Willys Trek 2013, Jean & Dan’s 10,000 mile journey to 12 western National Parks

in their 1950 Willys Jeep Station Wagon

Blog Entry #1 August 4, 2013 – Introduction to our Park-to-Park Trek
Blog Entry #2 August 7, 2013 – Engine Preparations
Blog entry #3 August 8, 2013 – History of our Jeep
Blog entry #4 August 15, 2013 – On the road; Cary, NC to Johnson City, TN
Blog Entry #5 August 16-18, 2013 -Disaster turned Adventure
Blog Entry #6 August 19 to 23, 2013 – On the Road Again! Kentucky to Colorado
Blog Entry #7 August 24 to 27, 2013 – Start of Park-to-Park tour; Denver to Thermopolis
Blog entry #8 August 28 to 30, 2013 – Thermopolis to Yellowstone
Blog Entry #9 August 31, 2013 – Grand Tetons National Park
Blog Entry #10 September 1 & 2, 2013 – Grand Tetons National Park (continued)
Blog Entry #11 September 3-5 -Yellowstone National Park
Blog Entry #12 September 3-6, 2013 – Lodging in West Yellowstone, MT
Blog Entry #13 September 6-8, 2013 – Yellowstone to Glacier National Park
Blog Entry #14 September 6, 2013 – Going-to-the-Sun Road & meeting Laurie
Blog Entry #15 September 10, 11, 2013 – Libby, MT to Packwood (Mt. Rainer), WA
Blog Entry #16 September 12, 2013 – Entering Mt. Rainer National Park
Blog Entry #17 September 13 to 16, 2013 -Lacey, WA & Corvallis, Oregon
Blog Entry #18 September 17, 18, 2013 – Crater Lake National Park
Blog Entry #19 September 19, 2013 – Lava Beds National Monument, Glass Mountain
Blog Entry #20 September 20, 2013 – Lassen Volcanic National Park
Blog Entry #21 September 21 to 23, 2013 – Mono Lake & June Lake Loop
Blog Entry #22 September 24, 2013 – Conquering Tioga Pass on the way to Yosemite National Park
Blog Entry #23 September 24 to 25, 2013 – Yosemite National Park
Blog Entry #24 September 26, 2013 – Kings Canyon National Forest and Sequoia National Park
Blog Entry #25 September 27, 28, 2013 – Hoover Dam, Nevada
Blog Entry #26 September 29, 2013 – Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Blog Entry #27 September 30, 2013 – Zion National Park
Blog Entry #28 October 1, 2013 – Overheating Challenge & Jacob Lake
Blog Entry #29 October 2, 2013 – Grand Canyon National Park, Glen Canyon Dam & Horseshoe Bend
Blog Entry #30 October 3, 2013 – Monument Valley and Four Corners (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah)
Blog Entry #31 October 4, 2013 – Mesa Verde and Wolf Creek Pass
Blog Entry #32 October 5, 2013 – To Lube or Not to Lube – Salida and Canon City, Colorado
Blog Entry #33 October 6, 2013 – Finale of the Park-to-Park Tour loop in Denver
Blog Entry #34 October 7 to 9, 2013 – Bad day at Black Rock; Denver, Colorado
Blog Entry #35 October 10 to 16, 2013 – Denver, Colorado to Cary, North Carolina
Blog Entry #36 – Epilog with Acknowledgements and Statistics 11/27/13


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Jean and Dan return home to Cary, North Carolina after traveling 10,300 miles through 15 states to visit 12 western National Parks over 63 days in Jenny, 1950 Willys Overland Jeep Station Wagon

OK, so here we are back in Cary, North Carolina snug and warm in our modest abode the evening before Thanksgiving.  Five weeks since we completed our 10,000 mile adventure, we are still getting back to normal (our normal anyway).  I am pretty much back in the daily routine and not having dreams about climbing tall mountains in 2nd gear (to often, anyway).

It is fitting that we are coming up on Thanksgiving, as we are very grateful for having the opportunity to experience the great adventure of driving our old Jeep station wagon across the country, then tracing the path of the 1920 Park-to-Park Tour, and making our way back home again.

We are grateful for the kindness, encouragement, and invaluable assistance that so many people extended during the preparations for, and during the length of the Trek.

Truly, we would probably never have attempted the Trek and certainly we would never have accomplished it had not been for the support of both friends and especially previous strangers (now friends) that stood by us along the way.

The members of the Triangle Chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America, the members of the Old Willys Forum and Willys Tech chat groups, Mike & Michael who came to the rescue in eastern Kentucky, the Whiteleys who provided support and encouragement with the Tour route, Diane at the Hinckley Library, our daughter Jeanette and her family who added additional enjoyment to our time in Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks, Laurie and Jeff who met with us with their Jeeps along the way, the personnel at shops that provided maintenance and repair services including Scott who treated Jenny as his personal “baby” during the engine difficulties in Denver, friends and family who provided a bit of home during our travels, and all the many people along the way who provided guidance and shared their interest and experiences in old cars – we thank you all.

Above all, I am personally deeply appreciative of the companionship and unwavering support, confidence, and guidance that my wife Jean provided throughout the fun times and challenges of the journey.  Deducting the early my morning blogging sessions in hotel lobbies and other occasional separations, we spent something of the order of 1,200 hours in each other’s company over the length of the Trek; a fair amount of it in the confines of our station wagon’s cabin.  Not that we did not have our “disagreements” (we laugh about them now), but their always remained a sense of togetherness and concern for each other’s enjoyment of the trip.

Not wanting to misplace any of the memories of the Trek, we have spent a fair amount of time this past five weeks documenting our 63 day journey.  We started by logging 217 fuel stops, meals, and lodgings on a spread sheet.  Surprisingly for a guy who regularly forgets garbage day, in all but a very few instances, I was able to picture the location clearly in my mind as we recorded it.  The quirky filling station, the “creative” food offerings, the imaginative accommodations, and of course, the amazing sites that we visited – visions of virtually all the locations came back to me.  At times I found myself getting a little choked up at the awe of it all and thinking “we really did this”.

Incidentally, over the 44 individual locations where we stayed, the only item that we left behind was one pair of non-prescription sunglasses.  This is impressive if one considers that at virtually every stop we dragged to our lodging not only two suitcases of personal items, but also two computers, two internet hot-spots, a printer/copier/scanner, two iPhones, a total of seven associated chargers and cable sets, and an invaluable power strip.

For those who are interested in the numbers, here are the totals derived from our spread sheet:

              • Total Trek Distance……………………10,025 miles*
              • States Visited……………………………..15
              • Total Fuel…………………………………..526.8 gallons
              • Average Fuel Economy..…………….19.0 mpg*
              • Total Trek Duration…..………………..63 days
              • Number of Lodging Locations……44 individual sites
              • Park-to-Park Circuit Distance……..6,252 miles*

*Compensating for Jeep Odometer error of ~ 3% high

As far as the investment that we made in the Trek, all that we wish to say is that the experience was priceless and worth every penny.  (This from a guy who in his younger years would to turn the check book  (pre credit cards) over to his wife and excuse himself to the rest room or car when the restaurant or motel check came because to know the cost would put a serious damper on his vacation)

So, as Jean prepares fixin’s for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family, I wish you all well and thank you for being a part of our amazing Trek and our lives.

Regards,

Dan Fuccella

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Hooray!!  We did it with your help!


It is Sunday morning, October 20, 2013 and Jean and I have just had the opportunity to reunite with our fond friends at Church.  I mention this so as not to keep anyone hanging – yes, we did make it home to Cary, NC from Denver, CO in six and one half relatively smooth sailing days.

The Jeep repair shop had completed the head gasket and head reconditioning work in Denver Wednesday afternoon, October 9th, but we felt it would be best to use the balance of that day to wrap up some office work and get a fresh start for home Thursday morning.  This also gave me an opportunity to drive the Jeep locally to make sure no additional gremlins remained from our arduous trek to the 12 National Parks.  I was confident that the fellow who did the engine repair work had done all possible to assure us safe and reliable transportation home (he had even gone around the engine to check fuel, water, and vacuum fittings for leaks, and took it out for a long test drive after the repairs).  However, there could have been some issues that were unseen and/or unforeseeable resulting from the Jeep’s recent experiences.  Jenny ran as well as ever.

October 10, 2013: Denver, OC to Scott City, KS

We left Highlands Ranch, CO on the southeast side of Denver mid-morning of Thursday, October 10th.  We had selected Scott City in west central Kansas as our day’s stopping point primarily as it was on a different route from our trip out and would be as far as we felt we could travel before dark.  (It is a whole different world if one has car problems once the sun sets.)  It was not long after we started our southeastward journey from Denver that we began to encounter fierce winds from the south.  In a “normal” vehicle, this might be just a small annoyance; but to us this was a significant challenge.  The strong winds, which we had learned of on the Weather Channel before we left Denver, represented a significant challenge to our ability to maintain highway speed and direction.  Nonetheless, we wrestled with the situation southeast to Eads, CO where we began our 150 mile due east shot out of Colorado and across Kansas to Scott City.

Heading east with 30 to 40 mph winds coming out of the south meant a constant right-hand tug on the steering wheel to maintain a straight line course.  It was unseasonably warm, so we had to crack the door windows (our air conditioning) which resulted in a constant din of noise as the buffeting wind passed through the interior of the Jeep.  We were determined to make our evening’s destination and plodded on.  One entertaining feature was the presence of tumbleweeds crossing our path as we made our way down the road.  The bush “creatures”, measuring from 1 foot to 3 feet in diameter, were lifelike in their behavior.  A number of them would collect in the ever-present gully on the windward side of the road; and then, as if on cue, would collectively scamper across the road in defiance of on-coming traffic.  They played this game of chicken with us through the greater part of western Colorado, at times ending up directly in the path of oncoming vehicles, including ours where they would either bounce over the top or get collected by the offender.  One could imagine that the idea for the Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” came directly out of someone’s similar tumbleweed experience.  We got a chuckle during a mandatory fuel/potty stop in western Kansas to find tumbleweeds lodged in our grill, under the car and in the wrap-arounds of our rear bumpers.

10-10-13 Tumbleweeds crossing the road as we head out of Colorado

As a side light, I have always had a tendency to anthropomorphized inanimate objects.  When our children were young I often conversed with them through talking objects that ranged from athletic socks to eggbeaters.  (Don’t tell anyone, but along the same lines, I still take it as an intentional personal affront on the part of some tool or appliance that refuses to perform as I expected, or worse yet, makes itself difficult for me to find.)

Back to October 10th and the beginning of the trek home – another byproduct of the incessant southerly wind was the dust that it kicked up from the semi-arid plains that we were crossing in western Kansas.  At one point, perhaps owing to a lack of vegetation on an upwind plot of ground, we encountered a stream of dust crossing our path for a couple hundred yards that was so thick that we had to slow to a crawl with headlights on lest we run into some similarly blinded critter or vehicle stalled on the road ahead of us.  The dust was so fine that it did no damage to the exterior of our Jeep; however, a coating of it still remains to be removed from the Jeeps’ interior and engine compartment.

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Dust storm mid-day in eastern Kansas

We arrived in Scott City, Kansas just before sundown having survived on peanut M&Ms on the go for lunch in order to make up for the wind-caused delays.  We had been running east just ahead of what was predicted to be a severe thunderstorm at our backs.  We quickly got settled in our motel room and ran out for a fast-food meal in order to get back and honker down for the impending storm.  The motel proprietor was kind enough to let us park the Jeep under their front canopy for the evening as protection from potential hail accompanying the predicted storm.  Fortunately, the storm was far less severe than predicted and all was well the next morning.

