Category Archives: Trees

Coachella Valley & Joshua Tree National Park, California ~ October 29 – November 1, 2014

Always looking to take advantage of good deals on accommodations, we were lured into Coachella Valley by an email received a month prior. The promotional offer was from a lavish golf resort in the town of Rancho Mirage:  four nights in a luxury villa at an on-budget rate if we listened to their one-hour sales pitch.

Westin Mission Hills Pool
Source: Westin Mission Hills Resort

Situated between the desert havens of Palm Springs and Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage was not on our bucket list, but Joshua Tree National Park was and lies 40 miles away. No brainer!

For the first time since Seattle (almost two months back), we had a kitchen.

Cooking dinner followed by lively conversations with other guests in the hot tub became our nightly routine.

Dinner, Rancho Mirage

Our stay in Rancho Mirage was an extravagant gift that we appreciated fully…

Trey played a round of golf while I spent the afternoon at the spa.

Gary Player Signature Course, Rancho Mirage CA
Gary Player Signature Course – Source: Westin Mission Hills

We basked fully in luxury’s lap while we could.

Mt. San Jacinto

The two excursions we made outside of the resort was to drive through old school celebrities’ neighborhoods north of downtown Palm Springs, and to travel up the side of San Jacinto Mountain via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. (Trey also spent an evening at a local casino, but doesn’t want to talk about it.)

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

The rotating tram travels 2.5 miles up the mountain, dropping you off at the edge of a massive wilderness.

View of Coachella Valley from Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
View from Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

The views across the valley to the Little San Bernardino Mountains are stunning.

View from atop Palm Springs Aerial Tramway 1
View from atop Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Along with restaurants, a gift shop and other amenities, the top offers access to loads of hiking trails. We hiked only about a mile down from the mountain station because it was late in the afternoon (tram ticket prices are lower), quite chilly, and the climb back up was steep. Yet, we ventured far enough to sense the wild vastness ahead. We hoped to see wildlife, but I think the cold and late hour kept them away.

Tram Map

If we had planned better, we would have gotten an early start and hiked to San Jacinto Peak, which is a 5.5 mile one-way trail that connects up with the Pacific Coast Trail. But alas, darkness was approaching so we dangled back down Mt. San Jacinto and drove to Rancho Mirage where we spent the remaining evening plotting our course for the next two weeks.

Rancho Miraco Lizard
Lizard Outside Our Villa

Joshua Tree National Park

We were heading eastward toward Texas, to our home. Joshua Tree was on the way, so we waited until we were leaving California to visit it.

Joshua Tree Nat'l Park, CA 3

Best I can tell, the park’s 794,000 acres encompass five mountain ranges (Coxcomb, Eagle, Cottonwood, Hexie, & Little San Bernardino) and two deserts (Mojave & Colorado).

We entered from the south off Interstate 10 and through the Cottonwood Mountains.

Pinto Basin, Joshua Tree NP
Pinto Basin, Joshua Tree Nat’l Park

A ranger at the Cottonwood Visitor Center helped us to strategically plan our time. He suggested continuing our drive north through the heart of the park and hiking the Barker Dam Loop Trail.

Joshua Tree Nat'l Park, CA 2

The drive alone is a great way to experience the joshua trees… they’re everywhere!

Cholla Cactus, Joshua Tree NP
Cholla Cactus, Joshua Tree Nat;l Park

Scattered among them are mojave yuccas and cholla cacti.

The Joshua Tree cactus gets its branches through a unique process. It grows straight upwards until it blooms…. no blossoms, no branches. Once it blooms and the blossoms die and fall off, a new branch will leaf out from residual scar and grows until it blooms and restarts the process.

Joshua Tree Nat'l Park, CA
Mature Joshua Tree, Joshua Tree NP CA

On the drive to Barker Dam, there are several places to pull over and enjoy the scenery.

Skull Rock, Joshua Tree NP
Skull Rock, Joshua Tree National Park

We particularly enjoyed the Cholla Cactus Garden…

Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree NP
Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree Nat’l Park

and the “jumbo rocks” along Park Boulevard.

Joshua Tree Nat'l Park, CA 4

The Barker Dam loop is perfect if you’re crunched for time.

