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Posts from the ‘National Parks’ Category

Glen Aulin High Sierra Trail

The Glen Aulin trail leads to one of five High Sierra Campgrounds in the backcountry of Yosemite National Park.  Starting  from the east end of Tuolumne Meadows the trail follows the Tuolumne River downstream to the Glen Aulin campsite.

Just over 13 miles round-trip, the path starts next to small, colorful pools known as Soda Springs, before winding through rolling woodlands as the Tuolumne River winds across meadows, providing spectacular high country views.  Quickly, the trail transforms to a boulder-strewn granite slope, forming river falls, cascades and deep, clear pools, as the terrain on most sides becomes steep and mountainous.

The views are awesome.

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Tuolumne Meadows – Yosemite National Park

Last week Kelly and I spent a few days camping at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, our second visit to this wonder nestled in California’s Sierra Nevada’s Mountain range.

Our spot 37A

Our spot A36

Open only during the summer and fall, the Tuolumne Meadows area is far less crowded than the very popular Yosemite Valley.  With fewer people come fewer amenities, resulting in a more rustic camp setting.

Tuolumne River next to our site

Tuolumne River next to our site

Tuolumne River, Lambert Dome in the distance

Tuolumne River, Lambert Dome in the distance

Dave / Kelly selfie at Tuolumne River

Dave / Kelly selfie at Tuolumne River

For the first few days we would be camping alongside fellow Airstreamers Advodna, before being joined by Kelly’s brother.  Having never camped with the Advodna crew, it was nice to spend a couple of days with them. With two small children in the mix, there were no epic hikes with them, but we did spend time relaxing at the campsite, walking dogs, sharing good eats (and beer).

My little pal, Advodna Wynne

My little pal, Advodna Wynne

Of course, the real catalyst for our visit to Yosemite was to spend some time hiking trails in a mountain setting.  Living steps from the ocean is fantastic for sure, but Kelly and I love the mountains and were excited to be at altitudes in between seven and ten thousand feet.  Once Kelly’s brother arrived, the hiking began in earnest and Yosemite in Autumn does not disappoint.

Chris, headed towards Dog Lake

Chris, headed towards Dog Lake

Kelly, Chris, and me wishing we had Kayaks

Kelly, Chris, and me at Dog Lake wishing we had Kayaks

Overlooking Tuolumne Meadow from the top of Lambert Dome

Overlooking Tuolumne Meadow from the top of Lambert Dome

Early morning frost at Tuolumne Meadow

Early morning frost at Tuolumne Meadow

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Ellery Lake

Tioga Pass as sunrise

Tioga Pass as sunrise

Avoiding Groundhog Day

A year ago Kelly and I completed our longest tow day ever – 11 hours on the road only to go nowhere.  I’ve detailed events of that fiasco previously, but suffice it to say, I do not advise towing a fully provisioned trailer along a very crowded HW1 on the 4th of July, especially without a campground reservation securely in hand.

Determined not to make that same mistake this year, Kelly and I finalized holiday weekend reservations at Pinnacles National Park well in advance.  This would be our second visit to America’s newest national park and our plan was to spend a few relaxing days hiking the trails we didn’t complete during our visit last fall.

Knowing the weather would likely be hot, our plan was to be on the trail by 7am each morning in order to be back at the trailer a few hours later, before temperatures rose to triple digits.  Just as planned, the following morning we arrived to the trailhead around 8:30am.

Bathroom at the trailhead

Bathroom at the trailhead

I’d categorize the first trail as ‘ok’.  The trail took us through rolling sections of tree cover and skirted some cool ravine areas before arriving to sketchy  stairs carved into a rock face leading to a giant reservoir … which as far as I could tell, was inhabited mostly by snakes, frogs, and turtles.  But mostly, the trail lacked in ‘wow’ factor.  Perhaps I’m starting to become spoiled with the abundance of ‘wow’ scenery in California, but for me, this hike – while certainly pleasant, wasn’t the best I’ve seen, nor the best the park has to offer.

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Headed over there somewhere

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Kelly pauses for a look

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climbing up towards the reservoir

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Reservoir low on water – another victim of the severe drought conditions

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Lots of snakes relaxing under the warm sun

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Pinnacle rock formations

Day 2 started off a bit better – that is to say we arrived to the trailhead by 8am, but still sufficiently late for our 7am target (hey, it’s vacation, cut us some slack please).  Anyway, our plan was to complete one of the larger loops which would take us to what one park ranger referred to as the “money shot” section of the park.  Having seen the western side of the park during our last visit, I concur with the spirit of his comment – the area is stunningly beautiful, but I would prefer that ranges refrain from describing anything as being a money shot when conversing with me.