October 11, 2013: Scott City, KS to Emporia, KS

As with the previous day, the selection of the evening stop for October 11th was primarily determined by the distance that we predicted we could reasonably cover that day.  The previous day’s battle with wind and dust had worn us down a bit, so we did not try to be too aggressive in our travel plans.  Kansas route 96 and its eastward extensions provided an essentially straight due east shot from Scott City to Emporia, KS with primarily cross-roads sized towns inter-dispersed along the route to interrupt our mind-blowing 55mph pace.

In Ness City, KS we spotted the impressive Ness County Bank building constructed in the late 1880s.  With its finely carved limestone exterior, it is purported to be the “most imposing structure in Kansas west of Topeka.  It is currently home to the Ness County Chamber of Commerce and the Prairie Mercantile.  Later we stopped for one of our traditional peanut butter and honey picnic luncheons in a municipal park in Great Bend, KS situated along our straight-line route to Emporia and night’s lodging.

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The Ness County Bank Building in Ness City, Kansas

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Picnic lunch in a city park in Great Bend, Kansas

 

October 12, 2013: Emporia, KS to Willow Springs, MO

Despite a very tempting and gracious invitation from my cousin Walter and his wife Judy to spend an evening at their home southwest of St Lewis in Washington, MO, we decided that it would be best to stay on our southern route across the of Missouri.  Besides, this route we selected took us through the Ozarks where Walter and Judy have a farmstead that they use for family get-togethers and weekend retreats.  We had never traveled through that part of the state.

So, on October 12th we headed south a bit from Emporia, KS and then east toward our next evening’s lodging in Willow Springs in the Ozark Plateau region of southeastern Missouri.  On the way we stopped for our picnic lunch in Nevada Missouri just east of the Kansas/Missouri border (if Jean was getting tired of peanut butter and honey sandwiches – she never let on).  Approaching Nevada, Missouri I noticed some erratic movement from the needle in the Jeep’s amperage gauge (battery charging system indicator).  A post-lunch inspection of the generator revealed a nearly separated ground wire at the generator terminal.  Not a big problem, as I had brought along an assortment of terminal connectors and a crimping tool.  We were soon on the road again with a well behaving generator system.

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Repairing a broken generator wire during a picnic lunch in Nevada, Kansas

At the end of the day we entered the Ozark region of rolling hills covered with a patchwork of small farms and woodlots packed with deciduous trees (very few pines).  It was a pleasant drive over well maintained country roads and pleasant scenery to our motel in Willow Springs, MO at which we arrived just before sunset.  After a nice meal at the western style restaurant next door we settled in to prepare for the next day’s journey.

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Entering the Ozark Region of southern Missouri

 

October 13, 2013: Willow Springs, MO to Aurora, KY

The biggest challenge for our travels on Sunday, October 13th was to find a place to attend Mass, having arrived in Willow Springs to late to attend their Saturday evening services.  It worked out quite well.  We knew that we wanted our final destination for the day to be KenLake Lodge on the western shore of Kentucky Lake, near Aurora, Kentucky.  We determined that Popular Bluff, MO, about 2 ¼ hours (for us) east of Willow Springs, MO had an 11am Mass scheduled for Sunday.  It meant getting on the road about a couple of hours earlier that our usual departure time; but not an impossible achievement.  So, we set a goal of getting started by 8:30 am on the 13th and were on the roll by 8:45am – quite decent.  We had not fueled up the prior evening, and hoped to stretch our remaining fuel to Poplar Grove.  We ended up stopping to fuel along the way when it did not look like we were going to make it comfortably on what we had remaining.

Although we have a 15 gallon fuel tank and get around 20 mpg on at 55mph, we seldom let the fuel level fall below a 5 gallon reserve.  Just have not established just how much of the fuel tank capacity is actually available to the engine.  Despite my best effort to calibrate the fuel gauge during rebuild, the needle remains above the full mark on the fuel gauge for the first half of a tank and then drops precipitously to the empty mark over the next 75 miles.  Just watching the needle’s rapid decent was enough to scare us into the next gas station, particularly when we did not know when we might find another one open on a Sunday morning.

We arrived at the church in sufficient time for me to study its internal construction – always important, as there have been predictions of catastrophic collapse whenever if and when I ever enter a church.  After Mass we had lunch at the city’s finest Mexican restaurant and then headed off once again toward our KenLake Lodge destination.

Although we tried to follow a different path on our return route than that which we had take west 7 weeks earlier, the two paths did coincide at the crossing of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.  There are not too many options for crossing these huge bodies of water; and besides these crossings near Cairo, Illinois, with their tall, narrow bridges are a thrill to travel – if one does not think about it too much.  Going east, one first passes from Missouri into Illinois by crossing over the Mississippi River and then within a few moments, passes from Illinois to Kentucky by crossing over the Ohio River – neat stuff.

10-13-13 Crossing the Mississippi River from Missouri to Illinois near Cairo, IL

10-13-13 Crossing the Ohio River from Illinois to Kentucky near Cairo, IL

 

Shortly after fueling up in Mayfield, KY we spotted and photographed a prime example of a Pink Elephant.  This has particular significance to Jean and me, having been past recipients of our antique car club’s pink elephant booby prize at our traditional annual Yankee Trader gift swap at which someone takes home a breadbox size pink elephant in lieu of a more attractive gift.  Now that would be something to send someone home with!

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Decent size pink elephant near Aurora, Kentucky

We reached KenLake Lodge near Aurora, Kentucky late in the afternoon of October 13th in time to celebrate my 71st birthday with peanut M&Ms and diet Dr. Pepper (go figure) on a bench overlooking the west branch of picturesque Kentucky Lake in the southwestern corner of Kentucky.  We had dinner later that evening at the Lodge and set plans for the next day’s travels.  Incidentally, unlike the National Parks, where lodging rates can be extremely high, the nightly rate at the KenLake’s state-run lodge is quite reasonable.

October 14, 2013: Aurora, KY to Harriman, TN

On Monday October 14th we set out for Harriman, Tennessee; once more selected for its strategic location at a travel distance that we could reach before nightfall.  At this point the destination was along the path that we wished to follow skirting Nashville, TN on the north side and setting us up to skirt Knoxville, TN on the south side the next day.  This route took us through settings varying from deeply rural hilly regions to highly trafficked commercial areas.  About midway in our day’s journey we spotted the station of an unfamiliar express-lube franchise.  I was hoping to give the chassis one last greasing for the trip home and decided to give these folks a shot.  As we drove into their lot we were immediately met by an enthusiastic young gentleman who patiently listened to my practiced plea for a well monitored (meaning with my guidance) grease job.  His response was an immediate “no problem” which his coworkers affirmed by inviting me down into their clean and orderly pit level to assist with the lube process.  Within 10 minutes we had completed task including the greasing of the shifter mechanism under the hood.  I gladly rewarded them for their assistance and we were on our way.  We reached Harriman, TN, near Oak Ridge, just before sunset and prepared for the next day after dinner at a convenient restaurant.

 

October 15, 2013: Harriman, TN to Wilkesboro, NC

Wanting to take a different path over the Appalachian Mountains than the Cumberland Gap route that we took west, on October 15th,we drove under Knoxville, TN and continued northeast through Tennessee with the seemingly impenetrable Appalachians continuously looming off to our right.    Although nowhere on the same scale as the mountains that confronted us on our travels in the West; these large hills nonetheless posed a significant challenge if not traversed in an appropriate location. Actually, we really enjoy traveling through the Cumberland Gap and visiting the surrounding historic sites.

Like a horse that has sensed the proximity of his home barn, and knowing that North Carolina lay just over the crest of the path we had chosen across the mountains; I incessantly ask Jean if we were in the mountains yet.  Finally, just east of Hampton, TN we began to experience winding upward grades indicative of our assent over the Appalachians.  I was somewhat familiar with this route, having worked on a mobile home renovation outside of Hampton on a church mission trip some years earlier.  However, it was a different experience making the passage as a driver in the Jeep.  It did not take us long to crest the mountain and to be greeted by the “Welcome to North Carolina” sign.  Although we still had the bulk of the long state of North Carolina to traverse, we were starting to feel the security of having made our way home.

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Crossing the Appalachian Mountains on the way to Boone, NC

 

We stopped in Boone, NC for a 4pm “lunch” and then proceeded down the mountain to Wilkesboro, NC where we spent the night.

October 16, 2013: Wilkesboro, NC to Cary, NC

We got underway reasonably early (for us) on Wednesday morning October 16th.   During our past travels around the state of North Carolina, we had traversed, in sections, the full length of NC 64.  This road takes a sometimes circuitous route from the Outer Banks on the very east end of the state to the Tennessee border on the very west end of the state.  We elected to drop down directly south to pick up this familiar route just south of Taylorsville and travel it east the 150 or so miles to a point just 5 miles south of our home in Cary, NC west of Raleigh.  On our way south to Taylorsville, I noticed that our amp gauge was indicating a slight battery discharge when it should have been indicating a slight charge (i.e., the generator was not charging the battery.  We pulled into a convenience store parking lot to have a look.  Sure enough, a second wire had detached itself from its terminal connection at the generator.  I had made up a new wiring harness for the Jeep when I first rebuilt it 1977.  Over the years a stiffening of the insulation in combination with fatigue of the wire at the crimped terminal junctions had apparently lead to wire separation for the third occasion on this trip.  Totally understandable now that I see it, but we had not experienced this on any of the previous 57,000 miles of traveling over the past 36 years.  Guess I will have to do some serious rewiring.  Anyway, it was another quick fix and we traveled the remainder of our trip home eventless; arriving in Cary, NC mid-afternoon.

When we started the Trek 63 days and 10,000 miles earlier, it had been hard for me to imagine what it would be like arriving home at the completion of the journey.  Now, even with four days having passed in which to recuperate, I am still having trouble mentally wrapping my mind around all of the events that we experienced during our adventure.  If you will give me a few weeks, I promise to organize and compile not only the blog entries that you have so patiently slogged your way through and add some statistical information, but also, better acknowledge our appreciation for the generous contributions time, talent and encouragement by the folks who assisted us along the way.  Thank you all for making this a truly outstanding experience for Jean, Jenny and me.

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Arriving home after our 61 day, 10,300 mile Trek to 12 of the western National Parks – Thank you all!


Let me start out by saying that this entry does have a happy ending.

Let me start out by saying that this entry does have a happy ending.

If you read the blog entry for 10-6-13, you may recall that in Denver, just two miles short of the official finish of our Park-to-Park Tour loop of the 12 National Parks, Jean noticed that there was an unusual amount of white “smoke” coming out of Jenny’s tailpipe.  In the excitement of reaching the location where the original Tour party concluded their tour, I dismissed Jean’s observation as nothing too serious.  It did not appear to be oil smoke, but rather, water vapor.  I had kind of written this off as the normal vapor one sees on a cool afternoon – perhaps exaggerated by the poor idle performance that we were experiencing at Denver’s 5,000 foot altitude.

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First indication of engine problem – smoking tailpipe at termination point of the 1920 Park-to-Park tour in Denver.

