A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about national parks

Twilight, Forks and Hoh's Rainforest


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After a classic American breakfast, we checked out from the hotel and started to drive along Highway 101 towards Olympic National Park. It was pretty cold and chilly weather outside and the more west we drove the taller the trees became and all the vegetation only got greener. When we came to Olympic National Forest the trees got even taller. More and more mosses were growing on the trees as we got closer to the Pacific Ocean coastline. We passed Lake Crescent, a beautiful lake with turquoise water enclosed by high mountains – so beautiful! And the rain increased the more west we drove. After Lake Crescent we saw a big mountain range named Mount Muller along the road. We could barely see the mountain peaks because of all the fog, but we could imagine them – so amazingly beautiful.

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By lunchtime we had arrived in Forks, well-known from the Twilight Saga. A larger main street runs through the city and you pass through Forks by car in only a few minutes. My fellow traveler, a huge Twilight fan, had a look in many of Forks Twilight stores with merchandise from the books and movies. At the time of our visit, I had never seen any of the movies nor read any of the books but two years later I finally saw all the Twilight movies.

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We kept going on Highway 101 before we turned off onto Upper Hoh Road towards Olympic National Park and Hoh Rainforest (temperate rainforest). It felt like getting into a fairytale world while driving along the Upper Hoh Road. High old trees overgrown with different species of mosses enclosed the narrow, winding and sometimes steep road. Beside the road Hoh River flows with its turquoise water. It’s impossible to describe with only words how beautiful the nature was or even with the pictures I took here (the pictures cannot compare to the reality). You must travel to this place, it’s totally worth it! And if you get to Hoh Rainforest you must walk the Hall of Mosses! A trail for about half a mile lined with mosses in all shades of green that grows everywhere – on the trees, the ground and the rocks.

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On the way back towards Seattle we made a stop-over in La Push by the Pacific Ocean coastline. It’s known for great surfing and whale-watching, but maybe mostly known for the second book in the Twilight Saga that took place here in La Push. I’m sure this is a wonderful place to visit when it’s nice weather but when we were there it was windy and rained like hell, so I didn’t like it.

We kept on going to Port Angeles at the north coast which has many ferries to Victoria (Canada) and a great view towards the glaciers on Mount Olympus and parts of Olympic National Park. We had no time to stop in Port Angeles more than to eat. But I’m sure you can do a lot of things here. It seemed like a nice and calm city. We drove non-stop from Port Angeles to Bainbridge Island to take one of the ferries over to Seattle. Unfortunately, we missed one ferry with only minutes so we had to wait for the next one. Bummer… but with ferry it took about 30 minutes to Seattle instead of driving for hours around the bay. Now it was late evening and dark outside, so we got to see an amazing skyline of Seattle with Space Needle among other things lighted up – nice! From the harbor to our staying in downtown Seattle took about 4 minutes to drive, perfect when time was late.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in USA Tagged road_trip national_parks twilight Comments (0)

Yellowstone National Park


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We started the day by visiting the Grizzly & Discovery Center just outside the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park. And just as the name reveals there were grizzly bears and wolfs there but also black bears. They had a large exercise yard for the bears where they let them out two and two in different turns according to a schedule. In between, the handlers walked in the exercise yard and hid food for the bears to find and look for. Further away they had two different yards for the wolves. River Valley Wolfs in one yard and High Country Wolfs in the other. In between the two yards they had built a warm cabin where we visitors could go inside to warm up and yet see both of the yards through big glass walls. I managed to get really great photos of both bears and wolves. Then we went to another building and watched the Birds of Prey Program and sat on the first row (to get the best photos taken). Trent, the man who handled the birds, showed two birds; an owl and a falcon. All birds that participate in these shows are so called Rescue Birds and wouldn’t have survived in the nature on their own.

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After eating some lunch, we finally drove into Yellowstone National Park. Some of the first animals we saw after only minutes of driving were bison and mule deer. On our way towards Old Faithful Geyser we experienced amazing surroundings with distanced mountains with snow-covered peaks, hot springs and geysers. Totally amazing. Even though the smell from these hot springs and geysers aren’t so nice (smells sulfur) it was beautiful to see all the different shades of color and phenomenon that were there.

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At the Old Faithful Geyser, we went inside the Visitor Center, where they had the gift shop and a schedule when to predict the next outburst from the geyser. They predict an outburst every 90 minutes +/- 10 minutes. When the outburst was near, people started to gather around the geyser just to watch the 2 minute-lasting water cascades. And it was kind of special to watch actually.

