Western US Loop: Yosemite

Travel Dates: September 22-23, 2018

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Yosemite! Wow! Even though I grew up in California this was my first visit to this beautiful National Park. Carla has two pairs of friends from high school who have places up in the mountains near the entrance to Yosemite. She has visited the friends and gone to Yosemite a few times but this was my first time to join her.

Kate and Don, and Marie and Brian are great people – it says something about a group of friends that they still visit and talk regularly almost 50 years after high school. It was fantastic seeing them all again. We stayed at Kate and Don’s place which is 15 acres in the woods on the way to Yosemite. They have a main house and three smaller cabins for guests. Linda stayed in one that was built around a travel trailer while Carla and I were down the hill a bit in beautiful cabin that felt like a treehouse. Marie and Brian have their summer home a few miles away – we were delighted they were regular fixtures for the fun.

When Kate and Don bought the place, it was sold with all furnishings, books, art work, well… everything; as the previous owner handed Kate and Don the keys she said “‘everything’ includes the dog and cat.” As a result wandering through the house is a treasure hunt; there are elk horn chandeliers, a cigar store Indian, and more. And napkins, there are so many napkins. A funny detail I guess but really there are a LOT of cloth napkins, just so, so many napkins.

After drinks on the deck and an exquisite dinner we retired so we could be “up and at em” early the next morning. Well, not so early that we’d miss breakfast. I don’t know what time Kate got up but there was a huge breakfast buffet set up when we went up to the main cabin. Then Carla, Linda, and I headed down the road to Yosemite.

Like other National Parks we’ve visited in the west, there is a long drive from the official entrance to the main trails and attractions – in this case the valley floor. Our destination for the first day was Sentinel Dome . It is a 2.2 mile (3.5km) hike that climbs from 7,100 feet (2,345 meters) up to 8,100 feet (2,470 meters). Now, this past summer I walked 4 to 6 miles at least 4 days a week with a maybe a 80-100 foot elevation gain. It was good I did that – and I could have used more. At well above a mile high and I felt every bit of that 2.2 mile hike. Especially the last quarter of a mile which is up, up , up.

We paused on our hike to wander down through a meadow to get some pictures of the sights. I think this view of half dome is from that vantage point before we got to the top.


Just a note on the photos – Yosemite is so grand it’s hard to capture its feel. If you haven’t been to Yosemite and want to see some really beautiful images, look at some of Ansel Adams pictures.

I was  a little concerned that we picked the wrong dates for our visit; even though schools were back in session, our Saturday visit coincided with a “free park day”. We were ready for a horde of other tourists but it wasn’t bad at all.  There were people on top of the dome but it wasn’t crazy busy.

Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park

Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park

I took a couple of series of pictures which I stitched together in LightRoom to try to capture the scope of the view from Sentinel Dome. Click on the images to open a link with bigger versions of the photos.


Panoramic view from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park

Panoramic view from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park


Panoramic view from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park

Panoramic view from Sentinel Dome, Yosemite National Park

I especially liked this valley cutting through the granite mountains.


Driving back to the valley floor we went through at tunnel where the aptly named “Tunnel View” struck us as we came out. This is the same formation from the other side and lower from the one above (I think). [Note: October 16, 2018. Look at the small bump behind the backward “L” shape on the rock formation on the right. I’m pretty sure that is Sentinel Dome]

"Tunnel View" Yosemite National Park

“Tunnel View” Yosemite National Park

After a bit more sight seeing around the main visitors’ center we headed back to Kate and Don’s for beer, wine, hors d’oeuvres, and another great barbecue. Don knows his way around a grilled chicken.

We slept well that night and awakened to another great breakfast before our second day of hiking. Kate and Marie joined us to escort us to one of their favorite spots – Yosemite Falls. Talking with Kate and Marie, the park gets so busy you wait in hour-long traffic jams and jostle with other hikers so much that it’s hard to see everything. But Sunday was not a “free day” and the park seemed almost deserted.

We checked in at the visitors’ center. Wow.

Yosemite Vally Floor

Yosemite Vally Floor

And were guided along a path by Marie and Kate. Although there was no water in the falls, it was majestic just the same.

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls

We worked our way back up the valley to the visitors’ center. I was able to coerce the women to pose for a picture.

