California (August 31 – September 3)

August 31

My stomach was in a huge knot… I hardly ate any breakfast What I did eat I had to choke down. I hadn’t slept well AT ALL; I was up several times over the course of the night trying to figure out how to avoid wildfires while making a justifiable (to myself) quick exit home to New York where no wildfires are burning. In my mind, I knew I would be really angry if I had quit and gone home, but in my heart and due to the separation/anxiety all I wanted to do was leave.

While Dad was hooking up the trailer to the Highlander, he ended up talking to a couple that had finished their breakfast and were admiring our little camp trailer. They told us about the Avenue of the Giants, a road in the area of Redwoods National Park. We talked about some other stuff that I can’t remember at the moment but after we were done talking and had gone our separate ways, both Dad and I felt a sense of relief which gave us enough courage to continue into California and the Redwoods. We took Route 199 between Grants Pass and Crescent City. It’s a beautiful state route. It was slightly smokey due to nearby wild fire(s) but it wasn’t too bad.

We finally reached the Redwoods; WOW those trees are huge!!! We pulled off the road a couple times to admire them.

We drove until we found the Prairie Creek Campground. We decided to pull in and see if we they had any sites available. Thankfully they had 2 or 3 first-come-first-served sites so we nabbed a pretty suite spot. There were warning signs of bears as well as a sign saying that no hammocks were allowed to be set up… Fine with me! I have no desire to sleep out with the bears. I wouldn’t have slept well at all if I did.

We detached the trailer, made dinner, and then went for a drive on dirt roads that were indicated as “Trailers Prohibited”.

Our drive took us to Gold Bluffs Beach which is a 4-mile drive on a bumpy curvy dirt road off of Rt 101. You’ll notice driving down Route 101 that anywhere that is lowland immediately adjacent to the coast is indicated as a “Tsunami Hazard Zone”. Area parks have further instructions that if you feel an earthquaker to immediately leave the area and find high ground. Dad didn’t like that very much. :-p

Dad saw a sign that instructed on what to do (and what not to do) if a piece of debris from the Japan tsunami was found. It was sobering to realize the broad impacts of such a tragedy. Here is where we also saw what we believe to be a seal swimming in the waves not far from shore. We also saw a big elk buck grazing.

September 1st

Due to a wild fire near Route 299 out of McKinleyville (Cali), that route was closed in one small location where there was no good detour available. We decided to drive Route 101 south to Redwood Valley and take Route 20 east, the first time we could actually tell ourselves that we were headed home (with a few stops in between)! We were only able to camp one night at Prairie Creek as it was Labor Day weekend and so all sites had been reserved in advance. We decided to move on, to drive Rt 101 and enjoy the journey towards Yosemite. Don’t get me wrong, the drive was beautiful and Dad thoroughly enjoyed it, but it just wasn’t really picture worthy, and so there’s not much to really write about it.

We decided to drive most of the way to Yosemite today. As we drove all the way down into the valley and watched the outside temperature in our vehicle rise, we realized just how close to the coast we had been. The temperatures at the coast were beautifully moderate and comfortable. As we came down into the valley, we started seeing miles and miles of orchards (we’re not sure what type of food was being grown) and it got hotter and hotter. Pretty sure the highest temperature our vehicle read was 108 or 110 degrees fahrenheit. It was unbearable heat in the sun, but the shade offered some relief and so Dad and I stopped and had lunch at a rest area off of I-15 outside Sacramento. Lunch was good but we should have waited to have lunch on the southern outskirts of the city…. we caught the beginnings of rush hour traffic. Dad hates traffic!

About this time, we talked about where we should stay. I called a campground and surprisingly they had sites available so we bee-lined for it! We stayed at Woodward Reservoir Park, east of Manteca. As we approached the reservoir, the landscape was flat and consumed with agriculture and dairy farms. The campground was a county park and looked decent enough when we arrived. I was slightly worried that I had not done enough research and calling around. We pulled in, got a discounted rate since we had a national park pass. Finding a spot was sort of tricky since there aren’t any real marked out specific sites. People just file in and set up where theres space. We found a decent spot and set up camp. There was Hispanic music on the air everywhere! We sat there hoping it wouldn’t continue too late as we watched a movie in our camper till it got dark. I finally had to use the restroom…. I walked over to the restroom (one of those “composting” pit toilets”) and to my dismay I discovered there were no locks working on the doors and the smell was awful. So, I walked back to the camper and said we’d have to go to the bathroom once Dad was ready so we could guard the door for each other. By that time, it was completely dark and so you had to have a flashlight. Dad had his flashlight and I had my super bright headlamp. Well, my turn to go in; ants are crawling around goodness knows what on the floor, flys flying around the toilet seat, and a combination of flys and moths and every other bug started swarming my headlamp. Talk about a fiasco toilet visit!! Yeesh! I’ll never go back there. I resolved to never have to use that toilet again.

