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Alabama Hills, CA 9/26/19

This post will be long on both words and photos because, damn, we were in some beautiful and unique areas. Oh yeah, gremlins got in the way too.

We arrived in Bishop, CA, and set up at a nice, if a bit sterile, RV park. We spent a nice day wandering about the area and taking a walk in a small canyon called Happy Boulders, not to be confused with Sad Boulders which is about a quarter mile away. This area is known for its bouldering opportunities. Bouldering, in case you don’t know, is essentially how one practices rock climbing relatively safely. Climbers walk up the canyon with large pads on their backs that they lay below them when climbing, the idea being that they’ll fall onto to the pad for a gentle landing instead on the hard ground for a less gentle one. Looked like it would have been fun a decade or two ago.

A day or two into our stay we lost our automatic transfer switch. This gizmo is critical. It automatically senses if we are plugged in and, if so, allows the power to pass into the coach providing us with all that electrical goodness (like air conditioning). If it doesn’t sense power it defaults to passing our generator power (when running), allowing our batteries to stay charged and our ice cream to stay frozen. As I said, critical. To make a long story short, I ordered a new one from Amazon, we moved to the next, more generator friendly park (in Lone Pine, CA) a day early, and a mobile technician came and installed the burnt out unit. Five days without shore power, but actually very little impact to our lifestyle. Could have been worse.

The Lone Pine area was very cool for many reasons. One of them was the fact that we were able to duck quickly into Death Valley National Park for a look around. We saw “Star Wars Canyon” (actually Rainbow Canyon) where Air Force and Navy aviators practice extreme canyon flying and the public can actually look down upon them as they streak through. Sadly, not the day we were there. We also saw real sand dunes and found ourselves at sea level for the first time since leaving home. It was a nice day.

The coolest thing in the area are the Alabama hills. The eastern slope of the Sierra Mountains rises dramatically on the west of the valley and the east side is bounded by the Inyo Mountains. Both the Sierras and the Inyos were pushed up by geologic forces a long time ago, but in between them are the Alabama Hills. These “hills” were left behind and look as they did back before the two ranges were formed. The differences between them are readily apparent. The weird geography and massive boulder formations were a magnet for Hollywood movie makers. Many westerns and even classics like “Gunga Din” were filmed here. It’s also very popular with the bouldering community. We spent a couple of days poking around here and wandering up the Mt. Whitney Portal road. It’s a really beautiful and wild place and we will certainly return.

On a more somber note, we also visited Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp. It was a sobering visit in this desolate location with way too much resonance with current events. I wish I could say we left with the thought “Never again” running through our heads, but it’s happening again as I type. Enough said.

Enjoy the photos.

On the way to boulder. Happy Boulders, 9/20/19

Happy Boulders, 9/20/19

The entrance to Star Wars Canyon, Death Valley NP, 9/27/19

The exit from Star Wars Canyon. A pilot recently crashed into the canyon on the right of this photo Death Valley NP, 9/27/19

Mt. Whitney viewed through an arch. Alabama Hills, 9/26/19

Welcome to the Alabama Hills! 9/26/19

Alabama Hills formations in the foreground, Sierras in the background. 9/26/19

Death Valley NP, 9/27/19

Death Valley NP, 9/27/19

Slacklining in the Alabama Hills, 9/28/19

Bouldering in the Alabama Hills, 9/28/19

Monument at the Manzanar Internment Camp, 9/23/19

 

As we’ve been driving around this country we have noticed a consistent phenomenon. We’ll be behind the wheel, either RV or truck, and come around a corner or over a hill and we’ll spontaneously say “Oh, wow!” Everywhere we go are things of natural beauty or, less often, works of man that blow our mind. It’s happening multiple times a week and it never gets old. There’s no need to look any further for reasons why we’re doing this.

During our stay just south of the eastern entrance to Yosemite we had an overload of those moments.

But first a comment on weather. Since leaving Florida we have seen tropical storm strength winds a couple of times, experienced multiple hail storms, and even set up camp in the snow. On Memorial Day weekend. Sheesh. Being from Florida we have experienced strong winds many, many times. Numerous hurricanes and even more tropical storms have hardened us to strong winds. (BTW: the wind, although annoying, is not the worst. It’s the unrelenting noise it creates. It drives us crazy.) But in Florida our concrete block houses don’t rock and roll. Our RV does. Lots-o-fun.