Trey, Joshua Tree Nat'l Park
Trey on the Barker Dam Loop Trail

It’s just over a mile long, and wends through giant rock formations on a pathway lined with impressive and playful joshua trees.

Although our time was limited, we gained an appreciation for, and were inspired by, the plant-life, mountains, and deserts that make up Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree Nat'l Park, CA
Joshua Tree Nat’l Park

Next stop…  Tucson, Arizona

Joshua Tree Nat'l Park, CA
Leaving Joshua Tree National Park

More pics…

Barker Loop Trail, Joshua Tree NP 1
Barker Loop Trail, Joshua Tree Nat’l Park
Barker Loop Trail, Joshua Tree NP 2
Old Water Tank Along the Barker Dam Trail

Grand Canyon’s South Rim ~ October 22-24, 2014

We’d first visited the Grand Canyon in 1992, when our daughters were six and nine. With only a half-day, we spent most that time on the Bright Angel Trail for a three-mile roundtrip hike. Quite a feat for kiddos!

Tusayan, Arizona

With this trip, our second, we’d hoped to hike into the canyon once again, but didn’t know if we’d be able to work in a full day’s hike.

South Rim Selfie, Grand Canyon

Since leaving Carmel, we’d been traveling in “we will figure it out” mode, so had no camping or hotel reservations when we rolled into Tusayan, a town just a few miles from the park’s south entrance.

When the Holiday Inn Express offered a particularly low rate, we figured it out quickly… “Oh, can we actually have the room for three nights, please?”

Tusayan is a walkable town catering to tourists… it’s primarily hotels and restaurants aligning each side of Highway 64. A quick look at Gmaps showed that we were just a block from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. We rode over after breakfast the next morning.

As we’d done at most national parks, we first watched the informational movie. This one, Grand Canyon, The Hidden Secrets, is quite different.

IMAX Tixs

It’s more of an over-dramatization of folklore involving cougars, hostile natives, and John Wesley Powell; not the historical account of the area’s geology and indigenous people we were expecting. We left a bit disappointed.

The Greenway Trail, a 6.6 mile pathway to the south rim, is accessible from the visitor center’s parking lot.

Young Elk, Grand Canyon SR
Young Elk, Grand Canyon SR

We were excited to ride our bikes through the pine forest to Grand Canyon Village, where we planned to peel off onto the South Rim Trail. At the time though, the Greenway Trail wasn’t paved. This wasn’t a problem until the path turned into gravel piled 2-3 inches deep. Our tires dug in and we went nowhere. Unsure as to whether the gravel lasted another half-mile or for the entire remaining 6 miles, we turned around and loaded our bikes onto the back of the Escape Mobile. (Note… current photos show the pathway to be paved, but I can’t find whether or not it’s paved for the full length.)

Greenway Trail, Tusayan AZ
Source: hikingproject.com

South Rim Trail

Cycling the 13-mile Rim Trail was exhilarating.

Riding the S. Rim Trail, Grand Canyon

On the east side there are sections where the trial is only feet from the canyon’s edge, and the views are amazing.

South Rim, Grand Canyon 3

We rode until we ran into the South Kiabab Trailhead and agreed it would be the trail we’d tackle the next day.

Around Rim Trail, Grand Canyon SR
Trey on the South Rim Trail, Grand Canyon

The Rim Trail’s west side is also a peaceful, worthwhile ride. It’s mostly wooded and snakes around lodges and campgrounds setback from the rim.

Back at the hotel we did some research to plan for the next day’s hike…  in the morning, after purchasing snacks and sandwiches, we’d fill our backpacks’ water bladders, pack some extra water, catch a shuttle from the village visitor center to Yaki Point, and hike 3-miles down to Skeleton Point – the deepest turnaround spot advised for a one-day down and up hike.

South Kaibab Trail

All the prepping took time so it was early afternoon before we reached the South Kiabab Trailhead.

White Shorts - Grand Canyon SR
White Shorts?

Although warm for October, it was a gorgeous day and we headed down the canyon’s wall with an excitement-induced quick step. The entire trail is steep, that should go without saying but I’m saying it anyway. It’s easy to get distracted by the surrounding beauty, lose a sense of your downhill pace, and over-estimate just how far you’re capable of hiking in a day. The Rangers’ motto, which they repeat often, is “What goes down, must come up!”

