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Yosemite, A Break From The Coast

After hugging the coast and exploring the lovely costal towns, we took a more rugged turn and ventured west to Yosemite.  We had considered skipping this stop because it was a little out of our way, but it proved to be definitely worth the drive. Entering into the famous valley we were wowed by the majestic views. I particularly loved seeing the 2,425ft Yosemite Falls. IMG_3915The water seems to pour from the clouds right over the rock face.

When we arrived, we were both nursing colds so we didn’t feel up to doing much hiking.  Instead, we did some small hikes to the sequoias and waterfalls and went on some beautiful drives through the park. Glacier point was a long windy drive up to the best lookout over the valley. We hit a few feet of snow at points which made us remember our cold start in January.

_DSC3109On one of our drives we passed a unique red flower on the size of the road. It turned out to be one of the coolest flowers I have ever seen. The plant is a parasite that doesn’t need light so it comes up in shady areas where other flowers would never have a chance. It feeds of of fungi in the roots of trees for food. Absolutely unusual.

IMG_3910Because Yosemite is so popular and we hadn’t made reservations in advance, we stayed in a unique campground.  It wasn’t fancy – just some flat ground with trees divided into a grid with round concrete dividers.  Three groups then shared each square spot.  It wasn’t luxury, but it was a good way to pack a lot of people in and give them a place to sleep while exploring the valley.  It was cheap so we didn’t mind. We started out the night in our tent, but at 3am we were both awake and cold so we wimped out and spent the rest of the night in our comfy warm van with the heater on. In the morning, we found out that we had set up camp right next to a few Calvin graduates. Then when we were at the visitor center, we met another calvin graduate that Taylor had had a class with. Serendipity.

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Hetch Hetchy Resevour

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A cave just off of Hetch Hetchy lake

We had fun seeing the giant sequoias and fantastic cliffs and waterfalls, but we didn’t stay long before heading west again.  On our drive out of the park we saw that the national forest outside of Yosemite was closed because it had recently been burned.  We learned later that it is perfect morel mushroom territory.  Apparently there’s an estimated $23 million in mushrooms that can’t be harvested because the park is closed for safety reasons after the fire. It’s a good thing we didn’t learn this until after left, otherwise we would have been tempted to sneak in and do some gathering!

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Monteray

carmel2After Big Sur, we continued moving up the coast.  We found ourselves in beautiful Carmel by the Sea.  This was an adorable little town that reminded us of a mini Breckenridge minus the skiing. We found a lovely parking spot and went out for desert. We sat tightly at a table next to a few characters. One older couple kept making snarky remarks at the waitress and the father son combo on the other side seemed to be making a mafia deal. They both talked with us and added some spice to our sorry social life.

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A great parking spot next to a multi-use path

Next we went over to Monterey. This town was bigger and more touristy, but it had great marine life. We found an outstanding parking spot right on the coast that even had free wifi. Lots of people stopped to see what the van was all about. One couple even invited us over to take showers, fill up the water tank, and park for the night. We biked along the path we were parked and saw harbor seal pups lounging on the shore, and a sea otter swimming in the waves.

We had been out of L.A. for a while and needed to do laundry so we found a great spot that offered wifi and free organic coffee and tea. The owner was very chatty and loved telling us all about her life.

These cities will certainly be on our list of places to vacation again.

The Aquarium

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Big Sur

Every state has scenic drives, but highway 1 along California’s coast blows them all out of the water.  The drive north from L.A. has been the most beautiful portion of our trip by far.  We stopped at many fun towns, saw more waterfalls than we could count, and soaked up the breathtaking views.

Our first stop was Big Sur.  On the way we came across Elephant Seal Beach and giggled at their funny appearance and at the hilarious sounds they were making at one another.  We also saw two grey whales, a mamma and her baby, making their way up the coast just off shore.  Seeing marine wildlife is such a treat for me.

We arrived in the Big Sur area as the sun was setting and were blessed with spectacular views of steep green hillsides on one side and the expansive ocean on the other.  As it got darker and darker the winding road perched above the waves was pretty frightening, but we found our campsite just before the sun’s final rays dipped below the horizon. I was glad Taylor was driving instead of me!

