Yosemite National Park, Day 1

Well, I’m seriously behind again.  I just spent a month camping without internet access in New Mexico (at Hyde Memorial State Park near Santa Fe, then El Vado and Heron Lake State Parks in north-central NM) and in Colorado, boondocking near La Manga Pass on Hwy 17.  I could only get online for an hour or 2 when running errands in Santa Fe with Chris, or hiking to a mountain ridge, or driving to the Chama Visitor Center to use their WiFi.  Of all the things I needed to do online when I had the connection (email, banking, campsite research, finding propane, etc.), blogging was lower on my priority list.  Sorry!

I’ve been going through the pictures I took at Yosemite National Park and it’s been a major task to single out a limited number of pictures from the 500+ that I took.  One thing that I hadn’t expected is how the beauty is all around you in Yosemite Valley.  It’s not a park where you have a spot in the campground and drive or hike to the viewpoints.  Half Dome is right above the campground and viewable from all over.  You see Yosemite Fall almost anywhere.  It’s a short, skinny valley with steep walls all around, so the views are always there, wherever you are standing, unless blocked by the tall trees.  Like Bryce Canyon NP and Zion NP, I was taking pictures non-stop.

As I mentioned previously, I stopped at the Escapee park in Coarsegold the day before my 3-day reservation in Yosemite (April 28-30).  It’s located off Highway 41, just south of the Yosemite entrance near Wawona.  I needed to do laundry and the Escapee co-op parks usually have clean, reasonably priced laundry facilities.  Also, I wanted to be sure to have a cable connection or TV signal to watch the NASCAR race that night.  While there I got to meet Lorna, a Lazy Daze owner, former travel blogger and the organizer of the annual Lazy Daze ladies get together (Ladeze GTG).  She isn’t full-timing right now and is enjoying living at the Coarsegold park. Such a neat lady, and it’s always great to meet folks I know from blogs or the Lazy Daze board.  Coarsegold is a nice park with lots of hills and trees.  The sites aren’t lined up like sardines.  I could see myself in a park like that after stopping full-time traveling.

SKP Park Coarsegold

SKP Park Coarsegold

My original plan was to visit Yosemite in mid-May.  Bob Wells had given me a lot of good advice back at the RTR in January, including when to visit for good waterfalls and wildflowers, photography tips, etc., but that I had to book ASAP.  The campgrounds book up within hours of the reservation system opening, and reservations for mid-May had opened on January 15th.  I was able to get 3 nights, May 21-23, but had to book 3 different campsites.  I would have to move each day, but that didn’t matter as long as I had 3 nights in Yosemite Valley.  Back when I was at Lake Isabella it got hot pretty quickly and I decided to check on Yosemite.  The weather was forecast to be unseasonable warm there, too. (Unseasonably warm in Yosemite meant high in the high 70’s and lows in the low 40’s – dee-lightful!)   And, I had read that the rivers and streams were really flowing due to early snow-melt.  I decided to change my reservations to April 28-30.  I expected we would have good weather and low crowds since school wouldn’t be out yet.  It cost about $30 to change the reservations, but worth it.

So, I left Coarsegold and headed up highway 41 to Yosemite’s south entrance.  One of the main things I wanted to do in Yosemite was visit the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Mariposa Grove Trail

Mariposa Grove Trail

Unfortunately, I couldn’t park nearby.  They had everyone park 8 miles away at Wawona and take a shuttle to the grove.  Riley had to stay in the RV, since dogs aren’t allowed on trails or buses.  The size of the trees are mind-boggling.  It’s a nice area, with a paved trail and informational sources.  And, of course, very shady and cool.  Back at the rig, we headed on up Hwy 41 and enjoyed a really pretty drive to Yosemite Valley.  Friends Steve and Barb Smith back in Texas are from California and told me to be sure to stop for the Tunnel View, that it was outstanding.  After about an hour we got to the long tunnel. Immediately at the end are parking lots on each side of the road for the viewpoint.  I pulled in to the lot on the right side of the road. That was the wrong side, as I found out later the lot on the left side of the road has the RV parking.(Just an FYI for RV’ers.)  Fortunately I am short enough at 22′, and was able (barely) to park in a regular spot.

