West Coast Road Trip – Days 29 and 30 
Monday, April 12, 2010, 09:22 PM
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I started the day with a short run followed by a hot springs soak. Doesn’t get much better than that.



After packing up and hitting the road, our first stop of the day was the China Ranch Date Farm whose dates are sold at the Sunday farmers' market at St. Philips Plaza. I absolutely LOVE them and so was excited to see that the farm was on our route. I was doubly excited when we got there and found that they sell the dates for half the price that I usually get them. We bought 6 pounds for later and a date shake for right then. Mmmm…





Our next destination was the Mojave Desert National Preserve, but we made a pit stop in Baker, CA for lunch at the Mad Greek. You’ve gotta love a Greek restaurant that sells both gyros and horchata amidst lots of tacky, naked statues. Paul was quite proud.



Baker is also home to the world’s tallest thermometer. Sadly, we didn’t have more time to spend in this cultural mecca.



We cruised through the Mojave Desert National Preserve fairly quickly and continued on to the north entrance of Joshua Tree National Park where we caught the sunset and then set up camp at Ryan Campground.





We thought we’d be soaking up the desert warmth by this point in our trip…but, no. A storm was passing through and, while we curled into little balls in our tent, temperatures dropped into the upper 20’s. Here is out frost-covered car the next morning.





We drove up to Keys View for some early morning photography and then warmed up with a 7-mile hike on the Lost Horse Mine trail.





While hiking, we saw a number of these cocoons filled with crawling caterpillars. Fascinating, yet gross.



From there, we drove to the southern end of the park and did the same hike that we did the very first day of our trip. How's that for coming full circle? This time, we were treated to lots of wildflowers!









We had told our house-sitter that we would return the following day, but, driving out of Joshua Tree, we realized that we could actually make it home by mid-evening if we just kept driving. We were dying to see the furkids, but, not wanting to spring our arrival on him with just a few hours notice, we opted to spend our final evening in Phoenix.

While this felt a little silly, we attended an injury prevention talk at a Phoenix running store and actually both got a lot out of it.

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West Coast Road Trip – Day 28 
Sunday, April 11, 2010, 05:03 PM
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Seeing that there was some nice color over the mountains when we opened our eyes around 6:00am, we hopped out of the tent and headed for Zabriskie Point. Unfortunately, it was overcast and so we missed out on the spectacular morning colors for which this lookout is famous. But, Paul still got some great shots.





From here, we took a drive through Twenty Mule Team Canyon and stopped to hike up some of the hills. The colors are so different than what I'm used to seeing that some of the photos actually look like paintings to me.






Next up was a drive up to Dante’s View, supposedly the most scenic viewpoint in Death Valley. It did not disappoint. We could see Badwater one mile below us, as well as mountain peaks one mile above us.



(Note that that is not water in the photo - it is salt.)

As everything we wanted to see was on the way out of the park, we packed up camp, hit the visitor center, grabbed some lunch at Furnace Creek and then began making our way south.



Our first stop was for a hike in Golden Canyon where I decided that school truly is wasted on the young. Geology had never interested me and yet I found it fascinating how the levels of rocks and sediment clearly told a story.







(Again, that's not a beach in the background - it's a salt pan.)

We drove through Artist Drive which has some of the most colorful rocks in Death Valley.



And we stopped at Devil’s Golf Course which was bizarre and fascinating. This is all salt that was left behind from evaporated water and has now crystallized.







Our final stop might have been the most anticipated of this portion of the trip, Badwater.



Sitting at 282 feet below sea level, it is the lowest point on the continent. We walked out on the large salt pan and marveled at all of the salt!



On the way out of Death Valley, we were treated to some wildflowers. It's amazing that such beautiful things can grow in this climate





That night, we stayed at Delight’s Hot Springs Resort in the tiny town of Tecopa. Lest you thing we're getting all fancy on you, I should explain that by “resort” they mean RV and mobile home park.



As tent camping was not permitted, we settled on a motel room and thoroughly enjoyed a hot spring soak before bed.



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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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