We finally did it! I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve gone toe-to-snow with the white dirt, but today we actually made it to our destination! And boy oh boy was it worth it. We almost didn’t go to this trail. It was called “Strawberry Lake,” and Mom thought that it might be too girlie for us. After some time I convinced her that even two tough explorers could have fun on a trail that was pink and sweet and cream-puffy, and golly am I glad she agreed.
At first the trail was pretty mild; not exactly a cream puff, but not nearly as rugged as a lot of the other stuff we’ve hiked on this trip, so there was no reason not to run. One of us was wheezing from burning lungs and woofing from being out of breath, but I felt great and zoomed around the trail like The Flash. The only hard thing about the trail was that there were a bunch of trees lying down across the trail, and we had to push all their branches out of the way to climb over them. Mom could use her front paws to clear a path, but I just had to crash through like Big Foot.
Once we had gone 2 miles, Mom said, “I think we should have reached the lower lake by now…” Then she looked at her phone. “Shoot! Oscar, I think we’re on the wrong trail. How the heck did that happen?! “Mom! You have THE WORST sense of direction! You couldn’t find a trail if it were a 5-lane freeway.” “That’s not fair! I don’t remember a single place where we could have turned!” We retraced our steps, and Mom watched the little blue dot on her screen the whole time to make sure that we were going in the right direction. Finally, after half a mile we came to a spot where huge tree had blocked the trail. This tree was so big that when it came down, it took down a bunch of other trees with it. “Ah hah!” Mom said triumphantly. “The trail intersection was hidden under this tree!” “I know this game,” I said. “This is where you make me go around in circles through the bushes for a few minutes, and then we go back to the parking lot and you make a cup of tea.”
We carefully climbed over the trees on the ground, and much to my surprise there was another trail underneath, and in a few minutes we were at a lake. This was a very pretty lake with all the regular pretty lake things like big rocks and trees going right up to the edge, but it also had pointy, black-and-white mountains in the background that made it extra nice to look at. But there was still more to see, so we ran around the lake and then started climbing some more toward a second lake.
Up ahead we could hear static from another angry river. We came around the corner, and then suddenly Mom said, “Oh, Oscar!” She actually said it like that, out loud, like some little girl in an old fashioned movie from back before they invented attitude, like she was opening a present, and inside was a Strawberry Shortcake doll. ‘Too tough’ for a girlie trail indeed! The thing that had turned Mom into a a cream puff was that there was a perfect waterfall falling from right above our heads. It was small enough that its roar wasn’t scary and you could look at it all at once, and it spit a mist into the air that made the air sparkle. All around the waterfall were shiny rocks with bright green furry moss decorating them, and next to the big waterfall were smaller blue ice waterfalls. On the ground there were giant chunks of ice that were perfectly clear and looked like soccer-ball-sized diamonds. We were in a fairy land for tough people, like that elf city in Lord of the Rings (obviously, I’m Legolas and Mom is Gimli). I was glad that I wasn’t too manly to come here.
The white dirt began right after the waterfall, and within a quarter mile it had swallowed the trail. This was the hungry kind of white dirt that ate both human and people feet. There was a set of footprints that Mom followed to help her navigate. She put her feet where the other feet went, even when the footprint went as deep as her thigh. When we lost the tracks (which was often), Mom used her phone to find what direction we needed to go in, and then we climbed through trees and over rocks until we found the tracks again. We had a good laugh about all the signs at the trailhead that told us to stay on the trail to protect the plant life. “I would love to stay on the trail, if I could find it!” Mom said. Hardy har har har.
Finally after close to an hour of wandering leglessly through the white dirt, we came out of the trees in a giant bowl with mountains on all sides. These weren’t just lumpy mountains that you can walk up, but sharp, straight up-and-down kind that would hurt God’s butt if he sat on them. I know that God had been there, because there were giant boulders sitting in the middle of the bowl that were the size of a house, and they were way too big to fall from anywhere but the sky. If we had wanted to climb to the top of those prickly mountains we would have needed ropes, tools, a lot of skill and experience. But lucky for us, the lake was sitting right there behind a boulder the size of a Starbucks and we didn’t need ropes and spiky shoes to finish. We had made it!
