The Sagebrush Sea

“Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look beyond the ranges– something lost behind the ranges. Lost and waiting for you…” -Rudyard Kipling

The was a PBS Nature show a while back called The Sagebrush Sea. It grabbed my interest, knowing I had summer plans to make a few trips out to the eastern slopes of the Sierra. I learned about the natural history the grouse, bear, deer, coyote, golden eagles, reptiles and rodents which make their home in a land of fragrant lime-green sage and sparse grassland from eastern California to Wyoming.

I had a few days between the end of the Death Ride and my next roadshow setup with which to experience this habitat. The previous week’s rains had greened the grasses and speckled the hills with wildflowers. I took Monitor Pass toward the 395 and stopped on Leviathan Peak Road to look back;

After crossing the Sierra I grabbed a bite, a Reno Gazette and some tourist literature in Walker– a town you could shoot a period Western in without much theater production. I drove along the trout-rich Walker River, one of those riparian ribbons that bloom as corridors of oasis until their waters terminate with lakes in the Nevada sand. An old-timer asked me if I’d ever heard of a creature which is half-bear and half-deer. I said I had heard of the ‘beer’ and I sometimes encounter them around sundown. I read a tourist guide and decided upon a day hike to Parker Lake. It was just a 2 mile climb up a few switchbacks and along a creek. The sea of sage was swimming with lizards. I collected pictures of wildflowers;

Parker Lake trail

 

Clouds had returned as I reached the lake and a few raindrops fell, or were the surface impressions caused by frogs or little fishies? I had passed other hikers carrying fishing rods and should have asked them if they’d caught anything. The fishermen had departed by the time I reached the shore;

Parker Lake

Continuing past, I burrowed through a thicket along the inlet stream which fell from a patch of snow high up in the crags. Within the cottonwoods and pines I found tiger lily and unfamiliar mushrooms and experienced the sense of being watched by winged sprites. I emerged to scale a few series of granite slabs and looked back from the edge of an outcropping, contemplating the clouds filled with both light and darkness;

Looking east beyond Parker Lake

 

The return hike provided views of Mono Lake and the vast sea of high desert. I took deep breaths of air flavored by the sage whipping in the wind and brushing against my legs. I returned to the van and drove to a campground where I made a little pine cone fire inside a stone ring. The wind came in bursts until darkness set. Coyotes had an extensive long distance conversation. By the time I’d encountered a couple of beers the darkness had been surpassed by the starlight of the Milky Way.

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