Heading down Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon SR
Heading down South Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon

One of the trail’s steepest points is just below the trailhead… a dizzying series of short switchbacks that lead down to Ooh Aah Point, about a mile in. A half-mile farther is Cedar Ridge, the halfway mark to Skeleton Point and a great place for a snack, bathroom break, and photos.

Mule Train at Cedar Ridge, Grand Canyon SR
Mule Team at Cedar Ridge, Grand Canyon SR
Cedar Ridge View, GCSR
Cedar Ridge View, Grand Canyon South Rim

It’s recommended that Cedar Ridge be your turnaround point if hiking during the summer months.

Although warm, we continued downward passing two couples at separate points that had Trey and me raising our eyebrows. They were heading back up, about our ages but not fitness levels, and as Trey noted, “They weren’t looking good!” We ended up passing both couples on the way back up. Not boasting, just noting that one should undertake only what their lungs, legs, and heart can handle.

Skeleton Point, Kaibab Trail -Grand Canyon SR

Successfully arriving at Skeleton Point, we were glad to exhale and slow down to rest, eat…

Lunch Break at Skeleton Point, Grand Canyon SR

take in the scenery, pose for photos…

Skeleton Point View, GCSR
Skeleton Point View, Grand Canyon SR

Posing at Skeleton Point, Grand Canyon SR

and imagine hiking the remaining four miles to the Colorado River, which we could now see.

InkedColorado River from Skeleton Point, GCSR_LI
Colorado River from Skeleton Point, Grand Canyon SR

Yet with our late start, we didn’t linger too long as we knew it would take us double the time to climb back out of the canyon. We kept a decent pace, and were grateful when we returned to Cedar Ridge for a break, more snacks, and photos.

Cedar Ridge Overlook, GCSR
Cedar Ridge Overlook, Grand Canyon SR

It was nearing the hottest part of the day when we headed up the final steep mile. We took our time and stopped often to enjoy the scenes that we’d scrambled by earlier.

Cedar Ridge Overlook, GCSR 2

Bird, Grand Canyon SR

Back at the trailhead we were dusty messes, but thrilled with the day’s challenge, and humbled by Grand Canyon’s grace and ruggedness.

Back at the top, Grand Canyon South Rim
Back at the top, Grand Canyon South Rim

 

Food:

Yippi-Ei-O Steakhouse in Tusayan is a fun and tasty choice to carb and protein-up the night before hiking into the canyon.

Yippee-Ei-O! Steakhouse, Tusayan AZ
Yippee-Ei-O! Steakhouse, Tusayan AZ

Reminiscence of the Texas steakhouses from our childhoods, Trey and I thoroughly enjoyed the food, great service, and cowboy ambiance. Oh, and the pecan pie was phenomenal!

More Pics…

Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon SR
South Kiabab Trail, Grand Canyon
Yoga on the South Rim, Grand Canyon
Yoga on the South Rim, Grand Canyon

Last Sunset, Grand Canyon SR

Last Sunset, Grand Canyon South Rim

 

 

 

Bryce Canyon National Park ~ October 19, 2014

The sun was setting when Highway 9 dead-ended into Highway 89. The intersection was labeled on the map as “Mount Carmel Junction.” We found the junction to be a quaint town with an awesome motel.

Thunderbird Motel, Mount Carmel Junction

The Thunderbird Lodge was a welcoming site after the previous night’s cheap Bates-like motel in Springdale. Even though the Thunderbird was more than 62 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park, we checked in for two nights recognizing our fatigue and yearning for a comfortable respite. Those two conditions had us sleeping in the next day and not arriving at Bryce Canyon until 1 p.m.

Bryce Canyon from Inpsiration Point 1

The gorgeous canyon is sprawling and includes some long looping trails on the northern and southern ends.

Map 1

But with only a half-day to immerse ourselves, we chose to stick to the heart of the canyon and the short, but steep, series of connecting trails near and below the visitor center.

The half-mile trek along Rim Trail from Sunset to Sunrise Point provides amazing photo opportunities.

