18 June 2013

Back home

Yesterday, after 9 days of hiking, illness, recovery, friends, food, drinking, and general mirth, S and I drove the long drive home from the Bay.  We got to San Francisco on Thursday and got to see some friends that night at a lovely dinner.  On Friday, S and I hung out in the city doing some shopping before meeting M & E for dinner at their apartment. On Saturday, we took our host into Chinatown for the afternoon. We had a great time in the chilly Bay!

On Sunday, we bid farewell to our excellent host and drove south to Monterey. We hit the aquarium in the afternoon and then headed out for dinner at Marinus.  It was truly one of the most exceptional dinners either of us have ever had! It's not for the faint of heart, but if you get the chance, I highly suggest making the trip.  I'm going to hold back on writing about it because I'm not sure I could do it justice...  Just... go.

On Monday, we made our way home, but first we stopped in Point Lobos at low tide to check out the tide pools.

Then, back in the car to zip down the coast! Home by dark, and back to work today!

Yosemite! Day 6 & SF! Day 1


A mellow day. We checked out of the Lodge at Yosemite and hit the road for San Francisco. As soon as we got into cell phone service, our phones exploded with information (did I mention that we got no cellphone service and almost useless internet in the park?). So, we stopped at a Starbucks for an hour to recollect our digital lives.  Then, on to SF!

Once in SF, we killed some time at Amoeba Records before meeting an old high school friend and her husband for dinner at Beretta, a great Italian place deep in the city. Then, up to Marin to meet our host M, who is letting S and I crash at their place while we're in town. And we slept. A lot.

17 June 2013

Yosemite! Day 5


Up at 7.30(ish), feeling much better after a nasty day on Tuesday. S and I headed back into the valley for our last day in the park. We started with a small hike around the base of Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America (and the 5th largest in the world). The falls are all at their most dramatic at this time of year, and in the next few weeks, as the snowmelt runs out, they'll lose some awesomeness. Fortunately, they were showing off for us that day:

I also finally got a picture of this dark blue jay that I had been trying to shoot all week. 

At noon, we hopped on a tram tour through the valley with Ranger Eric, a 22-year veteran of the park who, as the tram loped around the valley floor, told us stories about the development of the park from geological, biological, and sociological perspectives. We both enjoyed the tour, but I think it would have been something to do on our first day, not our last day.

Along the tour, we saw rock climbers scaling the face of El Capitan!

And, naturally, Ranger Eric took us to some photogenic spots. Here's a shot of Half Dome resplendent in summer light:

After the tour, I was still a little foggy, so S and I grabbed lunch before beginning our last hike. We wanted to hike the Vernal Falls/Nevada Falls trail, which led to two dramatic waterfalls. But, we had been advised that the hike was pretty strenuously vertical (the trail guide says over 600 stair steps). S's back was still a mess, and I was still getting over the cold, but we gave it our best shot. We made it up to the top of Vernal Falls (S counted - 641 stair steps), which was beautiful and dramatic and dangerous, but we decided against going up to Nevada Falls. Best not to push our luck.

The last section of the hike up to Vernal Falls takes you right along the falls. This section is called the Mist Trail, for good reason - we got wet, and saw multiple double rainbows. Once at the top of Vernal Falls, I deshoed and cooled my feet in the snowmelt. My feet went numb from the cold. Excellent.

Back down to the base, then pizza for dinner, back to the Lodge to pack, and get a good night's sleep. So long Yosemite - we'll be back for sure!

16 June 2013

Yosemite! Day 4


The sore throat blossomed into a full-on cold, but I was determined to not let it keep me from the park. S did all the driving today, and I slept in the car as she shuttled us from place to place.

We had spent two days outside of the iconic Yosemite Valley, but now that we were mid-week (with less weekenders around), we ventured towards the Valley. First stop: Glacier Point, a high point overlooking the valley. There had been a hotel/lodge here until a 1969 fire, but now it's just a gift shop and viewing area. You can see most of the iconic images from Glacier Point, including Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls:

There is a hike from Glacier Point down to the valley floor, but I wasn't feeling up to that long of a hike, so instead we took a smaller hike to Sentinel Dome. 

Then, down to the valley floor, where the monoliths rise up around you like gods. The rock faces climb almost vertically, but the valley floor is lush and green. Lots of wildlife: birds, deer, squirrels. Lots of people: lodging, camping, rafting, hiking.  We parked the car and went for lunch at the historic (and outrageously expensive) Ahwahnee Hotel. The Ahwahnee was built specifically to attract well-heeled people to the park, and it truly is a masterpiece: big ceilings, huge beams, beautiful decor. I wanted to experience the hotel, so we lunched there and walked around the grounds afterwards.

After lunch, we tried to hop on a tour of the valley, but they were booked up. Instead, we checked out the visitor center, the Ansel Adams Gallery, and then drove back to the Lodge.  I was still a zombie, shuffling along, falling asleep frequently. When we got back to the Lodge, I laid down in the bed at 5.30 and asked S to wake me at 6. She did, and I refused to get out of bed. I slept (fitfully) from 5.30pm until 7.30 the next morning...

