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USA 2015
Big trees, black bears, high sierra, ancient volcanoes and a long stretch of coast

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Friday, May 29 - Flight Düsseldorf – Los Angeles
Weather upon arrival: sunny

Our flight with Air Berlin to Los Angeles departed on time. Flight time was 11 hours. We spent the it watching movies: „Kingsman“, „Taken 3“, „American Sniper“, „Birdman“. Lunch was the usual chicken or pasta including free alcoholic drinks. Later a snack and dinner were served. We saw snow-covered mountains in Greenland, and we flew right over Grand Teton National Park, the Great Salt Lake and Las Vegas. We arrived 30 minutes early at 3:40 p.m. which was 1.40 a.m. German time. Immigration was quick, customs took a little longer. After 45 minutes we boarded the shuttle to the rental car center. We had booked a 7-seat Cadillac Escalade with Hertz. This was a bargain. The car was brand-new with just 5 miles on it, 400 hp, and it had 4-wheel drive. But it was huge! And it needed a lot of gas. At 4:50 p.m. we were ready to go. We took Interstate 405 north. On Friday afternoon we couldn’t avoid the traffic jams. It was 25 miles to our hotel, the Americas Best Value Inn & Suites Granada Hills. It took us 1.5 hours to get there. At $83 plus tax it was a good price for a room with king bed. We got ourselves a snack from the gas station with food mart across the road. Went to bed at 8:30 p.m.


Miles covered: 26
Animals: none
Accommodation: Americas Best Value Inn & Suites, Granada Hills ($83 plus tax)


Saturday, May 30 - Murals in Exeter, Sequoia National Park
Weather: 28 °C, sunny

We woke up early and left the hotel at 5 a.m. Sunrise was at 5:40. Traffic was low at this time of day on a Saturday. We followed Interstate 5 and reached Bakersfield at 6:20 a.m. We did some shopping at Walmart and had breakfast at Denny’s: scrambled eggs with hash browns and bacon including blueberry pancakes with strawberries for $21 plus tip. At 8:30 we continued on highway 99 to Visalia. At 10 a.m. we stopped at Exeter to see the murals around Pine Street.

At 11 we passed through Three Rivers where we will spend the night, and soon arrived in Sequoia National Park. The entrance fee is $20, or you can buy an annual pass for all parks at $80. As it was Saturday, traffic on the park road was quite busy. After 16 miles on a winding road with 130 curves and 12 switchbacks we reached the main area of the park. Here we hiked the 2 kilometres long Big Trees loop trail. The giant Sequoia trees that only grow here are truly impressive. On the way back to our car we saw a black bear sleeping in the woods. At 12:45 we continued on our way.

We parked again at Lodgepole Campground and started on the Tokopah Falls trail – 2.7 kilometres one-way. Now at 1:15 p.m. it was quite hot in the sun. The trail climbed slowly along a stream with some beautiful cascades and we saw a deer crossing our path! The valley ends at the waterfall which tumbles 365 metres from the top. It took us an hour to get there. We also saw a marmot hiding between the rocks, and on the way back a young black bear was rambling through the woods! At 4 p.m. we were back at the car.

We drove back to the Giant Forest Museum and boarded the shuttle to Moro Rock. On weekends you can’t take your own car to the trailhead, or to Crescent Meadow. It is 4:30. After 10 minutes on the shuttle we descended at the trailhead and climbed the steep path to Moro Rock. After 15 minutes we were at the top. The 360° view was amazing. You can see the High Sierra and Generals Highway. The last shuttle of the day is supposed to run at 6 p.m. so we had to get back. The tour continued to Tunnel Log and Crescent Meadow and then back to the museum. By now private vehicles were allowed back on the road. At 6 p.m. we were back at our car and drove back to Three Rivers.

We checked into the Comfort Inn & Suites. For dinner we went to the Mexican across the street where we had a burrito with shredded beef but it wasn’t too good. Including soft drinks we paid $27 plus tip.

Miles covered: 258
Animals: 2 bears, 1 deer, 1 marmot
Accommodation: Comfort Inn & Suites, Three Rivers ($107 plus tax)


Sunday, March 31 - Sequoia National Park
Weather: 22 °C, sunny

We had breakfast at 6:30 a.m. They offered small pancakes, sausages, waffels, toast, muffins, bagel, cereal, fruit, yoghurt. We checked out and drove again to Sequoia National Park. At 7:45 on a Sunday there was not much traffic, and instead of 1 hour as yesterday, it took us just 45 minutes to reach the main area of the park.

