West Coast Roadtrip 2014 – Days 5 through 7


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Behemoths, ancient relics that had begun their lives at the peak of our continents first civilization, the Olmec, more than 3,000 years ago, towered over us once more, their shadows casting darkness onto the forest floor. These giants however, while similar, were merely cousins of those we had encountered a few days prior, occupants of the same subfamily, Sequoioideae – the third member is a much smaller species native to China. Both the Coast Redwoods and Giant Sequoias, those which we were currently amongst, exist solely within the Pacific Coast states of California and Oregon; Coast Redwoods occupying a range along the northern California and southern Oregon coast while Sequoias occur inland along the Sierra Nevadas.

General Grant Tree

General Grant Tree

While Giant Sequoias don’t grow quite as tall their 380 foot coastal cousins – the difference being a mere 60 feet – they are almost double the size by volume due to their massive trunk size, capable of growing up to 40 feet in diameter. Giant Sequoias, in fact, are the largest living things on Earth, the largest, General Sherman, having an estimated volume of 52,500 cubic feet and measuring 274.9 feet tall with a 102.6 foot circumference!

Our trip began in Yosemite Nat’l Park, taking us through Mariposa Grove – a small forest in the northern region of the Giant Sequoias range – as we headed south en route to Kings Canyon & Sequoia Nat’l Parks. As we entered the parks we came first to the General Grant tree – located in a grove of the same name – the largest tree in Kings Canyon and the 3rd largest in the world. It was our first real encounter with these incredible giants, and to say I was amazed would be an understatement. Every aspect of these Giant Sequoias furthered my astonishment, from bark nearly 3 feet thick to massive fire scars large enough for people to stand in comfortably, yet appearing to have no impact on the health of the tree. It didn’t take long for me to understand how they have managed to survive for so long.

Brick layout of the base of General Sherman Tree

Brick layout of the base of General Sherman Tree

On the following morning, we found ourselves standing beneath the General Sherman tree, the king of all the behemoths and the largest living thing on Earth. The 1 mile Sherman Tree Trail began at an altitude equal to its height, winding down to the base of the giant. As we approached the end of the trail we came across a viewing platform displaying the actual size of the base of the tree. Standing in this space, a space larger than my apartment, gave a sense of the General completely unique to standing beneath it. I began to wonder how much wood this tree actually contained, it made my head spin. From the viewing platform it was only a short distance until we found ourselves gazing up at General Sherman. No amount of pictures or reading could prepare you for how truly gigantic this tree is, it was truly incredible. The uniqueness of its size so clearly illustrated in the frustrated faces of those standing around, struggling to determine how to photograph the entire tree in one frame on their phones. One photo could never tell the story of this ancient giant though, a being that has existed in this one place for over 2,000 years, watching over the forest stoically as the rest of the continent continued to change into something unrecognizable from the world it had been born into.

Joshua trees

Joshua trees

The final day of our journey took us through Joshua Tree Nat’l Park in southern California. The 789,745 acre park lies at the crossroads of the Colorado and Mojave desserts creating 2 distinct ecosystems. Most prominent of these ecosystems, and the reason for the parks name, are the vast Joshua tree “forests” that cover the western half of the park. The largest species of yucca, the Joshua tree was given its name by Mormon pioneers crossing the dessert in the mid-19th century. The tall trees with limbs outstretched appeared to them as the Biblical Joshua leading them to the Promised Land.

The individualism of the trees was fascinating yet still couldn’t compare with the incredible rock structures occurring throughout the park. Geological formations arranged in seemingly impossible ways protruded from the dessert, a mass of boulders that looked both completely solid yet ready to topple at the same time. They were a puzzling sight. I could’ve spent days photographing them alone.

As we exited Joshua Tree Nat’l Park our adventure came to a close and before long we had arrived in Anthem, at my Mom’s home. The experience was unforgettable though, and I’m looking forward to the chance to return and once again explore these incredible places.

West Coast Roadtrip 2014 – Day 4


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Darkness loomed over Half Dome as smoke from the Meadow fire billowed into the sky. What had previously been a small fire in the region east of Yosemite Valley spread significantly due to the increased winds on the morning of the 7th, the morning of our arrival, eventually spreading to an estimated area of 4,900 acres, as of the morning of the 11th? While the fire substantially limited which areas of the park we could visit, it couldn’t take away from the power and majesty of Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite was established as a protected area with the passing of the Yosemite Grant, signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1864, – the National Park Service wasn’t established until 1916 – due in large part to the efforts of Galen Clark, who would become the park’s first guardian. Over the next 20 years tourism increased significantly thanks in large part to the efforts of John Muir, along with the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad and stagecoach roads into Yosemite Valley. Determined to protect and preserve the incredible and distinct feature that make Yosemite so unique, Muir and the Sierra Club strove for federal protection of the park, achieving his goal in 1903 while camping near Glacier Point with President Theodore Roosevelt. Yosemite is home to an incredible collection of some of our nation’s most iconic natural features, such as: immense granite cliffs El Capitan, Half Dome, and Sentinel Dome, Lyell Glacier, Giant Sequoia Groves, including Mariposa Grove, and Yosemite Falls, the largest waterfall in North America at 2,425 feet.

