Desolation Wilderness

Posted on August 22, 2009 – 3:31 PM | by Niki Kangas
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hikingThis writer has made no secret of her affinity with anything green and growing, or of her frequent ache for somewhere spacious to sit solitary (critters welcome) beneath our blanket skies. Somehow I managed to wind up settled in the same Sacramentan rat race as you, and certainly its glimmering lights, though representing the proximity of our favorite distractions, start to wear your eyes out sometimes too. So this summer, if the call of the wild beckons and you only have a day to split town, there is just the spot to escape to, lovely as Yosemite yet much closer, and lacking the perpetual busloads of visitors that crawl like ants along its every beaten trail.

Desolation Wilderness, so aptly named a place (you will indeed be desolate, alone at last in the sprawling wilderness, beyond passing maybe a few hikers) has another perk that makes it a preferable destination to Yosemite- national wildernesses and forests allow dogs to join in the fun, unlike usually canine-excluding national parks. My humongous pooch wagged her tail nub briskly when, after inquisitively watching Jake round up our hiking gear, she at last heard her jingling collar being fetched from a drawer.

Then we were our way- the boys were riding innocuously in the backseat, and Kiley, our dog, lay quietly on a fleece blanket in the back of our Volvo 240 wagon. We were looking for our predetermined breakfast stop, Bella Bru Café in El Dorado Hills off the El Dorado Hills Blvd exit on Highway 50, when Jake spotted a sign for an independent café, Carpe Diem Coffee, and opted for a spontaneous change of plan. It’s a good place to stop- it cuts the trip up in half and makes it seem short- and it felt even better when we saw the owner himself, Louie, smiling behind the counter and proffering my boys a sample of the zucchini bread he’d just made.

We were served our breakfast of Quiche Lorraine made with pancetta, swiss and onions, with wood-roasted coffee for Jake and an Americano for me, then chocolate milk and bagels with cream cheese for the kids (by a young, exuberant and artful barista named Jordan who is moving to Midtown, perhaps as this issue sits waiting for you somewhere in Sacramento) outside in a quiet off-plaza roundabout. Louie, a grandfatherly and happy fellow, joined us for conversation, and we swapped business commiserations and joys. We told him we were on our way to Desolation Wilderness to take the kids on their first real hike (they’d hitherto been to milder destinations, but as inert little papooses in packs). He smiled sincerely, reminiscing that he and his wife had once crossed Spain backpacking. When Jake rose to bring our dishes back inside, Louie’s wife gladly usurped them from him. It was all very charming, and utterly satisfied, we hit the road again.

From here, it’s just back on 50 east, and after Kyburz, keep your eyes peeled for a brown recreational sign pointing a left on Wrights Rd. It’s still a long way to the trailhead parking from here, and you’ll be following signs for Wrights Lake and eventually, Twin Lakes Trailhead. The snaking ride up is white-knuckling but breathtaking, and for the rest of its duration you’ll feel like you’re already there.

Our hiking destination is off the first Tahoe-area exit along Highway 50, and without traffic, only takes about an hour and half to reach from Sacramento. What makes it a versatile spot for any hiker is this: from the Twin Lakes trailhead, you could elect a short, rather novice adventure with even kids in tow, or a gnarly ascent and descent backpacking the alpine country via a loop requiring scrambling, map, heck, maybe even fishing skills- your choice!

Having slept many a night beneath the infinitely blue vaulted skies hanging over our granite sawtoothed peaks beyond Twin Lakes- all the while dreaming of taking our children into those same mountains one day- led us to finally test their (and our) mettle. It didn’t us take long- our boys were one and a half and three and a half years old when we recently brought them on this no-expectations-day-hike. We figured we wouldn’t get far with the little dudes, and if we did, we would only be rendered pleasantly surprised. We knew the first leg of the trail to be lower flowered meadows and lakes followed by sugar pine-forested boulders along a manageable incline.I thought it would be a good example of Desolation Wilderness’ offerings because it would really prove that Sacramentan hikers of any ability could tackle a tailored daytrip to the remote Sierra wilderness.

Once we parked at the trailhead, the initial operation was Kiley on leash, Finn in a jogging stroller and Jude on foot. Jake and I carried Camelbaks stuffed with minimal necessities. When Jude was tired, one of us would carry him. The beginning of the trail, I’d guess until about three-quarters of a mile in, is wide and easy in a lush, rather level setting. When the terrain became craggier with glacier-polished granite, pine tree roots and elevation gain, we ditched the stroller on some boulders off the trail, and went on, each with a babe in arms.  Their eyes were wondrous, drinking in the inspiring panorama of the mountains.

When we’d already exceeded the topography we’d hoped to cover, we arrived at the kind of picnic spot that just slaps you in the face. It was perfect- a smooth and flat 25’ diameter boulder that a glacier had dropped other varying sized boulders atop. It overlooked a rocky, forested bowl, and fragrant, gentle breezes washed over the lip of the slab’s edge to cool us. Under the shade of an ancient sugar pine, Jake spread our Mexican blanket, then our lunch, while I kept track of the toddling explorers and their trusty mutt. Jude exclaimed delightedly, “There’s so much room!”

We made it a little further, to about 7,200 feet above sea level, when we all agreed we’d seen enough for the day. Back downhill is always faster and more fun- both boys were giggling as we bounded and bounced them down the mountainside. Thankfully, our stroller still was ours, and Jude went in for the rest of the hike while Daddy carried baby Finn, who fell asleep at some point in the shady woods. Jude just kept crying out sweet things like, “Rock! Tree! Skies! Mountains! Wow!” till we returned to the car.

The altitude, sun and exertion take it out of you, so a few miles down the road found us ready to eat. We pretty much stopped at the first place we saw that was open, which turned out to be Los Hermanos Mexican Grill and Cantina.

For meagerly populated Pollock Pines, this restaurant was bafflingly huge, suggesting that every man, woman and child in town could be housed inside. Many attempts were being made on the part of décor to give one the feel of dining outside in a Mexican plaza, and in part they succeeded with the fountain, big ass palm trees, straw hut booths and twilight lighting. We ordered so much food it is embarrassing to list, so I’ll disclose only my personal feast: chips, salsa and bean dip galore, two pork soft tacos and one carne asada taco, all topped with cilantro, lime, lettuce, and onions and with rice and beans on the side, then wash that all down with a Pacifico (among the many cheap and great Mexican beers) and a house margarita on the rocks with salt and I’ll call it a great day. Finn slept till the very end of the meal, bestowing us a rare, quiet and pleasant restaurant experience.

And as if we’d been granted one idyllic day with our family, the boys were also mum the whole way home, except for Jude’s contented singing and humming, and not a spot of traffic clogged the road, enabling us to be bathing the boys back home before 5PM with plenty of evening left to relax away.

Carpe Diem Coffee, 3907 Park Dr. Ste.110, El Dorado Hills, CA

Desolation Wilderness Ranger Station, 7887 Highway 50, Pollock Pines, CA
(530) 644-6048

Los Hermanos Mexican Grill and Cantina, 6524 Pony Express TRL, Pollock Pines, CA

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