Yosemite – a Must See to add to your Bucket List

Monday – Day 27

Ahh, it’s getting harder and harder to remember what day it is! If I didn’t write this blog every few days, I wouldn’t have a clue!

We had a late start getting away from Reno on Saturday, despite setting the alarm clock so we’d get up early. We had a couple of stops to make before leaving town and they took longer than anticipated. But it was a nice drive on another sunny day.

We crossed the border into California sometime late afternoon.  We stopped to eat lunch along the road a short time later.  I’d considered having an apple for dessert, but thought I’d have it later.  I should have eaten it when I had a chance.  Just a few miles down the road we had to stop at an “Inspection Station”.

“Do you have any fresh fruit or vegetables?”

“A couple of tomatoes, some lettuce and some apples,” I replied. I forgot about the raspberries I’d purchased a couple of days ago.

“I’ll have to come aboard and check your fridge,” the attendant said.

Of all the things in it, she confiscated only the apples.  They were the only thing left that we’d brought from Canada.

It was nearly four o’clock when we stopped at the Visitors Centre at Mono Lake, a sparkling blue lake that was very photogenic, and only twelve miles from Yosemite.  While there we learned that there were no camping sites within Yosemite Park that could accommodate us. We decided to camp at the nearby Mono Vista RV Park for the night and go into Yosemite in the morning. It’s a small park, with a few permanent mobile homes and small spaces, but there were several RVs there for the night, either on their way to Yosemite or just out. A very strong wind rustled the leaves of the poplar tree above us, sounding like rain. There was no rain though. How many days has it been since we’ve seen any rain? I can’t think of one day since we left Peterborough.

We were on the road by 9:15 on Sunday morning and a half hour later we were climbing uphill towards Yosemite. If we thought that the drive through Yellowstone was breathtaking, this was more intoxicating and even a little bit scary at times. The road climbed and twisted along the side of the mountains and slightly back down into valleys before steeply climbing up again. By the time we reached the entrance to the park, at Tioga Pass, we were at nearly 10,000 feet and we’d already taken fifty or more pictures. It was a slow climb, but the motor home made it without incident. It was cold up there! People were wearing heavy coats – quite a change from Reno.

We stopped to take a photo of Half Dome, and then we climbed 800 feet up a rocky hill, just to challenge ourselves, I think. It was a marvellous view from the top.

We’d planned to drive to Yosemite Village where we could park the motor home and take the bike up to Glacier Point, but we made so many other stops along the way, to snap more pictures, that it was already four o’clock when we got there. Since we had to be out of the park before we could stop for the night, we reluctantly continued through and out the north exit.

Although we couldn’t camp in Yosemite Park, we did find a spot just outside, within the Stanislau Forest. Our only neighbours were a young couple in a tent several metres away from us.  We hoped to see some animals, but no such luck. I was glad that we were inside, just the same. We had no power or internet for computers so we went to bed at 9:00 to read, but the day’s adventure had tired us out and the books were soon dropped and the light out. What a stupendous day!

Today was a day of travel. Another mechanical problem caused a delay in reaching San Francisco, but fortunately it wasn’t an expensive one. It was 6:30 when we finally got ourselves into the RV Park closest to downtown that we could find. It’s small, and maybe not in the best neighbourhood, just across the river from San Quentin. I convinced Jim to lock all the outside storage compartments. Tomorrow, we hope, we’ll get to explore San Francisco.


Another Day in Reno

Friday Day 24

Our day started at 6 a.m. We took the motor home back to the service centre, pulling the bike behind it so we could go get some breakfast while the tank was being dropped and the situation analyzed. When we got back, they had the old pump out and we took it to the Ford parts department to see if we could a new one.  We could.  They’d have it in for us in an hour. We wandered around a local mall to fill in the time. I looked around the Burlington Coat Factory for a bit, but seeing Jim standing at the door looking impatient stifles my desire to shop rather quickly. Now a stop at another Harbor Freight store was a different story! Ha, ha.

