Sunday, July 20, 2014

Southern Utah Wrap-Up

This trip was different than most others we've taken. First we brought our dogs along as we couldn't find a pet sitter. We quickly discovered National Parks are not dog friendly. While State Parks generally are an improvement, the best are National Forest facilities. Secondly, southern Utah is crammed with so much to see and do, that once arriving into the area we didn't have to do much driving to reach our next destination. The interactive map below shows where we:
  • Camped
  • Hiked
  • Took Scenic Drives
  • Stopped for Attractions



Utah State Hwy 12

Utah State Hwy 12

Utah State Hwy 12 is a destination in and of itself. Not only can you find many attractions, such as, National Forests, Utah State Parks, and National Parks along this highway, the scenery alone is well worth the adventure.

We plan to return and explore more fully.

Red Canyon UT

Red Canyon UT

What's there not to like about this place? It certainly ticks all of our boxes:
  • Outstanding scenery
  • Inexpensive campground with showers
  • Great hiking trails
  • Friendly helpful staff
  • Dog friendly
We'll be back (said in my best Arnie voice).

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park

Although not dog friendly, this uncrowded national park has spectacular scenery. 

Next time, we plan to rent a 4x4 to check out the back roads.

Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point State Park

Despite the unattractive name of this park, it offers views of the Colorado River canyons that are only rivaled by Grand Canyon National Park. Plus it's dog friendly and has only about one tenth the number of people visiting.

Kodachrome Basin State Park

Kodachrome Basin State Park

This state park lives up to its name with multicolored rocks in strange formations. It also has a great campground with showers. Plus, it's dog friendly.

Next time, we plan to leave the dogs at home so we can take longer hikes.

Ancient Bristlecone Forest

Ancient Bristlecone Forest

Although we've visited the ancient Bristlecones before,  it's still mind blowing to try to fathom just how long these trees have lived.

The trails are great and this National Forest is lightly visited especially when compared to nearby Yosemite National Park.

Unexpected Pleasures

Kiva Koffee House

Kiva Koffee House

We probably would have skipped Kiva if it weren't for a volunteer at Red Canyon insisting we make this stop. She was right. Wonderful views, coffee, with intriguing books and local arts for sale.

We'd certainly stop here again.

Burr Trail Grill

Burr Trail Grill

We had heard rumors of a famous chef now running a small restaurant somewhere along Hwy 12, but didn't exactly where it was.

This is the place. Great food and the word is out. People from around the world flock to this place. It must be listed in every European guide book. Try an off time to avoid long waits for a table.

Tonopah and the Mizpah Hotel

Tonopah and the Mizpah Hotel

To be honest, we were first put off by Tonopah thinking it was yet another washed up mining town in Nevada. Much to our amazement, it's just the opposite was and in fact Tonopah is booming again with new discoveries of gold and rare earth metals nearby.

We would come back and eat at the Mizpah Hotel in a heart beat.

Disappointments & Be Awares

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

Unfortunately, I was really looking forward to this stop. Although the scenery of Goblin Valley is well worth the stop, the campground is small and dusty.

Most disappointing of all is many visitors show a shocking disrespect for these ancient land forms. You'd think the rangers would be more careful about protecting these land forms after negative national coverage of some idiot of a boy scout leader toppled a goblin or two... but they don't.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park

Don't get me wrong, Arches has spectacular scenery and is well worth visiting.

The weather was dreary on the Sunday we visited and the park was literally crawling with visitors.

Next time we hope to get better weather on an off season weekday.

Snowy Mountain Passes

Snowy Mountain Passes 

We do realize traveling during shoulder season (spring and fall) we run the risk of encountering bad weather.

Despite all the beautiful days we had, we did cross a number of high mountain passes during late season snow storms. At high altitudes, snow can hit just about any day of the year.

 Best Resources

Southern Utah AAA Map

Like many parts of the American west, connectivity is spotty at best. Cell coverage can be found only within a few miles of a town. WiFi coverage is limited to certain businesses in larger towns. Consequently, old fashioned paper resouces come in handy. This AAA map gives great detailed coverage of Southern Utah. However it did fail to list the elevation of Boulder Pass where we got hit by a snowstorm. 

AAA members can get unlimited maps for around $55/year.

Hiking the Southwest's Canyon Country

With over 350 hikes listed in Southern Utah. this book is great to bring. No matter if you're looking for just a day hike or a major trek, you'll be able to find a trail to your liking in this book. It gives excellent directions, descriptions, and maps for each hike.

Available online at Amazon.

