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Archive for California

The Wave Organ

If you find yourself on the north end of town in San Francisco, follow the coast east from the Golden Gate Bridge, just passed Presidio Beach, and you will come to a small spit of land that juts out into the bay. Follow the stone-lined road passed St. Francis and Golden Gate Yacht Club, and you will find yourself surrounded by water and stone ruins. You have located San Francisco’s Wave Organ – defined on the Exploratorium website as, “a wave-activated acoustic sculpture.”

The piece was conceived by Peter Richards and installed with sculptor and master stone mason George Gonzalez. There was first a prototype assemble for the 1981 New Music Festival. The prototype generated a buzz, making it possible to install the piece we see today. Work began in September of 1985 and concluded in May of 1986. Construction materials include recycled cemetery stone, old city curbs, poured concrete, and 25 Dr. Seuss-like “organ pipes” made from PVC.

Personally, I enjoyed the challenge in finding The Wave Organ, and once we were there, I appreciated how the instrument forced me to slow down, adjust my senses, and be in the moment. Click on the link below to hear The Wave Organ in action as you browse the photographs.


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Marin Headlands and Golden Gate Bridge

On the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge lies the other half of Golden Gate National Recreational Area and the Marin Headlands – a lush rolling landscape that dips down to the water for some fantastic views of the bay area. With only a few hours left in our day, we saw what we could. We barely made it to the visitors center for a map before they closed. From there, we took a short hike around Rodeo Lagoon to Rodeo Beach with spectacular up-close views of the Pacific Ocean. After a little time dodging waves, we climbed back up the hills to the ruins of Battery Spencer for a perfect view of the Golden Gate Bridge – just in time for sunset.

Rodeo Cove Hike



Golden Gate Bridge



Battery Spencer Ruins

A sign on the site reads, “For over half a century, this was one of the most strategically important sites guarding the Golden Gate. Completed in 1897, the battery was named for Joseph Spencer, who had been a major general in the army during the American Revolution. It was armed with 3 rifled guns having 12″ diameter barrels. The fortification saw continuous service until 1943, when it was declared obsolete and its guns scrapped.”



Muir Woods National Monument

If you’re visiting the San Francisco Bay Area for any amount of days, I would say that Muir Woods National Monument belongs on your list of must-see locations. We rented a car to get there, but the park is just a hop and a skip over the Golden Gate Bridge – 16 miles from downtown San Francisco. Muir Woods would make a fun, but tough, cycling destination from the city. The main draw to Muir is its 240 acres of old growth Coast Redwood trees. They’re just massive and beautiful, dwarfing everything in sight. We could have spent an entire day at Muir, but we wanted to save several hours for the Marin Headlands. Luckily, our visit happened to correspond with the beginning of a ranger tour. The best introduction to any national park is a great ranger-led hike.

Beginning of our Muir walk

Beginning of our Muir walk

These trees have seen it all!

These trees have seen it all!

Just a little farther than most tourists venture.

Just a little farther than most tourists venture.

From below

From below

Walking amongst the giants

Walking amongst the giants

Pit stop for some history

Pit stop for some history

A cut path

A cut path

Angela and I

Angela and I



We were not lost

We were not lost

This guy was so excited to be there.

This guy was so excited to be there.

John Muir carved out of wood

John Muir carved out of wood

Haight-Ashbuy / San Francisco

When the 1967 flower-power anthem San Francisco said, “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”, it was talking about the Haight-Ashbury District and the 100,000 or so “hippies” that would soon descend upon its streets. Here are thirteen images from a few hours in the Haight-Ashbury District and the east end of nearby Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, CA.


Japantown / San Francisco

A stroll through Japantown, or Nihonmachi, in San Francisco, CA. Everything photographed below exists in or near to the area known as Japan Center in the Western Addition District of San Francisco. Quick history: in the 1870s, folks from San Fran started to move into the area. Then, the area was mostly unharmed by the earthquake and subsequent fire in 1906, so even more folks (especially Japanese) ended up there. Land was scarce. Businesses needed space, so owners started to raise property to house commercial space under their living quarters. This was the beginning of Japantown. From the website, “Today, nearly 12,000 Japanese Americans live in San Francisco and approximately 80,000 live in the greater Bay Area.” On this half-day tour, join us as we discover some of Japantown’s brilliant foods, toys, paper foldings, fascinating grocery signs, a wooden Vader helmet, and much more. 


The Mission / San Francisco

On our 10 year anniversary trip to San Francisco, there was one area that had us coming back again and again. The Mission District, also known as “The Mission”, is chock full of delicious cheap eats, truly quirky shops, and historical sites. If you’re out there, take the time to visit Mission Dolores – founded in 1776, then called Mission San Francisco de Asís, it still stands today as the oldest intact building in San Francisco.

