Category Archives: National Parks

Mojave Desert: Hoover Dam, Valley of Fire State Park & Death Valley National Park ~ October 12 – 17, 2014

Upon exiting Sequoia National Park we’d entered the Mojave Desert and the portion of this “great looping quest” in which I was most apprehensive… the desert. 

01 Approaching Las Vegas
West of Las Vegas

I had preconceived notions about desert existence, mostly negative because my perceptions weren’t based on actual experience. So, I’d anticipated a colorless, desolate environment… unfriendly and uninhabitable. After all, the Mojave has a valley named “Death!”

What I discovered was just the opposite, a welcoming beauty, thriving and very much alive. For me, establishing a sense of grounding in the desert required no conscious effort – the desert rose up firmly beneath my feet.

10 East of Las Vegas
East of Las Vegas, NV

Within Mojave’s arid landscape, where odd and varied creatures flourished, I felt my own belonging.

13 Valley of Fire Lizard

The desert’s embrace forever changed my perspective, it corrected it and taught me a lesson about the ridiculous power we give to our perceptions.

~~~

A cheap (because it was undergoing a noisy renovation) Las Vegas casino/hotel served as our basecamp while we explored what lies beyond the city’s fringes… the even more wild and wonderful. First up…

Hoover Dam

02 Inside Hoover Dam

05.5 Hoover Dam

For a hundred years the Hoover Dam has risen 726 feet from the floor of the Colorado River.

09 Hoover Dam

It is an unyielding concrete monster, a sight to behold that attracts some seven million people a year… by car, boat, and helicopter.

07 Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, Hoover Dam NV

Its proximity to Las Vegas—40 minutes southeast—enables this constant flow of people. Unfortunately, the flow of water for which the dam was built is not as reliable and, as in California, the effect of prolonged drought was visible through the river’s receding waterline.

06 Receding Colorado River from Hoover Dam
Receding Colorado River Water Level

We purchased tickets to tour the dam’s power plant… $15 in 2014, and well worth it.

Inside, 30 foot pipes snake through tunnels and rows of enormous generators churn out 4 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually for the good folks of Nevada, Arizona, and California. The dam’s structure also serves to control flooding and reserve water for California’s fruitful valleys and its southern cities.

Valley of Fire State Park

11 Valley of Fire State ParkNevada’s Valley of Fire State Park is located about 50 miles (an hour’s drive) northeast of Las Vegas. Its sculpted red rocks are stacked and scattered throughout the park’s 40,000 acres.

12 Valley of Fire landscape
Valley of Fire Landscape

Only one road cuts through the park, just above its southern border. The road provides access to loads of popular hikes and fun formations, more than enough to keep one occupied for a day.

17 Valley of Fire SP Map

The rest of the park, the vast majority of its wilderness, is a sprawling preservation area, seemingly inaccessible except by foot.

Our arrival in the late afternoon limited our hiking options, but we had the park to ourselves.

18 Mouse Tank Road, Valley of Fire SP
Mouse Tank Road, Valley of Fire State Park, NV

Also, the sun’s low stance illuminated the red rocks and danced through canyons making our walks even more magical.

16 Valley of Fire SP, NV

The half-mile trail to Mouse Tank led us down a canyon marked with hundreds of petroglyphs.

19 Mouse Tank Trail, Valley of Fire SP
Mouse Tank Trail Valley of Fire State Park, NV

These uninterpretable messages hovered just above us, holding steadfast onto the secrets of an ancient civilization.

26 Sunset heading to Las Vegas

Only the sunset, spectacular and fleeting, could force us out of the Valley of Fire and back toward the maddening lights of Las Vegas.

Death Valley National Park

We traveled northwest for 140+ miles to enter Death Valley National Park where my attitude and apprehensions about deserts were permanently altered. Death Valley’s mystique and it’s rolling, constantly changing landscapes captivated me.

26.8 Zabriskie Point, Death Valley NP
View from Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

We stopped often, awestruck by its colors and geology.

Near the center of Death Valley is Badwater Basin, a massive flat of salt exposed by rain runoff from the surrounding mountains.

