A perfect slice of hiking heaven

Last week, driving out on the Scenic Loop, the orangey-yellow aspen leaves shone like neon in the sun, heightened all the more by the contrast with the dark green of the pines. A favorite hiking trail now passes through a curtain of aspen trees, leaves strewn all over the trail.

Back in July, one Monday the sun gleamed promising on the morning. It looked like a standard-fare summer day. A bowl of blue sky soaring over the pines, sparkling clear waters in the lakes, the sound of streams gurgling from the ever-present snow runoff.

But it went beyond normal. On a hike up to the Inyo Craters, the sage smelled sweet, Brewer’s lupines radiated a heavenly purple scent, the aroma of pine needles on the forest floor lifted upward in the sunshine, and a soft breeze blew the heat away.

One of those times when it all mingles to cause a feeling of “all’s right with the world.” When you feel so thoroughly glad to be right where you are.

The Inyo Craters hike is short, less than an hour up and back. It starts out as a single track foot path. No motorized vehicles allowed, so a good place to walk with my dog.

It takes off through a grove of aspens, up and down a small hill, curving through a stand of pines. The path opens into meadow and trees then saunters variously through sunshine and woods. At one point, what I call trail art is displayed just off the trail; it’s a long-ago fallen tree, all that’s left of which is a tangle of roots. It looks as though someone set it there, just where the morning sun lights it up. Could easily be the makings for a driftwood coffee table.

After about 15 or 20 minutes, the trail crosses a dirt road and heads sharply uphill to land in the parking area for the Craters. Cross that road and the next half-mile wanders through heavier woods on a well-tromped trail up to the Craters.

Although hiking a loop can generally be more satisfying, this trail looks different on the way back. There are a few different routes down from the Craters (one of them passes Jeffrey pines of huge girth). Past the Craters parking area, that steep hill becomes a downhill paved in soft seasons of pine needles.

My dog loves running for all she’s worth down this hill. Back across the dirt road the scenery changes and the single-track leads back to the trailhead.

At the end of the trail, walking through that grove of aspens (a rich green in summer and a blaze of golden yellow in the fall) a breeze is shuffling through the leaves as if to say farewell, come back soon.

Back at the trailhead, five salt and pepper-haired men are offloading dirt bikes, getting ready to take a morning ride in the network of dirt roads that spiderweb through the Scenic Loop.