Sunday, January 31, 2016

Yoo 684 - Yosemite

After many hours of driving and a stop for cheese bread at Erick Schat's Bakery, Death Valley gave way to Yosemite. And a lot cooler temperatures, also known as snow. But by the time we pulled up to the Tuolumne Meadows ranger station, the skies had mostly cleared and the weather looked promising.

We went inside to check on permit availability and were lucky enough to get what we needed. Though we had no idea what that was...both of us were scouring the map we'd just bought, picked what looked like a doable 4-day loop, and signed a few dotted lines.

Then came the task of fitting all of our food and smellables into one bear canister because we didn't want to carry two. We were in that parking lot for a while, organizing and reorganizing gear. And then arguing about who got to carry the bear canister.

Somehow I lost?

By the time we went looking for parking at the trailhead, it was beginning to rain. And then after one last stop at the bathroom and loading everything onto our backs, that rain had become snow. A very sludgy, wet snow.

And thus began one of my more miserable days backpacking. I seriously reconsidered our plans and almost gave up multiple times. Especially after stepping in a hidden puddle five minutes into the hike and soaking my left foot. My hands were freezing, my waterproof jacket proved it was no longer waterproof, the bear canister was digging into my back, and my rain pants wouldn't stay up.

All the while I had to stop and pee a million times because pregnancy.

But we trucked on through the fog and snow, learning life lessons thru suffering. My favorite!

Eventually, the clouds cleared a bit and the views got a lot better.

Notice my make-shift waterproof gloves. Cheap fleece mittens with nitrile gloves layered on top. They worked wonders! My hands thawed out and stayed warm.

We set up camp at Glen Aulin High Sierra camp that night, after about 5ish miles and getting slightly lost. There was a group finishing a week-long trek camped there who had a good fire going with music and laughing so we joined in while making dinner. Morale improved drastically. Morgan used a foil packet as a spoon because she forgot hers.

And then it started raining again and the night was freezing but we survived.

The next morning we took a closer look at the map and realized we'd bitten off way more than we could chew with our original planned loop. That and a weather report from a visiting ranger promising a big snowstorm the following afternoon got us to abandon our plans. Instead we spent the day hiking the "Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River" and a section along the Pacific Crest Trail before retiring back to camp at Glen Aulin.

The weather that day was sunny and perfect and it was quite a happy place. Even after a random sciatic nerve pain began plaguing my lower half, I waddled along not wanting the sun to set.

My dog belongs in this picture. I was missing him all day.

That night we settled back into camp at Glen Aulin and met several weekenders from San Francisco. SPOILED PEOPLE. They can drive up to Yosemite on a whim.

We took the initiative to start a communal fire that night. Ok, mostly Morgan. I was very focused on getting dinner cooked and into my belly. But she did a great job and we enjoyed dinner and conversation with new camp buddies. One of them had hiked thirty-some miles just to see if he could do it. And that made me feel like a pile.

"What sound does a log make when you push it too far into the fire?"


Ok, you had to be there. But mostly we were trying to figure out how Pahrump, NV got its name...

Also important to note, this is the night Morgan and I learned how to say Tuolumne correctly.

A make-shift clothes rack to get our socks to dry. Even though drying socks in freezing temperatures is impossible.

This is a good time to praise my down sleeping bag. How I love that thing! It's puffy and warm and so cozy to come back to after each night-time trek to pee. I actually found myself TOO warm at times. Long live my down sleeping bag!

More praise for the cheapo "gloves"! They made collecting water from a frigid river bearable!

The hike out the next morning was glorious. No hint of an impending snowstorm at all. And best of all, we got to see everything we missed on the hike in thanks to the thick fog! The meadows were perfect.

"I don't know, yo's might."

Another inside joke...

Reunited with the car and all the food we'd stored in a communal bear locker. Though somebody packed canned food without packing a can opener.....Morgan...and I had to get dangerous with a pocket knife.

Then on to the valley and hordes upon hordes of tourists!

We wanted to hike up to another campsite but the permits were sold out. So we crashed at the "backpackers" camp instead. It wasn't much to look at but it was also the only place available.

Fourteen weeks at Half Dome! I'm pushing my stomach out for effect and this is admittedly more of a food baby...


Morgan wanted one too:

Some day, I will be back here starting the JMT! So let it be written...

We spent the next morning hiking from the valley. I think this is Vernal Fall? All I know is there were a lot of steps that were so much easier to go up than they were to go down thanks to my fear of heights.

This sign is a little inaccurate in that it doesn't account for the hundreds and hundreds of steps that are squeezed into that 0.3 miles.

And just like that we'd had enough of the valley and throngs of people and made our way out and onto the next national park.

Have a great day :-)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Yoo 683 - Death Valley National Park

I don't remember exactly how this trip came about. I know it started with Morgan seeing her work schedule and realizing she had almost a week off in, I think it was September? October. Beginning of October. And then I was texted and it didn't take long until we'd schemed up some trip ideas. I had Southwest miles to blow and am always up for a good adventure.

We had no concrete plans but we did have a car and a National Parks pass. And thus began our journey.

A couple days before I flew up, Morgan texted me for approval of our trip food. She did pretty good.

Then she went to work all night and I woke up super early and got on the first flight to Las Vegas, where she was to pick me up after working all night. She told me she'd need to take a nap before driving to Vegas from St George so I spent several hours in the airport listening to casino ads while reading Merle's Door.

Except what did she do instead of taking a nap before coming to pick me up? Watch an old episode of Oprah. That girl subjected me to extra boring hours in the airport so she could watch Oprah.


But all was soon forgiven and we grabbed burgers at Inn N Out and got out of dodge. Where were we headed? Wherever highway 95 took us.

So Area 51.

Not really, but close.

