Friday, May 30, 2008

The Journey: Yosemite

And so we turned away from the traffic chaos and headed in a different direction. And all the while the scenery overwhelmed us despite the disappointment of giving up the goal of -- whatever. Perhaps 10 minutes into this new direction we saw ahead a viewpoint with quite a few tourists milling around -- even a bus load or two. We pulled in and there before our eyes was a breathtaking view of El Capitain and also Half Dome and waterfalls all laid out before us.

Many oohs and ahhhs later and we were again on our way. We had been told by the ranger at the park entrance that the road to Glacier Point had been opened the day before for the first time this year. I was still in a funk and wanted to get out of the park, but Neil decided that we should take the road to Glacier Point and so when the turn-off came, we began the long climb. It wasn't long before we reached the snow line and I was glad that my winter jacket was in the back of the car. Eventually, we came to another viewpoint -- again lots of tourists oohing and ahhing. Spectacular view of three waterfalls: Yosemite, Bridal Veil and Vernal.

And so they lived happily ever after!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Journey: More Yosemite

It seemed unfortunate that our trip to Yosemite should work out to be on a Saturday. A gloriously sunny and pleasantly warm California Spring day, May 3rd. We spent the previous night in Merced, about 80 miles West of the park entrance and so took route 140 to our destination. An interesting drive showing a lot of the diversity of the California countryside.

The closer we got to Yosemite, the more the traffic increased. And the more we encountered either problems with the roads -- a landslide in one place and major work at another. The major works were encountered just where one road merged into another and traffice was held up alternately for 45 minutes in our case. The scenery was breathtaking and were not even at the entrance. But the flow of traffice got slower and slower after we bought our ticket.
The park attendant we bought the ticket from was very friendly and helpful. After Neil told him we were here from the UK he explained that should we be visiting other National Parks we should keep our tickets and if they should add up to $80 the Park Service would upgrade our ticket to an annual ticket that would enable us to visit any park with a car full of people! Great, we thought and carefully put our receipts together (one other from a visit to Mt. Rainier earlier this year). However, how chagrinned we were a few miles down the road when I read in the Yosemite News (or whatever it's called) that there was now a Senior Pass for US citizens 62 or over. This costs $10 (ten dollars) and is for Life!!!! (I also found out later that the pass is also for permanent residents, though the park attendant at Badlands where I finally bought my pass, said she didn't know anything about it even though I later discovered that it is clearly written on the back of the pass!

Back to our progress towards El Capitain, the Yosemite Valley and my father's past. What a glorious day it was. How bloody awful the traffic. And tour bus after tour bus and it was only early May. We'd been told that until the day before only the road to Yosemite Village had been opened. Now the road to Glacier Point was also open. As El Capitain began to come into view our progress got slower and slower and we became more and more disheartened. Neil hated to suggest it and I hated to hear it, but when we came to another road merging into our traffic, he suggested that we should give it up.

I was so disappointed -- I could see El Capitain, I had waited so long and now I'd not get there.

Well to be honest I could understand how my father could have gotten up to the top for his photo -- he was definitely no rock climber. And Neil couldn't understand either. Nevertheless we were sure all questions would be answered if we could just get to the Village. We turned right off the road aiming to leave the Park, though I vowed to return again one day.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Journey: Yosemite at Last and update

It's now Thursday 22 May and we are in Mitchel, South Dakota. But I'm still behind the 8-ball as far as relaying our journey! Quality Inn here is ok as far as the room is concerned. But the staff that greeted us left a lot to be desired! Especially as far as charging us for our room. She quoted $55.00 and proceeded to charge $69.00 -- and had already swiped the credit card. She was pretty vacant and just explained that she had made a mistake with the charge. What a bimbo! She did, however, manage to reset the wireless high speed Internet connection! Part of her problem may have been understanding Neil's British accent -- however, it did not make a good impression to find her on Facebook, eating something gooey out of a jar when we came back from dinner that night! Oh, yes, the weather has turned. Low temperatures (50s') and rain predicted for the rest of our journey. So Yellowstone, The Badlands, Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse, as well as Custer's Last Stand may have to wait for the Future.

Back a few weeks now to Yosemite: Yosemite is more than words. My friend Christine describes it as a cathedral and I think what man has in mind when building or visiting or praying is Yosemite. When man goes over the top he creates something like Las Vegas, but when God goes over the top you get Yosemite!

Our biggest mistake was going on a Saturday -- and on a beautiful Spring day Saturday at that. But as it wasn't a holiday weekend and schools were still in session, we thought that we'd be ok. And if we hadn't made that 'mistake' we'd have missed consumating my own personal pilgrimmage.

