Secondary Roads

My life on the road, exploring, adventuring and experiencing. Part journal, part travel guide, part history lesson, part stream of consciousness. The world is my bucket and the list is endless!


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Lassen Peak

My last day in Lassen Volcanic National Park, so I’m not going to get any more acclimated than I am right now. Guess it’s time to hike up Lassen Peak. As you approach the high point of the road and the trailhead, you get the strangest feeling you’re being watched. They call this Vulcan’s Eye but we all know very well that it’s actually the eye of Sauron!

Eye see you!

It’s not a particularly long hike at just over two miles from parking lot to summit. Neither is it extraordinarily steep, so as long as you can deal with the elevation and it’s not too hot. It’s really a much more intimidating climb than it might look. Today it was in the low 70’s in the parking lot and really just about the same at the peak. The wind was cooler, but not blowing too hard. In fact it was cooler and windier on the hike up than it was at the summit.

Just as it looks, you are exposed virtually the entire way so sun protection is a must. And as always, bring plenty of water. Don’t worry if you find yourself sucking wind right from the start. The first quarter mile is probably the steepest section excluding the few sections of steps and then the last 150 ft up to the summit.

Redding Peak and pretty purple flowers. Yes, that is Dixie Fire smoke and not clouds

As you come up to the summit there is a small saddle before the “trail” kicks up to the actual peak. It’s more of making your own way up the rocky knob than following what appears to be the trail. What I was not expecting was the rugged volcanic crater area. You don’t see that from anywhere on the south side of the park.

Saddle below the peak and the crater on the left
You weren’t there unless you find the USGS Survey Marker. My GPS said 10,370 ft.
Looking north off the peak.
July snowball fight anyone?

Looking north from the peak you can, theoretically, see Mt Shasta. In fire season, it is truly a theory. Note the small patch of snow on the very left side of the photo. There are a few “permanent” snow patches on the the mountain. In fact there was once a Glacier near the peak, but not for a LONG time now. I stopped by the snow patch before heading off to explore the crater some. I just wandered off toward the other side which ended up being a fair bit further than it looked. All sorts of interesting cracks and crevices, water pools, growing flowers, even thought it looks like the surface of the moon. Make sure you have good shoes on adventures like this. That lava is extremely sharp and treacherous.

The trail and Lake Helen from near the peak. A LOT of switchbacks.

Thank you Lassen for a fabulous week. I’ll have to come back because I have not even made it to the north side of the park.


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Biking Lassen NP

Another Ho-Hum cycling post. I just can’t help myself. But I’ll keep from boring you with words and limit it to pics and the Relive video.

It’s only about half the road through the park, but the more interesting part
South park entrance
Profiteroles! Just kidding Gumbas. Actually called a fumarole, or boiling mud pot.
Brokeoff Mountain
alpine meadows. Smoke in the background from the Dixie Fire.
Highest point on the road, at the base of Lassen Peak
Kings Creek meandering through Kings Creek Meadow, with Lassen Peak in the background
Overlooking Kings Creek Meadow, the Dixie Fire smoke getting worse


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Fireside Chat

Well, I’ve been very lucky so far as my summer itinerary goes. I’ve not yet had to make a single adjustment because of wildfires out west. You may or may not be hearing about them, but I can assure you, fire season is in full swing. There are dozens of fires burning in the wester US. Some are large and some are small. One is HUGE, but I’ll get to that. If you’ve followed along the last few posts you’ll be aware that while not directly effected, I am not far from the Dixie Fire, which has been burning since July 13th, and have been mildly impacted by the smoke. Every morning since I got here on the 16th of July has been smokey to some degree or another. A couple of days it has been so smokey that sunlight was significantly diminished. Imagine thick fog restricting visibility to a few hundred yards and smelling like a lovely winter hearth ablaze. Depending on the winds the smoke here at Childs Meadow and up in the national park has cleared up by mid-afternoon every day, so it has not effected my activities other than perhaps delaying my start a few hours.

