Category Archives: National Forests

Montezuma Castle National Monument & Sonoran Desert, Arizona ~ October 24 – 25, 2014

Leaving Tusayan before breakfast, we headed southeast toward Flagstaff. The Escape Mobile had traveled 5,037 miles since leaving Seattle, so it was time for her fourth servicing.

Route 66, Flagstaff, AZ
Route 66, Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff was on the way to Phoenix, where we’d planned to spend the night, and it had a dealership that honored our maintenance purchase agreement. While waiting on our vehicle, we enjoyed a traditional breakfast at the Grand Canyon Café on Historic Route 66 in the quaint heart of Flagstaff.

Grand Canyon Cafe, Flagstaff AZ

Stepping into the café we’d entered a time warp… booths with mint-green Formica tabletops and individual jukeboxes, and a soda bar that spanned the length of the café. The owner told us they’d been continuously open  for nearly 75 years. Sadly, the Grand Canyon Café has since permanently closed.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument, AZ
Montezuma Castle National Monument, AZ

Fifty-six miles down Interstate 17 we stopped at Montezuma Castle National Monument, the former hillside condo-like dwelling of the ancient Southern Sinagua people. The Sinagua were farmers and hunter-gatherers that thrived in the Verde Valley from the 1100’s through the 1300’s.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, AZ 2

For unknown reasons, in the early 1400’s they abandoned their homes and the Verde Valley.

Montezuma Castle National Monument, AZ 3
Pathway to Montezuma Castle

The visitor center is just off the interstate and the walk to the cliffside remnants is short and quick. Music of flutist Harry Seavey, who was on site, filled the air and added an authentic and surreal feel to our experience.

Harry Seavey

 

 

“There is a message in our hearts, a truth we all know. We feel it as we walk in a forest or sit in the desert. It is the message in the cry of a hawk and in the voice of a flute. It is our connection to life; the message that we are one with Spirit.”
~ Harry Seavey

 

 

Factoid: The monument bears the name “Montezuma” because it was originally mistaken to be built by Spanish Explorers.

Montezuma Castle National Monument 2

Regrets:  For some reason we felt pressed for time and did not venture the 23 miles to Tuzigoot National Monument, another Sinagua village located atop a ridge 40 minutes northwest of Montezuma Castle.

Map

Nor did we detour from I-17 onto Hwy 89A to visit nearby Sedona, a funky, spirited community that I would have loved, I’m sure.

Sonoran Desert

As we navigated around Phoenix’s maze of highways to a hotel near Arizona State University, the sun still shone from fairly high. We entertained ourselves by strolling the campus and chowing down on some chain Chinese food before vegging in front of the television for the night.

The most interesting part of the remaining 355-mile drive to our next destination, San Diego, was the shortcut to Interstate-8.

AZ Hwy 238 to San Diego

Arizona Hwy 238 cuts across the Sonoran Desert between Maricopa and Gila Bend. It was originally built to serve a hazardous waste facility that I don’t think was ever built. It appeared to solely serve as a desolate cut-thru that provides a genuine desert experience.

Sonoran Desert From Hwy 238 AZ
Sonoran Desert From Hwy 238, Southwest of Phoenix

Saguaro cacti tower just off the roadway, which resembles concrete waves flowing through a sea of white sand.

Sonoran Desert From Hwy 238 AZ 3

Blowing sand was accumulating across the road’s lower points, and it seemed like the desert was determined to conquer the road.

Interstate to San Diego
Interstate 8 to San Diego

 

After an initial hotel snafu in San Diego, we settled into a Four Points Sheraton using points and began planning the next two day’s adventures.

More Pics…

Sonoran Desert From Hwy 238 AZ 2
Sonoran Desert from Hwy 238, Arizona
Arizona Sky
Arizona Sky

Grand Canyon’s South Rim ~ October 22-24, 2014

We’d first visited the Grand Canyon in 1992, when our daughters were six and nine. With only a half-day, we spent most that time on the Bright Angel Trail for a three-mile roundtrip hike. Quite a feat for kiddos!

Tusayan, Arizona

With this trip, our second, we’d hoped to hike into the canyon once again, but didn’t know if we’d be able to work in a full day’s hike.

South Rim Selfie, Grand Canyon

Since leaving Carmel, we’d been traveling in “we will figure it out” mode, so had no camping or hotel reservations when we rolled into Tusayan, a town just a few miles from the park’s south entrance.

When the Holiday Inn Express offered a particularly low rate, we figured it out quickly… “Oh, can we actually have the room for three nights, please?”

