Thursday, December 16, 2010

Travel With The Frenchies

Yosemite Valley Panoramic View
Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Monument, Las Vegas, The End of the Tour.   
August 24th to August 26th, 2010.

We climbed out of King’s Canyon National Park, going west to California Highway 99, the main North / South route of the Central Valley of California. We drove north on Highway 99 for a short distance. The roads and canals that serve the giant farms are straight as arrows laid out in grid patterns that intersect Hwy 99 at a diagonal. 

This is the heartland of California’s agricultural abundance. The Central Valley was a vast, barren, soggy marshland that provided the California Native Americans an abundant life before the first White settlers arrived. The early settlers built canals to drain the land and established farms that continue to  produce 2 or 3 harvests every year. 

We passed by vineyards and fields of cotton, flax, corn and many other garden vegetables. There are miles of orchards - peaches, cherry trees, walnuts, pistachios, apples and other fruits - near the Sierra foothills.

We turned back to the East at Fresno, to climb back into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Our motel stop was at the Miner’s Inn at Mariposa, California which is near one of the 3 western entries to Yosemite National Park.  We arrived after dark and had a quick dinner of sandwiches we had purchased earlier at a supermarket in the Central Valley. 

 Going towards Yosemite - Natural Tunnel
The next morning, we took a winding canyon route that followed the Merced River into Yosemite Valley. I had never been that way before. The walls of the canyon closed in to allow room for only the new two lane road, the original old highway, the river and a railroad line. 
The day was already turning into an August scorcher, but the deep shadows from the canyon walls provided welcome relief from the intense sun.

The unstable canyon walls had collapsed in several places blocking the new road. At those points, there were single-lane temporary bridges set up to allow cars to cross the river to use the old highway on the other side of the canyon. 

We made a stop at the tiny village of El Portal just outside the entry to Yosemite to buy sandwiches and to top off the van’s gas tank.  Gas was very expensive. But, we knew that the few gasoline stations between El Portal, Ca. and Highway 395 on the other side of the Sierra Nevada Range would be even more expensive.

Once again we were captivated by Yosemite Valley that is one of the world’s scenic treasures.  We stopped at the base of Bridal Veil Falls which was still running even though it was late summer.  
Bridal Veil Falls - August 2010

In 2008 we had stayed in Yosemite Valley for two nights, using tent cabins at Curry Village.  Several months later, the cabins we used were crushed by house sized boulders flaking off the immense granite walls next to the cabin site. 

Curry Village Tent Cabin - 2008 Tour

This time, we did not have time to stay and play as we had before.

When you drive in Yosemite Valley, even though it is crowded with people and traffic – you drive slowly and speak in hushed tones because you are driving in a natural cathedral.

We found a very beautiful picnic area with deep shade next to the Merced River and a rustic footbridge over the river.  There was quite a crowd of people swimming, wading and paddling floats in the river just below the picnic area. 

Footbridge over the Merced River - Yosemite Valley
We discovered that the wildlife, chipmunks and birds, were very skillful lunch thieves!  Daniel lost part of his sandwich to a chipmunk which took it right out of the plastic container.  The birds would swoop down to pick up bits of potato chips and bread thrown down for them. It was quite amusing to watch their antics.

Chipmunk or ground squirrel snatching Daniel's lunch !

Portrait of a Lunch Thief

Merced River Beach - Yosemite National Park
We drove up to the dramatic view of the Valley at the South Entry Tunnel for photos.  The parking area was crowded at times. Again, many of the families stopping there were French and European tourists.  Daniel chatted with one French family who had rented a deep red, Ford Mustang convertible for their drive to the Valley.  Daniel loves dramatic, hot cars!

Daniel chatting with another French Family - Yosemite Tunnel Overlook
We then departed for the high country above Yosemite Valley, driving quickly through the alpine like area of Tuolumne Meadows (elevation of 8,600 feet or 2,600 meters) on our way to Tioga Pass.  We stopped at the highest point so that everyone could stretch their legs.  Daniel and Katy hiked out quite a way onto the rolling granite domes next to the highway. 

The High Country Above Yosemite Valley
We also stopped for a short break at a beautiful lake, part of the reservoir and water system for the City of Los Angeles established by William Mulholland during the early 1900’s.  There were still large patches of snow in the shaded areas of the mountains above the lake.

Reservoir near the Tioga Pass

We descended Tioga Pass – elevation 9,945 feet or 3,130 meters – to join Highway 395 on the Eastside of the Sierra Nevada Range. The Tioga Pass highway is closed in the fall and not opened again until late spring every year due to heavy snowfall and treacherous weather when storms roll in from the Pacific Ocean. 

