Okay – back to those awesome canyons!! We left our beloved boon-docking site outside of Zion National Park and headed to Kanab, Utah. Instead of driving up to Bryce with the trailer, we opted to stay in (cringing here) an RV park in Kanab. Three reasons: the weather was supposed to get real cold up in Bryce Canyon and possibly snow, we wanted to charge up our batteries, and I wanted to take advantage of the campground WiFi to get some blog posting done and job searching.
Some advice regarding RV/campground review sites is in order here. I checked with some RV park review sites prior to making reservations and the RV park we decided to stay in received *mostly* really good ratings – especially with regards to WiFi, which was the main reason I chose this spot. I am learning that while these reviews can be somewhat worthwhile, there are definite flaws.
To end this RV park saga on a positive note, we were able to get our batteries charged up, and we could walk to the local grocery store.
BRYCE CANYON – LAND OF THE HOODOOS!
My first impression of Bryce Canyon was how utterly different it is from Zion. The name Bryce Canyon is somewhat misleading as it is not technically a canyon but a series of large amphitheaters carved out of the limestone rock. Over time, water seeping into cracks was subject to a “freeze-thaw” weathering action and this type of erosion formed the basis of the geological landscape we see today. The cracks were formed during a major uplift many, many years ago that created the Colorado Plateau and the Grand Staircase. The principle rock in Bryce Canyon is referred to as the Pink Cliffs – an apt description given the color of the rock!
Our plan was to only spend one day in the park so we had to make some decisions regarding how to budget our time. We wanted to get down into the canyon and hike for most of the day, and the Peekaboo Trail was recommended to us by some folks we talked to in Zion. We hiked what is referred to as the Navajo-Peekaboo Loop starting at Sunset Point. The total mileage is about 5 miles – so perfect for half a day of hiking!
The Navajo Trail descends steeply for about a mile and then intersects with the Peek-a-Boo Trail.
It was hard to keep up a strong pace – around every corner in the trail there was another photo opportunity!
I would highly recommend this trail – while it’s not extremely strenuous it does have multiple elevation changes along the way to keep things interesting and it’s not hard to keep the heart rate up!
After our hike on the Peek-a-Boo Trail, we had some daylight left so we decided to take a driving tour along the whole park to the end of the road at Rainbow Point. We stopped at all of the scenic pull-offs along the way!
At Rainbow Point, there is a short 2-mile hike called the Bristlecone Pine Loop. We decided to hike this trail in search of some more of the cool pine trees! At the far end of the loop, there is a daunting drop-off and view of the valley beyond.
We enjoyed our day trip to Bryce. There are a number of other trails that would be nice to hike if we ever get in this area again. There are also some backpacking areas that might be appealing towards the south end of the park.
CANYON DE CHELLY NATIONAL MONUMENT
Canyon de Chelly National Monument is unique among our national treasures. It is located withing the Navajo Reservation near Chinle, Arizona. The area is administered jointly by the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation. The Navajo have made their home here since the 1700’s and they continue to farm and raise livestock within the canyon today. Because of this, many parts of the canyon are off-limits to tourists unless accompanied by Navajo guides.
We stayed in only campground within the park – the Cottonwood Campground. There are no hook-ups but there is a dump station on-site. The campground is operated by the Navajo and was very convenient for exploring the park.
There is only one trail that allows public access without a guide called the White House Trail. It leads to an ancient Puebloan village ruin that was occupied about 1,000 years ago. We opted to hike this trail and then take a road trip along the South Rim Drive to see more of the canyon from the top.
While the hike is only 2.5 miles round-trip, it is a canyon after all! So, it’s steep going down and steep going back up – no getting around that unless you take one of the jeep tours that drive you right up to the ruins! It’s an absolutely breathtaking hike. The canyon is beautiful. It’s not hard to understand why it’s been inhabited for thousands of years. What an oasis!
The White House Ruins are fascinating. There is a tall fence that prohibits access up close, but you can still get a pretty terrific view of the ancient village and some petroglyphs.
Since it was October when we visited, the farms were all put to rest in the bottom of the canyon, but you could still see evidence of the small plots of cultivated earth.
Our drive along the South Rim road was relaxing and we stopped off at many of the overlooks along the way. Usually, in the parking lots of the overlooks, there would be several Navajo selling various pieces of artwork and crafts. While we did not buy anything, we did chat with many of the merchants and it was interesting to hear a little about their lives and some of the crafts they were selling.
I highly recommend taking the time to detour to Canyon de Chelly if you are in the area. It’s deep in Navajo country, and not exactly on the way to anywhere – but well worth the effort. By the time we left, we were enchanted with this special place. There truly is something very mystical about the place.
One more canyon to go – but I’ll leave that for the next post since it’s in Texas!
We’ve been in Texas almost a month now, and I thought it was time to catch up on showcasing more of our summer adventures.
If you’ve read my previous posts, you have no doubt discovered that the Eastern Sierra region is, at this point in time, one of my favorite places! I’ve written some individual posts about some of the places/hikes that we were particularly fond of – but there is much, much more to add.
So, here goes…..briefly highlighted below are some of the day trips that are most memorable for me, in addition to the detailed posts I’ve already shared. I will cherish these moments in time forever. I’ve tried to be concise with descriptions so I could share more adventures, so more pictures than words!
DEVILS POSTPILE NATIONAL MONUMENT
Since I am a big fan of national parks and associated monuments and historic places, Devils Postpile near Mammoth was high on my list of places to visit. The trip to the monument was one of the first day trips of the summer.
Getting there in mid-summer requires some advanced planning. The road to the national monument is closed to traffic during the summer months for good reason. It is a narrow, winding road that cannot support high traffic volume. During the summer, shuttle buses transport visitors to the monument and back, making a number of stops along the way. There are numerous forest service campgrounds and trailhead access points along the route. This is a popular area for backpacking, and there are many back-country access points for both the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail here.
We chose to drive all the way to Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and hop on the shuttle bus at the Adventure Center. It’s a $7.00 fee for adults and $4.00 fee for children over 2 to ride the bus. And the national parks senior pass (that Jim qualifies for – not me yet!) does not apply unfortunately. I’m not totally on board with this fee, and feel that it could be restrictive for families wanting to access the monument. However, it’s a seasonal shuttle during peak visitation so it is possible to access the monument in the off-season for free when local traffic is allowed on the road.
Devils Postpile became a national monument in 1911 to protect its unique geologic formation – one of the best examples of columnar basalt in the world. It all began 100,000 years ago, when a lava vent started spewing basaltic lava into the valley where the current day formation exists. Read more about this geologic wonder here. It’s a complicated sequence of events that created the basalt columns we see today, and knowing a bit about the science of the site makes you appreciate the rock outcropping even more.
The national monument also protects the surrounding landscape and Rainbow Falls. We hiked from the ranger station shuttle stop to Rainbow Falls and back, creating a loop and ending up at another shuttle stop for the ride back to Mammoth Mountain. Along the way, we encountered the fire-damaged area caused by the Rainbow Fire, that took place in 1992. Interesting to imagine the devastation and how much the land has rebounded from the fire, with new plant growth.
DUCK PASS TRAIL
Since Devils Postpile is in the Mammoth area, I decided to stay with the Mammoth theme and share our adventurous hike up to Duke Lake. My niece, Olivia, was in Mammoth over the summer for a weekend visit with her boyfriend’s family and they had chosen this as one of their day hikes. She mentioned that it was an awesome hike, so we made sure to give this trek top priority. The trail head for this hike is located at the Coldwater Campground off Lake Mary Road out of Mammoth. The Duck Pass Trail ascends through the Coldwater Creek watershed, past several lakes and climbs over Duck Pass to Duke Lake.
The hike is about a 7-mile round-trip trek depending on how far you traverse around Duck Lake. Parts of the trail are steep so it’s important to be acclimated before attempting this hike, or your pace will be decidedly slower! There is an elevation gain of about 1800 feet with the elevation at Duck Pass around 9,100 feet. If you hike all the way to the other side of Duck Lake, you would intersect with the Pacific Crest Trail. The scenery was terrific on the exhilarating hike!
Plant life along the way 🙂
Favorite pictures from Duck Pass Trail
HOT CREEK GEOLOGIC SITE
On the outskirts of Mammoth east of Route 395, the Hot Creek Geologic Site sits within the Hot Creek Gorge and is an active geothermal wonder. It is within the Long Valley Caldera which runs from Mono Lake to the start of the Owens River Valley. The hot springs sit atop an ancient volcano and are subject to change with seismic activity, potentially causing sudden changes in water temperature. There are over a dozen steam vents and pools, and if you’re lucky you may even be entertained by rare geyser eruptions.
Along the Hot Creek Fish Hatchery Road are numerous access points to the gorge as it is a popular “catch and release” fly-fishing spot. There is a trail that runs along the south side of the creek. While the hot springs are fenced off, there are still numerous places along the river where you can see small fumaroles and notice water bubbling up from below. If you test the water, you will find it is very HOT at these locations.
The gorge is quite unique, and I recommend taking the time to walk along the creek. I found its beauty to be serene and inspiring. The day we visited there were threats of rain and thunderstorms interspersed with some sun. It made for a dramatic landscape as you can see from some of my photos.
