Monday, July 19, 2010

Hiking the Narrows

This morning Kristie had a bit of a headache so we laid low. I ran out to Rite Aid to get her some medicine and then she started to feel better right around the close of the free continental breakfast. It gets hot fast here in Utah. By the time we got in the car (around 10:30) it was already north of 100 degrees outside. We headed into Zion National Park. There were signs to listen to the radio to hear directions on parking. It was nearly impossible to discern what the radio station was saying and this was bringing back Kristie’s headache so we turned it off and took our chances. After much circling in the parking lot, I decided to park in ¼ of an RV spot. There was a short RV from Indiana that left enough room for a Prius to sneak in. I was sure to take a picture of the license plate just in case he backed up through my car!
Zion is basically a car-free park. Everyone rides a pretty nice – though not air conditioned – shuttle to each of the park destinations and trailheads. The nice part is that the driver narrates as you go – well ours did since the automatic recording had broken – so you get a bit of a tour while you’re driving.

The valley is beautiful. I think Kristie really enjoyed it to the tune of “we should really come back here someday.” I agree, but in the fall, spring or winter next time. I was kind of disappointed that the tunnel road was under construction because I remember that being magnificent and wish I could have shared this with her. When we arrived at the last stop, we began our one mile hike up to the Narrows. It was hot and we saw a few lizards running across. Thankfully no snakes! This part was paved.
Then we hiked right on into the Zion River. Kristie was wearing Nike ACG sandals and I was wearing socks and shoes. I bet you’d guess that her feet would be in better shape than mine in a few hours. Well you could not have been more wrong. After going about an hour up the river, Krisite’s feet really began to blister and rub against the leather of her shoes. She was a trooper but I knew this was uncomfortable. I started to ask if she wanted to turn around and she kind of became frustrated with me asking. I think she wanted to keep going and also did not want to disappoint me and cut short my hike. Plus we’d been bickering a good bit on this trip so I think tensions may have been a bit up as it was.. We continued around a beautiful corner of the narrows at her insistence. I’m quite happy we did. Then we turned back.

Kristie was able to float down the river for part of it. It was really cool. I got some on video. There were a couple of cool waterfall features along the way and we took a good deal of pictures. I must say that walking in a river is really pretty fun. This was perfect because it was rarely above your waist so you could carry a backpack without it getting soaked. When we finally got back to the paved path, I took a look at Kristie’s feet. They were pretty bad. I suggested that she take her shoes off to walk back in less pain but the cement was so hot that she had to put them back on. It must have seemed like an eternity for her walking back. She had to keep adjusting how she walked.

By the time we got back to the bus we decided that it would be best if we cancelled our tubing reservation so that we could work on getting her feet to heal. We both napped on the ride back to the Visitors Center. I also noticed a very young girl with a tattoo on her arm that said Dad. That just seemed like such a sad situation. There were no Band-Aids at the ranger station so we got back in the sizzling car and headed home. The temperature on the car thermometer was 119. I burned my arm on the plastic of the door. This heat is incredible.

When we got back to town, we showered and cleaned up for dinner. We went to JB’s which has a really good salad bar. Jared would have been proud! They also had pretty good food. Kristie got a taco salad and I got a half sandwich and the scrumptious salad bar. Upon returning to the hotel, we had an enormous argument. Kristie was frustrated that she’s getting older and wants to have kids and that we’re not even married yet. I argued for her – though I don’t know why since I want the same thing on a slightly different timeline – and she ended up saying that she’s not even sure if she wants to be together anymore. This was a rough night for sure.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bristlecone Pines and Hoodoos

I woke up at 445am in the stifling car and decided to drive back up the road in Great Basin so we could do our hike to see the Bristlecone Pines. It was very early. I saw the sunrise and got a few good pictures climbing the road. I woke up Kristie when we got to the trailhead. We were out hiking at 6 and were done by 8. It was a bit difficult due to the elevation. You could certainly feel it. But, it was also very cool to see trees that were alive when Jesus was here. These trees were 5000 years old! They surely did not look like it! There were gnarled and half dead but they certainly were that old. There were displays pointing out when the trees were “born.” Some dead trees had seeming obituaries as well. All and all a very cool hike.

We then stopped at the visitors center to briefly and took a picture next to the sign. Due to our late night and my being tired, we cut Capital Reef National Park out of the itinerary. We headed out towards Bryce Canyon. It was not too bad of a drive – about 4 hours. We drove through the middle of nowhere. Kristie was dying for breakfast but we did not come across a town offering food until the third hour of the drive. Here we stopped at the El Bambi CafĂ©. It was not good but served breakfast. Kristie enjoyed her eggs. I hated my pan fried hamburger and railed against people who stay in dead end jobs in these small towns. We then completed the hour drive to Bryce.

A surprisingly cool spot on the drive came in Dixie National Forest. Here we drove into Red Canyon. This looked like the inspiration for Thunder Mountain. It looks even more like it than the real inspiration – Sedona, AZ. There were also a couple of awesome arch bridges that the road passed under.

Bryce was awesome – though small. The park road stretches about 16 miles along the overlooks over the hoodoo erosive features. Since it was pouring we decided to start out on the farther – less impressive – section of the park. Thus we began at Rainbow Point and worked backwards towards Bryce and Sunset Points. These were the most spectacular! But, we didn’t realize this until we got there. It was fun to use the waterproof camera to take some pictures in the rain. We also saw a huge arch called Natural Bridge. I stopped to get a magnet at the gift shop and my phone fell out of the car. Not good… more scratches on the back case. At least it is not on the front I guess!
Our hotel is surprisingly nice. It is the Days Inn in Hurricane Utah. We passed by JB’s restaurant where we’ll probably eat tomorrow night. I have fond memories of that place from when I was here with my family in high school. They have a salad bad. Tomorrow is Zion. Hopefully hiking the Narrows and tubing down the Virgin River.

First Day with Kristie

I keep forgetting – for some reason – that Kristie can’t sleep on planes. I need to do a better job of remembering this as I plan trips. We ended up sleeping in a bit and then heading to the Circus Circus breakfast buffet while we waited for the “engineer” to fix our clogged tub. Once that was cleared up we were able to shower and get going. Vegas was still hot but I had a much friendlier view of the city when I woke up rested. As we made our way to the Hoover Dam, the temperature was 111.

The dam has stupid security protocols designed to make red America feel secure. Really they do absolutely nothing. As you go through the check point, the two inspectors merely look in your windows at you and then say “come on through.” You also had to pay for parking here. It is $7 which is about as crazy as $10 to park at Rushmore. But anyway, it was pretty interesting to see the dam. Kristie rubbed the feet of the two statues commemorating its completion for good luck. We also viewed some of the memorials and plaques. One of the cooler one was a map of the stars on the night that the dam was completed. This was installed so that future life forms could ascertain the date that the dam was completed. When we walked out onto the dam, you walk across time zones. Half way through there is a sign marking the boundary between Arizona and Nevada. There are also clocks on each of the respective intakes for the dam. The water level is strikingly low. At least 100 feet are missing. This is demonstrative of the huge drought afflicting the area. If current patterns continue the dam will hold back almost no water in 2050 and Las Vegas will run out of drinking water. We took a bunch of pictures and then headed back to the comfort of our air conditioned car.

Then it was off to Area 51. Well actually, it was off to Target, then to the gas station. We did not get out of Vegas again until about 12:30 and then made it to Rachel, NV around 3. The ride was pretty cool. The car struggled with the mountain passes again thanks to the battery problems. But, we made it! Rachel is the only town on the Extraterrestrial Highway, but it is quite a cool town. It’s actually not a town anymore. They closed the mine in the 1980’s as cheaper materials were available from China. Since then the population decreased from 200 to 74 people. At 100 people a town is absorbed into the neighboring community. Now, only one child lives in Rachel. Our stop was the Little AlieInn. It is a gift shop and bar centered around Area 51 and extraterrestrials. We got the Alien Burgers –which were surprisingly on a French Bread bun and explored the shop. There were all kinds of things and Kristie got a ton of them. It was fun talking to the bar tender as well as checking out all of the different photos on the walls and photo opportunities outside. There is a time capsule there from 20th Century Fox which was installed when Independence Day came out. It is slated to be opened in 2010 when aliens will have visited the earth.