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We found our beautiful free campsite just as the sun went down.

The next day we saw more of what Big Sur had to offer.  We saw the famous waterfall dripping over the cliffs into the sea and we saw purple sand on the beaches, but our favorite experience was the crazy hike we did.  I had read about a canyon trail following a stream.  When we arrived at the trailhead there was no evidence of a trail, but we did find a stream so we forged our own path along the creek’s cascades.  The trek was intense.

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We loved the creeks, waterfalls, and soaring trees on our canyon adventure hike.

We climbed past waterfalls and over boulders.  We used roots has handholds and logs as bridges.  It would have been dangerous if one of us had slipped, but the sense of adventure was incredible.  The highlight was finding our own secret waterfall that seemed to be a dead-end, but then finding a rope someone had left enabling us to climb around it and keep going.  Finally, just when my legs were starting to ache and get clumsy, we found the actual path which led us to a great vista overlooking the Big Sur area.  We were sore later, but we felt like we truly immersed ourselves in the area.

Taylor put together a great video of our time in the area. Click here to watch it in HD.

Under the back seat.

Van Utilities

We had a great response from our van packing post. So much so that I thought I would do a second post about utilities on the road. We selected a van because you can have all the same things in an RV but crammed into the original shell of a van making the vehicle more attractive, efficient, and stealthy. So what all is in the van and how does it work when you live in it all the time?

Electricity

260w solar panel on top

260w solar panel on top

Our van uses electricity instead of propane for most things. The refrigerator, cooktop, and instant hot water are all electric. While we drive an extra large alternator keeps the battery bank charged. When we are parked a solar panel kicks in. It works so well that we never have to plug in to a power source. We have left the van parked for over a week with the refrigerator running the whole time. The batteries were still topped off full when we returned. Eight large batteries help make this possible. This also allows us to run high draw appliances without the need for a generator. It’s untraditional but convenient.

Electrical Diagram

Diesel

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This is the heater unit, it hangs under the back of the van.

Where electricity is not as efficient, diesel is used in its place. The heater is a dual purpose furnace that uses diesel from the fuel tank to heat both our air and water. For the typical eight hour night the heater uses around 0.36 gallons to keep us warm. It takes just under an hour for the unit to heat up 6 gallons to 158°F (40°C) for showers. It’s incredibly efficient if you ask me. They developed these units in Germany to help precent truck drivers from idling their engines to keep warm at night. A typical big rig would consume a few gallons an hour at idle to keep warm. Quite an solution!

Water

Water is probably the most difficult utility to find on the road. If we are showering every other day or so we can last about six days. It would be great if we could just use the radiator water spigot at gas stations but that is a little too risky for us. So we settle for a slightly less sketchy method: look for hoses. It turns out that lots of places have hoses out front ready to slip into the fill spout. Churches, small businesses, and hotels often have hose hookups in plain sight. They are usually very willing to share some water. We use a carbon filter to keep buildup in the tank to a minimum and a potable water hose to keep the hose taste away.

Potable water at a truck stop

Potable water at a truck stop, our first fresh water fill (too cold up north)

Waste

The only recycling spot we found in Florida

The only recycling spot we found in Florida

We still produce waste. Trash is the easiest thing to manage. Every grocery store has a bin out front and we don’t create too much of it. Recyclables are another story. In florida and across the south it was very difficult to find recycling bins anywhere. California has been easier but still a challenge. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are usually a good bet.

Our grey and black water come out through this green hose

Grey and black water come out here

Liquid waste is a mixed bag. We have two liquid waste tanks; a black and a grey. The grey is easy to manage since it is just shower and sink water. We leave the valve open and the water very slowly drips out on the road. The black tank, toilet waste, is more difficult to dispose of properly. We only fill it up every two weeks or so depending on how many coffee shops we made use of. Some residential houses have “clean out” openings in the front yard. It has not proven to be very reliable or fun to ask “Can we dump our toilet waste in your front yard?”. Else there are gas stations, truck stops, and campgrounds. Prices vary greatly from free to $25 a dump. I use an online database to help find affordable ones in a pinch.