West Coast Road Trip – Day 27 
Saturday, April 10, 2010, 12:56 AM
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The initial trip planning I had done while in Tucson had only gotten us as far as Yosemite. It was only about a week ago that I sat down at the library in Bend, Oregon to make a plan. It was at this point that I realized Death Valley was right next to Yosemite.

In warmer weather, you can take Highway 120 all the way across Yosemite, which puts you in a great spot to enter Death Valley. However, during snow season, which lasts until early summer in Yosemite, the majority of this highway is closed. We had exited the park via the southern route on Highway 41 and now had to continue driving south to go around the Sierra Nevada mountain range and then north again to enter Death Valley. It was a lot of driving, but well worth it. We both quickly fell in love with Death Valley.

Firstly, it was warm! After a few days in Yosemite, the warm breeze here felt amazing. Secondly, the landscape is otherworldly and beautiful. Thirdly, Death Valley has the mystique of being home to the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile footrace starting at the lowest point in North America and finishing the top of Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States. This race takes place in July, when temperatures regularly exceed 120 degrees.

We made a pit stop in Stovepipe Wells before a short hike in Mosaic Canyon.

Then, another quick stop at the Mesquite Dunes.

And a short walk at Salt Creek which, amazingly, is home to little pup fish.

We didn’t take too much time as it was already early evening and we were worried about finding camping spot. The month of April is the end of Death Valley’s peak tourist season. Sure enough, the Furnace Creek Campground was full, but, just past the town, we found plenty of spots at Sunset Campground…which was free!

There is so much to see in Death Valley that you really don’t want to spend time at your campsite. This is a good thing as all of the campgrounds are essentially huge gravel parking lots.

Setting up camp was a challenge in the strong winds, but I was so thrilled with the warmth that I didn’t care. We didn’t even put on the rain fly. We sat in the car to enjoy our dinner – chili, salmon and tortillas again – and then walked down the road to Furnace Creek to check out the town.

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West Coast Road Trip – Day 26 
Friday, April 9, 2010, 12:23 AM
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It was a beautiful clear day, but we spent a while relaxing in the dining hall until it warmed up to a reasonable temperature. Then, we drove to the historic Ahwahnee Lodge to admire the architecture, as well as the waterfall that ended just outside their parking lot.

Next, we tackled the Upper Falls Trail of Yosemite Falls. While I knew it was a 7.6-mile hike with 2,600 feet of elevation gain, I truly did not appreciate how tough it would be. I got my first hint when the trail began with 60 switchbacks in the first mile. Yes, 60.

At the half-way point, I was rewarded with a gorgeous view of the upper falls.

Then, the real challenge began. The trail remained just as steep, but now there was also snow. Lots of snow. Luckily, it was soft and previous hikers had paved the way to some degree, but it was a slow slog.

Paul went ahead, so that he could take his time with photos, but also because I was unsure whether I would make it to the top. I had never hiked through snow before and wasn’t sure how I or my boots would hold up.

There were a few points when I considered whether I should continue, but then would look up and see how close I was getting to the top. At one point, I stopped a descending hiker to ask how close I was. He gave me some encouragement along with instructions regarding a confusing trail sign. Explaining that, once at the top, you can descend slightly to an overlook with a railing, he said, “Don’t stop until you’re hanging over the railing!” This became a kind of mantra for the remainder of my hike.

Very close to the top, the snow became quite deep and I stopped to put on an extra layer. It had turned quite warm by this point and I had stripped down to just a t-shirt. I got a little off the trail at one point and had to post-hole my way over to the real trail with the snow coming up past my knees.

Paul had given me a 50/50 chance of making it and so he was quite happy to see me at the top. He led me down to the overlook and it was gratifying to see how far I had come.

It had taken us 3 hours for the ascent and would take another 2 hours to get back down. I was dismayed by the large number of ill-prepared hikers I encountered – people wearing tennis shoes and not carrying supplies of any kind.

As a childless adult, I make it a general rule not to judge parents. However, I seriously wondered if CPS should be called on the parents who were dragging their kids up this mountain. I saw kids who must have been as young as 5 years old slipping and falling on the narrow, snow-covered trail.

We arrived back at Yosemite Village dirty, hungry and, in Paul’s case, slightly injured. He had slipped and dislocated his thumb which was swollen for a few hours and sore for a few days. But, we were pleased with our epic hike.

While we had planned to spend one more night at Yosemite, we determined that we had really seen all that we could. There were other areas of the park, but they were closed until late May or early June - whenever the snow melts. We decided to check out early and enjoy the luxury of a warm hotel room in Fresno. It was heavenly.

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West Coast Road Trip – Day 25 
Thursday, April 8, 2010, 02:54 PM
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Going to bed in our freezing tent was bad, but waking up in it was even worse. I put on as many layers of clothes as possible, grabbed our breakfast out of the bear box and wandered over to the dining hall which was swarming with school groups. Many of the kids wore only jeans, sweatshirts and sneakers!

We joined a group of people at the Ansel Adams Gallery at Yosemite Village for their free daily 9:00am photography tour. Paul picked up a few pointers and I learned a good deal about this hobby of Paul’s, as well as a few things about the park.

Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America, is actually broken up into three distinct falls. We took a short hike to the lower falls, which was quite impressive, especially when you consider that it’s only 1/3 of the whole.

Here's a photo of all three parts of the falls.

Paul had signed up for a 4-hour afternoon photo workshop and so I was on my own for a few hours. I grabbed lunch and then went for a much-needed run. My legs felt heavy and I was stiff from being so cold for so long. While the run didn’t feel great, I felt great afterward. Funny how that works.

I saw a bear while running and Paul saw one (most likely the same one) during his photo class. Wildlife is generally easy to spot as word spreads and a large crowd forms quickly.

With the run, a hot shower and temperatures now in the mid-60’s, I was a new woman and ready to enjoy Yosemite to the fullest. I met Paul after his class and we headed to Mirror Lake for sunset photos.

Once again, the temperature plummeted as soon as the sun set, but I was much more good-natured about it this evening. Upon returning to Camp Curry, we rummaged through our bear box for food and headed to the guest lounge. We feasted on our usual - canned chili, canned salmon and tortillas – but also had wine and chocolate to make the evening more festive.

The WiFi did not work very well and so we read for a while before going back to our freezing cabin. Though not any more comfortable than the previous night, having survived it once somehow made it easier to bear.

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West Coast Road Trip – Day 24 
Wednesday, April 7, 2010, 09:35 AM
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While Paul did some online job hunting, I, at the suggestion of a fellow Tri Girl, ran to McKinley Park. It was a nice park with a pond, rose garden and quite a few other runners. (Thanks Jen!)

We then drove to Yosemite via Highway 120. It was a beautiful drive with rolling hills, farms and small towns along the way.

We arrived at the park in the late afternoon and, before even reaching our lodging, stopped for a number of photos ops. As many trails were still covered by snow and ice, we knew that our hiking options would be limited, and so it was a nice surprise to discover just how much there was right in Yosemite Valley.

It was awe-inspiring to see some of the most famous landmarks – El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Falls and Half Dome.

We also pulled over to join a crowd that had spotted a coyote. (We actually assumed it was a wolf because it looked so much healthier than our Arizona coyotes, but later learned that Yosemite does not have wolves.)

This may have been our once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Yosemite and so, even though it was not the optimal time to visit, we didn’t want to miss out. However, with the “figure it out as we go” nature of our trip, we looked into lodging reservations just a few days in advance. This left us with just one option – an unheated canvas tent in Camp Curry. It’s probably best that I didn’t know in advance just how miserable it would be.

To be fair, there were some positive things about this experience:
- Camp Curry is in a great location, very close to Yosemite Village.
- The tent had beds with sheets, pillows, and 4 wool blankets – all of which we piled on top of our sleeping bags.
- The tents were charming, in a rustic kind of way. They are probably wonderful in the summer.
- That which does not kill you, makes you stronger. Right?

But, there was a long list of things about which I was rather grumpy:
- Most of the camp was a mud pit due to the melting snow.

- We had to put all food and toiletries (including unopened packages) in a bear box next to our tent. Nothing could be left in the car either. This policy is understandable and, if you’ve packed for a few nights, probably not too much of a hassle. However, we had packed for 5 weeks and had a ton of bear-attracting crap.

- The cold was even worse than I had imagined. Temperatures dropped quickly once the sun set and kept going until they hit the 20’s.

I was pretty miserable this first evening, but kept trying to remind myself that I was in the midst of the trip of a lifetime and in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Having no place else to go to be warm, we joined most of the rest of the camp guests in the lounge and hung out as long as possible before retiring to our ice box. Needless to say, I did not sleep well.

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West Coast Road Trip - Day 23 
Tuesday, April 6, 2010, 12:15 PM
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Today was the first really nice day in a while for us – sunny and mid-60’s. It felt great.

We ran from our hotel to the American River Trail and then along the trail for a while. It was pleasant to be off the roads and to have river views, although somewhat disconcerting that the path appears to be “home” for Sacramento’s homeless population.

After showering up, we walked a short ways to rent bikes at City Bicycle Works. They did not have tandems, but we got great deal on a 24-hour rental of two single hybrids – just $43 total for the bikes, helmets and a lock.

We rode to midtown and walked through the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, a gorgeous church.

Just a block away was the Capitol, which happened to be having a big health fair on the lawn. There were media and speakers, but we took off when it looked like the Governator was not on the agenda. Later, while watching the news, I discovered that Shay (of Biggest Loser fame) had been on the agenda. I totally would have stayed for her! I’m sure Paul is glad to have missed it though.

Instead, we walked though the Capitol building, which is magnificent.

We hopped back on the bikes and rode about 3 miles to uptown Sacramento for lunch at The Art of Food Café, a raw restaurant that I had found online. As usual with raw meals, it was light, healthy and delicious. We had a burrito, The Cuban (a marinated Portobello mushroom) and, for dessert, chocolate cheesecake that was phenomenal.

It appeared that we had hit all of the major tourist spots in town and so we enjoyed some more riding on the American River Trail before calling it a day.

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