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Under the starry sky of Utah

Written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 25 °C
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After another very cold night in which it was very useful to have the heating system in our camper van, we left Mesa Verde the next morning while it was raining.
By the time we arrived in the Colorado Welcome Center in Cortez to stock up on maps and information, the rain had subsided. Still, we continued to have nice vistas of rain showers in the distance.
On our way towards Utah, we stopped at Dove Creek to get gas and used the opportunity to shop in the local supermarket and have lunch at the deli. The food was good, inexpensive and the place was full of locals, which was a sight in itself.
Once again we stopped at the first welcome center we saw in Utah and were now all set to go to the Natural Bridges National Monument. The scenery on the way there was already great and made us stop several times to take pictures.

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So eventually we arrived a bit later than originally anticipated and got to learn at the park headquarters that the campground is already full. Upon their advice we turned back around two miles and used the dispersed camping up along the dirt road to ‘Deer Flat’. What a great spot alone in the landscape without anyone around us! And all for free…

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We were lucky to stay dry, but just a couple of miles north of our spot was quite a rainstorm going down. We were happily sitting on a ridge observing and counting the lightning strikes and the following thunders. And Sam even managed to catch two of them in pictures. As the clouds were eventually also above us, we did not see the starry sky of Natural Bridges, which was inaugurated about 10 years ago as the first Dark Sky Park worldwide for its lack of artificial light sources. But never mind: anyhow there would not have been a chance to see the milky way, as the moon is almost full these days.

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The next day was dedicated to the Natural Bridges. The first bridge was the largest one and is the second largest in the world (behind Rainbow Bridge at close by Lake Powell). It was clear that we did not want to limit ourselves to the viewpoint, but that we’ll attempt the 0.6 mile and 500 ft altitude hike to the bottom. And it was definitively worth it. Already on the way down it was a really nice hike along the steep overhanging walls of the canyon and a bit further down we were already presented by the vistas of the bridge. My personal favorite was standing underneath the bridge and looking up against the sky realizing how enormous it is. And in addition it was nice and cool down there. Whereas on the way down the flora was more desert like, down there we were surprised to see lush green, large trees and a very refreshing climate.

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The second bridge is the youngest of the three, therefore still very thick and less eroded. We limited ourselves to the viewpoint in this case.
But at the last bridge we wanted to head down again. Actually we realized that the course of the water had changed since the bridge formed and consequently it is not really a bridge anymore, but a freestanding arch without any water running underneath it. That had the big advantage that we were able to head further down to the current riverbed and had a spectacular view of the full formation.

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There were more spectacular vistas to come. Driving down towards Mexican Hat we took the turnoff to the dirt road leading to Muley’s Point in order to enjoy the vista from the 1100 ft drop-off over the goose-neck meanders of the San Juan River towards Monument Valley.

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A bit later we went down exactly that 1100 ft drop over a gravel road call Moki’s Dugway. It’s incredible how this road was built into the steep walls. From down below it is hard to see that there’s a road.

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Down in the valley we took the turn off into the Valley of the Gods – once again a recommendation of the German couple we had met in Santa Fe, a really good one! The Valley of the Gods is sometimes called the little sister of Monument Valley. But contrary to Monument Valley it is public land, it is possible to camp there. Most likely that camping location will earn a spot in the top 10 camping locations of this trip – maybe even in the top 3, let’s see. And once again: this marvelous campsite does not cost a cent!

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It was really hard to leave that marvelous spot the next morning. But we were rewarded by even more gorgeous sights.
After having been to the Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley seemed way too touristic and crowded. In addition, given to the strong winds, it was rather unpleasant, so we limited us to driving the Monument Valley Loop. The rock formations were surely spectacular, the road reminded us more of the back country roads of Namibia which were mostly better in shape than the roads in this major tourist destination… One could even assume that this is linked to the business that can be made by offering expensive rides in open pickup trucks for all tourists who cannot or do not want to attempt the loop in their own vehicle.

