Hope and action

We have seen some amazing and inspiring things over the last 10 months, but since visiting Bryce Canyon in the last week I have been feeling haunted. At Bryce Canyon, Amy and Oliver once again checked in at the National Parks Visitor Centre where they picked up yet another junior ranger program booklet – their sixth in the last five weeks.

That evening, tucked up in a quiet, unofficial campsite on a dirt side road just outside the boundaries of the National Park and with nothing else in particular to do Amy, Oliver and I started working our way through the booklet. Of all the junior ranger books they have tackled this was the most engaging with a range of exercises that required some real effort. One such exercise involved the completion of a series of tables to help estimate their carbon footprint over an average year.

We jumped in and by multiplying the carbon associated with various food, travel and other lifestyle choices with the amount consumed we calculated that they produce 2 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year and that this would require the planting of around 105 trees each to offset. Much discussion on climate change ensued. This was not the first time it has come up as a serious topic of conversation this year, but it was the first time our personal contributions to the problem were thrown into the mix.

Environmental pressures on our planet have been apparent throughout our travels, although their presence has tended to niggle uncomfortably away in the background rather than sitting firmly front and centre. Dams on the Mekong, choking view denying smog in Nepal, shrivelled glaciers in Iceland and Europe, bark beetles killing millions of trees in Yosemite because the winters are no longer cold enough. I could go on.

None of this, I should say, was concerning me the week before when Emma and I took a walk (Amy and Oliver opted to stay behind with Granny) up to the Angels Landing in Zion National Park. The Angels Landing sits atop a thin rocky monolith supported by 500-metre-high vertical cliffs. It looks down over the ‘big bend’ in the Virgin River and across to the rim of the Zion Canyon in all directions.

Degradation of the environment couldn’t have been further from our minds as we made our way across the ridge of rock, a fin as some describe it, no more than a metre wide and dropping hundreds of metres almost straight down on either side. It was stomach churning in places and I like hanging off cliffs! My predominant thought that day was how wonderful it is that the National Park Service still has the appetite to allow visitors to take on a little personal risk – despite the six people that have fallen to their death.

A cool trail – the most popular walk in the park
That river is a long way down
Aptly named ‘Big Bend’
See that skinny little ridge we walked?
Don’t look down
Looking to the summit – the trail goes all the way up the ridge
Holding tight to that chain

We weren’t thinking of environmental degradation the day beforehand either when the four of us walked for kilometres, knee deep in the waters of the Virgin River, up through the Narrows of the Zion Canyon. Ice-cream headaches in our feet made it unpleasant for the first 10 minutes after which they went numb and we were freed up to enjoy the canyon and the sense of adventure.

Almost yellow trees
Tall canyon walls
Obligatory family self timer
Surprisingly no one fell in
Was he really not thinking of environmental degradation?
Beautiful river walking
Junior ranger work in Zion National Park
An old Cottonwood tree at Zion Lodge
Awesome leaves everywhere

Back in Bryce Canyon and even after completing the carbon calculations, thoughts of climate change still took a back seat to more immediate considerations. Like the fact that Bryce Canyon is not really a canyon at all. It’s an eroding plateau which forms part of the upper heights of the much larger Colorado Plateau – a most unusual geologic feature.

Bryce Canyon

The Colorado Plateau spans four states across 362,600 square kilometres. It is also known as the ‘Grand Staircase’, a series of plateaus spanning the geologic ages and climbing ever higher from sea level down near Death Valley to more than 2900 metres around Bryce Canyon. It is through the Colorado Plateau that the Colorado River has carved the Grand Canyon.

At the altitude where the Bryce Canyon occurs the weather tends to oscillate just under and just over freezing for about 180 days every year. The continuous freezing and thawing has a most unusual impact on the sandstone rocks. Water seeps into cracks, freezes and prises them apart before thawing out and doing it all over again. The result is the visually spectacular ‘hoodoos’ upon which we gazed and through which we walked.

What a scene!
Wandering through the hoodoos
In amongst the hoodoos

The hoodoos are just cool. ‘Some are short, some are tall, but one day all the hoodoos will fall.’ So wrote some poetic junior ranger in a passage now quoted by the resident senior ranger geologist. Amy and Oliver didn’t come up with anything quite so poetic. In fact, they skipped over that exercise in favour of the carbon calculations.