It was at out first gas stop at one of the alien gas stations that we saw a brochure for a place not too far away. Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Sounded cool enough.

"I won't see that one until the resurrection." - Morgan, as she throws one of her hairs out the window.

Ash meadows is a desert oasis not far from Death Valley. We were one of maybe three visiting groups at the time. Got the whole informational video to ourselves! Good thing, too, because Morgan slept thru it. We explored all the trails and springs and I took one whole picture.

Mostly, we joked about the goats, but never got to see one.

And we made up a song out of a quote we liked on one of the placards about mountains, but I forgot it.

Then we ended up on a dirt road heading for Death Valley.

A couple of baking scenic stops later and we were at Badwater Basin!

Start of the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon. It was hooooooot. 109 degrees hot. I ran about 100 meters before considering my homage paid.

At some point, to liven up one of the long desert drives between scenic stops, I handed Morgan my phone with a little picture pulled up.

I'm really horrible at sharing news and let her stare dumbfounded at the picture for a while before confirming that it was a little niece or nephew in the works. It definitely livened up the drive.

Post baby announcement, we played on the sand dunes and then found a place to pitch tent for the night. It was called Emigrant and consisted of a glorified parking lot just off the main road. But it was free! And scenic.

The weather was perfectly calm and we enjoyed dinner before settling in for the night. I think it was around 7:15pm. We were both exhausted! Sleep happened easily enough for the first couple hours...until the wind kicked it.

I woke up at what felt like 3am to the tent beating me up. We had no choice but to pitch on gravel and stakes were not an option. So the tent had little supporting it besides the weight of our bodies and the flimsy poles. Thus, I was getting pelted with the side of the tent. It was actually only 9:15pm. And I'll spare you a detailed description of the many sleepless hours that followed until my phone alarm started blaring Taylor Swift for the rest of the camping community at 4am. And then all the hours after that until the sun decided to make its appearance.

What should have been a restful night was anything but. Though waking up to this was decent compensation.

We were one of the first cars on the Death Valley roads that morning and the driving was incredible. I decided I love Death Valley, from the car, in the morning. It's so much cooler.

And a couple photo stops.

And in slow motion....


Still makes me laugh. I don't know what she's doing at the end there?

We had a whole lot of beautiful driving ahead of us. On to our next stop...

PS - I was terrible on this trip and took maybe three photos. Morgan did a lot better and all of these are from her phone.

Have a great day :-)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

You 682 - Big Bend, Pt 3

The last of Big Bend!

We packed up camp and did more hiking on our way out of the park. Surprised?

Sam Neil Ranch was first.

This desert oasis is so cool. Literally thick, lush vegetation in the middle of death. We wandered around watching for snakes. I took what I thought was a trail that would lead somewhere, only to soon realize it was a game trail at best. But I was still certain it led somewhere cool and continued to push thru spiked vines and whatever else got in my way until both Dylan and I were quite stuck and nowhere cool.

Morgan was smart and stayed back on the real trail.

Then more driving thru the park.

Until we got to another trail that I thought would be a good idea.

The Chimneys trail. Just a short 2ish mile hike to some cool rocks!

It was a bad idea. Completely exposed desert hike in the middle of the day with no change of scenery between the car and the rocks. I mean, the rocks were cool, just not hike along a rock path in scorching hot desert for over an hour cool.

Santa Elena canyon in the distance!

"This hike was unnecessary." Is what they're both thinking.

Then more driving along Ross Maxwell scenic drive until mile 0. "Did we just cross into Mexico??" Alerted Morgan as she flirted with the car brakes.

Nope. But we were close. Behold Santa Elena Canyon.

"Dylan, get back in the US!"

The original plan was to loop back to the park exit along the unpaved "Old Maverick Road", but there were warning signs at the beginning of that road cautioning against taking a vehicle sans four-wheel drive.

Raaaaaaats. I need four-wheel drive.

So it was back on the paved road and then hours of delightful desert scenery back to civilization and a post-camping hamburger.

At Sonic. Boo. But it was the first restaurant we came to and we were starving. They got my order wrong and I was slightly angsty but I've since had 5 months to recover so I'm over it.

And then we drove thru the Davis Mountains and by golly, I've found a part of Texas I truly love! It was so pretty! I took 0 pictures but drove with my mouth in a surprised smile for over an hour. Why must it be a six hour drive away?? This state is too big.

We took the long way home so we could swing by Balmorhea State Park and cool off in the massive springs there.

It was a good idea.

You'd think after frying in unforgiving desert for four days that we'd be ready to jump right into a cool spring-fed swimming pool. But we were not. It was chilly! And I painfully inched in, toe-to-head, instead of just jumping.

But after that it was great.

And lil fishies!

The drive home along I-10 was arguably one of my favorite parts of the week. From Fort Stockton to Junction, we sang along to the radio at the top of our lungs. Mostly Garth Brooks. And were as crazy and animated as three sisters can be while maintaining safe control of a moving vehicle, of course. I love that memory and those hours.

Morgan had to leave the next day, but not before we showed her Eisenhower Park and stocked her up on goodies from Trader Joes. And Taco Cabana.

The original plan was to get up early and check out some popular swimming holes in the area, but I realized the night before that they require reservations. What?? Texas. Stop.

Then Dylan left me for the summer. I was so sad! Extra exclamation points. She did spend most of a week hanging out with my dog all day and playing with him while I was at work before leaving, so that was nice. But I still cried as I watched her car pull out of my parking lot for the last time that Friday morning.

The night before she left we ticked one more item off her San Antonio checklist and got the HUGE cinnamon roll from Lulu's Bakery and Cafe. No, we didn't eat the whole thing in one sitting.

And that's a wrap to Big Bend and the summer with Dylan.

Have a great day :-)