Gold Country, Lake Tahoe, Loneliest Road, Great Basin

BLOG #25, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #15
GOLD COUNTRY, LAKE TAHOE, LONELIEST ROAD, GREAT BASIN
June 26, 2013

As we reluctantly left the park, slowly, we realized again why Yosemite is, for untold thousands, on their Bucket Lists to see before they die. As for the Ahwahnee, mortgage your house rather than not experience it at least once. Disengage from your parasitic electronic tentacles, and get out there with your families and travel. Over a billion people are doing that each year.

After leaving Yosemite, we descended to the Gold Rush towns on California Route 49, passing through Angels Camp, made famous by Mark Twain’s “Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” story, Jackson, and then up into the Sierra Nevadas [very “Nevada” (snowy) then], via Route 88 to Silver Lake, almost 9,000 feet in elevation. Then down to a lake that ought to also be on everyone’s Bucket List–Lake Tahoe. Fond memories came back to Connie and me, for we honeymooned there.

Lake Tahoe holds enough water to cover the entire state of California to a depth of fourteen inches. It is said that the water in Tahoe is 97% pure, nearly the same as distilled water. The lake is 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, about one-third lying in Nevada. Its average depth is 989 feet, and deepest point is 1,645 feet, making Lake Tahoe the third deepest lake in North America. The water is mighty cold: the first twelve feet below the surface can warm to a toasty ☺ 68 degrees F in summer, while depths below 700 feet remain a constant 39F year-round.

The “lake in the sky” (elevation 6,229 feet) is ensconced in a valley between the often snowcapped Sierra Nevadas and the Carson Range. The Sierras tower more than 4,000 feet above the lake, contributing no little to its magic.

Immigrants and early miners did their utmost to destroy the lake’s environs; fortunately, just in time, the decline of the Comstock Lode caused the miners to turn their attention elsewhere.

In winter, snow covers the lakeshore to an average of 125 inches, but snow depth in the mountains can reach 300-500 inches, making the region a mecca for skiers (think Alpine Meadows, Diamond Peak, Squaw Valley, and Heavenly Valley).

We’ve never seen the lake when it wasn’t beautiful, but to see it on a clear winter day, offset by snowy mountains the incredibly deep blue waters of the lake can take your breath away.

We had dillydallied so long in Yosemite, it was evening before we descended from Silver Lake to Tahoe. We drove along the west side of the lake to the north end, considerably quieter than the casino-generated hubub in the south end; there we stayed at Mourelatos Lakeshore Resort.  Connie - SW Nat Parks 531

Next day, after breakfasting at the Old Post Office, so popular with locals, we crossed over the pass, then down to Truckee, Reno, and Fallon, before abandoning boring Interstate 80 for Highway 50, famously known as “The Loneliest Road in America” (gained a cult-following through commercials featuring pretty vagabonding girls in convertibles). For trivia-buffs, “Where in America is concentrated the largest number of north/south mountain ranges?” Answer: Here in Nevada – one after another: the Stillwater Range, Clan Alpine Mountains, Desatoya Mountains, New Pass Range, Shoshone Mountains, Toyabe Range, Simpson Park Range, Toquina Range, Monitor Range, Sulphur Springs Range, Diamond Mountains, White Pine Range, Butte Mountains, Egan Range, Schell Creek Range, and Snake Range – one after another like oncoming waves (most snow-capped) we cruised through them. Very few automobiles and even fewer trucks – hence its name.

We stopped in Austin: Bob desperately needed an ice cream fix. Also in the old mining town of Eureka, with its serpentine roads. Arrived in Ely late afternoon, and checked in at Prospectors Hotel. Lodging pickings are lean at best on the Loneliest Road in America. Especially when you’ve just been spoiled rotten at the Ahwahnee!

Joe - SW Nat Parks - ZG Conf 371

Next morning, again those long long straight stretches of road, on into infinity. So quiet you could hear each other breathe. Soon we turned south into Great Basin National Park.