The weather seemed to be warmer than the day prior, and with no cloud-cover in sight, we knew to expect high temperatures for much of this unshaded hike.  However, before we would face any of the high heat, we first had to navigate through one of the park’s three caves.  Technically, these are not caves per se, rather  hundreds … perhaps thousands of boulders which have toppled onto themselves, creating a cave-like effect.  The result is a section of trail that is completely dark, damp, and very cool (temperature-wise).  Oh, and a lot of fun.

The park literature and signage approaching all of the park’s caves strongly advise the usage of a headlight(s).  Myself, I cannot imagine attempting to navigate the caves without lighting, but I’m sure some dumb-ass has tried.

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Approaching the cave

Just inside the cave, looking back towards the entrance

Just inside the cave, looking back towards the entrance

The picture below was taken using a flash, but trust me, it’s absolutely dark in these caves.  Note the guide arrow (pointing to the right) above Kelly’s left hand.  Also, check out the size of the boulders – they are  huge!

Kelly, cautiously making her way forward

Kelly, cautiously making her way forward

Dave descending into the 2nd set of caves

Dave descending into the 2nd set of caves

Once through the cave section, the trail winds through a series of giant boulders and other rock faces before opening onto an expansive meadow.  We then connected to a trail that winds atop some of the higher points (2500-ish feet) of the park, affording fantastic views.  Total hike was about 8.5 miles.  July isn’t the best time to visit – it’s crazy hot, dry, and much of the plant life is burnt to a crisp.  With better planning on our part, I would expect springtime to be glorious … wild flowers blooming everywhere.

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BIG rocks wedged everywhere

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Transitioning from caves to meadows

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More pinnacles as we hike towards the highpoint of the trail

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Not long after we returned to the trailer, the air conditioning failed.  Quickly, the inside temperatures of the Airstream soared to a sweltering state, but we managed to make the best of the situation … including Kelly’s usage of an ice pack to cool her aching head.

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Turns out that the failed AC was caused by a tripped GFCI bathroom breaker … probably due to heavy load.  Foolishly, I failed to consider this simple fact as part of my troubleshooting, so we had no choice but to sweat it out with many others for hours until the temps broke.  Fortunately, I did notice GFCI after work today (Monday), which was easily reset with the push a button.

So it turns out the misery you see in the photo above could have easily been avoided had I noticed tripped outlet.  Sorry Kelly.

 

Time is Flying

Home from Lake Mead for a full week, I’m inexcusably late in this post … which at this point seems excessively post factum.   Nevertheless, I feel a sense of obligation to draft some thoughts, if nothing else, to keep my mom abreast of our holiday travels to the desert.

Typical desert sunset during our visit

Typical desert sunset during our visit

As mentioned in my last post, Kelly and I ventured to Lake Mead Recreation Area chiefly to spend the holiday week in the Las Vegas desert with a few of our Airstreaming pals.  The front half of the week, while not particularly eventful, was great.  Working remotely, just like working from my allegedly hip Silicon Valley office, is still a drab corporate gig, but the change of scenery and evening meals chatting with our well-traveled friends made for a welcome change of pace.

Remnants of damn good vegan brownies

Remnants of damn good vegan brownies

Thanksgiving Day morning Kelly and I took a hike along the historic Railroad Tunnel Trail.  Built in 1931 for the purpose of transporting materials and equipment necessary to construct the Hoover Dam, today the trail is frequented mostly for recreation purposes (and on this day a Turkey Trot 5k & 8 mile race).

Approaching one of the five tunnels

Approaching one of the five tunnels

Wooden beams support the entrance from further destruction

Wooden beams support the entrance from further destruction

Inside one of the tunnels

Dressed as if it were winter, Kelly inspects the wall; another tunnel in the background

Overlooking the lake

Overlooking Lake Mead below

Thanksgiving dinner was hosted in proper fashion at a decidedly welcoming home, complete with all the usual fixings.  More, as there were three vegans in the house, the menu offerings had been interestingly expanded to accommodate the plant based eaters amongst us.  Suffice it to say, the meal and all-around good company made for a fantastic gathering.

Also, as evidenced within this photo, I had an opportunity to display swordsman-like carving skills.

In dire need to shed our gluttonous post T-Day meal fog, our desert gang went for a hike through a maze of slot canyons not too far our campgrounds.  Sufficiently in the middle of nowhere, and mostly accessible with high-clearance vehicles (less one overly ambitious Prius driver), these were spectacular hiking grounds, and nowhere I would want to find myself in need of a quick ambulance rescue.

