Oct 31, 2011

Oct 31 - High Hike on Halloween

This morning, Monday, we headed back into Yosemite to explore a corner of the Park we hadn't yet seen. Our objective was Glacier Point, an overview on a rocky outcropping at the top of the south canyon wall, high above Yosemite Village. Our visit to the village the other day had us down at the bottom of the canyon all day while Glacier Point is at the top.

The weather was fantastic and air was clear. Yosemite is about 40 miles by 45 miles, and most of the roads are curvy and slow going. With stopping at turnouts for scenic overviews most casual explorers can't do much more than 20 miles in an hour. Except for some California drivers who seem to be late for work or have vehicles with accelerator pedals that seem to be stuck full-open, it takes time to get from one point in the park to another... but it's time well spent considering the terrific scenery. By the clock we spent two hours getting to Glacier Point. By the heart and mind, it was but a flash. "No... are we there already??"

I could try to describe the view from Glacier Point, but I won't. Using the same adjectives and superlatives over and over again doesn't make for good reading. And I fear a diminution of the experience... even when I read this again after time has fogged the images in my mind... from the overuse of words like wonderful, awesome, spectacular, and amazing. Yosemite Village on the valley floor is about 4000' of elevation. Glacier Point is 7200'. That difference alone gives maybe some sense of the drama and vistas. Let me generally recount what we saw... all rocky peaks and features on the north and east sides of the Park (Half Dome, etc.), the entire Village far below, the upper Merced River valley and Tenaya Creek valley, every waterfall on the north and east canyon walls (Yosemite, Nevada, Vernal, etc), more than a vertical mile of smooth white granite walls, domes, and peaks... some near the horizon and many miles outside the Park.

Not far from Glacier Point is Sentinel Dome, an 8100' granite dome peak with a trail right to the top. We could take a trail from the GP parking lot or from a trail head about a mile up the road... either one a little more than a mile one-way to the Dome. We choose the latter as it was more open to the surrounding scenery and the warm sun.

I'm not sure what the elevation change is but the hike did get our little hearts pumping a bit. Remember, we were over 8000 ft here too. The last tenth of a mile or so is up the side of the granite dome. At the top we had a terrific 360 degree view of the surrounding park, the valley below, and all the surrounding peaks (half dome, et. al.). I particularly liked the view toward the west, looking outward through the El Capitan gateway... a reverse view from the one everyone sees and captures from the tunnel viewpoint on their way into the valley.

Our walk back to the car was interrupted by a gang of California mule deer, 4 of them to be precise, who blocked our path and seemed to be looking for a hand-out. After a few moments of curiosity and eye-contact, no fear, no panic, they slowly continued their travels... and so did we.

There was enough time left in the day to stop again at Mariposa Grove, where we walked the mile or so to the Grizzly Giant and the California Tunnel Tree. The grove appears to be struggling a bit... not sure if it's disease or fire or remnants of previous attempts to manage the place... but there were large open areas, a bunch of downed trees, and some sickly looking trees. This may very well be the way a mature Sequoia grove looks and I'm just applying a cultural standard to a natural system. But it looked that way to me.

Now a comment about food. This morning we stopped at McDonald's for a quick breakfast. I was a little surprised by the price: two little breakfast sandwiches, one orange juice, and one small coffee... $9.56. A few weeks ago I was similarly shocked by the price of lunch at a Burgerville in Camas, WA., which was just shy of $20 for Dar, one grandson, and me. It seems to me "fast food" (which really isn't all that fast anymore) is certainly not low-cost food anymore.

On our way back to camp after the Yosemite excursion, we stopped at a very nice Raley's grocery store in Oakhurst. Not wanting to cook anything complicated after our long day, we were looking for a fresh pizza from their deli area... one we could pop in the oven and be chomping down within 15 min. or so. But we ran into an energetic and friendly young woman who was offering samples of the deli's prepared meals... the kind you pop in the oven and heat up. The samples hit the spot and we popped for a couple... a chicken tortilla casserole and a chicken penne alfredo with broccoli thing. Both were yummy and the price per meal for two of us was $5.00 -- that is, a piping hot entree that was at least as good as anything either of us could whip up, for 5 bucks -- half the price of that small breakfast at McD's! It's fresh, not frozen...no mess, no measuring, no preparation dishes, no hassle... just heat and eat. I'm having a hard time coming up with reasons this isn't an excellent idea. I think we'll be looking for similar eats as we travel in the future.

Oct 30, 2011

Oct 30 - Weekend Update

This past Friday we got word that our number had come up and we'd snagged a real camp site here at Park Sierra. I'm talking a genuine, bonafide, double rectified, full hookup, level site with landscaping, privacy, friendly neighbors, and views of the surrounding valley. How does life get any better than this?

So we moved from our not-so-bad boondocking site, plugged in to ample 50amp power, and quickly settled in to the new surroundings. We've met our neighbors and figured out where our other buddies (Jimmy and Julianne; Fred and Lynne) are now residing relative to us in this crazy maze of twisted and interwoven roads, campsites, hills, and dales. It's a wonder to me how quickly a new place can become home.

