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Background info:  After seeing all the photos and videos from last year's Syncro de Mayo and reading all of the "best one yet!" comments, I marked my calendar for this year's SdM.  One problem: The original organizer of the event came back from a long-term hiatus and all hell broke loose.  He proclaimed ownership of the event name and, basically, the event itself, told the main organizer's of SdM 2010 to take a hike, threatened a lawsuit, insulted lots of people, and on and on.  Really a shame; one selfish person created a divide among what was once a close nit, fun-loving community.  Needless to say, the folks who organized SdM 2010 cut all ties and created a brand new event: Syncrofest!  So, I crossed out SdM 2011 (would've been fun to celebrate my Cinco de Mayo birthday watching Syncros in action, but, hey, my "lowly" 2WD and I will not go where we're not wanted) and made plans to attend Syncrofest instead for Easter (which welcomed 2WDs!).


In the meantime, I had contacted the 2nd owners of Old Blue who live in the Bay Area to see if they were interested in seeing their old RV again.  They were thrilled to have an opportunity to see Blue! And, Dad had won a permit to raft the Colorado River.  Timing was such that he couldn't join along on the road trip, but since Mom was left to do the river trip shuttle, she wanted to go to Syncrofest and hit the national parks on the way back with me.  So, Dad had a guys' trip and we had a girls' trip!


We we had planned to pack the mountain bikes, but in looking at the weather forecast (and fuel prices), we opted to leave the bikes behind (which ended up being a very wise decision).



Day 1: Phoenix, AZ to Lake Mead, AZ; 230 miles

Loaded Blue and hit the road to rendezvous with Mom.  MPG: 17.6



Day 2: Lake Mead, AZ to Mojave, CA;  337 miles

Said "adios" to Dad and stopped in Kingman for lunch and groceries, then it was onto I-40 for what would turn out be one helluva ride!  It was a bit windy at first, but nothing to whiten your knuckles over.  Passed a Corvette while crossing the AZ/CA border and passed not one, but two semi's going up the first mountain pass! Then, we rounded a curve in the highway and WHAMMO!... foot on floor, going nowhere fast.  Serious crosswinds and headwinds ensued!   Nothing like doing 55-60 mph on a 70-75 mph highway with a firm grip on the steering wheel!  We heard a rapid <slap, slap, slap> sound and Mom pinpointed it to coming from the front of the van.  I pulled off (just happened to be a Call Box area, so plenty of pull-off space) and Mom saw that the bra was at fault.  Tucking the mounting clips behind the vinyl, we pressed on only to hear it again.  This time, we got off the highway and just took the bra off (felt had worn away on the clips so putting the clips back in place was not an option; metal-on-metal contact means the van's door paint getting ruined).  In leaving I-40, I saw a sign for Route 66; perfect!  Should've taken it earlier!  One problem: Blue was getting low on fuel and I figured, with the wind, it wouldn't make it to Barstow.  Luckily, at Newberry Springs, there was a gas station... where premium was around $5 a gallon!  Oh, well...  We took Route 66 as far as we could, which ended being at the military base.  Typical California (and this would be a sign of things to come, pun intended): no signs anywhere telling you that Route 66 has come to an end and to continue on I-40. Not a big deal, but it'd be nice to know!   MPG: 14.3


We arrived in Barstow and made the change to highway 58.  The winds were still raging and my foot was still firmly planted on the floor and we're speeding along at 55; at every hill the flashers were turned on for safety's sake.  At first, this wasn't a problem since 58 was a divided 4-lane highway.  But then, it turned into an undivided, 2-lane highway with lots of semis going the other way... and it was getting dark.  To top it off, this lengthy section was a no-passing zone.  It was also a construction zone with a speed limit of 55.  Seeing the speedometer reading 55 I thought, "Phew! At least we're doing the speed limit!"  Again, every hill I hit the flashers 'cuz we slowed down a bit (damn wind, blow from behind for once!!).  Well, car after car after car passed us and one driver even motioned for us to get off the road!  WTF?!  I'm doing the friggin' speed limit, people!  Finally, the highway goes back to being divided.  But, Houston, we have another problem: It's now dark and the instrument cluster lights aren't working.


Our initial destination was Bakersfield, but given the wind and the cluster light issue, we pulled off in Mojave and found a sign pointing to an RV park.  We couldn't locate it, so we pulled into a convenience store to ask.  While Mom asked the store clerk for directions, I checked out the cluster lights.  Jiggling a wire on the main connector turned them on/off.  Bent the wire just-so, and the lights have stayed on ever since.   We found the lovely RV park... or so we thought it was lovely.  Most RV parks have locked restrooms and require an unlock code; not this place, luckily.  However, this restroom has extremely short stall doors (i.e., if you need to see if it's occupied, just look over the door rather than the traditional under method), and those stall doors didn't lock!  I put water in the water tank and, after dinner, used the new ShurFlo faucet for the first time.  It's fabulous!!   Long day, so it was off to bed right after dinner.  


