Saturday, April 25, 2015

CA Adventure Pt 4 - Yosemite


The next morning we got up bright and early, packed up and piled into the rental, and headed off to spend our day at Yosemite. Because we had had a big dinner, neither of us was interested in breakfast yet, so we headed straight for the park.

First thing you see as you come into the park is this cool granite tunnel. Would an Airstream even FIT through there?!


Initially I was frustrated because I knew there was a great view of the valley, and as we followed the road in, I understood where that view was, I just couldn’t see it from our side of the loop road. It is from an overlook that you only see on the road on the way OUT of the valley! So we drove in and stopped at the sights along the way as we wound our way back there.

The first sight once you get to the main loop is El Capitan across the meadow on the other side of the river..


And Bridalveil Falls on the road side. We didn’t walk back to it, we’ll save that for when we have more time.




Lesson 1: Everything at Yosemite is bigger than you ever imagined! It’s breathtakingly HUGE, and around every corner is another jaw dropping, amazing mountain of rock rising up impossibly high. It’s just stunning.

We continued along the loop and as soon as there was a place to turn around we went back towards El Capitan Meadow, stopping there for a few minutes to look around. Now we could see Cathedral Rocks and Spires, which we couldn’t see from the other side of the loop when we were at their base! Again, they are impossibly huge and imposing.



Dave snapped a picture of me searching the walls around El Capitan for rock climbers.



Bridalveil again, but from the other side of the river…



We continued down the road and missed the turnout, had to park and walk back to it – we finally found Valley View. THAT’S what I was waiting for!


I could have looked at this all day.

Dave snapping a picture of El Capitan



We finally got going back on the loop towards the visitors center, and stopped to pull off at the Swinging Bridge with a view of Yosemite Falls and Sentinel Dome.



Grabbed a friendly stranger and had them snap a pic of Dave and I



Continuing past the visitor’s center we finally got a great view of Half Dome on the right, and Royal Arches and North Dome on the left.


Again, just so so big. So big. I don’t even have words for how impressive all this is. If I had time I would have liked to just pull out a chair and sit there all day watching the light and shadows change on the rocks as the sun moved across the sky. But this trip was just going to be a quickie.

We headed back to the visitor’s center, talked to a helpful person at the desk and decided to take the Mirror Lake trail after lunch, as a way to get off the main road and see a bit more before the day was out. We went in the visitor’s center and watched a short movie about the history of Yosemite. After watching it I felt so grateful and touched that people so long ago had worked to preserve it for us to visit today!

And here’s the other thing. I know it was partly because we were there in the off season, but it felt like we almost had the place to ourselves. There were a lot of people there, but it didn’t really feel that way at any of the stops. It wasn’t annoyingly crowded anyway. Lots of foreigners, which was interesting, it seemed like every person we heard talking was speaking a different language. But still, when we wanted to stop and just stare in wonder at something, we could do it and didn’t feel pushed to hurry up and move on.

After resting at the movie, we tried to swing by the deli and pick up lunch, but everyone had the same idea at the same time, and the place was slammed! There was a little store there and so instead we picked up some pre-packaged snacks – jerky, a muffin, chips, some drinks, etc, and jumped on the bus to get to the trailhead for Mirror Lake.

The path to Mirror Lake was beautiful. It wound through tall trees, and giant boulders. It was an easy walk, reminded me of the trails at BG Lake.




Mirror Lake was really just a wide spot in the river.  There was a big stone out there, and the lake reflected the granite walls of the valley.



The river went over a little natural dam and down some rocks, and we sat on a boulder at the bottom of that and ate our lunch and watched people carefully pick their way across the log jam, waiting to see them fall in!




This was one of my favorite shots of the trip. They made it!



We headed on back, and I took a picture of Dave on the trail


Right before a giant rock fell on him – ha ha



Nah, just goofin’ around! Here I had him pause on the trail to give some scale to the boulders on either side. I couldn’t believe we were just walking through this amazing rock fall.





Along the way we stopped and watched as this couple decided to wade across the river.



Back through the tall trees on the way back.



Unfortunately, this was all the time we had, we needed to get started back towards San Jose before it got too late. We rode the shuttle back to our car and headed out, stopping at Valley View one last time for another picture now that the sun was lighting up this side of the cliffs. It’s so magnificent, it’s just amazing.



We headed out of the valley, up a long hill, and along the way we saw a couple pull offs. We stopped at the last one before it looked like we would be over the hill and gone. We looked back towards the valley and what did we see? A breathtaking view of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Cathedral just over the ridges.



The pull out had a marker with a 3D Half Dome to compare to the real thing.



And that was our last glimpse of beautiful Yosemite Valley. But we’ll be back again. I definitely did NOT see enough of Yosemite.



Monday, April 06, 2015

CA Adventure Part 3 - Fresno, and beyond


We woke up Saturday morning somewhere outside of Fresno, conveniently near a Casino which took some of Dave’s money the night before.




We headed for our next stop – exciting Fresno!



Lots of flat open farmland, not much to see but the weather was beautiful, and heating up a bit!



Once in Fresno we found a place called the Fresno Breakfast House, and it had this adorable outdoor courtyard! I loved it, and the cool fountain SmileSo Dave snapped a picture of me. Check out the cool long hair I’m sporting now.



After breakfast we went to the destination that had brought us all the way here – the Forestiere Underground Gardens. Head to their website to check out the details, but basically Mr Forestiere back in the early 1900’s started carving out his amazing home, eventually expanding it to cover many acres, all underground where life was cool and breezy. It’s really an astonishing place, and so ‘green’, it’s actually seems like he was years ahead of his time. Recycling his water for plants, capturing rain, staying out of the sun and using the natural flow of air to cool. It’s just amazing!


