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August 13, 2018 / annakpf11

North Coast

“This is the moment that bliss is what you glimpse from the corner of your eye, as you drive past running errands, and the wind comes up, and the surface of the water glitters hard against it.”

Robert Hass (1941— ), excerpted from his poem “September, Inverness”

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A winding two-lane road delivers us into the Anderson Valley, a northern California wine-making region best known for cool-climate Pinot Noirs, Alsatian-style whites and champagne-like sparkling wines.

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Big-name wineries compete for our attention, but a friend has recommended we sample the terroir at Toulouse, a small, peaceful vineyard heretofore unknown to us.

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We like what we taste, and come away with several bottles.

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Where the Navarro River meets the sea, we travel north along the coastline to the Mendocino Headlands.

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Anna keeps well back from the edge, but Dave strides to the lip of the nearest cliff, enraptured by the view.

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We spend the afternoon walking along the bluff and around the picture-book, chocolate-box town. And then it’s time to set up camp in Van Damme State Park.

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To reach our campsite we must drive across a creek, but the bridge has collapsed, and so we must navigate a flimsy-looking, temporary span of concrete that looks barely wide enough to accommodate a compact car. A sign declaring “Proceed at Your Own Risk” does not inspire confidence. However, we survive the crossing, and soon Suzy is tucked into trees surrounding a large open meadow.

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For dinner, Anna prepares one of our favorite camping meals: chicken molé tacos, carrot and cabbage slaw, sliced avocado and tomato salsa.

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In the morning, we head the few miles up the road to Mendocino, where the cell phone signal is strong enough to check email and read the newspaper online.

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Fog softens the light and adds layers of interest to the historic town.

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On the way to Fort Bragg, we stop at Russian Gulch, a worthwhile side-trip.

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“This coastline is unbelievably beautiful,” Dave keeps exclaiming.

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Indeed, a new wonder reveals itself every moment.

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At lunchtime, “Sea Pal Cove”, a seafood shack in Fort Bragg harbor, proves a perfect spot for a light meal, as well as a ringside seat of fishermen bringing in their catch.

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Our next stop, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, 47 acres of coastal woodland, prairie and cultivated garden (recommended by the same friend who pointed us to Toulouse winery), turns out to be a highlight of the trip.

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While Dave elects to stay behind and scout real estate offerings in the area, Anna sets out to explore the four mile network of pathways leading to the sea.

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A rustic gate (meant to keep the deer out) leads to the Dahlia garden, where the flowers are at the peak of their bloom.

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It’s easy to lose track of time, hypnotized by the riot of color and form.

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The afternoon’s visual feast is followed by an edible feast in the evening. A friend (yes, the same twice-afore-mentioned oracle) has recommended that we reserve a table at Wild Fish, an intimate restaurant specializing in locally harvested ingredients.

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She has advised us well. We enjoy fresh oysters, sole filet (Dave), seared tuna (Anna), and finish with a lemon posset.

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We sleep soundly in our Suzy, and early the next morning, we pack up and depart.

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As we turn inland, the river reflects rose-gold light. Smoke from the Mendocino complex fire, 50 miles away, the largest wildfire in California history, has seeped westward. Nature at her most merciless still has a fierce beauty.

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By the time we reach the Anderson Valley, an apricot haze envelopes the landscape. We send out prayers for the firefighters, and for all who suffer during this season of fire.

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June 23, 2018 / annakpf11

Roads Not Taken

“The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.” —Confucius

DAYS TEN & ELEVEN: June 13 & 14: North Rim to Tehachapi to Richmond

I wake at 4:30 AM, as the sky begins to lighten and the birds begin to stir. Today we must vacate our campsite, but we have not decided on our next destination. My phone shows a tiny bar of cellular signal, and so I check for news of the wildfires in Colorado.

“Dave, are you awake?”

A muffled reply, “Now I am.”

“Another forest fire started in Colorado, and more roads have closed.”

