North America

Death Valley, Lake Tahoe & Yosemite National Parks; California

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Death Valley, California

I first posted this entry a few days ago explaining that I had lost a number of photographs from my SD card and asked for help in how to retrieve them. Briona Cable left a comment and explained how this could be done and I have managed to get many of my photographs back. Thank you so much for helping me out Briona, it is greatly appreciated 🙂 The leading photograph is now of Jack walking through Death Valley.

Located in California, Death Valley was named by those seeking gold in the 1800’s who termed it such due to the fact it was deadly to attempt a crossing. It is the hottest place on earth with a recorded temperature of 56.7 degrees celsius and has an average summer temperature of 45 degrees celsius. It really is an unforgiving desert void mainly of life and nature save for some rock solid ants that are so hard they bite.
The valley is vast and the roads are long and straight in parts meaning you get some stunning views of the arid landscape whilst giving you a perfect opportunity to see how fast your car can go. Our piece of shit Ford is capped at 80mph so I was a bit gutted.
Throughout Death Valley there is a lot to do and over the years I have done much of it. But the best things for kids remain the openness of the hikes you can do (though take plenty of water), the stories of the ghost towns left vacant by an exodus of those looking for a nugget of gold and the borax mines. It is a valley that is steeped in history which helped create the West and no visit would be complete without stopping off for a BBQ in Furnace Creek. Prices are extortionate, everyone is ancient and there is a spring water pool which you can easily sneak into. Around the valley there are various little off shoots such as Scottys Castle which is a castle created by some guy who wanted to get away from it all. There is a crater, funky looking rock formations and just an amazing feeling of being not just in the hottest place on earth, but in an area that is now accessible whilst still being incredibly dangerous when on foot.
We took the ascent out of Death Valley towards Lone Pine and yet again our trusty piece of wank stain useless waste of metal supposed SUV didn’t let us down. On the climb out of the valley our Air Con went off in order to help avoid the vehicle overheating, when that didn’t work it was limited to 20mph and when that failed too the car sprung up a message that we had to pull over and turn off the engine. Naturally, it was 48 degrees outside and we were the only car on the road and there was no chance I was pulling over and turning the engine off. I did however turn on the fan full blast to draw heat away from the engine and continued to limp on at 20mph. Eventually the supposed hardcore SUV found it’s balls and we continued on and up through California.

Reno, Nevada & Lake Tahoe, California
Reno is a cheap mans Las Vegas and it genuinely seems like everyone there is dying and on oxygen. Those not weeks from death are trying their best to eat and smoke their way to a premature expiration whilst flicking their way through food stamps at one of the many casinos. For the traveller it offers some of the best hotel deals in the US and we genuinely paid $19 per night for a 4 star hotel (£11). But with kids in tow I wasn’t in the vicinity for gambling, but as a launch pad to one of the most beautiful lakes in the US – Lake Tahoe. Home of the Winter Olympics a few years back it is completely snowed under for much of the year. A blanket of white covers the whole region, wealthy skiers descend upon the small Alpine style villages surrounding the lake and everyone else heads to Walmart for snow chains. But visit in summer and you are faced with a stunning, glistening fresh water lake surrounded by California at its most beautiful and green. It might sound odd, but California largely is a shade of brown and so when Lake Tahoe springs up a bit of green it is welcomed by the eye balls.
As with most things in the USA, someone sits and fiddles around with numbers so that they can attribute some kind of tagline and Lake Tahoe is no different. It is of course the second deepest lake in the USA and the sixth largest in the country. But that’s not why we were there. We were there for a bit of outdoor recreation which in true Yorkshire style revolved around a bit of paddling in the water and skimming stones. For somewhere high on the lists of tourists it is effortlessly easy finding somewhere that no one else has stumbled upon and we managed some real family time spent together with just water, gorgeous scenery and a huge lake spoiled only occasionally by some bloke in a speed boat.
For somewhere coated in snow for much of the year it is relatively warm in summer with an average September temperature of the low twenties (C). For us this was great and was actually the coolest weather we had felt in weeks.
To go to the better beaches of the Lake head to the South and around the Emerald Bay, for quieter beaches head to Secret Beach on the Nevada side. To find privacy just pull up anywhere on the Western side and you will likely find no one. Not even a German.

Yosemite National Park, California
Think of your favourite forest, now give it steroids (lots and lots of them) throw in some waterfalls and rock faces and stand back whilst the place explodes into huge and epic proportions before you. Sprinkle on a little pixie dust, add a river and then go blind with just how beautiful a place, just how perfect, just how special and how spine-tinglingly jaw dropping it is. You have just created Yosemite.
Closed for much of the year Yosemite is accessed via one of the few high passes which take you up, over and into the valley. But that I think is what adds to the allure. We entered from the Eastern side and over the world famous Tioga Pass. It climbs some 3,000m from Mono Lake (which by the way is not worth the hassle and mud) and then winds for about 30 miles through forests and rocks before you enter into a tunnel. And this is where it gets special. You come out of the tunnel pissed off that you have driven so far on windy roads behind slow arsed Winnie Bago’s who despite the pull over rule just plod along without a care on earth. They are definitely English. Or German. Or maybe French. Either way they are infuriating, but, unbeknown to me at the time they actually added to the main event.
Driving out of the tunnel the ground before you gives way and drops thousands of feet. Ahead of you is a spectacular granite rock face speckled throughout an Alpine Valley all looked over on one side by El-Capitan which is the rock face of all rock face for those that like rock faces. And the Half Dome which is, a half dome huge granite monolith peeking out high across the valley. Ask a local Indian the story of the valley and he will gladly spin you a yarn of how El Capitan and Half Dome were a married couple who used to argue and eventually pissed off the spirits who turned them to rock and made them forever face each other across the valley. Geologists disagree and reckon the river cut through the valley and created paradise on earth. I know which I believe.
Again in Yosemite we found slices of nothing and just chilled out in each other’s company. The end of the trip was imminent and Yosemite was the las national park we would be visiting. We literally made our way to the valley, got down to our skiddies and swam in ice cold waters benath huge granite rock faces warmed by Alpine greenery. For me it was a dream realised, for the kids just another amazing day on what had thus far been an amazing journey. To Toby, he could’ve been anywhere on earth. He laughed, smiled and will now only pose when bribed with a dollar. Jack just loves having freedom, he would run forever if I let him, the space, the vastness of it all, he just loves being alive.
When I was a kid I remember being told that I would never amount to anything and that I was useless. I used to love watching Yogi Bear and his antics at Jellystone National Park. I remember looking at Yellowstone and one day stumbling upon Yosemite and being blown away by the size and beauty of the place. It to me just didn’t seem real and I developed a fascination for the geology and stories from the Yosemite Valley. It was to me back then the ultimate dream, a personal realisation that I had achieved a dream. And this summer I did finally achieve that dream. It was every bit as amazing as I hoped it would be and ranks easily as one of the most amazing national parks I have ever been to. Yes it takes time, patience and is full of Germans – But keep your eye on the river and it’s not too difficult to find a pristine piece of river or an empty piece of grass set to one of the most stunning vistas man has ever witnessed.

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