DC Tourist – Day Three

Unbelievably, there is more to do in DC than visit museums and wander downtown. As we are often drawn to adventures off the beaten path, today would be spent outdoors, and on a quest…of sorts. Having been fully enthralled with the International Spy Museum, and in particular the notorious US spy and FBI agent, Robert Hanssen, we discovered that Hanssen’s last “dead drop”, in Foxstone Park, was not far from our niece’s home, and on the way to the day’s planned adventure at Rock Creek National Park.Foxstone Park: Because the FBI’s recorded video of their takedown of Hanssen stated that he was arrested in a residential area near Foxstone Park, we plugged the park into our GPS. We knew that his last drop (USB Thumb drives) was placed under red footbridge in Foxstone park, in Vienna Virginia. Our mission, was to find that bridge and “re-inact” the drop. There are several paved paths within the neighborhood that weave through the park. We chose Foxstone Ave and parked in front of a house that looked like the one he had been arrested in front of. While it’s been nearly two decades since Hanssen’s arrest, I’m sure the neighborhood rolls their eyes (and curses the Spy Museum) when “tourists” pile out of their cars in search of Hanssen’s last drop. We brought our niece’s family dog with us as “cover”…and because he LOVES car rides, and walks.

We found a foot path in-between two homes. We couldn’t help but notice that it smelled like something had died nearby. Hmm, maybe we were on the right path, and this stench was supposed to be a permanent deterrent. The path led slightly downhill and into a wooded area. The path branched off immediately, in three directions with a low (grey) footbridge to our right.

This bridge was obviously too low, and not the right color. Straight or “uphill”? We headed straight for a bit into a green “tunnel” of healthy trees and low vines intertangled with poison ivy. Somehow, this direction did not feel right, so we headed back toward the “fork” in the road, to take the final path option. Turns out, that this one was the correct path. This reminded us that we should have employed our tried and truth method of route choosing, “when in doubt, Go Uphill”.

Soon we were at the Foxstone park sign.

Across a busy street from the sign was a closed off driveway to a parking area, and in the near distance, what appeared to be the infamous red bridge!

A QR sticker on the bridge confirmed we had successfully located the bridge.

As we looked under the bridge and “re-created” the drop, we couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous we looked and what a horrible place this was to have a dead drop so close to homes (that could see you) and a busy roadway (well, maybe not so busy then). There were so many areas along the way, that could have been used for dead drops than squatting under a foot bridge to drop a small package with thumb drives. But then one remembers, that this guy did this at several other places in the DC area, and for nearly two decades, so there is something to be said for hiding within “plain sight”. With that “mission” completed, we triumphantly headed back to the car for our next “quest”, The Capital Stones, but not without somehow driving off without the dog. Yes, we forgot to secure the dog (Chug) in the back of the car. We put him in the back, but we must have gotten distracted and therefore failed to fully close the rear hatch. We surmised that Chug must have leapt out just before we pulled from the curb. We didn’t notice that he was no longer in the car until the dinging sound, that we initially thought was the seatbelt reminder continued to “ding” as we pulled from the curb. A thoughtful look in the rearview mirror (after a short distance) to see ask who didn’t have their seatbelt fastened revealed Chug frantically galloping behind the car, in an effort to “catch” us. Horrified, we stopped immediately, glad we were driving in a neighborhood with absolutely NO traffic. With Chug securely loaded in the car, a new habit was instated, the “Chug check”, wherein all occupants are accounted for and all doors are secured…fully, before any vehicular departure.