We then drove down an 8 mile dirt road to the gate of Area 51. Kristie recorded the gate as we approached and then we turned around and headed out. Before doing so, Kristie collected some dirt from the area in our Goldfish bag and took a couple of rocks. One was for Ashley and one was for her.

Then we headed towards Great Basin National Park. It was about a 4 hour drive which we made easily and arrived at 9pm. We were low on gas so we had to get some before trying to find a place to camp. We ended up finding an unmanned Sinclair station that lets you pump 24 hours a day. It was in the town of Baker, NV and that place is like a frightening ghost town. Kristie later told me she was afraid that I’d get attacked by an alien out there while pumping the gas. It sure had the setting of a sci-fi or horror movie.

Great Basin is the worst run park I have been to. It is one of those “second-two” parks that only has a visitors center that is open during business hours. As such, it’s terribly difficult to arrive in the evening. To make m atters worse, they do not post their campground status at the gate. You also can’t make reservations. So what you have to do is get the map, go drive to each of the campsites, and then look at each of the spots to see if there are any available. This involves an 18 mile drive up a 10,000 foot mountain as well. All in all, it took us from 9pm to midnight to survey all of the campsites. We went to Strawberry Creek – a dirt road – where the overflow camping was supposed to be. After a 3 mile drive in the dark on this dirt road, we came to a sign that said road closed. So there were NO campsites available and we’d wasted 3 hours determining this. In the end we decided to ignore the prohibited signs and just sleep in our car at the visitor center. It was a terrible night’s sleep. I got about an hour. It was 82 degrees out and felt so hot to be sleeping. Kristie slept well because she was so tired from her flight and jet lag.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Yosemite to Vegas

I am writing this as I wait for Kristie’s plan to land. I could not be less impressed with Las Vegas. It is no wonder that Harry Reid was able to float to the top here. Everyone here is an idiot. They are terrible drivers, dysfunctional cashiers, and CRAZY for living somewhere where it can literally still be 106 degrees out at 11pm.
So, what did I do today… I woke up in heaven… ok Yosemite but heaven is pretty close. Yosemite is the west coast version of my Elysium – Acadia. If we were to move here, I’d be as obsessed with Yosemite as I am with Acadia. Speaking of which – Pete and Annie, are you still up for our August or September weekend in Acadia?

Yosemite is one of those perfect places for every life stage. It’s a great place to be a kid because there are such diverse natural wonders, a great place for college/20’s because there are awesome intense hikes. Speaking of that, Jared – we need to plan a trip to climb half dome. I saw a shirt for sale for those who did it and I want that shirt. It’s then also a wonderful place to bring your own children to expose them to geology, nature, and just having fun in the outdoors. When I was at Tenaya Lake I really saw this. It is a beautiful alpine lake that is warm enough to swim in. What better day than going on a hike with your kids, cooling off with a swim in the lake, and then attending one of the campfire programs with the Rangers at night. Anyways, I digress.
So this morning, I woke up around 7 and took down camp. I’d never camped at a place without running water and the thing I missed most was brushing my teeth. I really missed it and felt gross. It was also a letdown not to be able to wash my hair in the sink so I could at least look presentable. I headed down to the Valley because I wanted to see the waterfalls (Yosemite and Bridalveil). They sure did impress. Although not very powerful since the snow is all melted it was great to see them as well as half dome and El Captain. I must say that the waterfalls hold their allure on a second visit much more strongly than do the rock features.

I hiked up to the base of Yosemite Falls and got to take some great pictures. The only way for me to get in the picture was to stick my head in the very bottom as there was so much scenery to capture. As soon as I tried to walk down (in my sandals) I became immediately aware of why there are warnings that the rocks are slippery. They are, even when dry. I had a camcorder in one hand and a camera in the other. Thankfully I saved both and let my shin absorb my fall. This of course resulted in me slicing the shin. It was not too bad but I think it is the first cut on my leg I’ve had since I was in middle school. The weird thing is that it tingles now whenever I yawn or cough or stretch. Weird, right? I was much more careful following this and made it the down the rest of the way ok. I checked out the Yosemite Village store and picked up a magnet and t-shirt. It’s kind of a cool shirt. This was my favorite National Park store so far. I think when I retire I will try to work at a national park. Perhaps Yosemite. I could even work at the store. There is a produce section.

Then I headed out of the valley and through a huge fire scar. This must have been a huge fire as it stretched for about 15 miles. I considered a stop at the Tuolomne Grove but decided it would be more prudent to get on the road towards Las Vegas. Having run out of gas a few days ago, I was sure to get a few gallons of gas in the park – despite the price of $3.75 a gallon. My car battery continued to scare me getting down to the single purple bar as I ascended into the Tioga Pass area. Before then, I stopped to take some pictures at Olmstead Point (overlooking Yosemite Valley from above) and Tenaya Lake. Then I bid my farewell to Yosemite and descended back down Tioga Pass towards Mono Lake. Mono Lake was very striking from this perspective but my camera was dead and I was charging the battery.

Then began the 5 hour drive to Las Vegas through the middle of nowhere. I think I only passed through 6 towns on the whole journey. It is that remote. There were tons of abandoned gas stations, trailers, businesses, and homes along the way. There was also very spotty cell coverage. I passed through a couple of cool towns. One was a ghost town called Benton Hot Springs. There were abandoned wagons similar to those in the Oregon Trail, and all of the buildings in town were in shambles with the exception of one really well kept bed and breakfast. I kind of think it would be fun to stay there sometime in the future. I made a note of it here to remind me as I plan future trips. Another town was an old western town called Tonopah. I think mining is the industry of that area. It does have a wild west feel.

Then I finally got to Vegas. Staying at Circus Circus is a novelty as I don’t think it will be here much longer. It looks like Sinatra performed here and they have not updated it since then. There is an indoor amusement park for the kids. But I think this place will be demolished in 5-10 years to make room for some new place which can charge a lot more than $28 a night. What a deal, right!

So I had some errands to run here in Vegas. I wanted to get hiking sandals for hiking the Narrows in Zion but you had to pay $10 to park at the outlets so that was out. So I then went to get a few items for the cooler. Albertsons had disgusting produce, just like their sister company Shaws so I left there. I ended up at Wal-Mart. Big mistake. Where’s a Safeway when you need it? Not in Vegas. People are too disgusting to know what to do in a nice store like that. They had crappy food and terrible customer service. I waited 20 minutes in line. I had to swap my ice twice as it was melting in line. When I finally checked out the guy didn’t put all my stuff in my cart. I was missing blueberries, plums and air freshener. I went back in to get them and he said that he must have given the fruit to someone else. Sorry, but here’s your air freshener. I asked if I could go get replacements and he said I’d have to speak with a manager. Tired and hot, I left. IT was still 106 out, down from 113 earlier. I went to Wendy’s because I was starving and had missed the buffets.

Oh Kristie just called. She’s landed. I am off to get her. Yay!

Goodnight.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lassen

I arrived around 10pm to Lassen thanks to the exciting “running out of gas” incident from earlier in the evening. I was pretty tired. Thankfully there is a camping area right at the southwest entrance to the park. It was very dark and late so I decided to just sleep in the car. As I was arranging the passenger seat to be my bed – a process of lining it with pillows, my sleeping bag, and putting on my hooded sweatshirt, I noticed how brilliant the night sky is here. I could see so many more stars than back east. I even saw what I believed to be two shooting stars. Some of the stars were twinkling. I think that this is related to the clarity of the night sky allowing me to see the variations in the light – but then again, I did not pay super close attention in our astronomy class from last year.