When we picked up the new pump, the store manager took pity on us and gave us a cut rate. We dropped it off back at the GM Service Department and came back to the hotel to enjoy a swim and lunch by the pool.  The day had gotten hot again and the water was like that of a tepid bath, but still it was refreshing and it was the only chance we’ve had to make use of our passes.

Back to the service centre again. They were still working on it.  We spent another hour or so in the waiting room.  We began to feel like part of the family. At last it was done and we were pleasantly surprised to find that the labour charges weren’t as high as expected either. So the day ended not quite as badly as we’d thought. We’d saved about $300. Also, the first time that the engine had shuttered, a couple of weeks ago, we thought it was a transmission problem. That could have cost us a whole lot more.

And we’re grateful to Mike at the GM Service Centre and Mike at the Ford Parts department for their sympathy and generosity that got us back on the road as painlessly as possible.

Tomorrow we leave for Yosemite National Park in California.

The Bubble Sprung a Leak

Thurs. Day 23

Today was a day to take care of some domestics. While we waited at the Laundromat for the laundry to be done, Jim made some phone calls to see if we could get the motor home checked out before we were ready to leave Reno tomorrow. He contacted the service manager at the local GM dealership, one that specializes in big trucks. They were very busy, but when Jim explained our situation he agreed to look at it. We took it in right after lunch and spent the next two hours sitting in the waiting room for the diagnosis.  The news wasn’t good. We needed a new fuel pump. With installation it would cost about $1100. Our bubble had finally burst. The service manager did suggest that we might be able to find a better deal on the pump if we could pick it up ourselves. We brought the rv back to the park for the night and we’ll be up very early in the morning to take it back to the service centre. The gas tank will need to be dropped and the old pump removed in order to get a part number.  Then we can look for a replacement.

Rather than sit and fret about all of this, we hopped on the bike and went to the State Fair. Being “old” we got in for free! Bonus! We watched the Wild West Show and a couple of “gun fights” and strolled through the midway.  Again we were surprised by the poor attendance. Everyone blames it on the economy, yet if you take a look around this RV Park it’s plain to see that not everyone is suffering.

Lights of Reno Faded

Wed. Day 22

The outside temperature was over 100 degrees in Reno today. We rode the bike up 6000 feet on a very winding road (more good biking country) to Virginia City.  There it was enough cooler to be comfortable. We enjoyed pizza and a sasparilla in The Red Dog Saloon, an interesting old saloon with a tin ceiling, antique ceiling fans and a crystal chandelier. Sadly the musical entertainment would be playing until later in the evening. The Red Dog is just one of many old-style saloons in this former mining town, now a tourist attraction. We took the town tour in a wagon pulled by a John Deere, and learned its fascinating history.

Back down in the valley a few hours later, the temperature was still steamy. We had a quick supper before riding out again in search of the city lights, the casino district. We found the lights and took some pictures, but we were very disappointed that there was no entertainment to be found in any of the casinos. In fact, there were very few people at the slot machines or the gambling tables, or even on the street. Perhaps it gets better on the weekend. Cindy Lauper is supposed to appear on Saturday, but we will be long gone by then.

A Long, Hot Drive

Tuesday, Day 21

We arrived in Reno at about 5:30 pm, after a long, hot, boring drive.  At first there were mountains around us and the drive wasn’t too bad, but the sun was getting hot. We stopped in Carlin to make lunch.  In a brochure that I’d picked up, Carlin was written up as a good place to visit.  Its main claim to fame is that it’s half way to Reno from the border. All that we saw were two truck stops, both with convenience stores and casinos, a post office, another bar/grill/casino and a boarded up motel, all at one corner.

Once we left Carlin, the topography became very flat. We thought the salt flats were boring, but this was far worse. We could see mountains in the distance but it took four hours to reach them. The sun, by that time, was shining very hot through the window. Both the motor home and I were suffering so we had to stop for a break so we could all cool down.