Day 3: Mojave, CA to Gilroy, CA; 273 miles

Leg I: Mojave to Bakersfield.  Woke up to the sounds of trains and planes.  Took a peek out the tent window to find the RV park was more permanent residence for low-budget RVers than a quick layover place.  Around the perimeter were rather rundown motorhomes with weeds darn near growing into them, while the center portion was for overnighters.  Next to us was a flat-bed semi trailer.  To top it off, I went to use the women's room only to find the door locked and shut tight!  The men's was wide open.  Okay, maybe they're cleaning the ladies' room.  Awhile later, still locked.  Bladder isn't getting any emptier; had thoughts of just using the men's!  Awhile later, Mom went to try... the women's side was open!  But the door itself was locked, so I hurried over before I lost the opportunity.  We really know how to pick 'em, eh?  On the bright side, there was a VW Bus there!

    

Back on the road, the winds were still raging.  According to the weather report, it was just breezy in Bakersfield; so, if we could make it over the mountains, life will be sweeter!  The drive through the mountains wasn't too bad and was, in fact, quite pretty being that is was so green.  A burgundy Westy was going the other direction; unfortunately, a cement divider gave us a view of only the roof so we didn't wave.  Made it to Bakersfield where we fueled up and pressed onward.  The original plan was to go up Highway 1, but a week or two prior a large chunk of the road fell down the cliff near Big Sur.  So we opted to go a short way up Highway 1 and then cut over to 101.  But because we fell a bit behind schedule yesterday (thank you, Mother Nature), we decided to play it safe and just go up Highway 5.  MPG: 14.6



Leg II: Bakersfield to Gilroy.  Leaving Bakersfield, there was a lot of right-lefting to get to I-5.  Once on 5, Blue finally had a chance to relax... tailwind for much of the way!  I don't think I've ever seen so many nut trees and signs bashing Pelosi and Boxer (over water issues).  Near the Hanford exit, we pulled off at Taco Bell for lunch.  While walking back to the van, a beautiful green Bus pulled into the gas station across the street.  Our destination for the night was San Luis Reservoir.  Again, signage in California sucks: No other signs on the road other than "San Luis Reservoir State Park: Camping, Boating, etc.".  About 500 feet later: "San Luis Reservoir, turn left here".  Had to slam the brakes on and get into the turn lane (we were in the right lane and had to get into the left lane in order to get into the short turn lane).  So, we drove into the park and at the intersection we found a sign saying "campground closed".

     

Well, ain't that typical?!  So, now what?  Drive on to Gilroy!  Back out at Highway 152, we waited to turn left... which proved to be an impossible task given that it's a semi-divided 4-lane highway with no lane to turn into, and traffic was non-stop.  Rather than wait forever, we turned right and hung a U-turn at the next available exit.  Just past where we initially turned was another San Luis camping sign, this time on the right side of the road!  Driving in, the entrance kiosk was closed but, of course, the fees were listed.  Now, explain this to me:  WTH is "overnight fishing" and why is it cheaper than "overnight camping"? Anywho, we drove down to the campground.  Half of it was closed, the other half was for "family camping"; i.e. multiple vehicles parked together... for $40! For $40 we could stay at a real RV park, complete with showers!  The camp host told us we could go to the other side of the lake for cheaper, primitive camping, but that meant: turning left (again) on that far-too-busy-for-a-slow-van-to-turn-left-on-a-hill highway and driving all the way back to where we hung a U-turn... no thanks!  We pressed on to Gilroy.


Another beautiful mountain pass along the rather large (main) San Luis Reservoir.  Approaching Gilroy, we discovered why Gilroy is the "garlic capital of the world": It was as though we had stuck a piece of garlic in the vents!  We made plans to meet Old Blue's second owners, Dave & Vickie, at an RV park they recommended tomorrow, so we opted to stay there for the night.  Not realizing that highway 152 was the road we needed to turn off of (came into town from a different direction than originally planned on Google Maps), we got onto the 101.  After a brief tour of Gilroy, we realized the error and went back, stopping to fuel up the van along the way.  Wow! What a lovely RV park!  So spacious, clean and modern!  MPG: 17.0


Day 4: Gilroy, CA; 0 miles

Had a leisurely morning.  While waiting for Dave & Vickie to arrive, Mom and I set about counting M&Ms in a 42oz. bag.  Mom really wanted the M&M Syncro candy "jar" to be given away at SyncroFest so, naturally, we had to go about it in a scientific manner.  Dave & Vickie finally arrived and they were so pleased to see Blue (and us too)!  They loved the "new" blue awning and the blue plaid curtains & accessories!  And they didn't arrive empty-handed: Out came CDs of photos of their trip in Blue to Baja, a receipt for work done, brochure for the awning enclosure, a roll of gray vinyl, and a bike rack!  (We already had a rack, so that was graciously declined.)  On top of that, they took us to lunch where we told stories of our adventures.  While Syncrofest was great fun and the national parks were gorgeous, meeting Dave & Vickie was the best part of the trip!  Hopefully, we'll all meet up again soon!

After lunch and saying farewell to Dave & Vickie, Mom and I walked over to the shopping center across from the RV park to get a few supplies: felt and sewing utensils.  Back at the van, Mom sewed new felt onto Blue's metal bra tabs.  Unfortunately, it was predicted to be somewhat wet the next few days so the repaired bra stayed off and the rainfly went on.  It also became windy, so we put the awning in.  That night, we enjoyed nice hot showers; being without a hairdryer, I dried my hair in the van using the little space heater (worked great!).  After a game of Scrabble and dinner it was off to bed.  A few hours later, after about 30 minutes total of sleep, I abandoned the master suite.  Between the wind, the highway, the trains and the rainfly flapping around, I couldn't take the noise any more.  I tried to be as quiet as I could so as not to wake Mom, and all was going well until it came time to put the rear seat down.  The dang seatback wouldn't unlock from the seat bottom; typical!  Well, so much for trying to be quiet.   Finally got situated and got some sleep.  It was the first time for me sleeping on the lower bed.  It was quite comfy!  Would've been even more comfy had it not been for a crate I didn't move completely out of the way.