Capitol Stones: We came to Rock Creek National Park, just outside of DC, in search of the Capitol Stones. The Capitol Stones are the “discarded” Aquia Creek sandstone blocks, steps, columns, etc, that were removed in 1958 from the East façade of of the U.S. Capitol building (where Congress “lives”), and replaced with exact replica, Georgia White marble. Being the nerds that we are, we thought it remarkable that something with such historical significance would just be plopped out in the open to weather the elements. These discarded sandstone pieces have witnessed, and been a part of, our country’s history for going on 200 years. Imagine the stories they could (and actually can) tell. Hence, our quest.For a historical perspective, take a look at the US Capitol building’s timeline below, to get an idea of how significant these stones, stacked up behind a Park’s maintenance yard are.https://youtu.be/jmo-A_8HoOMThe thought to repurpose these hundreds of stones for a new museum, was brought up and then quickly “buried” by the Congressional architect William Steward (a one term Congressman, and NOT an architect by trade), who was already getting crap about the cost of the mammoth remodel. He had sold Congress on the “need” for a remodel due to the cracking of the old sandstone façade. It is said that he also told the workers that he didn’t “care” where the Stones went as long as they were out of the city AND out of sight. So, they “dumped” (actually neatly stacked) them at Rock Creek National Park…behind what is now their maintenance yard. The original Capitol Columns, eventually ended up at the US Arboretum (another coming adventure). We parked next to Rock Creek Park’s Nature Center and made the short walk to the maintenance yard where we had to bushwhack around to the back to access the Stones. What a remarkable site.

Rows of often 10ft tall “walls”, of once magestic Stones stacked one upon another, in varied conditions, cover an area roughly the size of an Olympic size pool.

Some of these Stones are in pristine condition, while others are covered in faint green moss and/or blotches of lichen. As evidenced by the encroaching vegetation, it will not be long before the bulk of these Stones are swallowed up and “buried” by the surrounding vegetation’s natural tendencies.

We wish we had done a bit more research so that we could better “place” the Stones (in relation to the dismantled façade) we were viewing.

As I write this, we are continuing to research the “life” of these Stones. In fact, some of this cache of Stones have been used for restoration projects at the US Capitol and the Whitehouse. After wandering through and examining the Stones, we exited the cache and followed a well worn path to the Park’s “pink” blaze trail that would take us through some of the original and remaining “old growth” forest, which has been protected since 1890, when the land was set aside and the Park was created.

Rock Creek Park is an island of nature within the DC urban sprall, and holds a treasure trove of natural, cultural and archaeological history within its 1754 acres. Two interesting factoids, to wet your appetite. (1) Theodore Roosevelt was know to take many a walk through this Park over 100 years ago. And (2), lest we not forget, the mysterious murder and discovery of Congressional Intern, Chandra Levy’s decomposed body, was found in this Park in 2002. Nevertheless, our intension on this 4 mile or so hike was to see the Miller Cabin, one of the historic structures within the Park, but somehow (and not surprising) we missed a turn and ended up on the opposite site of the wide and cold creek, where the restored cabin stands. Somewhat famished, we bailed on figuring out another way to see this site in favor of heading to Old Alexandria for some much needed nourishment.

And while we would have loved to wandered this historic town, we had school age kids to get back to.

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DC Tourist -Day Two

Day Two, was spent at The International Spy Museum. The evening prior, our niece had purchased tickets online for a 1030 arrival, as the museum prefers to stagger it’s patrons for a more enjoyable experience. Ticket prices range between $18-23 dollars with children under 6 free, and discounts for active duty military. I can say without a doubt, that the experience is certainly worth the price of admission, as this museum is full of so much information your brain will hurt. We started our day unintentionally practicing good “spycraft”, having been dropped off at the King Street Metro station and boarding the wrong line, only to realize it once the Arlington stop came upon us. We exited at this stop in order to backtrack to the rail-line we needed to have boarded. Pretending we were “spies” we surmised that our inattention enabled us to identify a potential “tail”, as this was a sparsely populated stop. Releaved that no one exited with us (again thinking as “spies”), we joined a family of 4 that was on the platform waiting for the next train. In 4 minutes the appropriate line arrived and we headed back toward whence we came and got off at the Pentagon, where we changed rails and boarded the appropriate line to the L’Enfant Plaza Exit. Confident we had shaken any possible “tail”, we exited our stop and did our best to follow the “coded” directions provided by the Spy Museum’s website, which read as follows:

“The Museum’s address is 700 L’Enfant Plaza, SW Washington, DC 20024.


The closest Metro station is L’Enfant Plaza (Green, Yellow, Orange, Blue, and Silver lines).

Upon exiting the L’Enfant Plaza station, please proceed to the L’Enfant Plaza Mall Concourse, take the L’Enfant Plaza Exit up the escalator to enter the L’Enfant Plaza food court. Note: you will see Starbucks on your right as you reach the top of the escalator. Enter the glass doors straight ahead to access the food court. At the first hallway, when you reach Roti Mediterranean Grill, turn right.”

