Beautiful sky.
Photos from some of our 2013 hikes.  Above:  Mt. Conness from Ten Lakes Basin Pass. 
As always, if you click on the photos, they will take you to our trip photo logs on Picasa.
Lower Sardine Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness
And he also caught this shot from the lake shore
and below, Stella Lake, below Dorothy Peak Pass later in July.

Stella Lake was beautiful! ©http://backpackthesierra.com 

And then Virginia Peak in Northern Yosemite, below left.

 Our camp from the lake.©http://backpackthesierra.com

Yosemite Celebrates 125 years, and 100 Years of the NPS

posted Feb 27, 2015, 9:26 AM by Paul Wagner

On August 25, 2016, Yosemite National Park will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS). Yosemite has selected ten centennial signature projects that are designed to enhance the visitor experience, restore critical ecological and wildlife habitats, and connect with the next generation of park stewards. The projects will be completed over the next several years and will be combined with other anniversary celebrations in which visitors can take part in. The Centennial will commence a second century of stewardship of America’s national parks and engaging communities through recreation, conservation, and historic preservation programs.

“These ten signature Centennial projects will continue the legacy of the National Park Service and celebrate the past 100 years of preservation and enjoyment of national parks across the country,” said Don Neubacher, Yosemite National Park Superintendent. “We look forward to the continued engagement of park staff and park visitors in celebrating this historic anniversary.”

On October 1, 2015, the park is also commemorating the 125th anniversary of the establishment of Yosemite National Park. President Benjamin Harrison signed the legislation, thereby creating the nation’s third national park. The establishment of Yosemite National Park preserved over 1,500 square miles of land including Tuolumne Meadows, the park’s high country, Hetch Hetchy, and lands surrounding Yosemite Valley. The celebration will include numerous gateway community events and in-park themed events.

Signature Centennial projects in Yosemite for the National Park Service’s anniversary include:

Restoration of the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (2013 – 2016): The NPS begun work to restore the Mariposa Grove and ensure it thrives to be enjoyed by future generations. The restoration will restore ecological processes including the giant sequoia habitat and wetlands, and increase the resiliency of the Mariposa Grove while improving the overall experience for visitors.

Engaging the Next Generation (2012 – 2016): Adopt the Class of 2016 is a multi-year program bringing the park and its resources to Yosemite gateway community students who will be graduating in 2016. This program will develop long lasting relationships between students and the park through a wide variety of activities inspiring ownership, stewardship, and awareness of the National Park in students’ backyards. Activities will take place both inside and outside of the park.

Youth Environmental Education Center (2013 – 2017): NatureBridge operates an environmental education campus at Crane Flat under a cooperative agreement with the park. This campus serves both the park and Yosemite Institute by fulfilling their shared mission. The current facilities are comprised of older buildings and structures that have been assembled over time and were not originally designed for educational purposes. To address this issue, the park and NatureBridge began implementing a new campus in 2002, which is underway at Henness Ridge, on the Western edge of Yosemite National Park.

Meadow and River Corridor Restoration (2014 – 2017): Yosemite National Park will begin implementation of ecological restoration actions outlined in the Tuolumne River Plan and Merced River Plan. Restoration of the natural hydrology and plant communities in Tuolumne Meadows includes filling ditches along the Soda Springs Trail, removing multiple informal trails, and reducing erosion and preventing conifer encroachment by planting native plants.

Recovering Two Endangered Sierra Nevada Amphibians (2015 – 2018): The Yosemite toad (threatened) and Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (endangered) are federally listed with the potential for their critical habitat to be listed in 2015. Restoring lakes and meadows focuses primarily on habitat restoration to improve breeding suitability where each species is currently present. For both species, through successive multiple year translocations, self-sustaining breeding populations can usually be established within 4-6 years after sites are restored.

