Monthly Archives: September 2012

Parks, parks and more parks

Wednesday, September 19th we headed out of Yosemite after taking a look at all the big sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove.

Dave next to one of the giant sequioas in Yosemite

Christine and the roots of a fallen sequioa

Christine inside a tunneled tree (there are none that you can drive through any more)

We started driving towards our next destination, King’s Canyon, but didn’t make it quite that far after resupply and all that. Instead we found a kind of decent KOA (not as nice as many we’ve stayed at) and did our laundry and clean up, and posted the overdue blogs. We headed out early on Thursday, but once on the highway Dave had trouble getting any speed and felt like there was something wrong with Ginger. We immediately turned around and headed back to town to find a service station and have her looked at. Our master brake cylinder was broken, which was allowing the brakes to drag. Getting this fixed took the rest of the day and we didn’t get back on the road until 5pm. We forged ahead and made it to King’s Canyon/National Sequoia park by 8pm and found a campsite.

Friday we made our way through all the sequoia forests and saw the largest tree in the world (by volume). His name is General Sherman and he’s huge!

Ginger Lee parked amongst the sequioa’s

The General Sherman tree

Sitting on a fallen log

Driving between the sequoia’s

Once we were all tree-d out we left the park and headed east towards the next park on our list, Death Valley. We didn’t make it too far before we hunkered down in a Walmart for a few hours of sleep. Early the next morning we tried to get on the road and beat the heat. It was already sweltering and the expected high in Death Valley was 44C (111F)! We topped up our radiator and our water tanks and headed for the hills. Ginger is not a fan of the offensive heat and we had to stop every few minutes while we were going up steep hills because she was overheating. A 2 hour drive took us well over 6 hours.

Ginger taking a cool-down break

We got to the mini town in the park called Stovepipe Wells, the official hottest and driest place in North America. And we both agree with that statement! We got a campsite in the middle of the desert with no shade or protection. The saving grace was the motel pool that campers were allowed to use. It was heavenly and we spent pretty much our whole time hanging out beside it. Needless to say we didn’t sleep so well in our little van despite using our new fan. Oh and the smell of the open sewage tanks wafting across the desert also didn’t help the sleeping situation!

We hightailed it out of Death Valley after seeing the lowest place in North America. Dave was certain the lowest place in America would be a Walmart, but apparently not. It’s a basin and salt flat that is -282ft below sea level, and is caused by the tectonic plates below pulling apart here.

Sand dunes on the valley floor

Christine at Badwater Basin

Again, we crawled up and over a pass, stopping every 10 minutes or so to cool off Ginger and fill up her radiator with water.

Sculptured landscapes on the way out of Death Valley (note people on bottom left)

Dave and Ginger both very happy to have escaped Death Valley

We found our way to the Valley of Fire State Park, just about an hour North-East of Las Vegas. Yes, we’re finally out of California and into our next state, Nevada! It had been recommended to us and certainly didn’t disappoint. There are huge rock formations and it kind of reminds us of parts of Cappadocia in Turkey.

Valley of Fire

Very cool and you get to camp right in the middle of it all.

The great campsites among the rock formations

And the best part is the temperature! Compared to Death Valley, it’s so much cooler and only reached a high of 35C (94F) and was a much more reasonable 23C for sleeping at night. On Monday we explored the park a bit by bike but took the afternoon off to get out of the sun and relax.

Beautiful rock formations and colours

The Grand Piano rock

Biking through the park

Christines easy afternoon

Dave chillaxing with a wet towel on the head

Tuesday was an early morning to get on the road to Zion National Park in Utah. We did stop and check out a few more of the parks attractions on the way out though.

Dave exploring the canyons

Christine and the elephant


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Yosemite – (Yoh–sem–it–ee: For Mom/Madeleine)


Ok, so we had a beautiful drive into Yosemite, with great views of all the peaks and down into the valley.

The view over Yosemite valley, with the Half Dome in the distance

Once in the valley we hit all the information and wilderness offices to arrange the required permits to go backcountry hiking and camping for the next few days. Thankfully we managed to arrange a permit that would also allow us to climb the Half Dome, otherwise we would have to enter a lottery as there are only so many permits issued per day. Once we had all of our permits in hand we headed to the campground reservation office to arrange a site for the night. The ranger there was nice enough to let us know that everything in the valley was 100% full, so our only option was to sleep in our tent at a walk in only site. We weren’t keen for an extra night in the tent, but the only other option was to drive out of the valley again (at least an hours drive). As we were about to leave the ranger mentioned that we could put our names on a list, in the hope that we might get a site from a cancellation or no-show, but that the list already had 35 names, so would probably be a waste of time for us… Yippee, we were the second last to get a site! This was great because we really needed to get organized for our next 2 nights in the wilderness.

