Lemon Cove, California, and Kings Canyon National Park

We selected Lemon Cove RV Park in Lemon Cove, California, on October 25, 2017, for our three-night stay 25 miles outside Sequoia National Park. Although close to the road, the campsites sit below street grade dampening the vehicle noise. After getting settled, we drove to the Sequoia National Park visitors’ center to pick up a map and newsletter and inquire about the signs we had seen about the construction delays.

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Mountains Tower Above Kings Canyon Floor

I’ve heard stories about drivers ending up in precarious situations if they rely too much on their GPS. I have to admit our trusty GPS backup, a map, got the better of us. Having missed the traffic release window on Generals Highway through Sequoia, our map showed a straight shot north to the Kings Canyon entrance. Thinking it would be faster than waiting to get through the construction zone, we took the Highway 245 detour. It was a lovely drive through citrus, nut, and olive orchards, a few vineyards, and small farm towns. Then the road turned dicey when it became narrow and curvy and increased elevation with each hairpin turn. What happened to the straight line I saw on the map? Once committed, it made no sense to retrace our route. Onward we continued through forested areas and remote property until the road intersected with Highway 180, which took us to the Big Stump Entrance of Kings Canyon.

General Grant Tree Grove

Our first stop inside the park was at the General Grant Tree Grove, which contains a 1/3 mile paved loop trail to General Grant Tree, the Fallen Monarch, the Centennial Stump, and Gamlin Cabin.

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General Grant through the Trees Doesn’t Look so Big Here

General Grant, believed to be 1,650 years old, was named in 1867 after Ulysses S. Grant, a Union Army General and the 18th president of the United States. The tree stands 267.4 feet tall, has a girth of 107.6 feet, and estimates peg it at 46,608 cubic feet of wood and bark. What I find impressive is that the tree continues to add board feet and bark, increasing in not only height but also girth.

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General Grant Crown

All about Sequoias

Although Sequoias are the largest living individual thing on the planet, they are not the tallest, widest, or even the oldest. Their trunks, however, occupy more space than any other single organism.

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Fallen Monarch Measures 124 Feet from Roots to Top. No One Knows When it Fell

The trees occur naturally in groves on the western slopes of the California Sierra Nevada Mountains within a 260-mile long by 15-mile wide strip between 5,000 and 7,500 feet above sea level.

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Centennial Stump is Partially Seen Behind and to the Right of the Sign

The trees’ bark, containing very little pitch and an abundance of tannins, provides built-in protection from burrowing insects, fungi, and fire. In fact, fire is one of the ways the tree reproduces. It clears the undergrowth and low branches and allows the tiny (.16 – .20 inches long by .04 inches wide by .04 inches broad) seeds to open up and flourish. Squirrels and insects also can cause the seeds to release from the cones and sprinkle the forest floor. A cone holds on average 230 seeds, but a tree may only produce one offspring during its entire lifetime of thousands of years.

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Hey, What Are You Doing Here?

A sequoia can even heal itself, after it has been burned, by generating new bark around its blackened trunk. The sequoias are also self-pruning, shedding lower branches as it grows taller and reduces sunlight escaping through the leaves.

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Example of Burned Trunk

It is a good thing that the wood of the Sequoia is fibrous and brittle and not ideal for construction. Otherwise, the Gamlin Brothers may have destroyed all of them. They held a logging permit in the area. At one point, loggers did fell the ancient trees for shingles, fence posts, and even toothpicks. Imagine how many toothpicks one of the beautiful giants could produce.

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Gamlin Cabin Built 1872 To House the Gamlin Brothers who Grazed Cattle Until 1878

Kings Canyon

A drive through Kings Canyon gives visitors a snapshot of some of the attractions that make California a favorite place to visit. Towering granite cliffs, a rushing river, golden grass, and yuccas captured our attention as we drove beside the Kings River. Most of the campgrounds had already been closed for the winter, and even gates prevented driving down some of the roads. We stopped at Canyon View expecting a spectacular landscape only to find the view blocked by overgrown trees. I think someone needs to rename the overlook.

