19 (or 20) More Highlights from the Miller Road Trip 2017

It’s been a week and a half since my last update and so much has happened on our adventure.

We’ve had tons of “moments,” laughter, tears, exhilaration, trail mix, frustrations, jubilations, irritations, bacon, excitement, no cell service, delight, thrills, no showers, gloriousness, dirty laundry, s’mores, elation, Gatorade, smiles, giggles, highs and lows. It has been one adventure after another, and despite it all, I can say without any hesitation, we’ve had So. Much. Fun. And there’s more to come.

I’ve learned so much…about myself, my kids, our great land, and people. People truly are just people, no matter where they’re from or how they got to where they are. All the lessons I’ve learned can fill up dozens more blog posts, so I’ll save those. For now, here are a few more highlights of our adventures.

  1. I can totally set up the tent on my own…after a stop at Target to pick up a light-weight three-step step stool, of course.
  2. They price gouge gas outside of Yosemite, so plan accordingly! I think I paid around $4.50 a gallon in Lee Vining outside the east entrance of the park. I didn’t want to find myself in a worse situation, so I paid the crazy price for a half tank.
  3. Yosemite is huge, and I’m talking about the land area. It was at least 50 miles from the East entrance to Yosemite Valley where all the famed rock formations are. The drive was still gorgeous, and we stopped for several not-to-be-missed, but less-famous views.
  4. Yosemite Valley is as awe-inspiring as every Ansel Adams photo you’ve ever seen. When we caught our first glimpse of the Valley, it literally took my breath away. A photographer’s and nature lover’s delight.
    Our first glimpse of Yosemite Valley.
    From Inspiration Point.

    Half Dome in the background. Rock climbing at Glacier Point.
  5. There are gazillions of people in the Valley, and it’s true, there is no place to park. The boys have been collecting park stamps in their National Park Passport books, and all we wanted to do was get two freaking stamps. We couldn’t even get to the visitors center without parking and walking. Parking was out of the question, and I wasn’t about to send my two boys down a crowded road to who knows where. It was frustrating. We ended up getting the stamps at another visitors center near a different entrance.
  6. There was a massive wild fire just outside of the park to the west near Mariposa. In fact one of the roads heading out of the park was closed. It wasn’t the road we wanted to take, so we were good. However, there was a haze across the park that made for a beautiful sunset, but some watery eyes.
    From the top of Sentinel Dome. Haziness in the Valley.

    The tent! And an ominous-looking smoke cloud.
  7. They say that half the campsites in the park are reserved and half are first-come, first-served. If you want one of those first-come, first-served campsites in the park, you better wake up at 4 a.m. and get in line. There are casual campers (that’s me) and there are professional campers (not me). The pros get the primo sites. The casual ones? We have to drive 20-30 miles outside the park to find a mediocre, dusty spot just a little too close to the bathrooms (read: a bit stinky).
  8. I knew we were dirty and even a bit ripe, but I didn’t know how much so until I saw Rocco’s feet at our campsite outside of Yosemite. How does one collect so much dirt on one’s foot?!

    Dirty child.
  9. Flip flops, Converse tennies and even fashion sandals all make adequate hiking shoes apparently. Listen, I know not everyone needs or has proper hiking shoes, but seriously, a lace-up pair of Dolce Vitas or Sam Edelmans do NOT belong on a dusty, rocky hiking trail. At least wear your fashionable Birkenstocks!
  10. Kings Canyon is so worth the drive. It’s picturesque, remote and uncrowded. And I thought it was as equally majestic as Yosemite but without all the people.
  11. Sequoias are massive trees. I knew they were large trees, and I’d seen pictures, but until I saw my boys next to one, I didn’t appreciate how truly magnificent they are.
  12. Coming out of the south side of Sequoia National Park is the longest, steepest, windiest road I think I’ve ever driven on…and I’ve driven over Independence Pass and the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains many times. The road coming out of Sequoia seemed to never end. The boys slept for most of it, or it would’ve been barf fest.
    Kings Canyon.
    More Kings Canyon.
    Massive Sequoia trees.

