California Road Trip
November 6-17, 2008

     Sometimes, it's nice to have a vacation to look forward to while working. During the summer, when the weather was nice and I really didn't want to be working - I told myself that I'd go on a trip in September after Labor Day. But August's projects spilled into September which was already booked up. By October I was sick of all pressure and no play - and worst of all, for lying to myself about a vacation that I never took. So I signed up for a seminar in early November a few days after I got the brochure in the mail. Since it was being held around Los Angeles and I'd rather drive than fly - an adventure was guaranteed!

    Meant to leave early in the day. Left late instead. On I-5 around five, in time to catch some Tacoma traffic. Lesson learned. From there civilization pretty much diminishes until Portland - so traffic was easy. I was glad to hit Portland in the evening with light traffic because I know from past experience you have to be alert and ready to change lanes quickly if you want to stay on I-5. It's as if out of the blue, if you want to stay on I-5, you need to suddenly take the I-5 exit! (There's a couple of 'em in northbound California too.)
    The rain came down hard from the moment I left Seattle and I didn't get to turn off the wipers until California. The first half of Oregon, a little past Eugene, is pretty easy driving. Then come the mountains. I was suprised how twisting and turning the interestate could be.
    A short while after crossing into California I discovered that there is a check station everybody has to stop at. I was politely asked if I was carrying any fruit or plants. It took me by suprise, I had no idea that was coming. (Didn't know America had checkpoints). Between Red Bluff and Sacremento I pulled into a rest area at 4am, cleared a spot in the back of my van for a sleeping bag, and slept for four hours.

In the morning, approaching Sacremento, this sign got me excited. No doubt about it - definitely in Cali now. It's like I just woke up in a whole different state! Veered off the interstate soon after here and headed towards Lake Tahoe on Hwy 50.

    I figured why just drive down to Los Angeles when I could stop by the highest mountain in the lower fortyeight and give it a climb. It's only ten miles from trailhead to summit! Of course it's ten steep, oxygen deprived, extreme enviroment miles - but that's the beauty of it. See a wild landscape and get a workout too.

Raining again. Although blurry, this picture describes most of the day's driving.

    Echo Pass elevation 7,735' is the first pass I needed to go over to get from teh west side of the Sierras over to the east side where Lone Pine (the base for Mt Whitney) is. At 6,000 feet not only was it snowing, the snow was sticking and building up on the road. A short while later CHiPs (California Highway Patrol, no sign of Eric Estrada) had set up a road block. Nobody was allowed to go past without chains. At first I was wishing I had left a day earlier, but that might have meant I would've got stuck at the Whitney trailhead until next spring! No Mount Whitney trip this year.

Really a pretty time of year to visit this part of the Sierras. See the river?

Turned south at Placerville on Hwy 49. No more interstate driving from this point was the plan. This picture shows the typical landscape of the area, but it didn't look worthy of including until I read the sign. Amador County Veterans Memorial Bridge (over Rancier Creek). What a joke! I couldn't believe that the county decided to commemorate the heroism and sacrifice of the veterans with this little bridge! Doesn't the county have an overpass or offramp with a little more panache? And what's up with all the memorial bridges and highways anyway? But after my little cynical rant I realized that the setting is nice for a memorial. Kind of peaceful and pastoral. Maybe that was the point, not the forgetable bridge.

Took a detour off Hwy 49 and spent the night in Oaksdale. Beautiful sunny morning. Headed back to southbound 49.

The Don Pedro Reservoir.

California Registered Historical Landmark No. 419 says that the historic mining town of Jacksonville is in the valley under the water about here. It was settled by Julian Smart in 1849 when he planted a garden and some trees.

At Hwy 120 turned at Moccasin up the hill towards Big Oak Flat and eventually Yosemite. I think all the oak trees have a lot to do with the names of towns around here. Later I drove through Oakhurst too.

The road twisted and turned for miles out of the valley and up into the mountains.

Although it looks pretty, this road is occasionally treacherous. Not much of a shoulder in places, the corners were tight and totally blind - and sometimes a garbage truck or RV would come careening around partly in my lane!

Stopped by a stream to stretch the legs.

Looking the other way, made me wonder how many other fine spots I've been driving over.

Drove over a hill and suddenly into the town of Groveland. It's quaint. And within a minute or two it's in the rear view mirror with miles of forest ahead.

Smokey the Bear!

A fire burned area.

In the distance is a cabin in a field. It's a historical landmark because a long time ago it was a farm in the middle of nowhere!

Pulled up to a scenic overlook and was excited to see El Capitan and Half Dome in the distance.

So I put a zoom lens on the camera and zoomed it.

Then I eased off on the zoom a bit.

Driving down to the next stop I could see Bridal Veil Falls. (with zoom)

This is with the wide angle lens at full wide.

A look back up the road at the tunnel. There's several tunnels in Yosemite National Park.

I held the camera low to the ground and tried to capture just how massive El Capitan towers over everything here. This picture doesn't convey just how awesomely huge this place is.

November (before the snow) is a gorgeous time of year to visit.

Pulled up to a little parking lot and snapped post card worthy scenery without even getting out of the car.

The trailhead for the half mile walk to Bridal Veil Falls.