Dave sits up in bed and pulls the duvet around his shoulders. “Given the information we have, there’s no clear answer.” He pauses. “We have to go with our gut, and make a choice.” Another pause. “If we drive to Barstow today, we could be home tomorrow afternoon.”

So be it. At first, we both feel deflated, but then, like a sailboat responding to a shift in the wind, we adjust our sails and set a new course. In the cool of early morning, we make our way through the gracious meadowland leading out of the park.

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A herd of buffalo moves across open ground beside us, including several nut-brown calves, one so young—or so thirsty—that it continually stops to nurse. The lead bison pauses for mother and child to catch up, and then they all plod on.

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When we turn onto Interstate 15, the busy, wind-wracked highway that will lead us through Nevada, Dave grips the wheel, and his shoulder muscles tense. Guiding Suzy in and out of turbulence on the crowded two-lane road is like steering a sailboat with a heavy weather helm.

As soon as my phone shows a strong enough signal, I take a deep breath and begin making calls to cancel reservations and plans we’d made for the next two weeks. Cutting our month-long trip short and missing out on visits with friends feels anti-climactic, and I have to remind myself that it’s no use dwelling on the road not taken.

At noon, we pass through Las Vegas, and Suzy’s outside temperature gauge reads 108 degrees. An hour later, when we stop for gas in Baker, I step out of the car and feel the soles of my shoes melt and my skin shrink closer to the bone. “Hell on earth,” says Dave. It is a frighteningly hot 113 degrees.

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The good news is that traveling in Suzy, we can cover a lot of ground. No need to stop for food, drink or restrooms; everything is on board within easy reach. We average 18 miles per gallon of diesel fuel, and our solar panels supply all our electrical needs except for microwave (so far only used as a breadbox) and air conditioning. If we need to operate the AC without electricity, we can run our built-in, propane-powered generator. If cloudy weather prevents our solar panels from storing enough energy, the generator will fill in any gaps. In short, we feel quite self-sufficient.

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After nine hours and 500 miles of sunbaked highway, we reach the oak and pine-covered slopes of Tehachapi Mountain. A steep cul-de-sac leads to a scattering of day-use picnic areas and primitive campsites, many of them closed or inaccessible. The place is deserted except for two lethargic young women sprawled at a day-use picnic table and a group of six men and women who have pitched tents and seem to be playing a rowdy game of Beer Pong. The sloping “park” has the seedy, slightly eerie feeling of a place that has fallen into disrepair and disuse, but it seems quiet (aside from the Pong Party), and all we care about is a good night’s sleep and an early start in the morning. So we settle Suzy into a shaded site, walk a half-mile down the road to the self-registration kiosk, seal an $18 camping fee into an envelope, drop it in a metal slot and then hike back up the hill, breathing heavily in the heat.

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Back at Suzy, I pour water over my head and tie a wet bandana (purchased in Bryce for just this purpose) around my neck. Instant relief. Sipping an ice-cold beer helps too. For dinner, we cobble together a picnic of canned tuna, potato salad, a packet of Madras lentils, and reconstituted dehydrated broccoli. Camping rations, and they taste just fine. While we are washing the dishes, I smell smoke, and see that the Pong People have ignited a roaring campfire. Surely they saw the CAMPFIRES STRICTLY FORBIDDEN and HIGH FIRE DANGER signs posted at the park entrance? Dave and I gaze at the crackling flames and exchange a worried look.

Adding to our discomfort, a creeping parade of vehicles has begun cruising up and down the dead-end road. Windows down, music thumping, each vehicle slows as it passes and the occupants eye our rig. Perhaps they are simply admiring Suzy, but there’s a vague sense of menace in the fixed gaze. I go outside, alone, to empty a pan of water, and a dark gray sedan pulls off the road and stops next to our campsite. My scalp prickles. I call to Dave, who quickly appears, and the car accelerates up the hill. Even if all this activity is perfectly innocent, we won’t get a good night’s rest. Within five minutes, lawn chairs and bikes are back on the rig, dinner dishes put away, and we’re heading down the mountain. If you need to leave somewhere in a hurry, Suzy is your gal.

