Friday, May 25, 2007

Yosemite and beyond

Days 31 and 32

Well, we are spending our last two days at Bass Lake and Yosemite and it has been a highlight of the trip. Our campsite is wonderful, we have access to showers (a rarity in Federal Parks), and we aren’t too far from Yosemite. The crowds were not anywhere near as I expected at Yosemite which I was grateful for. It is just so unspoiled and having millions of people there just wouldn’t have been the same. There were people on all the trails but not loud and obnoxious. Surprisingly, I think there were more at Kings Canyon because of all the school kids.

Anyway, we headed back up the twisty turny road to Yosemite and then took Route 120 across the park. This was a beautiful drive with lots of scenic vistas. Warren has been really patient about stopping the car every mile so I can take pictures!! We then headed to Susanville which is up near the Lassen Volcanic National Park. Our problem is that it is now Memorial Day weekend which is the biggest camping weekend (along with Labor Day). We knew we wouldn’t get campsites so opted for a cheap motel in this town. We will be here for two nights, then on to Lassen and then try to find another motel along the way.

We have decided to shorten our trip a bit if Zanne is okay with us visiting a week early. We will end the trip with a few days at LJ’s new house in North Carolina before we start home finally.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bass Lake and Yosemite - Part 1 - Days 27 and 28

Well, our plans are to stay here until the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend. I have no idea where we will spend the weekend but will worry about that later. I assume it will be in a motel somewhere. However, the plan was that Warren would kayak a day, then we would drive to Glacier Point in Yosemite, kayak again, then drive to Yosemite Valley for a day, then kayak again and then across Rt 120 back across the Sierras!! Route 120 opened really early this year because of little snow in the area which is great.

Warren did go kayaking and we did finally take showers after two days without any. Eoouw….This is about the nicest campground so far. A doe has greeted me each morning at the campsite and the birds are beautiful and numerous. Two mallards made themselves at home this morning.

Well, our first day at Yosemite was beyond words. I know why they describe it as the most beautiful national park!! We went down the Glacier Point road which is about 7000 feet. We first did a hike in the Sentinel rock area. The hike was aboutg 2.25 miles round trip and through meadows that still had snow. We ended up in a place overlooking the Yosemite Valley with Yosemite Falls in the background. It was stunning and we were so high. The walk had been the plan for the day. We decided to proceed to the end of the road though as we were only a couple of miles from it.
Oh my….We were greeted with two turnoffs and scenic overlooks. I can say easily that I have never seen such a beautiful place!! You looked off in the distance and saw Half Dome, the Nevada and Vernal Falls, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan and all that with snow covered mountains in the background – Incredibly beautiful. Warren said he thought it was even more beautiful that Glacier Park which had been his favorite from childhood. It was just stunning..

Days 3 and 4

Well, Yosemite just doesn't disappoint!! Warren has adopted a cat with white whiskers on one side and black on the other matching her patchey face -- we would bring her home except we have a month to go and she seems very healthy and happy at Bass Lake as the campground mooch.

We drove up to Yosemite after a leisurely day where Warren kayaked on Bass Lake again. We took Route 41 north for about an hour drive to get there watching for the ever present deer along the road. I took many pictures at the entrance but again we exhausted ourselves.
We first stopped at Bridal Veil Falls and walked into get a close view. Unfortunately, the sun was shining right over it so it was almost impossible to get any kind of picture except from the parking lot!!

Once in the park, you pass El Capitan as well. We first looked went into the village and found a parking space so that we could use the convenient shuttle buses. We checked out the little stores for a later shopping trip. <>

We then went to Yosemite Falls which was a really pleasant little walk with a wonderful falls at the end. It was a big loop so we went out the other way following the creek.

We then headed to lunch at one of the lodges and then on to see the other sights. We decided to try to Mist Trail up to Vernal Falls and that was a pretty intense hike especially for me at that altitude. It was a bit warmer that day as well but I took it slowly. I got almost to the top and Warren went further but he said it was very slippery and very narrow and I was tired, so I stopped about 30 feet short of the top. We then came down and headed back to the campground for the day.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon

Well, we headed off from Lake Isabella and stayed the night in Visalia which is about midway between this lower section of Sequoia National Forest and the main part of the park. We actually had a hotel with an internet connection which was nicer than spending afternoons in various parking areas looking for an unsecured signal!! I, of course, bought more books.