Day 5: Gilroy to Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area; 22 miles

Wanting to get additional groceries (and dessert for the potluck dinner), we went in search for a grocery store.  Mom asked the park manager who told us how to get to Safeway.  Instinct said, "Just go to that Walmart right there," but instead we pressed onward to Safeway, which was... way the heck out of our way and the lady gave us, basically, the scenic route to take.  So, we got off to a later start than we wanted to.  Everything was going just dandy until we got to the intersection of Highway 25 and 156.  Navigator Mom, "I think we should've turned right back there."  "No, this map shows taking 25 all the way to the town of Hollister then turning; we haven't reached Hollister yet."  "But this map and directions show turning right on 156."  So, we go back to 156...  Mom: "No, this isn't right!"  So, we turn around and go back to 25.  We get to Hollister and, oh, look, Highway 156 again!  GPS anyone?   Finally, we see signs that we're headed in the right direction!  Winding through the very green Hollister Hills we, alas, arrive at the big event.  We sign in, get our goodie bag, find a place to park for the weekend and start setting up.  In the process, several folks walked over and introduced themselves... the Vanagon community is so friendly!  One of those folks was Lance, who we parked near.  He later asked if we'd like to go for a Syncro ride.  YES!  And what a ride!  Up and down steep hills, through bushes, through a pond, over bumps, up a rock hill, through ruts... totally awesome!  Thanks for the introduction to Syncronitis, Lance!

     

Funny, Old Blue was the only (as I recall anyway) Westfalia to use a gray water tank, and the only one to use a rainfly (I put it up for two reasons: keeps the inside of the van a bit warmer, and because of the threat of rain throughout the weekend; sure enough, it rained Saturday night!).  A couple of questions were asked of us: 1) "What's that box underneath the van?"  "Gray water tank." "What's that for?" "For catching waste water so it doesn't make a mess under the van."  2) "Why did you not get a Syncro?"  "While I appreciate and admire what Syncros can do and where they can go, I don't go to places, usually, that require 4WD."  And you know what?  A lot of people with full-campers don't use the camping equipment (we use it all in Old Blue!).  So, by the same token (after the fact), I have to ask: Why go to the expense of buying a full-camper and not use the camping equipment?  I mean, that's what the Weekenders are for!  While many folks hiked up to the community camp sink at Hollister to do dishes, we stayed toasty warm inside using our convenient indoor plumbing!


Days 6-7: Syncrofest!; 0 miles

Day 6.  Another leisurely morning.  After breakfast we perused the raffle goodies, the trophies and later took measurements of the M&M Syncro for additional calculations.   Shortly after lunch we heard that someone had a rollover mishap.  We decided that, after sitting for days driving, we needed some exercise so we walked up to the beginner obstacle course.  No one was around, at first.  Then, one by one, vans started rolling back to camp and into the playground where we were.  Simply amazing what these boxes can do!


Overland Gourmet, from Phoenix, arrived to prepare a wonderful taco dinner.  They don't usually cater events, so it was an extra special meal.

     

Day 7.  Final day for competition for those unique trophies, particularly the Warren Chapman Syncro Cup!  At around noon, everyone headed up to the obstacle course.  Everywhere you looked there were Vanagons and Transporters having fun and drivers showing off their skills... even 3-wheeling!  And, would you believe, a couple of 2WDs joined in on the fun?  And neither one got stuck!  Hmm... remind me again why I need a Syncro?  Leaving the obstacle course area, there was an über-rare Golf Country (that's a factory Golf Syncro) just imported into the States.

     

      


There was a trophy to be given out to the "Best 2WD" and I thought for sure the guy with the $200 Vanagon ripping it up around the obstacle course (seen above in the rock garden) was going to win it. But something told us that may not be the case when Seth & Eric paid a visit to Old Blue, holding clipboards.


Big BBQ-potluck dinner tonight!  We both volunteered for food prep... and boy was there a lot of it!  Best part: We got little samples of the BBQ'd chicken and beef while it was cooking... mmmmmmm!  After that tasty dinner it was raffle and awards time.  They were going to start with the M&Ms Syncro, but decided to keep us in suspense, particularly for the lady who accidentally dumped out the M's when she tipped it over.  So, first was handing out all of the raffle loot (lots of stuff donated!).  Mom won nothing (she tried for Snap-On goodies).  I wanted an oil filter (should've put in more than one ticket, d'oh!), but all four of them went to someone else... that's four individual tickets pulled out of the envelope and all four belonged to this guy!  What are the odds?!  I did, however, win an air filter, so I can say I didn't walk away empty-handed.  A nice guy from Canada won the most stuff, I think, including a matching pair of under-seat lockers (which were given away separately)!  Then it was awards time.  The "Oh Sh*t!" award was passed this year to Marco of The Bus Lab who rolled his recently painted Westy.  He now has the affectionate nickname of Marco...Rollo.   The "Farthest Distance" award had to be decided by a GPS because the two Canadians in attendance actually lived pretty close to one another!  And, the "Best 2WD Vanagon" went to "the pretty blue van down at the end"... yes, Old Blue!  Thanks so much, guys!!  First-ever trophy for Blue (the plaque from Volksfest isn't a trophy ;), and at the first Syncrofest... very cool.  Fun event and looking forward to the next one!  Thank you, again, to the SF organizers for welcoming the 2WDs!

