Saturday, July 31, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 41...Tuesday, July 27, 2010...Down, Deep Down Into Kings Canyon

My Ranger friend, Brandon from Sequoia, highly recommended the drive from the top of Kings Canyon down to the Cedar Grove area...about thirty that's where I'm headed.
I slept late this morning...9:00AM...and I'm back to feeling like my old self again. I brew up some coffee...a bowl of cereal...and I'm ready for the drive.
The road down into the Canyon is winding...lots of sheer drop-offs, but almost all downhill. Halfway there, I'm already thinking about the drive back out...which is going to be mostly uphill. It's only thirty miles, but the drive takes me close to an hour and a half.
Arriving at Cedar Grove, I immediately grab a great campsite (another pull-through!) Once I set up camp, I'm off for a hike round Zumwalt Meadow...about a two mile loop trail. It's a fun hike...through the forest, around the meadow, then up and over some hilly and rocky terrain near the end. No animal sightings, but a great hike nonetheless.
Later, I stop by the Visitor's Center and get more information for hiking tomorrow...then over to the General Store for ice.
Back at camp, I'm relaxing with a cold Margarita before another pasta dinner.
Another great day "in the wild".

Camping Out West...Day 40...Monday, July 26, 2010...A day for Laying Low

I'm feeling a little "under the weather" this morning. Not sick, just very tired...could be allergies...or maybe too much activity the last few days.
In any case, I decide to take a day off from hiking. Instead, I drove fifteen miles or so out of the Park to the "Big Cats Sanctuary" which Jonesie had highlighted in my guidebook. This place takes in "big cats" (lions, tigers, etc.) from zoos and private owners and provides them with a reasonably comfortable environment.
It was quite a tour with lions, tigers, leopards, bobcats, etc. A nice way to spend a quiet afternoon away from hiking.
Back at camp, I took a two hour nap and awakened feeling somewhat better. My Dutch friends stopped over for awhile, but it was another early evening. I cooked up some ravioli with some bottled "vodka sauce" from Mario Batali...good!
In bed and sound asleep again by 9:00PM.

Camping Out West...Day 39...Sunday, July 25, 2010...On to Kings Canyon

I was up at 6:30AM this morning...finished off the rest of yesterday's coffee from the thermos (still hot!) and had a bowl of cereal for breakfast.
The dive up Dry Creek Road was as I expected...narrow (very) winding road up into the mountains. It was only a forty mile drive, but it took almost two hours.
At Kings Canyon, I was lucky enough to get a great camping spot at Azalea Campground...nestled in among giant Sequoias and Cedars...a beautiful spot.
Late morning, I hiked the short loop trail around the "General Grant Tree"...the second largest in the area. For lunch, I stopped at the Park cafe for a Chef's Salad...gotta have those vegetables.
Late afternoon, a couple from Holland arrived and set up camp next to mine. They stopped over later, and we shared a few beers around the campfire. I grilled my last steak with some fried potatoes and another bottle of red wine.
For some reason, I'm tired today...9:00PM, and I'm sound asleep.

Camping Out West...Day 38...Saturday, July 24, 2010...A Visit to Fresno...Trouble in El Salvador

A pretty easy day last in Sequoia National Park. I took a short hike in the morning, then decided to drive forty miles or so to Fresno to pick up groceries, find Wi-Fi, get gas, etc.
Meanwhile, my friends from El Salvador have gotten themselves on the wrong side of the Rangers here at the campground. Loud music after 10:00PM (I liked the music...a view not shared by other campers). Then there was the hacking down of several small trees for firewood. My Ranger friend, Brandon, finally came over and wrote them a $100.00 citation.
Returning from Fresno, I got everything packed up for tomorrow's drive up to Kings Canyon National Park. That will be a forty mile or so drive up Dry Creek Road...up through the mountains. Should be interesting.
For dinner, I made one of my best camping meals ever...peeled, sliced, salted and drained some eggplant which I then fried in olive oil. Then took a slice and added chopped tomatoes, oregano and cheese...topped that with another slice of eggplant...sealed several "packages" of that in foil...and cooked them on the grill...excellent!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 37...Friday, July 23, 2010...Hiking the Trees...Animal Sightings!...My Greatest Photo Ever!