At the Giant Forest Museum we took the Moro Rock Road which was now open until 9 a.m. when the weekend shuttle service starts. First we drove through Tunnel Log, then we walked a short trail of 0.4 miles to Huckleberry Meadow hoping to see bears but there were none, just mosquitoes. Next we parked at Crescent Meadow and put our food into the bear-proof storage boxes. There were no bears on Crescent Meadow either but we took the path to Log Meadow and then we saw them! two blond black bears and a black one, feeding on the grass in the meadow. When we continued on our path, the black bear walked towards the hiking trail – not good! Still we got closer looking left and right for the bear. When Volker climbed a rock to get a better view, the bear was just below! But he was more afraid of us then we of him and he darted off into the woods. Then he stood there making funny noises. The other two bears continued to eat and ignored us. One of them came very slowly closer. We continued on the path watching the bear and taking photographs. By now the second blond bear had disappeared as well. Finally we reached Tharp’s Log, a small cabin in a fallen Sequoia. We finished circling the meadow and walked back to our car. It was 10:30 a.m.

We drove back to the main park road and saw some people standing to the side of it. There was a park ranger as well and a young bear! The ranger carried a paintball gun to chase the bear away from the road. We had a picnic lunch at Stoney Creek Village and followed a sign to the Horse Corrals and Buck Rock Tower. It was 5 miles to the fire lookout. The last part was on a narrow dirt road and then on foot. The fire lookout sits on a rock like an eagle’s nest. We climbed up the stairs and ladders to reach a small hut with a bed and 360° view. The tower was constructed in 1926. Today it includes a small souvenir shop. We had a chat with the rangers and enjoyed the views to the high sierra.

At 1:40 p.m. we were back on Generals Highway. Our next stop was at Buena Vista Trailhead, just across Kings Canyon Overlook. The trail was approx.. 1 mile and it took us 30 minutes to reach the top of a rock with 360° view. In the distance we could see the Buck Rock Tower on its steep rock.

At 3:15 p.m. we reached Grant Grove Village where we had booked a cabin for two nights. This is part of Kings Canyon National The rustic cabin with two double beds costs $100 a night. There is no private bathroom but a shared bathhouse. Cabins with private bath are also available and I would recommend these as the communal facilities were not very clean.

We decided to walk to General Grant Tree but it was a bit further than we thought. This giant tree is the second largest tree in the world. From here we walked to the visitor center where the restaurant is located. At 6 p.m. it was getting busy but we were lucky to get a seat. We had the burgers and unsweetened iced tea. Overall we paid $25 and it was quite good.

Miles covered: 70
Animals: 4 bears (some squirrels and birds)
Accommodation: Grant Grove Cabins Kings Canyon National Park ($100 including tax)


Monday, June 1 - Kings Canyon National Park

Weather: 24 °C, sunny


At 2000 metres elevation it cooled down quite a bit at night with just 14 °C in the morning. We had cornflakes and bananas for breakfast in our room.
At 7 a.m. we hit the road towards Kings Canyon. It's 37 miles to the end of the road at the bottom of the valley. We made a stop at a couple of viewpoints and we found some hummingbirds at Kings Canyon Lodge. We also stopped at Grizzly Falls and Cedar Grove Village.
At 9 a.m. we reached the parking area at the end of the road and started on the trail to Mist Falls. The hike is 4.6 miles (6.3 km) one-way. We followed a sandy path at the bottom of the canyon, then the trail led into the forest and followed the Kings River. At the bridge over the river the path starts to climb uphill. Here Volker had a close encounter with a rattlesnake!

At 11 a.m. we reached the bottom of the cascades and the path became steeper with great views back into the valley. Finally we reached beautiful Mist Falls which deserve their name covering you in mist when you get close to them! We went a little further up to get a few of the top of the falls.

At 12 p.m. we started to backtrack and found a harmless but beautiful California Mountain Kingsnake on the trail! Don't mistake it for the poisonous Coral Snake! Remember: „Red touches yellow, dangerous fellow. Red touches black, friend to Jack.” Or “Red touches yellow, kills a fellow. Red touches black, venom lack.” At 1.45 p.m. after nearly 5 hours we got back to our vehicle.
After a short break we drove to Zumwald Meadow and followed the 1.5 miles trail around the meadow. We heard people say a bear was seen in this area that morning but we didn't have any luck. We saw another hummingbird and some swallowtail butterflies. We made another stop at Roaring River Falls, before heading back to our cabin.
We got there at 4:30 p.m. After a shower we had dinner at the Village Restaurant again. This time we had the Chicken Marsala. Including two soft drinks, it was $36 plus tip.