(For us, these directions, proved to be a total misdirection, which we found quite ironic considering the place we were trying to get to, and how our morning started. There was a Starbucks on our right at the top of the escalator, but the first hallway we reached, there was NO Roti Mediterranean Grill.)

Continue straight until you reach the Jamba Juice stand. You will see a large flight of stairs in front of you. Take the stairs up to the ground level and exit through the glass doors to your left once you reach the top. You have reached the back side of the Museum. Walk towards 10th street, SW to access the Museum’s main lobby doors. If an elevator is preferred, one is located in front of the Jamba Juice. Take it to the Plaza level. The Museum will be directly behind you when you exit from the elevator vestibule.”

So, what the directions don’t tell you, is once you exit the Metro, there is more than one escalator and which escalator to take. We, obviously chose the wrong one.

Not to worry, as we were resourceful and asked for directions, which also proved to be somewhat convoluted. We then accessed Google Maps, which also took us on a circutous route as well, but got us close enough to see the giant RED building, and we navigated from there, laughing all the way.

Once inside the museum, of which I suggest you bring a jacket, as it very cool inside as a climate control measure for the many artifacts on display within the museum, it is time to head to the “Briefing Center” where you recieve you “cover identity”, and should you choose to accept it…your Undercover Identity. Bum Bum Buuuum.  With your lanyard and “ID badge” (which you may keep), that is used for interactive purposes during your “mission”, you enter the dark world of the International Spy.

There are five centers of the museum to become totally immersed in:

  • Stealing Secrets: Here you can listen to first hand accounts of spying, and get a look at REAL gadgets and inventions/tools of the “trade” used to steal secrets.
  • Making Sense of Secrets:  Code cracking and turning secrets into useful information is explored/explained
  • Covert Action: Here ACTUAL and historical actions are on display in examples of, Sabatoge, Deception, Lethal Action, Secret Soldiers, Undermining Nations, Propoganda and Exfiltration (ie. the 2012 movie ARGO, that is a true story)
  • Spying the Shaped History:  This floor explores stories from the American Revolution to our current cyber warfare.  If you ever watched the remarkably historically accurate AMC series TURN (4 seasons now on Amazon Prime), you will see and learn about these real American Revolutionary spies.  An ACTUAL letter penned by George Washington to a revolutionary spy is on display.
  • An Uncertain World: How do countries/businesses (worldwide) respond to threats – real, percieved, or contrived.  What is the balance between security and freedom?  It is here that we learned a little more about some of the most notorious spies of the 20th Century, to include Robert Hanssen (who spied for Russia 1979-2001) that inspired a side trip for the following days adventure.  The 2002 TV/Movie “Master Spy”, and the book by David Wise, “SPY” explore the world of this notorious spy.

We spent a total of 5 hours at this fascinating museum, and we didn’t cover ALL that was housed within this treasure trove of information that tantilizes your senses and intellect. Interesting to note is that this museum operates as 501(c)(3) private non-profit and recieves no tax-payer/government monies to operatate.  Many of the artifacts are donated, or on loan from governments and private owners. (One of the cars from the many James Bond movies is on display) The nominal fee charged for admission goes to fund the museum’s research, exhibits and educational programs/events.

As we exited from the Debriefing Center, having “successfully” completed our “Undercover Missions”, we vowed to make it a point to return to this museum to complete our exploration of the world of the International Spy.  I wouldn’t be suprised if new and additional subjects/events/situations/inventions (think “current events”) will be on display.



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The DC Tourist – Day One

Anytime we fly back east, no matter how you slice it, you lose a day of your life to travel. As eternal optimists we tried as we might to change that with an early, and I mean early (not red eye) flight. Daylight was still upon us when the shadow of our wings crossed the Potomac with the National Mall and the 555 foot tall Washington monument, and the  Jefferson Memorial, currently under renovation/cleaning, out our window, to our left.What used to seem larger than life was somehow reduced to a monopoly game pieces. We arrived at the Reagan Airport just in time to be caught in the traffic headed to the Washington Nationals ball park for their life or death wild card playoff game against the Brewers, of which we almost were able to attend. The fact that the Nationals won coming from behind in the 8th inning made for a spectacular finish, and not a total loss of a day. The days following, until the 8th, were to be filled with a plethora of “touristy” family activities with our niece and her husband (newly retired) as our guides.  To their kids dismay, they still had to go to school.

