A Travellerspoint blog

January 2015

Death Valley

January 27-28

Where do we even start with this monolithic, yet stunningly picturesque valley. A friend of ours who recently visited the Grand Canyon said she failed to have the adjectives to describe what she had seen with her eyes. Death Valley could easily be described in the same way; the human eye just cannot take in the expanse of its size, let alone its beauty or colours.

As we entered the valley we weren’t prepared for what we were going to see. As we left snowcapped peaks behind us, we expected to see a desert floor and very little else. Initially we were deflated because as we drove higher and higher in altitude the visibility became less and less. The sun appeared to sink lower in the sky and the light of day drained away. At some points at the highest of elevations, all we saw were the bonnet of the car and thick, dense clouds and barely perceptible road in front of us. This combined with the name of Death Valley only added to the eeriness we were feeling.

As we rounded each corner, we got glimpses of what we imagine the moon’s surface might look and then after another corner, perhaps something someone of enormous stature had sculpted with his bare hands from clay. After yet another turn, we may have even glimpsed what looked like an area mined by the most enormous mining vehicles one could imagine.

As we rounded one of the last corners, both Nick and I commented on how unusual the sky before us looked with what appeared to be dots of dark clouds. On further inspection we soon realized we were looking at the bottom of floor of Death Valley. The clouds drained away, giving way to dusky, subdued colours and a landscape that only the naked eye can capture. It is a pantheon or cathedral of mountains, valley floor and an amazing array of colours.

Death Valley is one of the hottest places in the world. Summer daytime temperatures often exceed a blistering 49 degrees and nights may fail to cool below 38. We are told that it is the dramatic landscape around us that helps generate these extremes. In the low valley bottom, the desert sun heats the air and the valley’s steep mountain walls trap rising hot air and recirculates it down to the basin for further heating.

Tawny dunes smoothly rise nearly 100 feet from Mesquite Flat. Here we take a walk through the sand dunes midmorning where you can see the light accentuate the ripples and patterns in the dunes. What is unusual about the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes is they are in one isolated spot just outside Stovepipe Wells.

Golden Canyon has some of the most stunning landscape. The one-mile trek up Golden Canyon is a beautiful but easy hike. The sides of the canyon are made up of red mudstone and colorful mosaic conglomerates. Occasional broken pavement offers a reminder that there was once a road through this canyon until a rainstorm washed it out in 1976. We followed the main wash uphill toward the prominent landmark aptly named the Red Cathedral and enjoyed a leisurely stroll back down to the car to continue on our journey.

The Artist’s Drive was one of my favourites in Death Valley. It is a scenic loop drive through multi-hued volcanic and sedimentary hills. Artist’s Palette is especially photogenic in the late afternoon light, but from what we have seen, they are beautiful at any time of the day and literally look like someone has opened up tins of powdered paint, dipped their hands in, pulled out a fist full of hue and tossed it over the landscape. The various mineral pigments have coloured the volcanic deposits. Iron salts produce the reds, pinks and yellow and decomposing mica causes the green, whilst the manganese supplies the purple.

Our next leg stretch is Badwater Basin. The lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin is a surreal landscape of vast salt flats. At Badwater on the cliff behind you, you can find the sign that marks sea level. Sea level is the average elevation of the world’s ocean surface and is the standards from which all other elevations are measured. At the lowest point of the Western Hemisphere, Death Valley belongs to a world-wide geographic rogue’s gallery, whose members share defining features, that is: to have exposed land below sea level, an extremely dry climate is necessary. In wet climates, low places fill with water and overflow to the sea. A dry climate evaporates water, leaving behind salt flats or briny lakes. Like most of these locations, Death Valley was not created by a river’s erosion. Movements in the earth’s crust have dropped it to such great depths.

The Devil’s Golf Course is an immense area of rock salt eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires in this forbidding landscape. So incredibly serrated that “only the devil could play golf on such rough links.” Delicate salt formations are hidden among the harsh and rigid spires. Deposited by ancient salt lakes and shaped by winds and rain, the crystals are forever changing. Listen carefully! On a warm day you may hear a metallic cracking sound as the salt pinnacles expand and contract.

When I asked Alyssa what her favorite part of Death Valley was, without hesitation she said ‘the coyote’. As if the two day visit to Death Valley couldn’t get any better: as we are departing the valley and leaving it’s striking landscape behind us, a coyote is seen meandering down the highway. To either welcome us or to bid us adieu from Death Valley, this curious coyote thought he might stop us in the middle of the highway and remind us of where we have just been and what we have seen.