Thor's Hammer from Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon NP
Thor’s Hammer from Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park

Queen's Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon NP 1

From Sunrise Point we cut down onto Queen’s Garden Trail which had us winding closely around and through the hoodoos and natural bridges.

Queen's Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon NP 11

Queen's Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon NP 4

The vibrant orange shades changed and gleamed as we passed through the hoodoo forest down into the canyon floor. Strolling along the pine-lined path was shaded and peaceful,  a great place to rest before ascending back up and out of the canyon.

Canyon Floor, Bryce Canyon NP
Canyon Floor, Queen’s Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park

At the intersection of Navajo Loop Trail, we chose to take the outer section of the trail through “Wall Street,” so named, I assume, because of the towering slot canyon walls.

Wall Street 1, Bryce Canyon NP
“Wall Street” – Bryce Canyon National Park

In total, the 3-mile loop took us about two and half hours and that included many stops to bask in the geological phenomenon in which we were hiking, and to take photos of course.

We cooled our heals over a late lunch in nearby Bryson City before driving through the park’s northern border to Mossy Cave.

bryce-canyon-national-park-map
Source: National Parks Service

The cave, which we failed to capture, is what I would call a grotto and would have been more exciting, or at least worth the drive, if we had been visiting in the spring rather than a very dry October.

We did learn that the arroyo the trail follows was hand dug over a century ago by a community of Mormons. They’d dug the 15-mile trench to tap into the Sevier River as a water source for their town, Tropic.

Bryce Canyon from Inspiration Point 1=4
Bryce Canyon from Inspiration Point

With sunset nearing we backtracked past the visitor center to Inspiration Point. We’d been told that at dusk, spectacular colors cast across the hoodoos and canyon.

Bryce Canyon from Inpsiration Point 2
Inspiration Point View, Bryce Canyon National Park

Upon arriving, clouds rolled over the western skyline and blocked what I imagine would have been stunning views.

Bryce Canyon from Inpsiration Point 3
Getting inspired at Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

Our disappointment didn’t last long though. As we walked along the platform in awe of the canyon’s magnitude and beauty, the sun dipped below the horizon and the clouds rose slightly, alighting the distant hilltops ablaze with color.

Sunset from Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon NP 1
Sunset from Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

A perfect send off to a perfect day in Bryce National Park.

More Pics…

Trey on Queen's Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon NP

Queen's Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon NP 6

DSC06311

Queen's Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon NP 5

Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks ~ October 11, 2014

With our bicycles snug on their sparkling new rack, we motored south, then east, to Kings Canyon National Park. Our ultimate destination was Las Vegas, and the plan was to wend through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks on the way… a tree-tour-detour.

14 Kings Canyon NP

I’ve written previously, ad nauseam really, about the awe we’ve experienced walking among and connecting with these earthly giants. So, I’ll spare you from more adjectives and let the photos speak for themselves…

13 Kings Canyon NP

I’m sure all of our photos from this odyssey have been most capable of speaking for themselves all along. (Sigh)

04 Fallen Monarch Tree, Kings Canyon NP
Fallen Monarch Tree, Kings Canyon NP

08 Inside Fallen Sequoia, Kings Canyon NP

Yet, I write on.

15 General's Hwy, Seqouia NP

In honor of our last hours with the giants, here are some factoids that Trey recorded:

17 General Sherman Tree, Sequoia NP
General Sherman Tree, Sequoia NP
  • The General Sherman Sequoia is considered the world’s largest living tree by volume; it towers approximately 275 feet; and its base circumference is just shy of 103 feet
  • Redwood bark can get up to 12 inches thick, while sequoias’ bark can expand outwards 31 inches
  • Redwoods typically grow taller, but sequoias weigh more due to the girth of their trunks and branches

Sequoia Branches

  • The base of sequoia branches can be 40 feet in diameter stretching out to 8 feet in diameter… sequoia’s main branches look more like trees!
  • Sequoias tend to live longer than redwoods, about 3,500 vs 3,000 years
20 Heading down Hwy 198
Heading down Generals Highway (Hwy 198)

Highway 198, also known as Generals Highway, led us away from the giants and out of Sequoia National Park.