    Bitty boys in a grove of Sequoias.
  13. I knew California was the biggest agricultural producing state in the nation, but I had no idea what that actually looked like. There were miles and miles of orchards. I’m not sure exactly what was growing on all those trees, but they made me appreciate all the almonds in the bag of trail mix I had my hand stuffed in.
  14. Central California is sort of like Central Kansas – flat, dry and hot – except instead of wheat fields, it’s all those orchards…and some vineyards, too, of course.
  15. I knew the Central California coast could be cooler in the summer, but seriously, did it have to be 60 degrees? The boys and the dog could’ve cared less. The waves still crashed on the beach and the sand still made castles.

    Fun (in no sun) on the beach.
  16. Bot flies exist in the wilderness and if they bite your dog, they lay an egg that grows into a larva and eventually a fly, all just beneath the skin. The bite looks like an oozing infection that may require surgery – that is until a veterinarian in Bakersfield examines your dog and squeezes said larva out of the bite and sends you on your way with five days worth of antibiotics and $133 less in your bank account. Thanks to the kind vet, but that larva was one of the grossest things I’ve ever seen.
  17. A drive up or down California’s 395 is worth the 100+ degree heat in the southern valley and the inflated gas prices further north. The east side of the Sierra Nevadas is magnificent, including Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 (yes, it’s taller than all of Colorado’s 14ers, but not by much).
  18. As we drove up 395 to Death Valley National Park, my thermostat got as high as 106 degrees. I thought that was as hot as it was going to get – that is until we reached the sand dunes in the park. The thermostat registered 122 degrees. The boys and I got out of the car just to see what 122 degrees felt like. Just to be clear, it felt hot.
  19. The Oasis at Furnace Creek, where we stayed in Death Valley, wasn’t really an oasis at all. It was more like a pit stop with air conditioning (sort of), terrible food and hot water coming out of the bathroom faucet no matter if you turned on the hot or cold. It did have an 84-degree natural spring-fed pool and a big, wide open sky where it seemed you could see every star in the universe.
  20. The drive through Death Valley was strangely serene and peaceful. In the lowest parts of the valley, there was little to no vegetation or any other signs of life. It was in stark contrast to Las Vegas, which was where the road took us on our way to Hoover Dam.
    The pool at the Oasis.
    The salt flat at 282 feet below sea level.

    Hoover Dam.
  21. A view of Las Vegas was a reminder of the “fun” we humans manufacture. Las Vegas has its place and purpose, but it’s the antithesis of our experience on the Miller Road Trip 2017.

At this writing, we’ve been to the Grand Canyon and Zion, but I’m going to save those for my next post, which will likely be after we’re home. There are already tons of highlights from those parks, too, but it’s late and I’m not ready to write a novella. So until next week…



19 Highlights of the Miller Road Trip 2017 … So Far

I thought I’d get to write and post way more often than I have on the Miller Road Trip 2017. I’m a week and a half in and I’ve written a lot in my travel journal (the boys have been doing this, too), but I haven’t pulled out my computer once…until last night. We’re in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., right at the base of the ski mountain. Apparently they’re still skiing here until August 8! Crazy snow.

We’ve had a packed week and a half, and the opportunity to write and post pictures has been non-existent, not to mention internet connection has been hit or miss. Well, enough about technology and my current circumstances. Here are the highlights of the first week of our trip.

  1. I accidentally rolled my bag into mud just outside our friends’ beautiful new home in Steamboat Springs. I got most of it off, but it’ll need a hose and some soap when I get home. Clothes all stayed clean and dry.
  2. Dinosaur National Monument was our first night of camping, and the tent popped up without a problem. Neighboring campers even came over to admire it. But it was as hot as hot can be. The wind blew like crazy, too, so it felt like we were sitting next to a furnace with a fan blowing across it. Needless to say, none of us slept all that well.
  3. We visited the Quarry Exhibit Hall at Dinosaur National Monument and it was unexpectedly amazing. More than 1,500 dinosaur bones are on display, still stuck in the rock from millions of years ago.
    The car is packed to the gills!
    The Quarry at Dino National Monument
    Hot, dusty campground. The s’mores still tasted awesome.