The highway joins Hwy. 395 at Mono Lake with its strange shore line formations. Recently, scientists have discovered that there is a unique bacteria living in and thriving on cyanide compounds at the bottom of the lake.  

Eventually, we turned east to cross more low ranges of hills to begin descending into Death Valley near Stove Pipe Wells.  The series of steep descents really caused problems with the brakes on our van.  

The vibrations that had started during our descents from the tram or cable car at Palm Springs were now strong shudders and chattering of the brakes as they heated up.  We reported this to the rental agency when we turned in the van.

Death Valley is the lowest, hottest, driest area on the North American Continent. The world’s lowest golf course is located at the Furnace Creek Ranch and Inn area.  Badwater Basin, in Death Valley National Park, is the lowest place in North America and one of the lowest places in the world at -282 feet (-85.5 meters) below sea level. The Dead Sea, between Israel and Jordon, is the lowest at 1,371 feet below sea level.

Bad Water, Death Valley National Moument - Lowest Point in North America

In 2008 when the Frenchies and I visited Death Valley, we encountered temperatures of 121 degrees F or 49 degrees C a short distance from Badwater Basin.
Mon Dieu! C'est chaud !  (My God, It's Hot !)

As we descended the outside temperatures ascended – even though it was nearly sunset, the outside thermometer registered 114 degrees F (45 degrees C) when we stopped at an area with large sand dunes.  The Frenchies took another walk to get nearer the sand dunes. I stayed by the car and took photos in the beautiful rust colored light.

Evening Dunes - Death Valley National Monument
Rest Facility - Death Valley National Monument
We arrived at the Furnace Creek Ranch just after dark (it was still 108 degrees F or 42 degrees C) where we had reservations for the night.  
Cabin at Furnace Creek Ranch - Photo taken on earlier visit
Mathieu and I stayed in a small cabin and the others stayed in hotel type rooms near the tennis courts and large pool.  We had dinner in the main dining room, went to our rooms and then met again about 9 PM at the large swimming pool.

The pool is very large, filled with warm, natural spring water.  The style of the pool reminded me of the swimming pool at one of the children’s homes I had worked at. That pool had the same sort of ceramic tiles, edge coping and changing rooms as the pool at the children’s home – but, it was much better maintained and much cleaner!  

We swam until about 10 PM. The air was still hot at about 103 degrees F or 39 C which helped my bathing suit to dry quickly.

Later, I accidentally switched the window air conditioning unit in the cabin to “heat” not “cool” causing it to fill our room with smoke.  This triggered the smoke alarm to go off!  Mathieu and I had a fun filled 10 minutes trying to get the unit to work properly and disperse the smoke. It had no problems cooling the room for the rest of the night when set at a relatively warm (for me) 82 F or 27 degrees C. I did report the problem the next morning as we checked out.

The Frenchies were convinced that sleeping with air conditioning would cause an illness. One or the other of the young men would stay in my room, so that many nights the room was cooled only by the air conditioning unit’s fan drawing in outside air.  This is not a problem in the cooler, high country, but in Death Valley… is a problem!

The next morning we made the last segment of the tour, driving from Death Valley to North Las Vegas.  We passed by the location of our beginning small outing of 3 weeks before, Red Rock Canyon just outside Las Vegas. This is near my brother’s home.  We stopped for a short visit there and then made our final overnight stop at the Jockey Club on Las Vegas 
Blvd. – The Las Vegas Strip. 

Back Where We Started - Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas
The Strip by Night - photo by N. JAEG Desjardins, 2008
We all got up early in the morning of August 26th to return the van to Enterprise Car Rental and for my French cousins to catch the shuttle bus to the departure area of McCarran Airport. Their flight left before 9 AM. 

I have not heard what the charges for the repairs to the first rental van may have been after it was mistakenly filled with diesel fuel instead of gasoline. (The repairs came to about $75 - I found out when the rental company sent a refund check to the Frenchies from the repair deposit they were charged.)

It was hard to say “Au Revoir” we had spent a lot of time together. I think we spent the time together well, no stress, no arguing and lots of respect for each other.  It was a great excursion! 

We tried to include everything the family wanted to see on the tour, but the Western United States is simply too big!  Three weeks is just not enough to see it all.

My brother, Bill met me at the new car rental building, so that he and I could go to our favorite Mexican restaurant for an early lunch.  The Frenchies had steadfastly refused to try Mexican food during the tour – they felt it was much too spicy for them.

Bill brought me back to the airport and I departed about 1:30 PM for my flight back to my new home in Honolulu.  

I will be blogging about my new adventures and impressions of life on a Pacific Island with lots of photos very soon.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to read this blog and look at the photos.  I hope you enjoyed it.

Traveler Al

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