First, a correction from our Editor (that would be Rick)…yesterday's blog noted that we had passed through our 39th National Forest. Well, we keep a spreadsheet in addition to the National Forests page on this website, and we had listed and omitted several forests in both places (and that would be Rick's fault). After updating both the spreadsheet and the National Forests page so they matched and were accurate, our total National Forests visited prior to today was actually 44. Then today, we added our 45th—Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. And there is an asterisk to all of this: as it states at the bottom of our National Forests page, in our early travels we may have passed through National Forests without recording them. So, we are at 45 officially, and we'll leave it at that for now!
With that tidied up, it's time to talk about today. We could sum it up with one word: WOW! But since we're as windy as the wind we experienced as we stood gazing in awe at the cloud-shrouded Mount Rainier, we will give you the details…
We were up and on the road early, as there wasn't much to keep us at Cascade Peaks Family Campground, plus we wanted to get to the Grove Of The Patriarchs in Mount Rainier National Park early enough to ensure we could find a parking place for the Viva. We got our early start, but there was disaster looming on the horizon, and it wasn't Mount Rainier. As we approached the Ranger Station, orange cones blocked the entrance to the right, so Rick pulled behind the two cars in front of him at the left Ranger Station. He was focused on getting Linda's Lifetime Senior (ha ha!) National Parks Pass and her driver's license for identification. He pulled up to the window without noticing the overhang that he was about to drive under (the hood and windshield were already under it). The Ranger rushed out of the booth to ask what our clearance was, because the overhang was 10'6"! Rick told him the Viva needed 11'. The Ranger helped us back up, and as he was doing that he pointed out the indention on the overhang that a prior motorhome's air conditioner had made. It wasn't until the Ranger moved the orange cones for us and we had driven past the other station that Linda said we would probably have been okay. We pulled down the visor to check the label that Rick had put there just for these situations. It read "10'6" is close but okay, 11' or above is fine." Linda remembered that we had measured our height at 10'4", so we would have had 2" to spare in passing under the overhang. Still, way too close for comfort!
We pulled into the small parking lot for the Grove Of The Patriarchs and took the last of three RV spots. Rick walked the one mile trail first, then Linda took her turn. It was paradise! A wandering trail led through beautiful, towering Douglas firs and cedar trees. About the midway point, a primitive chainlink suspension bridge crossed a rapidly flowing stream. The bridge shook as you crossed it, and a sign recommended that only one person at a time use the bridge. No problem complying with that request!
After the Grove Of The Patriarchs, we drove for miles through Mount Rainier National Park. There was still large patches of snow in many places. We weren't going to go up Sunrise Road, but at the last moment we made the turn, and we are so glad we did. It was 14 miles to the highest drivable point in the National Park, at 6400 feet. As you would expect, it was curve after curve after winding curve, with of course many places with no guardrails or berm preventing a drop of thousands of feet if a driver took his or her eyes off the road to gaze at the scenery a moment too long. At the summit, which also housed the Visitors Center, we saw an amazing contrast. To our right was a hill/mountain covered in grassy vegetation. It was steep, but it looked like one could simply walk up it. But to our left…crowned in clouds so thick the peak was obscured, its rugged rocky surface covered in deep snow, was majestic Mount Rainier. If you check out our photos, even though they are in color they look like black and white photos. Yet another example of a place in our amazing country that seems like another world.
Rick took a short hike to Emmons Vista Overlook to take more photos while Linda went to the Visitors Center and bought the book, "Meditations of John Muir — Nature's Temple." Then it was time to crank up the Viva for the long descent from the summit.
We were reluctant to say goodbye to Mount Rainier National Park, as it was so much more than we expected. As we have said before, it is difficult to rank the National Parks we have visited, but if we could rank them, this one is near the top.
We drove through light rain on our way to Lake Sawyer RV Resort in Black Diamond. The park was crowded, so we had been lucky to get a spot here. The rigs are packed so close together that extended awnings almost touch neighboring rigs. Our spot, though, was next to the basketball court and we had no one to our right, which was nice. We walked around the park, and went down to the lake to take some photos. A nice, serene setting.
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A most interesting day that came in two great parts. Part one was planned; part two was totally unplanned. Stay with us and we'll explain.
Rick ran Zoe less than a mile (she remains on restricted mileage until we get home due to her illness in Las Vegas), then went on to complete a 4 mile out and back on perhaps the nicest trail he has ever run. The converted rails to trails blacktop path was wide, level, and smooth, and it wound through long stretches of tree canopies. If we lived out here (which we would never do, too cold for these Florida transplants!), he would run the trail every day. Linda had her turn on the trail, too, going for her exercise walk after Rick was finished running. Before hitting the road we paid our July bills online. Due to security concerns we never use campground Wi-Fi when paying bills—instead we tether our laptop to Rick's cell phone. Fortunately, we had strong AT&T reception here.
We passed through Gifford-Pinchot National Forest, which made 39 National Forests that we have seen. When we were putting together this trip, we had scheduled a visit to Mount St. Helens for today, but we changed plans because it would have been too many miles and too long of a day. Living in a small RV and constantly being on the move has a cumulative tiring effect, despite all of the wonderful sites and sights we see. Plus, today was day 45 of our trip, and we still have 36 days to go, so we do need to pace ourselves to not get too road weary. Thus we scratched Mount St. Helens and decided to spend two days in Mount Rainer National Park. It was the right decision—despite heavy cloud cover and fog in the mountains, it was still breathtakingly beautiful. We saw numerous waterfalls and incredible vistas. There were more winding roads with steep ascents, steep descents, and no guardrails with sheer drop-offs just beyond the edge of the road, but we no longer give those stretches of road a second thought. Hmm, maybe we should!
We had another close encounter of the deer kind…three this time. They popped out of the woods on the right just ahead of us, and we actually had to come to a stop and wait while they crossed the road.
So that was part one of today's journey, all mostly planned except for the deer. Now, what about part two? Well, we were zipping along, heading for our campground destination, when Rick noticed something on the side of the road. Linda wasn't looking in that direction, but she didn't object when Rick said they needed turn around and go back to check it out. We are so glad we did.
There are roadside attractions, and then there are roadside treasures. This place was definitely in the latter category. We drove through the entryway, parked the Viva, and then stepped into the outdoor art gallery of Artist/Sculptor Dan Klennert's "Recycled Spirits Of Iron Sculpture Park." We spent about 30 minutes there, but we could have spent hours walking from piece to amazing piece. Dan takes scrap iron and recycles it into art that has to be seen to be truly appreciated. He also sometimes incorporates driftwood and many other types of scrap pieces into his work. Our photos will give you a general idea, but in person the works are even more impressive. Thoughtful, whimsical, poignant, and any number of other descriptive words apply to his creations. Dan was a child of the '60s, and that is reflected in his work and his life philosophy. We're so sorry we didn't get to meet him—he wasn't there, but we did meet his wife. She gave us permission to take and post photos—and we took a bunch! Below is a link to the photos we took at Dan's sculpture park. If you are ever in the area, you must stop by and see this art for yourself. And be sure to make a donation—Dan doesn't charge admission to his sculpture park, but he appreciates donations.
We were ready to kick back for the night when we reached Cascade Peaks Family Campground. Rustic and sprawling best describe this place. It is huge, with several hundred sites scattered across multiple loops through the woods. But before we could kick back, Zoe demanded her evening walk. We followed the roads and paths to a river that runs along the back edge of the campground. It was near dusk and we were the only ones around. Had a family of bears come along, we would have made a tasty meal. On the way back to the Viva Rick managed to both get us lost and also find the right way home. He's good at that. Well, at least the "getting lost" part.
One last thing…there must be a lot of chainsaw/log artists out here—we have posted several photos of log carvings, but we have seen many more. This campground had more chainsaw art, photos included.
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Our Photos of "Recycled Spirits Of Iron Sculpture Park"
A travel day, not much sight-seeing, but we did see something that touched both of us.
We made a quick stop at the Port Angeles waterfront for some photos. We noticed several street signs that were in two languages—English, and another language we didn't recognize. We guessed it might be Norwegian, but had no clue why that would be. We later searched the web and found an interesting story behind the signs, via an article by Frank Hopper in the publication "Indian Country Today." The Port Angeles area has been home to Native Americans (the Lower Elwha Tribe) for 10,000 years. But by 1990, it was estimated that only eight people knew how to speak the Klallam language. Tribal elders and others who recognized the importance of not letting the Klallam language fade into history worked to preserve the language, and beginning in 1999 Port Angeles High School started teaching the language. As of 2016, over 200 students have taken two years of Klallam language instruction. The street signs we saw were in English and Klallam, to recognize and honor the local Tribe's history, culture, and continuing presence in the community.
Today's route took us over a floating drawspan bridge, over a suspension bridge, and in hilly downtown Tacoma, where we lost the route and made some wrong turns that made driving not so much fun for awhile.
