  

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The bandana Hoku's wearing was made by our super talented Insta-friend, Tracy (@chelseatheterrier), mom of two of our favorite scruffy pups, Chelsea and Emma. Check out her Etsy shop, Kawaii Hound, for cute handmade booties, bandanas and accessories.