Saturday, June 14, 2014

The final leg...

Well, I suppose all good things must eventually come to an end. As I start one of the final blogposts I have very mixed feelings. I feel sad that this wonderful trip is drawing to a close, but I look forward to seeing my friends and family. I bounce back and forth all day long during these final days. I usually get the "post trip blues", as I call them, even with a short trip. I have no doubt that I will have a serious case this time. Tommy and Alex's wedding will hopefully distract me in a wonderful way. The looming school year and a new granddaughter on the way will take care of August.

Ah well, not to get ahead of myself...

Up and over stunning Tioga Pass into Yosemite we went! The road has only recently opened in the past couple of weeks, so the high country is still just coming out of the snow. Many areas and trails were still closed with the park employees working to open campgrounds and other services. The scenery is simply spectacular with glacier carved peaks, rounded domes, granite boulders dropped erratically across the landscape, rushing streams and sparkling lakes. We hiked up to the top of Lembert Dome and were treated to a 360 degree view across this wonderful gem of a park. I lazed in the warm springtime sun while Thayer occupied the time building a cool arch out of the native granite.

Thayer's original arch ...
...more impressive after a little Photoshop magic!
Panorama with glacial erratics
It is fun to imagine the mountains much higher than these that existed thousands of years ago but have since been eroded by wind, water and ice. Smooth glacial valleys perched high on the mountain peaks, showing the path of  ancient glaciers, abound throughout the Sierra Nevadas. At Olmsted Point a short walk took us to another amazing overlook, down into Yosemite Valley with Half Dome anchoring the view. We spent most of that day stopping for streams, lakes and views as we headed west, aiming for the Valley.
Half Dome from scenic Olmsted Point
Half Dome from the valley
Yosemite Valley and Falls


Upper Yosemite Falls
Rafting the Merced River
Yosemite is celebrating it's 150th birthday as a preserved area this year. In the midst of the the Civil War and at the urging of Galen Clark, Abraham Lincoln was the first president to take steps to preserve Yosemite for the people. Later, Theodore Roosevelt, with the prompting of John Muir, Gifford Pinchot and others, made it into the nation's second national park, after Yellowstone. We can thank Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot for most of our national parks and forests. If these guys hadn't done everything in their power to set these lands aside the land would have been ransacked by the logging, mining, cattle and railroad industries. John Muir wished to set the lands aside completely and parted ways with Roosevelt and Pinchot when they allowed multiple uses in the national forests. A very interesting history of this period of history, including the formation of what would become the US Forest Service, is The Big Burn, by Timothy Egan.

The Apron
Back to our narrative...  We spent two days roaming around the Valley, walking to waterfalls, scrambling around on "the Apron" where Thayer used to climb, and visiting the visitor center and museum. I dusted off my bike one day and had a nice ride along the bike trails through the valley. Yosemite has a great public transportation system, and once you find a parking spot you can then ride the clean, non stinking buses around all day for free. Bikes and rafts are available to rent and there are miles and miles of hiking trails with a large variety of terrains. Just sitting and watching the climbers can be pretty entertaining after a long day of walking.

Amazing skill
The park also offers opportunities to learn about the Native Americans who once inhabited the valley.  We found their art, culture and history very interesting and were able to watch and talk with master basket weaver Julia Parker, 84, as she demonstrated her expertise. Creating a beautiful basket takes an amazing amount of time, skill and patience!

Amazing baskets
Upper & lower Yosemite Falls

In addition, there is the history of the Sierra Club, which was born in this area, and the colorful biography of John Muir and other early protectors of the park.

Yosemite Valley at sunset


One day we chatted with a volunteer who was meandering around answering people's questions. After he answered mine we began talking about what volunteers do in the park and how to get involved doing that. Turns out that if you can volunteer anywhere between one week to multiple months – and there are some neat things to do! In the winter, during Thanksgiving and Christmas, they need people to work in the information center, art museum and other areas, with indoor housing provided. During the summer there are many more things to do and they provide you a campsite in the campground, discounts at some of the eateries, and a cool shirt to wear. I am thinking pretty seriously about doing a month in the park during the summer. There is just so much to do there that you can't possibly see it all in just a few days, I think it would be really fun to spend a month there. Then it would just be a matter of deciding what next year's park would be, then the next year...