A view of McGee Creek. 9/16/19

While at McGee Creek we got hit with a very strong windstorm. So strong that the power company killed electricity (unannounced) across a large swath of California. This was the first in what has become a pattern for the locals. We learned that a) our RV can live without power as long as our generator has fuel, and b) the campground’s water was fed by a well. A well that required electricity. Fortunately we had a bit of fresh water in our on-board tanks to hold us over. We came through the event okay, although the RV got a bit sandblasted. (Surreal note: sitting in the front of the coach watching the wind blow when suddenly two horses trotted a bit frantically through our site. About 5 minutes later, two frazzled guys with ropes came through. We told them which way they went. It was pretty weird.)

Anyway, two days later we had planned to go to Yosemite, but another wind event was called for that afternoon. We went anyway, but left very early and only did the eastern portion of the park. We only went as far west as Olmsted Point, spending time in Tuolumne Meadows. Wow. Just … wow. The photos that day were awesome. The early morning light on the cloud capped mountains, mist on the lake waters and in the valleys as seen from above, and the spectacular views from Olmsted were just insane. Although our visit was short, it sure was sweet. I can only show you a few of the many gorgeous shots I got. We will definitely be back.

The real prize is that this was unplanned. I had no idea that there was an east entrance to the park until well after we had made our plans. Cool.

While in the area we also visited the extremely salty Mono Lake, again on a very windy day. There are these weird formations called tufas that, well, are better seen than described. Again, pretty cool.

Just another week on the road.

Another good morning in the Eastern Sierras. Driving to Yosemite. 9/18/19

Driving to Yosemite. 9/18/19

Early morning in Yosemite. 9/18/19

Early morning in Yosemite from Olmsted Point. 9/18/19

Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite NP, 9/18/19

A chilly morning in Yosemite. Tenaya Lake is under the mist in the center. 9/18/19

That haze in the distance is dust in the wind. Mono Lake, CA 9/16/19

Tufas! Mono Lake, CA 9/16/19

Mono Lake, CA 9/16/19

A campground visitor. McGee Creek, CA 9/16/19

From Reno we continued south to Coleville, just south of the Nevada/California border to a very nice KOA located at the base of … a cliff? A bluff? Whatever, it provided a really nice view for our stay. We actually didn’t do much while we were here except to visit two lakes, one well known, one not so much.

The known one was Lake Tahoe — known for its beauty and for its recreation options. We can see why. We came in from the east through an easy pass and were immediately wowed by what we saw. Moving counter-clockwise around the lake we saw lots of beauty and then lots of people. Holy crap, the south end of the lake is jammed with hotels, tourists and all of the support businesses you would expect. It reminded me of Kissimmee, Florida, gateway to Disney World and (editorial hat on) one of the least attractive places I have spent time (editorial hat off). Leaving that mess behind us, we did a bit of the west side as far as Emerald Bay, snapping pictures and taking walks along the way.

Interesting side note: on the way home we took Rt 89 South across a very twisty-turny pass back to 395 and home. When I mentioned to the park owner that it was an … interesting ride, he got a strange look and told me that the locals don’t use that road but rather a newer one that is much easier, but not as well marked. Lesson learned: Talk routing with locals.

The second lake was Topaz Lake. Located right at the Nevada/California line, it is a very beautiful little lake with a nice-ish campground. No shade, but a few full hookup sites and really nice views.

Other than some nice walks along the base of the bluff, that’s about it. Another lovely stay along Rt 395.

Eastern California Moonrise, Coleville, CA. 9/11/19

Topaz Lake, 9/11/19

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, NV. 9/10/19

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, NV. 9/10/19

Cave Rock, Lake Tahoe, NV. 9/10/19

Lake Tahoe, NV. 9/10/19

Lake Tahoe, NV. 9/10/19

Abandoned, Coleville, CA. 9/13/19

Coleville, CA. 9/13/19

We reluctantly headed out of Bend and started our meander south with a goal of hitting Vegas by early October. We really liked Bend and will certainly return, but we need to keep moving. Our first stop is an interesting park located smack in the middle of a working ranch. Seriously, we were in the middle of nowhere surrounded by cattle, coyotes and lots of birds. We spent two nights there and did a lot of nothing. We took several walks, I shot some mediocre photos, and we generally just relaxed. Very nice.