As we drove away from Bryce Canyon my mind drifted back to carbon and climate change. I comforted myself (although deluded may be a better word) that at least our drive back to Las Vegas was relatively carbon friendly, descending as it does from over 9000 feet all the way back down to 2000 feet. Gravity powered almost all the way.

It was a drive down the Grand Staircase. Along the way we spent a night in a very scenic canyon along the Virgin River filled with Joshua Trees and cactus before pulling up at the Sam’s Town RV park in Las Vegas – filled once again with RVs which were for the most part personal bus size vehicles. My heart warmed to the one tiny little caravan, parked next to our motorhome. It was only three metres long.

Our last campsite in the desert
Cacti everywhere
Standard bus-like RV with slide outs
A rare sight – our neighbour

The next morning, we returned the RV, bid a fond farewell to my mum at the airport and moved into an Airbnb townhouse in the suburbs. A quick note in relation to my mum before I move on. She is most excellent. Over the last few years in particular she seems to have developed a most inspiring outlook on life.

It’s mellow and it’s accepting and it’s non-judgemental and yet it is not in denial. Live and let go. Care, but don’t be weighed down by what you cannot change or control. These are my impressions of my mum. We hope you had a good trip home Granny. It was a pleasure having you along for part of the ride.

Farewell Granny

Yesterday, still in Las Vegas and enjoying some down time from running hither and thither, and perhaps because our consciousness had been piqued by Amy and Oliver’s junior ranger work, Emma and I sat down to watch the National Geographic presentation ‘Before the Flood‘ about where the world was at when it came to climate change in the lead up to last year’s Paris Climate Change Conference. It was terrifying. Half way through I wanted to turn it off but felt compelled to watch to the end. It’s not easy viewing, but I hope you will take a look.

As if this was not enough I was also reminded of news headlines I have come across over the last few weeks raising the cheery prospect of imminent mass extinctions and the prediction that by 2050 the weight of plastic in the oceans will match the weight of marine life. Even the Las Vegas weather forecast last night chimed in with presenters marvelling at unseasonably warm weather. It’s about ten degrees warmer here than it should be right now. I know that is not directly attributable to climate change, but can it be dismissed?

What are we supposed to do with all that information? How do we reconcile the fact that living the way we do is part of the problem, with the fact that so much of the lifestyle we lead is or was determined by the world into which we were born and our kids were born?

And… how does any individual influence change in a world of nearly 9 billion people dominated by the competing interests of over 200 national governments, institutional bureaucracies, multibillion dollar global corporations and countless competing vested interests and lobby groups?

These things I ponder when all is quiet in the backseat, occasionally disappearing into fits of silent despair. Fortunately, a little of mum’s wisdom managed to help drag me back to the surface. What will be, will be, and what is important is to do what we can. This at least brings the locus of influence, if not the locus of concern, back under control.

In follow-up to our carbon counting exercises and ruminations, the four of us found ourselves brainstorming the kind of things that we could actually do that would be in support of the kind of world we would like to live in. Number one on the list was to calculate the carbon footprint of our flights this year. Oliver and Emma tackled the task as part of morning school work. By the time we get home we will have flown 57,749 kilometres producing (between the four of us) 19.428 tonnes of carbon.

Oliver’s work

The next step is to find a credible offset program through which to reduce our impact. Offsets are not ideal perhaps but the best available option given the choices we have already made.

Back to the brainstorming, Oliver wants to invent a device that will generate power and charge a mobile phone as you peddle your bike. We will get out there and plant those 105 trees each with Greening Australia or some such similar organisation when we get home. We will continue in our efforts to eat less meat, particularly beef, (a little research on the greenhouse contribution of beef is informative) and we will opt for one car rather than two when we get home with a corresponding increase in public transport and pedal power.

It’s not much in the scheme of things and it won’t change the world but hope and action is a whole lot more pleasant place to reside than inaction and despair. It also places us amongst the swelling ranks of those who are doing something and who would really like to see a whole lot more. This may well be more important than all of the former. Government’s after all tend to follow the electorate far more than they lead. Change on a global scale is only going to occur when we stop looking to others and when enough people line up and demand that is what they want.