September 2

The music I mentioned earlier continued playing with associated partying until approximately 5AM. I know this because I woke up a few times at night and it was still playing. Not until Dad and I were both awake at 6AM, packing up and ready to go, was the campground completely silent and the early birds were already stiring to get up and out. Can we please get out of here!?!?!

Showers: after the bathroom incident the previous evening, I was not about to use the nearest shower. You see, we had camped on one of the outer area camp sites that probably was one of the less maintained. We resolved to go to the shower closest to the RV-full-hook-up camping area and closest to the main gate thinking if anything that would be the best one. I am glad we did. Even that one needed some work. While in the shower I looked up at the ceiling and saw what looked like either a HUGE next of spiders on the rafters or just dusty spider webs. I really couldn’t determine what exactly the fuzzy-looking tent-catepillar-like webing was. It was really odd and gave me the hee-bee-geebees! I got out of there ASAP!

We thankfully got on the road about 7AM I think and headed to Yosemite National Park gate on Route 120 out of Adela, CA. The road initially was pretty straight and as we proceeded into the hills it got pretty narrow and very curvy with no guardrails. Have a look:

Dad and I agreed that it was good Mom wasn’t with us on this road. She would have had white knuckle. πŸ˜€

Yosemite National Park had a wild fire burning while we were there. Thankfully it hadn’t closed Yosemite Valley or the Tioga Pass which was the route we had to take out of the park. It was smokey however when we made our first stop at a scenic point.

The wildfire was burning on the southwestern area of the park which you can see was to the right-most side of the picture above. Dad and I were very thankful though because as we proceeded further into Yosemite Valley (generally in the opposite direction of the fire), the smoke thinned out and allowed some beautiful views of the valley. There aren’t enough words to describe the drive into Yosemite and pictures won’t do it justice but wow; I really love Yosemite and will be back.

We finally got to the Visitor’s Center so that I could stamp my national park passport, get a few supplies, and then head out. Well, parking is very limited to vehicles with trailers and other oversized vehicles so Dad ended up staying with the car. I ran into the shop, grabbed some stickers, found a really nice belt I liked, looked at what icecreams they had because Dad wanted one…etc. Then I found out that wasn’t really the visitor’s center, it was just a little general store. So I ran the supplies to the car and told Dad I had to run and find the Visitor’s center. FYI – the signage directing pedestrians from the general store to the actual visitor’s center is lacking or else I was just not facing the right direction. Either way, I was frustrated by the time I found it. Passport stamped.

A park ranger was now pushing dad to move the car because we weren’t really supposed to be there. So, I ran back into the general store, grabbed ice creams, and waited for the slow-moving cashiers to get through the line of people. Finally paid, ran out to the car so we could get out of there before we got into more trouble. :-/

Driving out of Yosemite, we talked about whether we wanted to go for a hike, eat lunch, drive out fo the valley before 2:00pm-2:30 or later when the stream of people leaving would be much heavier (Dad hates traffic). We finally found a parking area for vehicles with trailers and pulled in. It was now about 11:30AM. If we went for a hike, we’d have to take a shuttle to the trailhead and would most definitely be back when traffic was heavy. We could eat and then hike or hike and then eat and leave even later, or we could leave now, find a place for lunch (since we completely missed breakfast) and then head out east through the park. We chose the last option.

I don’t remember the particular order of the lunch and swimming but I’ll tell you about both (pretty sure lunch was first from the order my pictures are in). We found a beautiful spot for lunch and decided to stop and cook up some scrambled egg wraps. Yummy. We had lunch in the El Capitan picnic area.

