Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge

Rio Vista Unit

February 2017

Chris and Laurel Miles Hiked: 2.0

It's hard to believe, but this whole area was flooded with several feet of river water a week before our visit. We found the trail to be a little muddy, but not too bad for our little hike. 

We observed a few birds, although the lighting never really lined up for good photography. The highlight of this trail would be the coyote that darted out of the leafless forest on our right less than 25 feet in front of us. It disappeared into the dense underbrush to our left without making a sound and before we had any chance of taking its picture. We stood still and silent for a few minutes scanning the area, but the coyote was traveling alone. Like most trails in our area, the trailhead had a sign warning about mountain lion sightings and how to stay safe. I used the opportunity to discuss the dangers and precautions with Laurel before we started our hike while gently reminding her along the path as well. I always have mixed feelings, I'd love to spot a mountain lion in the wild, but I'm always relieved when we don't. One question that never gets an answer, did a mountain lion observe us on the trail?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Yosemite National Park - Part V (January 2017)

All Laurel wanted to do was go sledding in the snow and we were unable to find a suitable spot on Saturday, so that was our main goal for our last day in the park.

For us, we got an early start and were out of the room by 11am. After a short drive, we were at the crowded parking area with the man selling snow chains. We got lucky and didn't have to wait long for a spot to open up. I was very tempted to pay another $40 to have the chains installed, but I knew I had to learn myself. I decided to give it a try. Even though it took far longer than the three minutes it took the professional, I was able to get them on without too much cursing. 

We found the roads to be in a similar condition as the previous day, mostly ice surrounded by high snow drifts. There seemed to be a lot more vehicles on the park roads. Maybe word had gotten out that the roads were open and the waterfalls had very high flow rates. Between the ice and traffic, the pace was frustratingly slow, especially around the more scenic spots.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Yosemite National Park - Part IV (January 2017)

The parking lot where I purchased the snow chains earlier in the day was completely empty...and dark. It wasn't easy, clean, or dry, but I somehow managed to remove the snow chains with the help of a little flashlight I had in the car. It was a minor miracle that the light and batteries actually worked.

The parking lot was surrounded by tall pines, but looking straight up on this clear night revealed many thousands of shining stars. I opened the moon roof so everyone could stargaze for awhile.

Laurel fell asleep on our short drive back to our room. I carried Kellisa while Laurel stumbled to her bed and drifted off for the night. I gave Kellisa her medicine and formula before she joined Laurel in their bed. Lisa watched a little TV while I flipped through my book souvenir, "Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite".

The book shares stories and statistics of all the known deaths in and around Yosemite National Park. I read about falling accidents, people who got lost, BASE jumping mishaps, suicides, and finally the last chapter- murders. It was in this last chapter that I finally realized why the Cedar Lodge seemed so familiar.

Back in February of 1999, shortly after we found out Lisa was pregnant with identical twin girls, a mother and two teenage girls went missing while vacationing in Yosemite. I remember following the story as it was covered regularly in the national news. The three women were staying at the Cedar Lodge at the time of their disappearance. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Yosemite National Park - Part III (January 2017)

Everyone has seen the pictures of El Capitan, Half Dome, and the many waterfalls plunging thousands of feet to Yosemite Valley, but much like the Grand Canyon and perhaps Crater Lake, nothing can properly prepare you for the majestic beauty unfolding before your own eyes.

The driving was still slow due to snow, ice, and the many curves along our drive. Progress was further slowed by the many cars navigating the same treacherous roadway. It was hard to steal a few views of the landscape with my eyes focused on the ice in front of us, but I managed to quickly match the sights so ingrained in my brain from years of admiring photos of Yosemite. I opened the sunroof to allow my passengers to gaze up past the towering pine trees to the granite walls and waterfalls reaching towards the heavens.

Even though it was cold and windy, the park appeared to have a large number of visitors as every parking spot was taken in the first several pull-offs and lots. Drivers were even blocking the already narrow travel lanes to view the sights and snap their own photographs. I gave Laurel a camera and she was snapping hundreds of pictures from the backseat.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Yosemite National Park - Part II (January 2017)

It was clear; my definition of an early start was completely different than Laurel’s interpretation. Leaving the room by 10am for a full day of winter fun in Yosemite seemed possible since everyone fell asleep at a decent hour. I hoped the crisp mountain air would further our restful night and lead to a productive Saturday. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Like most 7-year-olds, Laurel loves watching TV. I’m sure she thinks we are mean for limiting the hours she watches and thanks to parental controls on our TV; Laurel needs to ask one of her parents to enter a code for every show she wants to watch. She has figured out the code several times, but we always change it. Pure evil parents in the eyes of a child.

Laurel woke up at some unknown time and decided to watch the unprotected TV in our room. She was pretending to be asleep (hoping to avoid trouble) when Lisa woke up at 7 something. Lisa turned off the TV. As Lisa was in the bathroom, Laurel woke me up by asking if she could watch TV, tipping Lisa off that Laurel was faking sleep. Wanting more sleep, I answered, “OK” without knowing the firestorm it was about to create.

Lisa emerged and called Laurel out on pretending to be asleep while unapproved TV played in the room. Laurel held to her story and dug in for the long run. My sleep was over as soon as Laurel proclaimed, “Dad said I could watch TV”.

Trying to defuse the situation, Laurel was ordered back to bed for more rest, but she argued that she didn’t want to go back to bed. We didn’t know how long Laurel was up watching TV, but we could tell by the way she was acting that it had been awhile. We had my early start, but it was far from how I imagined.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Yosemite National Park - Part I (January 2017)

With over 4 million visitors per year and less than 200 miles from our new home, Yosemite National Park was closed due to massive amounts of snow and rain deposited from an atmospheric river. This magnitude of a storm (carrying more water than the Amazon, the longest river on earth) hits California once every 10-25 years. Snowfall was measured in feet (over 20 at higher elevations) and massive flooding was experienced in lower elevations outside Yosemite. Roads were closed due to avalanches, rock and mud slides. We had been living in California for almost a year and decided that the upcoming weekend would be the perfect time for our first visit to Yosemite.

The forecast showed a break in the nearly nonstop rain and snow for a couple of days leading up to the weekend. I was following weather reports and updates on Yosemite’s website to make an educated guess that the park would be open and we would be able to find enough open roads to get us to the park.

Yosemite has some of the tallest waterfalls in the world, including Yosemite Falls which drops over 2,400ft. Since this was our first visit, we wouldn’t have anything to compare the waterfall flow rates to in our own memories or pictures, but I was thinking it was a once in a generation opportunity to view the falls after being pummeled with so much snow and rain. I was also thinking the extreme weather and closures would keep some of the winter visitors at home.