During the past few days we not only didn't go into Yosemite (to avoid crowds), we never once even started the Toad... not even to run into town for bread or milk or gas or anything. I did get a workout riding the park's roads with my bike... can't remember when I've spend so much peddling time in low/low gear.

Now that the relaxed weekend is over, it's time to get back to the work of serious exploration again. Tomorrow, Monday, our intrepid explorers are off again, into Yosemite, and into some corner we've not yet experienced. Stay tuned for what they find...

Oct 27, 2011

Oct 27 - Yosemite National Park (day 1)

Our first night in SKP Park Sierra's boondock area must have been good as I don't remember a thing. Total darkness and no neighbors (=no noise), combined with the tension-release after the high pressure drive of the day before, came together to produce one of the best sleep-nights in many days. For me it was close to 10 hours of shut-eye.

The rest of Wednesday we puttered around camp; I wrote some journal updates; Dar worked on photos. We ran into Oakhurst, a few miles north of here, to pick up some info for our Yosemite visits. We explored Park Sierra... enjoyed happy hour with friends.

This morning, Thursday, Julianne, Jimmy, Dar, and I piled into the Focus "exploration-mobile" and we were off on our first visit to Yosemite National Park. The focus of today's trip was Yosemite Valley.

I don't think it'd be interesting to give a blow-by-blow description of our day, and I think my inadequate descriptions would fail to inspire. So here are some random thoughts on our day:

* Exiting the tunnel, the valley opens up into the most spectacular view I've ever seen.

* Stunning; breath-taking!

click any photo to enlarge
* Climbers on the face of El Capitan?? Are they nuts?  I'm so glad I don't have the passion for rock climbing.

* This must have really been something before the general population discovered it.

* Too many people... even on a Thursday in October.

* The Ahwahnee Hotel, the main lodge of the Park since the 1920s, is fittingly impressive and reflects it's awesome surroundings. Equally awesome was our $38 tab for two bowls of soup and two beers in the pub.

* Waterfalls everywhere. We hiked to the base of Bridalveil Falls and Lower Yosemite Falls. In the Fall, waterfalls in Yosemite often dry up completely from lack of precipitation. This year, due to some snowfall a couple weeks ago, the falls were lightly flowing.

* We must return in the Spring some year to see the falls at their best.

* We're told this place is a zoo in the Summer. It was surprisingly busy today.

* Shadows were growing long and light was quickly evaporating when we stopped briefly at Mariposa Grove. Sequoia Trees are so cool. The largest trees on earth. Some more than 3,000 years old. I feel so small.

We're going back to Yosemite, but not until Monday so we can avoid the heavy weekend crowds. It was a spectacular day.

Of course, more photos from our day can be seen by clicking here.

Oct 26, 2011

Journal Updates

Things have been happening faster than I can write. So this morning I pumped out four updates that covered the past few days. If you're interested, you may have to hunt backwards to catch them all.

Thanks for checking in with us.

Oct 25, 2011

Oct 25 - Yosemite Here We Come

186 miles - I-5 to US-99 to CA-41 to Coarsegold, CA

We've never been to Yosemite National Park, and, as of this writing, we still haven't. But we're a lot closer. Our objective for today was a safe move from Sacramento to the SKP park, Park Sierra, near Coarsegold, CA... just a few miles south of Yosemite. The roads were all busy, all the time, everywhere. Why does everyone here drive with the accelerator floored? Over the next few days we hope to make a few incursions into the National Park... and we're really looking forward to it.

The weather has been simply great since we arrived in California. No rain, few clouds, lots of sun. Generally, here at Coarsegold, we're expecting highs in the lower 70's and lows in the lower 50s. For the next 7 days I don't see much change.

With weather like this the members of the SKP park are staying put... and that means transients like us have to spend some time waiting for a full hookup site. Yes, we're in "boondocking" -- really just drycamping on a little hunk of land that wasn't big enough to turn into a member site when the park was built. It's really not bad at all and have discussed maybe even staying put right here for the week. The sun is keeping the batteries full, don't need additional heat at night, and we have a lot of exploring to do so we won't be spending much time at base camp anyway. Haven't turned on the TV for almost two weeks (and don't miss it at all).

In an interesting coincidence... a wonderful alignment of the stars and planets... we have, not two, but four! of our nomadic friends from the road that arrived here at Park Sierra today! We're looking forward to spending more time with Julianne and Jimmy, and Lynne and Fred over the next few days.

Oct 24, 2011

Oct 24 - California State Capitol

Got started this morning at 9:00am. The general plan was to drive out to Woodland CA. the most distant point of our explorations today and finish with the State Capitol, the nearest point to camp.

For some time now, we've been toying with the idea of replacing the Toad (our Ford Focus) with a small pickup and small pop-up truck camper that would give us the capability to explore multiple days away from the bus-house, camp in more remote locations, and be more free and flexible. It's really a hybrid concept to use the bus-house as a mobile base camp and use the mini-camper for multiple day explorations. If we needed to, we could pop the top and camp anywhere away from the bus-house and not have to be concerned about time or the drive back to base camp each night. As I said, we've been thinking about it.

