Northern California – Spring 2016 Road Trip – Day 9 – Lassen National Park & Lava Beds National Monument

Day 9 started on another beautiful sunny morning, this time in Redding, California. Our first destination was a short drive to Lassen National Park, an area where a volcano erupted in 1915. The park is now a place to ski, hike, camp, and fish in its beautiful lake. Lassen Peak is made of igneous rock, and is one of the world’s largest plug dome volcanoes. It is also the southernmost non-extinct volcano of the Cascade Range. The road into the park was only opened through ten miles into the park due to snow covered roads and avalanche conditions, taking us as far as the devastation area.

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The area still had remnants of the last eruption from 1915. Hot Rocks which spewed out of the volcano three to five miles cluttered the devastation area, the name resulting from a photographer named Lassen took pictures of the rocks three days after the eruption and the rocks were still sizzling; for this reason the rocks were dubbed “hot rocks.”

In this same area were the Dwarf Forest and Chaos Crag.  From the base of the crags toward the northwest corner of the park is Chaos Jumbles, a rock avalanche that happened 350 years ago.  The rock debris traveled at about 100 miles per hour, flattened the forest before it, and dammed Manzanita Creek, forming Manzanita Lake.

As we were leaving the park we hiked near the ranger station along the lake trail for a fantastic view of the lake and mountain. The lake water was so clear that we could see the bottom and the reflection of the mountain in the lake.

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Driving onward into Northern California we saw a sign that we entered the State of Jefferson. The State of Jefferson was a proposed state that would span the mostly rural area of southern Oregon and Northern California, where several attempts to separate from Oregon and California have taken place. In October 1941, the original State of Jefferson movement got its start, but with Pearl Harbor occurring the effort faded. Now 75 years later, a resurgent State of Jefferson movement is seeking to found a new state encompassing not only the border counties of southern Oregon and northern California, but other counties as well. Recently the effort for independence has returned.

Northeastern California is very sparsely population, and as we drove onto California Highway 89 to stop at Subway Cave we passed few houses. The Subway Cave is a lava tube. Being totally unprepared we did not have a flashlight, but we were fortunate enough to tag along with a family from San Jose who shared their lantern light with us so that we could see where to walk. They were good tour guides, as they come here often, having a cabin in the area. They pointed out the uneven rocky floor of the tube and the water dripping from the ceiling at spots.

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The dripping water formed lavacicles that hung from the ceiling of the tube and we had to be careful not to walk into them.  A lavacicle is a geological formation consisting of a quantity of lava that dripped from the roof of a cave as it cooled and hardened, leaving a rounded protrusion. Weak spots caused the ceiling to collapse at some points. The remains of a lava bubble was located near the exit of the tube and the daylight lit the outlet to the trail. The trail followed the ground above the lava tube but was not clearly marked so we had to explore a bit to find our way back to the car. The warm temperature of 66 degrees outside felt good compared to the cool air in the lava tube.

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As we moved along California Highway 89, Mount Shasta was directly ahead of us. Its peak seemed so perfect that it is as if someone painted a picture of the shadowy foothills surrounding the snowy white peak. It seemed as though we should be getting closer to the peak, but because of it’s massive size we never really did.

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We stopped for lunch at a roadside cafe called Chatty Kathie’s Cafe in the small town of McArthur, where the entire town seemed to be coming to lunch after church. We ate French dips and headed out on the road again.

The rest of the day was spent at the Lava Beds National Monument where we descended into eerie tube caves. A surreal landscape sculpted by molten earth, Lava Beds National Monument contains volcanic tablelands dotted by cinder cones, pit craters, and spatter cones, plus more than 700 caves. These strange features were formed when the outer edges of flowing lava began to cool, forming tubes. When molten lava stopped flowing, hardened tubes were left behind.

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We stopped at the visitor center to borrow flashlights and a map, as well as as a sweatshirt to walk into the cool depth of the caves. Our first cave was called Mushpot, since it was within walking distance of the visitor center. It was easy to explore this cave as we followed a smooth paved lit path. It was about 55 degrees inside the cave. Skull Cave was our next adventure; Low ceilings, tight spaces, ice and skulls of animals and humans were seen. The skulls tucked into a corner at the bottom offered a title for this cave. We used our flashlights to make our way through the cave and climbed many steps to get to the bottom level to see the skulls.