Lots of folks stayed up late around their campfires, while others hit the hay.  Will we be among the first group to leave tomorrow, or the last?  My money was on the last...  I should also mention that I opted to sleep downstairs at Hollister (rather than move in the middle of the night like before).  Quite comfy down there!  Mom, on the other hand, opted to be chilled in the master suite.


Day 8: Hollister to Yosemite National Park, CA; 165 miles

Leg I: Hollister to Merced.  Yep, I was right!  While we didn't get up late (for once), we were indeed the last one's to leave.  Well, actually, Lance was the very last to leave, but only because he stopped for a shower.  Funny, as we were driving out, a Westy drove in; driver asked if everyone had left.  We had to break the news that we were the last ones out.  In keeping with the trip's navigational triumphs thus far, we once again took a couple of brief wrong turns (thank you, California, for your fabulous signage!!) in getting on the right path towards Merced.  GPS anyone?  MPG: 16.6


Our first leg destination on this Easter Sunday was Merced, specifically a Walmart in Merced.  Mom's new camera crapped out at Hollister and the return deadline was Monday or Tuesday.  We found Walmart, Mom exchanged the camera and we were off.  But first, it was time for lunch.  As we approached the empty parking lot of In-N-Out I remembered that our favorite burger joint closes for Easter... bummer.  Taco Bell was across the street and was open for business, so we had a quick bite there and were off and running to Yosemite, crossing our fingers we'd be able to get a camp spot.


Leg II: Merced to Yosemite.  Beautiful drive to Yosemite!  Rolling green hills, old homestead buildings, sprawling ranches, no traffic, blue sky... Northern California is definitely the better side of California.  We passed through a number of small towns as well.  One of these towns had a "Your Speed: ##" mobile radar units and, get this, the van's speedometer was off.  According to that radar machine the speedometer was reading nearly 10 mph fast.  So, is the radar machine accurate, or is the speedometer really that way off?  The speedo was dead-on the last I ever went by a radar machine, but that was before I took it apart to fix the odometer.   The Merced River was flowing pretty good, and my that canyon is beautiful! (Sorry no pics of either; sun was going down.)

     

We arrived at the fee station in Yosemite, which had a "Closed; pay on your way out" sign posted (more on that later).  Right after the fee station was a very neat spot to take a photo: two giant boulders leaning against each other to form an arch.  No one was behind us so I told Mom to jump out and snap a picture!  We stopped at most of the turnouts to see the fast-flowing waterfalls and streams.  It was definitely a good winter in the Sierras!

        

Our last waterfall stop was at Swinging Bridge, where we learned a valuable lesson: Don't let your guard down for a minute.  At the previous stops, we were pretty close to the van the entire time.  At this stop, I parked at the end of the parking area as I usually try to do, we got out and locked the doors, I made a brief stop at the restroom and Mom continued down to the bridge.  When we were done taking photos we began walking back and passed 3 young men... who looked very much not like tourists (no cameras, etc.).  As we stepped off the bridge I looked over to see a red Chevy truck parked right next to the van, and I mean right next to it.  Before going to the van, we stopped to ask the two ranger ladies if they had a park map (none were at the entrance).  After getting a map, we continued on to the van, the rangers left and the 3 suspicious guys were walking back.  The parking lot was practically empty, yet this truck was parked so close to the van we had to use the slider door to get in.  No sooner did we sit in the seats, the three guys approached the truck and got in (we made damn sure the driver didn't hit the van), the driver kind of smirked as he did.  They drove off and we both look at the dash at the same time and realized our stupidity: I left the iPod on the dash, Mom left her phone on the dash and we both left our purses in the "aisle" (not that the small, dark bags could be seen).  We determined that these punks were going to do a smash-and-grab.  I think the reason they didn't, and walked down to the bridge instead, was due to the rangers being there (thank god they had to clean out the trash can!).  After that, all electronics were stashed and the purses went with us.


I can understand why Yosemite has a reservation system for camping, but it's a system that needs revamping.  We drove into Curry Village's dirt, er muddy parking lot and Mom went to the reservation office.  Of course, it was closed and a sign was posted saying that Lower Pines was full, the others were not and to follow the directions at the campground itself for site selection and fee payment.  So, we drove to the Upper Pines campground area and were greeted with a ranger kiosk.  It, of course, was closed (it will reopen at 10am), but there was a notice indicating which sites were available for that night (only!) due to cancellations.  Several of those spots were already taken, or so we assumed, so we pulled into #170.  While I got the van ready for the night, Mom walked back to the kiosk in the dark to pay and was met with the following notice: "To pay your fee, please go to the reservations office."  Now, as already said, the reservations office was closed and the sign over there said to pay at the campground.  Since this campground has no tag system, had we actually left and driven back over to the reservations office (which would've been pointless), someone else could've taken our spot! Oh, but it gets better tomorrow morning!