One of the requirements, as far as I'm concerned, for this to work is that we'd have a small truck (like a Toyota Tacoma) with a small, lightweight camper. It just so happens that two manufacturers of just that kind of camper are in the Sacramento area: Four Wheel Campers and All Terrain Campers. During the morning today, we visited each, met the owners and key people, and got a much better feel for their products. Four Wheel is the much larger business of the two and they had a good selection in their showroom for us to peruse, measure, and sit inside while we imagined actually living in one for a night... or a week?. There's really not much more to add at this point. We're still pondering the idea.

During the afternoon we drove downtown, found tha Capitol, and spent a few hours checking out the historic building. Built between 1861 and 1874, it's one of the oldest current statehouses in the USA. But all that remains of the original structure is the exterior edifice... the walls and columns. In the 1970s, it became clear that the building was crumbling and unsafe. Various proposals were discussed, including one to demolish the old structure and replace it with two modern office towers -- not unlike the disaster that happened in Tallahassee FL about the same time. But Californians, in a rare display of doing what's right, decided to rebuild the old structure.

There was little to guide the reconstruction... no original plans (burned up during the San Francisco Earthquake), just old photographs and things they found during the demolition like ornate ceilings hidden by replacement false ceilings. Tile floors were painstakingly documented, photographed, then taken apart... each tile carefully cleaned and cataloged... and eventually put back together again when the new interior was ready. Even the dome, which was being held up only by gravity as the ravages of time had deteriorated the mortar between the bricks, had to be taken down and reconstructed. The objective guiding the reconstruction was to return much of the interior to what it was about the turn of the century... the late 1800s or early 1900s. We were both impressed almost as much by the reconstruction efforts as we were by the original structure. Just magnificent.

It is still the working Capitol and seat of government, but, like most other states, many of the functions of government have been moved to nearby office buildings. What remains in this building is both legislative chambers, some offices for the the executive branch, and the State Capitol Museum.

While perusing the halls of this statehouse we struck up a conversation with an overworked and very tired looking state employee. After chatting for a few minutes we exchanged business cards -->

[dislaimer: not all events or people depicted in this post are true. Some are downright lies. Hey, lighten up... it's my blog!]  Oh, and as usual, you can click on any photos for a larger image... or go to our online albums for more.

Oct 23, 2011

Oct 23 - Downhill to Sacramento

210 miles - CA-44 to I-5 to Sacramento

Leaving our beloved Lassen National Park behind, we drove through the northwest entrance, turned left on CA-44, and headed toward Redding and I-5, about 45 miles down the road. And I do mean "down" the road, as we descended from the 5900 foot elevation of our camp at Lassen to Reddings elevation of a mere 500 feet... a drop of over a full mile. I didn't do the math but I'll bet we got great fuel mileage for those 45 miles.

The amount of traffic on I-5 is amazing... even on a Sunday morning. I know, I know... it's the main north-south road, and all that... but there are just too many people here for what this boy from Wisconsin could possibly consider a high quality life. Just my opinion. In the past I was in favor of some kind of forced relocation program. But I'm now of the opinion that it's better to keep as many of these people right here, piled on top of one another... and away from the few remaining remote and sparsely populated areas of this country that provide solitude to folks like us.

Today's plan was to set up camp at an RV park only three miles from the State Capitol Building in West Sacramento. I won't say much more about Capitol West RV and MH Park, except that there's nothing besides it's location to bring us back. At least we took full advantage of the full hookups to wash and dry a ton of laundry that's been accumulating over the past few weeks.

Oct 22, 2011

Oct 22 - Simple Walk around a Small Lake

Can you think of anywhere you'd rather be?

More photos from our day near Manzanita Lake in Lassen National Park can be found [here].

Oct 21, 2011

Oct 21 - A Two Dip Cone

First, the weather. Got down to 31 degrees early this morning and we were huddled under piles of blankets as even inside the bus-house we saw low 50's. I won the toss and got up to throw a log in the furnace, get coffee started, and start the genny. Still expecting mostly clear weather, lots of sun, and seasonably warm temps for the next few days.

Our house batteries are really in bad shape -- almost 5 years old and abused by us newbies before we knew what we were doing.. If we can make it to Rockport I'll replace them myself. IF not, or if I run into a great deal somewhere, we'll have it done along the way. Probably Rockport though.

After things warmed up a bit we started moving and getting ready for today's adventure... the hike to, and climb of, Cinder Cone. This is a volcanic feature that erupted in the middle 1600s spraying the area with an immense quantity of ash and cinders from deep in the earths mantle, and pushing out square miles of a thick viscous lave from it's base that oozed into a lake, hardened, and is mostly unchanged today.

In order to get there, we had to leave the park on the Northwest side, travel east through Old Station, hook a right on Hwy 44, and find Butte Lake Road which we take to the south and back into the northeast corner of the Park again... a distance of about 30 miles. It took a little doin' to find the road (are Butte Lake Campground and the Cinder Cone hike on the same road??? GPS Maggie Mae was not clear.) but once on the right road it's a 6 mile run on rough gravel to the Butte Lake area.

Side note: we passed through National Forest land on the way back into the park and passed a NFS campground (Butte Creek Campground) that looks good for future use... once we get a smaller exploratory rig.

