Our summer has been one of little travel and few activities beyond medical care. Fortunately, this has not been life saving medical care. The medical care was more like quality of life care. My left knee was replaced on June 2 and my right knee replacement was done July 28. As a result, I haven't been getting out and about as much as normal.
Exploring has been a big part of our life since we started living full time in the motor home. We've traveled all 49 RV states and most of Canada. Along the way we drive, hike and explore our surroundings. This summer we have missed that activity until this last week.
With the healing well under way, I'm becoming more mobile. A fellow camper here at Goldstrike Village in San Andreas where we are staying mentioned that California highway 4 was a wonderful scenic drive into the Sierra Nevada mountains. Having nothing scheduled on Friday we decided to explore that route.
Our first stop was in Angels Camp to drop off our water pump at the UPS customer center. It's going back to the factory center to be repaired. Leaving Angels Camp our next stop was at Murphys to top off the gas tank, always advisable when heading into the mountains. From there it was a steady uphill drive. The highway is excellent here with a good stretch of new pavement that hasn't been painted yet. We stopped for lunch at Bristol's Ranch House in Big Trees, a fair sized town near the state park of the same name. Louise had the special for the day, stuffed peppers and rated it first class. I had one of the best French Dip sandwiches I've ever had. Prices were reasonable and we were able to eat outdoors on the deck and enjoy the nice weather, sunshine and comfortable in short sleeves and shorts.
Leaving Big Trees we were headed into high country. We passed up Big Trees State Park wanting this to be a thorough exploration of highway 4. The state park is close enough to our base that we can visit it another day. Once we are at higher elevations scenic view points start popping up. We stopped at several, enjoying the view taking pictures and doing some light hiking. The first stop had just a short trail out onto the white granite bedrock. At the second stop we found longer trails through a feature named H*ll's Kitchen. The granite bedrock was strewn with granite boulders weathered from the native rock. I guess you could picture it as a very messy kitchen.
We walked around the whole area taking our time and plenty of pictures. This was my first real experience with rough terrain since my surgery so I was slow and deliberate. My right knee is just nine weeks old and I'm still favoring it a little when it comes to up and down grades. I was also being sure footed when picking my way along the trail. Scattered over the landscape are giant sequoia trees which dwarf the tall pine trees among them. Still, these are not the true giants which are found in the state park and further south in Sequoia National Park. It felt good to be back out on a trail.
As we left this area we passed a sign for the Spicer Meadows Reservoir on the Stanislas River. Louise asked if we could drive to the reservoir and I agreed. It was a ten mile drive into the valley on a smaller, unmarked road through some spectacular scenery. There was very little traffic and one hardy bicyclist on the road. We took our time and enjoyed the ride. The reservoir is beautiful with the surrounding scenery being truly spectacular. I've seen the California reservoirs dreadfully dry in past years but this year the level was quite good for the end of the summer. We walked onto the dam as far as the Department of Homeland Security would allow, then drove below the dam to hike to a view of the generator housing and discharge pipe which feeds the Stanislas River below the dam. There was a full flow of water coming from the six foot diameter discharge pipe and additional water coming from two active generators. This put out a nice spray which the wind drifted to us from time to time. We enjoyed viewing the resulting river rushing downstream as we walked over a low bridge.
After returning to highway 4, we continued on east toward Pacific Pass and Ebbetts Pass. It was now getting late in the afternoon. As we drove the road narrowed and became serpentine. The road was entirely unpainted, not even a center stripe. Signs cautioned snow plows not to continue past the point where the road narrowed. They also indicated permits were needed for vehicles over a certain size. This was going to be true mountain driving. We continued on for about a half hour, passing over Pacific Pass and descending to the bridge over the North Fork of the Mokelumne River. We had about an hour of daylight left. I elected to abandon further exploration so we could return over the narrow steep curving road in the daylight. We had already had a pair of deer stare us down and there were sure to be more as darkness descended. Besides, who wants to drive on a narrow snake of a road in the dark with oncoming traffic. No thank you!
We made it all the way back to the town of Big Trees before stopping for dinner. The final 30 miles back to Goldstrike Village were done in the dark but on much better road. We had seen some spectacular scenery, walked among some of the big trees. I felt like an infant that had taken their first steps, I was going to get better and we would be returning to our life of exploring.