April 13, 2017 Bodega Bay, California

California Coast
California Coast

California Coast

Monday morning I left the Mariposa Fairground and made what I thought would be a 4 hour trip to Bodega Bay on the California Coast. My 4 hour trip ended up being closer to 7 hours when I made the mistake of heading north from Mariposa on Route 49, a road I had not driven before. Well, turns out there are a few 7% grades to climb and descend, as well as about a thousand sharp switchbacks and hairpin turns along that route, and, although it was nothing my rig couldn’t handle, I seldom found myself going much over 20 mph.

And then, when I finally reached route 101 and turned north to Petaluma, I encountered some of California’s infamous commuter traffic heading north to home after a work day spent in the San Francisco area ( I’m guessing ). Four lanes of northbound traffic were squeezed down to two lanes at a point where there was an on ramp with traffic backed up forever, and this resulted in a traffic jam of about seven miles moving at stop and go speed and taking around an hour to cover the those seven miles into Petaluma where I was finally able to get off the highway and head west to the coast on uncrowded secondary roads. I have no idea how these poor folks can handle this day after day. This backup was caused strictly by traffic volume and not by any kind of construction or an accident along the way … this would be a daily occurrence!

Without a doubt, this state has got to have the most dangerous aggressive drivers I have encountered. Couple that with the deplorable condition of most of the roads in the state and horrific traffic conditions and suffice it to say, this is not a fun state to travel in. Add in the higher cost of everything out here, gas  ( where does all the gas tax money actually go since it obviously isn’t showing up in highway maintenance ), camping fees ( my spot in Bodega Bay is $34/night for a primitive site and is much less than anything else around here ),  and food ( I was going to treat myself to a fresh seafood dinner in one of the local restaurants, but checking out menus and realizing that it would be over $50 for any sort of meal, I had a sandwich at home ). But then, there is an unbelievable amount of unique and gorgeous natural features in the state, so it pretty much is a must see state. Grin and bear it, I guess.

Westshore Camping Area on Bodega Bay
Westshore Camping Area on Bodega Bay

Anyhow, I finally made it to the Westshore Camping Area in Bodega Bay around 5 PM and was able to get into a site that had three midweek days that were unreserved. All the reservable sites in the campground were reserved for the weekend, so I hoped maybe someone would move out of the two first come, first served sites before my three days were up … and lo and behold, both sites opened up the next day and I was able to claim one of them and thus can stay here through the weekend now.

Weather continues to be very wet, rain every day so far with just one 6 hour window of sun and cloudy skies when I was able to zip up Route 1 for 30 miles and get these shots.

Campground Wildflowers
Campground Wildflowers

Some spots of nice wildflowers but no poppies in bloom yet, still a couple of weeks away.

California Coast
California Coast
California Coast
California Coast
California Coast
California Coast

Probably because of the weather, but traffic on Coastal Route 1 is pretty light right now, making it a very pleasant drive.

California Coast
California Coast
California Coast
California Coast
Russian River Harbor Seals
Russian River Harbor Seals

At the mouth of the Russian River, Route 1 climbs up to hundred feet or so above the beach and you get this view of a stretch of beach where the harbor seals haul out.

Russian River Harbor Seals
Russian River Harbor Seals
Russian River Harbor Seals
Russian River Harbor Seals

Wonder what the “sleep number” is on those rocks, these guys look like they are pretty comfortable.

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon

This Peregrine falcon was perched atop a sea stack only a few feet from the edge of the highway …

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon

… keeping an eye on everything while doing his morning preening routine.

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon

I’ve never encountered one of these birds that was so unafraid of humans nearby. Of course there was no way you could get out to where it was sitting, but still quite unusual for a bird of prey to be this unconcerned with human activity so close by ( less than 100 feet ).

Hillside Grazers
Hillside Grazers

Along Route 1, you have some incredibly steep drop-offs to the cliffs and beach hundreds of feet below, with no guard rails, so most people probably don’t even notice the cattle grazing of the green hillsides on the other side of the highway. These animals have to be in some kind of shape to handle the steep grades of their pasture land.

Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve
Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve

About 30 miles north of Bodega bay is the Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve, where rhodys grow wild up to 30 feet tall under second growth redwoods. Unfortunately, I was a little early to catch the rhodys in bloom, but it must be something to see in a month or so.

Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve
Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve

The four mile drive ( single lane one way gravel road ) takes you through a dark, damp, coastal rain forest. Lots of moss and ferns to see in addition to the rhodys and redwoods.

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April 6, 2017 Mariposa Fairground, California

Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls

A Final Visit to Yosemite National Park

El Capitan
El Capitan

A spectacular valley without a doubt! I had been wanting to revisit Yosemite for many years but was usually going through that part of California either too early or too late in the year. So this year I waited out the weather and finally yesterday made it into the park.

Yosemite
Yosemite

Mariposa Fairgrounds Campground

Since every campsite in Yosemite was reserved ( and this is early April, not exactly peak season ), I chose to stay at the Mariposa County Fairgrounds, just south of the town of Mariposa. This is just a grass ( turned to mud during the 3 days of rain I experienced here ) field with only a couple level spots, but they do have electric and water hookups AND a very useable wifi   system. Right next to the highway and spaces are pretty tight, but at $30/night, a bargain in                   $$$ California.

Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls

When I arrived the only open road into the National Park was Route 41 into the south entrance of the park. This meant backtracking on Route 49 and picking up Route 41 in Oakhurst, a long way around to access the park, took about 2 hours, what with a tree clearing road closure for 40 minutes on Route 41 and then a 25 minute wait at the ticket booth for the park. Fortunately, while I was in the park, Route 140, the western entrance to the park, that had been closed due to a road washout, was reopened and it only took me about 45 minutes to return to my campsite in the afternoon.

Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls

With this winter’s above normal snowfall in the Sierras, all of Yosemite’s waterfalls are pretty impressive right now.

Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls
Horsetail Falls
Horsetail Falls

Due to the prolonged drought and the bark beetle, a lot of the trees within, and outside, the park have died and the valley looks a little more worn and desolate because of this. The huge crowds, even now, at the beginning of April, also contribute to the worn appearance of the park, loved to death, I suppose.

Spring Runoff Yosemite
Spring Runoff Yosemite

The large parking lot at the Visitor’s Center and Lower Yosemite Falls was completely full, and despite circling around the lots twice, I was unable to find a spot to park here. And, again, remember, this is in early April, not peak summer time. I know I would never want to experience this place that time of the year.

Spring Runoff Yosemite
Spring Runoff Yosemite

Without a doubt, this place is still a miracle of Mother Nature, but it is just too small an area to handle the millions of people that visit each year. Unlike other popular Parks like Yellowstone or Glacier, all the visitors are concentrated in a relatively compact area on the valley floor as oppose to being spread over several hundred square miles as in Yellowstone.

Blown Away
Blown Away

This waterfall appeared to be completely blown away by the winds howling along at the top of the canyon walls.

Blown Away
Blown Away

The road to Glacier Point and also Route 120 that comes over the mountains from the east side of the Sierras, are both still closed as usual until much later in the spring. I guess that means I will never get to see the view from the upper reaches of the park, since I can’t imagine coming back again. Still an awe inspiring valley, if only we could get rid of all the tourists!

So now it’s on to the coast, Bodega Bay, for a few days of yet more rain, then slowly continue my trek north, along the Oregon coast.

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April 1, 2017 Lake Kaweah, California

Potholes
Potholes

Still Waiting Out Weather Conditions for Yosemite

While waiting for the snow to stop falling and messing up opportunities to explore Yosemite National Park, I have been poking around the back roads around Three Rivers, California, and, once again, when weather permits, taking drives up into Sequoia National Park. The shot above shows a potholed stream at the end of Mineral King Road, just outside Three Rivers.

The Climb up to the Sequoia Groves on Route 198
The Climb up to the Sequoia Groves on Route 198

Last post I showed a Google Maps image of the serpentine road leading up into the sequoia groves …

Serpentine Road to the Sequoia Groves
Serpentine Road to the Sequoia Groves

… but I thought this image taken from the road itself would give a better idea of just how severe a mountain drive this is.

Mountain Stream
Mountain Stream

But one of the advantages gained by climbing this road up into the 7000′ elevation range is discovering snow melt filled streams like this one running through the tall pines.

Mountain Stream
Mountain Stream

Snowpack measured in the Sierras this spring show levels up to 190% of normal accumulations, a very good sign of California finally getting a little break from the severe drought conditions of the past several years.

Potholes
Potholes

Being up here this early does present many obstacles to getting to explore the upper elevations ( roads closed due to snow accumulation ) around Sequoia National Park, but it also does give one access to many steams that later in the year have most likely all but dried up and disappeared.

Spring Runoff
Spring Runoff
Spring Runoff
Spring Runoff
Potholes
Potholes
Redbud and Mountain Stream
Redbud and Mountain Stream

Still finding redbud blooms while exploring the upper elevations!

Hope to proceed up to Yosemite in the next day or two as there appears to be a brief window of favorable weather approaching.

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March 29, 2017 Sequoia National Park, California

Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park

A Second Trip Up to the Sequoia Groves

Sunny, warm weather predicted for today, so I headed out early again hoping for cloud free skies up in the mountains.

Sequoia Black Bear
Sequoia Black Bear

On the way up, I spotted a dark spot way up above the road, fortunately right where there happened to be a turnoff. Unfortunately, today, not expecting to be shooting any wildlife, I had left my big, bulky 600mm lens at home and only had my 200-400mm with me.

Sequoia Black Bear
Sequoia Black Bear

So, not as sharp as I would like and unable to get any real close shots. This is one of, if not the largest black bear I have ever seen, easily has to be in the 400 pound range I would guess. Not sure, but judging from the size of him, and that incredible girth, I would guess that he doesn’t need to hibernate here in the Sierras, but probably just descends in elevation to find year round feed.

Sequoia Black Bear
Sequoia Black Bear

Several other folks stopped when they saw me there with my tripod set up and camera pointed way up the hill and I had a nice chat with a young couple from Argentina.

Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park

The roads up in the groves were a little drier and safer today as the temps remained just above freezing and thus, there were a few more folks up here.

Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park

I read in the local paper that the snowpack in the Sierras this winter is as much as 190% of normal after years of very little snow and rain. They are expecting flooding and full reservoirs this year after many years of severe drought. The extremely wet weather has certainly changed my travel plans as I had hoped to travel the coast all the way north through the state. But with road washouts, mudslides and even bridge damage due to slides, there are several sections of the coastal highway that are closed to travel this spring, some sections closed for as much as a year while road and bridge rebuilding work goes on.

Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park

As you probably are aware, these sequoias are the largest living things on earth, based on volume , not height. Some of these tree trunks pictured are easily 20 feet or more in diameter.

Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park

The weather forecast looks pretty spotty going forward as I hope to move a little north and at least get to drive into Yosemite National Park. Even with road closures there, snow still falling, and temps still dropping below freezing, all open campsites in the park are reserved and there is no place to camp within a 40 mile drive of the park. This is becoming the new normal, either make reservations a year in advance or forget about getting into the national parks.

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