Thursday, April 16, 2009

I'm just back from a terrific road trip to Yosemite and Death Valley in California - if you're interested in such things, I'll be posting photos in a day or two to my Facebook page (link is on the left), so feel free to check 'em out.

However, I couldn't wait to share this crazy photo of a huge flock of snow geese - 4000-5000 as best I could estimate - we stumbled across near Mount Vernon, Wash. this week as we made our way home. Apparently they show up in the farm fields around Mt. Vernon/LaConner every year on their way to summer nesting grounds in the Arctic.

As usual, travelling in the U.S. reminded me that while I don't always like American policy, I sure do like Americans. But the country is clearly feeling the pains of the economic recession in a much more obvious way than I'd expected. One glance through any town's community newspaper was enough to make that clear - most poignantly, in the jam-packed legal notices in the classified section detailing trustee sales of houses that had gone into foreclosure. Frightening, really - they've even got companies starting up now to check for squatters in empty homes, because there are getting to be so many of them. I'll be detailing that more in my column next Friday for the Times Colonist, so stay tuned.

But there's an upside to everything, and I have to admit that the downturn made for pretty economical travel in the U.S. Gas is much cheaper there than it is up here - we generally paid $2.20-$2.40 a gallon, which works out very favourable even when you factor in smaller gallons and an exchange rate of about $1.25 right now on Canadian dollars. Camping sites were rarely more than $25 anywhere. And man, if you've ever thought about picking up a nice modular home on an acre or two of land in a rural community just about anywhere in interior California, the prices are crazy-low.

As for the travel itself, there's nothing like a road trip. I know, I know - I suppose they're politically incorrect these days, what with carbon emissions and all that. But I sometimes wonder if things wouldn't turn out in favour of road trips if you ran the thing all the way through - that we didn't take a plane anywhere, that we cooked our own meals that in many cases used local ingredients, that our energy use plummeted because we've got a solar panel on the roof of our motorhome, and so on. At any rate, I think it's the best form of travel going for sheer enjoyment of the landscape, the people and the moment.

Yosemite is unbelievably beautiful, and April turned out to be a good time to go in terms of minimal tourists (although an amazing number of brave tenters toughing it out through below-freezing temperatures at night). Spring is waterfall season, so the fact that you can't access a significant portion of the park this early in the year is made up for by being able to see massive falls tumbling down all over the place along the valley's vast granite walls. Daytime temperatures were a comfortable and sunny 15 or so while we were there - great for all the hiking you want to be doing while there.

Death Valley actually wraps up its season at the end of the month, as the weather gets too hot from this point on to be able to enjoy all its fabulous hikes and wild scenic vistas. This is our second trip to Death Valley and it's definitely on my greatest-hits list, and never mind the 12-hour sand storm we gritted our teeth through (literally) one night at Stovepipe Wells. Definitely wouldn't have wanted to be a tenter on THAT night.

But a road trip is about all the other places you visit along the way, and we spent some quality time in places like Mojave, Likely, Groveland, and Folsom Lake. Even our overnight at LaConner to get ready for an early-morning ferry ride home via Anacortes was really pleasant, even though the famed tulip fields still aren't in bloom yet due to the cold spring.

On the subject of ferry travel: We saved a considerable amount of money both ways by going on American ferries instead of BC ferries. Taking a 28-foot motorhome on a BC ferry sets you back $150 each way. Meanwhile, we paid $100 Cdn to go via Port Angeles on the way down, and benefited from an "RV sale" on the Anacortes ferry on the way back that kept the fee below $100 again. What's up with that??

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