Tusayan is a walkable town catering to tourists… it’s primarily hotels and restaurants aligning each side of Highway 64. A quick look at Gmaps showed that we were just a block from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. We rode over after breakfast the next morning.

As we’d done at most national parks, we first watched the informational movie. This one, Grand Canyon, The Hidden Secrets, is quite different.

IMAX Tixs

It’s more of an over-dramatization of folklore involving cougars, hostile natives, and John Wesley Powell; not the historical account of the area’s geology and indigenous people we were expecting. We left a bit disappointed.

The Greenway Trail, a 6.6 mile pathway to the south rim, is accessible from the visitor center’s parking lot.

Young Elk, Grand Canyon SR
Young Elk, Grand Canyon SR

We were excited to ride our bikes through the pine forest to Grand Canyon Village, where we planned to peel off onto the South Rim Trail. At the time though, the Greenway Trail wasn’t paved. This wasn’t a problem until the path turned into gravel piled 2-3 inches deep. Our tires dug in and we went nowhere. Unsure as to whether the gravel lasted another half-mile or for the entire remaining 6 miles, we turned around and loaded our bikes onto the back of the Escape Mobile. (Note… current photos show the pathway to be paved, but I can’t find whether or not it’s paved for the full length.)

Greenway Trail, Tusayan AZ
Source: hikingproject.com

South Rim Trail

Cycling the 13-mile Rim Trail was exhilarating.

Riding the S. Rim Trail, Grand Canyon

On the east side there are sections where the trial is only feet from the canyon’s edge, and the views are amazing.

South Rim, Grand Canyon 3

We rode until we ran into the South Kiabab Trailhead and agreed it would be the trail we’d tackle the next day.

Around Rim Trail, Grand Canyon SR
Trey on the South Rim Trail, Grand Canyon

The Rim Trail’s west side is also a peaceful, worthwhile ride. It’s mostly wooded and snakes around lodges and campgrounds setback from the rim.

Back at the hotel we did some research to plan for the next day’s hike…  in the morning, after purchasing snacks and sandwiches, we’d fill our backpacks’ water bladders, pack some extra water, catch a shuttle from the village visitor center to Yaki Point, and hike 3-miles down to Skeleton Point – the deepest turnaround spot advised for a one-day down and up hike.

South Kaibab Trail

All the prepping took time so it was early afternoon before we reached the South Kiabab Trailhead.

White Shorts - Grand Canyon SR
White Shorts?

Although warm for October, it was a gorgeous day and we headed down the canyon’s wall with an excitement-induced quick step. The entire trail is steep, that should go without saying but I’m saying it anyway. It’s easy to get distracted by the surrounding beauty, lose a sense of your downhill pace, and over-estimate just how far you’re capable of hiking in a day. The Rangers’ motto, which they repeat often, is “What goes down, must come up!”

Heading down Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon SR
Heading down South Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon

One of the trail’s steepest points is just below the trailhead… a dizzying series of short switchbacks that lead down to Ooh Aah Point, about a mile in. A half-mile farther is Cedar Ridge, the halfway mark to Skeleton Point and a great place for a snack, bathroom break, and photos.

Mule Train at Cedar Ridge, Grand Canyon SR
Mule Team at Cedar Ridge, Grand Canyon SR
Cedar Ridge View, GCSR
Cedar Ridge View, Grand Canyon South Rim

It’s recommended that Cedar Ridge be your turnaround point if hiking during the summer months.

Although warm, we continued downward passing two couples at separate points that had Trey and me raising our eyebrows. They were heading back up, about our ages but not fitness levels, and as Trey noted, “They weren’t looking good!” We ended up passing both couples on the way back up. Not boasting, just noting that one should undertake only what their lungs, legs, and heart can handle.

Skeleton Point, Kaibab Trail -Grand Canyon SR

Successfully arriving at Skeleton Point, we were glad to exhale and slow down to rest, eat…

Lunch Break at Skeleton Point, Grand Canyon SR

take in the scenery, pose for photos…

Skeleton Point View, GCSR
Skeleton Point View, Grand Canyon SR

Posing at Skeleton Point, Grand Canyon SR

and imagine hiking the remaining four miles to the Colorado River, which we could now see.

InkedColorado River from Skeleton Point, GCSR_LI
Colorado River from Skeleton Point, Grand Canyon SR

Yet with our late start, we didn’t linger too long as we knew it would take us double the time to climb back out of the canyon. We kept a decent pace, and were grateful when we returned to Cedar Ridge for a break, more snacks, and photos.

