Tag Archives: CA

Four Foto Friday – Death Valley to the Vegas Strip

Death Valley

Miles on Devil’s Golf Course

Death Valley: We started the week in the lowest, hottest, and driest place in America… Death Valley National Park. Fortunately, the springtime temperatures kept things relatively comfortable at a dry 100 degrees. We had one day to see some of the most accessible sights: Golden Canyon (where portions of the original Star Wars was filmed), Badwater Basin (the lowest point in the valley), Artist’s Palette (a scenic drive through colorful mesas and foothills), and Furnace Creek (an oasis town that’s home to the main visitor center.). This photo was taken at Devil’s Golf Course, where the land is so parched that it forms small mounds encrusted with evaporated crystals of borax and salt. Death Valley was otherworldly (NASA testing grounds for the Mars rover, in fact) but also diverse and colorful under the shifting sun.

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Scenery of Zion Canyon

Zion NP: From Death Valley, we drove the RV straight on through to southwestern Utah. Our plan was to see Zion National Park for a couple of days before finishing out the week in Las Vegas. Our two days in Zion allowed us to see the main canyon, where the Virgin River has spectacularly cut through 3,000 feet of brilliant red sandstone. We hiked along the river and also to the seasonal Emerald Falls. We also took advantage of the warmish weather and tent camped in a nearby campground. Zion was amazing and we really just scratched the surface there. Fortunately, we’ll be heading back for more at the start of next week.

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Those tiny specks are rock climbers!

Red Rock Canyon: On Thursday, we left the RV in Utah and backtracked to Las Vegas for a little fun. The big attraction for us: seeing our ISB friends, the Merritts! Our first destination with them was Red Rock Canyon, an incredible natural formation just on the outskirts of town. The visitor center had a great display of desert ecosystems, and then we headed into the hills for an afternoon of hiking and family fun. 

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On the Strip with the Merritts

Las Vegas: Friday night, we hit the Vegas Strip. This first foray into town was a family affair, so we stuck to kid-friendly attractions like the Bellagio Fountain and Hershey’s Chocolate World. Some of our best entertainment, however, came from people-watching on the street, which was filled with costumed characters, street performers, and partygoers of all varieties. This was a different kind of “educational experience” for the boys, but one that’s uniquely American. Viva Las Vegas!

We still have another day here and are looking forward to a visit to Hoover Dam. It’s been great catching up with friends and experiencing this amazing city in the desert.

Four Foto Friday: Spectacular Sierras

Our final week in California was filled with great scenery, warm weather, and loads of fun at two incredible national parks. Here are the details:

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Reflections on Mirror Lake

 

Yosemite: Saturday was our last day in Yosemite National Park. With plenty of sunshine, it was a beautiful day for hiking in the valley. Our morning destination was Mirror Lake, a seasonal pond that forms at the base of Half Dome. The reflection of a few thousand feet of granite towering above was truly impressive. After a picnic lunch and a quick trip to the visitor center for Junior Ranger badges, we set out for Vernal Fall (a fitting destination for this first day of spring). The hike was another steep one, but the view of this thundering waterfall was a great reward. Yosemite is a magical place — our favorite national park thus far — and we hope to return here again.

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The biggest living organism in the world.

Sequoias: A few hours south of Yosemite, Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park is another highlight of the Sierra Nevada mountains. With names like General Sherman, Sentinal, and President, it’s trees that are the rock stars here. Giant Sequoias are the largest living organisms on the planet. They can reach heights of 300 feet and form a base circumference of over 100 feet (that’s 36 feet in diameter — large enough to park our RV on!). Walking through the Giant Forest is like walking back in time; some of these trees are 2,500 years old. Giant Sequoias can only be found at 6,000-8,000 feet in elevation. Our campsite was in the valley at 800 feet, so the drive back and forth to the groves was an adventure in and of itself.

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High Sierra view from Morro Rock

 

Other Sights in Sequoia: Along the way (a.k.a. straight up the mountain) we made a variety of stops: a picnic lunch near river rapids, a hike through an alpine meadow, a visit to the tree museum, etc. One of our favorite side trips was Morro Rock, a granite outcrop which afforded great views of the High Sierra peaks, as well as the San Joaquin Valley below. What made this most special, however, was our first bear sighting. We spotted the mama bear and her three cubs on a hillside not far from the trailhead. Downwind and quietly, we watched for about 20 minutes as they foraged through the brush and fallen trees. Eventually, they cuddle up together for a snooze (we were told they were still groggy from the light winter and a short hibernation). Altogether, Sequoia was another incredible national park.

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Enjoying the campfire and stream.

 

Camping: Rounding out the rest of our week, we slowed down a bit and enjoyed some good old-fashioned camping. Our campground sat in the foothills just outside the park and was surrounded by orchards and horse ranches. Our actual campsite sided up against a pretty stream, providing lots of privacy and the relaxing sounds of nature. The weather was warm enough to be outside in the early mornings and late evenings. Jen enjoyed her cup of tea by the gentle stream and the boys loved making campfires each night. This campsite was one of our favorites thus far, a good place to take a deep breath, enjoy a slower pace, and reflect on our many good fortunes.

We’ve seen a lot of California this month: deserts, coastline, cities, mountains and forests. It’s been a terrific adventure and we’re sad to say goodbye, but it’s time to start heading back East. Nevada and Utah are coming up next, and both look just as promising. Stay tuned!

