Monday, August 13, 2007

Sequoia...Giant Trees, PeeWee Herman Road...

Sunay, August 12, 2007.

I left Fresno, after a Grand-Slam Denny’s breakfast (wanted to pig out cause I was uncertain of food places ahead on the road) and started east across Hwy 180. Orchards and grape fields were broken up only by a few roads and houses. There was no one in the fields, so I guess it wasn’t harvest or maintenance time, but, the vast expanses call for huge amounts of manual labor. California just wouldn’t make it without immigrant (legal and otherwise) labor.

Then, I began to pass a few “camps” on the Kings Canyon River. The camp was an amalgam of weekend visitors and long-term inhabitants, but, Oh, my, god! Talk about The Grapes of Wrath! Here is “Snoopy.” I first asked him, “How long have you been here?” and he said, “Oh, about five days.” I took one look at his vehicle where ant had built beds built up the flat-tire rims and said, “Heck, it looks like you’ve been here longer than that,” and he said, “OK, make it five years.” He’s never been off the West Coast save to bury his aunt in Kansas.

And here is Tsunami, supposedly a full-blooded timber wolf. He was a "cuddle bunny!"
Down the road I saw this sign on a building. These few miles of road and river were in a time warp...I could just imagine old, beat up pick-up trucks full of plains-land people looking for work. Except now, of course, I imagine many of those so laid back are on the dole.

The road began to climb again, and at one place I pulled over and took the picture you see below. This part of the country was wonderfully fertile land, but it needs water. You can expect to see water battles intensify in coming years. Of course, if we shed some of our English “garden yard” mentality, there would be plenty of water available.
I saw the 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 and 4,000 elevation markers pass. Here, the trees on the sides of the ever increasing slopes were now taller pines instead of the smaller junipers and cedars that populate the lower altitudes. Lodgepole pines were everywhere. Straight, tall, somewhat thin and with sparse branches, they got their name from being used to for teepees.

The road climbed to 5,000 and then 6,000 feet. I had been thinking about how nice it would be to ride a bide (as in “pedal”) from the floor of the desert to the park entrance, but a 5,500 foot climb is a long, long way. Still, I’d love to do it…just not in August!

I paid my twenty dollars at the park and sorted through the maps they gave me. I wanted to go to Kings Canyon, but figured it would take too long (I was right!). But, I did stop at two places in Sequoia National Park: General Grant’s tree and Panoramic Point.

Giant Sequoias are thousands of years old. They are resistant to bugs and infection, and fall mainly when fire has hollowed out the base. Fire, while eventually causing large trees to fall, also helps to grow new trees because it cracks upon the cones and releases seeds. Again, fire plays its role in the forest.

Take look at some of the trees!

I had to hunt to find the turn to Panoramic Point, but once I had made it to the top I was glad I had taken the time and effort to do so. Here, I had an excellent view of the rugged Sierra Mountains just to the east. And to think that the railroad had to be built through that set of behemoths.
After leaving Sequoia, I continued east through the park and soon found myself in the Giant Forest, the land of tall redwoods. At one point, a mother bear and her two cubs walked across the road in front of me. I pulled to a sideways halt and grabbed my camera. Damn! I only had a wide angle lens on! Well, I missed momma but here are the two little kids.

If I thought the road out of Yosemite was crooked, well, the road out of Sequoia made Yosemite’s look like as straight as a drill sergeant. This time I really and truly did feel my stomach go queasy on me…even though I was driving. I thought I was in a PeeWee Herman movie! (Not the one where he was in the audience and was subsequently arrested for, er, well, whatever!!)

At last, down from the mountains, I pulled over into a roadside café at We Three or some name kind of like that. Wireless! The friggin’ café had wireless for its customers. I found that many little restaurants offered the same! California.
If I thought the road out of Yosemite was crooked, well, the road out of Sequoia made Yosemite’s look like as straight as a drill sergeant. This time I really and truly did feel my stomach go queasy on me…even though I was driving. I thought I was in a PeeWee Herman movie! (Not the one where he was in the audience and was subsequently arrested for, er, well, whatever!!)

