Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bears and Squirrels







Gallup, NM 9:50 am

When we pulled up to Yosemite Nat'l Park, we were both a little down-trodden and ready to be out of the car. I was mostly worried about finding a campsite inside the park, a task which we accomplished successfully. It was the middle of the afternoon, so we decided to check out Yosemite Valley to see what options awaited us there. As we drove down that windy road, huge granite walls rose mercilessly in front of us and waterfalls cascaded down them. We wanted to stop at every turn to take pictures, but each new corner held a better view. We did a short hike that afternoon and drove around to get our bearings. We vowed to stay another night, do a long hike, and breath in a little more of the mountain air.
The next morning, we set out to hike to the top of Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in the US. On the way to the trail head we saw a bear! Cory said it was a black bear although it was brown, but I guess I believe him because what do I know about bears? It was pretty awesome to watch the bear from a distance. He was just minding his own business chomping away with his head down in the grass. I think I would have been a little more excited if he wasn't so close to our campsite.
The hike up the falls really felt good after spending so much time cooped up in the car. It's funny, every time I start along a trail my mind invariably moves to stone pathways, castles, and princesses. I know exactly where these thoughts come from- they are a direct flashback from perhaps the first place I ever did any hiking, Brownwood. I remember stepping onto a path that led into the "woods" that was actually not too far from our cabin. I thought I discovered a whole world full of castles complete with moats and dragons. (In reality it was some tables and chairs carved out of stone, and a stairway that lead to some rocks overlooking the water of the lake.) Whenever I think of Brownwood, it's still carved in my mind this way- a castle, my castle that I discovered. I remembered my family all under one roof, playing dominoes and feasting on chili beans and s'mores.
As we were getting closer to the top, the trail seemed to be getting steeper and I wasn't feeling as hard-core as when we started. By the time we were looking over the edge at the falling water I was feeling a little woozy- which I attributed to the altitude (reminding me of another memory- involving a ski trip and only donuts for breakfast). I propped myself up against a rock for a rest, and sat there for awhile letting the mist from the waterfall sprinkle me. Then I noticed a ground squirrel getting awfully close to me. I was eyeing him warily, hoping he would leave, but he started to run at me. Since I didn't have a coat to throw over it or a hammer to smack it with, I jumped up and gave a few warning stomps to let him know I had no qualms about kicking him off the ledge. That did it; he was running away in fear after that.
We finished up our stay at Yosemite planning a return visit and wishing we had longer to stay, and all of you guys here to share it with us.
We spent all of yesterday repacking and driving. We had some half-hearted intentions of driving through the night until we got home, but we were still 18 hours out. We stopped in at a hotel and finished the drive today. (I'm actually finishing this post from my home computer!) We are back in the lovely and sunny Texas, and now must rummage through all the junk we have stored in the car for the past two weeks, a task that may take us as long as the road trip.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Seattle Recap


What Day is it again?
Redding, CA


So I’ve let the blog slack a little bit, and at a time when I had perfectly good internet access, too. I’m feeling a bit remorseful of that. We are now on our way homeward, somewhere back in California, but before I get into that, I’ll give a short recap of our Seattle adventures.
It seems that almost everyone in the Pacific northwest is a mountain biker, and Jason is no exception. He picked out some trails he thought Cory and I might be able to handle, of which we selected the easiest one since I ride a little clumsily on flat ground and have never fully grasped the ability to switch gears. We drove out to a park area which encompassed a small lake area, waterfalls, and numerous glorious trees. It was raining on us at first, so we were feeling really hard-core. Just as we got on the main part of the trail, though, the skies opened up, the sunshine broke through, and we had the most beautiful weather for bike-riding that ever there was. It was really one of my favorite things of the trip so far, and it made me want to move somewhere with actual hills and not just mounds of brown dirt. We ended up riding a round trip of over 17 miles, and lived to tell the tale.
This was also our anniversary day, so we went out to a fancy-pants restaurant called Salty’s. It had a fabulous view (see above pic) which was absolutely perfect except for that it was slightly obstructed by a huge ugly barge with no redeemable qualities except for it’s somewhat amusing name (Seaspan). We ate steak and crab legs, drank Pinot Noir, and pretended to be real folks of high society.