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Still, it was very clear to us that we definitively did not want to stay in the campground at Monument Valley. It would have been located exactly on that most windy ridge on a gravel lot where one RV was parked next to the other. And it would have cost 42$ per night without any hookups. Sorry, no way we’d be doing that…
So thanks to Dave’s hint to use freecampsites.net, we identified a good alternative option to camp for free at Navajo National Monument. After a drive of about an hour we arrived there and were happy to hear that there are still enough spots free in the campground. We decided to go to the sunset loop and picked a slot which featured a large sandy area for Max to use as his playground.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:56 Archived in USA Tagged bridges sky monument of utah valley gods national natural Comments (1)

Mountains and deserts at incredible temperatures

Written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 48 °C
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Once we had left Yosemite, it was fascinating to see how quickly the landscape changed.

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The road dropped quickly towards Lee Vinings at Mono Lake. It was tempting to stay at one of the National Forest campgrounds next to lakes with great vistas along the road – but they were all full and anyhow after three days without electrical hookup, we wanted to fill up our batteries. Consequently, we went down into Lee Vinings and arrived before 5pm such that our reserved campground was still available for us.
We did take a bit of time to explore Mono Lake and to read about how it rapidly decreased in size after the city of LA started diverting water from the streams.

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The next morning, we left towards south and passing signs towards ‘Devils Postpile National Monument’ we decided that we wanted to have a look. We had not realized that we were not able to go all the way there, but had to use a shuttle bus. But as we had already gone up quite a bit into the mountains of Mammoth Lakes, we figured that we might as well do that.

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And it was quite a sight to see the basalt columns of Devil’s Postpile. It seems that there are only very few places in the world where this geological phenomenon can be observed so nicely.

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After the sightseeing, we treated ourselves to Bavarian food. Kind of: Sam’s Yodler Burger was not too different vs. any other burger he had so far and I would have classified my Bavarian Chilli as just a regular chilli. After all, at least I am not aware of any typical food that is anything like a chilli in Bavaria.
Heading down towards Bishop and Big Pine we suddenly saw a sign advertising hot springs. We did not want to spend the money to stay at the RV park there, but realized that a bit further down there were a couple of other cars parked and there were people in swimsuits. So we tried our luck and enjoyed soaking in the hot water before heading on to our place for the night.

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The next day it was then time to get into Death Valley. On the way there we passed some nice mountains and also the National Historical Site of Manzanar. We did not stop there though and rather headed on to our hot destination.

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And yes, it was extremely hot. Neither one of us has ever been in such a heat before – well apart from in a sauna. The thermometer at Furnace Creek read 119 °F (48.3 °C) at 218ft below sea level.

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So Death Valley really counts as desert. We do love deserts, but fairly enough, Death Valley in the height of summer was after all just too hot for us. Due to the temperatures not even jumping dunes was an option. It seems that the only thing searching out such hot temperatures were fighter jet pilots (we saw an F18 passing just a bit in front of our car and it was really low!), test car drivers (Erlkönige) and tourists from far away. We clearly belonged to the last category and limited ourselves to viewing the sites from the car and just getting out for very quick stops such as the lowest point of the USA called Badwater or Artist's Palette and eventually retreating to our campground.

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We were easily able to resist the urge to play golf on the world’s lowest golf course. But the pool was very tempting and it was such a big relief to get out of the heat into the pool. Still, it was fascinating to see how the biggest pool we’ve seen so far on our travels was located in the middle of one of the hottest deserts of the world.

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At the pool we also met Jerry and got to talk a bit. Jerry is from Florida and came to Death Valley to support his friend Jodie to run the ‘Badwater135’ ultra marathon. We had seen a couple of cars with signs ‘Careful – runners on the road’, but had not realized what this was about. So for those who don’t know (i.e. just like us): the Badwater135 is a race over 135 miles (or 217 km) from the lowest to the trail head to the highest point Mt Whitney in the continuous 48 US states. It takes place on purpose in the extreme summer heat and all runners are supported by a crew of three people who join them running for the most parts of their run. So while Jerry was ‘just’ a crew member, he would be running 40 miles in the next day. And he told us that just a couple of weeks ago he had been running a 100 mile ultra marathon in Florida…

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We were thunderstruck. This was just way too crazy. And even though the Badwater135 site clearly says that the run is not intended to be viewed by spectators and that the recommended options to see it are competing, serving as crew or following on social media, we did watch the race. At 1pm we went out to the road and observed how the runners were passing after their first 17 miles by the checkpoint at the place we stayed overnight. Wow!