According to Michael L. Nicklas, “Although only a small part of this immense, wild land, Great Basin National Park is undoubtedly the best example of the entire Great Basin region. Its geologic diversity–from windswept playas to mysterious caverns and icy summits–defines the hydrologic boundaries. . . . Great Basin’s only remaining glacier lies sheltered within the national park in the cool shadow of 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak, which also supports bristlecone pines, the oldest living trees on earth. . . . Precious water draining from the mountain ranges does not flow into the oceans. Rather, this priceless substance either percolates underground, accumulates in bodies to form lakes, or evaporates back into the atmosphere.

Connie - SW Nat Parks 562

“Typically long winters grip the land above 10,000 feet from November through June. Bristlecone pines stubbornly cling to lofty slopes and windy ridges between 9,000 and 11,500 feet, living for 5,000 years or more. In 1964, a living tree was discovered in the Wheeler Peak grove which contained 4,844 annual growth rings.”

Lehman caves were first protected on January 24, 1922, when President Warren G. Harding established by presidential proclamation Lehman Caves National Monument. It took 43 more years to achieve national park status: Finally, on October 27, 1965, President Ronald Reagan signed the Great Basin National Park Act.

Connie - SW Nat Parks 546

Not surprisingly, given the sparse traffic on Highway 50, Great Basin is one of the least visited of all our national parks, attracting only about 90,000 visitors a year. Which isn’t at all a bad thing, for when we walked into the visitor center, we were treated like long-lost relatives; quite a change from the ho-hum oh, Lord, not another one attitude of some weary attendants in parks that are swamped by travelers. Connie, of course, made sure to get them to stamp her national park passport. The quiet winding road up to the base of Wheeler Peak (second highest peak in Nevada) was narrow, but scenic, passing through many varieties of trees as we ascended. Other than the beauty of the land and snowcapped peaks, the main roadside photo-op proved to be a rusty old car, complete with a skeleton.

 

 

Joe - SW Nat Parks - ZG Conf 367Connie - SW Nat Parks 576

Then it was back down to The Loneliest Road – sometimes 30 miles without a curve – into Utah. Spectacular scenery along Interstate 70.Then we pulled into our favorite oasis stop in Green River, River Terrace Inn, shaded by verdant trees on the river side, and situated next to the very popular Tamarisk Restaurant, also on the river. But the real reason we always stay at River Terrace Inn is the comp to-die-for full breakfast prepared on the site by chefs who are either owners, relatives, or close friends of the owners. Each guest orders a la carte – scrumptious omelets, decadent cinnamon rolls, and on and on. You either eat inside or outside by the partly shaded pool. Needless to say, the Inn is usually booked up – so get your reservation early!!

Next day – our last day –, after pigging out at breakfast, we headed east through the Colorado Rockies, alongside swollen rivers, until late afternoon, we reached home; at 9,700 feet elevation, blessedly cool.

After two years, we’d finally reached the end of the Great Circle!

SOURCES USED

Northern California & Nevada Tour Book (Heathrow, Florida: AAA Publishing, 2010). [Source for Lake Tahoe information].

Nicklas, Michael L., Great Basin: the Story Behind the Scenery (Las Vegas: K.C. Publications, 2008).

BLOG #24, SERIE…

BLOG #24, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #13

KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK

June 20, 2012

 

 

 

Image     

 

We left the Southwest National Park series on April 25, with Sequoia National Park.  You may remember that Sequoia and Kings Canyon are administered as one entity, albeit with two separate management teams.  Without question, Kings Canyon is the lesser known of the two, perhaps because of its relatively late entry into the park system.  When you look at the map, things get confusing, what with the Sequoia National Forest (southern and northern branches), Giant Sequoia National Monument (southern and northern branches), and Sequoia National Park.

