Monday, June 25, 2007

Crater Lake is Blue

Crater Lake is like this CRAZY indescribable blue. you can't imagine. Everything we read in advance bigged up the place and the view you'd encounter when you first reached the rim of the caldera and looked at the lake for the first time. Well it's all true. It really is BLUE!! And so clear - you almost feel like you can see deep into the water (it does have visibility of up to 130ft!). Crater Lake was created so they say by the collapse of Mt Mazama. Mt Mazama was this Daddy-O of volcanos/mountains that reigned the region some 6800 years ago. It blew it's top a few times then one day all the magma underneath ran out and there was a big empty air pocket underneath that couldn't support the mountains weight so it collapsed in on itself - hence a big crater. After a few more mini eruptions; one of which left the island in the middle called Wizard Island, (because it looks like a wizards hat, silly!) it sealed itself. And so with no water sources in, and no water outlets it just filled itself with snow and rain water and hey presto - you have yourself a lake. Then some guy came along with a wicked imagination and thought up the name Crater Lake!

There's a 33 mile road around the rim of the lake (which is approx on average 1000ft above the surface of the lake). Due to snow about 1/2 the road is still closed (on the 26th June!!). Still we still saw some incredible views and after watching a short video at the visitor centre about their snow clearing efforts we have infinate respect for the snow clearing teams (they start clearing in April, with drifts up to 60ft deep!!!) It takes them 4 months to completely clear the 33 mile road! We did manage to do a short hike to the top of Garfield Peak (which the ranger had said was still closed due to snow, but there was us and a fair handful of other hardy souls that trekked through snow to reach the 'summit'). Of course more spectacular views from that vantage point at just over 8000ft. (surface of lake is at 6100ft)

And this is just a little plaque summing up some of the accomplishments of the CCC. And not everyone knows about these folks - they were the Civilian Conservation Corps. Set up by Franklin D Roosevelt within days after his election in 1933 it was during the great depression in the USA and something like 25% of the working population was unemployed. The CCC was set up to put young men to good use around the country builing things, working on roads and trails etc. AMAZING organisation. During our travels we've come across SO MANY instances where the CCC have left their mark - from old fashioned picnic tables and toilet block buildings, trails, bridges, ranger building and housing, campgrounds etc in national parks and state parks from Alabama to here. Just amazing - one of our 'big respects' goes out to these people. The CCC was disbanded come WWII when the country put it's resources, money and men to war efforts, but that have left such an inspiring legacy behind. (the campground we stayed in at the bottom of the Grand Canyon was an old CCC camp, the ampitheatre at Zion National Park where we listened to an evening ranger programme was built by them - just so much good work.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A side trip to the Redwoods

At 6 am it was hard to believe the radio weather forecast; they were claiming a high of 100 degrees in the valley while we were getting dressed into bike gear with the heating on full blast. It was just 5 degrees up at 6,500 feet but we knew from the day before when we'd hiked a 13 mile route up in the mountains, that once the sun had been up a while it would soon warm up.
Sure enough two hours into the ride when we were down at sea level it was 86 degrees at 09:00 and we were happy to have packed light for our overnight trip to Redwood National Park on the northern Californian coast.

The scenery on the way down the mountain was very much like it had been the day before; only because of the early hour it was like someone had turned up the contrast, the sharpness, the colour and the brightness; or just dusted and polished the whole day. Everything stood out so much more, the greens were bolder, the sky bluer, the snow cleaner and the water in the rivers looked like one of those photos taken with a slow shutter speed where the water blurs soft against the sharp surroundings. The alpine air even tasted clean.

We'd been told about the road from Interstate 5 to the coast and I'd read about it on a motorcycling web-site; it was alledged to be the best biking road in California. And it is!
The route of the road made absolutely no sense at all and could have only been designed by a biker; or copied from a child's first scribbling. (Non bikers talk amongst yourselves for a minute...) The sign was a 'twisty roads' yellow triangle that promised bends for the next 140 miles and that promise was fulfilled; the first 80 miles or so was slightly undulating and winding and open - the road could have been flat and straight but the engineers were obviously practicing for when they had to build it through/over the coastal mountain range, and the surface was race-track smooth. The mountains were the same only more so; steeper and twistier - perfect; no traffic, no police; I could go on all day...

The shock was riding down to sea level after the coastal range and seeing nothing but thick grey clouds below us; we hadn't seen cloud for weeks, (or was it months?) and as it got colder nearing the sea we realised that dressing for what we thought was appropriate for the Californian coast in late June was a mistake. We stopped in the first town we came to, Eureka, for lunch and to warm up in a cafe and had the biggest b-b-q pork sandwich imaginable; the pork was more like what we call bacon and there must have been a pound of meat in each roll! But it was hot and filling and what better on a cold seaside day than an overdose of bacon butty after a 250 mile ride?

