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USA...California Dreamin - week 1 by ColinG
Submitted By: karenc Date: March 5, 2010, 2:52 AM Views: 583





California Dreamin - week 1
by ColinG















Introduction
My 35/40 year old dream of visiting California and in particular Yosemite National Park became a real possibility when our son, Matt, went to San Francisco on a 12 month assignment to work with USGS in July 2006. Planning started in January, everything was booked by end March and the dream became a reality when my wife and I landed at San Francisco International airport on 25 July 2007.
The following illustrated diary is a chronicle, in three parts, of our experiences in the following three week adventure to a place which can only be described as a different world from our own in the North of England and Europe.



























Wednesday:
Matt met us at the airport and helped us through some hassles at the Car Rental pick up, then drove the first leg into the city to our hotel in Pacific Heights.






Thursday:
Feeling slightly disheartened we shivered in the morning fog. Matt came back to meet us at the Market St Cable Car Turnaround in downtown SF and we went walkabout through Union Square and China Town then climb up the very steep Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower with panoramic views to the cities icons; Alcatraz, Transamerica Building, Bay Bridge and Lombard Street. Spirits lifted as the fog began to clear but unfortunately still shrouded the Golden Gate Bridge. Stripping off the outer layers we descended the Filbert Steps between stylish residences with lush gardens and colourful humming birds to Levi Plaza and found a lunch stop with a surprisingly good cold beer in the warm sunshine on the Embarcadero.













We continued along the waterfront to the Ferry Building with its specialist shops selling a diverse selection of high quality Californian produce. We then boarded the Cable Car to experience the bone rattling ride up California St to Nob Hill and back to the hotel to pick up the car. Matt insisted that I must drive down Lombard St so we joined the procession of tourists' cars struggling up the steep hill before crossing the brow on Hyde St and descending the Crookedest Street in US with eight hairpin bends in one 400ft block. Then off to Fort Point to view the Golden Gate Bridge but the fog was still shrouding the scene. Nonetheless we drove across the bridge passing Vista Point to a sunny and chic Sausolito on the north side for a late afternoon stroll around the marina with its houseboats and expensive yachts.




















Friday:
We were on our own today taking our first trip on Highway 1 from SF south to Santa Cruz. We were already realising that the morning fog is a regular occurrence in the summer months in these parts. We stopped briefly for a walk at Rockaway Beach and again at the more natural Montara State Beach before stopping at the very pleasant town of Half Moon Bay. Continuing along the highway through impressive coastal scenery we arrived at Santa Cruz as the sun broke through in time for lunch followed by a walk on the pier, on to the beach for some sun and a paddle in the Ocean and through the famous & busy Boardwalk, which more or less resembles the Blackpool Pleasure Beach! We returned to the affluent Menlo Park to pick up Matt and girlfriend Kat via Pigeon Point Lighthouse and the twisty La Honda Road over the mountains through forests of Coastal Redwood trees.
We all returned to Pacific Heights to take part in the intriguing Ghost Walk with added atmosphere from the cold, wind driven fog!













Saturday:
Today we headed north on Highway 1 across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County. First stop is the Muir Woods National Monument; this is a popular place especially at weekends but once you get away from the Visitor Centre and the immediate surrounding area the pathways through the redwood forests become a pleasant walk in more or less natural surroundings. Farther up the coast is the glorious Stinson Beach, miles of soft white sand which comes with the Public Health Advisory that "Great White Sharks Live Here"! However this does not stop anybody coming and enjoying their BBQs & Beach Games or even surfing in the ocean waves. In late afternoon we head back to SF but get caught up in an almighty traffic jam on the Highway 101 across the bridge. We try to divert through Sausolito but this is solid too and it takes nearly two hours to get through, some things are just the same as in UK! However every cloud has a silver lining and by this time conditions are perfect for a photo shoot of the bridge from Marin Heights; Awesome!



























After crossing the bridge we tried to find parking in North Beach without success; eventually we parked on the Embarcadero and we ate in the Fog City Diner where I acquainted myself with Dungeness Crab Cioppino (complete with a toolset comprising claw crackers & picks and a full length bib!) and the Mile High Lemon Pie deeeelicious!






Sunday:
Cold and foggy again as we left our hotel in Pacific Heights to pick up Matt&Kat (M&K) en route for Yosemite. It's a long and fairly tedious drive but I found the scenery quite interesting. We shared the driving and entered the National Park at the Big Oak Flat entrance. As I rounded another corner, descending through the forests from the Tioga Road turn off, I really was not ready for the first sight of El Capitan and Half Dome and screeched to a halt in the vista turn out. WOW what an AWESOME sight, words fail to describe this moment! I was running around like a demented jelly fish trying to get satisfactory images of this stupendous scene!













I was eventually coaxed back to the car to continue down to the valley only to screech to a halt again just past the Wawona Road turn off when the full majesty of El Cap's 3000ft solid granite monolith appeared in front of us in full afternoon sunshine; I was totally overawed and speechless. When I regained control of my senses we continued the Day Parking lot at the Village and boarded the Valley Shuttle which took us round to Curry Village to start our first walk. It was late afternoon now so the path through the forest was not busy, we were charmed by our first acquaintance with ground squirrels and Steller's Jays. It was warm (90+oF) and we began to feel the late effects of our jet lag but after about half an hour's trudge we reached the clearing which is Mirror Lake. Actually it's only a lake in the winter nowadays because the natural siltation of the lake created by the early explorers and settlers in the late 19th Century, by partly damming the river, has now formed a meadow during the summer months; slightly disappointing but still a pleasant place and the views of sheer face of Half Dome are magnificent. We walked back down the paved track passing the Ahwahnee Meadows and stopping for nearly ten minutes to watch a woodpecker merrily chipping away at a tree trunk at the roadside. We dropped M&K at Curry Village to check into their campsite and headed down to our accommodation nearly an hour's drive from the Village! We were very tired when we checked in at about 2030 and still had to eat!






