I had no idea this existed, let alone in our backyard

This last weekend, my husband and I were out dragging our property, in an ongoing quest to plow out the goat heads and foxtails that obstinately continue to grow back where nothing edible or green ever will. It’s a fun way for us to both get dust in our teeth while we talk about “life, the universe, and everything,” while still being productive.

It’s something we do regularly, and our nearest neighbors down the road eventually noticed that I was out there riding on the back of the ATV, Old Faithful, without much seat to sit on. Next thing I know, they’ve deposited an ATV rear seat in our hands, tipped their hats with a smile, and left. Gentlemen of the highest caliber.

Of course, we had to try it out. This was the solution that I never even knew we needed for our rides around the valley.

Our home is on the edge of the Toiyabe National Forest in Long Valley, and there aren’t any trees aside from sparse cottonwood impeding the wide sky views for miles under the shadow of Big and Little Haskell overlooking us to the west.

The view to the west has been fairly unchanged for nearly 10 years now, and in all this time, we had never ventured more than a few miles from home in our wanderings. We always looked up at the tree line and would wonder to each other what we might find up there.

We would make plans for another day, life would get busy as it always does, and that day was never going to happen unless we just did it. Sans sunscreen, but thankfully with water, we did.

As we gleefully headed off into the wild unknown of “our backyard” and moved out of our usual loop of exploration, I began to notice that while this part of the county is, indeed full of sagebrush and constant wind, this is also the land of the sudden hidden spring and resultant oasis, tucked away in the long grass and willows.

Winding our careful way towards Little Haskell, the odd wild rose bramble began to spring up in unruly tangles and birds would explode out of the brush with a wild flutter of feather, scolding us away from the quiet tableau of their spring nesting business usually played out without the rude interference of human presence.

Old, sturdy rock walls carved across the landscape, overgrown yet standing firm, and the ride revealed the foundations of old stone homes lost to time. As a lover of history, nature and abandoned places, this was complete heaven. I had no idea all of this stuff was out here — so close to my home!

Stopping from time to time to investigate the source of a surprise creek or examine the rusted out front-end of an early 1960s Impala left behind long ago, we happened upon an entire abandoned house. I’m losing my mind at this point, already thinking about which neighbors I’m going to ask to explain what all of this used to be. I snapped a few photos and we wrapped around into an ascent that led us up into the trees.

Having spent a large portion of my childhood in Yosemite National Park, I have a deep love of and appreciation for our forests, and as we climbed uphill behind Little Haskell, I caught that familiar shift in the air that comes with trees and elevation. The air suddenly cools, the pine needles slide underfoot, and sagebrush turns into manzanita. Welcome to the far edge of Toiyabe National Forest.

Every forest has its own flavor, and this one is no different. The Doug fir and cedar trees of Toiyabe merge eventually into the Tahoe National Forest, and it looked like the area we were passing through had been logged sometime in the last forty or fifty years.

The trees opened up onto a sudden meadow, and there we saw it: the stand of trees we had looked at through binoculars for a decade. The ones we vowed to sit beneath. We were there. I can now go on record stating that I have finally visited that stand of trees, and will likely be back on Saturday if all goes to plan.

I have officially fallen firmly in love with yet another forest in our area and will be escaping to it whenever the opportunity arises, awed at the fact that I get to call this my home.

Sometimes the fact that I’m lucky enough to live here gets lost behind busy calendars and the habit of seeing it every day on a commute. Exploring just miles beyond my own home opened my eyes anew to the beauty that exists in this place we all call home and reminds me to stop and smell the roses — even (and especially) if they are wild.

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