28 November 2014

Going For A Terrifying Walk: Angels Landing {Zion National Park}

Imagine hiking a half mile up a steep, narrow ridge with sheer cliffs on either side to get to the top of a rock formation 5,790 feet up in the air called Angels Landing in Zion Nation Park. Anything you read about this hike warns you not to attempt it if you're afraid of heights. After all, you might have the honor of becoming the sixth person to plummet to their death. If you're like me, the thought of making the climb to Angels Landing is absolutely terrifying. If you're like Scott, the thought of making the climb to Angels Landing sounds incredibly exciting. I think you can guess which one of us made the climb and which one of us chickened out. 

Here, just have a look at the picture below. See how skinny that ridge is that you have to climb up? See the sheer drop-offs? There is a reason why they call it Angels Landing. Angels have wings. It is so much easier to get to the landing if you can fly. Plus, death really isn't a problem if you're an angel. 

Angels Landing, Zion National Park

Sure, there are chains anchored along parts of the climb to help you pull yourself up. But still, if you lose your grip or your balance, you would fall a long way down.

Chain On Trail Up Angels Landing, Zion National Park

Still not convinced? Have a look at this picture. If you slip, it sure is a long way down.

View Down Angels Landing Trail, Zion National Park

I think you can understand why I waited down below at Scout's Lookout while Scott hiked up to Angels Landing. It was fascinating waiting there and watching people. I felt so much better about myself as I watched more than a fair number of people take a look at the start of the climb to Angels Landing and chicken out themselves. There were a few people who started up, but then quickly came right back down. And there were other people like me, whose partners were making the climb while they waited down below. We all cheered each other on for having made it to Scout's Lookout, which isn't a small feat in and of itself. After all, to make it to that point, you have to climb two miles with an overall elevation change of 1,050 feet. 

Here, let me show you. You start off at the Grotto, cross the bridge over the North Fork of the Virgin River and then head up the West Rim trail. You climb up through a wooded area through a number of switchbacks. The path is well formed and wide so you never feel like you might accidentally stumble and fall off the edge. Here is what it looks like from further up on the trail.

Trail up to Scouts Lookout, Zion National Park

After you've been at it for about a mile, you get one of those wonderful reprieves - a flat section of trail called the Refrigerator Canyon. You walk along the trail between Angels Landing and Cathedral Mountain and rejoice in the shade as you get a chance to catch your breath and cool down. 

Refrigerator Canyon, Zion National Park

But like all good climbs up a mountain, it doesn't last too long. Next up are Walter's Wiggles. These will make your legs burn. 21 short, sharp and steep zig-zags up to Scout's Lookout. 

Walters Wiggles, Zion National Park

And then, finally you make it to Scout's Lookout and it is time for snacks! You've made it! I wonder how many of these people made the final climb to Angel's Landing and how many chickened out?

Scouts Lookout, Zion National Park

This guy's mother would be horrified to see him sitting so close to the edge.

Angels Landing, Zion National Park

This is where Scott and I parted company. He got to see views like this.

View from Angels Landing, Zion National Park

I got to see polar bears.

If you're like me and too chicken to go to to Angel's Landing, you can continue on the West Rim trail instead and still get some amazing views. Which is what Scott and I did after he came down from Angel's Landing. He absolutely amazed me. After doing Angel's Landing, he climbed back up the mountain on the other side for around a mile and a half. That's when I got a good view of how insane Angel's Landing really is.

If you've chickened out about climbing up Angel's Landing, please let me know. It will make me feel so much better about myself. If you've climbed Angel's Landing, email Scott directly and you can give each other virtual high-fives.

Scott climbed Angel's Landing and I chickened out on Thursday, 6 November 2014.
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26 November 2014

Would You Rather Be A Tall Redhead Or A Squat One? {Sequoia National Park}

Would you rather be a tall and lean redhead or a short, squat one? Being of the short and squat variety myself, I've always longed to be tall and lean, like one of those Rockette dancers at Radio City Music Hall. But without the false eyelashes. They scare me. I'm afraid I would end up gluing them in completely the wrong spot and end up looking like a freak. Although I would be a freak with really long legs. So, it wouldn't be all bad.