So do you gamble?

First guy: So do you gamble?
Second guy: Yeah
First guy: What do you play?
Second guy: Blackjack.
First guy: Ahh. The thinking man’s game.

You know you’re in Nevada, or very nearby, when you overhear conversations like this. Emma overheard this one at Badwater in Death Valley, just a stone throw away from the Nevada border, a border we crossed a short while later on route to the Grand Canyon.

We stopped that night in the mighty metropolis of Pahrump, a rough and tumble kind of place where the wealthiest of American’s do not reside. It’s a town that looks like it has been plonked down in the middle of the desert without rhyme or reason, but it had an RV park with a pool and happened to be where we were when driving no longer seemed like a good idea.

The RV park, it turned out, was right next door to at least two casinos and was very near full of the biggest RVs and caravans we’ve seen. Most guests at the Pahrump RV park didn’t travel in caravans, they travel in their own personal busses. RVs the size of coaches disappeared in row after row right back toward the pool.

The caravans that were there (more commonly known in North America as travel trailers) were equally huge. I paced out the length of the one next door to us. It was half as long again as our 28-foot behemoth and as tall as a semi-trailer. I’m not making that up, I saw another one parked next to a semi and they were the same height. To make the point I will quote the fuddling old man at the front gate who looked out his window at our RV while checking us in and said, ‘ahh you’re not that big’.

One of the travel trailers en-route

I got in trouble from the park residents after that for driving too fast. ‘Slow down’, they called in a morally superior manner but steadfastly avoiding eye contact as we hunted for our spot. I should have read the helpful tome of rules I had been handed at the gate which instruct you to ‘put your vehicle in a low gear as you enter the gate. That should help slow the vehicle to the 5 mph limit.’ I think I was doing 6 mph. But I didn’t do it again.

Fortunately for us, Pahrump was just a stopover between Death Valley and the Grand Canyon. I suspect most of our fellow travellers were in Pahrump for the long haul owing to a strong affiliation with ‘the thinking man’s game’ or maybe a slot machine. That’s just speculation of course, but there is circumstantial evidence to support the case.

Across from the RV park

Death Valley was fun. It was like nowhere else we have been, but how many times have I made that observation in the last 10 months? It’s spectacularly hot. It’s so hot that just two weeks earlier the conditions of use attached to our motorhome would have prevented our passing through. It’s so hot the average temperature on a summer day is 47 degrees Celsius in the shade. It’s so hot that for five straight days in 1913 the temperature peaked at over 54 degrees with one day setting a world record high of 57 degrees.

It’s mountainous too with road passes climbing to 1510 metres near Panamint Springs in the west before dropping on downhill drives that seemed to go on forever and crossing expansive valley floors. Badwater Basin, a salt encrusted dry-as-a-bone inland sea, is 85 metres below sea level. Even on a mild October day heat shimmers across the plain and a non-strenuous stroll of no more than 30 minutes was enough to send my urine a deeper shade of yellow.

Driving into Death Valley
At an overlook above Death Valley
Driving into Death Valley
Not a scrap of vegetation
Badwater Basin
Strolling was the only feasible speed 
More strolling

There is barely a shred of vegetation on those parched plains and rocky slopes and little sign of life, although, as with other arid zones there is more there than meets the eye. Interpretive signs at the Mesquite Flat sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells warned of sidewinders, a particular breed of rattlesnake. We however were not so lucky as to stumble across one. The dunes were quite striking though. We didn’t linger as long as I would have liked. It was too hot. On the whole Death Valley seems to me a desert to make other deserts seem like a rainforest.

Mesquite Flat dunes
Big dunes

I think the heat must get to people. What other rationale could there be for the behaviour of the guy we spotted feeding a coyote by hand from the door of his RV? It’s beyond me how anyone can fail to comprehend the abundant signs saying ‘Don’t feed the wildlife’. How hard is that? Which part is not clear? By what belief system can anyone discern that such directives do not apply to them? Where is my soap box? I feel a lecture coming on…

You can even photograph them without feeding them!

