Is it Really Walley World?!? Part 3

Is it Really Walley World?!? Part 3

Day 9 – July 2, 2024 – Badger, CA

So we wretched ourselves out of bed and left our place at about 7:15 am to hit up Sequoia National Park!  It was about 45-60 minutes away from us, and the unfortunateness is that we picked this remote cabin because it was close to both Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, which are both remote and weirdly next to each other, but tricky to travel to.  WELL, turns out the major easy way to get to Kings Canyon from where we are is under construction for the week.  And there have been some forest fires that have impacted things as well.  

So Matt made the operational decision that we would just go to Sequoia National Park and see where we ended up.  We made our way out of the resort and down a road, despite being called Dry Creek Road, that followed a flowing creek.  It was mostly deserted ranches, some creepy Christian camps, and overall not the place you would want to run out of gas.  Also the road was a little dicey and about 1.5 lanes wide.  We then made our way over to Three Rivers, the standard cutesy NPS entrance town. We started at the Ash Mountain Entrance Station and hit up the Foothills Visitor Center, got our stamp and up north on the Generals’ Highway we went!

Matt had some clear ideas about what he wanted to see: 

  • Moro Rock – a rock that you climb 500 steps to get to an observation point over the valley.  It was reminiscent of the Grand Canyon Bright Angel trail on the North Rim – rusty inadequate railing and all.  It was beautiful!
  • We then hit up Tunnel Log, a log that many years ago they cut a hole in so you could drive through it.  Yes, we are suckers for cheesy stuff (as were the other tourists in line, haha!)
  • We missed the Giant Forest Museum, as we thought it was a shuttle stop.  Ooops.  It may have had the smallest parking lot ever.
  • We then went to see General Sherman, the largest tree in the world.  There are lots of hiking trails around the General – we posed for pictures and then took the Congress Trail around the area, looking at large Sequoias and the area overall.  It was beautiful!
  • Made sandwiches and had Coke and gatorade in the parking lot – hiking sandwiches are the BEST!
  • We drove on to Lodgepole visitor center and Zoe purchased a small possum and B found his tokens that he collects.  Mom found an adorable little Steller’s Jay plush animal that makes chirping sounds when you push on it (the chirps are from the Cornell Ornithology Lab – we are big fans!).  We then noted that just a bit further on the Generals Highway was King’s Canyon National Park – why wouldn’t we continue?
Love the railing made out of pipe. But these steps were actually real (not just haphazardly placed rocks (looking at you, Yosemite)).
Moro Rock – the only panoramic photo to ever turn out.
Tunnel Log in the rental car – touristing it up.
The biggest tree in the WORLD, baby!
B shletering in a tree, don’t blame him at this point in the trip.
A pretty tree on the Congress Trail – they were named after various people in government (don’t ask us for more information, we just read the signs and figured out the pattern).

So off we we went, playing with our National Park Trivia cards (turns out we really don’t know much of anything about Civil War Battlefields and those particular national parks and monuments).  We made our way out of Sequoia NP and into the Sequoia National Forest, then into King’s Canyon.  Sarah now had an agenda:

  • Hit up Grant Grove Village and the Visitor’s Center to get the all important King’s Canyon stamp.  We then promptly missed the visitor’s center.  Eh, will get it on the way back.
  • We then turned to go see General Grant, the second tallest tree in the world.  This was a much shorter walk and we hiked around that – we were able to walk through a hollowed out tree where back in the day the cavalry kept their horses. 
  • Lastly, Sarah wanted to go out to the Junction Point Vista – it was about 10 miles out on a road toward Cedar Grove and overlooked a huge canyon – King’s Canyon – deeper than the Grand Canyon.  Well, that road was a treat (technically two lanes wide but that drop off….eeesh….).  We made it out to the Vista and it was GORGEOUS.  A beautiful confluence of bright blue rivers below.  Even with smoke from a prescribed burn, it was amazing.  Totally worth it.
The cavalry who stabled their horses here had been mobilized to protect the trees (according to Matt, who hopefully didn’t just make it up)
Yup, you guessed it. More hollowed out trees.
General Grant, the second most massive tree in the world.
The second deepest canyon in the United States – amazingly beautiful (Grand Canyon is third, take that).
Another panoramic view – this time of King Canyon + prescribed burn smoke (at some point there had to be a fire while we were out here, right??).

