Arches

Thursday – July 9

Day 35

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Sometimes its a good thing to wake up at 4AM.  I’m still surprised we were abled to pull it off.  We woke the boys up at 4:15, gave them toaster waffles, threw them in the truck, and hauled off to Canyonlands National Park.  Why in the world would we do such a silly thing?  Mesa Arch at sunrise of course!  I will have to say, it did not disappoint.  The colors look great in the photos, but hey still are no match to what the human eye experiences.  The brilliance of the sun coming over the horizon and lighting up the arch is spectacular.  Just be careful though.  You don’t realize you are on the edge of a huge cliff until the sky lights up a bit!

Some people have no manners.  I don’t have pictures for this one, but it is probably best for the bobos I’m talking about.  Mesa Arch is a photographers dream.  The smart ones get there on time.  We were the third party there.  The first two were photographers that staked out their plot for the best shot – and I admire them for that.  The ones I don’t admire are the morons who don’t set their alarm, and think they can just squeeze in on your space, sticking their butt in your face, and never once asking “am I in your shot.”  They also forget that they are precariously perched next to a cliff with people they just made enemies with.  I cannot imagine how many fights break out in that place. The world loves our parks.  I am not exaggerating when I say this.  I think 70% of the people I hear in our national parks are not from America.  Japan, Korea, China, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Canada, Switzerland, and who knows where else.  It amazes me that they love our jewels enough to come see them.  It amazes me even more that they outnumber Americans.  Do we even know what splendors we have at our disposal?  Have they become too commonplace for us? IMG_6279 IMG_6274 IMG_6270 IMG_6268 IMG_6230 IMG_6249 IMG_6242 When they say ‘arches,’ they mean ‘BIG arches.’  I wasn’t prepared for the size of these things.  They are huge!  Giant sculptures of sandstone standing in the desert, these structures tower over you, juxtaposed with the deep blue sky.  Arches has over 2000 of such pieces it gets its name from.  Some are a mere three feet wide.  But many are as tall as a ten story building!  Look closely at each picture to see if you can see the boys.

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Elephants can live in the desert.  Jennifer said, ‘I hate to say this, but that looks like a bunch of elephant butts.’  The boys guffawed.  Sure enough, on the map, the butte is called ‘Parade of Elephants.’ IMG_6316 IMG_6315 It does rain in Moab.  We’ve had some crazy weather.  It is best to get out early to beat the heat.  But more importantly, it is best to get out early to beat the afternoon thunderstorms.  Every afternoon we’ve had some doozy storms.  So much so, we’ve seen some street flooding – as is illustrated by the girls rafting down the street.

Itinerary: Mesa Arch at Sunrise (Canyonlands NP), The Windows (Arches NP) – Turret Arch, North & South Windo, Double Arch, Moab Aquatics Center

Moab Bound

Tuesday – July 7

Day 33

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The landscape changes every hour in Utah.  Today we saw the most diversity I’ve ever seen in a 5 hour drive.  We came down from Bryce Canyon, leveled out into desert and painted rock, then ascended it what seemed to be Ireland.  The trees changed, grass began to emerge, and the temperature plummeted.  We saw nothing but pine and an abundance of aspen.  As soon as it appeared, it disappeared, giving way to red stone.  In fact, in one of the mountain pictures, you can see the desert below.  It was a gorgeous drive.

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IMG_6002 IMG_6006There’s always time to squeeze in another national park.  While in Utah, why not just complete all of the big 5?  Between Bryce and Moab you have the opportunity to pass through Capital Reef National Park.  We didn’t stop to see any of the sights.  But we did get an apple pie.  Apparently, growing apples was a big thing at the Gifford Homestead.  And since the ham we packed for lunch was frozen, apple pie was on the menu for lunch.

Route: Bryce Canyon City to Moab via Hwy 12 and Hwy 24

Campground: Portal RV Resort

Time: Left 8:30 MT.  Arrived 2:30 MT 6Hrs

Wednesday – July 8

Day 34

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Dan Mick is the bomb!  If you are ever in Moab, make sure you book time with Dan Mick.  He, his son, and is brother-n-law, are the nicest people, very knowledgeable, and very capable.  They showed us dinosaur tracks; took us down declines that made you feel you were going to flip forward; took us up inclines that made us feel like we were going to flip backward; and amazingly put Jennifer at ease with the whole thing.  Dan Mick is a legend in Moab.  Companies send him parts to test out on his jeeps.  His 100K modified jeep is basically sponsored by other companies.  And the kids absolutely had a blast.  I don’t think there was a moment they weren’t grinning ear to ear.

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Part of Utah is frozen in time.  These are petrified sand dunes.  We were off roading on these (called slick rock formations) all day.  You can actually see the wind marks in the dunes.