Speaking of hazardous driving, the two bridges I mentioned above have interesting histories of…catastrophe! With thanks to Wikipedia for info about both bridges, we'll start with The William A. Bugge Bridge (commonly known as the Hood Canal Bridge), which spans the Hood Canal of Puget Sound. At almost 1.5 miles in length, it is the longest floating bridge in the world that is located in a saltwater tidal basin, and the third longest floating bridge overall. It is essentially built on a series of pontoons that rise and fall with the tides. The catastrophe here? In 1979, during sustained winds of 85 mph and gusts of 120 mph, the bridge failed and the western drawspan and pontoons broke loose and sank. Fortunately, the bridge had been closed during the storm and there were no casualties. The bridge was rebuilt, and we survived our drive over it today.
Now, the second bridge…one that has fascinated Rick for years, from the moment he first saw the newsreel footage of "Galloping Gertie." The Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the third longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened to traffic on July 1, 1940, was doomed to failure from the moment it was designed. Even during construction, workers noticed unusual vertical movement during windy conditions, hence the nickname Galloping Gertie. The movement became even worse after the bridge was completed. During 40 mph winds on November 7, 1940, the main span failed and collapsed into the river below—but not before intrepid cameramen captured video footage that you will never forget if you've seen it. And if you've never seen it, here is a link to a YouTube video of the collapse: Galloping Gertie
Sadly, there was loss of life in the collapse of Galloping Gertie. A reporter (not the cameramen) drove onto the bridge with his dog in his car. The bridge soon started twisting so violently that the reporter had to crawl to safety on his hands and knees, as he heard the bridge cracking and beginning to fail all around him. Several people attempted to rescue the dog, but the poor thing was so frightened he wouldn't leave the car, and even bit one of his would-be rescuers. The car and the dog went into the water when the bridge collapsed, and neither were ever recovered. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was eventually replaced in 1950, with a parallel bridge being constructed in 2007. We crossed the latter bridge today without incident.
The South Prairie Creek RV Park is a sprawling park that has plans for even more expansion. We were assigned a premium, level spot (ahh, level!) with a concrete pad surrounded by gravel. We took Zoe for a walk around a nice natural area with a pond, and also on a converted rails-to-trails blacktop path that Rick and Zoe will run in the morning.
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We added another National Park to our list—Olympic National Park—but it wasn't the amazing, scenic beauty we've found in other National Parks. It was a pretty drive, of course, but we've had countless pretty drives in our journeys around the country. Perhaps for some National Parks it's more about preserving a large wilderness area than it is about carving out roads and trails and parking lots to attract the traveling hordes.
We also added Olympic National Forest to our list of National Forests we've visited—that brings our total to 38. As you would expect, lots and lots of trees, but after visiting Sequoia NP, Yosemite NP, and Redwood National And State Parks, there is no comparison. There are trees (here), and then there are TREES (Sequoia, Yosemite, Redwood)!
We stopped for the hike to Sol Duc Falls, a 0.8 mile trek each way via a trail cut through the woods. Definitely bear country, but no bear sightings. The park brochure also warned visitors about cougars, but they are very elusive and seldom seen.
We drove around Crescent Lake (large, and a beautiful deep blue) and got caught in construction, resulting in a twenty minute delay.
After checking into the campground, we drove to our assigned spot and guess what? No, not level and shaded this time! Very UNlevel! We don't mind when the front is low, or the back is low, or one side is low. But when the front and a side are both low, it gets tricky. We were on a gravel lot that had some washout from spring rains, so it was uneven throughout. Two people from the office came, and with the help of their boards (our orange blocks weren't enough), we finally got reasonably level.
After hooking up, we took Zoe for a walk to the site where the old dam was, but no longer is…dammit! Rick had to do his requisite "standing on the big rock" pose. A walk around the campground revealed that someone is talented with a chainsaw (see photos). Then we went back to the Viva for supper and a quiet evening. No cable TV or over the air TV reception here, and slow internet, so after writing this blog we'll turn in early to get some much needed sleep.
Somewhat of a ho-hum day, but after all we've seen, we can accept that occasionally! Today was Day 42, with 39 to go.
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The morning started somewhat cool—51 degrees. Make that "chilly"—hey, we're from Florida! Before we left Cape Lookout State Park (which we really enjoyed), Rick ran Zoe for 2/3 of a mile, then finished his 3 mile run on the beach (which he also did yesterday), and Linda went for a long beach exercise walk.
While going through Garibaldi, Oregon, we stopped so Linda could take a quick photo of the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad that runs primarily between Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach.
The Oregon coastline continued to be picturesque as we drove north, and because it was picturesque we were, of course, obligated to take a few pictures. Haystack Rock was particularly spectacular.
We drove through downtown Cannon Beach, on our way to Tillamook Lighthouse. The only sign we saw as we made the turn on the road to the lighthouse was a sign advising against (trucks hauling) trailers. There was no warning about motorhomes. So, we headed up the road that quickly became a narrow two lane, so narrow that two cars could barely pass each other…and we weren't in a car, we were in a motorhome! It didn't help that the road was steep, curvy, and lined on both sides with trees whose trunks were just inches off the pavement. We folded in our side mirrors, but that still made passing cars coming down from the lighthouse rather dicey. Less than halfway up we were already looking for a place to turn around, but there was no opportunity…so onward and upward we went. When we finally reached the Ranger Station, we told the Ranger we were going to make a U-turn (finally, room for that!) and head back down. He told us we needed to continue, that the scenery would be beautiful. Just beyond the Ranger Station the road split, and the fork to the lighthouse had low hanging branches, maybe 7 feet above the ground. The Viva's clearance is 11 feet, so we would have been pushing through branches, which is not good for the air conditioner, attic fan, antennas, etc., on the Viva's roof. We told the Ranger thanks, but no thanks, and made the equally harrowing (yes, an appropriate use of the word!) back down to the main highway. We may have missed a spectacular sight, but there have been and will be other spectacular sights on our journey, and our Viva remained unscathed.
Before leaving Oregon, we stopped at an overlook and read a plaque dedicated to Oswald West, Governor of Oregon from 1911 to 1915. In his wisdom and foresight, he set aside and protected nearly 400 miles of Oregon coastline, saving it from development and preserving it for generations to come. Far too often, travelers across this vast nation do not stop and think about, and thank, those men and women of generations ago who saw the beauty of our land, and took every necessary action to keep it as pristine as possible for all to enjoy. When we were in Yosemite National Park, we felt the spirit of Joseph Muir. At this spot, we felt the spirit of Oswald West, so we did pause and offer our thanks and appreciation.
We crossed into Washington, which makes 33 states we have visited in our Viva. We saw a sign for Cape Disappointment State Park, but didn't get a photo of the sign. So disappointing…
We crossed over a huge bridge whose name we didn't get. We reached the campground and were assigned a relatively flat (finally, we had to use one level of levelers!) and shaded spot. Linda did laundry, Rick swept and washed the floors, cleaned the floor mats, checked tire pressures, and walked Zoe, and then we called it an early night.
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We were a bit reluctant to stop at Sea Lion Caves, a privately owned wildlife preserve and bird sanctuary in Lane County. We support animal sanctuaries and preserves, but we don't support businesses that exploit animals or subject them to unnatural conditions. According to what we had heard about Sea Lion Caves, the sea lions were not exploited or confined in any way, but you never know for certain until you see it. As it was on the route to our next campground in Tillamook, we decided to stop and give it a look. Wow, were we more than pleasantly surprised!
The sea lions had complete freedom to come and go to the sea caves, and people aren't allowed close enough to interact with them. In fact, people are kept far enough away that the sea lions take no notice of visitors.
The first view of the sea lions was from an overlook high above the ocean. Scores of sea lions were stretched out comfortably on flat rock as the pounding surf bathed them in a foamy spray. Binoculars and telephoto camera lenses are advised, but there are also those "25-cent for a measured time" telescopes for closer viewing. Then it's a long trek to the elevator for the ride down to the sea caves, 208 feet below at sea level. Once in the main chamber, there are several exhibits that provide information about the caves and the sea lions. There is also another viewing area of more rocks and more sea lions, again at a distance that does not affect the sea lions at all. We enjoyed our visit here, and highly recommend Sea Lion Caves!
Next stop was Heceta Lighthouse, not far down the road. It was a almost a mile hike to the lighthouse, so Rick went while Linda stayed with Zoe. Rick took a few photos at ground level, and then climbed another trail that led to a vantage point above the lighthouse, where he took more photos.
Before we reached our destination, we saw a sign that we had crossed the 45th parallel, meaning we were exactly halfway between the North Pole and the Equator. We, uh, didn't notice any temperature change as we crossed the line!
