Golden Territory

The idea hit me this year as the girls are getting older – a daddy-daughter trip (just the two of us) out west for several days. The goal will be to eventually take each of my three daughters on one of these adventures every other summer. Kayla is 9 years old and (since there is a lot of unknown here) the others have “generously” allowed her to go first. The plan is for Julie and the other two is to drop us off at the Philadelphia airport early in the morning on their way to Michigan. Our destination will many be the national parks in central and southern California.


After we landed in San Jose, Kayla and I made our way to a local Walmart. While we were there we stocked up on everything we’d need for this epic adventure (food, water, camping supplies, etc.). You can check it out for yourself in the video below… and yes, Kayla does say “hairdryer.”

Hogan Lake

Our first campground was a state park called Hogan Lake. When we arrived it was deserted and extremely hot. With nothing to do and Kayla feeling a little separation anxiety we went out to a fast food restaurant for an early dinner. At least that bought us an hour in comfort of an air conditioner! When we returned to the campground, we made our way down to the lake and jumped in for a swim. The water was nice and once the sun began to set the temperature became more bearable.

Sutter Gold Mine

Sutter Gold Mine is an active mine that permits tours to visitors. Thankfully on the day of our reservation, we were the only ones who signed up for that time slot. That meant we had a private tour with a miner named Charlie. Charlie, a fourth-generation miner, was fantastic. He definitely looked the part and gave a great presentation. After going into the mine, he told us many stories in a personable and fascinating way. We not only learned a lot, we also had a great time!


This three-minute video compilation shows some of our most memorable moments with Charlie.

Natural Bridges

Pastor Russ told us about this place just before we departed from New Jersey. It’s off the beaten path and even if you did happen to drive by it, there is nothing that would warrant your attention to stop and take a peak. After leaving a very small parking lot, you walk nearly a mile down into a valley. At the bottom of the valley is a decent sized creek. But the highlight of this location is the cave that the creek runs through. If you are brave enough to endure the very frigid water, you can swim through the entire cave from one side to the other – about 40 yards. The picture below shows me standing before the mouth of the cave getting ready to enter. The depth of the water looks shallow there. However, for most of the duration of my time in the cave, the water was over my head.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite reaches across the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The park has an elevation range from 2,127 to 13,114 feet. Yosemite is noted for its amazing valley that runs through the park with incredible views of massive granite rock formations – the most popular being “half dome.”

Since I booked this trip rather late in the year, we couldn’t find any vacancy in the park campsites. Therefore we were forced to look to the private campgrounds, which also were filled with people who planned in advance to visit this popular destination. Thankfully one campground owner let us pitch our tent on his property in a small area that wasn’t even an official site. At least it was big enough to fit our tent and provided us a place to sleep for the next three nights. The bad part about this campground is that the owner seemed to do this for a lot of people! Between several group sites and his generosity (desire for more money?), this place was packed! It made for a lot of noise and crowded (and dirty) restrooms!

Were’s my live summary of the campsite situation!

Here’s our best attempt to find gold in the river across the street!

Some pictures from within Yosemite Valley.

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And evening trip to the visitor’s center for some shopping and a ranger’s program.

Kayla checking in with mom.


On our second day at Yosemite we did the “Mist Trail.” The trail is a three-mile round trip hike to the top of Vernal Falls. There are a lot of steps, but the effort you’ll exert is well worth it when you reach your final destination. If you wish to continue to can also go to the top of Nevada falls as well (an additional four-mile round trip). We just walked to the base of that waterfall and turned around (both waterfalls are seen in the pictures and video below). As we were entering this hike at the trail-head there was a park ranger checking everyone’s water supplies. I believe we were insufficiently prepared, but she permitted us to go. This was the first time I learned how drinking excessive fluids is necessary in these conditions. We took an alternative route on the way back and I was wishing we we had been better supplied with water.

The pictures below show one of  my favorite place at Yosemite – Glacier Point. The road to the peek (a mile above the floor of Yosemite Valley) is about 30 miles and it will take you roughly an hour to reach the top by automobile. To my shame, I began the trip with much less than a quarter tank in the car. I was fairly confident going up, but really sweating it out on the way down. We must have been riding on fumes when we rolled into the gas station. It’s too bad this was on my mind when I was up there, because to a tiny degree it prevented me from totally enjoying this site and staying up there until the sun set and darkness rolled in (which really would have been neat!). The overview of the valley below is breathtaking – perhaps the most beautiful sight in nature I have ever seen.

Here’s a music video showing our highlights from Yosemite:

Bodie Ghost Town

After the discovery of gold in Bodie in 1859, the Standard Company moved in and began a full mining operation. By 1876, the once isolated mining camp with a few prospectors was transferred into a Wild West boomtown with a reported populated ranging from 5,000-7,000 people. For several reason in the early 1900’s, the gold production declined. Bodie was officially declared a ghost town in 1915.  In 1940, people put measures in place to preserve this town. Now designated a National Landmark and State Historic Park, 110 buildings have been preserved in “arrested decay.”

A slideshow showing some of the sites of Bodie.

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Mono Lake

Mono Lake is large, shallow saline soda lake. With there being no outlets for the water, high levels of salts accumulate in the lake forming all kinds of unique rock formations.

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Obsidian Dome

When we asked the ranger at Mono Lake of something else we could do on the way to our campsite, he recommended Obsidian Dome. Unmarked and known only to the locals, the volcanic rocks are all piled up in a dome-like feature sitting in the middle of the pine forest. We walked around for a while and found some nice souvenirs.

