“Ikon-ic” Winter – Side Trips (California)

April 11-12, 2019 As we were unable to pay for our site at Yosemite National Park’s Wawona Campground  the night before, we waited for the park aide to open the entrance station.  Seeing as Ethan (our #VanLife friend) is a medically retired Veteran, he offered to apply his discount to the site we occupied. Soon enough we are on the road to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park.  This jointly run park (since 1940), is the second oldest National Park in the country (Yellowstone 1872, being the first). [Sequoia National Park having been created on September 25, 1890, and General Grant National Park (Kings Canyon) added a week later make it (Sequoia) #2 and #3 (Kings Canyon – maybe #4, as Yosemite may techinically have Kings Canyon/General Grant beat by a day or two) in the National Parks lineage.]  Out of Yosemite National Park, Wawona road melds into State Route (SR) 41, and skirts Freson as we turn “uphill” onto SR 180.  It takes us just under 3 hours to reach the entrance to Kings Canyon, “Land of the Giants”. img_20190411_113314412_hdr Kings Canyon National Park holds a special place in my heart, as it is where I got my first introduction to backpacking and camping in the “wild”. When I was 10 years old(or there abouts), and for Father’s Day, my dad and I went on a short backpacking trip to fish some streams in the area.  As I recall, less than an hour into the hike, I slipped and fell while crossing a stream (and looking for fish), which resulted in me becoming completely soaked…backpack and all.  My father reacted with an often heard phrase, “Now why’d you have to go and do that?”  As we enter, snow flanks the edges of road.  Signs posted along the road to the entrance remind us that chains may be required, and certainly 4WD is a plus.  We drive to Grant Grove Village where the Kings Canyon Visitor Center (open 9-4, daily) is located and inquire about trail conditions…if micro spikes or snowshoes would be more appropriate.  We are advised that snow shoes would be a “plus”, so we done our MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes and tromps our way over uneven and often pine needle encrusted snow to the General Grant Tree, also known as the “Nation’s Christmas Tree and a national shrine”.   The General Grant Tree is a giant sequoia.  Giant sequoias only grow “naturally” on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountain range between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. img_20190411_133225639 Under increasingly clouding skies and icy cool air we clumsily make our way to experience one of the world’s natural treasures.  Once again, we have a normally crowded park to ourselves.  Due to the excessive and late falling amount of snow, all of the campgrounds are still closed.  Day use, and/or those staying in the John Muir Lodge in Grant Grove Village are the only visitors, which are remarkably few.   We are relative novices to the “art” of snowshoeing, and thus there is a slight learning curve.  One must pay particular attention to maintaining a wider gait to avoid stepping on one’s “feet”, which more than once resulted in a face plant into somewhat unforgiving snow.  Luckily there was no one nearby to witness our follies, or our frustration would have gotten the better of us. img_20190411_140320480_hdrWe made it to paved loop trail (that we could also have driven to) that contains the General Grant Tree and several other unique sites, and removed our snow shoes.  img_20190411_143021238img_20190411_140134815The General Grant Tree is fenced off so it is difficult to really show off this tree’s (and several others) massive girth and height.  The giant sequoias grow to upwards of 300 ft, with 40 foot diameter bases, 31 inch bark and branches that can be 8 ft in diameter.  These trees are resistant to fire and insects. In fact, their small egg sized cones generally only open and drop their seeds with fire.  img_20190411_142019498These magnificent trees mostly die of old age, generally having been blown over due to their shallow root system.  We meander along the trail, reading the interpretive signs and shaking our heads in wonder. img_20190411_142319107_burst000_cover_topWe make our way through the “fallen monarch”, and note newly fallen giant limbs having intersected violently with the wood rail fencing meant to keep visitors from wandering off the paved trail.  It makes us question the “wisdom” of walking back through the forest as the wind begins to pick up.  Literally throwing caution to the wind, we step back into our snowshoes and huff our way back to Grant Village and the warmth of our truck.  We are in luck, for the 32.5 miles, Generals Highway, that links King Canyon National Park with Sequoia National Park, has been plowed and is open. Had we arrived a day earlier, we would not have had the opportunity to drive this winding, narrow, steep, and scenic byway.  Vehicles greater than 22 ft are not recommended, and vehicles greater than 40 ft (12 m) are restricted from traveling on this road, even with a posted 10 mph speed limit.  We soon learned why. As it was built in 1935, most of today’s vehicle size (and speed) exceed the original design of this expertly engineered highway.  As of July of 2019, road construction has begun to widen narrow portions, fix/reinforce retaining walls and drainage issues.  Because of the still lingering depth of snow, we were not able to find a safe place in which to park our truck amidst the small and mostly filled to capacity lot, near the General Sherman Tree (274.9 ft), for the short snowy walk to gaze upon the “world’s largest living tree”.  We vow to return when conditions are better and the park shuttles are running, so as to avoid the stress of parking amongst “amateurs”. We continue on the Generals Highway and are not surprised to find that all other side trips within the park, like Morrow Rock, Crescent Meadow and Crystal Cave are all snow bound and thus inaccessible. What we are surprised to find is that as Generals Highway descends 7000 ft, out of the forest it weaves its way via butt-clenching, narrow, hairpin switchbacks that smoke our brakes to the point of significant worry.  (Note to self, on return trip, come up this way via SR 198 into Sequoia & Kings National Park and exit via SR 180.)
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Note the silver ribbon of road that winds its way down the mountain

