Friday, March 16, 2018

Part 9: Rumpety-Thump-Home

Well, I’ve left you missing the last of our holiday! I kind of ran out of steam the last few days so you might think we’ve been stuck in California still. Heh.

So where were we? Day 25 had us leaving good old Sam Taylor State Park and winding back to the coast. The weather rained some in the night but cleared up to alternating sun, mist and a high fog in some places. Our goal was MacKerricher State Park just north of Fort Bragg on the wiggly windy narrow Highway 1. Everything loose in the back of the van was sliding about but it’s always a fun drive. After arriving and having lunch we walked north on the old haul road up to where it is broken off from winter storms. The beach there is rocky with one of the spots where the harbour seals haul out. We saw semi-palmated plovers that blended right into the rocks when they weren’t moving.

The ice plant (or sea fig, I’m not sure which) grows really well along the beachside here:

The two similar species can hybridise and both are not native here. They are so pretty though the park has been pulling some of the mats out to slow down the invasion.

We are quite fond of this area so we stayed another day, Day 26. It rained again at night but cleared up by the afternoon. The temperatures were finally getting comfortable! This time we walked on the haul road south. There’s a gap where the storms destroyed it and all that’s left are the metal supports:

But since this is a popular bike and walking route (you can go all the way into Fort Bragg 2 miles away) there’s a trail around. We stopped out at the lookout to see the seals:

Can you spot them? It was funny watching their reactions as the tide came in with a big wave and splashed them with cold water! We also saw whales quite close in to shore. Humpbacks? They looked darker than the grays anyhow. We walked further down the haul road and went out to the edge of the bluff to watch some more seals and when we turned around the fog had come in and obscured everything. One minute it was clear and the next it wasn’t!

Day 27 we continued north and through the mountains and redwoods to Oregon where we stayed at Harris Beach, near Brookings. The weather was a little rainy on and off but we took our umbrellas down to the beach. This one has some very large rocks:

Including the Hole-In-The-Rock. Sorry I wasn’t about to climb down to the beach to get a better shot.

On Day 28 we were surprised by the Daylight Savings time change. Grrr. Just leave it alone, OK? Sorry, I digress. We continued north to South Beach near Newport and walked the trail to the beach and then to the South Jetty:

This is the entry to Newport’s harbour and we had fun watching some noisy California sea lions. We drove over that lovely old green bridge on Day 29 as we continued our homeward journey north. This was a shorter jump but it still took awhile since we had to stop in Tillamook for cheese! And an ice-cream cone, of course. Nehalem State Park is one of our favourites. A nice loooonnng beach to walk:

This was definitely the warmest 24 hours of the whole trip! We were in shirt sleeves on the beach and kicking off some of the blankets at night. Who knew that we would find the coast warmer than the desert? Crazy weather.

Of course it was fleeting because on Day 30 it rained all day and all night. Luckily we had bought some new windshield wiper blades in Tillamook before we stopped for cheese. The old originals were toast after being peeled off a frozen windshield back in Red Rock Canyon. Thom was going to leave it until we got home but there was a convenient auto parts store. Good thing too! We continued north over the Astoria Bridge, across Washington and up the west side of the Hood Canal to Dosewallips State Park. There we sat in our toasty van (we had electric power) and read the rest of the day in the rain. This was the first day without any sunshine at all on the whole trip! No photos either.

The last morning, Day 31, found us tootling (in the rain) up to Port Townsend for the ferry over to Whidbey Island. We didn’t even get a chance to wander around the town this time. Got this shot of the bald eagle at the wharf though:

He (or she) sat there for ages while the seagulls yelled and did flybys. Amusing to watch while waiting for the ferry. We caught the Kennewick and landed at Keystone in jig time. The border crossing was relatively quick and painless and we got home in time for lunch. And then the sun came out so we could unpack without getting wet.

So there you have it. Hope you enjoyed the travelogue. We had a really good time, travelled about 7,000 kilometres, walked 285 kilometres and now we’re very happy to be home for awhile. Just in time to start thinking about the garden - although it’s still pretty darn cold.

Back to the usual crafty stuff next!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Part 8: Into The Mountains

So I thought we had done Joshua Tree but on Day 20 on the way out of the park we stopped at Hidden Valley and walked the trail. This was a spot that horse thieves and cattle rustlers had found to stash their livestock back in the late 1800’s when there was still enough water and grazing available. It was a pleasant morning’s hike before hitting the highway.