However, later that afternoon when Jean and I arrived at a Denver church for Sunday evening Mass, the level of vapor exiting form the tailpipe was embarrassingly high.  So, as on two previous occasions, I entered the church totally preoccupied with car challenges; this time thinking about potential causes of the steaming tailpipe – none of the options I could think of were trivial.  There are only a couple of traditional ways that coolant can get from the cooling system over to the combustion side of the engine; either through a blown (failed) head gasket or through a crack in the engine head or block.  The former requires removal of the head to replace the gasket – a relatively straightforward one-day project if you have the parts and proper tools.  The latter most likely means trying to find and totally rebuilding a used replacement head – probably a several day project considering the difficulty of first locating a suitable head.

I had taken great care in preparing the existing head during the recent engine rebuild.  A very talented engine builder had prepared the head and installed the valve assemblies.  During engine assembly, I had carefully selected and mated the components of the rocker arm assembly for proper clearances.  I shuttered to think about undoing all that work.  I had also taken care to prepare the head and block surfaces before installing a correctly positioned head gasket and torquing the head bolts in the proper sequence during the engine rebuild and after a 500 mile break-in.  I really did not want to go through that routine again – especially 1,500 miles from home.

We confirmed the leakage of coolant into the cylinders was the problem by noting that the level of vapor was greatly diminished when we took pressure off the coolant system by loosening the radiator cap.

Apparently the violent backfire that we experienced on our way out to Denver, the two overheating episodes that we experienced in the west due to a malfunctioning thermostat, and/or the heavy demands that we put on the engine clawing our way over the western mountains had done our Jenny in.  It is almost theatrical the way she held on until the day we completed the Tour loop before giving out.

OK, so this next move was dumb (just ask my wife).  After deliberating during Mass, I had us stop at a local auto parts store on the way home from church and purchase their finest head gasket sealer.  My thought was to see if this quick fix, which one pours into the radiator, could allow us to limp back to Cary, NC where I would address the problem in a systematic and controlled manner.  Jean, maintaining a cool head, encouraged me to think really hard before gunking up Jenny’s engine on the chance we might make it home with this quick fix.  Undaunted, I went to bed intending to try this magic elixir at first light.  (Unbeknownst to me, Jean had resolved that had I tried the “quick fix”, she would rent a car and drive separately back to North Carolina as my sweep car should the attempt fail – tough woman, that Jean)

I guess I came to my senses sometime in the wee hours of Monday morning.  I was up at 6:30am googling “Denver Jeep repair”.  One should remember that Denver covers a wide physical area, with many independent cities abutting its borders.  It would have been convenient to select a repair facility closed to our location on the southwestern side of the metropolis; however, the most important thing was to get the Jeep fixed correctly and if possible, expediently.  One shop, several miles south of our hotel, stood out as a place to investigate.  They had been in business since the ‘70s, specialized in Jeeps, and had machine shop services.  When I called, the capable young lady at the service desk did not seem put-off by the age of our vehicle or our desire to have it attended to as quickly as possible.

Jean was relieved to hear that I wanted to have them look at the Jeep before using the magic potion that I had purchased the evening before.  Using the same logic as she did when we encountered our serious problem in Kentucky at the beginning of the Trek, she began to investigate rental car and hotel arrangements closer to the repair shop’s location.  We packed up and gingerly made our way down to the candidate Jeep repair shop, with radiator cap loosened to minimize intrusion of coolant into the engine cylinders.  Having been disappointed by some other repair locations during the Trek, I was very apprehensive regarding what we would encounter.  Turns out, it was a first class, clean, and professionally operated facility.  We were met by the owner and two of their technicians.  They were all familiar with older cars and the Willys Overland Jeeps.  The fellow assigned to our project was actually one of their engine builders with many years of F-Head engine experience under his belt.  From the symptoms, they were quite certain it was a blown head gasket (the likelihood of a cracked head considered somewhat remote) and asked us to leave the Jeep with them for a few hours during which time they would assess the problem.

Here is where it got tough for me.  I have been babying that Jeep for 36 years.  It has only been out of my sight twice for painting and once for a differential refurbish).  So, I had been planning to set up office in their waiting room for the duration, ready to answer any questions and offer advice at will.  However, this was not the way they liked to operate.  Before we were aware, the service desk attendant made arrangements for a rental car to get us away out of the shop and off to a convenient hotel.  And so it went; my inquiries over the next two days were met with oblique responses as they assured me that they would treat “my baby” and their own.  I was not a happy camper for that two days (sorry if some of my blog entries during that time are a little starchy).  However, in retrospect, they were taking the exactly correct measures – some of which I would undoubtedly disputed in the interest of time and cost had they let me interfere.

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Auto repair center south of Denver that did the engine repair work

They did indeed find that the head gasket had failed.  However, the extremely attentive technician did not stop there (as I would have).  He disassembled the head, had it Magnifluxed for cracks and checked for flatness; and noticing leakage past two of the intake valves during a vacuum test (possible due to the overheating episodes), reseated the valves.  He took great personal care with the repair work and also fixed a problem that I was having with the carburetor’s idle circuit.  The repair was not inexpensive; but I must say was commensurate with the quality and service that we received.  It only took a few hours driving east from Denver driving through a windstorm on open prairie knowing that the best possible care had been taken not only to repair the damage, but also to insure that no other issues remained, for me to justify the dent in my wallet.  And, they had completed the work in 48 hours with no advanced notice.

Turning lemons into lemonade:  So, as we start the trip back to North Carolina we are aware that in spite of my best efforts to have the jeep in absolute top-notch condition prior to the trip, owing to our “adventures” on the Trek we now had a vehicle with a properly functioning thermostat, properly terminated distributor and generator ground wires (did not tell you about the generator on yet), a strong fuel pump, a new muffler, balanced tires with new valve stems, a repaired carburetor and an engine top-end that has been expertly examined and reconditioned.

This should not only get us home, but put us in great shape for our next Trek – where ever that takes us.


Sunday, October 6, 2013 was a big day.  We were back in Denver, the city where we, as well as the 1920 Park-to-Park Tour group, had begun and completed our respective National Park tours.  We felt that it would be appropriate for us to finalize the tour by traveling to the very spot where the original 1920 tour group completed their tour.

Jane and Lee Whiteley, the authors of the book The Playground Trail that inspired Jean and me to make our Trek, graciously offered to guide us to the termination site of the tour; the location of the former Gates Rubber and Ford Motor Company buildings on the 900 block of South Broadway Street in Denver.  After a scrumptious brunch at the same location where we met the Whiteleys prior to the start of our tour, Jane and Lee escorted Jean and me with our Jeep to the very spot where good roads boosters greeted the Tour party at completion of the 1920 Park-to-Park Tour.

In 1920, this portion of Broadway had been cordoned off for the festivities.  We, of course, commanded no such recognition and were resolved to taking photographs of our finale from a less trafficked side street.  Fortunately, through a fortuitous twist of happenstance we were able to pose the Jeep directly in front of what was in 1920, a Ford Motor Company assembly building.

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Jeep in front of the former Ford Motor Company assembly building on South Broadway Street, Denver, CO, on the route of the 1920 Park-to-Park Tour finale.

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Dan & Jean with Jane & Lee Whiteley in front of the former Ford Motor Company assembly building on South Broadway Street in Denver, Colorado

 

Note:  It is my understanding that the former Ford Motor Company assembly building is now owned by an independent management company.  The Gates Rubber Company building that stood across Broadway from it has been razed and the balance of the huge Gates manufacturing complex mothballed.

As with many anticipated achievements in life, the total Trek including this culminating act of actually driving our vehicle down the street where to 1920 Park-to-Park Tour group completed their tour, will take some time to sink in.  Certainly, we did not, for a number of reasons, follow the exact route taken by the 1920 tour group; nor did we follow the exact route mapped out by the original Park-to-Park Tour planners.  However, we did visit all 12 of the National Parks designated in the original Park-to-Park plan and did, as well as possible, drive at a minimum, the routes within the National Parks traveled by the original Park-to-Park Tour group.

Unquestionably, the 1950 Jeep station wagon automobile, although spartan and primitive by today’s standards, was a far more luxurious and potentially more reliable than the 1920 vehicles on the original 1920 Park-to-Park Tour.  That being said, we did experience a strong sense of adventure traversing long expanses of sparsely inhabited territory and negotiating difficult passages in our 63 year old vehicle, as well as resolving mechanical issues in unfamiliar surroundings.  From that standpoint, we humbly profess that we can in some way relate to the experiences of the hearty folks that partook in the original tour; and in some small way, share in their sense of accomplishment.

What’s next:  For Jean, me and Jenny the Jeep there was still one last leg of the journey, from Denver, Colorado to Cary, North Carolina to complete.  The discovery of copious amounts of steam pouring from Jenny’s tailpipe just as we approached the site of the tour finale in Denver soon prove to add an additional challenge to the completion of our Trek.

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Indication of a likely serious engine problem at the completion of the Park-to-Park tour loop in Denver, CO

10-6-13 Driving up Broadway, Denver, CO to the former Ford Motor building for the completion of our Park-to-Park tour

 


OK, so I woke up early the morning of Saturday, October 5th in Salida, Colorado thinking “wouldn’t it be great if I could get the Jeep’s oil changed and chassis greased before we left for Denver this morning?”  I’m sure that others wake up Saturday mornings with the same thoughts – doesn’t everyone?  Seriously (and anything to do with the Jeep is SERIOUS), the original owners manual for the Jeep recommended oil & filter change and chassis lubrication every 1,000 miles.  I have rationalized that with modern metallurgy, advancements in lubricants, and the clean running environment provided by today’s road system – an oil (and filter) change interval of 3,000 miles and a chassis lube interval of 1,500 miles should be sufficient.

Bless me mechanic, for I have sinned – it has been 3,500 miles since my last oil change and 1,700 miles since my last chassis lubrication.  During that time I have traveled dusty, rut strewn roads and traversed two major mountain passes.  “Your penance is – change the oil & filter and lubricate the chassis (and a few Hail Marys couldn’t hurt)”.

So I did what I had done before with varying degrees of success along the Trek.  I called an auto parts store in Salida and asked for suggestions as to whom I might contact on a Saturday morning to have service our very special (to us anyway) 1950 Jeep.  Only one of the suggested sources of old car lube service was available.  After receiving a noncommittal response from the gentleman at the service station in a phone conversation, I agreed to bide my time until 11am (the earliest he could see me) and then headed down to his location.

Here is roughly how it went when I introduced myself and the Jeep to the two attendants at the service station:   (Please excuse my abuse of proper grammatical punctuation (as if you did not know this about me already).

Attendant #1: “going to be at least another 20 minutes – got something else that is going to need my attention before I can start on your Jeep”  I am wondering “why can’t you at least put the Jeep on the rack while you are waiting for that something else to start?”

“Besides” he says, “I have to let the engine cool down before I change the oil – don’t want to scald myself.”  I try to explain that one is supposed to change the oil while it is hot so that more debris is flushed out – and that I had barely gotten the engine warm making the 2 mile trip to their station.  The response was, “Don’t tell me how to do my job – I have been doing it this way for 5 years”.

Turns out, he did not need to do that something else and explained that he will have to be the one to drive the Jeep on to the rack.

I ask “Do you know how to drive a column shift 3-speed”.  “Sure, my dad had a (something or other) with column shift”.   Moments later I am standing beside the Jeep trying to figure out how, if necessary, I am going to keep it from careening through the back wall of the garage.  Then he says “something isn’t working right here – it will hardly move forward”.  “That’s because you have it in 3rd gear”.  “Oh yea” he says as he puts the shift lever in 2nd, and then Reverse.  I am thinking “Only one more position left and he will have it”.  He finally gets the Jeep on the rack and I try to explain to him where the grease fittings are (some are in unusual places and could easily be missed).  While we are “talking”, senior attendant #2 comes in and says that they must close the garage door – and that I am not permitted to be in the working area.  OK, I can understand all the liability stuff, but that does not permit me a way insure sure that the “5-year” veteran of automotive technology will know to grease the fittings on the rear outer wheel bearings, or properly install the cartridge oil filter.

