Wednesday, August 29, 2012


August 15th, Wednesday

We traveled from Fresno to Yosemite over Route 41 but when the road restrictions changed so that  vehicles of our overall length (50 feet) could not continue on it, we switched to Route  49 which the  locals warned us was the steepest, curviest road of which they knew.  The only saving grace was that it was newly paved and had fairly wide lanes. We have chugged up many hills and through many passes, but the locals were right! Very steep-so we had a slow ride up that one to Route 132 and finally onto Route 120 into the West Entrance of Yosemite.

Yosemite National Park was established in 1890 at the urging of John Muir. It is visited by over 3 million people annually and is one of the  most popular parks in the Nation. With its domes, spires, rivers, falls, valleys and meadows you can understand why that is so. It is huge.. the size of Rhode Island so it takes a while to get anywhere you want to go within the park.

We had reserved our site on line in Hodgdon Meadow and couldn't tell from the website how sloped it would be. We had a terrible time trying to level it and never really could. But we thought it would be alright since the refrigerator was still working correctly. You see if you do not have the RV at a certain degree of being level, the refrigerator would shut down. That was our  main concern. 
RV leveld at best we can on a 12 degree incline 
After doing the best that we could, Tim checked with the Registration Desk and was told that there were no other sites available. We decided to check another campground within the Park.

Paula and Dale at Glacier Point

Happily, Paula and Dale, our friends from South Carolina, arrived in the afternoon to spend two days with us. They were early enough that we had time to drive through the Bridal Veil Creek Campground to check out other sites to no avail. From there we drove to Glacier Point which has an elevation of 7,214 feet and is one of their favorite places that they had visited a few years ago when they were touring the Western National Parks.  From this vantage point, one has a view that encompasses the valley 3,214 feet below and includes El Capitain, Half Dome, Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls along with the High Sierras. Spectacular!  Even with the smoke from a far away forest fire drifting over the ridge, the views were glorious.  We took our time driving back to camp with many photo op stops along the way.
Half Dome

Nevada Falls (upper) and Vernal Falls (lower)

August 16th, Thursday

The following day we went to explore Tuolomne Meadows in the northern section of the Park and yet another campground. There were no openings in this campgroud until the 21st so we took it for our last night in the park as that is on our route out of the park through Tioga Pass.  Millions of years ago, Tuolmne Meadows was covered with a 2000 foot deep sea of ice. Today, in early spring it is full of wild flowers and there is an abundance of hiking trails from the area that lead to all other areas of the park. There are hikers everywhere with their backpacks, hiking sticks, tents and supplies. Unfortunately, the flowers are past but the tranquil green meadows remain and the visitors to the park took full advantage of its trails.

We drove on past the Meadows to the Dog Lake and Lembert Dome area where we had our picnic lunch and decided to climb the Lembert Dome. This was a steep climb of 850 foot gain over 1.4 miles but we made it before the rains, thunder and lightening started. Tim climbed up a little higher than the rest of us,  but we all had wonderful views of the entire Tuolomne Meadows area, the surrounding domes, and the valleys below.

The rains started and the lightening held off while we donned our rain ponchos and made a bee line down the hills. We were also pelted with dime size hail stones.  Thankfully, it cleared quickly.

On the way back to camp we stopped at the tranquil setting of  Tenaya Lake which is an alpine lake nestled at the foot of the high sierras. There is a restoration project going on at the lake to increase parking, picnic areas and hiking trails around the lake for the enjoyment of the many park visitors.

We also stopped to see rock climbers on the domes near Olmstead Point. It is amazing to watch them move down those rocks so effortlessly belaying each other as they went. A very busy day ending with a wonderful evening with good friends.

August 17th- Friday

Unfortunately, our refrigerator stopped working and since there were no campsites at Hodgdon Meadow that were open, Tim left early to check out sites at Crane Flat and White Wolf campgrounds to no avail once again. Paula and Dale left after breakfast to continue their tour of the southwest. It was great to have had them with us for a couple of days.

When Tim returned with no level sites to be had, he made another attempt at Hodgdon Meadows and they agreed to give us a site that had been empty this entire time but that had been reserved for the "emergency" crews. We moved over hoping that the refrigerator would reset. No luck. We had to take the RV down to Modesto which was a two hour ride down and then two hours back.  The RV service department took approximately 10 minutes to reset the refrigerator but we had lost a day in Yosemite.The good news is that they showed Tim  how to reset it in the future in case it happens again.