Further up the coast we checked into a cheap(ish) motel in a town called Arcata, turned the heating up to full and went for a walk round town to warm up; both of us wearing all our layers - of light summer wear! The town was small and quaintly old but seemed very 'off season' for late June so we killed a couple of hours browsing any shop that seemed warm from the door way until we stumbled into an old theatre that had been turned into a modern day cinema inside (and watched Oceans Thirteen - highly recommended by the way!); a perfect way to while away a couple of hours till dinner!

The next day we rode up to Redwood National Park (our 4th National Park since getting back into America a month ago, and our 21st park (out of 58) since starting the trip 2.5 years ago) and drove the scenic route amongst some of the tallest trees in the world, reaching the dizzing heights of 357 feet (over 100 ft taller than the Statue of Liberty!). Well not actually through the middle of the trees themselves; there is one tree you can drive through that had been hollowed through some years ago. There is also a felled tree that someone has hollowed out and turned into a home; the wood shavings from within which have been used elsewhere to make a normal sized 5 bedroom house!

We stopped for lunch at a local micro-brewery at the base of the mountains happy in the knowledge that for once the weather would get warmer as we went uphill! A couple of hours later it was back up to blue skies and 3 figure temperatures!
We took a different route home; not as empty or winding but just as scenic and after already riding 100 miles that morning, a slightly shorter route of just 230 miles; making the two day ride 380 miles altogether.

getting back home was like returning from a great weekend away in the real world; mechanical jobs to do on the RV, housework to catch up on, packing up to leave the next morning... real world, how will we ever cope???

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Donkey & Bear C96 givin' it a high five!!

The American National parks never cease to IMPRESS us. By far the best 'thing' of this trip we just keep on lovin' the parks, monuments, seashores, battefields and the like that are all managed by the dept of the interior. Just bought our latest annual parks pass, which for $80 has got to be the best value $80 we spend each year. Just fantastic.

Right now we are in Kings Canyon National Park which borders with Sequoia National Park - working as a kind of twin park thing going on. Here there is such diversity of landscape - the foothills (starting at 1800ft), the giant sequoias, canyons and the high sierras (reaching up to Mt Whitney at over 14,000ft it's the highest point in the contiguous United states). It's all incredible scenery which, at every turn is constantly wowing us. The world's largest tree is here - General Sherman which gets the prize based on volume. The widest tree is also here - General Grant which at 40ft in diameter really needs to go on a diet methinks...!

The first night in the park we stayed in the foothills and it was all drama that evening when 'bear C96' came a-visiting. Apparently she's quite familiar to the rangers having been visiting the campsite for the last 11 years (her number means she was the 3rd bear captured and tagged in 1996!). She's out of her regular habitat but comes purely for human food and opportunist rewards. The group in the campsite opposite us (not 20 yards away) were sat around their fire and spied the bear about 6ft from them, when they ran (as it's kind of difficult not to - gut reaction and all!) the bear took the chance to come right forward to the their table and food they'd left there. - Blimey - exiciting stuff!! She got hazed off by the ranger but about an hour later she came back (to the same campsite) and this time we saw her cruising around their tent! Next morning we discovered that the Donkster (uh-ummm - the motorbike!!) had been high-fiving it with her - a bloomin' great bear paw print was on his seat!! Coooool!!

Been doing loads of hiking - 50 miles in the last 2 weeks - 30 miles of it here in Sequoia & Kings Canyon. And nothing like easing ourselves in gently we're straight back up to altitude hikes and skinny air!! (but it isn't 'alf fresh!! - ahh - bliss!) Chris did spot another bear out on our hike today. About 30 yards in front of us on the trail heading away. Apparently it turned to look as it wandered off so it knew we were there. I say apparently coz Chris shoved me back round the corner before I got sight of it. We then started the loud inane drivel that tends to spout forth when we're in bear country and by the time we'd edged back round the corner it had sensibly long gone (probably to save it's ears).

Friday, June 08, 2007


Our last day in Vegas (for now!!!) Got up early, early to head out of the city to Red Rock Canyon. Fantasic scenery on a 13-mile scenic drive with (bizarrely enough) red rocks!! We weren't just there for the scenery though - got in a morning's rock climbing - hadn't been for 9 months - in fact the last time we climbed was here in October - and it does rock!!