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Contrasting Rock
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Kings River
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View Through the Forest

Montecito-Sequoia Lodge

On our way toward Sequoia National Park, we stopped in at the Montecito-Sequoia Lodge, an all-inclusive rustic resort. The property reminded me of the setting in the Dirty Dancing movie. Open year round, room rates include lodging, meals, and activities. I wouldn’t mind staying there a night or two. It sure would be more convenient than driving in and out of the park each day.

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October Colors

As the sun fell lower in the sky, we continued out of the park, with no delays through the construction zone where the crews had finished up for the day. Low gear was required to avoid burning up the brakes while descending into the valley. With growling stomachs, we watched for the first restaurant to grab a bite to eat before we continued back to Lemon Cove.

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Forest Mushrooms

 Gateway Restaurant & Lodge in Three Rivers looked like a good bet, and we were not disappointed. We sat at a table overlooking the Kaweah River illuminated by outdoor lighting. The snapper, the best I had ever eaten, was accompanied by a fluffy baked potato, plenty of butter and chives scooped on top, and perfectly cooked squash. The memory of the meal makes my mouth water.

Join us next time for a peek at Sequoia National Park.

Safe Travels

Boron and Tehachapi, California

After four nights in Twenty-nine Palms exploring Joshua Tree National Park, we were ready to find new places to explore. We had Boron, California, in our sights, on October 23, 2017. Not to stay overnight, just to check out the Borax Visitor Center, a place we had driven by for the past thirty or forty years going between northern and southern California. It was time to visit the company that once sponsored the Death Valley Days program on television.

The Borax Mine is located on State Route 58 about 12 miles west of Kramer Junction—where US Route 395 and State Route 58 intersect. We weren’t sure we were headed in the right direction. All we could see as we drove down the road were tall towers, steam rising in columns, and hills, nothing that looked like a visitor center.

 

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Borax Processing Plant

 

When we came to the end of the road, signs directed us toward an unmanned booth along a dirt road. We trusted the billboard that advertised plenty of RV parking at the top of a hill and kept on driving. When we reached the top, the road turned left and sure enough, there was plenty of space to accommodate multiple fifth wheels and buses.

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Borax Visitor Center

An original 20-Mule Team Wagon set complete with hitched up mule statues welcomed us at the visitor center. The teams carried borax out of Death Valley 165 miles to the nearest railroad junction in Mojave. The round trip took 20 days to deliver 20 tons of borax between 1883 and 1888.

 

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20-Mule Team Wagon with Statues

 

Today the operation mines colemanite, ulexite, kernite, and borax, from a borate deposit, which has been mined since 1927. These minerals are used in agriculture, ceramics, detergents and personal care products, fiberglass and glass, and as a wood treatment to prevent fungal decay and damage from termites, ants, and roaches.

 

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Pit and Tailings

 

 

The visitor center is open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except holidays or during bad weather. Admission is free. Inside the building is a theater where a short movie and talks by docents provide information about the Rio Tinto Mining Company and the history of the pit. Displays show how borax is mined and processed, what products the minerals are used in, and the different types of minerals mined. Outside a ramp takes visitors to a platform where they can watch the giant dump trucks, which look like ants where we stood, maneuver atop the tiers.

 

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Sample of Borate Ore (Kernite) Taken from Mine in 1997
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Diagram that Explains the Process

 

The pit is almost like looking into the Grand Canyon. At 1 mile wide, 1½ miles long, and 650 feet deep, the heavy equipment is dwarfed by the vast landscape. A few pieces of equipment are barely identifiable in the mid-right gray area.

 

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Borax Pit

 

 

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Even Zoomed in, the Equipment Appears Like a Toy Among the Towering Tiers

 

Back in Boron is the Twenty Mule Team Museum. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and had to get back on the road so we could arrive before dark in Tehachapi where we planned to spend the night.

We found a quiet spot away from the trains and freeway at Mountain Valley RV Park where they offer water, electricity, restrooms, showers, and laundry. There is a dump station but no sewer hookups. A short walk away is the Mountain Valley Airport that serves small aircraft and gliders and operates a café.

 

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Looking South From Mountain Valley RV Park the Last Bits of Sun Paint the Hills 
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Little Birds Flitted About in the Dry Grass
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Hills and Windmills Create a Backdrop for the Hidden Valley Airport 

 

Coyotes woke us around 4:00 a.m. and as the sun rose, the wind grew stronger. Time to hit the road.

