Photos from some of our hikes in 2018.  The Blog posts are just below the photos.

(Until July of 2016, if you clicked on the photos, they will take you to our trip photo logs on Picasa.  But then Google decided to make that impossible, even though they had provided us with both the website software and the compatible Picasa software so that we COULD do that.  Now the photos are on Google Photos, where we cannot make albums visible to the public.  We HATE Google photos.)

             Closer to home: Sonora in the fall                                  Twenty Lakes Basin at dusk

South lake in a gale                                                           Daniel and friends in Yosemite


                    Arches National Park                                                 Zion National Park

Where there is a system, there is a hack...

posted by Paul Wagner

We  loved this story in the San Jose Mercury News about a computer whiz who is also a backpacker, and needed to figure out a way to get his permit for the John Muir Trail.  So what did he do?

Yep, he designed a bot!  The full story is here:

Or, if you a talented in this direction, here is a link to his code:

The source code for hackjohn is available at https://github.com/dhimmel/hackjohn under the permissive MIT License. To learn more, go to https://busy.org/@dhimmel/introducing-the-hackjohn-bot-for-southbound-john-muir-trail-permits.

To learn more about the John Muir Trail, or to submit an application to the National Park Service’s lottery, go to https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/jmtfaq.htm.

The Secret is Out

posted Apr 18, 2019, 8:08 AM by Paul Wagner

For a generation or more, Camp4 in Yosemite Valley has been a bit of a secret.  Mainly used by rock climbers, it often allowed you to find a place to camp right in the valley--one not filled with RVs and generators, but sometimes filled with young people and parties.

That's over.  Apparently, normal campers have discovered what is available at Camp 4...and the rules are changing.  Here's the release from the NPS:

Camp 4 daily lottery to go into effect beginning on Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Yosemite National Park announces that a new pilot lottery program for Camp 4 Campground will launch on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. This daily lottery system will be operated through Recreation.gov and will help improve the visitor experience at Camp 4 Campground.

Camp 4 Campground is a walk-in campground and the only first-come, first-served campground in Yosemite Valley. Visitor demands for a camping space at Camp 4 have been increasing over the past decade and the current registration system no longer serves the public and meets the needs of current campers. Under the current system, campers have to line up and wait for a first-come, first-served camping space to open. In order to wait for one of the available spaces to open up, campers line up all day, and sometime the night before, with the hopes of getting a camping space. This system is inefficient and has contributed to wildlife issues due to improper food storage, out of bounds camping, and conflicts between campers.

To help resolve these issues, Yosemite National Park is going to test a new pilot program from late May to early September, using a daily lottery system similar to the Half Dome daily lottery. Visitors interested in staying at Camp 4 will enter a daily lottery managed by www.recreation.gov. The lottery opens at 12:01 am pacific time the day before your intended arrival date. The lottery is open until 4:00 pm pacific time. The lottery automatically matches applicants with the number of open camping spaces. All people who enter the daily lottery will be notified by email on the results of their lottery application.

This new pilot program will run through the busy summer season and will be evaluated fall 2019. For more information on Camp 4 Campground, please visit: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/camp4.htm. For information in general on camping in Yosemite National Park, please visit https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/camping.htm.

More Updates on roads and conditions...

posted Apr 16, 2019, 1:05 PM by Paul Wagner

SONORA, Calif. – Stanislaus National Forest will open seasonal roads beginning April 15, but some forest roads will remain closed until forest crews can inspect them to ensure they were not damaged during this year’s winter storms. Jason Kuiken, Stanislaus National Forest supervisor, said workers haven’t been able to inspect all the forest roads yet because many are still covered with snow. A series of heavy storms during the 2018-2019 winter led to significant snow levels on all ranger districts.

“We received a significant amount of snow this winter and much of it still hasn’t melted. Our reports tell of as much as 20 feet of snow on some of our high-country roads,” Kuiken said. “It will take time for all of them to reopen.”