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Dinosaurs are frozen in time too.  Dan’s son, Richard, showed us at least three types of dinosaur tracks, all in the same area.  You could almost imagine what was taking place between them all.  There was a raptor, a stegosaurus, and something that would eventually turn into T-rex.

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When they say ‘red rock’ they aren’t kidding.  After our adventure with Dan, we journeyed through Arches to get a glimpse of our next day.  Storms chased us out.  But before we left, we saw dark, blackish red cliffs, Balanced Rock, and a whole host of treasures waiting for us over the next few days.

Itinerary: Hell’s Revenge Trail with Dan Mick; Arches National Park

Bryce Canyon

Saturday – July 4

Day 30

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3 Hours can make a huge difference.  We left hot hot hot weather in Zion National Park.  It was over 100 during the day and 80’s at night.  Your only solace was to find the river.  Bryce Canyon is at over 8000 feet altitude and that makes a lot of difference.  It is in the mid 70’s and beautiful!  Feels amazing!

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Bryce Canyon is unique.  It is one of the smaller national parks.  We are here four nights, so we don’t feel rushed to see what it has to offer.  Today we drove to Rainbow Point and drove back the length of the road stopping at various viewpoints.  The Hoodoos stand like an army in the valley.  It really isn’t a canyon, though named as such.  It is more of a natural amphitheater created by erosion leaving precarious hoodoos to guard the landscape.  Tomorrow we get to hike among them!

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America celebrates Independence day.  Sadly, one year I was in Canada on the 4th of July…. long story.  There was a noticeable absence of fireworks.  No one was setting off bottle rockets.  There were no Roman Candles.  There were no mortars going off in the distance.  And you couldn’t find a fireworks show anywhere.  It was sad.  Not so in Utah.  It wasn’t the Stars and Stripes Spectacular of Spotsy county.  But it did the job!

Itinerary: Rainbow Point, Bryce Point

Sunday – July 5

Day 31

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Cicadas are everywhere!  We were hiking the loop and kept hearing this clicking sound echo through the Hoodoos.  A little investigation and we found our culprit.

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Bryce Canyon is a mix of Grand Canyon and The Badlands, yet accessible.  We didn’t try any hikes in the Badlands, and maybe there are some interesting ones.  The only hike you can take at the Grand Canyon is down to the canyon floor.  That is 9 hours round trip and several liters of water.  The lower you go in the Grand Canyon the hotter it gets.  Bryce Canyon feels more at your disposal.  You can hike down into the Queens Garden (that is Queen Victoria 4 pictures down) and continue onto Navajo loop to enter Wall Street.  Wall Street is The Narrows of Zion without the long hike and without the water.  The walls envelope you.  But, as with any good hike, and as we have learned many times on this trip, what goes down must come up.  Zig zag zig zag like ants up their tunnels.

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Water in this place is surprising.  Yes, it has been raining every evening.  That isn’t normal. Nor is having to wear a jacket on 4th of July.  But still, finding a river in this terrain feels out of place.  It was a beautiful and refreshing.

Itinerary: Queens Guarden Loop, Navajo Loop, Moss Cave

Monday – July 6

Day 32

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Cows are loud.  We headed out to fish today (yes in the rain, and no we didn’t catch anything).  On the way we got caught in a cow-jam, hundreds of cows on a drive down the road.  They were more interested in watching us do our thing than being part of the drive.

Itinerary: Fishing at Tropic Reservoir

The Narrow Hike

Wednesday – July 1

Day 27

IMG_1002 IMG_5804 IMG_5802You don’t have to be in a National Park to experience N.P. beauty.  Driving into Zion, we kept asking ‘Why isn’t this part of the park?”  There are breathtaking views everywhere!

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The Narrows earns its reputation as one of the most amazing hikes in the U.S.  The kids are kids.  They expire quickly on hikes.  But I knew we were in good shape when Weston asked, “Is there more to go?”  When I said there was, he exclaimed, “YES!”  Most of it is in water.  Some of it is on sandy ground, but they preferred staying in the river.  There are pools to swim in, places where you wade waste deep (depending on river flow could be much higher), and towering canyon walls.  It is a hike that beckons you to look around the next corner.  We ended up hiking 5 miles round trip, taking us to the beginning of Wall Street, where the walls narrow considerably.  I think an overnight backpacking trip through the narrows has been added to my bucket list.