REVERSED PEAK HIKING TRAIL
One of the last hikes we did in the Eastern Sierras was right in our backyard. From our campsite, we had a great view of Reversed Peak – the highest point within the inner circle of the June Lake Loop. I read that the summit offers a 360-degree view of the entire loop. I also discovered that the best time to climb the peak is during the pre-dawn hour to take advantage of watching the sunrise across the valley and the loop. It was a hard sell convincing Jim to get up before dawn for the trek up the mountain, but I was relentless and he reluctantly agreed to go. Since we waited until September to do this hike, it was rather chilly when we started off, and windy – but, donned with headlamps, we picked up the pace to get warm and it was not long before we shook off the chill. Jim had not dressed quite warm enough, and I think it was the first time all summer that he out-paced me on a hike!
It’s about a 6-mile round-trip hike and the trailhead is a bit tricky to find. You can access the trail off of the North Shore Dr. in two places, but there are no signs indicating that the trail even exists until you walk back on two forest service roads. Here is a link to a description of the trail and a vague map I found that *sort of* indicates where to find the trail. (The link takes you to the website for the Double Eagle Resort on the June Lake Loop – which by the way has a nice, small bar and Happy Hour every day!) We had hiked the lower loop trail once without taking the side trail to the summit (due to bad storms) and it is a 3.5-mile loop. For the summit hike, we started on the trailhead across from the ballpark – steeper at the onset but a shorter hike to the summit. The trail is steadily uphill and steep in spots with a hard-to-find scramble to the summit. The trail to the top was marked with cairns but they were at times difficult to see.
What I liked about the trail was the diversity of terrain. Along the way, the trail passes through an aspen grove, skirts a pine forest and, of course, wanders through the typical sagebrush meadows that I love. The view from the top was awesome! We enjoyed a leisurely cup of coffee while watching the sunrise and it was spectacular. Jim had to admit that it was well worth the pain of such an early morning start time 🙂
The pictures below are heading down the trail after our relaxing visit on Reversed Peak. We were headed for Trout Town Joe’s in June Lake for a hearty breakfast – our motivation to get moving!
We landed in Alvord, Texas at the A+ RV Park on October 31, and it’s been a whirlwind of activity for us. After three weeks at Amazon, I’m ready to give first impressions about the place, the company and our home away from home – Alvord.
Jim and I (Jim reluctantly I might add!) signed up last winter to join the Amazon CamperForce for their annual PEAK holiday season in the Fall. Due to Jim’s mishap in CA this summer with his broken bone, we arrived for the last orientation session on November 2 instead of our planned start date in October. When we signed up for CamperForce, we intended for it to be our Plan B. If no other satisfactory workamping position landed in our lap for the Fall/Winter, then at least we had an alternative. Since we turned down a couple of other offers for very specific reasons, we turned to Plan B!
Photo credit: http://us105fm.com/amazon-building-fourth-fulfillment-center-in-texas/ Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Our brother-in-law, Harry, worked the CamperForce here in Haslet, Texas last year and joined up again this year. So, we had an idea what we might be getting ourselves into, and went in with both eyes wide open, so to speak. We are camped in the same RV Park with Harry as well as several other full-time RVer’s engaging in what I affectionately call the *Amazon* marathon. Since the commute to Haslet from Alvord is one hour from clock in/out to doorstep, it’s great to be able to carpool with others.
Amazon’s website explains the whole CamperForce program in detail, so I will not focus too much on the generalities of the job. Feel free to check out their company information page. Or email me with questions. A few basics, however:
First order of business upon arriving in Texas was to get settled into our spot at the A+ RV Park. I know – if you remember my post from Montana – you will no doubt be asking yourself “Is she out of her mind???? Why is she staying in an RV park, and especially one that has at least 10-12 permanent residents?!” All I can say is – we had highly reputable recommendations from those who stayed here last year that it was a well-run campground. This is how it works – Amazon contracts with specific RV parks and campgrounds in the area. Due to the inadequate supply of campgrounds near the plant, choices are limited. The other sites were less than desirable, so while not our preference, we could live with it for a couple of months. I did meet another couple who attended our orientation session who opted to pay for their own site and choose a campground not on Amazon’s list. So, if you have the means, that’s an alternative.
Our campsite is a typical RV park site – close neighbors with not much privacy. However, the distance between sites is a tad better than most I’ve seen, and the sites were planned well with regard to placement of E/W/S hook-ups and private space. All sites are pull-through and angled, allowing each RV to be slightly staggered from the neighboring rig. In other words, outside picnic areas are therefore not adjacent to your neighbor’s septic hook-up!! The sites consist of a hard-packed gravel pad surrounded by grass.
The difference between this RV Park and the one in Whitefish, Montana is the degree of visible management – the campgrounds are polar opposites with regard to on-site oversight and administration. A+ RV is run by a husband and wife team and they are vigilant in making sure the place is clean and the guests are following the rules. Paula, the most visible of the two, keeps a very close watch over the place and does not tolerate any deviance from the rules and regulations. As a result, the facilities are spotless and the atmosphere is one of respect and courtesy for all guests – whether here for one night or several months.
The facility includes free laundry access which is unusual for a campground. Typically, RV Parks have a laundry but the machines are still coin-operated. What I find utterly amazing is how these laundry facilities are arranged here. There is a *men’s* laundry and a *women’s* laundry and you are not permitted to be in the opposite sex’s laundry room! And, I might add, this is strictly enforced. The other day, Jim and I were taking a walk and noticed my brother-in-law was in the men’s laundry doing his wash. The door was propped open, so we stopped and chatted with him. (I made sure I was out on the sidewalk and not breaking any rules). Not long after, here comes Paula out of the campground office. She was actually checking to make sure that I was not *in* the men’s laundry room as she had noticed us walking over that way. Yes – she is a bit obsessive about enforcing the policies. But, I’m not complaining. At least I know someone is paying attention. This lady is no pushover and I respect her tenacity and fearlessness when it comes to keeping a well-kept campground.
The campground is positively one I would recommend for anyone passing through the area and needing a place to stay for a night. Sometimes it is hard to judge whether a roadside RV park is okay – but without a doubt you cannot go wrong stopping off here for a night. It is a bit noisy with road traffic from Rt. 287, and there is a very active railroad just behind the campground. We hear train whistles and the clickety-clack of train cars rumbling through the area all night long. I am someone who does not mind the sound of trains and actually find it rather soothing to hear at night. The truck/car traffic is, by far, more annoying to me. For a couple of months, however, it is certainly tolerable.
Amazon pays all expenses for a full hook-up site, and extends that for two days prior to start date, and two days after end date. So, it was nice to be able to arrive and have two days to set up and acclimate to our surroundings. We are just 10 minutes north of Decatur where you have your choice of a multitude of shopping options – complete with a Walmart Superstore and Lowe’s. Starbuck’s? Yes. CVS? Yes. Public library? Yes. And I obtained my library card the first week we were here! (Although, it took some cajoling on my part to acquire library borrowing privileges since I’m not a Texas resident – hard to believe they denied me this privilege at first request! What’s up with that Texas?)
We have not had time to explore the town of Denton (30 minutes away), but I did find a listing online for a food co-op located in this college town. I’m definitely missing my local co-ops in Vermont and New Hampshire. Hopefully, next week we will venture over there and check that out. Unfortunately, we have not found a good place to enjoy happy hour and watch Sunday/Monday night football, either. Did I mention that this area is considered part of the Bible Belt, and it’s hard to find an actual restaurant with a bar? While it’s possible to buy wine and beer in the grocery store, when in a restaurant (at least in Decatur) you have to be a member of their *club* in order to enjoy a glass of wine or beer with your meal. This is totally foreign to me. Interesting. To become a member, you show a driver’s license and then they hand you a membership card for free. Okay – so who’s kidding who here? I was told this is a dry county and that’s the reason for this charade. But, when I looked online I found that Wise County (where we are staying) is actually *part wet*. And the wording is: Counties (in part) in Which Beer, Wine, and Distilled Spirits Are Legal (143). Further reading showed me that within *part wet* counties, there may still be local ordinances that differ with respect to alcohol sales in stores and restaurants. Obviously, that must be what is driving the disparity of alcohol sales in this area. And within Wise County, there are several towns that are completely dry. My point is – when traveling across country, be aware of the many different laws governing when and where you can purchase/consume alcohol. Too confusing! I make no judgement about the laws but it’s good to be prepared if that matters to you.
We are located right smack in the middle of the LBJ National Grassland, and did venture over to find some multiuse hiking/horse trails last week. Not exactly the Eastern Sierras in regards to picturesque scenery! We did a short 3-mile hike from the TADRA area on the blue trail. Everything was good until halfway through our hike, when I heard the distinctive sound of a pig squeal off to my left. I’ve heard stories about the wild hogs in Texas, and all I can say is, I picked up the pace and was uncomfortable for the rest of the hike. I did read later that the hogs tend to be nocturnal, and similar to other wild animals – preferring to run away from you. But, that was little comfort and I’m not convinced!
Okay – so on to Amazon and their CamperForce program. Our first day at work we attended an intensive orientation that included some typical training sessions that anyone in corporate/industrial settings should be familiar with – safety training and workplace harassment awareness – are the two major ones. More time was spent on safety training than anything else during the day. And for good reason. DFW7, the code name for the Haslet fulfillment center, is a state-of-the-art distribution center with miles upon miles of conveyor belts and complicated robotics throughout the plant. Since we’ve never really worked in an environment like this, the safety training was absolutely necessary – if for no other reason than to impress upon us the need to be aware of our surroundings at all times.