Another side note: on our way out of the campground this morning, we got behind someone in a popup truck camper. I raced to get closer and thought it was a Four Wheel Camper... one of those I've been interested in.  They turned into the Loomis Museum and we drove on... but Dar said, let's go back and talk with them.  It didn't take more than a couple seconds and we did a 180, entered the parking lot just as they were getting out of their truck. I pulled closer and said... Would you mind if we asked you a few questions about your camper. Well, probably 20 minutes later we had a peek inside, and had learned more than what I was looking for, and some new friends. It's not a FWC, but an All Terrain Camper, built in Sacramento by people who used to work for FWC.  Very similar. The reason he went with the ATC is he's tall, maybe 6'5", and wanted to sleep lengthwise (north-south) instead of crosswise (east-west). FWC had nothing capable of doing that so he went to ATC and found what he wanted.  My estimate is that it's a 6.5 foot model on a mid-bed Toyota Tundra. It's basic but these two are doing exactly what I'm thinking would enhance our sabbatical experience in the future. They are Steve and Kathy from Bozeman MT. Since we're familiar with Bozeman (brother Bill works there) we had lots to talk about. They're originally from Stevens Point Wisconsin... look academic but we never got into discussing that. They are retired and still maintain a home in Bozeman. Not only did we enjoy meeting and talking with them in the parking lot, but we also ran into them on top of Cinder Cone later in the day.

Back to Butte Lake:  Butte Lake has a campground (small campers and tents only please), a boat launch (no motors, small lake), day use picnic areas, and hiking trailheads. Our objective was to hike the Cinder Cone Trail... about a 3 mile round trip, but an elevation gain of about 900 feet. The trail is mostly through Pondy forest along the shore of Butte Lake and the Fantastic Lava Beds (that's their name... really). In the 1600s, a vent opened in the earth blowing ash and cinders high into the sky and extruding a thick viscous lava from the base of what's Cinder Cone today. That extruded lava cooled and became the lava beds... an amazing thing in their own right... appearing like huge piles of black glassy rock debris that was dumped there in huge piles recently by some mining operation. But it isn't... it's the frozen in place lava flow, appearing much like it did 300 years ago.

The walk was made more difficult by a thick layer of ash and cinders... much like walking in dry sand at the beach. The gentle upward grade as we moved through the forest toward Cinder Cone itself was manageable but slower than our normal pace. But then, we came to a clearing and Cinder Cone appeared... a several hundred foot high, steep sided, conical pile of small crushed cinders. The NPS created a path up the side of the cone, two persons wide and angling sharply upward at a just-barely-manageable slope for anyone but the most physically fit hardbody out there. It took us almost an hour just to climb the side of Cinder Cone. It was very slow going (but slow and steady wins the race) with many stops for water and rest. Leg muscles were rebelling and threatening to cramp up... but in the end we made it.

Once up, we spent another hour at the top. There's a double rim... the higher outer rim is probably the older. The lower innner rim, perhaps the result of a secondary eruption??? Below the inner rim is an inverted cone crater that's quite deep (hard to estimate distances and measurements in this environment... at least for me)... a couple hundred feet???.  There was a trail completely encircling the rim at the top, another around the lower rim, and there was a steep trail leading down to the bottom of the central crater. We did everything but the crater... which was steep and we didn't know how much longer to trust our legs. As noted earlier, we ran into Steve and Kathy from Bozeman on top... the only other hikers we saw up there (we did run into one other guy going up as we were going down... but that was it.)

The views from the top are spectacular. Right over there is Mt. Lassen dominating the backdrop. But all around are volcanic features that include all four types of volcanoes found on earth. We snapped a bunch of photos... dozens... maybe hundreds. But the photos really don't convey the feeling and grandeur of the place and the accomplishment of the hike. We felt light and exhilarated on the way down and back to the car. Energized. Pumped. A great day.

Note: we're camped at 5900 feet. The top of Cinder Cone is 6900.  Once back at camp tonight, we both nixed the campfire, opting instead for a quick dinner and working on journals and photos the rest of the night.

Oct 20, 2011

Oct 20 - Wrong Restroom

Needing a few supplies and an internet fix, we drove over to the nearby town of Shingletown today, a mere 17 miles to the west.

First stop was the library where I used their wifi i-connection to post an update or two on the blog, download email, send a few emails, and browse some used books (Dar). 

Then, over to the cafe across the street for a late lunch/early dinner... some refer to it as "lunner". The cafe is run by a Mexican couple and it was fun trying to understand them and absorb the chaotic small town nature of things as the two of them were rushing around trying to hurriedly get a delivery order ready and out the door. We showed up just after their noon "crowd" and were the only customers at that point.

I asked to use the restroom and it turned into a major project. First off, we noticed a few signs as we entered that warned "Restrooms Only for Use by Customers". Well, I was a customer so I got the run-down... "Here, use these keys, go through that store room, unlock a door about half way down to hallway, restrooms in there... when done, lock things back up again, leave keys in door (??), find your way back to the dining room.  I was so discombobulated and amused by the whole affair I ended up walking into the women's room by mistake, which I didn't know until the proprietress herself walks in on me and gives me hell, in a combination of Spanish and English, telling me I'm in the wrong room... I'm in the women's room... what's with these Americans?... can't they read...and on and on. We all had a good laugh at my expense, but I know exactly where I stood with her. We found the food excellent and generally enjoyed our visit. Took home enough leftover burritos for another meal.