At last, down from the mountains, I pulled over into a roadside café at We Three or some name kind of like that. Wireless! The friggin’ café had wireless for its customers. I found that many little restaurants offered the same! California.

Finally, I hit Hwy 99 and four lanes. I passed through Bakersfield (thank God I don’t live there!) and joined with I-5. I-5 is like the main artery of CA, and I believe everyone north of LA was headed back to town after getting the heck out of Dodge for the weekend.

I-5 began a long climb through the mountains north of Santa Clarita and, once again, there were cars pulled over on the shoulder all along the way, the victims of over-heating. Eventually, I passed Pyramid Lake, sitting a thousand or feet or so below the highway, filling up the lowest places of the damned-in area of the high mountains. What with the heat, I wanted to drive down and jump in!!!

I-5 sucks. I finally made it in about 7 or so, just in time for Logan and me to go have dinner and play pool.

Then, to bed! Long day, but gorgeous driving.

Mike S.

From Tahoe Lake to Yosemite El Capitan

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Today I left Squaw Valley on Hwy 89 just north of Lake Tahoe and headed south around the lake. Earlier this summer there had been a serious fire on the south side, and I saw some of the scorched areas. The residents had signs up everywhere thanking the firemen for helping.

My plan was to follow 89 all the way to Hwy 395, the same route I had taken last year on the Harley, and then turn west into Yosemite National Park. For pictures of Hwy 89, you can go to my post from last year, My Love-Hate Affair With Hwy 89.

This time, as last, there were bike riders doing the big climb up and over Monitor Pass. It looks like it would be a great, but killer, bike ride and I’m itching to do it sometime.

From 395, I turned west into Yosemite and drove up the road into the mountains. Somewhere around 7 or 8 thousand feet, there was a large lake with a narrow band of sand upon which sun bathers had laid out their blankets and towels. And, yes, some people were swimming. I didn’t stop to check the water, but because the sun is so intense, shallow depths are heated to an enjoyable temperature.

Along the way, I was struck with the desire to pull over and sit by the stream that ran alongside the road. I even sunned out on a rock like a lazy turtle.

I stopped to take pictures of some climbers on this sheer rock face. Definitely not my cup of tea. Look carefully: they are in middle of the pic…maybe you can “blow up” the shot to better see them.

I reached the bottom of the valley and began heading up and out. Of course I wanted pictures of El Capitan (which was behind me) so I pulled into an overlook. Now, this vantage point proved to be a real challenge because buses kept pulling in and vomiting hordes of Japanese who very aggressively ran around with their cameras, jumping in front of my car, my camera view, and even my very person.

The road leaving Yosemite was perhaps the windiest I have ever been on. Heck, even driving I was close to become nauseous. I did pull over and take a picture of a Yosemite burn. You might be aware that the concept of fire management for forests has been evolving from a no-burn policy to a policy that recognizes the importance of fire in preserving forests. Letting underbrush build up without regular clearing by fire, and letting trees grow too close together actually contributes to even worse fires in the future. Now, steps have been taken to thin forests out so that they more closely mimic what would have been there had we not tried to put out all fires. The goal is to let nature takes its course with only a light hand of management.

But, eventually, I exited the park on Hwy 41 and headed for Fresno. The land was dry…god, it was so dry. A single careless cigarette would light the West up like a roman candle.

At Fresno, I started east on Hwy 180 toward Sequoia National Park, thinking I’d see a hotel. As I passed mile after mile of orchards sprouting out of the parched soil (this so very much reminded me of my home in McAllen, Texas, where they used to grow wall-to-wall orange and grapefruit orchards covering hundreds of square miles), I realized I needed to go back to Fresno to bed down. And I did, uneventually. Oh, yeah, I had to stop two places to find someone who could speak English and tell me which way to the hotel strip.

To bed...tomorrow is Sequoia National Park.

Mike Sledge

Friday, August 03, 2007

Harleys Rule The West...In The Summer

Friday, August 3, 2007.