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We escape to the Valley Airport and RV Park on the outskirts of Tehachapi, a mom-and-pop campground that is far more beautiful and infinitely more peaceful than the name implies.

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The next day, a five-hour drive lands us on our doorstep with a renewed appreciation for the temperate climate where we live, and the natural wonders in our own backyard. We have learned that we love traveling together with Suzy; she is the right rig for us. Our next adventure beckons, but for now we’re content where we are, in this thin slice of the world.

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June 22, 2018 / annakpf11

At Nature’s Mercy

 “Adopt the pace of Nature: her secret is patience.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

DAYS EIGHT & NINE: June 11 & 12: Grand Canyon

Being on the road again after two nights at Bryce Canyon feels right and good, like a pair of shoes that have molded to fit our feet.

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At lunchtime, we park at a scenic spot, avail ourselves of our in-house kitchen, and then resume our drive through a surprising and ever-changing landscape. A cliff face dripping with brick-red streaks looks as if Jackson Pollack has spilled gallons of rust-colored paint. Pink swirls of color embedded in the rounded contours of white stone bring a strawberry parfait to mind.

In the town of Kanab (or Kebab, as Dave likes to call it), we stock up on groceries at Honey’s Market, and then begin the 40-mile approach to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The road leading to the national park entrance rolls like a long green hallway through a seemingly endless series of broad meadows bordered by pine and aspen trees. At the park gate, we wait in a brief queue and then show our pass to the ranger, who waves us through. The valley narrows and the trees march closer to the road, as if escorting us the final ten miles.

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Eager for our first sight of one of the seven wonders, we bypass the campground and drive all the way to the lodge, perched, it seems, at the very edge of the world.

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A small lobby leads to an observation lounge, and then, beneath and beyond us, we see the patient handiwork of the Colorado River.

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A mind-boggling array of layered cliffs created by hard and soft substances eroding at different rates.

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This place is like a staircase through time, a testament to the transformative power of incremental change.

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After gazing our fill (for now), we make our way to our campsite, a gently sloping piece of ground shaded by slender aspen trees. Not a breath of wind ruffles their heart-shaped leaves, and the temperature pushes towards 90 degrees.

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Dave positions our folding chairs in the shade, and we relax with a cold beer. I try to check the weather forecast on my mobile phone, but the signal is too weak. We know the occasional data blackout is to be expected—even relished; we are camping, after all—and so without the ability to check local weather, research the area, stay in touch with loved ones or keep abreast of current events, we do our best to surrender to the mercy of what we don’t know.

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For dinner, Dave hooks up our portable propane barbecue in preparation for grilling steaks. He opens a bottle of Côtes du Rhone and pours us each a glass. I stand at Suzy’s two-burner stove, gratefully basking in the steam from simmering zucchini and farro. The high desert climate has left my skin feeling as withered as shed snakeskin, and as rough to the touch.

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There are no bears here, and we are able to sleep with Suzy’s back doors wide-open, cool breeze on our pillows. Stars as bright as spotlights shine through gaps in the trees. I think of the long river of geologic time, the brief span of our mortal lives, and how glad I am to be here now.

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The next morning, before the sun becomes uncomfortably hot, Dave rides his bike to the lodge for lunch, a little over a mile away. I elect to walk (better for building bone density), and prepare for the trek by dousing my long-sleeved cotton shirt with water. For about five minutes, I feel blissfully cool and damp.