Day one began by with catching the Metro into downtown. As luck would have it (thank you Mother Nature), we arrived in DC during a record breaking heat spell, with this day being one of the hottest days (98 degrees) on record since 1941. As a result, any touring would be spent inside as much as possible. Our first stop, the Museum of Natural History, a three story collection exhibits, interpretive and interactive displays that span and “wet” the intellect of ages, of all things aquatic and terrestrial. Most of which having been formed and or existed thousands if not millions of years ago.

We found some displays more humerus than others…get it? Humerus?  Anyhoo, while their were several other areas within the Natrual History museum, we spent most of our time enthralled with the dinosaur exhibits, fascinated with not only the size of their bones, but more importantly the sharpness of their teeth.  I certainly would not wanted to be an early human, as they obviously, for some time, were NOT top of the food chain, but seemingly part of it.  Having “filled” our heads, it was time to fill our stomachs. And fill them we did with an amazing lunch at the historic Old Ebbitt Grill where the “who’s who” of DC can often be found. Fully satiated, it was time to view DC from a different perspective…The Old Post Office (circa 1899), specifically, its clock tower.

This building, located on 1100 Pennsylvania Ave (between Congress and the White House), operated as DC’s post office till the beginning of WWI and has gone through several renovations and uses to include nearly being demolished in the 70’s to make way for more office buildings. It’s Romanesque Revival style of architecture (1840-1900), a common style for churches and government buildings(1840-1925) with its monochromatic masonry, square towers and semi-circular window and door openings, just didn’t match the Federal Triangle complex it is nestled within and the immediate area’s architecture (Beaux Arts). It survived however, and in 2013 the U.S. General Services agency (GSA), the building’s owner, signed a 60 year lease with DJT Holdings LLC, who then repurposed the building into a 5 star luxury hotel, the Trump International Hotel.

Simply described in one word, Elegance.  The building’s exterior and interior atrium has kept its historical and intricate craftsmanship.  We however, were here to experience DC, and all its architectual glory and design from the clocktower.

If you read the panel above, you will discover how the celebration of “Flag Day” came about.

To access the clock tower, one enters from the “backside” of the hotel, adjacent the Starbucks.  From here you enter double doors, make a left, which leads you to the Trump store and a security guard who makes sure that you don’t have any liquids with you if you are headed to the clocktower.  You make a right and follow a long hallway adorned with very informative interpretive panels about the history surrounding the design of DC.  At the end of the hallway, and a right turn, you are met by a National Park Ranger who inquires from whence we came and directs us into the small elevator that first takes you to the 9th floor, where you can peak into the post office/hotel atrium/lobby-bar and the area where the pulls for the United States Bells of Congress, in which there are 6 varied size bells ( 581lbs – 2953 lbs) housed in the clock tower are located. The Washington Ringing Society is responsible for ringing these bells (a Bi-Centenial gift from England to celebrate the end of the Revolutionary War) at the annual opening of Congress, Federal holidays and other special events.  They practice every Thursday to the tune of over 100db.

Once you pass the bell pulls, you board another elevator that takes you to the open air clock tower. From here, the 360 degree views are stunning. We lucked out with a near perfect bluebird day.Being able to see buildings from above in their “entirety” makes for a more complete perspective of the enormity and design of the Federal Triangle complex as well as other buildings within easy eyesight.  This 315 ft tall platform above DC, the second tallest in DC, also allowed for significant respite from the record breaking heat wave the city was experiencing.  Eventually we got thirsty and as Paul said, to the chagrin of a secruity guard who happened to ride the elevator down with us from the bell pulls level, “push C for cocktails”.  Considering that the hotel sported two bars (that we could see), we opted to enjoy a cocktail at the smaller and tucked away bar to the left of the lobby (as you enter the hotel), whose backbar facade sports original P.O. Boxes.  A pleasant conversation with the two bartenders tending bar, revealed that one of them hailed from Huntington Beach, where he worked as an ocean lifeguard.  Turns out we knew several of the same people…and the world shrinks, yet again!

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“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.)

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.
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“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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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


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.


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