Monday, July 25, 2011

Last Day

It was a very chilly night!  I was almost all alone in my loop of the campground too so it was quiet and dark! I finally got totally uncomfortable in my “mummy bag” and unzipped it and used it as a blanket even though that let cold air in!  I was so comfortable and snuggly warm I slept in until 7:30! Latest I’ve slept in the whole trip!

When I finally drug myself out of bed I had a lot to do to pack up and get ready to turn in the RV.  But first I wanted another leisurely morning drinking my coffee and reading my Kindle in the chilly morning air!  While I was eating a flock of turkeys came through my campsite!  There were only 5 of them and they just walked through, not bothering me or anything! 

Despite the big mess I felt like I had to contend with I was all packed up and reasonably organized in just about an hour!  With all my stuff packed I was ready to dump and proceed to the rental place and then find something fun to do until my flight.  I headed over to my parents campsite to borrow Dad’s hose and let them know I was about ready to go. 

This is when the day kinda got “derailed”…

When I pulled up Dad was furiously trying to fix the hot water heater in their motorhome.  It’s already not working on propane and now it wouldn’t work on electricity either.  He was not happy.  In addition the electricity kept going out (they have a plug in at their site).  Eventually it was discovered that the circuit breaker was bad and the hot water heater worked just fine when he plugged into the 20 amp plug.  Aghhhh!!!!! 

While he was messing with that I got my RV dumped – the toilet and the grey tanks.  I also filled it up with fresh water.  I moved my luggage to the Jeep – I think I had less stuff for my whole two week vacation than we take for a day trip!  At least it looked like less stuff!

Since we weren’t going anywhere anytime soon I started doing some internet stuff although the connection was frustratingly slow  and neither Mom or I could get anything done!  Finally we’d decided we’d take the Mifi card with us and find a place with better service!

It was after noon before we decided to mosey over to the RV rental place.  We were about halfway there when Dad called to suggest that we stop for lunch first.  (luckily I saw the cop AFTER the conversation since talking on a cell phone while driving is illegal in CA!) So we went into Castro Valley to the ice cream place we went to Saturday night – their food looked good.  Apparently they had a trainee cook and only 2 waitresses because it took over an hour to get our food!  It was after 2 before we left!

Finally we were heading to the RV place, luckily I had till 4! A quick stop for gas and we were there!  I turned in the van with no issues.  They didn’t even charge me for generator use because I lodged my complaint about the battery! 

After the RV place it was off to the post office to return my defective Kindle .  The line was crazy long and I had to wait what felt like forever.  Mom and Dad were in the car with the mifi card!

(As you can see this is prob the most exciting vacation day yet huh?)

Now it was about 3:30 and I didn’t need to go to the airport until 8!  We ended up going to a park that’s on the same lake as the campground – there’s a boat rental and walking trail.  I half suggested that we rent kayaks but we weren’t sure we had time.  We walked around a bit then attempted to make our own hotspot at a picnic table but the mifi card was WAY too slow.  My phone was working, but what I wanted to do I couldn’t do on my phone!  Mom and I read our Kindles and Dad did stuff on his computer. 

Finally we decided it was time for dinner.  We found a neat place called Fresh Choice – it’s a lot like Souper Salad in Oklahoma – kinda like a Golden Corral but all veggies and salads and stuff.  It was pretty yummy! We need something like that in Woodbridge. 

After dinner we went right to the airport.  As we were pulling in I checked my flight status and discovered it was delayed an hour! Not leaving until midnight (3am EDT)!  ugh! I refused to go into the airport at 7 if the flight wasn’t leaving till midnight so we went to Costco that was close to the airport and then came back. 

It’s currently 9:15 am I’m through security, I had the full undivided attention of 7 TSA agents! Amazing difference from Dulles! Apparently there are only 2 or 3 flights leaving Oakland at this hour! Nice!  Anyway, I found a plug and they have free wifi here…and it’s fast (of course anything would seem fast after the .5 KB/s we were getting on the mifi card this afternoon!  I’m uploading pictures and and will soon have the blog all up to date!  Hopefully the plane leaves on time at midnight!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

John Muir Day

Spent the whole day learning about and honoring John Muir.  Well, almost!

When we arrived last night Mom realized that her cousin Tim lives in Castro Valley and our campground is also in Castro Valley so she called him and set up a breakfast date for this morning.  We met Tim, who I had met but only a few times, and his girlfriend and we had a very nice breakfast at a local breakfast hot spot JD’s.  After breakfast we brought them back to the campground so Tim could see Mom and Dad’s Motorhome – he has a Volkswagon camper van!

It was around noon when we set out for Martinez, CA where John Muir’s house is.  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was definitely very interesting! The house was very grand – it was actually the house of his father-in-law and John inherited it.  There was only one room that that was truly his and that’s only because part of the room was destroyed in an earthquake and he got to rebuild it! The house is entirely surrounded by “urban sprawl”, the view from John Muir’s bedroom now includes a Valero gas station and the back yard now contains a freeway (named after him, but a freeway nonetheless!). 

The house is surrounded by fruit trees reminiscent of the orchards he used to farm! Well, really the orchards that his father-in-law farmed and then he took over!  The plums were ripe and we were allowed to pick a few off the ground and enjoy them! Tasty! 

The inside of the house had all sorts of information about John Muir and his conservation efforts, the Sierra Club, and his studies of nature.  He was the first one to suggest that the Yosemite Valley was created by glaciers – all the geologists of the time disagreed with him until he found glacier dust in one of the creeks on Mt. Merced.  

The house was filled with art, mostly reproductions of original oil paintings that Muir owed – most of the paintings we were able to identify where they were because we’d been there!

By the time we were done with our self guiding tour it was 3:00 and Mom decided it was time for lunch, even though none of us were terribly hungry.  We drove around in circles for about 45 minutes looking for a good place, then attempting to follow the GPS leading us to a place that turned out to be closed and finally settling on Burger King.   We ate our “snack” quickly so we could get to Muir Woods on the other side of the bay.

Muir Woods is a large canyon that has a lovely grove of Coastal Redwoods in it!  It’s a true forest with lush moss, ferns, clover like things, and big huge redwood trees.  It’s usually totally overrun with people, but at 5:00 on a Sunday night it was much calmer – not empty, but the crowd was definitely diminished!  They have a large paved/boardwalk trail that circles the canyon and is mostly flat, we walked about 2 miles around the trees and took a few pictures – it was very low light so pictures were hard. 

On our way out we made an attempt at seeing the ocean and went around by way of Muir Beach but you had to drive down to Muir beach and Mom was getting anxious about getting back to the campground before they closed and locked the gate at 10:00. 

We decided to stop in Mill Valley at High Tech Burrito for a quick dinner.  I had been to High Tech Burrito once before when we came out here in 1992! My aunt used to work at an optical shop: Rims and Goggles that is right next door.  I remember going to High Tech Burrito but my memory had filed it away as being someplace else so when we were driving around the shopping center looking for it and then suddenly there’s Rims and Goggles I was pretty excited!  I wasn’t expecting to see it! I made Dad stop so I could snap a picture to email to Kim!

After dinner we drove back to the campground arriving here before 9:00! Plenty of time before the gates closed! It is very chilly tonight – Dad’s car said it was 56*! Wonder how cold it will get tonight?  It feels amazing.  I’m all snuggled into my 0* sleeping bag with the windows open.  I wish I could take these awesome temps home with me.  I’m not relishing going back to the inferno that seems to have engulfed the east coast in my absence!

Not sure what’s happening tomorrow – I need to pack up and return the RV so that means RV chores – dump, refill with water, and fill up with gas.  My flight isn’t until 10 pm (the redeye – ugh.) tomorrow night so I’m not sure what we’ll do with the rest of the day.  

John Muir Day

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Drive Day

Today’s big event was driving back to Oakland! I had to pack up everything that was strewn about the RV – which looked like a lot given the small size of the van, but I was able to get it all cleaned up in just a few minutes! I also had to do “RV Chores” that' I’d managed to avoid for a whole week! Empty the toilet cartridge (much easier this time because I only used it at night!), fill the fresh water tank and put the bed up.

We left The Yosemite Ridge Resort a little before 10 am and headed west! The drive down was uneventful and it was a little before 11 when we arrived in Oakdale. 

I requested a potty stop and Dad pulled off in a vacant lot.  He saw a Starbucks and went to get coffee while I informed Mom that the Mifi card should work!  It was about an hour later when we decided that we should just grab lunch here and we walked over to Mr. Pickles, a local-ish sandwich shop franchise.  It was really good! :-)

We then continued the last 2 hours of the journey into the Oakland area and found our campground – Anthony Chabot Lake Campground – which is really in Castro Valley. 

The campground has a few sites with hook-ups but most are “dry camping”.   While I generally enjoy “dry camping” this is now bringing back to the surface many of the frustrations of this RV – the battery, or rather lack thereof, and the toilet.  Not being able to have electricity means that I really no longer have a fridge – I turned it off because keeping the battery charged enough to keep it cold takes too much effort, and I can’t use lights because they drag down the battery.  I really like the camper van, even though it’s small it’s just about perfect for me, but it’s this particular one that has issues I can’t fix because it’s not mine that irritate me!

