Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Total Eclipse (or 70% of one, I guess)


I must confess, I slept in a bit today. I’ve got a long drive ahead of me – it’s a little over 500 miles home, and it’s an 8 hour drive straight through. That translates to more of a 10 hour drive when you include all the stops for gas and screwing around when I’ve just been sitting for too long. But hey, it’s not like I could leave early – I wanted to see the solar eclipse in Roswell, NM, dangit!! And I’m certainly not in charge of when the sun decides to scoot behind the moon.

So I hung around all morning and finally drove into town a ways to see the UFO Research Center before the eclipse. If you’ve never heard stories about Roswell, this would probably seem like a pretty strange thing to find in a small town. But it’s not, not for Roswell. You see, sometime back 1947, someone saw a UFO here. And then for whatever reason the town just wouldn’t let it go. Here they are 70 years later, and they are still completely fixated on this UFO thing. But hey, when you’re in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico, I guess you have to find something to occupy your time.

Anyways, they built a UFO Research Center right in the middle of town. You pay 5 bucks and then you wander around reading newspaper clippings and interviews and official statements and witness testimonies and all kinds of things like that, until you find yourself kind of wondering if maybe these people are really actually on to something. You can hang out in there for hours poring over documentation of this one event and subsequent possible UFO sightings, and every possible reason for the government cover-up is discussed in detail. It’s enough to make you want to get your tin hat out. But it’s also a really interesting snapshot of history – and it’s really kind of cool to think that maybe there is something else out there.

I had figured that Roswell would be a good place to see the eclipse, just on the off chance that the aliens come to watch the eclipse as well and make a stop past their favorite town in the States. So around 11:30, I left the museum and wandered around outside, looking for people who had solar eclipse glasses. I hadn’t had the foresight to get a pair for myself, of course, and there were not any pairs left for sale in town by the time I thought of it. Since Roswell was only expected to get 70% coverage, it wasn’t supposed to get particularly dark, but the sky did get a weird cast to it. Kind of a late afternoon level of light, but with the light coming from directly overhead. It looked a lot like a photo that’s had its exposure turned down too much.
Just a little bit odd.

I lucked into find a pair of solar glasses laying on the ground, and so got to see my first eclipse! It was pretty underwhelming, I’ll be honest. The sun just turned into a little sliver, kind of like a particularly orange, particularly small moon. If you take a picture of it with a non-fancy camera, like mine, then it’s even more underwhelming:

But hey, a solar eclipse isn’t a common thing to see, so I was glad I saw it. And I was doubly glad that I was seeing it from little old Roswell, rather than a large city in the path of totality. My friends in the large cities were reporting complete chaos and foolishness – people stopped dead on the highways, running around in the streets, that kind of thing. I didn’t have any of that to worry about as I hopped on the road and headed out on the last long leg of my trip. After all, I was headed into west Texas, where the oil rigs and cattle outnumber the residents by quite a large margin.

While the weather was sunny at first, as the hours droned on it turned to rain, as weather is wont to do in west Texas. I don’t mind driving Jane in the rain, not one bit. There’s just something really calming about the low roar of the motor running counterpoint to the squeaking of the windshield wipers and the pattering of the rain. It’s kind of the same feeling that you get when it’s raining outside and you’re snuggled in your bed, all nice and warm and dry and sleepy. Except it’s impossible to be sleepy when driving Jane, so I guess it’s kind of not like that at all.

And, of course, the last day of a trip is not complete without one last silly adventure. As I was driving through the middle of nowhere, I saw a pretty large storm cell up ahead. That’s the good thing about the American southwest, you know – you can see the weather coming for hundreds of miles, which is nice even if you intend to drive straight through the middle of it anyways.

Well, this storm cell was centered right over a tiny town and was just sitting there, not moving. I arrived and quickly found that this town had somehow succeeded in building every single one of its intersections in a low spot in the terrain, resulting in every single one of its intersections being completely flooded.