A list of roads and when each will open can be found at

Of additional concern to forest managers is the impact of the Donnell Fire on the risk from mud, rocks and debris slides. “We are reviewing an analysis showing levels of risk from the Donnell Fire,” Kuiken said. “We are studying the analysis to ensure locations within the fire’s footprint are safe to access. As soon as we discuss the report’s findings with our county and local partners we will let visitors know which areas will be reopened and when.”

Traveling on wet or snowy roads can damage them, which is why the forest closes them during winter. “Because many roads are not maintained for travel in wet or snowy conditions, our employees follow the same direction that the public does: if the road is closed, only an emergency would allow access,” Kuiken said. “Our crews are beginning their inspections and we may find some damage that will require repairs before a road is passable.”

New Rules for Half Dome Permits

posted Mar 31, 2019, 6:34 PM by Paul Wagner

This from Tom Stienstra of the SF Chronicle:

This year, park rangers are trying to level the playing field for permits and improve the experience on the old rock. The deadline to apply for a permit through Recreation.gov to climb Half Dome is 9 p.m. to
The view from Glacier Point©backpackthesierra.com
day. Because of this year’s high snow levels, the cables likely will go up in early June, after Memorial Day weekend.

Once the cables are up, rangers said they will make available an additional 50 permits each day, the exact number based on cancellations and rates of no-shows, in a second lottery. For these, you put in for the permit two days prior to your date, and then find out the same day you applied (usually that evening) if you won.

The quotas now allow 300 people per day to scale Half Dome. That is roughly 225 day-hikers and 75 backpackers with multiday wilderness permits. Over 10 hours, that figures to about 30 people on the cables per hour. The hope is that the days when hundreds of people clambered on the cables at once are forever gone.

Attention, backpackers: The new rules require that you need a Half Dome permit even if you have the coveted John Muir Trail permit or wilderness permit. It used to be that you could use your wilderness permit to sneak over to Half Dome — but no longer.

Here's a link to Tom's whole story: https://www.sfchronicle.com/travel/article/Yosemite-is-changing-Half-Dome-hiking-permits-13722202.php

It's a long, cold winter

posted Mar 30, 2019, 11:54 AM by Paul Wagner

Visitor access for the winter season will continue through Sunday, April 14, 2019

Yosemite National Park is pleased to announce that Glacier Point Road and the surrounding trails will remain open for winter recreational use through Sunday, April 14, 2019, conditions permitting. Due to the significant snow pack, the current trail conditions are great for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing throughout the area surrounding Glacier Point Road. Typically, winter recreational use in this area ends at the end of March when the park closes Glacier Point Road to begin seasonal plowing operations.

Plowing operations along Glacier Point Road will begin on April 1. All recreational users are encouraged to use the Old Glacier Point Road beginning from the Badger Pass Parking Area to access the Ostrander Lake Ski Hut and all other trails along Glacier Point Road. It is the visitor’s personal responsibility to be aware of their surroundings and stay away from all heavy equipment on the Glacier Point Road.

Park visitors planning overnight trips in the area near Glacier Point Road must stop at the Badger Pass Ranger Station “A-Frame” and register for their overnight permits. Self-registration information is available at the Ranger Station when the building is closed. To learn more about how to plan for a wilderness trip in Yosemite National Park, please visit

To learn more about the Ostrander Lake Ski Hut and to make reservations, please visit the following website:

The Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, including the Nordic Center and all other facilities, will close for the 2019 season on Sunday, March 31, 2019.

We're Back!

posted Mar 26, 2019, 8:05 AM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Mar 26, 2019, 8:09 AM ]

If you are wonderful why we hadn't posted in a while, it's because we were on a lovely trip through the Southwest, from the Mojave Preserve to the Grand Canyon, with quite a few days on the Navajo Reservation.  Here's the full report---with a few photos:

Because M's foot is still causing her considerable discomfort, we have been focused less on hiking, more on camping.  Thus this trip:

Day One:
Off for our usual long drive through Tehachapi, stopping for lunch at the Harris Ranch café and spending the night at Owl Canyon Campground--$3 a night with our interagency discount—but with no water turned on yet.  It was windy and cool at the campground so we ended up cooking and eating dinner in the van.  Dinner was a memorable dish of spicy ramen noodles, aka napalm noodles, that were so spicy we had to pour off almost all the broth, and they were still painful to eat. Good news—we still have one package of those noodles left!