After Pahrump and Death Valley we skirted the edges of Las Vegas, dropped in for a brief stopover at the Hoover Dam and pushed on for the long haul to the Grand Canyon. We camped one night for free in the hills surrounding the town of Chloride – population around 50 I think – but it did have a cool re-creation of the old wild west.

Visiting the undertaker in Chloride

Another day’s drive and we made it to the Grand Canyon. I expected big things from the Grand Canyon. It’s one of those places with a reputation as large as itself to live up to. Places with grand reputations can have a tough time impressing. Our expectations play a big role in our impression of places.

The Grand Canyon however struck me as a canyon worthy of the name. Sixteen hundred metres deep, sixteen kilometres across and more than 400 kilometres long. Colourful, gaping, ravines and plateaus lie exposed, presenting billions of years of geologic deposition, uplift, and erosion – as Ranger Marker explained during her ‘geology glimpse’ lecture.

Most people, us included, can’t help but stand in front of the Grand Canyon with arms held high, or sit far closer to the edge of precipitous cliffs than is good for them in order to get a photo with that huge airy background behind them. The canyon moves you almost involuntarily to do these things. I found it fascinating and after shooting my fill of photos of the canyon, I started shooting my fill of photos of other people shooting their fill of photos of the canyon.

A popular park this one
Photo madness

Still, here, like the coyote feeding fellow in Death Valley, people struggle with simple, self-evidently sensible suggestions on appropriate behaviour. ‘Stay back from the edge’ and ‘Don’t feed the wildlife’ being the most ambiguous rules to comprehend. Three people a year (on average) die by slipping over the edge accidentally and we watched multiple people feeding squirrels, sometimes within metres of signs saying it is illegal, they carry the plague, and they bite.

One woman we watched used food to entice a squirrel to sit upon her bosom in fits of hysterical laughter. After it jumped off she lured it back again! Ten people a day are treated for blood pouring forth from fingers that a squirrel thought was a carrot. I need that soap box again. I feel another lecture coming on.

We hired bikes at the Grand Canyon South Rim and cycled for two hours along its edge stopping at short intervals to stare out over the edge, watch flocks of ravens dance around the cliffs, avoid hairy tarantulas that crossed our path (very cool) and so that Amy and Oliver could track down information to complete yet another junior ranger program. Amy has gotten so into the junior ranger thing Granny bought her and Oliver very stylish junior ranger vests to keep all their badges on.

Cycling Grand Canyon style
Viewpoints everywhere 
Great shot by Granny
Junior ranger at work
Found this furry guy on the bike path

Junior rangering also saw us staring at the stars with a couple of hundred of our closest American friends on the rim of the Canyon one night and one morning listening to tales of famous Grand Canyon mules as presented by the resident rangers. The star talk was good and the milky way resplendent but we couldn’t really hear because we had too many friends. So we left early to gaze at the stars ourselves from our free camp in the forest all on our own. The mule talk was just weird. I learnt that the mules that carry people into the Canyon all stop in the same spot each and every time to do their business. It was an enriching talk, and we did stay ‘til the end.

Awesome colours as the sun goes down
The shadow comes across as the sun goes down
Almost no sun left

The four of us, minus Granny, also walked two hours down the South Kaibab Trail as it descended very steeply and then just steeply below the rim along a thin plunging ridge line. Six hundred metres below the rim of the canyon we sat upon some rocks and absorbed the silence while squirrels scurried, western scrub jays flitted and tarantula wasps busily buzzed.

In the dark on the way down
Aptly named stop on the way
Posing again
Kicking back with a pretty good view
Only a little frightening
Like ants – a few of our friends head below the rim

And that, in a nut shell, was that. We drove out of the Grand Canyon via the groovy Desert Watch Tower and stopped for lunch in the carpark of a very non-scenic Chevron. Zion National Park is next, followed by Bryce Canyon before we head back to Vegas. I’m a thinking man. You’ll find me at the Blackjack table.

A good view of the Colorado River 


Two Views on Yosemite

This blog comes to you from two perspectives. Oliver has kindly just sat at the foot of the bed and recounted his thoughts on our visit to Yosemite National Park. Interspersed with Oliver’s account I have added some gap filling commentary.