But anyway, back to the question at hand - squat or tall? 

I'm going to have to go with squat. But not any ordinary squat. A magnificent sort of squat. 

Like this example seen at Sequoia National Park.

General Sherman Tree Sequoia National Park

Okay, to be fair, this particular redhead is pretty tall too. She and her sisters can reach 311 feet. That might be why they call them Sequoiadendron giganteum or Giant Sequoias. But they are really big trees in more ways than one - they pack a lot of weight on them! The tallest of them, the General Sherman Tree, weighs 2.7 million pounds and is over 100 feet wide. And of course, they're a lovely shade of red.

Giant Sequoia Tree

The Giant Sequoias have some cousins, known as the Sequoia sempervirens, or Californian Redwoods, who can get up to 378 feet tall. They have that lean, long look about them (along with that same fabulous auburn coloring), but they aren't nearly as impressive. Don't get me wrong, they're still pretty darn impressive, but when you encounter something as massive as a Giant Sequoia, you pretty much have to concede that squat trumps tall. Which means I can happily order another salted caramel mocha from Starbucks (venti, please), let it settle on my hips and embrace my squatness. Take that, Rockettes.

Anyway, here are some more random pictures and thoughts from our time at Sequoia National Park

Sometimes, you just have to do something super cheesy, like drive your vehicle through a tunnel in a tree. I wonder what would happen if you happen to scrape your car up as you drove through. How would you explain that to your insurance company? "You see, I was driving through a giant tree and now I have this dent in my door." I think they might assume you ate one too many magic mushrooms, hallucinated the whole giant tree thing and hang up on you. 

Tunnel Tree, Sequoia National Park

Of course, it isn't all about trees at Sequoia National Park. We did this amazing hike up to Moro Rock. If you're afraid of heights like me, you'll love this walk. You climb up a steep 1/4 mile staircase 300' to the top of a granite dome where you have amazing views of the mountains. And the best part is that there are railings everywhere, so you can't accidentally stumble, fall off of the dome and plummet to your death. Of course, a giant bird of prey could still fly down, grab you in his talons and drop you over the edge, but I guess you have to take some chances in life.

Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park

If you're into politics and trees, you can always go for a walk on The Congress Trail. For some strange reason, they've named different trees after the House, the Senate and the President. I'm sure there is some irony to be found here. These are the Senate group of trees. A bunch of old trees which are still standing, despite Mother Nature trying to burn them down in the past. 

The Senate Giant Sequoia Trees

This picture has nothing to do with Sequoia National Park, except for the fact that we saw it on our way there. I can't quite figure it out. One theory is that some sort of giant, alien, blue pig fell down from outer space and landed on this pick-up truck. Try explaining that one to your insurance company. "I need to file a claim because a giant blue pig fell down from outer space and crushed my brand new pick-up truck." I'm pretty sure the insurance agent who answered the phone would hang up on you. However, as we all know, the NSA listen in on calls on a routine basis. Their ears would perk right up the minute you mention the giant, alien blue pigs, because they've been trying to keep their existence secret from the American population for years now. If I were you, I would drive your hybrid pig pick-up truck as fast as you can, head to the hills and start hiding because the Feds are coming for you.

Blue Pig Pick-Up Truck Hybrid

And, I'll leave you with one last shot from the trail up to Moro Rock. It will help you forget all about the freaky, blue pig.

Path up to Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park

We drove through trees and climbed up rocks in Sequoia National Park on Saturday, 25 October 2014.

24 November 2014

Yosemite, Kim Kardashian & The Olive Garden Have Nothing In Common {Thank Goodness!}

After our day exploring old Californian mining towns, we headed off to Yosemite National Park. It is one of those places that people always "ooh" and "aah" about. Which makes me suspicious. After all, lots of people "ooh" and "aah" about Kim Kardashian and The Olive Garden's all you can eat bread sticks. Thankfully, Yosemite, Kim Kardashian and The Olive Garden have nothing in common. Yosemite really does deserve all of those "oohs" and "aahs" - trust me on this. If I had been eating a batch of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies while standing in the middle of the Yosemite Valley, I might have actually passed out from the overwhelming splendor of it all. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I was fresh out of cookies.