The morning and very early afternoon were overcast with patchy fog, but that seemed only fitting as we drove along the beautiful but rugged Oregon coast. The skies turned blue about one o'clock, much to our delight, and the rest of the day was cool and clear. After reaching the campground and hooking up, we took Zoe for a walk on the beach. She loves to play in the ocean when we camp at Flagler Beach in Florida, but this was the first time she was able to dip her toes in the Pacific Ocean. She was happy!
Our site was shaded and level (sound familiar?). It was narrow, and the fire pit was in an odd location at the back of our space, so we decided to forego a campfire. After supper, we headed back to the beach to join dozens of other people and dogs to watch the sun set over the Pacific. A great ending to a great day!
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Rick has been a runner for decades, and even now that he is closely approaching an age where many of his peers prefer comfortable rocking chairs, he still pounds the pavement almost every day. His running heroes are Jim Ryun, Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Steve Prefontaine, the University of Oregon legend who died far too young at age 24 in 1975. When Rick learned that the route Linda was plotting would take them through Eugene and the heart of the University of Oregon campus, he knew he would have to go for a run in Pre's old training grounds. It's mostly impossible for the general public to get on the track at Hayward Field, where Pre was virtually unbeatable, so Rick opted for Alton Baker Park and part of Pre's Trail. He did an easy 4 miles in 33:35 (8:24/mile), not bad for an old guy who is not in racing shape yet. It was a special feeling for Rick to run in the footsteps of one of his longtime heroes. Not to be left out, Linda took her exercise walk while Rick cooled off.
When Linda came back to the Viva, Rick told her that two police officers had stopped and looked through the Viva from front to back and side to side. The look on Linda's face was priceless! She thought we were illegally parked in the park or something. Actually, two City of Eugene police officers were on bicycles patrolling the park. They stopped to look at the Viva because they were intrigued by its Euro-styling. Rick started talking to them about the Viva and answered their questions about it. He then asked if they would like to see the interior—an offer they were excited to accept. They spent probably ten minutes checking out all of the features of the Viva (it is a great little motorhome) and asking more questions. Rick should get a commission if a sale results from this chance encounter! And coincidentally, Rick's middle name is Dean, and the officers' names were Rick and Dean.
Next it was on to King Estate Winery. One word to describe this winery…HUGE! After passing through the gated entrance, a long (1/2 mile?) drive led to the estate high on a hill overlooking acres and acres of the well-tended vineyard. Linda toured several wineries when she traveled to Italy in 2005, and she said the setting and scenery reminded her of what she saw there. As much as we enjoyed our visit yesterday to Saginaw Vineyard and our chat with the owner, Karen, this winery almost felt imposing—but that feeling vanished as soon as we walked inside. We were greeted warmly, and we learned about the history of King Estate Winery from Rob, who also poured tastes of five fine wines for us. Of course, we had to buy several bottles here, too.
We arrived in Florence (Oregon, not Italy) in mid-afternoon, and yet again, were assigned a level, shaded spot. We don't know when our luck will change, but we hope it's not soon. We hooked up the Viva and then set out for the short walk to the downtown area. We walked along the waterfront and up and down the streets to get a feel for the town. Despite the temperature (60 degrees), the sidewalks were crowded and people were dining outside in several of the restaurants. We stopped for a bite and a beer, but had to settle for just the beer, as there was absolutely nothing on the menu for a couple of vegans. The DUB Double India Pale Ale from 10 Barrel Brewing Company in Bend was good, though.
There were almost as many dogs downtown as there were people, and on the way home we came upon a woman walking two small dogs, one a black miniature poodle that looked like a miniature Zoe. Barbara and her four-legged family members, Roux and Satchmo (the mini, who is 11) were out for a Sunday stroll along the waterfront. Barbara is a retired Professor of Spanish Literature at the U of O. She is also an RVer, and we naturally talked about our rigs, past trips, and future destinations. It's funny how sometimes you meet someone and feel an instant bond, like you have met a kindred spirit. That is how both of us felt about Barbara. We gave her the link to our blog (she also wanted to see Zoe's iPad video, which is on this site), and we hope she sends us her contact info. It would be fun to meet her, Roux, and Satchmo on the road sometime!
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It was difficult to leave Sisters Creekside Campground and the quaint, lovely town of Sisters, but the road keeps calling us, and we keep answering the call! As we were leaving town we found a car wash that had an RV bay, and we gave the Viva a much needed bath. On a sunny day with clear blue skies, we also had our last views of the volcanoes known as Three Sisters, and of the distinctive-shaped Mount Washington.
Eugene, home to the University of Oregon, was the destination today on a route that took us past Three Sisters through the Willamette National Forest. We drove through miles of beautiful pine trees, but also several miles of a part of the forest that had been ravaged by the 2017 Jones Fire, which burned over 10,000 acres Fire is part of the cycle of life of National Parks and National Forests, but it is always a bit unsettling to see the aftermath of a wildfire.
A deer darted across the road just in front of the car ahead of us, close enough that we had to hit our brakes, too. The mother deer's small fawn fortunately didn't follow mom, staying on the side of the road. We hope the poor little baby made it across safely after traffic cleared.
We stopped an an old, still active covered bridge to take a couple of photos, and Linda also snapped a photo of a classic car as it passed us. As mentioned before, Linda is good at taking quick photos.
Based on a recommendation we received at our last campground from Kevin and Tammie, we stopped at Saginaw Vineyard in Cottage Grove, just south of Eugene. What a lovely setting! We met the owner, Karen, and her son, Jackson—very nice, very friendly people. Karen knew Kevin and Tammie from Saginaw Vineyard's Wine Club. Karen was busy getting ready for an upcoming event, but she graciously posed for a photo with us. We sampled some great wine and purchased several bottles. If you're ever in this area, check out Saginaw Vineyard!
Our luck continued at Deerwood RV Park in Eugene—another level, shaded space for the Viva.
If all works out tomorrow, it will be a special day for Rick. No hints, you'll have to read the blog entry to see if it actually happens.
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Before leaving Bend we stopped at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Costco. Linda was happy! We also went to Riverbend Park (a great park!) along the Deschutes River. Rick and Zoe ran (Rick 3 miles, Zoe 1 mile) and Linda walked along the paver trail that bordered the river.
Our next stop was Smith Rock State Park, one of Oregon's Seven Wonders (we had already seen the Oregon Coast and Crater Lake, both also on the list). We didn't walk any of the trails as it was too hot for Zoe, but we did see several brave souls rock climbing at a very high altitude.
We wondered what awaited us at Sisters Creekside Campground. We were a bit apprehensive, but our fears were unfounded—what a great campground! We were assigned a level, shady spot (not to jinx us, but a pattern is developing with level, shady spots) that had a nice campfire ring that we would put to good use in the early evening. We met a nice couple (Steve and Lisa) from Corvallis, OR, who were camping in the space to the right of us. Steve recommended Three Creeks Brewing Company to us, which was just a short walk from the campground. We went there (with Zoe) and enjoyed a great lunch that included a flight of their best beers. Another nice couple joined us at our outdoor picnic table, Kevin and Tammie. Tammie grew up in Eugene, our next destination, so she knew the area well. She gave us some tips on things to see and do, and recommended that we check out a couple of wineries, including Saginaw Vineyard. Will do! Kevin and Tammie were very nice, very friendly.
We walked back to the campground and relaxed for awhile. There was a huge grassy area behind us, and Zoe got to run around a bit. When it was time for dinner, we realized we had no way of cooking the four ears of corn that Linda had bought at Whole Foods because we didn't have a pan big enough for the corn. We offered the corn to the neighbors to our left, a couple with three kids and two dogs. The mother later cooked the corn over their campfire (we hadn't thought of that!). They had also brought their own corn on the cob, and they shared two of their ears of corn with us—delicious!
We had a great campfire to end the evening. Just another perfect day! And this campground rocketed to the Top 5 of all of the places we have camped. Highly recommend!
On Saturday morning, Rick ran 3 miles then came back and took Zoe for a half-mile run. Linda then went for an hour exercise walk downtown, earning a latte reward at the Sisters Coffee Company. While she was gone, Rick was outside cooling down when Steve and Lisa Payne, our campsite neighbors from Corvallis, walked over. Rick found out that Steve and Lisa are serious runners and serious travelers—they have run half marathons around the world! Lisa's half-marathon total is over 130 races! They have also run several marathons and half-Iron Man races. They told Rick that National Parks offer half marathon races, and give out serious bling (medals!) to finishers. Something to check out in our future travels. And speaking of bling, Lisa showed Rick a photo of her race medals displayed in a room at home—it looked very similar to Rick's medal display in his home office! It was fun talking running with them, and if Steve and Lisa ever make it down to Florida again, they have a boat tour of the Dora Canal awaiting them. Steve and Lisa are also Oregon State fans, and it just so happens that Oregon State travels to Ohio State to open the season on September 1. Rick offered his condolences in advance…
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Today's destination was Crater Lake National Park, making it the 26th National Park we have visited in our Viva.