The views are stunning (for me).  Paul’s eyes are glued to the roadway, the at times head-on traffic and incessant tight and steep turns so as not to quicken our descent (or take a more “direct” route) down to the middle fork of the Kaweah River.  As no campgrounds were open in the upper portions of Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, and road side camping is not allowed, our only hope to find a spot to camp is in the Foothills Campgrounds at either Buckeye Flat or Potwisha.  We pull into the Hospital Rock day use lot to let our brakes to cool off.  Across from there is the Buckeye Flats Campground whose entrance is a little too tricky for us to pull off with confidence in our truck.  Potwisha is our only hope. If not, the nearest Walmart here we come.  We pull into Potwisha and are able to grab the only site open…for one night only.  Hurray!   Exhausted we set up our camper surrounded by tall green grass and trees with brilliant fuscia colored flowers exploding from its branches.  The Middle Fork of the Kaweah River rages nearby.  No cell service exists here (for anyone), but an “ancient” and operable payphone provides connection to the “outside” world…if needed.  This reminds us that it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to always activate and bring our 5 year old Delormne InReachSE (now Garmin) with us on our adventures, great and small.  Although the campground is full, we are treated to a quiet night’s sleep.  The following morning, after a cup of coffee and a bite to eat, we finish our descent of Generals Highway and exit Sequoia National Park onto SR 198 and head toward Visallia, the I-99 and eventually the I-5 freeway…home. Relieved that we have made it to a flat and wide roadway unscathed with brakes relatively intact, we come to a stop at our first traffic light only to find that once the light turns green, we are only able to accelerate at idle speed. The truck is running, we are in gear, but pressing the gas pedal generates no response.  We limp our way to the side of the road and pull off into an orchard.  A look under the hood and under the chasis does not reveal anything of note.  Luckily we have cell service, and our diesel mechanic at Rincon in San Clemente answers the phone.  Trouble shooting ensues as Paul and our mechanic tick off the possible problems.  At last it is discovered that the throttle cable head has become dislodged, actually worn to the point of failure.  Somehow the cable head needs to be re-attached in order for us to limp home, or even get to a mechanics shop.  After numerous failed  attempts at zipties, miraculously, Paul is able to rig a bungee cord to the throttle head/cable that allows us to limp all the way home.  As we traveled home, praying that the fix would hold, we can’t help but laugh about how all our adventures seem to begin and end with some form of mishap.
Posted in Calilfornia, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park, Mini Adventures, Mis-adventures, Side Trips, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Ikon-ic” Winter – Side Trips (California)

April 9-10, 2019

As we rejoined the I-97 southbound from our failed attempt to peruse Crater Lake National Park in its state of snowy wonder, we considered heading to Squaw Valley to ski for a couple of days, then thought better of it. Instead we decided to take the road less traveled, and do we mean less traveled…especially at dark, to Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite National Park

As we neared Sacramento and were directed by Google Maps to take the I-99 to the 120 through “rush hour” traffic, I devised a plan to take a more scenic and what was supposed to be a less “stressful” route, and certainly a more scenic than following the 99 and going through Stockton. Thus, we turned off the I-5 to the 50 east, to the 16 and then onto the Historic Hwy 49.  It was pleasant, at first, as we travelled through rolling hills with rich green mighty oaks, that reminded me of my youth. Green grass, sprinkled with yellow, purple and white blooms of Spring, along with golden poppies, and purple lupin carpet the green velvet landscape. We drove through quaint towns like Amador City, Sutter Creek and Jackson as dusk fell. It wasn’t until the latter part of our route, when we somehow got turned around in Altaville and ended up going E/B on the 4 that we realized that I should have listened to “Martha” (Google Maps).  If it had been daylight, this entire drive would have been remarkable, and even fun. But it wasn’t. Rather than backtrack to the 49 (Why would we do something “sensible” like that?), we took an “alternate” route that would take us to Hwy 120.  Thus, in the dark of what was now night for these parts, we turned at the small town of Copperopolis whose new, but old-timey downtown that glowed like an emergency beacon in the darkness, and onto O’Byrnes Ferry Rd. In no time, our drive became, for lack of a better description, Frick’n Scary! Imagine a pitch dark (wilderness dark), narrow, two lane, sinuous road with dips, banked turns, poor signage, no cell service and wildlife, in a RAM 2500 with a camper. We had forgotten to account for how dark it gets in the country-side, or central California for that matter, at “home” in Southern California, some form of ambient light is inescapable, and the norm, to some degree. For a tense 1 .5 hours we drove till we intersected with Hwy 120 and finally found a place to camp outside of Yosemite, at the Don Pedro Lake Recreation Area, Moccasin Point Campground, just off  Hwy 120.  It cost us $16, and again, we had this place to ourselves.

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Having never visited this campground before, it took us a couple to “laps” to find the “right spot”, and then drive all the way back to the kiosk to self-register and pay. Needless to say, considering how tired we were, the selection process became a little “heated”. Having to dig for exact change didn’t help. As usual, a good night sleep generally fixes everything. We awoke to turkeys walking the campground and bright blue skies. Perfect for the final leg to Yosemite Valley. Once on the road, we were glad that we had found the Don Pedro campground, for the remaining drive on Hwy 120 was even sketchier than our night drive, but ooh so beautiful. A small sports car would have been the ideal vehicle of choice for last night’s and this morning’s drive. As we exited the tunnel, the scenery opened up which required an obligatory stop for a photo and to take in the beauty.

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We look in awe, as the Merced River leads our eyes to Yosemite Valley. We enter the Valley and immediately check to see if camping is available. Unfortunately, and although it is early in the season, nothing is available due to the effects of the heavy snow year which has left fallen limbs and flooding throughout a majority of the campsites. In previous years, securing a site would have been no problem. Since it was fairly early in the morning, we found a parking spot near the Visitor Center…in a puddle, which were practically unavoidable.

From here, we played tourist and took the path to Lower Yosemite Falls (320 ft), that ironically in all the times we have come to Yosemite, we have never actually walked to this particular falls. On the way you can see Upper Yosemite Falls (2425 ft), but once you reach Lower Yosemite Falls that view is mostly obscurred. We arrive at the Lower Falls and witness a white cascading torrent of water billowing from the falls. Mist cools our skin and coats our sunglasses, even at a “healthy” distance.

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The walk back to the lot adjacent to the visitor center include a nice view of Half Dome

Satisfied, we returned to our truck to find that our lot (all the lots) is now completely full and vehicles are “pacing” through the parking lot, waiting to pounce on the next available parking spot. We waived them off and made lunch, with a plan to take the inner park shuttle to Curry Village, or rather Half Dome Village (I will never get used to the name change), and hike to Nevada Falls.

