Wandering by Car and on Foot

2010/10/19-24 Southward  to New Landscapes
As some will know, Chris took the plunge into Freedom 57 in June 2010. This leaves us more time to travel, and while we love travelling by bike, we decided to try a different mode of operation this time. It’s all a bit of an experiment. We left Vancouver last Tuesday in Chris’s vintage Acura, equipped with the wherewithal to car camp, day hike, or backpack, and with a goal of seeing quite a  few National Parks in the Southwest USA.

We spent our first night in the same motel in Eugene, Oregon, in which we’d spent the last night or our recent bike trip. It seemed somehow fitting to start where we’d ended. On Wednesday, we made our way to Crater Lake NP, which is spectacular enough to make even the most seasoned traveller’s jaw drop. A road circles the rim of the vast caldera filled with sapphire blue water. It’s a photographers’  paradise. The visitors’ centre, interpretive signs, and the book shop, all served to reminded us that the US spends 10 times what Canada does per unit area of park. We supported these impressive and worthwhile efforts by buying ourselves an annual pass.

The downside of this well-developed park infrastructure, from our perspective of the last few days, is that if they spend this much on roads built for the express  purpose of enjoying the scenery from behind the wheel of a car, there’s less motivation to get out and walk. So far, we’ve been in parks that are better suited to driving and short day-hikes, and are heading for parks that will have overnight backpacking opportunities.

At Crater Lake, after a cold night of car-camping in the recommended gravel pit just south of park (park campgrounds are closed) we returned to hike up Mt. Scott, the highest point on the rim. It was an hour’s stroll to the summit.

View of Crater Lake from Mt Scott

The rest of Thursday was spent driving towards Lake Tahoe, and we stayed the night in a Bureau of Land Management campsite after crossing into California. The next morning, we walked through a lava tube. Quite amazing!

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Margo in Lava Tube

In the afternoon, we found ourselves at Lassen Peak Volcanic National Park, with the rain discouraging us from doing much more than drive through, stopping to admire boiling mud and steam vents. Onward to Lake Tahoe and a very basic motel with Wi-Fi so as to check weather ahead. The forecast for Yosemite looked grim, and Tioga Pass was closed, so we changed course for Death Valley NP. We can hike in the rain at home any time; we wanted “something completely different.”

After a side trip to a hot spring (We need a bumper sticker: “We brake for hot springs.”) we headed into the Mono Basin, where the interpretive centre  did a fine job of informing us about salt lake ecology. And this is not even  a national park! We learned that Mono’s level  is rising again since they won their case against the City of Los Angeles, and LA was forced to cease diverting several of Mono’s inflow streams for it’s own use. Water politics are everywhere in Southern California.

Death Valley is a dramatic bit of landscape. Setting up camp in the dark, we were careful to keep tent doors zipped. I’m nervous about desert creepy-crawlies. The next day, we hiked to a waterfall, among the dunes, and along  a ridge where we met our first tarantula. I will continue to be wary of desert fauna, and will bring my boots inside the tent at night.

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Tarantula

We saw our first road runner outside the visitors’ centre. These cheeky buggers can kill a rattlesnake, but contrary to popular belief, the do not say “beep beep.”

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Road Runner

We ended up spending the night in Las Vegas “because it was there”. Chris has seen it before, and it’s a quintessentially tawdry sight that must be seen to be believed. Now I’ve seen it once, and that will do, thanks. We ended up in the instant wedding end of  town, with a Cuban cafe serving breakfast special.

On to the Valley of Fire State Park, Zion and more of the good bits.

M

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