 

In 1891, the massive (sixteen feet in diameter) Mark Twain tree was cut down, then cut up into a dozen pieces (since it weighed nine tons), then shipped to the New York Museum of Natural History.  Two years later, the equally massive General Noble tree was cut down at the government’s orders, and shipped to Chicago for its Columbian World Fair exhibition; there it was turned into a two-story structure, then moved to the Smithsonian where it stood until the 1930s.

 

Image 

Stephen Mather, John Muir, the Sierra Club, and others all stepped in to save sections of this Sierra Nevada corridor before it was too late, but commercial interests kept the Kings Canyon section from national park status until 1940.  It was a close call since Los Angeles coveted the Kings River watershed and came within the proverbial inch of damming it up.  Had they done so, the Kings Canyon’s wilderness would have been lost forever.  In 1978 Congress added the Mineral King area to the park.  Altogether, today, over 450,000 acres of Kings Canyon wilderness (mostly roadless) is preserved for those who wish to escape roads and backpack in—some 80,000 a year do just that.  Altogether 1,500,000 people a year love Kings Canyon/Sequoia to death with their traffic—all on only 120 miles of roads.

 

Providentially a great rampart of high mountains (the backbone of the Sierra Nevadas) barred east/west roadways from being constructed long enough to preserve this area in perpetuity for the American people.

 

Image

 

OUR VISIT TO THE PARK

 

Bob and Lucy Earp, Connie and I, after a delicious breakfast at Wuksachi Lodge, headed out into the cold grey skies that gradually dissipated as we moved out of Sequoia National Park into Kings Canyon.  We stopped at both the Sequoia and Kings Canyon visitor centers, making a point to see both films.  We have found that travelers who don’t do so severely shortchange their visits.  We can all be grateful to the park rangers who serve us so well in facilities across the nation.

 

By the time we reached the rim of Kings Canyon—I hadn’t seen it in over forty years—the sun had come out.  It turned out to be one of those all too rare absolutely perfect blue sky days.  Way down below was the still undammed Kings River (Spanish explorers named it El Rio de los Santos Reyes), which translates to River of the Holy Kings (the Magi).  The river grew ever larger and louder as we zigzagged our way down the canyon wall.  Just as had been true with the snowmelt-swollen Kern River, the Kings River was torrential!  With a half-century high snowpack to stoke it, what a time to have picked in which to re-experience the canyon!  Since tourist season hadn’t yet begun, the day proved to be a serene one.  Everywhere we looked tributary streams and waterfalls fed into the gorge.  At the east end, where the road ends in the Zumwalt Meadows, we took advantage of the opportunity to explore the area.  We discovered that the park not only includes one of the greatest stands of Sequoias in the world, it also includes magnificent stands of sugar pine, ponderosa pine, white fir, red fir, and incense cedar.

 

Image

 

Afterwards, regretting we couldn’t remain longer in the park, we drove back down the canyon, up over the canyon wall, back into Sequoia, down into the San Joaquin Valley, and then up through California’s legendary gold-mining towns such as Angels Camp (made famous by Mark Twain’s “The Jumping Frog of Calavaras County”), back into the cooler temperatures of the Sierras, a quick stop at one of our oldest national park lodges, Wawona, then on to that  famous tunnel that opens onto one of the grandest vistas our world has to offer: “Yosemite National Park, with its iconic peaks, waterfalls, and river.  Tourists seeing the vista for the first time are awe-struck.

 Image

 Even those native Californians like Connie and me are moved almost to tears by being privileged to set eyes on it once again in this all too brief journey we call “life.”

 

 

SOURCES USED

 

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopfk, 2009).

 

Palmer, John J., Sequoia and Kings Canyon (Wickenburg, Arizona: K. C. Publications, 2009).

 

BLOG #24, SERIE…

BLOG #24, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #13

KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK

June 13, 2012

 

Image

We left the Southwest National Park series on April 25, with Sequoia National Park.  You may remember that Sequoia and Kings Canyon are administered as one entity, albeit with two separate management teams.  Without question, Kings Canyon is the lesser known of the two, perhaps because of its relatively late entry into the park system.  When you look at the map, things get confusing, what with the Sequoia National Forest (southern and northern branches), Giant Sequoia National Monument (southern and northern branches), and Sequoia National Park.