After a full-day of orientation, Amazon works the CamperForce at half-time hours for the first week so that we can slowly acclimate to the physically demanding work. I think this corporate decision was exceptionally wise! The work is not mentally hard, but physically demanding and it’s important to understand this before accepting a seasonal position here. As an employee, you are basically on your feet for the entire day, bending and lifting repetitively. It’s not for the faint of heart!
We did not get a chance to ease into overtime hours since we started so late in the season. After our first week of part-time hours, we reported to work our first day back and were informed that mandatory 11-hour days were effective starting the next day. As workcampers, we have the option to only work 4 10-hour days – but let’s face it – we are here to work and make some extra money. So, we started almost right away working 11-hour days, and also got offered our 5th overtime day at 11 hours. Whew! I’m told that the overtime offerings this year are late in coming as compared to last year. But, I cannot speak to that. I guess timing is everything.
Photo credit: http://www.socalcommercialrealestateblog.com/how-e-commerce-is-impacting-commercial-real-estate/
Let me back up just a bit. We were initially hired to work in ICQA – Inventory Control Quality Assurance. Our first week on the job, we were trained on two different processes relevant to this department. Our second week, we got the opportunity to train as Stowers – and took it. The more you know how to do, the greater variety you can have in your day, and the increased opportunity for overtime. Stowers are the folks who take the material received off the trucks in Inbound, and *stow* it in bins (on pods). Once an order is placed for that item, the *pickers* are the ones who retrieve the material from the pods, fill the order and send the material on its way to be packaged and shipped out. Okay – got the picture??
Photo credit: http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/keller-citizen/article9367301.html
So, three weeks into our jobs, we are now trained to do more tasks than some of the fulltime Amazon employees. It’s important to push for this extra training because the physical demands are slightly different with each job. I prefer to alternate between jobs throughout the day – as it keeps my back and knees from enduring too much repetitive stress.
So, a typical day is as follows:
All Amazon employees work 4 10-hour days as their normal work schedule. Once PEAK season starts, they are required to work overtime when asked and cannot take any personal time off between Thanksgiving and Christmas. CamperForce seasonal employees have the option, but most are here to work overtime, so they do.
Some observations I’ve made over the past 3 weeks as a newbie to the CamperForce contingent:
Well – Jim and I signed up to work on Thanksgiving Day for voluntary overtime. So, I better get this posted and get to bed! They made us an offer we could not refuse! More on our CamperForce experience in the weeks to come……forgive any writing errors as I hurried to get this online!
Without consciously planning it this way, our journey to Texas since leaving Sequoia became a study in canyons! While each canyon we visited has its unique character and landscape, these canyons all have one thing in common.
Water was the key force that molded many of the canyons we see today throughout much of the southwest. But, that’s not the whole story. Zion and Bryce Canyons are part of what is described as the Grand Staircase. This is a series of *steps* that traverse the landscape in southwestern Utah starting at Utah’s High Plateau at 9,000 feet and ending with the north rim of the Grand Canyon. These steps are actually numerous bands of colorful cliffs that define each *riser* in the step, and this is what distinguishes Zion and Bryce Canyons. I found a great illustration of this online:
Diagram of the Grand Staircase from Geology of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by Doelling et al
Zion National Park is mostly representative of the Vermillion, Chocolate and White Cliffs of the Grand Staircase while in Bryce Canyon, the Gray and Pink Cliffs persist. Over time, as varying geologic environments and forces occurred in this area (oceans, deserts, earthquakes, and volcanoes), many different layers of sediment, mud and ash were deposited. Pressure and heat caused these layers to turn to stone. The different stratified layers of rock give these canyons a special look and feel. It was interesting to learn that these rock layers formed in such diverse environments as desert sand dunes and sea floors. Some of the rock formations really do resemble giant sand dunes even though they are solid rock! While Zion Canyon was mostly formed by the eroding powers of the Virgin River, apparently the large amphitheaters that comprise Bryce Canyon were formed through the freezing and thawing of water in the cracks of the rocks.
The article linked above (where I grabbed the diagram) gives a very scientific, detailed explanation of the geology of this area of Utah if you are interested in reading more! It’s wicked comprehensive!
ZION IN THREE DAYS!
Our first canyon visit was to Zion National Park located near Springdale, Utah. I have been researching Zion for a while – reading various blogs as well as tapping into Luke’s knowledge of the area. He had recently visited Zion with his girlfriend Sharon in the Spring of 2016 and had some definite suggestions on places we should explore.
Our first major decision, of course, was where to camp. Initially, I had wanted to set up base camp in one of the national park service campgrounds since that would give us easy access to explore with minimal driving. Zion has two RV-friendly campgrounds both of which are located near the South Entrance in Springdale. Watchman Campground allows reservations and I had been checking online for a couple of weeks – there were no open spots for the time we would be in Zion. South Campground is first-come, first-serve only so that was our best hope. I read that you really needed to arrive at the campground early in the morning for any chance at a campsite. The strategy is to be there as soon as the camp hosts know there will be a vacancy, and be in line to grab that site. It was still very crowded in Zion this time of year and like all national parks, they were seeing record numbers of visitors.
We would not make it to Zion until late afternoon, so we needed to come up with an alternative plan for the first night. There happens to be acres and acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property surrounding Zion and several popular boondocking spots in this area have been written about and shared on some blogs that I follow. On BLM land, as well as other federal land, the public is allowed to engage in what is commonly called dispersed camping. You can simply find a spot on federal land, usually off of dirt access roads, and camp for free. Some restrictions do apply and it’s always best to check with local land management offices or district ranger stations if you are not certain about where you can and cannot camp. There have been many blog posting detailing the fine art of boon-docking on federal lands if you desire more information!
I knew about a spot accessed via a dirt road in the small town of Virgin, Utah about 15 miles from the park entrance. We decided to give it a try. The road was a breeze to find with help via Google maps, and we turned onto it and headed off into BLM land. At first, the road seemed in good shape – wide and nicely graded. After crossing a bridge that spans the Virgin River, the road got a tad bumpy and rocky – but still quite passable. When we got to the top of the first hill, there was an ideal spot off to the right on a smaller dirt road that would be perfect for us. It was a large circular dirt patch complete with a stone fire ring. Often times, on federal lands, it is recommended to camp in spots that have been established by other campers in order to lessen the impact to the environment.
There was a sharp rise going from the main dirt road to the side road, and Jim had to put the truck in 4-wheel drive in order to pull the trailer up smoothly. We were able to position the trailer and level it up with very little effort and the view was amazing! We could barely make out the tops of several other RV’s further down the dirt road but no one was camped within a quarter mile of us. We really enjoyed this location. As it turned out, we could not get a spot in the park and ended up just staying here for free for four nights. Zion was only 15 miles down the road and since it was so busy this time of year, it was actually a pleasure to get away from the park in the evening and come back to our secluded and quiet location. Our solitude and 360 degree views of the surrounding cliffs were unrivaled.
I understand that this area is known as Hurricane Cliffs and is a popular mountain-biking destination. While we did not do any biking here on this trip, it is something we’ll definitely explore next time!
Since this was our first real boon-docking experience, the first full day here we were somewhat hesitant to leave our trailer without some sort of protection from theft. We should have already planned for this, but it just slipped our minds until the time was at hand. So, the first order of business was to venture into the small town of Hurricane, Utah for a hitch lock. Now, you would think that all hitch locks are generally fairly universal. Nope. We found out the hard way this is not so. I’m not going to admit to how many trips back and forth we made from the town of Hurricane to our boon-docking spot – but let’s just say that we had to test and return at least two hitch locks. So, you do the math!
The one we finally found that actually fit our hitch came from an RV supply store. The two that did not work came from an auto parts store. So, what’s the lesson here folks?? We were actually on our way to the RV supply store when we passed an auto parts store – and decided to go there first. Big mistake. Live and learn. The sales lady at the RV Store was great and very knowledgeable. By this time, we were somewhat leery that anything was going to fit our trailer. Airstreams are known for being a tad *unique*. We relayed to her our tragic story about returning hitch locks that did not work. She said that she would pay us $100 if we had to return the one she sold us. She was that confident! Too funny — and she was dead right!
By the time we got the proper hitch lock secured, and ventured into Zion that first day it was late afternoon. The visitor center was just closing, but I was able to get some basic information and we had time for an early evening hike up the Watchman Overlook Trail, which is accessible from the visitor center parking lot.
Watchman Overlook Trail
It turned out to be a perfect time for this hike. This is classified as a moderate, 3.3-mile hike that winds its way up to a viewpoint overlooking Watchman, lower Zion Canyon, the visitor center and campgrounds, and Springdale. We could not have timed it better for the opportunity to grab some classic sunset shots of Watchman and the surrounding rock outcroppings. This late in the afternoon, we also managed to miss most of the throngs of people.
Yours truly at the Watchman Overlook – Jim is getting better with the camera!
The landscape aglow with the evening light!
Heading back down the trail, Watchman lit up with the setting sun and the rainbow of colors in the sky was breathtaking!
We were on the fence as to what to do the remaining two full days we planned on spending in the park. On the one hand, we wanted to drive the scenic Zion-Mt. Carmel Road (Route 9) through the park and see the eastern side of Zion. We also wanted to do some day hikes in the canyon. We tossed a coin and the road trip through the park won out for the next day.
