Sunday, June 12, 2005
Over the Mountains
After the wedding in Boulder we packed up and headed west along I-80 to meet up with Julie's family in Yosemite. With more than 1200 miles to traverse, we knew that it would take us several days. When we started off on Monday morning (Memorial Day) we were heading literally into storm clouds, and by the time we got to Wyoming you could barely see 100 feet from the highway. I was pretty upset since this was my first trip out west and I was afraid that I'd miss all the great landscapes. Fortunately the clouds cleared as we passed over the mountain range just east of Laramie and we were treated to amazing vistas of mountain ranges in the distance and vast open desert lands around us.

As we drove I was just struck by the vast emptiness of the land. This perception only grew as we headed further west. We would go for miles and miles without passing any crossroads or civilization at all. At times we would crest a mountain ridge to see a vast open valley spread out before us, and no sign of human influence anywhere in the entire valley except for the road we were on. Most of the land we passed through on this trip was fairly green, even the deserts, since the western states had just experienced some of the most rain they had seen in years. However, one of the most barren places we were in was the Great Salt Desert just west of Salt Lake City. For nearly 100 miles there is nothing but salt flats created by the drainage from the Great Salt Lake. Or I should say nearly nothing, for the government actually uses that land as an explosives testing and air force training area (much like the nuclear testing grounds north of Las Vegas, Nevada).

Monday night we stayed at a Holiday Inn/Casino in Winnemucca, Nevada (with legalized gambling in the state, every hotel, truckstop and gas station in Nevada is also a "casino", though sometimes that's nothing more than a few slot machines in the corner). In the morning we continued on through Reno and down over the Sierra Nevadas through the Donner Pass (it struck us as rather... well, morbid that the pass, the lake, and town were all named for a bunch of cannibals that got stranded there.) Since the Tioga Road into Yosemite from the east was still closed due to 16-foot snow drifts, we had to approach the park from the west by going all the way to Sacramento and then south through the central valley of California. The up-side of this detour is that allowed us to stop off in Newcastle, CA to visit our friend Karen Thompson who lives here in the Wheaton area near us, but who was home for the summer on her family's farm in that area of California. We stopped briefly at her mom's produce store, which was a great little shop for locally grown food and other specialty items.

After a great lunch there at the store we continued on to Yosemite, one of the most beautiful and majestic places on earth. (C.S. Lewis says that certain theological concepts like glory or majesty would have had no real meaning for him if he had not seen certain amazing natural landscapes. After seeing Yosemite I know what he meant.) This was our second visit there, and it was still just as awe inspiring. We met up with Julie's parents, Randy and Rhonda, there as well as Julie's brother Kyle and his girlfriend Margot. They had arrived the day before and already spent a day hiking to the top of Yosemite Falls and back. Their original plan was to hike to the top of Half Dome, but the cables to the top still weren't up due to snow that was still on the top of the mountain, so the trail to the top of the falls was the next most challenging hike that they could think of. I was actually glad that we hadn't arrived in time to join them for that adventure. :)

Julie's parents had reserved rooms for all of us at a great hotel in El Portal, just outside of Yosemite Valley. Ours was a great room with a kitchenette, a two-person jacuzzi tub, and a deck right next to the rushing river coming out of the valley. It was great to be able to open the sliding door at night and fall asleep to the sound of the water flowing through the rapids. We also greatly enjoyed the communal pools and hot tubs at the hotel, especially the second night after we were sore from hiking all day.

That day we actually split up, with myself, Randy, Kyle and Margot doing a longer hike from the top of Glacier Point (we took a bus to the top) down 8 miles past the tops of the Illouette, Nevada and Vernal Falls back to the valley floor while Julie and Rhonda stayed along the valley floor with Emma where they could push the stroller and not wear Julie out too much (she still doesn't have her full strength back from the pregnancy). They walked out to Mirror Lake and then back to the base of the Yosemite Falls, seeing a lot of cool flora and fauna along the way, not to mention the spectacular views. Our hike was a little more strenuous, even though it was downhill most of the way. (Going downhill can sometimes actually be more painful than uphill, given all the jarring and strain on one's knees and ankles.) But the experience was definitely worth it, and as I said, relaxing one's muscles in the hot tub afterwards is always a great feeling.

The next day we loaded Emma back into the car to continue our trek towards Las Vegas. At 4 1/2 months, Emma does okay on these long car rides, sleeping most of the time, though by the end of the roadtrip we could tell that she was getting very sick of being in the car (she would cry uncontrollably whenever we would start to put her in her car seat). It also doesn't seem quite fair that at less than 5 months Emma has visited 19 states and seen some of the most amazing wonders of the world, and yet she won't remember any of it.
posted by Mike Clawson at 7:46 PM | Permalink |


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