Cedar Ridge Overlook, GCSR
Cedar Ridge Overlook, Grand Canyon SR

It was nearing the hottest part of the day when we headed up the final steep mile. We took our time and stopped often to enjoy the scenes that we’d scrambled by earlier.

Cedar Ridge Overlook, GCSR 2

Bird, Grand Canyon SR

Back at the trailhead we were dusty messes, but thrilled with the day’s challenge, and humbled by Grand Canyon’s grace and ruggedness.

Back at the top, Grand Canyon South Rim
Back at the top, Grand Canyon South Rim

 

Food:

Yippi-Ei-O Steakhouse in Tusayan is a fun and tasty choice to carb and protein-up the night before hiking into the canyon.

Yippee-Ei-O! Steakhouse, Tusayan AZ
Yippee-Ei-O! Steakhouse, Tusayan AZ

Reminiscence of the Texas steakhouses from our childhoods, Trey and I thoroughly enjoyed the food, great service, and cowboy ambiance. Oh, and the pecan pie was phenomenal!

More Pics…

Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon SR
South Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon
Yoga on the South Rim, Grand Canyon
Yoga on the South Rim, Grand Canyon

Last Sunset, Grand Canyon SR

Last Sunset, Grand Canyon South Rim

 

 

 

Utah / Arizona Border – October 20-21, 2014

Missteps: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument & The Wave

I don’t remember what prevented us from researching our next steps, which were to explore Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and hopefully hike Coyote Buttes in the Vermillion Cliffs, also known as “The Wave.” It was either our full schedule and lack of regular cell service or laziness and naivety.

02 Looking North Along Highway 89A

Either way, upon leaving Mount Carmel Junction we meandered along Highway 89 for 60 miles until we ran into a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) station and stopped to ask where in the heck we could find the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument.

We found out that we were already in it and had been for a while. At that time the Grand Staircase – a series of massive geological steps – sprawled out across 3,000 square miles of southern Utah and northern Arizona.

Grand_Staircase-big Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

The downward steps stretched from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon’s northern rim. In 2017 the protected area was sadly cut almost in half.

We were also informed that there’s a lottery process for hiking “The Wave.” The sign-up and drawings take place in Kanab, Utah – a town we’d passed through forty miles back. Backtracking to the Kanab BLM Station we learned that only 10 hikers per day are allowed into the buttes, and that the “lotteries” take place each morning for the next day’s hike.

Should we stay or should we go? We contemplated this question over lunch at Escobar’s Mexican Food (authentic enough) and opted to try our luck and checked into a nearby hotel.

01 Sunrise, Kanab UT
Sunrise in Kanab, Utah

The next morning, we rose with the sun and walked back to the BLM office to stand in line. We were 7th out of 64 to register for the lottery, which was pretty good odds on a relative basis as the average day has well over a hundred registrants. But #7 was not lucky that day, so we checked out of the hotel, and after a breakfast at Nedra’s Too, we checked out of Kanab via Highway 89A South.

Route Map
The Day’s Route

The ranger who on the previous day clarified Grand Staircase’s massiveness had recommended we stop at Le Fevre Overlook, a rest stop along Highway 89A about 25 miles into Arizona. It’s unassuming and easy to miss but worth the stop.

03 Grande Staircase-Escalante National Monument from Le Fevre Overlook
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument from Le Fevre Overlook

From the overlook you can make out the distant cascading landscapes that inspired the monument’s name, gaining senses of both its beauty and magnitude.

Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim

Continuing south for just over eleven miles we cut down State Route 67 (also called the Kaibab Plateau Parkway) for the 43-mile drive to Grand Canyon’s northern rim.  Being late October, the north rim’s lodges and campgrounds were closed so we had the drive mostly to ourselves.

Along the way, I spied a California Condor perched on the limb of a dead pine and we were reluctantly received by a herd of buffalo on the return trip.

06 Buffalo Along SR 62, North Rim

A nip of winter was embedded into the breeze, but the clear sky and sun helped warm us as we strolled along the various paths and vantage points below the lodge cabins…

07 North Rim Cabins
North Rim Cabins – Grand Canyon Lodge

an environment and scenes that contrasted with what we would experience in the coming days on the canyon’s other side.

19 Bright Angel Point Trail 4

08 Grand Canyon, North Rim 2

Drive from Grand Canyon’s North to South Rim

Leaving the north rim we had a four hour drive ahead of us… plenty of time to circle around the east end of the canyon and make it to the south rim before sunset.