IMG_5791This is the Court of the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Itinerary – The Narrows

Thursday – July 2

Day 28

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Zion may be one of our favorite parks.  I got to hike the Canyon Overlook trail today.  Breathtaking views of the canyon.  There is a beauty here you can’t find anywhere else.  And right in the middle of it is the refreshing Virgin River.  It is easy to get to from Virgin, UT.  You have a beautiful gateway town in Springdale.  You can hike and get all nasty, then jump in the river to cool off.  There aren’t too many places with this type of diversity.  Plus, they’ve restricted automobile access past a certain point, which cuts back on traffic congestion.  One of the more surprising things about Zion is how busy it is.  There are TONS of people in Zion.  If I were to come back, I’d try May.  Hopefully it wouldn’t feel like Hell.


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There are surprises everywhere in National Parks.  You really don’t know what you are going to experience around the next corner.  We wanted to take the Zion Tunnel (built in 1930) up to the Canyon Overlook trail.  I knew it was 1.1 miles long.  I didn’t realize its pitch black in there.  I also didn’t know about the great arch.  And I certainly didn’t know I was bout to meet up with some Desert Big Horn Sheep.  After reaching the overlook, I hiked back to Jennifer and the kids.  Getting our packs together, we heard some rock falling.  I just assumed it was loose rock.  We looked down and there was a family of Sheep climbing up the mountain.  This was the last animal I really wanted to see on our trip.  When we got back to the truck, we were still in shock we saw them.  Then out of the blue, they emerged up above us as we waited in line to go back through the tunnel.  Absolutely amazing!!

Itinerary – Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, Canyon Overlook Trail

Friday –  July 3

Day 29

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Today we drove from Virgin, UT to Bryce Canyon City.  Its a whole new world!  Cool.  80’s.  Drops into the 50’s at night.  What a welcome reprieve from all of the heat!

Route: Virgin, UT to Bryce Canyon City

Campground: Ruby’s Inn Campground

Time: Left 8:15 MT.  Arrived 1:30 MT 4Hrs 45 Mins – Got stuck in traffic from a truck overturned carrying bottles of water.  Ironically it caught fire.

Heat Wave

Monday – June 29

Day 25:

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FullSizeRender 162 FullSizeRender 151Out West, if you don’t like the scenery, keep driving.  It will probably change within the hour.  Today is travel day and we have a modest drive to Virgin, UT.  To get there, we must go to Flagstaff, and head North, around the Grand Canyon, and up through the bottom of Utah.  First, I was pretty surprised by the terrain in Arizona.  Northern Arizona is cooler (higher altitude), and quite a bit of greenery to be seen.  As we drove around the Eastern portion of the Grand Canyon, we could tell it was getting lower, hotter, and more arid.  I was really excited that we got to see the Vermilion Cliffs.  They were beautiful red cliffs that showed layer upon layer of ancient history.  But as we climbed out of them, the scenery changed.  We started seeing scrub pine and small bushes – then larger pine.  The pine was thin enough that it looked as if someone had sprinkled them out on the hillside with a pepper shaker.  And suddenly, I felt as if I were back in the black hills.  At the bottom of the climb we were at 100.  At the top, where the Kaibab Forest is and the Northern entrance to Grand Canyon, we were in the 80s.  Then as suddenly as the pine appeared, they thinned to nothing and we were back in an arid dry landscape.  One of my favorite things about this trip is seeing how the climate changes from mile to mile.  It is an impressive site.

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There are more National Monuments and Parks than I realized.  When you go into your first National Park, you have to visit the Visitor’s Center and pick up a Passbook.  From then on, every time you visit a monument or park, you can purchase a sticker to put in the book and stamp it like a passport.  Driving 89A we came around a curve, descended a bit, and found this beautiful bridge spanning Marble Canyon what I think is the beginning of the Colorado River.  They had a visitors center and a place to stamp your book!  Plus we saw California Condor #54.

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“It’s just a dry heat,” is a load of crap!  HOT IS HOT!  Imagine walking outside and having a hair dryer blown in your face, and on your head, and on your body.  I’ve never felt heat like this before.

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Rivers cool the heat!  Thank goodness we are camping on a river!

Route: Williams, AZ to Virgin, UT via Hwy 89A

CampgroundZion River Resort 

Time: Left 9:00 Standard MT.  Arrived 4:00 MT DST 6 HRS

Tuesday – June 30

Day 26:

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Zion is like the desert version of Yosemite.  It has its own huge named peaks and rock faces.  Zion is beautiful.  It is a beauty you can’t find anywhere else.

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For some reason, Zion NP doesn’t believe in air conditioning.  Its the hottest park so far and none of the buses have AC.  The Visitors Center is actually cooled through natural cooling towers.  Have no idea how its works, but it does.  If only the buses had cooling towers.

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Water is life.  We hiked to the Lower Emerald Pool and made sure to drench ourselves in the falls.  Then we ate lunch and soaked ourselves in the Virgin River.  It is an oasis in the desert.