Sadly, with time becoming our master, we turned our back on the lovely mountains and headed down the winding road to civilization. Next up was Santa Rosa, home of my nephew, Stuart, and his girlfriend, Chelsey. Stu has turned into quite the forager, taking after his Uncle Robb in a big way. He and Chelsey moved to Santa Rosa just 3 years ago but have quickly figured out how to live off the land. Stu chases the mighty abalone to great depths, free diving 30-40 feet to chase down the wily mollusk. On his way up and down from the ocean floor he spears a few rockfish or lingcod and comes up with a fantastic meal for a big group. Fortunately he had had a successful fishing trip just a few days before we arrived and we were treated to one heck of a meal. The prize abalone from the trip was about 12 inches across! They are also very interested in wine and have a large collection. In just driving through Sonoma County, I could tell that they have found their niche in life. It was great fun to have a short visit with them and we look forward to seeing them in August. I hope they can sneak some abalone on the airplane.
Sonoma vineyards
Chelsey, Stu and helper

We proceeded towards the coast, stopping at beaches and overlooks as they came along. The views are stunning and expansive, including lovely beaches, tall cliffs, headlands and islands, windswept trees, and beautiful flowers and succulent plants. As we left Hwy. 101 the road became twisting and winding, steeply climbing up and dropping down, very narrow, and quite frightening in many places. We overnighted high up in the forest, close to the pounding surf, and in a few large turnouts.

Seals on the beach
Coastal BLM lands

Pretty coastal colors
More beautiful coastline


Wave tossed rocks 
View from up high
hardy succulents 
hardy succulents
5 geese hiking the Lost Coast Trail
Elegant cairn stones

Finally we fell precipitously out of the clouds into the cool little town of Ferndale, just south of Eureka. Ferndale is a very quaint little town with some lovely old homes that are nicely turned out and maintained. It is surrounded by many square miles of beautiful farmland, estuaries, and rivers and the people were really friendly and eager to share information about their big event, the K.G.C.  


This was another case of perfect timing on our part! Memorial Day turned out to be the third and final day of the Kinetic Grand Championship. I copied the following description from the website:

The Kinetic Grand Championship is a 3-day, 42-mile bicycle race over land, sand, mud and water. (The "bicycles" are actually highly engineered sculptures.)

Kinetic Sculptures are all-terrain human-powered art sculptures that are engineered to race over road, water, mud and sand. Kinetic Sculptures are usually made from what some people consider “junk”. But one man’s junk is another racer’s raw material. Each Kinetic Sculpture is a work of art and each racing team has its own theme. The teams consist of pilots, pit crew and pee-ons. Kinetic Pilots pedal the sculpture and steer, the pit crew assists the pilots in transforming the vehicle for the various elements and fixing mechanical issues, and pee-ons, well, they do whatever is needed for the team to get glory. The teams give out “bribes” to their adoring spectators, judges and Rutabaga Royalty.

The day we arrived the whole town had turned out for the grand finale, incredible human powered crafts completing the grueling course and finishing in a blaze of glory. Everybody was dressed to the hilt and the alcohol was flowing freely. The event has been going on for 44 years and many of the participants have been involved for years and years. Winners of the event become the judges for subsequent years. 



At Crescent City we entered an area of the Redwoods National Park, into a towering forest of ancient trees. There is something so peaceful and timeless about these special forests. I literally just absorb all that energy of the trees; feeling calmer, steadier and more patient for every moment I spend wandering among the giants. I am forever thankful to the individuals and groups who have fought to preserve these precious places, and hope that more people will understand and appreciate their true value.
Monster nurse log
Yoga amongst the redwoods
Towering trees
Burned out relic (the tree)
Good ol' Oregon
Early evening stroll along the Oregon surf
From there we meandered up half of the Oregon coast seeing the usual spectacular coastal scenery. The weather remained perfect as we cruised into Portland for a short overnight at the home of my long-time college buddy, Rosemary. The next day we made the final crossing back into Washington but only traveled a little way, spending the night at my cousin Cheryl's house. It was a great way to ease into the home stretch.