Knowing it was going to get down to freezing and possibly rain, for the first time ever we left the roof down.  We installed all of the insulating window blankets, played a game of Scrabble, ate dinner and went to bed.  The next morning, the van's interior temperature was a pleasant (compared to freezing) 55 degrees; the noise was pretty low as well for we didn't even hear our neighbors pull in during the night/early morning.  


Day 9: Yosemite National Park, CA to Fresno, CA; 100 miles

Leg I: Seeing Yosemite.  After a scrambled eggs & toast breakfast, we packed up and headed out.  At the ranger kiosk, we had to stop.  There was a lady volunteer sitting in the booth and an official standing outside talking to her.  Mr. Official said, "Checking out?   Yeah, I saw your van while driving through earlier.  It'll be ten dollars with your discount."  "Can we pay here?"  "Yes, if you have the exact change; otherwise you'll need to go to the reservations office.  We can't take checks here and don't have change to make."  "I don't think I have ten," Mom said.  Knowing that I had one and not wanting to waste time stopping at the reservations office (we were starting our day late, again), I dug into my purse and pulled out a ten.  Driving out of the campground it dawned on me: What a moron!  Had I not pulled out the ten, we would've camped for free!  I wonder how much money Yosemite loses with this stupid reservations system?  And, the system is quite inconvenient for those folks who decide at the last minute to go to Yosemite.  The smaller campground should be set aside for first-come-first-servers.  While leaving the campground, a cream-colored Westy with bikes and an awning went by! Anyway, we went to the village, parked (in the mud, with all windows covered!) and walked over to Yosemite Falls.  The falls were spectacular!  They were flowing about the same, if not better, as when I was in Yosemite back in about 1986 with my 6th grade class.  En route to the falls, I spied out of the corner of my eye, a silver Westy parked in the employee compound.

        

Mom wanted to see Mirror Lake, so we opted to leave the van parked where it was and hop on the shuttle bus (quite convenient; back in '86 there was no bus system so we kids had to walk everywhere). Walking to the bus stop we spotted yet another Westy!  By this time it was after noon and we were both a bit hungry.  We decided to get off at Curry Village and get some lunch.  Debussing, there was yet another Westy waiting!  We noticed a sign pointing to burgers, pizza, ice cream, etc.  "Great!  I could go for a pizza!"  We rounded the corner, walked up the steps to the patio and found the doors locked and "closed" signs hanging in the windows.  We spotted another information sign that read: "Pizza opens at noon."  Well, the clock showed it was long after noon.  We then decided to just get a snack or two in the convenience store.  Mom smelled coffee percolating and asked the clerk for a cup.  "We don't have coffee."  "But, I smell it and I can see there's coffee warming in the pot over there."  "We stopped serving coffee at 11am."  "But your coffee maker is still on; is it for employees only or something?"  "Sorry, we stopped selling coffee at 11."  "Okay, so what's the deal with the restaurants?  The sign says they open at noon, but they're closed."  "Yeah, the restaurants don't open until 5."  We both thought: "Um, then why don't you change your freakin' sign?!"  Upon walking back outside we saw a number of people sitting at the tables eating; we could also smell something cooking.  Odd.  As we began walking to the bus stop we looked over and saw that there was a taco "stand" open and serving food.  We got in line and ordered some nachos, a lemonade and... a coffee!  Now, why in the hell didn't the dumbass store clerk tell us that the taco shack was open and serving coffee when we inquired about the restaurants?!  The whole place is run by Aramark so what difference would it have made?


Finished the nachos just in time to hop on the next bus.  At the Mirror Lake stop, there were two routes we could take: the road, or the forest trail.  We like taking paths less traveled, so we chose to go the scenic route.  The trail winds along the Merced River through dark green pine trees and huge boulders, all covered in bright green moss.  Eventually, we turned off the main trail and walked out to where Mirror Lake used to be.  Yes, Mirror Lake was basically a pond, but the valley floor was still beautiful.

     

     

We arrived back at the van and ventured onward.  Taking the south exit, we made a stop at Bridal Veil Falls.  We could not have timed it better!  A gorgeous rainbow spanned the waterfall and remained long enough for us to get some fabulous photos!  There was so much mist from the waterfall that water was literally running down the path; standing at the viewpoint it was if it was raining!


Driving on, we came to a viewpoint overlooking the entire Yosemite valley (we parked in the "Bus Zone").  Since the sun was just beginning to set and the sky was pretty clear, it was perfect for more photos!

        

For most of the drive out of Yosemite National Park, there was lots of snow still on the ground and fast flowing waterfalls at almost every turn.  We thought we'd stay at the campground near the south entrance, but the kiosk said "Full" (not only that, it was quite smoky from all the campfires).  Now, here's 'the rest of the story":  As you recall, entering the park we didn't have to pay because the fee station was closed.  Well, we didn't have to pay going out either!  So, a little tip for going to Yosemite: Drive in after 5pm, drive out after 5pm and you'll see the park for free! (In the spring, anyway.)  Just outside the park boundary a herd of deer were munching on grass.