We then headed out for our first day at Sequoia! It was a nice ride there with all the orange trees loaded with fruit and many grapevines which was a bit of a surprise. We spent basically all day at Sequoia. I loved the giant trees and I made the requisite climb up 400 steps to the top of Morro rock (a different one than on the coast). Warren couldn’t be outdone and so followed me up. After that,
we took another really long walk through a sequoia grove to see the Sherman tree. By then I was exhausted so we tried to find camping. Very successfully, we found a nice campground in Kings Canyon and stayed there that night and the next.

Days 23, 24 and 25

We did an abbreviated tour of Kings Canyon on the second day but did take the trek to see the General Grant tree and many others. It was a beautiful walk and the weather has been perfect. I do love those giant trees – they are like these massive columns and so huge. We drove down Kings Canyon for a bit but we were still a bit tired so went back to the campsite and had some dinner and readied to head off for Yosemite.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Day 23

Well, Warren wrenched his back this morning, moving too much so we are resting in a motel in Visalia which is right outside the main entrance to Sequoia National Park. Hopefully tomorrow he will feel like walking and we will do a tour of the park and then either camp or head off to Yosemite to see if we can get an unreserved site and cancel the ones we reserved. The campgrounds so far have been pretty empty during the week and we like it that way!! No loud radio! Again today was a gorgeous drive along the Kern River -- another "scenic route". However, the ride from Bakersfield to Visalia was just plain ugly -- so far the only ugly driving we have had across the whole country!!

Lake Isabella

Days 20, 21 and 22

Well, we made it to Lake Isabella without incident and rediscovered civilization including a real grocery store where we could buy real food. We also have a campsite that actually has a shower as well – now mind you it has one faucet that is preset to lukewarm water but this is better than what we have been dealing with most of the time.
Warren decided not to go kayaking on this lake as it was much too windy and there were whitecaps most of the time. It is pretty though with the mountains in the background. Our campsite is nice with tons of Western Tanangers (beautiful yellow and orange birds), tons of ground squirrels and miscellaneous lizards.

Sunday we took a scenic drive up to the southern end of Sequoia to see our first giant sequoias. Now, you all know the definition of “scenic drive”? It generally means a narrow road with a drop off of 2000 feet on one side and a sheer cliff of rocks on the other with frequent allusions to rock slides to watch out for!! We stopped so many times along the way to take in the beautiful scenery and walk a bit that it took us three hours to get there but only 45 minutes to return. The sequoias were awesome and we just saw the babies.

They were easily 12-15 feet across at the base. Warren went inside of one!! It was a beautiful hike through incredible woods. Not only are there sequoias but huge ponderosa pines as well. (babies as they are only 300 years old).

We also saw our first rattlesnake (it was in the road sunning itself) and our first forest fire. The fire was on the other side of the river from us but the smoke was intense. There was no civilization over there so guess they were fighting it with planes and helicopters of which we saw lots.

Tomorrow we head off for the main part of Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon where we expect to spend a couple of days before heading to Yosemite.

On another note, Lisa is madly trying to get money transferred so that she can close on her house next week. It was supposed to be this week but she hadn’t realized the logistics of getting the money to the local bank and getting the certified check. The seller had to take care of some deficiencies as well. She loves her new job and the people there – she can’t believe what a difference it is from before!!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Lake Mead and Death Valley Disaster

Days 16 and 17

Well, basically have done the same things for the last two days! It is very nice and cool at night but oh my – the days at 102 – a bit of a change from the 20 just a few days ago…I have finally done some quilting and lots of lazing around.
I finally found that totally soaking my t-shirt was the most effective way to stay cool as even in the shade, it is very, very hot.
We walked down to the Marina store (the only nearby place to buy anything) which is about ¼ mile out on the water. The funniest part were the fish – there were these giant carp that grouped around the dock, begging for food. Hopefully, the pictures of them with their gaping mouths will turn out! The ducks follow you around as well, looking for handouts.

Warren has been out kayaking again both days and now doesn’t get lost like the first day. He has seen all sorts of wildlife. I spotted a road runner right across from out campsite the first night – I would call it a road walker as it wasn’t moving very fast but unmistakable what it was!! The grackles are different here as well with big long tales and a wide variety of songs. There have also been some very colorful birds that I haven’t identified. Waking up in the morning is a treat with all the different bird songs. The temps are wonderful in the morning with lovely breezes. Of course I spend my time still running to the bathroom!!