From there we started down US Highway 395 which we will stay on the length of California. We spent a week at a golf resort in Likely, California. And by golf resort I mean a pleasant little course surrounded by lots of nothing that had an RV park in the middle. (We were held up by a cattle drive taking place down the middle of the road into the park. Cowboys!) One of the attractions of the place, beyond providing the opportunity to frustrate yourself by whacking a tiny white ball with expensive sticks, is the darkness of the sky at night. You know they’re serious about this when you notice that the date of the new moon is listed each month on their events calendar. They even have pads set up with power provided to support folks with their telescopes. I made my first stabs at night photography by taking some shots of the Milky Way and a “Star Trail” shot of the Northern sky. They came out OK. More to come on that front.

After some walks to waterfalls and around lakes we headed on down 395 for some more adventures. They just keep coming.

My first ever Milky Way shot. Likely, CA 8/28/19

And my first ever Star Trails shot. Likely, CA 8/30/19

Blue Lake near Likely, CA 9/1/19

Mill Creek Falls near Likely, CA 9/1/19

After our short but beautiful trip to Crater Lake, we headed back up to Bend. We stayed at the Expo Fairgrounds, which proved to be a nice base to continue to explore the area. The first place we went was Smith Rock State Park, a crazy pretty small park just up the street that is very popular with climbers. We can see why. While there we saw several different parties climbing the face and one group training/teaching. A real gem near Redmond, OR. I spoke with a local photographer who tipped me off as to where to set up for a great sunset photo. Maybe next time.

We also drove up into the mountains to the Dee Wright Observatory at the summit of McKenzie Pass. This place is smack in the middle of a desolate lava field and is just surreal. It seems like we’ve been surrounded by lava and other signs of volcanic activity for weeks. Probably because we have been.

Barrel racing at the Expo one night was fun to stumble across. I’d never seen this live before and it was a lot of fun. Lots of families watching their daughters ride. It was just like soccer, little league, hockey league, etc…except with horses. And more expensive. I loved it.

We really liked the Bend area and could have spent more time there. This refrain has been repeated several times in our travels so far and I’ll say it again: we’ll be back. Sorry, Arnold.

Smith Rock State Park. 8/21/19

Climbing the wall. Smith Rock State Park. 8/21/19

Practice, practice, practice. Smith Rock State Park. 8/21/19

Horses! Barrels! Fun! Deschutes Fairgrounds. 8/22/19

Horses! Barrels! Fun! Deschutes Fairgrounds. 8/22/19

Dee Wright Observatory 8/23/19

The view of the Sisters from McKenzie Pass. 8/23/19

View over the city of Bend 8/24/19

The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge 8/5/19

I’ve never been to Oregon, although from what I’ve heard, read and seen in movies/TV I’d always thought that I’d like it. My impression was one of lush, green mountainsides with running water, decaying huge trees and wildlife running around everywhere. What we got was either flattish desert or dry high country with beautiful canyon drives and walks through huge ponderosa pines.

We stayed a week in Burns, which is about the midway point between Boise and Bend. It’s really the only point between those locations and a week was a bit much, even for slow movers like us. We explored south into the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and north into the Malheur National Forest. Walked through the woods, looked at more lava fields, even took a nice soak in some hot springs. Mostly we took it easy (hey, it’s allowed) and then moved on to Bend.

We had a busy four days in Bend. The two big things of interest were our visit to Tumalo Falls and our drive on the Cascade Lake Scenic Byway. The drive was very nice. We took the ski lift to the top of Mt. Bachelor, drove as far as Elk Lake (after receiving assurances from a nice ranger that we would see the prettiest spots if we drove that far), and took a beautiful walk circumnavigating Todd Lake. While on that walk we built up our karma by finding car keys in the grass on the far side of the lake. We rescued them and pretty easily found the owner. She would have had serious issues if they hadn’t been found as there was no cell signal and we were a long way from anywhere. Our good deed of the day.