Tunnel View

Tunnel View. Not great lighting at 3PM. I would visit this site the next day at sunset for better pictures.

It is a spectacular view, with Bridalveil Fall gushing and highly visible, El Capitan on the left, and Half Dome to the back.  Then, the drive to the campground is lovely, cruising along the valley among all the trees in the picture above.  You can’t even tell there is a road down there, it’s hidden in the forest.  When we got to the campsite I got parked and noticed there was a seasonal stream winding along the back boundary of the campground, right behind our site.  It was a great site, very shady with flowering dogwoods.  I could hear the Merced River rushing behind the campground – it was probably just a hundred yards or so behind my site.

Campsite at Yosemite

Campsite at Yosemite

By the time I got parked and set up it was about 4:00.  I took Riley for a walk around the campground and along the Merced River.  It was so late in the day there wasn’t really time to do much, but I decided to hop on the Yosemite free shuttle and ride it around to get familiar with the valley.  There is a stop right at the campground entrance.  I got off at Yosemite Village to visit the general store, then at Yosemite Fall.

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Fall

I hopped back on the shuttle and rode around a bit more, getting back to the campsite before dark.  (Note for Yosemite visitors: the shuttle drivers have great little fold out maps of the valley, shuttle stops, and general info.  Ask for one if you don’t see them on the shelf next to the door.)

I have about 45 or so photos of our time at Yosemite, so am dividing into 3 posts for the 3 days of our visit.  Will post day 2 soon.

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Mohave and visiting

Picking up where I left off last time, Chris and I had decided to have a meetup midway between us (I was south of Barstow, CA and he was at Alamo Lake, east of Parker, AZ.)  We decided on Goffs, near the Mohave National Preserve.  I figured we would be able to find a site to camp at, since there are BLM wilderness areas nearby, Mohave allows ‘roadside camping’, and they have a couple of traditional campgrounds.  So, on Tuesday 3/19 Riley and I headed off through Barstow, where we dumped tanks and did some grocery shopping.  When we got to Goffs and met up with Chris we headed up Lanfair Road, one of the lesser used roads in the Mohave Preserve.  Most of the visitor stuff is in the middle, off Essex Rd.  We found an old mining road, where there are a few sites that have been used for camping previously.  We set up there and had a fantastic location – perfect climate at about 3000 elevation, not much road noise due to few autos traveling on that road, and great hiking among the network of old mining roads.

Mohave Site

Mohave Site, just off Lanfair Road (the dirt road on the left there)

Each morning we would head out for a hike.  There were so many roads branching off and hills to climb.  We always had someplace we wanted to visit the next day.  One day we hiked up to a high rock outcropping and could see some type of structure off in the distance.  We decided to hike there the next day.

Mohave View with homestead

Mohave View with structure in the distance (the brown bit near the right side of the picture, about midway down)

It turned out to be an old homestead.  There was a crumbling wooden house structure and a foundation from a separate building.  Like a mini ghost town.

Homestead 1

The old homestead

Also, there was a car.  We call it the ghost car.  It looked like a truck, but on closer inspection it was originally a sedan.  They had cut the roof off over the back to make a truck out of it.

Chris and the "ghost car"

Chris and the “ghost car”

Ghost Car

Ghost Car

Anyway, we had a good time in the desert – visiting, hiking, cooking, just hanging.  We didn’t see much in the way of wildlife, just some bunnies, a few birds and a couple of impressive lizards.  We heard coyotes, but never saw them.  Lots of desert plants blooming in March.

Lizard1

Lizard1

Lizard2

Lizard2

Barrel Cactus

Barrel Cactus

Desert Bloom

Desert Bloom

Desert Bloom 2

Desert Bloom 2

Old mining roads make good trails.  Vegetation is slowly overtaking, but you can still make out the path.

Old mining roads make good trails. Vegetation is slowly overtaking, but you can still make out the path.