August 18th- Saturday

Today we toured Yosemite Valley along with thousands of other people!  The views were wonderful in the valley with the peaks and domes all around and the river flowing through it. We visited the Ansel Adams gallery, had lunch and made plans to come back into the valley on Monday when the crowds were less.

August 19th-Sunday

Tenaya Lake
Sunday was our day of rest.  We took the canoe and went to that tranquil alpine lake..Tenaya. We canoed, had lunch, sat and read and just enjoyed the peace and serenity of the day. We caught sight of this black bear cub crossing the road on the way to the lake. He scurried down into the bush and kept on going.
Black Bear Cub


August 20th- Monday

Today was our day to hike to Vernal Falls. We were pleased when we arrived in the valley early and it was not crowded at all. We parked in Curry Village, boarded the shuttle bus to Vernal Falls trailhead and we were off.  Once we reached the Vernal Falls footbridge, you could see the Falls cascading over the rocks. This was a stopping point for many folks, but we decided to continue on the Mist Trail up to the Falls itself. The total elevation gain was 1000 feet over 1.2 miles up, a steep climb once again, but it was well worth the trip. The Falls were wonderful. We were happy that we went early as when the day wore on, it became extremely crowded on the trail. Once again, we stopped several places along the road back to the RV. It's hard not to when all around you is such beauty.

Vernal Falls

Tim on Mist Trail to Vernal Falls

Kate and Tim at Vernal Falls

El Capitan

August 21st- Tuesday

Today we drove the RV the 2 hours it takes to the Tuolomne Meadows Campground. We set up and leveled the RV and vegged for the day. I think our travels are catching up with us as we were both very tired today.

Yosemite is one of the most beautiful parks we have seen and it is also the most crowded. I have to say, though, that we were very disappointed in the campgrounds and the folks that staffed them. We have not had those issues in any of the other parks that we have visited this year. Also, on a sad note, there were two children swept away at the Vernal Falls Footbridge at the beginning of this week. They were able to extract the 10 year old, but his 6 year old brother has not been found as yet. The highest cause of death in the National Parks is drowning. It is hard for us to understand why any parent/guardian would allow his/her child to wade into a roaring river with the swiftness of the current and the ferociousness of the rocks so evident. Very sad indeed.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


August 9th, Thursday through August 13th, Monday

Our ride to Sequoia was yet one more challenging ride up, up, and up and around many ess curves on narrow roads. To arrive at the cool, green forest was worth the trip. Once there, we checked out our reserved campsite and realized that we would not even fit on the designated site. We quickly moved to a "first come, first served" campsite on the other side of the park and found one that was shady, large, and very nice. We found out later that we had actually been on two sites and that is why it ws so large! The Rangers didn't seem to mind and we were very content there.

We hadn't realized that the Sequoias only grew in certain areas where conditions were perfect for their survival. The right amount of water and sunlight. These groves are interspersed amid the rest of the forest which was filled with White Fir, Incense Cedar,  Ponderosa and Sugar Pines.
Giant Sequoi
Bottom of Tree Root -Tunnel through Tree
Mature Sequoias can reach as much as 250 high and the lower branches die from lack of sunlight.Fires from lightening strikes have burned near the base of trees, leaving scars that stop the movement of water and minerals to the top. This aids in the dead "snag"tops that protrude from the  rounded crowns of many mature giants. We visited several groves of trees, inlcuding the General Grant Giant Sequoia and walked the loop to view the General Grant Tree which measures over 267 feet tall and 107.6 inches round. This tree was named after Ulysses S. Grant by Lucretia P. Baker in 1867. It is 1800-2000 years old and sits in a grove of 2000-3000 year old sequoias. It has been called "the Nation's  Chrismtas Tree" by President Coolidge and desinated as a living National Shrine by President Eisenhower in remembrance of Americans who have died in war.

