12 - A VERY long day. We decided to hit Las Vegas, after our grueling 4000 foot
ascent to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We arrived in Las Vegas just after
dark. What can I say about, Las Vegas, city of sin? Cheese factor 10!
Enough neon, casinos, sex shops, and "instant" wedding chapels to make the head
spin. The rig was our biggest problem in the town. Needing a clearance of 10
feet, we couldn't find a deck where our bikes wouldn't turn into minced metal.
Eventually, we found some outer high clearance lots for RVs and trucks at the
Mirage. Even came with a security guard and a shuttle to the hotel/casino. I
guess these places make so much money on the lost hopes of millions of people, they can
afford to give us low budget visitors a shuttle from the outer "high clearance
We hit Caesar's Palace shops and watched the utterly bad "show" in
the middle of the shops. We wandered outside and watched the Mirage volcano erupt
(kinda neat actually if you like fireworks and lighting). We gambled at least $20
between each of us. Lady Luck was actually with Cathy that evening. She spend
$5 on a slot machine and came out with $10. Of course, we then immediately spent all
her winnings on arcade games, but at least, for me, those were more entertaining.
Then, she proceeded to win a "guess my age" game and win yet another
prize. Ahhh a fun filled night in Las Vegas. An interesting town... I'd
certainly never go out of my way to go to Las Vegas, but if I end up there again, remind
me to bring a friend who knows how to gamble at the card tables. They looked a heck
of a lot more interesting than the slot machines... but... as with everything in Las
Vegas, looks can be deceiving.
We left Las Vegas around midnight and traveled into the Mojave National
Preserve and collapsed into the back of the truck along a desert-ed road around 2 AM.
We had woken at 5:30 AM, 4000 feet below the rim of the Grand Canyon! Very
very long day...
Ahhh.. the Mojave. Talk about middle of nowhere! If you want to get
lost in a desert this would probably be a great place. I was surprised to learn that
it was actually administered by the Department of the Interior (same as the National Park
Service). Hence, the concentration is apparently on preservation instead of
conservation. I think most of it is accessible by vehicle, but some of the desert
mountains make it worth a visit. Probably a great place to find some solitude.
We nearly ran out of gas trying to get to the other side of it.
July 13 - 14 - Joshua Tree is probably one
of my favorite parks. Named after the Joshua Tree, which graces the landscape in
many areas of the park, this desert park is a wonder. Fantastic rocks, beautiful
desert oasises, old growth Joshua Tree forests, wonderful desert mountains and views to
match. When you are at a peak in Joshua Tree and you see a "thick" Joshua
Tree forest below, it sure feels like you are in some other country... like Africa on the
Serengeti... looking down on the vast plains below. Joshua Trees are neat plants.
They are a member of the yucca family of plants (found nearly all over the
country), but actually form a tree. At the end of each branch grows a small yucca
like plant from where the trunk and the branches of the tree grow. Really unusual,
but amazing looking trees. Aside from fantastic desert hiking, Joshua Tree also
draws climbers from all over to climb some of the magnificent granite rock formations.
Due to lack of sleep, we opted to see JTree by car the first day. I had
lots of web updating to take care of too. So we drove out to Keys View, and watched
mother nature put on a heck of a show. Clouds allowed shimmering rays of light to
pierce through to the ground below while it rained on and off. Meanwhile, I typed
away. It was a much needed break from the intense physical activity of the previous
days. The following morning, Cathy spent time catching up on her writing while I
hiked out to an oasis near the South Entrance of the park.
Next, we drove past the wind farms towards the smog and megalopolis known as
Los Angeles. Both of us had friends and relatives to stay with in The Valley (I
think the official name is San Fernando Valley). I had some business to take care of
(my car was overdue for oil change and service), but the rest of the time was spent with
my friend Adam. I was actually born in Los Angeles ("surf's up dude!"),
and although I can't remember it at all, my parents became great friends with a few
families who still live in the area including Adam's family. Adam was born about the
same time I was and he ended up in Atlanta to attend Emory Law School. During that
time, our family got to know the now fully grown Adam. Adam showed me around Los
Angeles and we had a great 24 hours. I picked up Cathy and we were off to Yosemite.
(Check out the Joshua Trees behind the Coyote!)
Joshua Tree, Keys View, and Incredible Clouds!
