Thursday, April 18, 2013

Yosemite to Vegas -- wrapping things up

After I completed last year's ride, I edited the photos, wrote the captions and saved the draft of this last installment of the 2012 blog -- but never posted it! I suppose that was a measure of how done with that trip I was, but I regret not finishing the blog. It was a rigorous trip, beginning and ending in the heat of the California and Nevada deserts while including everything from Montana's forest fires to northern British Columbia's ice fields and glaciers. 

As I write, I'm preparing to leave on a solo 2013 coast-to-coast trip from Las Vegas to San Diego, El Paso, New Orleans and Key West. Before I leave, however, here's how the 2012 trip ended:

After a comfortable night in Auburn, Calif., I was up early and headed south into gold country down Hwy. 49 through Placerville. In Angel's Camp, I stopped at the visitor's center to cool off. The docent running the desk in the pleasant old Victorian building, asked me if she could help. I told her I was looking for a place to camp, but didn't have a Yosemite reservation. She said she had a friend at Big Tree State Park, made a call and said if I got up to the park in the next 20 minutes, they had one campsite and they'd hold it for me.

I made it to the campground in time. A few large downed trees made the campsite less than ideal for folks wanting to drive up and park, but that wasn't a problem on a motorcycle. There was a picnic table, a flat place for a tent and a steel bear safe.

The bears had figured out how to open the standard latch, so the rangers had added eyebolts and chains secured by the kind of snap used on dog leashes. Since bears don't have thumbs, the snaps have -- so far -- made the safes secure.

I rode into Arnold for dinner, returned to the campsite and sacked out. The next morning, the young couple who shared the neighboring campsite with their Labrador Retriever asked me if I'd heard the bears. They said they woke up to find their bear safe had been broken into and their breakfast and all the dog food was gone. They hadn't noticed there were two doors on the bear safe and had only put the snap on one. The Lab was smart enough not to make a peep during the burglary.

Ebbetts Pass and Hwy. 4 is open only in the summer, as are the Carson and Sonora passes and the Tioga Pass through Yosemite. Year-round options for crossing the Sierras are I-80, the Donner Pass Road, which parallels I-80, US 50, which follows the American River  to South Lake Tahoe. I camped Saturday night at Big Tree State Park near Arnold on Hwy. 4, but decided Sunday morning to take the Tioga Pass to Lee Vining, a more direct route, since I wanted to end up in Las Vegas.
From Big Tree, my next destination was Tioga Pass and Mono Lake and my route was through Yosemite National Park. It was a busy weekend and there were lots of people in the park, but the road through Tuolumne Meadows was spectacular and the traffic light. Seeing Half Dome from the back side was a treat and the descent from the park through Tioga Pass to Lee Vining was a thrill.

The Whoa Nellie Deli in Lee Vining, overlooking Mono Lake, was a great place to stop for a late lunch -- it features live music, beer and wine, an eclectic menu and a full-service gas station.

My day's journey began in Arnold (A), ran through Yosemite and the Tioga Pass (B) to Mono Lake and ended up at a Motel 6 in Bishop (C). Click the map for a larger image.
Half Dome seen from the north, poking up above Yosemite Valley.
At an overlook, visitors examine a bronze model of the surrounding mountains, including Half Dome.
A couple of fishermen try their luck at Tenaya Lake on the road through Yosemite to Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass.
There is a beach at Tioga Lake in the Yosemite high country where you can catch some rays at the timber line, 9,000+ feet.
At this point, the Tioga Pass Road becomes the Great Sierra Wagon Road which winds its way down to Lee Vining and Mono Lake.
The day's ride ended at Motel 6 in Bishop, Calif., where the local Walmart provided groceries. Unfortunately, the motel didn't live up to its promise of "Free WiFi." Not able to get online, I visited the front desk, where the clerk told me she had Internet, so the WiFi must be working. My efforts to explain that the cable modem and the wireless router weren't necessarily the same and that she should reboot the router fell on stubbornly ignorant ears.

(Eventually, after complaining to Motel 6 HQ, I got a letter of apology that offered me a 10 percent discount the next time I stay at the Bishop Motel 6. Yeah, ... right.)

Monday's ride began early at Bishop (A). I was up at 4:30 and on the road by 5 a.m. to get through Death Valley before the worst of the day's heat. I first stopped at Manzanar (B), then at Scotty's Castle (C), before soaking my cooling vest and grinding it out to Las Vegas (D), where it was 114 degrees Fahrenheit when I arrived.
The Manzanar Internment Camp was a surprise. I was headed to Death Valley, leaving Bishop before 5 a.m., and I found it as the rising sun lit the mountains and the valley remained in shadow. I had the whole place to myself -- just me and the jack rabbits.