As I stood in the Yosemite Valley looking up at the immense granite structures, surrounded by giant redwoods, lush grasslands and the occasional mule deer, I could feel the power that had fueled the desire to preserve this place over 150 years ago by the park’s pioneers. We were limited due to the fire and time constraints, restricting our visit to a fraction of the park, so I’m anxiously looking forward to the opportunity to return and see what other wonders Yosemite has to show me

West Coast Roadtrip 2014 – Day 3


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Saturday, the 6th, would be the only day during our trip when we weren’t either driving through or to a national park, instead choosing to spend the day in Napa Valley. Leaving Fort Bragg, we traveled south on highway 1 along the sand dune lined beaches of northern California before heading east on 128 through a seemingly endless parade of vineyards and fruit farms. Alexander Valley came first, followed by the Russian River Valley, Sonoma then Napa Valley.

The landscape throughout this portion of our trip was completely unique from those that had come before and would come after, reminiscent more of the rolling hills of New Zealand than what I’d expect to encounter Stateside. The ancient giants that had dominated the view from our car windows the day before were replaced with neatly organized rows of wine grapes or the occasional fruit orchard, devoid of any remnant of its wild past. It was not without its beauty though, the vibrant green hillsides enclosing the valley producing a picturesque quality to the farms completely unseen in those of my home in Iowa.

From the incredible amount of wineries available to us – there are more than 450 wineries in Napa Valley alone – we selected 2 to visit, Silver Oak and Robert Mondavi, along with another for lunch, Long Meadow Ranch. We started our day at Long Meadow Ranch, enjoying incredible dishes created from ingredients grown on the farm just 10 yards from the restaurant – my favorite was the wood-fired bone marrow. After lunch we visited my favorite winery, Silver Oak, for a simple tasting then headed to Robert Mondavi for the full tour-tasting experience. Recognized for his role in the modern era of American wineries – the period that following prohibition when wine making in several regions, most notably Napa Valley, shifted from quantity to quality, establishing America as a major contender in the world of wine – Robert Mondavi has built a winery worthy of his name, an incredible facility I had the pleasure of visiting for the second time, my first in 2006, where after an incredible tour we were treated to some truly delicious wines.

There was far more to experience in Napa’s wine country then we ever could’ve hoped for in one day, and bright and early the next morning we would be off for Yosemite so we had to be careful to not overindulge, ending our tasting with Robert Mondavi. While there where countless other brands I would’ve loved to sample, the adventures of the following days made me glad I didn’t.



West Coast Roadtrip 2014 – Day 2


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Today we had a longer, more eventful drive through the Redwood forest, leaving me to tired to do a full write up. I’ll provide the details as soon as I can though. Tomorrow we’re off to Napa Valley.


West Coast Roadtrip 2014 – Day 1


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A few days ago I flew out to Bend, OR to assist my Mom in her return move to Anthem, AZ – she had moved to Bend for the 3 months of summer to spend time with my sister Sami’s kids, Ellie (5) and Hudson (3). Honestly though, my packing assistance was pretty limited since I spent most of my time playing with my amazing niece and nephew. They’re amazing little kids though so I don’t feel bad!

Typically the drive is 1095 miles and would take around 17 hours; we decided on a more adventurous route though, taking us through Crater Lake Nat’l Park, Redwood Nat’l Park, Napa Valley, Yosemite Nat’l Park, Kings and Sequoia Nat’l Parks and finally Joshua Tree Nat’l Park, increasing out trip distance by 50% and from 17 hours to 8 days. Suffice to say it’s going to be quite the adventure.

We left early this morning after seeing the kiddos off to school – they cried at our departure which was heartbreaking – with Crater Lake Nat’l Park as our first destination. Crater Lake was immensely beautiful and powerful with water a deep shade of blue I’ve never before seen. Created over 7,000 years ago when Mount Mazama, a volcano, collapsed under its own weight producing a massive caldera, the water that now resides within is not only one of the deepest lake in the world but also one of the cleanest bodies of freshwater. Standing above the lake, along the rim of the caldera, I could only imagine the impact this massive natural wonder must’ve had on the indigenous people that first encountered thousands of years ago.