So I had two choices:
1) Pull off at the gas station and wait it out for a few hours until the storm moved on and the water drained.
2) Put brawn over brains and drive through the flooded town to escape and get home faster.

I think we all know what option I picked.

I mean, sitting for hours in a little town – a town with NO stores open because it’s Sunday, no less – just did not sound great. Right? Right.

Plus, my estimated time of arrival at home was already 11 PM. So adding a few hours onto that time would put me at home very late at night, which would wake up my neighbors and make them hate me.

Well, it just seemed more reasonable to drive through the puddles. I mean, how bad could it be?

I placed myself behind a van that looked like it had similar clearance to Jane, and proceeded to do a very bad thing: I drove through puddles that were quite a bit deeper than I should have been driving through. I’m not talking, “Oh boo hoo, this puddle is three inches deep and it’s getting my tires wet!” Some of these puddles – small ponds, really - were deep enough to reach the bottom of the sill plates. And my methodology for getting through them was to hit them going probably a bit faster than I should have been going, resulting in a massive rooster tail of water fanning out from both sides of my car approximately 15 feet up into the air. I figured if all the water was in the air, it couldn’t be used to drown my car.

Stupid as that logic is, my car did not drown, which perhaps proves me right.

Unfortunately, it was the last puddle that did me in. After driving a slow mile through flooded streets, the end was in sight, and I confess that I hit that puddle with a bit of gusto. Upon exiting the other side of the puddle, my vintage V8 abruptly sounded like an unmuffled underwater diesel. Hoo boy.

Of course, it was raining and I didn’t feel like crawling around under my car to figure out what the issue was because then I’d be wet for the next 6 hours of driving and that would just be silly. Obviously. So I did what any insane person would do… I drove right out of that rainstorm at a brisk 85 MPH, Jane bellowing like a wildebeest (an underwater wildebeest, that is). The alternator was struggling to charge, having been repeatedly dragged through several hundred gallons of water, but it was hanging in there. And quite frankly, I didn’t care if I had left part of my exhaust system back there in that flooded town. I was fully prepared to drive the rest of the way home that way. Sometimes I just get a little bullheaded for no good reason at all and this was one of those times.

Fortunately, the next town over was dry, so I pulled over and crawled underneath Jane for a look-see. Turns out that the problem was actually quite simple! The force of the water hitting one of my mufflers had separated it from the intermediary pipe. The pipe was still pointed into the muffler, more or less, and the muffler was full of water, which is why she sounded like an underwater diesel. So I kind of dumped the water out of the muffler, hammered it back onto the pipe, tightened the exhaust clamp back up again, and went on my merry way.

Oh, and the alternator eventually dried out and started charging properly again! Hurray.

With that, we motored on through the rest of west Texas, enjoying first a gorgeous Texas sunset and then a lovely star-spangled sky after sundown. The hours rolled on and on and we kept cruising down the blacktop, Jane's motor humming contentedly as we settled properly into the "long haul groove". Drive, pause, gas up, drive some more, repeat. 

As the clock struck 11, we rolled into the safety of my garage, finally home after six weeks of nomadic life. There’s a trail of power steering fluid running up the driveway from a leak in a seal who-knows-where in the steering, she’s covered in dirt and bugs and mud, one side of the exhaust is hanging on by a thread (and a pair of vice grips), but we’re home. And hey, she even has a new ring gear and starter, and a new old decklid to boot! I’d call it an even trade. I've got a few days of pretty intense cleaning ahead of me, and then Jane will return to daily driver duty, becoming just an "ordinary car", if she could ever be that.

