I'm home now, catching up on all the orders that came in while I was away, and marveling at how big my house seems now that I'm not confined to a car. So much room for activities (and junk)!
Our last park on our way home was Indiana Dunes. This is a tiny park alongside the shores of Lake Michigan. It seems silly, but I realized I had never actually swam in any of the Great Lakes until now. I've always been on the St. Lawrence. So knocked that off the bucket list. We went for a short walk through a bog and saw some flowers (and some mosquitoes) and then hung out on the beach for a while, sunbathing. The water wasn't as cold as Lake Tahoe, but we still didn't spend much time in it. We also took a look at a bunch of "houses of tomorrow" that were designed for the 1933 World's Fair, and moved to the shore afterwards. Some pretty cool architecture on display.
We got into Ohio that night, just barely, and stayed at a motel that smelled like cigarettes and weed. There wasn't much in the area- I was hoping to find something a little nicer for our last night on the road, but no luck. Sunday we spent all day in the car, anxiously counting down the miles. We got home just before sunset... but it was a little sad to get out of the car.
The grass is tall, the house is dusty, and there's laundry to be done. Not to mention I have about a dozen orders waiting to be sent out today, and a few clients eager to get back to work. I hope I'll get some time soon to start going through all my photos in depth, and start painting and designing with a fervor!
Thursday we drove our way through Kansas and stayed the night just outside of St. Louis, MO. I have to say, Kansas surprised me with how pretty it was. The western side was quite flat, but still quite pleasant. Then the further east we got, the more rolling hills and sedimentary rock we saw, and it wasn't a boring drive at all. We had dinner at Big Daddy's BBQ just outside of Kansas City, and went to the Gateway Arch on the way to see Karen and the kids in Indianapolis.
The area around the arch is super flooded at the moment- I'm glad the monument wasn't affected. This isn't really a national "park", more of a city park surrounding a cool monument. We didn't expect to stay long, but the museum under the arch was larger and more interesting than we expected- spent at least 2 hours looking at all the pioneer exhibits. We've noticed that the park service has done a really good job including the history of the Native Americans, and their connections to each park region, not just the people who came after. However, this was one park where the emphasis was really on "go west, young man" and the pioneer settlements to the detriment of the Native populations- its a little awkward to be in a museum that both celebrates something at the same time as it recognizes how awful it was to many.
We got to Indianapolis a little later than we intended, but we still had plenty of time to hang out with my sister and our nieces and nephew, have a nice dinner (and an awesome Butterbeer birthday cake!), some time in the hot tub, and a good night's rest. Hope to see you all again soon!
Wednesday morning we got up early and headed for the Grand Lake entrance to Rocky Mountain NP. We weren't able to drive the scenic road through the park our first time around, because of late spring snows, so we were hoping to hit it on the way back. We checked again at the visitor center, hoping the trail ridge road across the park might have opened up, but no luck. We would have to go back out of the park and drive all the way around, rather than just driving through (plus missing those alpine views!) We drove up as high as we could before the road closure, up to the Continental Divide, where the plowed snowbanks were still over our heads.
We slowly made our way back down, hiking a short way near the beginning of the Colorado River. We also checked out the Holzwarth historic settlement, and made a picnic lunch there. We decided to hike the Coyote Valley trail, but we barely got 100 yards onto the trail when we found the way blocked by a young male moose, taking his time munching on weeds.
We stood there for a while watching it, but it seemed in no hurry to move, so we gave up on the hike, contented ourselves with taking pictures and talking to some other hikers. They casually mentioned in passing that the Trail Ridge Road had opened at noon! We decided to finish our final hike, and hope it wouldnt close again before we left.
We drove past Grand Lake to the Adams Falls trailhead, another short and easy hike. We got to the falls, and some other hikers told us they had just seen a baby moose another half mile up the trail. So we hiked a little further, and watched the baby moose from afar for a while until other some hikers spooked it.
We headed back up the mountain, and the pass was still open when we got there! The snowbanks kept getting higher, and the trees soon disappeared as we gained elevation into the tundra, but the roads were fine. We reached the summit, somewhere around 12,050ft, and hiked the Tundra Communities trail even higher up to the ridge in the snow. It was pretty spectacular, but the sky soon started getting dark, it started snowing, and we heard some thunder, so we didnt stay long. Back down to the east side of the park, and onward! We made it just into Kansas that night, and got a hotel. We have two more parks to see on the way back east, but we have a lot of tiresome driving, so I think we're done camping for the trip.