Since I slept in the car, I woke up quite early – 5:15 to be exact – and got an early jump on the day. I briefly exited the park to take the compulsory photo in front of the sign and picked up a map. It was great to be able to take pictures during sunrise. The mountain peaks came out beautifully. Unfortunately they got a ton of snow here over the winter months. So much, in fact, that two of the three hikes I wanted to do in the park are closed. Bumpass Hell – which is supposed to be an amazing geothermal hike was covered in 5-10 feet of snow and closed because you could fall through the snow into a boiling hot spring or sulfur steam outlet. Then I headed up the road a bit to Lassen Peak. This would have been a great hike as it is the second tallest peak in CA and would have been the first 10,000 peak that I’ve hiked. However there were two obstacles to this hike. Due to heavy snow conditions, ice picks and crampons are required. And… this will only get you 1.3 miles up the trail – about halfway – at which point the trail is closed to all hikers. So, onward I went, stumbling upon a beautiful scene at Summit Lake during sunrise. The steam was floating above the water and evaporating appearing to dance along the water. It is so quiet and peaceful in the park at this time of day. I was even able to park my car on the road to go take pictures of the lake. Nobody else passed through in the 10 minutes that passed.

Next, I stopped at the devastation zone, which is the area which was destroyed by the eruption of Lassen Peak in 1915. The hot sulfur gas first melted the snow and created a boiling mudslide. Then lava and ash pummeled the region as well. The cool thing about the devastation zone is the vast biodiversity which has emerged during the period of regrowth. It is also interesting to see that there are still vast areas of emptiness between the trees in this area.

They are repaving a 23 miles stretch of the road through the park. As I write this, I am sitting waiting for the pilot car to take me through the site. After that I’ll be stopping at the visitors center to see if I can hike the Cinder Cone trail or if that is also under feet of snow at this time.

As it turns out, I ran into a couple of rangers who were doing their morning rounds and the Cinder Cone area is open and snow free. I drove around the park and down an 8 mile dirt road. Dirt is used loosely. It is more like a gravel road with big rocks. I know my Prius hates me for going down that road. But, it was well worth it. Cinder Cone is one of the rarest types of volcanic features on earth. As I began the hike, I noted the well developed Ponderosa Pine forest and tons of chipmunks. To my left there was an enormous bed of lava called Fantastic Lavabeds. This is the lava that came out of the Cinder Cone’s eruption in 1650. The trail was difficult at first because it was a sandy pumice that felt like a beach. However, this seemed easy, shortly. Once it was time to climb Cinder Cone, I had to go up a 45 degree incline of loose rocks and sand. For every step that I took up, I slid back a half a step. This was the hardest hike I’ve ever done. Luckily it was also the most rewarding. When I finally got to the top, my heart pounding at least 150 beats per minute, I was amazed with my panoramic view as well as a view down into the cone as well. It was spectacular. To one side, there was a snow capped mountain, to another the Fantastic Lava Bed, to another smooth ash fields that look akin to the coloration of the painted desert. I’ve never felt so fulfilled from a hike in my life. I tried to take pictures but this is one of those fantastic overwhelming sites – like Glacier and the Grand Canyon – that you cannot capture on film. It is only fully present in my head.

I flew down the trail on my return. It was a lot easier than holding my intertia back. Once I was at the bottom I had to empty my shoes as they were full of ash and small rocks. As I was doing this I saw a small lizard scamper in front of me. He was about Ecto’s size. I wonder how Ecto’s doing? I hope well. Back at the car, I made my way down the difficult dirt road and out to the highway. From here, I punched Mono Lake into the GPS.

Around noon I came around a local pizza place offering and all you can eat pizza and salad and pizza buffet for $6.99. I immediately pulled in. This continues my now three day old tradition of having one large meal a day. This works well when it is just me on the trip because it saves time and also gives me a good diversity of food for a low price. I try to eat this in the early to mid afternoon. I then have waters and diet sodas as I am driving and am too tired to be hungry once I arrive at my destination. The pizza was pretty good. I think it was called Rounds Pizza. It seems to be a local chain.
I crossed briefly into Nevada during my drive, passed through Reno and Carson City, and then headed back to California. At their agricultural station, they confiscated my old rotting peaches from the cooler even though the allowed them upon my previous entry. I then made my way to Mono Lake. On the way, I had more problems with the Prius battery getting very low on the way up mountains. I am going to get this checked out when I get back home because I have the warranty and am disappointed with the sluggishness that this causes.

Mono Lake smelled terrible. It is an inland sea – the westernmost feature of the Great Basin. This means that the water that fills this area does not drain into an ocean. Rather it is trapped and eventually evaporates from the mountain west of the USA. There were tons of seagulls and lots of flies and apparently a good deal of brine shrimp. Overall it was a very unique feature. There are calcium carbonate features that form unique shapes above the surface of the water. The gulls enjoy this. I would have liked to hike along the shore to get close up shots of these but since I am running this solo week with no reservations, I knew I needed to get into Yosemite soon to secure one of the few remaining walk-in campsites. I entered the park through Tioga Pass. The Prius batter again struggled. This coupled with my GPS randomly turning off, and the new crack in my phone’s screen from when I hit it against my sunglasses bringing it up to my ear makes for a very technologically frustrating trip so far! Oh yes and somehow there is moisture in the waterproof camera.

Anyway, back to Yosemite… I love driving through this part of the park. It is the alpine portion and less populated. It is also the home of Tuolomne Meadows. This became one of my favorite places when I visited here as a kid and scampered along the bald granite mountain tops. I was able to get one of the last stops in the Porcupine Flats campground. I wanted to go see the sunset in the valley but maybe I’ll be able to catch the sunrise or the time shortly thereafter tomorrow. It was too late after I set up my tent to get down there. So, instead, I called Kristie to confirm our plans for her arrival in Las Vegas tomorrow and am going to call it an early night. They must have a huge bear problem in Yosemite as I needed to lock all of my food in a bear box – even the food that I have been able to keep in the car at all of the other parks. Ok well goodnight!

Out of Gas

Joe Jon send me a message that he’d been trying to get in touch with me while I was at the buffet so I called him when I left the restaurant. This helped me to forget that I needed to fill up on gas. I realized about 27 miles up the road to Lassen. He offered to check if there was gas up the road. There was not. So I quickly turned around and tried to make it back down into Redding. With about 5 miles left to the gas station I ran out of gas. I was able to coast 4.5 miles down the hill into town. I had to park my car on the side of the road and walk to the gas station. When I go there, it was only me and a very rough looking biker dude who wanted to buy knives. I casually bought the gas container from a very nice clerk. It is a family business and they have pictures of Jesus all over the store and were very friendly. It took a while to figure out how to take the top off of the canister but I finally was able to fill it up and walked back in the waning twilight to put a gallon of gas in my car. Thankfully it started up and I went to the gas station and filled it the rest of the way. Now I think I will be more conscious of keeping it full for the rest of the trip.

When I finally got to Lassen it was pitch black. The stars were amazing but it seemed all of the campers were asleep. I could not find out where to pay so I didn’t and I guess this balances out the $12 I had to spend on the gas canister.

Redwoods

I woke up very late this morning. I woke up at 9am! I sure took advantage of sleeping in a bed. By the time I got on the road, I arrived at the Redwoods Visitor Center around 10:30. I really wanted to see Fern Canyon – where the Lost World was filmed – and some big trees. So they gave me directions. I took a windy dirt road to Fern Canyon. Apparently the Canyon is owned by California so you have to pay $8 to get in. You’d think that this would include a bridge to the site. No. It does not. I left my Prius a mile down the road and walked the rest of the way. I then saw multiple Priuses pass me on my walk down the road so I guess I underestimated my car! Fern Canyon was really pretty. The walls are lined with ferns, unsurprisingly. They go up to 100 feet in some places. A creek runs through it and dead and fallen redwoods abound as well. I had to take my sandals off and walk barefoot. One of the other people there commented that he never knew how tender his feet really were. I could not agree more. Mine were killing me from some of the small jagged rocks. I then had a moment of clarity and decided to walk primarily on the larger rocks.

After Fern Canyon I went to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove. This is a sizable grove of old growth Redwoods. Some have survived fires that burned their entire core out and are living just on their barky sides to transport all of the water up to them. Others were impressive for their sheer size. Overall this was a moving experience. I spent about an hour and a half hiking around the Redwoods. Then I stopped at the beach to dip my feet in the Pacific. Apparently there are problems with people getting swept out to sea by sneaker waves so swimming in that area was highly discouraged. Being alone, I was sure to take their advice.