27 Badwater Basin Salt Flat, Death Valley NP

The basin sits 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America.

29.5 Badwater Basin Salt Flat, Death Valley NP
Badwater Basin Salt Flat, Death Valley National Park, CA

Its limited drainage results in artsy, salty shapes forming through heat induced evaporation. The salt configurations cover the basin creating an eerie, alien terrain.

28 Salt Formations, Badwater Basin, Death Valley NP

We traversed over the salt and out into the basin and became mesmerized by the patterns. Before we realized it, we were about a mile in, which is nowhere near the basin’s center.

30.5 Badwater Basin

As intense heat began pulsing around us, we sensed our own vulnerability and soon turned back toward the parking area.

37 Artists' Drive, Death Valley NP
Artists’ Drive, Death Valley National Park, CA

Wending through a painted canyon on Artists’ Drive was like bounding through a rainbow. The one-way nine-mile road is narrow with rocky hillsides rolling up, out, and along both sides.

36 Artists' Drive, Death Valley NP

The palette effect is from minerals (including hematite and chlorite) altered by volcanic eruptions five million years ago. Elements aluminum, iron, magnesium and titanium also add to the mountainous canvas.

Our other hike in Death Valley, was the Natural Bridge Trail, accessible about a mile and half down a dirt road that breaks off from Badwater Road.

31 Trey heading down Natural Bridge Trail, Death Valley NP2
Trey heading down Natural Bridge Trail, Death Valley National Park

It’s an easy one-mile round-trip trail into a narrow, high-walled canyon.

35 Natural Bridge, Death Valley NP

The trail crosses under the bridge formation and continues into a box canyon.

34 Natural Bridge, Death Valley NP
Natural Bridge, Death Valley National Park, CA

We had the trail to ourselves, or at least it was devoid of other humans. This gal, a Swainson’s Thrush, accompanied us from the rock bridge to the trail’s end.

32 Swainson's Thrush, Trail Escort
Death Valley Swainson’s Thrush

As we neared the bird, it would take flight, landing 20 or so feet up trail where it waited for us to approach again. Over and over it repeated this routine, escorting us all the way into the rocky boxed area…

33 Trail End, Natural Bridge Trail, Death Valley NP

and then safely back to the bridge.

We also spied a reddish fox, the Desert Kit Fox, strolling alongside Hwy 190 as we left the park, but missed photographing him.

More Pics

23 Petroglyph Canyon, Valley of Fire SP

 

Up next…  Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks

Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks ~ October 11, 2014

With our bicycles snug on their sparkling new rack, we motored south, then east, to Kings Canyon National Park. Our ultimate destination was Las Vegas, and the plan was to wend through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks on the way… a tree-tour-detour.

14 Kings Canyon NP

I’ve written previously, ad nauseam really, about the awe we’ve experienced walking among and connecting with these earthly giants. So, I’ll spare you from more adjectives and let the photos speak for themselves…

13 Kings Canyon NP

I’m sure all of our photos from this odyssey have been most capable of speaking for themselves all along. (Sigh)

04 Fallen Monarch Tree, Kings Canyon NP
Fallen Monarch Tree, Kings Canyon NP

08 Inside Fallen Sequoia, Kings Canyon NP

Yet, I write on.

15 General's Hwy, Seqouia NP

In honor of our last hours with the giants, here are some factoids that Trey recorded:

17 General Sherman Tree, Sequoia NP
General Sherman Tree, Sequoia NP
  • The General Sherman Sequoia is considered the world’s largest living tree by volume; it towers approximately 275 feet; and its base circumference is just shy of 103 feet
  • Redwood bark can get up to 12 inches thick, while sequoias’ bark can expand outwards 31 inches
  • Redwoods typically grow taller, but sequoias weigh more due to the girth of their trunks and branches

Sequoia Branches

  • The base of sequoia branches can be 40 feet in diameter stretching out to 8 feet in diameter… sequoia’s main branches look more like trees!
  • Sequoias tend to live longer than redwoods, about 3,500 vs 3,000 years
20 Heading down Hwy 198
Heading down Generals Highway (Hwy 198)

Highway 198, also known as Generals Highway, led us away from the giants and out of Sequoia National Park.

