Southern California on the Beach

The closer to the beach you get, the more expensive the camping gets, so our stay here was quite short. We spent a couple nights in state parks along the ocean, but the noise from trains and cars led us to continue on south. A few highlights from our short stay around San Diego county were La Jolla cove and Mission Trails State Park.

Joshua Tree and Inland SoCal

After a brief visit back to Switzerland to help clear the apartment and take care of administrative items, we are now all on the road – Ben, Rachel and Mitzi. After a 12 hour flight to LA, we spent two uneventful days in the city before heading out on the road again.

Our first stop was Joshua Tree National Park. The camping at the park is first come, first serve, and fills up quickly on weekends. We were lucky to arrive early on Thursday and secure a spot at Ryan Campground. By the end of the day the whole park was full! National Parks don’t allow dogs on trails, but this one did allow dogs in the camping area. We were limited to shorter trails in turn, while the other person stayed with Mitzi at the Landy. We were still able to see some spectacular landscapes and sunsets.

After Joshua Tree, we swung through La Quinta and Palm Desert to pick up groceries and then headed up Highway 74 and spent a windy night on the pass. The following day was a Wiener Dog Festival in Temecula! For Ben this was a totally new experience, to see so many wiener dogs and owners just as crazy as Rachel. Mitzi competed in a wiener dog race, and placed 3rd in the Senior dog division!

The 4th night we went to Palomar Mountain State Park. This was the day Daylight Savings ended, and now we have sunsets arriving at 5pm. The following night was a real treat – our camp neighbor from Joshua Tree, Steve, invited us to stay with him and his wife Kumi in Oceanside. They were amazing hosts, with great food and a comfortable bed for the night. This marks the start of some beach time for us now!

Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park

Kings Canyon National Park has a lot to offer. First of all the road coming from Fresno (CA180) winds up from an elevation of 90m to about 1900m which is already quite impressive. From there the road goes further up before it drops down into the canyon at about 1300m meandering along the canyon wall. A thoroughly impressive and enjoyable drive! There are plenty pull outs to take in the view and I urge you to do that, there is not much time for enjoying the view while driving because of all the corners 🙂
I spent the night in the Cedar Grove Campground and got up early to do the 8 mile hike to Mist Falls. You might remember me complaining about not having seen a black bear during the whole time. Well, about 200 meters before reaching the Mist Fall a Black Bear was on the trail and of course it was behind a bend so that I almost walked into it…
Luckily the bear was even more surprised than I was and went down to the river. I backed up a bit and waited for it to clear the path. Unfortunately, after sipping some water the bear came back up to the trail and started to trot towards me. A slight panic started to rise in me… I kept walking back the trail for a bit and then went down to the river myself to circumvent the bear, which worked.
My planned lunch and photo break at the fall was not as relaxed as I was hoping for but I think I got at least one good picture. I tried to snap one of the bear but I was clearly not focused on the task as you probably can see 😀
On the way back there was no sign of the bear and other hikers coming up didn’t see it either.

Plan for the next day was to hike in the Redwood Canyon, the largest grove of Sequoia trees in the states. A beautiful and awe-inspiring forest. Words can’t describe how these trees make you feel!
After a night camping in the National Forest I drove the Generals Highway to the Sequoia National Park. The first stop was to admire the General Sherman Tree and walk the Congress Trail. Surprisingly just next to the Sherman tree was another Black Bear foraging the underwood. The Sherman tree is the biggest tree on earth by volume and believe me, it’s huge 🙂
Sequoia NP has many other famous sites to offer, the Auto Log, the Tunnel Log and Moro Rock. After visiting all of them (I didn’t dare to drive through the Tunnel log since it’s officially 2.438m (8ft) high and last time I measured the Landy was 2.43…) I went to the most remote part of the park, Mineral King.
The Mineral King Valley got mostly famous through Disney who wanted to build a Ski resort there. After years of legal battles, Disney dropped their plans and the valley was made part of the National Park.