This morning I had to hit a casino for breaksfast, and ended up playing the slots! Oh, the addictive nature of the dings and rings, the colored lights, and the random reinforcement. I was behind, I was even, I was behind, I was ahead, I was even, I was behind...behind...behind. Oh, well, they got my $20.

Next I went for a bike ride of a little over an hour. Oh, does it feel good to exercise while traveling! Leaving Ely, heading west on Hwy 50, the Loneliest Road in America, I hit this scene..over and over again. Ever time I cleared a mountain range I went down into a long valley about 15-25 miles across. It was 70 miles or so, at least, between any sign of civilization.

In one pass, I stopped to take pictures of the dry lake bed that appears as a white layer between the cliff walls, and the Harleys came roaring by...both ways. For sure, Harleys run the road in the West in the summer. It was 95 degrees and, of course, dry. These riders probaby died ten years ago but just don't know it and don't rot because their skin is luggage.

While taking forever, it seemed, to cross the large, flat expanse between one set of mountain ranges, I started counting the dust devils that were swirling several hundred feet into the air: I counted six at least.

It was more open spaces, more Harleys in a never-ending cycle. Thank God for XM radio! Moving toward Reno, I came across Sand Mountain. There were 4-wheelers racing up and down this thing for Chrissake!!

After leaving Sand Mountaing behind, I saw this rider up ahead walking a bike. I pulled over and the young lady practically begged me for a ride to the next town. She and a group of 24 left New York two months ago on a cross-country ride to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. They expect to reach San Francisco on Aug. 8. They ride about 70 miles a day. I asked how many had been hit by cars and she said that one rider had, and that he was near death. All the riders were beech-nut brown! I'm sure some dermatologists will be happy about 30 years from now! But, it's an adventure for them and they're supporting a good cause.

I checked into a hotel in Truckee, CA, near Squaw Valley where I'll do the workshop. Just down the street Ziggy Marley put on a concert in a park, so I jumped on the bike and rode down there. Met a young couple with their first baby...8 weeks old. They're already teaching her how to go hear quality music.

You may check somewhere on the blog link and find a tab to click that will allow you to receive an email when I update this blog. It may save search time!!!

Mike S.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Utah: Where a Man Can Get Married...Again and Again

and a mother teaches her daughters to share. I'm thinking of my daughter, Jessica. She's a wonderful human being, woman, artist, friend, and compadre...but, good lord, after her, who would have the energy for more?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Wow! Today is day 3 of my trip from Shreveport, LA to Lake Tahoe where I will attend the Squaw Valley Writer's Workshop. Leaving Shreveport on Tuesday, it was all rain rain rain until I finally got north of Dallas.

From there all the way to north Arizona, it was pretty much pictures.

However, once I got off I-40 and started moving through Arizona, things began to pick up. I stayed Wed night in Kayenta, on Hwy 163, just south of Monument Valley. For those who did not read my travel posts from last year, when I did the big western loop on the Road King, Monument Valley is where John Wayne did a lot of his films because of the buttes that populate the area.

So, this morning, bright and early, I headed north on 163, then turned to 261. Holy Cow! 261 climbed up the side of a large mesa, switching-backing more than a teenage son's story about how the car got a dent. See the picture...the road went left of center then climbed right across the upper part of the bluff.

After getting up on the top of the bluff, I stopped and shot a couple of pictures of the valley.

Then, it was a left turn to the west on Hwy 95 and a quick stop at the Natural Bridge National Monument. There, I saw this bike. Man, this guy must be serious.

After leaving Natural Bridges, the road cut through Glen Canyon, which is famous for rafting.

Then, it was time to drive through Capitol Reef, where the rock formations huddle over the road.

This picture is looking east after I crossed the border into Nevada on Hwy 50. There were huge valleys laid in between the mountains and you could imagine the saratoga wagon drivers looking ahead to the mountains and saying, "I'm never gonna reach them." By the way, Hwy 50 is called "The Loneliest Highway in America."

It was a long day, but the views were great. I'll tell you something else: it's easy to run out of gas in southern Utah.

Mike Sledge