Like the Beartooth Highway in Montana/Wyoming and the Sea-to-Sky Highway in British Columbia, the drive down Generals Highway from Sequoia NP to Three Rivers is an adventure.

A must do whenever the opportunity presents itself, or even when it doesn’t. The twists are numerous, turns dizzying, and the scenery is gorgeous.

19 View from Hwy 198

22 Tunnel Rock, Hwy 198
Tunnel Rock, Hwy 198

A perfect transition to where the trajectory of our “great looping quest” was taking us…

…into the desert.

By the time we pulled into Bakersfield, California, the landscape was more reminiscent of West Texas…

25 Arriving in Bakersfield, CA

More Pics…

Sequoia Branches

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

 

San Francisco, California ~ October 1 – 5, 2014

View of Golden Gate and San Francisco from Conzelman Rd

Like in Chicago and Portland, staying in or near San Francisco’s city center was cost prohibitive, so we again used points and stayed at an airport hotel. The commute into San Francisco was about 25 minutes but ran aside the beautiful San Francisco Bay. Finding parking was never a problem as there are plenty of public, but pricey, garages.

Alcatraz – Messages of Freedom and Justice

Alcatraz, SF

Alcatraz is part of the National Park Service’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area. A ferry operated by a private company from Pier 33 is the only means to access the island. They run about every 30 minutes and you have to purchase fares for a specific departure time, but you can return whenever you’re ready.

That was a good thing as Trey and I became captivated by the island… its history and stories, and all the once hardened but now deteriorating skeletal structures juxtaposed amid beauty. (One only needs to look.)

We spent most of the day touring the former military outpost-then military prison-then federal penitentiary-now national treasure.

During our visit, Alcatraz was also serving as an art exhibit space.  We were fortunate that our trip coincided with Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s exhibit @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz.

Weiwei @Large in Alcatraz

The installation exhibit filled two work rooms, and began with the wonderful, welcoming face of a giant, intricate paper dragon, its body comprising the full length of the room.

The contrast of vibrant colors against decaying prison walls was surreal. As were the Lego portraits and brave words of individuals imprisoned for voicing or acting upon their truths…

Weiwei @Large in Alcatraz 5

including Mr. Weiwei himself who at the time was being detained by the Chinese government.

The entire island is open for exploring and we spent as much time outside as we did inside the various cell blocks, industry/labor buildings, and administrative offices.

The NPS has done a great job (as always!) in telling and preserving Alcatraz’s stories, from its notorious prisoners and attempted breakouts to those of the families and children of guards that were also Alcatraz residents.

We learned about the Native American 19-month (Nov 1969 – Jun 1971) occupation of the island. The cross-tribe participants (including the late Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller) claimed the island as their own citing an 1860’s treaty.

Evidence of Indian Occupation 2

In reality, the takeover was an act of rebellion for past and ongoing injustices carried out by the U.S. Government against its native people. The civil disobedience effort was successful at calling attention to those injustices and their continued effects. We were happy to find that signs of the occupation are well preserved and protected as part of Alcatraz’s rich history. 

San Francisco by Boat, Car, Bike, & Foot

BOAT
Just before leaving Austin for this trek around the U.S., Trey and I struck up a conversation with a businessman at the downtown PF Chang’s bar. He was from San Francisco, so we quizzed him on what his #1 must-do-in-San Francisco recommendation was. “That’s simple!” he said. “You have to see San Francisco from the vantage point of its bay – sail out into the bay and under the Golden Gate Bridge.”

On the Privateer, SF Bay

That’s exactly what we did on the “Privateer” through the San Francisco Sailing Company. The day was gorgeous, perfect for sailing! Plus, the unique views and perspectives we experienced were well worth the $60 ticket price.

View of SF Skyline from Sailboat

We struck up a conversation with a couple sitting adjacent to us on the cozy sailboat and soon after regretted doing so. They were weirdly interested in us and toward the end of the trip, a bit too touchy and invading our personal spaces. We politely declined their invitation to join them at their home thinking that the boat’s sails were not the only thing they wanted to experience swinging that day. California!

