2007 Spring trip - to the Southwest    ab

  After a mild winter, I thought it would be good to get out early and see some of the Spring in southwest areas usually visited around the end of May. It was good timing actually, because this would mean my cousin Jackie could accompany me for part of the trip, and see for the first time the California and desert southwest regions. So we laid plans.

Originally, I was going to drive out west to visit my old friends Bob and Diana in Rossland British Columbia, stopping on the way at Waterton/Glacier National Park for some photography. At the last minute (t minus 2 days), I discovered my rear differential was full of "aluminum paint" rather than clean oil, so with repairs and all, the schedule slipped. I wouldn't be able to visit BC this time.

If you look closely just behind the side gears, you'll see segments missing from a big retaining washer. These bits (the size of 5 cent pieces) churned around and went to dust, but never jammed in the gear teeth! At least that was lucky.

On April 2nd I finally set out, traveling southwest-down the lesser roads from Ottawa toward Toronto, all the while breaking in the engine of a yellow jeep. Up and down the gearsI went, with speeds less than 80 km/hr (50mph) for a full day. Spent the night in Petrolia Ontario, just an hour away from the border crossing at Sarnia in to Michigan.

Basically, I wanted to cruise through the central states more or less directly to California, as I was meeting my cousin at SF airport in a few days. As it turns out, this was just  as well because the Midwest weather was changeable and brutal. From Chicago at a sunny 80 degrees, it rapidly went to freezing outside Omaha Nebraska, with 30 mph crosswinds and gusts to boot.. You put your winter coat on just to pump gas.

Buzzing along I-70, I stopped in Denver to pick up a set of tire chains at Pep Boys, because you never know when you'll need them in the mountains-sometimes even in summer storms. Then I just kept going west.

All Jeeps go to Moab

The first big stop was in Moab Utah. I didn't know there was a big jeep thing starting the next day though, so was really lucky to get one of the last rooms in town. The last hour going down the night highway, it became pretty clear that something was up-lots of trailers trundling along with jeeps on flatbeds…even arriving the next morning.



  Talk about high spirits and people having fun, getting ready to go out on the red rock trails…



The Moab Armored Car

A cute adventure trailer from Tentrax, and a new Jeep Camper from EarthRoamer - very nice and compact for jungles and European roads.

More Moab Jeep pictures here

Clearing out of Moab later in the day, it was time for a big push to California. I-70 ends where it tees into I-15 a little bit south of Salt Lake. Rather than taking I-15 down through Vegas, I opted for the desert route via Hwy 50 and 6 through central Nevada places like Delta, Ely and Tonopah.

Between Delta and Ely, there was a desert gas station, out of the forties. As I drive past, the horse in a little corral rears her head, alerting the dog, who trots up to the pumps, watching. Then, by way of supervising the dog, up comes the goat. Excitement is relative.

The deserts of Nevada

A bright sunny day meant good driving up to Tonopah in the evening. They were expecting heavy weather and thunderstorms so instead of staying there I continued  across to Lone Pine to beat the weather.

    Early in the morning,out of Lone Pine, it was time to try catching the sun on the eastern flank of the Sierras, up toward Bishop.

Going along Hwy 395 right hard against the Sierras, it was up to Reno, then across the Donner Pass toward SF. I spent the night in the mountains at Colfax, then through heavy rain across to Fremont, which is in the Southeast Bay area, arriving at the Motel 6 midmorning. Being a nice day, I went for a hike up Mission Peak, right next door.

Mission peak hanggliders

Up Periscope


   180 View of the Bay Area with San Jose to the left, Fremont straight ahead, and SF at far distant right

 Then first thing the next morning, it was off to pick up Jackie. First you  must enter  the airport
  Into the Maw of the Airport Beast

Some older cars had a run-in with the wall of the diner on the second floor

After arriving and getting bags and stuff, we went touring .North of the Golden Gate bridge and Sausalito is the Muir Woods


On the way back down to Fremont, we stopped at the Marin Headlands for a walkabout

  WW II Defenses

Then off for a great dinner at Green's in Fort Mason, right along the waterfront. Delicious vegetarian.

The next day, we went off to do some shopping for food. The stores in California are well stocked.

and then a visit to Pescadero State Beach, just south of Half Moon Bay

  Fishing with all 5 senses

    BBQ and surfing anyone?

Onward to the Mountains

Getting out of the Bay area early, we got into the foothills and the sky clouded over.

The weatherman was calling for "Big Weather" throughout the Sierras and even the desert, so we knew that it would be quite changeable.
As the trees got bigger, so did the raindrops and snowflakes

         The Leaders of the Chain Gang, standing by

and finally our first glimpse of the valley…

After getting the tent set up, we caught a bit of sun at Tunnel View, then had dinner at Curry Village.