Safe Travels

Joshua Tree National Park

From Prescott we headed toward Twenty-nine Palms, California, to explore Joshua Tree National Park, a place we had wanted to return to for many years. We checked in at Twenty-nine Palms RV Resort on October 19, 2017, for four nights.

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Joshua Tree National Park Visitor Center

This desert area became a national park in 1994 after being set aside as a monument in 1936 by President Roosevelt. Jon and I had driven by the park several times going to and from other places and often commented that we needed to go back and spend some time. I was curious about what had changed since I camped at Jumbo Rocks with a group of friends while still in high school. Finally, I’d find out.

Oasis Visitor Center

We started our exploration at the Oasis Visitor Center where we picked up a pamphlet and a map of the 794,000-acre park. We also walked around the Oasis Trail with a volunteer ranger. She had a grade school teacher’s personality that roused our interest as she pointed out features of the palms, the different plants, and the animals that visited the pond. She explained that they do not trim the dead palm fronds from the trees because they serve as homes and protection for birds, owls, and other critters.

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Oasis Trail at Visitor Center

The main highway traffic ebbed into white noise leaving only the sounds of wind whistling through the palm fronds, the trickling spring, birds trilling their songs, and scampering lizards and mice rustling in the brush.

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There’s a Spring Under All that Greenery

Along the path is a series of signposts that tell the story of what happens when a seventeen-year-old girl of the Chemehuevi falls in love with a white man. The story gave me a glimpse into the people who visited the oasis in the early 1900s.

Cholla Cactus Garden

Be sure to wear closed-toe shoes while navigating the quarter-mile loop trail in the Cholla Cactus Garden.

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Cholla Gardens
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Cholla Garden

Although the branches appear as if they are covered with something soft and fluffy, don’t touch. The prickly barbs will latch onto shoes and clothing and you’ll have a jolly time trying to remove them. The cone shapes tipped with yellow are what is left from the flowers that bloom from March through May.

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Cholla Close Up

Split Rock Loop Trail

Take the Split Rock short loop trail to see rocks and cactus up close, or extend the hike to a full 2.5 miles by taking the extension to Face Rock.

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JT Waving at Split Rock
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My, What a Big Toe You Have
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Sleeping Baby Elephant?
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Yucca Plant Cuddles With a Prickly Pear
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Stone Steps Mark the Trail
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Yucca Plants Hanging on to the Last of Their Bloom Stalks
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Balancing Rocks Are A Common Sight
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The Olympic Flame Just Like in Bryce Canyon

Joshua Trees

Joshua Tree National Park is unique in that it encompasses portions of both the Mojave Desert on the western half of the park and the Colorado Desert on the eastern half. The Joshua Trees, a species of yucca rather than a true tree, are most prevalent on the western side where elevations are greater than 3,000 feet.

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Acres and Acres of Joshua Trees
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Joshua Tree Forest

Skull Rock Trail

This is another loop trail and quite popular with cars and trucks parked on both sides of the road for about a quarter mile on either side. Start at Jumbo Rocks Campground, or at Skull Rock. There are trails on both sides of the highway and plenty to see.

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View from Atop The Jumbo Rocks

A sampling of plants seen on the trails.

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Or, is This a Baby Elephant?
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Skull Rock Crawling with People

Hidden Valley Trail

I think Hidden Valley Trail was one of my favorites. It’s such a surprise to break through the tight boulder formations and encounter a rock enclosed valley that cattle rustlers may have used to hide out.

 

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Yucca and Other Plants Find Cracks and Crevices to Grow
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Climbers Have Plenty of Spots to Navigate The Steep Rock Faces in Hidden Valley
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Look Ma, I’m King of the Hill
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Stairs Make the Trek Easier

 

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Hershey Kiss?

Keys View (5,183 feet)

Keys View overlooks Highway 10 and across the valley stands the Indio Hills.

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San Gorgonio Peak
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San Gorgonio Pass Looking West
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Coachella Valley In the Haze

 29 Palms Inn and Restaurant

 We didn’t expect much in the way of a decent restaurant in town since the main drag was where most of the fast-food chains set up shop. We were surprised, however, when we drove to the end of a road, skirted the pool, and walked into the restaurant at the 29 Palms Inn on the Oasis of Mara. They have been dishing up tasty food since 1928.

