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Month: June 2017



PCH 2017

On Friday we made our way northwest to San Francisco for a late lunch on the Wharf. Because we drove up in Sam’s Miata we couldn’t leave San Francisco without a trip down Lombard Street. From there we drove over the Golden Gate and continued to the Muir Overlook before doing a U-turn to begin our journey south along the Pacific Coast Highway. We stopped at the Marin Headlands vistas before plowing on down to Santa Cruz to visit Natural Bridge State Beach.

Apparently, rich kids in Santa Cruz congregate on the beach on Friday nights to annoy wildlife and other humans. I wonder what those kids would do with themselves if they were stuck in the Mid-Ohio Valley for a weekend. Probably not stand on the rocks in front of the lifeguard, scare seagulls from their nests, smoke pot, and drink beer. We felt like old timers complaining about the youngsters, but I doubt any medical marijuana cards are issued to 16-year-olds, even in Santa Cruz. Or medical beer cards for that matter.  At least in my day we tried to hide what we were doing, maybe because our parents couldn’t (or wouldn’t) bail us out if we got caught. Joints were smoked in parked cars at midnight on dirt roads leading into the woods, not in front of tourists at sunset. Not that I’d know about the former, of course. What I do know is that the children on the rocks we saw were afflicted with a clear case of affluenza.

Another hour south and we reached our hotel in Monterey, which had its own fireplace and a free bottle of wine. Apparently, we’d booked so many rooms on Expedia in our last few years of travel they felt it was time to reward us. Pro-tip: when designing customer reward programs it’s always useful to send your customers a survey about what they really want. Neither of us really drink red wine. Whoever invites us to the next dinner party will have to let us know if Expedia wine is any good!

Saturday required some maneuvering. The pacific coast highway closed a few months back after the heavy winter rains washed a bridge out. We spent a few hours at Point Lobos looking at sleeping seals, bird islands, and squirming tide-pool creatures before going down further. However, we didn’t make it to the lighthouse by the end of the road. We started to see that the area around the lighthouse held no villages to offer succor for our grumbling tummies. We turned back to visit Carmel-by-the-Sea and eat some great (but pricey) mexican food at el Pescadero.

After lunch we had to make the long drive around the PCH closure by going east then down the 101 and back west again to San Simeon. When we left Carmel the temperature was in the high 60s with a sweet ocean breeze. We put the top down, of course. By the time we crossed through the farmland of Carmel Valley and blasted between the yellow hills of King City it was over a hundred degrees. Even at a matching velocity, a convertible offers no relief. We had to pull off at the first rest stop and put the top up until we could reach the coast again.  

We turned off the 101 and drove through the hills of San Simeon. We went to the Hearst Castle visitors area and discovered the entire castle rented out for the evening by a private party. We put the top back down and drove by the ocean to the nearby elephant seal boardwalk. After listening to those giant sea dogs burp and fart and scratch and fight for a while we went further up the PCH to point where the road closed northbound. This time we drove all the way up to the literal closure signs at Ragged Point. And when I say “at” I mean it. The road closes immediately in front of the exit from the Ragged Point hotel restaurant. So we turned in and had some chowder before hiking down the hill to Ragged Point Beach to watch the sunset.

On Sunday, we decided to skip Hearst Castle as it would have delayed us too much. Instead we walked around Morro Bay for about an hour (including watching sleepy sea otters) before driving to Pismo Beach for some quick tacos.

From there we followed the road straight home, as straight as one can get on the clogged 101. Although that’s not true either. We detoured briefly through Solvang and around and down to Santa Barbara for ice cream to cap off the trip.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

On Memorial day we drove up to Yosemite, arriving in the valley in the early afternoon. Other than tunnel view (a requirement), our first stop was Brideveil Falls. Just like Grizzly Falls, Brideveil overflowed with melt from the storms earlier this year. So much so that walking to the viewpoint to take pictures was no different than walking into a rainstorm. We’d later read that water hadn’t flowed like that in the park since the 1960s.