Today, I shot what may be my greatest photo ever...but more on that later.
Another great breakfast of Papusas thanks to my new camp mates...a good way to start a day of hiking.
I've identified two trails to hike today...the "Big Trees Trail" and the "Crescent Meadows Trail". By 8:00AM, I'm on the road back up the construction today, so I only have a 20 minute wait at the construction zone. Up top, I head right for Crescent Meadow.
The famed naturalist, John Muir, called Crescent Meadow the gem of the Sierras"...and he would be correct about that. It's about a three mile "loop" around the meadow itself and the surrounding area. For much of this hike, I am completely alone...and the quiet is soothing. The forest is cool and damp, the trail easy to follow...past the living trees, some burned...fallen trees, the size of houses.
About 3/4 of the way along the trail, I come up behind a couple from California and their two kids in a stroller. They stop, and as I approach, they point out a young bear on the trail...a great photo op. You can see him about twenty feet behind me in the second photo on this post. And then, further along, they stop again...and they point something out in the trees...and that's when I took what may be my greatest photo ever. Its the middle photo on this and take a look...a "once in a lifetime" shot.
That hike completed, I then drove over to the "Big Trees Trail"...another loop around a different meadow...huge trees all around...and...another bear. It's a good day for wildlife to day.
After those hikes, I'm I stop at the Lodgepole Market Complex where I had a surprisingly decent piece of pizza for lunch. I also pick up some ice (you've got to have cold beer when you're camping!).
After lunch, I drove further up the Park road...more beautiful trees! Then, the hour ride back down the mountains to camp. Another steak and some grilled asparagus for dinner...another campfire.
This...this has been a truly great day.

Camping Out West...Day 36...Thursday, July 22, 2010...It's All About the Trees, Man

They emptied the dumpsters at my camp ground this morning at 6:00AM, so I'm up early. I brew a pot of coffee and relax for awhile as the sun comes up over the mountains.
A big group of folks from El Salvador are camping next to me, and they've got some nice music playing in the early morning. Two gals stop wants me to meet her "friend" who is visiting the U.S. This is a pretty obvious "fix up", but it's kind of cute in a way. For breakfast, they bring over a plate of "Papusas"...the national dish of El Salvador. It's a thin cornmeal pancake stuffed with meat and cheese...absolutely delicious! So...we're chatting away, and I mention that , back in the early 1970's, I actually dated (six months) the reigning "Miss El Salvador"...yes, it's true, I have witnesses!
After some more coffee, it's time to head up the mountains to see the trees. It's a tough drive...steep, winding and narrow road...steep drop offs, lots of construction (at one point, I have to wait 50 minutes). But, an hour and half later, I've made it the 16 miles to the top...and there they are...the Sequoias. It is difficult for me to describe the beauty...the majesty...of these trees. Some are 2000-3000 years old...some are 14 stories tall...they're incredible. After a month of looking at inanimate beauty (rocks), to see something this beautiful...and thrilling.
I spend several hours driving around and take a very short hike to see the "General Sherman Tree"...the biggest in the world...stunning. It's also a little surreal because they are conducting a "controlled burn", and the air is thick with smoke.
Then, having identified several good hikes for the days to come, I head back down the mountains to camp. A grilled steak, corn on the cob, and a bottle of California Cabernet make for a great dinner. The weather was hot during the day, but things cool off as the sun sets. A few beers around a roaring campfire before bed.