Luke had given us a list of places to stop and explore on our scenic road trip. We managed to capture all of them with time left over to briefly ride the shuttle up Zion Canyon at the end of the day. Our first stop along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Road was the Canyon Overlook Trail. This trail is accessed just past the mile-long tunnel. Wow! What an experience that was going through this tunnel. Mom- don’t think you could have done this or did you??
The Canyon Overlook Trail is a short mile-long trail with some pretty serious drop-offs. Most of the worst drop-offs are protected with a railing but there is some exposure for those who don’t handle heights. So, beware. As it turns out, this is common on most of the trails in the park. So, get used to it if you plan on hiking here!
The trail ends at a viewpoint looking down Pine Canyon towards lower Zion Canyon. It really is quite a sight to behold, and although a short hike, a worthwhile trek. I’ve read that there is a less-marked trail from the viewpoint that takes you around and over some of the rock formations nearby such as East Temple. For the more adventurous, it would be worth researching this. You can find information on the side trail online here.
Our next stop was an unmarked trail that leads to some petroglyphs in the park. We had to rely on information from Luke in order to find this trail. It is apparently not advertised by the park, and rangers will not tell you where to find this trail. We followed Luke’s directions and parked in a small turn-out near the trail access point. To get to the petroglyphs, you have to hike down an embankment from the turn-out, and go through a large stone culvert/tunnel that forms a small bridge on the road. We passed through this culvert and headed down into the canyon. It was not long before we looked to our left and could see the rock wall that contained the petroglyphs.
What a treat! Not very many visitors to Zion are even aware of their existence so I was thrilled to be able to see them up close and personal. Thanks Luke for letting us know they existed and telling us how to find them! They were strikingly similar to the petroglyphs we found in the Eastern Sierras (a post I have yet to write, but coming soon!)
We walked the length of the rock wall twice examining the rock carvings and speculating on their meaning. We found a great spot to eat lunch further back in this canyon and spent some time there just relaxing and enjoying a spot removed from the beaten path.
After lunch, we headed back to our truck and came up on the other side of the road instead of passing through the culvert again. There was a very animated crowd gathered where we had initially walked down to the canyon, and they were enjoying a fantastic view of a herd of Bighorn Sheep! The sheep were gathered in the very spot we had walked less than an hour before. We would have walked right into the middle of the herd had we gone back through the culvert. I perched myself on a rock above the small depression where they were grazing and shot way too many *sheep* photos. I won’t subject you to all of them! I was close enough to reach out and touch some of the sheep as I photographed. Very Cool!
After the sheep moved on, we did too and headed east towards the Checkerboard Mesa. This is an interesting rock formation that really highlights how water and erosion have played a part in creating the marvelous, diverse patterns in the rocks that you see throughout Zion. We stopped off at many turn-outs along the way and just hiked up into small canyons that looked interesting – mostly in pursuit of Keyhole Canyon.
Luke indicted that we had to find and hike up into Keyhole Canyon. Since there was nothing to indicate the name of the canyons along this road, we did not know whether we were finding the right one. At one point, we hiked up this very narrow slot canyon, and found some hikers coming down in the shallow water – complete with wet-suits and climbing gear. They had rappelled down into the canyon and hiked/swam in the slot – a popular activity here in the park. I started talking to one of the gentlemen and asked him if this canyon had a name. He said it was Keyhole Canyon. Success!! We had found the final spot that Luke had mentioned. The guy also shared that it was in this slot canyon where seven hikers were killed the previous year due to a flash flood. I remembered hearing about that, and being in the canyon where it happened was a tad eerie and sad.
After returning to the canyon area on Route 9, we still had plenty of time to take the shuttle up Zion Canyon and hopefully come up with a hiking plan for the next day. We parked at the Canyon Junction shuttle stop and rode the shuttle all the way to the last stop – the Temple of Sinawava. At this stop, we hiked the Riverside Trail to the beginning of the Narrows just to get a look at this famous part of the canyon. Then, we rode back to Canyon Junction while checking out the other potential hiking trails along the way.
Again, our timing was perfect and we were dropped off at Canyon Junction late in the afternoon. The bridge at Canyon Junction is a popular spot for sunset photos, and I could not resist joining the masses in the hopes of getting a good shot! I suppose I should have waited a bit longer for the sun to start setting the rocks on fire, but it was getting brutally crowded on the bridge. Time to go!
The next day we woke up early and headed into the park so we could get a jump on the day. I know what you are thinking – totally out of character for us to get an early start, but Zion was more populated than we had anticipated and we needed to get on the trail early! We decided to hike to Upper Emerald Pool, then take the spur trail (Kayenta Trail) over to the West Rim Trail. From there we would hike up the West Rim Trail past the trail that goes to the top of Angel’s Landing. Navigating this network of trails would allow us to cover more territory and experience some of the sights in the canyon. It was a total of about an 8-mile hike, with a very steep 2-mile section from the Grotto to the Angel’s Landing trail.
The section of the trail between the Grotto and Angel’s Landing trail was characterized by numerous steep switchbacks, and the famous section called Walter’s Wiggles – a series of 20 very tight and steep twists and turns. We were in great shape by this time of the season, and easily managed the climb. I was surprised to find the trail was paved all of the way to the junction with the Angel’s Landing trail.
We stopped for lunch just past the Angel’s Landing trail. It was a good vantage point to people-watch! There was a steady stream of hikers making their way up the ½ mile trail to the top of Angel’s Landing. It was literally like an expressway during rush hour traffic. No thanks! Angel’s Landing is on the National Register of Historic Landmarks and one of the most popular hikes within the national parks system.
We opted to hike past Scout’s Lookout (at the base of the Angel’s Landing trail) on the West Rim Trail and avoid the crowds.
Part of the West Rim Trail past Angel’s Landing
We started hiking back down to the Grotto, and caught the shuttle back to the visitor center later in the afternoon. It was about 3 pm by then, and we decided to leave Zion Canyon and visit a less-traveled section of the park.
In the town near where we were boon-docking, the Kolob Terrace Road travels for about 22 miles north up to Lava Point – located in a remote north-central section of the park. The road traverses in and out of national park property as you wind your way to Lava Point and the scenery was spectacular. The late afternoon light created some interesting opportunities for photographing.
Lava Point is the western terminus for the West Rim Trail we had been hiking earlier in the day. If you can arrange a shuttle, starting at Lava Point on the West Rim Trail and hiking to the Zion Canyon makes for a terrific day hike at about 10 miles for overall distance. It’s also a popular overnight hike.
We arrived back at our campsite towards dusk, and discovered that we had neighbors – very close neighbors. We noticed a motorcycle and a tent set up on the opposite side of our campsite, and we could make out someone hunched over a small backpacker’s stove cooking up something to eat. After parking the truck, we went over to introduce ourselves. The young gentleman interrupted his cooking to shake our hands and told us his name was Frank. A few seconds later, his travel mate, Kate, emerged from the tent. What struck us most about this couple was the condition of the bike they were riding. This was no ordinary bike. It was a 1100 cc BMW and had obviously seen some serious mileage. It was also heavily loaded with gear – appearing to be strapped quite haphazardly around the bike! There was a method to their madness, however. We were curious and asked them where they were headed. This is their amazing story.
Frank and Kate are Czechoslovakian. They started their journey in Czechoslovakia, and are navigating around the world. They crossed Russia and Asia including Mongolia, shipped their bike to North America from South Korea and had traveled at this point from Alaska down to Zion – where we met them. They are recent college graduates – Frank with a mechanical engineering degree and Kate with a degree in Tourism – and are on the final leg of their journey more or less. From Zion, they are heading south and east into Mexico, Central America and ultimately into South America and Argentina before shipping their stuff and themselves back to Europe. I was so impressed with what they were doing. Their genuine interest in meeting other people and seeing other cultures was infectious.
They told us some entertaining stories of their journey through Russia and Mongolia – peppered with tales about the incredibly congenial, helpful people they have met in all places they’ve traveled. Frank is bilingual while Kate speaks several languages including Russian and Spanish. Certainly, that has helped them in their travels. Their expert command of English was notable. They were equally interested in the life style that Jim and I had chosen to live for a while, and just as curious about us. One thing that struck me the most was our mutual faith that humankind – no matter their culture – was inherently good and if everyone could travel and experience first-hand the culture and life style of others, then we would be a more tolerant world community.
One thing I know for sure – it’s not just the places we are seeing and experiencing that make our RV adventure memorable – but also the unique people like Frank and Kate that we are meeting along the way.
Our first destination on our road trip was a stopover in Sequoia National Park. Now, this was not at all planned! A couple of weeks before we were to be leaving June Lake, our son Luke called and said that he would be in Sequoia NP the weekend of October 14/15 for a college friend’s wedding. He wanted to know if we would still be in CA at that time, and could we rendezvous with him there. Our original plan was to head south and then east right away. To get to Sequoia from June Lake is a somewhat round-a-bout drive – or as they say in Vermont – you can’t get there from here. There are few roads going west over the Sierras as one might expect and those that do are not RV friendly, so it meant going all the way south and around the Sierras. And then, back up north again! But, it’s good to be flexible and we wanted to see Luke – however short the visit would be.
As it turned out, we also ended up with more time than originally planned to get to Texas. Jim’s broken bone needed more time to heal, and we needed to stay in June Lake longer so he could complete the medical treatment. We were able to extend our start date at Amazon’s Camperforce location in Haslett. So, everything fell into place for us to take an extra week and head to Sequoia.