Four Foto Friday – NorCal Coast to Mountains

We started this week between Santa Cruz and San Francisco on the California coast watching sea lions and surfers.  Then we headed to the  Sierra Nevada mountains and ended in beautiful Yosemite National Park hiking up giant mountains and to gorgeous waterfalls.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 9.05.42 PMAlcatraz Island:
When we were in San Francisco we went to Alcatraz Island. I really liked the audio tour that was narrated by the prison guards and former prisoners. Some of the most fascinating things they talked about were the one successful escape from Alcatraz and the privileges that the prisoners got. It was an ingenious escape and the people were never found again; they just disappeared.The privileges that the prisoners got, other than basic food, water and shelter, had to be earned. Also they had some prison cells furnished so we saw what a typical cell would have looked like. Last, we saw an art exhibit by Ai Wei Wei, an artist from China. He had three pieces of art; the one that I found most interesting was the one about political prisoners.

IMG_6964Mountain Biking:
While we were staying near San Francisco we went biking in Big Basin Redwoods State Park near the ocean. I really liked biking here because there were so many cool trees and plants, like coast redwoods. During our bike ride we stopped near a river and saw a newt! The newt was swimming in the water and looked exactly like a salamander. It was a really muddy trail, about wide enough for two people to walk on, with steep drop-offs where you could fall right off the side, which I almost did.

DSC_0656Yosemite Water Falls:
Yosemite National Park is one of my favorite parks so far in America and, while there, we did lots of activities. Some of my favorites were going to see the water falls. On our first day, we did a moderately strenuous hike to see the Upper Yosemite Falls, one of the highest on earth (2,425 ft). On our second day, we did some easier hikes to the Lower Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls. All of them were pretty, but you can only see them in the spring because they dry up during summer.

DSC_0672Yosemite Hike:
We did several hikes to get from place to place in Yosemite. All of them were in Yosemite Valley, which is a huge place and, even still, it’s less than 5% of the total national park. Besides the waterfall hikes, we did a ranger guided tree walk. This was very informative, but the ranger leading the walk kept getting distracted and talking about birds or animals and a lot of things that didn’t have to do with trees. This was OK because we learned about a variety of things, but not as much about the actual trees. We saw many black oaks, incense cedars, ponderosa pines, and my favorite, giant sequoias.

We still have one more day in Yosemite and so far it has been really great. Next we will be going to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park.

Four Foto Friday – Southern California is Awesome!

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Joshua tree, rocks, and rainbow.

Joshua Tree (near Palm Springs): At the Joshua Tree National Park we drove around until we found some huge boulders. We climbed them for a long time because it was fun to stand really high up. The piles were a bit hard to climb because some of the boulders were rounded and very rough. The shapes in the rocks were very interesting. The coolest one that I saw was a huge boulder that looked like a skull because it had two big carved out parts that were eyes and another that was the mouth. When we stopped climbing we drove on a road in the middle of nowhere where we saw lots of Joshua trees and other plants that grow in the desert.

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Me and Miles at Tempest.

Tempest Freerunning Academy (in Los Angeles): I talked about Tempest in one of my first blog posts and I finally got to go there. It looks like a city that has construction because it has metal bars that you can swing on. It also has big metal pieces that people hang and jump on. At Tempest I took a beginners class and learned how to roll. This is really important because if you jump off a roof to another roof and don’t use a special roll then you are very likely to break something.  Another thing that I learned was how to vault. There are different types of vaults. The type of vault that we learned was a kong vault. It is where I put my hands out on something and jumped putting my knees right underneath my body. My favorite thing that I did was the kong vaults because I was pretty good at it and it was really fun. (Click here for a quick video of Owen doing rolls and Miles doing vaults)

Seals with their pups

Seal moms with their pups.

Seals (in La Jolla): We went to a beach called La Jolla Cove. When we got there we saw Harbor Seals up close and in the wild. The seals all looked different. Some had spots on gray fur and some had just brown fur and some were super fat. My mom was surprised that we could go so close to the seals when the pups (seal babies) were there. Miles and I think that it is hilarious how the seals get around on land. They look like inchworms when they have to get around on their flippers. We also saw another closed off part of the beach that had even more seals and pups. These seals were really cute and they made funny faces when they were lying down.

No leopard photo, but the hippos were cool, too.

No leopard photo, but the pygmy hippo was cool, too.

San Diego Zoo: At the zoo they had many animals. They split the zoo up so that the animals were grouped with others from the same part of the world. The zoo had lots of different types of animals. They had polar bears, leopards, lions, elephants, otters, baboons, naked mole rats, red and giant pandas, etc. My favorite animal is a leopard because of their fur which has black rings that are not all the same and the rings are all crooked. I also like that leopards are very stealthy and fast. The San Diego Zoo was one of my favorite zoos and the day that we went the weather was nice and sunny.

In addition to all of this, we got to see some really good friends from ISB and AES and stay with my mom and dad’s friend from when they lived in Atlanta. It was neat to see their houses and be with them in San Diego. I would like to go back there some time.

J&R Note: Big thanks to Elise V for her great hospitality and to Karin L and Chris B for making the time for a visit. So sorry to have missed Linda B… but now we all have a reason to come back!