    Friend’s “tiny house” in Steamboat.
  4. Our second night of camping was perfection. The campsite sits just below Mt. Timpanogos in Utah and it was quiet, treed and cool.
  5. The boys had their first river kayaking experience down the Provo River. No white water. Just calm, easy floating. I also noted that the River Rats (what we affectionately call white water rafting guides) in Utah are cleaner and better behaved than those in Colorado. I know from personal experience since my older brother guided trips down the Arkansas for 20 years. He was scroungy and has tons of stories of bad behavior.
  6. No matter where the mountains are or how tall they are, I love them so. The hiking and views at Sundance Mountain Resort didn’t disappoint.
  7. The Sundance General Store is even better than the catalog. For my 20th wedding anniversary, the hubs bought me a beautiful and unique stone and turquoise necklace. And dinner at the Tree Room was delish. Our bottle of Silver Oak cab didn’t suck either.
    The tent!
    Mt. Timpanogos campground
    The top of Sundance Mountain Resort.
    More s’mores!

    They payoff of the Stewart Falls hike.
  8. Southwest Utah is vast and desolate.
  9. Great Basin National Park was a surprise treat. Relatively quiet and stunning views. Even so, you need to go early to snag a decent campground at Wheeler Peak or Upper Lehman. On our first night I think we got the very last campsite in the park, and it was obvious why no one wanted it. It was exposed and dusty. We made the most of it and were able to get a perfect site at Wheeler Peak the next morning.
  10. Four-thousand-year-old trees have an eerie quality to them. They almost look dead, but if you study them, you’ll find green pine needles sparsely sprouting along their scraggly branches. I only know this from our hike to the Bristlecone Pine Grove just below the top of Wheeler Peak. The Bristlecone Pines are the oldest living things on earth today. Cool stuff for sure.
  11. Central Nevada is even more vast and desolate than Southwest Utah, if that’s even possible.
    A man and his campfire.
    IMG_8592 (1)
    America’s Loneliest Road, Highway 50 in Nevada.
    Rocco rockin’ out.

    11 years old and 4,000 years old
  12. I’m no longer an Airbnb virgin! I booked a place in Tahoma, Calif., on Lake Tahoe’s Western shore and it was perfect. It was a quaint and cozy lake cabin. It had an odd smell, but it was otherwise a nice place to crash after several days camping in the wilderness.
  13. There is public pool at the top of Squaw Valley ski resort. You ride the tram up above tree line and there it is…a pool. It was nice, but it seemed so out of place. The boys loved it, but I was ready to get on fresh lake water. It just seemed more natural.
  14. And that we did. We rented jet skis for an hour and played on the water just off the shores of Homewood, Calif. For the record, the hubs is a much better auto driver than he is a jet ski driver. After a minor collision, he got the concept of steering a watercraft versus a landcraft.
  15. We were sad to see hubs/dad go, but back to Denver he went. Work called. Honestly, I’m a little freaked out about setting up camp on my own. I did make a quick stop by Target to get a step stool — it’s really more like a small ladder — to help me set up the tent. We’ll see!
  16. Seeing Lake Tahoe from the East is breathtaking. I love Colorado and the Rockies, but the Sierra Nevadas sure give the Rockies a run for their money.
    The pool at Squaw Valley.
    IMG_8653 (1)
    Our cozy Airbnb Tahoe cabin.

    Lake Tahoe from Incline Village.
  17. Non-drowsy Dramamine doesn’t apply to kids. Both of mine slept most of the four hours in the car yesterday. No barfing, though.
  18. Speaking of eerie, Bodie, Calif., is an old west ghost town that boomed in the late 1870s and early 1880s. As we walked the streets of what is now a California State Park and saw homes with furniture, dishes and even shoes still in place, a general store with shelves still lined with merchandise and a hotel bar with a long dining table and pool table still in tact, I wondered about the stories and people of this town. It was a fascinating place.

    IMG_8691 (1)
    The ghost town in Bodie, CA. Literally a walk back in time.
  19. Mammoth Lakes and Mammoth Mountain just might require a return visit when the snow is deep and fresh.

This morning we’re off to Yosemite. First, we’ll hit the grocery store for our first campsite dinner without hubs/dad and then cross our fingers that we’ll find a decent place to camp. I’m also concerned about crowds and traffic in the park. Everything I’ve read makes it sound less than ideal, which sort of defeats the whole concept of the National Park System (at least in my opinion – more about that later in a future blog hopefully). Regardless, we’ll venture out and make the most of it. After all, that’s the point of this adventure. More to come (hopefully!).