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Sunshine Cave was our next cave to explore and it was moderately challenging. This cave had a slippery slope near the entrance and a rocky floor. One of our flashlights went dead so we had to share his flashlight so that we could find our footing to proceed. At one point we came to a loop in the cave where we climbed over rocks and ice around the bend to make my way to the other side of the boulder at the loop’s center instead of continuing into a dark tunnel. We feared the flashlight would go out and we would be stuck not knowing where to go, but it was well worth it as this cave had an open vent in the ceiling at the rear point of the cave. The vent in the ceiling shone enough light so that it allowed vegetation to grow beneath it inside the cave.

For our last ave we decided to explore one more less challenging cave since we had only one flashlight. We chose Sentinel Cave and started at the lower end, hiking upward through the lava tube for 3,280 feet until we reached the second entrance at the Upper Sentinel.

After returning our flashlights to the visitor center, we continued above ground through the park, finding Fleener Chimneys, the abandoned volcanic vents from the Lava Beds. There are three holes about fifty feet deep, that were the conduits for the Devil’s Homestead Lava Flow around 12,000 years ago of Medicine Lake Highland, California’s biggest volcano. It is essentially a basaltic shield, about 30 miles long in a north-south direction, and 22 miles stretching east-west.

These vents were completely different from the lava vent center in Bishop, California. The Fleener Chimneys at Lava Beds National Monument did not spew lava but released pressure while the lava flowed through the lava tube to ooze out at the tube’s opening. This allowed the vents structure to remain, allowing us to peer down the three chimneys.

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From this point, we could view the dark rocky lava beds that stretched for acres.

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While still technically park of the Lava Beds National Monument, we drove through the Wildlife Refuge to get to Petroglyph Point, an archaeological site located southeast of Tule Lake, California. Petroglyph Point contains one of the largest panels of Native American rock art in the United States.

The petroglyphs are carved along the face of a former island of ancient Tule Lake, in a region historically of the Modoc people territory. Because of the number of times the petroglyphs may have been inundated in water as Tule Lake rose and fell around the cliff face, it is complicated to calculate the age of the individual petroglyphs. Most estimates date these carvings back between 2000 and 6000 years ago. Hundreds of stick figures and shapes covered the side of the cliff.

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The petroglyphs extended the length of a large rock formation behind a metal fence. Some graffiti plagued spots on the wall with the petroglyphs and pictographs but we could clearly see the ancient drawings. The wall is made of soft volcanic layers called “tuff.”  This material eroded from the rock wall and fell onto the ground where we walked. The “tuff” material provided a material soft enough for the cliff swallow to build hollow mud nests in the cliff. We saw nests stacked in rows on the face of the cliff wall.

After our walk at Petroglyph Point, we drove to Klamath Falls, Oregon to stay the night at the Cimmaron Inn. We had dinner at Bubba’s BBQ Shack for a great meal. The BBQ was excellent and it was a perfect ending to a great day.

Arcata, California – Spring 2016 Road Trip – Day 8 – The Best Festival Ever

After breakfast we hopped into the car for Arcata, California for the Kinetics Festival. The event coordinator gave us spectator pins and tips where to watch the parade of kinetic sculptures. The kinetic sculptures are human powered vehicles decorated to race on road, water and sand.

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The event starts with a parade around the town square then takes off to race down the street for the first leg of the race, continuing for miles until they reach the bay then paddle through water and then down a sandy dunes before ending in Eureka.

One primary requirement is that the vehicles must carry all needed items for the race with them. The sculptures were wildly decorated and some theme-related, designed from a bicycle and transformed into a giant, dragon, shark, bug, volcano, or anything imaginable. Men dressed as green mushrooms named their sculpture Funguys who had a great time as they paraded around the square.

The festival started 47 years ago in Arcata by a man who wanted to have good clean, silly fun and is the largest kinetics festival in the country. There are other small kinetic festivals but people travel from around the world to participate or see it in Arcata.

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The parade of the participants varied in costume. The sculpture of the Organ Trail had a heart on the front of a peddled covered wagon and its peddlers dressed as 19th century pioneers. Santa Grinch cycled around the square. We also saw an Adopt-a-Pet sculpture with dogs ready for adoption, trilobite, mailmen, CHIPS imitators and so many more.

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We stayed to view the sculptures until a whistle blew at noon and a 1950’s police car and old fire engine led the start of the race as the sculptures peddled quickly out of the square and down the hill onto the street course. Some sculptures began to fall apart but it was all for fun anyway.