Listening to the sounds of the mountains  

Next morning, sunny skies likely…

and the first cyclist of the day (a hardy one)

Over the rooftop, looking up at Glacier Point

half dome in the distance

Jackie on the way to Nevada Fall, after an earlier trek up the mist trail to Vernal Fall

At the top of Nevada Fall, we again met a group of hikers we had met earlier. It was a great opportunity to sit and chat for a while and bask in the sun. Hanzil, Judy and all were up from Long Beach, and, during the trip, Carl was on the prowl for unusual mushrooms and fungi, being a mycologist, with a passion for his work. Everybody was quite active outdoors, enjoying a gorgeous day.

Jennifer, Hanzil, Fatima, Chloe, Carl, Judy, Jackie, Gord

After a nice lunch, we parted and headed down via the John Muir Trail, along the Panorama Cliff on the way back into the valley.
   It was only recently free enough of snow to walk down.

Looking back, the flow over Nevada Fall is less than usual, in early Spring, but still nice. And the moss-walled switchbacks await.

The switchbacks lead us from sun to shade continually. Nice and warm in the sun, and briefly cool in the shade.
In the Visitor Center, we see the true meaning of mountain travel conditions with R0 through R4.

...and the village store parking lot is already full

The next morning, we set off to travel the Foresta Road, past some rocky spots and signs that warn off people in cars. The trail is actually pretty much a road in all places, as the photo below shows, but then it becomes VERY narrow, and subject to rockfalls. Be prepared to back up a long way if you meet someone going the other way, since an often  8 foot wide road and a cliff don't leave many other options.


The sign at El Portal says it all…

Our next visit was to the Mariposa Grove, home of some big trees, at the southeastern area of the park. Here, Jackie poses against at the backdrop of the Grizzly Giant (a Giant Sequoia). (2000 tons, 21 storeys high, 30 foot diameter at base, lowest limbs 6 feet in diameter, and 2700 years old)

Around the Sierras

Finishing up our brief stay in Yosemite, we hit the road to loop south and around the Sierras via Lake Isabella, to get to the east side-ready for going into the deserts of the Panamint Valley and Death Valley. It was too early for the Tioga Pass to open, so the only other choice was to go north and around via Lake Tahoe, an even longer route.

We arrived in Lone Pine to be greeted by a fringe of heavy weather that had clobbered Yosemite the day after we left. Here we could see it slowly enveloping the eastern flank, getting closer and closer. While we had time, we went up into the Alabama Hills, lying between Lone Pine and the beginning of the sierra alluvial fans.

  lots of windows

  The big weather engulfs us quickly, but still some shafts of sunlight get through...the birds know when to dance and run

Wait for Us!

  road to a rainbow?

Later on, up the Horseshoe Meadow road, looking east into Owens Valley

  You can see Lone Pine and the tiny Alabama Hills at the end of the straight road.

Below, the sun starts to set, casting huge shadows across the Owens Valley

The next day, off we went toward Mahogany Flat in the Panamint Mountains. Along the way, we stopped at Panamint Springs and enjoyed some time a the hotel for coffee and snacks.

As we crossed Panamint Valley, the clouds again gathered

Heading up past 6000 feet, we were very lucky to catch a glimpse of a desert lynx, making its way across the trail and away. I wasn't fast enough with the camera, but did get a parting shot.
Lynx Leaving

Setting up the tent, as CHUNKS of snow start falling

That evening, a walk along the Telescope Peak trail and a few shots of Death Valley

The next morning, with the night's snow compacting and already melting fast, it was time to get out before a big storm might sock in the whole mountain range. Going down the trail was no problem with 4 wheel drive, after having no other campers at MF at all.

At the Wildrose station, a little bunny shows itself

and a little later at Emigrant Pass, a coyote is seen.

Later in the day, Jackie poses at the new Badwater boardwalk (lowest point in the continent)

Vegas and Beyond

Having grabbed a room at the Stratosphere for a good price, we took a tour of the new Venetian and had a great meal at TAO, sushi  at the bar.

Hallway to the Restrooms

A typical hallway in the Venetian

A portion of Venice ( approaching St. Mark's)

Venetian carport

and then back to the hotel by Vegas Monorail

Our next stop was a brief visit to the Grand Canyon and a couple of hours hike on the top part of Bright Angel Trail.

and then we meet a GI who is heading back to his buddies in Iraq a few days hence. It was nice talking to Rodriguez and hearing his thoughts on life and helping others. Best wishes to you Sir, and a safe return after your second Tour of Duty.

and just when you thought  creativity was waning in business you see this tour bus…..but you won't see it in Moab that's for sure.

Pink Jeep Tours

Into the Navajo Reservation on the way to Hopi Mesa, we hit a sandstorm, and now my windshield has all sorts of little pits. Can you see the car, and the truck?

Some time into our trip planning, Jackie had arranged for us to stay on the Hopi Reservation at the cultural center there. It was very pleasant, with great local food that evening. The next day, we took a guided tour of  First Mesa, and learned some of the culture and traditions. We learned about planting, harvesting and bread baking, as well as cultural ceremonies, and values. At the edge of First Mesa stands the ancient structures of Walpi, still inhabitied to this day, and deeply connected with the practising of their religion and dances-a living history in many ways. Afterward, we were fortunate to be invited to visit local homes, and found much skill in the making of pottery, baskets and Katsina Dolls.