The Mineral King road is another beautiful mountain road, for American standards a very narrow road with many single lane sections. It’s also quite steep and doesn’t have any guard rails with nice drops where the road ends.
My plan was to hike to the Monarch Lakes the next day, but I met some people from LA and New Orleans with whom I spent the evening. It was their last evening and they didn’t want to take down all the cans of beer, bottles of whisky and, yes there was also a plastic bag of wine.
The next morning my head didn’t really feel like hiking and the cold temperatures drove me down back to the coast. Thus, I haven’t seen much of the Mineral King Valley but what I’ve seen was gorgeous and I can only recommend going there.

Yosemite National Park

After the heat in Death Valley it was time for colder temperatures. My plan for the remaining two weeks until my flight back to Zurich was to enter Yosemite from the east side over the Tioga pass, spend two days in the famous Yosemite National Park and then visit Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park before driving to LA.
But first I had to stop in Bishop and have the spare wheel mount fixed. The guy in the Napa Auto Parts store gave me a number from a welder in Bishop. Unfortunately it was lunch time, so first I went grocery shopping. By the time I was done, Hector Martinez was back from lunch and he was so nice to squeeze me into his day.
A bit more than an hour later I have a better than new spare wheel carrier 🙂 He welded the broken parts together and also put a reinforcement into the part the broke now twice. It looks much better than the last fix and I hope this one will last a bit longer!
Anyway, if you need something fixed in Bishop, give Hector Martinez a call!

My wish of colder temperature was already granted on the way to Lee Vinning, shortly before reaching the top of the pass between Bishop and Lee Vinning the weather changed and it started to snow. Since it was already too late to get into Yosemite I decided to explore the nearby Monolake.

The next morning, after a freezing cold night (-7C) I got up early to get a head start into Yosemite. However, the Tioga road was closed because of snow. After a very good Latte, a muffin and watching all the movies in the visitor center in Lee Vinning the road was still closed. According to a newsletter in the visitor center the falls colors are fully out on Sagehen pass and this was only 25miles (40km) away. The falls colors on the pass were quite nice and I met a bunch of other photographers that gave me great tips where to go, unfortunately it was all into the opposite direction that I was heading and by the time I reached Sagehen pass, the Tioga pass road was opened again. I drove leisurely up the pass and wanted to get into the park. However the queue to get in was so long that I decided to camp just outside the park and do little hike to a lake nearby. The campground was at almost 3000m elevation and the following night was the coldest so far, it got -15C. Two sleeping bags and a fluffy inlet kept me warm though. On the bright side, the auxiliary heater still worked at this elevation, so getting up wasn’t that hard.
To ditch the crowds I got up a six and after a quick breakfast drove to the Cathedral Lakes trailhead. This is a 8 mile (13km) roundtrip hike to two lakes in the cathedral mountains. The weather was perfect and my early start allowed me to reach the lakes early enough to have good light and a very calm, mirror like surface on the lake. Apart from two overnight hikers nobody else was at the lakes. On my way down I passed many hikers, I guess it gets quite busy up there.

I spent the rest of the day driving the scenic road through the park and enjoying the Yosemite Valley. I can see why the park is so popular. The lush valley is the ideal stage for the gigantic granite domes like Half Dome and El Capitan. The “Tunnel View”-Viewpoint is as breathtaking as it looks on all the pictures 🙂
Since all the campgrounds where full I camped just outside of the south entrance. After a much warmer night, I got up again early to get the sunrise at Glacier Point. Not quite as spectacular as in Bryce but still a very nice sunrise, the view of Half Dome and into the valley is gorgeous. Thanks to a looking glass you can also see people that hiked up to Half Dome on top of it. I wonder when they had to get up to be there at sunrise! It also looked like Half Dome was as busy as Glacier Point. You definitely don’t get solitude at the main attractions of this park 😀

I am not much of a crowd person, thus I left Yosemite and headed to Kings Canyon but more about that in the next blog post!

