Saturday, September 8, 2007

LA Baby...

After Kings Canyon we drove down to Los Angeles and stayed in a hotel near Santa Clarita. On Thursday we spent the day at Six Flags Magic Mountain to get some more roller coaster riding in. Since it was after Labor Day and a day during the week, the park was empty… probably 300 people in the entire amusement park, so we just walked on the rides with no wait. Needless to say we rode too many coasters in a short amount of time and ended the quite day dazed with headaches. There are decent roller coasters there, with one that can best be described as incredibly violent and extreme, hence the name, ‘X’ (for eXtreme). On the ‘X; your feet dangle and the seats are mounted in the side of the track rollers so as you go over a hill, the entire car rotates on an axis. Imagine a really tall coaster that does very sharp flips and rolls, except the car itself is rotating so you can be backwards, upside down or in motion at any point. It was probably the best roller coast we have both been on so we rode it a few times and called it a day.

That evening we drove down through the valley and camped in Malibu at a nice state park. On Friday we got a leisurely start and headed down through Santa Monica and met up with our friend Dylan (JMUer who recently moved our here from Virginia). We cruised the coast, enjoyed the weather and then went to a random concert at the Hollywood Bowl, an outdoor venue similar to Wolftrap in Virginia. Two classic 70s/80s bands took a break from their walkers to strut their stuff… “The Spinners” for some Motown’esque flavor, and then Daryl Hall and Johnny Oates. Going in to the concert we didn’t know who Hall & Oates were, but as it turns out we knew the words to just about every song with the exception of one, we just never knew who sang them. The crowd was a lot older than us, but we took a cooler full of alcohol, sandwiches and had a great time enjoying some 70s grooving in the nice LA weather.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

King's Canyon & Sequoia National Parks

After Yosemite, we headed a few hours south to King’s Canyon/Sequoia National Parks (the two parks border each other). It just happened to be Labor Day Monday, and as we were driving into the park, the amount of cars & RVs exiting in the opposite direction was crazy! We figured the park would be pretty empty since it was after the end of the holiday weekend, but we had absolutely no idea just how empty. More on that later.

We entered King’s Canyon at the Grant Grove entrance, which is where a large number of Giant Sequoia trees still stand, including the General Grant. We stopped, walked the loop through the trees, which were really big. Unlike the redwood groves where you could walk up to the trees, the trees in this grove were all behind fences, probably largely due to the damage people have already done to them over the years. So unfortunately you couldn’t get too close to them, but they were still pretty impressive. One or two of them had fallen, and were hollowed out, and you could walk right through them, with a few feet to spare above your head. All in all, pretty cool.

After the trees, we made the hour-long drive through the park down to the Cedar Grove village, at the bottom of the canyon. The plan was to camp there for the night, then head out for a night in the backcountry the next morning. There were four campgrounds in the village, and we picked the one that was for tents only. Now, this campground had about 60 sites… we were one of three people camping there that night. And I don’t think anyone was in any of the other three either. It was odd. We picked a nice site, quiet, away from the other two people (which wasn’t hard) and got our packs, tent and everything else ready for our overnight in the backcountry the next day.

The next morning, we picked up a backcountry permit, and our requisite bear canister. Now the bear canister is a big cylinder, about 12 inches tall, and 8 inches wide, with three locking bolts on the top. You basically have to put all your food, and anything else that smells inside the canister, including any lotion, bug spray, toothpaste, etc. Then you have to fit this huge canister in your bag somewhere, and guard it with your life the entire time you’re out. When you sleep, store it 100 ft or more away from your tent so that if a bear does come to check it out, it’s far enough away from where you’re sleeping. No problem.

We packed up our bags, got everything situated, and set out 6.5 miles to our backcountry site for the night. The hike was beautiful, following a crystal clear river the entire time. Although the last few miles were ridiculous uphill, we made it to our campsite for the night, which was in a beautiful setting next to the river. We set up the tent, and had a great afternoon and night. We hung out by the river, made a fire, ate some “just-add-water” backpacker meals (not too bad, actually) and enjoyed the evening.