The next morning, Saturday, we emptied Ginger of all bear enticing food (everything!) and put it in the numerous bear bins around the trailhead parking lot. They show you lots of pictures of bears that tore through cars to get to food! The bears just peel the door from the the top of the window like a tin of sardines. We were pretty sure we’d be OK but wanted to make sure Ginger was safe while we were away.

We started trekking straight uphill for the next few hours with our packs. We thought we were making great progress until we got to a sign that said 8.4 MILES (not kms!) still to go to Merced Lake – and this was after already climbing for 3 hours! We didn’t make it to Merced Lake where we were to camp until 6pm, and were both dirty and completely pooped. When we double checked the map we had hiked 20km and climbed well over a 1,000 metres. We managed a wash in the freezing creek and a decent pasta dinner before flopping into bed. Despite the tough day it was a beautiful walk through steep sided glacier carved canyons with beautiful waterfalls and streams.

The valley we hiked up

Dave with pack on

Christine enjoying breakfast

Hiking back down the valley

We had a slower morning the next day and decided to go back the same way we came as the rivers on the other side of the loop we had planned were all dried up. No water to drink is not so cool. We had a really nice leisurely walk back to the bottom of the big Half Dome hike that we were anticipating so much for the next day. We had a wash, dinner and then hung out by the communal campfire and met some really friendly and interesting fellow hikers. Especially the entertaining Wisconsin guys!

Chilling at the camp site

We were up pretty early on Monday to start our ascent of the famous Half Dome.

Great views on the way up

Dave – still climbing

We made it to the bottom of the really steep cable climb by about 10:30 (after an introductory steep and scary part).

The view up to Half Dome on the way up

Zoomed in on the ‘U’ you can just see the climbers on the cable way

After watching some others start the climb and then give up we both decided that we were happy not to go to the top and chickened out. Too freakin steep and scary!

Looking at the cable way

After an early lunch and observing the cables we both reconsidered and found ourselves at the bottom scrummaging through all the discarded gloves looking for a pair that would do. After we fitted ourselves out we started the steep and horrifying ascent, almost straight up (well it felt like it!). Slowly, slowly we pulled ourselves up and eventually made it to the fantastic and well worth it summit.

Christine coming up to the top

Looking back down the cables

Great views over the valley

Christine on top of the dome

The obligatory couple photo

Great views from the top

After all the photo ops were exhausted we started climbing down, which Christine thought was much more frightening than going up. Dave helped guide Christine down as did the many fellow climbers who could sense that she was a having a bit of a freak out.

Christine on the way down

But all is well that ends well and we both made it down safely!

VERY happy to be down

Except we still had 5+ hours of hiking down to do. It was another very long day, but we were thrilled to see Ginger, not bear scarred, and looking like a palace. So happy that we had reserved ahead at one of the busy Valley campsites, and that we could finally take a hot shower again.

Tuesday we were up early and on the road to the north eastern part of Yosemite – Tuolumne Meadows. Ginger climbed like a champion to a new all time high of 2700m and we got a nice campsite. We took it easy exploring by bike the flat meadows and river area. Then we vegged out at the campsite, wrote this blog, drank some wine and rested our poor feet. A great day!

Christine on Tuolumne Meadows

Dave – just standing

Christine – just standing

Dave very happy to be finished hiking!


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Note: This blog was ready to post last Thursday (13 Sept), but we couldn’t find decent internet access, so it’s going up a week late – Sorry!

We started our California adventure by heading to Lassen Volcanic National Park which is a few hours from the border. But a very mountainous and hilly few hours. And of course we were arriving there late and it was dark and the deer were out in full force. We didn’t make it to our destination and instead parked a few miles short in a campsite along the road for the night. The next morning, after a few more ascents with Ginger we arrived at the National Park entrance and got all the info we needed. We spent the day checking out all the volcano hot spots, literally, and getting ready for our first backcountry hike the next day.

The view from up high on Mt Lassen

Looking down into Bumpass Hell

The steaming vents and landscape at Bumpass Hell

The sulphurous steam at Bumpass Hell

Our backcountry hike was around a couple of lakes, Butte and Snag lake, volcano lava fields and a final climb up and over a cinder cone.

Ready to hit the trail!

