Saturday, October 10, 2015


We had a great trip the past 5 weeks and are starting to plan our next trip. Even on days when we weren't visiting someplace special, it was interesting to watch the terrain as we drove.

We were able to check off quite a few places that were on our "bucket" list:
  • Travel across Canada to the west coast, driving above Lake Superior
  • Glacier National Park (would have liked better weather for the drive over the "Going to the Sun highway)
  • Banff and Jasper National Parks, especially walking out on the glacier
  • Victoria, BC and Butchart Gardens
  • Crater Lake National Park
  • Lassen National Park
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Sequoia National Park
  • Saguaro National Park
One of the nice aspects of our trip is that we didn't have a fixed schedule or itinerary and were able to decide each day what we wanted to do and often made last minute decisions to visit various attractions like:
  • Capilano swinging bridge park in Vancouver
  • Alberta dinosaur provincial park
  • Yuma territorial prison museum
  • Dodge City Boot Hill Museum
  • Lincoln home and tomb in Springfield, IL
  • Mark Twain home in Hannibal, MO
We were encouraged by the amount of solar and wind energy exploitation that we saw along the route with many large wind farms in agricultural areas where there was little disturbance to the farming and grazing going on around them.

Our trip also impressed on us how much land is used for agriculture, from Manitoba and Saskatchewan in Canada to California, Arizona, New Mexico and the rest of the way back to Ohio. We certainly wondered how sustainable it is to do intensive irrigation in desert areas. There were huge feedlots in Arizona and New Mexico with thousands of cattle that were surrounded by hay fields that were only possible through irrigation. Farm organizations had put up billboards highlighting the importance of water for farming yet in many places we saw water being used inefficiently, sprayed into the air at mid-day with 100+ degree temperatures.

Traveling through the west gave us a much better perspective of the pervasiveness of forest fires. From Alberta through Washington, Oregon and California we often encountered areas that had recently burned and could smell the smoke. Parts of Sequoia park were closed due to the active fires and visibility was very low.

All of our electronic gadgets simplify travel. With the car GPS we just plug in a destination address and don't really need a paper map anymore although it is often a good double-check as the GPS sometimes makes poor decisions on the route.

When planning our travel for the day, we would use Google Maps to estimate the time to various destinations and decide how many hours we wanted to drive each day.

Using the TripAdvisor app on my phone, we would check the hotels and their prices at our next destination and then use the hotel chain app to make the actual reservation in order to get our "loyalty points". It was a bit disconcerting to see how room prices changed dynamically. Sometimes after making a reservation, I would go back to check room prices and often just a few minutes later the cost of the same room would be significantly higher. Sometimes prices increased as the arrival date was closer and sometimes the prices decreased as the hotel wanted to fill empty rooms.  It would be interesting to know how to optimize this for our benefit.

We also used TripAdvisor to locate restaurants near where we were staying, checking the reviews for service and quality.

One of the apps that we enjoyed was the Banff GyPSy tour app by "GPS Tour Guide" that was like having our own personal tour guide as we drove. It was very accurate and would make suggestions like "look at the lake on the left that you are passing now" or "see the fire damage on the right". It also suggested stopping at some very interesting points that we would have bypassed on our own.

All of the hotels we stayed in had free WiFi although the quality varied considerably. At least it was enough to keep up on e-mail and work on our blog.

We are already planning our next road trip, probably down the east coast to Key West in the spring. We want to visit places like the Blue Ridge Highway, Smokey Mtn Park, Monticello, Savannah.

Day 37 - Sunday, Oct 4 - Akron, OH to Home!

Starting mileage:  10020 Starting time: 8:00 am

Ending mileage: 10518 Ending time: 4:00 pm
Travel mileage:  498 Travel time: 8:00 hours

As we've been driving back, we've noticed the purple asters blooming, a sign of fall. As we traveled into Pennsylvania we knew that fall was really here with all the maples that were starting to turn red, orange and yellow.

There weren't a lot of deciduous trees along our return route until we got to eastern Ohio. It was either desert, high elevation pine forests or farmland. It was fairly dense mixed deciduous and conifer forest the rest of the way home.

We didn't make any stops on the last day other than for essentials. We did stop at the Hurley Ridge Market to get a rotisserie chicken and some other things for dinner. After eating out every night for 5 weeks, it was nice to eat at home again.

