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USA

Sep 27, 28 - Las Vegas & Route 66

Las Vegas Walkabout, Route 66 Driveabout

sunny 25 °C

41 million visitors annually, according to the Las Vegas guide. We are here to add to the total. Neither of us gamble, but both of us like to people watch from time-to-time, and this is the place to do it. We drove in from Barstow, California ready for something different from the National Parks we had been visiting for the past 2 weeks. We drove the strip, with TaJ on the back just to have a look-see at the place.

In the early afternoon the traffic along the strip was busy. They have these neat rolling billboards that cruise up and down the strip, advertising, well, just about everything. Here is one we caught on camera later that night.

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We parked TaJ at Sam's Town a casino/hotel/rv park a few miles from downtown. Over 700 rv sites, and only $30 a night, and that includes a free shuttle bus down to the Las Vegas Strip. Pretty good deal. The rv spots are small, but full service and the park was about 75% full.

We took an hour long break and caught the 4:00pm shuttle which drops you off at Harrah's, right at the north end of the strip. You walk through a massive casino to get to the street, and even mid afternoon there was a good number of people staring at slot machines or playing roulette or craps or poker.

We had no sooner stepped out on the street and there were hawkers, handing out cards for the 'services' of young ladies, with pictures, phone numbers and even prices. I decided right off the bat to collect them as they were offered and by the end of the night had over 200 in my pocket.

Our afternoon stroll brought us past Caesar's Palace, the Bellagio, with its currently quiet fountain, and past hotels and casinos and stores with names like Prada, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and so on, offering goods that are so pricey that our minds shudder at the thought. I offered to get Jenny a Fendi bag, but we would have to go home immediately after the purchase :) Luckily she declined the offer so our trip continues.

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As evening approached we considered our options for supper and finally decided on pizza and beer. Supper was finished just as dusk fell and we returned to walking, this time back towards Harrah's from the south end of the strip. DSCF4299__1280x853_.jpg

We caught the 7:30pm show of the Bellagio Fountain.

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We were struck by the number of people carrying drinks along the strip. There are no limits to drinking alcohol on the street. There was also a lot of smokers about, even inside the casinos. There were two wedding parties along this part of the strip in the evening. Our evening ended with the 9:10pm bus back to the campground. Definitely not your usual Las Vegas visitors. Everything got brighter as the evening progressed.

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The massive ferris wheel even offers service with your own bartender for the 1/2 hour ride around the ring in the sky:

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We had a good night in the Vegas campground and internet was acceptable, if not great. We did manage to find a used Video store and were able to obtain Season 4 of the TV series Fringe, which we have been watching since we left home. We expect to finish the whole series before we get back to Nova Scotia.

We had two firsts in Vegas. I had a White Castle burger (can't see what the excitement is all about) and we had lunch at an In N Out Burger joint. The In N Out was quite a revelation. Hamburgers, fries, milkshakes, that is all they sell and they do it very well.

Our drive on the 28th led us south out of Vegas through Bloulder City. We almost got off at the exit for the Hoover Dam but decided against it. Good think we did. As we passed the entrance road you could see the line up of cars waiting to get in...it could have been hours before we got back out to the highway.

Our destination for the day is Seligman AZ, on the historic Route 66. The longest remaining stretch of the old Highway runs from Kingman to Seligman and we thought it would be good to drive it. Interesting scenery along the way, but much of the historic road is long gone.
There are a few attractions in Seligman, enough for it to be a bus tour stop. As we passed through to our campground there were 3 large tour buses and people scurrying along the road to take photos of the old cars and buildings. A bit of a cottage industry for an otherwise sleepy little town.

Route 66 is now a cliche, a tourist draw if you will, at least in this area. Cheap trinkets and even cheaper T-shirts, at high prices are everywhere. Better to let the old highway die away than its memory sold for a few $. The closed motels and gas stations are more interesting than the resurrected ones.

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As this is written on the 29th we have decided to take a day off the road to recharge the travel batteries. We have decisions to make on our path forward and need internet time to make a plan. We are beginning to see the end of our travel $$ for 2017 and need to get focused.