When we finally pulled off the highway in Reno, with no plans yet as to where we’d stay, our faithful motor home once again protested. She stalled and sputtered and we had to park on the side of the street. I couldn’t blame her.  The inside thermometer read 104 degrees Fahrenheit! While we let her cool down we went into the motel that we just happened to be parked beside, and picked up a map so we could locate a favourable RV Park. We called the Grand Sierra Resort RV Park and booked a spot.  However, the motor home still wasn’t ready to move on, so I made dinner. When we finished Jim did get her going, with a little protest, and we found our home for the next few nights. It is a grand hotel and casino that also has an RV Park. Because we are provided with all the amenities of the hotel guests, such as access to the pool and fitness centre at no charge, we expected the fees to be much higher than previous parks, but it was actually less!

Once we got everything hooked up, we turned on the a/c and took a walk over to the casino while it did its job. We joined the “gamblers club” and took our free $5.00 credits to the slots.  In no time at all, it was gone save for Jim’s last six cents. We now each have a six cent credit souvenir.

Made it to Nevada, Just

Monday, Day 20

It was a slow start to the day. Jim had four orders to process before we could leave and problems with internet connections and the printer caused further delays. We finally got away around 11:30 but we had to drop an order off at the post office. From there we went to Harbour Freight, the store we’d tried to find on Sunday. It’s a real “man’s store”, similar to Princess Auto back home. By the time we got out of there it was lunch time so I made sandwiches. At 1:30 we actually left Salt Lake City. We headed west, but there was one more stop to be made – Bingham Copper Mine, an hour west of Salt Lake City. It’s an amazing operation, existing for 110 years and has taken a huge chunk out of the mountain. But, the company does have recovery plans and uses “environmentally friendly” practices and strict safety rules. It’s a major contributor to the state of Utah. It was difficult to get Jim away from there. At the gift shop he bought me a sparkling copper and silver necklace. At 3:30 we began our slow descent down the steep slopes to the main road and onto the highway. We kept driving then, stopping only once to take pictures of Salt Lake. The road through the salt flats seemed to go on forever, straight as an arrow. We reached the Nevada border at 7:15 pm. By 8:00 we were installed in the KOA campground in West Wendover. Out of our window we could see two of the five casinos that are in this small city. We walked to The Rainbow Casino to get some dinner. I was too hungry and tired to start cooking at that time of night. Besides our choices are getting limited. It’s time to stock up again. We thought we’d try the buffet, but when we were told that it was closing in fourteen minutes and it would still cost us $17.50 each, we passed. We found a romantic restaurant at the other end of the casino where we enjoyed a delicious salad, prime rib that was 1 ½” thick and cooked to perfection, baked potato and homemade bread, all for $10.00 each and we have the leftovers for another meal.
On the way out we stopped at two of the slot machines and each put in one dollar. We thought we could have a bit of fun, but within a very few minutes we were down to our last twenty cents each. Although they were penny slots, the minimum bet was 20 credits. Jim spun and lost his. I spun and won six credits, not enough to spin again! I kept my six cent ticket for a souvenir.

The Sun Can’t Shine Everyday

The wind has calmed down for the moment, but we’re staying indoors. A dark cloud seems to be circling the campground, although there’s been very little rain.

The day started out sunny and hot. We got up early and caught the shuttle bus to the performance of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. What a performance! The magnificently perfect blend of voices and orchestra caused the hairs to stand up on our arms. When we left the huge auditorium, which seats 2100 people (there were about 5000 there today), we found a guide to give us the tour of the building. It was all very interesting and we now have more insight into the Mormon faith. The tour guides are all volunteers. The shuttle buses are provided free-of-charge by the Church. By the time we’d left there we’d just missed one shuttle bus back to the camp, so we found a restaurant for some lunch while we waited for the next one.