Like the Beartooth Highway in Montana/Wyoming and the Sea-to-Sky Highway in British Columbia, the drive down Generals Highway from Sequoia NP to Three Rivers is an adventure.

A must do whenever the opportunity presents itself, or even when it doesn’t. The twists are numerous, turns dizzying, and the scenery is gorgeous.

19 View from Hwy 198

22 Tunnel Rock, Hwy 198
Tunnel Rock, Hwy 198

A perfect transition to where the trajectory of our “great looping quest” was taking us…

…into the desert.

By the time we pulled into Bakersfield, California, the landscape was more reminiscent of West Texas…

25 Arriving in Bakersfield, CA

More Pics…

Sequoia Branches

Yosemite National Park, California ~ October 8 – 11, 2014

We’d left Carmel-by-the-Sea for Yosemite National Park without plans for where we’d sleep for the next three nights. Securing a campground reservation had proven impossible, so our shaky plan B was to show up, stand in line, and hope there’d been a last minute cancellation.

As we detoured across California to avoid wildfires, the hours passed into late afternoon and we grew even less confident that shaky plan B was the way to go. Still, we progressed forward and climbed closer to Yosemite’s south entrance as the sun fell below the surrounding mountains. Three miles out, we came upon what appeared to be a forest oasis — a beautiful lodge.

tenaya-lodge-exterior-1367x600
Source: tenayalodge.com

It also appeared to be way outside of our budget, but it had spoken to both us. As we passed it, Trey and I looked at each other and in silent agreement, Trey turned the Escape Mobile around and headed back, “It can’t hurt to check it out.”

The Tenaya Lodge was definitely a splurge, but Trey and his baby blues secured a hefty discount, making it doable. Walking in without a reservation proved to us once again that, “The Universe is on our side!”  

Yosemite National Park

With only two days to explore Yosemite we planned to cram in as much as possible. We hadn’t previously visited the park, but, based on everything we’d heard, we had high expectations. 

Bicycles in tow, we twisted northward along Hwy 41 toward Yosemite Valley. I thought the scenery was nice, but wondered, why all the hype? That is until a sharp curve led us into a tunnel and we emerged on the other side to this view…

01 Yosemite Valley -Tunnel View (Hwy 41)

I wish there was a word for when everything you thought you knew gets thrust into proper perspective by unimaginable beauty and grace — those moments when you only feel humility and gratitude for the honor of the experience.

It would have to be a particularly full, bold word, one that rolls off the tongue, such as flumgustered or hyperevoluted. Well, I guess there is wonderstruck, but no; I was flumgustered to tears, my conscious was hyperevoluted as I grasped the immense power of nature’s mass and force.

01.5 El Capitain from Tunnel View (Hwy 41)
Majestic El Capitan

We had a full day of exploring ahead, but the “Tunnel View” beckoned us to stay. So spying a trailhead above the parking lot, we headed up Inspiration Point Trail for a higher vantage. The 1.3 mile path provided even more magic:  flying squirrels soared across the trail in front of us; mosaic pine tree trunks enticed us upwards…

and massive madronas painted the pathway with white blooms and redbrick limbs.

03 Inspiration Point Hike 3

The path to Inspiration Point is steep but the views are truly inspiring and worth the climb.

04 Yosemite Valley - Inspiration Point

03.6 Yosemite Valley - Inspiration Point 2

By the time we left the Tunnel View area and arrived in Yosemite Valley we were famished, so we shared a generous bowl of chicken rigatoni at the majestic Ahwahnee Lodge.

05 Climbers on Washington Column

Our bicycle tour was delayed further as we stuck around the Ahwahnee parking lot to gawk at freestyle climbers inching their way up Washington Column.

With its 12 miles of pathways, Yosemite is perfect for exploring by bicycle.

bike-path-map

06 Yosemite Bike Path

The remaining afternoon was spent peddling the length of the valley, crossing historic stone bridges…

06.7

…and stopping for short hikes through meadows and up to Lower Yosemite Falls, which was almost a trickle.

08 Lower Yosemite Falls

The afternoon’s highlight was spotting a momma bear and her cubs loading up on ripening apples in preparation for the approaching winter.