Day Two:  took a brief walk up Owl Canyon, both along the rim and then through the wash.  And then drove out via the one-lane rough road through Rainbow Basin.  This whole area reminded us a lot of Death Valley, but not quite so dramatic.  From here we drove to Hole in the Wall Campground in the Mojave Preserve, where we camped for two days.  The first afternoon we took the nature trail over to the Visitors Center which had been closed for months.  OK fine.  And then back through the picnic area and along the nature trail back to camp.  After a nap we decided to hike the famous Rings Trail counterclockwise…going down the rings.  This was really beautiful, and the rock shapes were amazing.  Just as amazing was the wild diversity of plant life here---just about every desert plant seems to do well around Hole in the Wall.  And the petroglyphs were also a nice surprise.  Dinner was a green salad and Potato soup with a little chorizo added in.  Yum. Another cold and breezy night…we were in bed early!

Day Three:  Imagine our surprise to wake up to a campground full of boy scouts!  Turns out those “closed campsites” had been reserved for a large troop from Southern California.  Not exactly a peaceful camp.  No worries.  We drove north today to visit Rock Springs, where we hiked along the trail and saw more cacti and animal tracks.  Lots of RVers in this area, but they didn’t seem interested in walking—only driving around in their 4WDs.  After the hike, we drove over to Kelso and stopped in at the park office, where we asked lots of questions and ate lunch under the portico.  It was still blowing hard! From there we drove to Fenner on old Rte. 66 (boring and expensive) and then back to camp for naps.  Late afternoon we hiked the ring trail the other direction, going off trail to explore the caves on the Southeast side of the butte, and back to camp for Thai Curry and an Asian salad.  We were eating well! That night a ranger (Barbara Michel) showed up for a star party.  The moon was out, and the ranger wasn’t too familiar with her computerized scope, but there were a few other scopes out, and I brought out my huge binoculars, so we had a pleasant time. 

Day Four:  We drove east to Kingman, then took the old 66 through Peach Springs to Seligman.  Bought lunch at the Hualapai store in Peach Springs. Ate lunch in Ash Fork---the flagstone capital of the world.  Good to know.  From there we drove to Walnut Canyon National Monument, which was stunning—whole galleries of Pueblo ruins lined the canyon, and the scenery was as beautiful as the ruins were Impressive.  What a treat!  We went online to find a room at the Twin Arrows Navajo Casino…and were happy to take showers and eat dinner in the buffet.  We washed a few clothes, checked emails, charged our phones, and got ourselves organized. 

Day Five:  Breakfast in the casino, then off to explore Wupatki National Monument.  This was another wonderful site.  We visited all five of the ancient ruins that were open to the public, although there were clearly many others that were off limits.  The largest, Wupatki itself, is quite imposing, with towers, a ball court, and all sorts of fun.  This was a real treat, and a great way to start the morning.  For lunch we drove into Flagstaff to buy gas and a sandwich, and ate at the Elden Ruins just north of town.  What a surprise to find this right in Flagstaff.  In the afternoon we drove out to Homolovi, where we got a campsite and visited the ruins there.  Quite a contrast.  These ruins had been mined for many years by locals, and they completely destroyed any semblance of the original architecture.  All that was left were large holes in the ground and potsherds everywhere.  It was both impressive for what it had been, and thoroughly depressing for what had been done to it.  The state park had collected a few of the potsherds and displayed them on pieces of stone in the ruins.  It was quite effective at showing some of the best sherds, while still encouraging people to leave them well enough alone.  That night we slept in the campground against spectacular cloudy skies. 