Approaching mesa

The Hopi Cultural Center (with Museam and Hotel)

Hopi Visitor's brochure, and examples of real Katsina Dolls

Then later, "Fred and Wilma"

and how did that car get there?

Dog day afternoon at the Hopi Cultural Center. Very nice hotel rooms, and great food reasonably priced.

Moving northward towards Monument Valley, some interesting sandstone.


Getting to Monument Valley and Goldings Lodge for the night, I went out for a coupla night shots.


Morning sunrise


Going up the Moki Dugway from Valley of the Gods, the sign has attracted lots of attention in the last few years.

Clothes washer flowers in upper Utah.

Salt Lake Apparitions

And  further along, tires are in big demand.

Then we were back at San Fran, and Jackie's plane took off without a hitch. It was a great time and we saw lots of new sights. I think she will be coming back again sometime soon!

Heading North to More Mountains

 Mountain Direct

  My first stop in Northern California was the Mt. Lassen area.

  big Lassen trees

 Everything closed (officially, anyway)

    Serious Snow Pack

  Only 3.5 miles. Really?

Arriving at a Mt. Lassen lookout, I pulled out the cameras for a seesion. There was one other car in the parking lot when I arrived. And sure enough, pretty soon I had the pleasure of meeting John and Vera, who come to Lassen regularly, and now live in the Tahoe area.  For many years they had been working  in Yosemite high country and are now continuing their environmental efforts with the Tahoe Trail initiative (John's hat and Vera's sweater badge say it all). We had lots to talk about! All the best to you both.


To read the Plaques at the Lassen/ Hat Creek Lookout, click here

  Further along the highway there are numerous friendly towns and stopping points. There are also some NPS people who take their job seriously.

No fooling around with the Chester Forest Rangers on duty

On my way to Red Bluff by way of smaller roads

After a great night in Red Bluff, and a good rest, it was off to visit the forests and sights of Mt. Shasta. It's definately another great hiking area, with miles of forest roads leading to uninterrrupted camping and forest peaks.


More Mt. Shasta info here

Finally, heading north again up towards Oregon...


and then, a night in Biggs, at the only motel in town.

 From there it was Highway 30, then cross country up 395 and Interstate 90 to Spokane, thence  backroads and highway 2 up toward Kalispell and Glacier National Park. Along the way, it was very interesting to see a poplar reforestation that basically stretched for a few miles, in large stands. These trees are seven years old and will be ready for harvesting and replanting very soon.




My night at the motel, at the World Famous...

Glacier National Park

   St. Mary Lake and Wildgoose Island

Over on the western side of the Continental Divide at the Upper Lake MacDonald Ranger Station I met a very interesting gent with the NPS.  Walter, the District Fire Chief,  has spent many years working in Glacier, and we chatted for quite some time. The busy season was still a ways off, so it was largely prep work being done right now, priming pumps, water sampling, getting things shipshape and all.  A great way to start the morning learning about the history and current status of the humans and the animals.Thanks for spending all that time with this park visitor Walter!

 Walter at Lake MacDonald


 Just down the (rocky) road, several trails were closed to protect Bald Eagle habitat during the nesting season.


A Leisurely Stroll, led by Tiddles the Deer

  Don't Rush Me

 Being Inspected by the Locals

Along the Going to the Sun Road, the only person I met the whole day was a local avid biker, out for some vigorous exercise. Living just outside the park, it was very convenient to get lots of mountain cycling miles in!

An Iron Horse and the Originals


Rugby North Dakota is the geogrphic center of North America, and they have a nice monument to the fact.

Talk about huge tractors. They also tow big tanks of liquid ammonia fertilizer along with them. And then there are the "cannons".

Head out on the highway, lookin for adventure, and whatever comes my way...

After enjoying the northern Michigan forests, it was back into Ontario at Sault Ste. Marie.  Travelling was pretty much uneventful with sunny skies. At Sudbury, I stopped to have a look at the massive glacial polishing on the hard Canadian Shield granite. And right next to it the clean faces of fractured monolithic blocks containing high concentrations of minerals (iron for example). Nearby, probably because of the unique soil's nature were large stands of birch all by themselves.

 A Sudbury limosine, unique in all the world

And so it was that I arrived back in Ottawa at the end of April. Covered a lot of territory, and had a great time. My only regret was not getting to Rossland. That will have to be a big part of the next trip. Meanwhile, Spring has arrived in Ottawa, and now it's time to get out on the bike (bicycle, that is).  I'll keep my eyes open for more good license plates as I go.

Interesting License Plates this trip

I hope you enjoy the summer, and manage to find time outdoors. It's one of the best ways to shed stress. Happy Trails!