Monday, April 25, 2016

Mon 25 April - Three Rivers, CA - Great expectations but a very different day

We had large plans for today - to see the worlds largest living tree, General Sherman, and climb the Moro Rock in the Sequoia National  Park. 

Firstly a little about the worst motel of this trip. Let it be an unnamed motel in Three Rivers. The room cost was about the same as all the others that have stayed in but:
- the motel was stuck in a 1970's time warp. Layout, TV, telephone, furniture etc. Small, 1 chair only and no table. Cheap wood paneling. It looked like no maintenance at all has been done for 40 years
- half the power points in the room didn't work. We ends up unplugging a lamp to get power. 
- wifi stopped functioning and when Di tried the old push button phone to call someone she found the phone did not work either (so why have the handset there?)
- nobody seems to work here before 8am

"Breakfast" started at a late 8am (6am or 6.30am at the other motels we've been to) and was coffee, very sweet pastries and some slices of oranges. 

That's it. No real milk just coffee mate.  We gave up and went and bought breakfast provisions (bread and milk) at the supermarket and returned and picnic'd in our room. 
The furniture is what we used outside yesterday and breakfast was good. We will repeat this for the next few days. 

The weather forecast for the mountains was rainy. Still, we set off anyway into the Sequoia National Park. When we asked at the entrance station the ranger said she did not think it would snow but agreed the cloud was quite low. The Weather Channel said something different but we persisted to get up there.

Now the road is a typical windy narrow mountain road - lots and lots of curves as it climbs more than 5,000 feet. And this is what we soon faced. Very low cloud. 

We persisted... Or Hans did as he was driving. 

This vista point made us laugh.  A poster of what we were supposed to see versus what we did see. 
Keep smiling...

Walking 20 paces from our car you can tell visibility is poor. 

Then it got worse!  And started to snow. Ok, this was now bad news for us and we just became tense and anxious. Hans was driving at less than 20km an hour, the road continued to climb and wind around the mountain and we figured we had at least 10 miles to go. So we turned around. It was not fun anymore.  We can try again tomorrow when it is predicted to be cold but sunny.  

On the way down we had to stop a few times for a break as Di gets car sick in these types of roads, and then she drove (which helps her manage it).   

Finally we arrived at the Kaweah River and stopped at this restaurant for a hot drink break. 

Lovely location by the river. 

We sat at a table near the window and watched the river.  The menu did mention bears and we really hope we see one on this trip but nothing today. We did joke at the idea that the tables and chairs on the rock in the middle of the river could be for a few bears. Mama bear scoops out a fish for the cubs who sit patiently at the dinner table.  Would be so cute to see!

The Kaweah River appears to be at full flow at the moment. We then drove through the town of Three Rivers and headed to the local lake/dam. 

The trees, and other things, are under water as the dam level is high at the moment. And they are letting it fill further. Good fishing apparently - Bass and Carp and Trout. 

We stopped at another location, the local campground, and found some of their sites are also underwater. 

Further along there was the local marina for houseboats and it just looked great, so we decided to visit it. 

We had to laugh when we got closer. We saw this sign, just before a boat ramp. 

Down on the marina we chatted to a young lady working there - about the houseboats, fishing, their season etc. 

The costs for acquiring a houseboat and keeping it at the marina is all remarkably cheap compared to Australia. You can buy a houseboat for less than $10k and moor it here for about $1,500 a year.   

And we had to ask about the road sign above. The girl explained that last summer someone had driven their car into the water, still towing their trailer! And despite the sign then being up because others had driven into water before. We laughed and shook our heads. 

In a big storm a few years ago the whole marina and all houseboats broke loose and ended up on the other side of the dam. We saw the wind moving it all around and back and forth while we were there so we could easily imagine it. 

We imagined it would be great fun to hire one of these with some mates for the day. Apparently you have to be 18 years old to hire one but are allows to drive one from age 13. 

Soon we were back on the road driving to Exeter, a local orange growing town that we had passed yesterday. We thought it might be worthwhile to explore it and that it may be a good place for lunch. And yes, it was both.

On the way in we saw this diner called East Meet West which had several cop cars in front of it. We know that cops know the best value places to eat so we looked around town but ended up coming back. East Meet West was an American/Thai food diner. 

Today East lunch special was KungPao Chicken with soup and spring rolls.  Di was dubious because we've not had much luck with Asian food in USA but Hans was persuasive and we tried it. 