The Ebarcadero, SF 2

The bay was beautiful though, and like our no-strings-attached friend at PF Chang’s, we highly recommend sailing around it to fully enjoy the San Francisco skyline and surrounding bridges and hills.

CAR
Beginning in the late 1800’s and through World War II, the entrance to San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean was deemed militarily vulnerable.

DSC05444

As such, a series of defense “batteries” were constructed along both the northern and southern shores. The remnants of these fortifications remain for intrigued tourists to explore. We selected the northern shore route because it allowed us to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, a new experience for Trey.

Driving Across the Golden Gate

Once across the bridge, we followed Conzelman Road that curved around the hills’ edges and offered amazing views of the bay, bridge, and city.

From Conzelman Rd 2

Stopping at Kirby Battery gave us a feel for what guarding America’s western gateway was like during World War II.

Kirby Battery

It’s easy to imagine diligent soldiers scouring the ocean’s horizon for enemy vessels and the skies for foreign aircraft while bunkered behind sixteen-inch barrel guns. The never used guns are long-gone, but the bunkers and other structures are open to climb about, picnic on, or find a peaceful moment while taking in the serene beauty.

Trey in Kirby Battery Tunnel
Trey posing in a Kirby Battery tunnel

Continuing on Conzelman Road until it dead ended, we turned left onto Field Road which leads to the steep ledge of Bonita Point. The tiny Bonita Point Lighthouse sits atop a rugged crag and is accessible via a wooden suspension bridge – a good challenge for those wanting to confront a fear of heights.

Bonita Point Light House

The ocean and bay views are spectacular, but we enjoyed the scenes below the most… sunbathing seals and ocean spray rising from waves crashing upon black rocky ledges.

Heading inland on Field Road, we made our final stop back in time at Nike Missile Site SF-88…

Nike Missile Site SF-88
Greely & Norton greeted us upon our arrival and kept careful watch over things

where we walked above ground among retired missiles and below ground where missiles were stored and readied for launch.

The site closed in the 1970’s and is well maintained by the NPS. Just as the old battery sites had done, this retired missile site provided a good sense of life at a cold war defense site.

BIKE
From The Embarcadero’s Pier 39, it is about a 5.5 mile ride (one-way) across the Golden Gate. The route takes you along the beach, by gorgeous waterfront homes, and through Presidio to the Battery East Trail.

Bike path from Presido with Palace of the Arts

The climb up to the bridge is steep, but there are plenty of overlooks to stop, rest, and take in the changing scenery… another great way to enjoy the cityscape.

As we climbed we noticed a thick fog rolling in at a fury’s pace. It quickly engulfed the bridge and we wondered whether we’d be able to ride across the bridge, and if so… would we be able to see anything?  By the time we huffed our way to bridge level and emerged from the trees there was no trace of fog, not a single remnant.

East Battery Bike Trail

I understand that is how fog is in the bay area… it is an entity in itself, choosing to come and go, disrupt and displease at will.

The ride across the Golden Gate was thrilling. The rails are high enough and the path wide enough that we felt perfectly safe and comfortable crossing over and back on the 1.7 mile bridge.

Along with sailing around the bay, I consider bicycling across the Golden Gate as a San Francisco must-do!

FOOT
We fell in love with San Francisco. It’s a very walkable city if you don’t mind hills. If you’d prefer to avoid hills then stick to the shoreline areas of Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero.

With loads of fabulous restaurants, shopping, boats, nightlife and wildlife, they contain essential elements of the quintessential San Francisco experience.

Pier 39, SF

The Ebarcadero, SF

We also loved walking through Pacific Heights, China Town, and Telegraph Hill.

Lombard St, SF
Lombard Street, San Francisco
Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower, SF
Telegraph Hill, Coit Tower

Golden Gate Park was on our itinerary, but the streets surrounding it were impassable due to an annual bluegrass festival. Next time!

San Francisco Food

Breakfast – To offset the expense of eating out, we started most days with a cheap but hearty breakfast from Ed’s Diner in South San Francisco.