The campground is up on hill about 10 miles outside of Oakland and the rest of the bay area, yet there is limited cell phone signal.  Seriously?  I was fine with not having a signal at Sequoia and even at Yosemite because I wasn’t expecting one, but here, I was fully expecting to have full wifi in my parents RV and full cell phone signal, but no, it’s weak and iffy at best!  This evening we were all three using the Mifi and it was working ok, but it was very slow and it would fade in and out.  Oh well, I’ll be home with my FiOs on Tuesday!

The other thing about this campground is that it’s in a huge grove of eucalyptus trees!  They have a very strong odor – woody yet fruity, not like the fake-y eucalyptus you get in the dried plant section at Michaels, but simiar in some ways.  Mom and Dad can’t smell it at all, but I find it overwhelming.  It hasn’t made my allergies go yet, but it’s probably a matter of time!

One good thing about this campground has been the wildlife!  Right after I parked the van and got out to inspect my park job there was a flock of at least 8, maybe 10, wild turkeys just walking through by the picnic table!  Then on our way to dinner we saw what we think was a fox, and we saw one (another one?  The same one?) on the way back in!  Later we saw a raccoon!

We went down into the Castro Valley for dinner at Round Table Pizza, it was pretty good! They had personal pizzas so we could all get what we wanted! Then we found a local ice cream joint with yummy banana nut ice cream (the cherry Mom got and the butter pecan Dad got were good too).  Last we stopped at Safeway to pick up a few things before returning to the campground.

When Dad drove me back to my site (I’m about a 1/4 mile from them and there’s a big hill between us!) he pointed out that I should have pulled in straight instead of backing in so the picnic table was on the correct side.  That would have been perfect considering that my windshield privacy screen broke last week and if I’d pulled straight in then my windshield would be facing the woods and I wouldn’t have to worry about flashing anyone! I guess I’ll turn it around tomorrow!

We are meeting my mom’s cousin for breakfast in the morning then heading over to John Muir’s house in Martinez and we’ll see what else we find to do later. 

The campsites around me are filled with people, yet it’s totally silent! Strange, but nice!  It’s getting cold – going down into the 50s tonight – so I need to brush my teeth and snuggle down into my sleeping bag!  I need to enjoy these chilly nights while they last – it’s ridiculously hot in DC and I’ll miss being cold in just a few days!  I might be willing to trade internet access for being cold…

Friday, July 22, 2011

Yosemite: Tuolumne Meadows Hikes

On Sunday Dad and I saw some hikes that we wanted to explore when we were in Tuolumne Meadows so we decided that we’d go back one day this week and we decided to push it to the end of the week so that the wildflowers in the meadows  had a little more time to pop!  When we were there on Sunday we couldn’t see any flowers, but the snow had pretty much just melted we figured the flowers would be a long soon and when they popped they’d go fast. 

We left the campground early and drove back into the park, this is the same road that we’ve driven almost every day this week so I was very glad I had my Kindle and could read almost the whole way up. 

We discovered that creek/river that flowed through the picnic area we’d stopped in on Sunday was Yosemite Creek and that the water flowing through it was destined for Yosemite Falls in the Valley!

We didn’t stop at any of the overlooks or anything, just went directly to the meadow to start our hike up Pothole Dome.  Pothole Dome is a lower dome that is close to the road.  There is no formal trail up to the top, you walk around until you find a spot that you like and then you climb up the rock.  We walked past the side trail where we could tell lots of people had gone up and started to climb.  It was very steep, but the rock was smooth and wide and it was pretty easy to walk up.  When we got to top we kept walking and discovered that the “other side” of the dome was more gentle so with the help of Dad’s GPS we navigated down the side back to the trail.  On the way we saw a marmot, but he went back under the rock but Dad whistled and he (she?) came back out! I got some great pictures of him!

After we got back from that hike, we drove further on to the meadow to another short trail across the meadow that lead to the Tuolumne River.  We stopped and ate lunch first before proceeding to the river.  The trail here was wide and flat and there were great views of all the mountains around the meadow.  This walk, and the other one, gave me a lot of opportunities to practice my new camera skills!  (Yes, you’ll again be subjected to my photographic practice if you go through the pictures.)

Just after lunch I was walking ahead of my Dad and I heard a phone ringing!  What??? Last I’d heard Tuolumne Meadows has no phone service – there was a rock slide that took out the phone line and it also knocked out the cell phone line. Who’s phone was ringing?  Hmmm…  I walked on.  Then I heard Dad saying “I’m hiking in the Sierra Mountains and I don’t really care about your offers.”   It was *his* phone!  Dad’s phone has rang at odd times causing us to jump every time! This time it was Cox calling about some offer that he didn’t care about!

When we got back to the car I decided to check my phone – sure enough I had service and had gotten close to 20 texts! Turns out there are some thunderstorms moving across the DC area – hope they break the heat, heard the heat index was 121 today!  Yikes!  I may not come home!

Our third and final stop for the day was a hike to Lukens Lake.  As we started down the trail there was a sign taped to the trail sign warning us that the trails in that area were still covered in snow and that many hikers had gotten lost and make sure you had map & compass skills or GPS.  Looking around I saw no evidence of snow, which actually amazed me given the amount of snow this area had seen just a few weeks ago, so I didn’t pay much attention to the sign. The NPS needs to date these things – was the sign put there last month or last week?

We headed down the trail, Dad had his GPS and we could just turn around if things got dicey.  Sure enough about halfway into the hike we were climbing over snow drifts!  One drift was up to Dad’s knee!  More snow than we’d gotten in DC all winter was still on the ground here!  The snow didn’t cover the trail but we were navigating around it for the rest of the hike!  We did notice that the snow had melted from around the trees! Any tree that had snow near it had a ring around it where the snow had already melted.  We were confused by this until we realized that water probably drips off the trees and would have melted the snow there first.

The lake was really nice – it had a meadow around it and the meadow was filled with pink flowers!  We couldn’t walk out into the meadow so it was hard to get the pink flowers in pictures, but we did it!  After enjoying the lake for a little while we headed back!

I think I like the Tioga Rd/Tuolumne Meadows area best – the Valley is nice and all, but the High Country is amazing! And there are fewer people!  Lots fewer people!  We only saw 3 other people on our hike to the lake! Even our time at in the Meadow – there were people, but they were few and far between!  When I come back I’ll plan to spend more time there and less time in the Valley!

Tomorrow we head out, back to Oakland! I’m going to have to get back to thinking about all the little “RV issues”.  Here I have had electricity so that resolves the battery/refrigerator issue!  Back on Saturday my fresh water tank ran out of water!  I have a water hook up here but because the electric box was on the wrong side of the campsite I pulled in forward rather than backing in and the water hose doesn’t reach to connect so I’ve been getting water in my water bottle from the hose to use for brushing my teeth and stuff.  Tomorrow I’ll need to turn the van around so I can fill up with water.  Also I’ll need to empty the stupid toilet thing.  I have only been using it in the middle of the night so it won’t be too full! 

We’ll spend Sunday and maybe even part of Monday visiting John Muir’s house in Martinez (near the Bay area), Point Reyes National Seashore and maybe even Muir Woods.  The trip is winding down – I return my RV on Monday and then fly home Monday night. 

Yosemite: Tuolomne Meadows Hikes

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Yosemite: Biking & Photography

When we were in the valley on Tuesday we discovered that not only is biking the way to travel in the valley, but you can rent bikes! We were told that the bikes sometimes sell out by 10 am so it was another early day to get into the park. 

We easily found a parking space at Yosemite Lodge and got our rental bikes.  Mine was extra cool – it was pink with flowers! Although it was very beat up! We left Mom at the Lodge with her Kindle and an undiscovered gift shop and headed to both the Mist Trail and Mirror Lake.

Luckily riding a bike is just like riding a bike and you don’t forget how! It was so great to be speeding past all the people on foot and coasting down the gentle hills!  I only had to get off and walk once!  We rode about 2 miles out to the start of the Mist Trail.  The guy we rented the bikes from said you could walk to the bridge and see both Vernal and Nevada Falls.  He also said that the bridge was very close, no need to climb the trail! (The Mist Trail gains about a 1000 feet of elevation ever mile! It’s an intense up and downhill hike! To the top of Vernal Falls it’s 1 mile and 1000 feet and to the top of Nevada Falls it’s 2 miles and 2000 feet – and then you have to walk back down!) We couldn’t find where he was talking about so we started up the Mist Trail.  There was a bridge with a view of Vernal Falls about .8 mile up – we turned around there, but it was was still a good hike! The trail was straight up! 

Vernal Falls is where the 3 people were killed earlier this week.  To my knowledge, they still haven’t recovered the bodies.  So yes, the morbid/reads a lot side of me was looking in the river, although I’d rather not see that!  The river was raging! What I’m sure are usually small-ish cascades were raging rapids.  The whole river was white and frothy from crashing over the rocks.  Really makes me wonder what those people were thinking climbing over the barrier.  The Merced looks ready to swallow another victim at any time!