Up the road is a spot to pull over and photograph all three landmarks: El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridal Veil Falls.

I read somewhere that this is one of the top spots in the world to take a picture from. I noticed a lot of space for tour bus parking!

The colors really popped out here this time of day.

The contrasts are cool too.

Up and over a pass where there was a dusting of snow.

And around the corner some construction sponsored traffic. Nice place to wait though.

Spent the night in Fresno. Since I wasn't climbing Mt Whitney I was ahead of schedule. Decided to head back into the Sierras a ways and find somewhere to camp for a night.

Scenic at first.

Not quite as pretty when I got close to the mountains.

    I drove many miles up into the hills. Ears were popping, tempurature was dropping. Finally I turned off the main road and started downhill to look for the next turn. For some reason I smelled brakes, like the parking brake had been left on. But the brake wasn't on. The smell got stronger so I pulled over. Right away I could see smoke rising from right front wheel. The caliper had been grabbing the rotor for quite some time for the brakes to get that hot. This had never happened to me before with this van. All I could think to do was grab the ice axe off my backpack and beat on the brake caliper and hope that the stuck piston broke free and released the brake. After things cooled down I turned around and headed back to Fresno in case the brakes were still stuck and I needed to buy parts. But the brakes were fine for the rest of the trip. Guess I wasn't meant to camp there that night.

From reading the menus at Mexican restuarants I knew that Pollo was chicken. I also knew that Loco means crazy and El is The. When I put it all together I got The Crazy Chicken! Yeah, I know Spanish! (I also know I like KFC better, sorry Crazy Chicken.)

Definitely not in Seahawk territory. I saw these signs all over the place!

Heading out of Fresno to Bakersfield. Farming country.

Heading east towards the mountains again because it seemed to me that driving though the Mojave desert and the San Gabriel Mountains would be a better way to enter Los Angeles than I-5. It's cloudy, but sunny!

Some foothills. Lots of farms everywhere.

Winding through the mountains.

Near the pass is a giant windfarm.

Then all of a sudden it's out of the mountains and into the desert.

Kind of desolate here.

The town of Mohave. It's cold, windy, a train blasts through every fifteen minutes - but there's lots of available real estate for sale if you want to move here.

Leaving town I saw that the airport painted their sign on a jumbo jet.

It was so bright out even my camera felt blinded.

Hmmm, that little disk shaped spot in the sky on the right... perhaps a rock kicked up by another car?

I was expecting sand dunes. That's the image the Mohave desert had always conjured up to me. It's more of a scrubby high desert.

This is a Joshua tree. It's like the dinosaur of the plant kingdom. Bark like iron plates. Branches like a giant's mace.

These leaves have no give to them. Like a ball of green spikes.

The road goes on.

And on.

Getting closer to the mountains.

And closer.

To cut through the San Gabrial Mountains I took that little squiggly road in the middle of the picture.

Amazed how many ravens I saw in California.

Lonely rural roads.

Turned back again.

Driving out of the San Gabrials. The roads go on forever.

This guy likes his privacy. "go up the hill, first house on the right, can't miss it..."

Looking back up the road where I'd just come down from.

That night in LA there was a picture of LA from Mt Wilson. I could have had pictures from there!

The weather forecast looked unreal to me. For November? And Monday is going to be 83 and they call that a "Warm Day"?
In Seattle we call that a Heat Wave and people pass out if they don't stay hydrated!

The view out of my room one day. A Lotus, Lambourghini?, and Audi.

Nice looking cars!

While walking around town I looked north and thought "one of those mountains is Mt Wilson, I just know it!"

I scratch my head whenever I see this picture. A Chinese Islamic restaurant. Isn't that like saying an Italian Hindu restaurant or a Mexican Buddhist restaurant? It hardly makes sense! Can they even serve sweet and sour pork for the lunch special, I mean, Special Lunch? I love California.

Sure was smoggy as I was leaving.

I was so happy to arrive in LA, was going to do a lot of sight seeing. But after the seminar I was itching to get back home and tackle unfinished projects. And when I got to Roseburg Oregon later that night and the air was cold and crisp and heavily scented with fir and cedar - I realized that the Pacific Northwest is what feels like home to me.

Out of the metro area and into the hills.

Down into the San Joquin valley.

A look over at traffic going out of the valley and up into the hills.

Miles of flat.

Later some hills. Been driving all afternoon and Sacremento (only in the middle of the state) is still hundreds of miles away.

A lot of political signs along the way. "Stop the Congress created dust bowl" it read. It's surely a tricky issue. Its up to the government to make sure that farmers don't destroy the ecosystem by sucking the aquafirs dry - but at the same time "No Farms, No Food" as another sign said.

I smelled this place miles before I finally saw it. Acres of cows. I hope that's not considered "free range".

Great evening for a drive.

Wasn't sure if I could drive all the way from LA to Seattle in one shot. But I pulled over every hour and a half or so to stretch and keep the snacks lined up. Tried my first 5 Hour Energy drink in Oregon. But managed to stay awake and focused on the road for 18 hours straight. Left LA at noon, got home at 6am (tired, but happy with my new personal best driving endurance record)!

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