The post office was supposed to hold our mail until we picked it up after our return but there was some confusion and our mailbox was stuffed absolutely full with mail. There was a cardboard box on our picnic table with the rest of our mail. Fortunately the canopy over the picnic table kept the mail dry.  We did a first try triage on the mail, separating our the junk mail and magazines from checks and bills.

Although it was sunny during the day, it was only 60 degrees in our family room and we made a fire in the woodstove for the first time.

Day 37 route

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Day 36 - Saturday, Oct 3 - Springfield, IL to Akron, OH

Starting mileage:  9511 Starting time: 8:00 am

Ending mileage: 10020 Ending time: 5:30 pm
Travel mileage:  509 Travel time: 9:30 hours

This was a solid travel day. It was chilly all day with the temperature only going between 48 and 51 and raining for about 4 hours this afternoon. The Akron weather said that this was the second coldest Oct 3 in history - what a change from 108 degree temperatures on Monday!

There were several wind farms that we passed in Illinois. At one of the rest areas there were tractor trailers carrying the wind turbine blades - it was quite impressive to stand next to them.

Tonight we are using up the last of our "points" for a free stay at the Holiday Inn Express.

Home tomorrow!

Day 36 route

Wind turbine blade

Day 35 - Friday, Oct 2 - Junction City, KS, Hannibal, MO, Springfield, IL

Starting mileage:  9065 Starting time: 6:30 am

Ending mileage: 9511 Ending time: 6:00 pm
Travel mileage:  446 Travel time: 11:30 hours

We wanted to visit the Lincoln home and memorial in Springfield, IL, so got up and left early this morning. Driving east we were able to enjoy the sunrise but were also blinded by the light - we decided to stop and have breakfast at Dunkin Donuts at the turnpike rest area until the sun was a bit higher.

On the morning NPR news we learned about the latest shooting massacre a Umqua College in Roseburg, OR. We stayed in Roseburg the night before visiting Crater Lake.

We realized that our route was going to take us through Hannibal, MO, the childhood home of Mark Twain and decided to make a short stop there. We visited the Hannibal historical museum on the main street where we learned that Hannibal also had a number of other notable citizens, including the "Unsinkable Molly Brown" (she was never actually called "Molly" - this was just for the show). We walked up the levee over the Mississippi River. We stopped for lunch where I had the best catfish ever and also the worst beer ("pretzel beer") ever - I couldn't finish it which is pretty rare.

After lunch we got on our way and crossed the Mississippi. In the past two days we crossed the 3 longest rivers in the US, the Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi.

The terrain was becoming more and more green, with many more trees - starting to look more like home although still with large fields growing grain sorghum, corn and oats. We passed a large ethanol plant with huge corn storage bins and tractor trailers steadily bringing in corn - this is also the harvest time and we saw corn being harvested.

We arrived at the Lincoln visitor center around 3pm and were able to get on the 3:20 tour of the Lincoln House. The park service has done a great job of restoring the neighborhood to its appearance in the 1860s. 4 blocks have been shut off from traffic with many of the original houses, board sidewalks and cobblestone streets. Where one of the original small houses had been moved and a newer house built, they tore down the newer house and moved the old house back to its original position opposite the Lincoln house. In this house there were exhibits about archeology and the restoration process.

The Lincoln house is very much as it was in 1865. The park service worked with Sherwin-Williams to provide paint that closely matched the colors at that time. The tour is limited to 15 people at a time due to the number of people who can fit in the kitchen at one time. The tour guide was very good, with a sense of humor, engaging the visitors and very well informed. It was strange to think that Lincoln had stood in the same room and shaved in the same mirror on the wall, played with his children in front of the fireplace and Mary Todd Lincoln prepared meals on the wood-fired stove in the kitchen. It was well worthwhile to visit.

Afterwards we visited the Lincoln tomb although we just missed going inside the tomb itself which has additional exhibits of his life. It was much larger than we expected but not surprising given how much he was revered.

We parked so I could be in a conference call with the IBM team that has a weekly meeting on Friday at 3:30 PDT.

We have another free night at the Comfort Inn - the best room so far, a king suite with its own balcony. We had to stop at several restaurants before finding one that didn't have a 20 minute wait to get in - it is Friday night and people are out on the town. 