Miles covered: 71
Animals: 2 snakes (plus a few hummingbirds and swallowtail butterflies)
Accommodation: Grant Grove Cabins Kings Canyon National Park ($100 including tax)


Tuesday, June 2 - Yosemite National Park

Weather: 22 °C, sunny


This morning it was just below 7 °C. We had breakfast in our cabin and checked out at 7 a.m. After an hour's drive we reached Fresno, did some shopping, and shortly before 11 a.m. we arrived at the Sugar Pine Railway at Fish Camp where we watched the old steam train leave the station.

Shortly afterwards we reached the entrance of Yosemite National Park. As our Annual Pass was still valid from last year we saved $30. We turned off onto Glacier Point Road. It was 1 a.m. when we reached Glacier Point after 16 miles. We enjoyed the view into Yosemite Valley, towards Half Dome, Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, Yosemite Falls and the snowcapped mountains of the High Sierra.

Then we parked at the trailhead of the Sentinel Dome and Taft Point hike. It was already quite full and we were lucky to find an empty space. 2 p.m. was also the start time of a ranger-guided tour. As we had the same destination, we decided to join. It was interesting to listen to the ranger's explanations about the area's vegetation and the ongoing drought. Instead of 30 minutes it now took 1.5 hours to reach the top of Sentinel Dome (2476 m) with a 360° view into Yosemite Valley, towards Yosemite Falls, Nevada Fall and the High Sierra.
At 4 p.m. we continued on the trail to Taft Point. The connector trail between Sentinel Dome and the Taft Point trail is 2.7 miles long which took us an hour. Then it's another 0.6 miles to Taft Point which offers a great view into the western part of Yosemite Valley. After another 1.1 miles which took us 30 minutes we were back at our car.

At 6 p.m. we drove down into the valley to our accommodation at El Portal. We had booked a room at Cedar Lodge for two nights. For a large room with two Queen beds we paid $159 plus tax per night. Wifi costs extra. The motel has an indoor and an outdoor pool, a restaurant and a bar with grill. We had dinner at the grill. For two burgers with soft drinks we paid $32.

Miles covered: 195
Animals: 1 deer
Accommodation: Cedar Lodge, El Portal ($159 plus tax)


Wednesday, June 3 - Yosemite National Park

Weather: 28 °C, sunny

We have cereal and fruit in our room with a coffee. At 7:30 a.m. we are heading back into Yosemite NP. It's a 10-minute drive from the lodge to the park entrance at Merced River. We find a parking space at Curry Village and take the free shuttle bus to stop no. 16 "Happy Isles" where the Mist Trail starts.

It's 8:30 a.m. At the Vernal Falls footbridge we get a first view of the falls. Then we climb the 600 steps up along the fall (97 metres). The falls are quite full and we get sprayed in mist including a beautiful rainbow. After an hour we reach the top of the falls where we have a little break in the company of hungry squirrels. After crossing another bridge at Emerald Pool it's a 30-minutes hike to the bottom of Nevada Falls (181 metres). The trail follows some switchbacks up alongside the falls. After 45 minutes and a total of 2.5 miles with 610 metres elevation we are at the top of Nevada Falls.

It's 11 a.m. and we're up for a break, enjoying the view. Then we're taking the John Muir trail which leads us in 4 miles back into the valley with great views of Nevada Fall and Liberty Cap. We see a small garter snake on the trail. After 1.5 we're back on our original trail which is completely crowded at this time of day. From here it's a short way back to the trailhead. After 5 hours we're back at the shuttle bus stop.

It's 1:45 p.m. We take the next bus to stop no. 17 "Mirror Lake" and take the short one-way trail to the lake.
The next shuttle takes us to Yosemite Village where we visit the Ansel Adams Gallery and have a coffee and icecream. With the next shuttle we continue to Lower Yosemite Falls trailhead. It's a short 30 minutes to the falls but it's very crowded. Back at the bus stop we walk across the meadow to the other side of the one-way road to get the next shuttle back to Curry Village.

It's 5 p.m. when we get back into our car. We see a few deer on the way out of the park. It takes us another hour to get back to Cedar Lodge. We have dinner at the Canyon Bar & Grill again: two chicken strip baskets and soft drinks for $29. The food is simple but good.