After leaving one of the most stark, driest and uninhabited places in the world a mere 2 hours later we arrived in Las Vegas.

Posted by V3USA 11:24 Comments (4)

Mariposa to Three Rivers

Seeing Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

After a fantastic week in the small township (some referred to it as a village) of Mariposa, we travelled firstly via Fresno and more specifically via Kingsburg to visit the Bravo Cheese Factory. This deli/restaurant/amusement area was recommended on a website we are using for Areas of Interest and it was well worth the stop. Here Alyssa played in the 7 storey tree house and we marveled at their collection of antiques and locally made cubby houses.20150122_B..Traver__15_.jpg

Our next accommodation stop is at Three Rivers, an even smaller village than Mariposa. We decided on Three Rivers due to its location to Sequoia National Park, where the entrance gates are only 5 minutes drive up the road. That leads me to an interesting point. You have to pay an entrance fee to each National Park you visit. It is essentially $30 for the car and is valid for 7 days. Though we have opted for the Annual pass of $80 which allows us access to all the National Parks for obviously the next 12 months. Money well spent I say.

Our accommodation for 4 nights in Three Rivers is the Lazy J Ranch, a motel of around 15 units, of which we were 1 of only 3 units booked. Winter is the quiet season here, kids are back in school, parents are working and most would prefer to stay indoors or at least away for colder climates. Hence one of the main reasons we wanted to visit the National Parks during winter...low crowd numbers.

Sequoia National Park is home to the world's largest tree by volume, the General Sherman and is over 2,200 years old. The sequoia are absolutely amazing to see. Although they 'only' grow to around 300 feet high, they continue to grow in girth. The General is nearly 103 feet in circumference at ground level and grows enough new wood in a year to produce a 60 foot tall tree. Also, the Sequoia have chemicals in the wood and bark which provide resistance to insects and fungi and their thick bark insulates them from most fires.20150123_Sequoia_NP__1_.jpg

After a lay day where Alyssa hit the school books, we travelled to Kings Canyon, a little further at 1.5 hours drive away, but equally as impressive. King's Canyon is also home to many Sequoia including the General Grant, the second largest tree. Unfortunately at this elevation (over 6,000 feet) many of the roads are closed, however the road down to Hume Lake was open and suggested by the ranger for its views down into Kings Canyon. Here Alyssa had a long play in some fairly recent snow fall. 20150125_Kings_Canyon__2_.jpg

Our last night in Three Rivers we decided to dine at the Ol' Buckeroo, an outdoor diner where the kitchen is operated from a refurbished caravan. Thankfully we sat near an outdoor heater as the temperature was around 6C but everything about the place was spot on. The location, overlooking the Kaweah river, the ambiance and the food was fantastic. Alyssa had a chocolate mouse with a salted caramel topping that was absolutely wonderful.20150125_Three_Rivers.jpg

Posted by V3USA 17:04 Comments (5)


15 Jan 2015 - 22 Jan 2015

Hello to you all. No matter where you are, we are thinking of you. The calendar says that today is 21 January and it won't be long until school begins. I am ready for that to happen, believe it or not.

For the past week we have done so much. On arriving on Thursday last week, we did our first grocery shop whilst in Mariposa. Navigating the grocery stores in becoming easier the more we do it. We have managed to fit in two visits to Yosemite and take in some of the most spectacular sights both on the highway and in the Park. We snuck in a visit to Columbia, CA; a historic gold rush town of the 1850’s where they dress in period costume. We travelled along a highway that was along highway 49. It was pretty exciting, exhilarating and a little scary. When we spoke to the guy at the information centre he said it was a relatively easy drive with very little traffic because it was particularly windy. I wish I had a go pro on when I drove it because there are not enough adjectives to explain how windy this road is. Once you got off the straight bits and started to ascend into the mountains, I didn’t drive much faster than 20k/hr. In some cases, I had to slow the car down to 12k/hr just to navigate around a corner. Now don’t get me wrong – the highway was in good nick and is a two way road with double lines down the middle, but when you are driving on the right hand side of the road – it can be pretty scary. The other thing I really like about their road system here is that if you are the slower vehicle they have turnouts so you can pull over and let others past without the need for idiots to try to overtake. All in all, my knuckles were probably only white for ½ the trip but I’m sure Nick’s ass was twitching when he was on the ‘oh f%^&k’ side and could see nothing but ‘down’ in some cases. You just have to imagine the Paluma road on steroids to get a bit of a picture.