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We did sleep a bit overnight. But quite frankly, we did not sleep really well. It was just way too hot despite having the aircon running in the camper van. So we were happy to go to the pool again first thing in the morning before eventually leaving Death Valley via Zabriskie Point towards Las Vegas.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 14:29 Archived in USA Tagged desert springs death valley pool hot point marathon basin heat deepest mono temperatures Comments (1)

Utah’s spectacular (& crowded) national parks

Quail Creek State Park, Zion NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Torrey

semi-overcast 32 °C
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Quite frankly, even at the risk of being very unfair to the state of Nevada, there’s nothing else we did there beyond visiting Las Vegas. And interestingly enough, the nice and interesting landscapes started just after we passed the borderline to Arizona (just for a couple of miles) and then shortly after to Utah.
We had a base plan in regards to where to stay overnight. Freecampsites.net features a nice place just before the entrance to Zion National Park and that’s where we wanted to go. After all, it was Saturday in the middle of vacation season and consequently all reservation campgrounds in the National Park were full and the recommendation for getting a first come – first serve campground was to be there between 5 and 6am: so clearly not an option for us.
As usual, we took opportunities as they came along and wanted to try our luck at a KOA campground close to St. George. On the way there, we passed a Quail Creek State Park and realized that it was beautifully located next to a lake and had nice shaded tables at all campsites. So we tried our luck and could hardly believe it that a) there were still spaces available and b) the single electrical hook up site was still available as well. Great – this way we’d be able to have our air-con running in the can tonight such that temperatures will be bearable.

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After a dip in the lake, Sam impressed me with some great car fixing. He installed the pieces for the doors we had ordered to the KOA in Las Vegas using his small, but flexible tool kit. And now our side door works again – hooray!

The next day, we were quite positively surprised that we still got a campsite at Zion National Park’s South campground. Lucky us… So we immediately reserved for two nights, set up camp and then headed off to explore the Visitor Center and the Pa’rus Trail. Given the heat we eventually took a right turn down to the Virgin River where we spent the rest of the day hanging out in and around the water.
In the evening we invited Ralf, a German motorbiker who moved to the US already years ago after winning a green-card in the lottery. It proved to be an excellent decision to invite him to join us on our site – he has travelled pretty much all of the western states of the US and Canada and was happy to share lots of tips and recommendations with us. So with his help, we were able to get a feeling what to see and visit specifically on our way from Moab to Yellowstone and then onwards from there to Seattle / Vancouver.
The next day was dedicated to exploring the Zion valley. The views of the sheer rock faces to both sides of the valley were really impressive. But less impressive were the masses of people being shuttled by bus from one viewpoint to the next. We chose the Riverside Walk that is leading to the Narrows – a walk that I had hiked already some 23 years ago. And either my memory was playing tricks on me or something about it was different this time. But while I clearly recall other people taking the hike and then continuing onwards through the river (which back then impressed me very, very much), this time it felt that we were walking the streets of a busy city – that’s how crowded it was. Unfortunately not much fun. And even though we might have found a bit more solitude on some other walks, by the time we got back to the shuttle bus, we rather wanted to just get out of the masses and back to our nice campground and eventually to a spot in the river to cool off.

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On our way out of the park in the next morning we got to see some nice vistas of the valley from above. And while very different from the valley floor, we really liked the landscape up there very much. We would have loved to go for the Valley Overview Trail, but due to lack of parking spots and enormous traffic in that location, there was simply no chance at all to do it.

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Thus we continued our journey through some absolutely nice landscapes towards Bryce Canyon. On our way we could not resist the temptation to stop at a German Bakery to get a loaf of ‘real’ German bread – the price was outrageous by German standards, but the taste was absolutely worth it.
Eventually we passed Red Canyon which featured stunning colors even in the midday sun. Soon after we reached Bryce Canyon and once again were lucky to still get a campground in early afternoon. But as soon as the spot was secured, it was time to explore the sights of the national park.

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Unfortunately, some clouds had formed, bringing not only a bit of rain, but also thunderstorms.
Before heading to the main and most popular viewpoints, we took the scenic route to the southern end of the park at Rainbow Point. All of us were freezing and were simply not used to not seeing the sun and getting wet – after all had seen our last 30 min episode of trickly rain in La Paz, Mexico and the last real rain back at Mesa Verde in mid-May.

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By the time we worked our way up again towards Inspiration Point, on the of the main viewpoints in the park, the sun was out again and we got to the probably the best view the park has to offer in perfect light and at pleasant temperatures again.