A secluded little beach hidden away somewhere on the Oregon coast

After meandering 18,982 miles and more than 10 months on the road, I drove us the final leg home. I guess Thayer needed a rest. Handling the RV in busy big city traffic after so many months of backroad travel was a little hair raising but the rig just seemed to want to go faster as we got closer to Bothell.

And so, after hills and dales, highways, byways and skyways, rain and shine, beaches and mountains and desert and snow; and through hot and dry and humid and ice and cold; after caves and carnivals, hiking, biking, sailing, fear and fun; after getting stuck and near misses and minor breakdowns and fixing everything along the way; and remembering big starry nights, and glorious morning sunrises and warm welcoming sunsets throughout countryside and towns and cities across the US and Canada; and recalling all the museums, forts, historical towns, parks and visitor centers, bridges, towers, palaces, monuments, lighthouses, seaports, churches, farms, battlefields and more; and learning so much more about US & Canadian history; after having the opportunity to hook up with distant kinfolk and to meet and make new friends all along the way, plus having the special time and experiences and memories just between the two of us, ... we're home.

PS - Within minutes of parking the rig, we had hopped into the car with Paul, Jackson, Sarah and Tour, and met Tommy at Sail Sand Point for a beautiful, sunny afternoon of sailing in our perfect Pacific NW. I guess it's reassuring that of all the places we've seen and experienced this past year, we still like it here the best.

It's good to be back!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bishop and beyond

Bishop is a great little town, all the stuff you need to get back into the forest and then some. Lots of bakeries, delis, and sporting goods stores. They have a beautiful city park where we spent some time, a good starting point for most places we needed to go. A few miles away  is a great museum called Laws Railroad Museum. They have a big steam locomotive, other RR cars, a depot and two long rows of old little buildings for the little "town". They have a very active crew of volunteers who work many hours rebuilding and refurbishing old railroad cars, mining equipment, and many kinds of machinery. We arrived on a day when a couple of busloads of 4th graders were visiting so we had the bonus of many volunteers sharing their knowledge about the exhibits.
Fill 'er up!
Laws Railroad Station

Sunrise over the Owen River
Laws RR Museum

Fresh snow in the Sierras

Not far from Bishop, in the foothills of the Sierras is a unique area called Buttermilk Country. It is similar to the Alabama Hills in that it is a world class boulder climbing and scrambling area. We spent two nights here, taking long walks, scrambling around and watching the real climbers on the boulders presenting interesting problems. The nights were lovely, bright stars, cool temperatures and the dramatic backdrop of the soaring mountains to the west. We even saw a few snow flurries but they were very short lived. We hiked to where the river plunges through a steep bouldery canyon, very scenic.
Scenic Buttermilk Country

Buttermilk Country views
Fun rock formations

Real climbers
Desert colors

Feeling pretty grungy, we headed into Hot Springs country. We stayed 2 nights at what we think is Crab Pot Hot Springs. Though not large pools, they are big enough for the 4-5 people that might show up. The water is heated underground by the hot magma that still exists after thousands of years of volcanic activity in this area. The ground is covered with pumice and small chunks of obsidian from the many explosive eruptions in the past. Talking to other folks, we learned about other springs in the area and ended up coming back to one called Sheepherder HS, also a beautiful pool overlooking a small lake. It felt really great to get cleaned up! Another short detour was to Hot Creek Geological site, with geysers and springs too hot for soaking and looking very much like Yellowstone.
If we could only fit all this into our backyard!

Hot Creek Geological Site

Sheepherder Hot Spring
Next up was Convict Lake, a pretty alpine lake carved by glaciers out of the ancient stone of the Sierras. There is a resort on one end of the lake and a nice trail going all the way around. We stayed one night most of two days so I was able to get in 2 laps around and then some. The path leading up to the pass was a bit too much but I did part of it. There was a nice beach and lots of sun for lazing around reading books and feeding chipmunks. The lake is surrounded by glacial moraines, one of the best examples of a glacier carved lake that I have seen. The lake is a fantastic shade of blue green. A typically colorful history involving escaped convicts, posse chases, murder and mayhem gave the lake it's name.

Convict Lake
Convict Lake

Yes, still cold at night around here!