Luke’s friend Christine was getting married at the Wuksachi Lodge located deep in Sequoia National Park.
We needed to stay in a campground close to the lodge so Luke could conveniently get to the wedding. The Lodgepole Campground was located behind the Lodgepole Visitor Center and claimed to have sites for rigs up to 42 feet – so that worked for us. We did have to go into the park from the north entrance however since you cannot take a trailer up from the south entrance – too many tight switchbacks! Always good to check the road restrictions within national parks!!
This campground normally allows reservations on Recreation.gov but this late in the season it was first come, first serve only. So, we were driving way into the park hoping for a spot. I called ahead and asked how it looked for availability since we were coming in mid-week and was assured we would be able to find a spot. Good thing we arrived on Wednesday though!!
Now, while the Lodgepole Campground data on the NPS website indicates that it is RV friendly for rigs up to 42 foot in length, these sites must have been on the loops they had closed down for the season! There were only two loops open when we were there in mid-October and the one that allowed RV’s was not big rig friendly. Our trailer is 25’ long and with the truck added to that, we are at least 40 foot. The loops were very tight and cramped with many obstacles such as large rocks and trees that meant, at one point, I had to get out of the truck and guide Jim around some turns in the campground as we were looking for an open site. We finally found a site that could accommodate us – but I must say that there were not many sites in this loop that would fit a rig any larger than ours, if any. Most of the other RV’s in the campground were Class C’s and did not need as much length thankfully.
By Friday, the two loops that were open filled up. And with no camp host on the premises, people were coming in and just camping willy-nilly – parking their vehicles in the overflow parking and pitching their tents literally in other folk’s campsites! One group even took over someone’s campfire after they went to bed! And were not quiet about it. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the National Park Service should be more flexible in recognizing that weekends will be busy and providing more park service personnel to police the campground during busy days. Perhaps, another loop could have temporarily been opened. (We gauged the demand at our forest service campground in October, and opened up closed loops when necessary, if only for a couple of days). It was almost a free for all on Friday night. We were lucky in that we had a *corner* site and thus had a little more room, but this campground is tight with very little privacy between sites.
Now, to be fair, maybe some of the other loops that were closed were nicer and offered more privacy. So, I will be fair and offer up some positives! Wednesday and Thursday night we did enjoy some solitude with no one camped around us. Lodgepole CG is a nice central location for exploring Sequoia and perhaps that’s the draw. We were close to some of the places we wanted to see. The other positive was that it was convenient for Luke and his need to have easy access to Wuksachi Lodge.
Confession: I want to admit right now that I have become somewhat of an Eastern Sierra snob! It’s true. And I do feel bad about that – really. I fell in love with the *other* side and it took me a couple of days to become enamored with Sequoia. But, I did. We explored our immediate surroundings on Thursday and Friday and saw some really nice scenery and enjoyed some quiet solitude on some of the trails.
On Thursday, we opted to keep the truck parked, and hiked the 6-mile roundtrip trail from Lodgepole to Wuksachi. It was a nice trail with very little traffic and went through a mostly fir/pine forest – crossing a couple of streams along the way.
The first stream crossing had a substantial bridge that we walked over, and could look down on a pool of water that harbored an incredible number of actively-feeding trout. What a treat! We watched the trout for quite a while. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that many trout in one spot so readily visible.
We also explored Wuksachi Lodge to get a sense of what the wedding would be like, and where it would be held. On the grounds at the lodge, there is a hiking trail, and on this trail, we crossed a large bridge called the Sequoia Bridge. I mentioned to Jim that if I was getting married, I would have the ceremony right on this bridge. (As it turned out, that is precisely where the wedding ceremony was!)
On Friday, we drove the short distance to the Sherman Grove of Sequoias. We did the customary and popular hike around the grove of giant trees. We had been at this very site in March several years ago with my sister and her husband. It’s amazing how different it all looked. When we were here in the spring of the year, there was still feet of snow in the woods. I could not get my bearings as to exactly what path we took then through the grove. I will say that the trees really are amazing up close and personal.
We left the Sherman Grove and continued on down the road to the Giant Forest Museum. This is a nice museum that offered some great exhibits explaining the critical habitat of the Sequoias. There are also some interesting old photos depicting the park in the early 1900’s when over development almost ruined the sequoia grove here.
Across the street from the museum, we found a spot to eat lunch on Beetle Rock. This granite dome outcropping looks down on the Sierra Nevada foothills and is really a cool spot to relax and take in a tremendous view. One of the interpretive signs indicates that on a clear day you can see the coastal mountains from here. I do not believe there are too many clear days anymore! The pollution and smog from the valley prevents this – except perhaps in late fall and winter.
After lunch, we walked a trail from the museum to the top of Bear Hill. There were a few sequoias along this trail and it was a relatively quiet trail with few other hikers.
After returning to the museum via this loop trail, we still had a good piece of the day left, so we decided to take the road on the right side of the museum that takes you back to the Moro Rock trail. I read about the hike up Moro Rock and it sounded intriguing. It is a short hike, but a classic hike that takes you up the side of the granite dome via 350 stairs complete with railings along the way to steady those who may get a tad queasy from the exposure.
From the top gazing east, you look down into the canyon formed by the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River and beyond. Toward the west, some of the summits that form the Great Western Divide of the Sierras are visible including Triple Divide Peak, Loin Rock, Mount Stewart, Lawson Peak, Kaweah Queen, Black Kaweah, Lippincott Mountain, and Mount Eisen. Interpretive signs show the ridge and identify the mountain tops. Mt. Whitney is blocked from view here even though it is the highest peak in the lower 48 states.
Just before reaching the top of the dome, we stopped to take in the view at a small overlook. We heard a little commotion behind us, and I turned around just in time to see a young gentleman down on his knees proposing to his gal! He whipped out an engagement ring, and she accepted. It was very touching! What a romantic! Apparently, the top of Moro Rock is a famous spot for popping the question – much like Baker Tower at Dartmouth. What is it about height that prompts folks to choose these spots for proposing??
On our hike back to the truck, we detoured on a small trail that skirted us past the Roosevelt Tree, and also took a small trail that lead to the Hanging Rock, a formation visible from Moro Rock.
The highlight of our time in Sequoia was of course our visit with Luke. He arrived late Friday night, driving from LA airport in a rental car. We were able to spend Saturday morning and early afternoon with him – setting up his new-fangled tent for a show-n-tell – and taking a short hike up the canyon on a trail from the campground. He stayed at the lodge Saturday night with friends, but we connected again on Sunday morning and heard all about the wedding.
Luke planned on hiking with friends Sunday afternoon and then leaving from there to catch his flight back to Detroit. So, we said our good-byes and headed off on our own mid-day Sunday to explore the northern part of the park. We headed for the Grant Grove of Sequoias, and in the process noticed another campground near this grove and the north entrance to the park – Azalea Campground. The weather was turning, and it was getting incredibly foggy, which actually made for some interesting pictures in the sequoia forest! This campground looked nice, and we cruised through it and found it to be one of the nicest campgrounds we have ever seen. There were lots of open sites, so we booked on back to Lodgepole CG, hooked up the trailer and moved ourselves to Azalea CG. It was only for one night, as we were planning on leaving Monday, but it would save us a least 2 hours in the morning since it was right near the north entrance, and our exit location.
The ride over to Azalea from Lodgepole was a little dicey as it just continued to get foggier and foggier as the day wore on. Jim did a great job, even though at times, it was so foggy we practically had to come to a complete stop on the winding, narrow road. It reminded us of the worst fog we have ever been in –near Jim’s sister Susan’s place in Washington State! Anyway, it was a beautiful site with total privacy from other campers. I highly recommend this campground if you are planning on staying within the park.
Oh, and by the way, the Grant Grove was amazing. This grove was different from the Sherman Grove. The undergrowth was more diverse, and the *feel* of the grove was just more impressive to me. I cannot really put my finger on why – maybe it was the weather and the fog moving in. Maybe it was a conversation I overheard on my way into the grove. As I was crossing the parking lot to enter the grove, a young man was pushing an elderly lady in a wheelchair back to their vehicle. As they passed me, I heard her heartfelt exclamation: “This has been the happiest day of my life. I feel so blessed to have been able to see these remarkable trees once again.” Her facial expression was one of pure joy. I could tell I was in for a treat as I headed to walk among these giant trees. On this day, at that time – the Grant Grove really found a special place in my heart.
Coming up! Adventures in Zion, Bryce and beyond……I’ll once again have limited WiFi – so be patient!
Our last day of work at Oh! Ridge Campground was October 8th. Hard to believe it’s time to pack up and move on. It’s amazing how settled in we got in just 3 months. We had a checklist of things we wanted to do while parked for 3 months. We were able to whittle down the list considerably, but some tasks will wait until we settle in Texas for a couple of months. This was the first time we had spent more than a couple of weeks in our Airstream, and all in all, we are quite happy with life in a small RV!
I hauled out the Airstream manual a couple of weeks prior to our departure to go over the maintenance checklist and see what was essential, or at least reasonable to get done before our exit date. We also wanted to do some routine truck maintenance. It was hard to shift gears and start to think about getting back on the road, but also exciting to think of the possible places we would visit en route to Texas.
What did we accomplish?
What do we need to do in Texas?
Not too shabby – looks like we did get some things accomplished!