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After an hour, I return to our campsite covered with a thin veneer of trail dust, every cell in my body sucked dry. I pack a bike pannier with the requisite washing supplies and bicycle to the shower hut, only to realize I have forgotten the most vital ingredient: cash. Six quarters for six minutes. I cycle back to Suzy, grab my wallet, ride to the campground store, procure change for two dollars, and finally pedal back (uphill) to the shower house. Out of four stalls, one is occupied and two display hand-written signs declaring “OUT OF ORDER”. I scurry into the available cubicle, lock the door, and dutifully insert quarters into the coin tray. A short pause, and then the blessed sound of splashing water. The faucet is turned all the way to HOT, but the water temperature never gets past warm. Never mind. At least it’s wet. I quickly shampoo, condition and rinse my hair, finishing just as the water goes cold, and well before six minutes are up. The automatic shower keeps running, an unfortunate waste of resources, but there’s no way to shut it off.

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Late in the afternoon, a text from a friend somehow crosses the data blackout zone. There are wildfires, she writes, road closures and poor air quality in the San Juan mountains of Colorado. This is where we are heading tomorrow. She includes a link to a news article that I cannot access with the minimal phone signal at our campsite. Seeking enlightenment, Dave and I hike to the campground store and join other tourists with heads bent to their phones, patiently attempting to use a public wifi signal about as speedy as the forces that shaped the Grand Canyon. Eventually we manage to find out some bad news about the fires. We also learn that temperatures in Denver and the Moab area are predicted to soar into the upper 90’s and 100’s. On a more inspiring note, we make the acquaintance of a seasoned canine traveler.

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Back at Suzy, we weigh our options. We consider changing our route, but we’d have to go to Alaska or South America to find cooler temperatures. Or San Francisco, but the idea of cutting our trip short feels like giving up. Besides, we’re looking forward to pre-arranged meet-ups with friends in Moab and Denver. “We’re in the middle of HOT,” Dave says, punctuating his statement with a sip of chilled Chablis.

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Both of us are enjoying the rhythm of the road, and yet if we carry on, we fear we will spend most of the next two weeks avoiding toxic smoke and punishing heat. For now, we defer making any decisions. It is our last night in the Grand Canyon, and in this moment all is well, and we have everything we need.

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June 19, 2018 / annakpf11

Wonderland

“Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.”—John Muir

 DAYS SIX & SEVEN:  June 9 & 10: Bryce Canyon

One side effect of crowded campgrounds is the opportunity to meet one’s neighbors. At Zion, we park next to a friendly retired couple and their dog, and they recommend a scenic route to reach Bryce Canyon, our next destination.

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We follow their directions to the vibrant town of Cedar Creek, and then turn onto Highway 14, where we happily trade desert mesa landscape for the alpine scenery of Dixie National Forest. Temperatures cool as we climb to a summit over 9,600 feet, and we drink in the sight of evergreen and aspen trees marching up and down slopes of coral colored earth.

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During the drive, Dave’s skill and experience behind the wheel saves us from mishap more than once: when a trucker swerves into our lane on a multi-lane highway, and later, when an oncoming SUV decides that a blind curve is a good place pull into our lane and pass a cyclist. Just before arriving at Bryce Canyon, we somehow manage to avoid colliding with a Northern Flicker, a large spotted woodpecker who flies at our windshield. I glimpse the flash of variegated feathers and cover my eyes, unwilling to watch the impact. But it never happens. “It veered away at the last minute,” Dave assures me.

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Once we enter the National Park, we make a beeline for the lodge, where Dave has reserved us a room for two nights. It’s too early to check in, so we take a moment to admire the historic structure, especially the whimsically flowing pattern of roof shingles, before walking the short distance to the canyon rim.

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Nothing has prepared us for what awaits: a natural amphitheater of time-sculpted rock formations that look like the dribble sand castles we made as children, only these fanciful creations glow with peach and salmon hues.

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Also, there is no railing. Pale-breasted swallows glide past us and dip into the void. For any creature without wings, one false step guarantees a long slide to death or assorted bodily mayhem.

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We inch closer to the brink, bewitched by the fantastical shapes and colors of the weird sandstone fins and spires called “hoodoos”, a term borrowed from folk-magic. We snap photos as long as we dare, until increasing ripples of vertigo compel us to back away.

