Tuesday, July 25, 2017

July 24, 2017. The Long Way Home.

We ate motel breakfast on our last day to save the time of going out again. We loaded up the car and set out for Fresno, with plenty of time to stop at the local scrapbook stores I found on line.

The first two were in Visalia, or at least their websites said they were. One had moved just recently, according a neighboring store, but when I called their number it was disconnected. The second one was gone and a realty office was in its place. The third one I drove to was in Fresno, again no longer there. I called another one near Fresno and the number was disconnected.

So we went to the airport earlier than expected, turned in the rental car and found out that our flight was delayed by 11 minutes. We had about an hour and 15 minutes between the FAT-DFW leg and the DFW-DTW leg so I figured we'd be OK.

When we landed at Dallas, there was a disabled plane at our gate, awaiting a giant tow truck to move it out of the way. The second gate they assigned us to was clogged with maintenance equipment. They assigned us to a third gate in terminal C. By the time we pulled up to the gate it was time for our next flight to be boarding.

A gate agent was at our arriving gate telling each of us which gate to go to for connecting flights. We ran to the escalator, ran up it, ran to the train and took it to terminal A. We then hurried down the escalator and got to our gate as they were boarding the last group. Didn't get lunch, didn't get to stop at the restroom, but got on our flight!

Our luggage did not get on the flight. When we got to Detroit and the last bags came down to the carousel, we had to go to the lost luggage office; they were expecting us--they knew our luggage was still in Dallas. So it will be delivered here tomorrow. I can live without all that dirty laundry one more day! What a great trip!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

July 23, 2017. Sequoia National Park.

We had planned on spending the last couple of days at Yosemite Park, but there is a wildfire at Mariposa, just west of the park, and the smoke plume is engulfing Yosemite.

Last night we looked at our options for today's adventure and decided to go to Tobias Peak, a remote weather station in the Sequoia National Forest, south of Sequoia Park. It's a 2.5 hour drive so we planned on getting up early and hitting the road.  But early this morning I looked on line for the road to Tobias Peak and found out it is suitable for 4-wheel drive vehicles only.  I found it on a site called "dangerous roads".

So we went to breakfast and I offered Toby the choice between going to the local marina and renting paddleboards or driving back into Sequoia Park; he chose the park.  We did not have to wait to enter the park this morning, had little delay at the construction site, and stopped at the Lodgepole Visitors Center near the trail.

At the visitors center people with filtered telescopes were offering everyone a chance to look at the sun. They were also giving away glasses to look at the eclipse next month. I told the young man that I was taking all the grandchildren to Kentucky to see the total eclipse, and he asked how many pairs I needed!

We drove the short distance to Lodgepole Campground and started our hike.

The trail runs along side the Kaweah River, far above the section we rafted. It started out sandy and nearly flat.

As we continued, the trail got steeper and rockier; there were steps cut into the rock at the steepest points. We got into high meadows, where it was lush with ferns and wild columbine.

We could see the Tokopah Falls from the trail, but continued on, right up to the rocks at the edge of the abyss.

We'd talked to a man and woman on the trail, and we took each others' photos at the top.

Toby and the man who took our photo climbed out on the rocks below the point where we took the photos of each other. I went about halfway down and decided it was enough for me!

Below is Toby on one of the rocky sections of trail not far from the waterfalls. He would seriously like to go rock climbing!

We finished our hike, about 4 miles in all, and drove back to Wuksachi Lodge for lunch. Then we started the long drive down the mountain. It was in the 80s at 7,000 feet, where we were hiking. By the time we'd descended to 3,000 feet it was in the mid-nineties; here at Three Rivers it is 105 degrees.

July 22, 2017. At Three Rivers, CA.

We went to breakfast at the cafe again today, and saw John (the river rafting guide) there. He told us about the wonderful views we would see if we drove up Mineral King Rd. A park ranger came in and told us the same thing, but warned us that the road was not for the faint of heart. He said that if I had trouble driving the roads in the park, that I would not want to drive up to  Mineral King Ranger Station.

