Friday, October 28, 2011

Days 123 - 124: Yosemite National Park, CA

Yosemite National Park!

Grandaddy of the National Park system.

We entered the park from the East and crossed over it to the West side via the Tioga Pass Road, which can sometimes be closed by this time of year if there's been enough snowfall.  There was some snow left in the shadows from a week or so ago but the road had been cleared and most of it had melted off.  The weather was perfect.

First thing I noticed was this cool VW camper van parked next to us at a scenic overlook.

Bridal Veil Falls, 617 feet tall!  We love waterfalls! 

When we parked to walk up to the base of the falls, the couple in the VW (from the scenic overlook) pulled in right beside us.   Craig and Lee from Toronto were bussing around in the rented VW taking in some nature after attending a friend's wedding.  Unfortunately, we only got to spend a few minutes with them as they needed to drive to San Francisco to return the van and catch their flight home.  Canadians are such friendly, outgoing people: they said to look them up if we make it to Toronto.
We hope to see them on the second leg of our trip!
Check out Lee's art at

"Half Dome" as seen from Glacier Point. 
The granite rock formations at Yosemite are magnificent and ancient.  Originally formed miles below the surface from hardened lava, millions of years of erosion and tectonic plate activity pushed them to the surface and then glaciers smoothed and sculpted them.  This valley used to be almost completey covered by ice....only the tip of Half Dome was ice free!   (Incidentally, Half Dome should be called 80% Dome, only about 20% of it is missing.  But "Half Dome" sounds much better!)

In usual fashion, we didn't have any camping reservations and most of the campsites were closed or full, even at this time of year, so we beat a path for the nearby National Forest and camped in the woods.  Kipper loves free camping in the National Forest, no rules, no leash!

Next morning we headed to the visitor's center to check out some history and geology stuff. On the way we had a bear sighting. Pretty hard to miss as he ran right in front of the van! Slamming on the brakes and a swerve to the right we luckily missed it. The large black bear didn't even miss a step. It all happened so fast there was no opportunity for a photo.
About 15 or so bears get struck by vehicles every year in the park.
Glad we didn't add to that statistic!

John Muir, we like to call him the "Original Hippie".  He was instrumental in the preservation of Yosemite and the creation of the National Parks system.  He originally came to the Yosemite Valley as a sheep herder and later worked as a woodcutter running a sawmill where fallen trees were milled into lumber.  He quickly fell in love with the place and spent the rest of his life lobbying to protect it.  In the lower right corner of this picture, you can see him standing with President Theodore Roosevelt during a three day camping trip at Glacier Point.  Teddy Roosevelt was the first president to push Congress to set aside land for public enjoyment, mostly due to John Muir's enthusiasm. 

Yosemite Falls, highest falls in North America at 2,425 feet!   It's fed by snowmelt and so is kind of thin right now because all the snow has already melted.  Sometimes it dries up completely until snow returns, but in the spring this is usually a raging waterfall.  

El Capitan, popular with rock climbers.  The red arrow points to a climber.

There he (or she...) is!

The postcard shot!

Next: Tahoe with some familiar faces!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Days 121 - 122: Las Vegas; Land of The Strip, Strip Malls, and Strippers

Las Vegas... why not?

It's only about 90 minutes away by LeTigre time.

So far, I like Nevada.  Cheapest gas the whole trip!

Would you believe there's a KOA Kamground right on the Strip?
Of course, it's Vegas!
It's right behind the old Circus Circus Casino and Hotel.  Not sure why they still choose to use the creepy clown for their logo.

LeTigre in Vegas, The Stratosphere in the background.

The infamous Strip.  Consumption gone mad, an adult playground.
Angie's been to Vegas but this was my first experience.  I knew it'd be crazy but I was a little rattled.  I'm sure there's better ways to experience it if you've got some money to spend so you can cab around but on our budget it was just kind of weird.

Walking the Strip, it's 99% tourists and the only locals you encounter are trying to stuff a card or pamphlet in your hand usually featuring a scantily dressed woman to promote a call girl service or strip club.  Made especially weird when the person is an aggressive little elderly woman.  Ewwww.

Really?  I don't know how some stuff gets made.  At least you'd always recognize your luggage at the airport.  Although, I think baggage handlers would go out of their way to abuse these.

We could totally be in Blue Man Group. 

Where else could Homer, Darth Vader, and Chuckee coexist on the same street corner?
Only in Vegas, baby.