We stopped work on Saturday, October 8th and had two days to pack up and leave – with Tuesday morning the 11th as our anticipated departure date. Jim used the wind shelter we had at our site to *stash* things he accumulated over the summer and to store things so we had more room in the truck. (You need to know Jim’s habits to understand the humor in this!) Let’s just say that the wind shelter acted as his surrogate garage. His pack rat tendencies, though, were held in check over the summer thank goodness! He spent a few days after work that last week sorting through things – returning some stuff to the campground *pod* and packing the rest.
I can honestly say that we really did not accrue too much *stuff* during our stay here this summer. We bought an outdoor rug to place at the entrance to the trailer to keep from tracking in too much dirt. We also bought a cute, collapsible aluminum table that sits between our outdoor Airstream chairs. And we purchased some much needed essential tools .
Packing up after an extended stay can be somewhat stressful, but we employed the *divide and conquer* strategy and were successful in getting everything in order with minimal combative episodes, and actually had a very amiable two days getting ready. The division of labor was simple – I handled everything interior, and Jim took charge of all exterior chores. I was charged with getting the inside of the Airstream travel-ready, and Jim was responsible for packing up the truck and checking exterior systems. It was a fair and equitable division of labor. We could work independently with minimal conversation, and therefore, avoided most opportunities for conflict!
We were all set to go Tuesday morning. All systems go – until Jim tried to start the truck to get hitched up. The truck turned over, and then stalled. Visions of chipmunk-eaten wires came to mind. Yup – those pesky little rodents had once again overnight made a nest in the box with the wiring harness!! We let our guard down one night, and they moved right in. Luckily, only one wire was damaged and Jim was prepared this time – armed with liquid electrical tape and small electrical connectors. It was a bit more of a challenge with his still-injured right hand not quite up to speed, but he persevered and got the job done. It still cost us a couple of hours of time in the morning but we were not planning on travelling very far the first day, so it all worked out. Never a dull moment!
We made it to Red Rock Canyon State Park that day and got a nice site nestled along the canyon wall with enough daylight to take a short walk before starting dinner. We are making our way to Texas on a somewhat circuitous route – headed to Sequoia National Park to rendezvous with Luke for a couple of days, and then spending some time traveling through some of our nation’s national parks and monuments in the Southwest – those that have been on my list of places to see for quite some time.
Stay tuned…….more to come on our favorite summer hikes and day trips in the Eastern Sierras, as well as our adventures in Sequoia NP, and our unscheduled stopover in Bakersfield due to adverse weather ahead of us! We will undoubtedly have spotty internet over the next two weeks so I will try my best to write off-line and post when able.
We’ve had the opportunity to explore the northern and eastern areas of Yosemite this summer, and have enjoyed some spectacular hikes and sightseeing. I wrote about the Tuolumne Meadows area in an earlier post. The Tioga Pass Road through the northern part of Yosemite is rich with possibilities, and we spent two additional days this summer visiting this area of the park. A couple of the highlights below!!
GAYLOR LAKE TRAIL
Just inside the Tioga Pass east entrance gate is the parking lot and trail access for this hike. Although this has been billed as a less-traveled trail and *hidden gem*, when we arrived at the trailhead the parking was full. (Our usual mid-to-late start to the day did not help!) If you have similar habits as us, then continue on down the road a short distance to a small parking lot on the left side overlooking Dana Meadows. Overflow parking for this trailhead is located here, and we found one of two remaining spots in this lot.
This is a high elevation hike with the trailhead elevation at 9,950. So beware! The first part of the trail up to Gaylor Pass is very steep, and a good test to see if you are acclimated to the altitude! There is roughly a 600-foot gain from the trailhead to the pass in ½ mile of hiking.
The trail ascends through pine forest and is mostly shaded (a welcome relief if hiking in mid-summer) until just before Gaylor Pass, when it opens up to an alpine meadow with outstanding views of the surrounding areas. From the pass, you can see Dana and Gibb Mountains in the distance.
Continuing on the trail, there is a short, switch-back descent to Middle Gaylor Lake and the glacial basin where the other Gaylor Lakes sit nestled in a boulder-strewn valley. This valley is a prime example of the high-country alpine meadow environment and we were blessed to be there when many wildflowers were still in bloom at the end of July.
The trail continues on up to the Sierra Mine and Tioga Hill via the far side of Middle Gaylor Lake, through the meadow, and eventually meanders along and past Upper Gaylor Lake.
From Upper Gaylor Lake, the Sierra Mine ruins become more visible and there is a trail to the top of Tioga Hill where the Great Sierra Mine Historic Site is situated, and the ruins of what was called Dana City. We hiked up past an old miner’s cabin, another ruin that was the old powder house, and past several *adits* – entrances to underground mines. Caution should be used around these mine shafts as they are not cordoned off in any way.
Another hiker we met along the trail told us to continue to the top of the hill past the mine ruins in order to see down the valley and Tioga Lake in the distance. It was well worth the bushwhacking to see this vista!
The Sierra Mine was an old silver mine and the largest mining operation within the boundaries of the Yosemite National Park. It was active between 1881 and 1882. The Great Sierra Consolidated Silver Mining Company purchased all of the claims in this area and established the towns of Dana City and Bennettsville, which was just a bit further east down Tioga Pass. This vein of silver was originally discovered in 1860 by a prospecting party and later named the Sheepherder’s Lode. After just a short time, the Great Sierra Mine on Tioga Hill was deemed unprofitable, due in part to the harsh living conditions and the difficulty with hauling and operating equipment at 11,000 feet. The company shut down this mine, and concentrated efforts at the Bennettsville location. We visited the Bennettsville mine and village location on another trip, mountain-biking the trail into the site.
From the top of Tioga Hill looking west, there is a ridge of rocky terrain that was intriguing to me and I wish we had done some off-trail hiking to explore what was beyond that ridge. It flanked our right side as we made the return trip to Middle Gaylor Lake. I later read that what I was seeing is the edge of a glacial cirque (a bowl-shaped depression formed by glacial erosion) and within the depression are two additional lakes – called the Granite Lakes. I guess I’ll have to put that on the list for next time! While there is no designated trail to these lakes, the terrain here is open and navigation is relatively easy. A good topographical map will keep you on track.
Both the Gaylor Lakes and the Granite Lakes are great fishing destinations for those anglers out there!
As I mentioned earlier, we were here in time to catch a spectacular wildflower show. A great online resource for identifying wildflowers in California is Calflora Plant Search
I would estimate that this is a 4.5-mile roundtrip hike if going all the way up to the Sierra Mine site, with an overall elevation gain of 1,500 feet.
TIOGA PASS ROAD – OLMSTEAD POINT, TENAYA LAKE AND THE MERCED GROVE
Our last trip into Yosemite, we took our bikes and decided to do a *short* bike ride on the Bennettsville trail for a little exercise, and then drive Tioga Road to the western side of Yosemite in search of some giant sequoias.
Technically, the Bennettsville trail is not in Yosemite but it’s close to the east entrance gate. The bike ride was fairly uneventful, some good single-track interspersed with some rough parts of the trail on rocky mine tailings. (This cautious biker walked that part of the trail!) The Bennettsville mining site was rather interesting and two restored buildings still remain where the town was located – the assayer’s office and a barn/bunkhouse.
After the bike ride, we headed to the Merced Grove of sequoias – our final destination for the day. On the way, we stopped off at Tenaya Lake and enjoyed a picnic lunch by the shore.
Unfortunately, we did not have our bathing suits, or I think even I might have taken a dip in the water! And that’s saying something about how appealing it looked, if you know my usual aversion to swimming!
The massive slabs of granite rock and domed mountain tops in this area of Yosemite are quite impressive. All along the Tioga Pass Road is evidence of the glacial action that occurred over hundreds of thousands of years, carving out the landscape and creating these enormous granite slabs and domes.
Past Tenaya Lake, at a significant curve in the road, sits Olmstead Point. From this viewpoint, you look down on Yosemite Valley and Half Dome from a much different perspective. We initially drove on past this overlook without stopping but something made me think twice, and I asked Jim to find a place to turn around.
This overlook is named for Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of American landscape architecture, and his son Frederick, Jr. Both were instrumental in helping to initiate the conservation and protection of Yosemite. On the left side of the overlook, Cloud’s Rest rises up in all its glory. This is a massive mountain of granite characterized by an *arête* – a thin, ridge-like summit caused by glacial erosion. The hike to the summit of Cloud’s Rest is a popular destination for park visitors. I can only imagine the exposure this hike provides with the narrow ridge along the summit. Maybe this hike will go on the list for next time! I was so impressed with this viewpoint that we stopped again on our way back over the pass after visiting the Merced Grove! It was close to sunset on the return trip, and this offered some special light for photographs.