I protest.  Senior attendant #2 “suggests” I take my Jeep and leave (at least, to my surprise, he lets me drive it off of the rack).  So thirty minutes later (it is almost noon and we have not begun our day’s journey to Denver), I am back at the motel trying to make light of a very frustrating and humiliating experience.

We finally began our journey from Salida to Denver by traveling through a very picturesque canyon along the course of the clear, fast flowing Virgin River.  I was having difficulty enjoying the trip.  First, I had not gotten over the humiliation of the service station episode, and secondly, I believed that after two very arduous traverses of mountain passes, a change of oil was really in order.

Anyway, we trudged on; or at least I did.  Justifiably, had I expressed the causes of my discomfort to Jean, she would have suggested I try to “get over it and we will see what we can do down the road”.

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Drive down the Virgin River Canyon between Salida, CO and Canon City, CO

Now, the happy ending:

An hour or so later we were passing through the moderate size town of Canon City, Colorado.  As we drove through town I kept my eyes open for any semblance of an appropriate service station.  Sure enough, across a set of railroad tracks appeared a non-franchise, down to earth auto repair garage.  It was hard to tell from our vantage point on the main street if they were open – this being Saturday.  Jean agreed that we should give it a shot; and in fact when we turned in their bay doors were open and people were milling about (what is “milling” anyway?).  The Jeep caught the eye of a couple of mechanics, so I went up to one of them and explained my desire to have the Jeep greased and its oil changed.  The answer was “no problem, we usually close at 1pm on Saturday” (this being 12:30pm), “but we will take care of it”.  When I explained that I would like to stay with the same brand and grade of oil that I had been using, the answer was, “sure, you go down the street and buy what you want us to use; besides, it will cost you less if you supply the oil”.  Well, I actually gave the guy a hug (after sizing him up as the huggable type) and procured the oil (I still had one sometimes hard to find oil filer left for this last oil change).

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Auto repair ship in Canon City, CO that provided great service

When we got back with the oil, they immediately had me drive the Jeep onto the rack and set to work.  The fellow doing the work, having previously had a car restoration business, was familiar with the maintenance of older cars.  He also allowed me to point out some of the less apparent grease fittings.  He wiped the grease fittings before greasing them and took great care in emptying and cleaning the oil filter housing before installing the new canister.  We were ready to go in 1/2 hour, and the price was embarrassingly low.

With my faith in personkind once more restored (I forget sometimes), and our Jeep happy; we set off once again for Denver.  It final leg of the trip to Denver was quite demanding.  Our approach was from the south by way of Colorado Springs.  We were confronted by 30+ mph headwinds for most of that leg.  This may not seem like a big deal to those driving low profile cars with 3 digit horsepower, but to us in a vehicle with lots of frontal area and 72 horsepower, high head-on winds significantly impact performance.  (This is one those rare cases where big frontal area adversely affects performance).  Anyway, the combination of high headwinds and fairly significant hills along that route had us taxing the Jeep’s engine quite severally in trying to keep up with traffic.  Both we and the Jeep were done in by the close of the day.  I was happy that she had fresh oil lubricating her moving parts.

When we got back with the oil, they immediately had me drive the Jeep onto the rack and set to work.  The fellow doing the work, having previously had a car restoration business, was familiar with the maintenance of older cars.  He also allowed me to point out some of the less apparent grease fittings.  He wiped the grease fittings before greasing them and took great care in emptying and cleaning the oil filter housing before installing the new canister.  We were ready to go in 1/2 hour, and the price was embarrassingly low.

With my faith in personkind once more restored (I forget sometimes), and our Jeep happy; we set off once again for Denver.  It final leg of the trip to Denver was quite demanding.  Our approach was from the south by way of Colorado Springs.  We were confronted by 30+ mph headwinds for most of that leg.  This may not seem like a big deal to those driving low profile cars with 3 digit horsepower, but to us in a vehicle with lots of frontal area and 72 horsepower, high head-on winds significantly impact performance.  (This is one those rare cases where big frontal area adversely affects performance).  Anyway, the combination of high headwinds and fairly significant hills along that route had us taxing the Jeep’s engine quite severally in trying to keep up with traffic.  Both we and the Jeep were done in by the close of the day.  I was happy that she had fresh oil lubricating her moving parts.


We left our lodging in Cortez, Colorado the morning of October 4th for the short trip to Mesa Verde National Park and then on to Salida, Colorado by way of Wolf Creek Pass.  As anticipated, we only got a few hundred yards into Mesa Verde National Park before we were met with road closure signage and a pleasant but unmovable young National Park ranger.  Not expecting to receive any special treatment, I none the less, approached him to explain the purpose of our visit and desire to at least drive to the top of the mesa.  Of course, he had strict orders to thwart any attempt to enter the Park– no exceptions.

Fortunately, we had visited Mesa Verde National Park and the surrounding region with our younger daughter Jeanette and our then 9 year old grandson Tommy 14 months ago.  We had a great time climbing ladders into several of the cliff dwellings inhabited by the Anasazi Indians 600 to 1,300 years ago.  Jean and I were too young to travel when they lived there.

Obediently, we took a photo to document our presence at the Park and moved on along AZ-160 toward our next evenings stop, Salida, Colorado on the far side of the San Juan and Sangre de Christo mountain ranges.

Traveling east from the Grand Canyon to as far as Pagosa Springs, Colorado one has a fairly level ride through picturesque canyons and rolling (by comparison) plains.  However, soon after Pagosa Springs (named for the warm mineral springs that emanate from the ground in the downtown area), one is faced with the challenge of traversing the San Juan Mountains.  The most convenient route is to follow AZ-160 over the mountains through Wolf Creek Pass at an elevation of more than 10,500 feet above sea level.  This effort of this accomplishment is somewhat mitigated by the fact that one begins the serious ascent from the altitude of more than 5,000 feet.  Never the less, the final 5,000 foot climb is achieved in something on the order of 10 miles of steeply ascending road.  We (actually I) were not too intimidated by this challenge, having accomplished roughly the same feat at the beginning of our Park-to-Park loop when we ascended to the Visitors Center in Rocky Mountain National Park.  As we were to learn on a later date, the Jeep (Jenny) thought otherwise.  Apparently, the experience of having overheated on a couple of recent occasions due to a faulty engine thermostat, combined with the 30 minute 2nd gear climb to the top of Wolf Creek Pass was a little more than Jenny’s engine could take.

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Heading toward the San Juan Mountains and Wolf Creek Pass

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Cresting Wolf Creek Pass and the Continental Divide at 10,850 feet above sea level.  Notice the snow!

After an additional three hours of driving, some of which was along the 35 mile long gun barrel straight stretch appropriately named The Gunbarrel Road, we successfully traversed Poncha Pass through the Sangre de Christo Mountains and continued down into Salida, Colorado for the evening.

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Gunbarrel Road – 35 miles of straight road through the San Luis Valley, Colorado toward the Sangre de Christo Mountains and 9,010 foot Poncha Pass.

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Cresting Poncha Pass on the way into Salida, Colorado

10-4-13 Chugging our way up to Wolf Creek Pass


Left Page, Arizona the morning of October 3rd and headed toward Cortez, Colorado – at the foot of Mesa Verde National Park.  We were well aware that Mesa Verde would most likely also be closed due to the Government shutdown, so we decided to make the best of travels by driving through Monument Valley and visiting Four Corners monument on the way to Cortez.

The Monument Valley region extends from northeastern Arizona into southwestern Colorado.  At the southwestern end of Monument Valley resides the Navajo National Monument complex of campgrounds, picnic area, and Visitors Center.  Unfortunately, it too was officially closed due to the Government shutdown.  The Visitors Center was closed, but we were able to “sneak” into the picnic area for our traditional lunch of sunflower butter and honey sandwiches.

Fortunately, the remainder of Monument Valley is not controlled by the US National Parks Department, so we were able to traverse the 40 mile length of the Valley undeterred.  The folks in Page, Arizona had told us this was a “must see” addition to our trip and that several western movies had been shot in its scenic rugged countryside.  Sure enough, we encountered several large buttes and cliff faces jutting out of the sagebrush and scrub tree dotted high desert floor.  One could easily envision the good guys in their white hats scrambling on horseback across the rugged terrain and up into the bolder strewn hills after to bad guys with their black hats.

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Monument Valley region, Arizona & Utah

I saw my first western in about 1952.  Our family lived in a 4-story walk-up apartment building in a low-to-middle class neighborhood in the north Bronx, New York.  A youngish professional couple across the court yard had purchased a brand new television (black & white of course) and would invite a few of us kids from the building in from time to time to watch TV shows like Howdy Doody, Captain Video, Flash Gordon, and of course, westerns such as The Long Ranger, Roy Rogers, and old Tom Mix movies.  Most of the other guys wanted to watch the westerns, while I preferred the science fiction programs (remember the space scenes with model rocket ships hanging from wires and powered by sparklers?).  Anyway, I could picture the westerns being filmed in the Monument Valley setting.

Next stop was the Four Corners monument.  Four Corners is the only place in the United States where the borders of four states intersect (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah).  I am not aware of any other notable significance attributable to this site other than the presence of permanent stalls for the sale of Native American goods – they were unoccupied at the time we were there.

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Jean at the Four Corners Monument

Interestingly (to me anyway), we had traveled through to point where three states; Kentucky, Missouri, and Illinois, converge on our way west earlier in the Trek.  Not sure if there are other similar convergences – good geography quiz question.  When we get home we will have to list the states that we passed through on out Trek.

From the Four Corners monument we proceeded to Cortex, Colorado for the evening.

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Sunset east of the Four Corners Monument, Colorado


Since the Grand Canyon National Park was closed, the folks at the Jacob Lake Inn provided us with a hand-sketched, not-to-scale map of a 30+ mile un-paved and mostly un-marked single lane route to a location outside the National Park boundaries where one could view the Grand Canyon from its north rim.  Due to road conditions they estimated it to be a 3 hour round trip.  We considered this excursion, but I really did not want to beat up the wagon’s suspension for that length of time.

We elected instead to take the 120 mile trip down to the south east entrance of Grand Canyon National Park; the entry point of the 1920 Park-to-Park tour group.  The major difference is that while the Park-to-Park tour group was cordially invited in to the Park and provided lodging at the 100-room El Tovar Hotel on the Canyon’s south rim, we were greeted by signs clearly indicating that we were not welcome to proceed into the Park.  We, having anticipated this, took a few photos to document our presence and headed up to Page, Arizona for our evenings stop on the way to Mesa Verde – where we anticipated receiving the same rebuff.

Fortunately, we had previously been to the Grand Canyon.  For our 25th wedding anniversary (I’m trained to say “seems like yesterday”), Jean and I had taken a 7 day rafting trip down the Colorado River through the 250 mile length of the Grand Canyon.  Of course the canyon was much shallower back then.