     


Leg II: Yosemite to Fresno.  Since camping near Yosemite was out, we determined that Bass Lake would be our next destination.  By the time we reached the turn-off to Bass Lake it was pitch dark.  Both Mom and I kept our eyes peeled for a campground sign, which should've been about 5 miles from highway 41.  Well, 8 miles and two cars on my ass later, no campground.  Not wanting to double-back, we continued onward and set a new destination for Millerton Lake.  While driving this twisty road, it really seemed like 55mph was a bit high, yet cars kept tailgating.  When we finally got down into the "valley" area where the road turned back into highway 41, I put the speedo needle up at 65.  Of course, in this section I had no clue what the speed limit was because there were no signs!  Anyway, Mom looked at the map to see where we would need to turn and got a tad confused as to which road, so we relied on there being a sign.  We arrived at a large intersection at highway 145; I recalled seeing 145 on the map and told Mom, "I think this is where we should turn."  But, once again, there was no sign!  Not being sure, we drove on and soon found ourselves in Fresno!  GPS anyone?  Rounding the first curve in the freeway I swore I smelled something very familiar: In-N-Out.  We exited at Herndon and stopped in at a gas station.  Mom asked for campground/RV info and if there was indeed an In-N-Out around.  Yep, just down the street!  Is my nose good or what?  We went to In-N-Out for dinner.  While I ordered, Mom jumped onto the Internet to look for a place to stay.  She found Blackstone RV Park, which proclaimed to be "The Best RV Park in Fresno!  Remodeled restrooms, 30 and 50 Amp..."  After the burgers and fries, we went looking for Blackstone and we, surprisingly, found it.  Two pull-in spots were available, one stuffed between two big motorhomes, one at the end.  We opted for the end spot, but there was a slight problem.  The tag-along car belonging to the motorhome parked in the pull-through space next to this last pull-in spot was parked half in the pull-in spot.  No one was parked at the other pull-through, so we said "screw it!" and parked there.  In connecting the 30-amp electrical, there was no electricity.  I did some troubleshooting, but nada.  Mom then read in the paperwork that the 30-amp service had been terminated.  Hey, Blackstone, update your web site!!  Thanks to the wind, the big tree next to us rustled all night, which was quite pleasant; much better than hearing a freeway.  Before drifting off to dreamland, we discussed the benefits of a GPS.  MPG: 16.3


Day 10: Fresno to Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Parks, CA; 98 miles

Leg I: Fresno to Kings Canyon.  Somewhat early start today!  I went to the bathroom and couldn't help but notice: 1) Bugs crawling in and out thanks to a large gap below the door; 2) an open window that, if you weren't paying attention, would allow any passerby to get a great look at you; 3) remodeled?  If this bathroom was remodeled, I hate to ask what it looked like before.  It wasn't a bad place, but it certainly wasn't "the best".  Not wanting to hang around at this RV park, we went down the block to Denny's for breakfast.  

  

While eating, we continued the topic of a GPS.  Mom: "So, if we had a GPS it would've told us turn back there at 145 to get to the lake?"  "Yep."  "If we had a GPS, we could've plugged in the address of the RV park and it would've told us exactly how to get there?"  "Yep.  And it would tell us what speed we're going, which would be nice so we can verify the van's speed."  Leaving Denny's, we headed for the nearest Walmart to pick up additional groceries... and a GPS!  First destination plugged into it: Millerton Lake.   Ah, yes,  there it is!  "We should've bought this when we started!"  We changed the destination to Kings Canyon and were off.  Hmmm; driving towards the freeway the speedometer was reading faster than the GPS... by seven miles per hour!  You know what that means?  That means A) the radar machine was right; B) when we were driving in that horrendous wind in the construction zone of highway 58 between Barstow and Mojave, we were, in fact, not doing 55.  No, we were doing 48!  Now it all makes sense!  People were justifiably pissed off because were, in fact, not doing the speed limit, but were going damn near ten miles under the limit!  Oops.  In hindsight, I suppose I should have downshifted.


En route to Kings Canyon, we couldn't stop playing with the GPS: "Oh, cool, look it shows the canal!"  "Oh, cool, look it shows elevation!"  "Oh, neat, it changes the speed limit almost right where the signs are!"  Anyway, towards the top of the mountains, we suddenly drove into a fog bank and 6-foot snow drifts lined each side of the road.  It was a massive winter in the Sierras and it showed.  We stopped in at the ranger station to not pay our fee (Golden Age Pass, baby!) and found out that there was quite a bit still closed.  Because of that, and time, we decided to see General Grant and drive on.  There was so much snow in the Sierras this past winter that a number of giant sequoias lost a limb or two... limbs the size of other trees!  Streams were flowing everywhere and made for fantastic natural sound effects while looking up at those monstrous trees (General Grant is the last photo).  Photos simply do not do these trees justice!

        

        


Leg II: Kings to Sequoia.  Following the very twisty highway 198 over to and through Sequoia, we encountered more fog, more snow, and more waterfalls and streams.  The rangers told us that the road to General Sherman was closed to general traffic and that we needed to take a shuttle from the relatively new Wuksachi Lodge (built in 1999 and it's beautiful!).  Arriving at the lodge, we read on the shuttle sign that we were about 30 minutes late in catching the last shuttle.  Bummer.  While eating lunch in the van, a family pulled in and asked for directions back to Bakersfield.  After telling them that they needed to go back the way they came, the wife said, "Oh, that means going through all that road construction again."  Hmm.  Driving through Giant Forest, we stopped for a few impressive photo opportunities.