Itinerary: Lower Emerald Pool

Light Show

Saturday – June 27

Day 23:

Guy knows his stuff.  We decided to let the kids play in the pool this morning and take it easy today.  Tonight will be worth the wait.  Until then, we chose Flagstaff and Salsa Bravo for an early dinner.  We saw the place on Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives.  MUY BUENO!!  We had our fill and headed on to the Grand Canyon once again.

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God’s light shows are the best.  My parents really wanted to see the Grand Canyon at sunset.  I’m glad they did!  What a beautiful site!  It seemed that every minute gave you a new portrait to look at.  There was a slight haze in the canyon from a fire, but I think it only added to the scene.  God’s creation truly is a work of art.  If you ever get bogged down in life and forget that God loves you and is looking over you, just take a moment and observe something from creation.  Look at the sunset.  Look at a blade of grass or a leaf on a tree.  Watch a bird care for her chicks.  Then remember that Jesus said He cares for you more than they.  The testimony of God’s creation is that He is mighty and that in His might He loves you.

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Apparently everyone wanted to see the sunset.  The buses were packed with people on the way back to parking.  Debbie didn’t think there would be much of a crowd.  WRONG!  People hanging onto the bars like monkeys, emitting their odor-ific B.O. only added to the ambiance.  That’s my dad’s grey head.  Notice which way he is leaning.  Jennifer and I have a code for body odor (B.O.) – Obi Wan Kenobi.

Itinerary:  Salsa Brava – Flagstaff, AZ; Hopi Point – Grand Canyon

Sunday – June 28

Day 24:

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If you want the oxen, you have to deal with the poop.  Today was repair day.  Jennifer and I went on a walk and on returning we noticed my slide topper had pulled out from the camper in the previous days winds.  I think it was simply bad installation.  So a 30 minute drive to Home Depot, Camping World, and some friendly camping neighbors to borrow some ladders, and the job was done.  Just enough time to walk around downtown Williams and witness another shooting.  Fun place to be.  I’d say I much rather downtown Williams over Flagstaff.  Less of a culture shock for me.  :0)

Itinerary: Downtown Williams

Majestic

Friday – June 26

Day 22:

In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. – Theodore Roosevelt

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Don’t bring your finger to a gun fight.  What do boys love more than a cowboy gun fight!  Prior to our trip up to the Grand Canyon, we were treated to a cowboy show complete with a gun battle.  The boys loved it.  And even the dead cowboys rose to life and took pictures with the kids.  Is it just me, or does the sheriff look like David Letterman?

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Sometimes it’s nice for someone else to do the driving.  We’ve been driving a long time.  So the thought of a someone else taking care of the transportation is a nice reprieve.  The Grand Canyon Railway takes you from Williams, AZ to the Southern Rim of the Grand Canyon, complete with Air Conditioning, and another resurrection of the bad guys from the earlier shoot-out.  They must have nine lives because they robbed the train.

I think Weston is enjoying the train.  This kid has always loved trains.  He has pointed them out every time we see them on the road.  He’s played with them all growing up.  Anytime we can do something like this we do our best to make it happen.  Plus, I didn’t know he could play fiddle!

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The Grand Canyon is certainly GRAND.  Majestic would be another word to describe it.  As would awesome, stupendous, gigantic, ridiculous, ginormous, unfathomable, etc.  When you walk up on the site from below, your heart starts to beat a little faster.  I think that is because your body knows once it sees the view, it’ll stop temporarily, as will your breathing.  It is truly a site.  I will warn you, that you have to get off the main area.  Get away from the village.  The our guide on the train said to avoid the shuttles.  I say take the shuttles.  Get away from the tourist trap.  There is less people and more view if you move to the red line toward Hermits Rest.  I got to hop on and see Maricopa Point and Hopi Point.  Hopi is where you’ll see your first glimpse of the Colorado River.  One day the boys and I are going to raft the Colorado!  Until then Jr. Ranger will have to suffice.

Itinerary: Grand Canyon Railway to Southern Rim

Taking a Break

Wednesday – June 24

Day 20:

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Sometimes kids just need a break.  We told the boys that they could plan the day however they’d like.  They chose swimming practically all day and building legos.  There was an amazing swimming hole at our campground in Three Rivers.  HUGE bullfrog tadpoles made the site home.  The boys spent all day splashing each other and trying to catch tadpoles.  It took me and my hat to get it accomplished.

Day 21:

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Hills don’t bother me, hills and heat do.  Leaving California, South of Bakersfield, you still have to cross the very bottom of the Sierras.  It doesn’t look like the Sierras.  There’s no snow covered mountain tops or alpine meadows.  It’s lower.  And it’s hotter.  We left really early to beat as much of the heat as we could.  It felt like we climbed all day.  Slow stead hills were always ahead of us.  And the Arizona roads felt like moon craters.  Fortunately I have a temp gauge on my transmission and a tire pressure monitor system that also measures my tire temperature.  The good news is we are now heading east!