Dixie has been spreading consistently northeast and not really showing much signs of slowing down. Despite how it may look on the map, it is rugged and isolated terrain, very difficult for the firefighters to access. However, as you can see, it is approaching a populated area and as of today some evacuation orders have been announced for people on the west shore of Lake Alamanor. I leave here two days from now and my planned route was to go through Chester and then north on my way to Klamath Falls, Oregon. Chester is under an evacuation Warning, so there’s a good chance I’ll have to reroute, which means up and over Lassen Peak through the national park. That’ll be an interesting climb in the RV towing my car. Slow, to be sure.

smoke rising from the Dixie Fire

The largest fire burning in the US right now is the Bootleg Fire at 395,463 acres. It’s about 30 miles northeast of Klamath Falls, Oregon, where I’m headed next. Luckily, the southern edge of the fire is pretty much under control at the moment and this fire, like Dixie, is continuing to spread to the northeast, so other than perhaps smoke, I don’t expect any impact on my plans from this beast.

After my week in Klamath Falls, I’m heading west, to the coast and traveling up Highway 101 all the way up the Oregon coast to Astoria, where the mighty Columbia River empties into the Pacific. I don’t really expect any fire issues along this route, but you never know. We are in unprecedented weather and drought conditions.


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Kings Creek Falls

Crossing over Kings Creek

Another hike in Lassen Volcanic NP. Hiking is a good way to help with acclimating to higher elevations. It can get your heart rate up a bit. Even if I’d wanted to ride this morning I would not have. As I said in my previous post, the Dixie fire is raging in Feather Canyon, 20-30 miles south of here. Overnight, with no wind, the smoke has settled in to this area. At 11:00 am the smoke was still thick enough that it was obscuring sunlight and seeming as if it were nearly sunset. I was hoping it would be less so up in the park.

I decided on a 5 mile loop in the Kings Creek area of the park. It was still smokey when I got the trailhead, but not nearly as much as it had been. Not enough that I thought it would bother my breathing.

Smokey mountain meadow
This tree completely forgot to grow vertically. It’s alive and rooted. It just never grew Up.

From the number of cars in the parking area I thought the trail was going to be packed with people. There were a few near the trailhead, but not far down the trail I headed off on another trail that would take me to Sifford Lake and loop me back around to Kings Creek Falls. Luckily, the vast majority of “Lookie-Loos” only make the short trek to the falls and back so I was quite happy having only encountered a few other true hikers throughout the rest of the day.

As the day went on the breeze picked up a bit and little by little it became more and more clear. By mid-afternoon it was a beautiful day. I sat, completely alone and thoroughly enjoyed my lunch at Sifford Lake.

Sifford Lake
A lower section of Kings Creek Falls

The direction I decided to loop brought me back around to the bottom of Kings Creek Falls. Along perhaps 1/4 mile the creek descends, or more aptly cascades, through a series of falls dropping a couple of hundred feet. Of course that means you have to climb up it, but it’s mostly nicely carved or placed stone steps. Steep, but beautiful!

Waterslide section of Kings Creek Falls


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Lassen Volcanic Foreplay

Before I begin my real reindeer games in Lassen Volcanic National Park, I need to spend a little time re-acclimating to the elevation. After several weeks at sea level, camped back up at near 4500 ft and Lassen NP lies between 5000 and 10,000 ft above sea level. Not best to jump right in to heart pounding fun without a little adjustment period. Plus it gave a chance to do a little recon in the park to prepare for my upcoming activities.

California wildfire season is in full swing and while there luckily aren’t any fires in the immediate vicinity currently, there are two burning east of here in the Mt Shasta area and the Dixie fire, a huge fire south of here, the smoke from which is affecting air quality a bit. It was somewhat smokey this morning, but cleared up as the winds picked up later in the morning and afternoon. I suspect it’ll be like that much of this week, unless they happen to put that fire out sooner.

I drove the park road to check out riding conditions and look for possible water replenishment spots. Lassen Peak is, of course, the dominant feature in the park at over 10,000 ft. I’ll be hiking that later in the week. Good news….the road is spectacular. However, there is no place to replenish water except the campground where I plan to turn around. So it works out just dandy. I’ll give it another couple of days getting used to the elevation before I ride.

On my way back I stopped for a little exercise and took in a short hike to a few of the pristine mountain lakes.

Terrace Lake
Shadow Lake with Lassen Peak in the background
It’s a marmot varmint
Cliff Lake, although the cliff is further to the right.\

I’m REALLY looking forward to playing this week. This place is FANTABULOUS!!!