Marie, Carla, Kate and Linda in Yosemite National Park

Marie, Carla, Kate and Linda in Yosemite National Park

The views abound and astound.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park


Yosemite National Park

Although the hike wasn’t as strenuous as the day before we exercised enough to deserve a meal. So we walked over to the Majestic Yosemite Grand Hotel for their famous brunch. Apparently, this used to be called the Ahwanhee Hotel, but a fight with the previous concessionaires who ran the hotel for the Forest Service claimed naming rights. Most people still call it the Ahwanhee.

While the women ordered from the menu, I decided on the weekend buffet since it was my first visit. It was expensive, but great. The only downside – since we were there after 10:30 the waffle bar was unavailable! I suffered through with the other alternatives.

We got back to Kate and Don’s in the late afternoon and we took naps. Later that evening Marie and Brian brought over some delicious pizzas and we had a great time together. We convinced Brian to break out his guitar and sing us a few songs. Good times.

We needed to be on the road to our next stop but Kate fed us breakfast again. WITH WAFFLES! She told me I could have waffles there anytime. She is so sweet. We had a great stay with members of “T-Group”  and we were sad to have to leave. We invited them all to come up to the Northwest so we could share our sights.



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Western US Loop. Days 1&2

Travel Dates: September 20-21, 2018

Carla’s sister retired from teaching last June so we wanted to take her out on a road trip with us at the beginning of the school year so she could get a taste of retirement living – traveling when most kids with families are home instead of in the national parks. The three of us had fun planning the trip over the summer. On the morning of September 20 we loaded up our car, swung by her car to get her and her stuff and headed out for a big loop of the western United States.

Living in Portland, you have a bit of a drive to get out of the state when traveling either south or east. We decided to get some distance between us and home on the first day so drove the first 575 miles to Sacramento, California.


We’ve made this trip a few times before; we stay at a Best Western hotel just off I5. One of the nice things about this hotel is that it backs up to a river walk along the Sacramento River. It’s nice to be able to get out and stretch our legs after a very long drive. We took the river walk down to old town Sacramento where we passed by a railroad museum – we always get to town after it closes.

Although the museum was closed but we still saw some trains. As we made our way toward old town, a CalTrans train crossed one of the bridges. We saw it – or another – CalTrans train stopped in Old Town.

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And other old railroad cars were nearby – including this beautifully restored Union Pacific caboose.

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After an okay dinner at a German sausage pub and a quick tour of the Old Town shops we headed back to the hotel as the sun was setting.

We had a relatively short drive the next day so we took some time to walk the other direction on the river walk to a park where the Sacramento and American rivers come together. Carla and I walked out on a short pier where her sister grabbed a picture.

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Here is where the two rivers join.

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Local birds were out in the water and on the grass.

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There is lots of sandy beach for swimming. I love how the city is offering life jackets for the kids.

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It was a beautiful quiet, clear day but we knew it would start warming up before long. So we got back on the road for the next stage in our adventure.


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Fall at the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Date of Visit: October 11, 2018

I’m working through the pictures, descriptions, and accounts of our recent Western US Loop road trip in order to write my posts. But the seasons are turning to Fall so I went out to grab some pictures of the changing colors. I went to the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge thinking I could get some good shots of the season changing; so my primary purpose was landscape shots; but I wouldn’t not take pictures of birds or trains that I happened across.

I brought two cameras with me; the wide shots are from my  Sony A7R3 with the Sony FE 4/24-205 G OSS lens. the close ups and zooms are from my Sony RX10M4. As with most of my posts, you can click on the photos to open a new tab with a bigger version.

Before crossing over the bridge to the sanctuary I took a look down the tracks to find that yellow-leaved tree basking in the sunlight. It was a bright day but you can see hints of the fog I encountered on the drive out past the second signal.

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A northbound container train was rolling through just as I pulled up to park but there wasn’t much activity after that. What to do when you are waiting for trains? Take pictures of what’s available – in this case a couple of leaves on the ballast in the parking area. They show the color changes.

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I noticed some markers on the ground in the area I park in; I wonder if there is some new construction coming to my favorite train spot…

I came for landscape pictures so I didn’t dawdle too long trackside; I crossed the single lane wooden bridge into the refuge for the approximately three mile loop. I was barely at the start when I saw this – egret? (I’m not a birder; if I get the names wrong, please let me know so I can correct it.) You can’t get out of the car on this loop so I rolled down the passenger side window, slowly rolled up beside it lifted my camera to take an almost blind shot.