The General Sherman Tree located near the Giant Forest is the world's largest tree by volume. It is not the tallest or the widest, but its volume is 52,500 cubic feet. the Giant Forest was named as such by John Muir in 1875 and is acclaimed for its beautiful meadows as well as its sequoia grove.
Sequoia Grove

Virtually, everywhere we went the sequoias and pines blanketed us with shade and gave us a sense of peace and quiet. We even felt that when we went to Lake Hume with its hustle and bustle of a "christian" camp and mini village. We had to drive through there to get to the lake which is situated such that there is access from all sides and believe me, it was well used. Fishermen, kayakers, canoers, and swimmers took full advantage of its cool, clear waters. We put the canoe in one day and paddled for a few hours. Another day, we went back and just sat in the shade and read for the afternoon. Very relaxing.

Lake Hume

We took a day and drove down into Kings Canyon where the Sierra Mountains dwarfed the cool flowing river. It being so late in the summer, we thought the river may have been lower than it was. The landscape was spectacular with the high peaks and the valley below.

Sierra Nevada Mountain Range

Sierra Nevada Peaks

Kings River

Roaring River Falls in Kings Canyon

Gravity Fed Gas Pumps in Working Pump- Gasoline sold by the liter

Our only real hiking adventure was down into the Crystal Caves. To get there, we had to drive seven miles on a road that was no wider than a lane and a half  with many potholes. It took us about 40 minutes to traverse this passage slowly moving around blind curves. Once there, we walked 15 minutes down the hill to the cave entrance. These caves, while not as large as the Carlsbad Caverns, are just as intriguing with its curtains, stalagmites and stalacties that are still forming and the pathways were wet and slippery. The guide was enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the formations and history of the cave systems in the park. There are over 300 caves in the Park, but this is the only one open to the public. The hike came in on the return hill straight up hill. Definitely had our exercise for the day on this steep climb.
Crystal Caves

The Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks were established with the aid of John Muir when, after touring the area, realized how much like Yosemite this area is. Tim and I marvel at the foresight of all of the people who were able to understand how this beautiful country should be preserved for future generations. We thank them.

Our biggest decison of the week was how to get to Yosemite for our next week's adventures. We opted to go to an RV park on our way through Fresno for a night that would have electricity and a laundry as we would have neither for the next week in Yosemite.  We're looking foward to spending time with our friends Paula and Dale when they stay with us in the park for a couple of days.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


August 3rd, Friday and August 4th, Saturday

We left the casinos behind, traveled through the arid, barren Mohave Desert and stopped in a little place called Tehachapi which is between Andrews Air Force Base and Bakersfield. The campground is located beside the Mountain Valley Airport which is a very small facility but does do all of the soaring training for the Air Force pilots. The town has everything you need and is quite charming. It's like a jewel in the middle of nothingness. There are literally thousands of windmills on the hills surrounding the airport and before that along the highway. We were told this wind farm creates power for the entire Tehachpi Valley and even sends some down to Los Angeles.

Saturday, Tim took a glider ride in a German Grove 103 which is a sleek high performance sail plan weighing about 800 pounds. It was towed off the ground directly behind our RV, dropped its tether at about 2000 feet and soared to heights of  3000 feet in the thermals with its 20 year old pilot before making a gentle, quiet landing back onto the airstrip. The views of the valley and surrounding mountains were spectacular. Thermals and rotators can be quite violent.  They had to quickly move away from the rotator which is actually visible in the air.

Before Takeoff

We took a ride out to the Tehachapi Loop which is a hill in the Caliente Mountains where you can see the train enter the hill via a tunnel, come out the other side, and back into another tunnel. You can see the front of the 4000 foot train while looking at the caboose of that same train. The front actually travels over the middle of the train in a circular fashion. This is an engineering feat that is legendary and attracts thousands of people a year to the area. In 1896, while building the railroad from San Franciso to Los Angeles, they realized that the grade here was too steep for a simple up and down route. This gradient circular solution was very inventive and was completed by the  thousands of Cantonese brought here for just that purpose. There is smaller version of this a few miles north of here and there are eighteen tunnels in total throughout this mountain range.