We made our way back to the visitor’s center where Sarah purchased a T shirt that may actually be Zoe sized (whoops) and Zoe purchased a large stuffed spider.  We then drove almost out of the park, and then flipped a “U”ie at the last minute and parked – then hopped onto the shortest hiking path ever to the Mark Twin Stump.  This tree was 1,350 years old when it was cut down many years ago, and it took two men 13 days to cut it down – parts of it were brought all over the world, including the NY Museum of Natural History – no one could believe that such a large tree actually existed.  Now you can climb some treacherous broken steps and stand on its stump.  We then hopped back down, and zoomed out of the park!

That caution tape did nothing to stop us from climbing the scary broken wooden steps.

The drive back was through more militia land, er, rural mountain roads – and much more pleasant than expected – we were home by 5 pm!  What a great day.  Dinner tonight is called, “eating whatever leftover food you don’t want to pack in your carry-on”.  Tomorrow we had to Death Valley for a night, the next night is in Las Vegas, then we fly home!

Day 10 – July 3, 2024 – Badger, CA to Stovepipe Wells, CA

The time has come to bid farewell to a house that made some of us nervous – some of us were convinced that it was all going to fall apart if we stepped on the living floor just right (wrong), and others were convinced that people were going to break in and murder us.  Some of us was really just Sarah, but the place was creepy.  Goodbye, rickety house!

The plan was to drive down through Bakersfield, then curve over toward Death Valley National Park.  We piled into the car, Sarah begging Matt to drive down a different road than the Dry Creek Ranching Militia nightmare from yesterday.  He agreed, and off we went on an even curvier barely 2 lane mountain road.  It was beautiful though, and we didn’t feel like we were going to stumble on secret marijuana grows or human trafficking on this road.  

We eventually popped out onto a highway that then headed south toward Bakersfield.  We were in the heart of California’s agricultural area – we could see pistachios, oranges, apples, and olives being grown.  It is dry, 95 degrees, very little water in sight and cacti everywhere – and gleaming green fields of various trees with irrigation everywhere.  It is not surprising that agriculture in areas not meant to support it is impacting California and this was obvious.  But dammit, we need our olive oil and pistachios and year round cuties – we are Muricans!  (this is only partially sarcastic, too)

We hit Bakersfield, and **gross**.  This place was filled with refineries, oil wells pumping, and nastiness.  Matt stopped to get gas and based on the gas station, Sarah wouldn’t let Zoe go in to use the bathroom – Matt went in himself and came out and said “we can do better”.  We drove to a WalMart and purchased more vanilla wafers (we devoured two packages of these in the past two days – SO GOOD) and gum (because Zoe hates wafers) and orange TicTacs (because B wanted something) and pink lemonade KitKats (because Matt cannot resist a new KitKat flavor, even one that is wrong).  We then used their bathrooms (only slightly less sketchy than the Chevron gas station) and then made sandwiches in the parking lot because classy.

On we headed to Death Valley!  The temperature started climbing to 100+ degrees.  We lightly quarreled about the best route to take, and even turned around to take what looked like a more established highway – a good bet, actually.  The scenery was stunning!  We then realized that we were driving on the same route as the Badwater 135, an ultramarathon that starts at the lowest point in the lower 48 states, and ends 135 miles later, most of the way up Mount Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states.  Behind us, the Sierras rose high with snow, and in front of us, the desert with dust devils and sand dunes was in front of us.  Magnificent!

We passed by Panamint Springs, which was an old desolate hotel, an abandoned restaurant, and a non occupied NPS entrance station.  Well. huh.  Glad we didn’t pick that option.  On we went up another set of mountains to a pass, and saw a sign we had never seen before: “Turn off AC for next 10 miles to avoid engine overheating”.  Well, when it is 115 degrees and you are going up a mountain to get to a pass and have to kill the AC – WOW.  You could feel it.  We went over the pass and descended into Death Valley and that AC went back on so fast!  Haha.  We made our way to Stovepipe Wells – temperature 123 degrees at the hotel.

Stovepipe Wells had maybe 5-7? small buildings – 3 of them were the hotel rooms, 2 were the restaurant and saloon, and 2 were the general store and a couple small buildings (maybe where employees lived?).  There was an appealing pool, two gas pumps, and an empty campground with a single camper pulled up in it.  Matt checked in and we drove around to our room.  When we got out, it felt like it does when you open a hot oven – except you couldn’t close this – haha!

There is the general store, one of the like 4 buildings here. You are literally at the end of the Earth here.
We got some sand dunes, tumbleweed still growing, mountains, stunning views, and 123 degree temperatures. Check, check, check, check, check.
Sarah arguably felt this was the second best motel of the trip (better than murder motel and rickety house), even if it had some weird beetles in it.