So first I read my book from 6.00 (am) to 7.00 (am) then we did school work for two hours then we drove away and drove and drove and drove and did we stop anywhere?

The night before entering Yosemite we camped on a hill overlooking the expansive and picturesque Mono Lake. It was one of the nicest places we have pulled up, nestled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada range which we would climb into Yosemite on the morning Oliver describes. The park entrance is at the summit of the Tioga pass (9945 feet). We did stop occasionally to take in the view and to take photos of the autumn colours.

On the way to Yosemite

We walked along and took photos of squirrels on the ground and in the trees and in all the nooks and crannies and they were hard to take photos of. Then we walked along some more and saw the Soda Springs and the John Muir club hut thingy and we saw a coyote bolting down the river. Then we walked back doing the same thing and some rock hopping was involved.

Our first stop inside the park was for a short walk just near the edge of the Tuolumne Meadows, an alpine grassland surrounded by evergreen forest and massive granite boulders and mountains. Oliver’s recollections blend two walks together.

The first one involved a good deal of rock hopping along a river, something that both he and Amy love. Amy, Granny and I did go to great lengths trying to take photos of squirrels (or were they chickarees or chipmunks??) but they’re skittery little fellows and not overly given to posing.

Beautiful rock pools
Literal rock hopping
A skittery critter
Tuolumne Meadows

The second walk took us to the Soda Springs on the meadows themselves. This is one of the nicest spots in Yosemite. The Soda Springs still baffle scientists. The water is full of minerals but they don’t know where it comes from. There were huts built by the Sierra Club in dedication to John Muir along the way and we did see a coyote. After our walks lunch was served from the motorhome and consumed on camp chairs with views of the Lembert Dome.

The Soda Springs
Our lunch spot

We drove down a big windy hill through Yosemite with canyons and rocks and stuff. We stopped to take photos at, what was that place called?

Olmstead Point.

Yeah, and climbed up this big rock slab and the lake with trees around it. We drove down some more windy road with me reading my book and Amy listening to her story then we stopped to take photos down a deep valley canyon thing.

The road across Yosemite is very windy and very scenic. It’s around 40 miles long. Mid way along, Olmstead Point offered our first view of the iconic Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley. On the other side of the road to the carpark was a huge gently sloping granite slab which called to me. So Amy and I climbed it. I think Oliver went back to his book. The lake Oliver mentions was further down the road. I’m not sure what he was getting at with the Canyon but suspect he was thinking about the next morning when we drove into Yosemite Valley for the first time.

The Sierra Nevada mountains are nothing like other mountain ranges we have explored. The forest seems to grow straight out of the granite with trees and rock present in almost equal measure. As we descended from the heights of the pass the trees got bigger and stunning autumn, I mean fall, colours started to emerge. It was not hard to see how Yosemite helped inspire the National Parks movement.

On the western side of the park you can’t help but notice the number of dead trees. We would later learn that an estimated 6 million trees in the park have succumbed to fire and the bark beetle – a natural and ever present critter that is having a devastating impact because the winters are becoming too warm to halt them in their tracks and because the trees have already been weakened by drought.

Olmstead Point

Then we eventually showed up at this expensive campground with easy mini-golf. Me and daddy were tied for ages until he gave up because it was cold.

The campground was the closest to Yosemite that we could find. So many people visit Yosemite every year that the campsites book out within a minute of opening – 6 months in advance! I guess I must have moaned about the price if that’s what Oliver recalls. It did have a rustic mini-golf course and we did play when he and Amy should have been in bed and the game did go on seemingly forever and I did eventually send everyone to bed. It was cold and sometimes enough is enough.

The next morning we got up and me and Amy did two hours of school. We drove into Yosemite but I didn’t see any of it cause I was reading my book. Then we most annoyingly stopped for lunch and tried to spot climbers climbing up El Capitan. Then we walked over to the two guys who had two telescopes and we saw the climbers up close on the cliff and we tried to figure out where they were on the cliff without the telescope. There was this red dude who had a red rope and red gear and he was just sitting relaxing in a red chair enjoying the view… and taking photos probably. 

