SEVEN MATES, ONE RV, 3100 MILES, SIX STATES AND THE AMERICAN ROAD TRIP OF A LIFE TIME. PART 2
Our next stage would see us departing the endless blue waters of the Pacific Coast and heading east through vast wildernesses, awe-inspiring nature and endless greenery – a world away from the big cities we’d passed through so far, swapping smog and noise for hiking trials and tranquillity. Although leaving the coast, water still shaped many of the places we would be visiting in the near future.
In the RV, we had gotten used to the routine of being constantly on the move, stopping briefly to take in the areas atmosphere before advancing to the next place, and everyone played their part in the continuity of a happy cabin, getting stuck into their roles of cook, dishwasher, poo-pipe technician, driver and itinerary planner.
After a brief stop in California’s capital city of Sacramento we drove to El Dorado national forest, and soon enough found ourselves weaving between conifer lined mountainsides and remarking with glee every time we passed a sign indicating our ascending elevation.
‘Ooooh 3000ft’, ‘Woah 4000ft’.
Stopping at a lush alpine river with pockets of turquoise water rushing between smooth boulders, the temptation to jump in became too much so we pulled up near Pollock Pines and scrambled down to the river to cool off. After a refreshing half hour spent swimming and water sliding in the bracing water we jumped back in the RV and continued upwards to echo peak. ‘Jheez, 7000ft’.
“BEAR!!!!!” A huge ball of black fur galloped over the road and down the steep cliff to the right.
Breathtaking views of the valley far below with trees carpeting as far as the eye could see, and Lake Tahoe’s electric blue glistening an in the background. What goes up must come down so the long descent began, the views across the glassy water to the peaks that bordered it, some of which had crowns of snow.The length of the RV limited us to a few select campsites so we eventually chose Sugar Pine Point Park and parked deep in the forest.
Although there wasn’t a hook-up, each site had big metal boxes on legs which were bear proof food lockers where any strong smelling food needed to be kept. Many fellow campers, had seen or been in the presence of a black bear, so as night fell and we sat by the campfire eating dinner in the dark, one couldn’t help but look over the shoulder, should a pair of eyes return the gaze!
After brekkie we were able to park near Sugar Pine Point Beach as part of our camping ticket and set up our camp chairs on a small pebble beach looking out over 10 miles across the deep blue of Lake Tahoe, uninterrupted.
Tahoe is famed for its crystal-clear waters so we ventured out on surfboards and were able to see up to 20m to the bed below, however, with an average depth of 300m Lake Tahoe goes far deeper. After a quick wander through the grounds of the Hellman-Ehrman Mansion ( lands stolen from the native people and the repeated attempts to turn Tahoe into a resort town in the early 1900’s, hampered by fire and inaccessibility) then ventured to South Lake Tahoe town and arrived at our aptly named ‘Campground by the Lake’ RV park, just a stone’s throw from the shore.
We were awoken by next door’s car alarm which seemed to peter out and then start up again. Waking up in the morning, a chat with the neighbours told us that the car alarm had been used to scare off a big black bear that was rummaging through the food cooler, just a couple of metres away from our RV.
One member of our party heard bear like noises, but assumed it was merely the sleeping murmurings of his bedfellow! Under the impression that the campsite was too urban for bears, it was a shock to learn of our first near-encounter and we congratulated our next door campers on their quick thinking and bravery.
Slightly shaken, we set out to Emerald Bay – one of the most beautiful areas of the lake linked by a narrow inlet, with a small island in the middle housing what looked to be a tiny castle and lush blue water shading into green hues near the shores. Finding kayaks for hire we paddled out to the island in the middle.
The dilemma: a Big heart-stopping jump off the boulder or gleeful slide down the waterfall? The rock jump put our previous escapades to shame and there were moments you seemingly ‘hung in the air’
Setting off to find a good base for rock jumping, after scrambling along steeply angled rock faces, we arrived at a fairly high 15ft drop and proceeded to launch ourselves off into the water below to the amusement of fellow kayakers and motorboaters and some increasingly extravagant diving sequences.
Next stop was the Bliss Park area renowned for its bouldering. We channelled our inner monkey and scrambled up some short sheer rock faces, searching for handholds to give us some purchase and propel us to the ‘summit’. The views from the top were great before whizzing back to the RV park as the sunset reflected in the lake, and we finally settled down with a belly full of BBQ food and marshmallows, ears pricked for the sound of snuffling once more.
Yosemite was a stop we were most looking forward to, held in such high regard by Americans and tourists alike for its rugged beauty and famous natural monuments, so the drive over had us all in high anticipation for what lay ahead. We left the glistening waters of the lake behind and set off on the 4 hour drive to the national park, driving past a number of lakes and sleepy towns to ‘Rainbow Pool’.
Rainbow pool is a series of waterfalls feeding a small deep basin, with a huge rock overlooking the whole scene and the ‘120’ passing over a bridge downstream. Without further ado we dumped our towels and ran to the back of the big boulder. Big heart-stopping jump off the boulder or gleeful slide down the waterfall? Both were safe so we split up. The rock jump put our previous escapades to shame and there were moments you seemingly ‘hung in the air’ before being brought back down to reality in the depths below.
The waterfalls acted as a natural water slide, pushing you over the rock face and down into the plunge pool, surfacing with whoops of delight. There was even a waterfall set off on the side you could swim behind, shutting off the rest of the world for a few moments without a sound except the thundering of the water just centimetres away.
Passing through the Yosemite entrance gate using our National Parks pass for the first time ($80 for all of us for a year if we wanted to stay that long, don’t tempt us!) and pulled into the Hodgdon Meadow Campground.
As our only full day in Yosemite I was determined to make the most of it so we caught the free and frequent bus to the foot of Yosemite Falls to the 739m highest waterfall in North America.
Next up was a three hour round hike up to Columbia Rock, a viewpoint giving a new perspective on the valley far below and half dome in the distance, by no means an easy place to get to, with innumerable switchbacks up the mountainside and steep inclines, but we persevered and began the 300m elevation.
At the viewpoint, the smooth granite majesty of the half-dome and sheer rock faces framed the valley below – the best sight of the trip so far and well worth the gruelling march.
Post-lunch, we bussed over to the climbers mecca of El Capitan and admired the sheer rock face, equivalent to three Shards stacked on top of each other. Numerous information boards told us that the average climber took between 3 and 5 days to scale the face, sleeping in tents suspended from the rock, but one member of our group notified us that some absolute madman had scaled the cliffs in just 2 and a half hours, quicker then it took us to walk to Columbia Rock.
Getting into late afternoon, we bundled back into the RV and stopped at ‘Tunnel Viewpoint’ another of the parks great vantage points. To witness it with ones own eyes was truly extraordinary. It brought all of the parks most awe-inspiring attractions into one place, El Capitan looming huge over the fir carpet, half dome peeping over a ridge in the far distance and Bridalveil Falls’ white curtain descending to the right. As the sun began to set the colours turned even more beautiful accompanied by an eerie stillness.
Getting greedy for more views, we gunned the mothership further up Wawona Road with a view of getting to Glacier Point at over 7000ft, 3214ft above the valley floor. Sat in the front we went higher and higher up, until… ‘BEAR!!!’.
A huge ball of black fur galloped over the road and down the steep cliff to the right. My shriek awoke my friends, desperate to get a glimpse of California’s state animal. As we passed level with it, I peered out and could again make out the black bear peering up curiously at us between the trees. It was an unbelievable sight.
The sunset at the top was one like never before, with waves of different colours shading the surrounding peaks – a special end to a truly memorable day.