After walking a bit to dry out from Bridalveil’s soaking we went down to the meadow to find our room at the Valley Lodge. We didn’t plan our trip as far in advance as recommended. As such our rooms were piecemealed together from me checking the lodging site every day until an opening (any opening) popped up. As a result, we were stuck with four separate rooms for four nights. The front desk combined two of those nights so we only had to switch rooms once. However, because we came in so late in the reservations process (people typically reserve at least six months in advance for Yosemite Valley lodging) our first room was probably the worst in the valley. None of the rooms have air conditioning, but our first felt like a sweat box. On the second-floor, it must have been on top of a laundry room (or something) that kept it hot even early in the morning when the rest of the valley floor cooled down to forty degrees.

After checking into our sauna room we walked to Lower Yosemite Falls, which is visible from the lodge. Yosemite Falls’ spray blasted everyone on the viewing bridge. We ran across the bridge and spent the rest of the night wandering through Cook’s Meadow hunting birds and deer with our cameras.

Tuesday we set out for Upper Yosemite Falls, a three and a half mile hike to the top. It turned out to be incredibly vertical and after the first two miles turns into a sun-drenched rock climb. Sam had to turn around. I probably would have fainted if Sam hadn’t bought a water bottle with a filter. This allowed me to fill the bottle from the smaller waterfalls on the sides of the trail. Drinking from a glacial waterfall after feeling exhausted and dehydrated is quite a rush.

At the top, the trail flattens out around boulders eventually leading to dangerous viewpoints with only some flimsy metal rails deterring a 2,400-foot fall.  Doesn’t sound like much when you read it like that, but consider that’s a good fifteen seconds at terminal velocity to race the water down. Of course, the cliffs don’t go straight down; halfway they break and run in towards the valley before finding another cliff. Upper Yosemite Falls is so high that from the bottom you can only see that bottom cliff. For even further perspective consider that Staubachfalls, one of the waterfalls in Lauterbrunnen that so influenced Tolkien’s Rivendell, is only a little more than a third the height of Yosemite. Even Rothbachfalls, Germany’s highest waterfall is still nearly a thousand feet shy of Yosemite Falls. And unlike those other places, I couldn’t leave Yosemite without reaching the top on foot.

From the top, and from some of the other viewpoints, the falls produce an impressive double rainbow (as if the punishing waves of water cascading down the tallest waterfall in America wasn’t amazing enough).

Speaking of punishing; apparently, my old knees aren’t up to a 7+ mile2,500-foot elevation change hike. After half an hour of hopping down the rocks returning to the valley my knees began to seize up. The trail coming down seemed to stretch on forever, like the vertigo effect (or dolly zoom, if you’re nasty) in movies where you zoom in on the rocks in the foreground but the end of the trail just gets farther away.  I finally reached the bottom, creaking and moaning like an old robot in need of oil, two and a half hours later.

Tuesday night we checked into our new room in the Alder building, cooled by vents receiving air from the stream behind the building, which was firmly planted in the meadow forest instead of the hustle and bustle of the village proper.

After a well-earned dinner Sam and I set up in the meadow again to catch the red sunset on half-dome. Deer came again, but the red face never did.

Wednesday the rain clouds blew in so we drove up to Glacier Point to take pictures through the fog. On our way back down we stopped to see a momma california brown bear patrolling the ground beneath a pine that her three cubs climbed up.

Back in the valley we treated ourselves to the Mountain Lodge restaurant (good, but not great) before heading to the meadow again. Our patience rewarded, we saw the red sunset rise and cover half dome.

I headed to tunnel view alone for a few starlight shots.

Thursday we set out to hike to Nevada falls. We were turned back by the fierce hail of water from Vernal Falls after ascending the stone steps nearly to the top. After only experiencing the “mist” of the first half of the stairs it became clear that going all the way would soak us through. It was so wet at the top we would have needed underwater camera housings to not return with broken cameras. We turned back, and a good thing too as my knees were already beginning to hurt again.

We took the easy walk to mirror lake, but were a bit disappointed with what we found. We walked to the other side of the lake, but nowhere did I see an opportunity to take the clear photos of the lake (really a swamp) I’d seen online. However, we did see a salamander on the walk out.

Later we drove to tunnel view for the sunset before stopping in the meadow for some starlight photography before mobs of mosquitos forced us back into the car and off to our room.