MERCED GROVE OF SEQUOIA’S
The Merced Grove of Sequoia’s is the smallest grove in the park and not as heavily travelled – although with the famous Mariposa Grove closed this year, more people are making the trek over to this side of the park -to see this grove. We arrived at the trailhead rather late in the afternoon, but still had plenty of daylight to make the 3-mile roundtrip hike down to the grove. The first ½ mile of the trail is on a very wide, dirt road. Then, the trail turns to the left and is somewhat narrower and all downhill for a mile to the grove of 20 or so sequoias. These trees are so remarkable. What a contrast to the Eastern Sierra high desert environment we had been exploring most of the summer. Fire has played an important role in maintaining the health of sequoia groves over the years. I learned that the health of the groves suffered when fire suppression was practiced in the area. These trees are also quite susceptible to damage due to soil compaction and erosion by humans. Conservation strategies are employed to reduce the impact – such as the barriers that surround the trees to protect the fragile root system. The Mariposa Grove is closed this year due to a restoration project that is underway to “restore the grove’s dynamic ecology and increase its resilience”. (from www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/mariposagrove.htm)
It is a treat to be able to walk among this ancient, giant trees! On the way back to the trailhead from the grove, I was hiking on my own as Jim got side-tracked examining the cabin that was nestled in the woods at the end of the grove of trees. The cabin was built in 1934 to serve as a summer retreat for park superintendents. It now serves as a periodic educational center for school groups. While Jim studied the architecture of the building, I was starting to get eaten alive with mosquitos! Time to go! On my solitary hike back to the parking lot, I was struck by the complete quiet of the forest. There were few hikers on the trail at this point in the day. What a glorious private trek alone in the woods with only my thoughts to keep me company! It was refreshing. To quote John Muir once again, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
Hard to believe that our first workamping experience is coming to a close. We’ll be heading out of June Lake and the Oh! Ridge Campground about mid-October.
Jim and I have spent the summer working for a company that contracts with the U.S. Forest Service to maintain campgrounds in the Mammoth/June Lake/Eastern Tioga Pass area of California. I can unequivocally say that this is one of the most beautiful and diverse areas I have explored. And that we ended up here is undeniably fortuitous. Serendipity is alive and well!
Most of my blog posts to date have been recounting our day-off adventures in this little bit of heaven called the Eastern Sierras. While I still have many more hiking and sight-seeing escapades to share, I wanted to reflect on the past 3 months in terms of our workamping experience in this post.
Since this is our first workamping job, I am reluctant to pawn this narrative off as *words of wisdom* to others living the RV lifestyle. I do not believe I’ve had enough experience to offer up advice! I also feel that each person’s journey is unique. My goal here is to record observations I’ve made – something in writing that will serve to guide us as we continue on our journey, and help us avoid catastrophe and enjoy success.
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
We have had a great summer, really! But, there have been instances when the unexpected has happened and we really needed to take a deep breath, see the positive, make adjustments and move on.
A. The Lemon: If you’ve read my first couple of blog posts, you know that we quit our first workamping job before we even started. Not an ideal way to start this new life! However, we have certain standards that we are not willing to compromise on, and staying in a crowded RV Park that catered to long-term residents was not going to fly with us.
The Lemonade: We re-grouped, spent a glorious, unplanned week in Glacier National Park, found a new gig, and ended up in a much better place. Things will work out if you keep the right attitude and persevere.
B. The Lemon: Everything about our current campground is great with the exception of the resident chipmunk population. We had never before experienced the destructive force of chipmunks, or the danger of catching the plague from these rodents. When our truck wiring harness was viciously attacked by chipmunks, we were shocked. While Jim was able to splice the wires temporarily so that the truck would run, we will have to replace the entire wiring harness at some point – at an estimated cost of $2,000.00.
We started a chipmunk eradication campaign in earnest and thought we were winning the battle. Don’t ever underestimate the fortitude of chipmunks. I was sitting on the sofa in our trailer one morning working on a blog post, when I heard a commotion. The sound was coming from beneath the oven, and in a flash, out spilled two small chipmunks from the gap between the floor and the oven. They literally somersaulted out from under the stove, in cartoon-like fashion. I thought I was witnessing the antics of Chip and Dale! They stood up on their haunches, and gazed over at me. It was a long couple of seconds as we sized each other up. Imagine the quintessential cartoon of a women standing up on a chair being held hostage by a mouse – that was me, except it was two chipmunks. I screamed and jumped up on the sofa, and the chipmunks scattered – one going back under the stove and the other heading for our bedroom. Not good!
It took us an entire week of experimenting with different pest control methods before we finally rid ourselves of the family of chipmunks living in our trailer.
The Lemonade: We are now experts at chipmunk removal strategies, a skill that will undoubtedly serve us well – and have also learned that we need to be more vigilant with pest-proofing the trailer. Prevention is much easier than eradication!
C. The Lemon: Just before Labor Day weekend, Jim was working on fixing an issue in one of the campground bathrooms using a large hand-held drill. The bit got caught, spinning the drill out of his hands and in the process, the ring-finger metacarpal bone on his right hand snapped in two. A month later, his hand is still in a cast and will be for another two weeks minimum. We’ve had to adjust our start date for our next gig, abandon doing some maintenance on the Airstream that we were hoping to accomplish before heading out, and alter some of our travel plans.
The Lemonade: The good news is that his hand is healing well, our son Luke just informed us of some last minute travel plans that will bring him near us in a couple of weeks, and Amazon Camperforce is incredibly flexible and accommodating. We will end up being able to visit with Luke and spend some unplanned time in Sequoia National Park with him. Our trip to Texas will be somewhat more leisurely, allowing us more time in Zion, Bryce and Canyon de Chelly. And Jim’s hand will have more time to heal before starting work at Amazon.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Ghandi
As I mentioned before, serendipity is alive and well. We did not expect to find ourselves in the Eastern Sierras this summer, but it happened and I’m glad it did. We have truly been blessed to be in such a beautiful and diverse area. And we have taken every advantage of our proximity to some of the most amazing places in the United States. I’ve had fun researching and learning about this incredible landscape.
This is an area rich in history, and abundant in unique geologic features and plant communities. The list of hikes we’ve done and places we’ve visited is long and impressive. This is why we chose to try this lifestyle, and I can wholeheartedly acknowledge that we’ve lived by the expression “carpe diem”…all summer. Last week, we actually spent one of our days off in the campground at our site instead of venturing out. That was a first – and Jim remarked that it was kind of nice to just relax for a day!
We chatted last night about what makes this area so special, and we agreed that it is in part due to the distinctive geology of the area. The evolution of the land here over thousands of years seems so visually obvious and tangible. The contrasting landscape of the Sierra and the White/Inyo mountain ranges coupled with the distinct ecosystems of the Owen’s Valley offers visitors a glimpse into the glacial and volcanic past that is unrivaled. We will be back here to visit – there are still places to see and hikes to enjoy that we did not have time to cover in one summer.
Observation # 3
“I put a dollar in one of those change machines. Nothing changed” – George Carlin
Money. Of course, we did not choose this lifestyle for the financial rewards! We knew we would be living on a tighter budget. No matter how much number-crunching I did before we started our new adventure, reality is the true test. I’ve kept meticulous track of our expenses and income over the summer, and the good news is that for the most part we are in the black and have had money left over at the end of the month. That said, we still do have some modifications that need to be made! We were in the red one month and to me that is just not acceptable.
Where are we slipping? In evaluating my financial spreadsheet, it’s not hard to see what’s happening. We have dined out way too much! Even though we try to patronize restaurants during special deals (i.e. Happy Hour), if you do that too many times in one month it adds up. We are historically fairly frugal, but I do believe that we can get our grocery bill down with better meal planning as well. Discipline is the key to getting expenses under control. 🙂
We also have sunk way to much cash into unexpected purchases – like our on-going chipmunk crisis – to the tune of about $200.00 over the course of the summer.
And finally, we have some decisions to make regarding expenses in the coming year. We chose to keep our house in Vermont for the short-term, and this is something that we will have to evaluate. Continuing to maintain this property will eventually be a burden unless we decide to become landlords.
Observation # 4
“Work is either fun or drudgery. It depends on your attitude. I like fun.” – Colleen Barrett
I can honestly say that I have had a blast working in our campground kiosk and talking with folks from all over the U.S. and the world. I have enjoyed learning about this area, and getting proficient enough to act as a reliable information source for our visitors. Helping people have a fun-filled vacation has been a joy! The customer service aspect of this job is what I love, and is not all that different from my previous full-time position as a public services librarian.
Of course, the other group of people who you interact with on a typical work day are your co-workers – who come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. We are fortunate to have a great group of employees here in our campground. Workampers are a very diverse group – each with their own history and style. The variety of people that you meet is what makes it fun. As with any workplace environment, the typical personality types persist: The Chronic Complainer, The Antagonist, The Eternal Optomist, The Workaholic, The Procrastinator, The Comedian, The Control Freak – you get the idea. We have examples of all of the above working with us this summer!
Attitude is the key to meeting and accepting your co-workers, and getting along with them. Sometimes it can be difficult, but keeping a positive attitude and a sense of humor goes a long way. I’ve worked with many personality types over the years, as a peer and as a supervisor – and learned to adapt to people’s idiosyncrasies and react to issues with positive energy and understanding. I love the quote “You can’t have a good day with a bad attitude, and you can’t have a bad day with a good attitude.”
The good news is workamping assignments are temporary, and then you move on!
While visiting the Bodie State Historic Park in early August, Jim and I struck up a conversation with an employee of the park who was doing restoration work on one of the outbuilding roofs. We got to talking with him about hikes and places we’ve visited so far in the Eastern Sierras, and he asked if we had been to see the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.
I knew these trees existed somewhere in the southwest but I had not as yet discovered how near we were to the oldest living trees in the world – the Great Basin Bristlecone Pines (Pinus longaeva – Western Bristlecone Pine). We were psyched to hear of our close proximity to this ancient stand of trees, and immediately knew what our plans would be for the next day! The young man gave us directions to the grove – which is located in the Inyo National Forest in the White Mountains south of Bishop.