Pictures can't really capture what I'm talking about, but just look at these anyways.

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park. Crazy people climb up this.
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park. Crazy people climb up this too.
The meadow in the Yosemite Valley. My attempt to get all Ansel Adams-like with the black & white. Not quite so successful.
We initially spent one day in Yosemite, but weren't able to score a campsite as the park was swarming with weekenders enjoying the beautiful weather, so we headed off for a few days to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (more on those amazing parks in future posts!) and then returned to Yosemite later in the week when the crowds had thinned out. 

Here are a few of the highlights of our time in Yosemite. We had an amazing time and so many incredible experiences, so never fear, I'll bore you with a few more posts on Yosemite in due course!

When it isn't raining and freezing cold, nothing beats sleeping outside in your tent. And to say that you've camped in Yosemite, nothing beats that! Usually, you have to book a campsite months in advance at Yosemite - that's how popular it is. Fortunately for us, when we headed back the second time, they had just stopped taking reservations the day before so we were able to score a campsite for two nights. There is something to be said for traveling in the off-season. If you're interested in camping, it costs $20 for a tent site at the Pines Campgrounds, which are centrally located right in the valley. The place to be, for sure! If you're looking for something a little bit cheaper and don't mind sharing, you can pay $5 per person, head over to Camp 4 (pictured above). If might be cheap, but you have to share your site with up to six other people. Not quite our cup of tea.

If you're read our blog before, you might know that I'm a fan of beer, especially a good IPA. I found a great one called IPA 395, made by the Mammoth Brewing Company, at the general store in Yosemite. I especially love the cute little bear on the cap. That's the way I like my bears and beers. We ended up having a few pints of beer at the Yosemite Lodge on one of the nights we were there. We originally went there to hear a ranger talk on bears, but it turns out it was Game 7 of the World Series, so for some reason, we found ourselves in the bar drinking beers and watching baseball instead of learning about bears. Not many people can say they saw Game 7 of the World Series at Yosemite! It was a room full of San Francisco fans, so it was a very, very happy evening for almost everyone there. {We're Twins fans by the way and tried to remain neutral during the game.}

In a way, it is kind of ridiculous to go to a National Park and drive around in your car going "ooh" and "aah". But Yosemite is vast and one of the best ways to explore it is by car. During the high season, shuttle buses run throughout the park and people are encouraged to use them rather then create more congestion on the roads. But because we were there during the off-season, when some of the shuttles weren't running, we took our trusty Nissan Pathfinder out to explore the park. It is a great way to cram in a lot of scenic viewpoints in a short amount of time and think about what areas you want to come back to and explore more on foot. And we weren't the only ones out there. A group of cute little Porsches were zipping around the as part of some sort of rally. They looked really adorable. 

Just in case you were thinking we were incredibly lazy with all of that driving around, not to worry, we went on a number of walks. Like the hike we did to Sentinel Dome out at Glacier Point. While the hike is only 2.2 miles round trip, you do start out at an elevation of 7,700 feet and climb up to 8,100 feet. Yes, you might be out of breath after climbing up to the top of the dome at that elevation (or maybe that's just me?), but you do get some amazing 360 degree views (like you see in the picture above). We also did a 7.5 mile loop trail in the Yosemite Valley. If you're feeling ambitious, you can do the full 13 mile loop trail around the valley, or just choose a portion of it like we did. Nothing beats an early morning hike when the sun is coming up and most people are still sleeping or making breakfast. One of my favorite walks was our morning jaunt out to Mirror Lake. Only 2 miles round trip from the trail head. Great way to wake up - especially drinking some coffee your husband thoughtfully brought with him and staring straight up at Half Dome.

Have you been to Yosemite? Were you as amazed as we were? What was your favorite part?

We were overwhelmed by Yosemite National Park's beauty on 24 and 28-30 October 2014.