The hike back down wasn’t as bad as it could have been! The trail was paved and that made it easier to just walk quickly down hill! I was watching carefully for errant rocks and twigs, it was so steep that one wrong move would have been painful!

We made it the 1.6 round trip in just about an hour, considering the elevation change I thought was was pretty good!  Almost 2 miles and hour!

We weren’t going to have time for Mirror Lake though, we’d told Mom we’d be back for lunch at 12:00, so we hopped on our bike and headed back to the lodge.  Interestingly enough it was downhill most of the way! (How a basically flat valley can be downhill on both sides is beyond me!)

We had lunch in the food court and it was pretty good, then took a quick trip through the gift shop and it was time for Mom to meet her bus.  Since Dad and I were taking the photography class this afternoon we got Mom a ticket for the 4 hour Glacier Point Tour – that way she could see the view from Glacier Point and hear all the stuff that the tour guides told about.  She had a great time!

After we got Mom off, Dad and I headed off on our bikes to the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village.  We were taking a class called “In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams”.  We learned a lot about how to use our cameras and how to take good pictures! I learned how to use a number of things on my camera, including how to shoot in manual mode!  Usually when I shoot it’s more about composition, but now I have some actually photography skills to add to the mix!  We also saw the spots where Ansel took a number of photographs and learned about his life and work. 

When we got done with the class we were at the Little Yosemite Falls trailhead, which is pretty much right where we’d parked the car! This would have been nice if we hadn’t ridden our bikes over to the class!  We ended up having to walk back to the post office in the Yosemite Village to get our bikes and then ride them back!

We’d planned to  have dinner in the park and stay for sunset on Half Dome.  Awhile back Mom had picked up some “backpacker” meals on sale at Target.  We decided if we bring my Dad’s “Ruby Burner” (a portable butane burner) and some water we could mix up these “MREs” for dinner.  It was a great plan until we forgot the silverware! Luckily I had a spoon in my backpack – I’d considered taking pudding for a snack, but then didn’t and my dad and I each have a “picnic knife” that has a fork and a knife.  We thought we were good to go until one of the “MREs” turned out to be Chili and not the pasta dish we thought it was! We shared the spoon and it all worked out!  The dehydrated dinners weren’t bad, although they were both more “side dish” rather than main course and we hadn’t brought anything else!  Oh well, we didn’t starve!

After dinner we drove back to one of the spots where we’d been during the class – a neat spot where we could see the Merced River (wide, flat and calm here…people float down it and swim in it!) and Half Dome – to watch the sunset again! This time Dad and I were armed with new knowledge of how to capture the sunset!  I haven’t looked through my pictures yet, but I think I got some good ones!

Tomorrow Dad and I are going back up Tioga Road to Tuolumne Meadows to do some hiking and see if the wildflowers have started to pop yet!  Tomorrow is our last day in the park – we are going back to Oakland on Saturday!

PS: Since I was learning about using my camera and stuff today I left all the “crappy” pictures in the album.  Please forgive the zillions of shots of the same view – each one is different in some way, not even sure if I know how, but the settings were different!

Yosemite: Biking & Photography

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Yosemite: Hetch Hetchy

The first order of business today was to get my new Kindle all set to read.  We got a bit of a late start and it was about 10:00 before we headed over to the restaurant. 

The first thing that became apparent when I turned on the computer was that the news of the hikers going over Vernal Falls had hit the national news! I almost posted something last night just in case, but I didn’t.  I do appreciate all the people who’d heard the news and checked in just to be sure!

Getting my new Kindle ready to read proved more challenging than I’d expected.  I’d thought I could just plug it in with the USB cord and go into “Manage My Kindle” in Amazon and just click to move stuff over.  Not the case.  I had to download the book, then locate the file on the computer, which wasn’t easy, and then drag it over to my Kindle.  I’m wondering if this isn’t a case for backing up my whole library in Calibre, so next time it will be easier.  The whole Kindle is a little off – the time is off and I can’t reset it, it says “My Kindle” instead of “Melissa’s Kindle”…I don’t know, but it’s got enough books on it for me to read until I can get it on a wireless network. 

After lunch we drove out to Hetch Hetchy.  Hetch Hetchy is a valley that some claim was a twin to the Yosemite Valley, that is until they dammed up the Tuolomne River to form a reservoir that became the water supply for the city of San Francisco! This decision devastated John Muir as Hetch Hetchy was one of his favorite places!

Hetch Hetchy is similar to the Yosemite Valley in that it has huge sheer rock cliffs forming the sides of the valley and there are 2 big waterfalls that you can see.  It is not nearly as awe inspiring though.  It is very dry and arid over there and the sun is intense! 

There are a few hiking trails, but the only one that is doable as a day hike goes to a big waterfall and it’s a 5 mile round trip hike.  The trail was very exposed and hot!  It wasn’t appealing to walk out there!  Also, the water is running high and a few weeks ago two doctors were hiking out there a got swept away while they were crossing a footbridge.  They weren’t being stupid or anything, just walking!

We didn’t spend a long time at Hetch Hetchy – we walked across the dam, read the displays and headed out.  I’m not sure I’m totally against using it as a reservoir – seems like it’s good thing!  They are working to protect the headwaters and the whole watershed and using the water for both power and drinking water. 

We found a forest service road to drive back on with the possibility of  a riverside hike.  The road wasn’t very interesting and the hike was near the river, but the river was still 100 feet below and it was very hot and exposed! 

On our way back to the campground we stopped at Rainbow Pools which is the local swimming hole. We didn’t actually go swimming because we didn’t have extra clothes or a towel.  I almost jumped in anyway because I love a good natural swimming hole and I was very hot!  In the end I just got my feet wet!  There were a lot of people there, but it wasn’t overly crowded! There were a lot of kids jumping off the rock cliffs and it was fun to watch them!

The good news is that we escaped all the crowds! We saw very few other people all day! :-) Of course we didn’t see much good stuff either!

On our way out to Hetch Hetchy we discovered a neat little place called the Evergreen Inn.  They had a bunch of cottages and a nice restaurant!  They also did guided day trips all around the Yosemite Valley!  Seems like a really neat place to stay! Maybe next time!

Tomorrow’s plan is to go in the Valley early so we can get a parking spot! Then Dad and I are going to rent bikes and ride around the valley and meet up with Mom for lunch. In the afternoon Mom’s going on a 4 hour bus tour to Glacier Point and Dad and I are going to a photography class with the Ansel Adams gallery!

Yosemite: Hetch Hetchy

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Yosemite: The Valley

Today we drove into the Valley to see and explore that area.  It was nice, but so incredibly crowded.  There were TONS of people everywhere, and it wasn’t even a “crowded” day in the park! 

When we arrived we pulled into the Bridalveil Falls parking area, mostly to use the bathrooms, but we realized that it was pretty empty so we should check out the falls while we were there.  Then we went back to Tunnel View so Mom could see it, and then finally headed down into the valley itself. 

The Valley is the main area in Yosemite, it’s where most of the campgrounds and restaurants are as well as all the “things to do” – bike rentals, raft rentals, hikes etc.  There’s one road and it makes a loop – it’s one way most of the way around, but there are cross over points.  Yosemite is huge in terms of land, but the area that’s accessible by road is very small so all the people get concentrated in one area. 

Things started out pretty good – we came to a view of a meadow and Upper Yosemite Falls and there was a place to park so we did and got out and walked a little bit. 

We’d been planning on having lunch at The Awanahee Hotel, which is the premier hotel in the park – AAA rated 5 stars!  It’s very upscale, which is odd considering that it’s in the middle of the wilderness! We figured that lunch at the Awanahee wasn’t an original idea so we wanted to be there early. 

We found a parking spot right by the door very quickly and when we went in we discovered that they didn’t start serving until 11:30, so we made a reservation for 11:45!  We were one of the 1st people to get in! There was a line out the door when we left!  The food was pretty good – I had a grilled veggie sandwich that was more portabella mushroom than anything else!  It was a long lunch and it was after 1 before we were done! 

After lunch we decided to walk over to Yosemite Village and go to the Visitor Center and the shops over there.  When we got to the car though we discovered that Dad’s camelback had leaked all over and everything in the back of the jeep was soaking wet! This is the 2nd time this has happened, the 1st time was when dad laid the backpack on the bed and all the water leaked out on Mom’s side of the bed!

After we visited the Visitor Center, the Ansel Adams Gallery and the Sports Shop we decided to catch the shuttle bus back to the car.  This meant traveling most of the way around the park by bus, but that sounded ok.  We could also stop at the bike & raft rental place in Curry Village and see if we wanted to rent bikes or raft tomorrow or Thursday. 

I’d used the busses exclusively in Acadia and thought they were just about the greatest thing ever so was anxious to experience it again – it’s nice to to have to drive and to be able to walk, then catch the bus back! 