The White/Inyo Mountain Range can be seen flanking the eastern side of Owens Valley while driving along Rt. 395 south of Mammoth Lake, with the Sierras rising to the west of the valley. While not very far apart in mileage, these two mountain ranges are worlds apart in both climate and composition. The White Mountain Range is an extremely arid desert environment. While both the White and Sierra ranges formed at similar times, the White Mountains have a completely different geologic make-up. Contrasting with the granite peaks of the Sierras, they are composed primarily of sedimentary rock dating back 500 million years ago, and contain some of the oldest rock specimens in California. Precipitation is sparse since this range lies in the rain shadow of the Sierras, and there are periods of drought alternating with some of the coldest temperatures in CA. It is an extremely harsh environment, and while vegetation appears sparse I’ve read that there are over 1,000 plant species that call this place home! Still, a seemingly unusual place to find the oldest living grove of trees in the world.
We started our day with a stopover in Bishop to do some shopping. I liked Bishop, although the lower elevation here makes this a real hotspot in the summer and temperatures were already approaching 100 degrees when we were there at noon. We found a fantastic outdoor gear shop and bought some much needed supplies (and some not so much needed items that were on sale!) Most important, Jim was able to find a great pair of trail hikers (La Sportiva) to supplement his heavier hiking boots that were just too hot for hiking in this area.
Leaving Bishop, we headed for the town of Big Pine, where we turned left onto Route 168 and started our ascent up to the bristlecone pine forest. In less than 25 miles, we would climb over 6,000 feet in elevation! At least 4 diverse plant communities are evident during the drive – shadscale scrub, pinyon pine-juniper woodland, great basin montane scrub and finally, the bristlecone pine forest at around 10,000 feet. On top of the pass at Cedar Flat, 13 miles from Route 395, White Mountain Road to the left takes you to the Schulman Grove of pines – another 10 miles of winding, steep road!
Since it was August, I expected there to be more tourists but it was surprisingly quiet and we pretty much had the road to ourselves. We stopped for a late lunch along the White Mountain Road at a picnic area deep into the pinyon pine-juniper forest. It was a nice spot and offered some shade! Even at this elevation, it was a warm day.
Refreshed with food in our bellies, we drove the last 5 miles to the visitor center maintained by the U.S. Forest Service and the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association. The visitor center sits at the entrance into the Schulman Grove – one of two groves of bristlecone pines in this area. The Patriarch Grove is another 11 miles on a dirt road past the visitor center. It was already mid-afternoon so we were not going to see both groves today. I highly recommend spending some time in the visitor center as they have an outstanding display on the history and physiology of bristlecone pines and this unique geologic area.
The Schulman Grove of pines is a little over 10,000 feet in elevation and covers the southernmost section of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. It also happens to contain the oldest living bristlecone pines in the world! We had time to take the longer of the two self-guided hiking trails – a 4.5 mile hike through the heart of the grove. Armed with our printed copy of the Methuselah Walk, we headed out onto the trail. Allowing for time to stop and take pictures and read all the interpretive information, we were going to barely get back to the visitor center by dusk! But, the late afternoon light would be awesome for picture-taking!
The self-guided interpretive trail has 24 points of interest along the 4.5 mile hike. We stopped at each marker along the way. Since I had the camera, Jim carried the guide and was our narrator – reading the descriptions in the booklet for each signpost along the trail. It was a good job for him 🙂
Pines trees are gymnosperms – which means they produce cones instead of flowers. They have two types of cones – seed (female) cones and pollen (male) cones.
The seed cones on the bristlecone pines are the small purple cones found on the trees and these are pollinated by the male cones – the rust-colored cones. It was fun to see examples of both on the smaller trees.
Some interesting facts about bristlecone pines that we learned along the way include:
2. These trees are extremely shallow-rooted so they can find food and water quickly.
3. The trees have adapted to the highly alkaline dolomite soil allowing them to grow slowly and without competition as few species of plants can tolerate this low-nutrient soil.
4. It can take up to 100 years for a bristlecone pine to grow one inch in diameter. This slow growth generates very dense, disease-resistant wood.
5. These pines hold their needles for up to 40 years reducing forest floor litter, and this helps to prevent wildfires.
In different parts of the forest, there were some other interesting plants growing that are common in this area. Rock spirea (Petrophytum caespitosum) hugs the ground and can be found throughout much of the grove.
Fern Bush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium) is another shrub that makes its home in this harsh environment and blooms in August.
It was a tremendous honor to have been able to visit and stroll through this ancient forest. These pines have been referred to as ancient sentinels. I would agree that they certainly are guardians of this vast landscape keeping watch over this truly special place. On our way back down the mountain, the evening light was pure magic – casting a golden hue over the countryside.
What is it that draws me to Mono Lake? I’m not entirely sure why this hauntingly beautiful lake attracts me – perhaps it’s the fragility of the ecosystem combined with its unique geologic and cultural history. Whatever the reason, I have developed a real love affair with this 700,000-year-old lake and the surrounding basin area.
Mono Lake is an endorheic body of water — meaning it has rivers and streams that flow into it, but no outlet except for evaporation. This inland sea becomes alkaline due to this unusual phenomenon. It was not always endorheic in nature. After the last ice age, the lake water started to recede and the river that once flowed from the lake into the Owens Valley ceased to exist. There are many other endorheic lakes in the world — the Great Salt Lake in Utah, Lake Van in Turkey, Qinghai Lake in China, Lake Turkana in Kenya, Lake Eyre in Australia, and the Caspian Sea in Russia — to name a few.
The fragility of this incredibly unique ecosystem was recognized in the 1970’s. Biologists started to voice concern that water diversion from the Mono Basin to supply Los Angeles was leading to lower lake water levels and an increase in the salinity of the lake. The increase in salinity would harm the survival of the brine shrimp population, a critical food source for thousands of migratory birds. A concerned group of citizens formed the Mono Lake Committee to lobby for the protection of this naturally beautiful and environmentally-sensitive area. Through their efforts, legislation was eventually passed to protect the area.
The Mono Lake National Forest Scenic Area was created through congressional legislation in 1984. The purpose was to allow the forest service to manage this special geological, scenic and cultural area and prevent damaging water diversion to the City of Los Angeles. Unmonitored water diversion once threatened this delicate ecosystem – home to brine shrimp and a species of alkaline flies. Migratory birds can now still depend on Mono Lake as a stopover and re-fueling station, feeding on the explosive population of brine shrimp for nourishment on their long journey. Mono Lake is part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) due to its critical role in supporting migratory bird populations.
Unique geologic formations called “tufas” are prominent along much of the lakeshore. These formations were created underwater as the calcium-rich streams feeding the lake reacted with the carbonate-rich lake water. These limestone (calcium carbonate) towers give the area a majestic, magical aura. As lake waters receded with the diversion of water to Los Angeles, many of these towers were left exposed and stranded on land. Today, visitors can walk around and among these noble structures.
On our first visit to Mono Lake, we chose to explore the South Tufa area to get a look at those surreal-looking tufas – up close and personal. From the parking lot, there are numerous walking trails including a boardwalk that guide you to the shoreline through sagebrush meadows and along land-locked tufas. Interpretive signs are scattered along the trails giving information on the history of the lake, as well as describing the distinct flora and fauna. There’s also a rich native american heritage in the Mono Basin that is shared in signage both along the trails surrounding the lake, and in the natural history display at the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center.
The off-shore rock formations visible from the trails are home to both California Gulls and Osprey. Mono Lake is home to the second largest California Gull rookery in the U.S. – the Great Salt Lake houses the largest rookery. They provide a safe nesting habitat against predators such as coyote. During nesting season, access to the off-shore islands and towers is restricted. For years, when water diversion in the surrounding basin led to low water levels in the lake, these nesting grounds were vulnerable to predators that could access the nests via exposed land bridges.
We have been fortunate to observe a few of the bird species that make Mono Lake their home at various times of the year – including Osprey, California Gulls, American Avocets, Wilson Phalaropes, Violet-green Swallows, and Great-horned Owls. We even saw some Snowy Egrets from a distance perched on the off-shore tufas. The biggest thrill for us was the night we were there at dusk and watched as several great-horned owls emerged from their daytime resting place on one of the lake tufas. They came close to us, and although I did not have my telephoto lens with me that night, I was able to capture some pictures. It was beautiful to watch them silently glide about the rocks and meadows.
We have visited Mono Lake often this summer, both at the South Tufa area and Navy Beach. It is especially enchanting in the early evening when the lake and surrounding meadows come alive with bird and animal activity.
On September 16, we made the trek back to Mono Lake to see the moon rising over the lake. When we got there around 6:30pm, the sun was about to set behind the great wall of the Sierras. The light was incredible!
Although I was not set up to take a serious photo of the moon (did not have my tripod with me), I did snap some shots trying to keep the camera as steady as possible. When the moon started to appear on the horizon and make it’s way up into the evening sky, it literally just took my breath away! I snapped these two shots – somewhat different because I was playing around with the white balance on the camera. Not bad for an incredible amateur who forgot her tripod!!
For more information on Mono Lake, the Mono Lake Committee maintains an excellent, informative website.
I have some shots from our visit to the Navy Beach area of Mono Lake that are equally stunning, but alas! – I’ve misplaced the flashdrive where I had those stored! Along with a lot of other photos. Hopefully, I will find it. Luckily, I had most photos backed up. But if I do not find it, there are some photos that I had not gotten around to putting on my external hard drive and I fear they may be lost forever 😦