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Southeastern closed entrance to Grand Canyon National Park – note the stickers for the National Parks that we had visited to this point

With the final length of direct path north (AZ-89) from the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park to Page, Arizona being closed, we were detoured onto a temporary route (AZ-89T).  While fueling up for this leg we inquired as to the condition of this temporary route north – this is very desolate territory.  We were assured that with the exception of the initial short climb to the top of the mesa, the ride would be smooth and effortless.  That was in fact the case.  They had apparently recently re-paved the road in anticipation of closing the primary route.  This temporary route was lightly traveled (we always worry about holding up faster drivers), and being on the top of the mesa, provided some excellent views of the surrounding terrain – another prime example of the road less traveled.

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On the temporary road to Page, Arizona

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The World’s Largest Petrified Cow Pie along the road to Page, Arizona

We arrived in Page, Arizona a couple of hours before sunset. I refer to sun time because as in other areas of the central west one cannot be sure of clock time.  The hotel had two clocks on the wall set an hour apart – one was local (Pacific Time) and the other was some other local time.  We unloaded the Jeep (which at this point in the Trek means scooping up armfuls of loose belongings along with a total of 5 computer and travel bags – so much for strategic packing.)  The folks at the Powell Museum/Visitors Center provided a hand-drawn map of local sites.  With the sun falling in the sky (we do not like to drive at night due to lack of side marker lights), we first set off for Horseshoe Bend lookout which provides a breathtaking (literally for acrophobiacs like myself), views of a very tight u-turn in the Colorado River.  It was a good ½ mile walk to the edge of the canyon from the parking lot, and as we neared the rim I felt my joints stiffen up and my breathing shorten.  I managed to get within 10 feet of the edge to take one photo of the river bend below; all the time being certain I would at any moment be flung by some explicable force over the edge never to be seen again.  Fortunately, Jean and I had been getting along reasonable well at this point (at some other times also), so I was quite sure she was not to be source the force shoving me over into the abyss.

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The trail leading to Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado River south of Page, Arizona

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Looking down on to the Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend south of Page, Arizona

We made the trek up to the parking lot to retrieve our Jeep and headed over to the site of the Glen Canyon Dam, which, although smaller than her sister Hoover Dam a few hundred miles downstream, was still very impressive to view.  The Visitors Center was closed due to the US Government spending cuts; however, the parking lots and viewing points were still accessible.  I wonder if they are still funding the guy who stands ready with a freshly masticated wad of chewing gum to plug any leaks in the face of the dam.

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Glen Canyon Dam across the Colorado River near Page, Arizona

We had a nice meal at a local American Indian run Italian restaurant and retired for the evening.

10-2-13 Going over the Colorado River on the way to the south rim of the Grand Canyon

10-2-13 Road from Grand Canyon National Part to Page,AZ

 

10-2-13 Crossing bridge at Glen Canyon Dam, Page,AZ


Woke up at dawn Tuesday, October 1st at our cabin in Springdale, Utah on the southern edge of Zion National Park.  Our plan was to head out toward Grand Canyon National Park, the 11th National Park on our Trek.  We had stayed up until midnight the previous evening to hear if they would be closing the National Parks.  Sure enough, they did close the Parks.

We were undeterred in our quest to at least reach the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park as a requirement for our Trek.  Two things did affect the route to the Canyon however.

We had learned the previous day while in Zion National Park that if they did close the Parks, the main east/west highway across Zion National Park would remain open.  However, there was concern by a fellow traveler that National Park personnel might not be immediately stationed at the highway entrance to screen large vehicles for their ability to navigate the tunnel along the route.  If this were the case there could potentially be a major traffic jam at the tunnel, as there is really no place for unsuitable vehicles to turn around in that vicinity.

Also, the reason I had gotten up so early the morning of the 1st was my concern over the erratic engine cooling system behavior the previous few days.  I wanted to see if my tinkering had solved or at least mitigated the overheating problem.  Unfortunately, a short drive down Springdale’s main street at 7am demonstrated the problem of overheating during warm-up was worse than ever.  So I waited on the side of the street until the engine temperature settled down and then drove back to the cabin to set a plan of action with Jean’s help.  The night before, I had put out a request for suggestions for a solution to our overheating problem on an on-line Jeep owners forum that I recently joined – great folks.  By morning a number of members had come through with possible causes and suggested fixes.  The most plausible cause was a sticking coolant thermostat.  This thermostat senses the coolant temperature in the engine and allows (or is supposed to allow) cooler coolant from the radiator to enter the engine’s coolant passages when the engine temperature exceeds the opening temperature prescribed by the selected thermostat – in my case 160F.  If the thermostat fails to open as prescribed, insufficient cooler water moves from the radiator to the engine and the engine temperature will continue to rise past the boiling point of the coolant (~240F) eventually to the point of causing catastrophic damage.

Second Guessing:  A decision that I had to make for each of the critical components on the Jeep (e.g.: carburetor, distributor, water pump, generator, etc), was whether to make the 10,000 mile Trek using components that had performed well on previous shorter trips, or replace them with new or rebuilt parts.  In the case of the thermostat, I figured that since I had the old one out during the engine rebuild, why not put in a nice new one.  There is no knowing if the old one would have lasted the Trek, but the new one apparently did not.

Assuming that a sticking thermostat was the primary cause of the overheating, I made some calls and found an auto repair shop in La Verkin which lay along our alternative route to the Grand Canyon.  Thankfully, they said that they would be able to obtain and install a new thermostat.  When we arrived at their location at around noon they took us right in and a gentleman familiar with older cars took great care in installing the new thermostat.  After an excellent lunch of handmade tacos at a local restaurant we were happily back on our way.  (Unfortunately, we were to find out a few days later that engine damage – albeit reparable, had indeed occurred during the high temperature excursions.)

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Auto repair shop in La Verkin that changed the thermostat

On the way to Jacob Lake, Arizona we spotted an early jeep station wagon in the employee parking lot of a local electrical utility company.  The owner was out working in the field, so we did not get to compare notes.  Mostly to break the boredom of long stretches of 55mph driving, I am constantly on the lookout or Jeeps of our vintage – either on the road or rusting in someone’s back yard.

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Jeep Sighting on the way to Jacob Lake, Arizona

Arrived at our Jacob Lake, Arizona lodging around 5pm I think.  I was never quite sure what time it was in the central west.  Some regions honor daylight savings time, while others do not.  It is not uncommon to see clocks behind hotel registration desks labeled “correct local time”.  Our iphones and GPS try to keep up with the local time, but only do a reasonable job of it.  Running clocks cannot always be relied upon, but at least stopped clocks show the correct time twice a day.

We had selected Jacob Lake (never did see a lake) for the evening because it was strategically located as a launching point to either the north rim, or at considerably greater distance, the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  We were aware that Grand Canyon National Park was closed by the Government shutdown, but felt compelled to “touch bases” as a token of our adherence to the route of the original 1920 Park-to-Park Tour route.  We would decide how to achieve this the next morning.

10-1-13 On the way from Zion National Park to Jacob Lake, Arizona

10-1-13 Vermillion Cliffs on the way to the south rim of the Grand Canyon


We arrived at out cabin in Springdale, Utah Tuesday evening, September 29th; settled in and walked down Springdale’s main street to have some dinner at one of the many interesting cafés and restaurants.  Springdale is nestled in and directly adjacent to the south entrance of Zion National Park.  The town has managed to maintain a high quality, non-glitzy appearance despite the high volume of activity concentrated on its main thoroughfare.  Shuttle busses run on a very frequent schedule between the motels, eateries, and shops up and down the main thoroughfare.  The northern most stop on the Springdale shuttle route is a very short walk from the entrance to Zion National Park.

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View from our cabin near Zion National Park as the sun set

Driving of personal vehicles within the Park itself is strongly discouraged by the Park Service during the lengthy tourist season.  However, a very convenient shuttle system within the Park makes one totally comfortable with leaving the driving to someone else.  So, Saturday morning we boarded the Springdale shuttle for a five minute ride to the Park entrance, picked up some Park literature at the Visitors Center, and headed off to the Zion Canyon shuttle stop.

The Zion shuttle stops at eight locations within Zion Canyon.  As suggested by the Zion shuttle driver, we elected to start our tour of the Park by taking the shuttle to the furthest stop, a 15 minute ride to the north end of the canyon – The Narrows.  At this stop one can take a non-strenuous one half mile walk up the canyon to a point where it narrows sufficiently that one must wade up the North Fork of the Virgin River to continue further.  We found it sufficiently impressive just looking up the narrowing canyon and at those wading further up stream.

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Jean on The Narrows walk in Zion National Park

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Approaching The Narrows in Zion National Park

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Looking up-stream into The Narrows in Zion National Park

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Panorama view from the front of the Zion Human History Museum

 

It is interesting to compare the Zion Canyon to the Yosemite Valley.  Whereas, as reported in a previous blog entry, the shear stone walls of Yosemite Valley are light grey granite and quite smooth, the walls of Zion Canyon are coarse sandstone and multi-colored.  Zion Canyon is much narrower than Yosemite Valley and the base of the walls even more accessible.  Each location has its own special attractiveness.

After visiting the upper end of Zion Canyon, we proceed back south toward the mouth of the canyon on the Zion shuttle, soaking in the views of the canyon as the shuttle made its designated stops at places such as “Big Bend”, “The Grotto”, “Court of the Patriarchs”, and Zion Lodge.  We stopped at the Zion Human History Museum” where we saw exhibits of and watched a video presentation of the history of inhabitants in Zion National Park throughout the ages.  Life was difficult for late settlers in the canyon; with alternating periods of drought and raging floods.  Few stayed.

After taking the Springdale shuttle back to our cabin, “we” decided that it would be “interesting” to drive 15 miles out of Springdale and up Kolob Terrace Road (operative word being “up”) as far as we could before having turn around and return back to the cabin before dark.  We chugged our way up Kolob Terrace Road (mostly in 2nd gear) to an elevation of about 7,500 feet – 3,500 feet above Springdale in about 12 miles.  The sights were striking, but I was too worried about the stress on the Jeep (particularly with engine overheating tendencies) to enjoy the view.  Jean, on the other hand, with her unflappable confidence, loved every minute of the drive.

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Traveling up the Kolob Terrace Road into Zion National Park

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View from Kolob Terrace Road in Zion National Park

We concluded our stay in Springdale with an evening meal consisting of turkey sandwiches and roasted almonds on the lawn of our cabin complex as we watched the shadows grow on the red canyon walls.


On Sunday morning September 29th we left Las Vegas on our Trek to Zion National Park.  As far as we could determine, much of the 125 mile stretch from Las Vegas, Nevada to Littlefield, Arizona used by the original 1920 Park-to-Park Tour group has been covered over by I-15.  We usually avoid Interstates; however, since there did not appear to be any other reasonable route from Las Vegas to Zion National Park, we decided to take I-15.  We tried our best to stay out of the way of the faster vehicles (basically everyone else on the road).

We stopped off at Valley of Fire State Park, just a few miles east of Interstate I-15, which was on the 1920 Park-to-Park Tour route (called Red Rock Canyon at that time). Turned out to be another memorable experience for us.  The Park is filled with a unique collection of large vivid convoluted red sandstone mounds amidst course sand rolling hills.

Then proceed to our lodging in Springdale, Utah at the southern entrance to Zion National Park.

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Jeep in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

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Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

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Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada


Most of Friday, September 27th was spent driving from Bakersfield, California to Las Vegas, Nevada.  Las Vegas was selected as a convenient launching off point for Zion National Park in Utah; the 10th scheduled National Park stop on our Trek. Las Vegas also provided decent internet connectivity and a selection of church service options.