        

Well, the lady was right.  We rounded a turn and found a line of cars parked: road construction!  After sitting for 10-15 minutes, taking in the incredible view, we saw cars arriving from the opposite direction; finally, our turn to go.  There were several miles' worth of road construction taking place thanks to road washouts.  We made our way to near the bottom of the mountains and pulled into a lovely picnic area to walk over to Hospital Rock and to see if we could walk into the campground to check it out.  We made it as far as a stream at the first turn and decided we'd better just drive in.  We followed a slightly wider than one lane road into Buckeye campground.  I hate those kind of roads, especially when they have no barrier on the cliff side and when I'm driving a 5000-pound, top-heavy van.  Thankfully, we encountered only one car; it was small and the lady was willing to drive off the road as we passed.  The campground was adjacent to the Kaweah River and was nestled amongst all sorts of vegetation: huge shade trees, blooming redbud trees, colorful wildflowers.  Wonderful place to camp!  Worth the scary drive to get in there.

     


Day 11: Sequoia National Park to Ridgecrest, CA; 208 miles

Leg I: Sequoia to Exeter.  After breakfast, we hiked a trail that's right there at the campground over to the Kaweah River and crossed the bridge to see the river's tributary, Paradise Creek.  Beautiful area!  We were going to continue following the creek until Mom stopped dead in her tracks: "Snake!!"  We turned back.  It was getting late anyway!  

        

     

When stopped at the creek/bridge on the way out, just before the main highway (to take some photos), an old, ratty air-cooled Bus passed us with a grouchy old man driving.  We waved to him but he didn't even look at us despite being inches apart!  What's that about?!  Anyway, highway 198 followed the Kaweah river all the way down to Lake Kaweah, which is a huge lake!  Ever since Mom repaired the van's bra, we hadn't been able to put it back on the van due to weather.  After driving through snow country, the van was filthy (but oddly enough, doesn't show in the pictures!).  We decided that we'd stop in at a do-it-yourself car wash and clean the poor thing up and put its bra back on since it was now sunny, clear and warm.  When passing through the town of Exeter, we spotted an empty car wash.  One car pulled into the stall next to us, washed and left.  The rest of the time, it was just us.  Because of that and because there was no other shade around, we dried Blue right there in the wash bay.  Just as I was putting the last few tabs of the bra on, some jackhole in a Ford pickup truck began spraying his truck rather haphazardly, getting soap all over the top and passenger side of the van. Mom started to yell at the guy (who, naturally, didn't give a flying hoot), while I jumped in and moved the van.  Welcome back to civilization!


Leg II: Exeter to Ridgecrest.  We stopped in Porterville for gas and had a sandwich lunch in the van.  Looking at the map, we initially planned to take highway 65 down to highway 155.  I turned left back onto 65, but the GPS said that we're, basically, going the wrong way and that we need to go back in order to get onto Old Stage Road.  I wanted to continue on 65, but Mom suggested we follow the GPS; since it was taking us through California Hot Springs and ultimately Kernville.  Okay.  It was the scenic route to say the least.  Pretty green rolling hills, with scattered boulders and mushroomed-shaped trees.  Fifteen miles later I pulled over.  "Should we really continue, or should we turn back?"  "We could turn back, but by the time we do that think how far down this road we'd be.  Let's keep going."  For the first 30 miles of this road we passed a grand total of 3 cars, one being the county sheriff.  To say this was the scenic route is an understatement.  A very winding road, up and down, in and out, but beautiful scenery too.  There were a couple of sections that had very steep descents; 16% grades, in fact, and required downshifting to first gear.  After a few hours and nearly getting "sea sick", we finally descended into Kernville.  We made our way around Lake Isabella and made plans to camp somewhere just above the lake, but one campground was closed and the other was on the opposite side of the river.  We kept going as the sun was setting.  We came upon the Walker Pass campground on highway 178; it's one campground along the Pacific Crest Trail.  Driving in, there was a small motorhome with German plates on it, and a vagabond pickup truck, complete with tarps to create a makeshift tent and other belongings strewn about.  If it had been just the Germans (who waved from their kitchen window as we drove out), we would've stayed.  MPG:16.3


Just as the sun was disappearing, we arrived at highway 14.  Taking 14 north to 395, there was a sign advertising an RV park in Inyokern.   This RV park was a type we've yet to ever encounter: "No restroom facilities; no laundry facilities!  You must have your own toilet and shower!"   So, that nixed that idea.  Do we continue up 395, or head toward Ridgecrest?  "There must be a place in Ridgecrest!"  We arrive in Ridgecrest, pull into an Exxon station and Mom whips out her computer.  Yep, there's an RV park at the fairgrounds.  Fairgrounds?  Well, this should be interesting.  I plug the address into the GPS and Ms. Nuvi leads us right to the place.  It's definitely fairground parking.  One problem: No lights, no office, no sign pointing to the camp host (but he is in space #1).  After driving around the place, we finally happened upon the host who said that we had two choices: 1) Park right there in the tiny spot next to the bathrooms.  "No hookups, but it has a nice table."  2) Park in the main lot.  "There's a real nice spot under a eucalyptus tree with water & electric.  It's right next to the road, but there's not a lot of traffic this time of night."  We opt for the tree.  I immediately hit the restroom, where I saw showers.  One problem: The exterior door doesn't lock and there are no doors into the showers.  Back at the van, I realized that popping the top would've hit the tree.  Not only that, there were several ant cities all around, right there at the van.  We decided to split and head for the nearest Walmart.  Walmart was lit up like Las Vegas and the only motorhome there looked like it just left the junkyard. Walmart was out.  We were starving by this time, so we went to McDonald's.  After dinner, we drove down the road to Motel 6.