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Given that our campground was very close to Inspiration Point, we took another hike there later towards sunset and were there just in time for perfect light.

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The other big asset of Bryce Canyon next to its spectacular ‘hoodoos’ – that’s how the columns in the park are called – is the clear and dark nightly sky. Sam took a shot at trying to get some shots of the milky way to match the ones he had taken back in Mexico. He was very pleased with the results and to his big pride even managed to catch a shooting star in one of the pictures.

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The next morning was dedicated to driving along the Scenic Byway 12. And yes, it was very scenic giving lots of reasons to stop and take pictures. We specifically liked the views of the Staircase Escalante – a very remote wilderness.
We had planned to go all the way to Capitol Reef National Park and therefore did not take any of the many detours the Scenic Byway had on offer. And given all the switchbacks and curves along the way we did not nearly progress as fast as we had anticipated. So eventually after a stop in Bicknell to get a car part exchanged and our parking brake adjusted on the van, we resorted to stay in Torrey for the night. After a couple of days in national park campgrounds it was time again for a proper shower and we looked forward to having some wifi (which was in vain, as it did not really work). Still, the facilities with pool, basketball court and a large area for kids to play ballgames was worth the investment.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:49 Archived in USA Tagged rain lake valley wilderness crowd zion thunder bryce escalante viewpoint Comments (1)

Welcome to Canada

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

rain 18 °C
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Heading north from Whidbey Island it did not take too long to reach the Canadian border. The signs along the interstate had advised us already that the wait would be less than 5 minutes. That sounded much better vs. the more than one hour we had spent at our last border crossing from Mexico into the USA.
And it was so easy: The Canadian immigration officer had lots of sympathy for our travel plans and admitted that she had taken off a year for travelling herself already. So we were admitted without any further questioning.
A bit further the ladies at the visitor information center advised us to rather stay closer to the border vs. going all the way Vancouver as we might be stuck in traffic otherwise. So that’s what we did and soon were pleasantly surprised by the nice landscaping and gardening at Peace Arch RV Park. And despite the fact that lots of people had warned us about the high prices in Canada, it was much cheaper than expected and what we were used to.
The only downside was the weather: in the night it started raining heavily and after a bit of thinking what to do, we decided to just take it easy and to stay for another night.
Max was delighted to play LEGO, Sam used the opportunity to repair also the back door of our van which involved the de- and reinstallation of the air-conditioning unit and I finally managed to publish three long overdue blog posts. As a reward for a relaxing and still productive day, we had food delivered and enjoyed Greek food which we had not had since we had left Germany.

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Luckily enough, the next day the weather was much better. Lots of clouds, but at least no rain. So we headed into Vancouver, were a bit surprised about the heavy traffic even at midday and soon enough found ourselves at one of the many bicycle rental places.
Sam suggested renting a tandem and even though I was a bit reserved about not being able to steer nor brake in the back seat, I agreed. Admittedly, it did take a bit of getting used to in the beginning. But eventually I was able to relax and we had lots of fun doing the 10km stretch along the seawall surrounding Stanley Park.
Visiting the park on a bike was an excellent choice. We were able to stop multiple times, enjoyed nice vistas and got some exercise in the fresh air. Great!