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Birthdays happen regardless of where you are.  Wyatt turned 8.  I remember the day he was born.  He has grown so much, changed so much, learned so much, and has is becoming a little man.  I am so proud of him.  I hope he remembers this trip forever.

Route: Three Rivers, CA to Williams, AZ

CampgroundGrand Canyon Railway RV Park

Time: Left 6:30AM PT.  Arrived 4:30PM Standard MT.  10 Hrs.  This is really confusing because we thought we’d lose an hour going East.  Not so.  Arizona doesn’t practice day light savings time.

The Big Trees

Tuesday – June 23

Day 19:

A magnificent growth of giants… one naturally walked softly and awe-stricken among them.  I wandered on, meeting nobler trees where all are noble… this part of the Sequoia belt seemed to me the finest, and I then named it “the Giant Forest.” – John Muir

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Yes.  You can get carsick while driving.  We are staying in Three Rivers, CA and entered the park at the Ash Mountain Entrance.  From there it is a LONG winding, back and forth, 15-25 MPH trek up to the Giant Forest, possibly at least an hour.  I was a little uneasy by the time we got to the top.  After that drive we decided we were going to hit all we could in one day.  I didn’t want to do that again.  So off we went!

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IMG_5540 IMG_5538 IMG_5541 IMG_5521 IMG_5517 IMG_5514 IMG_5526Sequoia’s ‘Giant Forest’ makes Mariposa seem sad.  Not that Mariposa was bad.  Jennifer put it this way, “It’s like going to Knoxville and seeing a couple of tall building then going to NYC.”  Tall trees abound in Sequoia.  You drive through a family of them.  You drive around them.  They are ahead, behind, on your left, and on your right – all bearing down on you wondering why you are there.  You feel like a brontosaurus is about to peak its head around a giant one.  If feels prehistoric.  Finally, you have to just exist with them, flustered at the impossibility of taking enough pictures.  There were paths, and trails, and acres of them we never saw.  Such magnificent beasts of the forest.

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General Sherman is the largest tree in the world by volume.  The reason being is that its trunk is MASSIVE and rises majestically, never wavering of its girth, hundreds of feet up.  The funny thing is that when you are driving, one will catch your attention and you ask, ‘how is that not the biggest one?’  But the General Sherman stands proud among its army.  You truly have trouble fathoming its size while next to it.  You can’t see the top when you are next to it.  And you can’t grasp its size when you are far away from it.  Cameras struggle to fit its entire height in their frame.  I think the only way to understand their size is to either be one of them, or be God.

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You see burning going on when you are at the park.  There are crews, signs, and of course, smoke, that alert you to controlled burning.  For years, those in charge of the park had a hard time understanding what the trees needed.  Frequent fires are one of the main components to the size of sequoias.  You see fire scars all over the trees.  They have a way of healing themselves from fire.  But its in the fire that they grow strongest.  If you look closely at the rings in the picture above, you’ll see tight growth patterns, then a crack where the rings are dark… that’s a fire… then big growth rings.  They flourish after a fire.  I’m sure there’s a sermon in there somewhere.

IMG_5576 IMG_5584It’s dark in a cave.  The top picture is a cave with the lights out.  The bottom picture is with the lights on.  We decided to venture into Crystal Cave for a little adventure.  This ended up being the favorite thing of the day for the kids.  Who doesn’t love exploring the innards of a mountain?

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IMG_0792IMG_0787IMG_0786IMG_0783 2IMG_0788IMG_0793I’m still skittish of heights.  Our last venture of the day was Moro Rock.  From what I read in the guide they gave us, it was a drive up to the top of a mountain, then a quick walk up a rock to a great lookout.  Not so.  It was a drive up a mountain.  Then a harrowing climb up hundreds of stairs with nothing but railing holding you back from sheer drop off.  If I had known I probably would have chickened out.  Jennifer and I were holding the boys hands so tightly they complained we were squishing them.  I thought if felt like Angels Landing in Zion (which we will not be doing) with handrails instead of chains.  As soon as I thought that, the lady behind me exclaimed the same remark.  But the view was beautiful, and the boys were braver than their parents.  They don’t know what fear is yet.

Itinerary: The Giant Forest, General Sherman Tree, Lodgepole Visitors Center, Crystal Cave, The Giant Tree Museum, Moro Rock.