Some interesting rock formations (a lot of them perfect for climbers) and the quintessential desert:

The rest of this day was kind of bizarre as we negotiated freeways with gusting winds that shook the Westie and then climbed, climbed, climbed into the clouds above San Bernardino. We actually got lost in the fog when we couldn’t see the road signs. At. All. And there was surprisingly so much traffic around us and nowhere to pull over to figure out where we were supposed to be going. Finally we pulled into a municipal park and pulled out the cellphone and still had trouble figuring out which way to go. Eventually we got on the right road and went down, down, down to Silverlake State Recreation Area. It wasn’t just pouring rain by that time but interspersing it with hail and wind. Yuck. At least we had the smarts to upgrade our campsite to a plug-in one so we could at least have electric heat. Just an overnighter. Whew.

Day 21 found us in better weather on a long haul going west and north to Pinnacles National Park in central California. We had 3 days planned here and it was totally worth it.

This place is totally alive with birds. Quail, woodpeckers, both scrub and Stellar’s jays, titmice, wild turkeys, vultures and even the magnificent California condors. Also mule deer:

On our second day here, Day 22, we drove up to the parking lot for the Bear Gulch cave trail. We had brought our caving headlamps along just for this opportunity.

The cave is more like a pile of rocks than an actual cave system.

This one had lots of handy stairs and sturdy railings to help. There was the sound of water all through as the reservoir above trickled water down through the cave.

That’s the top exit! Who knew I would enjoy caves this much. I used to be terrified of them. There is a second section that was blocked off to give the resident Townsend’s big-eared bats privacy to birth their babies. No problem! At the top we continued to the reservoir which is very picturesque.

Then we continued around the Rim trail back to the parking lot.

We saw our first condors here. They’re hard to tell from the ubiquitous turkey vultures but they’re larger and have white patches towards the front under their wings. Of course you have to see them close up enough to check! This park has 33 rare California condors and every one is tagged and recorded.

On Day 23, our last day at Pinnacles, we drove up to the Old Pinnacles trail parking area. We weren’t sure we could walk all the way to the second cave system but we managed. It was more tricky than the Bear Gulch cave.

It was quite wet and just getting to the cave entrance took some doing. However, I amazed myself by managing with Thom’s helping hand to do it. Yay!

The way out was the easy part!

Then we walked around the high trail back to the main trail.

Luckily the temperature was reasonably cool. We ended up walking over 10 kilometres which is a long way for us.

This morning, Day 24, we left not too early to drive north again up the penninsula through San Francisco and back over the Golden Gate Bridge to Samuel P. Taylor State Park again. We’re back to familiar territory and tomorrow we’ll be following Highway 1 along the coast. North toward home though it’s still a long way to go.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Part 7: Cactus Heaven

On Day 17 we left Valley of Fire and drove down through the middle of Las Vegas again, unfortunately hitting it at early morning rush-hour. Once past the downtown area though we went faster southwest and back into California. We got off the Interstate and took some rather minor roads south through the Mojave Desert. In the higher area there was actually snow on the Joshua trees!

It was quite magical. On our way into Joshua Tree National Park we stopped in the Oasis Visitors Center for maps but continued quickly into the park to try to score a campsite since we didn’t have a reservation. We were very lucky (and early) and found a really nice quiet spot in Bell Campground which is one of the First Come, First Served camps and only has 18 spots tucked into the rounded monzogranite rocks.

After nabbing our home base for 3 nights we drove down to visit the jumping cholla garden. Also called teddy bear cholla, it was pretty impressive:

There were acres of these and lots of warnings not to stray off the path or touch the plants. A first-aid kit prominently available was a good clue that these stickers are not nice! I don’t know if you can tell that the teddy bear cholla is different from the silver cholla I showed in a previous post. They have those here too plus yet another variety called pencil cholla:

We learned that pretty much every plant out here is prickly, even the ones that aren’t cactuses! This is an ocotillo, one of the few that was blooming:

There was a hummingbird in there somewhere enjoying the flowers but I can’t find it now. This plant usually looks like a tall bundle of spiky sticks:

Until it gets enough water to put out tiny green leaves and the pretty red flowers. There are of course a lot of Joshua trees here, some of them really big. They aren’t really trees but yuccas, a member of the lily family. There’s also Mojave yuccas that are related but don’t grow the tall trunk:

On Day 18 we walked the Skull Rock trail:

I couldn’t get far enough away to get the whole creepy head in! There’s a nice set of nature plaques along part of this trail to introduce you to the plants and animals here. There’s turbinella oaks, pinyon pine and juniper. I found a jojoba:

The nuts of this shrub are food for animals and the soothing oil is extracted commercially. More cool rock shapes in the monzogranite:

We also drove out to Keys View high up in the San Bernardino Mountains where you can look down on the Coachella Valley. If it’s not too murky with Los Angeles smog you can see the Salton Sea, San Jacinto Mountain, the San Andreas Fault and the cities of Palm Springs and Palm Desert.

