17th June-Saturday. According to plan arrival before 10:30 at Thrifty’s (car rental) at O’Farrel Street. Closed. The sign refers us to the Hertz/Dollar rental next door. The very full waiting area shows there is a problem: overbooking. The time to get a car is at least two hours. At the counter they tell Albertien the alternative, getting the car at Dollar Rental at the Bay area seems a good idea. At 1 p.m. we should be able to collect it. Back home again we phone, to be on the sure side at 12:30. The office knows nothing, and -in a call back, is sorry he can’t do anything for us, we have to go back to O’Farrel street. The office has by now cleared and Albertien is the only one. Pick up is in the garage, where the doorman hands her a key -except, the key won’t come out. The explanation: we have been allocated a hybrid car without a key. The fusion hybrid needs some explanation. Outside at the first intersection Albertien realizes there is no hand-brake. And this in hilly Frisco. After many scary moments, she arrives back in Midway. A rapid visit to the toilet, luggage collection and off to Visalia. Five minutes on the Embarcadero, Albertien misses her handbag. Forgotten at Midway, on her way to the toilet. The bag has the driving license and visa card, both indispensable. Once back neighbour Robin is not at home and we are stuck, because we left the keys in the apartment as agreed. We hope the Hunts have arrived from Amsterdam, but alas their phone is switched off. Other neighbours are kind but don’t have a key. A long wait at the terrace until the Hunts finally pick up the phone at around 6:00 pm. They have just arrived at the airport and will take a taxi home. They finally arrive at 8 pm. Because they look obviously tired our sole option seems to quickly depart for Visalia (after having secured the bag). Late arrival is not a problem according to the motel which we call firs thing after having left. The way out of Frisco is not easy with our e-mail diverting us several times. Heavy traffic! Tiresome driving in dark greater Frisco. Only the last of the four hour drive Albertien relaxes. The friendly Econo lodge welcomes us and offers a good room.
18th June-Sunday: Breakfast is included. We can make our own waffles. The father of a family at the table next to us shows us how. The waffles taste wonderful with butter and honey. On to Seqoia National Park where our pass doesn’t make entrance any faster: we have to wait in line, which is quite a lengthy process on this beautiful Sunday. All camp sites we see on the way are full. The parking lot the Giant Forest Museum is full and we are directed to the next parking. For disabled so the sign says. We walk back to the museum, visit the exhibition and ask for information about hikes. A map is only available if we pay (not ok) and stand in line for the next counter (again, not ok). However, also our complete field guide provides an overview of trails in the Grant Grove Area. We settle on a hike to Sunset rock, about 6 km at an easy trail.
We meet only one other couple with small children (on their back). As usual, very few people off the beaten track. The trail provides views of gigantic sequoia trees and a beautiful view across the park towards Lake Kaweah.
Once back we retrieve the car and park in the now much more quiet main parking area. We now go for the Big trees trails, hosting the biggest trees of the park.
The walk circles Round Meadow and features lots of information about the sequoia habitat, how trees come into existence and disappear again.
The way out of the park takes even longer than the way in, due to slow cars which don’t use the passing lanes and stop in the middle of the road to take pictures. Back in Visalia we go for a swim, visit the supermarket in the shopping centre for microwave food and have an early night.
19th June-Monday: Again to Sequoia. The park is even busier than the day before. At the entrance, a long and extremely slow line-up. The day before we were told that on weekdays it would be less crowded (untrue) and we could go by car to Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow (true).
Because of the many visitors we opt for the free shuttle bus and go straight up to Crescent Meadow. Very few others do. There is actually a trail down back to the Giant Forest Museum and we hope it will also pass Moro rock -and it does. A lovely one hour walk through some forest and lot of meadows, with flowers abound.
Again, few other walkers (two couples). At Moro Rock we climb the 400 steps (not recommended for those suffering from vertigo, Albertien hesitates but continues). The view is spectacular.
Many mountains are still snow covered and we are happy we didn’t opt for the Mineral King entrance -said to be difficult to drive and still snowy. Down the stairs we walk another hour to the parking place, where we take the bus again this time to Lodgepole Village for lunch. The deli is really a snack-bar, but has reasonable sandwiches. Not the lunch we had hoped for. The journey back goes surprisingly smooth with slow traffic giving way to the faster cars. Back in Visalia and after a swim we opt for take-away in our room again.
20st June-Tuesday. Uneventful journey from Visalia via Bakersfield to Olancha. Mile after flat mile through endless sand. Few houses and increasingly hot. The motel in Orlancha boosts a small swiming pool, and our room is part of a double trailer. Neat and nice, with our own porch facing the mountains West. The shop sells hardly anything worthwhile nor does the “genereal store”at the gas station. Hard to believe this the well stocked shop we saw on the internet. Dining at the Olancha cafe. Sunset, and a beautiful sky with billions of stars.
21st June-Wednesday. We leave early for Death Valley. After about 45 minutes the mountains start, with spectacular views on Death Valley.
The Panamint Springs visitor’s centre provides us with an excellent map. Downwards into the valley the temperature quickly rises. By the time we arrive in Furnace Creek it is 116° F (about 47° C)
Again a visitor’s centre, with lots of information on things to see. Hiking is really not an option so they say. At the reception of the hotel staff provides us (rather reluctantly) with a copy of the “Complete guide to Death Valley”. We forgot our copy at the motel and the visitor’s centres don’t seem to have any (strange…). We continue to one of the highest stretches, Dante’s view planning to do at least some hiking. The road branches just before the other end of Death Valley Park (towards Las Vegas) southwards.