Our last day in Seattle, we took an underground tour of the city and learned about Seattle’s quirky history. We spent the rest of the day wandering around Pioneer Square (the old part of the city), shopping in stores like North Face and REI, and stopping in at little bookstores and coffee shops periodically. We briefly revisited the market (we just couldn’t stay away), and before we knew it we had passed 6 hours just walking around.
That night, we all loaded up and rode the bus to the Mariners’ baseball game. The stadium was really impressive with a convertible-like roof that retracted if the sun came out and closed when it started raining. The Mariners won with a dramatic come back in the 7th inning which inspired many middle-aged men to do strange dances that I suppose could never be seen except for at a professional sports game. The food was also unique. In addition to the classic hotdog and beer, patrons could also buy fish and chips, clam chowder in bread bowls, or garlic fries.
On the bus ride home, we got to experience the down side of public transportation as two just-out-of-high-schoolers argued loudly; a conversation I’d like to relate here, but I’ll have to save for another time.

Finally, I am caught up to today. We headed out this morning, once again trekking all the way across Oregon and back into CA. I’m feeling a little bad about that because it really is a beautiful state, and I feel like I should give it a little more than just some Interstate time. We did get some good pictures of snow-capped Mt. Shasta, though. I believe the next stop is Yosemite, if I don’t get crazy and just decide to keep driving all the way home. My maintaining-sanity-while-driving-long-distances well is starting to dry up, and my tolerance for getting lost and driving around looking for campsites is lessening. There’s only so much you can shake off in the name of adventure. But the wheels are pointed south, and we’re both getting that crazed determined stare in our eyes. Texas, we’re on our way back to you.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Weekend


Days 8-9: Seattle, 3:20 pm


The evening of our arrival, Jason and Stacy cooked out for us. They live in Kirkland, which is a place we wanted to see anyway, and after dinner we walked along the waterfront and ate some Ben & Jerry's ice cream. The sun was setting, and we walked out onto a dock and around a park just staring at the boats and people-watching.

Saturday we ate breakfast at Chinook's, which has a beautiful view of the water, boats, and a draw bridge. I was adventurous and tried their famous salmon patties with my eggs and potatoes. Then we went to Pike's Place Market, which I loved. It is full of people, food, fish, and flowers. Make that folks, food, fish, and flowers for alliteration's sake. We got to look around and try free samples in a tea shop. I admired all the colors in the huge stands of fruits and vegetables and was surprised by all the different kinds and colors of pasta. Tomato basil pasta was red and cilantro lime pasta was green. There was even some tangerine pasta that was orange. We sampled different flavored honeys, browsed paintings and artwork of the Seattle shore and skyline, and narrowly averted buying various items (it was hand-made earrings for me and sheepskin slippers for Cory....we may have to go back to pick these up, in fact.) The peonies were taking up most of the flower spaces, which was delightful for me. I bought a mug from the original Starbucks, and got to try coffee at other places like Seattle's Best and Tully's.


Which brings me now to Sunday...this morning we went to church and got to hear Jason preach. He did an excellent job, and I think Cory liked telling all the members with a sly grin that he could tell them a few stories about Jason. We're taking it kind of easy this afternoon, and I think we're going to a fancy restaurant tonight. I'm really missing everyone, and I find myself talking about you even more often than normal. Hope everyone is having a good weekend!


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Tall trees and windy roads





Days 6-7: San Francisco--Shasta Mtns.--Seattle

When we got our bill from the Holiday Inn in San Francisco, we were a little disappointed to have close to $60 of unexpected fees and taxes tacked on. We felt a little like Ross from Friends when we were trying to eat a huge continental breakfast, take the apples up to our room, or take all the complimentary soaps, shampoo, and pine cones with us to make up the difference.

On the way to Muir Woods, we were beginning to think that my dad had sent us on a wild goose chase as the roads wound down and around, through hills and valleys. However, when we arrived, it was worth the twists and turns and slight motion sickness. We took a short tour given by a park ranger who appeared to be as old as some of the trees there. He talked a little like the guy on the Clear Eyes commercials except it was obvious that the one thing he got semi-excited about was trees. And with good reason, as these trees are really breathtaking. Some are over 250 ft. tall and have been growing for hundreds of years. I seemed to be exceedingly clumsy as I walked through the paths; the trees would distract me with their grandeur, and when I'd be gazing upward, mouth agape, they would slip the toe of a root up to trip me. Mischievous trees.

We were able to stay on the board walk paths or hike some of the trails- some of which were 2 or 3 miles long. Walking into the park was almost like walking into a cathedral; the serenity and reverence for the history there made you want to only speak in whispers. We stayed for hours, and when we finally left we were stuck in the traffic trying to get away from SF.
(Cory would also like to include that Teddy is the major reason that many of these kinds of parks were created. He would like to dedicate our trip to Muir Woods to Teddy, in fact.)