As we were walking across the street a bus pulled up to the stop, we couldn’t make it, but we were pretty much 1st for the next bus.  There were about 8-10 other folks who didn’t fit on the bus so we all stood there an waited about 10 minutes for the next bus to come.  Right before the bus pulled up a HUGE crowd of people formed at the bus stop. The bus pulled up and stopped and all the people who’d just gotten to the bus stop started getting on through the back “exit only” doors!!!!!  They were filling up the bus and there wasn’t going to be room for those of us who were standing in line!!!!!   I start, loudly, explaining how that’s not OK, and that it’s not fair for them to just come up and get on when we’d been standing there.  Finally I just jumped on through the back door also, because otherwise we never would have made it.  The bus was jammed packed, barely even standing room. 

We got off at Curry Village and checked out the bike and raft rental, then got right back on and headed to the car. 

By now it was 4:00 and we were heading out of the park to be back at the campground for dinner.  That is until we got stuck in a HUGE line of traffic and weren’t moving.  We were right by the trailhead for Lower Yosemite Falls so we pulled in and Dad and I walked the .6 mile loop.  While we were gone Mom did some investigating and discovered that the Lodge had a food court, so we went back and got sandwiches for dinner. 

Almost every evening Half Dome turns colors as the setting sun hits it – this is called Alpenglow.  We’d wanted to stay and watch one night and since it was already late and there was a ton of traffic, we decided to stay and wait out the Alpenglow.  We found a spot where we could see Half Dome and we set up our chairs and ate dinner and then watched as the mountain changed color.  It was pretty cool!

After the sun was gone we headed out of the park and got back to our campground around 9:30. My replacement Kindle was due to arrive today, but the office closed at 8 so I was planning on getting it tomorrow morning, but when I walked back from the bathroom Dad had it! Someone from the office had walked it up to our site when we saw that we’d come back in! :-)  Of course I can’t do anything with it until I can hook it up to the internet, but tomorrow AM we’ll go to the restaurant!

This afternoon as I was walking from the hotel to Yosemite Village I heard a bunch of sirens and I saw a Ranger cutting to traffic – bleeping his siren as needed to get people to move out of the way.  I figured something was going down, but you never have any idea what! Later I was checking Facebook and saw that Yosemite NP had posted that the Mist Trail was temporarily closed because of an unconfirmed report that 1 or more persons had gone over Vernal Falls.  Mom and Dad later talked to someone who’d been there (and had to hike the long way out because they closed the trail and no one could come through!) and they said that 1st one person slipped and then the husband or wife (I’m not sure which) grabbed them and they slipped and then a friend tried to grab them and the friend slipped.  So it sounded like 3 people when over the falls this afternoon.  I haven’t seen these falls up close, but considering how impressive they were from a distance above I’m guessing that one doesn’t go over the falls and live to tell.  :-(   While we were watching Half Dome I saw a news truck leaving the park, and then we saw another news truck leaving when we were leaving, so I’m guessing the story made the evening news around here.  I have no idea if it has hit the National news yet or if it will, but we were no where near the falls when it happened!  Dad and I were considering a hike up there either tomorrow or Thursday, but I have a feeling we won’t be going now!

Yosemite: The Valley

Monday, July 18, 2011

Yosemite: Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, The Fissures

This morning Dad and I drove into the valley by ourselves to hike and explore.  We didn’t really have a plan when we headed out, just that we’d hike a few hikes from my “Best Easy Day Hike in Yosemite” book.  As we drove we decided that we’d go out to Glacier Point and check it out and hike up Sentinel Dome and then hike to The Fissues and Taft Point. 

It took us just about 2 hours to drive from our campground to Glacier Point.  There wasn’t a lot of traffic, it just takes that long.  We didn’t get into the Valley itself, just drove to the Glacier Point Rd intersection and turned right to go up the hill again to get to Glacier Point. 

Glacier Point is a spot high above the valley where you can see everything! The most prominent features are of course Half Dome and the waterfalls! You can see both Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls as well as both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.  Sweeping panoramic of granite, water and evergreens! I took a whole bunch of pictures, all of which look a lot alike. 

After Glacier Point we drove back a few miles to the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trail parking area.  Sentinel Dome is similar to Half Dome in that you can climb up and look at the whole valley.  It’s different because it’s only a 2.2 mile hike and the climb up the rock is very gentle (Half Dome is a 16 mile hike with a 5000 ft elevation gain!!!!).   When I came around the corner and saw the dome going up and knew I had to climb it I decided that I’d never be able to do Half Dome! Even more so when I got to a point where I realized that one wrong step and you’ll slip and fall 2000 ft to the bottom of the valley.  Almost didn’t make it to the top, but I kept going and made it!

Sentinel Dome was pretty amazing – full 360 degree views! You could see pretty much everything in the whole park! I took at 360 panoramic picture with my phone, but I couldn’t upload it when I tried. (There is pretty good AT&T coverage in the park, but my dad’s Verizon phone didn’t have anything! I think so far this trip we have been in more situations where my phone worked, but his didn’t than vice versa.)

The sun was very intense! There was very little shade, not a cloud in the sky and we were surrounded by granite.  I applied sunscreen before I left home, but forgot my chest area – my shirt today was more low cut than normal.  Luckily Dad had some in his pack that I used – I applied it twice, but my chest and possibly my neck still got burned!

When we got back from Sentinel Dome we decided to continue on to Taft Point and The Fissues.  The Fissures are deep cuts in the rocks and you can walk right out on them!  There are no railings and the cliff is sheer! Definitely very “edge-o-phobia”!  Taft Point is a rock outcropping that also has a very steep edge to it, although there is a railing around one tiny section.

By the time we got here I was tired and the sun was really getting to me so I went to sit in the shade and have a snack while Dad explored the view.  The hike out was much better than the hike in – this was a “upside-down hike” – we went down 1st and the back up to the car. 

Finally we were back at the car and headed down.  It was 4:30 and we’d told Mom we’d be back at 5 – we weren’t going to make it!  We stopped at the Tunnel View again and got better pictures, then we got to see El Capitan from the valley – very impressive that way! When we saw it from the top it wasn’t that impressive!

It took about 2 hours to get back to the campground, but we finally made it! Now with dinner eaten, pictures uploaded and blog written, it’s time for bed! 

Tomorrow we are going to take Mom into the Valley and explore the Valley floor – probably check out the waterfalls and the Valley trail!

Yosemite: Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, The Fissures

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Yosemite: Tioga Rd and Sonora Pass

Yosemite is VERY crowded in the summer, especially on weekends.  With that in mind I’d suggested that we drive out Tioga Rd, CA 120, instead of going into “The Valley” today since I knew Sunday would be a busy day.  Monday might not be much better, but we’ll see.  I figured that most people who are in The Valley won’t venture up to the high country and it would be less crowded up there.  The lady at the campground confirmed my suspicions and we decided that it was a plan.

Suzy, the gal at the campground, said that to really beat the crowds you need to leave the campground by 7 am.  With that in mind I set my alarm for 5:15, only later realizing that I’d set it to go off at 5:15 on WED morning!  Oh well, I woke up on my own at 5:55.  I was ready to head out by 7 am, but Mom and Dad had overslept and weren’t ready to go until 8. 

We didn’t encounter any traffic as we entered the park and started up the road.  As soon as we got up over about 2000 ft the views started! We stopped at a few overlooks and a picnic area to check things out as we drove in. 

The best part of the drive up was when we got to Olmstead Point.  From there you can see into the valley and you have a great view of the backside of Half Dome! I wasn’t expecting to be able to see it from there so it was doubly exciting! We took pictures and Dad got out his spotting scope so we could see the hikers on the cables on Half Dome.  We realized we must be looking at the truly hardy souls (or those who made their Half Dome climb a two-day affair) since you have to walk 8 miles before you get to the cables and it was only 10 am.   We were letting anyone who wanted to take a peek in the scope and almost upstaged a Ranger’s program, but he was good sport, in fact he might have been happy to have someone else run the show for a few minutes!

The next stop was Tenaya Lake.  Tenaya Lake is a crystal clear lake presumably formed by glaciers.  It has wonderful views of what might be Polly Dome (not to be confused with Polychrome Pass in Denali) and another dome.  Dad and I walk a short way around it, we would have gone further but the trail was flooded over and there was no way around without getting wet!

A little more driving and checking out the domes and marveling at the climbers and we finally reached Tuolumne Meadows!  It was a beautiful flat spot with grass and the promise of wildflowers soon.  The snow only recently melted up there!

We found a picnic table for lunch and then it was decision time.  How to get back?  Go back the way we came?  Or take the extra scenic route over Sonora Pass.  Suzy at the campground had said that Senora Pass is just awesome and that you can do a loop of the Tioga Rd, then up 395 to CA 108, over the pass and back around.  It’s about 250 miles though.  Mom said she wanted to see something different and we were already going to be driving 100+ miles even if we just went directly back, so we decided to go for it.

Before we did we took a quick 2.2 mile hike into the backcountry near Tuolumne Lodge.  We hike down the John Muir Trail to a spot where 2 foot bridges cross the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River.  What a magnificent spot! Water, meadows, mountains, and the bluest sky you have ever seen!  WOW!

When we got back to the car we continued east to Tioga Pass, which is at 9,950 ft (or close to that) and headed down! The mountains on the other side were pretty amazing!  I was stunned that no one had told us about that! We continued down the mountain, mom and I both trying to take pictures as we went down! At the bottom was the town of Lee Vining and Moro Lake, which a friend of my parents had told us to go see. 