Mission Dolores

Mission Dolores

Mission Dolores

Mission Dolores interior

Mission Dolores interior

Mission Dolores ceiling

Mission Dolores ceiling

Mission Dolores altar

Mission Dolores altar

Mission Dolores

Mission Dolores

Mission Dolores cemetary

Mission Dolores cemetery

Burritos, Pie and More

Fishing for suggestions before leaving for San Francisco, everyone I asked said, “You HAVE to have a mission burrito”, always suggested as if there was no other option – and there really isn’t. Finding a mission burrito is easy, but deciding which one to eat is a much tougher decision. If you’re heading to The Mission to see the sites and experience the burritos, we can definitely suggest La Taqueria at 2889 Mission St., where the wait to get a burrito is directly proportional to its actual weight – they’re huge and delicious. We had another tasty mission burrito at Taqueria Cancun – 2288 Mission St. They offer a great burrito for $4.99, but why not upsize to the “Burrito Mojado (Big One)” for $5.99 for your choice of meat, rice, beans, onions, cilantro, salsa, topped with enchilada sauce, green salsa, melted cheese, sour cream, and mexican salsa. Boom!

Taqueria Cancun for our first "mission burrito"

Taqueria Cancun for our first “mission burrito”

Taqueria Cancun "mission burrito"

Taqueria Cancun “mission burrito”

Fantastic PIE!!

Fantastic PIE!!

Fantastic PIE!!

Fantastic PIE!!

another very popular

another very popular “mission burrito” joint

another very popular

another very popular “mission burrito” joint

another very popular

another very popular “mission burrito” joint

Cellar Maker Brewing Co.

Cellar Maker Brewing Co.

Having a flight at Cellar Maker Brewing Co. - best beer we had all week was the Mo' Motueka IPA.

Having a flight at Cellar Maker Brewing Co. – best beer we had all week was the Mo’ Motueka IPA.

Korean Fried Chicken

Korean Fried Chicken

guy in the blue shirt left this sign

guy in the blue shirt left this sign



crazy audiophile stuff

crazy audiophile stuff

crazy audiophile stuff

crazy audiophile stuff



We Be Sushi ?

We Be Sushi ?

Took this on the night of game 1 - 2014 World Series. Giants beat the Royals by six that night and would take the series in 7 games.

Took this on the night of game 1 – 2014 World Series. Giants beat the Royals by six that night and would take the series in 7 games.

color pops in The Mission

color pops in The Mission


Clarion Alley Mural Project

Clarion Alley Mural Project is a long continuous stretch of street art in The Mission bounded by 17th, Sycamore,  Mission, and Valencia streets. Many of the pieces are in progress, and I get the feeling that this public gallery is constantly in flux. We walked the length and shot some of the best murals.

Andy Goldsworthy at The Presidio / San Francisco

In October of 2014, Angela and I celebrated our 10th anniversary by visiting the San Francisco Bay Area. Over the next 10 weeks, I will present this trip in 10 separate installments, or slices. First up, The Presidio.

The Presidio of San Francisco was first established as a Spanish garrison in 1776. Now the 1,500 acre park is a National Historic Landmark, famous for its hikes, views, and history. We visited the park to view art on display by Andy Goldsworthy.

The Presidio

The Presidio

Taylor and Angela and the Bay

Taylor and Angela and the Bay

View from The Presidio

View from The Presidio

Spire (2008) by Andy Goldsworthy

Spire (2008) by Andy Goldsworthy

Wood Line (2011) by Andy Goldsworthy

Wood Line (2011) by Andy Goldsworthy

Wood Line (2011) by Andy Goldsworthy

Wood Line (2011) by Andy Goldsworthy

Earth Wall (2014) by Andy Goldsworthy

Earth Wall (2014) by Andy Goldsworthy

For more on Andy Goldsworthy’s work in The Presidio, check out the video below.

Inexplicable Goats

Inexplicable Goats

Sutro Bath Ruins / San Francisco

To reach Land’s End in San Francisco, travel west on Geary Blvd until it meets the Great Highway. The sky opens up and the land lives up to its name – it ends. Here, the Pacific Ocean pummels what is left of the Sutro Bath ruins.

The Sutro Baths were developed by self-made millionaire Adolph Sutro in 1894. He made his fortune in Nevada’s Comstock silver mine, and applied those riches to his dreams of a better San Francisco. First he constructed an ocean pool aquarium, then expanded with a three acre public bathhouse. Sutro tried everything to lure patrons down to the coast: May Day festivals, high dive contests, swimming contests, orchestral performances, dancers, choirs, magicians, tightrope walkers, animal acts, and even a suspension bridge that stretched from the Cliff House to Seal Rocks off the coast.

Even with all that effort, the baths were only somewhat popular in Sutro’s day. Sutro died in 1898, and his family maintained the land for some time. In 1964, speculators planned to demolish the structures and replace them with apartment buildings, but a massive fire in 1966 ended those intentions. The ruins finally became a part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area in 1973.

Sutro Baths



Sutro Baths By Philbertgray at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons




The Maze on the Land’s End Trail with Golden Gate BridgeSF_SUTRO_web18SF_SUTRO_web19SF_SUTRO_web20SF_SUTRO_web21SF_SUTRO_web22


The Cliff House and Seal RocksSF_SUTRO_web23SF_SUTRO_web24SF_SUTRO_web25SF_SUTRO_web26

Calico Ghost Town

Calico Ghost Town was the last stop on our 2006 California Expedition. Calico was first established in 1881 when it came to prominence with the mining boom. These hills were loaded with silver, yielding $20 million in silver ore in just over a decade. Silver ran out and so did the folks of Calico. Today, Calico still stands with over 500 mines and restored buildings (all but five of the original). The San Bernardino County website states, “Calico received State Historical Landmark 782 and in 2005 was proclaimed by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to be California’s Silver Rush Ghost Town.”