Day 35 route

Lincoln House

Lincoln Tomb

Day 34 - Thursday, Oct 1 - La Junta, Co, Dodge City, KS, Junction City, KS

Starting mileage:  8634 Starting time: 9:30 am

Ending mileage: 9065 Ending time: 4:30 pm
Travel mileage:  274 Travel time: 7:00 hours

We had a later start as we couldn't avoid doing laundry - some things just can't be avoided!

Looking at the map of where we could go today, we thought it would be interesting to stop in the historic Dodge City.

The weather has certainly changed from being too hot just with a t-shirt to cool even with a long-sleeve shirt.  It was 60 degrees and misting slightly which kept up for 3 hours. When we got to Dodge City the wind was blowing and it hadn't warmed up.  Guess fall is here.

We stopped at the Boot Hill historical museum which was well worthwhile. The museum is located just below and includes the actual site of the Boot Hill cemetery which was so named because a number of the dead were buried with their boots on. There are a number of historical displays from the early history of the native Americans, their terrible treatment by the US when soldiers and settlers moved west. In order to force the native Americans to leave, the government invited anyone to come and shoot the buffalo which were essential for their existence. In a few years, millions of buffalo were slaughtered.

The first few years from 1872 were truly the "wild west" in Dodge City. There was no law enforcement and many people were killed with little reason and no consequence. It was a wild place with cowboys, gamblers, prostitutes and saloons. Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson were real people who came in to impose law and order, often quite harshly.  By 1879 things had calmed down and people were settling down with their families.

As we left Dodge City, we passed a number of very large wind farms - good to see renewable energy being exploited. 

There is also considerable irrigation of fairly barren land using water from the Arkansas River which is still being disputed with Colorado. By 1907, Colorado was diverting so much water from the river that not much was getting to Kansas.

Using our "points", we had a free night at the EconoLodge in Junction City, so named for all the rail lines that pass through. Unfortunately, they ran just across the highway from our hotel and we heard the train whistles blowing regularly after 1:30 AM.

Day 34 route

Boot Hill cemetery

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Day 33 - Wednesday, Sept 30 - Los Alamos to La Junta, CO

Starting mileage:  8360  Starting time: 9:30 am

Ending mileage: 8634 Ending time: 4:30 pm
Travel mileage:  274 Travel time: 7:00 hours

It was such a relief to have cooler temperatures again, about 60 this morning.

The sheer cliffs at the edge of the mesa that Los Alamos are just spectacular. Much of the volcanic rock is soft and birds have dug nests into the side. On the way down we could see heavy smoke filling much of the valley north of Santa Fe - prescribed burns are being done to reduce the chance of large out of control fires.  4 years ago there was a huge fire on the mountains above Los Alamos which required the lab and most of the residences to be evacuated. The hills are just starting to come back with new growth.

We decided to take the route north through Taos which is on the plain above the Rio Grande. Although the river isn't large in this area, it has cut a gorge hundreds of feet deep - quite spectacular cut into an absolutely flat plain. We thought we would look around historic Taos but after 20 minutes inching along in traffic, decided to head out towards Colorado without stopping.

As we were turning off I-25 in Trinidad, CO, the sky was absolutely black in front of us with occasional lightening. All of a sudden we had zero visibility in gale force winds, torrential rain and heavy hail about the size of marbles. We quickly pulled onto the shoulder and stopped. The temperature dropped 30 degrees in less than 5 minutes, from 79 to 49. We were concerned that the hail might damage the windows but fortunately, it didn't - our windshield was very clean however. The storm only lasted about 10 minutes and then moved on.

On the road to La Junta, we saw 4 tarantulas crossing the road. We stopped and I tried to take a photo but it didn't turn out that well among the grass on the shoulder. I picked it up with a stick but it didn't wan't to be photographed and it jumped off. They are quite impressive to see. This is the mating season and the males are out looking for a good time.

We also saw a number of herds of antelope but didn't get close enough to take a photo. Ironically, one of the herds was right next to the NRA headquarters.

We are staying at an Econolodge in La Junta, CO - it is pretty basic but the price was right as we can use our "points" for a free stay tonight.