The view of the lava field and cinder cone across Butte Lake

It was hard going with the terrain being mostly sand and fine cinder. Christine was not impressed. We saw lots of deer enroute and they even came to visit us at our camp site.

Hiking around Snag Lake

Christine deer spotting

Christine and the friendly deer around camp

A bear also came pretty close and just as we were about to start cooking our dinner. But he pretty much stayed to himself and did a little bit of washing in the lake before heading in the opposite direction of us. Phewf! Before going to bed we tied up all our food and scented things and hung them between a couple of trees a distance away from our camp. We didn’t have any problems and did manage to get a pretty good sleep in our new sleeping bags and matts. And the tent also was a success.

Our new camping gear

The black bear at the lake

Dave remembers that there are Hershey bars in the bear bag!!

The edge of the lave field at Snag Lake

Christine climbing the cinder cone – and hating it!

The lava fields from the cinder cone

The view from the cinder cone, with Snag Lake in the distance

Dave on top of the volcano

The crater of the cinder cone

We made it out of the woods on Monday and headed to a campground to shower, do some laundry and get ready for San Francisco. We’re going into the big city!

Dave, very happy to be finished hiking

We left Tuesday and drove through a fair bit of traffic to land at Glenn and Emma’s, friends of Dave’s from Melbourne, in downtown San Fran. They even were so gracious as to give up there bed to us! And we really appreciated the 2 nights of comfort and space. When we got there Tuesday we went out for a super meal at a Peruvian restaurant. The next day we got up and out and explored the city. Mostly walking and looking at the Golden Gate Bridge, the steep hills, the cable car, the seals, etc… Lots to see and a beautiful day to do it.

In San Francisco, with the Golden Gate bridge behind

The seals at the fishermans wharf

The famous cable cars

The steep streets of San Fran, with Alcatraz island in the background

Dave riding the cable cars

At dinner with Glenn and Emma. Thanks again guys!!!

After a very long lie in on Thursday morning we loaded the bikes back on the van and hit the road again. We are now in an RV park just outside of Yosemite National Park, and will hit the park first thing in the morning.

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Just Coast-ing

After visiting Mt St Helen’s we headed South into Oregon.  Dropped into the city of Portland for some great pizza for dinner and a nice walk around the city centre.  As it was still Labor Day weekend we opted to spend another night in a Walmart to avoid the crowds.  We chose one right near the big factory outlet stores as this was the plan for the next morning.  As far as the Walmart camping, it has definitely improved since our Abbotsford experience.  Our two most recent nights in a Walmart have been quiet and we both slept well.

The outlet stores turned into a big day of shopping, where we both bought enough t-shirts (much needed) to last us until 2022.  We also visited an REI outdoor store and kitted ourselves out with a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, and a cooker.  Now we are all prepared for some backcountry exploring in the California National Parks.  California here we come!!!

After the hassles of city life we decided to head for the coast again.  We easily got a nice campsite since all the weekenders were gone home and the school year has started.  Now it’s just us and all the gray nomads!  We’ve spent most of the week slowly working our way down the Oregon Coast which has been stunningly beautiful.   ‘A real treat’ said a park ranger and we must agree.

On Cannon beach – ‘The Haystack’ in the background

View along the Oregon coast

Beautiful views while driving the Oregon coast

The bummer was that it was mostly enveloped in a thick cold fog which limited the, what must have been, spectacular views.

Heavy fog along sections of the coast

Fog rolling onto the beach

We had a lot of fun playing on the sand dunes which can be up to 150m tall and extend for kilometres from the beach.  Well, except for the nosedive that Dave took but sadly due to a camerawoman malfunction there is no photographic evidence – darn.  It was pretty funny and no one was hurt in the process, besides Dave’s pride. There are huge dune areas where you can go crazy on dune buggies, though we decided rolling down the dunes was more fun, and cheaper.

Christine climbing a sand dune

Dave and dune buggies

Christine having some fun

Dave descending Bear Gryll’s style

One of the big concerns we had on the way across Canada was getting Ginger up and over the Rocky Mountains, and especially Rogers Pass which was a climb to 1300m.  We thought that once she was over that it would be an easy run all the way South.  So it came as a bit of a surprise when we had to pull Ginger over for a cool down after she had climbed 700m without a break.  A quick check of the map gave us an even greater suprise when we saw two more passes we had to go over, both over 1500m high.  Oh well, nothing for it but to give it a try.  This was all because we decided to head inland to check out Crater Lake National Park, which as the name suggest is a lake inside a volcano crater.  By the end of the day Ginger had climbed from sea level to over 2300m, a great achievement for the ol’ girl, and a good confidence booster for us.