From Half Dome Village, we begin our walk to Vernal Falls. We make it up to Vernal Falls, with a herd of people (again, we forgot it was still Spring Break) and find that the 2.4 mile trail to Nevada Falls is closed due to a recent avalanche and trail damage, thus it is still covered in snow and some ice.

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Nevada Falls in the background

As we do not have our micro spikes with us, or trekking poles, we make an about face and weave our way back down the paved trail for a crammed bus ride back to the main lodge. In some ways, we feel like we are at an “out-doorsy” Disneyland with the “crowds” and diversity of visitors.  We feel “naked” without a giant camera hanging from our necks and “proper” hiking shoes and floppy hats.  Once off the bus, we stop and admire a “Stealth” Van and its #VanLife innovations. As luck would have it, its inhabitants arrived at the same time we were admiring their ingenuity. They let us inspect their craftsmanship.  Turns out that they are a young couple from Rhode Island on “ski-safari”, living the #VanLife…for now.  The young couple (Ethan & Bell) were also looking for a place to camp, so we figured we may see them again. As there was no was camping available in the Valley and we could not head toward Toulumne Meadows (our favorite part of Yosemite) due to Tioga road still being snowed in, we headed to the Wawona campground, in search of a site, but not before we got a glipse of Horsetail Falls  radiating in the sun. If you catch the falls in February when the sun is right, the falls will look like a lava flow.

This particular time of year, it only mists white.  A left turn off Northside Drive, over the El Capitan Bridge, followed by a right turn onto Wawona Rd, we are on our way.  img_20190410_174119602We stopped just before the tunnel, in a perfectly placed parking lot, and are treated to an iconinc view of the valley with El Capitan (3,000 ft), Half Dome (5,000 ft) and Ribbon Falls (1,612 ft) intesecting along a diagonal line.  When we arrive at the Wawona Campground we are pleased to find several sites open for the night.  img_20190410_191309870_hdrWe chose a spot in the upper park of the campground, a short walk from the South Fork of the Merced River.  In no time, Ethan and Bell also found their way into Wawona, and as there is room, they join us in our site.  We spent the evening chatting, sharing stories and whiskey.  In so many ways, they are a younger version of us.

The next morning we decide, on a whim, to head to Kings Canyon to see the BIG trees.

Posted in Car camping, Half Dome, Mini Adventures, National Parks, Uncategorized, Yosemite National Park | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ikon-ic” Winter – Side Trips (Oregon)

April 8-9, 2019 After leaving Crystal Mountain we weaved our way en route to Crater Lake, Oregon with hopes of visiting for a day or two, and hiking a portion of the rim in snow shoes.  Knowing that we wouldn’t be able to push all the way to Crater Lake, we searched for a place to camp, ideally for free.

Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint

Searching on-line for available camping, as we forgot to bring our full size Delorme maps, the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint came up.  As daylight was waining, this place would have to do.  Lucky for us, in the state of Oregon, per the Oregon DOT (ODOT) , you can “rest” for up to 12 hours in a 24 hour period at their “waysides” (or rest areas). This particular site and iconic viewpoint was named (per the park history) for Peter Skene Ogden (1794-1854), who was an “explorer, fur trapper, Hudson’s Bay Company chief trader and factor. Ogden was the principal explorer of the Snake River country and was among the first to visit the great Salt Lake basin. The city of Ogden, Utah, is named for him.”  Another mystery of how/why a city was named a particular name…solved.  We found it a pleasant stop, with a well maintained lawn with shaded areas, a restroom, and pathway to the uniquely scenic overlook of the Crooked River Gorge, wherein the Crooked River narrowly winds it way through 300 ft tall basalt cliffs.
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Looking from the Crooked River High Bridge toward the Rex T. Barber Veterans Memorial Bridge

In the morning we walked over, and onto the Crooked River High Bridge.  Had we stopped here between the months of May-October, we would have been tempted (not likely) to bungee jump off the nearly 100 year old (built in 1926) Crooked River High Bridge that is no longer in use for vehicle traffic.  Central Oregon Bungee Adventures are the concessionaires for this particular “adventure” which boasts to be the “tallest commercial bungee jump in North America”, with a 250ft “dive”. From the Crooked River High Bridge spans the Rex T. Barber Veterans Memorial Bridge (named for Barber who was a WWII flying ace who came from this area) , which unbeknownst to us was also the site of one of Oregon’s “sensational murders”.  These particularly heinous murders of two young children (ages 4 and 6) led to the first woman ever sentenced to death in Oregon. In short, in 1961 Jeannace Jane Freeman, and her partner (Gertrude Nunez) decided that Nunez’s two young children (4 y/o girl and 6 y/o boy) were cramping their style and interfered with their “fun”, so they pitched them off the bridge (whether it was the High Bridge or the Memorial one, is not specified).  People be crazy!  From here, we followed the cliff’s edge, perfectly protected by a basalt block wall, to the Crooked River Railroad Bridge that stands 320 ft tall, having been completed in 1911. Legs stretched and refreshed from our morning stroll of remarkable sights, we packed up and worked our way to Crater Lake.

Crater Lake National Park

As a result of this past season’s snow fall, only one route (the long one – Hwy 97 to Hwy 62 North to Munson Valley Rd) was available to Crater Lake.  It was a scenic and pleasant drive, until…we reached snow level, which was much lower than we expected.  img_20190409_132037382We were completely surprised (don’t know why) to see snow still lining the sides of the now barely two lane roadway.  When we reached the Crater Lake Post office, we found the turn off to the East Rim Village Drive closed, and virtually NO available parking that would allow us to park our truck and go on a snow shoe adventure.  img_20190409_132501323Who thought a Tuesday in April would be so busy…and snowy?  Oh wait, that’s right, it just happened to be Spring Break.  Sometimes being retired, and having no sense of “common” calendar events, throws a wrench into our adventures. Dejected, we hopped back in the truck and retraced our path to the I-97, south toward California.
Posted in Crater Lake National Park, Mini Adventures, Oregon, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

An “Ikonic” Winter – Part III

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April 3 – April 5, 2019

Upon leaving Utah, we pushed toward Washington and the Columbia River Gorge to visit with our friends Brian and Jody (aka “sidekick”) who had recently moved to Salmon River Washington. We exited Utah and drove through (Hwy 84 West) the lower half of Idaho via Hwy 30 (West). The route was pleasant and sparsely populated…for a California driver that is.