Have I ever mentioned that my Jane is a complete rockstar? I mean, this is a car that gets abused. Heavily. I am merciless to this monster. It seems like I am never doing what I am supposed to be doing with it, and despite that, she always finds a way to get me home in one piece. This car has taken me through extreme rain, dust, wind, heat, hail, snow, and now flooding, and has never really come out the worse for wear. We go screaming down the highway at a billion miles an hour, then go off-roading down pothole-filled washboard paths, then jump back on the highway and howl down the road some more. Usually there’s a car show in there too, where she must do double duty as a show pony and a daily driver, as well as being an occasional rabble-rouser. I require that my car be able to burn rubber, eat up the blacktop, win shows, turn heads, traverse any terrain, and do all that reliably for thousands and thousands of miles without any maintenance whatsoever. Sure, this trip had a little silliness with that starter issue. But when it comes down to it, Jane tends to only have a complaint if I’m somewhere where I’m equipped to fix it with friends, so even that didn’t really set me back any. When it comes down to it, this car takes care of me far more than I do her. And that’s why Jane’s my “forever car”.

This trip has been pretty insane. Every trip that I take is a little different – not just in the destinations, of course, but in the overall “feel” of the voyage. This trip’s theme, if I had to verbalize it, would be “persistence”. Sometimes adventures can be a bit of work. Sometimes you get thwarted by huge wildfires, heavy smoke, weird issues, and unforeseen events beyond your control. But in the end, with the right application of persistence, you can push through and twist things back around to make the adventure awesome again. The first day, I felt worse than I’ve ever felt in my life in extreme heat and that huge amount of traffic. But I turned around and made a great new friend who reaffirmed my belief in the basic goodness of people. Partway through the trip, I got chased out of Washington by the wildfires, and ended up discovering a great little national park – Lassen Volcanic! I had that starter/ring gear issue, and that turned into a hilarious adventure at the top of Tioga Pass, followed by a lovely visit with friends I hadn’t seen in quite some time. It all comes around if you persist.

Part of the greatest thing about adventures, especially solo adventures, is that you have the flexibility to view and react to anything however you choose. That can really make or break a road trip. It’s up to you to find your way and to keep things positive even if the going gets a little tough. Jane makes that all easy. It just can’t be a bad day if I’m behind the wheel of that car, heading for the horizon. Every day’s an adventure, even if the adventure of the day is an unforeseen repair.

Despite the occasional silliness, this trip I saw some incredible things. I visited a new country – Canada – where I saw two of their most famous national parks, Banff and Jasper. I saw five new states – Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington – and eleven new US national protected areas – Mount Rushmore, Badlands, Devils Tower, Little Bighorn, Glacier, Olympic, Mount Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, Lassen Volcanic, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon. I also participated in a week-long car festival/show/extravaganza where I met tons of new people and made some new friends. Not bad for six weeks of travel!
A map of all of the states that Jane and I have traveled through in the past few years.

I’ll put up one last post after this one as a follow-up with some stats and some “best-of”s. But I guess this is pretty much it for 2017’s trip. It’s always sad coming home and going back to “reality”. But reality is a necessity sometimes… after all, it’s when I’m bored that I get the chance to start planning next year’s trip!

Until next time… Kelly signing out.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Boring Part


Let me tell you, living in the middle of Texas can be a real pain sometimes. It’s hot, it’s full of rattlesnakes and cactuses, and every city is surrounded by a nearly impenetrable barrier of either desert or swampland. But the worst thing about Texas is something that you encounter only when you’re trying to leave or go home: its size. Texas is so immense that you can drive in a straight line all day and still be in the state at the end of the day. And because of the aforementioned impenetrable barriers of desert and/or swamp, it is really just not pleasant to drive through for long periods of time, because it’s pretty much guaranteed to look the same at the beginning of the day as at the end of the day. So that’s why I hate going home. Not because I dislike my home – Austin is a great city – but because I really, really dislike the 8 hour drive through Texas desert that is required to even get there. It’s just awful.

That part is the part that I call “The Boring Part”. The part where I just drive for hours and hours and hours, stopping only for gas and grub. It can be a calming way to unwind at the end of a trip, to come down from the excitement and get back into normalcy. But it can also cause a completely maddening itch, a feeling that you NEED to be home, RIGHT NOW, because you are so bored that you would just hit the fast forward button on your life if you could.