Big ‘Ol Makeup Post

There is an assumption being from the east that a national park will have a gateway town next to it.  Think Culpeper, Gatlinburg, or Pigeon Forge.  Lots of shops.  Lots of entertainment.  Grocery stores.  Restaurants.  Civilization.  Not so with Yosemite.  And thus, for the past week, I have had ZERO cell service.  Nada.  Nunca.  Niente.  So I have a bit to tell everyone.  I did keep up with my notes and everything will read, though, as if it is the end of the day.  I don’t want to spoil anything.  Let’s start with…

Monday – June 15

How hard to realize that every camp of men or beast has this glorious starry firmament for a roof! In such places standing alone on the mountain-top it is easy to realize that whatever special nests we make – leaves and moss like the marmots and birds, or tents or piled stone – we all dwell in a house of one room – the world with the firmament for its roof – and are sailing the celestial spaces without leaving any track. – John Muir

Day 11:

Don’t try to pack egg salad sandwiches for lunch.  You know that last day you see in Yellowstone?  The one fishing and taking in Old Faithful one last time.  It didn’t end very well.  Everyone else was fine.  Not so me.  Only thing I can think of is that we packed an egg salad sandwich for me.  Never again.  I spent the better part of Monday sleeping off my queasiness.  I missed walking around the very quaint and bustling downtown of Jackson.  But being a contributing member of society was more important.

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The Grand Tetons are Grand for a reason.  We took a route through Yellowstone park and out of the South entrance.  The fun thing about the Tetons is that you pull off really quick to get the only shot you believe you’ll get of the mountains.  Um… not the case.  Every time we topped a new hill, or turned a corner, the Tetons (out our right window) got bigger and bigger.  Every angle we viewed them from, was grander than the last.  Imagine flat prairie, then straight up mountains.  They were stunning.

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I’m a sucker for good ‘ol Western music.After sleeping off my queasiness, we headed out to the Bar J Ranch in Jackson Hole.  Food, fun, laughs, and a great change of pace.  And yes I did eat a steak.  I’m also a sucker for a good ‘ol ribeye.  I was feeling much better.  If you are ever in Jackson, this is a must for you.  Everyone was over the top polite.  The kids loved it.  The music was outstanding.  The people who checked you in were the people who served you were the people who sang were the people who… well they did about everything.  Some of the best Western music I’ve ever heard.

Final thoughts on Yellowstone…  Unique.  I found Yellowstone to really cater to crowds.  You went somewhere, parked, walked a boardwalk, and saw what you wanted to see.  Only thing we didn’t get to do was hike any off beaten trails.  But with a 6 and soon to be 8 year old in tow, that is a tough order.  Yellowstone was accessible.  It was easy in and easy out.  You did have to drive a bit to get to some of the other regions of the park.  The visitor centers are almost brand new and have great displays.  I wasn’t thrilled about Mammoth Springs.  The geysers, fumerols, and thermal springs were quite a show.  But the show stopper, per se, was the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  It was by far my favorite even over Old Faithful.  Yellowstone also has TONS of wildlife.  We saw Elk galore, bison galore, a black bear, a grizzly from a distance, and some fox pups.  I finally saw my moose in Jackson.  Only thing I wanted to see, but missed, were big horn sheep.

Route: West Yellowstone, MT through Yellowstone NP, through South Entrance.  Through Grand Teton NP to Jackson, WY

Campground: The Virginian RV Park  By far our least favorite RV park and the most expensive yet.  However, it is right in the middle of Jackson.

Time: Left 8:00 AM CT.  Arrived 1:30 PM CT. 5.5 Hrs with a stop in Grand Teton.

Tuesday – June 16

Day 12:

IMG_5311I’m not a fan of Nevada.  If I said a couple of days ago that Wyoming is where you want to disappear, Nevada has won that title.  Not only is Nevada vast, it is barren.  We climbed over the south ridge of the Tetons, into Idaho (Yes they do grow lots of Potatoes) and then down into Nevada.  I’m not a fan of Nevada.  The gambling culture permeates the state and it just turns me off.

New isn’t always the best.  We stayed at the New Frontier RV Park in Winnemucca.  (Apparently Johnny Cash, in going ‘Everywhere’ was in Winnemucca too).  The RV park was so new, that hardly anyone was staying there.  Nice bathhouses.  But when you are in there all alone it can be a bit creepy.

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Sometimes I do like Wal-mart.  When looking for groceries before heading to Yosemite, sometimes its nice to see something you recognize.  West Yellowstone had NOTHING for  a grocery store.  We were left to digging grub worms out from under rocks for sustenance.  Actually my parents grabbed food in Idaho before meeting us.  We learned our lesson there and decided to get groceries when we had the chance.  Walmart was a site for sore eyes.