Day 33 route

Andy, Marguerite and Carmen in Los Alamos

Cliffs along the mesa

Furry friend

Day 32 - Tuesday, Sept 29 - Deming, NM to Los Alamos, NM

Starting mileage:  8016  Starting time: 9:30 am

Ending mileage: 8360  Ending time: 4:00 pm
Travel mileage:  344 Travel time: 6:30 hours

Today was mostly a traveling day to visit our friends Andy and Marguerite in Los Alamos. Andy was my roommate at Princeton and is now a research scientist at the Los Alamos Laboratory.

Our trip took us through Hatch, NM which claims to be the chili pepper capital of NM. It is a small town but everywhere there are red peppers drying on metal roofs and long strings of dried peppers hanging in front of shops. 

This is also where we crossed the Rio Grande although it isn't very "grand". Due to all the dams and water diversion upstream, it wasn't any bigger than the Esopus near our house, only about 100' across.

We made a short stop in Truth or Consequences, NM to see if there was anything interesting. It was renamed in 1950 after the radio show host Ralph Edwards said he would broadcast from the first town to rename itself - and the name has been kept since then. The town was originally named "Hot Springs" and still has historic resorts and spas from the late 1800s. There is a fountain that is said to shoot up hot water every 15 minutes but we didn't wait for it.

I-25 follows the Rio Grande valley all of the way up to Santa Fe. There are towns and green vegetation along both sides of the river although it quickly becomes brown past the watered areas.

Our first stop in Los Alamos was Rose Chocolatier, Marguerite's artisan chocolate shop which she opened a little over a year ago. Andy stopped by on his way back from the lab and gave us a short walking tour of the town.  The county historical museum is located in a building which was a private boarding school up until 1940 when the Manhattan Project was established here and it was taken over by the government for offices and meeting rooms.

Andy and Marguerite have a house on the edge of the mesa with quite a spectacular view of the canyons and the mountains in the distance towards Santa Fe. It is quite a steep drop from the edge of their property to the bottom of the canyon. We were here 4 years ago for their wedding which was held in their yard.

Day 32 route


Rio Grande valley near Albuquerque 



Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Day 31 - Monday, Sept 28 - Gila Bend, Tucson, Deming, NM

Starting mileage:  7611 Starting time: 7:45 am

Ending mileage: 8016  Ending time: 7:45 pm
Travel mileage:  405 Travel time: 12 hours

At breakfast we were talking to our waitress and was surprised that she had moved from San Diego to Gila Bend. Gila Bend is ridiculously and looks like it is dying with many boarded up store fronts. She said that her car broke down while driving through and had to be repaired. She became friends with the mechanic who turned into the "love of her life". She decided to stay, married him and has a 8 month year-old son!

The Sonoran Desert National Monument started just after leaving Gila Bend. The terrain is again very rocky with scrub, rolling hills and some mountains. We soon started seeing Saguaro cactus along both sides of the road which went on for miles. Then suddenly we didn't see them anymore although the terrain had not changed noticeably. Then after another 10 miles or so we started to see them again.

On the way to the Saguaro National Park we were surprised to see signs warning of flooding on the road and also signs warning of slippery when icy - it seemed incongruous with the temperature approaching 100 and the ground absolutely parched.  

Approaching the park, the number of Saguaro increase and numerous other varieties of cactus also appear, prickly pear, barrel, cholla. It is quite a change and very spectacular.

At the park visitor center there is a visual showing how the ground water level has dropped by 250' between 1900 and 1980. It stopped there and we wondered where it was now.  We also noticed in the distance what looked like a number of square lakes in the valley. When we asked one of the park staff about this, he said that those are ponds that are being used to recharge the aquifer, using water that comes from the Colorado river as part of Arizona's allocation. This has been successful, with the ground water level rising. He also added that this is still a problem because it is dependent on a scarce resource.

There is a nice short trail around the visitor center that identifies the different cactus and other desert plant species that we see. 

Just outside the park is the Desert Museum which we went in. Most of it is outside where there are trails through different types of habitat.  Many of the desert animals are there although we weren't able to see many of them - we suspect that in the mid-day heat most of them were resting in shade that they could find. There was an apiary where we could see a number of the bird species found in the desert. We would have liked to stay longer but it was unbearably hot, 101 degrees in the shade, and there wasn't much shade.  We also still had over 3 hours to get to our hotel, even with a speed limit of 75 all the way.

In New Mexico we went over the continental divide again but it was a bit of a disappointment, just a sign on a relatively flat section of I-10. When we crossed the divide in the Canadian Rockies, it was much more obvious.