We headed over to the restaurant. This was old school NPS, and looked like the original Vacation movie.  The waiter was GREAT.  Unfortunately the beer cooler had broken so no draft beer, but they had a great selection of cocktails, bottled beer and wine.  Noah and B got Death Valley cream soda and root beer, and we adults got jalapeño margaritas that were great.  Everyone was happy with their dinner – and yes, other patrons showed up.  We were impressed with our waiter, who had to juggle all the tables himself.  We even got a bit of dessert as well.  

This is our restaurant.
Matt made reservations, which were recommended by the website. We were the only people there for the first half hour. The waiter, who also was the host and we suspect the bartender, tactfully did not mention anything about our reservations.

After supper, we hit the pool – it was PERFECT – cool and refreshing – and when you got out, you were briefly chilled, then it was perfect.  When you picked up your towels that had been out there, it felt like they had been in the dryer and were toasty and warm.  Crazy!

Favorite pool of the trip!
This feat made everyone at the pool turn and look (“everyone” being three guys in their 20s who may have been stoned, and two Europeans (there are always Europeans))

We settled in after a scalding hot shower, which we can only theorize is like when your water is cold in the winter and slow to warm – guess there is no good way to cool the water?  Huh.  The kids did manage to find Shark Tank, of which we have seen every single episode now.  Every.  Single.  Episode.  Now.  NO MORE.

Day 11 – July 4, 2024 – Stovepipe Wells, CA to Las Vegas, NV

We awoke bright and early at 3 am to banging on our motel door – “Fire Department!  Open up!!!”  We adults blearily woke up and opened the door (don’t worry, all Matt could think of is that we were literally in the middle of nowhere with like 2 dozen people (that would be total employees and motel guests) and that these were armed assassins coming in off the highway to rob all of us) – and there were EMS personnel and an ambulance with lights flashing.  They told us someone called 911 and gave them our room number.  Clearly we were all asleep and EMS was confused.  Then someone came out of a different room (honestly, there were probably only 5 rooms total being used) and said “We called!”  The ambulance people went over and we staggered back to bed.  Kind of.

The plan was to get up and leave by 7 am – we wanted to be hiking at Badwater Basin by 8 am as no hiking after 10 am in the park was recommended.  We were successful – again the water was super hot coming out of the sink faucets, and no ice available anywhere.  Smarter people would have taken all of their water out of the car overnight, but not us!  We will never take cold water for granted ever again.

We packed up the car, got some coffee from the lobby, and hopped in the car to motor towards Badwater Basin.  This the lowest place in North America and is a large salt flat.  It is 227 feet below sea level and was 99 degrees in the shade at 8 am.  The lower you go, the hotter it is!  We set up to hike a mile across the salt flats to the marker for the lowest point, following a vague trail through the salt flats.  But after like 0.6-0.75 miles, there was no marker, no trail, and damn out in the full sun at probably the lowest place on the continent, we were like, let’s get back to the car.  So we walked back, and maybe there was no marker?  We took our picture at the available marker.

Lowest point in North America – living the dream on vacation.
Sarah trying to navigate with her watch (which is when we realized she had no clue where we were going and we were just wandering aimlessly across a salt flat with no path in 110 degree weather)
Zoe would never let this picture get out if she knew about it.
Can you tell who is in charge of picking pictures for the blog? Mr. Panorama.

After getting back in, we motored along and hit up Artist’s Drive, where we were swarmed by tiny annoying flies.  This trip had otherwise been relatively insect free, oddly.  Then back to the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center, and purchased various items from their store (the kid’s favorite part of any National Park).  Sarah purchased a small stuffed animal pupfish.  Because today was going to be ALL ABOUT THE PUPFISH.  Stay tuned!

Artist’s Drive – the best part was seeing some guy completely covered in the annoying bugs running back to his car. And the scenery.
Not shown – the sign next to it that said this sign was inaccurate by 2-5 degrees.

We then motored down 190, and stopped at Zabriskie Point.  We then took a detour down to Dantes View, which included a 15% grade and topped off at 5475 feet.  It was a balmy 95 degrees up there and we loved it!  Amazing views of the basin. 

Dantes View. Any road that doesn’t allow trailers in a National Park is destined to have a cool view.

