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.
A Saturday in late June saw us travelling down to Heathrow to stay overnight for a morning flight the next day to San Francisco.
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.
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.
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 very well stocked local whole food store a couple of blocks up the hill meant we ate in most of the time.
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.
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.
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!