We drove through four National Forests along the route: Rogue River-Siskiyou NF, Winema NF, Fremont-Winema NF, and Deschutes NF. That brings our total to 36 National Forests we have seen while traveling—and that number might be higher, as we weren't carefully tracking National Forests in our first year of RV traveling.
As mentioned in yesterday's blog entry, the entire rim road around Crater Lake opened early this year. The east rim drive opens later than the west rim drive, and it would have been so disappointing to have missed out on the east rim—but we got lucky!
Crater Lake was formed approximately 7,700 years ago by the eruption and subsequent collapse of the volcano Mount Mazama. Crater Lake is 1,949 feet deep, making it the deepest lake in the U.S. and the ninth deepest lake in the world.
We encountered only one stretch of road construction. Otherwise, it was an enjoyable 33-mile drive around Crater Lake, with many stops at overlooks for photos. The water was deep blue in color, and it reflected the clouds and surrounding mountains. Stunningly beautiful!
We arrived at Scandia RV & Mobile Home Park by mid-afternoon. We were assigned a level, shaded drive-thru space—our luck continues! Linda did some laundry, Rick ran 3 miles, and we walked Zoe a couple of times.
Today was Day 36, with 45 days to go! It was also our eighth different campground in as many days, so we've been on the move. We have ten more different campgrounds in the next ten days, then we finally get to stay in one place for more than one day. We'll be ready for a break.
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Linda found out something this morning that made her day…the entire rim road around Crater Lake opened on June 16, the first time in many years it had opened that soon. The past winter was rather mild without heavy snowfall, so they were able to clear the road much earlier than usual.
It was an ugly, gray day for most of the trip, and there wasn't much to see. Well, a clarification—it was scenic, with long stretches of beautiful pine trees, but when you've already seen such amazing sights out here, the bar has been set pretty high.
We stopped for photos at a covered bridge, but saw a second covered bridge miles down the road too late to swing in for a photo, and no place to turn around.
This is timber country, and we saw a huge lumber mill, a lake with thousands of floating logs (they still move them that way), and dozens of logging trucks loaded down with large logs. We also drove through Umpqua National Forest.
We had a bit of a mix-up when we arrived at Crater Lake RV Park. Linda went to check in, but the manager couldn't find our reservation. That's because when we called for a reservation several months ago, we reserved a spot at Crater Lake Resort, 70 miles on down the road, but somehow we input the address and other info for Crater Lake RV Park into our records. Fortunately, this campground had a spot for us and it turned out to be a very nice campground—a level, shaded spot, plus the best (by far!) Wi-Fi of any place we have ever camped. We called Crater Lake Resort to explain what had happened, but they wouldn't even consider refunding our money. Some campground managers are understanding, and some are not. But it worked out for us, because we were too tired to have driven another 70 miles, plus that would have added even more miles tomorrow when backtracking to go to Crater Lake.
We had a heavy thunderstorm for over an hour, then after it stopped we took Zoe for a walk. Linda read a book while Rick caught up the blog. We had a software issue yesterday and lost the links to all of the photos we have posted since 2014…panic time! But fortunately Rick had backups and was able to restore the links and recreate the blog entries over the last week. With the campground's great Wi-Fi, he was able to upload the blog and we are once again up to date!
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It was 57 degrees when we left the campground this morning, and it dipped to 54 degrees along the way—but it felt much colder.
We mostly traveled California Highway 101 today. We weren't on the road for long when we finally said goodbye to California, after nineteen wonderful days and nights. What a beautiful state! We missed Joshua Tree National Park due to Zoe's illness, but there's always next year. Otherwise, we saw everything we wanted to see, at least everything we could squeeze into nineteen days. The next state was Oregon, the 31st state we have visited in the Viva (see map in photos link below).
Just across the Oregon state line we saw a funny sight. Unlike our home state of Florida and our birth state of Ohio, Oregon has legalized the recreational use of marijuana (the gateway drug to Doritos addiction). We just had to stop and take some photos. The funny part was the sign in front of the store. Republican legislators have almost universally been against the legalization of marijuana, but the "Adopt A Highway Program's" sponsor for the road in front of the marijuana shop is the Curry County Republican Party. Go figure! Oh, in case you're wondering, we didn't go inside the store—Rick wants to keep his amazingly healthy runner's lungs, and we're personally against smoking of any kind. We do, however, support the legalization of marijuana. Draconian drug laws have caused far more societal problems than they have solved.
The best word to describe the coastline is rugged. The skies were gray-white, with low hanging clouds and fog in the higher elevations. We stopped for photos in several places, including just outside Brookings, Whaleshead Viewpoint, and Meyers Creek Beach. There were massive rocks in the ocean, with many other rocks jutting just above the surface. Boating would be a challenge, but we did see several boats and a few surfers braving the rocks.
Our site wasn't ready when we arrived at Bullards Beach Campground (a state facility), so we drove three miles to see the Coquille River Light, an historic lighthouse that was built in 1895, first lit in 1896, and remained active until 1939. The lighthouse sat idle and in disrepair for decades until restoration began in 1976. It is currently maintained by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The tower is closed to the public, but we did get to go inside the building and learn about its history.
We then returned to the park office to check in, and then it was on to our assigned (nice!) spot. After hooking up, Rick took Zoe for a mile run, then added a solo mile on top of that (Zoe is limited to no more than one mile for the duration of our trip). Linda headed to the beach, but found it was a 3/4 mile trek in deep sand. Instead, we took Zoe for a couple of walks and bought two loads of firewood for the evening's campfire.
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Rick ran four miles, including one mile with Zoe, when almost everyone else in the campground was still asleep.
Before leaving Giant Redwoods RV & Camp Destination, we walked about a half mile to the Shrine Drive Thru Tree. The name suggests that the drive thru tree is a shrine, but there are actually two components to the name, as you will see in the photos. The Drive Thru Tree is self-explanatory, but we'll add the detail that we couldn't drive the Viva through it! Passenger cars, or anything that is no bigger than 7 feet wide by 7 feet high, can actually drive through a living Redwood tree. We walked through it—but if you know how Rick's mind works, he wondered if a 7'1" basketball player would be allowed to walk through the tree. Only if he ducked.
The Shrine part of the name is actually the Shrine Cathedral Tree, which consists of three separate Redwood trees that grew together to become one tree. And, of course, Rick had to wonder what would happen if the middle tree wanted out of that arrangement.
We then headed up the Avenue Of The Giants, a winding 31 mile scenic drive through a seemingly endless grove of beautiful, gigantic Redwood trees. It actually wasn't one grove—there are multiple groves, named after people who helped protect them. The trees were so tall they blocked much of the sunlight, so we had our headlights on for most of the way.
The weather, which has been blue skies and little to no clouds, changed significantly as we neared Eureka. It became overcast, then a totally white sky, like a high fog. We had only occasional glimpses of the ocean on that stretch. Not a particularly enjoyable drive.
The temperature dropped into the 50s, but the route became scenic again as we went through Redwood National And State Parks. We had great views of the Pacific Ocean in several places. The downside? More long stretches of construction and delays.
We rounded a curve and were surprised by a large herd of elk grazing close enough to the road we could almost reach out and touch them (not advisable!). Linda grabbed her camera and got a photo as we went by them.
The campground is rustic, not overly scenic, but quiet and peaceful. Our site was flat and shaded, which is always nice. Linda caught up laundry and Rick swept out the Viva, then it was early to bed as we were both exhausted. Oh, and Zoe was, too. 33 days on the road, with all of its twists and turns, has a cumulative effect. But we'll awaken tomorrow, refreshed and ready for more!
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Rick started the day by running 2.5 miles before leaving Mt. Lassen / Shingletown KOA, his first run in a week. Zoe ran the last half mile with Rick, her first run since getting sick outside Las Vegas the end of May.
Today was to be uneventful, driving from Point A to Point B with no scenic stops in between, simply to get us ready for the Avenue of the Giants on Monday. Well…we have used the word "harrowing" several times in previous blog entries to describe some of the roads we've traveled on this trip. We now take back all of those uses of the word "harrowing." Why? Because they were a literal walk in the park—make that drive in the park—compared to what we experienced today. Today was truly a HARROWING drive, all CAPS intended!
After stopping to pick up some groceries and supplies, we took I-5 for a bit, and then the fun started on California Route 36…over 130 miles of steep ascents, steep descents, sheer drop-offs, endless twists and turns, and some of the worse road construction zones (yes, multiple) we have ever experienced. The road signs warning us of what was coming became almost funny. Almost. Construction Ahead, Rough Road, Road Narrows, No Pavement, Loose Gravel, One Lane Ahead, 10% Grade, 10 MPH (curve), all of these signs repeated multiple times. We almost expected to see a "Notify Next Of Kin" sign, it was that bad.
Today was Father's Day, and it's hard to believe it was our third Father's Day already without Rick's dad. It was also Sunday at the U.S. Open, and Rick was able to follow most of the action via Sirius satellite radio as he drove through the mountains. We said "most" because we lost the satellite signal a few times.