Day Six: We started the day with a quick hike to the rattlesnake invested butte to the east of the visitors center, where we saw some old and eroded petroglyphs and a fallen eagle nest.  Then it was into the car for the drive to Canyon de Chelly.  We stopped in at Hubbell’s Trading Post and bought a Navajo rug, ate lunch, and generally poked around.  A local weaver was a work in the visitors center—astonishingly good.  And from there it was a drive to Canyon de Chelly, where we immediately drove to take in both of the rim drives under broken clouds, which made for very dramatic lighting.  We met a Navajo couple who shared our time on the viewpoints, and told stories of how they reacted to the ruins---he loved looking at them through my binoculars.  She wouldn’t come close to them, because they made her feel closer to a place of death….but all with smiles and lots of good fun.  By the time we finished up, it was beyond dinner time, so we ate at the Thunderbird Lodge Cafeteria—and that worked out great.  Green Chile and a Navajo Taco—tons of food.  And then checked into the Best Western for more showers and a soft bed. 

Day Seven:  We met our guide, Deswood Yazzie, in the lobby, and then took his jeep into the Canyon.  He was a wonderful guide—full of stories about his time growing up in the Canyon, but also giving us enough history to put it all into context.  And he knew his history.  We visited Ledge House, White House, and Antelope House, and all the while Deswood was driving his jeep through deep ruts, deep  mud, and deep water.  Quite an adventure.  And the binoculars here really helped us see some amazing petroglyphs that Deswood pointed out to us.  Highly recommended!   For lunch we drove back to the second of the South Rim viewpoints, where we had a snack and M bought some jewelry from a lovely old Navajo lady we had met the day before.  That afternoon we then drove up the wonderful scenic drive up to Bluff, Utah, and then down to Monument Valley Tribal Park, past Mexican Hat (you could clearly see the uranium mine tailings outside of town) and into the View campground.   This was expensive, and the view was nice, but it wasn’t a very good campground—just bare dirt and a picnic table every 20 feet, lined up like a parade ground.  We were happy that it was almost empty, so that we had a little room to breathe.  Dinner that night was at the lodge---and it was great.  We shared a dinner:  for $14 we got one bowl of soup, one pass through the salad bar, and shared a bowl of green chile stew that was more than enough for us.  We felt so bad that we ordered a non-alcoholic beer and a dessert just to pump up the bill a bit.  And our waitress even had them split the stew into two bowls and found some whipped cream for M, who asked if she could have some for her pecan pie.  As the sun went down we enjoyed the view…and then fell asleep to the sound of rain falling all night long.  We were glad we were not in a tent.

Day Eight: This was going to be an easy day.  We ate in the van, and then drove into Gouldings Trading Post to buy a few things to eat and do our laundry.  The view from the laundry was pretty darn amazing.  We picked up lunch and dinner, as well as the current issue of a Navajo Tribal magazine, and then drove to Kayenta to eat in the Burger King there.  Why?  Because it has the largest exhibit about the Navajo Code Talkers anywhere in the world.  That was the first time that I had eaten at Burger King in many years---and we shared a burger with fries left over.  That afternoon we drove on to Navajo National Monument, which was also amazing.  But first we were absolutely run off the road by an idiot on our way into the park.  He was headed in the opposite direction, and driving straight at us in our lane.  Luckily, I was able to slide off the road and drive up onto the hillside above the shoulder to avoid him.  Quite an adrenaline rush.  In retrospect, we think he may have been staring at his phone, and just assumed that there would be no traffic on that lonely road.  Well, there was.  We took the hike to the overlook of the Betatakin Ruins, watched the video about the park, chatted with the ranger, and then checked in to the free campground.  When we were getting settled, the campground maintenance man was driving by, and offered to turn on the drinking water for us, since it had been turned off for the winter.  There were another 5-6 people in the campground, which has space for 25 or so.  And the ranger said it never fills up.  It was cold and getting colder, and we were glad that we had our warmest sleeping bags along for this trip.