Adam, myself, and Scott
July 15-21 - Yosemite... considered by
many to be one of the grandest National Parks. Yosemite had some of the most amazing
waterfalls I've ever seen. Some of the glacially carved valleys drop off a sheer
600 feet on their descent into tourist packed Yosemite Valley. The valley's streams
create huge waterfalls which leave all visitors slack jawed. From overlooks such as
Glacier Point, you might see as many as three of the fantastic waterfalls pouring into
Yosemite Valley or the tributaries. The size isn't the most amazing thing about the
waterfalls, but some of them truly seem to be alive. One moment to the next, they
always look different, swaying to and fro. And the lakes and streams are incredible
as well. I now know what they mean when they say "crystal clear mountain
water." You could see the bottom of most streams and lakes, and where the water
was deep enough, the water put off a beautiful blue hue. And I can't forget about
the huge hunks of granite known as Half Dome and El Capitan. They are hard to miss
and draw climbers from around the world. The valley is truly an amazing site...
regardless of the numbers of people you may encounter, this area of the park is a
must. Of course, if solitude and wilderness experience are your goals, you've got to
get out of the motels and restaurants in the valley and into the equally grand Yosemite
backcountry. Cathy and I had planned a 50 mile Yosemite backcountry excursion from
Glacier Point to Glacier Point via Ottoway Lake, Red Peak Pass, Washburn Lake, and the
We unfortunately began at dusk on our first night. This is in part due to
our lengthy preparation. Yosemite has a serious bear problem, meaning that we had to
stuff all of our food for 6 days into two relatively small bear canisters. Also, we
had to empty the rig of ALL food and any items that smelled and store all of this stuff
down in the valley, about 50 minutes out of our way from our trailhead. I remember
seeing a National Geographic Explorer episode on the bear problems at Yosemite.
These black bears can open your car like you open a can with a can opener, and Cathy and I
took no chances. I even lit an incense stick and locked the car up tight before we
left as the sun began to set. At this time, I discovered that Cathy does not like
night hiking... Cathy, while tripping down the trail, demanded that we camp at the first
semi-flat spot we saw. In the morning, we woke up to find out that we were on the
edge of a cliff. "Note to self: Cathy does not like night hiking."
On the other hand, this spot that Cathy picked had a fantastic view of Illouette
Falls. The following day, we hiked through mosquitoes as thick as gravy to get to
our next campsite near our trail turnoff to Red Peak Pass. The following morning, I
think Cathy had a hint of altitude sickness... I've definitely been there before and knew
how she felt. We took it extremely easy that day, hiking only 3 miles, but ended up
in a fantastic site on Lower Ottoway Lake. I even took a dip into the deep blue
waters. Not too bad for glacial melt! Next day, we hiked hundreds of
switchbacks up and down Red Peak Pass. I had hoped to summit Red Peak, but it looked
like you had to have rock climbing gear and a note from your mommy saying it was ok.
The views were unbelievable... and the only way to get to it was to hike out 25
miles. The hike up made us giddy due to the lack of oxygen. It was great fun!
And... we hadn't seen anyone for the past two days.
The next night was spent in a mosquito laden valley on the Triple Peak Fork
stream. It seems that the mosquitoes are out in force this time of year in the
8000-9000 foot elevation range. The lady who helped us in the ranger station said,
"Oh. It depends on what you define as 'bad'. But you're from Georgia.
I don't think you'll have a problem with mosquitoes." Hah! Now, I
haven't been down to the Okeefenokee in the dead of summer, but I can say with certainty
that I've never seen mosquitoes this bad in Atlanta or north. She must think Atlanta
is in some kind of swamp. We stayed in the tent until we decided to cook dinner.
I hate putting chemicals on my body, but was terribly thankful that Cathy had
brought the "poison" as she called it... otherwise known as DEET. DEET, as
much as I hate it, works, but I have seen it melt some types of plastic before. Evil
stuff! I wore a fleece jacked in 80 degree weather to avoid putting DEET on my arms,
but still covered my face with the evil stuff. The mosquitoes hovered, but didn't
bite. Remind me to bring a mosquito head net and a light long sleeve shirt next
Next morning, we were off to some beautiful lakes... The first one we hit was
Washburn Lake. Deserted and beautiful. That is... until a bunch of grumpy day
hikers came up from the Merced Lake High Sierra Camp. These camps are scattered
throughout the wilderness of Yosemite. People can hike into them with a light pack
containing only a sheet, towel, and a change of clothes. They have nice wall tents
with blankets, a store, showers, and a cafeteria... all run via solar panels and an
occasional mule train. It will cost you near $100 a night, but you have easy access
to some the fantastic scenery of the back country. Actually, I think it is fantastic
that people, who don't like to put 40 pounds on their back, can get out and see some of
this stuff. And for us backpackers, places like Red Peak Pass allow us to find the
solitude and wilderness experience we so crave.