Usually, The Boring Part is only limited to Texas. But unfortunately, on this trip I needed to be home by a certain date. I had already stretched the trip length to its limits by taking extra time to screw around in Modesto as well as Sequoia/Kings Canyon. So my typical leisurely travels through Arizona and New Mexico had to be compressed down into long deathmarch days in order to get home on time. This caused them to get lumped into The Boring Part. No interesting stops, no camping, just driving until my eyeballs feel like they’re going to fall out and I’ve got tinnitus from the roar of a built V8 turning 3500 RPMs and I’m permanently folded into a sitting position with a dent in my left knee where it rests up under the window crank on the door.

I suppose I’m fortunate, being able to claim complete and total boredom while driving a vintage Mustang halfway across the country. I’ve owned this car for 7 years now, and the extraordinary does occasionally become ordinary. But honestly, even while I’m bored out of my mind, I’m still having a good time. I’m never mad at the end of the day, even if I had to drive for 12 hours straight. I never wish that I wasn’t doing what I was doing. Well, except for the last few hours of my Texas drive, but I don’t think anyone could fault me for that. Arizona and New Mexico are two of the best states to long haul in, at least – they’re both very scenic, even along the interstate – so it’s not that bad driving through them for long periods of time.

On the first day of the boring part, I departed Bakersfield with my new old decklid firmly wedged in the rear seat between all of my other gear and souvenirs. The heat started climbing but I didn’t pay it any mind, having 80 mph gusts of wind coming through my open window. I proceeded to drive until I hit Holbrook, AZ, 600 miles away.

I only took one picture. It was of an interestingly shaped chip in my windshield. I don’t know when I picked it up but I thought it was a bug for about 300 miles.

And that’s about all I’ve got for the first boring day of The Boring Part.

I stayed in a hotel for the night, then took off for Roswell the next morning. I like to split my deathmarch days up so I’m not driving more than a thousand miles in a two day period usually. It just feels a little absurd. A thousand miles is more than what a lot of vintage Mustang owners put on their cars in an entire year, and I can exceed it in two days flat!

Anyways, I pushed my self-imposed limit and drove 450 miles to get into Roswell. I probably could have gotten further and stripped some time off of the last deathmarch day, but I had a specific reason to be in Roswell the next morning: the solar eclipse! I figured that if I couldn’t get up into an area where I could experience 100% totality, I might as well at least go somewhere where aliens might show up.

The New Mexican terrain was pretty enough that I bothered to take a few pictures this time.

Another case of my windshield being so covered in bugs (and chipped glass that looks like bugs, apparently) that my camera couldn't focus properly.

And that concludes the first two days of The Boring Part. Tomorrow at least I’ll get to see a solar eclipse and hopefully some aliens and maybe I’ll get abducted so I don’t have to drive 550 miles home through west Texas.

Kelly signing out. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Out of the mountains and back into the world


Well, it had to happen eventually. I had to reach the end of the road. I’ve been on this trip now for almost six weeks, Jane’s tired, I’m tired, and it’s about time for me to get home and get back to work.

But the end of the road that I’m talking about for now is actually the end of the Redwood Mountain Overlook road, site of my final Sequoia/Kings Canyon hike. And boy, was this a road I was glad to get to the end of!

I reluctantly packed up my camping gear this morning – there’ll be no more camping stops this trip, unfortunately – and hopped in Jane, ready for another half day of hiking. A park ranger had recommended the Redwood Mountain grove to me as a nice out-of-the-way, fairly unpopulated hike where I could finish winding down prior to my return to “civilization”.

As soon as I turned onto the road leading to the trailhead, it immediately became apparent to me why this hike is so unpopulated.

This monster of a road winds its way down the mountain into a low valley, but it does its best to get you there as fast as it can – that is, it’s very steep because it mostly just goes straight down. It’s unpaved, narrow, and bordered on one side by a steep, soft slope that seems ready to give out at any moment. Best yet, it features some outstanding potholes and washboard features.