Oh joy oh joy - the KungPao Chicken was excellent. We were sooo happy! Plenty of food and less than $10 each. What's not to like?

The owner was a charming Thai man who has been in the U.S. since 1973. He was funny and we got chatting about travel and food and the local oranges.  He asked if we had tried an Exeter orange (which is a navel orange). Apparently this town is the navel orange capital of the world.  He grows his own Exeter oranges in his backyard and he gave us one each to try. Very juicy.

We then strolled through the main street of Exeter. To us it looks like the town has money. Agriculture is big business here and murals on the buildings celebrate this. 

This Exeter mural is not one for the feminists... The boss is a man and all the packers are women. 

An enjoyable afternoon but time for us to had back to Three Rivers and to our motel.

With such a big lunch we opted for the same dinner as last night. Which was salami and crackers. And beer for Hans and shandy for Di instead of red wine. 

Again, we sat on the outdoor deck as the weather improved after a mid afternoon dumping of rain.

Yummy and relaxing yet again but we will need to try one of the local Three Rivers restaurants for dinner tomorrow. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sat 23 & Sun 24 April - Beatty NV and Three Rivers, CA - big driving days with a fun Saturday night

Two big driving days were scheduled to get us from Hurricane UT to Sequioa National Park in CA.  In total we drove more than 1000kms (600 miles) in 2 days but we had some intesting stops along the way including a Saturday night in Beatty NV. More on that later...

On Saturday morning we had a leisurely start leaving Hurricane as we knew there was no point getting to Las Vegas NV before 9am. We had some shopping to do!  So here we see a familiar skyline and feel like a sense of déjà vu. 

Time out for shopping is not our usual style on holidays but when in the US we normally take the chance to refresh our runners, hiking clothes and tshirts. So much more choice and better here. 

We arrived at North Las Vegas Premium Outlet mall at 9am on the dot. And shopped! In 2 hours we each picked up Nike shoes, hiking shirts, t-shirts and also some bras for Di. All great quality and pretty well priced even with the current exchange rate. 

Our second detour was to do the scenic loop at Red Rock Canyon State Park. We had heard God things about it so wanted to see it. Unfortunately we've been spoiled by Utah and we did not find it very impressive but still enjoyed it. 

This guy was behind us the whole way on the 17 mile loop - nice day to take your dog fo a drive. 

We has a quick bite to eat at Arby's (now a favourite fast food place as they do a good Reuben sandwich and side salad).  A funny situation though. They were so short staffed they locked the doors to the counter service and served drive through only. We were the second last group inside the restaurant. Food was good and fresh. 

Then we headed to Beatty. Not an exciting drive on the 95 road except this made us laugh. Not far from a military base...

We arrived in Beatty and checked into our motel with the strangest character in the reception. He was like a caricature of a creepy old man in a horror movie. 

We had time for a swim but the pool was freezing. Really really cold. Hans braved it. Di got in as far as her knees before her toes went numb and she stepped out again. But nice hour by the pool in the sun before we searched for drinks and dinner.  

It did not look like a lot was happening in this town of about 1,000 people but it soon changed. This is where the fun started. What a funny night. 

Our choice for dinner was a simple chilli and beer joint. That's pretty much all they served - and the place was called the Happy Burro Beer and Chilli restaurant. 

We were met at the door by this guy. His name was Atlas and he's a giant, friendly slobbering mastiff. 

Good thing we love big dogs. He was gorgeous and was soon very friendly with Hans. Hans ended up with serious amounts of drool on his hands and sleeves but how do you say no? Atlas' owner in the blue shirt sitting in the bar was also a character. 

Initially we sat outside with our beers and chill. 

Atlas would come out and mark his territory, by peeing on nearby walls, posts and trees. But there was this strange woman outside who came and sat right next to us.  She didn't seem quite mentally stable so we shifted inside.  

And got talking to some locals and also a nice guy and his wife who visit regularly from Las Vegas.  We worked out he ran motorbike training for motorcycle cops. He did not say so but we figured he was a cop too as he knew a lot about drink driving laws. He gave us good tips on sights to see in Death Valley. 

He and Hans tried a local chilli beer. Wow. But we also got talking about the place we were in and all the fun stuff on the walls etc. Hans thought the stool has some real cajones.  

Di Long Horn (her native name!)