The team was tired. We were at the tail end of a physically exhausting trip. We had traveled to the sweltering depths of Death Valley National park where no water is enough water. The team then quickly ascended Mount Whitney – the tallest peak in the contiguous US. Lastly, we hiked through and were dwarfed by the giants of Sequoia National Park. Now, we would endure one of the tackiest, most cornball destinations in the West. This is California’s Calico Ghost Town.

My favorite Calico story comes from Len Wilcox’s article at

Calico was a wild place in its heyday with a nice collection of saloons (22 of them), bordellos, restaurants and boarding houses established to service the needs of its more than 1,200 citizens. One citizen was unusual, even in a time and a town full of unusual characters. Dorsey was a mail carrier. In fact, he was the only 4-legged carrier in the whole US Postal system. He was a black-and-white shepherd dog that had the job of carrying the mail from Calico to the nearby mines. He was a friendly dog, but once the mail packs were strapped on his back, he’d become strictly business. Reportedly, Dorsey’s owner once turned down a $500 offer for the dog, saying that he’d sooner sell a grandson.


calico12Calico Panoramic (click for full view)


Sequoia National Park

After three days climbing Mount Whitney, the group hobbles through Sequoia National Park on part three of our 2006 California trip. Unlike Death Valley and Mount Whitney, Taylor is responsible for the text from Sequoia.

We made our way south down Hwy. 395, around the Inyo National Forest, around the southern tip and up the western side of Sequoia National Forest, and up Hwy. 99 to Visalia, CA. Visalia was a fitting spot to stop because in the morning, we could wake and pounce straight away on Sequoia National Park – a mere seventy two mile hop. Visalia was also just far enough from the park to remain unaffected by its touristy high prices. While in town, the group ate at Something Fresh Restaurant and attempted to get a good night’s sleep at a cheap, inhospitable Days Inn. Let me qualify this by saying that we were dead tired and disgusting. We had spent four nights camping, one night in the desert and three nights in the Sierra Nevada. Our collective body odors created such a putrid stench in the Jeep Commander that it remained even after rolling down the windows and adorning the rear-view mirror with one of those little blue winter-fresh deodorizers. This is the state we were in when we reached Visalia, when we reached the Days Inn. Even in this revolting state, even as walking talking biology experiments, we found the Days Inn to be unpleasant and strange, strange in a bad way. Highlights included: one arrogant receptionist, one inoperable air conditioner, one operable yet leaking air conditioner, one fully soaked floor from leaking air conditioner, one strange maintenance man (instead of giving us another room, they gave us a maintenance man), one temporarily broken TV, a mildew smell that overpowered our B.O., a foreboding sign that warned of impending death by chemical inhalation, a stockpile of what looked like old air conditioner carcasses by the side of the building, and a very bizarre scene where three chairs and a BBQ pit encircled an AC – all under a tree. It was a wreck, but it was cheap. We checked in, showered up, and dined at Something Fresh Restaurant – Visalia’s saving grace. The next morning I rose early to wash and dry clothes. I collected laundry from the guys and drove the Commander to the nearest Laundromat. It wasn’t until I loaded three washers with clothes that I realized that I had no detergent! Luckily, there was a convenience store next door with detergent. I returned with clean clothes for everyone, and we headed into Sequoia National Park.


The group, exhausted and sore from climbing Whitney, poses in front of the park entrance.


Tunnel Rock is one of the first sites in the park. Anxious to see the big trees, we only stopped here for a brief moment.


Finally, after much winding uphill, we reach big trees. Here Jason stands by a giant Sequoia for perspective.



Sadly, we were looking at the wrong park map here. Bryce pointing at things became a trend.


Bryce points out the big trees.


Sentinel Tree



Shops full of souvenirs.


Bryce, Taylor, Dane, and Trey walking through the Sequoias.


This piece of bark somehow stands independently!?


Now that’s a big pine cone! – even bigger than Taylor’s size 10.5 boot!



A .6 mile trail encircles Round Meadow. About halfway around this meadow, we spotted a black bear!




Taylor posing with a very gracious park ranger.



This is still part of Round Meadow.


Dane in front of a fallen Sequoia.



Bryce points out Trey taking pictures of the bear.


Dane and Trey getting far too close to the bear.



Sequoia_2006_25 Sequoia_2006_26


General Sherman Tree. The sign reads, “In front of you stands the largest tree in the world, the General Sherman. Estimated Age 2,300-2,700 years old; height above base 274.9 ft.; circumference at ground 102.6 ft.; maximum diameter at base 36.5 ft.; diameter of largest branch 6.8 ft.; trunk volume 1487 cubic meters.”


That’s the General Sherman’s base encircled by the wooden fence.



Bryce demonstrating what not to do in Sequoia National Park. Don’t worry, we wouldn’t dare stomp the pretty flowers.

