Update 17: May 16, 2007
390 days; 32,639 miles (Car: 14,314, RV: 18,325); 37 states; 41 National Parks; 17,041 photos.
Joshua Tree National Park: April 24-26, 2007
(Location 77 on the Map
Upon departing Phoenix, we had every intention of camping at the Pomona KOA, not far from Los Angeles. But who wants to do that? Especially when the turn-off to Joshua Tree National Park is just down the freeway. After a bit of waffling—Should we opt for hookups at the KOA? Should we make a quick turn and head to one of our favorite climbing places?—we took the Desert Center exit and were on our way to the Indian Cove campground on the north side of the park.
It was a pretty toasty visit, but we elected to venture out and climb in the sun. After all, Joshua Tree is one of the climbing meccas in the western United States. After a peaceful night of sleep, we gathered together our climbing gear, rounded up the boys and their paraphernalia, and headed to Feudal Wall. We managed to climb a couple of routes there. Jeff, who had climbed a few times while we were in Phoenix, looked right at home on the rock. My form left a lot to be desired. A lot. It’s unbelievable how much I've lost after a year away from climbing. We tried very hard to pique Justin’s interest in climbing again. He has loved to scramble on the rocks most everywhere we have gone on the trip. It may have been the absence of a nap or a distaste for his harness, but Justin wanted no part of the Joshua Tree granite. That is, until I bribed him with a bag of M&M’s, which I would have to drive to town to get. He was so adamant about not getting on the rock that I found myself surprised to be driving to Twentynine Palms to buy that well-earned candy. It’s amazing what a bag of M&M’s will do for one’s motivation.
It was a short trip to Joshua Tree, but we were happy that we made it. It certainly beat the smog-filled skies and parking lot atmosphere of the LA-area KOA.
For photos from Joshua Tree National Park, Click Here
Sequoia/Kings Canyon Nat'l. Parks: April 26-30, 2007
(Location 78 on the Map
It was a ten-hour travel day from Joshua Tree to Sequoia National Park. With no existing reservation and a series of winding roads, we slowly wended our way through the park. We passed the Dorst Creek campground, which was closed. Proceeding onward, we kept our fingers crossed that a campsite awaited us at the end of our long day. Around 5:00pm, we pulled into the one remaining campsite available at the Lodgepole Campground. After rejoicing in the fact that we didn’t have to make the return drive that same evening, we discovered that any overflow campers can roost in the parking lot adjacent to the nature center.
On our first full day in the park, we walked the Big Trees Trail, a simple stroll through massive sequoias. Later, we visited the General Grant tree, billed as the world's third largest. Perhaps as a tribute to the conservationist John Muir or maybe as the result of some serious over-exertion on the trail, an unknown tourist deposited his (or her) empty soda can on the paved walkway. Jeff picked it up, making the excruciating 10-foot trek to the garbage can to throw it away. Needless to say, the National Park System is an equal-opportunity destination for nature lovers and the ignoran, alike. That same day, we hiked to the top of Moro Rock, which is shown to have 370 or 350 steps, depending on what sign you read. Counting must not be a prerequisite for working for the NPS. Personally, I counted 351 steps. Regardless of the ascent, it offers incredible views of the peaks and forest below.
We spent our second day in Kings Canyon, which contains the largest roadless expanse of wilderness in the US, little of which we actually saw. We stopped at two separate water falls, then took a 1.5-mile hike around Zumwalt Meadow. With granite walls rising alongside the meadow and a river flowing throughout the length of the canyon, Kings Canyon is very much reminiscent of Yosemite.
During our final day, we were back in Sequoia to make the 3.4-mile hike to and from Tokopah Falls. We had a snack along the granite strewn boulders near the base of the falls. Justin’s interest was piqued by a nearby marmot and by Jeff’s mention of the possibility of mountain lions in the area. As Jeff toted Justin on his back, Justin proclaimed, “We’re looking for a mountain lion with no teeth and no claws; just feet like me.” No teeth is a necessary criterion for any wild animal Justin hopes to see. We finished our visit with a short journey to the Sherman Tree, which is a 275-foot-tall sequoia and is the world's largest living thing. It weighs approximately 1,385 tons (2.7 million pounds) and has a circumference at the ground of nearly 103 feet.
For photos from Sequoia National Park, Click Here
For photos from Kings Canyon National Park, Click Here
Yosemite National Park: May 1-11, 2007
(Location 79 on the Map
May 1st marked a couple of special occasions for our little band of travelers. First, it was Susan's 38th birthday, so Justin and I hid riddles around the RV before she got up and had her hunt for her birthday gifts. But it was also the day that marked the start of a ten-day visit to the most-anticipated park on our trip: Yosemite. This was the fourth or fifth time I'd been to Yosemite, and I had been looking forward to returning ever since we started making our road trip plans. I don't think you can ever tire of Yosemite.