We stopped at the Whoa Nellie Deli and got ice cream and other snacks!  I got a big bottle of water because I’d drunk most of what I had and I had a horrible headache that I was positive was from the elevation (it was about 9,000 feet when I really felt it hurting) and  thought that drinking more water was the best cure.  Lee Vining was also exciting because I had full cell phone coverage!

We  blew right past Moro Lake – we didn’t have time to explore! The landscape had changed and now was more desert looking and I wasn’t that interested.  Soon we were cruising down the road toward Sonora Pass. 

I was looking forward to Sonora Pass, but not to the elevation gain, it was also over 9,000 feet, because my head hurt so bad!  I remembered the 1st day in Sequoia when my head hurt and I’d attacked it with water, Advil, and my inhaler and that made it better – I wasn’t sure what part of that equation worked though.  I was already trying the water, I’d drunk almost a whole liter since Lee Vining and it wasn’t helping so at the 1st overlook where Dad pulled over for pictures (and for me to use the “ladies room” because of all the water I’d drunk) I used my inhaler…and wouldn’t you know, it helped!!!!!! Within a few minutes my headache was almost gone! YAY!!!!!

Sonora Pass is simply AMAZING.  You climb higher and higher and there are mountains of all types – snow covered, tree covered, grey rock, brown rocks, alpine looking, desert looking.  There are also meadows and rivers and wildflowers!  I’m sure there are also bears and other wildlife – we saw a deer and a marmot.  The road was tight – 26% grade in places! and not for the faint of heart, but of boy was it worth it.  To make it even better….no people.  Well, very few, a few cars, most overlooks were empty.   (They are all in Yosemite Valley!) There were a ton of National Forest Service Campgrounds in there there and many of them were empty.  You can’t get a big RV into the campgrounds though, but still they were mostly empty. 

After enjoying the last little bit out of the daylight, and knowing we still had close to 100 miles to go to get “home”, we headed into the town of Sonora which was much bigger than I expected! I had some surprise cell phone service, 3G even….and it lasted most of the way up the mountain!  We grabbed dinner at Carl’s Jr. before heading back to our campground in Buck Meadows. 

Tomorrow Dad and I are heading into The Valley to do some hiking, hopefully it won’t be took crowded.  After a full day of driving today neither of us is willing to be ready to leave by 7 so we’ll sleep in bit and hope we aren’t too late to get a parking space!

Yosemite: Tioga Rd & Sonora Pass

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Drive Day

Surprisingly I got a good nights sleep in the Super Wal-Mart parking lot!  It was a bit noisy around midnight, but then it got quiet and it even got cold just before dawn!  Last night before I went to sleep I ran the generator for about an hour to bring the battery up so the fridge would stay cold all night.  The generator is like a lawn mower engine and it’s right under my bed.   It was so loud it was like a sound machine on steroids, and it made the bed vibrate. That’s when I realized I was sitting on my bed, in the back of my van, in the Wal-Mart parking lot AND my bed was vibrating.  I bet there are people in West Virginia who would pay money for a Friday evening like that!

Since I didn’t have a picnic table to sit at or my Kindle to read I took my coffee and wandered through Wal-Mart!  At 8 am on a Saturday I had the place mostly to myself.  It was kinda nice!  I also picked up a few things I didn’t get yesterday. 

Dad fixed some pancakes and eggs for breakfast, then I went and got a Jamba Juice smoothie – a big treat since we don’t have one near me! After a lengthy discussion about which way to go and finally getting Dad’s GPS software on his computer to concede that we could go the way we wanted to, we were on our way. 

We started out going back to 99 and then getting off near Merced (elevation 127 feet) and winding around through the cow pastures to a big lake.  We found a pull off and had lunch right by the lake, then we continued up over the dry arid foothills and then finally into the mountains proper on the John Muir Historic Path.

We found our campground, The Yosemite Ridge Resort, easy enough! We have 2 nice sites here with electric, water and sewer hook ups! My 1st priority was getting the electricity plugged in so my fridge would run.  The next step was to empty the toilet cartridge.  It was much more difficult this time and let’s just say that my next RV, whether I own it or rent it, WILL have a black tank.  This system sucks. I’m also glad that there’s a nice bathhouse with public toilets and showers less than 50 feet from my site – going to try NOT to use the toilet in my RV so I don’t have to empty it!

Our campground is about 45 minutes from the Yosemite Valley and supposedly traffic is horrible, especially on weekends.  We don’t really have a plan for the rest of the week, but tomorrow we are planning to drive out the Tioga Road to Tuolomne Meadows since there will likely be fewer people out there.  This will be a car trip with maybe a short walk or two. 

We have wifi here at the campground, but it’s only at the restaurant  so I may not be on much – just an evening check in.  My phone doesn’t have service up here, but rumor has it there are cell towers in the valley – we’ll see!

Drive to Yosemite

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sequoia NP: Muir Grove Hike

This morning brought more RV power issues.  I gave up on trying to keep the battery charged (I can’t run my generator in my loop in the campground and driving it uses too much fuel) and it died completely.  Not even the water pump would work this morning! This was going to put a major crimp in my plans since I’d planned to shower (no water pump means no water!) before we drove to Fresno so I could dump and so the bathroom would drain as we drove! I solved the problem by driving over to the loop where Mom and Dad are and there was an empty site over there so I could park there after Dad and I got back from our hike and take run the generator!

Since we were planning to drive to Fresno this afternoon Dad and I were up and out early to hike to Muir Grove.  It was only 4 miles, but sometimes we get to looking at stuff and taking pictures and 4 miles ends up taking a lot longer than it should!

The trail was located right in our campground, but it was in a far loop (this campground is HUGE - 200+ sites!) so we drove my RV over there, I was attempting to charge the battery by driving. 

We were hiking to a remote-ish sequoia grove that I guess John Muir frequented, it’s named after him (then again almost everything in the park is named after him!).   This grove is off the beaten path so most people don’t see it!  As we headed out at 8 am, there was no one else on the trail.  In fact we didn’t see anyone else until the way back! The trail was nice because it was more rolling as opposed to straight up and then straight down. The ups and downs were mixed up which is easier on the legs!  In just 2 short miles this trail had pretty much everything you could want in a hike: forest, meadow, rocks, wildflowers, views, streams, a cool destination, and wildlife.  We saw a deer in a clearing and then Dad saw the butt of a bear! We started making noise right after Dad saw it so the bear ran away and I never saw it!

About a mile in we came to a big rock outcropping with views of Big Baldy, again though it was obscured by smoke.  We could also see the tops of the sequoia trees we were hiking to! The sequoia grove was pretty cool! The trees were huge! We had a snack and took some pictures and then headed back.

Typically when I do “out and back” type hikes the way back goes much faster than the way out, but that’s still usually when the constant walking (especially if it’s all downhill) starts to get to me, so today I brought my iPod! This hike was short and interesting enough that I didn’t really need it, but I pulled it out anyway! It definitely helped me keep my mind off the fact that my left sock was bunched up by baby toe and hurting with each step!

We were back from our hike about 10:30 and I got started on my RV chores.  I got parked in the campsite and popped the generator on and got a shower (it was a very efficient shower since my grey tank was almost full!), then drove over to the dump station to dump the grey tank.  I’d also discovered that the toilet was out of water to flush with so I had to fill that up. This was more difficult because the toilet tank is on the wrong side of the RV to use the dump station water, so I had to use 2 containers my parents had to ferry water from the spicket to the toilet. 

Once my chores were done we had lunch and then headed down the mountain.  It had gotten cloudy and cold but I still drove with my window down (and the heat on) because it was so nice! We pretty coasted down the mountain, losing 6000+ feet of elevation as we descended into the valley!

We were looking for a Wal-Mart, hoping to stay for free since we’d already paid for our site in Sequoia that we gave up.  Luckily we found a very nice Super Wal-Mart in Sanger, CA that allows RVs to stay overnight.  I actually think this is pretty cool! Sleeping at Wal-Mart! We’ll talk in the morning about how much sleep I actually got!  It is cool because you can go shop at anytime!  No need to remember everything the 1st trip!

As soon as we got here and got clearance from the manager that we could stay overnight I went off to call Amazon about my Kindle. As soon as I explained what had happened they told me that they’d have to replace it.  The guy sounded like I should be upset by this, but actually I’m happy!  Not only are they replacing it, but they are mailing me a new one 1st then I’ll mail the defective one back in the box the new one arrives in. AND….not only that BUT…BUT…they are mailing my new Kindle to the campground we are staying at and it will be here Tuesday!!!!!  YAY!!!!!  I’ll have it for the plane ride home! :-)  GO AMAZON!

After my success with Amazon I made the rounds of Wal-Mart picking up all kinds of odd things I can’t find at home: chocolate marshmallows, Cremesicle Oreos and Cherry Nutri-Grain bars! I love those and can’t buy them anywhere so I got two boxes so I could take one home!