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Pinnacles Bike & Hike

Not much reason to spend a week in Greenfield, California, except to go up in to Pinnacles National Park. And I would be remiss here if I did not mention that Yanks RV Resort is a beautiful RV park. They’ve been there for about 8 years, but I would have thought it was brand new. I highly recommend them for a stay.

Another interesting tidbit about this area, the Salinas Valley is the weather pattern. The valley runs from the Monterey Peninsula, southeast. The ocean air clearly rampages down this valley as every afternoon the wind would kick up to 20-30 mph. That’s the bad part, especially for biking. The good news is that while the temps in the surrounding hills skyrocket, the valley stayed rather comfortable, in the mid 80’s.

When I started off in the morning on my bike it was dead calm and in the low 70’s. Beautiful for riding. However, once you head up CA-146, east and then north into the canyon, the cooling air from the coast doesn’t persist. It got REALLY hot and there are a few sections of that climb which are seriously steep.

I believe I mentioned in my last post that CA-146 its the only road in or out from the west. I went to the very end of the road. There are no roads that cross the park either. You can access the east side from roads on the other side of the mountains, but the only way to get between the east and west side of this park is to hike.

View of the pinnacles
Glad to be MOSTLY at the top of the climb

You get some glimpses of the eponymous rock formations from the road, but in order to experience the real beauty of this park you have to hike it. So two days later that’s what I did….

High Peaks and Balconies trails hike

Even at 8:30am, when I started, it felt quite warm. It was only about 70 degrees, but not a breath of wind and the sun was bright and strong. The way up was mostly shaded, thankfully. It would get to over 100 degrees before I was done. I’ll leave it to pictures to tell the story….

Morning in the pinnacles
Not often you have a tunnel on a hiking trail
A lone California Condor
Looking west across Salinas Valley
Looking east
In the Balconies
CLICK TO VIEW


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Miscellany

Slowly making my way up through central California. Just a few things that have happened along the way. As with everywhere else, there have been stretches of extremely hot weather here. When I pulled in to one of my previous campsites, there was absolutely no shade.

Bye bye old windshield

It was during one of those days of triple digit temperatures. I got myself set up and was cleaning when I happened to glance out the window and notice a glint off the windshield of my car. A second look showed a 2+ foot crack had suddenly developed across it. And by suddenly, I mean in the 45 minutes I’d been in the campground, because it was not there when I parked. At first I thought something had hit it, and the only thing I could think of is that some of the kids around thrown an errant ball or something.

Hello new windshield

Closer inspection, however, revealed the crack passed through one of rock chips that I’d already had. I guess the heat of the blazing sun, especially magnified off the reflective sun shield I had in the windshield was hot enough to crack it. Important safety tip. If your windshield is cracked and has been sitting in the morning sun, don’t take it through a car wash. No, it didn’t leak, but as I thought of after I’d already pulled in to the car wash (Doh!), the cool water is probably not going to go well with the hot windshield. Sure enough I sat and watched that crack grow by 8-10 inches, desperately hoping the windshield wasn’t about to give way. Luckily it did not. It survived the next several days and 200 mile trip to my current stop where Safelite could come and replace it.

I am where I am currently, in Greenfield, CA, because it’s the closest RV park to Pinnacles National Park. I did a little recon on my first day just to check things out. I’ll write more about the park in an upcoming post. Here I just want to tell you that I got a new passport. A National Parks Passport. I was tracking my park visits on an app, but apparently the app no longer works with apple products because they just can’t leave their OS alone. Sometimes I’m not a fan. Anyway, it’s back to analog for me. So, now I’ve gotten my very first cancellation stamp. Guess I’ll have to go back to all the parks I’ve already been to in order to get their stamp. How terrible is that!

Along with the passport you get a map of not only all the current National Parks, but all the National Park Service (NPS) sites. In case you did not know, there 423 NPS sites, of which 63 are National Parks. There are a plethora of titles for the others such as National Historic Site, National Sea Shore, National Monument, etc., though not National Forests. Those belong to the National Forest Service. Anyway, I highlighted in orange.all the NPS sites I’ve been to so far.

NPS sights visited so far. I’m getting there….

And to make it simpler to see, this is the map I keep of the National Parks I’ve been to. They are circled in pink and have an X next to them in the list at the bottom. This map I keep up to date on this blog site. You can find it in the Bucket List drop down menu at the top of the page.