We spent all day Sunday driving The Loneliest Road through Nevada to Great Basin National Park. I never want to drive through Nevada again. I'll take Wyoming any day. The landscape was quite starkly beautiful, but I just can't handle the huge vast distances, with no people or signs of civilization.
If you're like me, you know nothing about Great Basin. The ranger described it as a representative sample of the entire Great Basin desert region, between the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch mountains. It spans low sagebrush desert to high bristlecone forest. Sadly the highest part of the road, and those trails to the summit, were still closed due to late snowfalls, so we weren't able to get up to see the bristlecones, but it was a lovely view from down below. We took several scenic drives through the park, along Snake Creek, Baker Creek, and up as far as we could go, around 9000 ft.
The coolest part, however, was Lehman Cave. We didn't even know there was a cave in this park, and it is a rather small one compared to Mammoth or Wind Cave, but it had such beautiful intricate formations that it was definitely worth the last-minute tour! I especially loved the Cypress Swamp room, where the pools were all filled with water from the recent rain and snow.
Today we took our time driving back through Utah (I'll miss those beautiful rocks!) towards Rocky Mountain NP to explore the Western side of the park. We were shocked to hear that the seasonal scenic Trail Ridge road from one side to the other is still closed due to snow- they had expected to open it by now. But we'll explore as much of the western side as we can tomorrow, and then continue to head back East.
Late Friday night Tim and I made it to South Lake Tahoe, where Tim's sister Beth lives. We got there pretty late, so we just talked for a bit and went to bed. The next morning, while Beth was in class, Tim and I went sightseeing above Emerald Bay, near Eagle Falls. It's a really beautiful place, I can understand why someone might want to stay there. We lounged around a bit after that, having an easy rest day, and did some sunbathing at the beach. We all took the dogs for a walk above the lake that evening, and had a delicious Mexican dinner at a place just around the corner. Feeling refreshed!
Accommodations in or near Yosemite are hard to come by, so we ended up staying about 45-50 minutes away from Yosemite valley, in the nearest town with a tesla supercharger. We got to the Narrow Gauge Inn in Fish Camp the night before we planned to spend two days in Yosemite. This park is Tim's favorite, so we wanted to have plenty of time to explore. The Inn was very charming, with a bunch of little historical features and touches, including a 1950's fire engine parked in a garage out front. We drove in to the valley first thing the next morning to take in all the sights.
We went to Bridalveil Falls first, and water was just streaming down the walkways. With all the rain the west coast has been having, and the heavy winter snows, the waterfalls were intense and the river was high. We walked to Lower Yosemite Falls, walked around the meadow, explored Curry Village, gazed up at El Capitan and Half Dome, and spotted rock climbers while eating lunch.
We still had all afternoon, and the weather was beautiful, so I suggested we hike up far enough to view upper Yosemite Falls, only about a 3mi round trip.However, it was a lot steeper than I had bargained for, but Tim stayed positive and kept me going, until we got to the beautiful views at the top.
About 15 minutes after we started back down, we started to hear thunder, and the lightning wasn't far behind. We started hustling down the mountain at a much quicker rate than we climbed it, as the raindrops started, then got harder, then harder still. It was pouring pretty well by them time we were running across the parking lot, and about 3 minutes after we climbed into the car, it started to hail. The hail didn't last long, but I'm glad we got back to the safety of the car when we did.
Since it was our last night in the hotel, and I was feeling tired and sore and damp, Tim cheered me up by treating me to an early birthday dinner at our hotel. It has a charming little historic restaurant on site, and I had a delicious dinner, glass of wine, slice of cake, and an early night. This has been a great way to end my 30th year!
The following morning we checked out of the hotel, and got to the park nice and early to get in another hike. This time we took the Mist Trail up to Vernal Falls and the Emerald Pool, with a view of Nevada Falls. This was a much less punishing hike than the day before, with absolutely stunning views at the top (although its true to its name, and we got quite wet). Sadly I forgot my camera in the car, but Tim had his, so I'll have to grab those later, but it was beautiful. And Tim even managed to find me a rainbow for my birthday! By the time we hiked back down, the rain had started again. We drove up to Glacier Point to get one last misty view before leaving the valley,and we got on the road to Lake Tahoe.
Wednesday we drove into King's Canyon NP, and hiked the Big Stump trail. This has tons of giant sequoia stumps from before the area was protected. It's a little sad, but also gives you a good scale for how large they are. One of them had been cut down and "reassembled" for one of the World's Fairs, although apparently most people at the time thought it was fake. Another has been sliced up and different sections are on display in various museums. Older stumps are just from settlers harvesting timber.