Route: Jackson, WY to Winnemucca, NV via Idaho Falls, I15, I86, Hwy 93, and I80

CampgroundNew Frontier RV Park Winnemucca, NV

Time: Left 7:30 AM CT.  Arrived 5:00 PM PT.  10 Hrs 30 Mins

Wednesday – June 17

Day 13

Going to the mountains is going home. – John Muir

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. – Gen 1:1

Big hills can sneak up on you.  When you route a trip like this, you pay attention to the mountains.  Big mountains take some planning.  You want to get fuel before hand.  You want to rest after.  You want to make sure your truck is in good working order.  However, when driving in Nevada, there are hills everywhere.  And they sneak up on you.  You’ll start climbing, and realize you are still climbing a minute later.  Then you hear your truck’s fan kick in and start cooling everything down.  Climb, climb, climb.  It happened several times.  I would realize we were doing it until my speed dropped.  Otherwise I’d have given it more fuel.

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If I thought Wyoming was desolate, I was wrong – its Nevada.  Want to lose a dead body? Look at Nevada first.  We took a hwy 95 through Fallon, NV from I80.  You’d drive miles without seeing a soul.  Solitude of that sort makes you uneasy.  There were no shoulders, no cellular service, and nothing to look at.  I breathed easier when we got to Lee Vining.
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California doesn’t believe in guardrails.  One of the things I was looking forward to was the Tioga Pass.  It is beautiful.  However, it doesn’t have guardrails.  It was a pretty harry drive.  Fortunately I was ascending instead of descending.  Thinking about descending that portion makes me faint-headed.  I wish I got a picture of the ascent, but I was white-knuckled holding the wheel, and Jennifer, I think, had her eyes closed.  Wyatt did happen to snap a fuzzy picture last second with his 100 year old iPod.  I posted a stock photo just so you could see.

So far, from what I can tell, California doesn’t believe in mobile service either.  I haven’t had a signal for hours.  There is, of course, no signal in Yosemite.  There is no signal outside of Yosemite.  And the RV park has horrible wifi.  It is going to be a long week.

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Yosemite is freakn’ amazing.  I can already tell this is going to be an amazing park.  I saw things on the drive in I’ve never seen before.  It is like driving in the Alpines.  There are huge granite monoliths with pine meadows and lakes underneath.  It really is amazing!  I cannot wait to begin exploring.

Route: Winnemucca, NV to Buck Meadows, CA via I80, Hwy 95, Lee Vining, through Tioga Pass

Campground: Yosemite Ridge RV Park

Time: Left 7:45 AM PT  Arrived 5:30 PM PT.  Had quite a delay in Fallon, NV at a pharmacy.

Thursday – June 18

Day 14

One day’s exposure to mountains is better than a cartload of books. – John Muir

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. – Gen 1:31

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Yosemite is more than freakn’ amazing.  Driving into the valley really takes your breath away.  You just about break your neck looking up at all of the granite walls.  Standing right under El Capitan, you think if he decides to sneeze you are dead meat.  Everything you look at begs to have its picture taken!

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My boys are tough.  We started our Yosemite adventure in style hiking the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls.  1000ft elevation gain.  Strenuous.  And over 600 granite steps, many of which were doused in waterfall spray.  It is hot here and the waterfall mist was a welcomed respite.  Wyatt adventured with me to the top of the falls.   Absolutely amazing.  What is even more amazing is they didn’t complain once.  We had a beautiful picnic under some amazing trees at lunch.

Itinerary:  Vernal Falls via Mist Trail.  Lower Yosemite Falls.

Friday – June 19

Day 15:

I never saw a discontented tree. – John Muir

How clearly the sky reveals God’s glory!
    How plainly it shows what he has done! – Ps 19:1

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Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  When I walked out this morning I could smell wood smoke immediately.  The wildfires of California are close at the southern boundary of the park.  The smoke actually drifted into the valley obscuring the valley at Tunnel View.  Everywhere you drive you see remnants of the Rim Fire of 2013.  In fact, our RV park is right off of Hwy 120 where the fire originated.

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Sometimes words just don’t cut it.  These trees are beyond description.  We saw the Grizzy Giant today.  It is taller than the Statue of Liberty and taller than a 747 Jet.  It grows enough new wood each year to make up a 60 foot tree of typical proportions.  It just looks gnarly.  But every tree I see is big.  Even the trees that aren’t Sequoias are taller than I’m accustomed to.  You are always looking up.  When you arrive at Mariposa, you barely even make it onto the trail because of looking at a massive Sequoia sitting right there in front of you!  They are tremendous creatures, if I can call them that.  They make me think of Ents from Lord of the Rings.  I can imagine them all having discussions when we leave.  The big pine cone isn’t from a Sequoia, rather its a Sugar Pine.

Itinerary:  Mariposa Grove, Tunnel View.

