Guest Interview – Weston Liam Pickwell, Age 6

I’m interested to see how this interview goes.  If my hunch is correct, you’ll see a clear dichotomy between Wyatt, and my very verbose 6 year old.  Hope my fingers can keep up.

Weston, would you like to tell me a little bit about your trip?

Hmmmm….. well, I liked seeing the bears.  Um…. I liked seeing the sequoias, the tall trees, and the Grizzly Giant.  I liked Yellowstone because I liked the campground, and it was clean, and I liked the geysers, fumaroles, and mudpots.  Um…. I liked staying in a camper. Um… and…umm… well… I liked…. seeeeing the faces of Mt. Rushmore.

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What did you think about all of the driving we had to do?

Um…..  It was fun when we got to watch movies and play on our iPods.  And um… we liked um…. well I liked seeing a whole bunch of flags on Mount Rushmore.  About riding in the truck…  Oh yeah…. well I did like going to McDonalds one time, I think… and um… we got a toy Minion.

What was your least favorite part about riding in the truck?

I think it was waiting 15-20 minutes for iPods.  Why did you have to wait?  We were acting crazy.

Was there was there anything fun about driving that far?

I already told you!  The iPods!

Do you have any thoughts about the scenery you saw?

Um… it was pretty, but we have no idea if way out there there are more sequoias.  The scenery was high and pretty.  And um… I think I saw a canyon with a road in the middle with rocks in it that looked like they were from Lion King.  I think it was in Arches.

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What did you think about Yosemite?

It was interesting with all of the squirrels.  They wanted to get fed so they got just like one inch away.  Well, they walked up to a lady and she shot them with a water bottle.  Then another squirrel came.  We weren’t supposed to feed the squirrels or they could get relocated somewhere else or killed.  I think in the Badlands, what we saw was a chipmunk.

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Tell me about your experience in Zion NP.  How was that?

I think it was quite burning up in there but it was a little fun.  We stayed at Zion River Resort and it was clean and I think it had a pool.  We even had a ‘smores’agbord.  And we swam in the virgin river.  And we even hiked the narrows.  What was that like?  Well, it was a little tricky.  We went like 5 miles through water, like, kinda a current, like tiny water falls that made the current.  Well, there was patches of land that we could go on.  We ate cold pizza for lunch and cookies.

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What was your top 5 National Parks?

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3. ZionFullSizeRender 172 FullSizeRender 177

4. Rocky MountainIMG_6506 IMG_6508

5. SequoiaIMG_5541 IMG_5526

What were your 5 top experiences?

1. See the giant sequoias and the Grizzly Giant

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2. Seeing the geysers and hot springs

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3. Swimming in the Virgin River

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4. The Jeep Ride in Moab

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5. The ATV in the hail storm

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Why don’t you tell everyone what it is like to live in a camper for 6 weeks.

Well, when you live it in theres not much room.  For the kids, they can play in their beds with stuffed animals and they can come to life.  When you live in a camper on a trip, you have to drive like 100 miles or something to get to your campground.  And it is like 50 miles to get to a state.  And if you are going to skip a state, you have to drive 1000 miles, maybe.  I liked playing the Ranger game with Wyatt.

What was your favorite state?

Wyoming because we got to go to a cowboy thing.

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Anything you would like to add?

Yeah, there was this Steamboat Geyser in Yellowstone and the highest it exploded was like 300 feet.  We didn’t get to see it, but it was the highest.  That’s all!

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