Camping Out West...Day 35...Wednesday, July 21, 2010...Lingering in Ridgecrst...The "Garmin" finds a New Way Through The Sierras

Late night last the time I finished posting my blog entries, it was after 1:00AM. So...I'm sleeping a little late this morning.
Before I leave Ridgecrest (and civilization), I've got a few things to do. First, a haircut at the "Hairitage Salon". Leslie does the cutting (only the 9th person to ever cut my hair) and does a fair job...I now look considerably less "scruffy". Then, on to Stater Bros. grocers for some steaks, pork, pasta...and an eggplant (I'm going to attempt eggplant Parmesan "camper-style" one of these nights).
Looking over my maps, I don't see a clear route to get me from the east side of the Sierras to my destination, Sequoia National Park, on the west side. So...I figure I'll just let my Garmin navigator find it's own way.
Out of Ridgecrest, I'm heading west on Mountain Route J41...a five or six mile climb, then down into a valley with some cattle farms. Pretty soon, I'm going through the town of Kernville next to a beautiful lake (Lake Isabella). Out of Kernville, I'm going up and up for over twenty miles through the southern unit of Sequoia National Forest. It's tough going for the Escape (with camper). Most of the time, I'm going around 15 miles per hour. I let a utility truck pas me...and he's not going any faster. Finally, I'm up and over the mountains and into another valley...some horse farms, narrow road, isolated...I even have to cross to "one-lane" bridges. Hours later, I finally get to a "real" road (Route 65) near the town of Terra Bella. The rest of the trip goes fast...and soon I'm at the entrance to Sequoia National Park. The Ranger suggests camping in the "foothills" and taking just the Escape up the mountain to the trees. So I camp at the first available campground...this proves to be a wise choice as the road up the mountain to the trees is steep, narrow and under construction.
So...I uncouple the "sleep module" from the "travel module" and settle in for the's already late afternoon. Some three-cheese ravioli with vodka sauce and some good Chianti makes a perfect dinner. By 9:30PM, I loaded into the sleep module and "out like a light".

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 34...Tuesday, July 20, 2010...Getting My "Kicks"...Resisting the Temptations of Sin...A Close Encounter with Death

Wow...what a drive today...fourteen of my most interesting road trips ever.
I left Grand Canyon early...on the road a little before 6:00AM. South out of the Park and then west on Interstate 40. On these trips, I try to avoid the interstates...and...less than forty miles in, I found my "out". I was able to detour around and parallel to the interstate on historic Route 66...very cool. And thanks to the Ultra Lounge #3 cd loaded on my iPod, I was able to listen to the theme from "Route 66". I loved that show when I was a boy...they had a cool car...they just traveled when and where they wanted...they met fun people. And now, fifty years later, I can do the same...of a sort.
From Route 66 (west), I picked up Route 95 north to Hoover Dam. Much security there...they even used those big mirrors on a stick to check under my Escape and camper. Then...across the dam...not as scary as I expected. I hadn't planned on this route, but I had a dream last night with a voice telling me to go to Hoover Dam...funny, but the voice sounded like my friend, Ed.
Thirty miles later, I was blowing through Las Vegas...I felt no urge to stop...just passing through. Then north out of Vegas on 95 to Route 373 into the Valley connecting with Route 190.
It was, well, most impressive. Stopped at Zabriskie Point...saw the movie in 1970 and did not understand saw the actual place, and still don't understand the movie. It was PFH...the "P' standing for "pretty" and the "h" for "hot" can figure out the other part. I drank probably a gallon of water in the space of five hours or so.
Coming out of the valley was a bit of a challenge...a twenty mile stretch increasing in about 4000 feet of altitude. The Escape and camper were "straining" to get through this one time, I could not get over 15 miles an hour...much to the dismay of the vehicles (many) behind me.
But...eventually...I made it over the mountains, out of the Park, and south on Route 295...heading toward Sequoia National Park.
Tonight, I am staying in the town of Ridgecrest, California...nice hotel, a hot shower, a Martini...sushi for dinner...a few is is damned good!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Camping Out West...Day 33...Monday, July 19, 2010...The Grand Canyon thing is pretty clear...the Grand Canyon is not "my" kind of park. You can not get any decent photo without walking out to the edge of a huge "vertigo-inducing" abyss. I'm on a limited budget, and I can not afford more than one change of "Depends" a day.
That being said...this was my day. Up early at 7:00AM and over to McDonalds for coffee. They have Wi-Fi, but it is never any good. So...over to the local Holiday Inn Express. I want to put in a "plug" for them. Their rooms are nice, and their Wi-Fi (even from the parking lot) is excellent! I checked emails, posted on Facebook/Blog...paid some bills. to the Canyon. I took the shuttle from close to my campground to the Visitor's Center...then took the "Red Route" bus which promised some interesting Canyon views. There were ten stops...I made it through three. When I heard someone comment that one of the impending stops was "cool"...because..."man, when the bus pulls in there, you think you're going right over the edge"...that was enough for me. At the bar of the local Lodge, I did get one photo taken over the "rim" that I felt comfortable with...see photo.
Back at camp, I cooked up shredded beef tacos for dinner...pounded a few beers...and hit the sack early.
I've got a BIG drive tomorrow...Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, Death Valley...and on to Sequoia National Park.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Camping Out West...Days 31-32...Saturday-Sunday...July 17-18, 2010...Finishing Up Zion...On to the Grand Canyon