Our last day in Joshua Tree, Day 19, found us heading back to Twentynine Palms to get water at the visitors center. We also had more time to see the exhibits and then walked the trail around the Oasis of Mara and checked out the fan palms:

After stopping for groceries and gas in town we’re all ready to leave tomorrow morning. This one will be a short hop so happily we don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn. But we’ve finally hit the turnaround point of this trip so our compass will be aimed mostly north from now on. Is my buddy the phainopepla singing goodbye?

Friday, March 02, 2018

Part 6: The Best Rocks

Day 13 was our second day in the Valley of Fire. The weather was near freezing in the night but sunny and a little warmer in the daytime. We drove up the road past the Visitors Center to White Domes at the end:

Yes, we came down that rather rugged trail! My favourite part of the park is in this area where the trail goes through a narrow curvy slot canyon:

After White domes we drove to the next trail at the Fire Wave:

Layers of sandstone in different shades of colour worn smooth over the millennia. On the way back we discovered these big barrel cactuses:

They’re nearly a metre tall and the dried flowers remain from the last time they were able to flower. You pretty much don’t want to touch any of the plants out here if you can help it. Ouch. Afterwards we went down to the Visitors Center where we found out the names of some of the unfamiliar plants and animals here. We were particularly interested in the sparrow-sized birds we saw for the first time: shiny black with a crest and white spots under the wings when they fly. They don’t seem to have a common name besides “phainopepla” so I started calling them “Pepi” for short. To me they look like tiny Steller’s jays but without the indigo blue and with much more pleasant voices. The females and younglings are apparently a lighter shade of gray than the males’ but we didn’t see any.

Our third day at Valley of Fire (Day 14) was a little warmer still. The sun was hot but the wind was cold so it depended on where you were and what you were doing as to whether you were too hot or too cold. We drove back up the White Domes road and took the trail to Mouse’s Tank. Mouse was a Native man wanted for murder who hid out in the red rocks, using this natural pocket of fresh water to stay alive:

You’d have to be desperate to drink it though! Also on this trail are many petroglyphs:

This one of a shaman and two people is particularly nice because it’s protected up high under a bit of an overhang. We also walked the Rainbow Vista trail but we didn’t climb up the very high rock for the 360-degree view. We saw lots of pretty green lizards and antelope ground squirrels though. The latter look a little like chipmunks but they carry their tails over their back using the white side to reflect the sun like a parasol.

On Day 15 (and our fourth at Valley of Fire) we were finally running out of ice so we drove into the nearest town of Overton to get some along with a few groceries. There were lots of noisy grackles in the parking lot, fighting over any crumbs dropped by the shoppers. These birds remind me of our small coastal crows but they have long tails.

Back in the park we stopped at Elephant Rock and hiked the loop trail. The view was pretty from the top:

You can just see the road and one of the parking lots down below. The Elephant needs a bit of imagination:

But you know people will see images in virtually anything, right? We also stopped at the cabins that were built of native stone in the 1930’s when this park was first set aside.

They apparently were for hikers to use and there’s 3 rooms. I like the round one on the near end best:

Needs a door and a window but the fireplace is still there. The park even keeps the roof in reasonable repair. Nothing mentions it but there are also more petroglyphs in the cliffs just above the cabins. Lots more bighorn sheep.

Day 16 was our fifth and last day in Valley of Fire. It clouded over again and the wind is quite chilly. We lazed about all morning reading and then drove up to White Domes again and hiked the trail backwards:

It’s amazing how different things look from the other direction! Also the lack of bright sunlight brought out more of the colours in the rocks. The drive up and back was incredibly beautiful. We’re going to miss this place but it’s finally time to move on.