We passed through Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Six Rivers National Forest. We saw acres and acres of burned trees from past wildfires. We crossed Upper Rattlesnake Creek and Lower Rattlesnake creek, but didn't see any of the critters anywhere.
With so much of the route consisting of horrible roads and nothing but trees, there weren't any good photo ops. But we did end the day at a good campground, with a nice level spot. The campers beside us were from Phoenix, and the people across from us were from Tampa. Friendly folks. We had a nice campfire, and counted six other campfires around us. A most pleasant evening!
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Brrr! We want to go back to Florida! It was 37 degrees when we left Truckee—yuckee!
We took California Route 89 (not related to our friend, the Border to Border Route 89) the entire way to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Along the way we saw scores of bicyclists—there was some type of bike event going on—and the course stretched for at least 80 miles through a number of small towns. One of the towns was Graegle, a cute little burg where we saw people playing golf, tennis, dining outdoors at a restaurant in the middle of town, and others walking on the sidewalks. Just looking at the people laughing and talking as we cruised by, it seemed like a friendly place where everybody knew everybody, and the focus was on having a good time. It would be a great place to bike, hike, kayak, or join the locals at their favorite watering hole. We put Graegle on our list of places where we might want to spend a few days on a future trip.
We stopped at a rest area to let Zoe stretch her legs and met a friendly couple from Asheville, NC. They were on their way to Lassen Volcanic National Park, and then on to Redwood National And State Parks, as were we.
We saw miles of beautiful, tall, stately pines, many looking like they could be a candidate for the National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C. Hope that is not their fate!
You never know what you will find in our national parks…each one is so unique, and yet there are occasional similarities. For example, we saw steam vents and boiling mud pots when we visited Yellowstone National Park, and we thought we'd never see anything like them again. Well, there are steam vents and boiling mud pots at Lassen National Park, too! But also, so many things that set it apart from Yellowstone, just breathtaking beauty in all directions.
There was still lots of snow on the ground (Lassen Peak has an elevation of 8,512 feet), and the park didn't even open until May 25th when the road was finally cleared. The temperature dropped from 71 to 58 at the peak. Linda took a photo of Rick juggling snowballs, and we also have a photo of a girl sliding down a steep hill on her rear end. Hey, if you think it's fun and it causes no harm, go for it!
We took separate hikes around Manzanita Lake, and unfortunately Linda took a spill during her hike. She landed on her left side and even struck her face on the ground. It could have been much worse, but she'll still be sore for a few days.
The KOA gave us a spot that wasn't level (a recurring event for us), but they agreed to let us switch to a better site. Despite that introduction to the campground, we ended up loving it. It is in our top two or three all time favorite campgrounds. They had walking trails, volleyball, tetherball, swings, a basketball court with two baskets (first time we've seen two), hills for trail bikes, a fort for kids, a great dog park, etc. Just a great campground.
The evening included a rainstorm, the first rain we've had since Texas. We had a homemade pizza and a glass of wine outside before the rain, so we were still happy campers.
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Before leaving Lee Vining, we picked up two tasty veggie wraps from the Mono Market, a great little store on the main drag.
Truckee was today's destination, California Routes 395 and 89 were the primary roads, and the featured sights along the way were Mono Lake and then Lake Tahoe. Mono Lake is an inland salt lake, like the Great Salt Lake in Utah.
Snow-capped mountains graced the horizon for much of the day, with long stretches of green valleys and countless trees. A rapidly flowing stream meandered adjacent to the road, which reminded us of Big Thompson Road to Estes Park in Colorado.
We encountered more road construction that didn't slow us down for long, plus another close encounter with a migrating deer. Linda saw this one first, and her quick warning enabled Rick to brake in time to avert potential disaster.
We passed through Monitor Pass and Luther Pass (see what we did there?). There were the usual twisting turns and dramatic changes in elevation—e.g., 6,000 feet, then up to 9,00 feet, then back down to 6,000 feet. The temperature also changed along with the elevation changes. We read that in the mountains here, the temperature drops 5 degrees with every 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
Lake Tahoe was beautiful. There was a lot of wind over the water, whipping up white caps and rocking the scores of boats moored just off-shore. We made a quick stop to walk down to the lake for photos, and the three of us got our feet wet in Lake Tahoe (that would be a total of eight wet feet, for those keeping score). The town was packed with cars and people getting an early start on the weekend. The waterfront homes were beautiful, and, we're sure, very expensive.
If you look at the photos and wonder why we included that photo of an intersection and traffic lights…well, look at the street sign: "Donner Pass Rd." Yes, the Donner Pass and the infamous Donner Party. We knew the general story of what happened, but after seeing the sign and realizing we were in the area where everything took place, we did some web searching and found the details. Unbelievable what hardships they endured during their journey westward.
When we arrived at Coachland RV Park we were first assigned a spot with ruts in the blacktop so severe that we couldn't get the Viva level. We were assigned a different space (thank you, Coachland!), and it was ideal. We enjoyed this RV park—it was clean, well-maintained, shaded, and it had a huge area for dogs that allowed Zoe to run free on lush grass with no burrs for a change.
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This was the day we had to say goodbye to Yosemite National Park, but it was a prolonged goodbye…about 64 miles of goodbye, courtesy of the Tioga Pass.
We mentioned the Tioga Pass in our last blog entry. Many visitors to Yosemite National Park never travel the length of the Tioga Pass because it is closed due to snow for a good part of the year. Many other visitors likely avoid the Tioga Pass because it can be described as a white-knuckle road (requiring a very tight grip on the steering wheel!). But even as RV newbies, when our first trip was through the Rocky Mountains, we've never avoided mountain roads with tight turns and no guard rails. Often it is the road less traveled.
The weather again cooperated—blue skies, no clouds, a see-forever kind of day that we've been fortunate to have for much of our time in California.
We stopped at Olmstead Point, where we took turns hiking to the scenic overlook. Rick then climbed the "rock mountain" on the opposite side of the road. At the summit he was treated to an amazing view. He also encountered a marmot that didn't seem happy to have a visitor.
After leaving Olmstead Point, we were driving on yet another stretch of Tioga Pass that had tight curves, no guard rails, and a drop of thousands of feet. At that moment Linda asked Rick if he wanted a "Clif Bar"—with all the cliffs, it seemed appropriate!
We stopped at the deep blue Tenaya Lake where Rick of course had to put his feet into the cool water.
We were in two National Forests—Inyo and Mono Basin. We saw Tuolumme Meadow. We reached an elevation of 9,945 feet. We saw several waterfalls and beautiful vistas. And for the entire time we were driving the Tioga Pass, Linda was in paradise. We may never pass this way again, but the amazing scenery will be in our minds forever.
The Mono Vista RV Park was a nice park. We walked downtown a couple of times, and bought some groceries at the market.
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The narrative for this stop on our trip could easily be book-length instead of a blog entry. It was just an incredible experience.
Monday morning, June 11, and as planned we were on the road before sunrise. Our first destination was Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, and we wanted to arrive before it became too crowded and impossible to find a parking spot for the Viva. At the last gas station before entering the National Park, gas was $5.42/gallon—more than what we paid in Death Valley, but thankfully we didn't need gas this time.
This destination was to give Linda the opportunity to check a few things off her bucket list: visiting Yosemite National Park, going to Glacier Point, and traversing the Tioga Pass.
The road to Glacier Point was like a Slinky toy, a seemingly endless upward spiral—except for the multiple times that the spiral went downward in a steep grade. Challenging driving, for certain!
We took turns going to the Point while the other stayed with Zoe. It took a little effort to make the steep uphill trek, but it was so worth it! The weather was beautiful, and with a nearly cloudless blue sky you could see forever. It truly did seem like the top of the world.
Next stop was Bridalveil Fall. It's visible from a distance, but we also parked and hiked the .4 mile trail to the base. Breathtaking!
Just down the road was the towering El Capitan. We again stopped and just stood looking up in awe. A short time later we encountered a group of people who were pointing at something on El Capitan…there were guys actually climbing El Capitan that day! They were so far away and so high that you could barely make them out with the naked eye—they just seemed like dots—but with binoculars they were easier to see. As we were getting ready to leave, Rick talked to two young guys who were also getting ready to scale El Capitan. They posed for a quick photo and Rick wished them luck. Saying "break a leg" didn't seem appropriate at the time!
We then headed for our next campground, but the route took us on part of Tioga Pass—which meant that Linda got to check off three items on her bucket list on the same day. We'll describe Tioga Pass and have more photos in our next blog entry, as we'll be driving much farther on the road as we're leaving the National Park. But we will say now that Linda has been watching the weather here since early 2017 when we thought we might go to Yosemite National Park that year. Tioga Pass is not open year 'round because it gets heavy snow over the winter and it's so difficult and dangerous to clear the snow in the spring. Depending upon the winter snowfall, Tioga Pass might be open in April (rare) or as late as July (occasionally). Last year it didn't open until June 29. Had that been the same this year, the road would still have been closed. Fortunately, the snowfall this past winter was mild compared to many years.