Day 18

We headed out through the Valley of Fire State Park which was again very different from the surrounding landscape. That is what is so amazing – the changing landscape everywhere. We are in Las Vegas at a very posh motel (but only $45/night). We are just not gamblers but did go to the café for lunch when we got here. We had to do much laundry so that took much of the afternoon along with finding a hot spot to check our mail and pay a few bills. We are basically at each other today and both too tired to visit “the strip”. We will plan on a separate specific visit to do that maybe meeting with the kids. Gambling just isn’t as simple as putting money in a machine anymore. We are in a small casino (Texas Station) and it is still huge. We are heading out to Lake Isabella in California tomorrow through Death Valley. The temps here are about 15 degrees above normal. They called 98 warm but not hot on the weather tonight!!!! Of course the humidity is 5%.

Day 19

Well, things did not go as planned. In fact, one of my worst nightmares came to pass today. I know I have written how desolate Nevada is and Utah was pretty desolate as well. I have often speculated about what would happen if your car died out in the middle of nowhere. Little did I know that the car would pick the worst possible place to do just that. We were literally half way across Death Valley climbing up from the valley when the car just died. Warren would start it again, it would go a few feet and then just die again. It was frightening. We already had our ac off because we figured that would cause overheating. Death Valley with no ac is not fun, trust me. Sitting there with a car that won’t move is no fun either. Finally a nice English tourist saw we were struggling with our blinkers on going 10 mph. He said that in a few hundred yards we would reach the top and then it was downhill to a small town with a gas station. We literally rolled the car almost to the town and then went very slowly.
Well, they had a gas station but no one who knew anything about car repair and certainly no parts anywhere. They suggested we take this other road across relative flat to the nearest town that could help ---- 67 miles away across the low floor of the desert. Well, talk about nerve wracking………There was only one good sized hill and we made it up. By the time we glided down the other side of the hill, we got to the small town where we are now staying. The car seems to be behaving again. Warren doesn’t know whether it was vapor lock (gas) or a blocked gas filter. He is heading to the auto store in the morning to get an air filter and so dry gas so we will have them in case the problem shows up again. California is at least a relatively civilized state with towns closer than 100 miles apart. It is a relief. It was really scary to say the least. Note to self: Do not ever attempt to drive across Death Valley ever again.
We did have food and water but people just whizzed by when we were by the side of the road with the hood up until the nice English tourist saw us and backed up to offer assistance. We are hoping to get to Lake Isabella tomorrow.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Several More days

Day 11

Well, we had a nice stay in Moab overnight and got our email up to date and touched bases with Lisa. We awoke to a beautiful morning despite the foreboding weather forecasts. We skipped breakfast so that we could get to Arches NP early and get a hike or two in before it rained. Warren is all “canyoned” out as we have seen quite a number but they are all so different and Arches was no exception. We ventured out on one primitive path which actually required me climbing up some rocks by hand but I did it. Took about 100 more pictures today. I wanted to take more of the flowers but by late morning, the wind was gusting to 40 mph and the sand from one area was blowing strongly. The flowers just refused to stay still.
We got back on the road early afternoon and stopped to get some food for brunch rather late. I started to not feel so great about here and Warren was forced to stop at EVERY rest stop until we decided we had to stay in a motel rather than go further. I ended up in the emergency room of the local hospital with a king sized urinary tract infection – something I have never had before and don’t want to have again. They gave me some nice pills and I feel better already. Onward to Bryce tomorrow.

Day 12

Feeling a lot better today as the pills have really taken affect. The weather was supposed to be bad and it has certainly turned out that way. Bryce is at 8000 feet and it is lightly snowing when we get there. Nothing is sticking though. The campsites are wonderful and we have a view off the trail which is about 300 feet from our site. We actually have flush toilets and sinks here!! There are showers at the camp store as well –yahoo. The national parks are really nice and soooo cheap if you are a senior– entry fees are 0 and camping fees are half priced so we usually only have to spend 3-5 dollars a night. However, it is cold at Bryce. We walked a bit along the rim trail but it was too cool to do much.