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After our initial flirtation with the abyss, we stick to the safety of prescribed paths.

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Late afternoon heat eventually drives us into the hotel lobby, where the desk clerk, a fresh-faced schoolgirl, hands us the keys to our “room”, which turns out to be a storybook cabin.

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Built in the 1920’s of rough-hewn logs, our cabin has a shady front porch, a high peaked ceiling and exposed log beams, and is equipped with two queen beds, good reading lights, a tiny refrigerator (perfect for chilling beer and wine), a table and chairs, a full bath, a separate dressing room with sink and vanity, and even a fireplace.

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We have time before dinner for a bike ride, showers, and even a glass of wine on the front porch. A short walk leads to the lodge dining room, where we enjoy an expertly prepared meal of trout, roasted vegetables and herbed wild rice. Afterwards, we return to the canyon overlook, and in the gathering dusk, the columns of weathered stone glimmer like candles.

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Early the next morning, I embark on a hike into the canyon, armed against heat and sunlight with a full water bottle, long-sleeved shirt, sunscreen, and hat.

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Strictly speaking, Bryce is not a “real” canyon, because it is not carved by flowing water, but by a process known as “frost-wedging”. Temperatures fluctuate above and below freezing every day for almost seven months of the year, enabling melt water to seep into fractures during the day, only to freeze and expand at night. The ice exerts a tremendous force, and over time it shatters and pries rock apart. Rain, which is naturally acidic, plays a role too, slowly dissolving the limestone, rounding off edges and washing away debris.

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The view from below the chiseled rock forms is just as magical as the view from above. As I follow the trail’s winding course, I pass loads of enthusiastic tourists, some wandering closer to the sheer drop offs than I care to, and most speaking to each other in languages other than English. I hear Mandarin, French, Italian, German, Japanese and many more that I can’t readily identify. I stop to chat with a French woman from Montpellier, and she informs me that she and her husband find Bryce so inspiring, they return year after year.

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On the steep ascent back up to the rim, I pass tourists coming down wearing street shoes—even heels—as they navigate the gritty path. Some hug the side of the trail furthest from the void, but many walk right up to the precipice and pose for selfies. Just watching them makes me feel queasy.

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In fact, a mildly vertiginous feeling in the pit of my stomach never entirely abates during our two days here. I’m not so much worried for myself as for the heedless child who scampers too close to the edge, or the brash tourist who loses his footing while focusing his camera. But surely my worries are unfounded?

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At the top of the climb, I happen to pass a suntanned, gray-bearded gentleman wearing the uniform of a Search and Rescue volunteer. “Doesn’t it drive you crazy when people stand near the edge?” I ask. “Sure does,” he nods and smiles. “But only about three people fall every year. Out of three million visitors. Not bad odds, really.”

Suffice to say, I highly recommend a visit to the fairyland that is Bryce. But please take care. And no matter how much you want that special photo, stay away from the edge.

June 16, 2018 / annakpf11

Riparian Refuge

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”—John Muir

DAYS FOUR & FIVE: June 7 & 8: Zion

It is not yet 6:30 AM when we pull into a parking space in the empty parking lot at the entrance to Zion national park. We were told to get here early, before the lot filled up, but perhaps we overdid it.

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With Suzy’s spot secured, we focus on breakfast, conveniently at hand about an arm’s length away. Meanwhile, as if a faucet has been turned on, pedestrians, cyclists, cars and RV’s begin pouring into the park. Perhaps we didn’t arrive too early after all. We finish our meal, leave the unwashed dishes in the sink, fill a daypack with water bottles, cameras, snacks and sunscreen, and set off on foot to the shuttle bus stop. Where we join an already lengthy queue.

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Following advice gleaned from fellow campers, we board the shuttle and ride all the way to the end of the line. From here, it’s possible to wade upstream to the Narrows, where the canyon’s red rock walls taper to only twenty feet apart, and soar a thousand feet overhead.