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Leaving Vancouver during rush hour was quicker than expected and we easily reached the Eagle Wind RV Park, where I had made a reservation for the night. We had spotted the RV park in one of the camping brochures we had picked up at the information center. And while we could have also gone to multiple other places, this one had mentioned in the text that it was close to a drive-in theater. It seems there are only three such drive-ins remaining in British Columbia, so we keen to use this opportunity.
The Twilight Drive-In in Langley was just a couple of minutes away from camp and our plan worked perfectly: while we were enjoying ‘Pete’s Dragon’ and a bit later ‘The BFG’, Max was sleeping deeply in the back of the van. Still, Sam and I were quite amazed to see in the intermission between the two movies how many (young) kids were still up and had obviously watched the movie. We preferred Max sleeping in the back vs. us having to explain to him why things are happening and what each scene really means. Especially the BFG I could not have seen him watching at all. That would have been a guarantee for lots of bad dreams. Still, it was an excellent idea of Sam’s to go to the movies.
As we had gotten home to our RV park long after midnight, we did take it easy the next morning before heading east. We wanted to stop at the Chilliwack Walmart in an attempt to stock up on groceries again. Unfortunately, we were turned away due to a bomb threat. And quite frankly, with lots of police around and the employees all standing in the parking lot, it felt better to leave and shop at Safeway instead.
As we headed on towards the mountains, it started raining more and more heavily. In retrospect we could have saved ourselves the scenic but longer drive through Manning Provincial Park and taken the larger highway instead. After all, there was no real view to enjoy anyhow and it certainly would not have made any sense to make the detour to the Cascades viewpoint in the downpour we were in.
Admittedly, after passing Manning Park, we did have a stretch of road without rain and did get to see the enormous Copper Mountain. But soon enough we got into the next rain shower that lasted until our next campground at the South Shore of Penticton and long into the night.
Luckily enough, most of the clouds were gone by the next morning and we got to see a bit of our surroundings driving up along the lakes of the Okanagan Valley. The area is said to resemble a bit the Garda Lake region in Italy. And with the hilly surroundings, the vineries and orchards around we really liked it there.
Max liked it as well: he could have spent hours in the Kelowna skate park. At the same time, we enjoyed watching him and hoped that he’d wear himself out enough such that he’d be fine with us going for wine tasting – which is clearly not the most fun activity for kids. What should I say: specifically, as now the sun was out as well, so far all of us were quite happy to be in Canada.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:55 Archived in Canada Tagged rain valley bike movie lego seawall tandem drivein Comments (0)

Volcanoes, thermal springs and geothermal energy

Tongariro National Park, Taupo

sunny 26 °C
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Once again, we found ourselves back to typical NZ roads: it was very windy towards Tongariro National Park and seemed to take ages to finally reach the town of National Park. According to our guidebook, it was the fourth National Park worldwide, but a quick internet search revealed, that there must have been at least more before that (and hey, no one in Yellowstone talked about being the second oldest national park with one in Mongolia of all places being almost 90 years older). It definitively is one of the few mixed cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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We had intended to stay in the national park at the DoC campsite. As it was more than full, we backtracked to National Park and found a nice uncrowded spot next to a backpackers lodge. Contrary to the DoC campground, we’d be able to enjoy the luxury of flush toilets, warm showers, a fully equipped kitchen and cozy lounge area – a much better value for money.
Sitting in the lounge editing pictures, Sam felt the earth shake twice. And indeed, there were three tremors that evening out of which Sam had felt two. None of them had a big magnitude, but just enough to feel them.
Contrary to most other people staying in our campground, we did not plan to hike the Tongariro Crossing which is often dubbed the best day walk in NZ. So we did not have to get up to catch the 6am or 7am shuttle, but were able to sleep longer in the next morning.
We took it easy and realized that we took a good choice. After all, the foggy clouds only vanished between 9 and 10 am. And that’s when we headed off towards Whakapapa Village. We took the short Nature Walk along a creek and then headed into the info center of the National Park. The displays were very informative, specifically in regards to the volcanic activity in the area, but also in respect to the local Maori culture.

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We could not resist to drive up all the way to the Mt. Ruapehu ski area. Along the way, we had excellent views of the conical and perfectly symmetrical Mt. Ngauruhoe (which is also known as Mt. Doom of the Lord of the Rings) and Mt. Tongariro.

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As we passed the northern slopes of Mt. Tongariro one of its many side vents smoked and fumed. We could not resist to play mind games on ‘what if it erupted just now’. I’m not quite sure if I would have really wished to see a live eruption. Anyhow, after some minutes of observing, we concluded that Mt. Tongariro was just going about its normal business and that there was not more coming and headed on.

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We stopped for lunch in Taurangi which features a small skate park in its center - just like most NZ small towns. From there we enjoyed a pleasant drive along the shores of Lake Taupo. At a viewpoint overlooking the lake, we were more impressed by the group of skydivers being dropped close to us. And indeed, Taupo claims to be the world capital of skydiving with over 30,000 jumps per year.
It was perfect weather and pleasantly warm. Consequently, the beach was very crowded. And also Reid’s Farm, our campground for the night, was similarly crowded. We were there early enough to still find a spot next to the Waikato river. Sam and Max could not resist to take a dip in the clear water and Sam even swam against the current which exactly matched his swimming speed. What a great sunny day. So there is nice weather in NZ after all!