Along the way to the campground we stopped at Cascade Creek and Vista Point, the "Rim Of The World," with both offering mesmerizing panoramas.
We finally made it to Yosemite Pines Campground. We were assigned a shady, mostly level spot. The campground was full, so moving to a different spot would not have been an option. We were lucky, because if we didn't like the space we were given, we would have been stuck with it for three days. The Wi-Fi here was great, the best campground Wi-Fi we've ever had. The only downside during our stay was that Zoe couldn't go for a walk without coming back with four paws full of burrs that had to be picked out. Unpleasant for her and us.
We each had a ticket to take the Yart (local bus transportation) from the campground to Yosemite National Park, a trip that lasted 90 minutes each way, and another ticket to take a two hour tram ride inside the park. Linda went on Tuesday, Rick on Wednesday. The weather continued to cooperate, and was beautiful both days.
The tram took us (again, individually) to the Valley Floor, from one end to the other, with two stops along the way. One was at Tunnel View, which offered an amazing vista view.
We both hiked to the Lower Falls (part of Yosemite Falls), toured the Indian Village, went through the museum, the Ansel Adams Art Gallery, and walked from the Visitors Center to the Lodge and back again. On Rick's day, there were climbers again on El Capitan.
During Rick's tram ride, he sat in the back row of the tram with a truly nice couple from San Antonio, Sterling and LeAnn (see photos link below). Rick had a great time talking with them about travels, the park, and a variety of other subjects. They exchanged contact information, and Rick and Sterling later became Facebook friends. Sterling plays guitar and sings, and Rick watched a video of Sterling covering Neil Young's song "Ohio." Sterling did a great job—Neil would approve! We hope that someday Sterling and LeAnn will make it to our part of Florida so we can give them a boat tour of the Dora Canal.
Also during the tram ride, Rick met a woman from Cleveland. Rick told her he grew up in Ohio, at Indian Lake. The woman said her family used to go to the lake and stay at the State Park frequently, back in the 1960s. Rick asked her if she ever ate Hinkles Donuts back then, and she had. Rick worked at Hinkles in the '60s, so it's very possible that she had eaten donuts that Rick made. Small world!
We still have the drive on the entire length of Tioga Pass ahead of us, but we have already decided that Yosemite is our favorite National Park. From the Giant Sequoias to the majestic waterfalls, from El Capitan and Half Dome to Glacier Point, the trails, the animal life, the vegetation, the panoramic vistas, the beauty around every twisting turn…it's so difficult to properly describe, it simply must be experienced. And experience it we did!
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We got an early start on Saturday morning so we could get to Kings Canyon National Park before the crowds arrived.
We definitely took the road less traveled by—a winding road with seemingly endless sharp curves and hairpin turns, and the steep drop-offs returned. In many places there was no berm at all…the blacktop stretched to the edge of the ground supporting it, then there was nothing but drop-off. We couldn't imagine the highway crew who built those roads. Crazy brave, crazy skilled, probably both.
Much of the route was unlined and wide enough for about one and a half vehicles, not two. Fortunately, there was almost no traffic. One guy came flying around a corner in a spot where the road was wide enough for two vehicles—otherwise we would have collided, because swerving to the right would have put us over the edge.
We also had a deer dart in front of us, but we weren't going fast and Rick saw him in time to hit the brakes. Snakes, deer, drop-offs with no guard rails, and crazy drivers flying around curves on narrow roads…we survived it all!
There was only one car ahead of us at the ranger station. The National Park sign was a bit disappointing as it was smaller than usual and there was no place to pull off to take a photo standing in front of it. Instead, we took a quick photo as we drove by.
We had no plans to walk some of the trails here as we did the day before in Sequoia National Park. The two parks are very similar, seeming extensions of each other, and we wondered why they are two separate National Parks. The rangers even give out just one brochure that covers both parks. So, we made a fairly quick stop here just to see the General Grant Tree, and wow, it was worth it! Another towering, massive Giant Sequoia. There was also a massive sequoia that fell many years ago. The trunk has been hollowed out, and you can actually walk its length, inside the tree. Rick had to do that, of course.
The parking lot was nearly empty when we arrived, and nearly full when we departed about ninety minutes later. Good timing.
We learned that Marlene, a good friend of ours, passed away this week. She was a remarkable and accomplished woman who loved to travel the country with her husband, Reid, in their RV. She also loved the National Parks. We both thought of Marlene as we stood admiring the majestic beauty of the General Grant Tree.
The campground for this stop was disappointing—overpriced, small spaces crowded close together, and no amenities. Other than that, it was fine!
Linda took a day trip to Yosemite serving as an advance scout. We will both take day trips when we move on to the next campground. She learned that the Mariposa Grove, which has been closed for several years, will reopen on June 15—we'll just miss the reopening! Maybe next year.
Linda spent the day in Yosemite Valley, from the Visitor Center to Yosemite Falls to the Half Dome Village. She also confirmed that we would be able to drive the Viva to Glacier Point. We'll be up before dawn in the morning to get an early start, as it would be difficult to find RV parking when the hordes arrive in mid-morning.
Linda also got to spend some time in the Ansel Adams Gallery.
The weather has been great the last few days. Blue skies, no rain. We hope that weather holds over the next few days.
Some final comments…the photos of the wood carvings (likely from sequoias) of the bear and the Statue of Liberty, along with the cross section of a log, were not taken in the National Park. They were in front of the Best Western Motel where Linda's bus dropped her off. And, as we have featured Giant Sequoias the last few days, we thought we'd change things up a bit and post a photo of a beautiful bird that Linda took in Yosemite today.
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We left the literal solitude of California Hot Springs & RV Park and headed for Lemon Cove and the Lemon Cove Village RV Park, only 63 miles distant.
The road was "twisty-turny" with elevation changes, but not the numerous sheer drop-offs that make some drives harrowing (there's that word again). Other than the lovely scenery, which is pretty much a constant out here, we saw (briefly) two interesting sights with near fatal consequences (to them, not us). Early in the drive, we rounded a bend, there was a dip in the pavement, a suddenly a beautiful black and white snake was right in front of us, slithering from right to left. Rick had just enough time to hit the brakes and turn the wheel, with the hope that the Viva would pass over the snake without hitting it—which, thankfully, is exactly what happened. Rick looked in the side mirror and saw the snake zip across the road to the safety of the berm. Poor thing was probably scared to death. We had never seen a black and white banded snake. Later we searched the internet and discovered it was a California King Snake. Look for photos online…again, beautiful!
Within a couple of miles there was another bend in the road and another snake in the middle of our lane. In the split second before we passed over it, it stopped moving, which was fortunate because this time Rick didn't have time to alter course. In that same split second, we saw a thick-bodied snake with a tell-tale pattern. We can't say for certain (and of course we'll never know for sure), but both of us thought…rattlesnake! We're so glad we didn't hit that one, either.
After that, no more snakes, for goodness sakes, but lots and lots of orange groves. In Florida the orange trees are unkempt with branches sprouting unevenly in all directions—or, as Linda would describe, they resemble what's left of Rick's hair on a windy day. But in California, the orange trees appear to be groomed by an orange tree cosmetologist. They're topped (flat, for easy pickins, most likely), and they looked "boxed" with even branches on each side. They are in straight rows, with no weeds in sight. They do it right our here.
We also saw acres of what Linda thought were olive trees. Rick disagreed because he didn't see any signs of pimentos. Like the rattlesnake(?), guess we'll never know.
Our assigned spot at Lemon Cove Village RV Park was in direct sun, no shade around. Fortunately, we had options and we found a nice shaded spot close to their great dog park and also the laundry. It was a very nice campground, and we enjoyed our stay there.
This time of year you see lots of rental RVs in campgrounds, and it's probably renters' first time in an RV. There was a young couple in front and to the left of us in a rental RV. They had a son who looked to be about three years old. The father "hooked up" the sewer hose with his bare hands—and bear in mind that it was a rental RV, which means it was a rental sewer hose, which means…well, you know what that means. There are quotes around "hooked up" because all he did was stick one end of the hose in the ground pipe. It's supposed to go into an adapter for a tight seal. He attached the other end to the sewer connection on the RV, again with his bare hands. Next (and you may know what's coming) he connected the (rented) fresh water hose from the RV to campground water, again with bare hands. It's just a guess, but there might have been some nasty transfer there somewhere! Mom was busy unpacking the storage compartment, and all of this time their son was wandering off their site. He came all the way over to our Viva and was outside our door before they noticed he was gone. They would retrieve him, busy themselves again with their tasks at hand, and the little guy would take off again. He wasn't old enough to run fast—but in a year or so they're not going to be able to catch him before he places himself in harm's way. That is, if he doesn't get dysentery from his dad's RV inexperience before then.