A great trip in the middle of summer out of Tuolumne Meadows....on a trailhead that few use.   ©http://backpackthesierra.com
Returning Endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep to Yosemite’s Wilderness (2015 – 2018): This project will reintroduce a self-sustaining herd of endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep into the Cathedral Range in the heart of Yosemite’s Wilderness, in effect beginning the last major step needed for species recovery. Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (SNBS) were listed as federally endangered in 2000 after the population plunged to a low of about 100 individuals. The population has since increased to over 500, but remains below the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) recovery goal. 

(Imagine Big Horn Sheep added to the photo at left!)

Camp 4 Restoration and New Campsite Creation (2016 – 2018): Through this centennial project, Camp 4 will be expanded by doubling the present number of camp sites from 35 to 70. The existing parking area will be improved to include 130 parking spaces. A new comfort station will be built to serve the additional campers.

Visitor Restroom Improvements (2015 – 2017): Park management will be replacing three of the current portable toilet units at Churchbowl with a permanent restroom building. The new facility will contain flushable gender separate toilets, diaper changing stations, and will be accessible. Future projects include Camp 4, Camp 6, and West of the Lodge, which will replace or add additional facilities.

The Ahwahnee Rehabilitation (2015 – 2016): This project will serve multitudes of guests and visitors by completing fire code upgrades to secondary egress from the upper floors to the ground floor in the east wing. In addition, this project will improve accessibility to persons with disabilities by adding a limited use/limited access (LULA) elevator to the heavily used public spaces on the south mezzanine. Furthermore, two additional ADA-compliant guest suites will be created so that the hotel fully meets ADA guest room ratio requirements. Lastly, the hotel bar and associated kitchen will be renovated to improve visitor service and accessibility. All of these improvements will protect and reinforce the historic character of this unique landmark.

Emergency Services Complex Rehabilitation (2015 – 2016): The park’s headquarters for the search and rescue program in Yosemite Valley will be rehabilitated and modernized to bring the facility in conformance with current life and safety codes. The project will perform electrical, mechanical, plumbing, fire suppression, structural, accessibility, egress and seismic rehabilitation improvements.

For more information about the centennial celebration of the NPS and Yosemite’s celebration of the 125th, please visit: http://www.nps.gov/yose/anniversary.

Death Valley Detective story

posted Feb 26, 2015, 6:41 AM by Paul Wagner

A fellow backpacker shared this story in response to our post about Death Valley.  It is an amazing story of detective work and hiking, blended together.  But a warning:  do not start reading this unless you have enough time to finish the whole thing...because it is fascinating, and you won't want to leave it!

below: Cottonwood Canyon in a February afternoon

Looking up towards the route to Marble Canyon  ©http://backpackthesierra.com

Shine on me...

posted Feb 25, 2015, 11:42 AM by Paul Wagner

We have really liked our new Luci solar powered light.  It charges during the day, and emits nice bright light for a few hours after dark.  It was particularly helpful on our trip to Death Valley in February, when the days are short and the nights are long.  We were able to see well enough to read in the tent with Lucy, and it had the added bonus of being a bright beacon in the desert when M got up in the middle of the night and then tried to find the tent again! 

At around $15 and less than four ounces, this is a gadget that we actually think is worth it.
And no, they didn't give us a free one, we paid for it.  And we are not getting paid to endorse it!MPOWERD Luci - Inflatable Solar Lantern

The Right Way....

posted Feb 22, 2015, 6:48 AM by Paul Wagner


After yesterday’s post, we did want to share a great place to eat in Bakersfield.  Yes, Bakersfield.  As we drove along highway 178 across town, we noticed a small café:  the 24 St. Café.  It isn’t hard to find.  It’s on 24th St. and Highway 178.  And it is everything that a small café should be:  lively, fresh cooked food, inexpensive, hearty portions, friendly and helpful service.  It is only open for breakfast and lunch, and even on a Wednesday it was pretty full at 12:15.  But they squeezed us in at the counter, gave us our delicious lunch with a smile, provided some welcome driving directions, and had us on our way in less than 45 minutes.  You can’t ask for more than that, and everyone in that restaurant was enjoying the experience, from the customers to the staff.  And yes, the owner was present and paying attention to the customers with a smile.