In short, it’s the perfect road to drive your lowered vintage Mustang down! Not only will you get to test your brakes (on the way down) and your throttle control over washboard features (on the way up), but you’ll also get to find out what electrical connections and mechanical components aren’t as snug as you thought they were. If the car’s still functioning by the time you get to the top, you’ve won the lottery!

Jane and I barreled our way down the slope, wallowing into unseen potholes and trying not to get going so fast that we would slide off the edge of the cliff on any of the turns. The steering, which by this point in the trip was very clearly unhappy, howled in protest as I spun the wheel left and right repeatedly to get around obstacles I saw at the last moment. Things even managed to rattle, even under the weight of all of the gear I had stuffed in Jane. But hey, we made it to the bottom just fine.

I parked and tried not to think about the fact that I would have to go back up the dang road again in a few hours, instead setting off on the large loop trail with the intent of just hiking for an hour or so before turning back. This redwood grove is another one of the largest in the parks (I still haven’t figured out if it’s in Kings Canyon or Sequoia), but it’s a lot less densely populated with redwoods.

I saw quite a few giants and hiked along a small stream for a while, which was extremely pleasant.

Someone made this redwood log into a storeroom

And then I realized that I had been hiking upwards for quite some time. I looked around and the trees and overall landscape had completely changed – I had gone from a marshy redwood forest to a dry alpine climate in a very short distance! Fascinating.

As far as I could tell, this was mostly due to the change in elevation (going up) as well as my positioning on the slope. I suspect it must have something to do with the way wind and weather moves over the mountain, as the slope opposite me across the valley was still heavily forested with lots of redwoods towering over the rest of the trees. Had I been able to do the entire hike, I would have looped around over to that slope and down through the valley again. But alas, I only had the morning to hike, so I turned back the way I came, which somehow looked completely different going the other way. 

I returned to the parking lot and sat on a rock to eat my lunch, whereupon I observed a group of young teens having an argument over my car. All agreed that it was a very nice car, but half said, “That’s awesome that it’s down here!” and the other half said, “No way would I take a car like that down here! That road was terrible!” which was an accurate assessment.

I went up to them and said, “Well, I took it down here so I guess now I have to take it back out,” and then I got in and started my way back up. I admit that I paused a bit at the base of the trail, just looking upwards at what I had to tackle. You see, the problem with a vintage car from the Muscle Era is that you’ve got a lot of power and not any traction control to speak of. In most conditions this is totally fine, except when you’re driving on ice and washboard surfaces. For whatever reason, a heavily ridged surface kicks the rear end out sideways really quickly if you’re not good on throttle control or countersteering. And I really wasn’t too keen on kicking the rear end straight out over the edge of the cliff.

But hey! This is what we do, Jane and I. We tackle that which makes the average person more than a little uncomfortable, and we wrestle with it, and we win (most of the time). Or we keep trying until we do. Sometimes you’ve just got to have more guts than sense.

So up we went.

There were a few hairy moments, but we made it to the top with nothing more than an exceptional amount of complaining from the power steering pump. We’re old hats at challenges like this, you know. I knew that if I had anything to be rattled loose or destroyed, it would have been rattled loose or destroyed long ago somewhere back in Canada or maybe Montana.

I popped the hood and added some more power steering fluid, which the pump promptly puked back out, despite being low on fluid and clearly asking for more. I said, “screw it,” and Jane and I started making our way down out of the mountains.

One of life’s greatest pleasures, I find, is going down a delightfully twisty road. But the pinnacle of this pleasure is when the downhill slope is precisely steep enough that you can maintain the speed limit without the application of the skinny pedal or the brakes. I coasted my way down the mountain in neutral, enjoying my sudden 40+ MPG status. Who said muscle cars can’t get good gas mileage?!

