Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Yosemite Delivers

"Yosemite Valley embraces one of the world's most outstanding concentrations of waterfalls, granite walls, meadows, wildflowers, and trees." Yes, Yosemite National Park is a jewel even if we came in the fall when the waterfalls and flowers are waning, and the grass is gone dormant waiting for a rebirth in spring.
We were overwhelmed by the polished granite edifices that surround a friendly valley with the Merced River, calming meadows, and towering pines.

It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter. ~ John Muir

Yosemite Valley, to me is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space. ~ Ansel Adams
We were glad that we included the one hour drive up to Glacier Point to behold the spectacular aerial view of the park, and the Mariposa Grove which includes some impressive old growth sequoia trees.

(Due to restrictions on Internet time I cannot provide as much detail as I hoped. Thanks to all who are following this western trek and for those who provide thoughtful comments.)

When have you experienced a 'Shangri La' moment in an idyllic setting, near or far from your home?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hovering Golden Gate

We needed to include a visit to the Golden Gate Bridge before heading out five hours east to Yosemite National Park.

This technological marvel, coupled with the spectacular setting of spanning one of the most beautiful and strategic bays in the world, makes it a global tourist destination.

The bridge is, indeed, an incredible site and its character changes every day depending upon the weather conditions. We crossed with a fog hovering just below the bridge at about 10 in the morning.

There is something about the bridge which has inspired onlookers since 1937 when it was completed. Its span is 1,280 metres across a 120 metre deep strait at the mouth of the bay. It's a treacherous area with strong currents. Ocean tides drive 528 billion gallons of water every six hours through its mouth.

One has to marvel at the work of civil engineers who study models of load capacity and spans, materials, stresses, and aesthetics. Their work has withstood the test of time and the bridge is ranked as one of the most stunning pieces of architecture today.

In the photo there is a display model of one of the two giant cables which enables the bridge to support such tremendous weights:
- Main Span 4,200 feet
- Length of Cable: 7,650 feet
- Diameter of Cable: 55 inches
- Wires in Cable 27,572
- Total Wire Length 80,000 miles
- Weight of Cable 24,500 tons

Indeed, Golden Gate is a dynamic symbiosis of man and nature.

What bridge has caught your interest?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Spooked on Highway #1

Northern California has been yet another spectacular feast for the senses as we continued our trek south along the coast. This time the majestic Redwood is the signature tree of the parks. We passed through Redwood National Park and took the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail in a remote valley where the First Lady dedicated the park in 1968.

By the 1960's most of the old growth trees had been cut down with the exception of a few areas. One can see why these trees are a logger's dream. They can rise up to 370 feet in the air and often have siblings which shoot up near the parent tree. The hard, exotic wood is prime for exotic construction applications. The walk also revealed a diversified understory of trees including rhododendron and a variety of berry bushes and ferns.

One is hushed and inspired by the mammoth trees which can provide over 1,500 years of perspectives. Despite their imposing presence they are kind enough to allow golden rays of light to reach the vegetation below.
After traveling on superhighway #101 south we took the turnoff to the beginning of coastal Highway #1. Be forewarned; this drive is not for the squeamish. First you travel a series of hair-raising narrow zigzags through coastal mountains, then when you reach the coast the highway often clings to the edges of cliffs which fall hundreds of feet to the sea below. The reward, however, is breathtaking vistas.
We were impressed by the surging power of the California coastline and surf. The waves and the beaches take on mythical quality as they crash against imposing rocks.
Finally on the approach to the San Francisco area the generous expanse of vineyards on the rolling countryside attest to the presence of a dominant industry in the area. The vines hang with their precious crop still gathering sweetness from the warmth of the California sun.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oregon Vistas

It's Oregon, not Oregone if you don't want to be labeled a tourist. Highway 101 threads its way down the entire coastline of the state. We spent several days on this scenic avenue as we headed south often turning right to visit charming tourist towns, view stunning vistas, and camp close to the pounding surf.

On one beach at a state park a one hundred year old wreck provided an interesting counterpoint to several sunsets we enjoyed.
One of my favourite meals happened to be at a fish and chips place where we noticed the locals had created a line out the door. This is an albacore, salmon, and halibut extravaganza with the tastiest sauces.
Several interesting footnotes to the state. They charge no taxes. Yes, no taxes on purchased items. That's quite a contrast to our HST in Ontario of 15%! Also don't try to fill up your gas tank by yourself or there is over a $500 fine.

