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Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail: A Hiker’s Promised Land

Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail in Inyo National Forest, California has it all: from spectacular views of 14+ lakes, 14,000 ft. mountain peaks, and access to the southernmost glacier in the United States and the largest in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Palisade Glacier.  There are flowing rivers and waterfalls, rocky switchbacks, Golden Trout, Jeffrey and Lodgepole pines, Aspens, a gorgeous rock cabin built by Lon Chaney Sr. and glacier-fed lakes.  This trail is truly a nature lover’s paradise.

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Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail by Julia at XplorMor

John Muir once said, “The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.”  Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail gives life to these words.  From the moment your car leaves the 395 at Big Pine, California and heads into Big Pine Canyon, it’s clear another world awaits; the further into the canyon, the clearer the vision.  The road ends at the parking area for Inyo National Forest, and the trail head for accessing Big Pine Creek North and South Fork trails.

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Second Lake in Inyo National Forest by Julia at XplorMor

The trail is well-defined throughout its about 19 miles, except one mile in from starting at the Glacier Lodge trail head where signage is missing (Read more on Finding the Trail).  As the trail winds up Big Pine Canyon glimpses of a possible destination, Palisade Glacier, are seen through the trees and past the overlooks.  The trail to the glacier gains more than 4,000 feet in elevation with intervals of steep narrow rocky switchbacks and sharp drop-offs, yet the destination beckons an enticement of wonder and untouched natural landscape.  Many hikers do not reach Palisade Glacier as it requires extensive hiking and possibly an overnight stay in this rugged wilderness.  Regardless of whether the hiker follows the loop past seven lakes on a day excursion or ventures further overnight to the glacier, the scenery will not disappoint in this hiker’s promised land.

View slide shows and read more about Big Pine Creek North Fork Trail and Inyo National Forest.

Our Day with Mario in Zapata National Park, Cuba

The Cuba We Are All Waiting to Experience continues in Zapata National Park, Cuba…

Our new host, Dayami, used to work for Zapata National Park until her and her husband opened their casa to visitors. Now it’s full time at home. I pulled out my map and showed her where we planned to explore and hike in the park, and asked about transport. Little did I know this plan wasn’t possible without an official guide, and she didn’t think there would be any guides available during our stay. An official guide was needed not just to enter the park lands but to veer us away from the military stationed around Zapata. Really? This pretty important point was unfortunately not made clear during the planning stage by any of our hosts or contacts or research. Now our team was on the cusp but not allowed to enter. How could we come all this way but not complete my so-carefully outlined itinerary? It’s in these moments we’d learn about Cuban openhandedness. There is no lack of generosity in Cuba. Dayami seeing my stricken face immediately began to brainstorm possibilities and a friend she could call to get us in the door and satisfying our scientific goals.

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Dayami Hostal in Playa Larga, Cuba

Unfortunately the friend she had in mind to guide us was already booked for the week by a Chinese couple interested in birds. Did they know the migrating bird season had come and gone? Maybe we should switch itineraries. Not to be deterred, we walked through town to the park’s visitor office, a small understated cement block building you could walk right passed if you weren’t paying attention. We hoped to turn our luck.

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Zapata National Park Visitor Center, Playa Larga, Cuba

Inside I finally found a shelf of pamphlets and maps, and excitedly began to look through them, only to realize they were from everywhere but Cuba. There was even a pamphlet about saving the redwoods of California. As I’m a native Californian, I’m all about protecting our redwoods but shouldn’t the Cubans be promoting their own homeland campaigns? There’s been no money for such luxuries. A tall man wearing a cap and canvas vest both displaying a logo for Zapata National Park greeted us. After some moments of discussion with my rough Spanish and his bits of English we miraculously found a guide would be available in about an hour, and would give us a ride into the park. Of course there were no park maps or booklets, and we had to pay an entrance fee and a fee for his guidance and a fee for the car and driver, but that was expected and truly worth every kook.

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Zapata National Park, Playa Larga, Cuba

About an hour later our guide Mario arrived at our casa in an old jeep with a driver. He has worked for Zapata Park Service for over 22 years, and was yet another Cuban willing to share all his knowledge and make sure we were more than satisfied with our experience. We could not explore the area to the west as planned, including the unpaved road to Santo Tomas due to flooding. I felt thwarted. But Mario’s plan saved the day and saved my face from being stricken again. He had us driven to another stretch of the park definitely less traveled by tourists and locals alike. We walked the forest floor in search of Cuban insects, turning over rotting logs and large rocks and inspecting the underside of leaves hanging down from the canopy. We dressed in head-to-toe protective gear and a thick layer of Deet. And somehow escaped the onslaught, coming away with photos and jotted notes and discussions of all the wonderful diversity we’d seen. I even photographed a pygmy owl.