We've mentioned this before, but we're repeating it just so you know that we are good dog parents. We take turns on tours and site-seeing so that one of us is always with Zoe. We see lots of people lock their dogs inside their rigs and head out for the day. With the AC on, they probably think their pet will be fine and they probably are right. But we could never do that. For one, the AC could fail, and although it would take a bit longer than in a car, the Viva would heat up to a deadly temperature quickly. Then there's always the chance someone would break in and take Zoe. Although they would return her quickly (think "The Ransom Of Red Chief"), it's risk we can't take. And finally, she's not a pet, she's a family member who is only 5 years old, far too young to be left alone in an RV.
So, Linda made the first visit to Sequoia National Park on Thursday, and Rick went on Friday. The shuttle picked us up at 6:40, and it was an approximately two hour ride to the park. Linda had some back and leg pain, so she came back two hours early on her trip, but it was still a long day.
We both hiked to Tokopah Falls. Linda made it almost all the way, stopping at the big boulders that were too much for her to climb over. Rick did make it over, and both of us loved the beauty of the falls.
We both hiked the Congress Trail and saw the General Sherman Tree, the giant of all the giant sequoias. It is not the tallest, widest, or oldest tree, but it is the largest tree known in terms of volume. It is 275' tall, has a 25' diameter, is 2,300 to 2,700 years old, is estimated to weigh 2.4 million pounds, and has an estimated trunk volume of 52,508 cubic feet. A fun statistic: If you hollowed out the General Sherman and filled it with water, you'd have enough water to take a bath every day for 27 years.
The General Sherman was the biggest tree, but far from the only tree in Sequoia National Park—there are more than 8,000 sequoias in the Giant Forest. And cue the broken record…as we have said before and will say many times again, photos just can't capture what the eyes see, especially when it comes to giant sequoias! You simply cannot get close to them and fit them in your camera's viewfinder.
Linda bought a t-shirt in the museum with a graphic of John Muir saying "The Mountains are Calling and I Must Go!" Without John Muir's vision, tireless work, and incredible influence, there might not have been any giant sequoias left for anyone to see. Entire groves were cut by loggers before people came to their senses and realized what national treasures we have in our National Parks. If you have a few bucks left over at the end of the month, make a regular donation to the National Parks. We do.
Linda changed linens and towels, prepared meals, did laundry, and took Zoe for two walks on Rick's day to visit Sequoia National Park (editor's note: Rick did essentially nothing on Linda's day at the park—the editor in this case being Linda). Rick saw most of the things Linda saw, but he also made it all the way to Tokopah Falls and also hiked the two hour roundtrip to Moro Rock. We estimate that Linda hiked seven miles and Rick ten miles. Not long distances to walk on level ground, but a long way to hike.
The hike up Moro Rock was strenuous and a bit hazardous in places. About halfway up, Rick noticed a woman hiking by herself and struggling a bit. Both the climb and the sheer drop of thousands of feet seemed to be getting to her. Rick asked if she wanted someone to go with her to the top, and she quickly said yes! Rick talked to her to keep her at ease, and learned that she was from Ann Arbor, Michigan (for those who don't know us well, Rick is an Ohio State grad and we're both huge Buckeye fans. And we…don't like Michigan Wolverines!). When they got to the top of the rock, Rick told her that unfortunately, as a Buckeye fan he was obligated to throw her over the side. She managed to laugh, not knowing that Rick was only half-kidding…
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(that's Linda and Zoe to the left of the Giant Sequoia)
As noted in our previous blog entry, we had decided to cut short our stay in Kernville and move on down the road.
We have never "dry camped" in the Viva, but today was going to be the first time. For those not familiar with the term, dry camping means no hook-ups…no campground-provided electric, water, or sewer. The Viva has its own fresh water tank and a water pump, so we always have water available to us. The house/coach battery powers the lights, water pump, attic fan and refrigerator controls (not fridge cooling or the freezer), but not the air conditioner, outlets (for recharging devices), or microwave. To power those things, we need to run our generator—but campgrounds restrict the use of generators to certain hours, or even ban them altogether. When we're not hooked up to electricity, our refrigerator runs on propane gas. All of that might be a bit confusing, but the bottom line is dry camping is much less convenient than full hookups. Plus, a major consideration for us is our refrigerator. It does fine when it's cool outside, but it basically shuts down when the temperature gets in the 80s and above, and it's even worse when the cooling vent is in direct sunlight. Also, the Viva has to be level for the refrigerator to work properly. Hey, this camping thing is not as easy as you think!
We had booked a dry camping spot at Redwood Meadow in the Sequoia National Forest, across from the Trail Of A Hundred Giants. The campground was mainly for tent campers, but it did have a few spaces for RVs 30' and under (we're 24' long). So, that was to be our destination for the day—but first, the drive to that destination.
We haven't used the word "harrowing" yet on this trip, so we'll use it now. Wow, what a harrowing drive! Countless turns that would rival Tennessee's The Tail Of The Dragon…seemingly hundreds of tight turns, many of the hairpin variety. Steep inclines, steep descents, with most of the route having sheer drop-offs of hundreds (thousands?) of feet. If you let your attention wander for just a moment, it's truly all over, very quickly! It's unsettling to see all the people who drive and look at their cell phones in cities, but that's not an issue on this road. Still, we could imagine people being distracted by the sheer beauty of their surroundings. Plus, there were numerous signs warning of icy roads at times (but not in the summer). We couldn't imagine driving those roads when they were icy.
We spotted a small waterfall on the route and found a safe place to pull over for a photo. There weren't many safe places on this drive, so the photo opportunities were few and far between.
When we arrived at the campground, we knew immediately we weren't going to stay there. We were already reluctant to dry camp, mostly out of concern for our refrigerator, but when we saw our spot we knew it wasn't going to work for us. It was short, narrow, and unlevel. Overhead branches scraped the top of the Viva as we drove through the campground. We decided to park in the day lot, tour the Trail Of A Hundred Giants, and head on to California Hot Springs & RV Park with the hope that they would have a vacancy.
The Trail Of A Hundred Giants (Giant Sequoias) was just amazing. Yet another place where photos do not do justice to the immense beauty that was before us. We tried to capture what we could, but it is a place you need to visit to truly appreciate it.
A quick PSA: when you're touring The Trail Of A Hundred Giants and see numerous huge trees that have been felled by fire, DO NOT SMOKE CIGARETTES! We saw some guy walking on top of a downed, burned Giant Sequoia, and he was smoking a cigarette. Stupid! And as you can see from the Smokey The Bear sign in our photos, the fire hazard today was high.
After we left The Trail Of A Hundred Giants, it was more harrowing driving until we reached the California Hot Springs & RV Park. And again, we were hoping they had a spot for us. The thought of a dip in the hot springs was also very inviting.
Well…there must be something about us this trip. We stopped at the hot springs office, which is on the other side of the road from the campgrounds. They were about to close for the day—had we been a few minutes later we would not have been able to camp here, and no clue where we would have gone next. Also, the owner told Linda they'd had a very busy weekend, so busy they were closing the hot springs pool to drain and clean it. So, no hot springs for us. But before we tell you about our camping experience, here's some background about the Hot Springs.
Like so many things out west, Native Americans enjoyed this area and the hot springs long before white men arrived. But history says that California Hot Springs was founded in 1882 as a health resort. The campground brochure states that water flows out of the rock cliffs at about 350,000 gallons a day at 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Its characteristics of remarkable softness, low sodium, no odor, unique purity and refreshing taste set this natural spring water apart from all others.
By 1902 there was a large hotel here, followed in 1920 by a commercial center, swimming pool, and therapeutic center. The recreation hall was built in 1926. Unfortunately, fire destroyed the hotel in 1932 and the commercial center in 1968. The complex sat abandoned until renovations began in 1983. An RV park was created where the old Hotel del Venado (Hotel Of The Deer) once stood. And that brings us back to the campground and our experience here.
The campground, with 43 full hookups, sits on the opposite side of the road and high above the current hot springs buildings. When Linda checked in, the owner told her we could have our choice of spots—we would be the only campers in the campground! Because the main hot springs office would be closed, she told Linda she lived in the house about a quarter mile down the road, and we should "come and bang on the door" if we had any sort of emergency. Yeah, like we would survive long enough to make it that far! So, with some reluctance but a mild spirit of adventure, we headed up the steep drive to the deserted campground.
It's truly eerie when you are the only ones in a campground (see our October 4, 2016, blog entry for a slightly similar but much less creepy experience to this one). This was definitely bear country, rattlesnake country, and probably mountain lion country, too. And, as featured in numerous horror movies, an ax-wielding escapee from the local asylum was likely lurking nearby—at least those are the thoughts that run through your mind. And the last little bit of good news was that, of course, we had no cell service, no internet, no wi-fi. Cut off from the world and totally alone.