I think Oliver did see some of the drive into the Yosemite Valley, hence the reference to the canyons earlier. It must also be said that he probably did miss most of it because he was reading his book. Oliver has read in excess of 48 books this year and he may well remember many of them more than where we’ve been.

The two hours of school work is true. Emma and I recently instigated a new school work regime in an effort to eliminate any and all debate about the matter. This is no longer vacation style schooling. Breakfast is served from 7.00 each morning and school starts at 8.00. No one goes anywhere until two hours of concentrated work follows. The new regime is working really well – at least from Emma and my perspective. Oliver says he doesn’t like it.

I really don’t like the new school work regime because I don’t get to read my book enough in the morning.

Upon entering the Yosemite Valley proper for the first time we took a short walk to the Bridal Veil falls before stopping for lunch along the Merced River at the foot of El Capitan. I can’t begin to imagine why Oliver found stopping for lunch annoying… we were all hungry. Maybe he just wanted to keep reading his book?

Our lunch spot was stunning. There was hardly anyone else around and we sat gazing up at the thousand metre face of El Capitan. We had heard you could see people climbing it but couldn’t see anyone until we came across a lovely husband and wife from Texas who pointed them out. There were in fact many climbers though they could scarcely be seen.

So big you can’t fit the whole reflection in

A short walk down the river, the National Parks Service organises a ‘talk to a climber’ program. We wandered through the forest until we found the relevant spot which included a couple of telescopes. Through the telescopes we could follow the climbers in great detail as they hung on their ropes, hauled bags of gear up behind them and as they climbed. It takes most people four to five days to climb the 1000 vertical metres. We stayed and watched for at least an hour.

It was harder than Where’s Wally
There’s a few
They have a stack of gear to haul up the rock
Our first good look at Half Dome
Up close – Half Dome

Where did we go next? Oh yeah, then we drove to the visitor centre where Daddy dropped me, Granny and Amy off and we got junior ranger things so we could have something interesting to do. Then we waited for you and then we went to the Ansell Adams Gallery where you guys looked at prints of the Ansell Adams photos that costed thousands of dollars and were only prints. There were heaps of prints as you would expect in a gallery’.

We made a special effort to get to the visitor centre to pick up the junior ranger booklets for Amy and Oliver. Amy has taken a real liking to these booklets and eagerly sets out in pursuits of all the information required to complete them and earn another badge. The Yosemite Visitor Centre however is tucked away in a corner of the valley that is probably easily accessed in a Smart Car but which presents certain difficulties and challenges to the driver of a 28-foot motorhome.

Emma and I ended up parking several kilometres away and catching the Yosemite shuttle back to the visitor centre. The Ansell Adams gallery next door did have prints of his work on sale, the most expensive of which was priced at US$83,000!

Didn’t we then wait at the place with the deer while you went to get the motorhome and Amy and Granny took about a thousand photos of a deer that was just grazing about 50 feet away?

Yep. Neither Amy, Oliver or Granny were up for the walk back to get the motorhome so they waited on the edge of a meadow with gorgeous views across the valley and looking straight at the face of Half Dome. To complete the scene there was a deer, complete with impressive looking antlers, grazing a matter of metres away.

Deer paparazzi

After that we drove from Yosemite to a campground where there was a guy with an American flag on his tent, then we made a fire from our faithful fire lighters and we made chocolate damper til 9.00 (pm) and then we went to bed and slept until tomorrow.

All fairly self-explanatory. The campground was in fact just inside the park and was secured by showing up at 8.30 am that morning and reserving a spot just as another camper was leaving. The guy behind us did string an American flag before he pitched his tent. I’m not sure there was much ‘we’ in the making of the damper. This was Amy’s sole endeavour though we all happily wrapped it in foil to cook and eat the fruit of her labour. It was good. Really good. Especially drowned in honey.

Maybe that is what you do in the USA?

The next day we drove into Yosemite village and hired bikes which was a little bit tedious because the lady at the counter said that if we weren’t back in thirty minutes after it started raining they would lock up your license or something. Then we rode up to the bottom of Half Dome where there was supposed to be a lake called Mirror Lake but all there was, was a dry lake bed with big boulders sticking out of it.