Day Nine:  We woke up to a very quiet campground---and when we opened the door of the van, we discovered why.  There were a few inches of snow on the ground and it was still coming down.  It was so beautiful.  We threw on our warmest clothes and joined the rest of the campers who were all heading out to lower elevations.  We ate breakfast in Tuba City at the Hogan Restaurant, shopped for a few things at the local Trading Post and Basha’s supermarket, and then drove on towards the Grand Canyon.  The overlook of the Little Colorado River was spectacular, and then we left the Reservation and drove into the National Park. M wanted to visit Desert View again, and to stop in and see the ruins at Tusayan, so we did both of those things.  We ate lunch at Tusayan, and waited around for the ranger’s tour to start---only to discover that we were still on reservation time, and the Park runs on Arizona time, an hour later during the summer.  And the trailhead at Grandview was snowy and icy—slippery and too dangerous for us to attempt on this trip.  Sigh.  So instead we drove into the park and checked into our campground.  After a rest we walked to Yavapai Point and Geology museum and absolutely loved it all over again. But by this time M’s foot was really bothering her, and we took the shuttle bus back to the campground.  On the way from the bus stop we ordered hot dogs at the camp store, and ate them for dinner, then had salad back at the campsite.  Two French girls pulled into the site next to us with a pop-up tent and dime-store sleeping bags.  It was cold, and I didn’t give them much chance of making it through the night.  Sure enough, it dropped to below freezing, and by the time we woke up, they had been gone for hours. 

Day Ten: With the trails in the Grand Canyon icy, and M’s foot in pain, we decided to move on.  We stopped in at the Museum of Northern Arizona, because we had heard some very nice things about it.  The collection is impressive.  And the involvement of the various native peoples is really nice.  But we couldn’t help staring at photo of one of the founders in his office, surrounded by literally hundreds of ancient pots that he had dug up fifty years ago.  Yes, he had classified them by type, but there was no record of where they came from, and how they were found.  He had just robbed the ruins for his whole life, and now it’s a museum.  I know that’s how things used to be done.  It’s still sad to see.  We ate lunch rather somberly in the picnic area of the museum, and then drove back to camp at Owl Canyon for the night.  It was cold and windy, but we were warm in the van---and just needed a place to stay. 

Day Eleven: Up early and off to hit the road, heading west to pick up sandwiches in Tehachapi and then fruit at Murray Ranch.  We ate lunch at the rest area near Coalinga, and drove home to Napa via the REI in Concord, where we stocked up on a few supplies that we had used up.  We were back in Napa by 4:30 or so, and showered and shaved by 6!

here are the rest of the photos:  https://photos.app.goo.gl/t77sSEXxFyoDYVXb6



A few more for the gallery

posted Mar 5, 2019, 5:45 PM by Paul Wagner

Last week we were in Vancouver, and now that we're back home, P is painting again.  Here are a couple of the new ones.

Coming down Mule Pass

Crown Point and Peeler Lake above Twin Lakes at sunset.

Half Dome Permits

posted Mar 4, 2019, 9:24 PM by Paul Wagner

For those of you who must climb Half Dome...you still have hope for 2019.  They've delayed the lottery, mainly because the software isn't ready yet:

Yosemite National Park announces that the 2019 preseason lottery for Half Dome permits will be delayed this year due to a transition to a new contracted provider. The preseason lottery typically opens on March 1. For the latest information on the status of the Half Dome preseason lottery, please visit https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/hdpermits.htm. No date is yet determined on when the preseason lottery will open.

All hikers are required to have permits to ascend the subdome steps and the Half Dome cables seven days a week when the cables are up. Park Rangers install the Half Dome cables each spring and take them down each fall, based on weather and trail conditions. The cables are typically up from late May to early October.

All day use hiking permits are distributed by lottery via Recreation.gov, with the preseason lottery in the spring and daily lotteries during the hiking season. During the preseason lottery, 225 permits are available for each day that the cables are up. To include Half Dome as part of an overnight wilderness trip please visit https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/hdwildpermits.htm.

All visitors planning to apply for permits to climb the Half Dome Cables are strongly encouraged to thoroughly read all information posted on Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome page and the “Cables on Half Dome” page managed by Recreation.gov, https://www.recreation.gov/permits/234652, as there have been some new changes to the application process. The most accurate information will be posted on both the Yosemite National Park webpage and on Recreation.gov.

I wish we could pay our rangers more...

posted Feb 22, 2019, 8:49 AM by Paul Wagner

But we did enjoy reading this story about one park ranger who made a little extra cash during the recent government shut-down:

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