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Then we headed north towards Norris and Canyon Village with its amazing nature and big waterfalls. On our way to the north entrance of the park we saw more bison and deer and also lonely coyote hunting in the sunset. We spend the night in Gardiner, just outside of the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The hotels inside the park are closed during winter season and don’t open until May 1st. And since it wasn’t high season there was no problem to find a staying for the night. But as I wrote before, during high season you must book the staying in advance.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in USA Tagged animals road_trip national_parks yellowstone Comments (0)

Yellowstone National Park and Lamar Valley


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We started the day by driving south back into Yellowstone National Park and Roaring Mountain and took the photos we didn’t had time for to do yesterday. We kept on driving north to Mammoth Hot Springs and stopped by Devil’s Thumb among other things. Devil’s Thumb is a big rock surrounded by hot springs that someone thought looked like a thumb – thereof the name. I don’t really agree with that comparison though. Then we drove east towards Tower-Roosevelt and paid the Petrified Tree a visit. It’s simply the remains of a poor Redwood Tree that suffered from a volcano outburst in the area many, many, many years ago… in other words, a fenced tree (or should I say a ripped off burned stump). Not that impressive in my opinion so I didn’t even take a photo of it.

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After Tower-Roosevelt we got to Lamar Valley, a valley well-known for all the animals you always get to see here. And we didn’t have to get disappointed… huge quantities of bison and pronghorn (kind of deer). After driving for a while, we randomly stopped at a resting-place that was crowded with squirrels (Uinta Ground Squirrels) that lived underground in holes. They immediately approached us and wanted something to eat and were definitely not afraid of human beings. It was obvious people had fed them many times before even though it’s prohibited to feed wild animals inside any national park in the entire US. Since they weren’t afraid of us, we could get pretty close and take great photos of them.

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In hope of exiting the park by the east entrance close to Billings, we kept on driving towards Cooke City. But due to snow that road was still closed so we had to turn around and go back to Mammoth Hot Springs. And I’m lucky we did, because somewhere along the road to Mammoth Hot Springs we actually saw a wild Black Bear – photo time of course!

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We had to drive all the way back to Livingston, via Big Timber before we finally got to Billings. During the way we managed to see a big and beautiful rainbow arched in the sky – so nice. We had booked our staying in Billings in advance close to the airport.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in USA Tagged animals road_trip national_parks yellowstone Comments (0)

Yosemite National Park


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Worst breakfast ever at the hostel, so we had to stop for breakfast on the way towards Yosemite National Park. It took about 4 hours to drive from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park (time for breakfast along the way not included in that time). Many roads were closed due to snow just like in Yellowstone National Park. Yosemite National Park suffers from forest fires every year and there were posted signs in the beginning of the park that warned about forest fires. Besides beautiful views there are many high waterfalls and a lot of animals – we saw coyotes, squirrels, lizards and deer.

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During sunset we started to drive back to San Francisco again. Along the way we randomly stopped in Mariposa, a small village in the middle of nowhere. And here, in the very same restaurant we had chosen, a company also talking Swedish came in. We started talking to them and after a while we discovered that one of them actually lives in the same city as my fellow traveler and that person also knows my fellow travelers' mother. What a coincident! What are the odds? One in a million?

But we couldn’t stay for long since we had to get back to San Francisco before midnight. Driving in a completely unfamiliar area on roads you never driven before and with worthless headlights on the car was not fun. While driving in middle of nowhere we discovered an interesting phenomenon. In several intersections after each other there were 4-way stop signs, though it appeared to be only fields around us as far as we could see with the headlights out in the pitch-black dark night. So weird. But we couldn’t just ignore the signs, and then it would definitely have been a police car hiding in the dark waiting for us and initiate a pull over.

Due to fatigue we had to take turns driving and it felt like ages before we came back to San Francisco again. Eventually, after making one wrong turn (which we blame the GPS for) we got back to our hostel and got into bed at 3 am! So once again we cursed and threatened the stupid GPS.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls road_trip national_parks yosemite Comments (0)

Death Valley National Park


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Today it was finally time to visit Death Valley National Park. Before our trip to the US I had googled a lot about this national park and I was really excited to experience everything I read about. So, we drove 1 hour and 30 minutes to Shoshone for lunch before we kept on driving into the Death Valley National Park. We had planned to enter the National Park from the south and drive north so we had the sun more or less from behind, because we knew that it would be hot (and sunny) today. And oh yes, the further into the national park we came the warmer it got. The record for the day was +109 °F, which is +43 °C! After driving for a while an animal appeared on the road. It was a coyote that came towards our car begging for food. If I had reached out my hand outside of the window, I could have petted the coyote. That’s how close it got. But when it realized it wasn’t getting any food from us it went to the car behind us in line. I’m a little surprised that a coyote decides to live in the desert. But it must have had access to water somehow otherwise it wouldn’t survive.