Tahachapi Loop

August 5th, Sunday and August 6th, Monday

Continuing our journey towards the Sequoia National Forest, we stopped midday north of Bakersfield in Lake Isabella  at an RV Resort with electricity and a pool. The ride up 178 was not what we expected. We expected a two lane highway with some elevation. It was a two lane highway alright, but it was narrow and very curvy with large rock formations protuding from the cliff walls. A few times we thought we would hit the rocks with the side of the RV, but Tim is an expert at driving this vehicle now and we made it up without issue. However, we made a wrong turn in Lake Isabella and found ourselves on the Bodish-Caliente road that was not only narrow, but had hairpins turns with nothing but sheer drops on either side. There was no place to turn this big rig around until we were at the top of the pass. We gingerly did a U turn to maneuver back down off this mountain at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

 We back tracked, found the RV park and settled in. The temperatures remain hovering around 100 or better. The lake itself was serioiusly low and the locals told us it would probably be thoroughly gone by September. They have had no rain and had no snow last winter, thus not a lot of water this summer. There are forest fires in the mountains behind us and we watched as the helicopters would swoop down with snorkels hanging down to suck up the water into its tanks. They then flew back into the hills and dropped their water. They repeated this process all day long as an adjunct to the National Forest Services firemen working to put it out. The sky was grey with smoke and it was beginning to make us a little nervous even though the hills and land around us had very little to burn. It truly is the high desert- dirt, rock, and brush with very few trees.

Lake Isabella
Kern River

On Monday, we drove up the Kern Valley to Kernville and further north towards Jordansdale heading for the Trail of a Thousand Giants in Sequoia National Forest.. The Kern River which is very low, ran along the road at the base of the mountains and was packed with boulders. We were told that the rapids when the river is high has nothing less than a Class V and most are higher. There are warnings everywhere that the river is dangerous and the current treacherous and to wear life jackets if you enter the river. While it looked fairly harmless for rapids at its low volume, you can see where the rapids might be and it is a river we would not want to travel. There were quite a few campers along the river banks and some folks were drifting in the water with their rubber rafts and tubes. They must have been oblivious to the fact that one person died in this river just yesterday when they didn't heed the "dangerous river" warniings and were swept away with the swift currents.

 The road we traveled was narrow, with many switchbacks and no guard rails so we called it quits before we hit Jordansdale, returned to Kernville, had lunch and headed back to Lake Isabella and the cool water of the pool at the RV park from which we watched the helicopters come and go once again.

Snorkeling Water

Heading to the Fire to Dump Water

This mountainous, brown, hot, arid area was a respite for us for the electricity alone, but it is not one that we would revisit. The people were very nice, but the climate and terrain, not so much.

August 7th and 8th,  Tuesday and Wednesday

Since our reservations in Sequoia National Park are not until the 9th, we traveled only as far as Vasilia which is about 50 miles outside of the Park. We found a KOA campground which once again had electricity and a pool. The weather predictions for this area for this week have the temperature going to 115 in some places by Friday. On these two days the highest it got was 104. The pool helped a little with its cool water and little bit of a breeze, but the airconditioned cinema along with the AC in the RV helped even more. I believe this KOA was built from original farm land as there are farms all around and the aroma, when we do venture out, is that of cows. 

Looking forward to forests once again,

Saturday, August 4, 2012


July 29th, Sunday

Our destination today was to be the Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, AZ which is in the desert and would not have electricity which would mean that, once again, we would be without air conditioning in the 100 degree temperatures. We decided to pass this park up and head towards Las Vegas so that we could find a campground which would afford us the conveniences of electricity and water hookups right at the campsite. On the way, we passed the Hoover Dam so we decided to stop for the night just past the dam at the Lake Mead Recreation Area and tour the dam tomorrow. While still in the desert climes, we were definitely more comfortable there than we would have been at the state park. While the lake looked inviting, we left the canoe on the car and hibernated for the afternoon in the cool RV.

July 30th,  Monday

We rose early to beat the heat and the crowds at the Hoover Dam. We arrived at the security checkpoint a little after 8am after first stopping at the newly constructed walkway over the river and next to the highway. This bridge was completed in 2010 and is called the Mike O'Callaghan-Path Tillman Memorial Bridge. It is 2000 feet long and is 840 feet above the Colorado River. It's the second highest highway structure of its kind in the United States. From this viewpoint, you can look back at the dam and really see its magnitude. What a spectacular sight and engineering marvel.