21 November 2014

Guns & Beer - What Could Possibly Go Wrong? {Old Californian Mining Towns}

After our visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California, we stopped at a very dodgy motel for the night in Oroville. It was the type of place where I'm pretty sure at least every other person had an outstanding warrant for their arrest. And I'm not talking about traffic violations either. You wondered if your car would be broken into when you woke up in the morning or if your car would even be there at all. Scott got quite the shock when he came out of our room early the next morning to find the cops standing out there looking for someone. They shone their lights at Scott to check him out. You'll be glad to know he wasn't the guy they were looking for. It might not seem like a big deal to our New Zealand readers, but remember, cops in the States carry guns. All the time. It isn't like in New Zealand where they keep them locked up and only bring the out for special operations. Who needs coffee to wake up when you get armed cops shining bright lights in your eyes?

Needless to say, we got out of Oroville fast. By 6:40 AM, we were on our way! Our plan was to head down to Yosemite National Park. That was the extent of any planning or research we did about the journey down there. So it was quite the pleasant surprise to find that Route 49 is littered with quaint old mining towns nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The great thing about not having any real fixed plans is that when you run across something interesting, you can stop and explore without worrying about where you need to be and by when.

We stopped at Auburn, Plymouth, Placerville and Jackson. Great places to snap some photos of old buildings and signs. Sorry, now you have to look at some of them.


We spent the night in Sonora at a decidedly less dodgy place than the place in Oroville. It was clean, nobody was making porno movies and, best of all, the cops never stopped by. We had a fantastic dinner at a family run taquiera. Great food, amazing salsas (especially the tomatillo one!) and half the price of the Mexican restaurant across the road. Delicious.

After dinner, we stopped by and had a beer at a combo bar and gun shop. Yep, you read that right. They sell beer and guns at the same establishment. What could possibly go wrong? Fascinating place. The bartender was a nice guy and the folks drinking beer seemed pleasant enough. Of course, their conversation revolved around what guns they owned and what guns they wanted to buy. I've never owned a gun and don't plan on owning one so I couldn't really relate. However, I did admire how they decorated the bar for Breast Cancer Awareness Month - have you ever seen taxidermy and pink garters before?

We explored old Californian mining towns, avoided getting arrested and only bought beer (no guns) on 23 October 2014.

19 November 2014

Life On The Road Lately

If you're one of our regular blog followers, then you'll know we're on a crazy little road trip from Portland, Oregon to Ray, North Dakota and then on to the East Coast to look for our next sailboat. If you're new to the blog, well now you know that we're on a crazy little road trip. And that we like sailboats. We used to own one in New Zealand and we're desperate to get another one. {You can read about our old sailboat here.} In any event, I thought it was time for a little one of our "Life Lately" posts - basically little tidbits of what's been going on lately for us. So, here we go...

Like all good plans, this one has changed. Originally, we thought we would head down to San Francisco for a few days after spending some time at the Redwood National & State Parks. After San Francisco, we only had a few National Parks picked out that we definitely wanted to get to. However, since we headed out on the road, we decided to skip San Francisco and our trip has somehow evolved into a quest to visit as many National Parks as we can between Portland and North Dakota. So far, we've been to the Redwoods, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley National Park, Zion National Park and Bryce National Park. Plus Mojave National Preserve (not technically a park, but part of the National Park Service). That's nine parks and one preserve so far in a little less than three weeks! While we wish we could spend more time in each and every place, it has been amazing to have the opportunity to just see the highlights of such vastly different places. This really is an incredibly diverse country with amazing scenery! The picture above is from Joshua Tree National Park. We hadn't planned to go there originally, but I'm so glad we did. Fortunately, we have a little more than two weeks before we have to be in North Dakota, so we should be able to cram a lot more in! {You can read about our original plan here.}

We've been trying to do a bit of camping while we've been on our road trip. Two reasons - it is a lot cheaper than staying in motels and who doesn't like a campfire at night. Plus it is pretty amazing to wake up in the middle of the park, rather than have to drive in and out each day. The picture above is from our campsite in Death Valley. Not sure if you can tell, but the picnic table is made out of metal. Who else thinks it seems like a bad idea to have metal picnic tables in a place where the temperature routinely goes above 120F/49C in the summer? Fortunately, we were there in November when the weather was much cooler!