I spent most of my last day at Zion packing up for the trip to the Grand Canyon. After some effort, I was able to locate a place with "pay showers" ($5.00/unlimited time), and that did much to make me feel human again.
I squeezed in one more short hike...hiking the Pa'rus Trail for a second time. I cooked up a batch of Tandoori chicken and some homemade french fries for dinner and retired early.
Sunday morning, I was up at dawn to make coffee and make final preparations for the day's drive. The most direct route would have taken me back out the East entrance to Route 89 with much construction, some scary switchbacks and the narrow mile-long tunnel...and I was just not up for that.
So, instead, I backtracked to Hurricane, Utah and took Route 89 (Alternate). It was a magnificent drive...past many more "red rock" formations, through some mountain passes, into great forests, and finally down out of the mountains onto a huge plain between two ridges of mountains. This took me past the famous "Vermillion Cliffs before crossing the small end of the Grand Canyon and on into the Park.
I arrived late, as expected, and both Park campgrounds were full. So, I opted for a private campground just outside of the South entrance...not very scenic, but it'll do.
I got a few photos of the Canyon itself (limited again by my "'s really deep, that canyon). I also decided to "dine out" and took the shuttle bus from my campground to the Bright Angel Lodge for dinner at the Arizona Room. My kind of icy cold martini, a Caesar salad, a big piece of prime rib, and a bowl od ice cream for kis good.
Returned to the campground for some iPod music and a few beers before bed...a great day.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Camping Out West...Days 29-30...Thursday/Friday, July 15-16, 2010...Zion National Park

I've had an enjoyable couple of days here in Zion despite the heat and the crowds. Temperatures have been in the "triple digits" every day, and things don't really cool off much at night. I purchased a battery charger my first day here, and I've charged up the battery in the least I've got a vent fan to cool things off.
This Park, third most visited in the system after Yosemite and Yellowstone, is VERY crowded...parking lots full, hiking trails crowded, campgrounds full. As I think I mentioned earlier, you can't even drive in the Park...gotta take the shuttle bus. has been fun.
I've gone on three different to the end of the canyon ("the Narrows"), one along the Virgin River (the Pa'rus Trail) and one up to a series of waterfalls (the Emerald Pools Trail)...each a beautiful walk and none too difficult.
A dad and his three daughters from Provo have been camping next to me for the last few days. The girls are amateur astronomers, and they were able to explain why I've been having trouble locating my favorite constellation (Orion's Belt)'s a "winter constellation", so I'll have to wait awhile to see it again.
Meals have been good...grilled a steak one night...made two pasta dishes (three cheers for Bertoli bottled sauce!), looks like Tandoori chicken tonight.
Sunday morning, I've got about a 200 mile drive from Zion to the Grand Canyon. There are some very good restaurants there, so I'm thinking of dining out on Sunday evening.

Oh...and best of all...I heard back from my cousin, Amy, in Texas. Maybe I'll get a chance to meet her and some other "Thee's" if I head down to Texas again on my way to Florida for the winter.