Through a glass (creek) brightly

First times are always special.

Glass Creek Meadow is a memorable hike. For anyone. It’s been on my list for years and finally I made it last Wednesday with Sally Miller and Danna Stroud.

The turnoff to the west on the Obsidian Dome road from U.S. 395 follows about a three-mile dirt road to the trailhead. The road passes the fork to Hartley Springs Campground, which, unfortunately, is closed.

We parked, strapped on packs and water, and took off through the forest toward the sound of Glass Creek. A momentous sign declared that we were entering the Owens River Headwaters Wilderness. That alone is huge. For those who live in the fast-paced, smog-filled outer world, here is a sweet-smelling protected place, yet one that is easily accessible.

My awe was cut short as our trail wandering narrowed and steepened impressively along and up Glass Creek, its tumbling waters rushing louder and louder, until we reached Glass Creek Falls.

Above the falls the trail gentled and moved into sage, then an exposed, sandy stretch. Downhill to our left, Glass Creek wandered through a verdant riparian ribbon of green. Almost out of the creek rose White Wing, a cinder-colored round peak that looked like it would be fun to ski.

Gradually, after a mile or so, we caught sight of the meadow, mirage-like in the distance, beneath San Joaquin Ridge, reaching up to nearly 12,000 feet. On the other side, June Mountain.

Onward into the huge Glass Creek Meadow, some two miles in length, with its riot of wildflowers. On this particular August day, purple was the dominant hue, with white and yellow accents, and an occasional splash of Indian paintbrush.

The list of flowers Sally identified for us was fascinating. It wasn’t until after the hike, when I started naming them, that I realized what a wealth of flora we actually saw.

Monkeyflowers, buttercups, lupine, even some white lupine, corn lilies, larkspur, yampa, wild onions, Indian paintbrush, iris, showy daisies, cinquefoil, clover, clown clover, buckwheat, forget-me-nots, elephanthead, penstemon, ranger buttons.

We stumbled on seeps and sudden springs in the meadow and saw a treefrog (Pacific chorus frog), a couple of Yosemite toads and several different butterflies, from the orange-tipped Lorquin’s Admiral to a leopard-looking butterfly and a silvery blue.

There in the meadow the realization staggered that we were at the headwaters of the Upper Owens River. From these springs, a creek begins to wend its way downhill, thundering through a ravine and eventually flows into Crowley Lake.

As more and more people populate our world, wild places are increasingly critical, places of silence, respite from the grinding of engines that tear up the land, where the aromas of myriad wildflowers and pine are as pure as can be and not polluted by gasoline fumes.

“It’s a privilege to hike in wilderness in part because we the people made it happen. Wilderness becomes so only when you have committed citizens that bring the idea to protect a special place forward and help move it through the process. Wilderness may be created by Congress but never without the idea first being born in the hearts and minds of local citizens,” says wilderness advocate Sally Miller.

On our way back down the creek trail, we encountered several families of hikers who appreciated the fact that they were hiking in the wilderness. They were all from Southern California. Some of them, second generation Eastern Sierra hikers, were introducing their children and a third generation to the special qualities of wilderness hiking. Near the falls we ran into Devils Postpile’s Deanna Dulen and her husband Wangdowa, in training for their imminent trip to Nepal.

This hike into Glass Creek Meadow did seem like such a privilege, as it is, thanks to the 2009 wilderness bill that also provided protection for the White Mountains, San Joaquin Ridge, Hoover Wilderness areas, Granite Mountain and John Muir Wilderness, and thanks to the myriad grass roots people who worked hard to create these pockets of wilderness.

In the heat of the afternoon we reached the falls a second time, noticed the wild onions and monkeyflowers growing in the mist, felt the quenching coolness emanating from the water, and couldn’t resist splashing that coolness on our faces.

For more information on this hike, see “Exploring Eastern Sierra Canyons” by Sharon Giacomazzi. For more information on wilderness, visit the Wilderness Society at wilderness.org.