07 Cub catching up to his momma in Yosemite Valley

California was in extreme drought, this was evident on the drive from Carmel, and it was obvious throughout Yosemite Valley.

06.5 Merced River and Half Dome, Yosemite

The Merced River was barely flowing and the mountain creeks feeding it were bone dry. That, however, did not take away from the beauty of Yosemite.

The sun’s descent was progressing as we re-secured our bicycles to the back of the Escape Mobile — a timing that we hadn’t planned, but was perfect for sidetracking up Glacier Point Road.

The drive-in-and-out road is just shy of 16 miles (each way).  It cuts up from Wawona Road (Hwy 41) just south of Tunnel View, and twists deep into the wilderness. (We spotted what appeared to be a wolf on the drive up, and a coyote on the return trip.)

14 Half Dome from Glacier Point, Yosemite

The sunset panoramas were spectacular as was the view of the valley below. From the height of Glacier Point one easily sees how and where ancient monster glaciers cut through mountains to carve out the valley.

15-yosemite-valley-from-glacier-point-2.png
Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

We hadn’t anticipated the bonus of the setting sun’s colors reflecting off the eastern rocky cliffs.

18 Half Dome from Glacier Point at Sunset
Half Dome from Glacier Point at Sunset

We stood mesmerized, flumgustered, until we noticed stars beginning to dot the darkening sky.

19 On Top of the World, Glacier Point, Yosemite

We secured ourselves among boulders a safe distance away from the mountain’s ledge and watched as the stars slowly painted the sky. We also noticed mysterious lights appearing one-by-one on the face of half-dome… climbers tethered to its ledges for the night.

20 Camper's Light, Half Dome from Glacier Point, Yosemite
Camper’s light on the ledge of Half Dome

As blackness fell over us, we hoped to see the milky way. However, due to a significant decrease in temperature coupled with the realization that we had no flashlight for the half-mile rocky trek back to the car, we decided to follow another couple down from the observation deck. (They had a flashlight.)

Mariposa Grove

Mariposa Grove 02

We’d already fallen in love with the giants of Redwood National Park, but had yet to experience the noble Sequoias.

Mariposa Grove 12

A planned short hike through Mariposa Grove turned into an all-day 8-mile journey.

Mariposa Grove 15 - Telescope Tree

With soft intent we strolled through the grove, communing with the giants along the way.

The grove was declared as “Mariposa Grove” after a couple of white dudes, Galen Clark and Milton Mann, happened upon it in 1857.

Mariposa Grove 09 - Historic Museum

However, evidence of indigenous people occupying the area dates back 3,000 years; Grizzly Giant would have been a mere sapling.

Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove
Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove

The Universe is on Our Side… Again

A reversing incident in Yosemite had somewhat destabilized our bicycle rack. So before heading to Kings Canyon National Park, Trey tightened each bolt and balanced the rack securely enough to make it the 60 miles to Fresno. (We had assumed that Fresno was the closest city large enough to have a proper bike shop.)

We’d traveled only 14 miles, to the tiny town of Oakhurst, when the rack’s arm flailed backwards and dangled our bikes sideways a few feet above the pavement. We immediately pulled into a parking lot and checked for phone service. Two bars allowed me to search for the nearest bike shop.

Gmaps seemed to be confusing our location with that of the nearest bike shop, so I looked up and around for assurance. Right there in the same parking lot, and directly in front of where our bikes had nearly crashed to the road, was Yosemite Bike & Sport. It wouldn’t open for another 10 minutes, but we walked over to the store front anyway to check out the shop while we waited.

Driving through terra incognita and having one’s bicycle rack deconstruct directly in front of the only bike shop within in a 60-mile radius is magical enough. Right? Well, not this day. As we approached the store’s display window we couldn’t believe what we saw… our exact bicycle rack sat new, fully assembled, and ready for use. (And no, it wasn’t a common brand or model.)

More Pics

07.5 Lower Yosemite Falls Trail

17 Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point at Sunset

 

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California ~ October 5 – 8, 2014

After four days of non-stop escapades in San Francisco, Carmel-by-the-Sea was the perfect travel oasis!