Back at the campground, Jim checked the directions to a store similar to Canadian Tire that he wanted to visit, and then we got on the bike and went in search of it. It looked simple to find, but somehow we took a wrong turn and were heading for the airport. The wind was beginning to rise; the sky was getting black. As we found our way out of the airport compound the rain began to pelt us. It wasn’t a lot of rain; we didn’t get wet. But the wind made it feel like hundreds of needles pounding our skin, and Jim could barely hold the bike up as it drifted across the lanes! Thank goodness we soon rode out of it as we headed back into the city. We decided that it was better to get back to the RV. The cloud was heading our way. We weren’t back long before the high winds and rain reached us in the park. While we sat at the window taking pictures of the trees swaying and blowing outside our window, a warning came on the TV telling us of extremely high winds in the area and expected to hit the city. It recommended that everyone get themselves into a solid building, away from windows. Although the initial wind seemed to have passed, we heeded the warning and walked to the KOA office/store. Along the way we saw many tree branches on the ground. Fortunately they’d fallen into empty sites. We waited in the store, chatting with a fellow camper, until the staff informed us that the warning had been lifted. The winds continue to come and go.

Friday was, figuratively, another day that the sun didn’t shine, or at least not quite as brightly. Jim spent the whole day repairing the bicycle tire and the motorcycle. Those processes included several trips on the one functioning bicycle to a local Firestone and an Auto Supply Store. While he worked on those, I caught up on laundry, and computer work. By supper time Jim figured the only remaining item that he needed to get the bike going was a new battery. So after a homemade pasta dinner, we rode together back to the Auto Supply Store. When we got back it was still very hot and humid. A dip in the pool and a soak in the hot tub, under the stars, was a nice way to end the day.

Saturday we had the motorcycle back on the road. We went back to Temple Square, which is a two block area of the downtown that houses the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the many other beautiful buildings associated with it. We saw a sign for the Family Search Centre and went inside hoping to do a bit of our own family research. When a volunteer told us we’d come in one of the back doors, and she led us to the front lobby, once again our breath was taken away! She told us that this magnificent place had once been a grand hotel, but was about to be torn down when the Church bought it and restored it to house some of their services. Our jaws dropped. The lobby is larger than our whole house. It has green and tan coloured marble columns that are three stories high. The floors and stairs are marble; the wood work is intricately carved around the balconies that overlook the lobby from all three floors. There are a few chapels in the building. It’s a popular place for weddings. We saw three being photographed in various areas of the building and the gardens. We did get to the Family Research Centre to do a little research, with the help of several missionaries who offered their help as well as tidbits about the religious beliefs that have led them to compile these records. We politely declined the offer of help with our spiritual guidance.

There is so much interesting history and information at Temple Square that one would have to stay another week to take it all in, but we decided we’d had enough for one day. We walked down to the Gateway Mall. The entrance to it is through the now unused but maintained historical Union Station, which brought memories back to Jim since he’d been through it many years ago when he worked for CPR at Union Station in Toronto. Outside we watched some pogo stick stunts and children of all ages splashing through the dancing water fountains that sprung up from the sidewalk. We had lunch/dinner at the Sky Box Sports Bar & Grill before heading back to the bike and “home”. Once again we ended the night at the pool and hot tub. We could get used to that! I think we’ll skip it tonight though. As I publish this, the storm seems to have passed and the air is much cooler. Might be a good movie night.

Tomorrow we’ll leave for Nevada.

Salt Lake City

Day 15 – Thurs.

Today started out as an uneventful travelling day. It ended a little differently.

We left the campground at 10:00 am and within two miles we were in Idaho. Travelling along Hwy 15, there wasn’t much to see.  It’s mostly fields of wheat and potatoes, or pastures for cows and horses.  There was one small section, about five miles long maybe, which looked like the badlands – black rocks tumble weeds and scrub brush. By mid-afternoon the colourful mountain ranges of Utah began to appear on the horizon. Through the open window I could smell rain, and looking towards the east we saw the black cloud of rain emptying over the mountain. The valleys could have used some of it.  There were many sprawling ranches where the huge irrigation systems were working full time.

At 4:15 we crossed into Utah and we were only an hour away from our day’s planned destination, Salt Lake City. We stopped at the Information Centre to get a list of campgrounds and left with two good options, The Pony Express RV Resort which was new and a ten minute drive out of the city, or the KOA which was inside the city. Both sounded good.  That’s when our day began to change.