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We opt to walk the path along the Virgin River, and gaze in wonder at impossibly sheer rock walls the color of persimmons and rubies. We did not expect to find such grandeur here.

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“This place is like Yosemite,” observes Dave, “only smaller, with red rock instead of granite, and without the falls.”

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For generations, this stunning gorge was a seasonal camping ground for the Paiute Indians. They called it Mukuntuweap, which translates as straight canyon, or straight arrow.

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When Mormon settlers took over the area in the 1850s, they gave it a biblical name, Zion, denoting sanctuary, or place of refuge.

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We find the place uplifting, in the same way a visit to Yosemite National Park elevates our spirits. I spot a red-breasted nuthatch, creeping up the bark of a pine tree, and glimpse countless birds flitting through the landscape. Do they migrate here every year, I wonder? Or do some species live year ’round in this magical canyon? Some enchanted lifetime that would be.

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Hours later, an unforgettable walk in the canyon ends at the Zion Lodge, where we refill our water bottles and relax into rocking chairs, temptingly placed on the hotel’s shady veranda. Soon it will be too hot to remain outdoors. But now we are content to sit awhile, savoring a last view of Zion, and contemplating our plans for the afternoon.

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We decide to ride a shuttle down the mountain, drive to the RV park, plug into shore power and turn on the AC. It is the only livable option.

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By late afternoon, stepping outside is like walking into a pizza oven. I am tempted to cool off in the swimming pool, until I see it is a mosh pit of bobbing heads and thrashing limbs. Never mind. Suzy is our sanctuary.

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Note to selves (and any potential visitors to Zion who might be reading this): Our campground for two nights, the Zion River Resort RV Park and Campground, is probably a great place for families, but it provides far more amenities than we need or use.

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If we return to Zion, we’ll come in April or October, and we’ll stay in the town of Springdale, at the Zion Canyon Campground and RV Park, offering the necessities without the frills, and within walking distance to the entrance of Zion National Park.

 

 

June 15, 2018 / annakpf11

Desert Crossing

“Look deep into Nature, and then you will understand everything better.”—Albert Einstein

DAY THREE: June 6: Lone Pine to Las Vegas

Today we will gain and lose thousands of feet in just over 100 miles, a long drawn out roller coaster ride through some of the most dramatic and inhospitable terrain on the planet: Death Valley.

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It’s our third day out, and I feel we’ve begun to hit our stride. We know where things are cached in Suzy’s cupboards and crannies, we have a better understanding of how her systems work, and we bump into each other less often in her limited interior space.

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“We have half a tank of gas,” Dave says, as we motor past the handful of shops and restaurants in Lone Pine. “We could make it.”

“Let’s fill her up,” I suggest. “Just to be safe.” I know what’s ahead, and prefer to err on the side of prudence. No argument from Dave, and we stop for fuel. The outside temperature has already inched above 80 degrees.

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At first glance, Death Valley looks just as we expected: a vast, untamed environment of dry basins and barren, rocky slopes. We can’t help but feel rather dwarfed and insignificant—in a good way—like when you look at a night sky full of stars and feel the immensity of the universe.

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We also feel a sense of urgency to get through the desert as expeditiously as possible. Place names like Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek, and Badwater Basin do not exactly inspire confidence. We obey the signs at the base of each climb that warn us to turn off our air conditioning to prevent our engine from over-heating, and with our windows rolled down, gusts of hot wind whip our hair and skin.

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We pass through a rocky corridor whose walls glow with diagonal stripes of magenta, rust, slate and chocolate, and then come upon an impressive expanse of sand dunes. A pale gray lizard the size of a squirrel scuttles in front of us, stubby legs churning across the tarmac. Out loud, I admire the unexpected variety of textures, shapes and life forms found in the desert, on both grand and minute scales.

