May 2003 Tom and Gord trip                                                                                                      (All images Copyright G. MacKenzie & T.G. Ray 2003)

This year, the Spring trip to the Sierras was with an old friend from college- we went through Engineering together. We had kept in loose touch over the years, and this time, Tom was on sabbatical at the right time. So again in May, we went to the Range of Light.

In preparation for the trip, Tom designed a camera system that takes stereo pictures with a twist. Because much of what we would see would be distant landscapes, this camera has adjustable wide distances between the lenses so that the 3D perspectives of faraway subjects will still be noticeable. And it turned out great. I hope to be able to post some of Tom's stereo landscapes in the near future.

After an uneventful flight and arrival at SFO, we picked up a Ford Ranger from Budget and headed out soon after. The weather all the way was bright and sunny. Arriving in Yosemite Upper Pines, we set up and got ready for the fun.

In Yosemite, we enjoyed the usual warm up hike past Vernal Falls with a beautiful rainbow .
   lr                                                                                                                             lo-res

Continuing our climb , we eventually got to the top and enjoyed baking in the sun on the slick rock at the top of Nevada Fall

First of all, setting up a picture

and then getting this result:


And along the way we had a fascinating discussion with the man who maintains and modifies the solar powered composting toilet at the Nevada Fall trail turnoff. There is quite a lot of technology at work there. Park visitors who litter  get put into the "diving bell"...


So then we got ready for the return trip down to basecamp , and took a snap for posterity..

The next day, we were ready for some heavy exercise, and so we set off for the top of Yosemite Falls nice and early to beat the sun. Up and upper, getting to Columbia Rock in about an hour. Then up the rest of the way to the Upper Falls.

There’s a great outlook after going down an old iron stair-rail trail at the top. Here Tom struck his pose as The Official Trip Stereographer, and captured some of the local color.

And not too far from the Falls either…

So after a brief rest and lunch we set off for Yosemite Point. There was still snow as usual in the shade of the big trees on the way there, so Tom took the opportunity to cool off the easy way!

We spent a bit of time enjoying the scenery, with not too many people at all in the area. The vistas are still as gorgeous as those in the earlier trip reports.

The trip down from the top was uneventful, but certainly good exercise for the knees. By 6 p.m. we were down and hungry as Hell. So of course, it was time to visit Degnan’s for large tankards of Sierra Nevada Ale and a large pizza.


The next day we took a short rip to Foresta, and followed an old road into the hills. Just like a few years ago, there was a sign talking about cougars in the area, and the need to keep an eye open for them…


On the way back, we detoured up to the Fire tower lookout at Crane Flat, had a wonderful time chatting with the rescue folks, and got a good look at one of their ships.

On our last day in Yosemite, we caught sight a schoolbus trip in Curry Village. The bus itself was immaculate, and had the perfect school name for such a place (or perhaps the Grand Canyon)

The full name is "Rim of the World Unified School District"

Finally, we paid a visit to the backcountry hiking office and saw Ranger Clemenson. He had given me excellent advice on past backcountry hikes, and it was good to see him still hard at work. We chatted about some of his travels on the Goldwing, me being naturally interested as having many happy memories from years of riding a BMW motorcycle.

Ranger Clemenson

We then decided to push on to Death Valley. Being still early in the Spring (by Sierra standards), the Tioga Pass was still closed, and so it was southwest out through Oakhurst, and over the mountains down at Lake Isabella. On the way through Oakhurst, we stopped at Sierra Tel as suggested by the kind librarian in Yosemite. Here we were able to sit at a client computer and load up the GPS with TOPO detail maps before pushing into the mountains of Death Valley. The people at Sierra Tel were so helpful and accommodating  that it only took 30 minutes to get everything done, including checking up on email. The going rate was $10/hour, and it was worth every penny. Thanks Guys.

It was a long drive to get into the Panamint Valley, but we finally made our way up into the mountains past Wildrose. Now it was the Friday of the long weekend, so we expected to see some people way up at Mahogany Flat, but when we got there around 7 p.m. we could hardly believe our eyes: the place was full of cars, with some of them parked off in the weeds and between trees with not a space left in the small parking lot. And every one of the ten campsites was full.

So we pitched our tent on a little flat spot past the edge of the turnaround loop, and parked the truck between us and the track to give us some blocking. Twenty minutes later a whole new salvo of cars arrived after suffering huge abuse cranking over the boulders and ruts of the four wheel drive track to get up there. I wouldn’t want to buy one of those rental cars. In the morning, there were bits of cars sticking out between the trees here and there,…anywhere a car could be beached there was one.


Next to us at the end of the loop were some very nice folks from Long Beach. They were up for the season’s inaugural trip with their families and  beautifully equipped and customized travel vans-they looked like four wheel drive as well. That night, the stars were out in full force, so there was lots of stargazing, drinking of warming liquids and talking. At one point, Tom, our new friend Brock and I were all lying flat on the dirt gazing at the heavens, between sips of special inebriating liquids.

The next day it was beautiful as usual, so we went down into the valleys to do some exploring. Along the way, we stopped at the monument for the old Telescope Peak water pipe that used to go 23miles to the Skidoo gold mine. Because of the altitude drop, the pipe pressure at Skidoo was over 800 psi!
Cross your eyes to see the image in stereo...

Further down in the Panamint Valley itself, there’s a favorite sign. I call it "Desert Traveler’s Choice"

Visiting the Eureka mine, we were happy to see it was open for exploration as the bats had left for the summer.


And while we were there, had a good chat with a friendly Park Ranger


And later on, up at Skidoo mine, Tom takes a peek down one of the many other shafts in the area. Most, but not all are fenced, so you need to watch carefully where walking, especially at night.

With temperature up in the eighties even here in the mountains, the cool air of the tunnels was welcome, after checking for rattlers around the entrances.

A good Sized Rattler


Into Death Valley proper it was starting to get hot. Typically for Stovepipe Wells, the thermometer was climbing, yet only 10:30 a.m.  And that day there was a marathon runner event through the Valley. Good timing, not like the middle of August I suppose…


The next day we took a short morning hike up along the Telescope Peak trail so Tom could capture some of the gorgeous vistas from the trail.

Now at the end of our trip, it was time to head back to civilization. We cut west to get to the coast near Big Sur, and spent a night at Pfeiffer State Park. Then it was a day of steam training at the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad just north of Santa Cruz

The trip up into the hills was excellent, and gives an appreciation just how much work went into laying track into such steep and forested areas.

When we got back to the Bay area, it was time to go to Fry’s for a store check of electronics. We managed to catch the Tesla Coil demonstration on film. That gazebo-sized replica is an attention grabber when it fires up!

And so with a bang, our spring trip came to a close. (Now, a few months later, Tom is very happy with his stereo pictures, and is also dreaming about another trip to Mahogany Flat with his Dobsonian…) Stay tuned for some special wide-spaced stereo pictures from Tom's collection!