 

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29 Palms Inn Restaurant

 

 

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Dining room at 29 Palms Inn Restaurant

 

The inn includes several adobe bungalows, suites, wood frame cabins, and other accommodations guests wanting a quirky place to stay. Oh, the stories those bungalows could tell if only given a chance.

 

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29 Palms Inn Lobby

 

Camping at Joshua Tree National Monument

Camping is available year round. No reservations are needed during the summer when the temperatures rise to 100 degrees or more. October through May is the busiest time and mid-February to mid-May and holidays are the busiest. Two of the campgrounds accept reservations and six are first come, first served. By Friday morning, October 20, 2017, the campgrounds were already full. I’m glad we had arranged for accommodations outside of the park, although it would have been fun to look up at the pitch black sky and watch the Orionid meteor shower without ambient light getting in the way. Oh, about what has changed at Jumbo Rock Campground? Although I noticed a definite upgrade in the amenities, the crowded sites turned me off. Maybe Sunday through Wednesday wouldn’t be so bad.

Another Restaurant Recommendation

On our way from Prescott, Arizona, to Twenty-nine Palms, California, we passed through Wickenburg, Arizona, at lunchtime. The Tastee Freez looked to be the best bet in town, and we weren’t disappointed. Expecting only grilled hamburgers and French fries, this Tastee Freez, along with Sundance Pizza, has a large menu to satisfy any guest, including deli sandwiches and salads. If you are traveling through Wickenburg and it’s time to eat, don’t be shy about giving this Tastee Freez a try.

If the timing is right the next time we roll through Twenty-nine Palms, we’ll have to stop and explore more of Joshua Tree National Park. Plenty of trails still remain for us to take.

Coming up is the Borax Visitor Center in Boron, California, and then on to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Safe Travels

Lakeview, Oregon, and Graeagle, California

Junipers Reservoir RV Resort in Lakeview, Oregon

On July 26, 2017, Junipers Reservoir RV Resort in Lakeview, Oregon, turned out to be another working ranch. We have had good experiences staying at ranches and hoped for the best here.

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Junipers Reservoir RV Resort and Ranch

About a mile down a gravel road off the main highway and tucked behind hills, the RV sites were arranged in a circle with tent sites at the edge of the grassy center field.

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Junipers RV Resort

This was a great place to clean the trailer, wash clothes, then sit back and relax.

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One evening, we walked along one of the ranch roads and veered off onto a trail where a deer grazed among the trees.

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Hello There.

The trail continued until we came to a creek. “Come on,” Jon said. “We can cross on those dead tree trunks by the barbed wire fence.” Say what? With care not to fall in the little creek or grab one of the fence barbs, we balanced on the logs and found the trail up the hill. I was glad to see a road that connected with the resort and relieved to have made it back to the trailer with no damage to any of our body parts.

Here are a few more photos from around the ranch.

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Farm Equipment
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Homestead Pitcher Pump. Smoke Rolling into the Valley.
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Little Birds Flitted In and Out of the Birdhouses

Before leaving the area we headed into town to restock the refrigerator and the pantry. While there, we found a little nature trail that circled up a hill at the city park. We didn’t make it through the entire trail because at one point bushes grew over the trail. I wasn’t about to blaze the trail with bare legs and arms. Before heading back down, we enjoyed the view.

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Town of Lakeview

We bought a bag of limes and other items from the smallest Safeway I had ever seen. We then drove to Goose Lake. There is not much there except a state park that would be a good spot for an overnight, but not much longer. Smoke from a fire in Alturas blew in overnight raining ash even though we were an hour away.

Contraband Confiscation

On July 29, 2017, we turned the wheels toward Graeagle, California, our next stop. Smoke grew thicker as we continued on Highway 395 and approached Alturas, California. We slowed and stopped at the California Agriculture Inspection. The woman greeted us with the usual questions of where we had stayed and then said she had to look inside our trailer. What? We’ve never had that happen before. After her grand tour, she stepped out of the trailer carrying our newly purchased bag of limes. Really? The limes we purchased yesterday from Safeway? Safeway had probably transported the limes into Oregon from California, now California Agriculture was confiscating them? Note to self, when traveling from Oregon into California, don’t carry any citrus products.