Before leaving the park, we squeezed in a tour of the Crystal Cave Caverns. After the tour we began our trip back to Vegas, with pit stops in Bakersfield, Calico Ghost Town, and Barstow. In Vegas we checked into the Paris Hote, did some shopping, and found a cheap watering hole to squander or remaining cash. The next morning we took a dip in the hotel pool and slogged over to the airport to return the Jeep Commander. The trip was over, and it was probably for the best – we were all spent.


Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park

Mount Whitney

Part two of our 2006 California trip takes us from the bowels of Death Valley to the top of the country – 14,505 foot Mount Whitney. Once again, Jason Hughes is our narrator unless otherwise noted.

Taylor: If you want to climb Mount Whitney, then your voyage begins at the Easter Sierra Interagency Visitor Center where we acquired the necessary wilderness passes. These passes are incredibly difficult to obtain, but they are necessary if your party wants to stay in the “Mount Whitney Zone” overnight. To get the passes you must first enter a lottery system. I put our five names into the lottery in October ’05. It wasn’t until March 18, 2006 that I received a letter from the Wilderness Permit Office, stating that we had secured August 2-4 on the mountain.


View of the Sierras from the Interagency Visitor Center.

Our next stop was Lone Pine. In Lone Pine, we rented bear canisters for our food at a local supply store. I inquired about bear repellent, and was told that “unless you plan on exchanging punches with the bear, the bear spray was strictly for Europeans.” After consulting with the team, we decided we were all Americans and placed the repellent back on the shelf. We took our canisters and headed across the street for dinner at the Mount Whitney Restaurant.

After dinner in Lone Pine, we headed off toward the Mount Whitney Portal. The sun was setting now. We arrived after dark at the portal. It took us a while to locate the camping area, then a little longer to figure out that all of the camp sites were occupied. We started loading our packs for the hike, and then stored our remaining food in the local bear safe. It was decided that three people would sleep in the Commander, and two would sleep in the woods near the parking lot. Bryce, Taylor, and I opted for the vehicle, while Dane and Trey laid out sleeping bags. We loaded our gear back on top of the Commander so that the rear seats could be folded down. I recall more than one vehicle pulling into the parking lot as we were trying to get some sleep. These people were facing the same problem.


Mt. Whitney as seen from Whitney Portal Rd., between Lone Pine and Whitney Portal.

Morning came and we started to pile out of the Commander. Trey and Dane were still alive in the sleeping bags. We were going to wait until the Whitney Portal Store opened and check for camp fuel again. I saw this as my last chance to clean up, so I filled up a water jug and headed into the wooded area near the parking lot. I changed into some swimming shorts, doused myself in freezing water, and then lathered up with some soap. I had been swimming often in the Barton Springs pool in Austin, so it wasn’t too much of a shock, but still unpleasant. Dried off, put on some clean clothes, and then bought some souvenirs in the store. Everyone topped off their water supply. I had a 4 liter bladder I filled and was trying to attach to the outside of my already over weight backpack. I managed to punch a hole into my index finger with the D-ring on the bladder. Not fun. I dug out my first aid kit while my finger was bleeding profusely. Went down to the stream and soaked it in the freezing water for a bit. Great way to start the hike.


Unloading the Commander, Waiting for the Whitney Portal store to open.

We started off on the trail up the mountain and within 5 minutes decided my load needed to be lightened. Bryce figured he could drop some weight too, so we headed back to the parking lot. I emptied the 4 liter bladder (over 8 lbs right there) and took out other miscellaneous junk from my pack. Bryce and I then headed back up the trail to catch up with the others.


8,360 feet – The group poses for a photo at the beginning of the Mt. Whitney trail.


Trey and Dane navigating over a shallow wash.


8,500 ft. – the trail merges into the John Muir Wilderness Trail.


It didn’t take us long to catch up. Bryce and I eventually pulled ahead, taking a break every 10 minutes or so. The incline was putting me to work. We arrived at Lone Pine Lake about three miles later and took a lunch break.


9,850 ft. – Lone Pine Lake panoramic

 Download Full Resolution Panoramic


Notice the bear cannister.



Spiraling Foxtail Pines adorn the edge of Lone Pine Lake.


(At Lone Pine Lake) We used the water filters and iodine tablets to top off everyone’s water supplies. Maybe an hour later, Bryce and I headed out towards Outpost Camp. I gave Taylor one of the two-way radios so we could stay in touch. It took us a few minutes to realize we were going the wrong way. We got back on track. More uphill hiking, until the trail leveled out in what I believe was Bighorn Park.


Lone Pine Lake after climbing a bit further up the mountain


Bryce at Bighorn Park – a large, lush, bowl-shaped oasis that thrives in spite of being surrounded by granite.


My head was banging. I assume this was due to fatigue and altitude. The Outpost Camp was just ahead. We found a log to sit on and debated whether we wanted to continue to Trail Camp 2.5 miles away, or stay here for the night. It was about 4:00 PM. Taylor and the other guys weren’t too far behind us. We eventually decided to wait for everybody, versus splitting up the group. We only had fuel for my stove and I was dead tired.