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Eventually we reached Badwater, the US’s but also the entire west hemispheres lowest point at 86 meters BELOW sea level. Here it was “only” +40° Centigrade. Badwater is a dried-out lake and now the bottom is covered with dried out salt and they have made a walkway so you could walk out in the salted area. It was a mighty experience. But the thing that got to me the most was the silence. It was so quiet! You neither heard the cars passing by nor the people talking to each further away. Only when you were right next to people you could hear their voices. So weird! When we got back to our car it was literally boiling inside and it took a while for the air conditioning to cool it down again.

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After driving a little further down the road, we turned right onto a narrow lingering one-way road that led us to Artist’s Drive and Artist’s Palette. A barren yet beautiful landscape appeared in front of us with hills in different colors and shades and as an artist myself I thought it was incredibly beautiful. I tried every setting in my camera in order to capture these amazing colors in my photos but unfortunately, I couldn’t. So, the photos above represent the best settings I possibly could. Soon thereafter my fellow traveler ran out of water so we had to make a stop at Visitor Center and buy some more. I can ensure you that you really need to bring a lot of water due to the extreme heat. We drank water like all the time so whatever you do – do not forget to bring water visiting Death Valley National Park!

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Zabriskie Point was next on our road trip, a nice place with a lot of sand banks. Zabriskie Point is not far away from 20 Mule Team Canyon Road, a canyon named after the carriages that was pulled by 20 mules up and down in the mineral mines in that area. We felt we didn’t have time to drive that road and it is preferred to have a jeep when driving that road and not a city type care that we had.
Last but not least we drove up to Dante’s View (yes, you can drive all the way up there) with an amazing view over Badwater and many mountains in the distance, Telescope Peak for an example. Next to Dante’s View is a hiking trail to Coffin Peak which is not far away and Dante’s Peak. When the weather is clear they say you can actually see the US’s highest and lowest point from Dante’s Peak. But in that heat and all the warning signs for snakes and scorpions we decided not to.

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On the way back to Las Vegas we made a stop at Devil’s Hole in Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. The signs to get there were not that well-posted but surprisingly the GPS actually knew where it was! Devil’s Hole is a deep water filled hole and the home of the almost exterminated Death Valley Pupfish. Nowadays it’s a fenced area with security cameras and as a visitor you were able to walk inside a steel cage bridge over the hole and have a look. Near Devil’s Hole you can find Crystal Reservoir, where you actually can take a swim. In the area you can also find several hot springs but due to the heat we really didn’t feel like swimming today… at least not in a hot spring!

When we got back to Las Vegas and after well-needed showers we went down for the Las Vegas Strip (a.k.a. the Strip) with Caesars Palace, Mirage, New York New York among others and walked around in all the casinos. Though we never played or bet at any casino since people smoked like crazy inside and we got headaches after only 5 minutes. So tragic it has to be that way.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in USA Tagged road_trip national_parks death_valley Comments (0)

Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon


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We had gone to bed late last night which was why we spoiled ourselves with a well-needed sleep-in today with a late breakfast. After check-out we headed for Hoover Dam just outside of Las Vegas. Honestly, I though the dam was supposed to be bigger than it actually was. After all Google researching about it, looking at pictures and reading about it I had built up high expectations. Though it wasn’t that spectacular IRL and I got really disappointed. Well, well… “been there, done that…”

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We kept on driving towards Grand Canyon. After discussing which entrance to drive to we realized that the best entrance for us would be the West entrance with its famous Skywalk. The last part of the road towards the West entrance – basically a dirt track – was in such bad shape that you could barely drive. Due to the number of tourists visiting Grand Canyon every year you would expect the road to be in better shape than that.

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When we arrived (the parking lot was asphalted thought) the entrance fee was US$76 to get into the area and getting access to the Skywalk. At the entrance there was a gift shop with various souvenirs to buy. Just outside the entrance building the buses ran all the time back and forth to the Skywalk only few kilometers away. After some photos of the Grand Canyon and the Eagle we decided to take the next bus to the Skywalk. The security was rigorous before you even could get out on the Skywalk. You had to lock up all your belongings (cell phones and cameras included), passing through a body scanner and put on shoe protections to protect the glass floor out on the Skywalk. Then you were allowed to enter the Skywalk! It was a pretty cool feeling walking around in “the air” above Grand Canyon. It was literally like 100 meters down to the bottom of the canyon underneath you and due to the glass floor, you stared down at the almost bottomless canyon. So, if you suffer from fear of heights might want to think twice before entering the Skywalk. My fellow traveler actually suffers from fear of heights and was actually crawling around at first, but after a while she managed to stand up and walked around. So brave of her!

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The sunset started and it was time to leave Grand Canyon and find a staying for the night. We drove as far as we could and ended up in Kingman before we checked in for the night.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in USA Tagged grand_canyon road_trip hoover_dam national_parks Comments (0)

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