Then it was off to Lassen! That’s my stop for tomorrow. But the fun does not stop there! I wound through the coastal mountains and eventually into the Shasta Range. This put me down into Redding, CA where I had my daily meal – Hometown Buffet again. I feel so healthy when I eat there. First I have green things on my plate and second, I have no trouble walking in or out of the doors. If you ever wanted to boost your self-esteem, this is a good place. Plus it’s a good deal. They were disappointed that I did not want to “add their unlimited beverage bar for $1.99” As if you cannot get fat enough on their food.

Crater Lake

When we were in Badlands, Greg commented that, while interesting, the park was not magnificent. To him, magnificent meant something that was overpowering, difficult to absorb at once, emotionally and/or spiritually moving, and unable to be captured by film. I didn’t really know what he meant until I visited Crater Lake. This is not a magnificent park. Yes, it is interesting and the views are pretty cool but there is nothing special about it other than the millions of mosquitoes biting you incessantly. The Ranger Program at the campsite was called “Why I find Crater Lake so Beautiful.” How much more un-magnificent can we get? So I woke up early since I had slept in the car and took a shower. Thankfully the campsite had one of those. I then decided to do the Crater Rim Road. I was STARVING but was hoping to have breakfast overlooking the Lake. I tried three different spots and was overwhelmed my mosquitoes so I had to retreat to the car. It was disgusting. Even when they were not biting you they were landing and sitting on your clothes. I decided that I did not want to do the hike down to the base of the lake because of the mosquitoes.

Thankfully, I found an overlook near the trailhead that did not have mosquitoes and rescinded. I did the trail and it was the highlight of my experience there. It was about 1.5 miles each way. Down was very easy. Up was very hard. While down there I saw a little lizard which surprised me. I also took off my shoes and socks and got to dip my feet in the water. It was surprisingly warm. Well I guess technically it was cold but I expected water surrounded by snow packed cliffs to be colder than it was. Following the hike, I took a side road over to the Pinnacles which are a really neat rock formation carved by a stream. They reminded me of badlands. I took pictures but left there very quickly as well as I was swarmed by hornets and did not want to get stung. A quick stop at the gift shop on the way out enabled me to enhance my magnet collection, but that was it. I was done with Crater Lake. Maybe it’s a bit of splendor burnout, but as of now, I don’t plan to return.

The rest of my day was consumed by errands. I headed to Medford, Oregon and did laundry, had my oil changed, and refueled myself at the Hometown Buffet. It was a combo of lunch and dinner and for $10 I think I did pretty well. They actually have a surprisingly good salad bar. The oil change was rough. I needed a new cabin air filter – they showed me and it was disgusting with leaves and pine needles – and engine filter. All in all it was $101 but they were able to get the Bowdoin pine sap off of my windshield. I’d been trying to do that for months.

Once my errands were complete, I took a ride down the Redwood Highway towards – and apparently through – Redwood National Park. It was awesome to see these trees. They were magnificent in that you cannot capture them aptly on film. The road wound along the Pacific and was especially beautiful in the evening hours. Sadly this park is only staffed from 9-5 and I arrived at 5:30. So, I did not get a map and kind of just drove through on the Redwood Highway. Campsites were $35! That is crazy! So, I opted for the $50 Motel 6 down in Arcata. TripAdvisor said it was a sketchy place. They were wrong. It had a comfortable bed, a warm shower, and TV. What they should have said is that it is full of sketchy people. That I’ll give you. I brought all of my valuables in the room with me that night!

July 11

Today was a day of driving. I went from Ponderay Idaho to Crater Lake in California. The drive was amazing and there was only one time where it got boring and I realized how tired that I was. I started out in the forested rolling hills of Idaho’s chimney. This is a surprisingly affluent area with many nice stores and restaurants. It appears as if this is a suburb of Spokane. However, I must say that Spokane was a disappointing city. It looks like a worn out mill city in the post mill age. After leaving Spokane I broke out into the desert component of Washington State. Sweeping grasslands encompassed my whole view from the road. Then, out of nowhere, I saw a snow capped peak. I think that this was Mount Hood. As I descended into the Columbia River Gorge the views continued to be spectacular but I also started to get quite tired. I was getting close to falling asleep so I stopped at a Pilot rest stop and walked around a bit. This refreshed me and I headed onto Oregon 97 South. This road is called the road of then and now. It could not be a more accurate description. There are abandoned homes, gas stations, restraints, ranches, etc. This is all set with the backdrop of new wind power generation along the edge of the road. You can also see three snow capped peaks in the distance over the rolling wheat and grasslands. Then the road descends sharply into a valley which houses {MESA?) – a surprisingly big town. I gassed up here and bought a few groceries. Then I started to enter National Forests. One of them was a volcanic site with lava flows and the rest of them featured consistently rising elevations and increasing amounts of Ponderosa Pines. These trees space themselves nicely along the land. To be honest, I did not pay much attention to the national forest area as Bill Bordak called and I was preoccupied driving and talking on the phone.

Then after 10 hours of driving, I turned onto Crater Lake Access Road. This place is remote and very high. Most of the area surrounding the lake is still covered in feet of snow. The roads have no margin of error and frankly freak me out driving on them as there are 50 foot drops merely one foot away from the white line. I took a few pictures and then decided to head to Mazama Village to try to secure a camping site at the campground for the evening.

As it turns out there were plenty of sites available which kind of makes me wish that I had remained at the lake longer to take photos and see the sunset. The lake is surreal in that the water level is so far from the edges. I am excited about hiking down to it tomorrow. However, I am not sure if I am going to go for a dip. Then again they only have cold showers at the campground so I think I might as well enjoy the novelty of Crater Lake if I am going to be freezing.

As I waited in line to get a campsite the mosquitoes came out in force. I had to borrow bug spray from the woman behind me in line because I was getting eaten alive. Once I had my site, I started to set up my tent but was getting swarmed with mosquitoes and frankly gave up. It was not worth sleeping in the tent tonight. I am going to just sleep in the car (which also filled with mosquitoes as I brought the tent in and out of it. I think I killed most of them (about 30) and I am exhausted so I am getting ready for bed. The plan for tomorrow is to do the park loop road here as well as hike down to the base of the lake before heading to Redwood National Park in the afternoon. Of course since I have no reservations for this leg of the trip, it is all quite flexible and could change depending on what interesting things I discover.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Week 1 Reflection

I had an awesome time on this trip with Jared and Greg. It was fun to spend a prolonged amount of time together touring these parks. It's certainly been an amazing life experience and hopefully something that we can try to do for a week each year. While we were in Banff, Greg found wifi and checked his email to find out that he had come off the wait list at Villanova too. Now he's suddenly faced with a decision between 'Nova and Richmond. Good problems to have. Congratulations! Jared and I have also decided that we need to start going to the gym more as some of these hikes were harder for us than they should have been. We also don't want to gain too much weight and end up plateauing in our careers as a result. Now to just work it into the schedule! haha

Since I was able to drop Jared and Greg off at the airport a bit early, I think I have enough time to try to go to Crater Lake, Redwoods, and Lassen Volcanoes on the way to meet up with Kristie in Vegas. I got a good start last night and hope to continue this today. However, I will need to stop for an oil change and need to find a place to do some laundry at some point as well! We'll see!I am back up and at them early this morning though I am enjoying a bit of time to lounge here in the hotel before hitting the road again.

