Adventures of the Meschy Kind: Instalment #1

I mentioned in my introduction that my family is known for having misadventures when we travel, right? Well, I thought I’d share them with you in my installments of “Adventures of the Meschy Sort” (and yeah, I’m sticking with that pun).

In early June, I set out with my awesome brother on a 5 1/2 week road trip through the western United States. We’re currently in the middle of that trip and have made it up to Montana/Yellow Stone National Park. When we started out, we were driving the family towing vehicle – a now 10 year old Saturn Outlook whose transmission had never quite worked right but had never really needed to go more than the half mile to the dump and back. We lovingly referred to this vehicle as “The Beast;” at the time, it was the largest car we owned and a pain to park.

If you didn’t know, there are a lot of hills on the 101 as you drive through California and up into Oregon. “The Beast” was doing pretty well, including making it up the frightening hill to our site in Carmel, CA (it was frightening without a trailer to be honest). We were in between sites in California when this odd alarm went off…our traction control was automatically turning off and the “stabilitrack” system needed service (apparently). We did what any 20-something-year-olds would and called Dad who promptly looked to Google and decided that it would probably be ok. We kept going.

The drive between California and Bandon, OR got really interesting. Suddenly, the traction control is permanently off, the stabilitrack alarm is going off more frequently, and the check engine light comes on. Along with all of the flashing idiot lights, the car starts making and odd clicking sound, and a movie-worthy grinding, groaning noise whenever you turn left and accelerate through the turn. And we have 4 more hours left of a drive through some very quiet country. Oh boy.

We made it to Bandon, don’t worry. No tow truck necessary. We then had a conference with the folks and decided to drive (without the trailer) to the nearest Auto-zone an hour away to see if they could help us diagnose what was wrong.

Long story short, we managed to knock a cylinder out of line with all of our uphill driving and therefor make the connecting drive shaft very angry which threw off the traction control. The truly wonderful, helpful man at Auto-zone suggested driving as little as possible…we drove the hour back to the campsite. Even more fun was the fact that it was Friday, and, in small-town Oregon, all of the auto garages were closed for the weekend. So we rearranged plans and hunkered down for the weekend in our pretty little KOA campsite. My folks decided that it wasn’t worth it to fix the car, so we replaced it. Mom flew out, got everything traded around with us, and flew home in the course of a long weekend, and we are finishing our trip with a spiffy new Toyota Sequoia which has lovingly been dubbed “Sherman” by my brother (after the WWII American tanks).

Go big or go home right? Welcome to adventures in the Mescher clan. Stay tuned for whatever comes next. We always do…

Sequoia National Park

If you have not been to Sequoia National Park, you need to know… it’s beautiful! I would go back whether I had done everything or not (and definitely plan to down the road). The Redwood trees alone are unlike anything anywhere else in the world. Furthermore, the drive is incredible – I suggest allowing for time to drive slowly and use the pull outs to stop and take in the views. Be prepared to take (and delete) a lot of photos. There is running water everywhere, views of the valley from so many places, animals, trees, and more.

Things we did:

1. General Sherman Tree:

Truthfully, it’s a big redwood tree; actually, it’s a fat redwood tree (thus why it’s famous). It’s very cool, but what I really enjoyed were the trails surrounding the tree. General Sherman Tree is probably worth the stop if you’re in the area and want to stop for lunch or something. It wasn’t too crowded the day we went, but I would suggest walking around the tree (away from the sign at the front) to get a picture. Otherwise you will be waiting in the make-shift lines that form of people waiting to take that iconic picture. The upside to waiting is that it’s probably the easiest spot to get a picture of you/your friends or family AND the entire tree in the background. From any other spot, you have to get creative with your photography.

2. Congress Trail

This is well worth the hour or so it takes to walk it. Congress Trail is a beautiful path through the forest surrounding the General Sherman Tree. There are entire stands of redwood trees, beautiful water-scapes, some old fire damage (which is truly stunning), and plenty of moments to stop and take photos or sit and enjoy where you are. We walked the full trail (there is a shorter option) and found that much of it was quiet and away from the General Sherman Tree crowd.

