Bloody Canyon


Bloody Canyon from Walker Lake Trail

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In My First Summer in the Sierra:

“Recognizing my love of wild places, he told me one evening that I ought to go through Bloody Cañon, for he was sure I should find it wild enough. He had not been there himself, he said but had heard many of his mining friends speak of it as the wildest of all the Sierra passes. Of course, I was glad to go. It lies just to the east of our camp and swoops down from the summit of the range to the edge of the Mono desert, making a descent of about four thousand feet in a distance of about four miles. It was known and traveled as a pass by wild animals and the Indians long before its discovery by white men in the gold year of 1858, as is shown by old trails which come together at the head of it. The name may have been suggested by the red color of the metamorphic slates in which the cañon abounds, or by the blood stains on the rocks from the unfortunate animals that were compelled to slide and shuffle over the sharp-angled boulders.”  Chapter 9, August 21st

In Real Life:

In, My First Summer in the Sierra, the rancher Mr. Delaney, whom Muir calls Don Quixote, sent Muir into Bloody Canyon to check it out because he thought Muir would find it interesting. So, Muir tied his notebook and a piece of bread to his belt and headed into the canyon. He walked through it, ran into some Indians and tripped out on it like he did on most of what he saw in Yosemite. He celebrated everything around him – always – and in the canyon, he marveled at the creatures enjoying the “huge rugged avalanche-swept gorge.” I like a gorge – especially a red one.

My relationship with Bloody Canyon got complicated. I looked it up and learned its a little sliver of the Mono Pass trail. I learned the trail runs between Toulemne in the high country in Yosemite and the Mono desert and at one point on the trail, you’re surrounded by red canyon walls and before you is a view of the Mono Lake. On my first attempt to see the red walls of Bloody Canyon – I decided I would hike up to it from Walker Lake on the Mono Lake side of the canyon. My husband and I got up early in our June Lake motel and drove up the road to Walker Lake. We hiked up past the lake but took a wrong turn and ended up on some animal trail that narrowed into nothingness. When it ended I snapped off some pictures of the red rock of the canyon – which we could see far off into the distance- and reluctantly turned around. After our complete failure, we drove back through Yosemite on the way home and I noticed – whizzing by me – the trailhead for the Mono Pass trail. I promised I would be back.

Our Lunch Spot

A Meadow

I started dreaming of Bloody Canyon again a couple of years later.  I talked my sister, Mary Ann and my brother, Steve, into a quick trip into Yosemite to hike the trail from the Mono Pass trailhead on Tioga Road. We drove up to the trailhead – literally the last one in the park before the road dumps you into Mono desert. We pulled up in front of the bear box and I hopped out to unload our cooler and pack our sandwiches, fruit, and water into a backpack. When I finished all that I went back to the car and noticed my companions sleeping – both of them. I woke them up and asked if they were still interested – or if they should rest while I hiked.  Oh. No. What? Of course not, we’re in. We hit the trail. The sign said we would hit Mono Pass in 3.4 miles. We didn’t carry a notebook like Muir but we had our iPhones which do all a notebook can do. We got going and passed beautiful meadows – the likes of which Julie Andrews spun around in during the opening shot of Sound of Music. On the way up we picked our path on the tops of rocks through bubbling streams and even passed little sierra lakes sitting out in the sun like jewels. And up seemed to be the direction we were headed most. I prodded and cheered. I pushed. Finally – we made it to the top where we parked ourselves next to a lake and ate my version of Muir’s bread tied to his belt. It was gluten-free and sandwiched between the two slices was ham and cheese. We sat with our new trail friend – Jeremiah – who we called Jeremiah Johnson. It was nice but I still wasn’t surrounded by an avalanche of red rock – although I could see it ahead.  So I asked some hikers how far it was to actually see Mono Lake. Just 15 minutes – tops. Once again I offered my companions a rest – but they insisted and we hit the trail – turned the corner – and there – FINALLY – was the avalanched red rock canyon and Mono Lake far in the distance. The view was beautiful – easily worth the trek.

P.S.  I won’t go into the way down. However, in the end, our iPhones said we’d trekked 10 miles. This little clip will tell you all you need to know about the rest.

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