Oh, I might have forgotten to mention that I finally finished Thom’s handspun Coopworth sweater. At least I didn’t have a photo until now:

He likes it and barely has taken it off since the last end was darned in. It hasn’t been blocked apart from a bit of steaming I did back home. The neckline sits a little wonky but perhaps a real blocking will help. He doesn’t seem to mind anyhow. The sleeves were both knit twice because they weren’t comfortable the first time. Gotta make it right or it won’t get worn! So. Notice the new beard? I kind of like it but we’ll see if he keeps it when we get back.

Tomorrow it’s back to California and further south for a few days before we start heading back. I’m going to miss our campsite in the holey red rocks though:

Part 5: More Desert

On Day 10 we headed north and east to Death Valley, but first we stopped at Fossil Falls:

A mile down a gravel road and a short hike to see the volcanic rocks that have been smoothed and worn into fantastic shapes by the river that used to run down here. It drops a hundred feet down in what was a waterfall and then down again in another drop. No water remains and the area is the usual desert dry. Sculptors like Henry Moore could have been endlessly inspired here!

We carried on up and down the curvy mountains and across the basins. This one is the Panamint Basin, smaller than Death Valley, from partway down:

Shot from the moving vehicle window! We went up again on the other side and then down into Death Valley. It was quite busy at Furnace Creek for the middle of the week but we managed to get a tenting campsite for 2 days under the shade of the tamarisk trees. We originally had wanted a third day but decided that we would take what we could get. From the campground we walked the bicycle trail a mile to the remains of the Harmony Borax Works:

Imagine the old 20-mule-team pulling this full of borax with enough water in the tank in the back to keep everyone alive. Some of the boiling tanks were still visible where they purified the mineral first before transporting it out of the valley. Just like the limekilns in Big Sur, this enterprise only lasted 5 years before cheaper sources were found elsewhere. You can still see the salt deposits everywhere though: sodium chloride, calcite and gypsum as well as borax.

The weather was quite a lot warmer here though still very pleasant at around 20C (68F) during the day. The nights were still quite cold but not nearly as cold as Red Rock Canyon was! On Day 11 we packed up after breakfast and drove down the Badwater Road to the Salt Basin, the lowest spot in North America at 282 feet (85.5 metres) below sea level:

The salt is really rough but people have walked a trail right out into the middle. I found it hilarious that it gets narrower and more bumpy as you go because less people have walked that far. I certainly wouldn’t want to do it in summer! There are some small salty ponds at the edge that are made by water from ancient aquifers seeping out. There are teeny tiny little snails that live in them! Amazing that life can adapt to the most inhospitable environments, isn’t it?

Back along the Badwater we drove up the badly washboarded road to the Natural Bridge trail. It’s a bit steep but not very long climb through a rock canyon carved by water that is mostly not there (unless it rains which happens rarely).

The trail continues underneath and you can see some really interesting dry falls:

Again carved by water. Back down again we negotiate the gravel road again and then took the turnoff to the Artists Drive, 9 miles of spectacular alluvial fans where different minerals were deposited by the water in different areas creating patches of reds, oranges, yellows, purple and turquoise. At the Artists Palette parking lot you can climb around to see the colours closer:

I found it really difficult to photograph what I was seeing with my eyes so you’ll have to take my word for it that it was astonishing.

And here we are on Day 12. We got up very early and drove east and a little north right through Las Vegas to the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada. This is our 4th state this trip and the farthest east we plan to get. We have 3 or 4 days here in this very cool campsite:

Tucked in the holey red rocks! It’s rather chilly here with some cloud and it also snowed on us for a short while. It’s not usually this cold here this time of year. However, the advantage is we can hike without overheating. The last time we were here it was September and it was very hot, especially in the afternoons. This time we needed our heavy jackets and woolies!

From camp we walked to the Atlatl Rock petroglyphs. I particularly liked the scorpion:

And of course the bighorn sheep. There’s lots of them here:

I’m perpetually fascinated by pictographs and petroglyphs. It’s amazing how similar the shapes are from one area to another. They can be from many different eras too layered over each other. Sadly this area has some modern idiots adding their names and initials. It’s just so wrong to deface something that’s been here for thousands of years.

We also saw the Arch Rock that our campground is named after:

I’ve certainly collected a few photos of these natural shapes too. The red sandstone rocks here are riddled with holes and mini-caves and cracks. I never get tired of looking at them. Also the plants are much more green this time of year. It’s a perfect contrast with the rocks and orange sand:

Several more days to go here!