Zapata Insects Julia ThomsenCopyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cienega Occidental de Zapata;Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Matanzas;Cuba Peninsula de Zapata Playa Larga;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Cuba Zapata;Explore Cuba;Matanzas Province;Parque Nacional Peninsula de Zapata;Peninsula de Zapata;Playa Larga;Playa Larga Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UN Biosphere;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba;Zapata Peninsula]

Zapata National Park, Playa Larga, Cuba

We arrived back at the jeep to find its driver shirtless, hot, sweaty and burnt red leaning over the engine with a frustrated, apologetic expression. Something was apparently wrong with the vehicle, and we were out in the park a good hike from any used road and without cell phone reception. In fact, for the Americans there is no cell reception in Cuba. And despite the news of Internet cafes opening, we never found one. After some moments of discussion between Mario and our driver, and a definite word that sounded like “broke”, a plan was hatched. The ladies would get in and the men would push and jump in once the engine got going. I had to wonder if it would get going. To everyone’s surprise with a hard push the engine started. The men jumped in and off we went on the bumping dirt drive back to Playa Larga. We were dropped off at Dayami’s casa, paid Mario for his services and with a push and a wave the jeep was on its way. Once again fresh cold juice was awaiting our arrival, and with a cold shower and clean clothes, all was right in the world. Our day with Mario was unplanned and perfect.

Zapata National Park, Cuba Julia ThomsenCopyright © XplorMor Inc. [Cienega Occidental de Zapata;Cuba;Cuba 2015;Cuba Entomology;Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;Cuba Expedition;Cuba Expedition 2015;Cuba Matanzas;Cuba Peninsula de Zapata Playa Larga;Cuba Photo;Cuba Research;Cuba Rising;Cuba Zapata;Explore Cuba;Matanzas Province;Parque Nacional Peninsula de Zapata;Peninsula de Zapata;Playa Larga;Playa Larga Cuba;Republic of Cuba Photo;UN Biosphere;United Nations Biosphere Cuba;XplorMor;XplorMor Cuba;XplorMor Cuba Entomology Research Expedition 2015;XplorMor Republic of Cuba;Zapata Peninsula]

Zapata National Park, Playa Larga, Cuba

Explore insects of Zapata National Park, and look for The Cuba We Are All Waiting to Experience to continue…

Good For the Cubans

The Cuba We Are All Waiting to Experience continues…

Good for the Cubans. Their written history, started by Christopher Columbus staking the island for Spain, has been wrought with claims of conquest from the Spanish to the French to the English and back to the Spanish. The United States even tried to buy Cuba twice in the mid 1800s, but our $300 million was turned down. What is it about this lush island in the Caribbean that everyone has wanted since its discovery by Columbus in 1492? Is it the natural resources including mineral deposits of gold, marble, cobalt, chromite and oil? Is it Havana which was the Paris and New York of the 1700 and 1800s? Is it the island’s geographic location? Or is it simply the attitude: “I want it and you can’t have it”?

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Standing where Fidel Castro Once Stood To Admire Old Havana and Beyond

Even after our month-long exploration of the country and many dialogues with its people and much reading of local literature, I have not located a decisive theory. What I have discovered is that the Cuban history we are taught in school or read about on the Internet with the help of Google is not succinct with the history that the Cubans have lived. In fact there’s so much discrepancy I’ve come to appreciate that I know less than I even realized about this country. Timelines don’t correspond and neither do many maps. It’s as though the country has been blurred on purpose so no one knows or can remember actual events, Peoples and places. All that is defined are the political slogan billboards of the current ruling party and that head busts of Jose Marti, the country’s intellectual hero, should be kept pristine white.

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The Tree of American Brotherhood, Havana, Cuba by XplorMor

Our taxi-van passes through many city districts, including Buenavista, Miramar, Vedado, Centro and finally the narrowing cobble streets of Vieja, also known as Habana Vieja or in English, Old Havana. On a map, the old town looks orderly with grid-like streets culminating to the north and east with the Canal, and to the west at the Paseo de Marti, the National Capitol Building and The Tree of American Brotherhood, and in the south by the Central Railway Station. Yet, stepping into this mélange of centuries old buildings seems anything but orderly. There’s something for every sense from thrumming island music and a cacophony of wildly varying car and bicycle horns to salty sea breezes and stinking rotten trash cans to wobbly uneven pavement and road works to gritty dirt-coated doors and bold colorful freshly painted balconies.

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Old Havana Prior To Rehabilitation Reminds Passers of Cuba’s Hardship

The people and their clothing offer a similar tousled potpourri. Today’s Cubans are an extraordinary mix of European, Island, African and South American races, with varying appearance from pale skin, blond hair and green eyes to dark complexions and beaded corn rows, and every beautiful mixture in between. The English and French soldiers definitely left marks during their respective occupations. I was told that the Cuban women loved their English champions as they were treated well and money was abundant so they did not want, except when it came time for their cultured and refined men to return home. Hard to say if centuries’ old hearsay is accurate, regardless the conquests of Europeans remain evident in the population and the architecture of the city.

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Cuba’s National Flag Flying in Havana, Cuba

Good for the Cubans. Continue reading the next excerpt from The Cuba We Are All Waiting to Experience