Tuesday, June 12, 2007

California Road Trip- The Parks

I woke up in the morning and saw that the campsite I was in (Wawona) was really great. It was large, but with lots of trees so it still felt private. My site backed up to the South Fork of the Merced River, which was freezing cold but nice to look at. Also, since there were no shower facilities in the campground, I was able to wash up a bit in the river. Being in no particular hurry, I finished setting up what I didn't bother to at 1am. After having oatmeal for breakfast, I headed back north to Yosemite Valley, stopping on the valley side of the tunnel for the amazing view. I also stopped at Bridalveil Fall and scrambled on the rocks a bit to get a bit of a closer view than the paved trail allows. Once in the valley area, I stopped and got out the binoculars to see the crazy rock climbers on El Capitan. I spent the afternoon in Yosemite Valley, saw the Yosemite Falls and the other stuff that's to be seen by short walks and the bus. After looking in the Ansel Adams Gallery, I headed back, stopping for a hike to Inspiration Point and another spectacular view of the valley. On the way back to the car, my left knee stiffened up and started hurting. Then it was back to camp for dinner and some reading before bed.

My plan for the next day was originally to hike from the valley floor to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls and back down. On my way to the valley, I decided it was the best time to go to Glacier Point. The view is quite amazing from up there at 7200', you can see several falls and a different view of Half Dome. After learning about the trails that lead from there to the valley floor and an employee telling me that there was bus service back, I decided just going down would be a lot easier. After a snack I headed down the Panorama Trail, an 8 mile trail 3200' down to the floor. Past the beautiful and seldom seem Illilouette Fall, the trail goes back uphill for a while before heading back downhill toward Nevada Fall. Up to that point, I had only seen about a dozen people on the trail, but once I met up with the John Muir trail, I started seeing a lot more people. The top of Nevada Fall was crawling with people, which surprised me being that it's a 3 mile hike up over 1000 feet vertical from the valley floor, which it seemed everyone was coming from. My knee had stiffened up again, having hiked over 5 miles and more than 1000' vertical. Continuing down the trail, I got to where the Half Dome trail branches off, and then down lots of stairs. Once I got down to Vernal Fall, I looked over the edge of it before proceeding down the aptly named Mist Trail. The rock staircase was quite wet, with puddles in some areas. It was slow going with my knee bothering me, but I still seemed to be doing better than some people. It wasn't long after that I made it down to the floor and washed some of the salt off my face and arms in the cold Merced, which was quite refreshing at that point. I had an ice cream at the shuttle bus stop and went on to find my way back to the top.
When I told the guy at the travel desk at Yosemite Lodge that I needed to get back to Glacier point, he said "good luck with that." Contrary to what the guy at Glacier Point had led me to believe, there are only two buses a day from the valley to the point, and the last one had left 2 hours prior. The guy said my options were to either hike back up, hitchhike or wait until the next bus out the next morning. Since my left leg was in pain and I didn't have anywhere to stay in the valley, I decided hitching was my best option. Having never hitchhiked before, I was a bit apprehensive, but figured a National Park was a safe enough place. I headed out of the Yellowstone Valley and after a while got a ride from a backpacker/climber guy, but only a couple of miles and not really to anywhere that helped me get to where I was going. I walked another mile to the road that was going my direction and stood across from Bridalveil Fall with my thumb out. After a little while a young parks-type guy stopped. He was on his way to a job with the Forest Service between Yosemite and Sequoia. He dropped me off at the turnoff to Glacier Point and wished me well. Knowing there would be almost no traffic after sunset, I started walking and hoped for a kind soul. After about a mile and half a dozen or so cars had passed me, a brother and sister stopped and gave me a ride the rest of the way. They were quite nice, visiting the area with other family that they had left to see the sunset. I gave them my good close parking spot and went to the far side of the parking lot to take off my boots and socks and have a snack before heading back to camp.

The next morning I was in no rush and leisurely packed up my things, cooked reconstituted freeze-dried eggs "huevos rancheros" style. After packing everything up I headed south out of the park toward Fresno. In Fresno I decided I was overdue for an oil change and stopped at a Pep Boys. Two and a half hours later I was on my way to Sequoia NP. It was rather boring sitting around, but I did manage to get in some reading and they found a nail in my tire, so it wasn't too bad. I got into Sequoia and to the campground about 6ish. The area of Lodgepole I stayed in was nowhere near as nice as Wawona was. There were tons of campsites on top of each other with very little vegetation to separate them. The shortest way to the bathroom was through another campsite, which wasn't occupied so I didn't feel too bad. After setting up my tent, I went to the general store/laundromat/shower area, had my first shower in a few days, then went to Wuksachi Lodge. The restaurant wasn't crowded and I got a table right away. I had the trout, which was excellent.

In the morning I went to the information center and bought a ticket for the first Crystal Cave tour at 11am and a map of the trails in the Giant Forest area. Not knowing how long it would take me, I headed to the cave and got there about 10:15 and chilled out until the tour. The cave was nice, the guide was knowledgeable and friendly. The passages were narrow and none of the rooms were real big, but there were lots of good formations. The blackout was good, but the small kids couldn't stay quiet to get the real experience. I went from there to Moro Rock, which was a lot more of a hike than I had realized. The view from the top was good, but the air quality was so bad visibility was probably less than 30 miles. I drove through the Tunnel Log before heading back and checking out the Museum before going to the General Sherman tree. After seeing the tree I hiked the Congress trail, where I saw a gray wolf. The hike was nice, only saw a few people, but it was close to the road and got some road noise. Back at the campground I sat around drinking beer while doing my laundry.

The next day I took the bus to the museum to start a ~4 mile hike including the Huckleberry loop. I brought two PBJ sandwiches with me and took my time hiking, taking some breaks to read my book. The first time I saw anybody else was near the Settlers Cabin and Huckleberry Meadow. After getting away from the meadow area where there were a few people, I stopped and ate my lunch and read my book a little more. I stopped at the remains of Washington tree, which was severely burned when a prescribed burn got out of control a few years ago. Because it still has a little bit of life, it's still considered one of the largest trees. When I was nearly back to the museum, I was going to take the trail to Bear Hill but my knee stiffened up just before I got where the trail split off. When I got back to the campsite, almost everyone had left since it was Sunday and a few new people had come in. After dinner I headed to Tokopah Falls, but it was further than I had thought and it was almost sunset by the time I got there. I walked back in the twilight, but had to turn on my headlamp before I got back to camp.

The next morning I packed up my camp site, not wanting to spend another night there. I headed north to Kings Canyon, then through the Sequoia National Forest. I stopped at Boyden Cave and decided to wait the half hour until the next tour. The cave was nice enough, but the tour guide was TERRIBLE. He was a young guy who didn't seem to have any knowledge or interest in caves other than this job and he came across as a complete idiot. On the way out I took the alternate route along the dry (at that time) stream bed. I continued from there into the rest of Kings Canyon NP. Because the park has almost no roads there were very few people and not too many things to see right there. I had planned to spend the night, but since it was empty and at that point I'd had enough solitude for a while (and probably in a bit of a bad mood from the crappy tour), I thought sure I'd get bored quick since it was only 2pm.

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