3. Moro Rock

Here’s my take on Moro Rock: if you like views from heights, then it’s worth the climb. If you are content with the views from the pull outs as you drive, then don’t worry about it. It’s 400 steps (according to the internet…I forgot to count) to the top and you’re already at high elevation. I promise, you will need to stop multiple times on your way up; it’s ok, so does everyone else! However, you can see all the way up and down the valley, and the mountain peaks still covered with snow are stunning. If you have time, it’s probably worth the stop; we did it on our way out of the park on our last day – it was a 20-30 minute stop all told. If you are running out of time, it’s ok to skip it.

4. Crystal CaveDSC_0426
We did this on our very first day in to the park. It’s a 3-4 hour endeavor. First, you MUST purchase tickets at one of the visitors’ centers on the way up (we stopped at the Foothills Visitor’s Center, but you can get them from the Lodgepole Visitor’s Center too). Then you make the drive to the parking lot by the caves; they will tell you to arrive half an hour early…I wouldn’t bother. We could have arrived 10 minutes early and been fine. Once you arrive, you and your tour group will get a little intro from the park staff. It’s then a half mile hike down to meet your tour guide, a 50-minute tour through the caves (which are stunning, but not shiny. The mountain is actually a large part marble, so be sure to look down into the water on your way in/out. The water has polished the marble and it’s beautiful), and then the half mile hike out (which is steep, and you will once again need to pace yourself or stop for breath). We also discovered that the BEST time to go is on the 1:30 tour. We had a small group compared to the tours before and after us which, in my opinion, heightened the experience.

5. Tunnel LogDSC_0616
It’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s an old, fallen over tree that they carved a tunnel through. I learned that the iconic tree that people used to be able to drive through blew over in 1969 and was many miles north in the Mariposa Grove. Tunnel log is a different place and occurrence, but you can stop and get out or just drive the little loop to say you’ve done it; I wouldn’t say it was worth it, but what IS worth it on this short drive is the fallen tree (I unfortunately don’t remember it’s name) on your way in/out from Tunnel Log. Redwoods have the disadvantage of “losing their balance” and toppling over without warning. Because their root system is so shallow, the roots come right along with them and the result is incredible. Stopping to get out here made the drive well worth it. You can’t miss it; the tree is on your left and there is a pull out on the right to park in so you can get pictures.

Things I wish we’d been able to do:
1. Mineral King
2. High Sierra Trail
3. The Groves (both in Sequoia and some into Kings Canyon):
4. Camping within the park

Top 5 Things to Try to Do (in my opinion):
I would tell you to spend at least a week inside the park, driving to all the sights and doing some of the hikes (grab a trail map from one of the visitor’s centers). However, if you only have a day or two, here is what I suggest you choose from:
1. Congress Trail/General Sherman’s Tree
2. Mineral King (I know I didn’t go, but I can’t find a reason not to)
3. Hiking (pick a hike, any hike that goes through an area you’re excited about, even Moro Rock. Stop at a visitor’s center and pick up a trail map)
4. The Groves/Giant Forest (again, go to the website and pick one, or plan the ones that make the best drive):
5. Crystal Cave

Ben’s Two CentsDSC_0698
Sequoia National Park is not particularly dog friendly. Dogs are allowed in campsites/picnic areas and parking lots, but we aren’t allowed on any of the hiking trails. It was too hot to be left in the car, so I got left in the (air conditioned) trailer back at the KOA (2 hours away). Perhaps dogs should stay at home with family/a sitter while people go camp and explore in Sequoia National Park.

Welcome to the Mesch!

Hello! My name is Ashley Mescher (pronounced ‘mesh-er’…get it?) and I am so excited you’re here! It is a long standing saying in my family “you can’t travel with a Mescher without having an adventure.” “Adventure” is loosely translated to mean mishap, unexpected turn, or new discovery, so…welcome in to my adventures around the USA! My goal is simple: I want to explore as many corners as possible of this great country and give people an insider view on traveling it. I’m setting out with my wonderful service dog/best friend, Ben to see what we can find.

The posts may vary, but I hope to include my experiences, top things to do in various places, what the locals recommend, travel tips, and even some people spotlights as I meet people along the way! Every post will have a “Ben’s Two Cents” section to highlight an area from Ben (or any dog’s) point of view.

Come on in and join the adventure. Maybe you’ll even have one of your own..