Carmel Bay, CA
Carmel Bay – Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Carmel, which it is commonly referred as, was ideal for rejuvenating while basking aside the Pacific… 

resting through peaceful strolls (and daily naps)…

Carmel Streets 1, CA

and reconnecting to ourselves and the Universe through the surrounding beauty and serenity.

Sheep of Carmel, CA

After a murky, foggy, twisty drive down Hwy 101, we arrived in Carmel exhausted and a bit stressed. Upon stepping out of the Escape Mobile, we immediately felt the city’s calming energy relax over us and welcome us with this view…

Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA
After stepping out of the Escape Mobile to this view, we knew Carmel was exactly where we should be at that moment

Once settled into our hotel, we walked to the nearest restaurant, Casanova for an amazing Italian dinner complete with romantic ambiance…

Casanova, Carmel
Daytime shot of Casanova Italian Restaurant

another welcoming gift from the Universe…

Casanova 2, Carmel
Exhausted but happy at Casanova’s, Carmel-by-the-Sea

Morning arrived with temperate ocean breezes and a gorgeous cloudless sky.

Carmel's Beach, CA

So of course, we walked straight to the beach where watched a pod of dolphin fishing along the shore…

Bottlenose Dolphins, Carmel

and a scattering of humans out for their morning walks.

Morning Beach Walkers, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

Carmel-by-the-Sea is small and picturesque, a perfect town to explore by foot and bicycle so the Escape Mobile remained parked for the duration of our stay.

We bicycled to the southern edge of town to the Basilica of San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission, the second of California’s 21 missions.

Carmel Mission, Carmel, CA 4
Basilica of San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission

The Carmel Mission was dedicated as a basilica in 1797, and is the fourth and last basilica we visited on our six-month U.S. tour. It was also the most humble – the one we sensed as the most authentic and sacred.

Carmel Mission, Carmel, CA 3

The grounds and structures are modest and peaceful and while we arrived too late for a tour, Trey and I enjoyed the special gift of watching the setting sun’s light play off the basilica’s chapel and gardens.

Carmel Mission, Carmel, CA 2

Near Carmel Mission, there’s access to parks, beaches, and several hiking trails including some that climb up and along the rocky shoreline. Since we were on bicycles, we opted to enjoy the views and laugh at grazing sheep instead.

Sheep of Carmel, CA 2

Everything about this area is charming!

We loved exploring Carmel’s art galleries, streets, and its unique mix of architecture and styles, from streamlined cliff-side mansions to adorable tiny cottages.

Even our hotel was cute…

Best Western Town House Lodge, Carmel
Best Western Town House Lodge, Carmel-by-the-Sea

Our second morning relaxing at the beach was cut short after cutting my foot on a piece of driftwood buried in the sand.

Driftwood, Carmel-by-the-Sea

It wasn’t a terrible cut, but bad enough to avoid exposing it to sand and ocean bacteria. Following a generous slab of antibiotic ointment, a wrap, and elevating it for an hour, my foot was well enough for the next venture… the wine circuit.

Nearby Carmel Valley is home to thriving vineyards. Conveniently, many wineries also have tasting rooms in Carmel-by-the-Sea. We spent the afternoon sampling wines and bought five bottles: a red blend and Barbera from Silverstri; a Pinot Gris and Pino Nior from Manzoni; and a rosé from Dawn’s Dream.

0527191248

Carmel Valley wines are excellent! We are not aficionados, but it’s our opinion that they can hold their own against California’s top rated regions.

Carmel Food

In addition to Casanova’s mentioned above, we enjoyed several other great food experiences. For dinner, Flaherty’s Seafood Grill was recommended by some fellow travelers from Australia and did not disappoint. Jack London’s Pub has since closed, but its onion rings were some of the best we’ve eaten.

 

And Em Le’s for breakfast was as quaint as is was good, but sadly it has also since closed.

Out of necessity, out last morning in Carmel was spent doing laundry and packing & shipping wine home to Austin.

Gassing up for the drive to Yosemite
Gassing up the Escape Mobile for the drive to Yosemite

A fire along CA Hwy 140 required us to change our route and add a 70-mile detour through Fresno in order to access or next destination…

Drive to Yosemite
Reservoir on the drive to Fresno – Evidence of California’s 2014 drought

Yosemite!