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“Like fractals,” Dave rejoins, dredging up the definition from his storehouse of mathematical knowledge, “constantly replicating patterns whether viewed microscopically or as mountains.” Amazingly simple, yet infinitely complex, Nature’s exquisite structures hide in plain sight all around us.

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The temperature fluctuates with our altitude, and we wait until we’ve reached the last of four summits before we pull over for lunch. While I prepare a kale and pistachio salad, Dave steps outside to photograph the canyon. He is standing at the edge of a cliff when the thrum of the wind is overpowered by the intensifying roar of a high-speed, low-flying aircraft. Chance favors the prepared photographer. Dave zeroes in with his camera and captures an image of a fighter jet as it streaks past below.

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Suzy glides down a slow, straight, steady descent, and we watch her outside temperature gauge escalate from 95 to a mouth-parching 105 degrees.

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Cooler temperatures are in store for us, we hope, at our destination for tonight, Fletcher View Campground, 2,000 feet above Las Vegas. Keen to avoid the heat in “Sin City”, Dave reserved a campsite weeks ago. “Supposedly,” he says, “we’ll be camping in the pines.” Auspiciously, we find the entrance in a grove of Ponderosa pines, and despite a sign announcing “DAY OFF”, the camp host descends from his fifth wheel to greet us. A smiling retiree wearing an Australian outback hat, dusty white singlet and denim shorts, he launches into a long explanation of the finer points of the tiny campground. “I’m Bob,” he finally concludes, gesturing at his trailer (presumably his wife is inside), “and my wife is Liz. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”

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It is late afternoon, and quite warm, even at 7,000 feet, but as advertised, our campsite is shaded by pine trees, and the temperature is quite pleasant. We level our rig and unfurl the awning, only to retract it a few minutes later due to sporadic gusts of wind. Dave enjoys a beer and a cigar, then brings out his guitar. I take a walk in the shady canyon, and then roll out my yoga mat on a patch of flat ground.

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For dinner we heat up chili—another made-ahead-and-frozen-meal—and serve it with steamed broccoli and sliced avocado.

Later, after an evening stroll around the campground, we retire to Suzy and watch Albert Brooks’ classic comedy film, “Lost in America”, about a couple who decide to quit the rat race, buy a Winnebago and drop out of society to “find themselves”, only to have their plans go awry when the wife gambles away their nest egg in Las Vegas. A fable about delusion and fantasy, it is one of the funniest films of the 1980’s, and although some of the humor arises from how much societal customs and perceptions have changed since the movie was made, mostly we  laugh out loud at the timeless foibles of human nature. We fall asleep still smiling, and plan to steer our Winnebago well clear of the casinos.

June 11, 2018 / annakpf11

Sierra Time

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” —John Muir

DAY TWO: Silver Lake to Lone Pine

We wake before seven and prepare our respective breakfasts: muesli and banana for Dave; miso soup, seaweed, hard-boiled egg and tempeh for me (don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it). Then, in no time at all (unlike the machinations necessary when towing the Airstream), we are underway.

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Our first stop of the day is for a short visit to our family cabin. The unpaved driveway is steep, and obscured by low-hanging branches, so we park Suzy on the side of the highway and complete the pilgrimage on foot.

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Mountains are a place where we go to refresh the spirit, a place we feel at home. And this particular place in the mountains is full of meaning and memories. We spent our honeymoon here, and long before that, spent days hiking, canoeing, cooking on the woodstove and bathing in the lake. Evenings sitting by the fire playing charades or monopoly or attempting to read by dim propane lamplight. Nights sleeping outside on the porch, lying on our backs gazing at the Milky Way and counting shooting stars. “Glorified camping”, is how Grandma Suzy used to describe summers at the cabin. Her ashes are resting here now, along with Carl’s, beside the path to the lake, marked by a smooth granite stone.

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Dave and I pause for a moment and breathe in the memory-laden scents of this singular site on earth. The peace of the place surrounds us. Thus grounded and fortified, we hike back up to the road and carry on over Carson Pass, through Hope Valley, and along the East Carson River to Monitor Pass.

