Our first night in the Sierras I slept poorly. The woman at the Forest Service office had warned us about mountain lions, and the Forest Service man we’d met at the campground said this is definitely bear country, though there hadn’t been any sightings.
The first night, we made sure to put all our food and cooking gear into the car, so as not to attract unwanted animals.
But as I lay in the tent trying to fall asleep, I wondered whether the rumble I heard was a loud snore from a nearby campsite or a bear’s growl. And later, when I heard light footsteps outside the tent just behind my head, I lay perfectly still, hoping the mountain lion out there wouldn’t notice me.
The following day we read and relaxed, and it appeared that the light footsteps in the night had been those of a squirrel. There was no rush to go anywhere, and that night I slept well.
The third day we decided to explore our surroundings. The Forest Service woman had told us about Crystal Peak, a quarter of a mile away, where we might want to poke around for some crystals.
So we set out with a single bottle of water. After all, a quarter mile is not very far. But we should have been forewarned from our previous experience with her advice about water. From our campsite it turned out to be at least a mile and a quarter, most of it uphill.
When we arrived at what is marked as a crystal mine, we saw that we were the only people who had hiked in. The others had arrived in 4X4s with picks and shovels and axes. Clearly, they meant business.
We followed them to the top of the hill, wishing we had walking sticks as we slipped on the gravelly rocks. One couple who had a more modest set of tools but had already found two small crystals told us that the site had originally been a gold mine, and that the hill we were standing on was just a pile of leavings from that mine.
The walk back, downhill, was easy enough, but it was wonderful to arrive “home” again at our campsite. But then we discovered the real animal dangers at Lookout Campground.
We had sighted some deer in the early morning, but it looked as though squirrels had taken a shine to the small bag of coffee we had forgotten to put away. How odd, I thought, that a chipmunk in the Sierras should have a yen for Turkish coffee.
The day passes quickly, especially if you don’t get up until 8:30, you don’t finish the breakfast cleanup until 10, you have a gripping book, and it’s dark by 8.
But by 8 our cooking fire is burning down to embers, and we sit at the fireplace watching the stars, talking about the books we’re reading. And as we talk, each of us takes a stick and pokes at the embers, playing like little kids, and we laugh at ourselves for the sheer joy of it.
Text and photographs copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No portion of this text or photographs may be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Esther Hecht.