View of Dam from the Bridge

View of Bridge from atop the Dam

 The construction started in 1931 and finished in 1935 two years ahead of schedule.  Hoover was instrumental in getting this project started and thhus its name was changed in 1947 from the Boulder Dam to the Hoover Dam in his honor. We had thought that the purpose of creating the dam was to provide power to the area, but during our Plant Tour we were told that the reason for the dam was to control the flow of the water in the Colorado River. In doing so, the farmers in the Imperial Valley would be able to plant and harvest their crops with no threat of losing them to any deluge from the river. The power is really an adjunct to the other power plants and only assists when needed.  The Colorado River supplies crop irrigation water to Nevada, Arizona and California.
View of Dam from Visitor Center

View from road above
The dam itself is 660 feet thick at the base and 45 feet thick at the top and is 726 feet tall. The arch like crest length is 1244 feet In order to clear the area for building, they first built two tunnels- one on each side of the river and then a coffer dam above the work site. The water was diverted from the site and with a second coffer dam below the site, the water was prevented from backflowing into the site. They then started building the dam, pouring  a total of 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete to create this structure. For the concrete to cool, they placed refrigerated pipes within the forms so that it would cure. Had they not done this, the concrete would never have dried and the dam would never have been built.
Lake Mead was coincidentally formed as a reservoir created by the building of the dam. It has a shoreline of 550 miles, covers 157,000 acres, its maximum depth is 498 feet and its length, when full, is 110 miles long. It is a major recreation area for boaters whether it be paddle, power or sail and is a National Recreational Area with beaches, a marina, and hiking trails.

After viewing and touring the dam, we went back to the RV park, hooked up the car and headed out for Las Vegas. We landed at Sam's Town RV Park and Casino mid-afternoon. This was so different than what we had been used to. Instead of a large wooded site that we had in the mountains or the vast empty sites we had in the desert, it was a parking lot next to the casino, but, thankfully, we did find a site with a large tree to park under and we did have electricity and water hookups. There was even a swimming pool. Hallelujah!

We stayed there for four nights just relaxing, using the pool and touring Las Vegas. Such a different world than we had been in all summer.We spent the first afternoon at the pool and went to Sam's Casino that night. We did a little gambling.... very little, actually, that evening. So little that I was thrilled to win $8 while Tim lost about $6. Really big gamblers!  We enjoyed the buffet and the light show in the atrium and called it a night.

July 31st, Tuesday

We read about the Fremont Street Experience downtown and everything we read was true. What a sight! Jammed pack with people of all ages, sizes, shapes, some with elaborate costumes looking for tips for taking pictures with them, bands, light shows, zip lines. Everything from cross dressers to strippers. I wouldn't exactly call this the nature of national parks, but perhaps the nature of the beast would be more aprapos. We actually stayed out late (for us) until 10pm and then watched the Olympics until midnight. Latest we've been  up since May!
Tim with showgirls at the Fremont Street Experience
Glitz, Glitter, Lights and Ziplines

August 1st, Wednesday

Las Vegas is known for its luxurious hotels, bright lights, casinos, and shows. We  absolutely loved the Venetian with the gondola rides, the shops, the singers in the foyer, the elegance of the lobby, the chandeliers, the masks and mostly the tree people.

There were two tree people walking through the atrium on stilts with what looked like stilts on their arms as well representing branches. They were graceful and charming with their faces and necks covered with green body paint, their bodies and limbs covered with leaves and their huge eyes shining through it all.

Close up of tree person

Atrium at the Venetian

We walked over to the Treasure Island Casino and took the tram ride to the Mirage. Treasure Island was fine, but the Mirage we found to be dirty, crowded and just not what we expected. We returned to Treasure Island and purchased tickets for Cirque du Soleil for that evening and spent some time in the casino until the show time. The show was fantastic.  Hi wire acts, ballet, acrobatics, with lots of humor thrown in. Thoroughly enjoyable. The surprise came when we left the theather and there was a mass of humanity everywhere. Twenty deep on the sidewalk just to cross the street. I'm not sure where they all came from, but it looked like they were there to party for the night.
View of The Strip from crossover bridge

August 2nd, Thursday

While we were planning our trip home after Yosemite, we got a call from friends of ours, Paula and Dale, who are also on a trip west this summer. They were in Henderson just a few miles away so they came over and we went back into the "The Strip" for the afternoon and early evening. It was really great to see them for the day. They'll be meeting us in Yosemite in August for a few days as well. We're looking forward to it.