26 of 63 National Parks visited so far

It was a quick trip in to Pinnacles and I was looking forward to getting back to the campground and working out my plan of attack. The road into the western section of the park, and there is only this one road, starts out as CA-146 in Soledad. After a few miles into the hills it narrows from a two lane with center striping, to essentially a 1.5 lane road. It’s a bit twisty and turny and in some sections quite steep. So, a couple of miles after exiting the park boundary but still on the narrow road I came up to several cars stopped on the road and people standing about. I thought they were viewing some wildlife so I slowly went past, only to look up and see this……….

To be fair, that exact part of road is one of the steepest and it leads in to a very tight S-turn. He’d gotten most of the way up, but then the trailer wouldn’t clear the turn. He decided to back down, kinda screwed that up and in this position his drive wheels were off the pavement and he had no traction to pull the weight. HOWEVER……. there is this sign way on down the road, when you first come out of Soledad……

So it’s not like he wasn’t warned. Turns out that he’s just come from one of the wineries just outside the park where he uploaded about 250 empty wine barrels. Apparently, the winery warns them about the road and tells them not to bring a big rig, but they generally don’t heed the warning. This happens 2-3 times per year according to the NPS. So about 20 of us spent 2 1/2 hours waiting for a tow truck to get there and help extricate him from his predicament.

And speaking of National Parks…..I’ve fed my sock obsession a bit. Swiftwick now has a series of NP socks. They are very soft and comfy. Yay!


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Deep In The Sierra Nevada

Wishon, California is just about as deep as one can get in to the central Sierra Nevada mountains on a paved road. The road goes another mile or so past the RV Village, across the Wishon Dam and a few miles up the mountain on the other side. That’s it. And I wanted to disappear in to the wilderness for a few days.

Just getting up here from north of Fresno the other day was an adventure all its own. Temps over 100 degrees and a 25 mile climb towing my car put my Ford Triton engine to the test. It was slow, steep, twisty narrow at times and incredibly scenic. I pulled over at least 10 times to let traffic pass.

Atop Wishon Dam

Like many of the lakes in California, Wishon is a manmade reservoir. Like all the lakes in California, Wishon Reservoir is critically low as epic drought conditions continue. It’s still beautiful.

Wishon Reservoir, chilly and gorgeous

I wandered around the creamy first day, just awestruck by my surroundings. I’m not sure how many people realize how expansive, rugged and fantastic the Sierra Nevada are. And so much of this part of California is preserved public lands. It’s an enormous area encompassed by several national parks, national forests, monuments and wilderness.

Protected Public lands in central California

When I planned this trip months ago I had no idea I’d be running to elevation escaping the second monstrous heat wave in the west this summer. At 6600 ft, Wishon, while still warm, was quite a welcome relief from the triple digit temperatures baking nearly all of the western U.S. 85 degrees at this elevation is quite comfortable, especially when there’s a little breeze which is always cooling.

Day two I decided would be my bike ride. Originally I thought I’d just tool around the few paved roads up here, but I discovered Black Rock Reservoir, downstream of Wishon along the north fork of the Kings River. The only way to access it is down (and I mean DOWN) an unpaved road. 2400 ft down from the RV Village. That meant breaking out the mountain bike who hasn’t been out of the Komo Carrier for quite some time.

The weather forecast for the day had 42% chance of afternoon thunderstorms. However, in the mountains and in this heat pattern, their prediction was wind and cloud to ground lightning with very little chance of precipitation reaching ground level. My only slight concern was the heat at the bottom of the canyon. But off I went.

Heading down to Black Rock Reservoir. The gray straight line across the right side is Wishon Dam.

I took a primitive fire/forest track from near the campground, about 5 miles, to where it meets the gravel (mostly sandy actually) road down to the reservoir, at Sawmill Flats. Every view up canyon, as I descended, showed me a more and more ominous sky building. I still thought that if it rained at all, it would only be a light and quick sprinkling, just as it had been the last few times I’d seen a similar forecast. About 80 degrees when I started, it was also slowly getting warmer as I went down. About 3/4 of the way down it actually looked like things were gonna work out perfectly. Right about the time I’d be heading back up this 12 mile climb, the clouds would be rolling overhead which would keep it much cooler.

Getting darker out there

It took a bit longer than I’d expected to get down to the reservoir. Of course, I wasn’t really busting it coming down since the road was loose and sandy. Some call that getting old. I call it wisdom. Aging is better than recovering from crash injuries.

