Backpacking from South Lake to Long Lake

Anticipation Excitement builds. Daphney and Jayden can’t wait. Last year’s backpacking trip felt like a proud accomplishment. This will be a trip bigger than the last, and this will be Myles’s first such trip. It’s Friday evening of Labor Day weekend. Yan and I are doing some final packing. “We’re…

To Anchorage and Home

This morning, the kids gather sticks and cones during breakfast, anticipating another fire. We don’t have much time for a real one, so I douse everything with some leftover sanitizer and introduce them to the brief but huge flames of ignited alcohol. Down the road, we see a moose running in the brush. Yan and I switch spots, and I get out my camera. It’s an elusive apparition, now vanished into the forest.

Denali National Park

We have a hearty breakfast at Prey again, then we pack up everything to head into the park. Tonight, we’ll be camping. Arriving at the bus depot, we learn that the next bus availability is at 12:30, and it only goes to mile 43, since the rest of Park Road is closed due to mudslides. We first tour the visitor center and watch two films: one about sled dogs and another about Denali. We buy the last of our Alaska Geographic patches: first Klondike, then Glacier Bay, Kenai Fjords, Wrangell-St. Elias, and finally, Denali.

The Interior

I’m the first to get up, just before sunrise, while the northerly summer pre-dawn sky glows orange and the distant mountains look purple. Breakfast is a combination of oatmeal with toppings and scrambled eggs for protein. Jayden devours the eggs, but Daphney laments that the eggs don’t taste as good as the free-range ones from home. Retracing the Denali Highway, we parallel the Alaska Range, this time to our left. At a pull-out, we step out onto a small outcrop and take in the expanse—pristine Sevenmile Lake, the vast alpine tundra, glacial streams, and snow-capped peaks that punch into the sky. After a quiet moment, we have to leave.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

To save driving time, this day is planned around the Whittier-Valdez ferry. We line up then make it through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel and arrive in town. I check in with the ferry, and after queuing up, we grab lunch at Varly’s Swiftwater Seafood Café. All they have is fried food: zucchini, onion rings, fish and chips.

The Kenai Peninsula

Early in the morning, we get breakfast at the lodge and pack up for departure. While no doubt the bear viewing and scenery are highlights of the trip, we are happy to leave this place infested with mosquitoes and white sock flies. After breakfast, we pack up and take the water taxi to King Salmon. The King Salmon airport is packed. The previous leg from Anchorage was nearly an empty flight, but now the waiting room is filled with fishermen wanting to leave. The few women there are tourists. The guys behind us describe how this year’s fish prices are terrible, roughly a quarter of what they normally make.

Hiking in Katmai

We disembark onto a private bus. There are a few others with us. Making our way through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, we soon arrive at the Anchorage airport. I check the car seats and bags for city travel at the storage facility, then board our flight to King Salmon. There is no reception in King Salmon, but I was able to find the number for the Katmai Water Taxi and call them using a wall phone that allows free local calls. We wait in the adjacent visitor center where we watch a film about the Katmai area.

Long Lake to Mosquito Flat

This is our final day! The lake is like a polished mirror, and the mountain range stand like a boundary between the water and the sky. The two almost look indistinguishable. The kids stir and wake up. I go out for a photography session and fish while Yan makes oatmeal breakfast.

Marsh Lake to Long Lake

Rock Creek is still singing when I get up. The clothes on the line are mostly dry. Soon, the kids stir. I climb the hillock nearby and shoot pictures of clear reflections in the lake as it stretches like a polished slab of glass dotted with marsh grass.

Mosquito Flat to Marsh Lake

The trail rises gently out of Mosquito Flat. In contrast to the scorching hot week in Loma Linda, the air, scented with pine needles and sagebrush, is cool. I tell the kids a story about hiking in Kings Canyon to distract them from the mild uphill. Just before the trail junction to Ruby Lake and Mono Pass, everyone takes a break by some shaded boulders.

Preparations for Little Lakes Valley

The anticipation began more than six months ago. After seeing the kids hike the loop trail in Pinnacles National Park, and after having abandoned their double stroller in favor of shoes, we grew confident that they will be able to go backpacking.

The Lower Kern

East of the Sierras | Lake Tahoe | Lassen Volcanic National Park | Central Valley | Yosemite National Park | The Lower Kern

East of the Sierras

East of the Sierras | Lake Tahoe | Lassen Volcanic National Park | Central Valley | Yosemite National Park | The Lower Kern

Camping by Big Bear Lake

After baking a sourdough boule for our lunch picnic, we drive up to Big Bear Lake’s Serrano Campground. We have several goals in mind: get the kids outdoors, escape the valley heat, and see Jupiter and Saturn while they are near opposition. The 130 mm reflector telescope had just arrived,…

Visiting Sequoia National Park

Last time we were up this way, an early winter storm thwarted our visit to the giant sequoia trees. The road was open up just beyond Sequoia National Park’s Foothill Visitor Center. This time, it’s the novel coronavirus that nearly caused this trip to be cancelled. We had originally scheduled…

Cottonwood Campground in Joshua Tree National Park

Our original plan was to leave early Saturday morning, early enough to secure a campsite at one of the first-come-first-served campgrounds in Joshua Tree. Because of coronavirus, the park had decided to remove reservations for all campgrounds. Having debated about camping at Black Rock, we decided to go deeper into…

Impromptu Camping in Joshua Tree

Nearly every day for the last two months, Daphney had been asking about camping—not just any camping, but specifically in Joshua Tree, or where there are foxes (Santa Cruz Island). The other request is to have a campfire, both in the evening and the following morning. That rules out the…

Summer Milky Way Camping

We arrive late to Lone Pine Campground. It’s now about midnight. Stepping out of the car, we hear the creek rippling down its drainage on the other side of our campsite. Beyond that stretches a dark ridge, and far beyond that, the summer Milky Way is already vertical. It looks…