Hidden Treasures of Twin Lakes Trail in Desolation Wilderness

I have a story to warm the hearts of the most avid hikers as well as the first-time novice hikers entering the Desolation

By way of introduction … To set the stage … In the later part of my life … after my retirement, I began to hike in the
Sierra high country areas of Desolation Wilderness, mostly from the Twin Lakes Trailhead.
I hiked to explore, to discover, to enjoy, and to gather abundant memories (including hundreds of digital memories) all
the while actively seeking the highest degree of solitude and immersion to enable achieving the ultimate wilderness experience
possible. My collection of memories along this life journey will continue to sustain me in future times when I can no longer go exploring
but can call upon my many memories of this remarkable place I’m going to tell you about.

I arrived at the Twin Lakes trailhead as the morning was awaking. The air was as still could be, and the forest birds were
welcoming the new day singing their songs as they began their daily search for food. It was a cold day – that meant no mosquitoes – for a while at least.
On this morning, I was hiking alone. My journey was to take me to Island Lake. My place to stop for a rest along the way was near a series of waterfalls not far off the trail. I noticed something I had not previously seen as I rested and enjoyed their usual pageant of beauty, activity, and sound from the fast-flowing cascading water. At the point just below where the last waterfall fell into a small pool, the stream seemed to flow out of sight and disappear into an uninviting overgrown thicket of tangled brush and bushes as it continued flowing to the west.

I could not see where the stream was heading beyond the thicket. And I saw no way through the entanglement. Determined, I backtracked along the main trail until the scrub forest thinned out enough to allow me to see farther into the area where I suspected the stream came out on the west side of the thicket.
I left the trail and hiked through the scrub forest to see more. In a few minutes, I could hear the stream flowing ahead, and I could get glimpses of flat bare granite extending out into an open area downstream. Looking upstream, into the morass of the thicket, I could see large cracked and broken flat granite slabs and boulders that lay in a chaotic manner onto and overlapping one another. It was a scene that could only have been created by forces of prehistoric earth movements and more recent glacial action (recent in geological terms).
When I reached the edge of the stream, I noted that its flow here was only a small measure of the flow that I had just witnessed cascading over the waterfalls upstream. It was easy to step across this first stream from where I could see another stream of approximately the same low amount of flow in the distance. I became intrigued to find where the rest of the water was flowing after making its way under and through the thicket.
In half an hour, I concluded that the stream had divided into three or more streams that followed several different water courses headed around and about to the west. (Later that hiking season and in seasons that followed, I determined that at the varying heights of the runoff created by the spring thaw, there were as many as five streams that carried water through this remarkable area before merging again into one before flowing downstream.)
In addition to the granite and stream(s), I discovered, an abundance of flora growing and blooming everywhere, particularly along the edges of the streams and in cracks in the granite slabs.

  • Little Elephant flower

The cracks, full of flora, appeared to be laid out in linear geometric patterns as if nature had been practicing landscape design. So sublime and remarkable was the display nature offered here and elsewhere in this area, my breath was literally taken away. As I continued on into this newly discovered area that first day, more wonders unfolded before my eyes. I began to recognize this was a special place in this wilderness I had to
explore more fully. I wanted a full reveal of all the treasures this fantastic area offered me in my search for solitude and the fulfillment of my quest for the perfect wilderness experience.
On just about every hike into the wilderness high country from then on, I would detour from the well-worn trail to venture into the forest and on into the expanse of my “Hidden Garden.” (a name that I had bestowed upon this wonderful discovery of mine.)

Many times over the following years, I would share my “Garden” with friends with whom I often hiked. Some were satisfied with just a glimpse of the area before urging we move on. One friend of mine did grow an attachment to the Garden similar to my own. We would make it our day hiking destination with ample time to spend walking about the area as if it were our own private park taking pictures, having lunch, and just enjoying nature for a day. If I knew I wanted to spend a full day there, I would hike alone. As every hiker knows, there is no substitute for the freedom you have when you are by yourself.
I would re-visit my Garden as often as I could at different times of the summer hiking season. I followed all the seasonal branch streams as they meandered their way throughout the garden area as they, rejoined, and then parted again. When they finally rejoined again at the west end of the Garden, the full stream became a raging torrent of water cascading down into a cleft in the granite for about a quarter of a mile. There the cascade plunged into a quiet pool. Here, the stream seemed to rest before moving on around the corner and down the next mountain slope.
During my explorations, I immersed myself in all of the wilderness features taking copious digital pictures of everything around me, especially the blooming flora during their seasonal growth and bloom.

