Today John Olmsted walked with us. Olmsted had begun to plan this same recreation walk in 1968, as a centenary event honoring Muir, but gave up the idea when he found the route was covered by highways. (The bay and river trails we walked on did not exist yet). Instead, Olmsted began a project he called the Muir Restoration Trail. He charted a route through existing parks, from Mendocino to Tahoe, intended to give the hiker an experience of California much like the one Muir had 1868. At that time the land in that area was still quite wild and cheap. Olmsted, with the help of friends, created a foundation and started to purchase land or right of ways to connect these parks together. You can find information about his project on his web site: www.restorecalifornia.net.
We again avoided walking Highway 132, this time by taking Red Cloud Mine Road to Dogtown Road, then Greeley Hill Road to Bower Cave and on to Black's. Red Cloud Mine Road began as a little paved driveway and soon turned dirt. Its red clay earth had turned to liquid mush in the rains, and the road had ruts a foot deep. Only a truck with monster tires could drive that road. It was no wonder the locals had tried to discourage us from taking it. I don't think they really believed we were walking to Yosemite.
Olmsted is a botanist and a historian. He calls himself an ecologist, and for the day was our personal John Muir. He told us stories about the plants, Muir and the restoration trail project. He mimicked birdcalls and taught us names. He terrified us as we watched him plow through brush, mindless of poison oak (as it does not effect him), to get a better view or a see a new plant.
When we passed through a hot section of road covered with ceanothus and manzanita Olmsted told us the term chaparral came from the Spanish: it is brush that you have to wear chaps to ride through on a horse. Both plants were in bloom, and there was a sweet smell in the air. He said that ceanothus was also known as mountain lilac and that there were four kinds. They appear at ascending altitudes with alphabetically organized names: buck brush, deer brush, snow bush, and tobacco brush. Donna had already known that, but she never told me, and I loved the names the story.
Red Cloud Road took us through National Forest land and tree plantations. I had never really noticed these plantations before, miles of tree monoculture, mostly Ponderosa pine, all the same size, and all the same age. It was unsettling to be in a forest like that. The underbrush was short and mutilated, cut by giant grinding-mowing machines or poisoned by defoliant chemicals dropped from airplanes. It was not so bad looking as it might sound, but not varied and beautiful like a real forest. John said they keep the plantations out of sight, away from frequently traveled roads so people will not have to look at them.
Near the junction of Red Cloud Mine and Dogtown Roads, we found a giant, I mean huge and ancient, black oak tree. (John would say to make sure I specify that it is a Kellogg black oak.) There was actually a grove of them, about eight, right on the border of the plantation. John was ecstatic, "a miniature old growth forest...these trees were here before Muir and Chilwell...We have to make sure they are saved." They were surrounded by blue and yellow flags but were not sure if the flags were to save them or cut them.
We left John at Bower Cave and walked another four or five miles that day. We saw our first fir tree, a sign we were nearing the Sierra. There were red bleeding hearts on the roadside and the dogwood was in bloom. We passed the Marble Springs turnoff, the area we had read about in the charming gold rush autobiography, "The Gold Seeker" by Perlot. We arrived at in the late afternoon. This was a stage stop called Kinsley on the old Coulterville road, but when Muir went by it was know as Black's, and the old bar/boarding house was still standing, a rock and red clay building now used for storage. There is a big meadow on a geological bench, just before the creek drops off and becomes inaccessible. The Miwok Indians used it as a winter home for centuries before the gold rush. To honor this heritage Richard and Lynn have renamed the flat Kowana Valley. Kowana means music in Miwok.
I wish I could write more about the day's walk, the things John told us and of the visit to Bower Cave, but it is about midnight and we have to get up at six to hike as tomorrow will likely be a scorcher.
We should make it to Crane Flat by Wednesday, to the valley by Friday night or Saturday morning, and we will have an arrival celebration at the Yosemite Lodge outdoor amphitheater Saturday evening. I may be able to send one more update on Wednesday, but if not will likely have to wait until we get home next Monday. Carl Hall, from the Chronicle, might come to hike the last bit with us and write a story about the end of the trip. You could call the chronicle to tell them you want to hear the story. They might let Carl hike with us for a day if they get enough enthusiasm.