Read about the basilicas of Montreal, Ottawa and South Bend

More Pics…

Bottlenose Dolphin, Carmel
Bottlenose Dolphin, Carmel Bay
Carmel's Fall Colors
Carmel’s Fall Colors

 

Redwood National & State Parks ~ September 22 – 24, 2014

The “Redwood Forest” is a patchwork of federal and state parks along California’s northern coastline.

map

Together, they’re a UNESCO World Heritage site with joint missions to manage and preserve the remaining old growth forests. Before effective efforts to protect the giant redwoods were established, logging had wiped out 70% of them. Yes, 70%!

Stout Grove, JS Redwoods State Park

Arriving at the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, located in the northern end, we’d officially traveled from the gulf stream to the redwoods.

Being surrounded by new growth trees and thick underbrush provided our campsite some privacy. And for me, senses of comfort and safety came with sleeping among the giants.

We spent our afternoon exploring the campground and forest. Trey and I had previously encountered a few giants – a young transplanted sequoia in Victoria’s Butchart Gardens, and firs around Mount Rainier and Mount Olympus – but those trees did not prepare us for the magnitude, majesty, and grace of the old growth redwoods.

It was love at first sight!

Giants, JS Redwood State Park

The park’s campground sits alongside the Smith River.

Smith River, JS Redwoods SP
Smith River, JS Redwoods SP

Being September, it was unlikely we’d catch a trout or salmon, so we didn’t purchase licenses. Instead, each evening we walked along the riverbank, admiring river rocks and wildlife, and keeping an eye out for bears.

While Stout Memorial Grove is near the campground—it sits just across the river—the old growth grove is not easily accessible by car. The grove is off a narrow dirt road about two miles from the main highway, US 199.

Because of its isolation, we had the grove mostly to ourselves. Taking a loop trail and then a break-off trail down to the river, we walked among the giants…

Giant Redwood, Stoutgrove

and basked in our quiet communion.

JSRSP, Stout Grove 4

We were thrilled to come across another banana slug because 1) they’re awesome!, and 2) we missed photographing the first one we spotted in our campground.

Banana Slug, JSRSP

Leaving the grove, we continued down the dirt road, Howland Hill Road, into the community of Crescent City.

Howland Hill Road2
Howland Hill Road, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

We highly recommend this drive! In all, it’s only about six miles, but allow plenty of time for winding through the giants, braking and backing for passing cars, and stopping for photos.

JSRSP, Stout Grove 3

Once in Crescent City, we shared a beer and filled up with good Tex-Mex at Perlita’s before heading back to camp for the evening. The sky was overcast, but the chance for rain was only ten percent.

Claps of thunder woke us at midnight followed by a downpour that continued through the night. Though dry inside, by 6:00 a.m. our tent’s floor felt more like a waterbed.

Rainy Campsite, JSRSP

Stepping out to go to the bathroom before breaking camp, we discovered our shoes had floated away with the small stream running thru our campsite and under our tent. We found them in the brush behind the tent, then packed up our soaking selves and threw our gear into the Escape Mobile to leave.

Still raining, we took refuge in The Chart Room, a seafood restaurant that happened to be open for breakfast. The rustic restaurant sits on a narrow peninsula dividing Crescent Harbor and the Pacific Ocean, and its windows provide great views of both.

As we ate, we watched a sea otter catching his breakfast and frolicking in the calm harbor, while across the restaurant, we saw 10-foot waves crashing over the levy onto the road.

Driving south down the coastline on U.S. 101, the waves continued roaring just off the highway. Before reaching the cutoff to our detour to Redding, we stopped at Lady Bird Johnson Nature Grove.

The first First Lady from Texas played an active role in the conservation and beautification of many of our nation’s natural treasures, including a section of the Colorado River that runs through Austin. Of course we had to stop!

Lady Bird Grove & Nature Trail

The rain let up as we arrived, but we’d trekked only a quarter mile and had taken a couple of photos before it started pouring again. Still, a great departing experience and perfect location to say goodbye to the lovely giants.

More pics..

Two Giants, Stout Grove