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Welcome to Nevada – View as we crossed into Nevada from the south

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Looking eastward from our northern Las Vegas hotel room at sunset.  We often observed this coloration in the eastern sky at sunset throughout the West

Saturday, September 28th we made the 45 minute drive from Las Vegas to Hoover Dam located at the terminus of Lake Mead to check out this wonder of the modern world.  If you like big and high and heavy, and powerful; this is the place for you.  After making the obligatory drive across the top of the dam we headed back to the Visitors Center with intension of purchasing tickets for a 2 hour full tour of the facility.  Unfortunately, they were not offering that tour, so we opted for the 45 minute tour of the generating system.  Everything about the dam is measured in tens and hundreds of thousands including tons of concrete, gallons per hour, watts of electricity, man-hours to construct and so on.  The thing that impressed me most was the fact that it was constructed in only 3 years!  One would assume that a lot of the design and engineering was well underway before the actual construction commenced; but still, the most massive structure of its time constructed in 3 years is incredible especially given all the manpower, materials and construction logistics challenges in what was then a very remote and rather stark region of the country.

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Jean at Hoover Dam

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Dan at Hoover Dam – Convenient Men’s Room on the top of the dam (wonder where the water goes?)

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View upstream into Lake Mead from the top of Hoover Dam (water level was 60 feet below typical; but very seldom reached the top of the bleached border – talk about a bathtub ring)

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View downstream into the Colorado River from the top of the dam

We wrapped up our visit with a tour of the exhibits at the old and new Visitor Centers and started back to Las Vegas for Saturday evening Mass.  That is when our “adventure” happened.  Our beautifully performing Jeep wagon developed a serious overheating problem.  Ever since I installed a fast responding mechanical engine temperature gauge and a new coolant thermostat for the Trek, I had noticed that when starting out with a cold engine, the engine temperature would rise slowly but continually past the normal thermostat setting and then suddenly drop back to normal.  I concluded that this was due to a normal lag in the opening of the coolant thermostat, and something that I had just not seen previously with the slower responding original electrical engine temperature gauge.  However, as we left the Hoover Dam parking garage and started up a long uphill climb out of the canyon, the engine temperature continued rising to a point where the cooling system began boiling over.  We pulled over into a turn-out and waited a few moments for the temperature gauge needle to drop to normal and proceeded back to Las Vegas with no further problems.  Like many unpredictable issues and despite my superficial attempts to diagnose the problem – this one would rear its ugly head again at a later date.

Saturday evening Jean and I went to 5 o’clock Mass at a small, modestly appointed church nestled in the uptown casino district of Las Vegas; where I sought spiritual guidance on our overheating problem.


9-28-13 Driving Across Hoover Dam

9-28-13 Looking down into Downstream Hoover Dam


We left Fresno, California mid-morning of September 26th and headed toward Kings Canyon National Forest.

A note of explanation here:  As one of the 12 National Park stops on the original 1920 Park-to-Park Tour the participants visited what was then called “General Grant National Park”.  Today, as best as I can determine comparing the 1920 and current day maps, much of General Grant Park has been assimilated into both Kings Canyon National Forest and Sequoia National Park (the park boundaries look much like those of some of the gerrymandered electoral districts in North Carolina, with “fingers” jutting out into surrounding areas.  Can’t imagine why the deer vote is so important to them that they broke things up the way they did.  Because of these irregular boundaries, General Grant Grove (where the “Grant Sequoia” resides) is technically in a “thumb” of Sequoia National Park; and Hume Lake, which was in 1929 the furthest reach into what was then General Grant National Park and is now in Giant Sequoia National Monument district of Sequoia National Forest (or perhaps Sequoia National Forest district of Giant Sequoia National Monument) – oh well, just as long as someone keeps folks from turning the trees into toothpicks.

OK, back to the Trek.  So, we were merrily making our was east from Fresno to Kings Canyon National Forest on a nicely improved and well maintained route 180.  Then, I recalled that the original 1920 tour may have taken a route through the town of Dunlap which on the map appeared to be just a small diversion from the straight shot to the Forest that we were on.  So, we hung a right toward Dunlap and soon gained an appreciation of the contorted route the rural roads in this region take as they wind themselves through this semi-mountainous rural region.  The surface condition of these extremely winding (both horizontally & vertically) roads was reasonable – they just lacked such refinements such as shoulders, curve markers and guard rails in critical locations.  The other thing that we found humorous, if one dare break one’s concentration to think about anything else but the car that one might meet around the next blind curve, was the presence of a dotted yellow line down the center of the road for most of its length.  Having just turned off of route 180 where there were double yellow no passing lines in areas where one could have easily pass safely, we found it perplexing that they would have passing indicators on this road where the sight distance seldom expended beyond ones front bumper (slight exaggeration).  Fortunately, we were practically the only ones traveling these roads (the others either, a) knew better than to use these roads or b) were eliminated through natural selection; having gone over the edge or experienced a sudden stop against an oncoming vehicle).  While stopped at an intersection to confirm that we were generally headed in the right direction, a local gentleman politely asked us “what are you doing here?” explaining that route 180 was a much more convenient path.  When we explained our attempt at reenacting a prior route, he said the roads would eventually improve as we neared the Forest.  Sure enough, after a half hour or so, we were on a 2 lane road that felt like a super highway – no-passing lines and all.

We entered the “thumb” of Sequoia National Park from the west and drove directly to the General Grant Grove area of the Park.  There we had our first first-had exposure to giant sequoias.  They were really large!  Sequoias are generally shorter than their redwood cousins, but existing specimens may be twice the diameter and weight of the redwoods and up to 3,200 years in age (wonder who counted all those growth rings?).  The prince of the sequoias in the General Grant Grove is the General Grant Tree (reminds me of the old Groucho Marx the quiz question “Whose buried in Grant’s Tomb?”).  Anyway, the General Grant tree is the largest standing tree in the General Grant Grove region of Sequoia National Park.

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Jeep at General Grant Grove in Sequoia National Park

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Jean at Grant Tree at Grant Grove in Sequoia National Park

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Disguised Yeti in front of giant fallen sequoia in the General Grant Cove

While in the General Grant Grove we experienced a situation that was duplicated several times during our Trek of the National Parks.  At some point when we were either leaving or returning to our Jeep, a tour bus transporting a group of Europeans (usually French or German) would pull in to the parking lot; their iPhones immediately aimed at surroundings.  However, once they noticed the Jeep, their attention would be redirected at the car; their iPhones, like miniature radar dishes homing in on the target.  We would have fun trying to communicate with each other regarding the age and lineage of the Jeep.  Many of the older folks were familiar with the name Willys Jeep from World War II and understood when I pointed out the bronze “Jeep” medallion in front of the diver’s-side door.  We enjoyed “talking” to them.

At the time of the 1920 Park-to-Park Tour the road into what was then General Grant National Park only extended as far as Hume Lake.  Jean and I decided to make the innocent looking trek to Hume Lake.  Well, it was worth the effort to be able to say that we had been there; however, the final 3-mile curvy stretch down (the operative word being “down”) to the lake and campground did not disappoint.  After some photo taking to document our achievement we clawed ourselves out of that depression and back-tracked our way to the Kings Canyon Visitors Center for some lunch before heading south to the adjacent (in some placed intertwined) Sequoia National Park.

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9-26-13 Jeep at Hume Lake in Sequoia National Forest

We enjoyed a driving tour through the giant sequoias as we headed south (on average) on the extremely (you guessed it) winding Generals Highway.  In places the switchbacks were so tight that we could almost see our own taillights.  With ample examples of giant redwoods and sequoia visible from the car, and fearing any break in concentration as we negotiated the path south, we elected to be satisfied with viewing the trees from Jeep.  We exited Sequoia National Park at the southern Ash Mountain entrance and headed on to our evenings lodgings in Bakersfield, California.

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Lower gear sign leaving Sequoia National Forest (what if you do not have a “PRND21”?)

9-26-13 Driving Generals Highway South out of Sequoia National Park


On September 24th, after catching our breath from the traverse of 9,900 foot elevation Tioga Pass (see previous blog entry “Conquering Tioga Pass”) we we entered Yosemite National Park’s east entrance.  We then proceeded on to our first stop; Olmsted Point overlook – named after the famous landscape architect, who laid out plans for Yosemite National Park as well as New York’s Central Park and Raleigh’s Olmsted Park.

The Olmsted Point location, high on the east/west road bisecting Yosemite National Park, provides a long distance view of the impressive features to the south.  Although one cannot distinctly see Yosemite Valley from this vantage point, one does get an introduction to the magnitude and variety of features contained in the Park.

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Looking south into Yosemite National Park from Olmsted Point overlook

OK, for the uninformed such as I, Yosemite National Park covers a large expanse of territory containing many impressive stone faced mountains, lush forests, verdant meadows, lakes and streams. Not unlike other Parks you might say.  Well, what sets Yosemite National Park apart is the close juxtaposition of the features.  This is particularly true in Yosemite Valley where the huge, steep faced essentially bare stone mountains are positioned on the edges of a 1 mile wide by 8 mile long flat bottomed valley containing areas of large trees, meadows, and the Merced River.  Unlike the Grand Tetons, Glacier or Rocky Mountain National Parks where one might trek miles off the main road to reach the base of a stone faced mountain, in Yosemite Valley, the walls of the mountains on either side of the Valley seem to be within touching distance as one travels down the loop road.

An extreme example is El Capitan which appears to jut straight up from the north side of the Valley floor within touching distance of the loop road.  It is not until one spots one of its many tiny climbers on its face that one realized it is perhaps a mile away from the road.  That is pretty close considering the base of the Grand Tetons, as impressive as they are, are perhaps 30 miles (I’m guessing here) away from popular viewing points.  Our cabin in Yosemite Valley virtually backed up against a 1,000 foot near vertical wall of granite.

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A view of El Capitan as we entered Yosemite Valley

After taking the afternoon of the 24th getting to know the “lay of the land”, we attended an evening Search & Rescue presentation put on by a 35 year veteran of the Search & Rescue team.  He provided real-life examples of situations requiring his group’s assistance and provided tips for increasing one’s chances of survival when trekking through wilderness areas.  Not that we plan any of that at the moment; however, we tried to remember some of his suggestions as we wondered about in the dark, trying to find our way back to our cabin on the unlit Valley floor – “the bears only come down to the cabins at night”.  Incidentally, our cabin was “primitive rustic”, but did have a bathroom with a shower.

On September 25th we elected to take a 1 hour commercial open-air tram tour to get an overview of the Valley.  It was well worth the expense, as we were able to sit back and watch the scenery as our well informed Park Ranger guide pointed out the features of the Valley and took us to the Tunnel View overlook for a great (don’t want to wear out “spectacular”) view of the Valley and surrounding mountains including El Capitan, Half Dome, and Cathedral Rocks.

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A view eastward into Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View overlook with El Capitan on the left, Cathedral Rocks in the right foreground and Half Dome the whitish peak on the center-right.

After lunch in the main dining room of the exclusive Ahwahnee Lodge (it was the least I could do for Jean after refusing to pay the $490/night fee to stay there), we left Yosemite Valley and headed south toward our evening’s lodging in Fresno, California.

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Jean in the main dining room in The Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite Valley

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The lounge in The Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite Valley

On our way out of Yosemite National Park we passed by the Wawona Hotel (circa 1915) and stopped in the Mariposa Grove where I got my first real look at the giant redwoods.  Jean, being a real woman of the world had previously seen the giant redwoods – but of course, the trees were much smaller then.

