Friday, May 30, 2014

Lassen Volcanic National Park

As we rolled north out of Carson City through Reno and then back into Northern California, we also passed the northern end of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and into the southern end of the Cascade Range of mountains.  The Sierras were created largely by the shifting of the earth’s plates while the Cascades are know for their volcanic peaks.  Most people remember the eruption of Mt Saint Helens in 1980, but that was not the only “recent” volcanic eruption in the Cascade Range.  Lassen Peak also erupted less than 100 years ago, 99 years ago in May to be exact.


We took a picture of a story board in the Park that showed a picture taken of the major eruption of Lassen Peak three days after the initial eruption in 1915.  This eruption also set off avalanches that carried “hot rocks” as shown below right five miles from the peak and beyond.


As we drove up the Park road, we eventually reached those snow capped areas of the mountains.  And lest you think these volcanic peaks are done erupting, also shown is a cauldron of boiling mud and sulfur that demonstrates this area still is very alive and potentially dangerous.

IMG_1162 IMG_1178

IMG_1129And it was really nice to have a campground with trees.  It has been quite a long time.  But a campsite like this one makes the wait worthwhile.  Even Alley Cat loved this park.  She was out every day for a walk, chasing the ducks and birds of the campground all over the place.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Carson City, Nevada

IMG_1094We haven’t yet written about the actual city we were camped in – Carson City.  It has two big claims to fame. One, it was named after mountain man Kit Carson, and two, it is the capital of the State of Nevada.

Carson City has been the capital of Nevada since its statehood in 1864




IMG_1089Over the holiday weekend we drove all of about a mile to park and stroll the the capitol grounds.  The state capitol building was completed in 1871. It is no longer used for meetings of the state assembly and senate; they are now housed in a separate modern building on the same grounds.  The Nevada Supreme Court Building is also on the same grounds.  The Governor’s Mansion is located a few blocks away.



On Memorial Day, we also happened upon a couple monuments, one to Nevada Veterans and the second to the USS Nevada, a battleship that was torpedoed and bombed by Japanese war planes in Pearl Harbor.


IMG_1107And just a couple blocks down the street from the capitol was this monument to the biggest single industry of the State of Nevada – casino gambling..

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Saturday Drive……..Around Lake Tahoe

On Saturday we drove a Lake Tahoe circle tour.  As measured by surface area, Lake Tahoe is the 30th largest lake in the US, but on the basis of volume, it is the 6th largest with its 1,645 foot depth – only the Great Lakes have more volume. 


The lake is completely surrounded by mountains with several of the finest ski areas in the country in its peaks.  We stopped by Squaw Valley to see the site of the 1960 Olympics.  Their tram goes right over the top of this rocky peak just to get up to the start of most of their terrain.


This wasn’t the first time that we had seen Lake Tahoe.  About 30 years ago we skied at Heavenly Valley, a ski resort that straddles the Nevada/California state lines at the south end of the Lake and has bases in both States.  You can see some of the runs on the California part of Heavenly in the far left of the picture below and also the tram we remember riding up the ski hill.


Although we enjoyed our tour, because of the route of the road, the dense trees, and commercial and residential development, we didn’t see as many vistas of the lake as we would have liked.  But it is spectacular territory just the same.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Virginia City, Nevada

We made a day trip out to the old historic mining town of Virginia City.  It is not only famous for being the site of the Comstock Lode, the first major discovery of silver in the US, but also as the main town the Cartwrights would go to when they needed to “go to town” on the TV show, Bonanza.  The city was founded in 1859 and at its peak, it had over 25,000 residents.  But as with most “boom towns”, after the silver was mined out by 1874, the population declined greatly.  Today there are fewer than 1,000 full time residents.  It was a very rich city during the silver boom with an impressive Catholic Church, the first in the state of Nevada, homes, and an innovative school.



IMG_1032Virginia City attracted all kinds of people.  John Mackay made his first fortune in silver mining in Virginia City.  The school of mines at the University of Nevada-Reno is named after him (the location of the mineral museum we visited).  Samuel Clemens was a reporter for the town newspaper and did his first writing under the name Mark Twain.  And as with any boom town, there were a variety of gamblers, gunslingers and others of ill repute. 

And just like Cripple Creek and Blackhawk/Central City in Colorado and Deadwood/Lead in South Dakota, Virginia City has casinos, albeit just a few smaller ones, to help sustain its heritage.


The “main drag” is bordered on both sides of the street by 1800s buildings with continuous covered boardwalks.  Some are trying to cash in on that TV show we mentioned above.


Saturday, May 24, 2014


When we rolled out of Lee Vining, Yosemite and Mono Basin, we only moved about a hundred miles north, which put us back into Nevada.  We are now camped in Carson City which is our base for exploring Reno, Lake Tahoe, and Virginia City.

20140522_161841We’ve made two trips to Reno – “The Biggest Little City In The World”.  It has been a month since we have been in a city of any size so we had to get in a little shopping too.  But it wasn’t all work.  Gary got in a poker tournament at one of the many casinos while I played the machines a bit.

We figured that Nevada, being a mining state, might just have a mineral museum like we had visited in other mining states.  Sure enough, we found that there is one on the campus of the University of Nevada Reno.  We wound up parking at the north end of the campus and the museum is down at the other end so we had quite a tour of the University.  Shown below are some of our favorite specimens from this visit.



Gary had to grab the camera and capture some pictures of the football field.  He was telling me that Colin Kaepernick played his college football on this field, whoever that is.  We liked the look and the feel of the campus which is home to nearly 20,000 students.