Mammoth Lakes is a ski town, still open though I could not see where they could be skiing, just didn't look like enough snow to me. I took a longer hike to Sherman Lakes than necessary since I missed the second lake and walked way past my destination. Is it possible to get blase about continuously scenic beauty? I have so many pictures of towering, snow topped mountains, stunning trees and rocks, gorgeous lakes and sights that I've almost stopped taking pictures! We made a quick stop at Obsidian Dome, a large outpouring of glassy volcanic material, a source for the Native Americans. 
Sherman Lakes
Fantastic Western Juniper

Obsidian Dome

June Lakes Scenic loop is a short detour off of Hwy. 395, there are many resort and camping opportunities, some lakes and streams and cute little shops. We drove through all of that and ended up at Parker Lake, another dazzling alpine lake.... We spent two nights downstream on the creek, enjoying the sound of water rushing by and choruses of birds in the morning. The bugs started eating us however, so we moved along, counting the days til we have to actually be home.
Parker Lake

Views from Parker Creek

Panorama from Punar Crater near Mono Lake
Mono(MO-NO, not Ma-NO) Lake is a fascinating place, geologically, biologically, and historically. The lakebed is the remnant of a colossal volcanic eruption, certainly on the scale of the Yellowstone Supervolcano. it is riddled and surrounded by cinder cones, old craters and volcanic debris. We visited Punar Crater, a textbook example of a rhyolitic volcano. It had a huge initial explosion, then collapsed, sinking a mile into the ground. It then went through a period of cone building extruding loads of obsidian and glassy pumice. It is one of many craters in a chain stretching to the south of Mono Lake. Right on the edge of the lake are the Tufa formations, tall, intricate towers of limestone created by springs that used to be under the lake surface. As the lake level dropped the springs disappeared and the formations left behind are left to the forces of erosion. It was kind of like being outside in a cave, if that makes sense. A short distance away is Navy Beach, where there is another kind of tufa, called sand tufa. They are produced similarly to the other area but are much more delicate, constructed of thin walls of sand. They look like fantastic sand castles or Star Wars cities eroding into the sand.
South Tufa area
South Tufa area

South Tufa area

Sand Tufa, Navy Beach

Sand Tufa, Navy Beach

Sand Tufa, Navy Beach

The Mono Lake area has a very interesting history. The Paiute Indians lived prosperously and gently in this difficult environment for thousands of years, they were called the "fly eaters," because they ate the pupae of the tiny flies that line the shores.

The ecology of the lake is like no other on earth. Millions of birds use Mono Lake as a resting and feeding site on their migrations. There was a delicate balance in the populations of brine shrimp, brine flies and birds.  

In the 1930's the city of Los Angeles came along and secretly bought up all of the water rights in this great valley, called Long Valley. They started diverting the water to their aquaducts and sucking it dry, putting most of the farmers and ranchers out of business, and devastating the ecology of the watershed. The level of Mono Lake dropped precipitiously as the sources of it's water were diverted to the city. Creeks that used to flow to the lake dried up, killing the trees and plant life that fed the lake.  Since the lake has no outlet, similar to the Great Salt Lake, the salinity increased, changing the whole food chain of the lake and severely impacting populations of insects, brine shrimp, and birds. A staggering 80% of California's seagulls make their nests on an island of Mono Lake. As the lake level dropped the island was no longer an island, and predators were able to get to the nests and devour the eggs.  By the 1960's the ecosystem was on the verge of collapse.

About that time, a small group of dedicated people began to fight back, working to restore historic levels of the lake, improve creek habitat and rebuild a devastated ecosystem. It wasn't until 1994 that the state of California decreed that LA had to limit the amount of water they were taking and begin to raise the level of the lake. Drought in current years has made this very difficult but they are slowly making some progress.  There is an excellent visitor center in Lee Vining that relates the whole story and highlights the efforts of the individuals who made it happen. One that stuck in my head is the story of a LA Mother's group who spearheaded water conservation efforts in LA, providing low flush toilets to anyone who would install them. Because of this and many other efforts, LA has become a world leader in water conservation. There are massive educational programs for youth, trying to drive home the point that water is not free, it has to come from somewhere. Kids learn about the communities that are affected by their water usage and ways that they can protect this precious natural resource. Mono Lake is now one of the most studied places on the planet.

Lee Vining was our turning point to the west, we are on to Yosemite and the coast, the final push for home.