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While our spot along the river was indeed very scenic, it did put a damper on our enthusiasm that every half an hour one of the drinking backpackers decided to relieve himself in the river. Seeing this and how many of the other campers behaved, we do understand why many freedom camping sites in NZ get closed. It’s sad to see that many people do not honor the luxury of being able to camp for free and fail to return the favor by following even the simplest rules.
We got up early enough to see the early morning fog raising above the river. As soon as the fog had vanished and the sun was coming through, we were on our way to Huka Falls – the impressive and probably most visited natural highlight of a trip to NZ. We were not surprised that there were busloads of tourists around. At least, the viewpoints were designed in such a way that it was possible to admire the falls without having anyone else blocking the view.

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Our next stop was a Waikirei Terraces, which is a nice little spa using the hot thermal water discharged by a close by spring. We took the walk around and were reminded so much of what we had seen in Yellowstone a couple of months earlier. But the Maori carvings helped to remind us that we were on a different continent after all.

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From there we headed further into the valley to the Waikirei boreholes viewing platform. In total, there are over 160 boreholes to source the geothermal power plant a bit further down by the Waikato river. It was impressive to see how many pipes led down the valley with all kinds of appliances helping to control pressure and flow of the hot water.

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Having seen the sheer extent of how geothermal energy is being used and knowing that there are seven more of these geothermal power plants in the surroundings, it is not surprising that as a result places like the Waikirei Thermal Valley are seeing the effects. We liked the walk anyhow and all over the place it was steaming and boiling. And with the laser thermometer we had been given at the entrance, we were able to check temperatures ourselves. That was fun for Sam and Max alike. And I had fun watching the two of them. Still, it seems that the valley has lost much of its appeal since reduced water levels changed the dynamics and none of the previously 15 geysers is active anymore.

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The other attraction of the place were the animals. We got to feed the chicken, fowls and peacocks until eventually Max was overwhelmed by how vigorously they requested more food. The sheep, goats, rabbits and lamas were much more laid back, but happy to be fed none the less.

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Otmar had recommended to us that we visit the Taupo bike park. And indeed, Max enjoyed again having a dirt track to ride on and try his skills at doing bunny hops. While he rode and I watched, Sam took a quick dip in the hot waters springs down where it meets the cooler waters of the Waikato River.
Once we left, all three of us were ready for some exciting days to come. We hoped that the next two days would justify the couple of hundred kilometers detour we were planning to drive.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 16:36 Archived in New Zealand Tagged volcano valley waterfall spring geyser thermal tremor Comments (0)

Trekking in the Himalayas

Phedi, Dhampus, Landruk, Ghandruk, Naya Pul

semi-overcast 23 °C
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Max’s birthday marked our first day of trekking. After singing him ‘Happy birthday’, he got to open his present and wear his birthday crown with a big ‘5’ on it for breakfast.
And then it was time to head into the mountains. We were excited. As we left Pokhara, we got to see the outlines of some snowy mountains. They were a bit hard to distinguish from the clouds, but here they were, the peaks of the Himalaya that we had been waiting to see for so long! Not sure if we’d ever see more than that, we took some pictures from the moving van.

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As we reached Phedi, it was time to shoulder our daypacks and to head up the mountain towards the town of Dhampus. We were a group of six: In addition to our guide Prakash, Hom and Bir joined us as porters.
It was 9:20 am when we headed off. We were off for a tough start: the trail consisted of steps that led us up along the steep hillside. And the blazing sun did not help to cool us down. I was relieved when after half an hour we reached a first settlement and got to see down into the valley where we came from. We had already covered quite some distance and altitude.

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Next was an easy bit: we got to hike through some terraced rice plantations dotted with small little houses. People were working in and around their houses or in the fields with their buffaloes. Compared to the start, it felt like we were able to stroll through level terrain – even though we consistently headed upwards.

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The steep steps started soon enough again and before we knew it, we had climbed the 600 m of altitude to reach Dhampus (1770m) where we’d be spending the night. From the saddle, we had to still head along the hillside to the other end of the settlement, where our Eco-Lodge was located.