In 1891, the massive (sixteen feet in diameter) Mark Twain tree was cut down, then cut up into a dozen pieces (since it weighed nine tons), then shipped to the New York Museum of Natural History.  Two years later, the equally massive General Noble tree was cut down at the government’s orders, and shipped to Chicago for its Columbian World Fair exhibition; there it was turned into a two-story structure, then moved to the Smithsonian where it stood until the 1930s.

Image

Stephen Mather, John Muir, the Sierra Club, and others all stepped in to save sections of this Sierra Nevada corridor before it was too late, but commercial interests kept the Kings Canyon section from national park status until 1940.  It was a close call since Los Angeles coveted the Kings River watershed and came within the proverbial inch of damming it up.  Had they done so, the Kings Canyon’s wilderness would have been lost forever.  In 1978 Congress added the Mineral King area to the park.  Altogether, today, over 450,000 acres of Kings Canyon wilderness (mostly roadless) is preserved for those who wish to escape roads and backpack in—some 80,000 a year do just that.  Altogether 1,500,000 people a year love Kings Canyon/Sequoia to death with their traffic—all on only 120 miles of roads.

Providentially a great rampart of high mountains (the backbone of the Sierra Nevadas) barred east/west roadways from being constructed long enough to preserve this area in perpetuity for the American people.

Image

OUR VISIT TO THE PARK

Bob and Lucy Earp, Connie and I, after a delicious breakfast at Wuksachi Lodge, headed out into the cold grey skies that gradually dissipated as we moved out of Sequoia National Park into Kings Canyon.  We stopped at both the Sequoia and Kings Canyon visitor centers, making a point to see both films.  We have found that travelers who don’t do so severely shortchange their visits.  We can all be grateful to the park rangers who serve us so well in facilities across the nation.

By the time we reached the rim of Kings Canyon—I hadn’t seen it in over forty years—the sun had come out.  It turned out to be one of those all too rare absolutely perfect blue sky days.  Way down below was the still undammed Kings River (Spanish explorers named it El Rio de los Santos Reyes), which translates to River of the Holy Kings (the Magi).  The river grew ever larger and louder as we zigzagged our way down the canyon wall.  Just as had been true with the snowmelt-swollen Kern River, the Kings River was torrential!  With a half-century high snowpack to stoke it, what a time to have picked in which to re-experience the canyon!  Since tourist season hadn’t yet begun, the day proved to be a serene one.  Everywhere we looked tributary streams and waterfalls fed into the gorge.  At the east end, where the road ends in the Zumwalt Meadows, we took advantage of the opportunity to explore the area.  We discovered that the park not only includes one of the greatest stands of Sequoias in the world, it also includes magnificent stands of sugar pine, ponderosa pine, white fir, red fir, and incense cedar.

Image

Afterwards, regretting we couldn’t remain longer in the park, we drove back down the canyon, up over the canyon wall, back into Sequoia, down into the San Joaquin Valley, and then up through California’s legendary gold-mining towns such as Angels Camp (made famous by Mark Twain’s “The Jumping Frog of Calavaras County”), back into the cooler temperatures of the Sierras, a quick stop at one of our oldest national park lodges, Wawona, then on to that  famous tunnel that opens onto one of the grandest vistas our world has to offer: “Yosemite National Park, with its iconic peaks, waterfalls, and river.  Tourists seeing the vista for the first time are awe-struck.

Image

Even those native Californians like Connie and me are moved almost to tears by being privileged to set eyes on it once again in this all too brief journey we call “life.”

SOURCES USED

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopfk, 2009).

Palmer, John J., Sequoia and Kings Canyon (Wickenburg, Arizona: K. C. Publications, 2009).