Last night we did our 'strolling the strip' session. Rode the New York, New York roller coaster - I managed to keep my eyes open long enough to appreciate a great view of Vegas at twilight as it bolted me round the tracks - expensive mind - $12.50 per ride!! (makes Disney a good deal!) Also couldn't help but be mesmerised yet again by the Bellagio fountains. I swear I could stand and watch for hours, and some of the music just breaks out the goose-pimples and sends a shiver down your spine it's so 'magical' - love it! (particulalry Con Te Partiro (Time to Say Goodbye) by Andrea Bocelli) Finished off our vegas night by going to see Cirque du Soleil's 'Zumanity'. It was a caberet style show billed as the 'sensual side of Cirque du Soleil' - which I think loosely translated as topless women and touchy feely performers. Seriously though it was great - some of the acrobatic performers were just out of this world and a hilarious 'side act' (a modern hip equivalent of the clowns I guess) with a 60's style couple talking sex and other cheeky things - scotch baggie boobs filled with whiskey - you had to be there!!

Love Vegas, though it's time to move on. I think 5 nights here is enough in one go. But I would so visit again...(those Bellagio fountains!!)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Palomar Mtn, Salvation Mtn & lots of Deserts

So better get up to date a little. Left San Diego on 28th May (was it really that long ago?!) - Memorial Day here. We didn't get far the first night - since Chris had heard about some awesome biking roads nearby. So we camped by a lake, walked at sunset and got up early to 'burn some rubber' - funny to be back on the bike 'just for fun' - it became such a part of life and routine!! We drove up to the Palomar Observatory - which is home to a 200 inch telescope (I think that's pretty large by anyone's standards!!) The mountain roads were great and very quiet early in the morning.

Next stop on our travels was Salvation Mountain. I'd read about this in the Rough Guide and it was such a cool side trip. Basically it's just desert with a few clay hills and some guy started decorating and painting the hills spreading the word 'God is Love'. He started this 20 odd years ago and is still working every day adding to his creation. It's quite a sight and he's quite an inspiration. We got such a warm welcome from Leonard - the creator, who took time out to give us a guided tour of his art and chatted about his dream. It's just incredible, as is he. He lives a simple, peaceful life sleeping in a hammock out in the middle of the desert and working endlessly on his never-ending project. You must check out the website, there are some great pictures of the place and more information - just so cool!

This week we've been in the desert. At 2 ends of the extreme. First up was a couple of nights in Joshua Tree National Park - in the 'off season' - there's a clue there....oh boy was it hot!!! No-one else about - I think we were the only ones in the first campsite we stayed in and even the ranger seemed hot and weary - when we asked what 'such-and-such' was like she said - 'oh - see outside the window - well it's just more of the same old desert' - very enthusiastic!! Still not to be discouraged we did start on our hiking again (after a rather lengthy gap of doing nothing resembling physical exercise for the whole time we were in Mexico!!) We managed a lovely sunset hike, sleeping out under the stars in our sleeping bags and then the following morning a whopping 9 mile hike into the wilderness to the 'Lost Palms Oasis' - really it should've followed the signs, wouldn't have got lost - eh?! The following night was back at Jumbo Rocks (we camped here in Oct with my parents when they visited) - just the coolest of landscapes - camping in amongst the huge smoothed boulders and to boot a near full moon to catch the light and cast dramatic shadows.

The next 2 nights were in Mojave National Preserve - also very wilderness-like. And very hot. They have a great scheme there - Roadside camping. Basically you can park up on the side of the road in areas 'traditionally used for this purpose' - for free!! So it was just us and the big wide open space of the desert. A night camped just a 1/2 mile from the Kelso Sand Dunes - they cover a 45 square mile area and reach up to 700ft high (and yes, bright and early we hiked on up to the top!), then another night up in the hills - a balmy 5000ft and much cooler (Still 85+ mind!) Just a wee jaunt in the morning through one of the dense-est Joshua Tree forests out there and up a peak to admire the view. Of course it was here that our generator packed up on us and so no smoothies for breakfast, and perhaps more alarming no chance of any aircon (and whilst we don't normally endorse the use of aicon WE NEEDED IT BAD!!)

And so that brings us to the other desert extreme - Las Vegas!! We couldn't resist a repeat visit! It might be loud, tacky and expensive but we really rather liked it! There's so much 'free' stuff to do with all the mini shows on the strip, and just people-watching takes time! To boot there's the best bagel shop going! Oh and the all-you-can-eat buffets, the Cirque du Soleil shows, the classy 5-star rv resort we're staying in....

And that, my friends, is us - up-to-date....Phew!!

Some photos!

Flip - has it really been that long since I blogged?! - oopps!

Been busy. Will write more later. Had a portrait session done a couple of weeks ago. Had to share - the fab photographer-guru has put some of the photos on her blog;

Check it out by clicking on the groovy little house icon!!