Our October: We will hit 4 more National Parks, Petrified Forest, Saguarro, both in Arizona, then Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and finally Big Bend in Texas. On October 25 we wioll likely arrive in Mission Texas to visit with George and Karmen Reid for 10 days or so and then depart on a 7 day run back to Nova Scotia and the end of this journey. We expect to be home in Aylesford on November 10

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 13:55 Archived in USA Tagged las_vegas route 66 in_n_out_burgers Comments (1)

Sep 25, 26 - Joshua Tree National Park

Barstow, CA, Joshua Trees, Cholla Cactus

sunny 29 °C

After dumping our very full grey and black water tanks (one of life's little pleasures when you own a trailer) we headed south, winding our
way out of the mountains and heading south towards Bakersfield CA. We decided to avoid Death Valley, where temperatures are expected to be
well over 100 F tomorrow. Our plan was to cross the valley, heading for Las Vegas.

Instead we are going to add Joshua Tree National Park as our destination, so down through Bakersfield we go. We've looked at options and have decided to make Barstow our stop for a 2 night stay. We will do a day trip to Joshua Tree (about 100 miles south) before heading east through Las Vegas and onward.

The day ended in a Bastow RV park. Our first experience with KOA. Pricey, at $49 a night for a basic water/electric site, so you would expect the wifi to work for that price. A full hook up site is almost $60 a night, and that just adds cable tv and sewer hook-up. Washrooms are dated, but OK. But the extremely poor wifi drives us crazy. We can't plan easily without it. Even over by the office the wifi is crap. Did we mention this park is right along the I-15, so trucks are zooming by all night long.

Despite all that we slept well and woke to a full sunny day for our trip to Joshua Tree. We bopped into Peggy Sue's Diner for breakfast. This
is a 1950's diner, similar to what would have been found on Route 66 back in the day. A good breakfast in an interesting place. This area
is full of military bases and there was a Marine convoy setting up across the road, with cannons and supply trucks. There are a couple of ranges nearby so that must be where they are headed. Several of the marines were in Peggy Sue's having breakfast.

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We drove on south through scrub desert and arrived at the Joshua Tree Visitor Center about 10:00am.

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We got information on what could be seen and done on a half day visit and set off for our first destination, the Hidden Valley. This was a box canyon, used by cattle rustlers, back in the 1850's to hide cattle while they changed the brands before moving them on to market. The one mile trail gives a bit of the history and ecology of the valley. Back in the 1800's they used to get 10 inches of rain a year here so grasses in the valley were lush and would feed cattle. Now only 2-5 inches falls annually and mostly scrub grows, and grasses planted by the rustlers have pushed out native species.

The Joshua Trees are quite big:

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The rocks surrounding the valley funnel rain down into the ground around the base and lessen the evaporation, so a micro climate exists in this
55 acre valley. The cutest oak trees, with tiny leaves and acorns, and Pinyon Pine trees, with cones that used to provide food for natives. Pinyon nuts were ground into flour.

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They warn you here to drink plenty of water. If you are staying in the park, the rule is 2 gallons, per person, per day. Jenny and I are drinking water as we go along and are soon through a 500 ml bottle on just this hike.

We meander through the park and head up to Keys View, a 5200 feet above sea level view of the Coachella Valley, home to cities like Palm
Springs, Palm Desert and my buddy Larry Vincent's winter hangout Desert Hot Springs. Palm Springs sits just 150 feet above sea level, so the contrast is pretty impressive. The Salton Sea is also visible from up here, and it is 295 feet below sea level. The San Andreas Fault runs through the valley below. Much of the valley is irrigated and converted to crops, like dates.

We stopped along the road at a picnic site for lunch before heading on to our next planned stop, the Barker Dam. And this is where the thing about drinking water came back to bite. I'd been drinking a fair amount of water, but even as we got to the parking lot for Barker Dam I was not feeling quite right. So I slept in the car while Jenny went off for this one mile hike. As I was resting I read through the brochure about dehydration. Of course, as you sweat you lose salt which throws off your electrolyte balance. So, I was dehydrated. A bit of salt and an hour later I was doing OK, but still not 100%.