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Roadside America offered our next stop so off to McKinleyville to grab lunch at McDonalds and see the world’s tallest totem pole. The world’s tallest totem pole is located behind the Safeway grocery store in McKinleyville. A sign posted the totem pole as 160 feet tall. Carved by Ernest Pierson and John Nelson from a single 500-year-old redwood tree in 1961, the totem pole weighs 57,000 pounds, and sits on a base that weighs over two tons. Even so, at least four other poles have laid claim to beating it but this totem pole claims it is the tallest since it is carved from only one tree. The totem pole carvings are painted brightly colors also. The town pulls down the totem pole every few years to repaint the carvings.

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A ninety mile trip took us two hours to reach Trinity Dam, an earth dam in Shasta Trinity Whisky Recreation Area. The government built the dam creating Trinity Lake. Trinity Dam is composed mainly of river gravel and local rock, rising 538 ft from its foundations. A hydro-electric plant is located at the base of the dam. The Trinity Dam provides flood control and water to the Central Valley essential for farming.

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Beneath the water of Trinity Lake, lies old Trinity Center – its homes and commercial buildings – now an underwater ghost town. In its day, Trinity Center was a major stop on the only road from San Francisco to Portland. But all that washed away when the government built Trinity Dam and flooded the valley and the towns of Trinity Center, Stringtown and Minersville.For decades, residents were so bitter about the dam that they tore down signs and misdirected tourists for what the government dubbed Clair Engle Lake, named after a U.S. senator. It wasn’t until later that the government changed the name to Trinity Lake.

Also nearby we stopped in the small, abandonded town of Shasta. Six miles west of Redding on Highway 299 a row of old, half-ruined, brick buildings of Shasta, once the center of the county before Redding passed it. Among the buildings are an old Shasta County Courthouse, now housing historical exhibits The town is unrestored with brick ruins of the building, along with a few standing buildings.

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On our way to Shasta Dam we saw two roadrunners cross the street. These birds are too quick for us to get a photo of them.

Shasta Dam is the eighth tallest dam in the United States. Parking the car, we bypassed the closed visitor center and walked out onto the dam.

From the midpoint of the dam we had a spectacular view across the reservoir with 14,000′ high Mount Shasta looming in the distance.

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Our hotel for the night was in Redding, California. The hotel had a house cat named Jack who welcomed people to the hotel. Jack was left by a family who could not take him to their new home so was adopted by the hotel. The cat lounges in the foyer and the front door of its new permanent home.

Going into town, we stopped at their famous Sundial Bridge is a well known spot in Redding.  It is a pedestrian bridge that resembles a sundial made of tall cables to hold it up with glass panels as its floor giving a clear view of the river below leading to the Turtle Bay Exploration Park and the botanical gardens. The Sundial Bridge is the first of its kind and is the tallest working sundial in the world.

We crossed the bridge for a walk through the botanical gardens, however the gardens were disappointing because they was so unkempt. The lack of rain here does not provide the gardens with the lush green look of so many gardens we have seen in the east.

Afterwards we went into downtown Redding for dinner at Woody’s Brewery, an excellent choice with good atmosphere and food.

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Mendocino & Humboldt Counties, California – Spring 2016 Road Trip – Day 7 – Redwood Forests

After yet another Denny’s breakfast, we went down the block for a stop at Glass Beach, part of Noyo State Park.  The beach is covered in colorful smooth clear stones that looked like glass, with white, green, amber, red and clear glass scattered among stones and shell bits throughout the beach. The glass stones reflected the morning sun making is easy to see the glassy pebbles.

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After that great early start to the day our trip continued north to Leggitt, California, where we paid our $5.00 entrance fee to enter the park to see the famous Candelabra Tree that is hollowed out so that a vehicle can drive a path through its center.

With some guidance I drove our bulky Chrysler 300 rental through the tree’s passage with inches remained between the inside of the tree and the car. It was close enough I could sit normally in the driver seat, reach out and touch the walls of the tree. A T shirt from here rivals my Carhenge for the most kitschy shirt.

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As you proceed north on U.S. Highway 101 north of Garberville you come to the Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile portion of old Highway 101, which parallels the 101 with its 51,222 acres of redwood groves.