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Wawona Hotel (circa 1915) at the south end of Yosemite National Park

9-24-13 Driving into Yosemite Valley with mountains just visible above the trees

 

9-25-13 Jean at the base of a large redwood in Mariposa Grove on the southern end of Yosemite National Park


The morning of Tuesday, September 24th was filled with a combination of excitement and apprehension; for me anyway.  Jean continued with her undaunted faith and trust in our ability to meet any challenge.  My concern was based on our pervious evening’s “sampling” of the Tioga Road leading to the east entrance to Yosemite National Park.  The eastern end of Tioga Road contains a 5 mile stretch of steep grade ultimately taking one through Tioga Pass at an elevation of 9,943 feet.  We had gained enough mountain climbing experience on this trip to recognize the challenges to our horsepower-challenged fully loaded station wagon (72 advertized horsepower).

We left our lodging earlier than usual, as we wanted to take advantage of the cool morning air to help keep the Jeep from overheating on the long climb (I usually let Jean sleep in until 8 am while I am up at 5 am to work on the blogs).  At 9:30 am while Jean was paying the breakfast tab, I was across the street topping off the gas tank, oil and water; and getting the business card of the local car towing service – just in case.

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Sunrise on Mono Lake, California the morning of our departure to Yosemite National Park

So off we went westward toward the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park, some 12 miles up the Tioga Road (“up” being the operative word).  So technically, we have 5 forward gears to work with.  Starting with the highest torque (lowest top speed) gear we have 1st gear, 2nd gear, 2nd gear with overdrive, 3rd gear, and 3rd gear with overdrive.  Sounds complicated; however, we seldom use 2nd gear with overdrive and the overdrive engagement in 3rd gear is generally “automatic” being based on vehicle speed.

OK, so now we are sitting at the entrance to entrance to the Tioga Road looking at a sign that said something like “not advised for commercial vehicles towing trailers” (commercial vehicles towing trailers out-climb us all the time).  So we do our preflight check: oil pressure – good; engine temperature – good; generator charging – good; brakes – OK (as good as they get); seat belts – secured; doors – locked (sort of); and off we go.

Tioga Road starts off with a steep grade, but levels off enough for us to get all the way up to 3rd with OD (at 40mph!).  Then, we hit the 5 mile continual grade to 9,900 feet.  Starting to lose speed – shift back to 3rd without OD (36mph).  That lasted for a few moments until the speed drops to 28mph at which point we drop back to 2nd gear without OD and continue the next 4.5 miles at between 25 and 28mph; when called for, pulling on to the right shoulder to let those show-offs with their new-fangled modern cars wiz by; and while continually scanning the gauges for any sign of impending trouble.

We are running at nearly full engine power with manifold vacuum at around 3 in Hg (close to full throttle).  The water temperature slowly rises to about 210F and stabilizes.  This is significantly higher than our usual 180F, but still tolerable (we hit 235F climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park a month earlier).  Oil pressure stabilizes at 30psi which is sufficient to maintain lubrication and cooling of internal engine components.  One thing that we do not have to watch as we negotiate the winding road is the speedometer.  No chance that we are going to exceed any speed limits any time soon.

Faster than imagined earlier we make it over the top of the pass at nearly 10,000 feet and drive on to the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park, running surprising well considering our carbureted engine, unlike modern computed controlled fuel injected engines, has no means of compensating for the thinner air at this altitude.

Side note:  One thing that some of we old car drivers (that is drivers of old cars) dream of is the day when a solar flare sends an electro/magnetic pulse to the Earth that wipes out the solid state ignition systems ubiquitous on all modern cars – leaving us old car folks to carry on the task of handling transportation for the foreseeable future. Not true (the dreaming part), but with our strong dependence on solid state devices, it is something to think about.

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The east entrance to Yosemite National Park on September 23, 2013 (notice the snow)

9-24-2013 Ascending Tioga Pass from the East toward Yosemite National Park

9-24-2103 Completing the Ascent of the Tioga Pass toward Yosemite National Park


Jean and I spent Saturday and Sunday September 21st and 22nd in Reno, Nevada where good internet connection and comfortable accommodations permitted us to get caught up on company and personal business.

Monday morning, September 23rd, after a good breakfast at a locally owned restaurant, Jean and I headed south toward our lodgings on the east border of Yosemite National Park.  Our destination was a “rustic” cabin in Lee Vining, a small town at the base of Tioga Road which winds its way up to the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park by way of 9,500 foot elevation Tioga Pass.

Lee Vining resides on the western shore of Mono Lake, a large, extremely alkaline lake with a salinity level several times that of sea water.  Nevertheless, specifically adapted algae, water flies, and brine shrimp provide an ecological formula that feeds thousands of birds and water fowl that annually travel up and down the Pacific flyway.  We were there during the offseason; however, we did get to see ducks, geese, and seagulls preparing to make their way south for the winter.

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Dan at Mono Lake, Lee Vining, California

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Jean in front of a cluster of monoliths at Mono Lake, California

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Sample of monoliths (~10’ tall) totally on dry ground at Mono Lake, California

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Partially submerged monoliths on Mono Lake, California

The most intriguing feature of Mono Lake is the presence of tall monolithic mineral formations.  As recently as 60 years ago the lake level was 20 feet higher than today.  In the middle of the 20th century, it was decided to divert water from the snow melt tributaries that normally feed Mono Lake, to supplement the Los Angeles water supply.  This resulted in the continual drop in the lake’s water level.  Before the lake level was lowered, underground springs would release water onto the lake floor.  When calcium compounds in the spring water reacted with the calcium containing lake water, irregularly shaped calcium carbonate formations were created on the lake floor.  Many such unusual formulations are exposed now that the lake level has receded.  As a side note, a compromise has been negotiated between the powers to be to increase the water supplied to the lake by reducing the amount of water diverted to LA.

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View of Mono Lake, California with sun setting behind us (un-retouched photo)

Jean and I enjoyed exploring these monoliths up close and subsequently touring fresh water June and Grant Lakes on the June Lake loop road a few miles south of Lee Vining, California before settling in for the evening.  I should mention that prior to touring the region, Jean and I “sampled” the lower portion of the Tioga Pass and decided that due to its long, steep inclines, it was something that we would leave for the next morning.  I did not sleep well that evening thinking about the best transmission shifting strategy for the assault on Tioga Pass the next morning.

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June Lake south of Lee Vining, California

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Grant Lake south of Lee Vining, California


Honestly, we had not heard of Lassen Volcanic National Park before it was brought to our attention as one of the stops on the 1920 Part-to-Park Tour; and we are pleased that it was.  Ironically, although Lassen Volcanic National Park was one of the scheduled stops on the 1920 tour, due to lack of roads to and within the Park, the Tour group did not actually visit this Park, but rather encouraged the construction of roads during their stop in Reading, California some 50 miles west of the Park.  Nevertheless, this was one of the intended stops (and besides, we had had a Park sticker printed for it), so Jean and I decided to spend half a day driving through and exploring the Park.

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9-20-13: Entering Lassen Volcanic National Park

An important note of disclosure:  Although our original intensions had been to follow the route of the 1920 Park-to-Park Tour as closely as possible, we have since deemed that plan to be impractical and not well suited to our safety and enjoyment.  First of all, in several cases the roads used by the 1920 tour (Interstate-5 running through much of California, for example) are now high speed heavily traveled Interstate Highways.  At a prudent top speed of 55mph, we do not belong on such thoroughfares.  Often there are no closely paralleling byways; and if there are, they are very tedious to maneuver in congested areas.  Secondly, the Tour group went well out of a direct Park to Park route to visit municipalities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to promote the construction of roads to the Parks – as well they should.  With those cities considerably larger now, and incorporating the Interstate Highways previously mentioned, it was just not practical for us to make every city stop on the Tour’s itinerary.  With the desire to avoid major thoroughfares, the elimination of the impractical stops, and to permit the inclusion of other interesting places, Jean and I at times selected routes that were different from those of the original Park-to-park Tour.

That being said, we are making our best effort (thus far successfully) to visit in prescribed order, all twelve of the National Parks originally mapped out for the 1920 Tour, and to experience the roads and points of interest in the Parks outlined in the original or actually visited by the Tour group.  Actually, with our recent visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park and our intended visit to Zion National Park (neither of which, for good reasons, the 1920 Tour did actually accomplish), we hope to make up for our lack of tracing the actual path by visiting all of the Parks laid out in the original plan.  So there..

OK, back to Lassen Volcanic National Park.  After a super, reasonably priced breakfast in the town of Old Station (population 51), we drove the 14 miles to the northwestern entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park where at the Visitors Center we received very helpful directions to those features assessable to the day visitor such as ourselves.  At the Park Ranger’s suggestion, we started our tour of the Park with an easy ½ mile walk along the shore of Manzanita Lake to a point where we could see Crescent Crater and Lassen Volcanic Peak across the lake; jutting up above the tree tops some five miles distant*.  Great way to get the juices flowing.

*Do you like my use of varied punctuation to break up run-on sentences?

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9-20-13: View of Lassen Volcanic Peak from Lake Manzanita

Then anticipating the consumption of a fair amount of fuel making it to the top of the 8,500 foot pass across the Park road, we topped of our gas tank we and headed out to our next stop – labeled on the Park map as “Devastated Area”.  This is where the circa 1915 eruption and resultant mud flow caused by the melting of the snow cap, wiped out the forest below for a distance of three or more miles toward the point where we stood.  We took a photo of the Jeep in the same location where Benjamin F. Loomis took a six photo sequence over a period of 20 minutes of the 1914 eruption that preceded the more devastating one shortly afterward.  The rich soil in carried down the mountain by the mud flow has supported hardy reforestation in that area.

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“Devastated Area” Site of the 1914 eruptions photographed by Benjamin F Loomis

We next traveled to King’s Creek.  At an elevation of 7,400 feet, the creek meanders through a lush upland meadow bordered by mature pine and fir trees towering above.  Very peaceful setting with the light wind whispering through the branches.  Enough of that.  Jeep did well so far on the climb.

We continued our assent on the Park road to Bumpass Lookout at an elevation of 8,500 feet.  Not quite sure if that is pronounced.  Anyway, we made it up there without anyone bumping us in the _ _ _.  The spectacular view from up there helps one envision that the surrounding 8,000 foot to 10,000 foot peaks are mere remnants of a much, much larger volcano that resided in the Park.  Equally amazing is the existence of a megaton bolder perched on the edge of this Overlook – the bolder have been deposited there by a receding glacier that was thick enough to have covered that location.  Extremely windy up there.  Glad they had opted for stone restrooms and not Porta-Potties.  Please view video to get a sense of this stop.

Next stop on the journey down the main road in the Park (the operative word being “down”) was the Sulphur Works.  No halfway respectable Park in the west would be seen without at least something bubbling out of the earth and the longed-for aroma of rotten eggs.  Actually, this bubbly pit was quite impressive with its very energetic display.

Last stop on the trip through Lassen Volcanic National Park was the Kohm Yah-mah-nee (pronounced “kohm yah-mah-nee”) Visitors Center at the southwest entrance to (or in our case – exit from) the Park.

We had our traditional sunflower butter & honey sandwiches on wheat bread, took one last look at the peaks surrounding us, and headed off on byways to, of all places, Reno, Nevada.   Despite having portable hotspots for two different phone carriers, we had been suffering from feeble internet connectivity for the past several days.  Jean had some company “paperwork” to do that required strong connectivity to our server, so we elected to hold out in Reno for a couple of days to get caught up.  Will probably head out for Yosemite (pronounced “yosemite”) on the September 23, 2013.