We set up tents and packed gear for the next day’s hike. Backpackers Pantry dehydrated food packets were on the menu this evening. After dinner, we set the bear canisters away from our tents and refilled our water supplies. There was a solar toilet not too far from the camp site, but it was taped off. The park wanted people to pack their crap (literally) out with them. There was also a fenced in area with a gate available. This provided one with a little privacy. Also taped off were several large garbage bins marked human waste. I won’t go into any further detail here.


10,365 ft. – Outpost Camp. Jason and Bryce scope out the area as Trey sets up camp behind them. Notice the waterfall in the background.


Jason preparing a Backpacker’s Pantry meal.


Throughout the night we could hear hikers walking through the camp site, on their way to the summit. Without a camping permit, which took months to obtain, your only option was to hike all the way to the top and back in one long day. I think we got up around 5:30am. With just my daypack, it seemed like I was already carrying too much weight. I recall Bryce and me pulling ahead again. At some point Trey decided to head back to camp. The trail incline wasn’t getting any easier. The terrain seemed to be getting rough. I kept thinking there was no way I would have made it through here with all my gear yesterday.



10,640 ft. – Mirror Lake and Thor Peak.




We found this nice resting spot with Mirror Lake in the background.



11,800 ft. – Consultation Lake

We eventually made it to Trail Camp, approximately three miles from Outpost Camp, where we could see several tents set up. You could smell another solar toilet just a few meters off the trail. We waited for Taylor and Dane to catch up then refilled our water again. We noticed several marmots in this area. May have been better off that we didn’t camp at this site.


12,000 ft. – Trail Camp with a view of the ridge

Marmots. We saw a few of these guys popping out over the rocks. In doing a little research I found that they are of the genus Marmota in the rodent family Sciuridae with squirrels. Wikipedia says: The name marmot comes from French marmotte, from Old French marmotan, marmontaine, from Old Franco-Provençal, from Low Latin mures montani “mountain mouse”, from Latin mures monti, from Classical Latin mures alpini “Alps mouse”. Thay didn’t bother us, and we didn’t bother them.




This small lake near Trail Camp is the last water source on the way up. We filled up here in assembly line fashion. Bryce pumped and Jason held the container. As each filled, Dane would get the container and as he held it, I would add the proper quantity of Iodine tablets.



Above 12,000 ft. now and still climbing

After Outpost Camp we ventured into the infamous 97 Switchbacks – plus or minus a few. I had no intention of counting them. Basically, this is a section of the trail that switches back and forth close to a hundred times, with an unpleasant incline the entire way up. I couldn’t really see the trail from below, but looking down you could see the trail winding back and forth. After what seemed like forever, we made it out of the switchbacks.


After climbing some ways up the 97 switchbacks, one of us turned around and snapped this photo. In the distance you can see Consultation Lake on the right and on the left, Trail Camp lake.


At one point in the switchbacks, the drop-off is so dangerous that the park service has installed a guardrail constructed out of metal pipes and steel cables.

This is where the scenery kicks in. We passed through several sections of narrow trail, where one wrong step could really ruin your day. From here on my memory is spotty. Once we made it to the section where the John Muir trail meets up with trail we were on, Bryce and I decided to break for lunch. I think this was around 2:00 PM. We found some large rocks to sit on, and then dug out some MREs. We used the hydrogen packet heaters to warm things up. An old man stopped for a rest. His pace looked slower than mine. He mentioned this was his second time up. We talked a little longer, but I don’t remember the conversation. He eventually moved on. Below us, on the John Muir trail, we could see where someone had set up camp. The campers were returning to their site and noticed a marmot was rummaging through their gear. One guy threw a rock at the marmot and I believe he made contact. I told Bryce I needed a nap, so we passed out for about 20 minutes or so. I think Taylor and Dane caught up with us at this point. We decided to make that spot a water cache, and lightened our load a bit. This section of trail switched back several times, overlooking the Hitchcock Lakes, far below.


Sign reads, “Entering Sequoia National Park – Trail Crest, John Muir Trail – Pets and Firearms Prohibited”




Taylor: As we crossed through the switchbacks and over the trail crest, my head began to pond like a drum, and Dane’s stomach was tossing and turning with every bend in the trail. Retreating didn’t seem like an option this close to the summit, but I’m sure we were both thinking about it. Many breaks were taken between the trail crest and the summit.


We could see the peak far in the distance, with an old shelter on top. I believe the shelter was constructed in 1908. We eventually came across a snow bank. The incline was something crazy like 45 degrees, but you could see where other people had crossed. We were so close now. Past the snow bank the trail terrain wasn’t difficult, but still had the relentless incline. Bryce pulled ahead while I took several breaks. I eventually walked passed the lightening shelter, and made it to the top of Mount Whitney.

Taylor: While this snowy trail may seem like a simple pathway, let me assure you that it was in no way an effortless pass. For me and my ceaseless fear of heights, this was the second scariest moment on the trip (I’ll get to the scariest later). What the above photo doesn’t show is that one slip here earns you a one-way ticket to the bottom of the western side of the mountain – the quickest route to Sequoia National Park.


14,000 ft. – Bryce (left) and Jason (right) at “the windows” alongside Keeler Needle.


Taylor: These photos show Dane at his worst. It wasn’t until Dane saw these images that he realized how bloated his belly was while climbing – illustrating the level of sickness he was suffering at that moment. That’s Keeler Needle in the image below.