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There are some pictographs that have been marred by recent people trying to highlight the paint on them:

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We ended our tour at the Cholla Cactus Garden. A nasty little cactus, unless you are a cactus wren or a particular type of rodent. Touching will cause pain. So, we looked, and Jenny took some nice pictures.

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Our drive back was long, but uneventful. Jenny drove much of the trip back. Once back at the KOA near Barstow we had steak and salad for supper and enjoyed a quiet evening trying to get enough internet to figure out where we would stay in Las Vegas. One RV park e-mailed back that they had no vacancies, but then the internet packed it in so we had no way to check out the other major park in Vegas. Well, off we go blind in the morning.

Everywhere we go we see where human habitation has changed the landscape, sometimes for good, sometimes downright bad. It is a fact of life that almost 500 million inhabit North America, remaking nature to fit the needs of the population. It is all part of how the dominant species on the planet gets to decide what to do. Can the human race continue to alter this planet and still exist...well, that is the question, isn't it?

We are enjoying our time seeing both the natural, and the man made wonders of this continent.

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 13:35 Archived in USA Tagged koa joshua_tree cholla_cactus barstow Comments (1)

Sep 23, 24 - Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Big Tree, Fantastic Road,

sunny 10 °C

Our campground is right outside the entrance to Sequoia National Park. A 35 or so site commercial campground with decent services but its location is pretty darn good.

Sequoia is best a "felt" experience rather than one that can be adequately described.

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The road in from Three Rivers is one crazy switchbacky drive of 20 miles, kind of on a mountain goat track up the side of a mountain, or two. You go from 1500 feet above sea level in Three Rivers to 7000 feet above sea level in about 45 minutes. We drove it twice over our time here and if you are inclined to car sickness this is not the road for you. Lucking neither Jenny or I suffer that malady. Check out this photo of our GPS, about half way up.
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We also came upon a mother deer and her triplet youngsters:

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There was construction going on that limited a section of the road to one lane, with up to 20 minute delays.

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Lots of scenic views:
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On day one we blew right through Sequoia and on into Kings Canyon; our destination, the third largest tree in the world, the General Grant Tree. We originally had visions of going all the way to the very end of Kings Canyon, but after two hours of crazy road we decided to stop without completing the full drive. We hiked to the General Grant Tree, we hiked through the Big Stumps and we drove out to Panorama Point, which required another hike to see the view. All of these hikes were in Kings Canyon NP.

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In all we walked/hiked about 4 1/2 miles, all of it at an altitude over 7000 feet. We were leg and lung weary at the end of all that. Both Jenny and I are feeling the effects of hiking at altitude.

We'll let a few photos tell the story of the Sequoia trees in Kings Canyon. Although pictures do not do these trees justice. You need to walk among them to truly get the effect. Our pictures are mostly of giants, as much as 2500 years old, but the younger trees, those just 500 years or so old are pretty awesome too.

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The drive back down to our campground is tricky. They recommend lower gears rather than braking your way down 20 miles of switchbacks. It works. On the way back on our first day we came upon these yucca plants with long flower stems growing from their centre. These flower stems, when cut at the right time, make excellent, light weight walking sticks. If we get the chance we might just cut a couple for ourselves.

This is a buckeye tree...non edible fruit:

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Back at the campground we took an easy night with the plans to do it all again, only this time, we would only go as far as the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia NP.

On the road again at 9:00am Sunday we ran into a fall right around here. People from LA and San Fran come out to spend the day in Sequoia, so our drive up hill was in traffic. We had a 20 minute wait to get through the gate into the park, and then some dork in a Volvo was afraid of the road and worked his way uphill at half speed, refusing to move over to let people pass him at the copious turnouts provided for just this purpose. ANYWAY, we did make it to the top and took on the General Sherman Trail, followed by the Congress Trail. Big, massive trees, singly, and in groups. The General Sherman Tree is the largest single tree in the world. This concrete patio outlines the tree's base"

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There is a grouping called Congress, and another called the Senate, and a single stiff tree, called the President. A number of other trees are also named for lesser generals.