The Sequoia Park roads weren't an issue really, so we decided to go to Mineral King. It was supposed to be an hour and a half drive, but after an hour I was only halfway there, and it was past 11 AM. I was worried about it taking another hour (and the pavement was ending right there, so maybe longer) to get there, and then whatever we did up there would take time, and another 2 hours to get back to town... I decided I'd met my match, apologized to Toby for backing out, and turned the car around at the park gate (just about the only place on the road to turn around).

On the way back down the mountain Toby took some photos. The first half of the way down we were on the "land" side of the road, having been on the dropoff side on the second half of the way up. That was what unnerved me--it goes down thousands of feet right from the edge of the pavement!

There were very few cars and trucks on the road on the way up, but a disturbing number of trucks came up on our way down! This is a full sized pickup coming at us on a road that barely had room for the Kia compact I was driving!

Finally, after another hour of sweaty palmed, white knuckled, dry mouthed mountain driving, we were back in Three Rivers. We went to lunch first, since I did not want a repeat of yesterday's late lunch weak-kneed dizziness. (Which  was why I was so concerned about taking too many hours to go to Mineral King).

After lunch we went to the Three Rivers Museum and Visitors Center. There was a carved likeness of Paul Bunyan there, whom I'd always thought was a midwestern figure. The claim to fame for this Paul was that he was carved from one sequoia tree trunk.

Toby asked if we could go back to Sequoia National Park Foothills Visitors Center one more time, so we headed that way. About a half mile from the park we got into this line. When he asked what I thought was causing it I told him it was the lineup to get into the park on weekends. He did not believe me.

When we got near the park entrance we could see that they'd opened 2 extra lines to let people in. As far as I could see behind me there were cars lined up. We entered the park and went to the Visitors Center. Crystal Cave tour tickets were all sold out for the day, which backed up our original impression that we didn't want to go there on a weekend.

We watched on our way out, and by then the line to get into the park was over a mile long. We are ever so glad that we did all our planned park activities during the week!  We came back to the motel and chilled out for a while (it was 99 degrees out) and then I went for a swim.  I don't think Toby needed this rest day as much as I did!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

July 21, 2017. Hiking in King's Canyon National Park.

This was the day we picked for a long hike. I checked out the map and decided that it would be quicker to drive around and enter at the north end of King's Canyon park rather than drive through Sequoia.

We'd had enough of motel breakfasts so we drove to Three Rivers to a small bakery/cafe we'd seen yesterday and had a great breakfast before setting out on our adventure.

It took 2 hours to drive to King's Canyon, and another hour driving within the park to get to Road's End, where the bulk of the trails in this park begin.

The views along the way were truly breathtaking!

We drove on the King's Canyon Scenic Byway, with rock cliffs on one side and steep dropoffs on the other. There were sections that had a short wall between us and the canyon, and other parts that had no wall, no guardrail, just sheer dropoff to the bottom of the canyon.

We could see the river far below us in the canyon when we stopped at an overlook. We went to a park store and bought their last can of mosquito repellent ($10), having heard that the mosquitoes were vicious on the Mist Falls Trail.

Mosquitoes were not the only worry! There were also bears and snakes to consider!

The first two miles of the trail were flat, sandy and hot. Once we got into the forest the trail became steep and rocky, but at least there was shade. We came upon a family whose son was crying and swatting at his head, driven frantic by the mosquitoes, but we were not bothered.

On the way up the trail we met a man with two small children. We spoke with them a couple of times, since they stopped to rest and we passed them, and then we stopped for a snack and they passed us. I was very impressed that these small children were doing this strenuous hike!

The man with the children took our photo at the Mist Falls point on the trail, 4.7 miles from the trail head. The kids were both still happy.

Toby really wants to go rock climbing, but I have not found a local outfitter running tours. This would sure be the place to do it!

A rattlesnake crossed the trail in front of us on the way back to our car. Toby heard the rattle, I got out my camera, and the couple behind us ran away screaming. The snake was not interested in us at all.