Even the toilets were a laugh.  Manly Men and Meer Women?

Guys need to work out how to flush...

We had a great time at the Happy Burro. 

As we were laughing so much over the decor they recommended we visit the saloon next door which also has some interesting features. So we did.  And of course we had to have a drink... And select some songs on the jukebox. 

And participate in the custom of adding a $1 note to the decor. 

We did not need much encouragement. 

Then we saw a familiar face. 

The other interesting decor items are car parts. Apparently many car manufacturers bring new models to Death Valley for testing in extreme heat. They disguise the cars but afterwards leave the camouflaged parts.  

We enjoyed the saloon too.

We chatted for a short while to a German couple from Rostock but were starting to feel the alcohol level and wandered home. Another recommended drinking hole in Beatty NV. Who would have thought we could have so much fun in such a small town?  Hans has been here 20 years ago and his experience this time was 100 times better!

After not enough sleep (for Di) we were up and packed and waiting at Mel's Diner at 6am on Sunday morning.  Yep, we were their first customers but we wanted to be in Death Valley for the early morning light.

A huge cooked breakfast was too much for us but certainly kept up going until lunch at about 2.30pm (more on this later). Mel's was also cutely decorated. 

The start of our second big driving day, 400 miles in 1 day made it our biggest driving day on this trip and it took about 11 hours. 

By 6.40am we were heading into Death Valley.  And we got excited to see wild burros grazing by the side of the road. Very cute. 

Then into Death Valley. 

We drove about 60 miles (100km) just in the valley itself as it is a very big national park. Nothing much grows here as it is the hottest place in the North American continent. Dehydration is a serious issue here. 

The reason Death Valley gets so hot is that the base is below sea level. And the surrounding mountains are at least 1,500m tall. The warm air becomes trapped here. 

We headed to a major viewing peak, appropriately named Dante's View. 

Fantastic views back down into the valley and Badwater. That's salt on the valley floor. 

Hans facing eastward and the views still look great. You can see in this photo that the road is quite windy to get up to the peak. 

We then headed back to the valley floo to visit the other place recommended to us last night, Artists Drive and Artists Plalette. 

The artists drive is one any though a range of dunes made up of various volcanic ash. So as it has weathered different mineral sands show through. It's definitely not rock. Just crumbly sand/gravel so they must have to do some work on this road when/if it rains. 

It's hard to see from this photo but the colours are amazing. Purples, yellow, blues. All look great. 

We laughed at this lonely "drop dunny" (compost toilet). It's a brick building and temperatures here is summer exceed 120F (50 degrees).  What must it be like in there then?

We had been exploring for about 3 hours and it was time to get on our way. The drive out of the western edge, via StovePipe Wells is windy and slow. We stopped in that little village for a coffee before heading off. 

No photos of that section but it was desolate and unliveable. No plants, trees etc until you get over the other side. Then you have a long long way down to the Mojave Desert.  In the distance the huge Sierra Nevada peaks ar covered in snow. 

We stopped for fuel in a junction of "nothing" called Olanche before starting our 200mile detour to get to the other side of these ranges. At this time of year many roads are still closed by snow. Some mountains are 13,000 to 14,000 feet high (more than 4,000metres). 

It was well past lunchtime and we were looking for somewhere to stop fo lunch. Sorry. There is literally nothing out here except US Military weapon bases and solar farms. We could not believe it but we ended up eating Mexican food in a run down part of Bakersfield at nearly 3pm. Now we have been to Bakersfield before and did not like it and would prefer to avoid it but unless we wanted to eat McDonalds, Carls Jnr or Jack in the Box we had no choice.  The Mexican food was ok and quite cheap. 

The drive up to Three Rivers was pretty slow as much of the road as 55mph but we did laugh at the appropriate naming of this area, Oildale!

The end of a very big driving day for us was at 5.30pm. Google maps says it would have been 344 miles but our exploration of Death Valley added at least 60 miles more.  All up for us 11 hours of driving by the time we reached our motel in Three Rivers, CA. 

We picked up some provisions at the local market and couldn't face going out again so dinner was on our "balcony" watching the sunset. We just drank red wine and ate cheese, salami and crackers for dinner.  Very civilised and relaxing and lovely. Fantastic sunset facing west. 

But look what's coming from the mountains...

We enjoyed it while we could. 

Apparently a big thunderstorm rolled through during the night but we were sound asleep! So heard nothing...