15 June 2013

Yosemite! Day 3


I had some work to do (grading, etc.), so we got a later start today. We headed north into the Hetch Hetchy Valley, another undervisited section of the park. Hetch Hetchy used to be a valley with solid ground at the bottom, but the city of San Francisco built a dam and turned it into a reservoir to provide both power and water to SF. So, San Francisco destroyed Hetch Hetchy, and Los Angeles destroyed Mono Lake. Awesome.

Anyway, Wapama Falls is a 5-mile round-trip hike from the trailhead, and S and I decided to take it on. We were feeling sore from the previous day (and the previous night on very hard beds), so we weren't moving so fast. First step: cross the dam!

The dam crossing has lots of signs and information about how the dam was built, how the water is maintained, etc. It's all very pro-reservoir - it's very clear that SF was in charge of creating their own propaganda.

About a mile into the hike, S bailed on the hike. A bad night's sleep took its toll, and she couldn't go further. I left her behind and continued the rest of the trail by myself.  Along the way, I ran into a guide who said to be on the look out for a mama bear and her two cubs.  I kept an eye out, but I didn't see them.

Wapama Falls was beautiful! The trail was just a few feet over the water level, and there were bridges installed to cross the waterfall. A bounty of mist kept me from taking a lot of photos, but I did get a few nice ones:

On the way back, I ran into a few other hikers stalled on the trail. The mama bear and her cubs were just ahead, munching and playing and blocking the path.  We waited for them to move, but after ten minutes (by which point about 20 more hikers had joined us), we started singing songs, banging pans, clapping hands, and moving past. At our closest, we were about 5 feet from the mama bear, who was completely uninterested in us at all.

Back to the car, the Lodge, a quick shower, and then into Groveland, a city about 30 miles away, to refill the gas tank and get some dinner. We found a lovely little restaurant that served an amazing smoked trout.  Unfortunately, on the way to dinner, I noticed a tickle in my throat. It got worse as the night went on, and by the time I was getting into bed, I had popped some nyquill and chugged some OJ.

14 June 2013

Yosemite! Days 1 & 2

I'm starting this post sitting in a Starbucks en route from Yosemite to the Bay to see some friends and have some adventures.  The internet situation in Yosemite was sporadic and unreliable, so I didn't get to do much blogging.  So, here's Yosemite with a few days of latency:


The week leading up to the departure was mad for us, with wrapping up the school year for me and S's mom visiting for the week.  So, we didn't get quite as packed or as organized before our departure date as we wanted to.  Our 10am departure got pushed to 11, and then to 12.30.  Once we were on the road, it was clear sailing out of LA, through the grapevine, and into the desert. The desert was hot - the car thermometer read 109 for much of the drive, and did pass a nice little median fire.  Once we turned off the highway and headed into the high Sierras, the temperature dropped 35 degrees in one hour.

We stayed at the Evergreen Lodge, a collection of cabins and campgrounds right outside the park. The Lodge is very family-friendly, with a pool, game room, mini-zip line, and other things to amuse kids. Our room was half of a cabin, which was the right size for us. We had an unimpressive dinner at the hotel restaurant and turned in early to get a jumpstart on the next day.


Up early to check out the High Sierra part of the park. We have four days in the park, and we're saving the super-popular-and-crowded things for mid-week, when we're less likely to have huge crowds. The first thing we did was head across the park to Olmstead Point, a lookout with great views of the big rock formations.

From there, we continued off to the east side of the park, out the park through the Tioga Pass, and down to Mono Lake, a super-salty mineral-rich lake (similar to the Great Salt Lake). The lake used to be much deeper and bigger, but when some of the sources feeding the lake got diverted to provide water to LA (thanks Mullholland!), the water level went down, revealing creepy mineral deposits called tufas.  

A quick visit to the Mono Lake visitor center later, we're back in the park, headed towards Tuolumne Meadows, a large plateau of grasses and creek. Lots of hiking there, with some natural springs popping up. This whole section of the park gets less human traffic than the rest of the park, but it was still pretty busy.  We hiked out to Soda Springs, where naturally carbonated water comes out of the ground. Apparently, some rangers like to fill their water bottles up at it, but it smelled bad to me

To the east of Tuolumne Meadows is a 'moderately strenuous' hike to two locations: Lembert Dome and Dog Lake.  The first section of the hike is very uphill, and as we started to climb, it started to rain and thunder. Undaunted, we kept going, and by the time we were ready for the final ascent up Lembert Dome, the rain and thunder had stopped. Here's a shot of us at the top of Lembert Dome (you can see those storm clouds in the distance).

Back to the car to head west to the trailhead for May Lake. One of the guides at the Lodge recommended it, and while it was beautiful, it was a pretty long hike uphill. By the time we got to the top, we were pooped, and S was getting blistery.  Also, there were exceptional quantities of mosquitos.

By now, it's getting close to sunset, so we headed back to Olmstead Point to watch the sun fall off of the rock faces. Here's a nice shot of Half Dome bathed in pink.

By the time we got back to the Lodge, it was well after dark, and we were exhausted. We shared a burger and crashed. Monday would be a lighter day.