As much as we like camping, sometimes sleeping in a tent sucks. Like when it is pouring down rain or the wind is blowing or it is freezing in the morning and it is a real challenge to make breakfast while wearing mittens. After just a few nights of tent camping, we've recently become seduced by tiny campers. One small problem, our vehicle doesn't have the biggest towing capacity out there - even for the tiniest of travel trailers. Or so we thought...then we discovered the Scamp travel trailers. They're ultra-light and even our old Nissan Pathfinder can tow the 13' one. Scamps are made to order in Minnesota by a small family business. Now we're thinking about joining the cult of Scampers. 

Although bears scare the crap out of me (see here), I was so glad I got to see one on the Tioga Road as we headed out of Yosemite. As soon as we saw this little fellow on the side of the road, we screamed "Bear!!!", Scott pulled over quickly and we jumped out to watch him forage for food (from a safe distance of course). In addition to this little fellow, we've seen some other amazing wildlife like tarantulas, mule deers, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, fox, elk, coyotes and lizards. Awesome!

So that's life lately on the road. What's been happening where you are? 

Update as of 7 November 2014

17 November 2014

Lassen Volcanic National Park In Just 3 Hours

Do you like volcanoes? Do you like really big volcanoes? Then you'll love Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California - home to the largest plug volcano in the whole wide world! Not only is America home to the super size meal, it is also home to one honking huge volcano. And if you're too lazy to get out of your car to see this gigantic volcano because you've eaten too many super size meals, you're in luck. You can drive through Lassen Volcanic National Park and see the highlights from your car in just three hours!

Start off by entering the park on the northern entrance on Route 89. Stop at the Visitor Center at the Loomis Museum and ask a ranger for suggestions about what to see when you only have a short amount of time. They're used to people whizzing through the park in their cars. So used to them, in fact, that they have a special auto tour guide that you can buy. We passed on the guide and just winged it using the free map and newspaper that they hand out. 

After stopping at the Visitor Centre, drive a short ways to the Chaos Jumbles. The name sounds exciting, doesn't it! Imagine what happens when naughty Giants get angry and start throwing boulders at each other and then don't bother to clean up the mess. You get something like the picture below. {I'm sure there is some more scientific explanation but (a) I can't be bothered to google it and (b) my giant theory probably makes more sense anyway.}

Don't spend too much time looking at the Chaos Jumble because who knows when those naughty Giants might return. They have poor eyesight and are always mistaking humans for giant kielbasa sausages. And they love kielbasa sausages (who doesn't?), so don't take the risk, get back in your car pronto and drive to Hot Rock. Another exciting name, isn't it? Here it is.

Turns out the rock isn't really hot. Which is a shame as my hands were cold and I was hoping to warm them up. But once upon a time, it was hot. Honestly, I didn't get why this was such a big deal. It looks just like the pet rock I had when I was a child, but of course much bigger. {Spoiler alert - there are a lot of huge rocks lying around the park.} Fortunately, they had a sign which explained why it was a big deal and why it had the special name, Hot Rock. The Reader's Digest version is that after the eruptions in May 1915, B.F. Loomis (and some other unnamed people) discovered this rock lying miles from the volcano. And it was hot. Really hot. Volcanoes tend to make things hot. You can probably tell, I learned a lot about geology during our three hours at the park.

Next stop...the Devastated Area! Makes me think of the Planet of the Apes movie where what's his name walks out in the desert and sees the Statue of Liberty lying there half buried in a clearly devastated area. This was nothing like that. But it was still pretty cool. Guess what? There were some big rocks there.

You can do a short 1/2 mile loop trail in the Devastated Area and learn more about geology, volcanoes and what happens when they erupt. Even the laziest person can manage this walk. You can probably do it while eating some french fries at the same time. Before you leave, turn around for some nice views of Lassen Peak.

You must be exhausted by this point, so get back in your car and drive to Kings Creek and walk down to the meadow. Very pretty! But cold. By this point I was wearing a wool hat and gloves and wishing those rocks were still hot.