Lunch packed and done, we continued driving. We passed this one pull-off that was pretty full of cars and all the sudden Dad says “oh Anna!!”…. What what!?! He pulled into the pull-off and we walked over to the creek were he had seen some other folks wading in the little river. Boy was the water REFRESHING! It felt so good we decided to put our swimsuits on and go all the way in.

I think it was about this time that I was getting the feeling that I didn’t want to leave the park today. See, we had planned to leave Yosemite in the evening and proceed east and south around Death Valley in the evening when the heat of the day is wearing off and there is less chance of baking to death if anything were to go wrong with the car. So if we stayed another night near the park, we’d have to spend most of the next day exploring the park. Once it was settled that we’d stay another day, we had to figure out where we would sleep (in the camper I know – but where to park the camper). We stopped at the Tolumne Meadows visitor’s center and talked to one of the employees. He said we could probably find a camp site outside the park. He didn’t quite wink at us but he did say to “get creative.”

Driving out of the park, we found one nook of a parking area that would have worked, but I saw in Dad’s face that he wasn’t completely comfortable with it and once I thought of bears and not having a bear-box to put our food in, I wasn’t completely comfortable with it either. After sitting there and thinking about it for a few minutes, we decided to just leave and head to Las Vegas and enjoy the drive and goodness it was a beautiful one.

This is Tenaya Lake adjacent to Tioga Pass. The photo does a pretty good job of capturing the grandness of this place. Dad and I sat here for a little while just taking it in before we left. Dad really wanted to go swimming in the lake but opted against it.

We continued driving and came to the eastern gate to the national park. We only drove a little way out when we saw two or three cars at a pull-off. Behind one of them we saw some people with their camping chairs out and Dad said “they’re staying there for the night.” It was a beautiful spot for sure. Right next to a little reservoir with a campground next door if we absolutely had to use a restroom.

So, the picture above was taken from the top of a small rock hill next to our pull-off campsite. Basically if I were to turn around and take a picture (which I apparently didn’t), you would see our car. Isn’t it a beauty?

The photo above is facing generally east on Tioga Pass looking away from the east gate of Yosemite.

Yes that is snow. We ended up using some snow in our cooler since we hadn’t bought ice. (We got creative).

Dad started talking with our pull-off campsite neighbors asking if they were planning to stay the night. They said yes and Dad replied “we’re going to be your temporary neighbors.” We met Mark and Ashley and their friends Greg and Tiana; all who turned out to be some super awesome new friends! Our conversation rolled onto what each others plans were for the next day. Mark and Ashley responded that they were going back into Yosemite to go rock climbing. My face lit up…. I said I brought my climbing gear and have wanted to go climb but haven’t had the chance yet. They incredibly extended an invitation to my Dad and I….. YAY!!

Mark and Ashley told us about their little business that they started called Wildcraft Collective. They make scale models of national (and maybe state?) park signs. They have a shop on Etsy where you can check out their cool stuff! Their link is: http://www.etsy.com/shop/wildcraftcollective

September 3

Even though both of us were completely comfortable with this location, neither of us slept very well. Weirdly, a black Escalade drove into the pull-off area and lingered for a minute or two. Mind you this was sometime around midnight I think. Slightly creepy. Anyway, we woke up to a chilly morning.

Climbing: breakfast done, watching the sun come up over the mountain we camped near. We followed our new friends to where they were going to climb and parked. We had to hike up into the granite rocky hill and wow. You really notice the thin air when you exert yourself. I mean, I know I’m not in the best shape but goodness, I felt extra un-fit.

Mark and Greg first had to lead climb the granite face in order to secure their rope on the anchor that had previously been installed high above. Once that was done and the lead-climb anchors removed (“cleaned”), we were able to climb!

Dad hasn’t rock climbed at all before but thankfully Mark and Ashley and Greg were able to give him enough info to get him up the granite face.

Mark and Ashley of Wildcraft Collective

Greg and Tiana.

It really was so great climbing with these folks. As they know, it really was the cherry on my roadtrip sunday!

Dad using his (per our new friends) “old man strength” to get up the granite crack. He climbed like a pro!

We both climbed two routes. One was about a 5.5 rating, the other was a 5.7 or 5.8. So much fun!

After climbing, we planned to go back to Tenaya Lake to swim. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very sunny or warm when we got there and got in the water so we didn’t stay very long. That water was extremely refreshing. πŸ˜€

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