In Stovepipe Wells we would have been just biting into our (cold) food. And paid double.  

Bad Food and the NPS

posted Feb 21, 2015, 8:58 AM by Paul Wagner

Why is the food so universally bad in our national parks?

 It’s true that they located in difficult places:  food deliveries are going to be limited and expensive. But there has to be more to it than that.  On our last trip to Death Valley, we waited more than forty minutes to be served a BLT at Stovepipe Wells, and when it arrived it was stone cold.  The next night, at Furnace Creek, our salads and entrees arrived at the same time, within three minutes of ordering them, and well before our drinks made it to the table.      

It’s as if nobody in the dining room is paying attention. And it’s not just that we’re from Napa, and used to better things.  As we look around the restaurants in our national parks, we see looks of confusion and bewilderment on the faces of all the customers. Why is it so hard?      

The worst restaurant we have ever visited is the one at Grant’s Grove in SEKI.  A few years ago, they were simply a disaster from beginning to end:  bad reception, lousy service, and terrible food, all bundled up into one restaurant.  And the prices in these places are way above what you would pay anywhere else.  In Death Valley, one steakhouse is asking more than $65 for a steak—and given the rest of the operation we can’t imagine that it was very good.  Two days before we had eaten at Harris Ranch in Coalinga—not exactly the culinary capital of the Western World—where the steaks were certainly better, and certainly less expensive. And the service was attention, and the whole thing worked.       

We wish that SOMEBODY were paying attention to this, but they are not. Sure, it might be hard to get good staff to work at a national park, (Really?  Wouldn’t bright young people want to do this for a season of adventure?) but there seems to be almost no training of the people they do hire.  And there seems to be no supervision in the dining room.  Again, nobody there is paying attention…

It's great to be a kid...or have one!

posted Feb 20, 2015, 8:12 AM by Paul Wagner

“To help engage and create our next generation of park visitors, supporters and advocates, we are kicking off the Every Kid in a Park initiative. The immediate goal is to provide an opportunity for each and every 4th grade student across the country to experience their public lands and waters in person throughout the 2015-2016 school year.

Soon, you will have access to your own Every Kid in a Park pass. This pass will give you free access to national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and more! The Every Kid in a Park pass will be available for the 2015-2016 school year. Every Kid in a Park joins the Foundation’s Open Outdoors for Kids program in helping children learn history, culture, and science while exploring the great outdoors.

The initiative is an administration-wide effort among the National Park Service, Forest Service, Department of Education, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administratio - See more at: http://www.nationalparks.org/ook/every-kid-in-a-park#sthash.xdRb0976.dpuf

Water enough to drink...

posted Feb 20, 2015, 7:45 AM by Paul Wagner

How much water do you need to drink on the trail? 
On our trip to Death Valley, we took what we hoped would be enough water for the two of us for an overnight backpacking trip:  Slightly more than a gallon per person for 24 hours.  In terms of water bottles, it was 14 quarts, and that turned out to be about right.  We drank three quarts during our hike to the campsite (this was, after all, Death Valley) and then used another three quarts for dinner.  And then used another two quarts for breakfast the next day…and drank two more on the way out.  So we drank ten quarts (five quarts per person) over the 24 hours of the hike.  We were a little under-hydrated on the first day, as we were hiking in the afternoon sun.  And we had some water left over (which is not a bad thing in the desert).  If we were to do it again, we’d probably take about the same.      
That's a photo of Death Valley at right...looking down towards Badwater and the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere...
In the Sierra, of course, you can fill your water bottles along the way.  We generally only take four quart bottles for the two of us on those hikes.  We always camp near water, so we don’t need to worry about carrying the water for dinner or breakfast.  And we start the day with four full bottles---enough to get us through lunch and into dinner.  Some people prefer to carry less weight, and may only carry one bottle per person---or even hike from stream to lake and drink what’s available.  But we don’t like to take the time to pump and filter while we are on the trail—we prefer to hike.  So we carry a little extra weight, and stop less often to pull out our water filter. 