Our last day was the big one. Fifteen miles with significant vertical
drops and gains. Significant populations of day hikers and significant views of the
valley, Half Dome, Nevada, Vernal, and Illouette falls. I wanted to take some side
trips... I wanted to get on top of Half Dome (via cable ladder) and I wanted to hike the
mist trail down from the top of Nevada, but these trips will have to wait for another
visit. We were appeased, however, by views of the valley and the falls. During
our last few miles, Cathy and I started getting giddy again thanks to the earlier 12 miles
or so... we started singing songs like Nine Inch Nail's "Hurt", by Trent
Reznor. The lyrics go something like: "I hurt myself today, to see if I
see feel. I focus on the pain, the only thing that's real." We decided
that Trent Reznor doesn't need a needle or heroine to feel pain. He seemly needs to
try hiking with 40 pounds on his back! Gettin' high on nature! Soon, we
arrived at Glacier Point in time for the sunset and kicked back to enjoy it. Suzy,
the Isuzu, waited patiently for us. We dropped back down into Curry Village in
Yosemite Valley... hit the showers after downing some pizza at the pizza stand... and
pizza never tasted so good! We were glad to fall asleep again in the relative
comfort of the rig. One thing about backpacking... It sure makes you appreciate the
simple stuff when you get back!
Our last day in Yosemite was lazily spent driving up to Toulome Meadows, eating
lunch, and heading off to the bay area to stay with friends. A well deserved lazy
day to end our stay in Yosemite.
Mariposa Grove in Yosemite
Sunset Near Upper Merced Pass
Lower Ottoway Lake
Upper Ottoway (out-of-the-way) Lakes
Deer near Glacier Point
Da Valley near Wanona Tunnel
Near Upper Merced Pass
It's hard bein' blue!
Cathy studies the map above Lower Ottoway Lake
GQ Pose at Red Peak Pass
Incredibly Clear Waters (see the fish?)
View from Glacier Point
July 21-24 - San Francisco/Silicon
Valley/Bay Area... We headed West once again to meet up with my old college buddy, Chris
and his girlfriend Leanne. Chris and Leanne live in the middle of the mountains
outside of San Jose near Boulder Creek and Big Basin State Park. I don't think I've
ever driven a curvier road. We had to pull over so Cathy didn't hurl in the
car. And just to think... Chris has to drive this road every day! We spent the
next two evenings with Chris and Leanne. I had a fantastic time catching up with
Chris and getting to know Leanne. We went out to eat, laughed about some of the
silliest things, saw the new South Park movie, and just had a wonderful time with
We started heading North again on the 23rd towards Napa Valley. On the
way, we hit Big Basin State Park to look at some of the big coastal redwoods...
they were nice, but I found our next stop, Muir Woods National Monument, more
impressive. The trees provide such a dense canopy, there's hardly enough light to
take a good photo at the bottom and the trees are incredible and huge. I think these
thick woods provided the forest used in Return of the Jedi where the Ewoks lived. It
is a beautiful forest... We only spent about 40 minutes there unfortunately before heading
Northeast to Napa and the Napa Valley.
We had a wonderful stay in Napa Valley's Best Western Room 000, AKA the parking
lot and awoke to another beautiful day. We then headed out to the valley to visit a
couple of vineyards and wineries. Our first stop was Frog's Leap, followed by ZD,
and Rutherford Hill. We did tastings at ZD and Rutherford Hill, but purchased wine
at all three stops. I know nothing about wine, but there was some tasty stuff... and
the whole scene was a lot less pretentious than I imagined. We walked into these
places, as skanky as we were, and were welcomed and accepted. After my tasting at
ZD, I was pretty toasty. We actually decided to wait a bit before hitting the road
again, even though Rutherford Hill was just up the road. If you are in Napa, I
recommend hitting Rutherford Hill. Lots of people visit this winery, but you can get
a free tour of the wine "cave", enjoy some wonderful views of the valley, and
purchase some of their famous, yummy Merlot. They also have nice shady picnic
areas. Cathy did her second tasting here, and I decided to hit the free tour.
It was actually pretty interesting. There is definitely an art to fine wine
making. And they actually hired someone to build them a cave for storing their wood
barrels where the wine is seasoned using different types of wood. The cave keeps
things cool and humid, and they don't spend hundreds of dollars on A/C... pretty
neat solution, but of course, the cave is totally fake. When I got back from the
tour, I found a drunk Cathy. (I found out a few days later that Cathy did yet
another tasting while I was on the tour.) It was pretty funny. We left the
valley after a lunch in their shady picnic areas and headed North to Mt. Shasta.
