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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

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

We had made reservations in Reno for a few reasons. One was to (finally) get one of our levelers replaced at an RV shop that had fit us into their schedule. Maybe we’d also see a show, go to a museum, explore the area, whatever. Then we discovered that the weekend that we were there was the Reno Balloon Festival. Balloons!

The day before the festival officially started we went to the launch location and did a bit of a walkabout. I spoke to a volunteer trying to find a good location to see the early morning launch without having to deal with the large crowds that were expected. He pointed out a neighborhood that looked down on the site that had a nice road to park on. We checked it out and it looked too good to be true. Easy access, easy parking. What the hell, we’ll give it a try.

We decided that the sunrise launch was a bit early for us, so we planned on getting up at the crack of dawn in order to get to the site before 6:30 (7:00-7:30 mass launch). As we left the park, Patti saw the “Dawn Patrol” in the air: still dark out and there were 5 or 6 lit up balloons in the air. It was surreal and only the beginning.

We arrived at the viewing location and there was plenty of room. It was also fantastic. Looking down on the field with more than 60 hot air balloons spread out on the ground was pretty cool. We watched them fill their envelopes with hot air and start rising in twos and threes until the sky was filled with them going in many directions. Many came right over our heads and landed beyond the small hill behind us with the tops of the balloons just peeking over the rise. Several landed right in front of us. And the sight of all of those balloons at about our altitude was mind-blowing. Crazy. An experience we’ll always remember. And totally worth setting the alarm for 4 AM. By 10 AM we had gotten breakfast and were back at the RV having had a full day’s worth of memories.

Oh yeah, while in Reno we also went to Virginia City. Saw camels. Drank a beer over lunch. Just another day on the road.

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Reno, NV Balloon Festival 9/6/19

Camels! The camel races were taking place while we were there. Virginia City, NV 9/7/19

 

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

From Ennis we drove out of the lush Madison Valley and into the quite different landscape of the Idaho high desert to Arco. This area has two claims to fame, one natural and one very definitely manmade. The natural one is the surreal and starkly beautiful landscape that makes up the Craters of the Moon National Monument. Summer had finally arrived in full force which limited the time we were comfortable wandering around this crazy landscape but we returned several times in order to fully appreciate the forces that created this harsh environment. It really is other-worldly. Lava tubes, cinder cones, spatter cones; we learned about and saw them all. We walked/crawled through a lava tube “cave” and climbed to the top of a huge cinder cone. This place is unlike any other we’ve been to. Well worth the trip (and a strong NASA connection, too).

Rising from the desert, a conning tower. Arco, ID 7/24/19

The second claim to fame in the area is atomic power. The large, and frankly mysterious, Idaho National Lab is just down the road. While it’s not exactly in the middle of nowhere, you can see it from there. Among other things, this is where the world’s first breeder reactor was brought on-line. Arco, Idaho is the first town to be totally powered by atomic energy. And this is where the technology, processes, and procedures were created to power the Navy’s submarines with nuclear reactors, thus explaining the conning tower rising out of the ground as you enter town. It’s more than a little strange.

We took some nice drives, toured the Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 (EHB-1), ate some good ribs and smoked baked potatoes, and generally enjoyed our time in Arco. Especially when Patti was able to enjoy horses right outside our window. Simple pleasures.

The view out our window. Arco, ID 7/22/19

The Big Southern Butte viewed from the Experimental Breeder Reactor-1 (EHB-1) 7/24/19

Simulated spent nuclear rods art the EHB-1. I was surprised at how small they were. 7/27/19

The moon peaking over the lip of a lava tube. Craters of the Moon National Monument 7/25/19

A cinder cone across a desolate landscape of lava. Craters of the Moon National Monument 7/25/19

More desolation with the Big Southern Butte in the distance. Craters of the Moon National Monument 7/25/19

The huge cinder cone. Craters of the Moon National Monument 7/23/19

View from the top of the cone. Craters of the Moon National Monument 7/25/19

Nature. Just…nature. Craters of the Moon National Monument 7/25/19

Snow in the bottom of a splatter cone, creating some needed coolness. Craters of the Moon National Monument 7/23/19

 

We eased our way out of Montana with a stay in Ennis, located in the heart of the Madison River Valley and, apparently, Mecca for fly fisherman. If you could see the river the odds were good that you could also see fishermen. We’re not into fishing, but we had no trouble keeping busy in this gorgeous place. Among other things, we toured a lake created by an earthquake in 1959 (this story should be made into a movie…check it out here), visited the touristy “ghost town” of Virginia City, took a lengthy and very interesting tour of the region with our nephew, drove up a canyon to see a “real” ghost town, hung out in a hot spring, and sat in the front of the coach and watched the colors change on the Madison Mountains.

We had a good time. Here are lots of pictures.

The rock slide on the opposite face cut across the valley and more than 400′ up the other side. It blocked the Madison and created Earthquake Lake. 7/16/19

This boulder surfed down the mountain, across the valley, and up the other side. Without rolling. Earthquake Lake 7/16/19

A drowned cabin. Earthquake Lake 7/19/19

Structures at the “Smugglersville” ghost town. 7/18/19

Structures at the “Smugglersville” ghost town. 7/18/19

The mine in “Smugglersville” 7/18/19

The Explosives Shed in “Smugglersville” 7/18/19

Ennis Lake 7/20/19

Ennis Lake 7/20/19

Ennis Lake 7/20/19

The Madison River Valley 7/20/19

This post will be short on words, long on pictures. We saw a bunch of animals while in the park which is as expected. With only a 200mm lens I didn’t have the reach to even get a shot at many of them (I’m looking at you, wolf) and many that I did get from extreme distance don’t make for compelling photos (mama and baby bighorns, several bears, etc.). Others I got so many excellent shots that it’s hard to whittle them down. I captured so many of the coyote that virtually walked right up to me that it is truly difficult to choose. I should always have such problems.

This elk was just hanging out to welcome me on my first morning walk into the park. Yellowstone NP 6/17/19

And this elk stopped by for dinner. Taken from the front seat of the RV. Gardiner, MT 6/21/19

Mama and baby Griz. I could have used a longer lens since this was about as close as this city boy was going to get. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

Fun fact: both male and female bison have horns. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

Fun fact #2: the baby bison are called “Red Dogs”. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

Getting side eye from a bison was a new experience. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

This was NOT taken with a long lens. I thought I was going to get up close and personal with this coyote. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19

Looking for lunch. Yellowstone NP 6/20/19