This road list flanked on both sides by the most outstanding display of these giant trees in all of California, as it is in the middle of Humboldt Redwoods State Park which has the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world.

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Our lunch stop this day was for burgers and fries at the Chimney Tree Grill, named for the aptly named Chimney Tree. It is a massive tree that has a hollowed out area from a burn in 1914, as large as a twelve foot room. We entered the tree at its door entrance and stood inside a tree larger than the bedroom of my childhood home.

After lunch, our tour continued up the Avenue to a noteworthy forest of giant trees; standing inside the base of a fallen tree that was taller on it’s side than a massive motorhome parked at the end of it. These trees are the oldest living things on earth and they just amaze me to think that these trees standing today were here before the Vikings landed in North America.

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U.S. 101 has historically been a tourist route, and many smaller quirky tourist spots exists. One which had signs for about 100 miles before we arrived was Confusion Hill,  so we had to go see it to satisfy our curiosity. We new it would be a tourist trap but it only cost $5 per person to explore the laws of gravity.

From the lobby we entered the wooded area following a path leading to a makeshift wooden cabin hung onto a side of a hill. There were activities for us to try. A level platform mounted to the slanted structure made me look taller at one end; we also stood on short ledges mounted to the wall while leaning forward without falling. Another activity had a golf ball roll down a slanted plank and roll back up again on its own. The weirdness of this place and the strange, amusing things were worth the price of admission.

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Another stop was at a chainsaw art shop that was on the way. There were impressive wood sculptures of a native chief, Sasquatch, eagles and more. Finally before we left the Avenue we hiked through the Redwoods at Founders Grove where we saw the coast redwood tree, the tallest trees on earth. These trees average 350 feet tall and are one thousand years or older. I learned that these trees are so tall that the trees live within three different climates.

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By mid afternoon we found ourselves in Ferndale, California, in southern Humboldt County, where they have a small downtown with a variety of shops; an artistic blacksmith shop had interesting high quality stylish pieces; the Palace Saloon, westernmost bar in the continental United States, and many others.

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Finally we arrived in Eureka, California, our stop for the night at the Best Western Marina Inn. We explored the town checking out an art gallery, the murals throughout the town, and the Carson Mansion – also known as the pink lady so named for its paint color. Across the street was another mansion used as the model for the Disneyland train station.

2016 05 27 114 Humboldt County.JPGAfter dinner at the Lost Coast Brewery, we toured the town a bit more finding the Eureka Theater, which was showing the movie M.A.S.H complete with an army hospital ambulance was parked in front of the theater.

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As we walked through the town we came upon a ‘Glass Shop’, thinking art glass we went in; it was then we remembered we are in Humboldt County, California, home of the largest pot growing region in America!

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Northern California – Spring 2016 Road Trip – Day 6 – From Wineries to the Mendocino Coast

After leaving Chico, California, we continued west to the I-5, continued south California Highway 20, ironically the same highway we had taken coming out of the Sierra Nevada’s, only we caught it on the west side of the Central Valley. After a short distance we stared up into the Mayacamas Mountains, part of the Coastal Range.

After passing Clear Lake, the largest natual lake in California, we reached the small town of Geyersville, home of the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. We have been fortunate enough to eat in many scenic places, but our lunch on the edge of the patio in the shade in perfect 70 degree weather, with a view of the vineyard, was as good as it gets. Excellent, friendly service provided us with a couple of pasta dishes for lunch (rigatoni and sausage and penne with olives and capers in tomato sauce), with olives as an appetizer and a lovely wine called Sophia Riesling. If you could only bottle the day and atmosphere it would be one you would want to relive often.

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After lunch we toured the building to see Mr. Coppola’s movie memorabilia. Items from Apocalypse Now, a miniature ship from Marie Antoinette, posters, props, scripts and other items from films that he directed were displayed.

The most impressive items were those from the movie The Godfather. Although it was prohibited to touch any item, but someone didn’t pay attention to the sign and laid a hand on the Godfather’s desk before seeing the sign not to do so. Outside the building was a patio and pool for receptions and acres of vineyards.

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After leaving the winery we headed back up into the hills for a curvy 40 mile drive to the coast, stopping at Lake Sonoma, where I had the opportunity to GO HOLLYWOOD.

A videographer shooting a commercial for the Sonoma County, California tourism department asked us to act in his video. I was the only one who would do it, so I walked up and down a path along a cliff to photograph the landscape of Lake Sonoma. It only took about two minutes to shoot, afterward I took my photos and we were off.