At about this time my folks were on a road trip to Las Vegas and I thought maybe we could meet up somewhere and have a visit on their way back home since I was so close.  I emailed the suggestion and they arranged to stop in Laughlin, NV for a couple of days, March 27-28.  They got reservations at the Riverside Casino which has an RV park, so I got a site there.  Chris and I headed over on the 27th.  He was going to get a site at Katherine Landing at the southern end of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, on Lake Mohave.  Also, he has family in nearby Bullhead City, so would be able to work in a visit or two while there.

I met up with my folks on Wednesday just after pulling into the RV park.  It was so, so good to see them.  We got to visit a bit, then we got them checked into their room.  They were going to check out the casino and see how was the video poker.  I headed back to check on Riley and finish getting myself settled.  When I got back to the casino my mom had already hit a Royal Flush and won $1000.  Yay!  Then she forced me to take $100 to gamble with.  I hung with them at the bar and enjoyed playing the poker machines.  They had to remind me how to play at first.  Once I got the hang I did OK, only going through $40 over the 2 evenings.  We enjoyed dinners at the casino cafe, and Chris joined us for breakfast on Thursday morning.  I can’t believe I never thought to have one of the waitstaff take a picture of us for the blog.  Darn!!

On Friday they headed back to Texas and I moved over to Katherine Landing where Chris was set up.  He was fishing on the lake with his kayak. There are a lot of power boats on the lake.  It has a marina and gets very busy.  Not great for fishing, unfortunately.

Katherine Landing Campground

Katherine Landing Campground.  Large Oleanders between sites provide some separation, but not much shade.

Mohave Lake and marina, from the Fisherman Trail

Mohave Lake and marina, from the Fisherman Trail

Ski Cove, then end of the Fisherman Trail

Ski Cove, the end of the Fisherman Trail

Chris and Riley at Katherine Landing info station after a hike

Chris and Riley at Katherine Landing info station after a hike

More desert blooms, at Katherine Landing:

Beaver Tail in bloom

Beaver Tail in bloom

Blooming cholla

Blooming Cholla

I had originally planned to stay a day or 2 at Katherine Landing before heading back to CA.  But, I ended up staying longer to hang with Chris.  Probably would have stayed even longer, but it got unbearably hot, up to about 90.  Without hookups and no AC, it was really uncomfortable. We drove around the surrounding BLM land looking for a place with higher elevation but couldn’t find anything suitable.  So, we headed out on Thursday, April 4th.  Chris was going to make his way to Prescott, AZ and his sister’s place, and I headed to Lake Isabella, CA.  It’s at at the southern tip of the Sequoia National Forest and about 3000 feet elevation, so much cooler.  That’s next….

Desert Livin’, Part 2

So, we spent Sunday 3/10 in Indio, running errands.  Wanted to go to Walmart, Trader Joe’s (Everyone raves about TJ’s. Good, but small than expected.) and do laundry.  Also, hoped to be able to watch the NASCAR race in the afternoon.  Got parked at the laundromat, fired up the TV, aimed the antenna and I was able to watch the race and do laundry.  Thanks Dad for installing the great solar setup and new Jack antenna!!  I had originally planned to spend the night in Indio, but we got done so early that I went ahead and headed on. Joshua Tree has overflow parking on BLM land right outside of the park, just off I-10.  So I  pulled in there, near 3 other rigs.  I like to find a good boondock spot right outside the national park so we can go in early and beat the crowds or find an available site in the popular campgrounds (like we did at Zion and Grand Canyon last year), so this site was really handy.

Boondocking outside Joshua Tree

Boondocking outside Joshua Tree

Anyway, Monday morning we drove in to the park.  Turns out there was a big earthquake that morning close to the town of Anza, near where we were camped the prior week. Never felt anything as we were driving at that moment.  Anyway, I visited the Cottonwood Visitor Center and hiked the trail past the Cottonwood Spring. They had a sign showing the mortal holes created long ago, over many years, when Cahuilla Indian women would grind seeds into flour.