About a mile from the end of the trail, 8 miles hiked by then and back on the flat section, the little girl had had enough. Dad picked her up and carried her on his shoulders the rest of the way. The little boy was still running and skipping along,picking up interesting things along the way. Tough kids!

 After the end of the hike we went to get gas for the car. I had asked a ranger where the nearest gas station was and she told me Hume Lake, a community just outside the park. It was 6 miles down a winding road with steep dropoffs (of course). But we got fuel before it was critical. I should have gassed up before we started our day!

Then we headed for Grant's Grove to have lunch, which was now going to be dinner since it was already 4:30!  After dinner we walked the short path to see General Grant tree. While smaller in volume than the General Sherman tree, it is larger in circumference.

There was an old sequoia tree trunk at General Grant's location. Toby is 6'3" tall, so you can see how large this tree trunk is!

We decided to take the out-of-park roads to get back to Three Rivers, since it is so much quicker than going through King's Canyon and Sequoia Parks to get home. The first sign said curves for the next 31 miles, but I did not stop for the photo until this, the second sign.

Below is the park map with a sample of the roads we've been on all week. There are no straight flat roads here!

Friday, July 21, 2017

July 20, 2017. Whitewater Rafting and Crystal Cave.

We were at the Foothills Visitors Center when they opened at 8 AM to get tickets for Crystal Cave for this afternoon. We could not go to the cave this morning because we had already signed up to go whitewater rafting on the Kaweah River.

Since we were not expected at the outfitters until 9:00 we drove to the post office--Toby's phone sent us to the closest one, but it was not open. There weren't any hours posted and there was a historical plaque next to it, but there were indeed mail slots inside with mail in them.

We stopped to take photos of some cool yard art on our way back.

We arrived back at Good Times Adventures on the Kaweah River in plenty of time.

They fitted us up with life jackets and helmets and checked each one to make sure we had a good fit.

We met our guides--John did most of the talking, and ended up in the raft with Dave, Toby and me.

The other 2 rafts were guided by Amicaya (owner of the company) and Mike.

We all piled into the van to ride to the beginning of the trip. They carried the rafts down the steep slope to the river and we started out with Gateway rapids, followed very quickly by Pumpkin Hollow rapids and then the chute! The rapids in this section of the Kaweah River are classified as 4+.

We were all told ahead of time that we would not be able to use cameras on this trip. So before I got in the raft I stowed my camera in the dry bag and we set out on our wild ride--16 rapids in all, including Suicide Falls and the Lone Ranger, named in honor of the Lone Ranger's stunt man who owned property overlooking this river.

These are views of the first 2 rapids, taken from the bridge you can see in the raft launching photo. I can't imagine attempting to raft this river without experienced guides! The riverfront property is largely inaccessible, being privately owned, so post-rafting photography was impossible. It was a very technical river, far beyond the rafting I've done on the New and Gauley Rivers in West Virginia and the Snake River in Wyoming. But what great fun it was!

After lunch we headed back into Sequoia National Park to go to Crystal Cave. We saw great views of the mountains today, including Moro Rock, which we ascended yesterday.

At Crystal Cave we first listened to a talk about safety, both for us and for the vulnerable animals and their environment inside the cave.

We each had to wipe our feet on a mat, and then rock them forward and back several times on a squishy disinfectant pad, then wipe them again before hiking the steep half mile trip down to the mouth of the cave.

Crystal Cave was marvelous! This is the only one of the more than 300 caves within Sequoia park that is open for tours. There are towering rooms, indirectly lit. Our guide Addison was knowledgeable and entertaining, and near the end of the tour we had some moments of total darkness and quiet when he turned off the lights and asked us to listen to the water dripping softly, as it has for hundreds of thousands of years in this very place.

It was after 6 PM when we hiked back up to the parking lot, and nearly 8 when we got back to Three Rivers. We went to River View Restaurant for dinner, and sat outside overlooking a part of the river that we'd come down earlier today. This was actually one of the milder sections!