Day 12: Ridgecrest, CA to Boulder City, NV; 293 miles

Leg I: Ridgecrest to Death Valley.  Woke up at a decent hour for a change and took a nice, hot, glorious shower.  Only problem was: It was a corner shower, so water sprayed out of the door when it's opened; the showerhead was so friggin' low even I, at 5'8", had to perform yoga tricks to get my hair wet!  Once again, we stopped in at Denny's for breakfast (hey, they do good breakfasts!). However, it was a little unnerving getting there: The van didn't idle well at all and nearly stalled leaving the parking hotel parking lot.  I was thinking maybe the ISV or CTS was fouling up, but Mom suggested it was bad gas.  We stopped in at O'Reilly and picked up some fuel system cleaner.  The van had around a 1/4 or so tank left, so we drove onward up 395 and stopped in Olancha for gas.  I dumped the fuel cleaner in and filled up.  Off to Death Valley!  The van ran great from Denny's onward... almost (details later).  About ten miles after turning onto highway 190, we passed a late model silver Westy going the other direction.  We waved and received a very enthusiastic wave back!   Before we went over the mountains into the valleys, we had a great view of the snow-covered Sierras. Amazing: We went from freezing in the mountains to boiling in the valley (it was 100°F).  MPG: 16.6

   

It had been a long while since I'd been to Death Valley.  I forgot that the first valley you come to is not thee valley.  This resulted in an "Oh, crap!" moment seeing what lay ahead of us: A very long, steep mountain road.  Needless to say it was 2nd gear the whole way, foot on floor and still not going the speed limit.  Poor Blue...  Of course, what goes up, must come back down.  On the other side was a long, steep mountain road going down into Death Valley.  It was in and out of 2nd gear and lots of braking.  The braking actually got to be a tad scary because the front end was vibrating worse and worse with every press of the brake pedal (warped rotors?).  We stopped at Stovepipe Wells to not pay, get our park pass, buy some trinkets and get my passport stamped.  Before leaving the ranger station, a whole herd of Harley's rode by -- this was the big Laughlin biker meet weekend.  The park is huge; lots to see.  But because we'd been there a few times before and because it wasn't getting any earlier, we opted to basically drive through.  We stopped at the dunes, of course, to take some photos and to say "hi" to the early brown Canadian Westy already parked there.  Down the road, we passed yet another late-model silver Westy; we waved but got zero acknowledgement back.   At Furnace Creek we stopped in the shaded picnic area to have lunch and nearly fainted at the gas prices.  Good thing the van didn't need fuel!


Leg II: Death Valley to Boulder City.  Onward and upward!  Mom wanted our destination to be Willow Beach (below Hoover Dam), but I didn't care to drive down there with the van's front brakes being in the condition they were (I still had to make it home too!), plus we weren't 100% sure that the new campground was open so there was no sense in wasting time and fuel.  The trip basically ended the way it started: between Death Valley and Las Vegas, the wind was raging.  Not as bad as out on I-40 two weeks prior, but bad nonetheless.  We stopped for fuel in Pahrump.  Cresting the last hill on highway 160, we were welcomed into Las Vegas with traffic, smog, blowing dust (in the distance), "chicken coop" housing... it was ugly, very ugly.  On top of that, while sitting at a red light, the van, out of nowhere, started sputtering again, but hasn't done it since.  I then had the pleasure of driving a wind-prone van on a very gusty night on a Las Vegas freeway where people drive like complete idiots (and I'm being polite when I say "idiots").  That relatively short freeway trip was more white-knuckle than our trip out on I-40!  We made it to Boulder City and initially planned to stay in the campground there. But after driving through the RV park, just to see what it was like, we decided that our last night should be spent in "luxury" where we had front-row parking overlooking Lake Mead! (Side note: This is another place you can get in for free.  Enter after 5pm, and they don't even bother stopping you on the way out, even if it's before 5pm.)  MPG: 17.0



Day 13: Boulder City, NV to Phoenix, AZ; 330 miles

Leg I: Boulder City to Lake Mead.  Woke up to a beautiful day!  


After a pancake breakfast we headed to the other end of Lake Mead.  En route on highway 93, we passed another Westy; we waved, but they couldn't see us thanks to the tall cement barrier.  At Lake Mead, we told Dad of our adventures and viewed hundreds of pictures.  He pulled the front wheels off and verified that the brakes were indeed shot; right rotor was warped and the pads were down to the wear limits.  After a couple days of relaxation and a fuel-up in Kingman, it was time to head home.    MPG: 17.9


Trip stats:


Fabulous, fun trip!  Can't wait to do it all again next year!  Only, next year, the Pacific Coast Highway better not be washed out!


Adventure 5: Syncrofest I & Parks in Between                                                                  April 21-30, 2011