As always, Kipper makes friends wherever we go.  A nice couple from Chicago had their Burnese with them.  Second Burnese we've met this trip.  The KOA had this great little dog park.

The KOA in Vegas is basically a big parking lot but we just happened to have this little spit of grass beside us.  Kipper loves grass...

Ever seen that cable show "Pawn Stars"?
We did a little drive-by to check the place out as we left town.

We did mange to have a good meal and the KOA was actually great.
Dog park, pool, hot tub, and even a sauna. 

So that was pretty much our Vegas experience.  I'd sum it up as surreal, but we always manage to have a good time!

Next: Yosemite, back to the wilderness!

Days 120 - 121: Death Valley & Shoshone, CA

So, after spending a couple of nice days at Lake Isabella, which by the way had a great beach, we decided to check out Death Valley.  Angie was reluctant to go but I figured we were so close it'd be a shame to miss it.

Probably should have stayed on the beach at Lake Isabella...

Death Valley is dry and extremely hot.  Of course, we knew this but it's mid-October.
It can't be that bad, can it? 
It was worse!

We basically drove thru it and got the heck outta there!  "Artist's Pallette" was pretty.  You can't really see it, but it's a cliff with brightly colored rocks, all blues and greens and reds and oranges.

Badwater Basin
Lowest point in North America, it was like an oven.

The Basin is full of salt because Death Valley used to be a huge lake.  Over about 12,000 years, the water evaporated, along with most of the minerals.  Salt is the only mineral remaining.   

Then we left.

Just East of D.V. is a little town called Shoshone.  Just a little elevation made all the difference, still warm but not brutally hot anymore.

Stayed the night at the Shoshone Trailer Park....

.....which had a pool fed by a warm spring!  Felt like a bathtub.  Very nice.  Hard to believe this is just outside Death Valley.  All for $18 bucks!

However, don't get your gas there.

We checked out some old miner's dwellings nearby.

They carved them right into the rock.

Basically man-made caves.  Comfy!
"Man Caves" literally!

Hadn't really planned on going to Las Vegas but it's only 84 miles...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Days 117 - 119: Giant Trees, LeTigre, and Bears, Oh My

So, Kings Canyon was kind of a bust after LeTigre's breakdown.  Once I had her fixed it was after dark so we just got a motel room in Visalia, CA and called it a day.  The next morning, LeTigre back to her old self so we headed to Sequoia National Park to see some more Giant Sequoias.

Sequoia is just south of Kings Canyon.
Probably the coolest entrance sign we've seen.

View of Moro Rock on the way into the park.
The first thing we did was drive up to get a closer look at it.  I got Kipper out of the van to stretch his legs and as we're standing there he freezes, staring at something, and then starts barking (he rarely barks). I figure it's a squirrel...

Nope!  A black bear ambles by!

Moro Rock is a big bald granite dome with a few stairs to take you to the top...

...and the view is well worth it!

"Stay Inside Railing", no problem.

Remember that bear?  Take Two.  Here he takes a shortcut thru "Tunnel Log," a mile or so down the road from where we saw him at Moro Rock!

LeTigre follows!  How many campers can drive thru a fallen Sequoia?

We took a hike and noticed that there was some controlled burning going on.  This is a fallen sequoia with hot embers still smoldering in the center.  National Parks let fires burn as long as they don't get out of control.

Yep, same bear.  Came back from the hike and he was foraging near the parking lot.

The Sherman Tree.  Biggest of the Sequoias.  Note the black part of the trunk, that's fire damage.  The trees are so old that most of them have some scarring from fires.  Their bark is about a foot thick and usually protects them from any serious damage.  What kills them?  Shallow roots.  A strong gust of wind can topple them.

That's a biiiigggg tree.

The fallen Sequoias are typically left where they lie unless they're dangerous.

Camped for the night.  We're discovering that the National Parks are shutting down as winter closes in.  This campsite was half closed and no one ever came around to collect the camping fee from us.  Oh well!

This is not the same bear that was following us around before.   The next day we're doing "Congress Trail" near the Sherman Tree and here's this guy foraging for something right off the trail.  Hard to see but he's wearing a collar which means the park staff is monitoring him so he doesn't become a nuisance bear.

Sherman Tree from a distance to illustrate it's size.  Can you see the tiny people at the bottom of the picture?

So after getting our fill of Sequoias, we headed for Death Valley for a change of scenery.  This is not Death Valley.  This is Lake Isabella, where we camped for free on our way to Death Valley!

We liked it enough to stay two nights!