We have even completed several of the Mariposa walking routes. The most memorable of these routes being the Stockton Creek Trail (3.20 miles).

Yesterday we spent my birthday by starting with our daily walk to a coffee shop. Our favourite coffee shop by far is the Pony Expresso. Shortly after we get back from coffee, we jump in the car and started on our second visit to Yosemite, this time via a different route. Taking in the whole of the valley as we went. We decided to do some ice skating while there and then when we got back to Mariposa we had my birthday dinner at a restaurant called “1850”.

“Keep close to Nature's heart...and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” John Muir

To attempt to capture our time here in pictures, I have put together a little montage to music. Hope you enjoy it.

Posted by V3USA 14:33 Comments (1)

Stanford to Mariposa

15 January 2015

Posted by V3USA 20:13 Comments (5)

San Francisco

Stanford (Palo Alto) - 8/1/15 - 15/1/15

We arrived at Stanford on Thursday 8/1 and are spending a week with Jon, Lianne and their two kids: Simon (11) and Lucy (7) – they actually live technically on Stanford Campus. Both Leanne and Jon are doctors at Stanford University. Leanne does epidemiology and Jon does DNA research. I’m hoping that somehow by osmosis that their intelligence will rub off and I might just come back a bit smarter (notice the use of the suffix ‘er’. Stanford (Palo Alto) is 33 miles south of San Francisco. In good traffic, the drive to San Fran should take no longer than 40 minutes or you can also take the Caltrain commuter line. The "Baby Bullet" trains take 37 minutes to get to San Francisco.

Just outside Jon & Lianne’s doorstep is a very popular - 200 vehicles parked on the side of road every hour on the hour should give you an indication of how popular this walk is (and that is just week days) – walk named “The Stanford Dish loop”. It is supposedly a popular route for Stanford University students as well as Silicon Valley professionals. It is a steep paved trail and would be suitable for running, walking, or hiking (no bikes allowed). On the weekends, the traffic on the walk would exponentially increase by no less than 100% would be my guess. I had no sooner told Jon and Lianne about how my mind can achieve great things (the body not so much) when it comes to exercise when I decided that my little “shog” (shuffle/jog) would be on a ‘pilgrimage’ to the Stanford Dish the next day. I only got 3 minutes in before I realized I could walk faster than I was “shogging” and opted to walk the rest of the way. I liken it to Castle Hill, only a little longer up. So on my return, Nick and I decided we would do the ‘loop’ on Tuesday 13/1.

We have had a great time here and have visited Farmer’s markets on the weekend and we also picked up a bagel each from Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels. This little Bagel bakery was so popular, we had to wait in line for someone to take our order. I guestimate we spent about 15 minutes in line waiting to get to the front counter just to order our bagel – but they were worth it and the experience of standing in line for something like this is probably half the excitement.

Yesterday we caught the caltrain to San Francisco and did the touristy things: Pier 39, Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli square and the cable cars. We initially made some public transport mistakes: couldn’t find parking for the train (ended up getting the 2nd last spot), paying for a ticket to destination ‘zone 3’ (doh! We are at zone 3), so we had to purchase more tickets to zone 1, and catching the muni to 3 spots past our target destination and having to backtrack. We obviously got to Pier 39 in the end, and that is all that counts, isn’t it.

So today is Tuesday 13/1 and Nick and I have just got back from our hour and ½ walk on the ‘Dish’ loop. Great walk and fantastic views across to the bay. The reason we chose today: (drum roll inserted here)…..Alyssa has gone to school with Simon and is sitting in his class to see what it is like. We have been ribbing her a bit about turning on the aussie accent and telling them about the kangaroos on our streets, but I’m not sure she is too keen. I think she just wanted to see what it was like and mix with some other kids her own age. We told her we would drop in at lunch (11.50am) and see if she wanted to stay the day or whether she is ‘too cool for school’. The school is literally a 2 minute walk from the house, so it is a perfect location.

We have 1 more day here with Jon, Lianne and the kids and then on Thursday we head to Mariposa.

Posted by V3USA 10:49 Comments (6)

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