 

 

On the way we camped for the night at the Farewell Bend State Recreation Area in Oregon, along side the Snake River, that divides Oregon and Idaho. According to the interpretive signs in the park, this area (where the river truly “bends”) was called “Farewell Bend” as the Oregon Trail then took a “turn” overland (for a good distance) to the Columbia River. The campground has three loops with 122 sites, divided into 30 tent sites and 91 electrial/water hook-up sites. It is open to Day-Use year round, but is closed to camping during the months of December, January and February. From March 1-Nov 30, on the Catfish, or “C” loop is open which has sites 84-122.  The two other loops are open May 1- Oct 31. We were happy to find they had quite a few open sites. A “wild” night punctuated with sounds of running water and the incessant honking of geese in the throws of mating season made for a less than restful night.  I have to say, that after a short stroll around the campground, and down to the river, I can honestly say that I have never heard nor seen so many geese in my life.

The scenery was splendid, I only wish we could have “muted” it. Upon leaving Farewell Bend State Recreation Area, we drove along the I-30, which loosely follows the Oregon Trail, over often steep rolling hills where we often spied deer and a few elk. Eventually we came upon the Columbia River, which to me looked like a shipping lane.

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I had never seen a river so wide. Aw, the fish this river must hold, and the tales it could tell percolated in my mind. Just prior to making our destination and whilst crossing the bridge from Oregon to Washington, we spied our friend Brian paddling his surf ski in the river. Ironically, and simultaneously, he spied us as well. We had worked together for so many years that being aware of where your partner is, I guess never goes away. The rest of the day was spent touring their new house (and neighborhood), catching up and sharing a beer…or two. I can’t believe they moved so far away, but they do have an awesome view of Mt. Adams from their living room without having to camp in the dirt to see it.

Stole this from Brian’s Facebook page, as it was shrouded in clouds when we were there

While we would have liked to stay longer and explore more, I had to get up to Federal Way, Washington, to help officiate in the annual Rain City Spring Splash Water Polo Tournament.  Here we would “luxuriate” in a hotel for two nights…or so we thought.  As our luck would have it, the elevator broke (we were on the 5th floor) and the water had to be turned off due to grey nasty water flowing from the sink/tub and toilet. 1/3 of the refs were sick the next day.  Other than that, we had restfull nights sleep and tremendous hospitality at the tournament site.img_20190406_152531032I would officiate 13 games over two days, while Paul skied The Summit at Snoqualamie, a ski area that we had hiked through during our 2014 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike.  Paul attempted to ski Snoqualamie two days, both with less than enjoyable results.  He found the terrain dangerously icy, and entirely too late in the season to be worthwhile expending any amount of energy.  It should have been a clue, when the ski-patrol extolled him to “be careful out there, its really icy”. He thought the obviously young ski patrol person was being “age-ist”. Nope, she was just doing her job.  In any event we plan on returning to The Summit at Snoqualamie next season and giving it another go a month or two ealier so as to catch it prior to spring sleeting season.  Once the tournament ended we headed out to Crystal Mountain, as they allow overnight camping in a designated portion of their parking lot…for a fee ($40/night with electrical, up to 14 consecutive nights).  img_20190407_193357047We rolled into the lot and picked a site, set up.

 

We then then wandered over to the Snorting Elk Cellar , upon recommendation from a young man at the water polo tournament I had been reffing, to have a beverage (or four) and enjoy some live music (Milo Matthews).  Milo, is a one man band and an amazing singer and bass player.  If you ever get the chance to hear him play, it is certainly worth the price of admission. (In this case we lucked out, as he had been booked for a wedding anniversay, that we got to “crash”, thus no cover charge)

img_20190408_112403662_hdrThe following morning, under cloud engulfed skies we headed to the ticket booth to get our passes for the day.  Straight up to the top we went via the gondola, still shrowded in clouds.  The snow was a little sticky, as we obviously had the wrong wax on our skis to accommodate slogging through the heavy “wet cement”.  The fact that my goggles decided to fog on me continually despite all my tried and true efforts to clear them, and the fact that my legs were completely worn from 13 games over two days made for a frustrating and frankly unpleasant session.  This was highly disappointing as when we did the PCT in 2014, we walked above and across from the Crystal Mountain ski area, admiring its terrain and vowing to return and ski this place. After two hours, we called it and decided to head back toward California with grand intensions of making several side trips in Oregon and Northern California before going home for the season.  We however, have not given up on this ski area, and plan on making a bee-line to Crystal Mountain much earlier in the 2019-2020 ski season when the snow is “fresher”.

Now, for our “Ikon-ic” Winter – Side Trips

Posted in Car camping, Crystal Mountain, Ikon Pass, Mini Adventures, Oregon, Snow Camping, Uncategorized, Utah, Washington | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

An “Ikon-ic” Winter – Part II

March 26 – April 4, 2019

 

img_20190329_112728205-1We left home early enough in the morning (which required a nap on my part) to make it to the Park City Home Depot and pick up our aluminum diamond plated Lund storage box, that we modified into a “ski-coffin”. As we (meaning Paul) drive E/B on the I-15 toward Las Vegas, we can’t help but notice the depth on contour that the currently thriving vegetation gives this once bland tapestry of the desert and its rocky hills flanking us on either side.  The previously stark canvas is painted with vast swaths of green, yellow and burnt orange.  Lengthy portions of the freeway are lined with thick blooms of bright yellow flowers, leaving us with the impression that we are on a “yellow brick road” to Vegas.  Suddenly, traffic comes to a near stop, and are forced to squeeze past a recently overturned toy-hauler that now lies in a tangled mess in the #1 lane.  As we pass, the owners, unharmed, survey the damage, in obvious shock and disappointed realization that their excursion has come to an abrupt halt. (I felt too bad to take a “looky-loo” picture of their disaster) img_20190329_093232953_topimg_20190329_093304123As we near Baker, a long and narrow glissening “lake” appears to our right, a natural catch basin for this season’s voluminous winter storms.  Climbing out of the Mojave desert basisn, and now at 4000ft, I awake to an expansive and dense forest of Joshua Trees in full bloom with the tips of their bottle brush limbs frosted antique white. ( I couldn’t get Paul to slow down, or pull over, to take a picture of the Joshua trees)