The parking lot brings an unpleasant surprise: thousands of wasps invade the car in no time at all. Somehow Frits manages to get them all out without being bit. The heat is less, but after half an hours hike we decide to go back beacuse it is still too hot to hike comfortably.
Also, continueing our hike would bring only more (very impressive spectacular) views. We eat our lunch at one of the highest points of Death Valley: 1669 m. On our way back: Zabriskie Point. By now -as opposed to the 60’s when the movie/soundtrack was made, reachable through a tarmac road. Even the most unfit are able to make it to the viewpoint. More visitors than anywhere till now (although few compared to Sequoia).
The next site, the Harmony Borax works, is deserted. Only one other couple arrives just as we leave. The place hosts the remains of a mining village including wagons and piping.
And ruins of buildings. There seem to be several more ruins of mining villages, but Death Valley is too vast to visit another. The last stop consists of the Mesquite Flat Sand dunes. Beautiful.
We have seen enough and skip the next site. A lovely but extremely pricey white beer in the Panamint Springs restaurant and once home the swimming pool bring relief from the heat.
Dinner at the porch of the hotel, not bad but terrible inefficient service. Our second night watching starts on our private porch in Olancha.
22nd June-Thursday: after a three-hour’s drive arrival in Lee Vining. We have an excellent room, at the “cheap” side of the Lake View Lodge hotel but the room (across the road) is in fact one of the few with a beautiful view: the Lee Vining Creek (thunderous noise!) and on to Lake Mono.
At the visitor’s centre the attendants confirm that Yosemite Park is still closed. Other hiking possibilities are limited. The trail along the creek is not possible because of a landslide. The town itself hosts a museum (the old schoolhouse museum) with a famous upside- down house. Other features are unknown, as the museum is closed. Continuing down the road towards Lake Mono brings us to another visitor’s centre the Forest Visitor’s centre with lots of information and exhibits on Lake Mono. The beautiful centre is surrounded by a vast garden winding downwards. The ranger suggests to take the Lee Vining Creek trail back. Alas, after about half an hour the road ends abrupt (result of the landslide indeed, as the youth in the other visitor’s centre had warned). Despite courageous attempts we are unable to find a passable route and we have to return, taking the same road back. The weather is fine and we enjoy happy hour playing cards in the vast garden of the lake view Lodge. The Mono market offers plenty of options for dinner.
23rd June-Friday We can forget our plan to visit the Yosemite park by car : the gate at the Tioga pass is closed.
At the entrance we discover that hikers and bicycles can go into the park. We walk 22 km in total (the same way back) to the still deserted Tulumne Meadows visitor’s centre. A couple of other hikers, among these one who has been hiking for five days through the snow.
A cyclist who decides to go as far as the road allows. The tarmac road is otherwise completely empty. Fantastic sunny weather and wonderful sights.
Lots of water. The visitor’s centre is still closed of course, but there are rangers around. The cottages at the visitors centre seem to have suffered from the extreme heavy snowfall. However, another cyclist joining us as we take our lunch at the picnic table enlightens us: the roofs have been taken of on purpose to prevent damage. To him it is unclear why the road is still closed. The abundant water is a blessing as the Tuolumne River feeds into the LA drink-water facility.
On the way back we meet rangers sawing the broken branches away in preparation of opening the road. “Opening will still be a while”. Back at Lee vining we enjoy dinner at Bodie mikes: an all you can eat BBQ dinner at the terrace, a little chilly but doable.
24th June-Saterday: we wake up early, visit the visitor’s centre (the Tioga pass in Yosemite pass is still closed) and head for the board-walk trail in Mono Lake country park. Participants in a workshop for making reed-baskets have taken all available picnic tables and part of the grass (mostly women, a few men). The trail winds through protected wetland towards the lake.
Huge numbers of birds (we are ignorant on this unfortunately) and magnificent tufa’s, rock like formations made of calcium-carbonate.
Back to Lee Vining for coffee and then towards the June Lake Loop. At noon we are on our way on the Parker Lake Trail, which climbs for a short bit, then meanders and rolls through a pine forest, and passes though grass fields and wildflower meadows before reaching the lakeshore at 1.8 miles.
A footpath circles around the back of the lake. Return is the same way for a total of 6 km.
Just as we arrive at the parking lot, a drizzle starts. On toward a dry place we end up in Cathy’s candy in June Lake village. Fantastic chocolate. The lady owner develops her own recipe’s. Heavenly. Return to Lee Vining in torrential rain.
25th June-Sunday. The Yosemite pass is still closed so for the return to Frisco we opt for the next pass north: Sonora. We pass huge amounts of snow.
After a lengthy journey we take a break at a shop at a petrol station: coffee and freshly baked cinnamon cakes. Delicious. On to Frisco. Thanks to good guidance from our e-map we arrive at the airport motel (Travel lodge) at around 4 p.m. We phone the Hunts. Surprise: they thought we would return the next day and have booked a table somewhere near for tomorrow. Today is difficult because Phyllis doesn’t feel well. Instead of having dinner with the Hunts, we deliver the car at the rental and take the sky-train from there to the airport (where we can take a shuttle bus back to the hotel), check our flight at the airport, print our boarding pass and are just in time to catch the shuttle-bus back. We have dinner in the nearby Hilton hotel. Early to bed because the airport shuttle will pick us up at 6:00!
26th June-Monday. After a lengthy return journey entailing two stops, we arrive back in Amsterdam around 5 p.m. local time.