It was probably in the summer of 1934 that my father, who was at the private school Loomis, was lucky to be invited and able to go on a tour of the west. The only details that came down to us as children were the details of his trip to Yosemite. The master at Loomis who took the lucky few boys also took his camera and all my life there were on the wall of our house photographs that were taken at Yosemite. But a very special photograph came to light -- to me at least -- because of my friend Christine, wife of The Vicar!!!

When my father and she met the bonded immediately because of their spiritual and mystical enthusiasm for Yosemite. My father quoted a passage from Psalms (which to my undying regret, I cannot remember) and these two lovely people gazed mystically into each other's mystical eyes and were forever bonded! As a result, my father eventually sent her a beautiful book of black and white photographs of the Old West. Included in the book was a photograph of Himself aged 15 standing on a promentory over an abyss.

Many years later my father with my mother was at last able to return to Yosemite. My mother had described to me his emotional response to once again seeing before him 'El Capitain'. I put 2 and 2 together and made 5.

Back to the present. After a lovely 6 days in Minneapolis with my sister and brother-in-law we set off again on the road this past Wednesday the 21st of May. That day we managed to reach Mitchell South Dakota and by morning the rains came! It is now Saturday -- and Memorial Day weekend -- we are in Butte, Montana and it has been lashing rain for most of the time since leaving Mitchell and heading for Rapid City. Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse were a washout. Deadwood was surprisingly successful because the rain subsided and we were able to look around and impressed and unimpressed. We then headed out toward Montana via a shortcut through the corner of Wyoming. Just in time for the rains to descend upon us in Belle Fourche, SD. Very uninteresting countryside until turning west at Broadus, Montana and heading for our next destination, the site of Custer's Last Stand.

Neil is now looking forward to returning 'home' to Olympia. If the weather calms down tomorrow I am hoping to get him to agree to a sidetrip from Missoula to the Buffalo reserve about 30 miles north. And then I'll continue with the Saga of Yosemite.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Journey: Between San Francisco and Yosemite

And so on to Merced, CA, our stepping stone to Yosemite. We decided to spend the night at a Quality Inn , I believe. It was the first and so far only time we encountered the 'hidden' side of America. There were many 'workers' staying there -- as described in Nickel and Dimed. Our room was ok, but had seen better days. The setting was great -- around a courtyard, with palm trees and inviting swimming pool. But at breakfast the next day there were several people showing up, grabbing coffee and something to eat and then shuffling off to their rooms. The evening before the staff that greeted us was friendly and very helpful. However, the next morning there was one person on duty who spoke very little English and who was not able to help me when I inquired about a special deal some hotels, including the Quality Inn were offering to people who stayed in their establishments. As we were going to spending several nights on the road I was interested in any deals we might me able to get.

We did discover Marie Callender's Restaurants and enjoyed our meals there very much indeed! But wow, are we amazed to discover how expensive wine is in restaurants! We've taken to buying a bottle in the supermarket and chilling my white while travelling for a drink in our rooms before we go out. Anyway, we enjoyed our steak dinners. My salad was excellent, the vegetables were perfectly prepared -- and fresh! Though dessert was tempting, we were full and very satisfied and happy to receive a book listing all the restaurants!

Back to our hotel, a good night's sleep and after a cup of tea, we were on our way to Yosemite.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Journey: San Francisco

More beautiful scenery, more breathtaking views, one after the other. But after leaving the campsite, sparkling in the sun and promising more warmth than the night before, we arrived at San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge lived up to all expectations, but San Francisco was even better than we could have imagined. For the first time ever, Neil said this was a city where he could live!

Since we had not booked a hotel for our stay our first objective was to find a room for the night (with secure parking). We checked out a Travelodge that was booked up (they claimed) and were wending our way through traffic and beautiful buildings galore, when we spied a Comfort Inn in a great location -- expecially for the likes of us who would only be staying for about 36 hours. Not only did we get a great rate, we also had access to a secure and gated parking garage.

No time to catch our breath, we booked in and took our leave of the hotel and headed for Fisherman's Wharf. It was soon apparant that we should have planned for a much longer stay! Alcatraz would have been a great destination to head for a few hours! We saw a couple of great shops where Neil found a model sailboat he went back for the next day. We both impressed with the lack of tourist 'tat' -- but that impression was not to last, unfortunately. However, we loved the open museum of old boats that were on display. I haven't seen tourists of so many nationalities since I was last in London!

We had a hard time figuring out the public transportation and also understanding that the famed cable cars are a tourist attraction and not public transportation. Nevertheless, we did get a kick out of seeing a tramcar from Milan, Italy that was identical to one we road in Rome many years ago! Had we had longer we would have opted for a cable car ride for $11 for one trip, but by the time we'd figured it out it was getting late and dusky and we were getting tired!