Ed's Diner, South SF

They served an excellent version of Trey’s favorite, the traditional American breakfast. We would fill ourselves enough to skip lunch and then carry a snack bar and piece of fruit to make it to dinner.

Our one breakfast exception was Mama’s On Washington Square, a recommendation by my sister-in-law who grew up in San Francisco.

Mama's, SF

We were warned that it is small and there is always a crowd, so we arrived twenty minutes before its 8:00 a.m. opening time. That wasn’t early enough to keep us from waiting in line, but the owner-operated café knows their business and has perfected a system of getting people in the door, through an ordering line, seated, served, and back out the door with a full stomach and happy heart.

The freshness and quality of the food is tops! The menu is extensive so I felt a bit overwhelmed with being pressured to order quickly and not hold up the line. We also completely forgot to record or photograph what we ordered.

Dinner – This is it! My absolute favorite dish from our trip around the United States…

Crab Enchiladas, The Crab House, SF
Crab Enchiladas, Crab House – Pier 39

Crab Enchiladas from the Crab House at Pier 39. They were what I imagine eating in Heaven will be like. A melt in your mouth unique flavor, yet still enchilada tasting enough to be called an enchilada. The above photo is not an exaggeration, together the two enchiladas were the size of a Texas big-as-your-face burrito and I finished off each one then wiped the skillet clean.

Even Trey, who is not a shell food person, enjoyed the small bite I shared. He opted for the Fish & Chips, a very generous portion of perfectly fried and fluffy cod, served just as it should be.

rg-lounge-chinatown-sf.jpg

R & G Lounge in Chinatown – Authentic, traditional Chinese. We Texans felt a little out of place and lost at first, but the servers were kind and helpful, and the food was excellent.

McCormick & Kuleto’s Seafood & Steaks, Ghirardelli Square – we failed to take a photo of our meals and neither of us recall the meal. We do, however, vividly remember the gorgeous bay views.

Sunset View, SF Bay

We watched swimmers doing their evening laps while the sun set behind the hills and turned sailboats into silhouettes.

ghirardelli-square.jpg

Dessert was a Caramel Sea Salt Hot Fudge Sundae that we split from Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory.

More pics…

From Conzelman Rd 3

Alcatraz Artsy pics…

DSC05298

Next Stop… Carmel By The Sea

 

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

 

 

Astoria, Oregon & US Hwy 101 Coastline Drive, Part 2 ~ September 15-17, 2014

Quaint Astoria sits on a peninsula barely east of where the Columbia River clashes with the Pacific Ocean. Outlined by Young’s Bay and River on its southern shoreline, with the mighty Columbia River comprising its north border.

astoria-columbia-and-young-rivers.jpg
Above Astoria, looking west: Views of the Pacific and Columbia, Young, and Lewis & Clark Rivers.

Yes, water is the heart, soul, and breath of the community. Its sustenance, and existence.

Accessing Astoria from Washington State requires either a boat or crossing the massive Astoria-Megler Bridge, a cantilever through-truss design. As we drove the 4.1 miles across to Oregon, my thoughts turned to my sister. Many times, she had relayed her dizzying experience bicycling over the Columbia River while water rushed in one direction below and crisscrossing cars whizzed past her side. I was grateful to be inside the Escape Mobile.

Welcome Party
Astoria’s Welcome Party

Checking into our riverfront hotel just before sunset, we were greeted with an unrecognizable noise permeating throughout the lobby. Curiosity led us down a corridor and out a back door where the now recognizable barks overwhelmed our senses. Seals, hundreds of them, had taken over docks and landings sitting 150-ish yards away. Gladly, the barking did not disrupt our sleep.

With one full day to explore Astoria, we made the most of our time. First order was a must-visit to the Goondocks…

Gonnies House
The Goonies House

a row of Victorian houses made famous in the 1985 Goonies movie. While we easily found parking and walked up to the primary “Goonies’ House” to snap photos, increased tourist traffic and mishaps have since halted such practices.

Next, a walk around and up into the Astoria Column provided both a historical accounting and scenic overview of the area.