Not a bad view while letting Ginger have a breather

We had a quick view of the lake as the sun was going down, and decided to head back in the morning for another look and a hike along the calderas edge.

The sun setting over Crater Lake


Crater Lake


On our morning hike

Great views during the climb

We are now stopped for quick re-supply, and hope to be in California this afternoon!


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We were happily reunited with Ginger on Saturday at Krista and Steve’s in Maple Ridge.  Ginger was despicable with dirt and covered in bug guts and bits, so we decided to treat her with a much deserved scrub and pressure wash.

Bug bits removal

For dinner we were treated with Krista’s homemade perogies- yum!

The Saunders family – Thanks again!!

Sunday was a bit of a maintenance day, when we caught up with our laundry, cleaned, oiled and fixed up the bikes, as well as checking and topping up all the fluids in the van, etc…  We also met up with some of Christine’s friends, Marilyn and Doug, for a coffee and chat.
Monday we hit the road again and actually went back east.  We picked up a fishing licence and some local flies for Dave, and headed for Skagit Valley Provincial Park, just passed the town of Hope.  Unfortunately it was a 60km long rough and heavily corrugated dirt road into the river and campsites.  Dave thought some humorous comments about how great the fishing must be would make the drive more enjoyable.  It didn’t.
Once we finally made it to camp we were swarmed by clouds of mosquitoes as soon as we opened the van doors.  Not fun.  We hid ourselves in the van for most of the evening to avoid the mosquitoes,  which was also a good way to force ourselves back into our Spanish lessons after slacking off in Vancouver.  Dave managed to get in a full morning of fishing the next morning, but sadly no fish to report yet.  It was a beautiful river to fish though!

The beautiful Skagit river

We had planned to have 2 nights in the Skagit Valley, but the mosquitoes drove us out early. They were honestly that bad!!
We then planned to head towards civilisation, but found ourselves instead at Abbotsford Walmart parking lot.  Because we still had fruit and meat that we had planned to eat in Skagit Valley, we thought we’d camp out at Walmart and prepare for our first international border crossing early the next morning.  Some scary looking neighbours here!  We gorged ourselves on the fruit we had that we thought wouldn’t get over the border.  A long and noisy night with lots of local hooligans and cars revving and tire squealing…. I guess Walmart camping may not always be such a great idea.
Oh, and gorging on fruit is not the best of ideas when you have to share a 19ft van all of the next day… I won’t name the culprit, but it wasn’t Dave.
The border crossing was uneventful, as one would hope.  The only thing we lost was a couple of potatoes!   They took a quick look through the van, mostly for our fruits and veg. Dave had to do an immigration form, and surprisingly they still let him in.  Took exactly 1.5 hours.   We then headed South past Seattle (amazingly awful traffic) towards Olympic National Park, kind of in the north west corner of Washington State.  We had a quick stop at IHOP to celebrate our first border crossing with a true American sized meal.  We finally pulled into a campsite about an hour after dark, and were quickly in bed after an unexpectedly long day!
We didn’t actually make it to our Olympic Park destination and with the looming Labour Day long weekend we decided to change course a bit. We headed to the Washington Coast and to Ocean City where we found a campsite near the beach. Here the highway is actually the beach too!  We drove on it a bit with Ginger and then on our bikes. Beautiful but freakin cold and windy!

Ginger enjoying the Washington State coast

Biking on the beach

The next day we went further south along the coast and went to Long Beach, which claims to be the longest beach in the world. This is in fact false and when we got the chance we googled it and found that the longest is Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.  But it was a pristine beach, especially in the state park area.

Exploring some slightly overgrown beach trails

Christine finding the trail through the dunes


We had this amazing beach all to ourselves

We opted to stay at a Walmart to avoid the search for a campsite with all the other long weekenders. It was a 24 hours store and after a shop we had a good night sleep.
Today we visited Mount St Helen’s. Christine’s seen it a couple of times over the years but it’s always cool to see the changes and re-growth. We did the visitor centres and got pretty close but didn’t make it to the end of the road. It was very hilly and would have been a big climb for an ’88 van!  Especially when we could already see into the crater from a lower view point.

Ginger enjoying the view to Mount St Helens

The view to Mt St Helen, showing the large slide and blast crater from the 1980 eruption

We are now sitting in a McDonald’s and watching the “home community” as Christine’s mother would say.


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