Monday:
Even with AC we were far too hot to sleep well so were first in the line at 0700 for our gut busting all American buffet breakfast. Oh dear; the memory makes me ill to think of it!
We were back up in the Valley shortly after 0800 and stopped at the Cathedral Beach picnic sit; deserted at this time of the morning the forest and riverside reflections of El Cap were magical. Cathedral Rock and the Spires were also imposing from this aspect.



























We stopped again briefly at the Sentinel Meadow turnout to take a view of Half Dome from the bridge and also to watch a Mule Dear stag grazing. Imagination had to take the place of a full on view of the Yosemite Falls as there was no water whatsoever to create these falls which are the fifth highest falls in the world.
We had arranged to meet M&K at the Visitor's Centre at 0930 so we made our obligatory homage by visiting the Ansel Adam's Gallery whilst waiting. What astounding photography from the great landscape master himself and also from present-day photographers. After meeting up we head off for the Glacier Point Road to walk to Taft Point. Now up at around 7000ft the air was cooler but also a bit thinner. The walk out to the Point is mainly level, even slightly downhill towards the end and through pleasant forest shade abounding with butterflies and wild flowers and we were thrilled to watch some little chipmunks on a tree stump. The Point itself is exhilarating with huge drops from the overhanging headrocks to the Valley floor 3000ft below and direct views over to the massive bulk of El Cap.




















We had lunch under the shade of a Juniper Pine at the Point accompanied be a very bold and cheeky squirrel; we resisted feeding him directly but he still managed to get a few crumbs. Back to the car we continued the last few miles to Glacier Point for awesome views of Half Dome, the Tenaya Creek Valley and Upper Yosemite Valleys with the Vernal and Nevada Falls. Time was ticking on and I wanted to get to Mariposa Grove so we cut short our time and omitted a stop at Washburn Point. We pulled into the parking lot at Wawona just in time to catch a shuttle to Mariposa Grove but then had to wait for half an hour to get a tour. The Giant Sequoia trees in the Grove are amongst the oldest living things on the planet at around 2500 years old, these massive majestic trees have lived through so many global changes it's hard to comprehend.




















Our tour finished just in time for the last shuttle back to Wawona and I was keen to get back to Tunnel View before 2000 for sunset. The road through the mountains was delightfully quiet and even though it is very twisty we pulled into the turn out nearly half an hour early. There were lots of people with cameras there but my first impressions were that the sun was too far to the North and two thirds of El Cap's SW face and a large swathe of the Valley floor were already in shadow, I decided not to wait. Instead we went to the Village for something to eat but found only the pizza diner available, very disappointing; and I even need photo ID to buy an alcoholic drink, what a joke!




















Tuesday:
Another restless night, another early start, another buffet breakfast and back up to the Valley, this road back and forth was beginning to become a bit of a chore but at least there was very little traffic, just the occasional Giant RV/ Winibago or Monster Pick up crammed with all the bits and pieces for a full family day out! We walked briefly along the river close to the El Cap picnic stop but had to leave in a hurry to find a rest room so we were at the Village Store quite early. We had time to wander over to take a look at the famous Ahwahnee Hotel and as we approached the entrance there was a buzz of excitement because a bear was in the vicinity. Across on the other side of the hotel parking we came across the juvenile bear bounding along the path between the trees and rocks, we followed it for a few minutes until it crossed the road in front of us nearly knocking over two cyclists and off into the woods; as one young lad on a bicycle said "Hey, that was neat!"




















We drove over to Curry to pick up M&K; today's plan was to be the Tioga Road and Tuolumne Meadows which is a couple of hours drive into the high country. I had heard that the driving was difficult but apart from the continuous bends and climbing I saw no cause for alarm; not much traffic and nobody too anxious to get there in a desperate hurry, but it's not a road for cruise control, you do actually have to drive the car! Our first stop was Olmsted Point with panoramic views of the High Sierra and Half Dome in the distance. The landscape here is extremely glaciated with smooth granite slabs, domed peaks and deep lakes like Lake Tenaya, which is an idyllic place for a picnic in the summer and the water is not quite as cold as the ocean. The altitude here is over 8000ft and in the winter I understand there can be 20ft of snow in these parts and the road is closed from about November till May or even June. It is that snow which feeds the Yosemite Falls and once it has melted there is no natural watershed available in this rocky environment hence the falls dry up most years.













M&K were keen to climb Lembert Dome which rises nearly 1,000ft starting from the Tuolumne Meadows at over 8,000ft. We decided this was beyond our capability so agreed to meet them two hours later at the trailhead. In the meantime we drove up to the Tioga Road Park entrance and went for a pleasant walk on the Meadows watching various birds and animals along the way. The drive back to the Valley took two hours and after dropping off M&K we went back to the Ahwahnee to survey the splendour of its sumptuous and historic interior and have a drink on the terrace. We then went for a brief walk along to the Meadows to watch the glorious sunset colours on Half Dome.




















This completes the first hectic week of our trip. Still to come in Parts 2 & 3: Mist Trail to Vernal Falls, Monterey Aquarium, Whale Watching, the Big Sur, Hearst Castle, Elephant Seals, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate!






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