Saturday – June 20

Day 16:

It is impossible to overestimate the value of wild mountains and mountain temples as places for people to grow in, recreation grounds for soul and body. They are the greatest of our natural resources, God’s best gifts, but none, however high and holy, is beyond reach of the spoiler. – John Muir

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Hetch Hetchy feels somewhat like a graveyard.  The National Parks story is very interesting and very complicated.  For instance, Yosemite wasn’t a National Park at first.  It first was set aside as parkland by President Lincoln and given to the State of California.  Exploration was the parks enemy.  And misuse of the land above the park began to show its effects.  The land set aside was then enlarged to incorporate the High Sierras and Tuolumne Meadows.  But as the country grew, and as the National Park system began to take shape, certain battles were waged to help define what kind of protection a National Park actually had.  Many politicians in the early 1900’s wanted Hetch Hetchy Valley as a resoivoir for San Francisco.  It was argued it was too remote and no one would care.  John Muir cared.  Hetch Hetchy was his favorite over Yosemite Valley because of its seclusion.  He fought hard to protect it.  But the earthquake of 1906 was too much of a persuasion, and Muir lost the fight.  Coincidently he died a year later.  The Tuolumne River was dammed and  Hetch Hetchy was flooded.  I knew the story before driving there today and it seemed a bit ominous.  If you want seclusion and no park crowds, this is the place to be.  It is a bit sad too.  I can only think there had to be a better solution.

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If you want to drive curvy roads, go to California.  You see that road?  8 miles of that curvy stuff.  At least it had a guard rail.  There is nothing outside of Yosemite.  It takes all of that driving to get to the nearest town of Sonora.

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The drought is sad.  The ground is crunchy.  The rivers are weak.  The streams are dry.  And the trees look tired.  Pray for rain.

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God is watching out for me.  We went into Sonora to get some circuit breakers and have a nice meal out.  I installed a 2nd A/C unit before I left and we realized it wouldn’t run when we were passing through Nevada.  Something about high 90’s makes you catch on real quick to air troubles.  The simplest thing I could think of was a bad breaker.  I was praying and praying it wasn’t a compressor or run capacitor.  When I walked back to the truck at Lowe’s, Jennifer mentioned she smelled diesel.  Sure enough, I had a diesel leak in my fuel filter housing.  I called around and wouldn’t you know I talked to a guy at an Auto Zone who had just done the same fix on his Chevy last week.  He knew the part I needed and pointed me to the directions on how to fix it.  Looks like I’ll be spending my Father’s Day in Sonora working on the truck.  Oh, and the breaker was bad.  I pulled it out and the wire wasn’t holding.  The set screw was stripped.  Thank you Jesus!

Itinerary:  Hetch Hetchy Valley

Sunday – June 21

Day 17:

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God made me special.  I know that’s an old Veggietales quote, but it suffices.  I have always been mechanical and like to know how things work.  At 8 I was taking apart my Fisher Price tape player and putting it back together.  I am thankful God has wired me that way.  It pays off in moments like these.  That there is a housing for my fuel filter.  A $25 rebuild kit, new O-rings, and an hour and a half later I’m back in business.  I did all of the work in the back of my truck in the parking lot.  Special thanks to Mr. Willie Rowe for giving me the confidence!

IMG_5501 IMG_5485 IMG_5461 IMG_5460 IMG_5458 IMG_5456 IMG_5455 IMG_5454Final thoughts on Yosemite:  I can’t get enough of Yosemite.  It is by far the most beautiful place on the planet.  I didn’t want to leave.  Yellowstone I cut a day short.  Yosemite I wish I had 5 days more.  There are so many trails to explore, granite faces to look up, valleys to look down, trees to meet, rivers to wade, glaciers to scale, and images to burn into my mind.  I will be back here again.  It is too majestic to only experience once.

Itinerary: Tuolumne Meadows, Tunnel View

Monday – June 22

Day 18:

No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening – still all is Beauty!  – John Muir

Holy Cow does California have curvy roads!!!!!!!  That 8 mile trek I posted about earlier?  I had to do that for the better part of 2 hours!  Up.  Down.  Around.  Up.  Down.  Around.  It was ridiculous.  This is the first time I felt sorry for my truck.  Do they not have highways around here?

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Animal Style is the way to go!  How can I go to California and not go to In-N-Out and order an Animal Style Cheeseburger?  Did you know at the bottom of every In-N-Out soda cup is printed John 3:16?  Now you know… and knowing is half the battle.

Memories are made each day.  I look back through the pictures over the past two weeks and it is hard to believe that those experiences are over and have transitioned to memories.  They seem so long ago.  And the experiences I have tomorrow are destined to the same fate.  It makes me think I need to slow down and soak in each day.

Route: Buck Meadows, CA to Three Rivers, CA via HWY 49 (NEVER AGAIN!!)

CampgroundSequoia Ranch RV Park

Time: Left 8:00AM PT.  Arrived 3:20PM PT 7Hrs 20Mins