We spent the night in the Shasta Mountains, arriving just after dark. We were up early and drove the rest of the way to Seattle. We drove straight through Oregon, of which my first impression is that it is a pretty laid-back state, with lots of green rolling hills, trees, and slow drivers. All the people in the entire state live in Portland, which makes it difficult to drive through there, but fairly easy to get anywhere else. Now we are here, in the lovely Seattle, ready to stay a few days and see the sights.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Stuff Dreams are Made of



Day 5: San Francisco

I don't even know where to begin to talk about yesterday. We woke up early to go on a whale watching tour in Monterey Bay. It was a chilly morning, and we weren't wearing enough layers. It was pretty cold whenever the boat was moving, but I found a place shielded from the wind where I could huddle when the whales weren't in view. The bay was just full of humpback whales. After we got out about 15 miles into the bay, we could see them all around us. The captain of the boat would spot one, get up kind of close to it and then turn the engines off. We'd see the whale's fin peek up, then go back down, and we'd all be staring out into the ocean wondering where it would come up next. A couple of them got really close to the boat. What surprised me the most about the whales was the sound. With all the engines off, we could just hear an occasional bird flapping and the water sloshing gently against the boat. Then there'd be a huge woosh of air as the whale reached the surface to breathe. Then you'd hear gasps from the people and the clicking of their cameras. The first picture that I posted is actually 2 different whales. You can tell by the direction of the fin that the tail fluke belongs to a different whale.
Then we reached San Francisco, and wow. I've seen pictures of it before, so I thought I knew what to expect. I just always thought, "Who cares about a silly bridge," or "What a waste of beach space to put all those buildings there." I was so wrong. We were driving around, and I just kept saying, sometimes out loud or sometimes whispering to myself, "I didn't know it was going to be like this." Cory is going to have to pry me away, because I just don't want to leave.
So as I'm experiencing this overwhelming awe, we are driving around looking for our campsites. We knew it was just outside of Sausalito, so we drove through the town, bought a map, and finally found the "state recreation area" which is where the 2 camping sites are located. We ran into a teensy problem when we realized that you could only stay there if you had a reservation. Whoops! Beginners' mistake, I know; we should've known better than to try to stay near San Francisco without a reservation. In our defense, however, most of the campsites we've looked at had 2 areas: a reservations only and a "first come first serve" area. This one had one by reservation only and one "walk-in," which I took to mean like a barber shop "walk-in"- meaning you don't need an appointment. But no, it meant you do need a reservation, but you have to actually walk in using your two legs and not a motor vehicle. Like I said, whoops.
Next stop, Holiday Inn Express. So now we get to stay on Fisherman's Wharf, walk down three blocks to the "oldest Italian restaurant in the US" which my father suggested, and wander around the streets of SF, which we wouldn't have done otherwise. I'd really like to stay here a lot longer; I'd really like to move here actually. The camping really would have been beautiful, so we'll have to come back. We're headed out this afternoon, to Muir Woods and then further north. Even though I might like to pause it for a minute, the journey continues!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Bit of Road Trip Adversity


Day 4

Monterey, CA: 8:10 p.m.

This morning we enjoyed the advantages of our campsite and hiked some of the nearby trails. It has been overcast and chilly, but it was nice to get our blood pumping and climb some of the hills. Then we continued the drive up Hwy 1 for a short distance trying to reach Monterey. We ended up going a little too far and driving up and down one particular street in Seaside, trying to find a place to eat and a grocery store. It was really a bit ridiculous because we went to a local grocery, decided it was too expensive, tried Costco instead, realized you had to be a member to shop at Costco, and finally succeeded in buying some necessities in Albertsons. We loaded up the cooler only to realize we had forgotten ice and had to go back.

We also had reached the end of the planned portion of our trip, so we wandered aimlessly for a bit wondering where we should go, what we should do, and where we should sleep. That was a little frightening and we laughed nervously about driving all the way to Seattle for lack of a better plan. Finally, though, like a glorious beacon from heaven we were inexplicably drawn to the Visitors Center. We're back on track! No worries! We spent over 2 hours at the Monterey Aquarium where I learned that tunas are huge and anchovies can open their mouths really frighteningly wide. There was a new otter exhibit, but I was kind of snooty about that one, seeing as I'd already seen an otter in the wild. Oh, and the penguins...it was great.

We also found a campsite (at Laguna Seca which is apparently a famous race track) and a wireless Internet connection, so we're back on track planning for the rest of the trip.

I'm particularly excited about tomorrow, which if all goes well, will include some whale watching and then the short jaunt up to San Francisco, in the direction of Sausalito and Muir Woods.