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Max had walked everything on his own – supported by Sam who kept telling him stories and kept him motivated. At 11:40am, we made it – way quicker than what we had assumed given that we had been planning on three hours walking time.
We sat in the sun, enjoyed the view down into the valley below us, used the wifi to receive some birthday messages for Max and eventually had lunch.
We only realized when a heavy thunderstorm started how lucky we had been that we arrived so early at our lodge. The clouds were thick, there was constant lightening and thunder all around us and lots of rain. On the corrugated sheet roof, the rain was really loud. I mean really loud. The rain also marked the end of the internet connection and unfortunately also the end of the warm water supply. Prakash had been smart enough to shower right away while there was still enough solar water available. We learned a lesson and promised to ourselves not to make the mistake of waiting too long anymore.

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At dinner time, there was a big surprise: Max got a birthday cake decorated with a 5, ‘happy birthday Max’ and two sparklers. He was thrilled and we were happy that he seemingly enjoyed his birthday. And best of all: contrary to many cakes we’ve eaten abroad, this one tasted excellent!
We had an excellent night’s sleep. The rain had cleared the air, there were no dogs around and the exercise probably helped as well. As I had gone to bed quite early, all of the above helped that I woke up before sunrise and could not resist to wake also Sam to be part of the spectacle.
It was a fabulous sunrise! With the air crisp and clear, we were treated to a panorama that is hard to be matched: with Machapuchare (also called Fishtail Mountain) dominating the scene, flanked at both sides by various peaks of the Annapurna Range. At 6,993m it has never been climbed, as it is considered sacred by the local population.

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As the sun came up, the hues of red and pink emphasized peak by peak as the sun came up high enough to illuminate them. While there was no wind where we were, it obviously blew mightily further above and created snow banners which were really nice to look at.

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We had a typical breakfast in Gurung style – the Gurung being the major ethnic group in the region. And then it was time to head out into this marvellous landscape around us. What a pity that yesterday we had not even realized how beautiful it was.
The path was very nicely laid out. We hiked through a small settlement and once more we heard a welcoming ‘Namaste!’ from all sides.

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As we headed in the shade towards a small stream, I was startled by one of our porters: I had a leech wandering on my left hiking shoe. He quickly helped me to get rid of it before it could start sucking my blood and I was very alert from there on. In the next couple of minutes, I got rid of another three little fellows who found their way onto my shoe. Luckily enough, the spell was over then and we did not see a single leech for the remainder of our trip.
But there was also bad news: seemingly we had managed to wander off the path that we were supposed to take. Prakash decided to head on and after inquiring with some local farmers we started heading straight up the hill. I was devastated. For one thing, I would clearly prefer a slight incline vs. a straight line up the hill. And the other thing I need to have is a regular pace – which does not work when your guide and porters don’t know the way themselves and have to ask around here and there.
After what felt like 200m of altitude on narrow paths up the hill, we finally reached the official trail again, which was wide, laid out with stones and was ascending only slightly. What a relief. Five minutes later, we reached the settlement of Pothana, where an official checked our trekking permits.
The view from there was stunning and with it my mood was right back where it should be. All along the next stretch we got to see alternating views of Machapuchare, Hiuchuli (7441m) and Annapurna South (7219m).

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After some nice up and down we reached the highest point of our trekking round at the little village of Deurali (2150m).

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As the view suddenly expanded to the West, we got to see one of the top 10 mountains in the world: Dhaulagiri at 8167m is the seventh highest mountain. So far in the distance, it did not seem nearly as tall and without knowing, I would have never guessed that I’m looking up at a peak that is more than 6000m of altitude above us.

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We also got to look back towards Dhampus where we had stayed last night and Pokhara with Phewa Lake in the background. Just that morning with the sunrise above Dhampus and this view from Deurali was worth all the effort of coming to Nepal and hiking all the way up here.
From there on we headed down a steep descent towards Tolka where we had a great and relaxing lunch. By then we had walked already more than 7km and had 4km more ahead of us. But at least most of the 670m ascent and 790m descent we had done already and the rest was an undulating path along the steep hillside.

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By the time we reach the Tibet Guesthouse in Landruk (1640m) in the early afternoon Max was really tired, but he continued to refuse being carried by one of our porters. We were proud and celebrated our great day and achievement with a warm shower and a beer. And then it was time to play Uno – an easy card game that we also introduced our porters to.