Moon Utah Camping: The Complete Guide to Tent and RV Camping

Another excellent book in the Moon Outdoors series. Even though we might not always exactly agree with their ratings, if a particular campground gets a "Best" notice, it's a guarrentteed winner.

Available online at Amazon.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sonora Pass & the Sierras CA

The morning brings another beautiful day. We saddle up early and head north on Hwy 395 towards Sonora Pass.
Tufas at the north end of Mono Lake

Hell's Gate north of Bridgeport

Eastern approach to Sonora Pass

Walker River

Sonora Pass is the second highest and by far the steepest of the mountain passes over the Sierras. It was first used in 1852 by wagon trains,  but immigrants weren't pleased to discover how difficult it was and quickly abandoned it for easier routes. Although it's paved today, it's still regarded as the most difficult of the passes. In fact the terrain is so treacherous, the US Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center is located on the eastern side of the pass. Not only is it a narrow road, but the steep grades can give drivers and passengers skipped heart beats especially when traveling from west to east, as we discovered the hard way a few years ago. Since we're going the "easiest" direction of east to west, we decide to give it a try as it's the shortest route home as well as the least traveled.
Lone cyclists braves Sonora Pass

Overlook of Walker River valley

Up into the high country

Still snow on the ground

More snow than expected for a drought year

Brrr - where's the top of this pass?

With Peter's expert driving we make it safely over the top and are soon headed down in elevation towards Kennedy Meadows. According to the weather reports, the Bay Area is suffering a heat wave which is predicted to dissipate tomorrow. So why sweat it? We're both retired and have the luxury of staying another night in the cool mountain altitudes to avoid the heat wave. We pick a site at Deadman National Forest campground. The campground was named for a fool hardy traveler who ignored warnings of deep snow in the 1860's and was later found frozen to death near here. The high Sierra winters don't suffer fools, as many travelers have paid with their lives for stupid mistakes.
Still steep headed downhill

Deadman Camp

We all love this campsite

Our camp site is on the banks of the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River. At 6400', the river runs clear and cold and needless to say, is popular with trout fishermen.

In the late afternoon, we take the dogs on a hike to explore the area. First hike to Kennedy Meadows Resort, which bills itself as the gateway to the Emigrant Wilderness. Just as we approach the resort store, we hear the tinkling of small bells as a llama pack train descends a trail. The llamas have colorful harnesses with tassels and small bells attached. Each animal stands proud and erect. I am still kicking myself for not having a camera with me at the time - {sigh} a missed photo op.

Still the light is great coming through the trees and we both get some nice shots, including one of a strange red flower. Later we learn it's not really a flower at all. Actually it's a parasitic plant in the heath family with the common name of "Snow Flower. "
Moss on tree trunk

Late afternoon sun through aspens


Snow Flower

After a leisurely breakfast, we mosey along taking our time to arrive home in the early evening as the heat wave is leaving. Besides, it's a beautiful day in the Sierras, why rush? Off of Hwy 108 (Sonora Pass) we take Forest Service Rte 7N83 up the Clark Fork to explore campgrounds for future use.
Headed west on Sonora Pass

Clark Fork

Forest Service Rte 7N83

The Clark Fork is a beautiful high Sierra stream. We can easily see why it's popular with fishermen and hikers alike.

We make note of campgrounds we like and return to Sonora Pass headed westward. Our next stop is the Donnell Vista point overlooking Donnell Lake behind a dam constructed in 1956.  Hollywood discovered this vista in 1972 and used it in several TV episodes. Consequently, the locals dubbed this site as "Paramount Point."
Parked at Donnell Vista

Mary chills in shade

Giant granite boulders

The views of the canyons below are stunning. Donnell Lake is actually two lakes with a spill way between the two.

Now that we've taken enough time,  we make a beeline for home through the sweltering Sierra foothills and Central Valley (thankfully the van's air con is working well). We are all very glad to arrive just as the cool ocean breezes start to chase the heat away. As much as we enjoy traveling it's always great to come home.

Are we home yet?

Almost Checkers, almost - we'll be home soon

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest CA

In the morning, we're able to better explore our camp area as we arrived after dark the night before. Looks like we stopped in a large parking lot before the main camping area.
Miller's Rest Area

Camped at Miller's

Oh well, our first night sleeping in a rest area didn't turn out too bad. It's a very nice rest area and sure beats sleeping next to a noisy casino.
Nice grassy area around restrooms

It''s so clear we can see Tonopah 12 miles to the south

After a quick breakfast, we're back headed south on Nevada Hwy 95. Since the two clerks at the Mizpah Hotel told us about the rich gold strike under this part of the highway, we busily speculate on exactly where it might be.
How about that ridge coming up?