img_20190329_125111644-1We thread through the familar sites of the Virgin River gorge, an ever growing St. George Utah, past our turn-off in Parowan where we mule deer hunt, and on through Orem where we make our turn “uphill” onto Hwy 52 that melds into Hwy 189 in search of the Park City Home Depot.  We arrive in what we believe to be “plenty of time” to pick up the box, install it, and get to the Park City RV park, where a blog I had recently read said that in the winter they are “first come, first serve” .  We pick up our box enclosed in what can only be described as “tired” cardboard. For when we rolled the box out to the truck and unpacked it, we couldn’t help but notice that it had obviously been dropped more than once, having suffered multiple dents in the lid and on the sides. Not wanting to accept an inferior product (at full price), I wheeled that bad boy back to the pick-up desk, showed them the damage and joked, that if there are going to be dents in this box, we should at least be the ones that do the “denting”. (Little did we know how true that statement was going to be.) They offered to order us a new one, but that would take 10 days for delivery, of which we did not have the time to wait. I was, however, able to negotiate a significant refund and 30% discount on the box in hand.

img_20190329_192944342Having done so, I triumphantly wheeled the box back out to the truck where Paul took a hammer to the dents, and once he fastened the box (after drilling the appropriate holes) it straightened it out sufficiently. By now, night had descended, which required a stop at Park City’s Whole Foods Market for our evening’s meal. We made a point to park where we had room to maneuver with the box now attached to the rear of our truck. We were concerned how the extension of 3 feet would affect our turning radius and distances when backing. We would soon put this to the test. For when we arrived at the Park City RV park, rather than take a perfectly flat and “empty” RV site, we dutifully headed to the area earmarked for truck campers. We located a site and initially pulled head-in, but thought otherwise of it, as everyone else was backed into their sites. We imagined that they had done so because the weather could change at any moment. Prior to Paul backing up (in the pitch-black night), he implored me to watch so he didn’t back into anything. Well…before I could put on my phone’s light to see where I was going, Paul was slowly backing. At the same time, I literally walked into our “neighbor’s” black Toyota truck and as I was attempting to alert Paul to the truck I had just bumped into, I became painfully aware that it was too late. Paul had already backed up past me and had now, ever so slightly, scraped past the tail end of the black truck and was now pulling forward with the wheels turned to better set up to back into the site. I yelled for him to stop, which he obviously could not hear over the sound of our diesel engine, nor could he see me waving wildly in the dark of the night. What then followed was the most horrible crunching sound of metal and plastic, as the ass end of our newly acquired shiny box intersected with the taillight and rear bumper of the black truck.

SHIT! Well that’s one way to put our “own” dents into this box. Suddenly the pitch-black night is awash with light, followed by an irate, fist-raised couple who now demanded that we buy them a new truck. We assured them we had insurance, and there was no need for this to escalate into a violent encounter. Only the taillight of their truck had been damaged, as we had incurred the bulk of the “damage” to our new purchase. Thank goodness we had not yet loaded our skis into the bin, nor had we installed the stabilizing bars that would have attached to our truck, or I’m sure things would have been worse. Insurance information was exchanged and the Sheriff was called for good measure. In order to further diffuse the situation, we limped our way back up and into an open RV site, pissed that we didn’t just “bend the rules” and park in an RV site in the first place! As our continued “luck” would have it, the bathroom was locked and our site had no electricity. Additionally there were no “self-serve” pay envelopes, so we decided we would pay in the morning (This turned out to be disasterous, for as we went into pay the next morning, and more importantly get the “code” to the bathroom, we got a lecture about not having paid. It also included a “rant” (which we understood) on how important it was for us to have paid last night because they have a lot of people that park and leave in the morning without paying before the office opens.  Standing in front of her with cold hard cash and a multiude of credit cards in hand (to pay for the previous night), it was everything we could do to bite our tongues and not reply with a snarky comment.  It was obvious that she was NOT having a good morning. Unfortunately for us, she also did not have space available for another night.

After we took care of business, it was time for an in-depth survey of the actual damage. Nothing a hammer couldn’t fix with regard to the box, but the basket arm into the rear hitch was another story. This would require a metal fabricator, or a new piece of angle iron…and it was Saturday…in Utah. Thank goodness for smart phones! For nearly 30 minutes, I Googled every metal fabricator in a 50-mile radius, and remarkably found one who answered the phone. He was in Centerville, near Salt Lake City. He was open till 2 pm.  It was now 10 am. The rub was that he was the only one in the shop, and as he told us, he only had one arm. After Paul had explained our predicament, he told us to come by anyway, that he would call his son and see what he could do to help us. What did we have to lose? We un-bolted the box from the carrier, dismantled the carrier and prayed that it would all fit into the back of the camper. Success! We arrived at Metric Motors and met with the owner, Chris, whose arm was cocooned in a sling. So in actuality, he had two arms, just one was working. He was not able to find any angle iron to fit our purpose, but he did have an air operated press, that luckily didn’t require two arms to operate.  As such, he was miraculously able to straighten out the seriously deformed iron tongue for our basket. Not only did he help us, but did it free of charge!