The gas prices have dropped considerably since leaving California. It was $2.14 in Tucson and $2.08 in Deming, NM. In California it was a challenge to find gas for less than $3/gallon.

We are staying at a Holiday Inn Express in Deming. When we looked for a restaurant, most of them were familiar chains: Denny's, IHOP, KFC, Carl Jr, BK, etc. We finally found the Rancher's Grill which was a local restaurant.

Day 31 route

Entering Sonora National Park

Various cactus

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Day 30 - Sunday, September 27 - San Diego to Gila Bend, AZ

Starting mileage:  7350 Starting time: 10:30 am

Ending mileage:  7611 Ending time: 5:00 pm
Travel mileage:  261 Travel time: 6:30 hours

We are on our way home. It was hard to say goodbye but we plan to be back at Christmas.

It was another hot temperatures - 106 in California and 108 as we passed into Arizona.

We are still amazed at all the agriculture in the desert. We passed some newly planted (we assume - just looked like desert) fields that were being irrigated. A lot of water must evaporate when it is being sprayed into the air at mid-day when it is 108 degrees. There were some large cattle feed lots and it looked like they were growing hay for feed.

We passed through an area of mountains that were covered with large round boulders. We thought of a science fiction movie where the boulders suddenly come alive as strange "stone" beasts.

It is good to see renewable energy being exploited. Near El Centro there was another huge farm of large wind turbines. A little further along there were several acres of photo-voltaic arrays owned by Duke Power that looked like they were turning to always face the sun. Unfortunately, it looked like some of the mechanisms weren't working as they weren't all pointing in the same direction. 

We didn't even notice we had crossed the Colorado River when we entered Arizona. There is so little water in the river by the time it gets here, it is only about 100' wide. In the early 1900s it used to be a raging river that sometimes flooded 15 miles wide. The Hoover dam, other dams down river and diversion of water for irrigation have reduced the flow to a trickle. After Mexico takes its share of water, there is nothing left by the time it enters the Gulf of Mexico.

We stopped in Yuma for lunch at Subway and afterwards went to the Yuma Territorial State Park which was quite interesting. This was a prison from 1876 to 1909 and parts of it have been maintained as a historic site along with a museum constructed on the grounds.  The Yuma townspeople thought the prison was a luxury with bathtubs, showers, a library and a hospital. The inmates thought it was a hellhole, 6 to a tiny vermin-infested cell with temperatures often over 100. They also had to do hard work outside in the heat. There were many interesting histories of inmates, why they were there, how they tried to escape, etc.

Near Gila Bend, AZ we passed the Solana parabolic concentrating solar power system that uses over 1900 acres of collectors. The parabolic mirrors focus heat on tubes of molten salt which can be stored and later be used to produce steam to drive turbines to generate electricity. This allows the generation of electricity in the evening when the sun isn't shining.

We are staying at the "Space Age Lodg" Best Western in Gila Bend. It was created by a former NASA engineer. The rooms all have space shuttle and other NASA photos. The outside is glittery. We had a very authentic Mexican dinner in a little hole in the wall restaurant down the road.

We were also able to watch the lunar eclipse of the "super" moon. No worry about clouds here!

Day 30 route

Saying goodbye to Anna this morning

Strange boulder formations

Colorado river in Yuma (foreground)

Yuma prison state park - guard tower and water storage

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Day 29 - Saturday, September 26 - In San Diego

Hanging out with Anna today.

Anna and Bella at the bank

Street Market in "Normal" San Diego neighborhood

Dinner at Sushi Ota

Day 28 - Friday, September 26 - in San Diego

We've traveled over 7000 miles at this point so I had the tires rotated in the morning at Tire Express which had good ratings on Yelp. It was a bit strange, an alley with used tires on both sides and a bunch of guys using jacks to raise up cars for tire work. The price was good and job was fine. I also took Anna's car in to have tires swapped and aired up - every time we come out, Anna's low tire pressure light is on.

We had lunch at the Blue Water fish market and restaurant which has delicious seafood. We had "ahi poke" which is like an ahi sashimi salad as an appetizer. I had wasabi sesame crusted grilled ahi salad which was delicious. The ahi was buttery soft. See photo below.

