Our time in the USA was growing short. We had our flight from Los Angeles to Mexico City booked and it would have been difficult to change it. So we have a good excuse for going back to Utah and the other South West USA states.
We went to Death Valley via the Virgin River Canyon and this is one of the most scenic Freeways I have travelled on. The Freeway goes along the bottom of the canyon, a little ways above the Virgin River. (The Virgin River flows out of Zion Canyon). The canyon walls are not quite on the scale of the Grand Canyon, but they are still rather impressive, especially at 70 mph.
We went through the outskirts of Las Vegas then headed north west. We were puzzled by the “Do not pick up hitch-hikers” signs; then we passed a couple of very large prisons in the middle of nowhere.
Some time after this it was a left turn towards Death Valley. As we started to descend we passed through rocks dipping to the east.
Passing through the village of Shoshone we passed the Death Valley Health Centre! I’m afraid my camera was shaking as I took the photo, so it is a trifle blurry. My apologies.
Heading north from Shoshone the landscape gets bleaker and the rocks more colourful.
As we headed north my GPS showed that we were getting lower. Eventually we went below sea level and a little later we got to Badwater. There was alittle water by the side of the road and it looked pretty bad. This is the lowest elevation in the USA being 86 metres (282 feet) below sea level.
Death Valley is part of the Basin and Range region. Here the earth’s crust is stretching east – west and the movement is taken up by north – south faults. The belts between the faults act like trap doors. The western side goes up and the eastern side goes down. If the faults were vertical there would be no stretching, but as they dip to the west, the end result is that the crust gets stretched. And the photograph above is taken from the eastern edge of the Death Valley block. The “Sea Level” sign is on the westward facing edge of the next block. I am told that there is almost 3,000 metres of infill material lying against the fault. As it is, erosion cannot keep up with the faulting and so Death Valley exists.
The explanation given above has implications which are not obvious. It gives rise to a land-locked basin of internal drainage and so you get deposits of salts, including borax. Crustal stretching implies crustal thinning; the presence of large faults leads to igneous intrusions.
We stayed overnight in the Valley. The hotel was at sea level with fine views of the mountains to the east and the sand dunes at their foot.
The next day we had a long drive to Yosemite. We could have had a shorter journey and entered from the east but we were warned that that entrance was still blocked by snow. Not only were we driving north but we were ascending into the Sierra Nevada.
We did not stay in Yosemite but in yet another VRBO property near Mariposa which is a few miles from the park. The country round about is pleasantly rural but it becomes more rugged as you get into the valley of the Merced River. This is the river which carries the water of all the famous Yosemite waterfalls out of the park. And to emphasize the dynamic nature of the scenery we found ourselves stopped at traffic lights, diverted onto a one way road on the “wrong” side of the river, because of a recent landslip which had taken out the wider road on the other side of the Merced.
One goes to Yosemite to look at mountains and waterfalls and the place has them in abundance. The reason is not so much mountain building as glacial erosion. The area consists of a multitude of granite intrusions which have, only recently, been eroded by valley glaciers. The valley of the Merced river has been scooped out leaving all the famous peaks towering over the valley and all the ancient tributaries perched high in the clouds. And so, to get to the Merced, they have to have waterfalls. We were there in the first half of May so all the high snowfields were melting and sending vast quantities of water over the falls. Some of the falls are small.
Others are bigger but rather far away.
Being tourists we visited the ones which had a car park attached – such as the Bridalveil Waterfall.
And some of the peaks can be seen from the roads.
These peaks rise straight up from the valley bottom.
There are other spectacular peaks which probably have a name but of which I am woefully ignorant.
The floor of the valley is flat and the valley U-shaped.
The most spectacular waterfall in the Yosemite is THE Yosemite Waterfall. This is a two stage waterfall. Each of the parts is rather spectacular.
The next day we walked up the valley side to get a less crowded view of the falls, but in the meantime we continued to rubberneck the sights of the valley.
That evening we returned to our accommodation by another route which involved going up the side of the valley, rather than going along the riverside, and, as a result we could look back and see both Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls.
I like the rainbow colours at the base of the falls. I liked it so much I’ll let you see a telephoto shot.
The next day we came back to Yosemite and walked up the valley side to see the Upper Yosemite Falls. On the way up we got some good views of Half Dome.
The falls overlook is still some distance from the falls but, even so, it is a spectacular sight. And Sound! You do not see the falls till you come round a corner but you hear the roar from much farther away. And round the corner both eye and ear are given lots to work on!
It is difficult to appreciate the scale, but these are full size trees at the top of the falls. We were there at the time of maximum snowmelt so the amount of water coming over was huge.
It had been a long walk up but it had been worth it. And when we got to the bottom we got one more photo.
The next day we set off for Kings Canyon National Park where we would look at giant trees.
We had booked accommodation in the John Muir Lodge which is owned by the National Park. It is a wooden building but is otherwise indistinguishable from thousands of hotels all over the world. But it is at 6,500 feet. And mid May at that altitude is bracing.
When we got up after our first night we found that there had been a heavy snow fall and we were in a winter wonderland. Little doubts about getting out of the wonderland began to sprout.
But first of all we had to go to the “General Grant Tree”. This is in a grove of sequoia trees, all of a large size. The General Grant is reckoned to be the second largest tree in the world. The largest, the General Sherman, is not far away, in Sequoia National Park, but was unreachable because of snow blocked roads. It is difficult to appreciate the size of these trees as a picture of the complete tree does not show anything to compare them against.
Westerners will tell you that the largest side branch is bigger than any tree east of the Mississippi, but this may be boosterism. It is 268 feet high and contains a fantastic amount of timber – 1,320 cubic metres at the last estimate. That does not include the side branches. The timber industry loved sequoias!
As mentioned there are several very large trees in the grove, including the twin sisters.
We were able to get a better idea of the size of these trees when we went inside the “Fallen Monarch” – a fallen tree which has been around since before records began.
The snow made getting to Grant Grove village, where we and the John Muir Lodge were, difficult. Only one cook and one waitress made it to the restaurant so dinner for our last two nights was an extended affair! However we managed to survive despite the privations.
The snow was actually rather restricted. You did not need to descend very far before it disappeared. We discovered this when we drove into Kings Canyon itself. The road descends steadily into the canyon.
The canyon goes deep into the Sierra Nevada. I always believed that this was a huge mass of granite plutons, and so it is. But not entirely so. Deep in the canyon we found a huge mass of marble.
This one comes complete with visitors caves and a gift shop and cafe!
We also found a quartzite mass – equally unexpected.
Apparently these are interpreted as exotic terrains plastered against the edge of North America by plate tectonics before the Sierra Nevada were uplifted.
For many people the delights of Kings Canyon start at the end of the road from Grant Grove. Here the backwoods trails start. There are peaks going to over 14,000 feet. Mount Whitney, the highest point in the 48 states is nearby in the contiguous Sequoia National Park. But that was rather too ambitious for us and we set off for Los Angeles and our plane to Mexico.