Miles covered: 41
Animals: a snake, 3 deer (and some squirrels)
Accommodation: Cedar Lodge, El Portal ($159 plus tax)


Thursday, June 4 - Yosemite National Park, Tioga Pass, Mono Lake, Devil's Postpile

Weather: first sunny, then clouds, then rain, 10 °C


After breakfast in our room we checked out at 8:30 a.m. Back in Yosemite NP, we take the Tioga Pass Road. The road is often closed due to snow until late in the year. This year it opened on May 4th. We stopped at Olmsted Point with a view back into Yosemite Valley and towards Half Dome. Here at 9000 feet (2700 metres) eleveation, it was just 10 °C.


It was 11 a.m. and not far to Tuolumne Meadows. We stopped at the Visitor Center to ask about hikes in the area. The ranger recommended  Lembert Dome from Dog Lake parking area but we shouldn't linger too long as there might be thunderstorms in the afternoon. The trail is quite steep but after 45 minutes we reached the top with a 360° view. At 12:45 p.m. we were back at the parking lot. According to our GPS we covered 3.2 kilometres with 240 metres elevation.

We had a picknick lunch at the foot of Lembert Dome. By then it was cloudy and as we were leaving Yosemite NP through the east entrance at Tioga Pass, it was just 5 °C and starting to rain.


 At Mono Lake it looked a little better at first. It was 2 p.m. when we got to the South Tufas which are included in the National Park's pass. We saw dark clouds in the distance which were quickly getting closer so that we headed back to the car soon.


Then we hit the road towards Mammoth Lakes. It was 4:30 p.m. when we got there and decided to visit Devil's Postpile National Monument. The mandatory shuttle was not running yet so we were able to go with our own car. It's a narrow, winding road. The weather didn't look too bad in that direction. The trail to the basalt columns is a short 0.4 miles. Too bad the sun was not shining but at least it wasn't raining.


When we got back to Mammoth Lakes we checked into Motel 6. It was 5:40 p.m. The motel had remodeled rooms. It was $71 plus tax for 2 double beds plus $3 for wifi. We had dinner at the Good Life Café which had good reviews. For the New York steak with baked potatoe and Mahi Mahi with rice and steamed vegetables plus two drinks we paid $38 plus tip.

Miles covered: 158
Animals: none
Accommodation: Motel 6 Mammoth Lakes ($71 plus tax)

Friday, June 5 - High Sierra
Weather: a.m. partly cloudy, p.m. rain, up to 24 °C


We had breakfast in our room with Cornflakes and fresh fruit. The reception provided fresh coffee. It was 7 °C when we checked out at 7:15 a.m. We went south and made a short detour to Convict Lake. At Tom's Place we turned onto Owens Gorge Road that took us to the Crowley Lake Columns via a dirt road. With our big 4-wheel-drive car it wasn't a problem. At 8:15 we parked on top of a hill and followed a narrow path down to the beach. The columns were larger than expected but at this time of day they were still in shadow. At 9 a.m. we were back on US-395.

We stopped in Bishop for some shopping, then we took the untarred Chalk Bluff Road to the unofficial trailhead to Sky Rock. It was 10:40 a.m. We met an American couple on the way up the steep hill. Then you need gps coordinates for Sky Rock or you won't find it between the rocks. We saw a snake when we climbed up. It was a challenge to get up onto the rock which is best seen from above. Then we searched for the 13 Moon Panel. It was 12 p.m. when we got back to the car. It was 24 °C.

We drove back a short way and turned north on Fish Slough Road to see more petroglpys such as Chidago and Red Canyon Petroglyps. Meanwhile the sky had darkened. There was fresh snow on the mountains. Thus it was better to leave the dirt roads behind. At 1:30 we reached Benton Crossing Road just in time before it started to rain. We took another detour to Benton Hot Springs where we found a ghost town but no hot springs.

On the way back to Mono Lake it was pouring down with thunder and lightning. Temperatures had dropped to 10 °C. At 2:30 we were back at the South Tufas, again in the rain. We had lunch in the car and decided to skip Bodie which we already visited in 1998. It was 3:40 p.m. and we still had some driving to do to reach Carson City. At 4 p.m. we crossed Devil's Gate Summit at 7500 feet (2300 metres) elevation. It was 4 °C and we had some snow flakes. Just before crossing the border to Nevada at Topaz Lake, the rain stopped. We had a coffee at Starbucks in Gardnerville. Then we turned off to Genoa, Nevada's oldest settlement of 1851.

Shortly before 7 p.m. we arrived at Motel 6 in Carson City. For $50 plus tax we had a room with two double beds, fridge, microwave, and free wi-fi. We had dinner at Applebee's.

Miles covered: 281
Animals: a snake
Accommodation: Motel 6 Carson City ($50 plus tax)

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