On the way back, Anna dropped me of at Floyd's barbershop as I was in need of a haircut after 4 weeks on the road. I hope Joe at Hair Design in Kingston forgives me but I couldn't wait until after we get back from Maine in another 3 weeks.

In the afternoon we went to see "The Intern" with Ann Hathaway and Robert de Niro - it was very funny and a good way to get away from the afternoon heat. The last few days have been very hot for this time of year, mid-80s.

Dinner was a bit unusual. Whole Foods has a bar by the entrance where one can get 32 different beer on tap. We got Chinese takeout food at Whole Foods and ate it at the bar. It is surprisingly dog friendly - Anna was able to bring her dog Bella into the bar while we had dinner. San Diego is very dog friendly but it was surprising that this was OK in a supermarket.

Not sure that all this is very interesting.

Wasabi sesami crusted seared Ahi salad with Ahi poke side

Friday, September 25, 2015

Day 27 - Thursday, September 24 - In San Diego

Our time in San Diego is mostly relaxing, eating and family time.

We got up late and had lunch at the Brockton Villa, a restaurant in a historic house overlooking La Jolla Cove. This was built in 1894 as a weekend retreat - at that time it took 4 hours to get from downtown San Diego. Now it takes about 20 minutes. From the veranda we could hear the sea lions in the cove barking. I had the "Coast Toast", french toast that Brocton Villa is famous for - it is thick slices of french bread that is creamy on the inside and crunchy on the outside, served with boysenberry jam and maple syrup.

It was hot and sunny, a perfect day to be out on the water. I rented a kayak at La Jolla shores, something I had done a few times on other trips to San Diego. The ocean was relatively calm with long rollers about 3' high. I kayaked out to the kelp beds about a mile out where one can sometimes see interesting fish and sea lions. Didn't find anything interesting but a few years ago when I went out with Amy, a sea lion went back and forth underneath our kayaks which was pretty exciting. On the way back, I went by the La Jolla caves, deeply eroded sections of steep sandstone banks. In order to go through the caves one must be with a guide so I didn't go in. One needs to be careful going near the edge as many cormorants and sea gulls are along the overhangs and one can get blessed with bird droppings.

Anna's apartment is in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego which has dozens of restaurants of all ethnicities. It would take quite a while to try them all although we are trying... We went to Salt and Cleaver on 5th avenue. I had a beer braised bratwurst which turned out to actually be Italian hot sausage - oh well.

                                                                  La Jolla Cove

David coming in from Kayaking

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Day 26 - Wednesday, September 23 - Pasadena to San Diego

Starting mileage:  7181 Starting time: 9:00 am

Ending mileage: 7181 Ending time: 4:00 pm
Travel mileage: 132   Travel time: 7 hours

We had a very nice breakfast with our niece Surana at Le Pain Quotidien, an organic bakery and restaurant in Pasadena.

We had planned to visit the Huntington Library and Botanic Garden but when we got there, learned that it didn't open until noon during the week and we didn't want to wait an hour and a half. We also wanted to leave Pasadena between 1 and 2 so that we didn't get stuck in San Diego rush hour traffic.

Instead, we went to the L.A. Arboretum which was just a few miles away. This is also very pleasant and interesting. It was getting hot, 90 degrees, and after walking around for a while, decided to leave for San Diego.

It is hard to fathom the gas prices. In Pasadena, gas was around $3.39 which was higher than in some of the remote areas we were in. We bought gas on the way to San Diego for only $2.89. Coincidentally, this was where Anna's car battery died on the way back from her graduation a year ago and I had to jump-start it by letting it roll backwards and popping the clutch before it backed into something. Fortunately it started and we got a new battery at Wal-Mart.

The traffic wasn't bad and we moved along at 75, getting to the Days Hotel a little before 3pm, too early for check-in at 4pm. It is cooler in San Diego, around 80. We had lunch at a restaurant a few blocks down and were able to check when we finished. This will be our home for the next 4 days while we visit with Anna.

Day 26 route

With Surana in Pasadena

 L.A. Arboretum

Day 25 - Tuesday, September 22 - Big Bear Lake to Pasadena

Starting mileage:  7049 Starting time: 9:00 am

Ending mileage: 7181 Ending time: 4:00 pm
Travel mileage: 132   Travel time: 7 hours

Tuesday was a pretty easy day - nice to drive less and relax more.