Either way works, as long as you keep drinking enough water.

Death Valley Redux

posted Feb 19, 2015, 1:45 PM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Feb 20, 2015, 7:40 AM ]

A few years ago we took a trip to Death Valley in the spring...thinking that it would be a good way to get in some hiking while the Sierra was under snow, and it would also give us a chance to see one of the largest US national parks at a time when the temperatures were conducive to hiking and exploring...rather than sitting and sweating. 

It worked.  And so in 2015 we went back again for a second helping--including plans for a couple of overnight backpacking trips.

After a long drive down, we spent the first day in the park just exploring the Funeral Mountains east of Death Valley.  We drove to Hole in the Wall, and then hiked up into Slit Canyon--a nice little adventure that whetted our appetite for more.  And so we did the same in Echo Canyon, hiking to Eye of the Needle.  Both led us on enchanting tours of narrow canyons full of serenity and scenery.

That's the lower reaches of Slit Canyon in the photos at right.

On both of these trips, our little 2wd hybrid SUV was just fine on the dirt roads---we felt pretty good about the fact that it made both hikes really easy.  In fact, we felt pretty darn confident at this point.  

Which led us to our next adventure, backpacking in Cottonwood Canyon.  The first 8 miles of the dirt road are described as suitable to all passenger vehicles.  And Michel Digonnet's Hiking in Death Valley  describes the following ten miles as passable for anything with high clearance. 

Off we went in our Ford Escape. 

And after a couple of tight spots, we drove almost all the way to the end of the road at Cottonwood Canyon.  Often very slowly.  The road was not in good shape at all, and despite a couple of people we met on the way who reassured us, it was pretty tricky going.  P even got out of the car a couple of times to check out the route before moving forward.  We finally stopped about a half-mile from the end of the road, where it dove steeply into a wash and then just as steeply up the other side...and then did that three more times in succession.  We chickened out, parked our car, and covered the last section on foot. 

Upper Cottonwood Canyon does not have scenery that is as dramatic at the Funeral Mountains, and we found the hike vaguely disappointing.  We reached Cottonwood Springs to discover that the whole area was covered in horse manure...and the brown hills seemed peaceful and...well,  really brown, and really peaceful.  We found the herd of wild horses (or rather, they found us) that were living there, and checked out the route up over the pass to Marble Canyon---to be tackled another day. 

The photo at left shows two of the wild horses as they crept by us on the way to drink at Cottonwood Springs.

That evening, as we were reading the NPS notes on this hike, we discovered that they considered the road impassable except for 4X4s--which gave us something to think about that night, and on the hike back out.  Did we somehow get ourselves into something that would prove a problem on the drive out? 

We were delighted to see some climbers and their 4X4s at the end of the road as we hiked out.  We weren't sure we would need help, but it was nice to know they were in the area.  They were the only people we saw within eight miles of the trailhead.  And then we began the slow, slow, and careful drive back out. 

And there were no problems.  We made it just fine.  The only sad part was that P was so focused on his driving, and M was so focused on holding onto the armrest and groaning at every tight spot, that we didn't take any pictures.  And that's sad, because the lower part of Cottonwood Canyon, where the road is, has far more beauty and scenery that the upper part where we hiked.

But it did give us a new appreciation of how important it is to check the latest info on any hike, no matter whose book you are reading!

The celebrate our "escape" out of Cottonwood Canyon, we drove to Natural Bridge and topped off the day with a hike up that small but lovely canyon.  As usual, once we passed the obvious point of interest, we left all the rest of the tourists behind, and had a delightful stroll up that canyon for another half mile in peace and solitude. 

That's a shot of the bridge at right, with a few of our fellow hikers looking up in wonder.