A bit of scrambling required

A bit of scrambling required

Swiftly navigating the wash, Titanium Ranger and his mistress pushing the pace

Leigh finds a sliver of slot canyon sun

Leigh attempts to find her zen in a sliver of slot canyon sun

Lingering, post hike

Lingering post hike

Before we knew it, a few days accumulated themselves into a full week and sadly, it was time to leave this wonderful place and our good company behind.

Fortunately, our retreat to HMB is limited.  In two weeks we’ll hitch the Airstream and once again travel to the lovely southwest desert – this time our destination being Arizona.  Celebrating Christmas with Kelly’s family and rolling into 2014 someplace not yet determined, she and I will undoubtedly be contemplating how is it that another year has passed so quickly.

Anticipating Good Times At Lake Mead

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Our spot in the clearing

Yesterday Kelly and I arrived to Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and once again we find ourselves visiting a national park.  It appears that our woes with the recent government shutdown are now a fading memory, as this time, we were welcomed to these government lands with open arms.

Our good pals and fellow Airstreaming couples Tim & Amanda and Brian & Leigh who live, work, and travel full-time in their respective homes on wheels are also here.  Seeking warmer winter temperatures found closer to the 35th latitude this time of year, both couples have retreated to the desert southwest for the winter and graciously invited Kelly and me down for the week to join them.

Despite our location being essentially in the middle of nowhere, Lake Mead offers its visitors an incredibly hospitable desert camping experience.  With its relatively close proximity to the other city that never sleeps,  this location affords us certain ‘roughing-it’  luxuries such as super fast broadband internet, a handful of over-the-air digital HD television channels, and as of mid-day today, clear ocean-blue skies to warm the air and pump plenty of sun-rays into our solar panels.

The invite definitely seemed like a good opportunity to spend a few days working remotely before enjoying the long Thanksgiving weekend with friends.  Suffice it to say, we quickly accepted.

A bit tired from the long drive and with rain in the air, we mostly hung out yesterday, but today took advantage of the great weather with a few hours of hiking followed by an potluck dinner at our trailer.

We love hanging-out with these guys and are looking forward to a very promising, food-filled, few days.

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Late morning stroll to the water

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Hiking the trail

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More hiking

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Our home for the week

No Zion For You

A week ago Kelly and I departed for Zion National Park hoping to spend a week with her family hiking the trails, enjoying the sights, and generally appreciating the natural wonders of the area.

Of course we knew all about the government shut down and how in all likelihood, the park would be closed.  Despite this probability, with cautious optimism Kelly and I set GPS coordinates to the park and began our two-day journey.  Unfortunately, the grid-lock in Washington continues and we were not able to visit Zion as we had intended.

Also impacted were Kelly’s brother and his girlfriend (who drove down from Boise, ID) and Kelly’s Dad and his wife (who drove up from Phoenix).  Suddenly, all six of us were wondering what plans to make as an alternative.

Fortunately, anticipating the on-going park closure, Kelly found a very suitable Plan-B … the solution being Sand Hollow State Park, just outside of St. George, Utah.  While no Zion National Park, the location was quite nice actually, and we all made the best of an otherwise pretty shitty situation, especially since this trip was also about spending some time with Kelly’s family.

Our Site overlooking the lake

Our site overlooking the lake

Looking out at the other campsites

Looking out at the other campsites

Sand Hollow State Park offers a fair bit of recreational opportunity for those who seek it – we saw lots of off-road ATV’s and also some over the top dune buggy vehicles.  Additionally, there is a lot of fishing activity on the lake.

Not interested in any of these activities, we sought out hikes and also made the quick drive to Zion National Park.

Kelly’s brother and his girlfriend joined Kelly and me for a hike through some of the public lands surrounding St. George.  This area is a haven for mountain bikers and hikers alike … and it’s easy to understand why.  The geography of the area is wicked-cool and the views are not too shabby.  A variety of slick rock, single trail, and fire roads provide hours of exploration for anyone seeking as much.

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Slick-rock everywhere

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Views from the trail

Pausing for lunch

Pausing for lunch

Once Kelly’s father and his wife arrived, we all went to visit Zion.  Highway-9 is the primary east/west road through Zion National Park and remains open during the shutdown.  Park Rangers (who I’m guessing are not receiving any pay) quickly brief everyone and explain the rules – chiefly – that no one is to stop and/or exit their vehicle.

Entering Zion National Park

Entering Zion National Park

Mountain goat relaxing above

Mountain goat relaxing above

The park was eerily quiet.  What I’m guessing is an otherwise bustling area was nearly devoid of anyone.  It was odd to see a marquee park such as Zion so empty.   Driving the highway was pretty spectacular, but I know from experience that the real beauty of the parks such as this reside far from the main roads.  At one point, we noticed that Kelly’s dad was sleeping .. perhaps unimpressed by the scenery – or more likely, tired from the long drive from Phoenix, Gene assumed full-on nap mode.