We have crossed the state line into California where we anticipate some interesting experiences. Thanks to readers and commentators who have followed our western trek so far.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rich with History

We noticed that Lewis and Clark are important historical figures in these parts as we came to the border between Washington and Oregon. The mouth of the mighty Columbia River is the place where the two explorers found an end to their search for a vital east west connection.
(Painting by C. M. Russell, 1905)

Their expedition, commissioned as the Corps of Discovery by President Thomas Jefferson (1804-1806), took them up the Missouri River, through the Continental Divide, and down the Columbia. The two explorers were vital in opening up the western expansion of the U.S.

Lewis and Clark National Park provides an informative interpretative center and miles of panoramic coastline at the mouth of the Columbia. We stopped to enjoy the wonderful attractions available to us at this pivotal geographic location.
In the photo I am looking across the mouth of the Columbia River toward 'Cape Disappointment' where a previous explorer missed the importance of the historic river. I had never realized how large and significant the river is to the area and the country's history.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Nature's Utopia

It's hard to avoid superlatives when talking about the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park, Washington. It's tucked away in an isolated valley protected from harsh winds and cold temperatures along the Hoh River. Most of the 30 mile river bank has been logged in the last century with the exception of this unique isolated sanctuary.

It contains old growth Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, and Douglas-fir where precipitation is up to 144 inches a year. The diameters of these majestic trees are up to 12 feet and soar over 200 feet high. We were amazed how the canopy filtered in light enough to encourage vibrant growth of ferns and mosses. Indeed, the mosses, which live from the moisture and the light, do not invade their hosts for food. Their effect is one of magical fantasy.

As campers we enjoyed our overnight stay at the campground beside the Hoh River. Large five foot ferns and mature old growth trees hovered around us. The next night we camped further south on the ocean front also within the park. Both nights we were lulled to sleep by the powerful waters.

Needless to say, the lush beauty of the park reveals the vibrancy of nature if we give it a chance.

We are now heading down the western coast and making our way into Oregon.

Friday, September 17, 2010

From Disappointment to Delight

We ascended through the Chinook Pass into Mount Rainier National Park, the highest mountain in Washington state. However, as we passed the majestic lookouts, we were wrapped in a misty rain and fog. Oh, well, it was the first time the weather did not cooperate with the chance to see thrilling vistas.

On the way down we stopped at a campsite in the national forest and our disappointment turned into delight. Here was a site of my dreams. It contained old growth Douglas Fir and western red cedar with some trunks measuring 7 feet in diameter and soaring in the sky. Also cascading springs carried crystal mountain water past our campsite, and the nearby river rushed on the other side.

The ground was spongy with humus and generous ferns, and the tree trunks thick with moss. As we enjoyed the evening here, we cherished the pristine setting all around us. (Our little white camper can be seen dwarfed by the trees.)

After passing endless views of sagebrush and scrub growth on our journey west, we are in for some nature shock. (As I type, we are in Port Angeles in the northwestern corner of Washington State. A short ferry ride would take us to Victoria on Vancouver Island. Olympic National Park beckons.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Where are the Glaciers?

On our way west we decided to take a three hour drive north to Glacier National Park in northern Montana where they are celebrating their centennial (1910-2010). This park boasts a large number of glaciers; that is, sadly, they did over a century ago.

According to their latest newsletter, "In 1850 there were an estimated 150 glaciers in the park. Today there are 25. Scientists predict (at current rates of warming) the glaciers will disappear by 2020."

We took an exhilerating drive up to the highest point at over 6,300 feet elevation to Logan Pass. There we were enthralled by a hike through an alpine meadow with imposing peaks all around.

A note of interest to me as a Canadian is that it is now known as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Just north of Montana, Canada designated Waterton Lakes as a national park as well. Both governments now have joined the two into one international park to preserve and enjoy nature.

When have you enjoyed viewing a glacier? How do you feel about global warming and the loss of ice shelves throughout the world?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Yellowstone is Hot

Well, we made it: Yellowstone National Park. And as you see on the map this park is huge, encompassing 3,468 square miles or 2.2 million acres, comprising of lakes, canyons, rivers, mountain ranges. It is centered in northwest Wyoming and reaches into Montana and Idaho.

Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high altitude bodies of water in North America. It is also home to the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest supervolcano on the continent. The park is the centerpiece of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem including the ever popular Old Faithful Geyser. It takes several full days of driving just to get around this park. Then, you want to go back for more.

This park is hot for several reasons, including the fact that there are so many thermal features: geysers, hot springs, mudpots, and steam vents are everywhere.

Here are some dominant impressions we carry away:

- What foresight to begin the national parks idea in 1872. There was resistance by lobby groups at the time that this beautiful area should be exploited for its natural resources and be developed.
- We saw a scattering of wildlife: elk, buffalo, bears, wolves. The wolves were finding mice in the river bed, the baby cub frolicking at the river's edge, the bison feeding undisturbed in an extensive grassy plain.
- Most of the park is at about 8.000 ft. elevation. Temperatures went down to freezing over night at our campsite and we were glad to enjoy our heater for the first time.
- Old Faithful is not a cliche. We were deeply moved by her performance every ninety minutes. We saw it twice as we walked around the extensive walkways around the area. In the picture you see the new multimillion dollar interpretive centre which complements the pristine lady. Not to be undone, her lesser sibling a kilometer away put on an equally wonderful show.
- In 1988 there was a devastating fire which burned 1/3 of the park's beautiful pines. Now we see evidence that the burn rekindled a robust revival.
- Little discoveries abound. We saw an 8 meter tall petrified redwood tree which had been preserved by a volcanic cataclysm millions of years ago. It revealed that at one time the park had more tropical vegetation.
- Flowing fresh water abounds in the extensive lake, waterfalls, and rivers. Nothing is so inspiring as you appreciate its power.
- The thermal activity is incredible. The Mammoth Hot Spring deposit is extensive and is built up over 15 meters high.
- The park is maintained very well with friendly and knowledgeable rangers at a number of interpretive centers.
The visit to this incredible park is a portrait of nature's wonderful choreography.

Our next stop is the state of Washington and the wonderful coastal parks which await.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Monumental Rushmore

Including a visit to Mount Rushmore on our trek west was most enjoyed. Located in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota the national memorial is breathtaking. We arrived at mid morning while the sun shone full into the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, four key presidents in the first 150 years of the nation's history.

The mountain was chosen for its hard granite features and imposing setting. Doane Robinson conceived the idea to promote tourism to South Dakota in 1923 and convinced President Calvin Coolidge, and a leading sculptor of the time, Gutzon Borghum, to undertake the project which lasted from 1927-1941. The faces are 18 meters high and contain intricate facial features.

It's always hard to capture the 360 degree, all encompassing feeling of a place. This sculpture within its setting is dramatic and deeply moving as the four presidents represent key notions of freedom, equality, and justice for all.

When have you felt moved at a beautiful sculpture or monument?

(This evening we are within 70 kilometers of Yellowstone National Park at the foot of the Rockies in Wyoming. Our drive brought us through hair raising switch backs up and down the sides of dramatic mountains. Hope to post an update in a few days about a pivotal national park.)

(I am humbled by the many wonderful comments so far. Thank you.)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Merger of Wind, Rock, and Sky

Badlands National Park in South Dakota is a 244,000 acre landscape that is both barren and beautiful. After driving several hours through the Great Plains and vast expanses of grassland, an eerie moonscape of deep gorges and jagged sawtooth ridges opened up in front of us.

Around 65 million years ago, the area was lifted and transformed by vast geological forces. The black, muddy floor of an ancient sea that once covered this area was compressed into a band of 2,000 foot thick rock known as the Pierre Shale. Forests flourished and withered away. Volcanoes laid down a thick layer of ash and rivers repeatedly flooded the region, depositing sediment, and carving out odd spires and rock formations. Now the area is slowly eroding exposing fossilized remains of saber-toothed cats, and rhinoceros-like beasts.

We particularly liked hiking the trails in the morning when the sun cast its deepest shadows and played with the colour schemes of the multi-hued rocks.

As we sat on some upper promontories we felt the merger of wind, rock, and sky. We could look for miles across the stupendous landscape. Here the rocks seems to engage in a slow dance with the wind. The mixed species of grasses also participated in the grand spectacle. The air was dry, fresh, and revitalizing. We had never seen such an open sky.

(My two pictures project out from the edifices behind me. I found the vista looking out into the horizon most inspiring.)