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We reached California Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, the PCH, and started north along the coast stopping at times to see the scenery or a quirky roadside attraction. A stop at a grass-top cliff provided a magnificent view of the rocky islands and the pounding surf. We tiptoed around cow pies making our way down a trail for new angles for photos. It seems that the cows of northern California have first class views; no wonder the state advertised that they have happy cows.

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Bowling Ball Beach was to be our next stop but we were unable to find the road that led there. We did find the Pygmy Forest which is a rare ecosystem featuring miniature trees, inhabited by small species of rodents and lizards. These dwarf forests are usually located at high elevations, under conditions of sufficient air humidity but poor soil. It is a unique forest of pine, rhododendron and other species that grow much shorter than their species along the coast. The poor soil is caused from the flat land unable to drain properly creating an acidic soil base. The area known as the Van Damme State Park is near Mendocino. The isolated area of stunted trees, less than ten feet tall are surrounded by a forest of tall trees.

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Our hotel, Surf and Sand, in Fort Bragg, California served as our stop for the night. It was a nice room with a deck of a view of the beach and a walking trail. We settled in to watch the Penguins play against Tampa Bay in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals. Delivered pizza to our hotel room was dinner. The game was intense but the Penguins won the game 2-1, and it is on to the Stanley Cup Finals. Yeah Pens!

One of the great things about being in California is all the east coast sports that end late there, are at a reasonable time on the West Coast, allowing us to still take a romantic walk on the oceanfront trail behind our hotel that led to a pedestrian trestle bridge crossing a stream flowing into the ocean.

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On our return we caught a beautiful sunset with palms blowing in the wind. The setting sun cast a bright pink sky at the horizon. The evening cooled to about 50 degrees with a brisk wind when we decided to go in for the night.

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Eastern California – Spring 2016 Road Trip – Day 5 – Mono Lake, Lake Tahoe & Chico

Waking up in the Eastern Sierra’s to a cold morning, we continued north on U.S. 395, stopping first about 25 miles north of Bishop at a vista point to look at Crowley Lake near the Long Valley Caldera.   Long Valley Caldera is a depression that is adjacent to Mammoth Mountain.

The valley is one of the Earth’s largest calderas, measuring about 20 miles long and 11 miles wide and up to 3,000 ft deep. Crowley Lake is a reservoir on the upper Owens River. The lake was created in 1941 by the L.A. Department of Water and Power, as storage for the Los Angeles Aqueduct and for flood control, with a 126′ high dam.

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Upon completion of the reservoir in 1941, strange columnar formations, some of which reached heights of as much as 20 feet, were spotted along the reservoir’s eastern shore. Some described them as stone cylinders connected by fortified stone arches that had been completely covered and obscured for millions of years but which had been gradually unmasked by the constant pounding of powerful waves that eroded the more soft rock at the base of the cliffs encasing these pillars.

The pillars were simply regarded as oddities until 2015, when geologists realized that they were the result of frigid water from melting snow seeping down into volcanic ash (the result of a catastrophic explosion more than 700,000 years prior), creating tiny holes in the hot ash, the byproduct being boiling water and steam, which then rose up and out of these same holes. Unfortunately to get close you need a 4 wheel drive vehicle, and from across the lake they were difficult to see.

Not far away, a rainbow appeared along the slope of the mountain. The rainbow seemed to end at the road so it seemed as if we drove through the rainbow and its moisture dropped onto our windshield. We saw the full arc of the rainbow from end to end with mountains flanked on each side of us at heights of 12,000 feet.

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The landscape changed once again within ten minutes of driving from the desert at Crowley Lake at 4000 feet to a forest at 5000 feet along US Highway 395. Micro-climate changes occurred throughout our trip. Soon we reached the 8300 foot summit to a snowy setting but clear roads. Five minutes later the snow disappeared and we drove through a green forest as we dropped in elevation. We moved into a semi-desert area while still able to see the snow-capped mountains to our left.

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We stopped at Mono Lake to see the eerie setting. When I first looked at this scenery, it struck me as an alien environment because it is nothing like anything I had ever seen. The white solid structures on land and in the lake were unusually shaped. We learned that in 1941, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began diverting Mono Lake’s streams south to meet the growing water demands of Los Angeles.  Depriving the lake of its freshwater sources, the volume of Mono Lake was cut in half while its salinity doubled. Mono Lake became 2.5 times saltier and the lake dropped 40 feet.