But we survived the night without incident, which in one sense was a shame. Had something truly out of the ordinary happened, this blog entry would have been much more exciting to read.
Oh, one last thing…why the photo of the cow? We saw countless "cow patties" in the roadway on the drive here. As we rounded a curve, we saw one of the responsible parties (i.e., a cow) wandering down the middle of the road. He courteously yielded to us, and gave us a parting look as we drove by.
Like we said, it was harrowing!
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The route to our next campground, in Kernville, took us past Lake Isabella. Whenever Rick is near a scenic body of water, if at all possible he has to stop and get his feet wet, which he did. He also had to take a few photos. However, the best photo on this drive was taken by Linda. Rick saw a hot rod approaching and asked Linda to take a photo of it. She grabbed her camera, turned it on, aimed, and snapped a great photo of a hot rod passing us doing at least 55 mph, while we were doing 55 mph in the opposite direction. Rick often teases Linda that he always takes the best photos, but he bowed to her on that photo—great shot!
We were booked for three days at Camp Kernville, a campground on the Kern River right in the heart of the small town of Kernville, CA. We had planned a trip out west in 2017 and had booked three nights last year—paid in advance, non-refundable—but we ended up canceling that trip. The campground manager was kind enough to let us reschedule for this year and honor the money we had already paid.
We arrived at 11:30 but were told we couldn't check in until 1:30. They'd just had a very busy Saturday (full campground) and needed time to get the campground ready for new arrivals. We found on-street parking by a riverside park and ate lunch. When we went back to the campground, we were assigned a nice shady spot overlooking the beach and river. But if the campground had been full on Saturday, it was empty on Sunday! Other than some full-time residents in the front part of the campground, we were alone except for two spaces with tent campers and a couple in a truck camper parked in the back corner by the river.
We hooked up the Viva and were enjoying a glass of wine while watching people raft down the Kern River when Rick spotted a skunk walking across the beach. It turned and headed toward the couple in the truck camper who were sitting at their picnic table. Rick called out to them but they didn't turn around until the skunk was within ten feet of them. Rick was pointing at it, and when they finally saw it they jumped up and ran for the truck, likely avoiding a most unpleasant wildlife encounter. Rick's good deed for the day.
Rick ran 3 miles twice, including what seemed to be a mountain climb in the middle of the afternoon when it was 95 degrees. No, he is not getting wiser with age. Of course, Linda wasn't much better as she went for her exercise walk and climbed the same elevation in the same heat. It was a little cooler at night, and we enjoyed a great campfire.
Zoe has been getting better every day, but she did spit up again on Monday morning, just a small amount of bile spit and no blood, thankfully. She finished her meds and we found a vet in the middle of town who carried special formula canned food for dogs with digestive problems. The vet was also an Ohio State grad—Go Bucks!
On Monday morning the tent campers and the truck campers departed, and for a while we were the only RVers in the campground. Eventually, a family arrived to stay in the rental trailer beside us, and a group of German men set up a tent in the middle section of the campground.
We had another nice campfire our second night here. The town was almost as deserted as the campground. We talked with several people, and the responses were the same: Fridays and Saturdays have been busy, but not the rest of the week. However, the summer season will be in full swing in a few days, and then every day will bring lots of people to town. At least, that was their story and they were sticking to it.
We enjoyed our walks with Zoe in the park and downtown, but with not much else to do (there are no amenities at the campground and the town was fairly dead) and the somewhat oppressive heat, we decided to cut our stay to two days instead of three.
Just before we left, Rick went down to the river to take a few final photos. He saw a group of people in the water practicing water rescues. The guy being "rescued" saw Rick as he was taking the photo and gave him a smile and a thumbs-up. It was a light-hearted moment, but serious business in terms of water rescues—15 people drowned in the river in 2017.
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So, you ask—why did we use a photo of a pizza as the highlight photo for this stop? Well, because it was the highlight!
We had originally planned on spending the day at Joshua Tree National Park after staying two days in Palm Springs, then going on to Twentynine Palms Resort. Zoe's illness forced a change in our plans, so we hope to see Joshua Tree National Park next year. The cancellation wasn't all bad, as temperatures in that area were in the low 100s and our refrigerator would be fighting a losing battle to keep cool in that environment. Instead, we found a campground where is was only going to be 95 degrees!
Speaking of Zoe, she is so much better than she was just a few days ago. She'll be on her medications until Monday and her special diet for a few more days, but we think she is out of the woods. Well, we know she is out of the woods, because all we see are mountains and scrub brush around here.
We saw Mount Whitney as we were leaving Boulder Creek RV Resort. We went into town (Lone Pine) and found a car wash with an RV bay, so the Viva had her first bath after seventeen days on the road and lots of dusty campgrounds.
We took the scenic and winding Isabella Walker Pass Road to this KOA. Upon arrival we were disappointed to find another dusty campground. We had asked for a shaded spot, and their website boasted of canopy-covered sites, but they had assigned us a small site with little shade and a leaking water pipe. We asked for a different site, and they gave us one that truly was shaded. Our refrigerator was grateful.
There is a pool here (crowded with kids), a playground, a dog park that was all dirt and no grass, and a bar inside the campground store. First time we've seen that! They also show movies on an outdoor screen.
But back to the photo of the pizza. If you know us well, you know that we are vegans and that we love pizza on Saturday nights. If you're familiar with our Viva, you know that it doesn't have an oven. Finding ingredients for a vegan pizza (e.g., non-dairy cheese, meatless sausage) is difficult in many places, but especially out West. We never shop at Walmart except when it's the only game in town, and this was one of those towns. Surprisingly, it had a great selection of vegan items (including Ben & Jerry's non-dairy ice cream!). So, we had our vegan ingredients but there was still the issue of no oven. Linda to the rescue. She trimmed the edge from a pre-made pizza crust and cooked it on the stove. We added sauce, non-dairy cheese, meatless sausage, onions, red peppers, and some hot pepper flakes, and the result was one of the best pizzas we've ever had. #GoVegan!
Addendum: We had written the above blog entry before going to bed, and we thought that was all we had to say about this stop. Well…not quite! As we were leaving the campground, Rick saw one last photo opportunity. Here's the caption, and you can probably figure out which photo it fits: "We often hear of bears getting into the trash at campgrounds, but we had never seen it as it was actually happening!"
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Zoe was feeling better, so we decided to resume our trip while keeping a close eye on her.
We drove 173 miles on Thursday, and we got to add a new state (California) to the map on the back of our Viva. We have now visited 31 states since buying the Viva in 2014.
We also added another National Park to our total—Death Valley National Park. And, just like Petrified Forest National Park, what we thought we'd see was nothing like what we found. Both of us had heard about Death Valley since we were very young, probably starting with the old TV show "Death Valley Days." We have the faintest of memories of that show, but we were expecting flat desert terrain for as far as the eye could see. Wow, were we surprised! Death Valley had its flat stretches, of course, and its below sea level "elevations," but we never expected the bordering mountain ranges, some still snow-topped, and the simply stunning beauty in all directions. We have been to The Badlands of South Dakota, and California has its own Badlands here. We also stopped at several scenic overlooks that provided a panoramic view that was amazing. As with the Petrified Forest National Park, you really have to see Death Valley to appreciate it.
It was, of course, desolate for very long stretches. Not a good place to break down or run out of gas! Fortunately, neither happened to us. The temperature changed as dramatically as the elevations—from over 90 degrees at 10:00 a.m. at sea level to 68 degrees later in the morning as we climbed into the mountains. At Zabriskie Point we saw a group of German (we think they were speaking German) tourists who were traveling in six rental RVs. We also saw several groups of motorcyclists, and were impressed(?) that they were willing to dare the long 9% (steep!) downhill grades.
We arrived at Boulder Creek RV Resort shortly after noon and were assigned site 31—the same site number we had at Lakeside Casino & RV Park. And as with that RV park, we liked Boulder Creek RV Resort immediately. It was a tidy, well-maintained park nestled between the Inyo Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. From the campground we could see Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 states.
After hooking up and taking some time to relax, Rick went for a quick swim in the resort pool. Quick, because the pool wasn't heated. We later took Zoe for a walk and explored the grounds. They actually had a "tortoise pen" with eight tortoises! The camp store was stocked with about anything an RVer on the road would need. There was a basketball goal, and because Rick thought to bring along his basketball, he shot baskets a couple of times and proved to Linda that he still has the touch.
It was a great place for Rick to run (two times here), Linda to walk, and for both of us to exercise Zoe. The dog park was huge.
One of the best things about this park is that it was geared for travelers and did not have many (if any) full-time residents. The park was near capacity Thursday night, was half-empty by late morning Friday, and was nearly full again by Friday night.
And speaking of Friday night, we had a wonderful campfire, roasting vegan marshmallows beneath a star-filled sky.
If we're ever back this way, we will definitely stay here again. Loved it!
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