Banff 2 and Segment II

We were pleasantly surprised to see sunshine when we woke today. It was a beautiful morning, made even better by the fact that we’d get to shower for a second consecutive day. Our goal for the day was to climb Big Beehive, a mountain located behind Lake Louise. The forecast of rain encouraged our early start. We packed up the campsite and Jared and Greg organized their bags for their flights back home later in the evening. Then we headed over to Lake Louise which was Asian tourist central. It really sounded more like you’d anticipate Hong Kong to be like than Canada. We were the only people speaking English as we walked through the corporatized lakefront along the edge of the Fairmont Hotel. Canada just doe s a bad job managing its national parks. They seem to be managed more like Disney World than a natural attraction and it’s a let down to see such a beautiful place squandered and exploited as Canada has done. Sure there are nicer comforts to the Canadian style but this detracts from the ability to find peace and rejuvenation in nature.
The hike was 5.3 km each way and we generally flew through it. The first part wound up to a “tea house” where hikers could enjoy English tea overlooking a waterfall and Lake Morriane. We then delved deeper into the hike, climbing incredibly steep switchbacks to reach our vista. The glacial water looks even bluer from above. We took pictures and some video of local birds playing and then headed down as the rain clouds were pouring in. As we left we heard a huge thundering boom. We were initially very worried that we’d be climbing back down in a thunderstorm. But then we noticed that the sound came from an avalanche on a glacier above to our left. We watched the snow cascade and then headed down the switchbacks. There, another hiker noticed Jared’s Georgetown hat. It turns out that he is a semi-retired 40 year old who is touring the national parks on his own for about 7 weeks this summer. He is aiming to get back for the Dave Matthews show in DC on the 24th. About that time we started to feel sprinkles. We started run/walking down the mountain and made it down in an hour and 10 minutes. Not bad! It was only about 1pm and their flight was not until 1am. But since the weather was bad we headed east towards Calgary. We did make a stop in the town of Banff which is a combination of Bar Harbor and M Street in Georgetown. It was a fun place with a beautiful backdrop. We bought a few souvenirs and headed to Calgary where we found a Chinese Buffet. Though pricey, it was pretty good food and held us for the rest of the day. I dropped Jared and Greg off at the airport and began part II of my journey.
I made a mad dash for the US border since hotel rooms in Calgary are out of this world expensive. The cheapest one I could find was $185 which was ridiculous. I made it to the border at around 12:00AM and promptly called Kristie because I’d missed her! I felt kind of bad because I think I woke her up from a sound sleep since it was 3am but it was great to talk to her after nearly 3 days in Canada. As I came through the border, I pissed off the customs agent. They had red flashing lights on the side of the approach. I didn’t realize that they meant to stop 50 feet prior to the inspection station and he yelled to me “don’t they have stop signs in Maine!?” After a brief apology, things went much better and I was through there in no time. The first town I came across in Idaho was Bonners Ferry. There are 4 hotels in the town and all were full. The first hotel with an opening was another half hour down the road. While overpriced at $69, it was time to stop so I bit the bullet and enjoyed sleeping in a bed for the first time in a week.

Banff!!!!

Aaaaah. A hot shower. The first time we’ve showered in three days. We feel like a million bucks. Greg spent over 20 minutes in his, making a case for timed showers at campgrounds but all in all it was a great way to start the day. Unsure about tomorrow’s weather we had a decision to make. Either the Ice Roads Parkway or hiking up one of the smaller peaks overlooking Lake Louise. We decided to stop at the visitors center (ranger station in US speak) to determine our best course of action. We ended up being “helped” by a very hungover Canadian student who could barely get his brain to work. In addition he had toothpaste smeared on his hand and arm and his hair was completely uncombed from the previous night. In the end we decided that it would be best to do the Parkway today in order to take advantage of the sunny weather for all of the turnoffs, etc.
The Ice Road was beautiful. It runs for about 260 km from Lake Louise through Banff National Park and Jasper National Park to the town of Jasper. There were tons of scenic vistas along the way. We first stopped at Pyrna Lake. This was a short walk from a parking area. It was the first crystal blue lake that we’d encountered and you could see the water draining into it from the feeding glacier above. We hung around here a bit until stopping along the Bow River. Jared loves rivers and these rivers look like the ones from White Fang and Into the Wild so we really enjoyed these stops. Greg and I put our feet in the frigid water. Though icy, it was pretty easy to get used to as well. After these river stops, we climbed significantly towards the Columbia Ice Fields. Here we were able to hike right to the base of a glacier. The name of the glacier escapes me but I know it started with the letter A. It was striking to see all of the previous marks of the glacier. It has receded over 2000 feet since 2000 and when we stopped at the visitors center (almost 2 miles away) we saw a sign denoting the glacier’s edge back in 1948. It is sad to see that even these glaciers are rapidly disappearing and that we’ll likely be unable to show these to our children – unless we really hurry up! The trek to the glacier was steep and rocky and looked a lot like photos of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s hard to believe that people fight over such arid and useless land as much as they do. While we had hoped to get to walk on the glacier, we were scared away by the copious warning signs indicating that a lake and swift flowing river had formed underneath the glacier. As such, we decided to instead pose right at the base of it for photos. We later found a sign informing us that the last three rescue attempts for people who fell into crevasses and the water below were unsuccessful. It was over 30 degrees colder at the glacier than in the parking area.
We then stopped at the Columbia Ice Fields visitor’s center to briefly look for magnets (of which there were none) and t-shirts (which were hideous). Overall, we are quite disappointed with Parks Canada. They just do a bad job with pretty much everything they do. Their facilities are not clean, their park rangers don’t seem to leave the desks of the visitor centers and they pave many of their hiking trails. It’s a shame Canada gets Banff and Jasper. I know the US Park Service would do a tremendously better job managing and educating about these lands.
After leaving the Ice Fields, we descended a steep 8-10% grade north into Jasper National Park. The peaks here are much more jagged and you can see where the rocks were pushed up almost at a 70 degree angle towards the sky. I liked this variance. Jared and Greg napped so I drove straight through to the town of Jasper. This is a very built-up touristy town. It seemed like it would have been a very fun place to spend a lot of time. We stopped at a gift shop where Greg found a hand knit hat depicting an animal’s face. He thinks it will make him a babe magnet at Richmond during the summer. Jared picked up a t-shirt and then we refueled. Our “international” credit card kept getting rejected here (as did everyone else’s) and the clerk had to come out and set the pump to allow us to pump and then we paid inside with the same international credit card. Odd system for sure… Oh and since this is the furthest north that any of us have been we had to get a picture with the Jasper sign. This town is about level with the southernmost point in Alaska.
On our way back into Jasper, we hit a 30 minute delay as paving crews worked to vacate their work site for the weekend. Once we were on the road, we stopped at 3 beautiful waterfalls and climbed among the rocks on the edge. We then returned to Lake Louise. On the way, Jared got super angry at Greg and I when discussing politics and started screaming like rants similar to those of Sean Hannity regarding health care reform, liberals, and stupidity. It literally hurt my ear drum and was frightening. When we got back into town we picked up some very overpriced hot dogs, built a campfire, grilled, and went to bed. It was pretty fun to cook our own warm dinner!