Also stopped at grocery store/hardware store. This is such a great combination for a guy... I can pick up bread and milk at the same time I'm getting nails, tools, and bags of sack-crete. Grocery prices were about 30 or 40% higher than I'm used to. But this is rural N. Cal., and there are no options anywhere nearby at all. "Do I want the half gallon of milk?... that'll be $3.49... and thank you for shopping with us."

Once back at camp we got a campfire going and enjoyed it immensely until it got dark and cold.  Last night it got down to 33 degrees... and expect about the same tonight. We've been using a combination of the propane bus-house furnace (noisy battery hog) and our portable buddy propane heater during the evening. But once it's bed-time, all heaters of any kind are turned off for safety's sake. I sleep better that way... I know the safety director does too. Without much wind and with the low 30's temps, our inside temp can be down to the upper 40's by morning. (Don't believe RV salespeople who tell you how well insulated these things are)  Then it's rock-paper-scissors to see who gets to run around getting coffee going, firing up the genny, starting a heater. I usually volunteer but one of these days it'll be Dar's turn... she promises.

We'd use more solar power if we had more sunlight shining on the bus-house roof here at Lassen. Trees are another love/hate thing for us... we love them for atmosphere, the shade, the feeling of being in the forest, the wildlife they harbor, the fact that they block satellite TV signals so well. But they don't give our solar panels much to work with. Besides the already low sun this time of year, and the short days, when a tree shadow gets in the way it really downgrades the amount of power they produce. I like the whole concept of solar, but there's no way to ever get a positive return on your investment. You buy solar for the green "feel-good" of turning simple sunlight into electricity, and for the flexibility of not having to run a generator as much.

We decided to stay here until Sunday morning, really preferring this environment to that of an RV park. Tomorrow we're going to take in a longer hike... perhaps to Bumpass Hell or the Cinder Cone... we'll decide in the morning. Weather is supposed to hold out NICE until into next week.

Disconnected In Lassen

We're still in Lassen National Park and will probably be here until Sunday. We're at Manzanita Lake Campground, about the only one open this time of year, just down the road from the northwest entrance to the Park. We have no cell phone and thus no internet connectivity at all at our campsite. We're drycamping (no hookups). With temps sinking to the low 30's by morning, we've been using the propane furnace and running the generator to make coffee and charge the house batteries. And we're surviving just fine. We really enjoy camping like this... even if it is a bit cold and challenging in the mornings.

I was hoping I could drive over to a visitor center and hook onto the internet. But the National Park Service hasn't quite found the motivation or the money to create a wifi hotspot at their visitor centers yet. And maybe their right. Maybe it's good to be disconnected once in a while... to concentrate on what the Park has to offer... to get out and move and soak in the sights, smells, vistas, chills, the history, the geology, and the texture of this unique landscape. I keep repeating this to myself... I keep trying to convince myself. Maybe it's good, but it's hard.

I'm still writing daily journal entries off line and will upload them when I'm able.

(sent from a library hotspot in the little town of Shingletown, CA where we picked up supplies today.)

Oct 19, 2011

Oct 19 - Survey Course of Lassen NP

We just got back from exploring Lassen Park -- really an overview (or survey course) built around the main Hwy 89 Park road from the Northwest entrance to the Southwest entrance, where the main visitor center is located. It took us the better part of the day to do the 29 miles down and the same 29 miles back to our camp... stopping and exploring wherever we saw something of interest. Had a bright clear day, temps in the 60's... but you gotta remember, we are at some serious elevation here. Our camp is at 5900 ft., and the summit on the drive today is 8511.

Highlights of the day: learning about the geology of this place... it's reason for existing as a National Park in the first place. Here, there exists in one place a collection of all four of the different types of volcanoes as classified by geologists and vulcanologists. It's a very active geothermal spot on the planet Earth. The last significant eruption occurred in 1915 on Mt. Lassen. But there are historic remnants of many volcanic features that can be seen by tourning and hiking around the park. A fella by the name of BF Loomis was instrumental in making this a National Park, having taken the spectacular photographs of the 1914 eruptions of Mt. Lassen.

We did a short hike, really a walk, through the "devistated area" from the 1915 eruption, but mostly drove from pull-off to pull-off admiring the view, awing at the surrounding peaks, and reading and learning about the Park. At the southwest entrance, the Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center provides exhibits and films that bring it all together.

Returning to the northwest corner of the Park again, we stopped at the Loomis Museum and perused the exhibits there too. The museum building was built by RL Loomis to help educate the public. His historic home, just across the courtyard from the museum, is currently being used as a park office and ranger station.

Here are a few photos from our day.  More can be found here.

Oct 18, 2011

Oct 18 - Mt. Shasta to Lassen NP

101 miles; CA-89 to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Another great traveling day for our intrepid explorers. The weather has been cooperating and looks like it'll continue to do so for the rest of the week. Warm sunny days and crisp cold mornings.

