In October of 1994, I took the first real vacation in about four years, and the most ambitious ever. In three weeks, I attempted to hit just about every national park west of the Rockies, and Las Vegas as well. There were surprisingly few glitches, but inevitably, there were some. What follows is more or less a pictorial diary...
For reference, here's a calendar for October, 1994:
October S M Tu W Th F S 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
If you select a location, and then select the Latitude/Longitude in the information that appears, it will show you the location on a map.
The Fifth of July was even better than I remembered from the version I saw on PBS several years ago, although I think I did like Richard Thomas in the part of the main character better.
It was a bit on the cloudy side, and few of my pictures turned out, but I did get a couple of a wood duck swimming and standing on a rock. The plays were interesting, but not as much so as I'd hoped. We also took a brief tour through the Pacific NW Museum of Natural History, which was quite well done, though I think I like seeing live animals better.
At least, that was the plan... I did cut across from Shasta to Truckee, passing through Mt. Lassen National Park. Scenes of interest:
Unfortunately, somewhere between Mt. Lassen and Truckee, the alternator in my car decided that it had had enough and quit. As the battery slowly ran down, the laser detector started detect taillights, and the wiper blades got slower and slooowwweeerrr. Not realizing it was the alternator yet, I stopped for gas in Truckee, got a battery terminal cleaner and cleaned the terminals (although they looked fine). When it started OK, I was quite puzzled as to what was going on. I figured if it had enough juice to start the car, I had enough to try for Lake Tahoe, my goal for the day. Well, it was snowing, and I had the wipers going, and about a half mile or a mile out of truckee, the wipers quit and the lights went out. Ooops. I immediately turned around and went back to the gas station. Just as I started my left turn into the station, the engine quit. Fortunately, it was down hill into the station and I coasted in. After some puzzled poking around, I tried starting it again, and it worked. I immediately drove to the Super 8 Motel next door and called it an evening.
The next morning, I'd come to the conclusion it was the alternator, and a couple of places I called agreed. Unfortunately, the only place with a replacement in stock was the Toyota dealer in Lake Tahoe. They said they could have it sent to Truckee by the afternoon, but after some waffling, I decided I wouldn't be able to stand waiting in the motel all day and rented a car to go get it myself.
The car I got was a Subaru 4WD station wagon, of which I expected great things, there being 6" of snow everywhere. I hope this was just a rental car with problems, as it really sucked in the snow. If I remember right, the most serious problem was "torque steer", where when you apply power, it wants to pull one way or the other. I'm writing this part quite a while after the fact, so I don't remember the details too well though.
Just south of South Lake Tahoe, the road between Truckee and Lake Tahoe is built on this ridge about 500' above the lake on the one side, and about 500' above a small valley on the other side. It is a two lane road, and there are no shoulders in most places. It is an amazing place, and I'm glad it was cloudy. The view would be spectacular on a clear day, but I'm not sure I could stomach it.
After I got my alternator to the Toyota dealer to turn in for the replacement, it turned out the replacement wasn't the right one, and they didn't have the right one. They did decide that most alternators just have the brushes wear out, and if that was all it was, they could just replace them, and it would cost about half as much to boot. So, while they did that, I went off to get some lunch and see if I could win enough to pay for it. No such luck. I went back, got my rebuilt alternator, headed back to Truckee, put it all back together and headed out for Yosemite.
As it turned out, the previous evening's snowfall had closed the east entrance to Yosemite, which is just as well because with using up most of the day with the alternator, I needed to make a beeline for my hotel. I did decide to follow the Sierra foothills, rather than going out to the freeway. This turned out to be a great decision, as the scenery was pretty nice. There were also some odd things, such as this fence with boots on every fencepost. There was also a pretty cool bridge.
Unfortunately, it got dark as I got closer to Yosemite, and while at one spot, I could tell that the view would be pretty impressive during the day (because it was high up), I couldn't see anything but a few lights in the distance. About this time, there came a pretty impressive lightning show off in the distance also.
Well, I sure underestimated Yosemite. Wow. This is a definite Must See. I don't think I recommend going in the summer though --- here it was October, and there were still plenty of people here, although I wouldn't really call it crowded. One thing that really surprised me was the number of climbers on El Capitan. There must have been a dozen climbing parties on it. There were even a couple of tents hanging halfway up. I had to skip Sequoia National Park as it was already late afternoon by the time I left Yosemite. Next time, it will be September, and Yosemite will have two full days allocated to it, and another full day at least for Sequoia/Kings Canyon; maybe two, as I've heard that the best parts have to be hiked to.
I didn't get a picture of the motel in Tehachapi (you're not missing anything), but I've never seen so many windmills in all my born days! I'm afraid this picture didn't turn out too well either, but the entire eastern skyline was covered with windmills. This picture was about a quarter of the panorama to be seen...
Death Valley was a lot more interesting than I was expecting. First off, you keep thinking you're there, as you go up over a dry, semi-barren ridge into an empty desert valley. Leaving Tehachapi, you go over Tehachapi Pass (that's where all the windmills were) into Mojave. Then, it's the El Paso Mountains into China Lake, the Argus Range into the Panamint Valley, and the Panamint Range into (finally!) Death Valley at Stovepipe Wells. One of the more interestings things (to me) was that for a desert, you can tell that there are occasionally massive flows of water. The erosion is pretty dramatic in places. There are lots of interesting colors in the cliffs too. I took the valley route, by Badwater Basin (the lowest point in the US at -282 ft.), but if I were to do it again, I'd take the Amargosa Range route and stop at Dantes View --- I think it would be a pretty spectacular view.
I left Death Valley via Shoshone to Pahrump, heading for Las Vegas (crossing the Amargosa, Greenwater and Nopah ranges in the process --- the earth is folded like an accordion in these parts!). Pahrump Valley, out in the middle of all this desolation, is a large green spot. It seems to be a major alfalfa growing area. Where they get the water is beyond me...
Red Rocks State Park is quite well named, and worth the excursion. Didn't make it to Siegfreid & Roy, but plan to make a trip to Las Vegas in order to do so. Didn't make it to Boylesque either, but Mystere (performed by the Cirque du Soleil) was great, and I highly recommend it.
"Con Central" was Chris & Eric's indoor pool
Clay & Sean