Day 2 @ Glacier

Greg and I woke up 5 times between 1 and 3 am due to Jared’s snoring in the adjacent tent. He was louder than the guy in Yellowstone that he’d previously made fun of. Greg got so angry he unzipped Jared’s tent to go wake him up. This freaked Jared out and he says that he elevated vertically from the ground while lying down because he was so scared that Greg was actually a bear entering the tent. And then he kept right on snoring. In the end Greg and I moved to the car and slept in the front two seats. We all woke up late (around 7) and the tents were soaked from a heavy dew. Once we were packed and Jared had completed taking advantage of his “connectivity” we headed out to the Many Glacier part of the park where we hiked the Iceburg Lake Trail. The road out there was in miserable shape. But, once we got there, we really liked the many glacier area. First, they have a very fairly priced store there. But, more importantly there are a couple of nice lodging options there that don’t involve sleeping in tents. We took note for future visits with the girlfriends who should be wives by our subsequent visit. They’d probably prefer this type of lodging.
Onto the trail! We got started about 9:30am. The trail is 4.9 miles each way so it was quite a healthy hike for us! We gained a good deal of elevation as well, eventually rising to the tree line. The ranger did inform us that we needed to carry bear spray and gave us a brief introduction on how to interact with bears in the wild. Unfortunately we did not get to see any bears.
The hike starts out in a wooded valley and then rises into intermittent patches of beautiful wild flowers and forest. Though I have never sat through Sound of Music in its entirity, our scenery matched the movie. About halfway up we hit a 100 foot waterfall. It was nice to emerge from our trail into a more open area with such great scenery and a gathering of people. This meant we could stop yelling “hey bear” every few minutes in order to alert any bears ahead of our presence. The most important thing to preventing a bear attack is letting them know that you are there. They will almost always scamper.
A few minutes after the waterfall, we stumbled upon a pit toilet. I’d never used one before, but I must say it was a welcome sight and the experience was not at all negative. Onward and upward, we passed an area of thick cover with lots of flies and even a stump which looked like it had been ripped open by a bear to eat the bugs. However, no bears there today. We then hit open country. We could see the entire valley opening on our left side. It was one of those sights that you just can’t capture with a camera. It can only fit in your mind and memory. On our right side, red sedimentary rocks rose up almost 2000 feet to the skyline. There was snow near the top feeding copious waterfalls. There were literally falls of varying magnitude every few hundred feet. The final stage of our ascent was our entry into the snowfields. There were alpine evergreens up here with stunted growth and a beautiful alpine stream rushing towards a waterfall lower in the valley. Near the top we saw a huge deer cross the pathway right in front of us. Then we crested a small hill and below us was aptly named Iceburg Lake. There are small icebergs floating in it which were cleaved from a pathetically small glacier hanging above the crystal blue lake. This iceberg will likely be gone in less than 5 years so it was a good thing we saw it when we did. Greg was exhausted from not sleeping last night and we were all dehydrated. We drank our puny `16 oz waters, took some pictures, and headed back down.
As we began our descent, we were told that there was a mother and two bear cubs playing in the snow about 100 feet from the trail. Jared responded with “great, just what we need a mother and cubs, the most aggressive of situations.” I kind of wanted to see them, and Greg kind of just wanted to get back to the car so he could hydrate and nap, But sadly, we did not see the bears. They had retreated down into the valley by the time we arrived at their former location. As such, we ended up hurrying down the rest of the way. We did get lucky enough to come across a big horned sheep within about 15 feet of us along the trail. He posed for a few photos before scampering back into the cover of the woods.

We were all pretty beat when we got down to the parking area and enjoyed some waters and the best tasting plums I’d had in years. Well actually I have not had plums in years. Then it was time to hit the road to Canada! A quick stop for Jared to check in with work and me to take a look at hotel rooms in Calgary got extended when we discovered the cheapest rate is $150 for the night I am dropping them off at the airport. As a result, I decided to gamble and see what I can find for rates on Saturday.
The crossing into Canada was very easy. About 3 questions, a request for us to take off our sunglasses, and there we were… into Alberta. There is absolutely nothing in Alberta until you get to Calgary. I did stop and get $40 of Canadian money out of the TD bank on the border town.
Calgary is a beautiful modern city. We had dinner at a nice Greek place called Opa.It was amazing to finally have fresh vegetables after a week of eating out of the cooler. We also noted that almost everyone in Calgary is in nearly perfect health. You’d think you were in San Diego, rather than a town that gets 9 months of winter. Certainly puts Maine’s population to shame on the attractiveness meter. As I write this, we’re ascending into the Canadian Rockies from the plains. They are a bit more jagged than Glacier’s mountains but there is a similar rock color, striations, and tree lines. It is 9pm and the sun is still high in the sky. This bodes well for our 945pm arrival time. We’ll be able to set up our tent in daylight again. This is the site with the electric fence on the perimeter. I guess there are a lot of bears in the area. We’ll see!

Glacier National Park - Day 1

We started the day early. Jared woke Greg and I up at 2:00AM with his incessantly loud snoring. It was terrible. He even woke up the two neighboring sites who grumbled about his snoring as well. When we actually woke up there had been a hard freeze. The windshield was iced and there was frost on our tent. It was freezing. We got cleaned up and headed to the visitor center to get our maps. We still had to check in at our campsite but it was only 7am and you can’t do so until 8 so we took some pictures by the St. Mary River first. We checked in with the Ranger at check-in regarding good hikes. He suggested the Iceburg Trail but told us that we should bring bear spray. We’ll go to that tomorrow I think.
Back to today… we had 5 hours to do the Going to the Sun Road. It is a spectacular road that is under reconstruction for WPA part II (Stimulus Package). There were many nice outcroppings along the way up to Logan Pass. When we were almost there we came upon part I of the construction. The road is one way as they rebuild it. Following the construction we passed through a tunnel and soon emerged at snowy Logan Pass. We stopped in at the visitors center which had just opened on July 1. They had to remove over 400 inches of snow from the parking area in order to open and that takes quite a while – especially since they received most of their snow in April. The Ranger shared with us that all glaciers will be gone from the park within 15 years. He discussed how global warming plays a big role as does ash from Mount St. Helen’s and decreased precipitation patterns in the park.
The only trail open on the pass was to Hidden Lake. We decided to give it a go even though there are 5-40 feet of snow covering the pathway. It was a blast and made me want to ski down it as some others had done. We took tons of pictures as we trekked up through the snowy paths in shorts and t-shirts. Very fun and surreal. There were snow bridges along the trail that we were routed around. A snow bridge is formed when snow melt pools into a stream and travels under the snow. It is dangerous because it could collapse and you could fall through into a 32 degree torrent of water. Once we got most of the way up, we chickened out. Walking in sneakers without poles on snow pack didn’t seem safe when there is a 80 degree slope adjacent to the snowy path. So, we turned around and headed back to the parking lot. It worked out well because we got stuck in a ton of traffic on the rest of the (beautiful) Going to Sun Road and ended up just making it to the Montana Rafting Company in West Glacier, MT on time for our 2:00 departure.
It was a good thing that we cleaned up our body hair situation because no shirts were allowed under the life jackets. Our guide was a hilarious college kid from GA who seemed like a huge stoner. He also knew his stuff and steered us right into the best part of each of the 9 rapids that we ran during our 2.5 hour float. We had a really good time, but these rapids leave you wanting more. They just get good and they are over. We’ve been told that if we come back in April, we’ll experience some intense runs! Maybe in the future! We went down the middle fork of the Flat Head River. The guide told us of a historic flood that ran 65 feet over average levels (nearly 20 times the current state) as well as a fire that burned so hot back in 1917 that the destroyed trees were preserved by their sap and remain in state to this day. Towards the end, he offered that anyone who wanted to could jump in the river for a swim. Greg took that opportunity and went in first. Jared pulled him back in. Then Jared jumped in. He had a bit more trouble getting back in the boat and the guide had to help him. The technique for this is that the guide bobs him three times then pulls him back on the boat, landing on the guild. It looked quite funny. Then the guide pushed Jared back in the water after he stood up and I got to record the whole “rescue” again. Towards the end of the float, the guide showed us some good place to cliff jump into the river. We didn’t end up doing it but it would be fun to do sometime.
Somehow – perhaps by wearing the same socks and boots for 4 straight days – Jared has gotten a pretty bad dose of athlete’s foot. Its nasty. We stopped at the West Glacier Mercantile (grocery) to get some spray but they don’t carry that. They sent us up to Hungry Horse, MT which was a cool little town, though probably overrun by meth, where we went into a grocery store that looked like IGA from 1989. I great time lapse – the prices were pretty modern though! Jared got some athlete’s foot spray and we headed back through the Going to the Sun Road. Jared took about a picture every 10 seconds for the duration of the gorgeous drive while Greg incessantly made fun of him for doing this.
Some of my favorite features of this road were Weeping Falls (a section of waterfalls which crash directly onto the road) the many ridgeline to valley falls, the natural snow bridges that were formed over some of these falls, the hanging valley, and of course the amazing scenery looking out into the huge seemingly mirror valleys on each side of Logan Pass.
Due to all of the late-season snow, the High Line trail was closed. We would have loved to have done this trail as it takes you along a ridge line up from Logan Pass to look down on the valley. What we saw here instead was a mountain goat. On the way back through the Going to the Sun Road we saw Big Horned sheep in the parking lot. They look a lot like white deer with big horns.
The sun sets incredibly late here – around 10pm and it stays light enough to see until 11pm. I am not sure why this is but it’s a great feature. Jared has been dying to have a campfire and finally had his chance tonight. We cleaned the car and organized for our ride to Banff tomorrow afternoon and then he was rewarded with his nice fire. I am sitting by it now as I write this. However, I am trying to avoid the odor since I don’t want to smell like fire for the next day or so. He thinks that’s dumb. Greg’s hiding from the smell in the tent.