With only a hundred miles on the docket for today we felt no urgency or rush to get anywhere. CA-89 is a good two lane road with abundant truck traffic as it's a shortcut between I-5 and Reno. Much of the route is through forest -- tall pines and scrub oak providing cover for deer and cattle, both of which we saw grazing right next to the road. Bright sunlit fall colors contrasting with the dark green of the pines added a sense of season that felt comforting.

Dar found that we'd be passing by Burney Falls State Park on the drive today. We're usually careful about stops like this when we're moving with the bus-house unless we know ahead of time that the park roads and parking lots are set up for big rigs. We had no idea what the setup was here, but felt like taking a chance to see the falls that Teddy Roosevelt described as the 8th wonder of the world. Only because there were so few parked cars I was able to make a tight "180" in their largest parking lot (which was still pretty small) and find an out-of-the-way spot to park, pointing outward. Luck was with us again today.

Burney Falls is fed by underground springs and, regardless of time of year or amount of precipitation, has a very consistent flow of water. There's a viewing platform at the top and a path leading to a few viewing spots at the bottom. There's something about falling water that catches my eye and puts me in a hypnotic trance... a little like watching a campfire, a sunset, wild surf, or a pretty girl. Simply enjoyable.

At Lassen we headed right over to Lake Manzanita campground. There are no RV hookups at any campground in the park and, this late in the year, the water is shut off too. We understood that this campground would be our best bet for finding a campsite where we'd fit. Like many of the National Park campgrounds we've seen, they were designed years ago for tent campers and small trailers.  In the two campground loops that were open it took us a while to find one that would work. Most were too small, too unlevel, too many low hanging branches, or all of the above.

Don't get me wrong... we found a great site and have been enjoying the solitude. While I scrubbed bugs off the front end after setting up camp, Dar traipsed through the woods and came up with enough downed wood for a campfire. So in one day, today, I hit the trifecta... waterfall, campfire, and pretty girl... imagine that... all in the same day.

We're at 5900 feet elevation here. Our plan is to explore the park tomorrow and then decided if we'll add a day or more to our stay. As I said above, the weather is fine, so it's really a matter of what we'd like to do here.

Oh, and one more thing... we have NO cell phone or internet service at the campground. We'll post journal entries if/when we find a wifi hotspot. Otherwise, it'll wait until we're back in range.

Oct 17, 2011

Oct 17 - On the Slopes of Mt. Shasta

204 miles; I-5 to Mt. Shasta, CA.

With all the paperwork cleared up, moving prep done, and toad hooked on, we were on the road by 10:30 this morning. Our 200 mile drive started with low clouds (high fog?) obscuring hilltops and ridges, but the sun started breaking things up well before noon and we had full sun the rest of the day.

We're at a rustic campground/"resort" on the shores of Lake Siskiyou just outside the little town of Mt. Shasta -- which is right on the flanks of the mountain by the same name. Both of us have a similar reaction to anything labeled "resort" ($pendy and touri$ty) but we thought we'd give it a go anyway considering it's perfect location right at the 200 mile point of our drive. We're thinking of this as an overnight stop but may decide to add on a day if the coin flips the right way in the morning. We'll see how that goes.

The campground is Lake Siskiyou Resort and Campground. Only a handful of campers are here and haven't seen a single soul of the staff or crew who, presumably, are around and running the place. Considering the time of year and the elevation (3300 ft.) (brrrr), the only thing we'll probably hear overnight tonight will be the distant drone of cycling RV furnaces.

When we do leave we're going over to explore Lassen Volcanic National Park, another in our effort to hit as many of the big National Parks in the USA as we possibly can by RV. We've been to about 20 to this point and there's a long way to go. The route southward through California presents an opportunity for us to pick up 5 more in the next few weeks.

In the "dumb things we've done" department I suppose I should report the following for the record. About half way through our trip south today we stopped for fuel. Pulling away from the pump islands I had to make a sharp turn. I try to take a careful look at the toad in the rear view mirror during turns like that... check tires, bikes, wheels turning, etc. During that turn I saw the front wheels weren't steering... they were locked straight ahead and in the turn, were being dragged sorta' sideways. Cars towed with all four wheels on the ground are supposed to have the steering free and unlocked... so the car can follow the motorhome and minimize tire wear. Alright... what happened?

I stopped the bus-house and we checked it out. Both Dar and I (we both check each other) missed an important part of the checklist... to verify that the front steering was unlocked and free turning... and the poor old toad was scrubbing a little extra rubber off it's new front tires during the past 100 miles. Hmmm. This time we were lucky and there's no apparent damage beyond the tire wear. But it will make us a little more vigilant in the future.

Best memory of the day: the views of stunning and snow capped Mt. Shasta. At 14,179 feet, it's the fifth highest mountain in California. Amazingly, it only misses the number 1 spot (Mt. Whitney 14,505') by a lousy 326 feet... and there are three other peaks that fill that gap.

Oct 15, 2011

Oct 15 - North Umpqua Wild and Scenic River Corridor

The Umpqua River is one of the principle rivers of Oregon, draining a large area of southern Oregon and dumping into the Pacific Ocean at Reedsport. Today we explored a portion of the North Umpqua Wild and Scenic River Corridor from near Roseburg and stretching eastward about 40 miles. State Highway 138, the main highway between Roseburg and the north entrance to Crater Lake National Park, follows the North Umpqua through this area.