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The most unique feature of this area is the tufa towers. When the spring water meets the alkaline lake water, calcium and carbonate salts react to form insoluble calcium carbonate (limestone), which precipitates out, settling in mineral deposits around the spring. Over centuries, these deposits gradually grow into towering columns which can reach heights of up to 30 feet.

Tufa can only form underwater, so it is only if lakes are drained or dry out over many years that the towers are exposed. We walked among the tufa towers on the lakeshore when Dave recalled that a Pink Floyd album featured these tufa towers of Mono Lake on their album cover. The tufa towers were hard as rock and were irregular shapes and heights.

Mono Lake has its own ecosystem of gulls and grebes, thrush and plover that eat the brine shrimp. Brine shrimp that eat the alkali flies which eat the algae. Native tribes once lived in the Mono Basin and collected the fly larvae that they used in trade and also ate.

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We wanted to explore Mono Basin a bit more so we ventured into a dirt path aiming for a look at the young Panum Crater. Our first attempt ended when we reached a road hollowed out from deep potholes so we tried a gravel road that was more direct. Once we made it to Panum Crater, we hiked the rim trail up to the top of the crater to see the center of the volcanic eruption.

The black shiny rock, obsidian, was strewn throughout the crater’s center. Sheaths of rock towered the area as we heard a guide talk about the history of the area to a group of school students. The Panum Crater is only one of a volcanic chain of craters, domes and lava flows in Mono County. The chain stretches 25 miles from the northwest shore of Mono Lake to the south of Mammoth Mountain.

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Further north a 12 mile road up a mountain that ended up as a dirt road lead to the town of Bodie, which is now an authentic Wild West ghost town. The town was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and in 1962 it became Bodie State Historic Park. A total of 170 buildings remain. Bodie began as a mining camp following the discovery of gold in 1859 by a group of prospectors, including W. S. Bodey. Bodey perished in a blizzard the following November while making a supply trip to Monoville.

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We decided not to enter the ghost town park since it was muddy and a chance of getting the car stuck, resulting in a posted $300 tow, so we made our way back to the main road with beautiful views of the snow-capped mountains in the distance.

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We rolled into Bridgeport, California for lunch. Roast beef sandwiches and fries at Rhino’s satisfied our hunger but I suspected that Rhino’s might be more of a tough bar scene establishment. It was just a hunch on my part but there are slim pickin’s of restaurants roaming the small towns out West.

As our route continued up  U.S. 395 it started raining making our plans for Lake Tahoe damp. Having been at Lake Tahoe many years ago where I remember seeing the bluest water of my life, it was disappointing that the view was obscured.

As we continued around the lake it continued to be overcast, cold, and crowded with tourist when we arrived at Inspiration Point.

Fortunately our route up the west side of the lake allowed us to pop out of the rain, and by the time we reached a marina the rain had stopped. Finally we had a beautiful setting with a mountainous backdrop for some photos.

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A visit to Squaw Valley, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, was our next stop. While it is radically different than 55 years ago, some of the original buildings still stand. The California Olympic Center was built in the Googie architecture style which is a form of modern architecture, influenced by car culture, jets, the Space Age, and the Atomic Age. Unfortunately it is now a Mexican restaurant so it bears little resemblance to its original form.

Being a hockey fan, I really wanted to see the open air hockey arena, but its roof collapsed in 1980 and the Squaw Valley Lodge stands in its place. In addition we were disappointed to find that it was too late in the day for us to ride the tram to the top of the mountain to see the Olympic Museum as the the tram stopped service before we arrived.

Arriving in Truckee about 4 PM, we wanted to see the Donner Pass Museum in Truckee but it was about to close so we moved on. All have heard the story of the Donner family and the other families that set off through the Sierra Nevada Mountains unprepared for the winter and stalled out in the deep snow. Only 48 of the 87 pioneers survived. Their story spoke of cannibalism of the dead to endure.

A statue went up at the site of the Donner camp in 1918. The stone pedestal is 22 feet high, the same depth as the snow that caused their demise. We skipped the museum and the park and drove on via I-80.