Our destination for the night was Bakersfield, CA. Now, those of you who know Bakersfield are now immediately thinking, “But why?!” Myself, I’ve never been to Bakersfield before, and I figured it really couldn’t be as terrible as everyone says. But as I entered the dusty wasteland surrounding the city, I found myself agreeing with everyone elses’ assessment: Bakersfield is just terrible. At least, its environment is. I’m sure the people are quite nice.

In fact, the reason I was going to Bakersfield was because I wanted to meet someone! A member of the Vintage Mustang Forum, Bob, resides here. I’ve known him through the forum for quite some time but have never met him in person. He had been keeping an eye out for original Mustang body parts, and had found the holy grail: an original rust-free 1966 fastback decklid! He contacted me asking if I wanted it, saying it was cheap, and the answer was “of course I do”.

Yeah, I know, my car is already painted and wearing all her parts. But I’ve never been happy with the reproduction decklid that I had to put on after the wreck. The panel fitment is a little wonky and the metal quality is not great so I have to be careful with it, which is kind of silly in a car that’s used as a camper and road warrior. I figure next time I paint Jane, I’ll put this original decklid on instead, and then she’ll be even better!

I met up with Bob at a popular local divey diner spot and we wedged the decklid crosswise into Jane. It’s a good thing that I won’t be camping anymore, because unloading this thing every day would be a massive PITA!
The prize, wrapped in an old sheet because it's covered in old flaky paint.
We went inside for dinner and Bob informed me in no uncertain terms that “the portion sizes are huge here and you definitely won’t be able to finish the meal,” which of course meant that I was bound and determined to eat anything that was put in front of me. I mean, I’m from the South. I was a member of the Clean Plate Club growing up. In short, I can put away a ton of food and I can’t back down from a challenge.

We both ordered the country fried steak and I maintained that of course I would be able to finish the meal. Bob then made a critical mistake and told me, “I bet you that decklid that you can’t finish this whole meal.”

And that’s how he ended up watching me painstakingly wipe up every crumb of a giant country fried steak, a double order of hashbrowns, and a 12” pancake. I was very proud of myself and all he had to say was, “Good god, woman.”

Don’t worry, I paid him for his decklid anyways.

So on that note… Kelly signing out!

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Stars Align


Another day in paradise! You know how sometimes your car just looks really exceptionally good? That was how Jane looked this morning. Something about the sun hitting her just right, and that healthy V8 engine under the hood with all of its fluids in the right places, and the faintly musty muscle car smell wafting from the welcome confines of the interior. Some days, everything is just right. Some days, Jane seems to be in just as good of a mood as I am.

I took advantage of that good mood and we set off southward along the Generals Highway in pursuit of giant trees and the seclusion of the forest. Just past the Giant Forest Museum, we hung a quick left towards Crescent Meadows and wound our way up the narrow road into the heart of the sequoia grove. The day’s mission: to see and hike as much of the old growth forest as possible.

Sequoias are only found on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, so they’re not exactly common. They seem to be relicts of an ancient time, giving the impression that the world was a lot bigger then than it is now. These towering red giants stretch hundreds of feet above your head to impossibly high reaches, dominating everything around them as kings of the forest. They are, in a word, majestic.
Random guy for scale. 
Our first stop was a brief pause at the famed Auto Log, a downed Sequoia big enough to drive onto! In fact, that’s what it used to be famous for. Before rot due to accelerated wear set in, cars used to be able to drive up onto the tree and park quite safely. It’s closed to vehicles now, unfortunately, but they don’t mind if you go up there on your own two feet.

A British man stopped there while I was wandering around, and informed me, “Well that’s just a proper right lovely kit there, that is!” (or something very close to that). I think he meant Jane. He asked if I’d rev the motor as I pulled away and I obliged, hearing, “GAWWWWWWWWW!!!” as I left, which I interpreted to mean, ‘that sounds amazing’.