Thanks for listening,

Dan

 

9-20-13 Driving to 8,500 ft pass in Lassen Volcanic National Park

9-20-13 Passing thru volcanic rubble in Lassen Volcanic National Park

9-20-13 View from Bumpass Overlook in Lassen Volcanic National Park showing Breakoff Mt. & glacially deposited bolder


We left Prospect, Oregon mid-morning on September 19th on our trek toward our next stop big stop, Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California.  A couple that met on a few occasions in the Crater Lake area suggested that we swing through Lava Beds National Monument on our way south.  It was well worth the diversion.  Lava Beds National Monument comprises a region that was engulfed in lava flows from a nearby volcano some 500,000 years ago (I take their word for it, as I was only a child at the time).  Anyway, the event left the region covered in huge jagged chunks of dark brown lava.  The geologists have a name for it – I just think of it as big pieces of chocolate brownies.  Another striking feature of this region is the labyrinth of underground caves (come to think of it – all caves are underground) formed by flowing lava.  There are several hundred of these hollow lava tubes throughout the park presenting a wide range of exploration difficulty.  Visitors to Lava Beds National Monument are welcome to explore the caves.  Equipment guidelines and flashlight are available at the Visitors Center in the Monument (I guess that a “Monument” is one step down from a “National Park”).

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9-19-13: Entering California from Oregon

Jean and I selected “Scull Cave” for cursory exploration.  It was on our route through the National Monument and required little exertion, being close to the main road and having tall ceilings – no stooping required at the entrance.  After checking out the cave we proceeded southwest through the Monument and on to Glass Mountain which had be suggested as an interesting stop by the Monument’s ranger.  Glass Mountain, which sits at an elevation of 7,600 ft, is one huge, huge pile of chunks of both solid and foamed obsidian brought to the earth’s surface by volcanic action.  Very impressive to see layers upon layers of continuous and fractured material.

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9-19-20: Jeep at side of Glass Mountain, northern California

We continued on toward our night’s lodging in North Station, 14 miles north of the north entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park; making a couple of stops.  We had seen Mount Shasta peaking off to our right as we traveled generally southward.  We decided to get a closer look by taking a westerly side trip to the northern California town of McCloud.  From there we had a good view of the mountain from our lunch stop.

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9-19-13: Mount Shasta from our McCloud, California lunch stop

 

We then gassed up and headed once again for Old Station.  Incidentally, what kind of gas mileage we get in the Jeep is one of the top five questions that we are asked by folks that are interested in the station wagon.  The answer is: 21mpg if mostly highway cruising at 55mph (we do not use expressways).  Probably does a little better than that; however, we seldom have a straight highway run for a tankfull of gas to know for sure.  Around town the mileage drops to around 15mpg.  Surprisingly, the first question asked by most folks is “is that a woodie?”  Being an all steel station wagon, and having no wood on it with the exception of the roof rack, it perplexes me a bit to have that question asked; however, I understand that the question is aimed more at the class of car rather than the materials of construction.  The second most asked when we describe our Trek is “does it have air conditioning?” to which we reply “yup, two door windows, a cowl vent, and a liftable back window.”

Back to the trip – the last stop that we made before reaching our evening’s destination in Old Station, California was MacArthur-Burney Falls.  There is an impressive waterfall just minutes from this State Park’s parking lot.  The falls drop from roughly the level of the parking lot to a lagoon some 130 feet below.  Perhaps the most striking feature is that some of water from above, in addition to that which is in the stream, emanates from the face of the stone cliff face on either side of the main stream, providing a veil like appearance.  We walked down a paved trail to the base of the falls in its canyon to experience the deep roar and fine cool mist of the falls.  Must be refreshing on a shot summer day.

The Jeep has been performing very well, negotiating major changes in elevation (often to 7,000+ ft requiring with sustained full throttle runs) without a hiccup.  Guess Jean, in her infinite wisdom, was right in advising me to keep my hands off of the engine as long as it was operating well.  One usually gets a few signals when it is time to do general maintenance, and with less than 4,000 miles since I got it tuned in, I feel confident in heeding her advice – a while longer.  Arrived safely in Old Station to rest up for our visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park (our sixth National Park in the Trek) the next morning.

9-19-13 Glass Mountain south of Lava Beds National Monument, California

9-19-13 MacArthur-Burney Falls northern California


Jean and I spent the night of September 17th in lodgings affiliated with the historic Prospect Hotel in Prospect, Oregon about 50 miles from the southeast entrance to Crater Lake National Park. Constructed in the 1880’s, the hotel was in existence prior to the 1920 Park-to-Park tour.

We drove through Crater Lake National Park using the west section of the rim road on our way from Corvallis, Oregon to our lodging in Prospect, Oregon.  The Rim Road was heavily fogged in.  We could see absolutely nothing of the Lake or the surrounding terrain (and little of the road).  We made the best of it by stopping to view a film about the Park at the Visitors Center.  There we were told that clear-to-partly skies were predicted for the next morning with a chance of isolated showers in the afternoon.

We elected to stay in the Prospect Hotel’s motel-like annex rather than the main Bed & Breakfast hotel, as we were hoping to get on the road to Crater Lake early the next morning.  We did not want to risk the opportunity to see the lake because of fog or rain (and yes, the room without breakfast was less expensive).

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Historic Prospect Hotel, Prospect, Oregon

 

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to see the Lake, we skipped breakfast and headed directly for the Park.  With the morning cloudiness burning off as we headed for the Park, we decided to risk a stop at Natural Bridge on our way in.  We were surprised to find that rather than the traditional elevated stone arch of natural bridges that we had seen on previous Jeep outings in Virginia and Georgia, this one was an extinct lava tube through which a respectable size stream flows.  Except in heavy flow occasions when the tube cannot handle the full flow of water, a section of the otherwise aboveground stream is naturally channeled underground through the lava tube and exits back into the aboveground stream bed approximately 300 feet downstream.  The stream was running at a fairly good rate probably due to the rains of the previous day.  Seeing all that raging water disappear into the ground beneath our lookout vantage point and reappear just within our sight downstream was quite impressive.

As we traveled further up the slope of Mount Mazama toward the crater confined within, the skies continued to deepen in blue and the few puffy clouds remained scattered; so we decided to make a 12 mile side trip off of our counterclockwise drive around the rim road to see Pinnacles, a collection of mineral projections formed by the fusion of volcanic ash by superhot fumaroles.  It was worth the trip.

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The Pinnacles in Crater Lake National Park

Now finally we were back on the rim road anxiously looking forward to our first look of Crater Lake.  But first we had to pay our dues.  What they don’t tell you in the brochures (speculation, since I do not read the brochures) is that the majority of the rim road snakes its way (snake being the operative word) along the outside of the crater’s rim – that is, the side away from the lake.  The crater walls are high and have steep slopes on both the inside (lake side) and the outside.  So, if one travels the rim road in the counterclockwise direction as we did, and naturally being on the right side of the road, one finds one’s self perilously close to the steep (and deep) downhill of the crater’s outer slopes.  Maneuvering the handling-challenged Jeep on this road with its abrupt elevation changes and sharp curves with the often un-guarded downward slopes (cliffs in some cases) on my right made this passage the most harrowing to me of any on the visits to five of the western National Parks thus far taken on this trek.  All the time, Jean was clicking off photographs and videos; I surmised either to keep her mind off of the imminence of death or to document its occurrence for the Accident Investigation Team – our own “black box recorder”.

Anyway, it was worth the near-death experience.  The view of the lake from the various overlooks was truly spectacular.  Surely, the mountains, waterfalls, geological formations, steaming and boiling features, and variety of animals that we had observed over the last month were awe inspiring; but the sight of that massive blue lake with its two islands was truly memorable.  Perhaps it is the combination of viewing from elevations that permitted on to see practically the whole lake from each vantage point, the contrast in “textures” between the glasslike flatness of the lake surface and the tall craggy slopes of the crater’s rim, together with the color contrast between the pure blue of the lake and the mottled shades of brown of the crater’s slopes.  Anyway, the views were so spectacular that even the photos that I took looked great un-retouched.

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Jeep at Phantom Ship Overlook, Crater Lake National Park – same setting as photo from 1920 Park-to-Park tour

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Dan & Jean at Phantom Ship Overlook, Crater Lake National Park

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Crater Lake from Cloudcap Overlook

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Panoramic photo of Crater Lake from Watchman Overlook, Crater Lake National Park

We capped off counterclockwise sojourn of Crater Lake National Park with a stop at Crater Lake Lodge to take a photo of the Jeep in a similar setting as one taken during the 1920 Park-to-Park tour.  Due to the conspicuous appearance of our vehicle, we ran into (not over) many folks several times during our time in the Park.  They recognized us, and I of course, had to be reminded.  Anyway, it was fun visiting with folks from places such as Seattle and northern England.

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Jeep at Crater Lake Lodge, Crater Lake National Park – same setting as 1920 Park-to-Park photo

We left the park at around 4pm on the 18th and having anticipated that we would not be up for much travel that evening, set out for our evening lodging in Klamath Falls, Oregon only about two hours from Crater Lake National Park.

 

9-18-13 Driving up the east side of Crater Lake rim road I think I deserve a T shirt

 

9-18-13 Crater Lake from Phantom Ship Overlook


We arrived at the Lacey, Washington home of Herb & Barbara (former neighbors in Cary, NC) the afternoon of September 12, 2013 and had a nice meal with them after relaxing around the fire pit in their back yard overlooking the golf course.  Barbara is very active in this “55+” community promoting wellness programs and serving on the emergency preparedness planning team from the community’s very nicely equipped activity center.

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View from Herb and Barbara’s back yard in Lacey, Washington

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Herb & Barbara with Dapper Dan at their home in Lacey, Washington

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Jean with Dapper Dan in Lacey, Washington

We got back on the road mid-day Thursday, September 13 for the trek to Corvallis, OR about 50 miles south of Portland, OR to visit our niece Deborah and her husband Oscar.  The 8 hour trip was quite tedious.  We attempted to travel I-5 for a couple of miles, but very quickly realized that we were going to die.  Our 55 mph Jeep was no match for the continuous onslaught of 70 mph semi-trailers.  We elected to take the circuitous route through city and township to reach our destination.

Deborah is a naturopathic physician with an active private practice in Corvallis.  Her husband Oscar is an accomplished woodworker who has designed and constructed several attractive large furniture pieces – mostly using reclaimed wood.

Corvallis places a strong emphasis on environmental responsibility and personal health.  Recycling, composting, exercising and use of organically produced food items is prevalent throughout the community.  Deborah and Oscar fit well in this setting, growing a variety of food items at the home – including 3 egg laying chickens.

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Niece Deborah and Dan with hens in Deborah’s back yard, Corvallis, Oregon.  Can I wash my hands now?

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Jean holding a hen in Deborah’s back yard, Corvallis, Oregon

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Dan, Jean with Deborah & Oscar in front of their home in Corvallis, OR

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Jean, Deborah, and Oscar with Luna, Corvallis, OR

 

We had a delightful variety of meals during our three day stay with them.  They had invited us to stay through Monday to get caught up on our paperwork (internet service in Mt. Rainer and Glacier regions was very sketchy), do laundry (always a good idea), and reorganize our clothing for anticipated colder weather at Crater Lake to which we will trek on September 17th.

 

9-16-13 Driving to Sushi Restaurant with Deborah & Oscar