The next day, M began to come down with the cold that P had been fighting all week, and so we took the day off.  We drove to Scotty's Castle, Ubehebe Crater, and Rhyolite, Nevada, and generally took life easy.  It was a nice way to spend a warm sunny day in February. and it seemed to be a reasonably good medicine for fighting a cold.

We found a few more places that we would like to hike in the future, including a couple of places we'd like to backpack. That night in the campground, we enjoyed a chat with a neighbor and were already thinking about next time.  

And on the way home, we found ourselves in one more adventure, as M suggested we take the road to Wildrose on the way to Ridgecrest and home. 

That's what we did.  Only upon arriving at the turn-off to Wildrose, some 15-20 miles up the road, we found the rest of the road was marked "Closed."  Oops. 

How bad could it be?  We were about to find out.  After two enormous potholes in the first fifty feet of the road, it wasn't too bad.  There were clearly areas that were eroded away, and the road dwindled down to a single lane between steep drop-offs.  But the road was passable.  It was beautiful.  And we saw a small herd of wild burros on the way, as well.  With a sigh of relief, we eased past the last narrow section about mile from the end of the road...

And so we added to the legend of the little blue Escape, and drove past  the "Road Closed" sign in the other direction, slipped out onto the Panamint highway, and sped off to Trona and home. 

The weather was nearly perfect for our trip.  The hottest temperature was 90F at the Furnace Creek visitors' center in the middle of the afternoon, and the coldest was about 32F in Cottonwood Canyon at 3500 feet during our backpacking trip.  The skies were clear, the flowers were just barely beginning to show, and the hiking was delightful.

Here's a link to our Picasa page with all the photos you'd care to see:

We'll be back.

Fishing Etiquette

posted Feb 4, 2015, 2:17 PM by Paul Wagner

Got this question from one of our readers:

Love your blog and site.  Recently moved to Fresno after 10+ long years in barren West Texas and cannot wait to spend some good time up in the mountains. 

Question about fishing in bear country.  I mostly fished streams growing up, and always learned to throw the guts back in the stream or lake...but I've read so many different opinions about this, and it sounds like I've been doing it wrong.  If not in the water-- then where (especially in bear country).  I would love to know what precautions you take, from cleaning and cooking to your clothes.

Your thoughts are appreciated! 

Thanks so much.


We thought that this was a good enough question we would put it on our blog. 

Authorities in different jurisdictions have different answers for this one.  We've always been taught that when you are in the wilderness you should leave the guts along side a lake or river (far from camp, for obvious reasons) and let the wilderness scavengers eat them up.  We've done it that way for more than fifty years, and we've never seen the guts the next morning.  
We know that there are areas where the policy is to toss the guts into the river or stream...but we've seen too many of these white masses of dead flesh at the bottom of crystal clear lakes.  Unless we are specifically told otherwise, we'll continue to use the local wildlife to dispose of the fish guts!

New Fees for Yosemite National Park

posted Feb 1, 2015, 8:38 AM by Paul Wagner

Here's the whole press release, announcing the changes.  And while some will argue that these fees make access to the park more difficult for those in need, we'd point out that it's still cheaper to take a family of four to Yosemite than it is to take them to a major new movie...

Yosemite National Park announces entrance fees and campground fees will increase beginning March 1, 2015. The new fee structure includes modifications to the October 2014 draft proposal based on public input.

During the civic engagement period, the park received 2,430 e-mails in response to the proposal, 1,222 comments on the park's Facebook page, and 16 mailed letters. Input received from the public during civic engagement led to significant changes to the park's fee increase proposal.

"We want to thank all the members of the public that submitted input. Based on the public comments received, the park was able to make some important modifications to the final proposal," stated Don Neubacher, Yosemite National Park Superintendent. "The fee increases proposed will help the park keep up with inflation."