His first love was orchards, and he bought the land intending to grow fruit, but the land was too rocky. Above ground there are these wonderful fruit trees. As a NW Native, it blows my mind to travel a few hours south and see Oranges, Grapefruit, and Lemons growing on trees in March!






This lovely pergola covered the waiting area to enter his home.







Just a few shots of the amazing underground home, and the open courtyards and trees growing in the sunshine. It was like some transplanted bit of Mediterranean paradise. And it was much cooler underground, so much that it was instantly noticeable when you came back up. This guy really knew what he was doing. I’m so glad his family was able to preserve some of his home so we could enjoy it.


After Fresno we headed up to visit another Casino Dave wanted to try out. As we were driving up to it we were seeing something coming up on the horizon, then I realized this town we were driving up to seemed to sit at the very base of a HUGE dam, with the spillway aimed right at Main Street! As we got closer the highway turned away from the dam, so it only looked like it emptied out on the highway.



That was Friant Dam, and behind it was Millerton Lake. We drove to the edge of the parking lot, but as you can see, the edge of the lake was nowhere near. There were boat launches that were high and dry, and the actual shore was WAY, WAY out there. You would have to drive quite a ways on what should have been lakebed to get to where you could put in. All that green stuff should have been covered in water.



After losing some money at the casino we headed back to Fresno, ate lunch at a Boston Market, which is one of our favorite places, but we don’t have them in our area anymore, and then headed for Yosemite.





Lots of this purple bush blooming along the roadside.



There was a section of road wiped out, and we had to sit at a stoplight for a long time while we waited for the one-lane temporary road to clear for our turn to go. We pondered all the other folks who had been in the same predicament, and spent their time decorating this sign.



We finally laid eyes on the Merced River, but it was getting awfully late. We stopped and checked in at our hotel, the Cedar Lodge. It looked clean and neat.



We turned right around and drove on into Yosemite, just to get a feel for the place. By the time we got to the lodge, it was dark. We walked around a bit, but it was very confusing, and things were farther apart than the maps on the signs made it look like. Finally we retreated to our car and drove out, and on the way past El Capitan I could see the twinkle of lights high up on the wall. Were climbers really up there after dark?!

We got back to El Portal and the grill was about to close, so we hurried over, to find a line of about 30 other late eaters waiting to put in an order! Luckily the kitchen stayed open until everyone was served. We secured some chicken strips and fries and headed back to our room, where we stuffed ourselves and watched a Tom Cruise movie on the TV. We were out of cell phone range, and Wi-Fi was expensive, so we couldn’t research for our trip the next day, we had to just chill out and relax, and see what would happen.



Monday, March 30, 2015

CA Adventure Part 2 - Pinnacles National Park


We drove through the flat farmlands, with just the gentle rolling hills on the East side of us, wondering where these ‘pinnacles’ could possibly be, and how big could they be? But if it’s a National Park, there must be a reason, so we drove up into the hills in search of it. As we drove along the narrow, winding, one-way road, we started getting peeks at a rough, rocky area sticking up above the soft curves of the hills, something clearly out of place.



Finally we rolled up to the ranger station at the park entrance and the parking lot was pretty much empty.



We went in and paid our fees and the ranger said she had a short video we could watch on the history of the park, and it was only about ten minutes, so that seemed like a good deal, since we had never even heard of the place before that morning. It’s nice to have a little context while we walk around it. Pinnacles National Park. It turns out there is hiking, rock climbing, and caving to do in the park, plus there’s a chance to see California Condors!



She pointed us up to Chaparral trailhead, which it turns out is where all the cars were. Not that it was exactly busy, but there were a few folks there hiking around. We decided to head off to the Balconies Cave Trail, which was supposed to be .6 miles from the parking lot. We figured that would be pretty easy and give us a closer peek at some of this park.



On the way up the trail we kept seeing these little lizards hanging out on the fence rails. Lizards! There’s something you don’t see at home!



The view from the parking lot was jaw dropping all by itself. It’s hard to express how big this wall of rock is! It reminded me of the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. It was really amazing!



Around every bend were more amazing sights!





All these rock walls were like mountains. And in fact they said they were the remains of a mountain that had been torn apart and crumbled.



This rock wall probably was a hundred feet high, at least.



Giant boulders were everywhere, having fallen off the crumbling walls.





The trail wound through scrubby treed areas, and back into clearings with more fantastic views.



Sometimes we got to walk under the boulders! You didn’t even have to watch your head in this tunnel (well, I didn’t anyway).



Wildlife spotted #2 – a cleverly camouflaged squirrel. He was hanging out in a dry creekbed munching on something. Sadly, because of the drought all the creekbeds were dry. I think this place would have been even more beautiful if they had water in them!



We finally got to the entrance to Balconies Cave, and peeked at it, but decided we were not equipped for any serious caving. A nice European couple had just come all the way through it, and said it was a fun hike. They were resting on the rocks before heading back.



The views on our walk back were just as amazing. Huge rock spires jutting up out of the green woods.



The clouds looked like they were threatening rain, but no such luck. This place was pretty dry and it stayed dry during our visit.



More wildlife – a turkey! She (I think) trotted along the road ahead of us, occasionally looking back to see if we were still following her – though we stayed quite a ways back.



She finally headed up the hill above the trail to get away from us.



We were quickly back to our rental – a red Ford Edge. When offered an upgrade at the rental counter, they offered a bunch of high end cars, but I thought we should take the Edge. Since it was basically the same as our Ford Flex, I thought it would seem familiar and comfortable, and I was worried if we drove a Volvo around for four days we’d come home with Volvo Fever!

So that was the end of our little side trip. I could definitely come back here again and explore more. It was beautiful and spectacular and really different from any place I’d been. And we only saw a tiny bit of it. This was an unexpected treat on our journey!