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Suzy makes easy work of the 5.5 mile, 2,628 foot climb to the top, a wide open meadow bordered by Aspen trees just coming into leaf.

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Once upon a time, (28 years ago to be exact), I rode a bicycle up this pass, down the other side and then turned around and pedaled back up and down again. Today I’m quite happy to travel in our sprinter van, with Dave at the wheel.

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The descent snakes down 3,238 feet in 9 miles, a bit like a slow motion giant slalom course. By bike, car or campervan, Monitor Pass is a breath-taking ride.

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Our route now heads south on Highway 395, the backbone of California, a north-south conduit than runs 557 miles from the Oregon border to the Mojave desert.

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We’ve been looking forward to driving this section of the road, known for dramatic vistas of the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

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After only 15 miles, we round a bend and see that traffic has slowed and stopped. And then we see why. A semi-truck is sprawled across the highway, completely blocking both directions. Paramedics and highway patrolmen are on the scene, and bystanders are out of their cars, standing in the road and gazing at the crumpled giant, lying on its side.

A lean, middle-aged man approaches our window from the direction of the wreck and informs us that it could be at least three hours before the road is re-opened. While we consider whether to wait it out or seek out an alternate route, we step into the galley and make lunch. I do love traveling with a kitchen.

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Dave finishes his turkey sandwich, executes a three-point turn and heads Suzy back the way we came, past a steadily growing queue of cars, trucks and motorhomes. He has found a work-around.

We expect our unplanned detour to pass through a flat, arid landscape, but instead we discover herds of Black Angus cattle grazing in spring-fed meadows against a backdrop of snow-painted peaks. I wish I could capture the sight in a photo, but there’s no place to pull off the road. I will remember. A black cow and her white-faced calf, standing chest high in a field of green grass and wild iris.

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Eventually, we rejoin highway 395, and for the next several hours we drive through towns we’ve heard of but never visited: Bridgeport, Bishop, and Big Pine (not to be confused with Lone Pine, tonight’s destination and, to Dave’s dismay, another hour further down the road).

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We have a reservation at Lone Pine Campground, in the shadow of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states. Rising 14,505 feet above sea level, it is higher than Colorado’s tallest mountain by 66 feet.

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By the time turn onto the narrow track that supposedly leads to our campground, we have been on the road for 8 hours. Suzy bumps through the sage-covered landscape, and we wonder where our campground could be. All we see is sand and scrub–brush and the steep upsurge of snaggle-toothed peaks.

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Until the ground opens beneath us to reveal a dusty road descending into a shallow, hidden canyon (hopefully not a flood zone) and the Lone Pine Campground. Never mind that there is not a pine tree in sight, or, for that matter, much indication that anyone else is camping here.

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A hand-written sign pasted near the camp host’s trailer announces DAY OFF.  Another sign warns, “Entering Active Bear Area”. The dry, rocky landscape does not seem like prime bear habitat, but we resolve not to take any chances.

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Our pre-reserved campsite offers a lumpy, half-paved strip of sand that makes it impossible to level our rig. Fortunately, there are other empty sites available. We inspect our options and swap our site for a creek-side corner ringed by granite boulders and sparse wildflowers. The only sounds we hear are the breeze in the cottonwoods and the soft rush of water. And our shared sigh of relief.

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The weather is too warm for a campfire, and besides, it’s getting late. We heat up one of the two made-ahead-and-frozen-meals we have brought from home, Ropa Vieja (a sort of Latin goulash), and serve it with sauerkraut, potatoes and a glass of Mourvedre.

In hope of dissuading hungry bears, after dinner I wrap and stow all foodstuffs and dispose of our rubbish in a bear-proof bin. Dave somehow finds the energy to play guitar, but not for long. He soon follows me to bed and we sleep with our windows open to the sound of the creek. No bears disturb our dreams.