20140522_162905We also took a quick tour of the National Bowling Stadium.  It has the nickname of “The Taj Mahal of Bowling” and was a part of a mid 90’s redevelopment of downtown Reno and an effort to capture away some of the tourist trade from Las Vegas.  Many tournaments are held in the 78 lane facility.  Movies have also been filmed there including one of our favorites, Kingpin, starring Bill Murray and Woody Harrelson.  We aren’t bowlers, but it was well worth our short visit.  I even had the chance to take the wheel of a bowling pin golf cart.


We also had the chance to take in some breweries in Reno.  Our favorite brew was a chili beer at Great Basin Brewery.  It was a very light ale but with just enough chili for a bit of burn in the finish.  It had been a long time since we sampled a pepper beer and it was a welcome return.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mono Basin

IMG_0743We plan our travels around major attractions – National Parks, cities, well know points of interest, and the occasional Escapees rally or RV Park.  From there, we start looking for what else may be available in the area of the major attraction.  Many times we find gems of other attractions that we never had heard of.  For example, between Big Bend and Carlsbad we found Balmorhea Springs.  Around White Sands, we found Three Rivers Petroglyphs, Valley of Fires, and Trinity Site. In the area of Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon, we found the Coral Pink Sand Dunes.  All fabulous attractions in their own right, but ones that we just happened upon rather than specifically planned to visit.  Finding and visiting these hidden gems is often as much or more a joy than the well-known ones.  Such is the case here on the east side of Yosemite – we found and explored the Mono Basin including its signature feature, Mono Lake (pronounced “moe-no”).

IMG_0716All the beauty in the pictures from Yosemite was formed by eruptions of granite rock and then cut and carved by the massive glaciers of the last ice age.  As the glaciers advanced and then receded, they also formed this “bowl”, Mono Basin just outside the Park.  Being a bowl, there is no way for the water in Mono Lake to escape other than through evaporation so it is a salty lake with salinity twice the level of ocean water.  There are only two things that live in this salty environment – brine shrimp and alkali files (alkali flies are shown in the picture to the right).  There are 15 trillion brine shrimp in the lake (yes, trillion with a T).  We are not sure who tallies them, but we sure hope they don’t lose the count along the way.  In what appears to be a lifeless environment, life is in fact teeming.

IMG_0734All these simple beings make Mono Lake a major feeding grounds for migratory birds.  There is one species which migrates between northern Canada and southern Argentina and their only feeding ground during this trip is Mono Lake.  But the lake became greatly endangered during the 1940’s.  The City of Los Angeles extended their fresh water aqueduct on up the Owens Valley and they diverted virtually all of the water from five mountain streams that all used to flow to Mono Lake.  The Lake level dropped 45 vertical feet and it lost half its volume.  The Lake was very much in danger of becoming a dry lake bed just as had happened with Owens Lake in the southern end of the valley.  In the late 1970’s local residents formed an association to appeal to Los Angeles to save the lake.  Los Angeles refused to stop any of the water diversions.  After 10 years of legal battles, The California Water Resources Control Board finally ruled that Los Angeles had to provide sufficient water to the Lake to keep it healthy.  The Lake is now back on the rise.  Lee Vining Creek in the picture to the right is running again; previously all the water that is now in this creek would have been diverted off to Los Angeles.

As the lake level lowered over the years it did expose these amazing rock formations called tufa.  The lake is full of carbonates, and the mountain streams that feed the lake carried lots of calcium.  The mountain water flows fed springs that bubbled up calcium from the bottom of the lake and when combined with the carbonate formed calcium carbonate otherwise known as limestone.  All of these formations were hidden from view under the surface of the lake until the lake level fell, but with that fall the tufa then died.  When the lake finally rises back to its mandated level, some of the tufa will be covered again and could come back to life.


IMG_0919Also in the Mono Lake Basin are the Mono Craters.  It is a small mountain range just south of the lake all formed in the AD era from volcanic eruptions, the last one occurring as recently as 600 years ago.  We hiked up the wall of one of the craters.  Instead of a giant hole like we had seen at the steam crater in Death Valley, this crater was filled with a “plug”.  The earth’s magma had not just steamed the ground water and blown out a hole, it had thrusted up through the hole and created a dome of rock, cinders, obsidian (rock turned to glass), and other materials.  And before any one thinks Gary has turned into He-Man, I will quickly point out that boulder he is hoisting is made of cinders.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Yosemite National Park

IMG_0916From Bishop, we rolled on up the Owens Valley to the little town of Lee Vining where we are camped for exploring Yosemite National Park.  Most people enter Yosemite from the west as the populations centers are to the west and also the most famous part of Yosemite NP, Yosemite Valley is on the western side of the park.  But we wanted to travel up the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains so here we are in Lee Vining.

The trip from Lee Vining to Yosemite Valley is a bit of a challenging one, especially when making multiple visits to the Park.  Lee Vining is at an elevation of about 6,800 feet.  In the first 12 miles, you climb to Tioga Pass at about 10,000 feet, the highest mountain pass in California and the east entrance is to Yosemite.  Then you drive another 60 miles or so during which time you lose 6,000 feet in elevation finally to arrive in Yosemite Valley.  But it is a drive full of mountains, meadows, lakes, streams, waterfalls, and trees in addition to the grades, curves, drop offs, and vehicles over the center line.


And at the end of this beautiful drive you arrive at the area of the valley.  The pictures largely speak for themselves.