Friday, October 28, 2011

Yosemite - Mariposa Grove, Glacier Point, and the Yosemite Valley

We visited the most visited parts of Yosemite as a day trip from the Escapees Park in Coarsegold.  Although only 20-something miles from the entrance, those are hard miles to drive, and it's another 30 miles to really be in the park, so it was another day with a lot of driving. Not only that, but we had originally planned to have a few down days before traipsing back.  Nonetheless, we hadn't planned on the Escapee Park being full with no guarantees of anything opening up, so we decided to go ahead and just do it, in case we needed to move on.

We started with Mariposa Grove. It was cold, but the giant sequoias were spectacular.  Despite an early start, we were still sharing the trails with a tour bus, but it was a great, educational little hike.  Someone asked us why our kids weren't in school; my response was that they ARE in school. :)  We would've liked to hike further, but we knew this was our final day in Yosemite, so we needed to be conscious of time.

The first time you see one, you think you are in Narnia 
This one fell in the 1700's
It was a chilly 38 degrees, but the rich oxygen felt great
This hole was cut around a hundred years ago; the tree is still alive.
Bachelor and three tree girlfriends
As big as they are, the Sequoias aren't the tallest trees.
We then drove up to Glacier Point. Wow...what a spectacular view!  We hung out here for a while taking in the view.

This could be the best view I ever see in my life
The view is better with her
The view from Washburn point along the Glacier Point road.

We finally ended up in the Valley, getting Junior Ranger materials and completing them before the visitor center closed.  One of the requirements was a visit to the cultural center; the Native American Ranger Ben that is there is a pretty cool guy!  He showed the kids lots of cool string tricks, and he answered the question about what the word "Yosemite" means with a rather fascinating story.  It turns out that the word means "Some among us are killers."  No wonder it's not widely advertised!

El Capitan from the valley floor
Yosemite Falls, still flowing but very small in late October
Half Dome from the valley floor a half hour before sundown
Tunnel view, El Capitan on the left, Glacier Point on the right.
By now, the sun was getting low in the sky, and we needed to make haste to see what we wanted to see before leaving.  We decided to do the short half mile hike to Bridal Veil Falls, our third Bridal Veil Falls so far this trip.  Although the falls were indeed pretty, the real highlight was the couple we met on the trail.  Ron, a 71 year-old gem, captivated our children in short order, and in the short time they were together, he imparted much life wisdom, regarding the importance of putting God first in your life, daily devotionals, and the like.  They clambered up on a rock, and he scampered up with them, and they were all eyes and ears.  When we left as it was nearly dark, Alyssa said it was the best part of her day and that she wished they could've stayed and listened to him much longer!  Genna was bummed about needing to hold hands to cross the parking lot, so he asked her to personally escort him and keep him safe; she was delighted to oblige! His parting to them was, "If I don't see you again on this earth, I'll see you in heaven!"  Our kids couldn't be more excited about meeting up with him again!
Bridal Veil Falls
I wish we had more time to spend with Ron

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Yosemite - Upper section

We decided to see the lesser visited portion of Yosemite National Park from our stay in Bridgeport.  It turned out to be a pretty long day, but I'm glad we did it.  Otherwise, we would've visited this area while driving through with the RV, and we wouldn't have been able to explore as much. Wow...this is one picturesque park, and since this part is less visited, it wasn't crowded!  We drove up Tioga Pass and down Tioga road to Olmstead Point and then worked our way back.  We lounged on the rocks at Tenaya Lake, just basking in the warmth of the sunshine, looking for pictures in the clouds, and taking in the view. The temp was in the 40s, but in the sunshine, it was perfect!  We picnicked on the beach at Tenaya Lake; the wind had picked up, and it was kind of chilly, but you can't beat the view.  Before calling it a day, we hiked the Pothole Dome trail, following it back to the river.  It had gotten cooler, so we all wore hats.  Jake had never seen us in hats before that he remembered, and he kept staring at us and giggling!

Approaching Yosemite from the East
The road offered amazing views at every turn
Another view from the road near Tioga Pass
My favorite people
Climbing on the rocks at Olmstead Point
You can see the backside of Half Dome
God's amazing creation is on full display
The boys and Half Dome

Hiking near Tuolumne Meadow

Funny trees at Olmstead Point
Tenaya Lake
The sun felt good in the 44 degree temps
Tuolomne Meadow
Jake was intrigued by the hats

Monday, October 24, 2011

Mono Lake

After leaving Carson City, we drove to Bridgeport, CA and stayed at Paradise Shores RV Park for two nights.  After paying, the owner told Steve it was supposed to get down to 12 degrees the next night.  Yikes!!  Fortunately, he was wrong; it did get down to the low 20s, and some people had their lines freeze, but thanks to Jake waking up in the middle of the night, Steve got up & unhooked the water line, and left our kitchen sink on drip, and we were totally fine. Though it was pretty wickedly cold at night, the stars were also amazing, probably the best I've ever seen!

After arriving, we drove down to the Visitor Center for Mono Lake, based on my brother-in-law's recommendation.  The drive was spectacular, with simply amazing displays of fall splendor on the aspens.We took pictures, of course, but they really don't do it justice.  These are the best fall colors I think I've ever seen.  They even had a display that explained why the fall colors are so spectacular here; warm, sunny days and cool nights mean the leaves produce lots of sugars and hold on to it, resulting in beautiful autumn colors.

High Sierra Wilderness Area
The colors were amazing

Mono Lake has a great little visitor center, but check the hours on it if you're planning on visiting.  It was closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and it closed at 4:30, before we were really finished exploring all it has to offer.  This was a great reinforcement for all we learned at Antelope Island; Mono Lake has no outlet, and has therefore turned into a salt lake, as well.  Yep, Steve was right about bodies of water without outlets being salt lakes.  Since the Great Salt Lake is the only salt lake I was familiar with, I needed to verify that he was right about that. :)  I'm pretty sure he's still gloating!  Just as in the Great Salt Lake, the only things that survive in these waters are brine shrimp (see monkeys, anyone?) and alkaline flies, and therefore is also a major stop for many migrating birds. We were all a little repulsed by the knowledge that the diet of the Paiutes that used to live along the shores of Mono Lake consisted largely of the larvae of the alkaline flies that today also feed numerous birds!  Later, we learned that they ground these up into a high-protein flour.  Yum, yum...not...

The view from the Mono Lake overlook

As soon as I saw Mono Lake, I suspected it was a salt lake by the lack of resorts and condos along the banks. 
After leaving the visitor center (no junior ranger programs here, unfortunately), we drove down to the lake to see the tufas that Mono Lake is well-known for.  The tufas are limestone that forms when the calcium carbonate from springs that feed the lake combines with alkaline waters.  The tufas are very cool formations that rise up out of the water, with some on the beach, as well.  Of course, we saw lots of birds, feasting on all the lake has to offer, and the girls had fun playing in the sand.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Lake Tahoe

We daytripped to Lake Tahoe from Carson City.  It is the third deepest body of water in North America; the bottom of this lake is lower than the elevation of Carson City! Steve & I had visited here once about 12 years ago, and it is just as beautiful today as it was then!  It is truly picturesque, with pristine, crystal clear water!  We pulled over at one of the lookouts and took the opportunity to play on the rocks at the waters edge. We also took the little hike down to Hidden Beach, and again, played on the rocks and even waded in the water.   We later drove around to Emerald Bay and hiked down to Vikingsholm and then to Lower Eagle Falls.  Everyone had a blast!

The water is amazingly clear

We walked to Hidden Beach on the Nevada side

Giant Redwood we saw in Emerald Bay State Park
Emerald Bay

A giant pine