Day 13

It was FREEZING last night – in the 20s and there was snow on the windshield and campsite when we got up in the morning!! Noticeable snow but it quickly dissipated although it remained in the 20’s with 40 mph gusts of wind. It was not a good day for hiking but we did drive through the park and get out at all the overlooks. This is a park where you see the canyons from above. I did have the presence of mind first thing in the morning to take pictures of the snow on the canyon!!! I guess the temps are 30 degrees below normal for this time of year here!! I am basically sleeping in everything I own with a sleeping bag and a quilt. We didn’t even put up the tent but have been sleeping in the car. The wind was too high to put up even the screen tent. The park is beautiful but it definitely would have been nicer to walk more. Lots of stellar jays and the antelope squirrels bustling around the campsite. We also saw three deer walk through the campsite right across from us which was pretty cool. We have renamed Bryce Canyon to be Ice Canyon though.

Day 14

We got up bright and early and headed for the showers which were wonderful and just the thing before we hit the road. We headed for Lake Mead via Zion Canyon National Park. Zion is a stunningly beautiful park. You see the canyons here from below rather than from above as in Bryce. It is amazing that all these parks feature canyons and they are all so terribly different. The geology of this part of the country is fascinating and so different from the east. At Zion, you have to go by shuttle bus which was a very nice way to see the park. Warren is getting very tired though. The driving has been a mite stressful as we are going up and down and round and round. The weather at Zion was much better than at Bryce and we were at a lower elevation as well. We headed from there to Lake Mead National Recreation Area which is very close to Las Vegas but you would never know it!!!!!!! The drive there from Zion was extremely different yet again!! As we were on a major interstate I thought we would have opportunity to eat etc. Wrong…. We went through the Mojave Desert which is again very different scenery but desolate, desolate. The drive to this park felt like going to the moon – everything is drab brown with patches of sage brush and angry rocky intrusions. Of course, then there is Lake Mead right in the middle of this – all bright blue. The campsite where we are supposed to be for five days now is surrounded by oleander bushes in many shades of red, fuchsia, light pink and white – beautiful. It is cool in the evening and hot during the day. We have gone from 20 degrees to 90 degrees!! I confess to liking dry 90 better than the cold windy 20. It is definitely desert here though.

Day 15

I lazed around all day while Warren tried and almost succeeded in getting lost on his first kayak trip at Lake Mead. He is tired but happy though. We had to drive 25 miles to the nearest small down for groceries!! We will have to drive 20 miles for showers as well.
He did see a bobcat on the drive back from the store though which I missed. He said it was moving fast. I intended to do some quilting today but ended up just reading and being totally lazy after a lovely breakfast in the cool morning. It was remarkably windy today and that kept it feeling rather comfortable despite the increasing heat – it is the desert after all. I can’t believe that Las Vegas is only about 40 miles away as it doesn’t seem possible that any life could survive in this area. One of these days I will get to upload all of this. We are thinking of heading to Vegas for a couple of days before we head west again. We haven’t quite decided on that route. The GPS has been a godsend and I highly recommend it for anyone that drives a lot.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Day 10 - Colorado National Monument on the way to Arches

Well, we headed out from our rainy campsite this morning for yet another day of fantastic scenery. It doesn't seem possible that every day has different and more beautiful scenery. The morning did start on a lucky note with a mountain bluebird alighting on the rearview mirror as I sat in the van. It was about a foot from my face but on the other side of the glass! The day was good from then on. The ride through the Colorado National Monument was spectacular and we got out often to walk around the overlooks. We then took a back road to Moab where Arches is located (we go tomorrow). At first it was boring prairie/high desert but all of a sudden it was spectacular vistas of high red canyon walls with the Colorado River running beside us. It was stunning and such a surprise. Because the weather is supposed to be awful for the next week, we are changing direction, heading for Bryce, Zion and then Lake Mead where we will stay put for awhile hoping that it won't rain as much there. Then we are off to California.

Days 5 - 9 Day 5

Day 5

Well, I thought that a whole day of driving through Kansas would be totally boring, but it isn’t. The prairies were beautiful and the high plains are so different from what I expected. There is an air of complete desolation. There is just nothing but green fields and fences for miles and miles. I can’t imagine what a snowstorm must be like out here. I feel like I have dropped back 50 years. However, this is slightly marred by the image of cowboys herding cattle with ATVs!