Styled after Rome’s Trajan Column (which Trey has since visited), its spiraling pictorials tell of the “discovery” of the Columbia River, Lewis and Clark’s expedition, and the arrival of John Jacob Astor’s merchant ship which was instrumental in establishing Astoria as a key outpost in North America’s fur trade, helping Astor to control much of that trade. How ironic, or perhaps “offensive’ is more fitting, that Astor’s descendants later dedicated the column as a memorial to the Chinook Indians.

The remainder of Astoria was explorable by bicycle via The Riverwalk…

Astoria Bikepath, Trey
Trey on The Riverwalk near base of Astoria-Megler Bridge

a roughly 5-mile pathway following the Columbia River bank from the peninsula’s westernmost point, and turning into forested hills at the eastern end.

Astoria Bikepath
Eastern end of Astoria’s Riverwalk bike path

Along the way, The Riverwalk provides easy access to downtown shops and restaurants. Note, a trolley line follows much of the pathway.

During our bike ride, we enjoyed eating wild blackberries growing aside the pathway, watching the day’s catch being unloaded, the ever-present wildlife, and being entertained by Coast Guard drills while eating pizza.

Astoria gulls

Astoria is charming with a laid-back, fun vibe that balances well with the hard work and challenges that I imagine accompany living at the convergence of three rivers and an ocean. Also apparent was Astoria’s reliance on tourism.

Downtown Astoria

Astoria Food experiences…

A bit of a foodie city, there were several on-budget options. Five stars to T Paul’s Supper Club for dinner, Street 14 Café for coffee and lunch, and the chain restaurant Pig N’ Pancake was a breakfast favorite for locals and tourists.

Fort Clatsop – Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

Fort Clatsop is just south of Astoria so we saved this historical site for the morning of our departure. The fort sits where the Lewis and Clark expedition settled in for winter, awaiting and planning for their return east.

All structures are replicas based on surviving journal entries. A footpath leads to the Lewis and Clark River and follows the shore 1-1/2 miles to Netul Landing (Netul is the river’s original name).

Fort Clatsop View
View of Lewis & Clark River from footpath to Netul Landing

US Hwy 101 Coastline Drive – Part Two

Astoria to Lincoln City

Mesmerized with our first Oregon coast drive, we stretched the 2 hour and forty minute trip to Lincoln City into most of the day; stopping at numerous overlooks…

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 6

touring Tillamook Cheese Factory…

and traipsing between homes to access a public beach…

Lovely day best expressed through photographs:

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 5

We arrived in Lincoln City at sunset, without hotel reservations, and famished. Trey had spotted Puerto Vallarta Mexican Restaurant as we entered town — best Tex-Mex fix since Pittsburgh, margaritas included of course.

Sailor Jack Inn, Lincoln City
Trey checking in

Lincoln City’s Sailor Jack Inn stands out as one of our more memorable sleeping experiences; notable in a unique, funny, and lets-not-do-that-again way. It was a cheap motel with a million dollar view.

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 4

Slinking carefully into bed, we drifted to sleep easily to the sound of crashing waves. I’m sure the margaritas were helpful, too!

Woke the next morning to clear skies, and another Pig N’ Pancake breakfast fueled our bodies for the drive inland to Portland.

More pics…

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 2

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 3

Lewis & Clark Routes

 

Olympic National Park ~ August 13-15, 2014

The last morning of our Alaskan cruise, breakfast table-mates recommended hiking Hurricane Ridge, along the northern border of Olympic National Park. With our late departure from Seattle, we decided to spend the night in Port Angeles, a 160 mile drive from Bainbridge Island, and hike the nearby ridge the following morning.

Located on the U.S. side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and with a ferry crossing to Victoria, Port Angeles was a bit of a tourist destination.

View of Port Angeles and Victoria BC
View of Port Angeles with Victoria BC in the distance

We hadn’t accounted for that, nor the fact that it was Saturday. Pulling into town, scores of hotels greeted us… all full or over budget. Before continuing westward, we looped back into town and noticed the Riviera Inn. The unassuming, yet comfortable and clean motel had a few vacancies available.

Also surprised by the many culinary options, we decided on Italian for dinner at Bella Italia and breakfast at First Street Haven, both on East 1st Street (Hwy 101 East). And both good and on budget.