Hwy 1


Day 3: Los Padres National Forest, CA 9:00 p.m.

It was kind of hard leaving Mike and Amy’s this morning- I think Cory and I could both have stayed longer; we were having so much fun. But alas, this is the life of a nomad.
I’d like to tell you that Hwy 1 is a complete tourist trap- that I wholly disagree with all the lovesick songwriters and optimistic travel brochures that mention it… but that would be complete nonsense. The drive was windy and gorgeous. It doesn’t matter how many times I see the ocean, it always takes my breath away. Here, the mountains fall straight into the water and I can’t imagine what could be lovelier than that.
We stopped along the way and saw a whole shore-ful of elephant seals lying about on the beach. I was giggly with excitement as we watched them galumph along from the water to the shore. There were also some marmots that were running about that would eat right out of your hand. That’s actually a bit of an understatement because they’d actually sort of chase you down until they realized you didn’t have any food.
Our campsite tonight is beautiful (thanks to Mike and Amy and their well of travel advice). It’s on a small cliff overlooking the water, and we hiked down to the rocks to watch the water crash and spray over them. I even saw an otter from the shore! I’m not sure if we’re headed out tomorrow or if we’ll hang around. We’ll definitely do some of the longer hiking trails and head over to Big Sur. It otter be a good time.

Monday, May 28, 2007

California


Day 2: Pasadena, California

Today we drove the rest of the way to Mike and Amy’s, listening to Nick Hornby’s audiobook A Long Way Down to pass the time. We got to their house about 3. We decided our tourist attraction event was to be the La Brea Tar Pits which Cory had “heard about all his life” and was really excited to go to. It was really pretty amazing- we got to see the almost fully preserved bones of saber toothed cats, mammoths, ground sloths (my favorite part) and all sorts of creatures. Apparently, throughout time animals became stuck in these tar pits and died there. Later, their bones were found and excavated and the tar preserved them so much that they can be reassembled in the museum. They are still excavating from the pit, and we were able to watch them work from a big glass window.
Next, we got to see David and Leah Beth’s place and their new baby, Joel, who is precious. We went to dinner and then to this awesome fondue place for dessert. It was so much fun- a tray of fruits, cake, cheesecake, brownies, etc. was brought out to dip into an oozy chocolate goodness (not unlike a tar pit, actually…although I’m sure it tastes better) that was heating on a burner in the middle of the table. That was the highlight of my evening. We are only staying here for one night, so then we decided, what the heck, let’s go for drinks. So the entire evening was lots of fun, a huge intake of calories, and delightful spending time with Mike and Amy. Tomorrow we head up the coast for some camping in the scenic Big Sur area. Mike has graced us with some stories of ravenous raccoons, so I’m practicing my maneuvers for karate chopping them, should the need arise.

Road Trippin'




Day 1
Picacho Peak campground, 20 minutes outside of Tucson, AZ, 8:07 pm Arizona time


I am sitting at a picnic table outside our newly erected tent, watching a beautiful sunset, and writing this on a borrowed laptop. Is that wrong?
This is definitely new territory for us. Not just Arizona, but the two of us- planners and analyzers by nature with an aversion to decision-making- striking out on a roadtrip to Seattle that we decided to take 5 days ago. We’ve been in a flurry of preparation for those five days, and I’ve got to hand it to my husband. He’s not one of those people who gently glides into summer vacation, taking a weekend of sleeping in, watching movies, and doing yard work. No, he hit the ground running; he barreled right into summer. Thirty hours after school let out, and he’s already in Arizona. I like that.
So far, I’d say the best thing we’ve seen out of the three states we have traveled in was Guadalupe Peak, in our home state. Naturally. Neither of us is too impressed with Arizona, although our campground is quite lovely and is nestled at the foot of a couple of jagged peaks. The saguaro cacti are more impressive than I would have imagined.
When we drove into AZ, I think it immediately got 10 degrees hotter just by crossing the state line. And everything is the color of dirt. But really, we picked the fastest route in order to get to LA as quickly as possible. I’m level-headed enough to give AZ another try perhaps on the way back, planning in a few more scenic stops. After all, if a non-Texan were to drive the shortest possible route from El Paso to Lubbock, they’d probably feel the same way about TX that I do about AZ at the moment.
Ok, that’s enough campground time devoted to technology for one evening. Seven hours to Pasadena!
(Cory says it’s ok that I’m using a computer in the middle of the desert because even Teddy took a typewriter with him to the Amazon.)