As we got closer to the city the traffic got crazy. I was trying to enter the address of The Pony Express into the GPS while Jim was occupied with the traffic.  The GPS couldn’t even find the street! I finally gave up so I could watch for the highway exits shown on the little map on the back of the brochure. We found Hwy 215, and then watched for exit 28. We saw exit 27 and thought the next one must be 28, but the numbers went down! We saw the RV park as we passed over it, so we turned around. By then we’d decided that this one was too far from downtown so we stopped and entered the address for the KOA into the GPS. It took us off the highway at exit 27 and right past The Pony Express RV Resort!

We arrived at the KOA at about 6:30 and our very friendly site guide told us about the many things that were available in the park, including a shuttle bus that would take us to the Mormon Tabernacle to listen to the choir rehearse. It only happens on Thursday nights, and the shuttle bus was leaving at 7:10. We hadn’t had any dinner yet so it didn’t look like we could make it. While I made dinner, Jim looked up the directions to the Tabernacle and also found that the practice was from 8:00 to 9:30 and visitors could come and go at any time.  It was only ten blocks or so away.  We could bicycle. (Jim hadn’t had time to find out what ailed the Virago yet.) After we ate we threw the dirty dishes into the sink and hopped onto the bikes.  It was already 8 o’clock but it should take us only about twenty minutes to get there, right?  Wrong!  The direction map that the RV park had given us showed a route that seemed longer than necessary. The Tabernacle was on the same street as the KOA, so Jim figured that part of it must be a one-way street, making it necessary to go a few blocks around if going by car. Riding bicycles on the sidewalk (there doesn’t seem to be a law against it here) should be no problem.

After riding several blocks, we learned the real reason for the round-about directions.  The bridge was out! We had to find the way around after all. We were told we should cut through the Gateway Mall, which was two very long blocks away. I think that we’d ridden close to the ten blocks already!  After the first block Jim discovered that his bike had a flat tire. We were forced to walk the bikes the last five or six blocks and finally arrived at the Mormon Tabernacle at nearly nine o’clock. Was I glad to see the drinking fountain in the court yard! I wasn’t feeling great by then.

Inside the Tabernacle we marvelled at the beauty, but there was no choir rehearsing. We were told that that was happening at the Convention Centre, door twelve, a block further away. We left the bikes where we’d locked them and walked to the Convention Centre. It took a few wrong turns before we found door twelve, but we soon heard the soothing sounds of orchestra and choir. The comfortable seats were a bonus. We could listen only for about twenty minutes before making our way back to KOA. At least it was a nice night for walking.

All along the way Jim kept an eye out for an air pump. He even asked other bicyclists that we encountered if they had one with them. About three blocks from our destination he found one at a service station, so we were able to ride the rest of the way. We were doing fine until we noticed the clouds of water up ahead.  The lawn sprinklers that had been hitting only the edge of the sidewalk the first time we’d passed were now aimed directly across our path. The road was under construction and traffic was heavy so that didn’t seem to be a safe option.  I was in the lead.  I took a deep breath and peddled for all I was worth, through the water. My glasses soon became so spotted I couldn’t see through them.  I pulled them down over my nose and pushed on past four, five, six sprinklers.  Jim was right behind me.  We blindly made it through and stopped to wipe our glasses. We were a little wet.  By the time we got back to the KOA parking lot, Jim’s bike tire was flat again! We walked to our RV site, having some difficulty finding it amongst the 200 that were there.

We had such a good time that we’ve decided to stay here two more nights – to enjoy the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in all their splendour, at the church service on Sunday.  We’ll be ready to catch the shuttle bus this time!

We didn’t see Yogi Bear, but we Did See Old Faithful

Day 14 – Wed

I didn’t think I’d take any more pictures until we got to Yellowstone, but the scenery through the hills of Wyoming were impossible to ignore!

We left the campground at 9:30 am and arrived at the gate to Yellowstone National Park about an hour later. The scenery through the park is impossible to describe. Probably the many pictures we took won’t really convey the magnificence either. The one “black” spot on the beauty was the massive area where forest fires of past years have left nothing but naked tree trunks standing.  There is evidence of new growth beginning, though.

