Crater Lake National Park

CraterLake (3)Crater Lake was formed when the volcano Mount Mazama collapsed ~7,700 years ago, leaving behind a natural “bowl” that water couldn’t escape from.  Over the years, the water from rain and snow collected until a lake that’s 2,148 feet deep formed.

Unfortunately for us, the lake and surrounding ridge were buried in several feet of snow for our visit, so we were only able to experience the park via the film at the Visitor’s Center.  We’ll have to return another time! 

We’re now back home near Seattle, where we hope to see the three nearby park’s before taking the summer off.
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Redwood National Park

Redwood (1)We thoroughly enjoyed exploring Redwood National Park over two days!  Located on northern California’s coast, this Park contains a different breed of tree than those in Sequoia NP.  These trees are among the tallest in the world: towering up to 360 feet tall!

Our first day it rained heavily, but that didn’t stop us Seattleites from donning raincoats and pushing into the mist on a 4-mile strenuous hike to the permit-required “Tall Tree Grove”.  Our pants were soaked before we’d gone a third of a mile, but we pressed on and fortunately never slipped on the muddy downward trail.  The rain subsided just as we reached the grove, allowing us to take photos amongst the quiet giants!
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It’s hard to tell the height of these trees from a photograph, but look carefully at this next one and see if you can find Lisa in her blue coat standing below a few of these mighty monuments!
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On our second day the weather was beautiful, so we walked up “Fern Canyon” a small stream with 30-foot high walls covered in ferns that empties into the ocean.  The stream was fuller than usual, covering the small trail and making the hike a wet-footed one, but extremely beautiful nonetheless!  Closer to the beach, we encountered a herd of elk, and several pretty bluish birds that nest in the tall grasses.

We then drove several miles of muddy dirt roads along the coastline, stopping at viewpoints overlooking the surf below.  At one of these, where the Klamath river empties into the ocean, we saw several gray whales feeding close to the shoreline.  We hiked down a beautiful wildflower and snake-covered hillside to get a better look.  (Fortunately, the snakes were very shy, and the forewarned “tick infestation” didn’t become a problem.)
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We had a great time at this extremely lovely park!  If you’re ever in the area, you absolutely must at least drive through it along highway 101!

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen (9)Prior to the eruption of Mount Saint Helens, Lassen Peak in Northern California was the most recent volcanic eruption in the Cascade range having erupted in 1914.  Two years later, in 1916, it became a National Park.

We entered the Park from the northeast via its Loomis entrance, after an adventure in off-road rally racing courtesy of our SatNav system nicknamed “Betty”.  We were a couple of weeks early for the Park’s main season, so only 10 miles of road were open due to snow.  Even its Visitor Center was closed, which created a small panic as we feared we wouldn’t be able to get the all-important Park stamp for our journals.  But fortunately Carol the Ranger who mans the entrance booth had thought ahead and brought the stamp and pad with her!

But sadly, due to the six feet of snow on the ground, our visit was a short one.  We saw what we could: a quick stop at “Manzanita Lake” and views of Lassen Peak and a “Devastated Area”.  It’s indeed a lovely Park, though, and we hope to return one day to see it in its entirety!
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Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Two Parks for the price of one!  Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park are jointly-administered, thanks to their close proximity to one-another.SequoiaKings (14)SequoiaKings (5) 

We arrived in the afternoon and were amazed by the beauty and size of the mighty Sequoias!  There just isn’t anything else like them: these are the largest and oldest living things on Earth.  Neither pictures nor words can convey their true majesty.  Even experiencing them in person, it’s difficult to comprehend their enormous magnitude.

After visiting “General Sherman”, the largest tree in the world with a height of 274.9 ft and volume of 52,584 cu.ft., we went looking for a campsite.  Wm’s and his family are fond of the “Lodgepole” campground in the heart of the park, but unfortunately this time of year it was under 3 feet of snow.  So, we headed to the lower altitudes of Kings Canyon and stayed in “Azalea”, which had less snow and happens to be near the second-largest tree: “General Grant”.

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The large amount of snow meant most of the Sequoia’s trails were closed, so we weren’t able to do much hiking.  But we did get to visit “Crystal Cave”, a spectacular marble-walled cavern tour:
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On our way out of the Parks, we encountered some wonderful luck!  A mama-bear and her two cubs were frolicking in a roadside meadow!  After watching them play and eat for a good long while, we resumed our drive to the exit when luck struck again: two larger cubs were coming down the hill toward the road!  Wm hopped out of the car to hurriedly take photos and had just begun to wonder where the mother was when he noticed a grunt right next to him from the other side of the road!  There she was, not ten feet away!  They locked eyes for a moment, and Wm, realizing he stood between a mom and her cubs, got back in the car as quickly as possible.  Fortunately the mother decided to leave, and along with her cubs, beat a hasty retreat.  It was a fantastic end to our day!
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Yosemite National Park – Part 3 – The Hike

About 30 years ago, Wm and his father hiked above “Nevada Fall” to camp in “Little Yosemite”, a beautiful high-country spot popular with backpackers.  Remembering how strenuous the hike had seemed when he was young, he wondered how it might be now that he’s pushing 40.