Our next stop was one of Sequoia National Park’s most famous attractions: Tunnel Log! This massive log fell across the road leading to Crescent Meadows back in the 30’s and was subsequently tunneled through, since that was easier than chopping the whole thing up and moving it. I lucked into showing up at a time when no one else was there, so I parked Jane and took a few shots before moving on through. I mean, there’s just no way I could resist something like this!

I eventually did reach the Crescent Meadows trailhead and lucked into a parking spot, so I decided to use that as my base of operations for the rest of the morning. A huge network of looped trails crosses the grove between here and the Lodgepole Visitor Center, so I decided I would just go around in circles until I got tired or too lost to do anything but backtrack back to the car. I’m not kidding when I say that there’s a lot of trails in this area, either. Here’s the map I used:

I ended up hiking probably 80% of the trails there trying to see as many sequoias as possible. One of the first things I saw was Tharp’s Log, a downed sequoia that a man (named Tharp, presumably) had turned into a cabin!

Like the horseshoe hinges 

Mostly I just saw a lot of really giant, really red, really cool trees. And I'm not going to walk you through how I turned left at this fork to get to this tree, and right at the next fork to get to the next, so here's a photo dump and if you want to go see them for yourself you'll just have to walk in circles like I did to find them!

Just liked the lighting and the juxtaposition of the fern and the burned stump.

The inside of a Sequoia!

Got a bit toasty but still alive after halfway burning.

An unusual place to put a path... path is 3 feet wide, for reference.

Halfway burned at the bottom but still alive at the top! Sequoias are very resilient.

Now this is an interesting one. This is a partially decomposed Sequoia trunk. The "stakes" poking into the stump are actually the remnants of the branches! Somehow, the wood surrounding them has eroded out first.

This photo was, sadly, taken far after Spring 2017. It appears they are a bit behind schedule.

There's a lot of things I could say about this but I won't say any of them.

A picture of the base of one of the trees with me for scale! I wish the guy taking my photo could have gotten the whole tree in there but I guess he thought that I was interested in people being able to see my face. I'm not. I mostly cared about how huge this tree was.

More I could say about this sign but I won't....

This tree looks totally burned out from this side!

I mean, it is definitely not okay.

But then you walk around to the other side and it looks like a perfectly normal growing tree... very peculiar.

A human-sized Tunnel Log. 
The General Sherman tree - largest tree in the world!! 274 feet tall and 32 feet in diameter. Insane.

The Sentinel.

Before I knew it, late afternoon had rolled around, and with it came thunder and clouds gathering in the distance. I figured that that would be the best time to hike up Moro Rock, a large rock dome rising thousands of feet above the adjacent valley floor. It’s a site well-known for its extreme lightning danger.

Yeah, I might not be the brightest crayon in the box. And I certainly cannot claim ignorance, as I’m aware that lighting can strike miles away from the apparent edge of the storm. All I can say is that you should do as I say, not as I do.

Moro Rock is an exfoliation dome, comparable to Yosemite’s Half Dome though of course not nearly so famous because it hasn’t cracked in half yet. But they’ve both been affected by similar processes. An exfoliation dome is exactly what it sounds like – a convex dome of rock that is constantly shedding its external layers. This behavior is caused by the relief of overburden over a previously deeply-buried rock – usually due to erosion. As the tremendously heavy rock overlying the soon-to-be-dome is lifted, it experiences a reduction in compaction-related stress. This causes the rock to expand outward, developing fractures and joints and causing sheaves of rock to be calved off as it reaches the surface. And eventually, as the surrounding softer rock erodes away, you get a big domed rock sticking up into the sky, periodically throwing bits of itself at the valley floor below.

What a spectacular place to put a stairway and hiking trail!

Looking back down the stairway to the forest floor below, and thinking about my hazardous behavior.
I hiked doubletime up to the top, trying to be mindful of the impending storm, and was rewarded with an incredible view of the surrounding Sierra Nevadas. There really is just something special about this mountain range. I think that I could distinguish it from any other range in the US on sight alone. Something about the gray and green dappled serrated peaks and the shape of the flanks of the valleys and the clouds as they cluster in the sky is just… well, it’s just very Sierra Nevada-ish.