Devil’s Postpile National Monument

Getting pressed for time (everything from driving out of Yosemite on was completed on this day), we made our way to Devil’s Postpile National Monument. Our first top at the monument was Rainbow Falls. After walking a good distance through a burnt-out forest we arrived at the waterfall. The waterfall was beautiful and gets its name from the rainbow that is cast into the water when the sun hits the falls in just the right angle. You can see a little rainbow in one of my pictures below.

After seeing rainbow falls we moved to the devil’s postpile itself. A shuttle bus takes tourists down into the the valley. From looking at the rock formation from the base up, the rocks look as if hundreds of logs are all stacked against each other. After we scaled the hill, the top of the formation looked as if it were covered by tiles. Each are the same height in roughly the same geometric shape. Really a fascinating site! We needed to move on this one. Thankfully we made it back to the bus stop to catch the final shuttle out of the park.

When we arrived at our reserved campsite it was very dark. Unable to find our location (they moved us without informing us), an older gentleman (the owner) pulled up on a golf cart saying, “You must be the preacher man! The preacher man is here!” He escorted us to our campsite and in the morning I had a nice conversation with him and his wife (seen in the picture below).

Here’s compilation of this big  day with Kayla summarizing things before going to sleep.

As we were approaching Death Valley we checked into our campsite early in the afternoon – Panamint Springs Resort – which is basically the only structure in Panamint Springs! The place was perhaps the most remote location I had ever visited. We were planning on visiting Death Valley in the morning so I asked the proprietor what we could do in the afternoon. He recommended the hike out to Darwin Falls, a natural oasis not far from where we were. After driving for a while on an old dirt road (probably more suited for four-wheel-drive), we started the one-mile hike out to the oasis though a rugged environment. As we were approaching the falls, Kayla began to feel the effects of the heart and the exertion. We soaked the towel I brought (was planning in a swim), put it over her body, turned around and returned to the car (pictured below).


Here’s a brief video summary of the Panamint Springs Resort.

Here’s a brief video of our walk to and from the springs and then refreshing ourselves at the resort when we returned.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley, the largest National Park in the lower 48 states, protects the northwest corner of the Mojave Desert.  It is the driest spot in North America (receiving about 1.5 inches of rainfall annually) and also the lowest point in all of North America (282 feet below sea level). The average August high temperature is 115 degrees (the overall record was 134 degrees). A few mining towns sprung up in this area in the 19th and 20th century to prospect for gold and silver. However, the most profitable and popular mining was for the borax – transported out of the valley by the famed twenty-mule teams. In 1933 Death Valley was declared a National Monument, In 1994 it became a National Park.

IMG_2421-Death Valley

We arrived at Death Valley late in the afternoon. It was hot, but not so hot that it was totally unbearable. We drove the distance of the park road to our end destination, Badwater Basin. When we arrived we walked around a bit at the lowest point in North America. On the returning trip a storm blew in and actually brought some rain (something very rare for this location). The experience was other-worldly! The dark clouded skies, strong winds, sand and fine dirt blowing all over the place and setting that resembled something either from a distant planet or the aftermath of a nuclear attack. It was really strange and really intriguing!

Here we are at Badwater Basin!


Here a neat video of our experience in Death Valley!

Sequoia National Park

The park is famous for its giant sequoia trees, including the General Grant tree the largest tree on Earth (Kayla and I are standing in front of it in the mosiac). Also the General Sherman tree grows in the Giant Forest, which contains five out of the ten largest trees in the world. We had the opportunity to see both of these monsters and do some short hikes as we spent the day in both Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks.

Meet General Grant!

Meet General Sherman!

Sequoia music video:

Pictured below is our great campsite that we had the night before we entered the two parks high up in the Sierra-Nevada mountains. It was super-quiet and super-cold!


San Francisco, CA

Though we had a reservation for our kayak later in the evening, we passed through San Francisco on the way to Point Reyes. The two pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge show us heading north (right) and then before we crossed the bridge on our return trip back into the city (heading south).

Point Reyes National Seashore

We drove up the scenic Highway 1 that zigs-and-zags along the Pacific coast. When we first arrived at Point Reyes we hiked the “Earthquake Trail” that marks the land shift from the 1906 earthquake (you can see Kayla standing by one of the blue markers in the picture below). From there we drove to the coast and took a peek at the lighthouse (also pictured below).

AT&T Park

On the way to San Francisco I totally ran out of energy. Though we were running late I informed Kayla that I needed to pull the car over and take a brief nap. The twenty-minute siesta gave me the boost I needed to make it through the rest of our busy evening.

When we arrived at the pier the young man was waiting with our boat. He suited us up with the gear, took a picture (seen below) and off we went on the mile or so paddle in the bay to reach AT&T Park – home of the San Francisco Giants baseball team.


Here’s a few more pictures of us paddling around outside of the stadium.

The novelty about this stadium (and it was made world-popular through Barry Bonds – his last homer being two years earlier) is the fact that right field is built adjacent to the water. Though few have the power, some have been able to hit the ball out of the park and into the bay (it’s happened 49 times by a Giant player since 2000). They call them “splash hits.”

The body of water where they land is fondly known as “McCovey Cove” (a monument of him is seen below).


The moment we arrived we saw a ball sail over the fence in batting practice. The guy who retrieved the ball let us hold it. After that nothing came our way.

It got dark and cold and we were on our way back by the fourth inning.


We spend the rest of the night walking around the wharf in downtown San Francisco. I don’t think anything tasted better for either of us than those “In-N-Out” burgers we enjoyed!

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 6:00 in the morning, so we dropped off the rental car around midnight (after driving around forever to find an open gas station) and slept for a few hours in the airport. Thankfully we were exhausted which helped to sleep despite the awkward body positions and a noisy terminal.

Praise God we were able to pack so much in, be safe and appreciate our time together!