Bikes seemed like a great way to get around the Yosemite Valley so we hired some, which did entail leaving Emma’s drivers’ licence behind as a sort of deposit. I was a little rankled however when told that if it rained (as was forecast) we had to be back from wherever we were within 30 minutes or they would close for the day and we would have to come back the next day to retrieve our deposit.

This is the sort of thing that gets under my skin and I guess I’m not that good at hiding it. History has shown that I can get quite petty over such matters despite their being well beyond my influence. In any case, ‘tedious’ may not be quite the right word but Oliver’s recollection is fair. The Mirror Lake thing is also true. There was no water. It was bone dry. There were great views of Half Dome though. From our vantage point right at its base we looked heavenward to the peak of the rock face 1500 metres overhead.

Bike fun
Half Dome view from Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake
Silliness on after the bike ride

When we turned around and went back (from the half way point on our ride) it started sprinkling and we only just got back before our hour was up. Then we went on a ranger talk that took us around and told us about animals and cool stuff then he got all excited about a helicopter rescue where the helicopter went down into a gorge about five times and came up with people. Then Amy and me got our ranger thinga-me-jiggies signed and got our junior ranger badges.

As part of the junior ranger program, we all had to attend one of the talks by the National Parks staff. We decided to join Ranger Eric on the ‘Wildlife Walk’. Ranger Eric was excellent, full of information on Yosemite’s ecology. Our walk was however interrupted by the thrum of a helicopter streaking down the valley and we did all have to chase after Eric when he stopped speaking mid-sentence and ran off excitedly to see where the chopper was going.

Turns out it wasn’t going far and we spent the next hour alternately watching wildlife and the helicopter as it disappeared into a gorge at the Yosemite Falls before finally emerging with some poor soul strapped to a stretcher hanging from the end of a winch and winging rapidly off towards medical assistance.

‘More that 4.5 million people visit Yosemite National Park every year’, Ranger Eric explained. ‘This sort of thing happens all the time. Search and rescue personnel come from all over the world to learn from our crews’.

This all made for an eventful afternoon after which we did return to the visitor centre for Amy and Oliver to submit their booklets. The Parks staff take these very seriously and the Ranger went through each question, stopping with a furrowed brow at the question asking which President was responsible for the protection of Yosemite National Park.

Amy and Oliver had written Theodore Roosevelt at my instruction. Needless to say I was a little, nay a lot, embarrassed to be informed it was Abraham Lincoln. I was just starting to rehearse a rationale as to why Amy and Oliver should not be denied their junior ranger status because their dad got cocky about the history of the National Parks Service when the ranger seemed satisfied that it was indeed my error and not theirs. Amy and Oliver followed the Ranger in a pledge to help protect the park and we were on our way.

Ranger Eric
Not wildlife
Can you see the person hanging?
There was wildlife – a young mule deer buck
The meadow in Yosemite Valley was good for wildlife spotting

And now I think it’s time for me to go to bed.

It was, and he has, and so it falls to me to finish the story. On our final day in Yosemite we took a walk down into one of three groves of Giant Sequoia’s in the park. Giant Sequoias are the same species as the coastal redwoods. They are larger in girth but not as tall. There were around 20 trees in the grove and they were fantastic but what really took me were the autumn colours of the undergrowth.

Autumn colours
More Autumn colours
Even more Autumn colours
This one had an acorn

We then retraced our steps back over the Tioga pass the way we had come in. A light dusting of snow from the night before had transformed the high country and made for many more stops for photos, including Olmsted Point again where this time we all climbed the rock. Oliver may have read his book the rest of the time but I’m not sure. We re-joined Highway 395 headed south right where we left off, camping a short way down the road at the gorgeous Silver Lake.

The predicted storm really did hit that night and we later learned that the Tioga Road had been closed due to snow. We made it through with just a matter of hours to spare.

High above Olmstead Point with Half Dome in background
New banner shot – at Olmstead Point
Tuolumne Meadows on the way out of the Park
A light dusting
Silver Lake trees
On the road after Yosemite