 

Olympic National Park North – Hurricane Ridge

Olympic National Park Map

Encompassing more than 1,400 square miles and the Olympic Mountain Range, with Mount Olympus near its center, one doesn’t drive through Olympic National Park. Like Mount Rainier, you steer around it and enter through various access roads along its changing ecological perimeter.

Relative to the rest of the park, the north is dry with a mix of meadows and foothills leading into the steeper heart of the park.

Trey on Hurricane Ridge

After a stop at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, we were able to continue onto, and park at, the trailhead.

Hurricane Ridge Trail

Rising 700 feet over 1.6 miles, the hike up Hurricane Hill is easy to moderate, and the stunning panoramas are absolutely worth it!

Olympic National Park Panorama

Olympic Natl Park from Hurricane Ridge

Lots of wildlife, too!

Hurricane Ridge Marmot
Hurricane Ridge Marmot

The amazing 360 views beckoned us to stay longer, so we settled down under the shade of a tree to fully absorb the beauty.

 

It wasn’t long before we were surrounded by treat-seeking chipmunks and bunnies.

 

Lake Crescent & Marymere Falls

Sunsetting on a lake

About thirty miles west of Port Angeles, we came across Crescent Lake and a sign post for Marymere Falls. The trail to the falls was just shy of a mile, wound through giant firs and hemlock trees, and deer grazed just off the trail.

 

Marymere Falls
Marymere Falls

That excursion, the extra time spent atop Hurricane Hill, and a stop for hamburgers in Forks, positioned us in a race with the setting sun to the pacific coast.

Ruby Beach, Washington

Arriving at Ruby Beach with just enough light to capture a few photos, we were happy to have officially arrived at the Pacific Ocean. A gorgeous welcome and a memorable setting for what I consider our third left turn around the U.S.

 

Olympic National Park South – Quinault Rainforest

Most National Parks we visited had park-owned lodges that are historic in some context related to the parks’ origin. And all of these lodges are well over our price point, as was the case for Lake Quinault Lodge.

Lake Quinault Lodge
Lake Quinault Lodge

Due to its remoteness along with our eagerness to experience a national park lodge, we made a one-night exception.

Arriving after 9pm, and tired from the day’s hikes, we were thrilled with the prospect of a warm comfortable bed over pitching the tent and blowing up air mattresses.

The next day, we’d arranged an early morning educational tour with a park ranger, so we grabbed breakfast to go and jumped into a van.

Olympic National Park Ranger
Olympic National Park Ranger

Over four hours, we learned about river restoration efforts and the rainforest’s trees and plants. We discovered how the Olympic Mountains were formed by glaciers, and visited the “world’s largest spruce tree…”

 

several waterfalls…

Rainforest Waterfall

and this guy:

Mossquatch
MOSSQUATCH

Before departing Lake Quinault Lodge, we took the time to explore its tranquil grounds and enjoy a quick lunch.

 

The lodge is operated and well maintained by the Quinault Indian Nation, an indigenous sovereign nation. We regretted not being able to spend more time there.

Not included on the tour, the ranger told us of nearby “Big Cedar,” assuring it was worth the half-mile hike.

Quinnault Big Cedar
Quinnault Big Cedar

Located across the lake from the lodge, we decided to visit the ancient tree (1,500 years old) on our own. So glad we did, as it has since fallen due to a storm in July 2016.

 

 

US Hwy 101 Coastline Drive – Part One

The sun had set by the time we left Ruby Beach and turned southward down the coastline, so we missed what I imagine are magnificent views of the Pacific. On the way to Astoria, we got a taste of what we had missed, and of what was to come…

Between Lake Quinault and Astoria

sunsetting-near-astoria-oregon.jpg
Sun setting near Astoria, Oregon

More Pics…

Sully's, Forks
Sully’s in Forks, Washington (We didn’t realize we were in the Twilight zone until we stopped to eat and saw this on the menu.)

Mart with Mossquatch

Ruby Beach, Washington 2
Arriving at Ruby Beach

And because I love trees…

 

Fall Colors