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While I didn’t see as much red as I had hoped for, overall the vistas did not disappoint. The sun was to my back so I was able to capture some pictures across the meadows. The leaves are just starting to turn.

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I liked this view of the tree line rising out of the field of grass – or whatever that is.

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As I passed to the far side of the loop the sun was directly in my face so there weren’t opportunities for good pictures; but the sun was behind me again as I continued around the circle. A group of ducks were in the pond.

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And then I got the shot of the day – a blue heron.

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I exited the wildlife refuge and couldn’t help but stop to wait for a train or two. A southbound Amtrak Cascades raced by as I was driving back across the bridge so I had hopes that a lower priority train might be behind it. Sure enough I heard a team of locomotives powering up from what must have been a full stop. I heard them for a couple of minutes before they appeared. But eventually this southbound Union Pacific container train lumbered up to the crossing.

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It picked up speed as it continued south and I captured this shot before the train moved into the shade of the hill behind me.

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The Ridgefield National Wildlife Sanctuary is a great place to see in the different seasons. Plus, it’s ideal for me being just under an hour drive from home. Click here if you’d like to read about my other trips there.

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Reading: Turtles All The Way Down. By John Green

Image from Amazon

Image from Amazon


Title: Turtles All The Way Down
Author: John Green
Type: Fiction
Finished: September 14, 2018
Rating: ★★★★







Aza Holmes is a high school woman who is having an existential crisis caused by – or compounded by – OCD triggered by an anxiety disorder. She is prone to thought spirals which take over her mind and body

I feel like a noose is tightening around me and I want out, but struggling only cinches the knot. The spiral just keeps tightening… [p 165]

As those spirals continue and she thinks about her friendships, she considers  “I couldn’t make myself happy, but I couldn’t make people around me miserable.” [p 157] Regardless, Aza works hard to maintain a friendship with Daisy and rekindles a crush with Davis – a rich boy whose father has disappeared. These relationships set them off chasing a mystery.

The idea of “self” ties in with her mental health struggle and we see the idea surface again and again:

“‘I think I might be a fiction,’ I said”

“How’s that?”

“Like you say it’s stressful to have a change in circumstances, right?”

She nodded.

“But what I want to know is, is there a you independent of circumstances? Is there a way-dow-deep me who is an actual, real person, the same person if she has money or not, the same person if she has a boyfriend or not, the same if she goes to this school or that school? O am I only a set of circumstances?’ [p 165]

As the story moves along we see Aza struggling with these questions again and again until it is almost too much; but then I saw that really it’s a technique to make clear the challenges she faces

John Green does an excellent job in tying together the hunt for a missing billionaire, friendship, romance, and Aza’s anxiety disorder in a quick paced story. I found myself putting off other activities and chores to read this novel. The fact that the author has suffered from mental illness since he was a teenager brings a authenticity to the story. What we want – or what I want at least – is to encounter meaningful and realistic lives in novels. Although there may be a few stretches here – can high school students really recognize lines from “The Tempest”? – it delivers throughout.

Be forewarned, that realism has a cost: you may find yourself avoiding peanut butter sandwiches for a while after starting this novel.

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Reading: Clock Dance by Anne Tyler


Image from Amazon.


Title: Clock Dance
Author: Anny Tyler
Type: Fiction
Finished: August 27, 2018
Rating: ★★★★★








Anne Tyler is a master storyteller probing the lives of the people in dysfunctional families. This is the third novel of hers I’ve read, the others being Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and Breathing Lessons. In this novel we follow the life of Willa Drake. We check in on a few days when she was a child  in 1967; again ten years later when she is in college; then 1997 when she is married with children. Those are prologues to the main part of the story in 2017.

Through some misunderstandings Willa travels from Tucson to Baltimore to take care of the child of her son’s ex-girlfriend – Denise – when Denise is in the hospital. The child is no relation to Willa. It is a beautiful story of Willa’s growth.

Because of her childhood experiences, Willa spends much of her life in the background of others.

Sometimes Willa felt she’d spent half her life apologizing for some man’s behavior. More than half her life, actually … forever charging ahead while Willa trailed behind picking up the pieces and excusing and explaining. [Loc 2533]

Tyler does a great job of showing how her early years made Willa the woman she became. Denise – the woman  she is caring for – at one point discusses with Willa why she isn’t more direct in dealing with her son.