23 Arizona Highway 89A

But the drive, curving around and between the Vermillion Cliffs and Colorado River, is spectacular.

25 Colorado River Fork, East of Grand Canyon
Fork of the Colorado River, East of Grand Canyon

We stopped several times including at the unexpected site of abandoned rock dwellings sitting just yards off the road and scattered among mushroom shaped formations.

26 Abandoned Rock Houses Along Highway 89A 1

The legend is that a woman by the name of Blanche Russell was stranded there when her car broke down sometime in the 1930’s. She liked the area so much she settled there for a time.

Ten minutes down the road we stopped again to stroll across the historic Navajo Bridge that spans the Colorado River for 834 feet and parallels it’s replacement… a seemingly identical bridge that is actually wider and longer.

31 Navajo Bridges (Historic & New)
Navajo Bridges – Historic and Current

The “new” bridge was completed in 1995 to support larger vehicles while providing a safe alternative (the historic bridge) for those of us who want to walk over for the views.

33 Navajo Bridge Over Colorado River
Navajo Bridge Over Colorado River

With all the stops we lost our race with the sun.

35 Arriving at the South Rim
Arriving at the South Rim

It had set by the time we reached the south rim’s first overlook, the Desert View Watchtower…

36 Desert View Watchtower Overlook
Desert View Watchtower Overlook – Grand Canyon South Rim

but enough light shone over the horizon to paint the sky and reflect muted rays across the canyon.

37 South Rim at Dusk
South Rim at Dusk

A perfect welcoming gift to our stay on the Grand Canyon’s south rim.

 

More Pics…

09 Lookout at the North Rim
Lookout at the North Rim
20 North Rim 4
Window View of the North Rim, Grand Canyon
29 Mushroom Rock Along Highway 89A
Mushroom Rock Along Highway 89A, Arizona
32 Colorado River from Navajo Bridge
Colorado River from Navajo Bridge

Zion National Park, Utah ~ October 17-18, 2014

Leaving Las Vegas we were once again traveling in “we will figure it out” mode. Oh, we knew where we were heading, Zion National Park, but had no idea whether we’d spend the night there, nearby, or move onto Bryce Canyon. Sluggishness had delayed our departure so we didn’t arrive in Zion until 4pm…  much too late to snatch a camping site.

Court of the Patriachs, Zion NP
Pa’rus Trail, Zion National Park

Thinking the remaining daylight was all the time we’d spend in the park, we hopped on our bikes for a quick tour.

The Pa’rus Trail is a paved path that begins near the visitor center, wends around the campground and along the Virgin River for 1.7 miles…

Virgin River from Pa'rus Trail, Zion
Virgin River from Pa’rus Trail, Zion

…ending at the intersections of Hwy 9 and Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.

Crossing Pine Creek, Pa'rus Trail, Zion
Crossing Pine Creek, Pa’rus Trail, Zion NP

We continued up (and I do mean up!) Zion Canyon Scenic Drive for an additional five miles, stopping to take in the scenes of Great White Throne, Court of the Patriarchs, ant-like hikers clinging to cables along the West Rim Trail…

Zion National Park 2

Heading Up Floor of the Valley Road, Zion NP

…beautiful passages of the Virgin River, and wildlife.

The Virgin River, Zion 1
The Virgin River, Zion National Park

At the road’s end, we were captivated by the towering Temple of Sinawava—the 3000’ canyon wall that entices hikers into its chasm, The Narrows.

Temple of Sinawava, Zion NP

Alas, we had figured it out… with hands on our breaks and feet off our pedals we sailed downhill and then back to the nearest town – Springdale, Utah – to find a hotel and prep for the next day’s hike.

The Narrows, Zion NP 4
The Narrows (Virgin River) – Zion National Park

The Narrows was the most extraordinary, and probably our most memorable, hike of this six-month trek.

It’s not really a trail, or rather, the trail (Riverside Walk) ends after a mile, and to continue into The Narrows one must enter and follow the Virgin River upstream.

The Narrows, Zion NP 10

The Narrows, Zion NP 9

The water was frigid, but the heat and blood flow generated from traversing over rocks helped our toes acclimate pretty quickly.

Fall Colors 1, The Narrows, Zion NP

Water and mineral stained canyon walls were capped with plant life and fall colors. We’d entered a seemingly mystical environment, surreal, but not without lurking dangers.

The Narrows, Zion NP 2

The river is unpredictable in flow and depth, and I once found myself suddenly waste deep.