Black Rock Reservoir

Then came the real work. Up, up, a little more up, then up some more. The entire ride was near 3500 ft of climb which, honestly is not a horrendous amount as a total. The killer is that the vast majority of that was in the 12 miles from the reservoir up to the highpoint of 7100 ft three miles from the finish. There was only one little flat section and even that was after 8 miles. Of course I took some short breaks, to eat and get up off my ass. It was still a long difficult climb, getting darker and darker. About half way up it started to sprinkle. I thought it would continue for a few minutes and fade away. It took about 20 minutes before it turned in to precipitation you could legitimately call rain. That in itself as more than I was expecting. The the storm front hit and there were a few vicious wind gusts slamming against the mountain, spewing sand and grit. There wasn’t any lightning or thunder. And then it just kept raining and raining. Never hard. Just a steady, cool rain. I looked down at my GPS, surprised to see 53 degrees. I was still working hard and not at all cold.

Courtright Reservoir

Not far past the split where I’d come onto this road on my way down, the remnants of asphalt appeared in patches. Not only was that good for getting the wet sand off my tires, it also made for much easier pedaling. I can tell you the last 2 miles up were kinda miserable. I was tired, my ass and legs ached and I didn’t want to stop because I didn’t want to get cold and I’d had enough of rain.

The last 3 miles was on an actual road and mostly downhill. I thought I was going to freeze, being soaked through, coasting downhill with the temp now down to 48 degrees. Turned out not to be too bad and I was just kind of chilled as I pulled in to the campground, very happy to be done.

Today I took a short ride (in my car) up to Courtright Reservoir, about 10 miles north of Wishon. More spectacular views… and more storms on the way.

Off to wine country tomorrow.


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Lions and Tigers and…..Jaguars

All of which are sports teams though that is not to which I refer. I mean actual Lions and tigers and jaguars and bobcats…..

Not two miles up the road from my campground is Cat Haven, a privately owned and operated rescue and haven for wild cats of all types. I think they said they have 38 different cats from all over the world. The general tour is about an hour walk through the property to introduce you to their beautiful residents and some of the conservation efforts taking place across the continents.

Leopard

They all have names, of course, but I can’t remember them all. And as cats are wont to do on hot and sunny afternoons, all of them are in the shade. Such made picture taking something of a challenge. But happily for us, most of them were out in their pens to be seen and a few were even active. While standing at the cheetah pen, Salsa decided she’d come for a visit, so long as she could find a shady spot to rest. I learned that a cheetahs spot pattern is individual and unique, just like our fingerprints, and that they have 2000 spots. I wasn’t clear if that meant exactly 2000 or approximately.

They have cats of all sizes, but all of the smaller ones like the lynx, caracal, and a few others were well hidden or in spots where I just couldn’t get any good photos. Though technically, even cheetahs are classified as “small” cats……because they purr. Seems like a peculiarly arbitrary attribute for a size classification. In contrast, I should point out, the large cats roar.

Anna and Elsa…….sister Snow Leopards

I particularly liked the sign of rules before the start of the tour, one of which said not to make clicking noises or say things like, “Here kitty, kitty” or, “do anything else annoying.” If only that were a rule EVERYWHERE. One great thing about going on a Monday…there were very few people there. Our tour consisted of our guide Savannah (a rather convenient name for an employee of a haven for cats), myself and two other people. Perfect!

Morato

Morato is named after a Dr Morato who runs a jaguar conservation organization in South America. Morato (the jaguar, not the man) apparently likes to chew things and supposedly cracked a bowling ball with his jaws.

There is no such animal known as a black panther. Panther is another name for a mountain lion, as is cougar, and mountain lions do not have the gene which causes fur to be black. This is a jaguar, which does have the gene causing higher pigment levels in its fur so as to appear black. If he were in the bright sun you could see his spots in amongst his coat.

Here’s their mountain lion, or cougar, or panther if you prefer, Sam. Short for Yosemite Sam. We just happened to come upon his pen at lunch time.

In the background I could hear a goat bleating from a distance away. I asked if they got goats from the neighboring farm to feed the cats. As Savannah began to explain that goats, after butchering, don’t have much meat, I had to interrupt to explain that I meant, just put them in the cages, alive. “Oh, most of them didn’t grow up in the wild and don’t know how to hunt,” she said. This was going poorly so I had explain I was joking…….though C’mon, it’s in a cage. How much “hunting” do they have to know how to do?