Bill finch- Hidden Garden Panorama a-X4

Now, for you, the hiker and reader, let me invite you to find and visit my “Hidden Garden.” It is located on the west side of Desolation Wilderness, away from the main trail to Twin Lakes. It is a place unseen from the main trail and there is no apparent path to it. It is located just west beyond where the stream flowing down from Twin Lakes tumbles over a series of cascading waterfalls. The last waterfall is about eight feet high and can be as much as fifty feet wide depending on the amount of runoff from the continuing snowmelt that has filled the Twin Lakes to overflowing.
This little “Hidden Garden” area that I discovered some time ago is an amazing place that measures, by my rough estimate, about 150 yards wide to 300 yards long from east to west. It is mostly open and easy to move about crossing the streams by gingerly stepping, hopping, or jumping from one granite slab to another. The area is very much like a giant rock garden with water features.

The writings of John Muir come to life as you will experience first-hand his “glad little brooks” and enjoy “hopping from rock to rock.” Granite is the prominent feature here along with the meandering streams and occasional pools. But, perhaps, overshadowing these features is the blooming season of the abundant flowers found almost everywhere in the “Garden.”

The full array of the flora here ranges from 60-foot tall conifer species down to tiny little flowers that almost defy detection. The number of wildflower varieties growing beside the streams and out of cracks in the rocks (previously mentioned) is the most I’ve encountered in any one area. The mix of colors everywhere is stunning. This dramatic color presentation is only possible through the works of nature over thousands of years. The cracks and gaps in the rock have become filled with soil that is held in place by past years’ plant roots to prevent the compost from being washed away by spring runoff. Additionally, nourishment for these growing areas is replenished each time spring runoff floods the area. The new growth appears soon after the snow has melted and the runoff flood levels have receded. The blooming pageant starts soon thereafter and continues well into the month of July and sometimes early August.

This is the place where I first found an unusual little flower I had never seen before or had ever known about. It is called the “Little Elephant’s Head”—Pedicularis attollens. You can easily see how it got its name. I look for it every time I go into the Garden.

Little Elephant flower
Little Elephant flower – William Finch

As I wrote, my “Hidden Garden” was more than a chance discovery. It was based on my curiosity and follow- through to see the yet unseen. Soon enough, it became my inspirational place, my special place, my true place. It isn’t a known place, neither visible from the main trail nor appearing on any topo map. It first presented itself to me through my discovery that day and then physical and spiritual connections were born
through subsequent exploration. It became my True Place “It is not down in any map; True Places never are.” (Herman Melville)
My “Hidden Garden” has become one of my most treasured Wilderness Experiences.
When you are looking for that special place where you can immerse yourself in a total wilderness experience, remember my “Hidden Garden” is one of those special places. Within the solitude of this Garden you can find your bliss. If you can find my “Garden” from the clues I’ve incorporated in this article, you, too will realize harmony with your surroundings. This connection is the basis for a wilderness experience at its best and fullest.
However, if you do not find my Garden, please know that these “Special Places” exist anywhere in the wilderness, just waiting to be discovered by people like you who may be looking for their own little slice of heaven. I suggest you invest some time looking for yours. Your search in and of itself will be a big part of
your overall wilderness experience. The first criteria is that your special place should be away from people, so that means off the trail somewhere so that you are alone with nature and free from any potential interruption of any kind. Implicit within the first criteria is the second criteria of solitude. It is mandatory.

I wish you Good Fortune in finding your own ultimate Garden experience.

Happy Trails

Thank you for reading our Sierra Rec magazine March 2023 Spring edition. If you liked this content please share it with friends and consider Joining our community and supporting our writers. We offer a great annual donation subscription program for $18 a year with 40% Donated back to local trail programs.

William Finch

William Finch

William J. “Bill” Finch is a Lecturer of Leisure Studies Emeritus faculty who retired from the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, Sacramento State University (CSUS) in 2004. He taught classes in Outdoor Recreation Education, Adventure Recreation Programming, Commercial Recreation, and Lifestyle Development. For the past sixteen summer seasons since retirement, he has been a Desolation Wilderness Volunteer for the U.S. Forest Service.

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