Mountains, Deserts & Cities – a trip to California – Part 1

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A trip abroad was long overdue. The last few years have been spent doing up our old house, moving and doing up our new one – well at least starting on it!  We always enjoyed the fantastic scenery of  the Western United States, and so we decided on a touring trip of California with a small incursion into Nevada. Half of the holiday would be spent in National and State parks camping and half the time in San Francisco with a side trip to Las Vegas. Vegas  is an experience, whether you like that thing or not. I have been several times on business conventions, but the rest of the family had not.

We invited our boys along who are 22 and 19. I guess ordinarily, they probably wouldn’t have come with us if I’d said fancy coming to France or the Lake District but it’s different if Dad says fancy a trip to California and Dad is paying!

We were taking 3 backpacking tents, sleeping bags, mats, stoves etc on the plane packed into two Mountain Equipment 100 litres Duffel bags.  A gear list will posted up in a later post.

All camping equipment for 4  in 2 duffels

All camping equipment for 4 in 2 duffels

A Saturday in late June saw us travelling down to Heathrow to stay overnight for a morning flight the next day to San Francisco.

Crossing Southern Greenland

Crossing Southern Greenland

Arriving after an 11 hour flight , we got a taxi to our accommodation in San Francisco. I was surprised how expensive even reasonable quality hotels are, so we found that renting a house for 3 days in the Castro district was a much better bet. We could come and go as we pleased and we had far more space.

The house was a fine Victorian example on 18th Street close to some good restaurants and one of the best whole food stores we have ever visited.

Our  house was the one on the left.

Our house was the one on the left with the tree in front of it

The blue house next door turned out to be rather famous.  We saw a constant stream of people who turned out to be all French photographing the house. A small plaque on the front of the house told me why.

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Maxime Le Forestier, the French singer made the house famous in his song – San Francisco in 1972. The area at the time was a hippie commune. Some details here if you are interested.

A nice garden out the back

A nice garden out the back

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sun trap

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A well equipped kitchen!

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Two nice bedrooms – far better than a hotel.

A very well stocked local whole food store  a couple of blocks up the hill meant we ate in most of the time.

An impressive display of  vegetables!

An impressive display of vegetables!

Tram stop in Castro

Tram stop in Castro

Near the Rainbow Crossing

Near the Rainbow Crossing

Downtown San Francisco

Downtown San Francisco

Alcatraz

Alcatraz

Bay Bridge

Bay Bridge

San Francisco skyline from the docks

San Francisco skyline from the docks

At the ball game - Giants versus San Diego Padres

At the ball game – Giants versus San Diego Padres

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Padres were thrashed

Ready for the next leg of the journey - to Lassen Volcanic Park

Ready for the next leg of the journey – to Lassen Volcanic Park

After a relaxing stay in San Francisco, it was time to head north to Lassen Volcanic Park, a four hour drive. San Francisco had actually been quite cool, particularly in the morning with cloud and fog. In the afternoons it cleared up, but it did live up to its reputation and I was reminded of the quotation supposedly by Mark Twain – ‘The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco”. We left San Francisco with temperatures in the mid 60’s F and by the time we crossed the Bay Bridge to Oakland, a few miles away, the temperature was in the 90’s. The Pacific together with the proximity of the mountains has a very significant effect on the temperature of San Francisco.

We drove up the Central Valley, a wide flat valley put aside  exclusively  to agriculture and the many crops that sun and irrigation can provide. California is in a severe drought with little rainfall over the past four years.  Passing rice crops, it didn’t seem to be the best use of scarce water resources.  The temperature climbed in the afternoon heat to 105F by the time we reached a supermarket to stock up on provisions for our trip into the mountains. Getting out of our mini-van we were hit by the heat, the cool of England and San Francisco already a distant memory.  Most importantly we purchased a Coleman ice chest and plenty of ice to go with it.

The TV news the night before reported that the whole of the west was in the grip of a  heat wave from Death Valley in the south to Seattle in the north, having unusually high temperatures. Seattle had recorded its highest ever temperature for this time of year.

I was banking on the fact that camping high in mountains around 8000 feet would bring us some cooler conditions, but maybe it would not.

Leaving the heat of the valley floor near to the town of Redding, we climbed and climbed and gradually the temperature started to drop. By the time we reached our campsite, the temperature was a cooler 78F.

At campground, with Wikiup 3, Power Lizard & Soulo

At campground, with Wikiup 3, Power Lizard & Soulo tents and bear proof container

All campgrounds have fire rings

All campgrounds have fire rings

Over the next few days, we took several hikes in the area, with the highest altitude being around 9,000 feet.  I will let the pictures do the talking for this is a beautiful area and surprisingly the least visited National Park in the USA, according to my guide-book.

Mt Lassen

Mt Lassen

Close up Mt Lassen

Close up Mt Lassen

Wild lupins were in abundance

Wild lupins were in abundance

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This is a volcanic area. Sulphur and rotten eggs smell in some area

This is a volcanic area. Sulphur and rotten eggs smell in some areas

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Mt Lassen view from one of the many Lakes

Mt Lassen view from one of the many Lakes

Well that’s the end of part 1. I will post up more including Sequoia National Forest,  Ancient Bristlecone Forest, Death Valley and much more!

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15 Responses to Mountains, Deserts & Cities – a trip to California – Part 1

  1. Paul Byrne says:

    Great start Mark. A couple of years ago we flew into SF and the headed up to Lassen. We stayed at Chester…not a lot to recommend it. When staying anywhere for a few days we always try and get an Appartment or cabin, love the extra space. After Lasen we headed to Oregon and Crater Lake.

  2. Thanks Paul. Lassen was beautiful and not busy. Only been to Portland in Oregon. I think I will look at staying less in hotels and more in houses now.

  3. Love San Francisco – after Seattle, it is our second favourite city!
    Those photos of camping just bring back so many happy memories of US campsites, too. Fire rings, trees – in fact I can almost smell the pine…..
    Surprised to see how much snow was on Mount Lassen. There was hardly any when we climbed it, although we were there in mid August, I suppose.

  4. Sounds like a great trip. Love San Francisco, we had 36 hours there on a trip last summer and will definitely going back for more when we head back to North America next year. Looking forward to our first taste of US campsites, with their bear safe cupboards and fire rings, too.

  5. Looks great. The John Muir Trail is a must do I think

  6. Yes I would love to do the trail as well. ChrissieDixie has done it.

  7. Nice post…I learned a bit about San Fran and I live a lot closer to that city than you! Think of Montana for your next trip…beautiful trails, outstanding scenery. Thanks for posting.

  8. Thanks. Montana is on my wish list!

  9. AlanR says:

    Stunning Mark. Enjoy.

  10. surfnslide says:

    Great stuff, brought back grand memories when we visited in the late 90’s. We climbed Lassen Peak on a glorious day, I still have a piece of lava from there on my window ledge. Loved all the boiling mud pots and we had glorious days out in the mountains there. I still have a hankering to climb Mount Shasta which was always looming in the distance. We loved SF as well, my favorite city. Looking forward to the next post, really enjoyed this one

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