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I found an un-named tree, which I hung around for about a half-hour, until it announced its name was Bill.
Bill and I parted best of friends :) I also harvested a seed from one of Bill's cones, just so you can see how small a Sequoia starts out. it looks like a flake of oatmeal

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This cross section of a tree is 2200 years old:

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Overall we outdid yesterday's hiking, clocking in at around 5 miles. Again, all at elevation beyond 7000 feet. By afternoon I was lagging, and that is when I met Bill, where I hung around, while Jenny walked on to photograph a Sequoia that had been turned into a cabin, back in the 1800's.

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Sully insisted on getting his picture in the blog...it is always TaJ that we get photos of, so time, our Honda is the star:

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We really enjoyed seeing these two national parks. Great places to visit. We highly recommend it...being out amongst these giants truly provides the opportunity to connect with the planet. That people could actually see these and try to figure out how to kill them and market their flesh truly amazes me. We see something that we hope will stand for another 2000 years.

On the downhill run, we got this kind of gas mileage :)

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We are 3625 miles from home, and each day we will creep a little bit closer to the end of our adventure...but we still have 60+ days to go :)

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 18:35 Archived in USA Tagged sequoia_np kings_canyon_np Comments (2)

Sep 21, 22 - Vista Ranch & Cellars, Harvest Host

Harvest Host, Vista Ranch and Winery, California's Central Valley

sunny 25 °C

We are in the Central Valley of California, along the Highway 99 corridor from Merced to Bakersfield. This corridor is a vast garden.
We come from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, which is considered to be one of the garden spots of Canada, but this dwarfs it. Literally, as far as the eye can see, are fruit trees of every type, walnut, pistachio, and almond groves. We even drove through the Sun Maid raisin empire, thousands of acres of grapes drying in the sun.

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You are quick to note that as much as 50% of the population is Mexican, all store signs are in English and Spanish, the clerks in the stores speak both languages. An amazing place, this valley.

We spent the night of Sep 20 at the Merced River RV Resort, just north of Livingston. This was clean up time, laundry, showers, etc, after 4 nights of dry camping. Interestingly, Livingston has a mosque:

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We learned this morning that we dodged a bullet up on Tioga Road. We seriously considered spending an additional night at Tuolumne Meadows campground, and driving down into the Yosemite Valley for the day. We would have been down there all day, 6,500 feet closer to sea level. Up at Tuolumne Meadows, on the night of Sep 20, got 1 1/2 feet of snow overnight, closing the road completely for most of two days. The temperature dropped to -5 C and it snowed all night. Lucky us to avoid that mess. There were hundreds of people out backpacking in the wilderness so they must have had a miserable night. And tenters, what a mess that must have been in, and there were lots of tenters.

We did a bit of shopping on the 21st, picking up just a few supplies for our planned supper at our stop for the night...Vista Ranch and Cellars, just outside Merced. George and Karmen Reid, out travel buddies belong to Harvest Hosts, a website through which wineries, breweries, organic farms and the like offer free RV parking on the expectation that you will sample and purchase their wares. They arranged for us to join them for a free night of camping in the parking lot of the place.

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The ranch has been in existence for close to 100 years and has developed a full farming/winery operation. The property hosts weddings and parties, and in the summer has a wood fired pizza business that draws lots of locals. In the fall they do the full harvest festival thing, with pumpkin patch, corn maze for the kiddies and so on. The gardens are something to behold, grapes, zucchini, as huge as can be, tomatoes, hot peppers, almond groves, pomegranate trees, laden with fruit ready to pick.

We set up camp in the parking lot:

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Olives, grapes, pomegranates, hot peppers, almonds, and veggies galore, this place is great:

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The 4 of us went for a wine tasting, which turned out to be very good. Karmen ended up buying 5 bottles of wine, and Jenny and I two, a Chardonnay and a Red Blend. So, our "free' camping ended up costing us $43, but it was money well spent.