Mt. Shasta has a spiritual quality to it. So many tribes have
legends about Mt. Shasta. The only one I could remember was that some tribes believe
all life comes and returns to Mount Shasta. Even the picture I took from afar seems
to place the mountain aglow, making it stand out from the trees. Mount Shasta is
also volcanic and really was the first volcanic mountain we were to see... a part of the
Pacific Ring of Fire. In America, the ring is comprised of a huge subduction zone
where the Pacific Plate is slowly moving under the North American continental shelf.
What results is a bunch of beautiful volcanic mountains including Mount Shasta,
Crater Lake (previously known as Mount Mazama), Mount St. Helens, Mount Ranier, and some
of the North Cascades. We camped next to Mount Shasta where numerous climbers were
heading out and returning from their summit of Mount Shasta. To me, it actually
seemed somewhat disrespectful of the spiritual quality of the mountain. On the other
hand, I'm sure it would be fun to get out on top of that sucker with ice axes, crampons,
Rutherford Hill Winery Cave
Big Trees at Big Basin
Mt. Shasta Aglow
July 25-27 - The following morning, we
found ourselves driving North to Crater Lake in Oregon. I was kinda bummed
about leaving California so soon. I could easily spend 4 months in California and
our measly 15 days or so didn't do the state justice. I'll just have to return one
of these days.
Crater Lake is one of the most beautiful and unusual sites I think I'll ever
see. About 7700 years ago, Mount Mazama blew its top sending tons and tons of ash
into the atmosphere. 150 times more ash than Mount St. Helens! A huge caldera
was left in its place. (Hence the name Crater Lake is technically somewhat of a
misnomer. Caldera Lake might be a more fitting name.) As things cooled off, it
began to fill with silt free snow melt water. Now you get to see the result...
crystal clear waters that seem to glow an intense blue thanks to light refraction.
Volcanic activity after the eruption formed Wizard Island, where Crater Lake's namesake
crater caps the top of the mountain island. Phantom Ship, a rock island that looks
like a ship, disappears and re-appears depending on your viewing angle. Crater Lake
is truly a sight to behold.
Unfortunately, we were out of luck as far as hiking around the rim. The
whole Pacific Northwest got absolutely bombed with snow this season, and almost all of the
interesting trails around the rim were under snow. I did get a few hikes in at
Crater Lake, while Cathy nursed her hangover. The following day, we took a boat tour
of the lake which allowed us to get out onto Wizard Island and hike up to the
crater. It was a nice hike, but we had completed our hike around 1:30 PM. We
then either had to swim in the freezing cold snowmelt waters back to the rim or wait until
5:30 PM to catch a boat back to the rim as all other boats were full. We opted for
the boat. This kinda blew our plans for getting up to Mt. Saint Helens early the
following day. Would have been nice if they had mentioned this fact when we bought
Ahh... Oregon... yet another state we probably could spend four months in
alone. Two days definitely was NOT enough. We didn't even get to see Mount
Hood. However, one thing about the Pacific Northwest that I've noticed, and I guess
many others have noticed as well. They are not shy about logging these woods up
here. Big signs show when things were planted (and therefore when they were
clear-cut as well) and when they "thinned the numbers." I guess this
country has to get its wood from somewhere. I can't complain too much. I'm
sure I'll probably live in a house made of wood one of these days!
After a restless night parked at a truck stop, we headed out to Mount St.
Helens. "Wow" is about all I can say about this area. The power of
Mother Nature is definitely evident here. I was only about 6 years old when Mount
St. Helens erupted in 1980, but even today, I remember people talking about it.
Exhibits at the visitors centers filled in the gaps. A bulge on the mountain began
to form prior to the eruption. This "bulge" grew at 5 feet per day until
she erupted! Earthquakes shook the earth to warn those around. The eruption
was so powerful, it sent ash a mile high into the sky. The landscape was so
radically changed so quickly, rescue helicopters flying over afterwards couldn't recognize
a single landmark. The massive power of this eruption is still evident. Many
areas immediately surrounding the volcano are still devastated, covered with pumice and
ash. Areas a few miles away are recovering nicely. It was an amazing sight to
see, and she was still venting steam. We didn't have much time to go hiking...
Seattle was calling... but power of Mount St. Helens sure makes one feel
insignificant. I wouldn't miss it if you are ever in the area.
180º Panorama of Crater Lake from Wizard Island
The Phantom Ship
I'm so mad, I could blow my top!
Wizard Island among the blue waters of Crater Lake
Mt. St. Helens
Twenty years and area is still devastated
Cathy Pondering Life at Mt. Saint Helens