It’s quite hot here in the valley but it’s supposed to get cool as soon as the sun goes down which should be any minute now! Spending the evening uploading pictures, posting blogs and reconnecting with the outside world! Four days away was kinda nice! I didn’t miss the internet as much as I have in the past!

Tomorrow we are off to Yosemite!  Here’s hoping there aren’t too many people there! (Yeah, right!)

Sequoia: Muir Grove Hike

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Kings Canyon National Park

The day started early when the folks in the campsite next to me started their car at 2:30 am.   The car was sitting there running, they were at the campfire.  I couldn’t figure out what the deal was. I knew it was a mom and dad and 2 kids so it seemed very unlikely that they were up partying! I listened to the car idling, trying to go back to sleep for about 30 minutes before I decided that I needed to let them know that it was disturbing others (I’m the only one nearby in a “camper” everyone else is in tents and I’m sure I’m not the only one who was bothered by a running car at 2:30 am. Not only that but the cars headlights were on – no shining in a tent directly, but any light seems brighter when it’s pitch dark. 

I crawled out of bed and got my shoes then crawled back over my bed to put them on so I could go out the back door.  I put the right one on, one of my purple sandals, and picked up the other shoe that I’d gotten and discovered I’d picked up one sandal and one trail runner.  Oh well, a 3 am neighborly confrontation does not require matching shoes!  Only problem was that the trail runner was also a right shoe.  Back over the bed to get the other sandal, then back over the bed to the door.  I couldn’t get the door unlocked from the inside so I grabbed the keys and used the remote to unlock the whole van.  When I did that, the headlights came on!  crap! Luckily my van isn’t shining in someone’s tent! 

The family at the site wasn’t at the campfire so I headed to the tent when I saw them all walking from the bathroom.  I asked if that was their car that was running, and yes it was. I asked if they could please turn it off, being as it was 3am and all.  They explained that they were charging the battery on their light because they’d seen a bear! A few minutes later the car was off, but it took me forever to get back to sleep!

This morning we were driving out to King’s Canyon National Park, about 40 miles away.  Both Sequoia and King’s Canyon are right here together, but they are totally different!

The way to Kings Canyon is to go back the way we came in, which meant we’d be right by the entrance station.  On Monday when I came through I discovered I had good signal there on my phone thanks to a well timed text! So plan was to go there 1st and see if I could download the Kindle book I’d been reading so I could at least read it on my phone. No luck.  Mom had read the stuff that came with her Kindle and discovered a way to reset it, but that didn’t work either.  Something has happened with the “e-ink” and the top 3/4 of the screen is all blank with lines.  After the reset you can read the bottom 1/4, but what good does that do ya?  I’m still SOOOOOO freakin’ pissed about this.  I’d considered calling Amazon, but the entrance station wasn’t a good place to call and the signal was iffy at best (got a bunch of texts, and Words with Friends moves, but it couldn’t get my emails or my book), not only that but we’ve decided to go into Fresno tomorrow afternoon rather than waiting till Sat AM so I’ll have full phone/internet/wifi by dinnertime tomorrow, I’ll deal with it then. 

As we headed into the canyon the views became expansive! There were mountains everywhere and the terrain was different.  Sequoia is very “foresty” and these mountains seemed drier – more desert-like.  They were mostly rocks and small trees.  In the middle of the way down there were tons of yucca plants.  As we drove down we stopped at lots of overlooks and took pictures, not really sure of what we were seeing. 

Finally we reached the bottom and saw the river that carved the canyon! WOW! What an impressive river! It was so rough there’s no way you could even raft it!  We were down in the bottom – river on one side and steep, high mountains all around! 

We stopped for lunch at a picnic area with a HUGE waterfall – Grizzly Falls.  Then we moved on down the road, finally entering King’s Canyon National Park.  The park is bordered on all sides by National Forests and Wilderness areas.  The National Forest areas are a lot more rugged and wild, as evidenced by the pit toilets – the ones in the National Forest aren’t fit for man or beast (in the 2 that we visited both had #2 in places it should never be) and the National Park Service pit toilets are lemony fresh (I’m not even kidding!).   The National Forests definitely feel more “naturey” while these 2 National Parks feel more “Disney World”.  (more on this tomorrow!)

Once in the park proper we drove toward “Roads End”.  We were almost there when we saw a pull of for a paved walk to Roaring River Falls so we made our way out there to see a very impressive waterfall! Soon we were at “Roads End” where we hiked out to Muir Rock – it was a whopping 300 feet from the car! This was the place where John Muir addressed the Sierra Club about making King’s Canyon a park.  It was a cool rock in a great setting, however there were about 50 people there – sunbathing, sitting in chairs on the beach, and the kids were running wild playing “Harry Potter” and waving sticks at each other (admittedly I’m glad to see kids using their summer vacations for such fun pursuits – playing by themselves, running around etc…) and it took away from the ambiance of the rock.

After Muir’s Rock Dad and I hiked the 1.5 miles around Zumwalt Meadow!  That was a nice, quick, walk! We climbed over boulder fields where we got great views of the meadow from above and the granite rock faces that were soaring above it! 

Our last stop in the park was the Cedar Grove area where they have a little store and a motel and a few other services.  We all got an ice cream treat and then we were on our way back out of the canyon.

On the way back up we revisited many of the overlooks we’d stopped at on the way down – the views now made a lot more sense since we could place them geographically!

We took a bit of a different route back to camp – there’s a road the cuts off the corner by the entrance station and it’s mostly on US Forest Service land so it was a bit more rugged and windy and adventuresome!

Once back at Dorst Creek we got dinner and made our plans for tomorrow!  After dinner Mom and I did the dishes so Dad could play “find the elusive water leak”.  He was not successful so I have a feeling we’ll get to play again another night.

Tomorrow morning very early (he’s picking me up at 7:30!) Dad and I will hike out to Muir Grove from the campground, it’s only 4 miles so we should be back by noon.  Then I’ll take a shower (yay!), and hope I don’t totally fill my grey tank!  Then I can dump the grey tank before we head back to Fresno!

Kings Canyon NP

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sequoia: Little Baldy Hike

I was up early and ready to go hiking!  Dad and I were going to hike to summit of Little Baldy and then back to the campground.  We had Mom drive us to the trail head and then we could walk back! Little Baldy is a large rock outcropping at the top of a mountain, similar to Moro Rock and the domes around Yosemite.

We set out about 9:30 AM and the trail was deserted! We saw no one! :-)  There were wild flowers everywhere and the sun was out! Took a ton of pictures going up!  We could see what we thought was Big Baldy – although it was very hazy with smoke from a nearby prescribed burn.

The trail continued up the mountain in long switchbacks so the view didn’t change much, but you could see more and more of the mountain and the mountains around it. 

When we were almost there the trail leveled off and meandered through a meadow – it was a little like the meadow at the top of Hogback Mountain in Shenandoah, grasses and flowers with trees! These trees weren’t the sequoia trees, but rather some other kind of evergreen.  The area had burned – there were a lot of charred trees and downed wood. 

The trail went along the ridge until the final uphill push which was very steep, but pretty short and finally we were there!  It was a huge slab of granite and we walked way out on it.  The views weren’t the greatest – there was a lot of haze/clouds/fog, but you could make out most of it! At the actual summit there was a US Geological Survey Benchmark! I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of those when I’m out hiking before so that was cool!  Right next to the benchmark someone had built a rock carin and then written “Little Baldy” on the top rock in what looked like Sharpie!

Almost as soon as we arrived at the summit the clouds started moving in and very quickly the entire mountain was ensconced in thick fog! No more views at all!  It was also windy and generally not very pleasant to we started back and found a rock in the meadow to eat lunch on. 

After lunch we headed back down! The fog was rolling in between the trees like it does on the coast and there were no more views of the mountains! The trip down is always my least favorite part – walking downhill hurts! Luckily this went fast and soon we were back at the road where we’d begun. 

We still had about 1.2 miles to walk.  There’s a trail that connects the Little Baldy trail to the campground and this morning we asked the ranger about it and he said “Oh, you don’t want to do that.  It’s REALLY long.”  When we told him we were just walking the connector trail back, he said that’d be ok, but was discouraging us from starting in the campground and hiking all the way.  As we walked this connector trail I saw why.  It wasn’t particularly interesting and it seemed to go one forever.  Part of that was because we were still walking downhill! My legs hurt so bad!  Dad had noted at the top that it was about 1000 feet of elevation change between the summit and the campground and that’s huge! ugh.  We should have hiked from the campground and had Mom pick us up at the Saddle.  I’d much rather gain 1000 ft than lose it!  Finally, after was was surely the longest mile ever, we made it back to the campground!

Now it’s time for our RVing lesson of the day.  All RVs have holding tanks for fresh and waste water.  There are two waste water tanks – a grey tank and a black tank.  The grey water (that goes in the grey tank!) is the water that runs down the sink drains (kitchen and bath) and the shower.  The black water (in the black tank) is the toilet. When the tanks get full you go to the dump station pull out your sewer hose, attach it to the opening, put the other end on the hole in the ground and open the valves.  I know it sounds icky and gross and difficult, but it’s actually really easy (and not messy!  I mean dump station mishaps do happen, but it’s preventable)

My RV does not have a black tank, it has a grey tank, that is emptied the same way as normal, but the toilet has it’s own special system.  The toilet empties into a small holding tank that you have to remove from the RV and drag around to the dump, then take the lid off and line up the nozzle thing on the tank and lift it up and dump.  It felt like a dump station mishap waiting to happen. 