We really liked the Bend area. Which is a good thing, since we’ll be back for a week’s stay.

PS: On the drive from Burns to Bend we picked up four chips in our windshield from flying stones. I mentioned this to a random guy in a rest stop and he told me he picked one up too. He was pissed. He’d had his windshield replaced a week earlier. So it goes.

This fellow said good morning to me on my morning walks. Burns, OR 8/5/19

Tumalo Falls 8/12/19

The South Sister with the Middle and North Sisters in the background. They are known as The Sisters or The Three Sisters. 8/13/19

View from Mt. Bachelor 8/13/19

Mt. Bachelor and Todd Lake. This is just about where we found the keys. 8/13/19

Broken Top Mountain 8/13/19

Moccasin Island Tract, Brevard County, FL, 2/9/13

Ready to go.
Moccasin Island Tract, Brevard County, FL, 2/9/13

Since the “Cardiac Event”, almost a year ago, I have been trying to get more exercise into my life. As soon as I felt healed enough, Patti and I went out and bought a couple of nice hybrid bikes. I’ve been attempting to get out several times a week and get some miles under my belt, but last weekend we decided that we’d go out to the Moccasin Island Tract out in the flats near the St. Johns River. (Aside: understand that the term “Flats” is totally redundant in an area where the largest elevation change we are likely to experience are the causeways going over the lagoon between our house and the beach.) So we threw the bikes on the back of the truck and headed out. Things started out well. It was a windy day but not a problem as we followed the track. We were following a GPS track that a local guy had posted with the comment that it was frequented by hikers and bikers. This turned out to be partly true. This was major cattle country located in the vast St. Johns floodplain, wide open and exposed. We would never think of coming out here in the summer due to bugs and, more importantly, the oppressive heat of a Florida summer. Now, in early February, it was totally comfortable in shorts and t-shirts. And, yes, we were thinking of our family members in less hospitable climates. A little.

Moccasin Island Tract, Brevard County, FL, 2/9/13

Where we shouldn’t be.
Moccasin Island Tract, Brevard County, FL, 2/9/13

After a few miles we came to a bridge over a canal where, according to the track, we were to hang a left alongside the southern bank of the canal and head west to the river and a view of Moccasin Island. Again, no problem. We had to dodge some souvenirs left by the cattle, not always successfully, and the track was narrower and bumpier than before, but it was still pretty (in a flat, grassy, open kinda way) and we were trucking along. The track finally hung a left for the last bit towards the river, got very narrow in a field of tall grass, and then disappeared. We were close enough to walk out of the grass to the river, but we soon picked up the bikes and got out of there. (I didn’t mention the snake that slipped across the path as we walked back to the bikes.) Sounds easy, but getting a bike started when you’re in grass over your waist is a non-trivial activity. Once out, we discovered that a) the wind had picked up, with gusts well over 20mph, and b) we would be heading into it for the entire trip back. Despite these minor obstacles we had a really good time. We got outdoors, got some exercise, saw some niceness and learned some lessons. We’ll go back there soon, but this time we’ll look a bit farther ahead and not blindly follow in someone else’s footsteps. Addendum from the other half: John got much closer to the river due to the fact that he was able to pedal through the ass-high grass, whereas I just … stopped. No going forward for me. And when we turned around to go back, we were directly into the 20 mph wind. I walked the bike through the tall grass until we reached the slightly shorter grass and the rut that served as a track appeared and I could successfully pedal without falling over like some Monty Python skit. I’m such a weakling. When we got back to the gate, we saw a small group of cyclists heading down a much nicer path on the other side of the canal. We’ll follow those footsteps next time we go out there. Meanwhile, my legs need some time to get over this assault – uh – exercise.

We went down the left side of the canal. Moccasin Island Tract, Brevard County, FL, 2/9/13

We went down the left side of the canal.
Moccasin Island Tract, Brevard County, FL, 2/9/13

Road HazardMoccasin Island Tract, Brevard County, FL, 2/9/13

Road Hazard
Moccasin Island Tract, Brevard County, FL, 2/9/13