From there he directed us to the nearest Home Depot where we reinstalled our “ski-coffin”, attached stabilizers and loaded our ski gear. With still plenty of daylight, but not much time to ski, we headed up the mountain into Big Cottonwood Canyon to check out the Solitude Mountain Ski Resort and Brighton Ski Resort , and to see which (or if) any of the US Forest Service campgrounds were open, and explore the possibility of parking overnight in one of the ski area’s parking lots.  The answer…NO and NO, for there was too much snow, as if there is ever such a thing.  Dejected, we headed back down Big Cottownwood Canyon as snow began to fall and the temperature read 18 degrees.  We soon found ourselves at the Salt Lake City KOA , next to the fairgrounds, and bedded down for the night.  I have to say that this place it MASSIVE and one of the BEST KOAs we have ever pulled into.  The people there were extremely pleasant and accomodating.  Better yet, it was in walking distance (2 Miles) to a church, and went to Saturday evening Mass.  We figured that considering how our trip had started, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea, especially if we planned on skiing…Sunday.  The remarkable thing that also differentiates this KOA from all the others we’ve stayed in, NO TRAINS!…Okay, there was one, but not an industrial sound was heard all night long!  Pure, and utter, bliss.

img_20190331_084708539 8am, and a full night’s sleep, we were up and ready to hit the slopes! A stop at the the most sad and pathetic Walgreens for some KT tape for my knee, followed by three missed turns (that lead us into Salt Lake City’s significant homeless population, who were patiently waiting in long lines for a hot breakfast) reminded us of our true and sustained good fortune, even in the face of our regular misadventures. Once onto the correct freeway, our morning’s destination would be Big Cottonwood Canyon (34 miles or so away) where we skied Solitude Mountain Resort under azure blue skies for the entire day.

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It was a wide open and sparsely populated mountain of snowy goodness whose elevation and steep terrain seared our lungs and our legs. Once fully exhausted, we searched again, for a nearby place to camp for the night in order to ski Solitude’s next door neighbor, Brighton the next day…to no avail.

img_20190331_193448898Forlorn, we retreated to Heber City and found space available at the Mountain Valley RV Resort, where the following morning we would have the pleasure of skiing Deer Valley…for three glorious days. Courtesy of our Ikon passes, we skied just about every inch of Deer Valley till we couldn’t, with the final day being not because we were tired, but that we couldn’t see, as a freshly snowing cloud engulfed the upper regions of the mountain, making for dangerous whiteout conditions.

We stayed one more night at the RV resort and then tried out the Jordanelle State Park for our final night in Utah before heading toward Washington.  For $16/night we had the state park to ourselves.  Rain fell all night long. We awoke to the sound of seagulls squacking, leaving us with the impression that we had camped on a seashore instead of a lakeshore.

Winter campers, (according to the park manager, are relatively few) are relegated to the parking lot of the boat ramp launch area complete with a heated and lighted bathroom facility.  From our “campsite” we had a (mostly frozen) lake view wherein we could see evidence of more than a few ice fishing excursions.  This will be our go-to camping when we head back out to Utah for next years ski-cation.

…continued, An “Ikonic” Winter – Part III

 

Posted in Car camping, Exploring Utah, Mini Adventures, Road Trips, Ski adventure, Snow Camping, Uncategorized, Utah | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An “Ikon-ic” Winter – Part I

As summer begins to wain, and Fall and Winter will be soon upon us, I realized that I have failed to post this past Winter’s excursion(s).  So before next winter sets upon us and we do a “re-boot” on our “Ikon-ic” winter (provided the snow is epic for the 2019-20 season, and hopefully apply some of the things we learned this past year), here ya go.

November 23, 2018 – March 13, 2019

So, this winter we had every intension of making the most out of our Ikon ski passes this season. Things started out pretty good with an early season trip to Mammoth Mountain (Nov 23-26, 2018) with our friends Sandy and Steve (aka. Pole Dancer and Scout).

I got a little daring and wormed my way into a “Black Diamond” run only to find that the moguls I was turning off of were sparsely covered boulders (of which I should have known better, but was so excited to ski so early in the season). This required a bit of a repair job to the bottoms and edges of my fairly new skis.

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March 10, 2019

This year’s (2018-2019 season) snow fall, at least for the Sierra’s was on an epic scale, reminiscent of when my children were younger and downtown Mammoth was a mouse maze for months on end. Oddly, it snowed so much and so often that getting to Mammoth was a challenge, with many a trip cancelled or postponed as travel was not recommended or was impossible to ski due to blizzard like conditions. When we were younger, these types of conditions would not have been a deterrent. It would have been an inviting challenge. Now, we are older, if not a bit wiser (an emphasis on “a bit”). February was supposed to have begun a two-month ski-cation, but the snow was relentless, and our ski-cation began in March, with Paul picking me up in Mammoth from my annual ski trip with the “girls”.

The skiing was epic, as was the company and festive activities. A painfully good time was had by all…some more than others…just say’n.

img_20190310_143900949img_20190310_143727669_hdr-effectsIn all my years, I have never seen Mammoth so WHITE and FLUFFY!

As it turns out, when Paul picked me in our Dodge Truck, topped with our 35-year-old, now fully winterized, Alaskan cab-over camper, we got to test our “winterization”, with an afternoon/evening snow storm. We spent a night at the Mammoth RV park, and then headed over to June Mountain, for the day, on our way to Tahoe. It wasn’t until we reached the lot at June and talked with a few people who also had campers, that we discovered that they allow you to camp in the lot, provided you are self-contained. (Note to self for next time). Oddly, in all our years coming up to Mammoth, we have never skied June Mountain. We have been to June Lake in the summer, but this would be the first time we had ever ventured to June Lake during the winter, and the first time ever skiing June Mountain. Even so, we couldn’t have hit June Mountain any better.

The “crowd” was non-existent and several inches of fresh powder coated the mountain. Skiing fresh POW (powder) is like sliding on velvet, with little to no effort and virtually no stress on my knees. We skied so much we actually got bored…if that’s a thing. We literally had reached our “one more run” mark, way before noon. After my bad crash two years ago, that necessitated my religious wearing of a helmet, and conscious attention to stopping before the “one more run” mark, we reluctantly headed to the parking lot.

img_20190311_161247978_hdrOn our way out to Hwy 395 we made sure to stop at the June Lake Brewing Company for a pint, a tasty burrito from the nearby Hawaiian food truck, and a couple of bottles “to-go”, before we headed toward Lake Tahoe for what was to be a two-week adventure, skiing Alpine Meadows and Squaw.
Alpine Meadows: A night spent in the Walmart parking lot of Gardnerville NV, we headed up the 207 from the 395 and decided to turn right and take the scenic northern route of Hwy 50 to Alpine Meadows.  Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley although geographically seperate, have essentially co-joined into one ski “area” as SquawAlpine, and for those with the Ikon Base pass, your ski days at these two resorts are unlimited (except for of course the holidays…but then who wants to ski crowds anyways.)img_20190312_112052950We pulled into the sparsely populated parking lot at Alpine Meadows mid-morning and hit the slopes.