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On our way back down the mountains our route took us through Grass Valley to see the Historical Mill at Empire State Park. Our luck ran out again when we arrived to find the park closed a half hour before we got there so we moved onward along California Highway 20; once again we continued. The next town was Oroville, where there is a 700′ high dam, but again to stick with the challenging day we couldn’t find it. Finally after passing some rice fields (in dry California???) our day ended in Chico. For a day that started out so great at Mono Lake, the rest of the day was challenging, but still the views of the drive made up for everything closing just before we arrived.

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Sierra Nevada Mountains, California – Spring 2016 Road Trip – Day 4 – Sherman Pass & The Eastern Sierras

Our 4th day started out by heading back into the Central Valley, where we once again stopped at a farm market, this time for fresh picked cherries, strawberries and apples for snacks while we drove through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Immediately after leaving Porterville we started back up into the mountains, spending the 40 miles winding our way along California 190 until we came to the junction for Sherman Pass, where the highway crosses the Kern River.

There was a parking lot for people to go fishing, so we stopped for a break, asking one of the locals if they knew if the pass was open (it is normally closed all winter). Assured that it was we decided to go through the pass, as opposed the much longer route around the southern end of the mountains.

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As soon as we turned onto this road we had to dodge boulders in the middle of the road, but that was short lived and our drive continued up the mountain. Eventually we peaked out at 9200 feet in elevation, the highest point of the pass, where the temperature had dropped from the 70oF in Fresno to 36oF, cold enough to retain much of the winter snow, giving me an opportunity to throw some late May snowballs.

The route across the pass and subsequent mountains is 137 miles, and after dropping down into the valley for the Eastern Sierra’s the temperature was back up to 77o F.

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Heading up the valley on U.S. 395 we soon arrived at Fossil Falls; a unique geological feature located in the Coso Range of California where volcanic activity in the mountain range, along with meltwater from glaciers in the nearby Sierra Nevada, played a role in the creation of the ‘falls’.

Walking along the path to Fossil Falls was across extremely uneven footing from the basaltic flows was challenging, but eventually we arrived at a sheer 50′ drop off into a ravine filled with similar rocks.

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The flows occurred between 400,000 years ago and 10,000 years ago. There are large, perfectly circular penetrations in the basalt that are erosional features called potholes. The black polished rock looked odd scattered over acres of desert but we climbed over rocks to stand along the edge and peer down into the deep ravine.

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Lone Pine was our next stop, going up into Alabama Hills to see the movie trail where TV and movie scenes were filmed. The desert and western scenes for films like Django, Gunga Din, Rawhide and How the West Was Won were all shot here, with a movie trail looped us through the specific sites for each. Also of interest is a natural stone arch that was situated directly on the movie trail.

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Further up the valley is Manzanar, California, now a National Historic Site, but was initially built in 1942 as an internment camp; where the United States government ordered more than 110,000 of men, women, and children who had been forced to leave their homes were detained them in remote, military-style camps. While a few were Japanese immigrants, most of the men, women and children were US citizens.

The Historic Site had a number of building from the 1940s, including the Block House, a building that provided living quarters for a family. The Block House had one coal heater, and a mattress which meant that the family had to fend for themselves if they wanted other items. We also saw the Barracks, originally a cluster of fifteen buildings. The barracks (shacks) were built of only pine planking covered with tarpaper, on concrete footings, with about two feet of open space between the floorboards and the ground. Knotholes gaped in the uncovered floor.

Despite the injustice of it all, and the poor conditions, these people made toys, furniture, and household items from leftover crates and trash left from supplies brought into the camp, as well as creating gardens for food and beauty.

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The camp required the Japanese ethnic detainees to hold jobs.  They served in jobs to help their captors, the US military, during WWII at the camp and sometimes the detained were sent out of camp to help alleviate the labor shortage, for instance, picking vegetables elsewhere.

In addition to the barracks and block house, our tour of the grounds showed us rubble of a Catholic church, and sites where a Buddhist temple, school, hospital and post office once stood.

At the back of the camp was a cemetery, with a tall white monument engraved in Japanese writing standing in the center of a fenced area. The fence was decorated with multi-colored paper chains that looked like lotus flowers.

We walked among the graves but we could only feel ashamed of how our country treated its own citizens.

 

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We left Manzanar and drove along the highway seeing rain in the distance with storm clouds that hung at the top of the mountains. The Sierra Nevada Mountains flanked the highway to our left with peaks between 11,000 and 14,000 feet in elevation.  We saw Mt. Whitney from a far with a snow blanketed peak. Mt. Whitney is the highest point in California at 14,494 feet.