The female lion was a rescue from a Hollywood studio. Sadly, she does not get along with other animals and so while the lion enclosure is quite large and she shares it with a young male, they are not in it at the same time. Too bad because you could consider this lioness a cougar if they were to REALLY get along. She’s 20 years old (lions generally live 10-12 years in the wild) and he’s nearing 4 years old. Rawwwrrrr! He’s also a white lion, again a recessive gene affecting the pigment of their coat. He’s not an albino. Apparently there are no more white lions in the wild either. In what I’d swear sounds like a Far Side situation, the white coat meant they could not camouflage from their prey. I’m a little skeptical of this one.

And lastly they have two gorgeous Bengal tigers. He’s your normal coloring, and she’s white. Just look at the size of that paw!

What a fun couple of hours.


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Bike Sequoia

A few days previously I made my first foray in to Sequoia National Park. Now it was time to get my bike on. I think there is some genetic condition we cyclists have which causes pupil dilation, increased heart rate, drooling, and an uncontrollable desire to pedal any time we come across a beautiful windy, twisty, climby road. It’s kinda like when a mountain lion or bear’s instinct to attack is triggered when prey (or humans) turn and run. Or maybe I’m just demented.

Generals Hwy climbing up through Sequoia National Park

Whenever I find a climb I want to ride, I certainly always want to do it in its entirety; bottom to top. If you start at the park entrance, the climb up to the main visiting areas of Sequoia National Park is probably 12-15 miles and well over 6000 feet of elevation gain. While I’m really in pretty good shape right now, my Mt Baldy ride of a few weeks ago showed me I’m not quite up for that much climb, even on the best day. Unfortunately, HELL has broken loose in California of late and temperatures are soaring into the 100’s (38+ C), making a ride like that even harder. Wisdom and reason (which is another way of saying I’m getting old) are now strong enough to overcome my somewhat obsessive qualities in the name of self preservation and not wanting to stroke out in the middle of the road I decided I needed to pare down my ambition.

There are a few larger parking areas and tons of turnouts and overlooks all along Generals Highway, so I could essentially make this ride as long as I wanted. Found a perfect shaded pull-out about half way up started my adventure. With the heat and constantly thinning air I had to constantly remind myself to keep it slow and easy so as not to redline my effort (no pun intended with the color of my track on the map). Keeping my heart rate under 160 wasn’t going to be an option at these elevations but fairly frequent stops, lots of hydrating, a decent amount of shade provided by the trees and mountain and no ego about my pace kept me feeling good.

The Four Guardsmen at the gateway to the Giant Forest

It’s a really steady 5%-8% grade until you get over 6000 ft and in to the Giant Forest. Even then there are only a few small spots where it hits 9%-10%, but overall a really reasonable gradient climb. Even as I got up to this elevation the temperature was up in the high 80’s to low 90’s. A 20 degree temperature increase from when I was up here hiking just a few days prior.

Nice, cool water was available from a refill faucet at the Giant Forest Museum so I was able to refill. A few ups and downs from the museum past Moro Rock, through the auto tunnel and up to Crescent Meadow and my work for the day was done. Now for the REAL fun.

The famous Auto Tunnel Log

As I suspected might happen, the vehicle traffic was somewhat of an obstacle on the descent. Speed limit on the road is 25 in most places, but with the twists and turns, the cars are not able to keep that speed. Throw in the “sight-seeing” factor and it’s even slower. I started down from the museum behind a line of 5 or 6 cars. Keeping up was not a problem. Keeping from riding up on them was. After a few miles I actually pulled over for a couple minutes to let them get some distance ahead. I was riding my brakes way too much, they were heating up more than I was comfortable with and it wasn’t nearly as much fun as I wanted to have. That worked out perfectly. Most of the rest of the way down I was traffic free and the two times I did come upon vehicles, they pulled over to let me pass. Thank you very much.

I don’t generally get thrilled about a ride that’s only 23 miles, but this one was GREAT. A lot of hard, satisfying work on the way up, beautiful scenery and a super fun, skill testing descent. Thanks Sequoia.

I almost forgot to stop and get my obligatory NP Sign photo on the way out.