We woke up this morning, excited to see if our bear canister had been disturbed, but fortunately, it was right where we left it, so we guessed we didn’t have any visitors during the night. We made some breakfast (oatmeal and French press coffee… fancy), packed everything back up, and made the 6.5 mile hike back out to the car. We had a great time.

We left the park today, and are headed south toward Los Angeles. The plan is to go to Six Flags California tomorrow… we’ll see what happens.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Yosemite National Park

We arrived in Yosemite National Park on a holiday weekend with no place to stay… others would have perished, but since we live in our car we are used to this kind of thing and we found a place to stay in the northern, less visited area of the park. The campground road practically required 4-wheel drive, but was packed with only a few spots left. We got set up and did a nice afternoon hike up to Elizabeth lake, which was in a nice alpine meadow. Yosemite has perhaps the most strict bear regulations that we have seen so far. Not because they have man-eater grizzlies as in Glacier, but because the black bears here are smart, aggressive and hungry. We saw some pictures at the ranger station of a Geo Metro that had been peeled open like a can of sardines by a hungry bear last week. It put its claws between the door window frame and the car frame and pulled it down… all for some banana peels and deodorant. Yum. Because of these aggressive bears you have to take everything with any sort of smell out of the car and put it in the steel bear containers at each campsite. This task was a bit annoying since as you can imagine we have a lot of sunscreen, food, toiletries, all kinds of stuff for living on the road for 3 months. Other parks let you leave this stuff in a hard-sided car or the trunk, but not here. We were skeptical of the bear precautions, but sure enough we heard one rummaging through a nearby campsite at about four in the morning on Saturday night… It sounded as if it cracked a soda and ate a bag of chips then chewed on a plastic water bottle for 20 minutes, but I can’t be sure, someone scared it off before we could peek out the tent door.

On Sunday we did a ridiculous hike up to Glacier Peak. 3500 feet of elevation change in just under 4.5 miles… The 97 switch backs on the trail provided spectacular views of the Yosemite Valley and Half Dome (see pics), but it was quite a workout and the 4 miles back down via the same trail may have permanently damaged us. Steep downhill hiking sounds easy, but it is the worst… Sara and I would much rather go up hill any day.

On Monday we woke up with plans to hike another day in Yosemite, but on the drive over decided we had had enough Yosemite, and headed out toward King’s Canyon/Sequoia National Park. Yosemite has great views and interesting topography with the massive granite peaks and domes, but overall the park wasn’t our favorite. We’ll need to come back in the spring/early summer when there is more water flowing; the park was a bit dry and didn’t quite live up to the waterfall paradise immortalized by Ansel Adams in so many of his photos.

Addendum to Tahoe

We spent two days there and stayed at a campsite right on the Lake hence the nice lake pictures. Tahoe is great… it has it all. Boating, winter sports, summer sports… does anyone know someone who can get us jobs in Tahoe? Our campground was interesting not only because of the water view, but because of the apparent bear sighting during our first night. We thought we had cleared deep bear country but the Sierras are home to some of the smartest black bears who love campgrounds and know how stupid humans can be. We didn’t see one, but some guy told us it was snooping by some garbage cans at houses not to far off from where we were snoozing.

The Flume mountain biking trail mentioned in the prior post was great. A very steep initial climb, not sure of the elevation change but it was large. The climb was worth it since it leveled out and rode flat along the ridge with some great views of the Lake. The terrain was very sandy and when combined with tight trails and blind turns on cliffs, it made for some excitement. We were also dodging some rain lines coming off the lake, one of which showed us what cold rain at 8000 feet felt like. We turned around at the end of the Flume and rode it back to the start rather than taking the shuttle so it ended up about 20 miles or so. We left Tahoe on Saturday and headed through Nevada (the Eastern half of the lake is actually in Nevada) down the back side of the Sierra range and back into California toward Yosemite.