Yellowstone

I was a bad blogger for Yellowstone. There was not much of a chance to write since we were so busy and took so many pictures that it was impossible for me to charge my computer. Instead we were constantly charging our cameras in the two car chargers.
But – to recap from Glacier – Yellowstone was a highly impressive place. It is split into two parts – geothermal (south loop) and natural wonders (north loop). We did the south on the first day and the north on the second. I LOVED the geothermal features and could have spent all day there. Greg was pretty uninterested and Greg was in the middle.
We started the first day with a shower at the Fishing Bridge Campground. This was my first pay-shower experience. It was not so bad at all. They even had laundry set ups similar to those in a College dorm. We then made our way towards Old Faithful.

More to come... in time haha

Independence Day

We woke up early on the fourth of July and explored one of the paths off of a scenic outlook. Badlands is a striking place. We met some people on a similar road trip as us at one of the overlooks. They were from New Hampshire and Montreal. Following these vistas we stopped at the Visitor Center to get some advice of where to hike. We ended up taking the Notch Trail which has a fun little wood and wire ladder that helps you climb up onto one of the bluffs. From there we completed the loop road. While we had hoped to see Bison up close and personal at Sage Creek Campground, the road was quite rough and it would have taken us forever to get there in the Prius. So we ended up settling for seeing them miles away munching on the prairie from Panorama Point.
After exiting the park we stopped by at Wall Drug. What an immense disappointment. The place had anything you’d ever want from a dollar store for a 1000% markup. Their food smelled like a nursing home. Greg and I wanted to get out of there while Jared loved it and bought a coffee mug for work. Back on the road we headed to Rapid City where we gourged ourselves at the Ruby Tuesday Salad Bar and bought some water, ice, and oranges at Safeway.
When we got back to the car, Greg had a text message from the Dean of Admissions at the University of Richmond Law School asking him to call him back immediately. He did and got great news! He had come off the waitlist. He accepted immediately but she encouraged him to sleep on it. He was pumped. He drove us to Mount Rushmore and listened to his “party mix cd” the rest of the way.
When we got to Mount Rushmore it was socked in with clouds. Our Access pass did not work and we were forced to fork over $10 to some dude to park our car. The “parking donation” went to support the “preservation” of the monument through the channels of a national park commission corporation. I was livid about this ridiculous scam and was pissy the rest of the time there. Finally the clouds broke enough for us to try to get a picture with the presidents. It is a good deal smaller than I had anticipated. I am not sure why I thought this since everyone said it would be smaller. Jared thought it was larger than he’d anticipated. After a long jaunt in the gift shop, we headed out of the “monument” and onto Crazy Horse. There is, by the way, a beautiful side profile view of George Washington as you exit the Monument on the public road.

As we headed to Crazy Horse it started to pour. When we got there, the attendant informed us that it would be $27 for the car to enter. Finding this to be ludicrous we told the guy that we needed to turn around and he thankfully obliged. Greg snapped a quick photo as we were making our U turn and we went to punch the name of the campsite in Yellowstone into our GPS. It could not find it. So we actually had to use maps. We oriented ourselves onto Route 16 towards Wyoming While, quite poor, Wyoming is an amazingly beautiful state. You can literally see forever. You can see storms coming hours prior to their arrival. You can see the rain falling from the clouds to the sky. You can see more than you thought you could ever see. The best drive of the trip so far has been the distance from the Black Hills of South Dakota – which are really black- to Yellowstone. We made good time on 16 and then on 90 which has far less trucks in this part of the country. We got off and started traveling through Bighorn National Forest. This was a spectacular surprise drive. We switchbacked up for an hour and down for an hour. Part of the road was a dirt path since it was under construction. Jared did a great job of driving this but still bottomed out a few times. There was still snow on the side of the road and tons of deer. I’d go back to Bighorn National Forest and spend time there. It was alpine delight and well kept. As we descended we stoped at Shell Creek Falls. This fall was at least 100 feet and was roaring. We took some quick pictures and then had to hit the road as we were tired and it was a LONG way to our campground. Jared missed hitting a deer by 10 feet that jetted out in front of us. We were in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully we were ok! We switched drivers and I got to Cody, WY ok but was then exhausted. I stopped and got some gummy bears and then munched through Jared’s remaining Chex Mix to make it awake to the Gates of Yellowstone. We were so late that they did not have an attendant posted. We entered and Jared woke up and helped me make it the rest of the hour to Bridge Bay Campground. I was getting worried as the car battery seemed to running very low and not charging well. It seemed to be doing better towards the end so that was good.
At 1:00AM Jared and I set up the tent and had Greg wait in the car so as to not disturb the other campers. There was a guy about 15 sites away who was snoring so loudly you could hear it throughout the whole campsite. We hope he’s gone tonight. I had to listen to my Ipod to go to sleep. Tomorrow we’re doing the Southern loop of Yellowstone.

Snake Under The Tent

When we arrived at Badlands we were able to get our tents set up pretty easily. The first one was situated on flat land but the second one had a bit of a dip. Jared wanted to move his tent to higher ground because there had been rain previously and he did not want to wake up wet. So we moved the tent to another spot in the dark. When Jared went to go to bed he put his hand down on the floor of the tent. Suddenly, he felt a 2 inch snake slithering between his pointer finger and thumb through the base of the tent. Freaked out he yelled “shit shit snake” and ran out of the tent. Greg and I did not believe him but Jared was like come here I’ll show you. We looked around four of the five sides of the tent and found nothing. On the last one we lifted it up and there was a gray snake coiled up looking out at us. Jared ran to the bathhouse and said “I’m sleeping in the car tonight.” When we took apart the tent the next morning we found that we’d placed it right on top of a 2 inch wide snake hole.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Field of Dreams

We started the day at 8am heading back acros the Mississippi River to quickly head up into Wisconsin for a photo with the state sign. Then back over the Mississippi to stop at the Motel 6 where Greg had forgotten his pillow. After retrieving this it was off to Fiueld of Dreams. This was where the landscape really changed to the Corn Culture. It was everywhere. We also were surprised to see a home with KKK prominently printed on a banner in its front yard.

Field of Dreams:
Awesome! It's just like in the movie except they had to relocate the powerlines back over the field. They moved them during the movie. The owners said that after 21 years of daily visitors they were ready to move to a beach somewhere to relax. We played catch, hit balls to each other in the infield and outfield, and met an 80 year old who had never watched the movie but had played on a similar field in high school. He said that if the ball rolled into the corn it was a ground ruled double but if it went through in the air it was a home run. Regardless, the outfielder had to retrieve the ball.

It was a blast to walk into the corn from the field and back out onto the field. Greg took some great video of this.

Unfortunately my camera problems as a traveler continue. The new waterproof camera that we got in Hawaii after ours died at Pearl Harbor somehow got moisture in it. Whenever the camera is in the sun, condensation forms on the inside of the viewfinder and lens. It is quite dismaying. So, we stopped at Best Buy in Waterloo to check have the Geek Squad look at it. All they could do was take it in for service. This is not a good option in Iowa so I asked if putting it in rice may help.They thought it was worth a try so off we went to Target to get a bag of rice. The camera is spending the day drying out in the drivers side pocket.

For lunch, Jared grabbed Panera Bread, Greg beef jerkey, and me Combos. We hit the road for our 7 hour drive to Badlands. About an hour in, we hit MN. Photo time! We opened the doors and the blew wide open on the side of the highway. Minnesota takes ist signs seriously. They are HUGE and landscaped. It felt like August at the beach. 90 degrees and strong winds. Delightful. Then back in the car for our 432 mile drive along I-90. The straigt flat endless road is almost numbing. Slowly the speeds creep up from 70 to 74 to 80 etc. You don't realize it as you can see so far ahead that you don't feel as if you're going anywhere fast. Well, you're not.