An inch or so of fresh POW coated the gorgeous runs at Alpine Meadows.

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Can you see the snow gusting off the top of Ward Peak?

We headed to the top, and were nearly blasted off the cornice by growing and gusting winds from an incoming storm. We skied to exhaustion, and did our best to finagle a way to camp overnight in the lot at Alpine Meadows, but overnight camping is strictly verboten! They did tell us of a lot a Squaw Valley that “allows” over-night (self-contained) parking, but we were not able to locate the lot with confidence. We suspected we found the lot, but didn’t want to risk being woken up in the middle of the night to move…during a snow storm. Normally we would stay at a campground, or on US Forest Service or BLM land, but it was all inaccessible and covered in 30+ feet of snow! As luck would have it, we discovered a nearby RV lot in Truckee (Truckee River RV Park)with a space available for us for the night.

 

See the source image

We headed back to Alpine Meadows for another look at the ski area, in an effort to ski all the runs…at least once. (map pictured above courtesy of skimap.org )  We just about pulled it off.

img_20190313_121127045-effectsHalf-way into the day’s sparsely populated ski runs, we got a frantic and tearful call from our daughter. It appeared that Bruce (our 15 year old dog) had a brain tumor and per our Vet (for whom our daughter works for as a VetTech), Bruce most likely wouldn’t last the week if he failed to respond to the now prescribed medication. SHIT! And we were planning to head to Utah once we had finished skiing for the day. For the love of Bruce, and our daughter, we altered our plans and headed home. A stop for fuel in Carson, revealed that our fresh water pump switch had somehow been knocked into the “on” position and was in the process of flooding the interior of our camper. Good thing we were headed home, I guess. On our travel home we decided to search for, a suitable “ski coffin”, like the one we had seen on a truck, similar to ours, in the June Mountain parking lot.

Lund 72 Diamond Plate Aluminum Full Size Top Mount Truck Tool Box

72″ (L) x 12″ (W) x 16″(H) Diamond plated aluminum

This would free up room in the cab of our truck and be a more efficient way of storing our ski gear on lengthy travels. In the summer, it would morph it into a fishing/hiking gear – “coffin”. We ended up ordering it through Home Depot, but any way you sliced it, it was going to be 10 days before it would arrive anywhere. As we hoped to not be home more than 10 days, we set its delivery for pick-up at the Home Depot at Park City, Utah. When we got home, our dog Bruce was literally “circling the drain” (making tight right turns – if it were left turns, we would have nicknamed him NASCAR for his final days). Apparently one of two things were going on his brain. He either had an encroaching brain tumor, idiopathic vestibular disease, or both. He was already in the throws of “Sundowners”, a derivative of canine Alzheimer’s, and virtually blind, but his quality of life was still good. He would play with a ball (once he located it), ate a drank heartily, and still wanted to walk down the street to check his “pee-mail”. This sudden onset had us now evaluating his quality of life, as he now would spin in circles to the point of losing his balance. Everything was a right-turn circle pattern to find his food/water dish, his bed and pee spot. We were seriously conflicted on what to do, and didn’t want our ski-trip to influence our decision, so we waited the 7-days of the medication, and saw marked improvement, but we didn’t want to leave before he showed continued improvement and stabilization. Inevitably however, we were going to have to get on the road, as we still had to be up in Washington by April 5th, as I had a water polo tournament to officiate…and we wanted to at least ski Deer Valley before it closed for the season. Luckily, Bruce improved enough for us to finally head out…2 weeks later. On the bright side, this gave Paul an opportunity to “blunder proof” our fresh water tank switch, make modifications to our hitch basket for the mounting of the “ski coffin”, and collect the tools to mount said “ski-coffin”.

…Continued, An “Ikonic” Winter – Part II

 

Posted in Car camping, Ikon Pass, Mammoth Mountain, Mini Adventures, Ski adventure, Snow Camping, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

For the love of Bruce

I have been meaning to post on our latest adventures, but most are unfinished due to circumstances beyond our control, namely the fact that our family dog of nearly 15 years has been on a steady decline over the last year, and in particular these last two months. We thought we might be able to get him to pull out of his downward spiral, but alas such was not the case. While his body was super fit, his mind deteriorated to the point of no return, and required us to end his suffering and therefore “put him down” in the most compassionate way we could. Knowing it was the right thing to do didn’t make it any easier. In simple terms. It SUCKED! It has been a little over two weeks since his passing, and while we knew this day would come, it was not an easy decision for our family. He was our daughter’s first and longest living pet ( if you don’t count the hairless mouse “Rufus”, a hummingbird, two fighting hamsters, a rooster “Leonard”, and a herd of snails in a shoe box). We had to put our first dog (4 year old 125 lb Doberman Pincher) down when our daughter was less than 6 months old, due to an accident he had jumping down an embankment at full speed, Paul swore we would never have another dog.Along comes this runt of the litter, who had been adopted and then returned, and then adopted once more by my wily, and convincing daughter. She was 10 years old at the time, and had decided at the age of 8 to become a Veterinarian (she is now a VetTech). Having gone through a plethora of “pets”, she convinced Paul to allow the adoption of a brown 2lb, 8 week old Rat Terrier/Chihuahua mix into our household, by pleading, “How am I ever going to become a Vet if I have never had a pet!” While he reminded her of the assortment of “pets” she had brought into the house over the years, she confidently replied, that those “didn’t count”. The puppy, who our daughter named ‘Bruce’, was allowed on the condition that Paul would have nothing to do with the dog, to include: petting, feeding, or cleaning up after him.  As evidence of the picture below…that didn’t happen.IMG_20170624_181513299_HDR

Anyhoo…The “deal” brokered, Bruce entered our family. It is amazing how such a little dog, who failed to realize, or behave as a small statured dog can have such an impact on our family.  He was a burly and fit dog.