Cahuilla Indian Mortar Holes

Cahuilla Indian Mortar Holes

Joshua Tree NP is not all Joshua Trees.  There are 2 deserts that meet in the middle – the Colorado and the Mohave. The Colorado is lower and has a lot of creosote, palo verde, ocotillo, etc. The Mohave begins at higher elevation, and you start seeing yucca and Joshua trees. There is a lot to see when driving the Pinto Basin Road across the park towards the northwest.  Lots of places to stop and read displays and notice the different desert features.

We stayed at the Jumbo Rocks campground and I hiked the trail there – part nature trail, part hike to the Skull Rock.

Jumbo Rocks Campground

Jumbo Rocks Campground

Jumbo Rocks

Jumbo Rocks, with climbers halfway up

Jumbo Rocks

Jumbo Rocks trail, on the way to Skull Rock

Skull Rock

Skull Rock

The next day we drove through the park to Black Rock Canyon campground.  I hiked the High View Trail, which is quite a climb.  Riley stayed home, dogs not allowed on trails.

Driving to Black Rock Canyon we saw a major field of Joshua Trees

Driving to Black Rock Canyon we saw a major field of Joshua Trees

They have the coolest looking blooms

New blooms look like a pineapple or something.  They’re huge.

Full Bloom

Fully open bloom

Black Rock Canyon CG

Black Rock Canyon CG

Bench at the top of High View Trail is much appreciated

The bench at the top of High View Trail is much appreciated

On Wednesday, the 13th, we moved on to Sawtooth Canyon.  It’s a (free!) BLM campground between Lucerne Valley and Barstow on hwy. 247.  It had gotten pretty hot in southern CA, but Sawtooth is just off of a pass between the Granite and Ord mountain ranges, at about 3550 elevation.  So, we would be able to stay cool there for a week or so, until it was time to get water and dump tanks.  The sites are nice, with a covered concrete table area and 2 fire pits/grills.  I set up Riley’s pen and even put out my awning.

Sawtooth Spot

Sawtooth Spot

The campground is really spread out and we walked all over and up to the top of the hill/canyon, where there is a trail for back-country camping.  There were 3 guys with packs going off that way when we were up there.  (More power to them.  I love my Lazy Daze conveniences.)  On Saturday we hiked a big hill that was maybe some kind of road at one time.  Very steep and rocky.

Yeah, we hiked that.

Yeah, we hiked that.

There were a bunch of cars at the 3 sites near us that turned out to be the San Dimas Mountain Rescue Team, having a training campout or something.  So, that was comforting, looking down from the top of the hill.

View from the hill.

View from the hill.

Over the weekend I had been talking to Chris, who I met at the Lazy Daze gathering in Quartzsite in January.  We had parted at Fortuna Pond on Feb. 13th to continue our travels in separate directions.  He was at Alamo Lake in Arizona, enjoying his kayak and doing some fishing.  We missed each other and decided to meet up halfway, which was off I-40 around Goffs, CA, near the Mohave National Preserve.  Also, my folks were about to take a road trip to Las Vegas, and I thought maybe I would try to meet up with them on their way back to TX.  More about visiting in Mohave and NV/AZ in the next post.

Sawtooth Canyon sunset

Sawtooth Canyon sunset, packed up and ready to head to Mohave NP

New Mexico – Rockhound to Bottomless Lakes State Parks

Riley and I left City of Rocks State Park on Nov. 1st and headed to Rockhound State Park, outside of Deming.  It’s set among the Florida Mountains, and there are some really interesting rocks to be found.  There are areas of ash and lava deposits where people have found geodes and ‘thundereggs’, which are like geodes, but with a solid center.  You can take up to 15 pounds of rocks per person.  There are also quartz, jasper and other common, but pretty rocks.

We got settled into a site at the top of the hill, right under the mountain.  The TV towers of the local channels are all there, the highest point in the area.  So I got GREAT reception on my little rabbit-ear type antenna.  On Saturday I got to watch UT play (and win) against Texas Tech.  On Sunday was a full NFL day!

All the TV towers for the area were on the mountain right above my site

All the TV towers for the area were on the mountain right above my site

Riley and I also hiked the trail that runs above the campground, partway up the mountain.  On Monday, I did some rockhounding, leaving Riley in the RV and climbing most of the way up the mountain to see if I could find any thundereggs or geodes.  I think  I found a couple of small ones, but haven’t broken them open yet.