“I still don’t get why you can’t ask Sean for a ride”

“I was hoping he’d think to offer,” Willa said.

“But why just hope? Why pussyfoot around? Why do you go at things so slantwise?”

She was right. Willa knew it. … [Loc 2639]

One of Anne Tyler’s many strengths is her ability to realistically capture thoughts and actions of a character in a moment in time. In the 1977  chapter Willa is having breakfast with her parents and her boyfriend in a way that we – at least I – can relate to.

Quietly buttering her biscuit, she felt important, suddenly. She was the sole reason these three people were sitting here. For once she was the absolute center of her world, and she took her own sweet time over the biscuit, keeping her eyes lowered and spreading the butter exactly to the biscuits edges with slow, even strokes that felt languorous and self-indulgent. [Loc 814]

Tyler’s characters are well drawn and three dimensional. It is a delight – even if painful at times – to follow Willa through the years.

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Reading: The Godfather by Mario Puzo

Image from Amazon

Image from Amazon

Title: The Godfather
Author: Mario Puzo
Type: Fiction
Date Finished: August 18, 2018
Rating: ★★★★








I caught the last half of this movie last summer – right when Sonny was killed – come on, that can’t be a spoiler almost 50 years later. It struck me that this was a hit book back in 1969 before it was a novel. It turned out to be a fantastic summer page-turner.
The movie is very faithful to the book although the novel – as they do by virtue of their longer format – gives more background to the characters.

If you are looking for a quick, exciting read – though with the suspense gone if you’ve seen the movie – pick it up.

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Columbia Gorge 2.2: Where’d All The Trains Go?

Pictures Date: September 2, 2018

After a restful night in The Dalles I was ready to head out on my second day chasing trains. I was determined to get out east of  Maryhill, Washington. It is a loooong way out to Maryhill from Portland – about 120 miles.

I thought it would be useful to include a map showing where I went – you can click on the map screenshot to bring up Google maps to get a closer look at any of the destinations.

An overview of my route with stops. Click to bring up Google Maps with the details.

An overview of my route with stops. Click to bring up Google Maps with the details.

On the map the road next to the tracks is called Maryhill Highway. Well, it might have been a highway back in the pioneer days but now it is a well maintained gravel road – so  I bumped along at 10 MPH. But I saw plenty of campers in RVs and trailers out there. Although it’s gravel it is accessible.

The other thing I discovered is that although the tracks are a short distance from the road, they are WAY up on a berm. I stopped to get a few pictures of an early morning oil train that will give you an idea.

BNSF Oil Train at "The Wall" Celilo, WA

Looking up at a west bound BNSF oil train at “The Wall” from Maryhill (gravel) RD east of Maryhill, WA. GPS coordinates estimated


BNSF Oil Train at "The Wall" Celilo, WA

Looking up at a west bound BNSF oil train at “The Wall” from Maryhill (gravel) “Highway” east of Maryhill, WA. GPS coordinates estimated

Close up of the locomotives pulling a BNSF oil train rolling across the "The Wall" east of Maryhill, WA

Close up of the locomotives pulling a BNSF oil train rolling across the “The Wall” east of Maryhill, WA

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BNSF oil train continuing west across the “The Wall” east of Maryhill, WA

The railroad berm is manmade but the geological structure is called “The Wall” as you can see in the first picture. Looking back west you can see how it came by its name – with Mt Hood way out in the background.

"The Wall" Celilo, WA

“The Wall” Celilo, WA

Comparing these photos with those of the day before you’ll notice it is much more desert like on this day. That is because we’ve passed through the Cascade range which effectively blocks the clouds and rains allowing us to enjoy both all during the winter. The Cascade Range – along with the Pacific Ocean I suppose – is the reason the Willamette Valley is so green.

Here is a graphic display – another Google Maps screenshot. You can see where the mountains are by the change from green to brown.The changeover occurs between Hood River and The Dalles.

Map showing the stark vegetation difference west and east of the Cascade Range. Click to zoom in.

Map showing the stark vegetation difference west and east of the Cascade Range. Click to zoom in.

Railroad Island Park is near John Day Dam. Just below the dam are a number of fishing platforms. Before the dam was built there was a large waterfall collection of waterfalls where Native Americans fished with nets and poles for over 15,000 years. In 1957 the dam opened and the waterfalls were no more. Some platforms are still maintained.