Keeler Needle, only 494 ft. to the top!


Lightening shelter atop Mt. Whitney.



14,494 ft. – The top of Mt. Whitney! (left to right) Jason, Taylor, Dane, and Bryce.



Download Full Resolution Panoramic


The old man I had talked to earlier was sitting next to the shelter. We congratulated each other. I could feel the UV burning up my legs. Shorts were a bad choice. I figured it was too late for sun block now. A few minutes later, a couple climbed over the east face of the mountain (see photo below at right). No trail here, they had used ropes and climbing gear for that route.



Climber Jon Griffin of Portland, OR


the registry


There was a huge guest book next to the shelter. We signed it then snapped some more photos. I could see Taylor and Dane off in the distance. The altitude had been giving Dane a tough time, but he made it. At around 4:30 PM we headed down the mountain. The couple we had met earlier was going to take our route down, so they followed us. Bryce seemed to be sprinting ahead, determined to make it back before sunset. We were traveling maybe three times as fast down than our speed up the mountain. Past the snow bank, we retrieved our cached water. We passed the treacherous drop-offs, back down the 97 switchbacks, and past Trail Camp. By now the sun was gone. Maybe a mile or so from Outpost Camp, we needed to break out the flashlights. I had been talking trash to Bryce that morning, joking that he could save a few ounces by leaving his headlamp. I’m glad he didn’t.

We finally made it to Outpost Camp at around 9:30 PM. The climbing couple continued on. The trail was fairly easy to follow from here, so they should have been ok. We checked on Trey in his tent. I couldn’t reach Taylor on the radio. Bryce pulled out a can of Dinty Moore stew and I fired up my camp stove. I could see little mice coming out of the wood work – one near the spot where I spilled some food on the ground. Another appeared on my stove after I had turned it off. I definitely needed to clean my gear before bed. Taylor and Dane made it back around 11:30 PM – everyone still alive. I believe I read somewhere that the day hike takes anywhere between 10-14 hours. That’s from Whitney portal, to the top of the mountain, and back down. It took me approx. 16 hours, and that’s cutting out almost six miles of hiking. So much for being in shape. That mountain kicked my but.


Taylor: We woke up at Outpost Camp on our last day on Mount Whitney. I rolled over in my sleeping bag, cracked a hole in my tent’s door, and snapped this photo of the day’s first sunlight spilling onto Thor’s Peak (see above).

Jason: We agreed we didn’t need to wake up at any specific time that morning. A few people grabbed a bite to eat, and then we broke camp. With all of my gear strapped to me, I felt ready to roll. With the exception of a few sections of trail, it was all downhill. I kept repeating that to myself – It’s all downhill. What took us nearly seven hours to cover uphill (four miles), we knocked out in approx. two hours downhill.

Back at the portal, I noticed the scale used to weigh your gear. I think at one time the park calculated your level of safety on the mountain using the weight of your gear. At 58 lbs total, I guess I was pretty safe. If I ever return, I’d like to shave it down to 40 lbs. There were several people taking surveys from hikers coming off the mountain, so we all participated. Bryce and I took showers at the visitor center, and everyone bought lunch.

Taylor: Under the vigilant surveillance of these ravenous bluebirds (below), we devour lunch outside the Whitney Portal Store. We also took some downtime to pour over maps of California. We were contemplating which route to take from our current location to Sequoia National Park: (1) north through Yosemite, over steady inclines and slow roads or (2) south around the corner of the Inyo National Forrest, via mostly level interstate. In the end, considering the Jeep Commander’s poor performance in lesser mountains, we opted for the flatter course.


Once again, the Commander failed us. We stopped here for two reasons. Firstly, we had just driven down from Whitney Portal to the foothills – a steady and damaging downhill and loss of several thousand feet. The truck’s brakes were smoking up and needed… well, a brake. Also, our luggage was coming undone again, and one bag slid off the top and was dangling at the window. This break was fortunate though in that it allowed us one last glimpse, and photo opportunity, of the mountain. (see photo below)


We strapped our gear back on top of the Commander, then headed back to Lone Pine to return the bear canisters. Our next stop was the Days Inn, in Visalia, CA.

Death Valley National Park

July 31, 2006. Houston’s George Bush International Airport. Five travelers converge for the first time, shake hands, check bags, and board a plane for Las Vegas. Ultimate destination – the backwoods and wastelands of California’s Death Valley National Park, Mt. Whitney, and Sequoia National Park. Jason Hughes was the only one of us to actually write down a complete account of the trip. Unless otherwise noted, you are reading his words. The photos were submitted by everyone on the team.

(Upon reaching Las Vegas) The first thing that caught my attention was the extreme heat I felt outside the airport building. No humidity, just an extreme blast of hot air, as if the covered areas for arrivals and departures were designed to catch as much wind as possible. After a quick bus ride, we arrived at the car rental site and picked out our ride. We decided to go with a silver Jeep Commander. It looked slightly larger than the Grand Cherokee and I thought to myself that the new model would be nice. We had to do some strategic packing to fit everyone’s gear into the vehicle. With the last row of seats folded down and all the gear jammed in the back, you could not see out the rear of the vehicle. We fit three people in the second row of seats and two in the front. We drove out in search of some quick dinner and enough water to last us for the next few days. A few miles later we passed by a health food store (similar to Whole Foods Market) where everything was generally overpriced. We stocked up on water, then drove to an In-n-Out Burger joint for dinner. From there we headed out into the desert.



