Onion Valley - July 4th Weekend 2003

When I first heard of Onion Valley, and was told it was found somewhere off Highway 395, I didn't have high expectations. I'd never heard of the place, and its name implied some flat, agricultural monotony like the San Joaquin Valley. Furthermore, its location near the 395 reinforced an impression of arid wasteland. Having driven to Mammoth Mountain countless times up the 395, I've spent many hours traveling through the desert of Owens Valley. In short, I expected to spend the Fourth of July weekend camping in some dry chaparral, the only water that which we brought with us.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Driving up a mountain road from Independence, California, a homely town in the middle of Owens Valley, we found ourselves in the middle of an idyllic alpine valley at the end of the road. Onion Valley Campground sits at 9,200 feet, where a trail leads up the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range to Kearsarge Pass, the eastern entrance to Kings Canyon National Park. From Onion Valley, pine-covered slopes rise to jagged peaks, down which cataracts of snowmelt pour in cascading splendor.

Though we didn't hike all the way to Kearsarge Pass, we ascended well over 10,000 feet, past several alpine lakes and into the John Muir Wilderness. In one of the lakes, Gilbert Lake, scores of golden trout continually leapt from the water, undoubtedly feasting on insects buzzing the surface of the lake. Patches of snow still speckled the craggy peaks, feeding the lakes a continuous supply of ice-cold water.

Though the temperatures were quite mild, I couldn't resist a dip in the rapid flow of one of the streams we encountered. I hollered uncontrollably when the icy water covered me, but I emerged into the warm sunshine quite refreshed.

I did not see a single legume growing in Onion Valley, and the landscape couldn't have been any more different than the arid desert I expected. Truly, the place shattered all expectations, and made me wonder why I haven't spent more time exploring the Sierra Nevada.

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Gateway to the John Muir Wilderness

One of several lakes on the way to Kearsarge Pass

Bodart Falls near
the trailhead