View from high on the mountain

View from high on the mountain above Rockhound

I really liked Rockhound.  Being so high up it gets a good breeze during the day and the views/sunsets are great.  But, I had more I wanted to see before getting back to TX by Thanksgiving.  So we were off on Tuesday, the 6th.  I was heading next to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, but stopped in Las Cruces for an overnight.  I wanted to watch the election results and do laundry.  Stayed at Sunny Acres RV Park, which is an Escapees affiliated park with a 50% discount (usually the Escapee parks have 15% discounts).  It was a good park with a clean laundry room.  The next morning I hit the Las Cruces Farmer’s Market, Tandy in El Paso for bookbinding leather, and got to Guadalupe Mountain just before dark.  The campground is just a parking lot with site numbers marked, but at least it was right in the park.  Riley and I hiked the one trail that allows dogs.

Can you see the deer in the brush?  Almost dead center of the picture.

Along the hiking trail.  Can you see the deer in the brush? Almost dead center of the picture.

Guadalupe NP Sunrise

Guadalupe NP Sunrise

The next day we went to Carlsbad, NM.  I thought about going to the caverns. I had been there as a kid, but supposedly they have made some upgrades to the lighting and may be worth going again.  It was too hot to leave Riley in the RV and I didn’t want to kennel him, so passed.  Besides, the bats had all gone to Mexico for the winter, so no evening flight program.  I stopped at the Walmart and then went a few miles up the road to Brantley Lake State Park.  The lake is really low, like pretty much all the lakes at the parks we visited.  It was a decent park. I bet it would be great when the lake is up closer to the sites.  It had no Verizon coverage and no park wi-fi.  That’s OK for a day or two, but by the third day I was ready to seek greener pastures. Chris had moved to Bottomless Lakes State Park near Roswell, which had no Verizon, but did have wi-fi in the park.  It wasn’t far, so I decided to check out that park.  The lakes are a series of sinkholes, and the campground is by a nice, big lake with a beach.  I found a site in the area with electric/water hookups, but there are nice no-hookup sites across the lake that are along the water’s edge.  Generally the best sites at the NM parks have no hookups.

Bottomless Sunset

Bottomless Lakes Sunset

Chris was in an area nearby with no hookups (where the 2 trucks are in the picture above), but it was about to get super cold so she moved to a electric site further up the hill to be able to run her electric heater.  I moved from a site further over to the one above, where I could have a view of the lake and was closer to the wi-fi antenna.  Again, we hiked, walked dogs together, and I picked her brain about full-timing in an RV.

On Friday the 16th, I left to head back to my folks place northwest of Austin for the holidays.  We made it to San Angelo that night and just stayed at the Walmart.  On Saturday I planned to get in by about noon.  We stopped in Brady for a break and dog walk, but when I tried to start the engine up it was dead.  Oh, no.  Luckily I had signed up for Coachnet service and they got a local auto repair shop over to me right away.  Keith from K&T Automotive got me charged up enough to follow him to his shop down the road.  While there he diagnosed that a wire from the alternator to the battery had blown and I wasn’t getting a charge.  He fixed me up and for $70 I was on my way.  Funny – I did about 6,000 miles on the trip, but couldn’t make it the final 70!  Oh well, at least it was easily and quickly fixable.  I think I made it home by 3:00 or so.

In for repairs in Brady, TX

In for repairs in Brady, TX

It was a great trip.  So great that I decided to do another trip for 2013, starting in Quartzsite in January.  Then, when the weather warms will go into California where I will (hopefully) visit Yosemite, Sequoias, and the Redwoods.  Also, will visit the Oregon coast and Crater Lake, Washington state, Seattle and Vancouver, and Glacier National Park.

Over the holidays I had a lot of stuff to do.  I will do one post about all that, then start up writing about the new trip.  Thanks to everyone that have been reading my travel log.  I hope you enjoyed the pictures, and got a tip or two of places to go on your own travels.