We passed by several rustic campsites, and took a detour to Hume Lake, which would be a lovely place for a family to come spend a tranquil week on vacation. The drive down into the canyon was very impressive. I didn't know much about this park before we came, but it is really beautiful.
We stopped to view a couple of waterfalls, including Roaring River Falls, and walked around the meadow. What a peaceful place.
Our drive into Sequoia National Park couldn't have been more different from the drive down into Death Valley. We headed straight into the mountains, the temperature started dropping, we started to see snow in the trees, and it was very foggy that morning. The fog, however, made the trees really loom out at you in a very cool way.
We hiked to the top of Moro Rock, which supposedly has very good views of the surrounding woods and mountains. It was so foggy when we started it felt like climbing through a cloud, we couldn't see below or above us. We decided to hang out there for a few minutes in the hopes it would clear. We talked with a couple from Australia who were traveling around in an awesome adventure vehicle covered in maps and stickers of the countries they had been to. We had seen them at the last couple of parks, we seemed to be on the same route. They had been shipping their vehicle all over the world for the last decade, traveling several continents. Finally, the fog cleared enough to show us the mountaintops floating in the clouds all around us.
We drove through the tunnel tree, and went to see General Sherman, the largest tree by volume in the world. We hiked the Congress Trail through the Grove and looked at a bunch more giant sequoias, many still standing despite impressive forest fire scars. Most of the time I couldn't fit the trees fully in the frame.
These trees are just massive! Wish we had some on the east coast. There's one tree that had fallen over, and you can stand up inside it. It could have been lying like this for hundreds of years, they take so long to decay.
Finally have wifi again! It's been pretty spotty this last week. Sunday we drove from the Grand Canyon to Death Valley (one of the longer drives of this trip) and when we got there in the afternoon it was around 85 degrees, and the winds were probably about 30 mph. You could see huge sand plumes blowing across the desert floor from far away. We spent longer than usual in the visitor's center looking at all the exhibits, and decided to do a couple of scenic drives, and see what we could without getting out of the car much. We drove the Artist's Palette road, which had a bunch of really interesting rock formations with different mineral colors all jumbled together. We didn't expect to see so much color in the desert. We were also surprised at first how narrow the valley seemed, but that's just because the mountains surrounding it are so tall. The distances are deceiving, and our drives and walks were definitely longer than they looked at first.
We went to the Zabriskie Point overlook. We decided to brave the winds to look out over the badlands there. It was high enough that we weren't getting sandblasted, and it was pretty funny fighting against the wind just to get up the hill. The we drove the 20-mule road (a twisty old mining route that was a bit of an off-road adventure).
We had planned to snag a spot at the camprgound at Furnace Creek, but when we got there, we saw how the winds were blowing all the sand right through the campground, as there were no trees or anything to provide shelter. It seemed a better idea to head back to the town outside the park and treat ourselves to a hotel for the night. We explored a little mining ghost town right outside of the park on the way back. It had been such a long drive getting there, we couldn't do much that day, and we had another long drive to Sequoia after this, so we decided to spend an extra day hike the desert the next morning, and drive to Sequoia and camp there for the night, so we would have a full day in Sequoia as well. Glad we planned for a couple of extra days in case we wanted to spend a little extra time somewhere.
The following day was really cool, although I can't seem to find the pictures I took, so I'll have to steal them from Tim. We went to the "Devil's Golf Course", a section of desert floor that's all jagged salt and mineral formations. We also went to the lowest place in North America, Badwater Basin, a salt flat that is 282 ft below sea level. Again, distances were quite deceiving- we walked out it for quite a while before we reached what seemed to be the middle. The white was blinding in the sun, thankfully I brought my sunglasses. We drove to Sequoia that night and found an RV site to plug into.
Today we webn to the Grand Canyon! I've been looking forward to this one. Because of our trip route, we went to the North Rim, which only gets about 10% of the visitors the South Rim does. The views were still pretty great, and it was nice after the crowd at Zion, although there were still a good number of people around. We got there nice and early, and had breakfast at the Grand Canyon Lodge, which was beautiful. We hiked the short but lovely Bright Angel Trail, did the (not-so) scenic drive to a far viewpoint, then drove back to the Lodge where I did some plein air painting and Tim sunbathed on the veranda. You can't quite wrap your mind around the scale of how wide it is- up to 18 miles across in some spots. Finished the day with another hike through the forest and around the rim, and headed back to the campsite. On to Death Valley tomorrow- bring on the heat!