We know about Manzanar in Hawaii, since the interning of Japanese Americans during World War II in what amounted to concentration camps was a big issue in the 50th state, too. Many Hawaii families still remember having friends and relatives put in camps, even as the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed almost entirely of American volunteer soldiers of Japanese descent, fought with distinction in Italy, southern France and Germany and became the most decorated infantry regiment in the history of the United States Army.

The first sign of the Manzanar concentration camp one sees from US 395 is this replica of one of eight watchtowers that were equipped with searchlights and machine guns pointed inward at the prisoners. The replica was built in 2005.
Manzanar was euphemistically called a "relocation center," one of ten camps where more than 110,000 Japanese were imprisoned in California's Owens River Valley. Two-thirds of the prisoners were native-born Amrerican citizens and the rest were denied citizenship by law. Their forcible relocation from designated military areas near the coast was ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in February 1942.
The barracks at Manzanar, seen in 1942, when more than 10,000 Japanese were imprisoned in the camp.
Today, two replica barracks are among the few structures at the national historic site. They are sheathed in black tar paper like the originals.
Except for the replica barracks, an auditorium and two sentry posts, all other buildings and areas that served the 11,000 residents are marked by simple signs. The only signs of life during my visit were jackrabbits.
The Manzanar camp cemetery includes a monument built by one of the prisoners 1943. The inscription reads "Soul Consoling Tower." 15 prisoners were interred at the cemetery, but just five graves remain as the others were relocated.
Visitors have left strings of paper cranes on this forked post, the monument and gravestones to honor those who died relocated far from home.

Death Valley wasn't as I pictured it. I suppose I had visions of the Sahara but found instead a lunar landscape -- gigantic, dark, ever-descending. I thought I was well into the valley when I passed a sign that said I was still 2,000 feet above sea level.

By the time I reached the junction of Hwy. 190 and Scotty's Castle Road, it was only 8:30 a.m., but the temperature already had reached 100 degrees and I had to choose between visiting Scotty's Castle or Furnace Creek, population 24, elevation minus 190 feet. Friends had told me Scotty's Castle was the highlight of their visits, so I turned north, stopped at the castle, which wasn't open yet, took a few photos and headed for Las Vegas.

Descending into Death Valley, this was the view from the road at about 2,000 feet above sea level.
Click the photo for a larger view of the road leading into Death Valley. At 7:30 a.m., the temperature was already approaching 100 degrees.
Here at sea level, there were giant sand dunes -- an unusual feature. Most of the valley was gravel dotted with mesquite.
Once inside Death Valley National Park, I had to choose between the road to Furnace Creek and the lowest point, minus 283 feet, or to Scotty's Castle at Death Valley Ranch. Bob and Holly had told me the castle was the "only thing worth seeing," so I skipped the dip from sea level to minus 283. The castle wasn't open when I arrived; so, I just took some photos and headed for Sin City.
After a long, hot ride -- stopping every 100 miles or so to soak my vest and drink something cold -- I was back in Las Vegas. Daniel keeps a camper van and trailer south of the city near Southpoint Casino and I made arrangements to keep the V-Strom at the same place, where I was able to squeeze it into a barn out of the sun. Before I flew home, I needed to replace the worn rear tire, which I'd bought in Minneapolis many thousands of miles ago.

Cycle Gear agreed to mount the tire on the rim if I took the wheel off the bike and reinstall it. I got there about 9:30 a.m. when there was still some shade on the walkway in front of the store. I had the wheel off in five minutes and 40 minutes later I had the wheel back with the new tire. Then the fun began.

Reinstalling the rear wheel was one of those jobs that's a thousand times easier if you only had a third hand. As the sun climbed higher and the shade disappeared, I struggled with the brake rotor, spacers, chain, sprocket, etc., trying to get the cumbersome wheel into position with all the pieces in the correct position so I could slip the axle through. Eventually, dripping with sweat and covered in grease and chain lube, I got it and headed back to Southpoint as the thermometer crested at 114 degrees.

Daniel and I reunited at South Point Casino, where I began to understand why so many Hawaii folks like to come to Las Vegas. You can stay at a four-star hotel for $49 a night (weeknights), enjoy a generous $8 dinner buffet, sip inexpensive drinks and cool off in an Olympic-size pool without dropping a nickel in a slot machine. Plus, there's a free shuttle to the airport.

A few days later, with the V-Strom tucked away, I was well-rested and over-fed and caught the shuttle from Southpoint to the airport and the flight home. It was time to reconnect with home -- and think about the next ride.

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