One word to mountain pass roads in the states: These are usually not narrow, steep roads the wind up a side of a mountain but often two way highways that have a steady incline of between 5% and 8% and are quite long, with a speed limit of 65mph (105km/h). This puts the engine cooling of my Land Rover to a different test than what the English where testing it (or it might be a problem with the tuning?). Shifting down a gear and take it a bit slower (55mph|90km/h) keeps the temperature in a reasonable limit.

By the way, fill up your diesel tanks in Bishop, it was $4 per Gallon in Lee Vinning, that’s almost $1 per liter! You see, I got used to a different diesel price than in Switzerland 😀

Death Valley

Entering the Death Valley via the Jubilee Pass is a great drive scenic with no body else on the road. Only after Badwater, the lowest point in the Unites States (85m below sea level) the crowds are starting to appear. The size, the dryness and the heat (105F/40C) in the valley is impressive. There are huge salt flats, canyons and colorful hillsides to explore. There is a Painters Drive leading through the most impressive parts. The hills are covered in all kinds of colors by the different minerals.
After a very stormy and hot night in Furnace Creek I drove through the Titus Canyon (a gravel road going over a pass and then through the canyon) and then headed to the famous Racetrack Playa. That’s a big dried out lake where rocks seem to be moved by magic. The road there is horrible though, so much washboard that everything feels like to fall apart. From there I went over another narrow and 4×4 only pass to get into the Saline Valley and to the Warm Springs Oasis. This was another 50 miles of the worst washboard roads I’ve ever encountered and by the end my spare wheel mount broke apart… However the Warm Springs are amazing. It’s kinda like a hippie oasis, with beautiful hot tubs, art and naked people 😀
After a relaxing evening and morning in the tubs I had to move on. I was running low on food and there is not that much time left until my flight back to Switzerland leaves from LA.

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Next stops: Bishop to get my spare tire mount fixed and then Yosemite!

Grand Canyon, Mojave Desert

After a rather disappointing experience in Zion I drove straight to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Against all my expectations the Grand Canyon area is not warm end of September. One of the reasons for that is that the North Rim is at about 2400m elevation. Another fact I didn’t really know was that the Grand Canyon is not just one canyon but a huge area with many side canyons leading into the main canyon carved by the Colorado river.

I spent the first (freezing) night just outside the park at the Saddle Mountain trailhead at 2800m which features an amazing view of parts of the canyon. When the sun warmed up the Landy enough to get out of the sleeping bag and after a warm breakfast I went to the visitor center. On the map I saw a road leading out of the map labeled “Point Sublime (4WD)”. A quick Google inquiry reveals a rough 18mi road that leads to a overlook where you can camp with a back country permit. The park staff doesn’t really advertise this place and there is no information about it in the official park material you can get at the visitor center.
Luckily I got a permit and off I went. Apart from a group of students on a field trip I was the only person camping there. I had great conversations with the study group and about their program. Most of them studied an art related topic and are now exploring and studying the intersection of geomorphology and human construction. You can learn more about the program at www.landarts.org.

After a beautiful sunrise I left the North Rim and went to the South Rim. Even though the two rims are that’s only a few miles apart, it’s about 150 miles to get from North to South. Since a did a few side trips it took me two days to get to the South. And after a day at the south rim I moved on. It’s not much different compated to the other side but with much more people.

From the Grand Canyon I went to the Mojave desert. There is a “shortcut” through the desert if you want to go to the Death Valley. Of course this shortcut takes much more time to cross the desert than the highway that goes around it. However the “Old Mojave Road” is a beautiful historic track that has been used by the first settlers crossing the desert and goes through many historic places. Apart from that, it’s also a fun trail in a proper 4×4 😉

Bryce Canyon National Park

Utah has been a highlight so far, but Bryce Canyon (which is in fact not a canyon) just blew me away. The colors of the hoodoos and the slots were simply amazing. I combined the Peek-a-boo- and Navajo-Trail for a hike. Even though it was quite cold the clouds and sun played an amazing light show with thousands of photo ops.