Anyway….why is this important tonight?  Well, last night I the bathroom started smelling like a latrine (just like your toilet at home, an RV bathroom should never smell!!!) and when I looked down the hole it looked like the tank was full.  Which means, it hadn’t been emptied, no way I filled it up in just 2 days!  So I decided I’d empty it to see if that helped the smell. 

So after we got back from our hike I went off to the dump station to tackle the toilet! It was much easier than I expected and it seems to have reduced the latrine smell!  Still, when/if I buy and RV, it will have a black tank because that’s MUCH easier to deal with!

After the dump station I went to pick up Mom and Dad.  The plan was we were going to drive my RV, to charge the batteries, which we were now dead again, to keep the fridge going – this electric fridge thing is a total pain, and go first to Lodgepole so I could take advantage of the public showers (I have a shower in my RV, but I prefer to use regular showers for a lot of reasons – none major, just how I like to do things) and then go to a BBQ and living history show out at one of the picnic areas. 

We got to Lodgepole and I gathered my stuff, plus $3 – thinking I’d taken a lot extra! I changed my bills into quarters, found out that each shower costs $3, then waited for a shower to open up.  The bathroom was full of steam from hot showers and I was looking forward to enjoying every second of my $3 shower.   When I got my shower stall I got all ready before I put the money in, however when the last quarter went in the shower didn’t start.  I tried EVERYTHING to get it to start, nothing.  grrrrrr….  I put my clothes on, gathered my stuff and went to ask for help in the store.  The gal came out and fixed it (she opened up the money part and put one of the quarters back in) and the shower came right on!  I quickly got all ready, not wanting to waste a second of my $3 shower.  When I got in though, I discovered that it was cold.  Ice cold.  I turned both handles every way I could and it wouldn’t get warm.  I tried just dunking my head anyway – I did not want to get dressed again w/o having taken a shower, but it was too cold.  Finally I just shut it off, put my clothes on and stormed out.   I went back to my RV and showered there (yes, in the parking lot at Lodgepole Visitor Center) where I had plenty of hot water (even though I’d just turned on the hot water heater!)  I decided not to wait because the bathroom is also the shower stall and the drain is in one corner – my campsite isn’t level and if I shower here the water will collect in the opposite corner and not drain.  I needed to shower at Lodgepol so the water could slosh around as I drove back and drain out, which it did.   I’m thinking maybe tomorrow I’ll drive back over to the Lodgepole Visitor Center parking lot and offer hot showers for $3.50! ;-)

The BBQ and living history thing was nice! It was an all-you-can-eat buffet and a guy gave a talk about mule trains in the Sierra while we ate!  When I opened my utensil pack (this was a picnic BBQ!) the utensils were really nice….solid, not flimsy! I said “WOW, these are nice plastic spoons” and the guy said “They aren’t plastic, they are plants! It’s made from corn!”  Cool! Yes, I swiped the ones we’d used (double recycle!).

When we got back I took my Kindle over to Mom and Dad’s MH to discuss plans for tomorrow and Friday.  When I got there and opened my Kindle, the screen had lines through it and when I turned it on the lines didn’t go away and there were blank spots! You couldn’t read it! Everything else seemed to be working but the screen was totally busted.  I have NO idea what happened.  It had been sitting on the “couch”/seat in the RV all day – I’d picked it up to read it while I waited for Mom and Dad to pick me up before the hike, but it had been on the seat ever since.  I’ve only had it for 2 months so Amazon should stand by it (they better!), but I have no way of contacting them right now! I’m pretty pissed off about this, but it can be fixed, hopefully soon (and it’s a reminder that I need to look into a SquareTrade warranty for it!)  It is kinda funny that I’m pissed off because my book stopped working. Score 1 more for paper books – very rarely does your paper book spontaneously become unreadable without obvious cause.  And if the book does get damaged most times you can fix it.  Only something catastrophic can take out 40+ paper books in one swipe, but hardware failure on your Kindle can wipe out everything in seconds!

Tomorrow the plan is to drive into Kings Canyon and check that out.  We have to go back near the entrance station where I had cell phone service on Monday when I came in so hopefully tomorrow AM I’ll have service again and I can call Amazon see what they can do for me.  Worst case I guess is there’s a Best Buy in Fresno, I can just buy a new Kindle. 

Sequoia NP: Little Baldy Hike

Sequoia: Scenic Driving

I got an early start today, waking up with the sun around 6 am.  I got more sleep in my little RV than I’d gotten in the hotel so that was good!  My day started with getting organized and unpacked, then I got ready for the day and finally enjoyed coffee and breakfast and my kindle at the picnic table, where it was so chilly I needed my fleece jacket! :-) 

Around 9 I walked over to meet Mom and Dad and we headed out to explore the park.  Our primary destinations today were most of the “must see tourist spots”. 

We started at the Lodgepole visitor center where we got our passports stamped!  Then we moved on to the General Sherman tree – the biggest living thing on earth – by volume or weight or something, they clearly made that statistics work for them.  It was a nice paved walk down to the tree – lots of people!  It was a pretty good climb though, but very “touristy”. 

After the tree we had lunch at a nearly deserted picnic area – I was amazed that it wasn’t overrun with people!

Next up was Moro Rock – another popular tourist stop.  It’s a 1/4 mile hike up 500 rock steps to the top of a granite rock where you can get a 360 degree view of the mountains, the valley, and the Great Western Divide.  It was a great view and a neat rock, even if it felt like something out of Disney World rather than a natural phenomenon!

The final thing on the agenda was to walk around Crescent and Log Meadows.  Supposedly Crescent Meadow was John Muir’s favorite, which I thought was odd because there are granite steps at Mt. Rainier engraved with a quote from John Muir that would lead you to believe that the Paradise Meadows were his favorite!  Not sure what’s going on with that but here are my speculations:

A) John Muir hadn’t seen Mt. Rainier yet when he said Crescent was the best.

B) Whatever meadow he was standing in at the time was his favorite.

C) Someone is twisting John Muir’s words to mean what they want it to!

The meadow was very nice, however at first sighting I wasn’t too impressed, mostly because I was standing on a paved trail.  The meadow had lost some of it’s wonder in the process of making it accessible to all.  The meadows were surrounded by giant sequoia forests and it was very nice, except for the pesky pavement and touristy feel to it.  

About 1/2 way into the walk we came to a “log cabin” – a cabin made by the guy who discovered the park and it was a hollowed out downed Sequoia tree! It was pretty cool.  After the cabin the trail became dirt and had more of a “wild” feel to it!  We walked through the giant sequoias and you could get some space between yourself and the other people, and there were fewer other people!

When I was almost back to the parking lot I spotted some cool tiger lilies in the meadow and I wanted to take a picture.  You can just trample into the meadow, you’ll kill the flowers that have a very short growing season to begin with, I quickly saw the solution to my problem – there was a dead tree that was close to the trail and went out into the meadow, so I climbed up and headed out.  Once I got out on the log I saw hundreds of flowers, many different types, that I hadn’t noticed before!  I took a bunch of pictures! By now it was late afternoon and the sun was starting to sink – the colors in the meadow changed several times over the 10 or so minutes I was on the log and I’m pretty sure *this* was the meadow that John Muir saw and fell in love with!  I wonder what he’d think if he knew that we’d paved a path around his favorite place so that every could visit?  Would he be happy?  Or would he be mad that we spoiled it? 

After the walk we headed back to the campground for dinner, and charging my RV!

Time for our “RVing Lesson of the Day”":

RV’s can plug into power if you are at a campground that has hook ups or operate on batteries if you are “dry camping”.  We are currently dry camping – no hook ups.  This means the battery is VERY important.  The battery runs things such as lights, the water pump, and the ignition for your propane stuff like the fridge or the hot water heater.  In most cases an RV fridge runs on both propane and electricity and it will switch itself back and forth depending on what’s available.  In my case however, the fridge runs on electricity only  - which means it’s powered by the battery when there’s no hookup. 

This morning I checked the battery and it was almost dead!  I couldn’t believe this because I’d driven ALL day yesterday and driving charges the battery, so it should have been good and full and should have been able to last me almost the whole time we were here. 

I do have a generator in my RV so it’s easy to just run the generator and charge the battery.  In theory.  My campsite is in the “no generators” loop of the campground, meaning it’s never OK for me to run it.  My parents are in the generator loop so we decided that I’d drive my RV over and find an empty campsite and squat  for an hour or so while I ran my generator.  This was a better plan than me going for a drive b/c it wouldn’t use up as much gas (there is gas in the park, but it’s ridiculously expensive $4+/gallon).