About ten miles from the crappy rest stop with pit toilets and some kind of water feature, the skies turned blue and clouds became visible. We stopped in Herlong, California, at a The Mark mini-mart and 76 Station for fuel and as a bonus purchased fresh made-to-order deli sandwiches. Be aware the sandwiches are huge. They also sold the usual pizza and fried food, such as corn dogs, chicken, and burritos. The picnic table inside and the one outside were both filled with people chowing down their lunch, so we stood next to a retaining wall, which was the right height for eating our sandwiches. When driving on Highway 395 we recommend a stop at this 76 station. As you can see there is plenty of room for RVs and semis to park

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The Mark Mini-Mart and 76 Gas Station

Moving West RV Resort

We arrived at Moving West RV Resort and they assigned us one of the best spots in the park. The fifth wheel fit snuggly among a stand of trees. On the curbside was a large grassy area with a triangle tarp for afternoon shade and a newly installed redwood fence along the dusty lane, which rarely saw a vehicle pass.

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Moving West Campsite

Raptor Adventures

The reason we stopped at Graeagle was so Jon could take advantage of his Christmas present, a Raptor Adventure with Jim Tigan. How wonderful to be up close with Louise the owl,

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Louise the Owl
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My What Large Eyes You Have

Fifi the golden eagle,

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Fifi the Golden Eagle
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Check Out Her Talons
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Okay, I Posed. Now, Where’s My Meat?
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Soft Feathers

and go for a walk with Sonia the Harris hawk.

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Sonia the Harris Hawk
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Look at My Wing Span

 

The owl didn’t much care for Bonnie, the new terrier that joined the family two weeks earlier. Louise ruffled her feathers and hissed at the little dog. Bonnie was more curious than scared of the owl.

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Get Back Dog

Although apprehensive at first to be nose to beak with the birds, Jon warmed up and was soon talking to them like he would an old dog. He petted their soft feathers and felt them breathe under his hand. The birds were so sweet and docile, soft to the touch, yet they possessed strong talons.

Jim taught Jon how to call Sonia from her perches, land on the glove, and peck at the meat he held in his hand.

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Sonia Soars From Her Perch
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Watch Out. Coming in for a Landing.
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Whew! Made it.
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Meat Please

I even got a chance to feed Sonia. She was so light she didn’t jostle my arm when she landed or when she plucked at the piece of meat I held in the space between my gloved thumb and first finger.

We always marvel at these creatures whenever we see them atop electric poles searching for their dinner or in the sky coasting on thermals with their wings spread wide. We appreciate their magnificence even more after meeting them up close and personal.

To see a PBS program about Jim and his birds, click here. To see a Youtube video of best friends Annabelle the dog and Louise the owl click here.

Madora Lake

The next day we took a hike to Madora Lake. We saw signs the trail was under construction, but no one was working that day. In places, large rocks edged the trail and fine gravel filled the space between the edges.

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Madora Lake Trail
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Come On. Let’s See Where This Bridge Goes.
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Madora Lake Trail
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One of the Few Places to See the Lake

Eureka Lake

We next drove to Eureka Lake on a dirt road for 1.3 miles and hiked up a trail until we had broken through the tree line. From the side of the mountain, the view gave us the feeling that we were on top of the world.

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Alpine Eureka Lake
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Heading Down the Trail

A cold Frostee was in order after our drive and hikes.

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Make Mine Cherry

On Tuesday, August 1, 2017, we put the adventures and miles behind us and turned the truck toward home. We’ve seen wonderfully beautiful mountains during our travels these past few months, but Donner Pass on Highway 80 in California had to be one of the best with its high cliffs that rise above the freeway and rushing river that flows not far from the road. As we dropped down into the Central Valley, blue skies and puffy white clouds gave way to gray haze and smog. Temperatures nearing 100 degrees and a spare-the-air day welcomed us home to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Stay tuned for our next adventure to Southern Utah and Northern Arizona where we gazed down at the hoodoos of Bryce, up at the cliffs of Zion, and across the Grand Canyon from the North Rim.

Safe Travels