What a way to start the trip – Dane and I at Mabel’s Whorehouse near Aramagosa, NV.

(Near Amargosa) Hours later we stopped at what we figured would be the last gas station before entering Death Valley National Park. There was a huge billboard sign  stating that we were at the Yucca Mountain Travel Center, last stop before Area 51. Behind the gas station was the Cherry Patch II . Inside was an assortment of junk one usually finds at truck stops in the middle of nowhere, in addition to a wide selection of alien t-shirts, posters, postcards, coffee mugs, etc. I recall seeing a local paper by the door. The headline read something to the effect of “Local Residents Concerned with Blinking Traffic Light”. Headline news right there. I believe Taylor asked the store clerk if she had seen anything strange out here. She gave her UFO story, then we all left. Just outside, adjacent to the store, was what I suspect was Mabel’s Whorehouse. There was a plywood cutout of an alien and human where you could stand behind it for photos. We didn’t find any camp fuel here, so we crossed the street to the neighboring gas station. This place was a bit more disturbing than the store we had just left.

As you walked in, to your left were rows of video poker, manned by some scary truck driver looking zombies. To the right was your standard gas station junk. They had a life size Yoda atop some shelving, in addition to Watto. (A shrewd and gruff proprietor of a junk shop in Mos Espa, from Star Wars Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones) I don’t think we found any camp fuel here either. Taylor inquires about any strange sightings in the area and receives another UFO story. After picking up some postcards, I stepped outside with Trey. He points out an off-duty tumble weed, parked next to the Jeep Commander. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot an old, blue full-size pick up truck with the driver’s side door open, parked next to the fuel pump. Behind the truck door is a naked man pumping gas. This demanded a second examination, so I briefly glance again in that direction before quickly turning away again. Perhaps I was hallucinating? Trey sees the expression on my face and inquires as to what was wrong. I tell him not to look over near the gas pump, but there’s a naked man in the parking lot. Trey immediately looks over to the gas pump. We both decide to go back inside the store. I quickly spread the word to the others. “Time to leave!”

During the drive to the park, 11 o’clock creeps up, and the radio is tuned into the radio show Coast to Coast AM. The night’s discussions included secret NASA Moon missions (The Pilgrim Project) and Shadow People. Good stuff. If you ever felt you weren’t getting your daily level of weird, just tune into Coast to Coast AM. That show will fix you right up. We arrive at the entrance to the park and pull over for pictures. Being in the middle of nowhere, you can see millions of stars. The Milky Way band is prominent across the sky. Staring long enough, you could see shooting stars and even orbiting satellites. We managed to find the camp site afterwards and begin to set up our tents. Taylor was really hoping to check out the sand dunes at night, so we all piled back into the Commander for a 30 minute drive into darkness.

Taylor: When we stopped at the Death Valley entrance to snap a few photos of the sign, I expected to be in and out of the truck. Then someone turned the lights of the Commander off and the universe was unveiled! We stood out there for a while, all of us with our heads cocked back, fixed on the heavens. I don’t know about the rest of the guys, but I’d never seen the cosmos so clearly.


I’m not sure how he determined we were in the right place (the sand dunes), but Taylor pulled over and we all piled out of the vehicle with our headlamps. We begin hiking out into the sand, crossing over several dunes. I couldn’t really see much, except for the sand in my shoes. Within ten minutes or so, we spot another light off in the distance. It seemed to be moving along, heading in our general direction. It appeared to be moving side to side, occasionally shifting quickly from one place to another. I wasn’t seeing any of our headlamps moving in that fashion. Someone suggested it was a vehicle on the road, but I didn’t recall the road stretching in that direction, nor could I hear any engines. At some point we all decide to switch off our headlamps. The light was still moving. We scurried across the sands, making our way back to the Commander. With a bit of relief being next to the vehicle, we decide to head back to camp. Dane wanted to return to the dunes to uncover the mystery of the light, but he was out-voted.

It was hot. Ridiculously hot. No breeze blowing through the tent. Every twenty minutes or so I’d sit up, then lay back down in the pool of sweat that had accumulated atop my sleeping mattress. At some point Bryce left the tent to sleep on top of a picnic table.

Taylor: The sun emerges over the Funeral Mountains and spills onto our camp at Furnace Creek – 196 feet below sea level! (The Funeral Mountains are a subrange of the Amargosa range that forms the Eastern wall of Death Valley)



Left to right: Trey breaking down camp, Jason getting dressed, and Bryce organizing gear. To beat the heat at night, Bryce abandoned his tent and made that table his open-air bed.