To respond to public input, Yosemite National Park will introduce a lower seasonal rate for the seven-day vehicle entrance pass. The lower rate of $25 will be available January through March and November through December. Yosemite National Park will also phase the implementation of the motorcycle entrance fee. Currently, motorcyclists entering the park are assessed $10 per individual. The park amended the initial proposal of $25 per motorcycle to $15 per motorcycle in 2015 and $20 per motorcycle in 2016. In regard to camping fees, the basic rates were only increased approximately 20%.

"With additional entrance fees, we will be able to complete some critical projects in the next few years that benefit park visitors," stated Randy Fong, Division Chief of Project Management. "We want everyone to know that 80% of the revenue stays here in Yosemite National Park to make these projects a reality. Without the funding, the projects will simply not get implemented."

Fee projects planned for the future include restoration projects in Tuolumne Meadows and along the Merced River in Yosemite Valley, improved parking, wayfinding, and traffic flow for park visitors, rehabilitation of popular trails including the John Muir Trail and the Mist Trail, an improved emergency communication data network, restroom improvements, and expanded educational youth programs. Additionally, funding will be designated to expand campsites at popular Yosemite Valley campgrounds, such as Camp 4 and Upper Pines.

The last entrance fee increase in Yosemite National Park occurred in 1997 when fees were raised from $5 to $20 for private vehicles. The new proposed increase will make Yosemite entrance fees comparable to the cost of other large parks across the country, including Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Zion National Parks. In addition, the fee increases will help the park keep up with inflation. It takes $29 today to buy something in 1997 for $20.

Yosemite National Park is a strong economic engine for the region and local communities. Yosemite National Park generates $373 million in economic benefit to the local region and directly supports over 5,000 jobs. Previous fee increases have had no effect on visitation levels. This fee increase is part of a larger National Park Service initiative to standardize fees in similar national parks across the country.

A summary of the fee increase for all the fee categories follows. The single vehicle entrance fee will raise from $20 per vehicle to $25 per vehicle for the month of March 2015, then to $30 per vehicle starting in April through October 2015. The new vehicle entrance fee is good for a seven day visit to Yosemite National Park. In November 2015, the vehicle entrance fee will decrease to $25 per vehicle. The park will implement low-season entrance fees of $25 per vehicle for the months of November through March in 2015 and 2016. High season, April through October, entrance fees will be $30 per vehicle in 2015 and 2016.

The park's annual pass will increase from $40 to $60, also on March 1. Currently, motorcycles are charged the $10 per individual rate. The new fee changes will include a flat rate per motorcycle of $15. Implementation of the new motorcycle entrance fee will be phased over the next several years. The rate will change to $15 per motorcycle on March 1, 2015. The rate will adjust to $20 per motorcycle in 2016. Interagency Passes, which are honored at all federally managed land units, are not affected by the proposed fee increase and will remain at $80 for the regular pass, $10 for the Senior Pass and free for the Access and Military passes. Fees for commercial buses are also not affected by these changes.

Campground fees, which have been in place since 2006, will also increase on March 1, 2015. Camping fees currently range from $5 per night to $20 per night for family sites and $40 per night for group sites. The fee increase will change the rates from $6 per night to $26 per night for family sites and $50 per night for group sites. Campsite reservations can be made up to five months in advance. Campsites requiring reservations will see the increase in camping fees starting on February 15, 2015, for reservations between June 15 and July 14, 2015. However, all first-come, first-served campground fees will increase on March 1.

For a schedule of the fee increase implementation, please see the table below.
Type of FeeEffective 3/1/2015Effective 1/1/2016
Per Vehicle Entrance, 7-day passJanuary - March $25, April - October $30, November - December $25January - March $25, April - October $30, November - December $25
Individual Entrance$15$15
Motorcycle Entrance$15 per motorcycle$20 per motorcycle
Yosemite National Park Annual Pass$60$60
Family/Group Reservation CampsitesRange: $26 - $50Range: $26 - $50
First-Come, First-Serve Available CampsitesRange: $6 - $18Range: $6 - $18

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