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We had supper with the Reid's; with pasta being the dish of choice. A great evening with our travel buddies. The winery even provided electrcity and water hook-ups, which is unusual for Harvest Hosts: usually all you have is dry camping.

We parted in the morning after picking some fresh veggies for the road, with us headed for Sequoia/KIngs Canyon National Parks. Jenny and Karmen posed for a picture at the front of the property. We were invited to pick some fresh veggies for the road. We would recommend this place to anyone looking for a different camping experience.

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For our neighbour Milt back home, who is keeping an eye on things, this photo of a Massey tractor:

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We are ending the day in Three Rivers, California, where we are staying in a full service RV park. It was good that we made a reservation for the National Park, just down the road has banned all trailers for the rest of the season. Apparently, once the main tourist season is over, it is construction time, They have a very short window to get road work done by the end of October when mother nature shuts things down for the winter.

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Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 17:05 Archived in USA Tagged california's_central_valley harvest_hosts vista_ranch_cellars Comments (1)

Sep 17 - 20 - The Highlands of Yosemite

Mountain Passes, the air at 10,000 feet above sea level, Hiking through scenery that is so beautiful it hurts your eyes to look at it,

sunny 15 °C

We left Carson City, heading south on Highway 395 and the road steadily rises, fist through Devil's Gate Summit, at 7500 feet, and then Conway Summit, at 8150 feet before dropping into the sleepy little town of Lee Vining, pop 545. Lee Vining is near Mono Lake, which is so salty you can float in it, if you are inclined to swim there. We planned on meeting George and Karmen Reid for a 3 day visit to the Tioga Road portion of Yosemite National Park.

We stopped at the Conway Summit for lunch and a picture of TaJ with the summit sign. While there our friends George and Karmen appeared like magic. They had been out visiting a ghost town while awaiting our arrival.

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We stopped at the Mono Lake Visitor Centre for information on Yosemite. Jenny and I also bought our $80 pass that gets us into all US National Parks for the next year.

Our plan was to get a first come/first served campsite in Tuolumne Meadows Campground the following morning. In the interim, George and Karmen had gotten us a site at the Lee Vining Forestry Campground, on Tioga Road.

It was cold on our trip up. Here is a frost covered meadow:

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We got TaJ set up at the campsite and the four of us headed up into Yosemite for a looksee and to check out how to get a campsite the following morning. Now, Lee Vining is at 6800 feet above sea level. In order to get to Yosemite we climbed the Tioga Road through the Tioga Pass, 9950 feet above sea level. To say the road was steep would be an understatement. It winds along cliff edges that take your breath away. This road is so steep that it closes as soon as the snows hit in November.

We learned at the campground office that for the first time this summer the campground is not full. It also closes for the season in just 8 days, so we are really on the cusp of the tourist season up here. We went to the visitor centre where a ranger was doing a presentation on what to see and do it the highland portion. Here we learned that the Yosemite Valley gets the lion's share of the annual 8 million visitors each year. Less than 3 million people visit the Tioga Road area.

This entire upper section of the park is at 8500 feet above sea level. For people like us, who live at sea level, there is considerably more work just to breathe up here. Both George and I are feeling the effects fairly quickly, but we are told we will adjust.

We also learned that last winter, at the area around the Visitor Centre there was 42 feet of snow last winter. The park buildings in this area, particularly those that house summer staff, have canvas roofs, which are taken off for the winter and the snow simply fills the space inside the buildings. To permanently roof them would invite collapse, like the roof of this closed lodge.

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We returned to Lee Vining, where we picked up some camp essentials and George and Karmen bought pork spare ribs for dinner back at the camp. For the first time since Alaska we had a campfire as there is no ban on campground fires here. It was great to sit around a fire, have a beer and supper outdoors. The rib dinner was great. Night is falling quickly here, with sunset at 7pm and full dark by 7:30pm.

We turned in early, with plans to hit the road for Tuolumne campground at first light. The lineup for campsites starts about 8am and the office opens at 9am.

Our drive up the hill with TaJ on the back was uneventful. The steepness of the road really affected our gas mileage on the hill climb.