The Narrows, Zion NP 3

As we slogged farther into the narrowing canyon its rock walls grew higher and more solid.

The Narrows, Zion NP 6

The Narrows, Zion NP 8
Trey in The Narrows, Zion National Park

Time passed, but without a sense of our pace in the water, we had no idea of how far we had traveled. There were no mile markers, probably because it’s not a trail, but when we reached an intersection with another canyon that broke off to the east, Trey correctly estimated we’d hiked about a mile and a half since entering the river.

The Narrows, Zion NP 7

We followed what ended up being Orderville Gulch for only a few hundred feet before turning around and heading back downstream.

Turnaround Point, Orderville Gulch, The Narrows, Zion
Our turnaround point: Orderville Gulch, The Narrows, Zion

At 6pm, we left Zion National Park via Highway 9 and with senses of accomplishment and regret.

Zion East Side of Tunnel 5
Zion National Park – East of Hwy 9 Tunnel

The Narrows was an amazing hike, a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will stay with us forever; yet Zion had many gifts and trails we were leaving uncharted. As the majestic beauty of Zion’s eastern border folded out around us…

Zion East Side of Tunnel 4

…we concurred, we’d have to make a return trip.

More Pics…

Virgin River from Pa'rus Trail, Zion
Virgin River from Pa’rus Trail, Zion
The Narrows, Zion NP 5
Trey hiking The Narrows, Zion National Park
Zion National Park 4
Zion National Park

Yosemite National Park, California ~ October 8 – 11, 2014

We’d left Carmel-by-the-Sea for Yosemite National Park without plans for where we’d sleep for the next three nights. Securing a campground reservation had proven impossible, so our shaky plan B was to show up, stand in line, and hope there’d been a last minute cancellation.

As we detoured across California to avoid wildfires, the hours passed into late afternoon and we grew even less confident that shaky plan B was the way to go. Still, we progressed forward and climbed closer to Yosemite’s south entrance as the sun fell below the surrounding mountains. Three miles out, we came upon what appeared to be a forest oasis — a beautiful lodge.

tenaya-lodge-exterior-1367x600
Source: tenayalodge.com

It also appeared to be way outside of our budget, but it had spoken to both us. As we passed it, Trey and I looked at each other and in silent agreement, Trey turned the Escape Mobile around and headed back, “It can’t hurt to check it out.”

The Tenaya Lodge was definitely a splurge, but Trey and his baby blues secured a hefty discount, making it doable. Walking in without a reservation proved to us once again that, “The Universe is on our side!”  

Yosemite National Park

With only two days to explore Yosemite we planned to cram in as much as possible. We hadn’t previously visited the park, but, based on everything we’d heard, we had high expectations. 

Bicycles in tow, we twisted northward along Hwy 41 toward Yosemite Valley. I thought the scenery was nice, but wondered, why all the hype? That is until a sharp curve led us into a tunnel and we emerged on the other side to this view…

01 Yosemite Valley -Tunnel View (Hwy 41)

I wish there was a word for when everything you thought you knew gets thrust into proper perspective by unimaginable beauty and grace — those moments when you only feel humility and gratitude for the honor of the experience.

It would have to be a particularly full, bold word, one that rolls off the tongue, such as flumgustered or hyperevoluted. Well, I guess there is wonderstruck, but no; I was flumgustered to tears, my conscious was hyperevoluted as I grasped the immense power of nature’s mass and force.

01.5 El Capitain from Tunnel View (Hwy 41)
Majestic El Capitan

We had a full day of exploring ahead, but the “Tunnel View” beckoned us to stay. So spying a trailhead above the parking lot, we headed up Inspiration Point Trail for a higher vantage. The 1.3 mile path provided even more magic:  flying squirrels soared across the trail in front of us; mosaic pine tree trunks enticed us upwards…

and massive madronas painted the pathway with white blooms and redbrick limbs.

03 Inspiration Point Hike 3

The path to Inspiration Point is steep but the views are truly inspiring and worth the climb.

04 Yosemite Valley - Inspiration Point

03.6 Yosemite Valley - Inspiration Point 2

By the time we left the Tunnel View area and arrived in Yosemite Valley we were famished, so we shared a generous bowl of chicken rigatoni at the majestic Ahwahnee Lodge.

05 Climbers on Washington Column

Our bicycle tour was delayed further as we stuck around the Ahwahnee parking lot to gawk at freestyle climbers inching their way up Washington Column.