We had wanted to visit the Discovery Center in Big Bear Lake but it is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. We drove around the lake which is very low. One person we spoke to said that it was 18' below the top of the dam and the marina had to move the boat slips out pas the breakwater.

We decided to take the scenic route down which goes up over an 8400' pass. There were signs along the road warning of flooding from a few days ago but it was very dry now. The fire danger is still "extreme".

We had hoped to visit our friends the Cadys in Yucaipa but we weren't able to plan in advance and they were away. We did have great chef's and Cobb salads at the Kopper Kettle Kafe in Yucaipa.

Since we were so close to Redlands, I called my former (and now current) Esri colleagues to see if they were available and fortunately was able to visit with Donna and Neeta at the Esri headquarters. It was nice to see them.

From there it as a short trip to the Comfort Inn (free tonight with loyalty points). Arriving early, we went in the pool and got caught up with laundry.

Day 25 route

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Day 24 - Monday, September 21 - Three Rivers, Sequoia Park, Big Bear Lake

Starting mileage:  6664 Starting time: 8:00 am

Ending mileage: 7049 Ending time: 8:00 pm
Travel mileage: 385   Travel time: 12 hours

One of the largest forest fires in California history has closed the northern part of Sequoia Park for several weeks but it has finally opened up today so that we can travel from the southern entrance along the Generals Highway to the north entrance.

The drive up from Three Rivers to the Giant Forest Sequoia grove is a slow and very winding trip with many hair-pin turns. The view is a bit disconcerting if one looks at the sheer drop-offs at the side of the road. This grove is over 2200 acres and has many of the largest trees in the park. Nearly all of them have bases that have been scarred by fire but the thick bark protects the trees.

Our first stop was a walk up to the top of Moro Rock, a granite outcrop overlooking the valleys below. Fortunately, there are steps and handrails for the steep climb up to the top. It must have been much more exciting when John Muir and other adventurers climbed up here in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, the smoke from the fires to the north obscured the views to the distance.

We went for a short loop walk around the Crescent Meadow which John Muir called an "Eden" when he visited here. It is surrounded by many huge Sequoia trees. We were surprised to see a marmot charging towards us on the trail but it veered off when it realized we were on the trail.

There is a nice museum and visitor center for the Giant Forest grove. For many years, forest fire suppression had been aggressively pursued before foresters realized in the 1960s that this had completely stopped the sprouting of new Sequoia trees which require fire to open the cones and release the seeds. It had also resulted in the accumulation of debris which caused even more severe fires when they occurred. Now there are prescribed burns and fires which don't threaten buildings or special areas may be allowed to burn.

We traveled on to the Grant Grove near the north park entrance which was supposed to open this morning but we were waved past as the park officials decided at the last minute not to reopen this area due to smoke and fire-fighting personnel still in the area. This was a bit disappointing but at least we had a good experience at the earlier grove.

From here it was still a 300 mile drive to our hotel in the afternoon. Much of it was on the CA99 and CA58 freeways down the valley. Once again it was a largely agricultural area with huge expanses of citrus groves, vineyards, cotton and pistachios. By the time we got to Bakersfield, it was 105 degrees! From there we headed east - much of the trip was through the Mojave desert. 

When we came up through the Alta Pass, it was like a scene from Star Wars. As far as we could see, there were huge and smaller wind turbines. The smaller ones looked like lawn ornaments in comparison. This area is famous for being the first large wind power installation after the oil crisis of the 1970s. Unfortunately, this was also when scientists discovered large numbers of birds were being killed by the wind turbines which are positioned closely at 3 different heights and turn very quickly. The newer turbines are much larger, are spaced further apart and don't spin as quickly. This is the largest wind farm in the US.

It was getting dark by the time we approached the mountains surrounding Big Bear Lake and we enjoyed quite a spectacular sunset. The road up goes from 3000' to over 7000' with many switch-backs - it was an interesting drive in the dark. We didn't have to descend much as Big Bear Lake is at an elevation of 6700'. 

It had cooled down to 63 degrees by the time we got to the Best Western Big Bear Chateau. The rates for hotels here are very reasonable during the week and off-season. This area is a popular cool retreat in the summer and has a ski slope and other activities during the winter.

Day 24 route

Top of Moro Rock

By typical 2000 year old Sequoia

7000 miles into our trip

Wind turbines at Alta Pass

Sunset leaving Mojave desert