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We managed to get campsites quite quickly and had our camp set up by noon. George and Karmen were directly across from us in a cul-de-sac area of the campground. There are 171 sites in all here, in a rugged and service free campground. No electricity, no water, and only simple toilets. All food must be stored in bear proof containers. Each site has one of these and the rules state you will be fined, and/or evicted, or both, if you break these simple rules. There are many black bears in the park and they must be protected from silly people who might get them killed simply by feeding them.

Our afternoon was taken up hiking locally to the campground. We did a 3 mile round trip on flat terrain to Soda Springs and Parsons Lodge, which used to the be the meeting place for the Sierra Club. The Lodge was built in 1915, and is a marvelous structure.

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There is a soda spring near the lodge, where cold carbonated water bubbles up out of the ground.

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George had purchased a straw that purported to let you be able to drink any water anywhere. It would purify the water and make it safe for drinking. He decided to give it a try here at the soda spring. The problem is it is short, and you have to get right down onto the water source to get a drink

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A bit later both George and I took a nap along the river. It might be the effects of the thin air, or it might just be because we are in our 70's now, and a nap is a good thing.

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There are lots of young people here, with massive amounts of energy. Some of that energy is expended climbing this dome.

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There are many groups heading out for backpacking adventures deep into the park. The park, even in September, is teeming with young people.

You can even go out on horse back into the wild.

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We decided to go out to see the sunset at Olmsted Point, where the setting sun lights up mountain peaks at the end of the day. Night falls quickly up here.

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Our plan for the next day was to drive out to El Portal, near the entrance to the Valley portion of the park. We hoped to find an r/v park just outside the park entrance that could accommodate us for a 2 night stay while we explored the Yosemite Valley. It is interesting to see where a tree can grow, this one right out of the rock face.

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The drive out was spectacular, with a wild downhill ride along Big Oak Flat Road. We left the park and eventually came upon the RV park that we had emailed the previous day. No one was in the office, and the set of rules pinned on the wall did not indicate a happy place to stay. The office was empty so we decided they did not want our business.

We headed back up the long road to the highlands. This stone arch is right after the entrance to the Yosemite Valley.

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We had brought the makings for bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches and stopped along the road for lunch.

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Once back up top we did the Tuolumne Grove hike to some massive trees. The hike is 1 1/2 miles downhill, and then 6 miles back up :) or at least that is the way it felt. A 450 foot elevation drop on the way down, means you have to climb back up. We were all pretty well beat by the time we finished this, but the effort was worth it.

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Once back at Tuolumne Meadows we attempted to find a campsite down in the Valley portion of the park. All of the campsites there must be reserved, and at this late date only a cancellation will get you a site. George was able to get a site, but there were no other cancellations so we were out of luck. We could have gone down there and waited around to see if a site would come open late in the day, but the uncertainty was not something we were willing to live with. The Valley is crowded with tourists and traffic is a nightmare so Jenny and I decided to pass on visiting that part of the park.

We haven't mentioned the temperatures yet, Each morning it was so cold. Most of the time I had a toque on my head and we were both bundled up. Lows of 0 C and highs of around 17 C during the day time

On the 20th we parted ways with George and Karmen. They headed out for the valley and Jenny and I headed out of the park on Highway 120, leading toward Merced and the fertile part of California. Along the way we noticed many dead trees. A search on the internet gave us the information that 29 million trees have died in the past 6 years due to drought and bark beetles. In many places along the road crews were cutting down dead trees and clearing the brush.

We found the most amazing highway. We took highway 49 from Coulterville to Mariposa, a distance of just 30 miles of so. The road wound up and down along a valley. There was evidence of many recent fires scorching the completely dry hills.

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The road was steep and winding. At one point we stopped after a long downhill and the brakes on our Pilot were smoking. It was that steep.

We ended the day at an RV park in Delhi California, with full services. It was time to get our laundry done, get this blog up to date, and to have a shower after 4 days of dry camping. In a day or so we will be heading for our next adventure...Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

Posted by Rooseboom-Scott 06:09 Archived in USA Tagged yosemite tuolumne_meadows Comments (2)

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