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Arizona – Grand Canyon and Coconino National Forest

Monday morning (10/1) we left Kanab, fully charged and with fresh tanks.  We were ready to be off grid for a week.  I had read about the extensive Forest Service roads above the Grand Canyon in the Kaibab National Forest.  Roxanne and Annie of the Good Luck Duck had written about where they had boondocked in the forest, so I programmed the GPS and headed down there.  Such a pretty drive in the Kaibab on Highway 67.

Kaibab National Forest along Hwy. 67

Kaibab National Forest along Hwy. 67 showing fall color

I drove out Forest Road 22, but didn’t find any sites I liked, so went across Hwy. 67 to FR 611.  Lots of good level sites along there.  We were just a bit off the road, deep in the forest.

Campsite in the Kaibab

Campsite in the Kaibab

Down the forest road about 3 miles is the east canyon viewpoint and Kaibab Trail.  Riley and I walked to the viewpoint/Saddle Mountain Wilderness.  Met a few folks hiking and camping along the canyon rim.

Riley hiking in the Kaibab

Riley on the Kaibab Trail, nearly camouflaged on the forest floor

We stayed 2 days, then drove about 20 miles down Hwy. 67 to the Grand Canyon North Rim.  We got to the campground at 8:30 AM and there were only a couple of campsites available.  We reserved one, then drove down to the lodge/visitor complex to get a view of the canyon.  A few hours later went back to the campground and got settled in to our site.  We were right next to the General Store, where I was able to use their wi-fi.  I had not been able to pick up a signal with my Verizon MiFi device while in the forest. Outside the store I saw a few Kaibab Squirrels.  They have a great white tail, reminding me of a Vegas showgirl.

Kaibab Squirrel, with a fluffy white tail.

Kaibab Squirrel, with a fluffy white tail.

Grand Canyon campground

Grand Canyon campground

I took Riley on the one trail that allows dogs, Bridle Trail, which runs along the road from the campground to the visitor center.  Later I hiked the Transept Trail that runs along the canyon rim from the campground to the visitor center. The view was very hazy, due to smoke from a prescribed burn in the forest south of the South Rim.

View from Transept Trail

View from Transept Trail

On Thursday morning we drove back to the lodge/visitor center area.  I wanted to hike out the Bright Angel Point trail.  Then we drove back up 67 to Jacob Lake, then over towards Page, under the Vermillion Cliffs, and south to Flagstaff.  We stopped at Walmart and the visitor center, then down I-17 to the Willard Springs area of the Coconino National Forest.  RV Sue had written about the area last year and it was on my list of places to be sure to visit on the trip.

We parked next to a shallow pond.  In the middle of the night I heard some odd sounds.  Turned out to be a herd of elk stopping at the pond for a drink.  There were a couple of males bugling.  It was very cool!!

Coconino National Forest Site

Coconino National Forest Site

There is a network of forest roads in the Coconino, too.  Riley and I walked all over.  Some areas of the roads are very rocky.

Riley on a break from the rocky forest road walk

Riley on a break from the forest road walk

We stayed 3 days, then on Sunday drove just a few miles down the road to Munds Park RV Resort.  I did laundry, took care of the tanks, watched the race and football, and got propane. I was pretty happy with this schedule of once a week at a commercial campground to take care of business, then the rest of the week off-grid.

On Monday we went to Flagstaff for groceries, then to a different area of the Coconino Forest.  Roxanne and Annie had found a nice boondocking area not too far from Flagstaff, and I had arranged to park nearby.  Roxanne is the moderator of the women’s RV Yahoo group I am on, so I had hoped to eventually cross paths.  I parked near their site and got to spend some time picking their brains.  They are SO nice! I really enjoyed meeting them, after sort of knowing them from the group, and reading their blog.

Again, Riley and I walked the network of roads in the beautiful forest.  Riley gets to play ball when we are in the forest away from other folks.

Riley has mad ball skills

Riley has mad ball skills.  (That’s the Good Luck Duck in the background)

We only stayed 2 days, as it was getting quite cold at night.  We headed east on I-40,  with a quick stop in Winslow.  I wanted to see the “Standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona” statue.  Our next stop was going to be Bluewater Lake State Park in New Mexico.

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