We knew we wouldn’t be able to see even a fraction of the 2.2 million acres of park, so we took the lower half of the circle, catching some of the highlights. Our first stop was at West Thumb Geyser Basin, an area that percolates with geysers, hot springs and mudpots. The steam coming off of one geyser created a sauna effect and steamed up our glasses as we stood over it, on the wooden path. We stopped to photograph a herd of buffalo; we ate lunch beside beautiful Lake Yellowstone. We reached Old Faithful just in time to catch the end of an eruption. We enjoyed ice cream (I think this is becoming a bad habit!) while we waited the fifty minutes for the next one.  This time we had front row seats. It was exciting to see, but we also enjoyed just as much the many smaller geysers and ponds that surround the area. This was our last stop and we made our way out the west side of the park at about 7:30 pm. Along the way we crossed The Great Divide, and the border into Montana.

We stopped at the city of West Yellowstone, just outside the gate, for information. We hoped to find a campsite in the city so we could catch the IMAX film. There were no RV Parks that could accommodate us,  so we continued west for about eight miles to Lion Head RV Park. It was nine o’clock by the time we had dinner, but we had a great day. Tomorrow we’ll continue south-west.

Plans Derailed Again!

Day 13 – Tues.

We didn’t travel far today. We arrived in Cody at ten this morning, where we stopped for gas. We had intended to keep on going to Yellowstone, but we saw the Buffalo Bill Historic Museum and it looked pretty interesting. Bronze statues are everywhere in Wyoming it seems, and the path into the museum is no exception. I snapped pictures of conversing cowboys on horseback, a wolf howling at the moon and Buffalo Bill himself. We decided not to pay the $15 each to go into the museum, but looked around the gift shop. We were amused at the notice going into the building that listed the things that would have to be checked at the museum entrance. The list included firearms. You know you’re in redneck country when …

From the museum we went across the road to the Visitors’ Centre and learned of all the things that could be seen in the town, including a rodeo at night. I’d never seen a rodeo and thought I’d like to. We decided to stay. We found a cheap campground at the edge of town, the Gateway Motel and RV Park. It was full hook-up and that’s about it, but that’s all we needed. We unloaded the bike and went to the Walmart, almost next door, to pick up a few odds and ends that we’d needed, and after depositing them back at the RV, we rode downtown to see the sights.

We went to the Irma Hotel for Iced Tea. The Irma was Buffalo Bill’s Hotel back in the day. It still has much of the original decor and atmosphere, but commercialization has made it disappointing. We wandered through a few shops. I saw lots of beautiful clothing but too expensive for my budget. We purchased tickets for dinner and a “cowboy show” at the Cody Cattle Company, and for the rodeo. We toured the Old West Miniature Village and Museum. By then the temperature had reached 98 degrees Fahrenheit according to one sign, 94 by another. Whichever, it was HOT! Time for a DQ treat.

When we got back on the bike it was sputtering and backfiring, so we left it at the campground and walked the half mile from there to our evening venues. The “chuck wagon” buffet consisted of Caesar salad, beans, beef, chicken, baked potatoes, coleslaw, corn bread, applesauce and brownies for dessert. I thought it was good; Jim wasn’t impressed. He was, however, very impressed with the music. It was good old cowboy music, performed by the Martin Family. It included singing, yodeling, and some amazing guitar and mandolin picking by Jim & Jeanne’s son, Ryan Martin. It was a great hour of entertainment.

From there we walked a little further up the road to the Cody Night Rodeo. I enjoyed watching the bucking horse riding competition, until Jim told me how they got the horses to buck (if you don’t know, don’t ask). The calf roping competition had me silently cheering for the calf. I did enjoy watching the barrel races. A few competitors were very, very young, but managed their horses well. The clowns added some comic relief. So now I’ve seen a rodeo. I don’t think I’ll need to see another.

Tomorrow we WILL get to Yellowstone! Stay tuned.


Jim and Jeanne Martin of the Rockin M Wranglers have performed together for audiences all around the US for over 18 years. Their son Ryan Martin has joined them for their current seven-days-a-week gig at The Cody Cattle Company.