After a very crisp night, I got up early for the sunrise. The forecasted snow fall happened but unfortunately not enough to cover the hoodoos in a white layer. Nevertheless, the clouds and the rising sun had an other mind blowing appearance, but take a look for yourself:

IMHO it was totally worth fighting the crowds and the freezing fingers 🙂

After Bryce I went to Zion, however it was crazy! SO many people! I couldn’t put up with that and decided to move on to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. More about this in the next post!

Capitol Reef and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Capitol Reef National Park was my first park in Utah. I arrived late in the afternoon and just camped at a very popular boon docking site just outside the park.
As usual I went to the Visitor Center to get some information and maps about the park. The park offers many hikes and a few 4×4 trails. I decided to do the scenic road into the park and then do a loop out of the park via the South Draw 4×4 trail and then back to Torrey. This trail involved some serious off roading, steep slopes with rocks and steps in it, slanted and washed out parts, even a river crossing and some mud beds where involved. Lots of fun, adrenaline and on top of all amazing views.

Since the main campground in the parks was full, I decided to start the Cathedral Valley road, a 56mile loop on a dirt road. In the middle of it is a free campground with six spots. There I met a fellow traveler from Scotland with his Land Rover Discovery. Doug had a huge telescope and we spent the evening talking about Land Rovers, stargazing, and picture taking. He showed me Saturn on the telescope, the Andromeda galaxy and many other stars. It was amazing to see the Saturn and clearly see the rings, a view I’ll never forget! Thanks a lot again Doug! You can read about his tour on his blog.

The day after I finished the loop and took the Burr trail road out of the park. However, I spent another night in the park and hit another jackpot. Two other travelers where in this small (5 spot) and free campground. A night on the campfire with dutch oven apple pie was over quickly. I got a great tip for a hike, the Upper Muley Loop which I did the next day.
It’s a hike through a canyon and then up to the rim and back. It was a hot and very windy day and with the detour and getting lost I did about 11miles, worth every step I took. There was only one other group of people on the trail who did the loop in the other direction. As usually, if you leave the paved roads you are pretty much by yourself.

After the amazing days in Capitol Reef I decided to skip Canyonlands and Arches to have enough time exploring the other parks and places I wanted to visit, thus instead of going east I went south to go explore the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument which covers a large area of the Waterfold pocket. There were a ton of things to explore, for example I saw dinosaur tracks, slot canyons and off course, lots of off roading[1].

[1] Off roading is in this case on roads, but usually not much maintaned and washed out.

Nevada and Great Basin National Park

To get to all the famous National Parks in Utah and Arizona from California one has to cross Nevada. Most of Nevada is part of the Great Basin which is basically a series of mountains and valleys. However, the valleys aren’t nice lush meadows and creeks but huge, mostly flat dry land. I decided to take the US50 dubbed the “loneliest road in America”. The driving itself is very uneventful, even though there is more traffic then the name of the road suggests but one can get lost pretty nicely by leaving the US50 and hit one of the county roads.

Albeit there are not many traces of human civilization there is quite a bit of history to explore. From thousand years old Petroglyphs to historic Pony Express stations.  On top of that there are also a few hot springs along the way that are just super relaxing.

The Great Basin is also one of the darkest areas in the United States and perfect for taking pictures of the night sky. The thunderstorm raging in the west gave an ideal contrast to the calm Milky Way.

My goal was to get to the Capitol Reef National Park but I found another less known National Park on the way; the Great Basin National Park.

The park offers a cave which can be experiencedon a guided tour, almost 5000 year old trees and lots of hiking. One of the hiking opportunities I couldn’t pass was hiking up the Wheeler Peak. Mount Wheeler is the second highest peak of Nevada and is just shy of 4000 meters above sea level (3982m).

The park has three campgrounds of which one is at 3080m and the start of the hike up to the peak.

Volcanos and Oregon Coast

I did not get around to write something useful, thus there are only pictures 🙂

Mount Rainer National Park:

Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams

Mostly Oregon Coast