Finally we passed into South Dakota and noted a prompt transition from faqrmland to grassland. The sight of huge fields of grass blowing in the breeze is incredible. There is peace and energy. Jared and I bickered about when to get gas. I wanted to make it to South Dakota first so we could only stop once. Jared doesn't like going below a third of a tank. I usually go down to the flashing one bar (1/2) gallon. Being in the absolute middle of nowhwere, Jared had a point. We stopped and got gas. Greg bought an 89c 64 oz cup of diet coke. Isn't that what America's all about?

Well... 233 more miles to go... then we'll set up our tents and hopefully make it to the "Dark Skies" program offered by the Rangers in Badlands.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

This place was an awesome respite. We hiked to Baldy Point - only 153 feet tall - but an impressive dune. Then we ran down it into the shores cool waters of Lake Michigan. This was incredibly refreshing. It also feels a good deal like the Cape or RI. It was nice to emerge from redneckville on 1-90 west to an enclave or civilization. We covered 890 miles yesterday traveling from Syracuse to Notre Dame, Indiana Dunes, Panera Bread for Wifi, Chicago Midway to get Jared and then onto our Hotel Room in Dubuque Iowa. This Motel6 was much better. We didn't really like Notre Dame that much. It seemed too corporate. I can certainly see how people would want to come back to Indiana Dunes. It is kind of like the ocean for Chicago I think.

Here's a video I took while running down the dune video

video

The No Smoking Ashtray



Although we had reserved a non-smoking hotel room in Syracuse, we were perplexed to discover the stench of cigarettes throughout the room. That was until we looked at the night stand and discovered this photo:



Yes that is an ashtray flipped over with a no smoking sign on its base. I think this kind of misses the point of a non-smoking room.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Inception

4:38PM on July 1st. It begins. I headed out of work and popped Kristie’s mix tape (cd) into the CD player. The closing song is Breathe Me by Sia. I’ve wanted to drive away to this since seeing the final scene of 6 Feet Under where Claire departs to pursue her dream of being an artist in NYC.

This was such an odd day. At work we had a retreat to plan our upcoming fiscal year. Then we held a farewell reception in honor our Director, Eric. It was a surreal feeling, planning the future, saying goodbye to a tremendous mentor and person, and then finally heading out on the trip of my lifetime. In some ways leaving from work numbed a bit of the excitement that I’d have felt had I instead departed from home.

Regardless, we made great time! My parents dropped delivered Greg to me at Wendy’s in Westfield, MA. We somehow crammed everything into the car – including a ton of fruit which we’ll have to consume prior to picking up Jared in Chicago since it is currently occupying his seat in the car.

We pulled into the Motel 6 in Syracuse, NY at midnight. These are weird places. First, they charge by the person so I had Greg hide in the car while I went to check in. When I went to enter the lobby, I found it to be locked down like a parking garage. Between midnight and 6am, you check in through a small window and a slot to slide your credit card back and forth through “for the safety of the attendant.” Are the hotel guests that dangerous? I mean seriously? Well the room looked like it was a prison. Very Spartan accommodations, but good enough to catch 5 hours of sleep…. The only concerning feature was inch and a half long centipede living on the wall of the room. I killed it with my sandal before heading to bed.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Psychology of Vacation

I came across an interesting story in the Boston Globe about the psychology of vacations. It's an interesting read:

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/06/20/the_best_vacation_ever/?page=1

Seems like all the driving on road trips helps to accentuate the experience and positive memories of each stop. Good to hear! In about 6 days, I'll be married to my steering wheel.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tenting Success


Good news. I now have a place to sleep. On Saturday, with a bit of help from Kristie, I was able to get the thing assembled. Amazingly, all she had to point out was that the pole colors should probably match the flap colors. Tent companies must use sweatshop laborers to determine how many people a tent sleeps. When I went to lay down in this thing, I had to lay diagonally to have a comfortable distance from the walls. Seeing how Greg is coming now, I think that I might try to get my hands on an additional tent so that we all have space to breathe. I've also realized that a Prius is not that large of a vehicle and we need to make an efficient packing list in order to ensure that we can sit comfortably without walls of stuff around us. Today was a day of important minutia. The oil change, tire rotation, balance, alignment, and 41 point inspection have all been scheduled. It almost feels like it is coming up too fast. I still only have reservations at two places, Banff National Park and Truth and Consequences, NM. I am kind of ok with this, but I am pretty sure that Kristie, Jared, and Greg are less-so. Oh well I guess I also have Oklahoma City and Nashville too! Thanks Jamin and Jon and Richard - via Kristie.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Tenting Failure #1

Well tonight I took the tent out of the Prius trunk to try to put it together in the dark. Since the weather is hot and muggy, it seemed the perfect opportunity to run a test drive of camping in the comfortable safety of my backyard. Step one was to assemble the tent.

It was a complete failure. The process of putting together a tent is incredibly simple - especially when someone who works professionally for the Bowdoin Outing Club shows you how to do it inside on a large well-lit room. In the month since I picked this tent up I forgot EVERYTHING. So, there the tent rests - outside on the tarp in the backyard.

Tomorrow is another day. I'll try to find a youtube video to watch on how to put the thing together, do it a few times in the daylight. Then tomorrow night we'll give it a go in the dark and hopefully even try sleeping out in the tent overnight!

The trip is sneaking up fast. My brother Greg is now joining me for the same leg as Jared and I'll be picking him up on the first to help with the crazy 18 hour drive to Chicago. They are now both flying out of Calgary which kind of changes up my original idea of heading from Spokane down to Crater Lake, Redwoods, Lassen, and the Sierra's down to Vegas. It is looking increasingly more likely that I'll take a more direct route towards Vegas - where I'll be picking up Kristie - in order to not exhaust myself and also to see more of the inner mountain west since the Pacific Coast is more accessible via plane and rental car for future explorations. Regardless of the result, the week between my brothers and Kristie will be without an itinerary and should have a completely different flavor than the run and gun weeks planned with both.

I will begin to post more frequently from here on out!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Finally Concrete

Jared booked his flights today. This is the first concrete plan that's been made for the trip and really makes it feel real. I'll be picking him up on July 2nd in Chicago and he'll be flying back on July 11th from Spokane, WA. That's a lot of real estate to cover in a bit over a week, especially since we'll also be heading up to Banff in Canada for a couple of days.

We've been looking to solidify our route over the past few days. A few things have surprised us. National Park campgrounds generally don't offer showers. For example, in Glacier National park, there is only one location offering showers. This seems gross to me and I am worried that my car is not going to smell good at the end of the trip. Bears are a significant problem at many campgrounds. In fact, there is one at Lake Louise in Banff that has an electric fence to keep the bears out in response to recent problems with bears making late night visits to careless campers.

I also took a look at a campground in Lassen Volcanic National Park today. The reservation site shows pictures of each campsite. Viewing the picture, it really sank in how different it will be to sleep in a tent on a patch of dirt with no electricity at a park. I'm thinking I should bring some books on this trip, as well as a battery and flashlight to read by. Maybe I can bring the reading lamp that I got with my Snuggie at the Yankee Swap this past Christmas. I am also realizing that I'll be adjusting to the schedule of the sun. I'll probably go to sleep by 9 and wake up by 6. I find this to be incredibly exciting. For example, it will enable me to climb to the top of a couple of volcanic peaks by the time I'm usually microwaving soup at work. Speaking of work, what will it be like to go back there after a month of vagabond life? Will this trip change me? Or just be a blast?

Well for now, I think I should go try to book a campsite within bear-proof electric fence perimeter. Nothing says adventure like a security system.

Impetus

This might just be it... the journey of my lifetime. I've always wanted to drive cross-country, visiting as many national parks as possible. This seems to be the perfect time for it. I'm in a stable job with a bulk of accrued vacation time. Marriage and children are rapidly approaching. Gas is relatively cheap and I'm thoroughly infected with the travel bug.

So, I've got 31 days to cover the America. My brother Jared's my partner for leg 1 of the journey, I'm flying solo through the Pacific region, then picking up my girlfriend, Kristie in Salt Lake to explore the Southwest. The final leg will be the long drive east which will be broken up nicely with a few stops to visit some of my more geographically distant friends. This blog will serve two purposes: capturing my own daily experiences for posterity's sake and updating any of you curious stalkers out there!

I've never pitched a tent, or gone a day on the road without a shower. This should be prove interesting.