Subject: E-journal 7/12

Hello everyone,

We're back in touch with the real world! (well, I don't know whether modern
society can be considered the real world after having seen the beautiful
nature with its real life).
I am writing to you as we are driving through Death Valley (as a matter of
fact we are descending into the Valley right now).

Anyway, we had a couple of exciting days.
First of all, we did not do anything we were supposed to do :) (at least as
stated on our itinerary), for various reasons.
After we sent out the previous e-journal we drove and drove and drove, but
did not quite make it to Lake Tahoe. The road from Redwood National Park to
Redding, CA consisted of many turns and switchbacks, which slowed us down
tremendously to a 40 MPH average.
We were going to drive through Lassen National Park. However, they wanted
10 dollars from us to drive through the park for about half an hour. They
should revise their policy in these national parks and change the fee
system for people who will be out of there within a couple of hours.
So, we took a detour instead. We drove until dark, trying to find a good
spot to pull over along road. It took us a long time, but finally we found
something that was far enough from the main road.
The next day we drove through the Lake Tahoe area. Beautiful, but what a
shame that everyone else thinks it's beautiful too: it turned the place
into a very touristy area, which to me takes away half of its beauty.And in
Lake Tahoe we had the freakiest driving experience thus far: a road with
only two lanes, as small as the lanes on 75 when they were still working on
it, with a very sharp drop to each side AND without any railings to the
side, going up on a very steep hill, surrounded by water. I was REALLY glad
that Phillip was the one behind the steering wheel at that point in time.
From Lake Tahoe we drove on to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. At
least we thought...
As we were getting closer to our destination we stopped at one of the
Ranger Stations to obtain a topographic map of the area. There we found out
that we had a drive of 7 more hours ahead of us. I did not get it: we were
so close looking at the map and this guy was telling us that that would
take us 7 more hours? As it turned out, we were on the East side of the
park, and there are no roads entering the parks on the East side.
Ok, this meant: changing the plans, because we were not willing to add in
an extra day to get to the other side and back.
We decided to go to the Inyo National Forest instead. As it turned out, it
worked out better anyway: from there we had access to the trail head
leading to the peak of Mount Whitney (the highest peak in California,
14,494 feet high), AND dogs are allowed on the trails in the National
Forests whereas the National Parks hardly allow your dog to leave the car.
The first night we drove into the White Mountains at Big Pine and parked
for the night.

Phillip's early morning shadow,
our truck is seen in the distance, parked where we spent the night.

As you can see, there was not a lot of
shade and we decided to go to Lone Pine instead.
Because there were no 'open' areas along the roadside up the mountain to
pull over and set up camp, we decided to pay our 13 dollars a night to stay
at  Withney Portal, one of the campgrounds by the trail head.
Boy, did we have fun!

It all began half an hour after we arrived. While Phillip was setting up
camp, I went to pay our dues at the entrance. The park ranger in town had
told us that there were bears at the campground and that they had some
problems with the bears breaking in to the cars. Well, yes, we took it
seriously but quite frankly, we had heard similar messages before at other
parks and never saw a bear.
This time it was different. When I was walking back to the truck (it was
about 2 PM), I encountered my first bear there. He was crossing the road,
not the least bit disturbed by my presence, and walked over to a cooler he
found. He opened it up and began eating lunch. Whow, they were really
serious when they told us about it.
The owners of the cooler watched the bear while he was eating their lunch:
eggs, ketchup, tortillas... That day, Phillip chased the bear away not only
at that scene, but also later on when he stole our neighbor's loaf of
bread. Yes you may be impressed :), but no not too impressed: it was not an
800 pound bear but a 3-year-old, who was strong enough, but not as
impressive as a full grown black bear.
The bear did not approach our campsite, even though he really wanted to. He
even climbed in the tree to watch me while I was making sandwiches, leaning
with his chin on his forepaws. However, he was afraid of SweetiePie, who
was our guard dog, protecting our stuff from the bears.
On Phillip's birthday we hiked up Mount Withney, not all the way to the
top, but half way there (we climbed from 8000 to 10,000 feet). Phillip got
to do 2 of his favorite things: climb mountains and take pictures. He took
the pictures with his regular camera, so you will have to wait to see them.
The views were just gorgeous. After a long, hard climb (the thin air gets
to you after a while) we arrived at a basin, Lone Pine Lake. Another steep
climb brought us to our final destination Mirror Lake. Of course,
SweetiePie swam in both lakes. She even made a friend at Mirror Lake, Mali,
a black Lab. They played a competitive game: who would be able to get the
pine cone that Mali's master threw in the water? The dogs had lots of fun
and so did we.
We had left the campground around 8 AM and 10,5 hours later we were back,
hoping that the bear had not destroyed our truck.
We went to bed early because this morning we had to get up at 4:30 AM to
drive through Death Valley before it reaches its peak temperatures of about
120 F.

It's 8 AM right now, we are on our way to Death Valley junction and I can
tell you: it is hot!
I wouldn't want to know what it feels like out here at 2PM.
We just saw a coyote, posing for Phillip's camera :)

Hugs to all,
Ilse (and Phillip)