The site next to my parents was empty so we ran back and got my RV, but by the time I got it over there the owners of the site had moved in! There was another empty site right across from them so I backed in there and got the generator going.  Almost as soon as I did the owners of that site showed up!  They told me I could stay, so I stuck around about 30 minutes, hoping that would be good enough.  These people didn’t need to listen to my generator (sounds like a lawn mover) or breathe the exhaust!  Just in that short amount of time the battery was back up to 2/3 full so it should be good for the night. 

I don’t have much in the fridge that needs to be super cold so I turned it way down – it was set at it’s highest setting (no wonder the battery died!) and my carrots were frozen this morning! No need for that!  One thing I’ve learned is that if I ever own an RV, it will have a fridge that runs on propane!

It’s starting to get really chilly in here! We saw a weather report (that had been printed out on Sun so it was old) that said it was going down to 38* tonight!  Brrrrrr!  Glad I have my 0* backpacking sleeping bag, I’ll be toasty warm!

Tomorrow Dad and I are going to hike to Little Baldy which is very close to the campground, I’m pretty sure it will be a lot like Moro Rock minus the hordes of tourists! 

Sequoia NP - Sherman Tree, Moro Rock, Cresent Meadow

Monday, July 11, 2011


I’m nestled all snug in my little RV/van! Snug being the operative word there! This RV is great, but it’s not spacious! The small van was great to drive, easy to back up and maneuver in tight spaces, however it’s a bit lacking in storage and living space.

The majority of the day was spent driving from Oakland to Sequoia NP! I didn’t get much sleep last night so today was rough, but I made it!

After going over all the finer details of my home on wheels I took off!  Took me about 30 minutes of driving in circles around Oakland before I got on the correct highway (there are at  least 5,000 highways in the Bay Area all with “80” somewhere in them – 888, 580, 380) heading in the correct direction.  When I first found 580 – the highway I wanted, I headed east.  I was after all going to the mountains, the mountains are east.  I was quite confused by the fact that the sign said “580 East Oakland” but I have no sense of geography for the Bay Area so maybe I still hadn’t gotten to Oakland, even though I was pretty sure I was done with Oakland.  A few seconds later I had my dopeslap moment….I’m on the West Coast….the mountains are EAST, the OCEAN is west!!!!!!  AGGHHH!!!!!! So, I had to figure out where to get off and turn around! (Andy, I know you are laughing at me, stop it!)

I stopped in Modesto to have lunch at In and Out Burger.  Everyone talks about how great that place is and I’d never been.  I don’t see the appeal.  Five Guys is WAY better!  I didn’t even eat the fries – they had no flavor! After lunch I hit the Save Mart for supplies then continued down Highway 99.

Highway 99 is rather forgettable.  It goes through the dry, flat, unattractive valley and there are tons of trucks.  It was double hard because I was so sleepy, but finally I made it to Fresno!

To get to Sequoia from Oakland you go to Fresno and turn left on 180.   Once I turned on 180 I drove out of town very quickly.  I knew I’d wanted to get gas before I got to far into the mountains so I asked Google Maps where I could find some.  I found a small town about a mile or so off course with both a gas station and a Subway so I could bring my dinner in.  Only problem was the road into the town was closed! agh!  I found a detour and bounced my way down a few backroads through farms and followed the handwritten “gas and food open” signs to a veritable metropolis out there in the nothingingness.  I pulled into the 1st gas station – it was cash or debit only.  I used my debit card, which was rejected. I’d had an issue with Bank of America earlier with the credit card and trying to charge (they thought it was fraud because I was so far from home), but I thought I’d worked it out.  So I had to go to another gas station – they took my other Bank of America Visa without a problem…hmmmm.  After picking up my sandwich, I decided that I should probably call the bank and make sure things are straightened out.  After 30 minutes, most of it on hold, thank goodness AT&T lets me surf the internet while I talk, I have been assured that all is well and functioning.  Here’s hoping.

After my gas stop the real fun began! The mountains!  They start out as little hills rising gradually up from the valley and they are all brown with little pockets of green, but mostly brown.  It’s very dry and hot.  At about 4000 feet (the road had a marker every time we gained 1000 ft of elevation) the ridges were capped with trees, and by 5000 ft there were evergreen (Sequoia?) trees all around – some were HUGE!  After checking in at the entrance station and discovering that I had enough cell signal to check in on Foursquare, I made my way through the park to our campground.   The scenery was great, but I was so tired I just wanted to be there and it was taking a very long time. 

Finally I pulled in and was surprised to see a mama bear and her two cubs right along the road!  The ranger says they are here a lot!  Each campsite has a bear box to keep the food in – even the cars aren’t safe (although apparently motorhomes are – go figure – if I post this I did not get eaten by a bear! :-)

Mom and Dad got here mid-afternoon so I walked over to their site to eat my dinner and catch up with them. 

My site here is less than scenic – it’s basically a parking spot! There’s another car parked right next to me even! But it’s all good! I have a view of another families campfire and the air is crisp and chilly, what more do I want?  I can hardly keep my eyes open and it’s getting cold in here – I need to get in my sleeping bag and get some sleep!  Tomorrow we are off to explore the park!


Good Morning From Oakland

Usually my summer trips involve early morning flights that mean leaving home at the pre butt crack of dawn and driving off into the early morning darkness. Not this year! My flight wasn’t scheduled to leave Dulles until 6:00 pm! And it was direct! What a luxury!

I had a very nice morning: reading my Kindle, packing those last minute things, and tying up loose ends at home.  I left around 2:00 to run a few errands then head to the airport. 

I arrived at the airport a little after 3, parked the car, got the shuttle, and walked right up to an open check-in kiosk at the Jet Blue Counter.  When I checked in though I was informed that the flight was delayed.  We now weren’t going to leave until 7:00.  Glad I already built extra time into the plan. 

The line for security was massive.  I’m not sure why but I thought it would be better later in the day, wrong.  They were herding everyone into two big lines and then taking turns which line got to head downstairs to the main screening area – once down there the line wound around a bunch of times before you actually got to go through.

Standing in line I pulled out my Kindle and discovered that reading on my Kindle is far superior to reading a book when it comes to reading in line!  I just had to hold the device – no worrying about turning pages or losing your page which always happens when you try to read one handed! And it was easy to see over so I could read and shuffle along (it was just like reading sitting in traffic! LOL!) Kindle: 1 Paper Books: 0

When I got up to the security screening area there was a guy with a BIG guitar looking case.  It was about 4x the size of a guitar so I’m guessing it was a bass or something.  The case was solid, shiny, white, plastic and it had a black rubber looking bumper on the edge.  At first glance it looked like a Stormtrooper.  Now, that would make flying better.  Replace all the TSA agents with Stormtroopers.  Of course they were the bad guys, but whatever, they are still cooler than your average TSA agent. 

I did get to experience the “backscatter” machine.  They had it set up where some people went though that and some went through the old metal detectors.  It wasn’t so bad – you just stood there – hands up on your head like you are being arrested and then the gal tells you to come out.  I did have one security “oops”.  Despite having read TSA’s website so I’d know what to do I didn’t see that my computer needed it’s own bin so I put it in a bin and put my shoes, purse and meds on top.  The gal had to take it back and run it all back through again.  She was very friendly until I asked if I could just take the stuff on top (thinking it had already been scanned) and her whole tone changed and she said “No, I cannot let you have access to the property at this time.”  Well, then. 

I was kinda glad for the extra hour now because at this point it had taken 45 minutes to get through security and I still wanted to hike down to the A terminal to get a Cosi sandwich!  Of course Cosi was alll the way at the end of the A terminal – a mile or so (at least! ;-) from where the train dropped me off! I then had to walk all the way back to almost the end of the B terminal! It was good to spend my extra hour walking! Not only that but Cosi has San Pelligrino in bottles! :-) Of course it was close to $3.00 for a 20 oz bottle (I pay about 60 cents for a liter of fizzy water at Wegmans!) so it was like drinking Platinum!

The rest of the wait went quickly and soon the plane arrived and we boarded and were ready to go!  I settled in with my headphones, iPod and Kindle.  I was happily reading away when the flight attendant announced that we needed to turn off ALL electronic devices. uh-oh.  I thought I’d just play dumb until she clarified - “that’s anything with an “on/off” switch, including: Kindles, cell phones, CD players….etc….”  The fact that she specifically mentioned Kindles and mentioned it 1st made me just turn it off and wait till we we were airborne.  The folks who lugged paper books were still reading away.  Kindle: 0, Paper Book 1. 

The flight  was uneventful and soon we were landing in Oakland.  As I stepped off the plan onto the Jetway the outside air felt WONDERFUL – it was crisp and chilly and not a speck of humidity! As I was waiting on the curb for the Holiday Inn van to pick me up I checked the weather – it was 59*!  Very nice, even if my teeth were a few degrees away from chattering!

The Holiday Inn is very nice and I have been sufficiently pampered, even if I did sleep much!  The bed was plush and comfy with high threadcount sheets (even if id did set my allergies off…), the shower spacious (my whole RV is prob smaller!) with a premium showerhead, free wireless, and though expensive, tasty room service breakfast!  In a few minutes the front desk will summon me a taxi to wisk me off to San Leandro to get my RV!

Next post will likely not be until Saturday….see ya’ll then!