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Our day ended at Bishop, California to stay the night. After dinner at a Japanese restaurant, we returned back to our hotel, the Creekside Inn.

The hotel served freshly made cookies as we walked in so we had some for our dessert while watching Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, where the Penguins tied the series at 3 games each; so final game seven will be played in Pittsburgh. During our entire trip we were able to either watch the game, or in a few instances, listen to it on the satellite radio that the Chrysler 300 Rental Car had.

While watching the hockey game, we were able to look out our hotel window to see a rainbow wedged between two mountain peaks. It was an unusual sight in the way it was situated between the peaks.

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Sierra Nevada Mountains, California – Spring 2016 Road Trip – Day 3 – Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

An early morning was a good time to head out to take photos without people, driving the valley loop road to see the landscapes and a beautiful deer with fuzzy antlers. As the road climbed out of the valley we stopped at a vista to look once more across the Yosemite Valley for a spectacular view of the giant granite cliffs, Bridalveil Falls and  El Capitan from afar.

This was our second trip to Yosemite and we still appreciate the preserved beauty of this national park and so many of the other parks that we have seen. It is a landscape that you do not get tired of seeing. We entered the tunnel next to the vista to drive the twenty-six miles to exit the park.

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Once we reached the valley floor we once again began to pass through the large commercial farms, stopping at one ‘family farm’ that the man in the vegetable stand said is 1500 acres, a small one by Central Valley standards.

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Our route this day took us through Fresno, where I had the Forestiere Underground Gardens but the garden was closed on Monday. These gardens are a hand-built network of underground rooms, courtyards and passageways reminiscent of the ancient catacombs, but that visit will have to wait for another day.

Since we had no chance to see the underground gardens, we hopped on the freeway to go to Kings Canyon National Park, known for its giant sequoia trees.  A stop at a gas station provided lunch in the form of a cookie and ham hoagie to curb the munchies. The drive supplied lots of scenery but not much in convenience of stores or restaurants.

The road climbed upward in altitude quickly. A signpost of 6000 feet in elevation stood at the entrance of Kings Canyon National Park. The temperature also changed from a warm 68o F in Fresno to 45oF at Kings Canyon.

As soon as we reached Sequoia National Park, we went directly to see the General Grant tree. The grove this tree was in had numerous giant sequoias, with well placed informational signs that gave excellent background information, such as the fact these trees need fire to germinate their seeds. The regular fires burn the ground and the base of the sequoias but the fire does not kill the trees. Instead, the ashes from the fire create the perfect condition for the sequoia seeds to grow.

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We stood inside a burnt out part of the tree base while above us soared the growth of the trunk into the sky with many branches.   The General Grant tree, obviously named for the famous Civil War general, is the third largest tree and has the greatest base diameter of any sequoia at 40 feet. It is also 3 1/2 feet bigger in diameter than the General Sherman tree, the world’s largest tree by volume. Amazingly, giant sequoias averaging 250 feet tall have shallow roots growing no deeper than five feet beneath the surface. Even though their bark is fire resistant, the giant sequoia becomes sick from fungi or insects and topples over.

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Also in this grove is the Centennial Stump, left by two brothers who schemed to make money by cutting sections of a giant sequoia and exhibiting it at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1875. It took two men nine days to cut down the 1800 year old tree into sections, ship it, then reassemble it due to its size. This stunt was laughed at and called the “California Hoax.”

Continuing north through the park, we passed into Kings Canyon National Park. The one and only road take you to Roaring River Falls in deep in Kings Canyon with fantastic views along the way. Canyons, mountains, waterfalls, and white water were seen throughout.

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We dropped into the canyon, where we ran along the river for miles. We passed numerous areas of white water, as well as a few stops to go on short hikes to see waterfalls

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The road itself provided some of the most exciting views.

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Returning to Sequoia National Park, we passed our original entrance point to find the General Sherman Tree; the largest tree in the world by volume. The General Sherman Tree was fenced off as the main attraction but it is hard to see the top of tree standing so close to it. Still the path up and down the hills to view the trees left us in awe of the awesome size of them.

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We wound our way out of the park to our hotel, the Buckeye Tree Lodge then went to dinner next door to eat our first decent meal since being on the road. Later we sat on our balcony admiring the roaring white water as it raced by our hotel.

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