We awoke around 5:40AM or so, with light just starting to creep over the hills. We weren’t staying here another night, so everyone got busy packing up their gear and tents. Breakfast consisted of MREs, provided by Dane. We decided to strap the majority of gear to the top of the Commander this morning, making space for one person in the last row of seats. From there we headed over to the Death Valley visitor’s center. We were a bit early; they didn’t open until 8:00AM. Some of us took a bird bath in the sinks of the bathroom. It was a relief to find cool air blowing from the hand dryers. I would find out later that even in the afternoon, when the temperature was over 100, that those hand dryers were still blowing cool air. Crazy. I’m assuming they must have disabled the heating element for that to happen. We collected more water from an outside faucet. When the visitor’s center opened, we went inside and bought miscellaneous stuff.


Bryce posing before the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. We arrived before any of the other tourists, so the area was undisturbed. As we pulled up, a coyote slinked out of the parking lot, across the road, and out of sight into the desert.

From here we drove to Golden Canyon. I think this is where one of our bags decided to jump ship. We were cruising down the road when all of a sudden a bag swung down off the roof and slammed into my window. We pulled over and recalculated the method used to strap equipment to the roof. We reached Golden Canyon and hiked along the trail for a while, eventually deviating off onto what seemed to be a trail leading up through the hills. It looked as if we could reach the top, but after climbing for thirty minutes or so, we decided to head back down.

From the Golden Canyon Trail Guide: Golden Canyon preserves geological stories steeped in change. Like pages in a book, its rocks tell tales of ancient times when a lake once covered this land; they also speak of violent flash floods racing down the canyon, Golden Canyon is a fascinating showcase of the effects of water in an arid land.



Dane and Trey


Taylor and Bryce





Left to right: Taylor, Dane, Jason, and Bryce


Trey and Dane heed the warnings and carry plenty of water – one gallon per person, per day.


Bryce and Jason checking out a huge boulder.

The next stop was the Devils Golf Course. This was basically a huge field of dried up salt, with strange looking formations stretching in every direction. Taylor: I read in a guidebook, that after rains you can sometimes her the earth snap and crackle as the arid atmosphere sucks the land dry! Due to the incredible serrated and jagged spires, it is believed that “Only the Devil could play golf on such rough links.”



Trey at Devil’s Golf Course



The gang at Devil’s Golf Course – left to right: Jason, Dane, Trey, Bryce, and Taylor.

Next was a natural bridge formation. We hiked a mile or so into the hills again. We reached the bridge, and Dane proceeded to climb it. Taylor and Trey made friends with a man and his son who were sporting pith helmets.


Bryce looking up at the natural bridge.


Dane snapped this photo of the canyon from atop the natural ridge.


The crew hikes out of the canyon and back toward the valley, where the Jeep is parked.

After leaving the natural bridge, we drove to Badwater Basin. Over 200 feet up, a sign on the rock cliff behind us marked sea level. There was a platform that overlooked the basin, which was barren, except for the tourists. There was a small pool of still water next to the platform. This platform provides visitors with a great view of the small spring-fed pool at Badwater Basin. The salt flats surrounding the spring deem the water undrinkable. This point marks the lowest elevation in the Western Hemisphere. Jason’s Dell Axim registered an elevation reading of -320.54 feet. We were at such a low altitude, I think the computer was confused.


Past the platform there was a wide path that lead to the middle of nowhere. Everyone else was walking it, so we followed. The dried mixture of salt and dirt on the ground sounded like packed snow as we walked across it. After some unspecified distance, we took some photos, then headed back to the Commander.


Salt flats at Badwater


Taylor, Jason, Bryce, Dane, and Trey out on the salt flats at Badwater.

We returned to the visitor center for some lunch and shade from the sun. MREs were on the menu again. The visitor center parking lot was no longer empty and there were quite a few people walking about. Many Europeans and Asians, but very few Americans. After lunch, we drove to Zabrinskie Point. Taylor: As stated in the guidebook, “Zabrinskie Point is surrounded by a maze of wildly eroded and vibrantly colored badlands.” This, in conjunction with its proximity to the visitor center, makes it one of the park’s most visited spots. I remember feeling surprised by how difficult it was to walk even the quarter-mile to the scenic overlook. By this time, the temperature had peaked at 113º and the atmosphere was simply intolerable. I felt the danger of Death Valley like a giant hair dryer in my face. I took my photos and got back to the truck swiftly.


Taylor: On our way out of Death Valley, I talked the guys into stopping at the sand dunes one more time. Maybe we could solve the mystery of the peculiar light from the night before. We all hopped out and examined the scene. Someone noted that, due to the road’s direction, the light couldn’t have come from there. I pointed out into the dunes and said, “I’m going to run to that big dune over there.” Everyone looked at me and simultaneously laughed and went back talking about the unidentified light. I took off straight for the dune. I crossed over the first ridge of dunes and instantly lost my bearing. I climbed up onto the next bunch of dunes and realized how much longer this excursion would take. Feeling the heat creep up on me again, I snapped a photo and ran back to the truck.



Sand Dunes near Stovepipe Wells Campground


(On our way out of Death Valley) There was a relatively small range of mountains (Inyo Mountains) we had to cross first. Here, the Commander’s performance began to suffer. We couldn’t drive faster than 40mph, and the transmission was constantly switching gears. A breakdown seemed imminent. We made it out though, and some time later arrived at the Easter Sierra Interagency Visitor Center. Next up, Mt. Whitney.