We did three different hikes today, the first to Deadline Falls, the second to Susan Creek Falls, and the third to Fall Creek Falls. Flashes of sunlight between clouds combined with the dark dense forest (and a bit of exertion thrown in) had us shedding layers to cool off... then adding layers to warm up... then shedding again, etc. all afternoon. Overall though, the day was perfect for short hikes like these.

The hike back to Fall Creek Falls was an ascending mile that took us through a narrow slit in a basalt rock wall, (we jokingly referred to as a "fat man filter"), through a valley strewn with boulders covered with a thick carpet of moss, a path wet and slippery in places, and only two sounds -- either flowing bubbling water or complete silence. Let me explain.

still able to slip through the "fat man filter"
 Our path followed the creek upstream toward the falls. Near our starting point at the bottom, the sound of flowing water was obvious. And at the falls, near the top, we could easily hear and see water coming over the falls, gathering in a pool beneath it, and rushing off downhill. But in the middle of our almost mile hike in, the sound quit... nothing... total silence. We couldn't help but notice. What happened to the water? We were in a narrow canyon and couldn't see any obvious point where the creek could be diverted out of the canyon. I feel confident, considering the size of the narrow steep-walled and rugged canyon, that if water was flowing anywhere over the surface we'd be able to hear it.

We even walked off the path and into the dry creek bed where it was accessible. It was obvious that water had flowed here in some considerable volume in the not too distant past... like, probably this past Spring. But walking from one side of the bottom of the canyon to the other side, (it wasn't far... maybe less than 100 feet) there was no flowing water at that point.

The only plausible explanation we could come up with was that the creek had found a porous spot in the creek bed where the water could flow into an underground stream of sorts. Something along the lines of a natural culvert or drain tile, probably filled with rubble but porous enough to allow creek water to flow for some distance underground before re-emerging into the creek further down the hill.

There was no authority or ranger around to question about this, so we're left with what we saw and the hypothesis we came up with to explain it. It was the big mystery of the day.

More photos from our day are contained in an online album. Check them out if you have a chance.

Oct 13, 2011

Oct 13 -- An SKP Wildlife Sanctuary

Sutherlin, OR

Today, I'm happy to report, we slept in... and then took it real easy the rest of the day. One of those days of solitude with no schedule, no appointments, no responsibilities, no worries. We did take an extensive walk around the park, walking almost every street and checking out every corner, in order to determine whether or not we're going to put our name on the list for a membership and a lot. No decision will be made for a while as there's more investigation to be done.

There's no shortage of wildlife around here though. Browsing deer (hanging around apple trees for the low hangers and falls), huge jack rabbits (that look like they'd eat the tires off your car overnight), quail of some kind, turkeys, and, we've been told by a reliable local source, an occasional mountain lion is spotted. Hmmm... maybe that's why there are fewer little dogs around than we see in most SKP parks.

And I forgot to mention yesterday that our new windshield survived the first drive with only a few minor bug gooshes. My main (irrational) concern was that we'd go around a corner, the bus-house chassis would twist, and the windshield would fall out and smash on the pavement below. Since that didn't happen my confidence that the job was done right is building.

deer-trimmed cedars

Oct 12, 2011

Oct 12 -- Back on the Road

187 miles; I-205 to I-5 South; Sutherlin, OR

It was an uneventful, if not a little sad, departure from the Portland area and our Northwest family. Mostly cloudy skies but no rain so the toad was spared an additional coating of road grime. I'm always amazed at the amount of traffic on I-5, but come around once someone (Dar) explains again that this is the main artery between the congested la-la land to the south and the big cities of the Northwest. There's really no alternative for commercial traffic and folks trying to move quickly from point A to point B.

We've snagged a site at SKP Timber Valley until Sunday and plan to spend our time getting back into explorer-mode. Some procrastinated chores need to be done, some QT (solitude) for pondering the future, and a new route planned for the next leg of the journey.

Best memories from the day: Dealing with the mixed emotions of leaving family behind and the excitement of being back on the road; listening to the drone of the diesel motor and the whine of tires on the pavement; the dark green conifers contrasting with the muted yellows and reds of deciduous trees; soaking up the sun and warmth while enjoying, just the two of us, wine and snacks alfresco for the first time in many weeks.

Oct 11, 2011


As we prepare for our departure from the Portland area, it occurred to me that leaving family, grand-kids, good friends could be compared to separating two pieces of Velcro:  a distressed ripping sensation of two joined pieces that, the first time you do it, you swear couldn't possibly be re-joined in the same way again. But in the same way we were amazed by our first experience with Velcro, their "hooks" and our "loops" will mate up again in a few short months.