The trail is listed as a strenuous 6.8 miles roundtrip with 2,000’ elevation gain if you take the “Mist Trail”, which is the shortest but steepest route that takes you alongside lower “Vernal Fall”.  We chose this path despite warnings of “tremendous amount of spray” and its slick mossy granite “stairs”. 

We set out at noon after exploring the “Happy Isles” nature center near the trailhead, and made slow but steady progress up the steep canyons trail.  We arrived above Vernal Fall damp but without incident, and had a nice lunch beside the “Emerald Pools” there complete with 4-squirrel attack squad when Wm accidentally dropped a few peanuts.  We had gained 1,000 feet and were halfway there!
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The trail above Vernal is much more “raw”, which made progress a little slower.  As we climbed more and more switchbacks the air grew thinner and made rest stops more frequent.  But after a couple of harrowing hours we finally made it to the top of Nevada Fall, exhausted, but rewarded with spectacular views!
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We opted to return via the John Muir trail, a longer but less-steep and potentially injurious course.  This path is closed during Winter, and it soon became obvious why: several parts had snowy streams and falling water running through them!  But it was fun, and gave us a chance to see other parts of the canyon.  We made it to the bottom of the trail, 8 miles and 6.5 hours from when we started: very sore, barely able to walk, and with Wm feeling every bit of his 39 years. 🙂
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Yosemite National Park – Part 2 – The Bear!

Today was our third day at Yosemite National Park.  We decided to switch things up and rent bikes for the day, which was fun because neither of us had ridden one in 15 years or so.  It was a great way to see the park and enjoy the day’s perfect 70-degree weather, which had us returning to favorite spots to recapture photos in full sunlight. Given the amount of snow and rainfall in recent weeks, we lost track of the number of waterfalls viewable in the park, but here again are Bridalveil and its bigger brother Yosemite Falls: the tallest waterfall in the US and the third tallest in the world.
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Yosemite features many shades of green: rivers, moss, trees, and sprawling meadows.  They are all nicely contrasted against the blue sky and various grey hues in the surrounding granite walls.  Here are some examples, including the most iconic of the Park’s granite formations: Half Dome and El Capitan.
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Thanks to the park’s millions of annual tourists, the squirrels and birds here are fat and happy!  Today at lunch we saw perhaps the fattest squirrel ever, who somehow managed to stuff himself with at least 10 french-fries and half a hamburger while we cheered him on.  Just look at those fat rolls! We’ve been very good not to feed them, as Park rules require, but other folks can’t seem to resist their gentle pleadings.

But the most exciting thing we encountered today was Lisa’s first bear!  Yes, the weeks of searching high-and-low finally paid-off: we saw “Orange #66” (his tagged “name”, according to a ranger), a 7-year-old male black bear that weighs 250 lbs, doing “bear stuff” in one of the larger meadows.  We watched him for 30 minutes or so and took what photos we could from the great distance the rangers kept us at.
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Yosemite National Park – Part 1

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One of the first and best National Parks is Yosemite, a 1,189 square mile natural extravaganza in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

Our day’s drive to the park from Death Valley was a long one, because the Eastern passes were closed due to heavy snow and ice.  We drove through Bishop and around the northern edge of the Sierras for many hours before progressing toward the park itself.  The rim of the park was covered in snow, but we made it down into Yosemite valley without any trouble.

We were pleased to find that the valley itself was green and vibrant with Spring! Our first stop was Bridalveil Falls, which was overflowing with water and soaking the viewpoint paths, and visitors, below.  We then checked-in to Curry Village and settled into our canvas tent for the evening.

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The following day was overcast and began to rain in the afternoon.  This made photographing scenery less attractive, so we focused on subjects closer at hand.  We spent the day touring the park via free shuttles. By evening it began to snow, so we took shelter in the cafeteria and a public lounge until bedtime.
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The following day was sunny.  After a late start thanks to a very cold night & morning, we took a small hike up to Mirror Lake to have lunch.  This was an incredibly beautiful walk that highlighted many of the park’s finer features: spectacular granite walls, pure cascading rivers, emerald pools, and a bounty of plants and wildlife:
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We later enjoyed a stroll through one of the valley’s meadows where we saw our first coyote!
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We headed back to camp by strolling along the Merced River, snapping photos of small swift birds, and keeping a wary eye out for the bears that Wm assured Lisa we’d see here!
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We’re here for 3 more days; there will be more to come!