... or under the town of Goldfield NV?

... or in those distant mountains?

We turn westward onto Nevada Hwy 266 and start heading towards the snow capped Sierras. Just before we reach California, we stop to explore the ruins of the ghost town Palmetto NV. According to the historical marker at this stop:

  • Thinking that Joshua Trees were related to palm trees, the 1866 prospectors named the mining camp Palmetto. Although a local 12-stamp mill worked the silver ore, the town died for lack of profitable material. New discoveries in the 1860's brought Palmetto back to life, but once again meager deposits caused its demise...
Westward to the Sierras!

Remains of Palmetto

Back-filled mine entrance

As we cross into California, Nevada Hwy 266 becomes California Hwy 168; however, we don't see any "Welcome to California" sign at the border. We surmise the lack of traffic makes the sign unnecessary as the locals know where they are. Soon we start to climb into the White Mountains and take the turnoff to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.
No "Welcome to California"?

Coming into the White Mountains CA

Entrance to Ancient Bristlecone Pines

Although it's a little early in the season for the Visitor Center to be open, we decide to drive up to the Schulman Grove as several trails start there. According to a plaque on Dr. Edmund P. Schulman:
  • In 1953, Dr. Edmund P. Schulman was searching this grove of bristlecones for old trees to extend his tree ring chronology. With his discovery of the "Pine Alpha" tree, he became the first person in the world to document 4,000-year-old trees. He continued his persistent search and in 1957, discovered the oldest living tree in the world, the Methuselah Tree. This ancient is located in Methuselah Grove...

    The significance of Dr. Schulman's discovery can scarcely be overstated. The continuous bristlecone tree ring chronology, including living and dead wood, now extends back nearly 10,000 years. Data from these tree rings supports important scientific research on radiocarbon dating, past climates, air quality, frequency of fires, and water supply trends...
Entrance to Schulman Grove

Visitor Center

Snow on trail

The age of these trees is truly remarkable. It's hard to conceive of living in the same place for thousands of years, through heat, drought, floods and fires. A plaque on a small downed tree says that tree was alive before Columbus discovered America.

Over their long lifetimes, these trees can grow into fantastical shapes. Then again, we'd be pretty gnarled if we lived several thousand years too. A closer inspection of a youngster shows how densely packed their needles are - probably enabling them to better collect what little moisture is available in this high dry climate.
Adult Bristlecone Pine

Live tree grows over dead section

Gnarled tree trunk

Closely packed needles

From informational plaques along the way, we learn more about these fascinating trees:
  1.  ... Although all of the bristlecones in this area are of the same species - the Great Basin Bristlecone - individual trees reveal genetic differences, demonstrating that the species continues to evolve. ... [photo below] are two old bristlecone pine trees; one grows straighter and taller...
  2. ... the light colored dolomite promotes cooler soil temperatures by reflecting heat, thereby making more water available to the trees by reducing evaporation of moisture from the soil.
Straight and tall tree versus twisted and shorter tree

Bristlecone pine with white dolomite boulders

The expansive views from the top of the trail and from an overlook on the road are worth stopping to admire.
View from the top of the Nature Trail

View from Overlook

All of us enjoy our short hike and are glad we stopped. Unfortunately, it also means we now need to drive down the steep winding road we came up. Peter does an excellent job manuevering the heavy van down the steep grades and I promise not to try and talk him into visiting the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest again.
Road snakes downhill

Wow - A lone bicyclists starts up the road.

Whew - almost down

As we approach the wide mountain meadows along the eastern slope of the Sierras, we see signs warning us of free range cattle. We laugh at the difference between California's meek cattle sign versus Nevada's bulls. Hummm - wonder if those signs are any indication about the nature of the local residents as well?
Meek California cattle ahead

Strong Nevada bulls ahead

Drunk crossing in Bishop CA?

With clear skies and air, we thoroughly enjoy our drive up Hwy 395 - one of our favorite scenic drives in California. We stop at Mono Vista RV Park in Lee Vining for the night. We are surprised to be completely surrounded by European visitors - all driving rented RVs. I make friends with a young German family camped close to us and happily share routing possibilies on our paper maps. Apparently almost all of Europe is accessible to the Internet, so they have come to rely completely on their smart phones for route information. They are not used to the large open spaces of the American west without any connectivity. I encourage them to purchase at least a few basic paper maps of the states they are planning to visit.
CA Hwy 395 with views of the Minarets

Mono Vista RV Park

Surrounded by the European Invasion

View of Mono Lake not far from Mono Vista RV Park

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Retired and enjoying life to the max.