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He also was quite the ornery dog, having outlived his cancer diagnosis by nearly 6 months. What started out as bladder cancer moved to his brain, and thus began his “sundowners” (doggie alzheimers) and endless Zoolander imitation of only right turns and similar expressions. We wrestled with the decision for probably longer than we should have, for obvious selfish reasons, of false hope in a miraculous recovery, as the rest of his body was completely fit. Sadly “Elvis” had left the building several weeks ago, as he failed to respond to his name, rarely wagged his tail, and when not sleeping, eating or drinking would spin himself in ever tightening circles till he fell over or ran into something. To let this go on any longer would have just been cruel, so we set a date (still hoping for a miracle), and the day came. We spent it together as a family in tears, laughter and simple silence as we remembered the events that made Bruce, Bruce Almighty…and “Brucifer”

IMG_20171013_140411699While Bruce barely stood 10 inches tall and was 10 lbs sopping wet, he honestly believed he was, and therefore acted like, a BIG dog. He was large and In-Charge. So much so that he “ran” the street we lived on. Our neighbors referred to him as “The Mayor”. Often, he would squeeze through each neighbor’s front gate and inspect (and ”mark”) their yards on his daily, (and often, unaccompanied) “walks” from our yard, having escaped through and/or under our fence when we were not home. Our previous dog (a 125lb Doberman) would have been proud of Bruce and his Houdini talents. (Our Doberman had figured out how to open the latch on our front gate in order to make his “rounds” when we were out. Later when he was relegated to the garage, when we’d leave for work, he not only figured out how to open the garage door, but also how to close it. As such, he would be home “sitting pretty”, and “angelic” when we returned home.) He was too smart for his own good. Bruce was the same, which makes me wonder if a dog’s soul gets recycled. Now Bruce couldn’t reach the latch, nor squeeze through slats on the gate, or back fencing (after we shored that up), but somehow he figured out how to leap and climb the 2ft tall chicken wire to squeeze through the bars of the fence, so that he could still make his “rounds”. He took his “mayorship” seriously. He had a neighborhood to patrol, and “homebound” friends to visit. When we raised the height of the caged barrier, he tunneled under it, cleverly disguising his hole by rolling a tennis ball into the indentation of dirt, when he left, and upon his return. It was only when our daughter was home sick from school one day, that we discovered his craftiness. While moaning on the couch and wondering where her dog, that was supposed to be comforting her, was, she spied Bruce as he appeared in the neighbors yard. She watched, as he calmly shimmied under the fence and then rolled an adjacent tennis ball into the “hole”, and then trotted triumphantly back inside the house for a drink and a snack. As well as being an escape artist he was a ball chasing maniac. He would chase and retrieve a full sized tennis ball till his paws bled (if you let him). He would torment and literally mock our neighbor’s Yellow Lab (Jake) when his owner (Russ) would throw Jake’s giant tennis ball down the street. Once Bruce heard the wet “thump” of Jake’s ball on the pavement, Bruce would scratch and bark at the gate till we could “release the hound”. He would follow after Jake “smack-barking” in his face as Jake returned the ball to be thrown again. We imagined his “smack-barking” going something like this…”Dude, how you letting a little old dog beat you to the ball? Didn’t eat your kibble this morning, huh? Your big ol paws too sore? What kind of retriever are you?”. As “The Mayor” he had quite the influence on the neighborhood dogs. He even “talked” Jadie, another neighborhood Lab to pull marinating steaks off the counter of our next door neighbors (and eat them), in order to teach them (our neighbors) a lesson about keeping their garage door open. When the kids were younger and the neighborhood was filled with young families and kids, we would often play “home run derby” in front of our house. Bruce was always on the batter’s team, for once he got the ball, he would run like the wind, weaving with superior agility between every fielder (child and adult) as his “teammate” would run the bases. Often we would need to have three whiffle balls just to be able to play the game without serious interruption from Bruce and his superior fielding. Our Doberman was known to do the same thing, except the kids weren’t brave enough to chase him. Like our Doberman, he took particular delight in making male teenagers scream like “girls”, especially if they were on a skateboard. They both hated skateboarders, and made it their duty to ensure the CCRs of no skateboarding allowed, was enforced to it’s fullest. Nothing like having a furry “missile” racing toward your feet, barking ferociously for you to get off your skateboard, post haste. He was also not particularly fond of German Shepherds (with the exception of Desi, with whom he was in “love” with) or smushed faced dogs, and he let them know it. Most of all, Bruce was a great companion. When our daughter went to college, he essentially became “our” dog, a duty he took seriously as well. He insisted on sleeping in our bed (with us), as he was athletic enough to leap up onto our raised bed (no matter how many times we kicked him off). For the life of us, we could not figure out how this 10lb marvel could manage to take up so much space that we would awake at the respective edges of our bed. Interestingly enough, our Doberman would do the same thing, which further lends to my theory of “recycled” (family specific) dog souls. During the last year of his life, his athleticism declined to the point that he slept most of the day, and in the evening, on an old down blanket at the foot of our bed. When both our kids were in college, Bruce joined us on most of our outings. Although he was small, he was able to walk 6 miles-a-day, requiring only a nap, before insisting on a round of ball chasing.

He insisted on checking his neighborhood “pee-mail” each morning once I had my morning cup of coffee.

He loved road trips.IMG_20171024_152056552_HDRHe was a well loved, and traveled dog.

He was fearless. On our hunting trip to Wyoming, he took it upon himself to “shoo” away a lone cow who had wandered into our camp. Suddenly this massive bovine (compared to Bruce) was running in a serpentine pattern to escape the “wrath” of a LBD (Little Brown Dog) who was barking and nipping at its hooves as I followed (laugh-crying) in an effort to intercept Bruce before the cow could turn and stomp him to death. As luck would have it, the cow came to an abrupt stop, and the two met nose to nose. And, to my amazement, they sniffed at each other. Having caught up, I quickly picked up Bruce, as the cow turned and walked away up over the knoll, where its “friends” had been watching.

He was enamored by elk, deer and pronghorn. He was the family “sentry”. He was a remarkable dog that has left a lasting impression on us, and our family was better for having him in our lives.IMG_20170626_194939_431Rest in Peace our furry friend.

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