Fishing platforms near John Day Dam

Fishing platforms at the old Celilo Falls area – now John Day Dam

Just as I reached Railroad Island Park another train was rolling over the berm that creates the lake separating it from the Columbia River. It was clear that I was on the wrong side of the tracks to get the best light.

BNSF at Railroad Island Park

Westbound BNSF grain train on the causeway at Railroad Island Park, Washington. Near John Day Dam

There is a nice camping spot at the lake – big enough for a couple of trailers – that an extended family was using.

Railroad Island Park, Washington

Railroad Island Park, Washington

There is a pier at the lake and pleasure boats can head out east for a mile or so then cut under the railroad tracks and into the Columbia River. After a boat left the pier I took up my sentry duty – again wishing I had a chair to sit in.

But, no trains – for an hour. Finally I saw a high railer – a pick up truck outfitted with train wheels – heading westward. That usually means maintenance or inspection work and would explain why there were no trains.

I was as far east as I was going so I decided to head back toward home. I wasn’t going to go back over the gravel road; instead I opted for the paved John Day Dam Road which leads back to Washington SR 14. Not far from the park I saw a dirt road turn off leading up to a high spot where an RV was parked. I took the road and had a look around – I got a beautiful vista of the area I had been looking at from ground level. You can see the little lake to the left of the tracks. I had a great conversation with the RV camper – he told stories about hopping freights as a kid.

Columbia River overlook near John Day Dam

Columbia River overlook near John Day Dam

Just look at that berm the railroad tracks are on; the engineering, material,  and work that goes into building the railroad just amazes me. There is even a built up berm for maintenance vehicles to use to get to the tracks.

Here is a panorama of the area showing the dam

Columbia River overlook near John Day Dam

Columbia River overlook near John Day Dam

I’ll definitely be back to this spot on a future trip.

On the way back west I stopped off at the railroad town of Wishram, Washington. This is a moderately sized BNSF area with its own Amtrak station.  Like elsewhere that day, I found a train idling waiting for the line to clear.

Idling freight at the BNSF yard in Wishram, WA. - Columbia Gorge

Idling freight at the BNSF yard in Wishram, WA. – Columbia Gorge

As I continued toward home a train or two rolled by indicating traffic was starting to unfreeze a bit. So I stopped again at my new favorite train spotting spot – Horsethief Lake Park. A family with young kids was hanging out at the small boat launch ramp – we said hello to one another as we watched some barge traffic head up river.

Barge pushing up the Columbia River

Barge heading up river near Columbia Hills Historical State Park, Washington

It continued up to the locks at John Day Dam and I watched it slowly disappear. I was able to catch a picture with my zoom lens.

Barge pushing up the Columbia River

Barge pushing up the Columbia River east of Columbia Hills Historical State Park

Eventually I saw a westbound train snaking its way down the river.

BSNF grain train at Columbia Hills Historical State Park

My new favorite train photo location near the Columbia River at Columbia Hills Historical State Park


Not much else was happening on the Washington side of the river, but I heard a couple of Union Pacific trains on the other so I grabbed a long distance photo.

Union Pacific train headed toward Portland, OR on the other side of the Columbia River.

Union Pacific train headed toward Portland, OR on the other side of the Columbia River.

Remember my post about the previous day when I mentioned that these trains can be sneaky quiet? While I was gazing across the river an eastbound train was cruising up on the tracks behind me. When I heard the horn for the crossing I was way out of position. I jogged up but missed a good opportunity to catch it crossing in front of me; but I got a shot of the garbage train rolling away up river.

Garbage train passing through Horsethief Lake state park headed toward Roosevelt, WA

Garbage train passing through Horsethief Lake state park headed toward Roosevelt, WA

Yeah, you read that right – a garbage train. Each day two or three garbage trains carrying refuse  from Seattle, Alaska, and even Hawaii roll up the Gorge to Roosevelt, Washington.

It was mid afternoon and I was ready to  head home so I headed back west down SR 14 to The Dalles Bridge; crossed over to Oregon and headed home down I84. Being Sunday afternoon, my Los Angeles Dodgers were on the radio so I got to listen to the game most of the way home. I haven’t found spots on the Oregon side to train watch  – I think it’s because of the freeway with limited access as opposed to the two lane highway over in Washington. While I couldn’t stop and get pictures I did catch up to and pass that same Union Pacific train on the drive.

I got home around 4:00 with a little more than 300 miles on the odometer. A fun but tiring trip.





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