Tired or bored?

Tired or bored?

As for me, I found that driving through the park simply is not sufficient.  Kelly and I will definitely need to schedule another visit sometime.

Back at the campground, Kelly’s dad – fully refreshed from his nap, assumed dog duty before receiving the box of stray gold balls Kelly and I have been collecting for him.  Living next to and walking Lilly along a golf course provides ample opportunity to gather otherwise forgotten balls.

Kelly's dad - perhaps momentarily overwhelmed.

Kelly’s dad – perhaps momentarily overwhelmed.

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All in all, the government shutdown proved to be on only a minor hassle.  Lot’s of people are far worse-off than any of us in our little family gathering, so despite our disappointment to come all this way and miss Zion, things could be far worse for me/us and I continue to remind myself of that.

Thursday morning we all packed our bags and departed.  Kelly and I relocated to Nevada for a few days before beginning our drive home.

Sand Hollow State Park

Sand Hollow State Park

Note:  for those that might care … AT&T voice and (4G) data signals available at the park can easily accommodate remote working.  Conversely, my Verizon MiFi really struggled to carry a decent data signal, even under amplifier boost.

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park

Entering the park

Taking advantage of last weekend’s three-day weekend, Kelly and I spent a few days at Pinnacles National Park.  Formerly designated as a national monument, Pinnacles attained national park status only a few months ago and is the country’s newest national.  As compared to other national parks we’ve visited, Pinnacles is tiny, but located only 2.5 hours from our base in HMB, the location is hard to beat.

The park was originally a giant volcano situated about 200 miles to the southeast – near what is now Los Angeles.  Estimated to be 15 miles long and 8,000 feet high, it was a big one.  Unfortunately for the volcano, it was sitting atop the famously destructive San Andreas fault.  Major earthquakes  split the volcano, carrying two-thirds of the mountain up the coast to where is sits currently.  Add 23 million years of wind, rain, and ice erosion into the mix, the site is now littered with  huge spires and two rock caves.

We arrived late Friday to a surprisingly less than full park.  The campground sites themselves are mostly primitive, with one loop shared between tents and RVs.

Our site Friday evening

Our site Friday evening

Saturday, the campground beginning to fill

Saturday, the campground beginning to fill

The RV sites offer 30 & 50 amp electrical, but no water or sewer.  With daytime temperatures surpassing 90 degrees over the weekend we were thankful for the electric pedestals.  Our air conditioner struggled to keep temperatures cool, but we managed to stay comfortable.  For sure, we would have been miserable without the A/C relief.

Like much of California, wildfires are a big concern at Pinnacles currently.  No fires were allowed and signs reinforcing the ban were posted all across the campground, including this one upon entering.

fire danger is high

Fire danger is high

We had plans for trail hikes both Saturday and Sunday so we awoke early in the morning in an attempt to beat the heat.  Comforted with the knowledge Lilly and Moo Moo would be cozy in the Airstream with the A/C blasting, we set out Saturday.

The destination of our first hike was the Balconies Cave.  Roughly six miles in duration, the trail starts out mostly flat with some limited shade, courtesy of the high rocks.

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The low lands of the Old Pinnacles Trail

About two miles into the trail, we began approaching the first of many spires.

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The first set of spires

Suddenly the mostly open trail contracted and Kelly and I found ourselves in a canyon-like area.  Gone was the leisurely dirt trail requiring us to  begin scrambling rocks and boulders before quickly arriving to the cave.

Approaching the cave

Approaching the cave

Entering the Balconies Cave

Entering the Balconies Cave

Low ground on the Old Pinnacles Trail

Inside the cave

It goes without saying that visibility inside the cave is limited.  Actually, there is no visibility – zero.  As advised, Kelly and I brought headlamps.  Within the picture above, the bright circle on the center is my headlamp … Kelly is further ahead, looking back towards me.

Comprised of thousands of boulders resting atop one another, the cave trail is about half a mile in length.  Once we got past the eery thoughts of being squished like ants, we continued along the trail, scrambling over boulders and squeezing between narrow access points.

Once through the cave, the trail opens, continuing again.

Exiting the cave

Exiting the cave

We decided to connect to another trail on the return back to camp. This trail was completely exposed and with temperatures well into the 90’s conditions were crazy hot.

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Not surprisingly, the spires lure many climbers into the park, including the guy in the picture below (see climber in white clothing near bottom right).

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Perhaps due to the heat, Kelly and I had the trails largely to ourselves.  The heat was a drag, but it is always nice to enjoy empty trails.  I was a little disappointed with the cave itself, but overall, we had a really nice hike.