With its 12 miles of pathways, Yosemite is perfect for exploring by bicycle.

bike-path-map

06 Yosemite Bike Path

The remaining afternoon was spent peddling the length of the valley, crossing historic stone bridges…

06.7

…and stopping for short hikes through meadows and up to Lower Yosemite Falls, which was almost a trickle.

08 Lower Yosemite Falls

The afternoon’s highlight was spotting a momma bear and her cubs loading up on ripening apples in preparation for the approaching winter.

07 Cub catching up to his momma in Yosemite Valley

California was in extreme drought, this was evident on the drive from Carmel, and it was obvious throughout Yosemite Valley.

06.5 Merced River and Half Dome, Yosemite

The Merced River was barely flowing and the mountain creeks feeding it were bone dry. That, however, did not take away from the beauty of Yosemite.

The sun’s descent was progressing as we re-secured our bicycles to the back of the Escape Mobile — a timing that we hadn’t planned, but was perfect for sidetracking up Glacier Point Road.

The drive-in-and-out road is just shy of 16 miles (each way).  It cuts up from Wawona Road (Hwy 41) just south of Tunnel View, and twists deep into the wilderness. (We spotted what appeared to be a wolf on the drive up, and a coyote on the return trip.)

14 Half Dome from Glacier Point, Yosemite

The sunset panoramas were spectacular as was the view of the valley below. From the height of Glacier Point one easily sees how and where ancient monster glaciers cut through mountains to carve out the valley.

15-yosemite-valley-from-glacier-point-2.png
Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

We hadn’t anticipated the bonus of the setting sun’s colors reflecting off the eastern rocky cliffs.

18 Half Dome from Glacier Point at Sunset
Half Dome from Glacier Point at Sunset

We stood mesmerized, flumgustered, until we noticed stars beginning to dot the darkening sky.

19 On Top of the World, Glacier Point, Yosemite

We secured ourselves among boulders a safe distance away from the mountain’s ledge and watched as the stars slowly painted the sky. We also noticed mysterious lights appearing one-by-one on the face of half-dome… climbers tethered to its ledges for the night.

20 Camper's Light, Half Dome from Glacier Point, Yosemite
Camper’s light on the ledge of Half Dome

As blackness fell over us, we hoped to see the milky way. However, due to a significant decrease in temperature coupled with the realization that we had no flashlight for the half-mile rocky trek back to the car, we decided to follow another couple down from the observation deck. (They had a flashlight.)

Mariposa Grove

Mariposa Grove 02

We’d already fallen in love with the giants of Redwood National Park, but had yet to experience the noble Sequoias.

Mariposa Grove 12

A planned short hike through Mariposa Grove turned into an all-day 8-mile journey.

Mariposa Grove 15 - Telescope Tree

With soft intent we strolled through the grove, communing with the giants along the way.

The grove was declared as “Mariposa Grove” after a couple of white dudes, Galen Clark and Milton Mann, happened upon it in 1857.

Mariposa Grove 09 - Historic Museum

However, evidence of indigenous people occupying the area dates back 3,000 years; Grizzly Giant would have been a mere sapling.

Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove
Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove

The Universe is on Our Side… Again

A reversing incident in Yosemite had somewhat destabilized our bicycle rack. So before heading to Kings Canyon National Park, Trey tightened each bolt and balanced the rack securely enough to make it the 60 miles to Fresno. (We had assumed that Fresno was the closest city large enough to have a proper bike shop.)

We’d traveled only 14 miles, to the tiny town of Oakhurst, when the rack’s arm flailed backwards and dangled our bikes sideways a few feet above the pavement. We immediately pulled into a parking lot and checked for phone service. Two bars allowed me to search for the nearest bike shop.

Gmaps seemed to be confusing our location with that of the nearest bike shop, so I looked up and around for assurance. Right there in the same parking lot, and directly in front of where our bikes had nearly crashed to the road, was Yosemite Bike & Sport. It wouldn’t open for another 10 minutes, but we walked over to the store front anyway to check out the shop while we waited.

Driving through terra incognita and having one’s bicycle rack deconstruct directly in front of the only bike shop within in a 60-mile radius is magical enough. Right? Well, not this day. As we approached the store’s display window we couldn’t believe what we saw… our exact bicycle rack sat new, fully assembled, and ready for use. (And no, it wasn’t a common brand or model.)