Wow, way too much walking. Time to get back in the car. As you drive around the park, you see lots of present-day devastation in the form of forest fires. They used to be considered a bad thing (and of course they still are if they threaten people and their houses or their boats), but nowadays, the National Park Service views forest fires as a good thing. They help to rejuvenate the forests and are essential for some species to thrive. But what they leave in their wake is still spooky to look at.

There are a number of lakes in Lassen, but most of them require a hike to get to. Fortunately, there are two that you can see without too much effort - Lake Helen and the Emerald Lake.

After taking a look at the lakes, your next and last stop are the Sulphur Works. You just know that this is going to be smelly. And it is. But the oozy, bubbly sulphur pools are worth a look. And, you don't have to walk to far - bonus!

After the Sulphur Works, head on out the park through the southern entrance. Three hours well spent, a little bit learned about geology, an awesomely big volcano and naughty Giants, what could be better?

We did our whistle stop tour of Lassen Volcanic National Park on 22 October 2014.

14 November 2014

Polar Bear Spotting In The Desert

I'm not sure if you remember our post about the importance of having a polar bear defense system if you're going to sail in Alaska? (Click here if you need a reminder.) Well, it turns out that you have to be careful of polar bears even when you're in the desert. We recently spotted some vicious polar bears at the Mojave National Preserve, Death Valley National Park and Zion National Park. Don't believe me? Here's proof...

Polar bears spotted in the Golden Canyon in Death Valley

Polar bears spotted in the Mojave Desert near the Cinder Cone Lava Beds

Polar bears spotted at Scout's Lookout, Zion National Park

12 November 2014

Bears Scare The Crap Out Of Me!

Warning sign that bears like to break into cars - Camp 4, Yosemite National Park
Bears scare the crap out of me. Have you ever seen one? I'm kind of torn - I really want to see one, but only from a safe distance and encased in some sort of bear-proof tank-like vehicle. We've been spending time in bear country lately and I have yet to see one. Which is a good thing as we're driving a 1995 Nissan Pathfinder, not a bear-proof tank. 

You might be thinking that I'm a bit of a sissy, but the places we've been to lately have signs up that say things like, "Caution: Active Bear Area!" And if you weren't scared enough by the bears themselves, they tell you that "Proper food storage is the law!" So now, you have to worry about the park police throwing you in jail for not putting all of your food into the bear-proof boxes located around the park.

If that wasn't enough to scare the crap out of you, take a moment to read the notices posted at the campgrounds. I saw one recently at the Sentinel campground in Kings Canyon National Park which reported a recent incidient where a bear broke into a National Park Service employee's house through a window in search of food. Two people were in the house at the time. A house! A house with solid walls! Keep in mind, we're sleeping in a tent in the same area. A tent made out of not so solid walls.

And the other day at the Potwisha campground in Sequoia National Park, the ranger told us a bear had been roaming around the previous night, grabbed a cooler and left a lot of teeth marks in it. Again, we were sleeping in a tent with walls made out of material designed to keep the rain out, not bears out. 

Maybe I'm a bit paranoid. Maybe not. We saw this car at the Road's End parking area in the Kings Canyon National Park. My guess - a bear tore the cover off the spare tire. Clearly, they had chocolate chip cookies in their vehicle and the bear wanted them. I can relate.

Did bears destroy this spare tire cover at Kings Canyon National Park?
And then we saw these bear claw marks on a bench along the Zumwalt Meadows loop walk in Kings Canyon National Park. Okay, maybe it was stupid kids trying to etch their names in the bench, but then again maybe it was a bear. We carry bear spray with us, but knowing my luck, a bear will come at us and I'll panic while pulling out the canister and spray the bear with the wind going in completely the wrong direction and end up spraying myself. The bear will laugh, grab my chocolate chip cookies and scamper off to tell his buddies about yet another stupid human whose opposable thumb turned out to be of no use. 

"Evidence" of bear claw marks on a park bench at Kings Canyon National Park
Want to know more about bears and food storage - check out what the National Park Service has to say here.