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The guest house was beautifully located with a view straight up towards Annapurna South – well in theory that is. Soon after we left our great outlook in Deurali, clouds had started forming around the highest peaks and by the time we reached Landruk, we could only guess that there were high peaks surrounding us. The downside to the guest house was that it was not really clean. It seems that the floors had been swept, but fresh linen seemed to be an overrated luxury. I was delighted to be able to sleep in my cozy sleeping bag and just tried to avoid touching anything. Still, the beauty of the location and the nice outside areas of the guest house with its many butterflies were just superb. And it is absolutely surprising what delicious meals can be prepared on a simple wood fire!

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By the next morning, the clouds had vanished again and we got to see Annapurna South in its full beauty. On the other side of the valley, Ghandruk – our destination for today - was already lit by the first rays of sunshine. If it would not have been for the steep descent into the valley before being able to start the climb into Ghandruk, the walk would have been almost too easy.

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This morning we took it easy and had a leisurely breakfast. We left at 8:40 am, hiking through Landruk and down the steep steps towards the river. Only 40 minutes later we reached the lowest part of today’s journey, the river Modi Khola (1320m) and had 730m of ascent laying ahead of us.

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Making our way slowly upward, we were passed by many porters loaded with the bags of trekkers or with all kinds of wares. At that stage, we realized that there was no need to feel bad about the loads our own porters were carrying. With one of them carrying our 20kg backpack and the other one a bag in addition to their own packs, they must have felt like in heaven compared with their usual job. And given that Max had up to now blatantly refused being carried, we could have done the trek with a single porter up to now. Still, it was great to know that they were there.

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Two hours later we had made it all the way up. We passed a donkey / mule caravan that had brought supplies either to Ghandruk or potentially as far back as the Annapurna Base Camp. The animals seemed delighted to head down without any loads and their bells were jingling cheerfully.

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Once we reached the Annapurna Guest House, we had the whole rest of the day for ourselves. Sam used the opportunity to recover some sleep, while Max and I played extensive rounds of Uno with Prakash, Hom and Bir.

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Time has passed so quickly and we had a hard time to believe that this evening was already the last one of our trekking tour. We celebrated extensively and not only played Uno, but even introduced our team to Farkle. Like all other good acquaintances (well, except those where we forgot about it) we met on our journey, they got to write into our traveling guest book which proved to be a bit of a challenge but was successfully completed with the help of Prakash.
That night we were kept awake for long: the six dogs we had seen already all afternoon around the guest house did not believe in the advantages of night time sleep and made an effort to enforce that believe also with the hikers.
The hike down from Ghandruk was beautiful, but crowded. Contrary to the last couple of days, today we found ourselves in the middle of big groups of people. The stretch from Ghandruk to Naya Pul is not only the final stretch for the round we had done, but is also done by all people who either target the ABC (Annapurna Base Camp), the Poon Hill Trek or who are doing the Annapurna Circuit – one of the most popular treks in Nepal.
It was a long and nice hike down the hill to the settlement of Birethanti. We saw another couple of caravans, passed though many small settlements, mostly on stone-paved steps.

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After more than 10 km, Max finally gave in and allowed our porter Bir to carry him for the last remaining kilometer. Still, it had been a brave achievement that he had made it so far without using any help.

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We had lunch at the fishtail restaurant which probably boasts an excellent view of the mountain of the same name. But after our four days of experience in the mountains, we were not surprised that by noon time it was hiding in the clouds. We had a last lunch together with our porters Bir and Hom. After lunch, we had to walk only another 20 minutes until we reached Naya Pul, which marked the end of our hike.

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There our taxi waited for us. We were not pleased at all with our taxi driver. He drove like a maniac, was constantly distracted by his mobile phone despite the heavy traffic on a narrow road (which was deteriorated to the point that it seemed more like a one-way road than a two-way major highway). After five anxious minutes of observing what was going on, we asked our driver to stop talking on his phone while driving. Two minutes later we had to specify that that rule included writing text messages. He was less than amused when he realized he had to stop while talking on the phone. But that did not stop him from accepting more than ten calls and having to see how others were passing him in the meantime.
While we headed down in to the valley of Phedi, we got to see the full path we had taken on day one of our trek. It had been a really nice hike – probably one of the highlights of our journey.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:17 Archived in Nepal Tagged mountains rain view trekking river sunrise clouds valley hill hike birthday lightning Comments (0)

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