More Pics

07.5 Lower Yosemite Falls Trail

17 Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point at Sunset

 

Lake Tahoe & Reno ~ September 24 – 28, 2014

Beginning in Red Lodge MT, and continuing for the preceding 45 days, we’d followed the first appearances of fall colors across the west and down the Washington and Oregon coastlines. Random wisps of cool air and pronounced temperature differentials had been nipping at our backsides, nudging us forward just ahead of autumn’s arrival.

With the unanticipated deluge that forced us out of the Redwood Forest, fall had officially won the race and taken over. Its conquest coincided with a planned eastward turn into the mountains toward Nevada…

 

the first of several detours that had us zig-zagging across, in and out, and down the state of California for the next month and a half. (See our California path on our “About” page.)

From Arcata, we followed the Trinity River via State Highway 299.

Trinity River, Hwy 299 toward Redding
Trinity River, Hwy 299 toward Redding

The river, changing leaves, grazing elk, along with a mix of rain and mist enhanced the gorgeous drive across northern California to Redding.

 

Still soaked and with an extra day, we stopped in Redding and checked into a hotel. After showering, we hauled our camping gear into the room, sorted and dried everything including our tent, which we pitched atop the spare bed.

Yelp and a hankering for comfort food led us to Nello’s Place for a cozy Italian dinner – one of our most memorable dining experiences in quality, service, and for being exactly what we needed when we needed it.

Dungeness Crab Cake, Nello's Place, Redding, CA
Dungeness Crab Cake, Nello’s Place, Redding, CA

Funny how what first appears to be a mishap ends up being a beautiful gift. These magic-of-the-Universe moments occurred often on our trip, just as they do in life.

In frustration, we tread through life’s darkness and around its rough edges as best possible only to end up somewhere completely unexpected, almost like an award for making it that far. It is only then that you recognize the past’s challenges as beautiful puzzle pieces laid out behind you, perfectly placed together.

One only needs to take the time to notice.

Elk buck along the Trinity River, Northern California
Elk buck along the Trinity River, Northern California

Over the last shared bites of Nello’s cherries jubilee, our favorite dessert experience on the trip, we expressed our deep gratitude for simply being in that moment, and for the obstacles that had led us there.

North Lake Tahoe, California

To avoid driving around Lassen Peak’s mountainous roads in a thunderstorm, we headed south from Redding along the Sacramento River and into the Central Valley. The sun and blue skies soon appeared highlighting the valley’s olive and pistachio orchards…

Orchard in California's Central Valley

Barely an hour into our drive, the geography had completely changed. We found this to be true in most areas of California — if you don’t like the scenery, just drive an hour in any direction.

Heading into the Sierra Nevada Mts
Heading into the Sierra Nevada Mts

The clouds and rain returned after steering eastbound again into the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Heading to North Lake Taho

But, the weather was forgotten upon setting eyes on Lake Tahoe’s vibrant blue hues. We were captivated and regretted having less than 24-hours to enjoy them.

North Lake Tahoe, CA

That is until frigid air blew in with a storm foiling our plans to bike, and keeping us inside our small rented cabin for the evening.

Public Beach, Tahoe Vista, North Lake Tahoe
Public Beach, Tahoe Vista, North Lake Tahoe

All was good as our rustic cottage was comfy and adorable, and looked out onto Lake Tahoe.

 

Mart in front of our cabin

We watched from the warmth of our cabin as wind gusts and waves knocked around boats docked along the shoreline.

View of choppy Lake Tahoe from Rustic Cottage

Driving across the Mount Rose Highway the next morning, we were stunned to find a light snow had dusted the mountain and roadsides. Snow in September, another first!

Snow dusting Mt. Rose in September 2014
Snow dusting Mt. Rose in September 2014

Family Reunion – Reno, Nevada

Reno, Nevada Panorama
Reno, Nevada

Because Reno is the home of my brother and most of his family, a visit to the biggest little city in the world had been on our must-do list since our trip’s onset  We loved catching up with our family! And touring Reno…

 

a progressive, beautiful city surrounded by mountain vistas, and not at all similar to what Hollywood tends to project.

We spent an afternoon with my brother exploring the terrain and historical sites along State Highway 341, also referred to as the Virginia City Scenic Drive. We climbed along mountain edges, passing wild horses, and into the infamous silver-mining town of Virginia City.

Virginia City's main street
Virginia City’s main street

Take away the paved highway cutting through town, along with all the cars and motorcycles, and Virginia City appears closely to what I imagine it did in the 1800’s. With its redbrick buildings, colorful storefronts and covered wooden walkways, Virginia City offers visitors a taste of living on the outer edge of law & order in the old west.