We then got back on 190 and the plan was to head over to Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuse, specifically Devil’s Hole.  This a a discordant part of Death Valley National Park, and is the only place in the world that the Devil’s Hole Pupfish lives.  It is a fish that has been separated from others for at least 60,000 years and is endangered and lives in a hole that opens to a cave system that has never been fully mapped.  It is geologically heated to 93 degrees and while there are other pupfish around, this one only lives here.  You can only view it from a cage with binoculars if you are lucky.  Also, the water in the cave system is thought to be connected to a vast underground aquifer, as when there has been earthquakes in Mexico and Chile and Japan, mini tsunami waves have appeared in the hole, up to 4 feet in height!  Amazing!

So we drove over to the refuge, which was on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere.  There was a big beautiful visitors center that was closed until July 6.  We motored on to Devil’s Hole, and made the trek to hole #1, which we viewed with the high powered binoculars we had brought for this reason alone (note: we are not kidding).  We could see a small pool of water and Sarah saw the surface tension broke once with something silvery?  A fish?  Couldn’t tell.  We were under surveillance with multiple cameras as well.  So exciting!  Sarah and B (then Matt separately) hiked to something called Devil’s Hole #2 – no one knows if it connects to the same or a different aquifer despite being right next to it, and it was kind of scary – felt like we could drop a phone down there.  ha!

Time to go see the hole with the super cool water and fish in it – unironically!
The informational sign so you know we aren’t lying about the tsunami/waves. Seriously, how incredibly cool is this?
See the hole on the lower left part of this picture? That is where the pupfish live. You get to watch from a monitored cage. With binoculars.
Home of the endangered fish that we don’t think we can see

We then staggered back to the car, and rejoiced in the AC.  We drove back to the visitors’ center as Sarah, and now B, were determined to find some kind of fish.  We staggered around on a wooden boardwalk in 115 degree heat until B jogged ahead and waved – pupfish!  Sarah and Noah bustled over and in the warm water Crystal Springs, you could see tiny fish swimming around the base of plants and eating algae.  Amazing!  Sarah walked back to get Matt and he walked over too.  What an amazing place!  OMG we were so done though.

Where the non endangered pupfish live – just a mile hike in scorching hot weather. Totally worth it!
The warm Crystal Spring where the cute little fish live. The silvery blue fish were remarkedly difficult to photograph. Also our phones were covered in sweat by this point.

We piled into the car, and off we went toward Las Vegas.  We were mildly disappointed to learn Area 51 was so close and we were not allowed to detour over to it.  Boo!  We then drove into Vegas – we had looked at getting a hotel on the strip, but oddly could not book a room for 5 people, just 4.  REALLY, VEGAS.  Whatever – we cruised around, showing the kids the sights – then checked in at the Holiday Inn Express Tropicana lol.  In the shadow of the MGM Grand.  And hit the pool!

Here we go kids – the big city full of debauchery.
We ended up spending some time in the pool – it was actually really nice with a waterfall and all.  
All of the yahoos in our family except Sarah climbed in the hot tub.  I mean, I guess it was less than the air temperature.

After showering off (thank god, a shower that wasn’t burning hot, wasn’t in a creepy house with a faucet from 1955 (rickety house, we are looking at you), and not in the 5 foot high murder motel shower) – we tried to find food for delivery but since it was the Fourth of July, could find nothing but Dominos.  And it was DELICIOUS. Off to sleep after seeing a single firework above the motel next to us!

Day 12 – July 5, 2024 – Las Vegas, NV to not Waupaca, WI

Alas, we all got to sleep in, drank as much of our bottled water as we could, jammed dirty clothes into suitcases, and ate as many Belvitas as we could before stuffing the last of those into our carryon, and put all the mac and cheese that was leftover into the suitcases.  And we were off!  Drove to the Enterprise place after cleaning the car as much as we could (it was grody), and then the shuttle to the airport.  Another beautiful 115 degree day in Vegas, haha.  We happily checked in, got some bagel sandwiches, and awaited our plane – we were flying Las Vegas-Denver-Appleton.  We had an hour layover in Denver which should have been okay, and were due to get home 9:30 pm central time! 

Sure felt like more than a minute.
Sarah had to be dragged away from the slots by the kids, kicking and screaming.
Why won’t you give me any more cash?!?

We boarded the plane, and were taxiing down the runway when the captain’s voice came over the speaker – “there is an odor in the rear cabin” (Zoe looked at B pointedly) and “we need to come back so the mechanics can look at it”.  So we went back to a gate, and there was activity in the plane, and then they deplaned us (uh oh) and told us the mechanics needed to look at it.  So much for that hour layover being a good cushion.  We knew getting off the plane we would never make our connection.  Then the second announcement, “We found another issue they mechanics need to look at too”.