We are heading to Colorado Springs to be with my sister and her new husband Bill tonight. Hopefully, we will get there at some reasonable time but it is almost a 600 mile drive. I must say that it is easy driving though.. We will be there through the weekend and then off to Arches National Park in Utah (at least that is the plan). Gail said that they had blizzards nearby just a couple of weeks ago (just like we had in Webster). The weather is supposed to be good.

Well we arrived in Colorado Springs after a really nice drive. Gail and Bill greeted us with a gourmet dinner and we finally collapsed in bed around 10. The altitude makes me feel lightheaded and not very hungry.

Bill told me that the herd I saw at the side of the road were antelope (as in deer and antelope play). For some strange reason, it never occurred to me that there was an actual animal called an antelope. Don’t know what I was thinking!! So I can add that to my list of animals seen on the trip.

Day 6 – Colorado Springs

We awoke to a beautiful sunny day and spent the morning sitting on their patio, drinking coffee and soaking up some sun. Bill and Gail have a wonderful garden and a lovely patio to just soak in Colorado Springs. We then set off to explore a little of the city and see where my father taught. It is a beautiful small city with Pike’s Peak as a backdrop. You can see the mountains from Bill and Gail’s front door. We had a wonderful lunch at this little café. We spent the afternoon absorbing more of that sun while Bill and Warren went out for a walk in this incredible park in the city. Bill made some awesome fajitas for dinner and we had breakfast burritos with the leftovers the following morning. I was totally exhausted by 8 and went to sleep.

Day 7

Well finally got some sleep and we headed back onto the road to see some more of the scenic views in Colorado Springs – truly a beautiful town with wonderful architecture. A real eclectic mix of styles greeted us in some of the nicer sections of town. There were tremendous views of the valley and city from high up on a dirt road that just went up and up! We gabbed more and had another of Bill’s awesome meals from his smoker. We are still eating up the remnants on the road.

Day 8

Warren finally got his butt out of bed. He had of course dumped my plan for where we were supposed to head to next. Bill and Gail showed us an alternate more interesting way to get to Arches from their house, so that we could do the back roads with some more interesting sights. Warren of course decided we needed to go somewhere that he could kayak so he chose Elk Creek on the Blue Mesa reservoir near the Black Canyon of Gunniston. The ride there was incredible. The roads were great and the scenery seemed to change completely every 10 miles. The weather also had a habit of changing as well.
We were up at 11,000 feet and had snow. This was at the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass. The snow was piled high next to the building. We saw an incredible bright, bright blue Stellar Jay there. As the day progressed, we got thunderstorms and lots of rain as the day got later. By the time we got to the campground, it was high winds and we couldn’t even get the tent up so we opted for the van for sleeping. As the night wore on, obviously the clouds disbursed as the temps went down into the low 30’s and it was darn cold.

Day 9

We awoke to a beautiful morning over the reservoir though. We had seen a herd of mule deer just a couple of campsites up the previous evening although they didn’t stand still for getting their picture taken. The weather is amazing. Even though it was cold, it felt warm as the sun is so warm when it is out. It was gorgeous again and we got on the road after a leisurely breakfast at the campsite. Only two miles down the road, we saw big horn sheep just standing there – they did pose for their pictures.

We headed to another National Park called Black Canyon of Gunniston which I had seen in my Park book. We basically spent most of the day driving and stopping at the scenic overlooks along the way. It was incredibly beautiful and different again from anything we had seen so far.

Warren again decided on a new course to be taken so we headed for yet another campground with a reservoir. Now mind you, I had done lots of research about campgrounds etc and expected to be in Utah by now. He found a Colorado state park that looked promising. I kept asking him what the altitude was. Believe it or not, I have actually pretty much adjusted to about 7000 feet by now but still get dizzy when higher. Well, the ride to this campsite goes down in Brandkamp annals -- the adventure kind. As we drove down this “scenic byway”, we kept getting higher and higher and more and more snow. Warren laughingly said that he hoped that the reservoir was liquid. No sooner did he say that then we passed another reservoir that was frozen solid!!! We finally ended up at 11,000 feet again with yet more snow. I did not have great hopes for his campground and my expectations were met. At least this one has electricity but still no showers. We will have the heater in the van tonight. It is at 8000 feet and damned cold yet again. I will make sure he knows the elevation the next time. I don’t think he will be kayaking here either!! On to Arches and a motel tomorrow!!!