Virginia City, Street Vibrations Rally
Virginia City, Street Vibrations Rally

Our visit happen to overlap the Street Vibrations motorcycle rally. Like in the Black Hills during the Sturgis rally, new and classic Harley’s lined Virginia City’s main street, augmenting the fun outlaw vibe.

Reno is a lovely city, and our visit with family was too short.

 

It was difficult to say good-bye; this was the last of many reunions on our trek and we still had two months of travel ahead.

Up Next… back to California, the Wine Country

More Pics…

View of North Lake Tahoe heading up Mt Rose Hwy
View of North Lake Tahoe heading up Mt Rose Hwy

 

 

 

 

 

Redwood National & State Parks ~ September 22 – 24, 2014

The “Redwood Forest” is a patchwork of federal and state parks along California’s northern coastline.

map

Together, they’re a UNESCO World Heritage site with joint missions to manage and preserve the remaining old growth forests. Before effective efforts to protect the giant redwoods were established, logging had wiped out 70% of them. Yes, 70%!

Stout Grove, JS Redwoods State Park

Arriving at the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, located in the northern end, we’d officially traveled from the gulf stream to the redwoods.

Being surrounded by new growth trees and thick underbrush provided our campsite some privacy. And for me, senses of comfort and safety came with sleeping among the giants.

We spent our afternoon exploring the campground and forest. Trey and I had previously encountered a few giants – a young transplanted sequoia in Victoria’s Butchart Gardens, and firs around Mount Rainier and Mount Olympus – but those trees did not prepare us for the magnitude, majesty, and grace of the old growth redwoods.

It was love at first sight!

Giants, JS Redwood State Park

The park’s campground sits alongside the Smith River.

Smith River, JS Redwoods SP
Smith River, JS Redwoods SP

Being September, it was unlikely we’d catch a trout or salmon, so we didn’t purchase licenses. Instead, each evening we walked along the riverbank, admiring river rocks and wildlife, and keeping an eye out for bears.

While Stout Memorial Grove is near the campground—it sits just across the river—the old growth grove is not easily accessible by car. The grove is off a narrow dirt road about two miles from the main highway, US 199.

Because of its isolation, we had the grove mostly to ourselves. Taking a loop trail and then a break-off trail down to the river, we walked among the giants…

Giant Redwood, Stoutgrove

and basked in our quiet communion.

JSRSP, Stout Grove 4

We were thrilled to come across another banana slug because 1) they’re awesome!, and 2) we missed photographing the first one we spotted in our campground.

Banana Slug, JSRSP

Leaving the grove, we continued down the dirt road, Howland Hill Road, into the community of Crescent City.

Howland Hill Road2
Howland Hill Road, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

We highly recommend this drive! In all, it’s only about six miles, but allow plenty of time for winding through the giants, braking and backing for passing cars, and stopping for photos.

JSRSP, Stout Grove 3

Once in Crescent City, we shared a beer and filled up with good Tex-Mex at Perlita’s before heading back to camp for the evening. The sky was overcast, but the chance for rain was only ten percent.

Claps of thunder woke us at midnight followed by a downpour that continued through the night. Though dry inside, by 6:00 a.m. our tent’s floor felt more like a waterbed.

Rainy Campsite, JSRSP

Stepping out to go to the bathroom before breaking camp, we discovered our shoes had floated away with the small stream running thru our campsite and under our tent. We found them in the brush behind the tent, then packed up our soaking selves and threw our gear into the Escape Mobile to leave.

Still raining, we took refuge in The Chart Room, a seafood restaurant that happened to be open for breakfast. The rustic restaurant sits on a narrow peninsula dividing Crescent Harbor and the Pacific Ocean, and its windows provide great views of both.

As we ate, we watched a sea otter catching his breakfast and frolicking in the calm harbor, while across the restaurant, we saw 10-foot waves crashing over the levy onto the road.

Driving south down the coastline on U.S. 101, the waves continued roaring just off the highway. Before reaching the cutoff to our detour to Redding, we stopped at Lady Bird Johnson Nature Grove.

The first First Lady from Texas played an active role in the conservation and beautification of many of our nation’s natural treasures, including a section of the Colorado River that runs through Austin. Of course we had to stop!

Lady Bird Grove & Nature Trail

The rain let up as we arrived, but we’d trekked only a quarter mile and had taken a couple of photos before it started pouring again. Still, a great departing experience and perfect location to say goodbye to the lovely giants.

More pics..

Two Giants, Stout Grove