Oct 4, 2011

It's a Love/Hate Thing

NewsFlash:  Apple introduces the latest version of the IPhone today

When it comes to love/hate relationships, for me, the best examples are in the realm of the devices that connect me to the internet. On the one hand, they are so damned amazing (how old is Vanna White?... less than a minute later I know she's 54 (Yes... 54!), her father was Puerto Rican, she grew up near Myrtle Beach, NC... all with the simple press of a few keys on my laptop while we're eating dinner and waiting for the 6pm news).  But on the other hand, we consumers have to suffer through this period of discovery and "shake-out"... while manufacturers and the market try new things, new form factors, new technologies... some of which just aren't ready for prime time.  We're all trying to figure out what works best and what will someday become the norm. Why do I have to wait 2 full stinkin' minutes for my laptop to boot up? What's with all these updates I have to wait for, it seems, almost every day? We've seen the market "sweet-spot" for PCs evolve from the bid clunky desktop to laptops, and now, to much smaller handheld devices known as tablets and smartphones. They're small, for sure, but they can't get much smaller, can they? Are they too small? Too big?

A couple years ago I had (actually still have... in a storage bin somewhere around here) a big 15" screen "laptop" that was on the outer-limits of portability. I craved something smaller, lighter, and, hopefully, something with a battery life greater than 58 minutes. People I talked to about this said I'd be foolish to give up the big wide bright screen for something smaller; that I'd probably develop carpal tunnel syndrome, spine degeneration, scurvy, and all sorts of other maladies from typing on anything smaller than standard keyboard.

Pshaw, I said. So I bought my current little Acer 1410 and never regretted it... 10.5 inch screen and all. It still takes more than two minutes to boot up but it only weighs a couple pounds and the battery lasts for an honest 6 hours. It's small, but not too small for me.

But here's one I've been struggling with for a long time. Smartphones.  A couple years ago, as I was writing a journal update, I looked around and saw people walking around the campground with bent necks... looking like they've lost the muscle control to hold their heads up, normal like. It also appeared they were looking at something in the palm of their hand... as they aimlessly bounced and caromed off trees, the sides of cars and campers, and each other... like a pin balls. So I approached one of these people, got on my knees, looked upward... trying to make eye contact... to get their attention and find out about this phenomenon. This was my introduction to the smartphone.

Since that time, I've observed an increasing number of these things. It seems almost everyone has one today. But I've resisted. Sure, it'd be great to be able to check the weather while I'm walking around... or read other blogs, or check up on Vanna White, or get my emailed spam and forwards from people I never hear from otherwise. (You know who you are... click here) -- (thanks to Wandrin Lloyd for this link)

I said all that to say this... to finally get to the point of this post. I've been seriously considering getting a smartphone. I'm tired of the snickers and rolling eyes when people see my three year old flip-phone. And the comments: "What's that? The remote control for your awning?"  or "Wow, I haven't seen one of those in years!" or "Does Verizon still support that?"   I feel I'm being nudged, nay pushed and shoved, over to the dark side. 

This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend some time with two smartphones... one an Apple IPhone, the other a similar Android powered device. Without a doubt, they were both slick little devices. However, after considerable thought and really analyzing how I'd use it... what'd I do with it, I decided to wait -- to NOT get one at this time. Here are the biggest reasons why:

1) Size: As a phone a smartphone is too big and too flat. As an internet device its too small and hard to read... aging eyes really appreciate a little more screen real-estate when perusing the internet. For me, this is a case of the worst of both worlds. My flip-phone is easy to live with, slips in any pocket or nook in the car, and magically opens up, unfolds, to curvaciously fill the space between my ear and my mouth. It's small when it should be and large when it should be.

2) Vulnerability/Durability: I've gotten in the habit of carrying my flip-phone in my pocket... any pocket. I often sit on it. It's dropped on concrete. It's abused and misused. But it still works and has worked for almost three years. Tough little bugger. I look at the exposed screens on smartphones and I cringe, wondering how they'd hold up to what I put a phone through... and how much it'd cost to replace when I break one in half. I'm told there are tough cases that you can put your smartphone into, but they make an already too big device even bigger.

3) Cost:  Hundreds of dollars for the phone, many hundreds more when I break it, and hundreds more every year for something called a data plan. Maybe it's just my price/value ratio that's out'a whack, but I have a hard time justifying the price for the way I'd use it. Price/Value?... a monthly jug of scotch or a data plan?? Hmmm.

4) Complexity:  "Apps"... they've got a million of them. How much time would I spend trying to figure out which apps I need, which would be useful, how they work, what to do when they don't work, and on and on. And that's besides learning the smartphone itself, it's operating system, quirks, hidden features, and all that. I'm not getting any younger and I think using the time I have to take a better shot at really living life instead of figuring out how another dang device works is probably the better option for me.

5) Time: Closely associated the last point about complexity... do I really need a way to be connected every moment? Comon... I'm not a 911 dispatcher or a doctor on call. I don't need to be so immediately connected. Sure, it'd be nice at times... but not necessary.

6) Neck: I'm concerned that a smartphone would hasten the body deformation that naturally occurs as we age. I'm hunched over enough already, worn down by life, and don't need to hasten the process.

Now, if they ever come up with a smartphone that dispenses antacid tablets every time you check your investments... now that'd be useful. I do like technology and won't say I'll never get a smartphone. It's just not the right thing for me at this time.

(emailed to the blog from the old fashioned little Acer laptop)

Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

This past Tuesday, we moved from Branson to a very nice Corps of Engineer’s Park on Wappapello Lake.  We’re in the Redman Creek CG. This fac...