This is what happens when you're too excited to properly focus your camera on a really blue lizard. 

The storm moved a bit closer and I did get smarter, hopping down with plenty of time to spare. Jane and I meandered back up the road towards camp, dilly-dallying some in hopes that the clouds would clear by the time we arrived. I just hate cooking dinner when it’s spitting out.
Jane has another admirer taking a picture of her rump.

Jane in the foreground kind of makes these sequoias look smallish, but they were about 40 feet away so... they were not small.

Well, the clouds did clear, and the weather turned beautiful again, so I took an evening hike over to the General Grant tree before cooking dinner. The General Grant tree is actually in Kings Canyon but might as well be a part of Sequoia, because honestly otherwise it’s just confusing. It has the distinction of being the second largest tree in the world – second only to the General Sherman tree, which I saw earlier. Incredible! It’s 268 ft. tall, falling 6 ft. short of the “largest tree in the world” award, but has a larger diameter trunk than the General Sherman.

It is also impossible to fit into one photograph unless you have a mega wide-angle lens, which is frustrating.

Out of the two, I have to say that I liked this one better. Its presence is overwhelming in the oddest way. On the one hand, you know you’re just looking at a tree. And if you’re just looking at a picture, you don’t really realize how large it is. It’s only when you look at it in the grand scheme of things, next to all the other tall trees surrounding it, that you start to realize how huge it truly is. A single branch from this tree is equivalent to an entire standard-sized tree (like a dogwood or a cherry tree or whatever). If that branch fell from that height, it would surely crush anything below it and would likely shake the ground enough to register on a seismograph.
Other trees for scale.

That one squiggly branch in particular is... well, extremely large.

After thinking about that for a while, I found myself a bit nervous. Fortunately, the area around the tree is roped off, probably for that reason. But then again, nearly 50% of the forest is made of these sequoias, and probably it would still be pretty devastating if a branch fell off of one of the “small” 200-foot trees. So I went back to my campsite, which was… well, also directly under a sequoia tree. I squinted suspiciously up at the branches while cooking dinner but none of them jumped off the tree to squash me so I figured that maybe I would be okay.

Night fell and still the tree hadn’t attempted to kill me. But I kept an eye cast up there nonetheless. That ended up being extremely fortuitous, as it led to an important realization: I had selected a campsite that had a perfect gap in the forest looking up into the sky just past Jane’s parking spot. And framed within this gap was the Milky Way in all its glory, made even more vibrant by the absence of light from the new moon.

For those of you who have never truly seen a dark night sky – please, make an effort to go see one someday. It can be difficult, getting out away from cities and towns and streetlights and highways and all of the things typically associated with civilization. But there is something very special about looking up into the sky and seeing thousands of stars scattered across the night. An endless series of constellations and stories and memories is attached to each one, and you can feel it. Let yourself really look at them for a while, and they start to weigh on you even as they buoy you up, seemingly pressing you down to the earth at your back while simultaneously pulling you up into the sky. It’s a peculiar feeling, having stars as your only light. And it’s one of the times I feel the most human. Not that I’m not human (I swear), or that I don’t feel connected with the rest of humanity usually, but seeing the stars that people have looked up at for thousands of years connects you in a far deeper way.

I basked in the light of the stars for a while before I remembered the best thing about living in this day and age: the digital camera. More specifically, MY digital camera, which I bought in part because it’s supposed to be exceptionally good for low-light applications. So I propped my camera up on my shoe and a stick, tried not to shake it around too much, and snapped some shots.

I was astounded at what I got back.

I got smart and started using very dim lights to highlight Jane a bit so she could be in the shot too. And that’s how I got a couple of the best, most unique pictures I’ve ever taken of my car.

Don’t think there’s really much more to say to improve the day (or this post). So until next time… Kelly signing out.