The biggest disappointment of our stay was the restaurant we chose. We decided on an Italian place and to be fair my food was excellent --ravioli with homemade pasta. But Neil's calamari and French fries were cooked in stale old oil and were fried rather gray and horrible. Should have stuck to The Rough Guide for restaurant advice.

The next morning, after a very reasonable breakfast at our hotel, we had to take an unexpected walk to find an optician. The evening before as I was working on my computer, my glasses fell apart. That is the screw that holds the frame together around the lens came lose and try as I might I could not fit it back together. The woman at reception was very helpful and found us the nearest optician's office and off we trotted to Union Street to Eyes in Disguise, a very trendy boutique type of place, where they very kindly fixed my glasses and so restored by eye sight! Union Street was a very pretty street with great shops and wonderful Victorian houses.

Now that I could see once again, we decided to take our leave of the hotel and see more of the city by car, before leaving for our Yosemite adventure. First a visit to Fisherman Wharf to collect a small boat model and then on to the cable car station to take a photo and then to Safeway for a bag of ice and some fresh rolls. Shopping finished we continued to briefly explore the area around and under the Golden Gate Bridge: There is a fort where Union soldiers trained during the Civil War and also what look like barracks where I think the navy may have trained during World War II. Next we decided to try and find the Pacific for a last au revoir. After a period of trial and error we succeeded in finding a road with the ocean straight ahead in the distance. On and on down the street we went for many many blocks. At least we reached our destination and since it was lunch time we opened up the back of the van and made some sandwiches, which due to the wind and cool air we ate sitting inside rather than on the available bench along the beach. I don't remember much about the place except there was a big rock that was white from pigeon/bird droppings and there was a sign warning people that the currents and rib tide were dangerous and several people had drowned for not taking head to the warnings.

And so we were again on our way, headed toward Market Street and the freeway out of town via the San Mateo Bridge en route to Merced, California. We didn't manage to get to see much of the famous downtown area, but we did get a fantastic view of San Francisco and the bay. Unfortunately, the pictures are a bit overcast.

This is a city we plan to visit again and for several days longer. Hey, I think that's Alcatraz in the distance to the right!

Ands so we travelled to Merced 80 miles from Yosemite, a very personal pilgrimage.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Journey: How not to camp

First I'm behind the 8-ball. I've had a computer mal-function that turned out happily, but has been frustrating all the same. I've kept up to date through Fort Bragg, but have lots more to pull together from a fractious memory: Camping, San Francisco, Merced, California, Yosemite, Bakersfield, Las Vegas, Williams, Arizona, the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Sedona, Albuquerque, New Mexico!

Then Amarillo, Texas, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Bethany, Missouri and now for a few days rest in Minneapolis. Ok. Now the computer is working again and I've been able to get my computer fixed and to log on to the Internet with my wireless.
When last I wrote in, we thought we would be in San Francisco, but found the drive much longer than expected. Mostly due to the extravagant scenery and interesting places along the way. So one more night on the road en route to San Francisco and Neil decided we should camp. I should mention that when we put camping equipment in the car the idea was that it was in case of an emergency -- the emergency being that we could not find a hotel.

Now to the camping episode. First of all I don't hate camping -- just to be clear. But I do hate camping when not properly prepared. And I do not like camping when it is cold and windy. We had no lantern -- I thought we should get one -- a small, inexpensive one by Coleman was for sale at Sears just before we left Olympia. But we didn't get it. We also needed a basin for carrying water. And also I like to have hot and cold water and shower facilities (which were not yet operational). My sleeping bag was comfortable enough, I suppose. However, the temperature went below or hovered around it's advertised comfort of 35 degrees farenheit. We had an airbed, which made sleeping somewhat more comfortable, but the tent was smallish and it was so difficult to get up that I put off going to the toilet as long as possible -- until it was light and so did not sleep long or often. The campsite was south of Ft. Bragg on route 1 and was on the ocean. The sun was bright and the wind blew hard until we came back from dinner when a calm set in. But the thermometer dropped. And the toilet was at the far end of the field.

Neil was determined to camp that night -- mistakenly I thought he would think better of it -- especially as it was so cold. To be fair, even though I am not inclined to be, the campsite was in a beautiful location and there were glorious views of the Pacific to be seen there. However, it was much too cold and windy to trust our tent to be exposed to the winds that blew off the water. Finally we found a source of running (cold) water -- a strange counter like contraption overlooking the sea with signs that fish entrails should be placed in said garbage can.

I was very sulky and crabby. Not much of a good sport. In fact I was not a good sport at all. I was a bitch. I call it justifiable bitchiness.