Monthly Archives: April 2016

7 More National Parks and California Condors!

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We’ve been busy. In the last few weeks, we’ve visited 7 more National Parks which brings our total to 35 out of 59. All seven are in California making it the mother-load of National Parks.

Friday, April 1 – Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, AZ

Before I get to the National Parks, I want to tell you about our time at Lost Dutchman State Park, east of Phoenix, AZ. When planning this trip 6 months ago, we reserved a 2-week stay. We were here last year and it’s one of our favorite parks of all time. It sits at the base of the Superstition Mountains and the scenery and birdwatching are simply fantastic.

Canyon Lake along the Apache Trail Scenic Drive

Canyon Lake along the Apache Trail Scenic Drive

We often prefer camping in State Parks over National Parks. State Parks typically allow pets on the trails, some permit bird feeders and most are better suited to large rigs. Lost Dutchman State Park is one such place. I hung a hummingbird feeder and tossed out some birdseed at our campsite and within minutes we had hummingbirds, rabbits, ground squirrels, Gambel’s Quail and a variety of other birds putting on a show that lasted our entire stay. Here’s a video of what goes on during cocktail hour:

Eddie too was fascinated by the wildlife show each evening. He learned that if he didn’t bark, the rabbits would come closer and closer.

Eddie too was fascinated by the wildlife show each evening. He learned that if he didn’t bark, the rabbits would come closer and closer.

Lost Dutchman State Park lies at the start of the Apache Trail, a 40 mile paved and dirt road that leads out to the Roosevelt Dam. The road was built in the 1920’s to haul building materials to the dam site. It’s not for the fainthearted but is drivable in a regular car. I made this dash-cam video showing the more dramatic sections:

Friday, April 15 – Joshua Tree National Park

We left Lost Dutchman State Park for the 260 mile drive to Joshua Tree National Park in southern California. While heading due west on I-10, we got broadsided by sustained 35 mph winds out of the north. At times, the sand and dust was so thick, we could only see a few car lengths ahead. Cindy made the following video with her iPhone:

Fortunately the wind died down by the time we reached Joshua Tree National Park.

The campground within the National Park was full so we boondocked along with a few other campers on BLM land right off I-10 at the southern entrance to the park. Since we were just spending the night, we left our car hitched up (which we later learned was a mistake). The next day, we drove the motorhome through the park and exited at the northern entrance.

Hiking, rock climbing and looking at Joshua Trees are the major attractions in Joshua Tree National Park.

Hiking, rock climbing and looking at Joshua Trees are the major attractions in Joshua Tree National Park.

Saturday, April 16 – Death Valley National Park

After touring Joshua Tree, we drove 266 miles north towards Death Valley National Park. All campsites are first-come, first-serve and this being a Saturday we decided to play it safe and spend the night at a commercial park in Tecopa CA, 114 miles to south. We were given a pull thru site so once again, there was no need to unhitch the car.

The GPS in our motorhome is capable of showing elevation, a great feature when driving through the mountains. Here it is showing our position at 191 feet BELOW sea level. In my scuba diving days, the deepest I ever dove was 100 feet which in my mind makes this all the more cool.

The GPS in our motorhome is capable of showing elevation, a great feature when driving through the mountains. Here it is showing our Death Valley campsite at 191 feet BELOW sea level. In my scuba diving days, the deepest I ever dove was 100 feet which in my mind makes this all the more cool.

We left early the next morning and arrived in Death Valley around noon. We were able to get the last remaining site with hookups and (fortunately) it was a pull thru. After getting settled, I discovered the car battery had died after three days of towing. For those of you that aren’t familiar with flat towing a car, you must leave the transmission in neutral and the steering unlocked which means the ignition key has to remain in the accessory position. This puts a small drain on the battery which is not a big deal after a day of towing. Two days is pushing it but three days gets you a drained battery. When we had the hitch installed on the car, I had requested a charging wire to prevent this but evidently this was never done. This put a damper on our Death Valley visit. Even if we jump started the car, there was no way I was going to risk being stranded somewhere in Death Valley with temps hitting 100+ degrees. We left the next day touring Death Valley from the motorhome and exiting at the west entrance.

Wednesday, April 20 – Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park

The day we left Death Valley was the fourth day of consecutive motorhome driving. We never do this so we spent a couple of nights at a commercial RV park in Bakersfield, CA to deal with the car and rest up. For $42, I bought an emergency jumpstart device at Walmart which started our car on the first try.

Three days later and fully recovered, we drove a leisurely 98 miles to the town of Three Rivers, CA, a few miles outside of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. We spent three nights at a commercial campground since the campgrounds within the national parks are not big rig friendly.

Not there yet - On the ranger’s recommendation, I hiked the Moro Rock Trail. Every time I thought I was near the top, there was more to go just around the next bend. Can you believe these steps were once made of wood and would rot due to winter’s ice and snow?

Not there yet – On the ranger’s recommendation, I hiked the Moro Rock Trail. Every time I thought I was near the top, there was more to go just around the next bend. Can you believe these steps were once made of wood and would rot due to winter’s ice and snow?

Sequoia and Kings Canyon are two separate national parks but are collocated and managed as a single unit (a twofer!). The roads in Sequoia are at a high elevation which is where the Sequoia groves predominate. Visitors are treated to views of the valleys and rivers below. Kings Canyon lies to the north and is just the opposite. Most of the roads are at the bottom of the valleys and visitors are treated to views of waterfalls from the surrounding mountains and cliffs.

I finally reached the top of Moro Rock Trail.

I finally reached the top of Moro Rock Trail.

The hike down Moro Rock was scarier than the hike up. You can see the park road leading up from Three Rivers in the distance.

The hike down Moro Rock was scarier than the hike up. You can see the park road leading up from Three Rivers in the distance.

Sequoia Trees are not the tallest nor the widest but when measured by volume, they are the largest tree in the world. Unlike most other trees, their trunks do not taper much towards the top which adds to their volume. There are only 75 Sequoia Groves in California (and the world), many of which lie in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree in the world. To see it, you must hike a half mile down a moderately steep paved trail.

The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree in the world. To see it, you must hike a half mile down a moderately steep paved trail.

Japanese tourists pose in front of the General Sherman tree.

Japanese tourists pose for photos in front of the General Sherman tree.

Inside the Giant Forest Museum, I learned that many of the large Sequoia Trees are over 2,000 years old.

Inside the Giant Forest Museum, I learned that many of the large Sequoia Trees are over 2,000 years old.

To be continued…

Check back soon for details on our trip to Pinnacles (where we saw California Condors), Yosemite and Redwoods National Parks.

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