They then told us it would be a while.  Matt got in line with many other people (while both of us called and could not find a one way rental car to Appleton from Vegas or Denver to save ourselves) and waited maybe 30-45 minutes to meet with a gate agent – she said there was no way we would get to any airport near us (ORD/MSN/MKE/ATW) tonight, but we could assume eventually we would get to Denver today.  So she texted us hotel vouchers for Denver (how many do you want – 2 or 3 rooms?  2 we said) and $45 dollars worth of meal vouchers each.  And booked us on a flight from Denver to Chicago at 0610 am and then to Appleton, but we had no seats assigned.  

The kids took it all in the stride – they purchased candy at the Vegas airport (we were not allowed to use meal vouchers for that, Matt checked – hey, it’s food!), subs and cookies and chips and pop (eat up, everyone), we adults gambled away our $10 on a slot machine (all the cash we supposedly had, although Sarah secretly suspects Matt had more he wasn’t sharing), and just generally hung out with all the other sad folks.  A guy came up to us and said “hey, I heard you are going to Appleton too” (what are the chances?!?) and wanted to know where we had been rebooked and when, and then later found us and wanted to know what hotel we were staying in (we made a friend).

Ultimately our plane took off (with a lot less people due to rebooks) 4 hours later.  We rolled into Denver and waited for a shuttle for Avid Hotel (whatever, it was the first one on the list) and arrived there around 10:30 pm.  They told us at the airport that to get our suitcases would take a couple hours as they had already been routed to a different part of the airport for our flights tomorrow, so all we had were our backpacks and ourselves.  So off into the shuttle (which wasn’t even for our hotel, the “other hotel” shuttle guy just felt bad for us because were standing there so long: us, a lady who missed her flight to Durango, and a couple who said nothing and kept eating their Chic-Fil-A despite the “no eating in the shuttle” sign – we were a sad looking group) and off we went.

Turns out we should have gotten 3 rooms, as this is a hotel that clearly only caters to people who have missed flights, and each room only had a large king sized bed.  So Noah slept on the floor in the boy room, and Zoe and Mom stretched out in the girl room. 

Everyone was starving, it was too late to stay awake and order anything, all the Belvitas in Sarah’s bag were crushed into crumbs in the wrappers, and the mac and cheese was in our suitcases at the airport.  But they had a selection of overpriced snacks you could purchase with meal vouchers at the hotel – we loaded up – ice cream snicker bars, hummus and pretzels, drinks, chips, tomato soup (B really does love it), you name it.  We keyed in the first voucher (they are each $15) and the front desk clerk said, eh, that’s enough, you don’t need to pay any more.  We must have looked pretty pathetic. 

Day 13 – July 6, 2024 – Denver, CO to Waupaca, WI

4 hours later we woke up for our 3 am shuttle (which was completely packed, weirdly) back to the airport.  Back through security looking even rougher, and then up to the gate for Chicago.   We all had Caribou Coffee treats and coffee for the adults, and the gate agent showed up like 5 minutes before boarding started.  You know that long line of people that materializes when the gate agent shows up?  We never had any idea what those people wanted.  Now we know!  When Matt said “I need seat assignments” the guy said, “Oh, we have been working on yours, you are the group of 5”.  We ended up with exit row seats for Noah and mom (YESSSSS) and row 10 DEF for Z, B, and Matt.  Not too shabby!  Sarah got to sit next to two pilots and listen to them dish.

Yukking it up after 4 hours of sleep.
Noah spent the entire flight leaning away from Sarah, who was leaning away from the pilot she was sitting next to. (He was a stranger, strangers are weird)

We landed and make it to the very crowded gate for Appleton and did the same thing with the gate agent – we got an entire row of 4 and one window seat behind.  Not too bad!  Except for when the family ran to board, leaving Sarah sitting on the floor, she got up to catch up and tripped and fell on the floor in front of literally everyone at the gate (THANKS GUYS FOR THE SKINNED KNEE).  B was laughing so hard (watch it kiddo, it’s a genetic klutzy gene and you may have it too).

Off we flew, and landed in Appleton – only to be surprised by Grandma Darlene who was waiting to say hi.  The temperature was 40-50 degrees lower here than the prior day for us.  WOW!  We scooped up our luggage (which miraculously made it) and drove home (stopping at Bulvers, I mean Culvers, to get a much awaited meal).  We all survived!  And had a wonderful vacation.

Total miles driven (per the rental car receipt):  1814

Favorite part of the trip? Matt: Death Valley National Park Sarah: Death Valley National Park Noah: the beach Braden: the beach Zoe: the beach


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