On our way back down Mom put me on a belay leash, just like a mountain climber. I thought maybe it was for safety, but it could also have been because I was barking at some turtle-hikers in front of us and “scaring” one of them. The problem was that we were still in the deep snow, which means that I have to sprint and roll a lot, and Mom was still trying to place her feet carefully in the footprints. It seemed like whenever I pulled to get at something interesting, she had been trying to balance and the rope made her fall over in the snow. Finally she gave up and told me to just bark myself out, she’d apologize when she caught up to them.
By the time we had finished, we had turned a 6.2 mile moderate trail run into a 7.7-mile expedition. And then we went to the moon.
…At least I think it was the moon. We came down from the mountain and in no time at all the world looked like desert, with stripes on the rocks and those funny hills that look like squashed totem poles. The road took us through a narrow slot between two mountains just wide enough for a roadway, and when we popped out we were on the moon.
There is a rumor that the moon is made of green cheese, but that is untrue. It is actually made of big, sloppy globs of toothpaste that someone squeezed out of the tube all at once, and it’s all covered in the powder that they use to make matcha at Starbucks. So the moon is actually made of green tea.
At this trail we had a choice between walking a very short museum-walk with stuff about fossils, or doing a longer scenic walk on the ridge so that we could look down on the moon, and the desert on the other side of it. “Tell you what,” Mom said. “If they’re cool fossils like dinosaurs then we’ll do the fossil walk. If they’re lame fossils like invertebrates then we’ll do the scenic walk.” “What’s an invertebrate?” I asked. “They’re living things that don’t do anything interesting like attack each other, or grow long necks or very short arms.” “What are fossils?” I asked. “They’re the dead bodies of animals that weren’t eaten up by time because they got covered by a volcano.” “Oh, well that sounds exciting…” I said.
So we walked to the first sign, which showed a picture of a fossil of a sort of very large wombat, or monstrous and muscular chinchilla. “Is this an interesting fossil or is it an invertebrate?” I asked. “I don’t know… It’s a mammal. It doesn’t seem very exotic to me,” Mom said. “Let’s go up to the ridge.” So we turned back and climbed up the hill, but when we got there it was kinda hot, and we could see that we were in the desert, which was not very interesting after our mountain trek in leg-eating snow this morning. When we stopped for Mom to take a picture of me looking into the moon, I lay down and refused to get back up again. “I’m hot and this is lame. Can we go back to the moon, please?”
When we got back down to the moon there was a lady sitting on a bench looking tired. I could tell she wanted to scratch my butt, so I went over so that we could sit in the shade together. She loved me, obviously, and so did the rest of her family who came up a minute or two later and melted onto the bench as well with a fainting sigh. “He must be a very fit dog to do this hike,” they said before we parted ways for us to walk up the museum trail, and the family to walk back to the parking lot. Once they were out of telepathy range, I asked Mom, “Is this hike going to be very difficult?” I didn’t know that the moon was covered in difficult terrain, but I thought maybe not. “No, it’s less than a mile and hardly climbs at all,” Mom said, looking a bit confused. “Then why are they having so much trouble?” “I don’t think that we’re particularly fit, but I guess that some people are just very, very unfit. I’m not sure where you go wrong in life where walking a mile and a half on basically level terrain in 70-degree weather is exhausting. Let’s just be happy that we fell into a different kind of lifestyle so that we don’t miss things like climb past a magic waterfall to a secret lake and see the moon from above and below any time we get the chance.” I didn’t mention that we’d missed lots of things on this trip because of Mom’s feud with the white dirt.
We walked up the trail and saw a dead turtle that didn’t look like much, and a saber-toothed cat that was smaller than an Oscar, and something that the scientists said might be an aardvark-like-thing or a horse-like-thing. As we were walking back to the car, another person on a bench wanted to talk to us. “The moose-skeeters are coming out,” the man said. “Mosquitoes are hatching out of that stuff?” Mom said incredulously, pointing to the little puddles of matcha latte on the ground. “Well I’ve been bitten three times already,” the man said. “You must smell better than I do…” Mom said as we walked away. “Mom, I thought you said that moose-skeeters were only in places with still water,” I said, alarmed. “We’re in the desert!” “Oscar, I don’t think that man knew what he was talking about… not everybody’s a naturalist.” “Well… you are pretty stinky…” I said.
Oscar the Mountain Explorer