Despite the warm temperatures down in Yosemite Valley, the road to Tuolumne Meadows was still closed. (As luck would have it, it would open the day after we left). This would limit our hiking to the Valley itself, but in reality we wouldn't have time to even do everything we wanted to there. We camped in two of the Pines campgrounds, which while crowded, put us within walking or shuttle bus distance of most of what we wanted to do.
It’s impossible to go over everything we did during our visit without droning on and putting you to sleep, but mostly we did a lot of hiking on various trails of varying lengths up to seven miles, spent time watching climbers on El Cap, and browsed at places like the Ansel Adams Gallery and the Mountain Shop. The weather was mostly warm, although we hiked in the cold and rain one day (the boys weren’t happy), and even woke up to snow one morning. We stared endlessly at Half Dome and El Capitan, and imagined ourselves climbing those incredible granite monoliths.
I was fortunate enough to get Susan to agree to let me do a day hike on my own. I hiked the strenuous Upper Yosemite Falls trail, continuing up to an incredible view of the Valley at Yosemite Point. The trail was snow-covered at the top, and barely another person was around. I was able to get a bird’s eye view of Lost Arrow Spire, a tower of rock jutting out from the wall some 2500 feet above the Valley floor. There was a party starting the rap down into the notch, and I passed other parties on their way up to start the climb. The end of the climb requires a Tyrolean traverse back over to the main wall, which at least one of those parties ended up doing by headlamp in the dark that night.
My sister Janelle and her family came over from the Bay area to visit with us for a couple of days. Justin had looked forward to this for some time, since it meant spending time with his cousins, who he hadn’t seen in a year. It was fun watching the boys play together, and it was nice to have someone responsible enough along to take a good family picture of us when we drove up to Glacier Point one day.
We also took a day trip to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. This involves driving about an hour to the northwest corner of the park, where the beautiful Hetch Hetchy Valley once existed. It's still beautiful, but several miles of the valley are now underwater, thanks to the thirsty Bay area residents who benefited from the valley being dammed back in the 1920s and 30s. The fight to save Hetch Hetchy Valley was one of the last major environmental efforts put forth by John Muir. Unfortunately, he lost.
Our visit to Yosemite was very enjoyable, and encompassed far more than this short update conveys. We've considered going back at the very end of the trip, especially if we head to Oregon instead of Colorado. As long as we're homeless and unemployed, we might as well take advantage of it, right?
For photos from Yosemite National Park, Click Here
Death Valley National Park: May 12-14, 2007
(Location 81 on the Map
With 3.3 million acres, 400 miles of paved roads and 600 miles of backcountry roads, it’s the largest national park in the Lower 48. And with names like Charcoal Kilns, Dantes View, and Furnace Creek, you know it’s going to be hot! At 109 degrees on our arrival day, Death Valley remained true to its reputation. Needless to say, we spent a great deal of our time in the air-conditioned RV and in the air-conditioned car. The only exceptions were the times we each took Justin to the spring-fed pool at the Furnace Creek resort, the shaded lunch we had at Scotty’s Castle, and the few moments we stepped out of the car to snap some pictures.
On our second day in the park, we drove approximately 150 miles. We made the 50-mile trek to Scotty’s Castle, a mansion built by millionaire Albert Johnson. However, the name was attributed to a showman and snake-oil salesman of sorts, Walter Scott, aka “Death Valley Scotty,” who told reporters the castle belonged to him. We lunched under the cottonwood trees there, which provided a wonderful respite from the blistering sun. We wanted to tour the building, but knew that Justin (and perhaps Zane) would not last through the hour-long tour. Instead, we wandered the grounds, explored the gift shop and visitor center, and had ice cream in the café.
After making the 50-mile return drive, we went back to the RV to feed Zane and take a break. Justin and I ventured over to the pool where I had to bribe him with food to get out of the water. As the sun began to wane, we drove to Badwater Basin. This is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. There is the hint of a pond at the site, which is four times saltier than the ocean. From there we made the picturesque ride along Artist Drive, which features colorful rock formations in sea foam green, cornflower blue, and salmon pink.
Before visiting Death Valley, I had envisioned a desolate, God-forsaken place where no one in his or her right mind would voluntarily travel. Flashbacks of the Badlands flickered in my head. But Death Valley is a scenic national park that was worth the visit we made. It definitely exceeded my standards and surpassed the Badlands of South Dakota.
For photos from Death Valley National Park, Click Here