Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Catching up for John

Alrighty, I know it's been a long times since I've written anything, so I'll try not to leave anything too important out.  Amber has done a nice job of covering most of the stuff, so if my story seems disjointed, please read the previous post. 

I last left y'all at the Redwoods, which now seem like a long time ago.  Since then, we have seen towering rock faces, the largest living face in the world and many friendly faces, not to mention the enormous inverted face of the Grand Canyon.  We'll start with the rock faces.


Yosemite, like Amber said is a seriously crowded place, especially during the end of summer when everyone is trying to get in their last second summer kicks before their kids have to go off to school.  Nevertheless, it is stunning.  Even before you enter the park proper there is a very senic drive on which you see a gorgeous river winding to your right and many view points that overlook smaller valleys.  However, there is nothing like the blast to the eyes you get from that first view of the Yosemite Valley.  All around you are enourmous monoliths looming in grandeur.  At any time of day some of these are bathed in light in a most splendid way.  Of course, in the valley are vast multitudes of people swarming everywhere, but if you keep your eyes up it is easy to forget this in the sheer beauty that captures you.

My favorite spot in the valley was the Yosemite Fall.  It is the largest waterfall in North America and truely wonderous to behold.  The waterfall itself is divided into two sections by a large cliff.  The lower fall is accessible from the valley and there are many rocks to climb all over to get to the base.  That part was really fun.  Often Amber has commented to me that she wishes there were adult playgrounds, and the climb to the base of the waterfall is pretty much just that.  At the base of the Lower Fall, there is a nice pool of crystal clear water where a few daring people can be seen swimming (it is icey cold).  On my hike day I took a trail to a view of the Upper Fall.  Although it is best seen in springtime when the water gushes spectacularly, the view of it in the summer is nonetheless quite breathtaking. 

The Lower Yosemite Falls
Our second stop in Yosemite was Hetch Hetchy Lake.  Because of my great experience with the waterfalls in the valley, I decided to take a trail that took me past a couple of them near the lake.  On my map I could see that there were two not to far off and decided to see them, taking more time to rest than walk.  Off I started walking, across the dam and through a tunnel, over the rock face that lines the coast of the lake to my first waterfall.  This was was quite nice.  It split into a few waterfalls where the trail crossed with a view of the big one from beneath the smaller offshoots.  An easy climb from the trail brought me right next to them and I was even able to catch a view from the backside of one.  My spirits raised by such a sight, I set off for the second waterfall, which I believed to be only a mere 2 miles walk.  However, despite my map and my sense of where I was, I walked and walked and walked, up and down, up and down, up and down, for what seemed like many miles through forest and desert before I reached my second waterfall.  This one was very wide and shallow, running across a great flat stone.  I soaked my feet for a while and found a nice shady spot to rest and began to head back.  After much walking again, up and down, up and down, I finally reached the first waterfall again only to realize that it was named the name of the second waterfall on my map.  Suddenly I realized that the first waterfall I thought I would see had dried up and that instead of the 6 mile round trip hike I had intended, I had walked a 13 mile round trip hike to the Rancheria Falls!  Oh well, I said to myself and with sore feet I made my way back to the van where Amber was cooking up some yummies for me!  Yay!

The last stop in Yosemite was the Mariposa Grove of the giant Sequoia trees.  We spent just and afternoon here, mostly to see the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world.  All I can really say about this tree is that is incredibly huge.  Apparently it grows enough new wood every year to constitute a normal size adult tree of other varieties.  The sequoias in general are a marvel in that they are some of the oldest living beings on the planet.  Their superior bark and chemical makeup essentially makes them immortal.  The only weakness they have is a shallow root system which makes them vulnerable to toppling over.  But, honestly, I'd like to see someone just try to push over one of these behemoths!

Sequoia Camping

After Yosemite and San Francisco, we decided we had had enough of people and went for some actual camping for a change.  We chose the Lodgepole campground within the Sequoia National Forest.  It was just what we needed.  Our campsite was relatively reserved, right next to a trail that followed a nearby river.  The most exciting part were the bears we saw.  As we were sitting next to the river I commented to Amber, "You know, we've been in bear country for a long time and still haven't seen a single bear." No sooner had a said this than we looked behind us and saw not to far away a mamma bear with her cubs.  Now you must realize that in our imaginations we had projected bears to be ferocious bloodthirsty beasts ready to clobber us to death in an instant.  This was not what we saw.  Instead the animal we beheld was much more like Baloo fromt the Jungle Book. "Bear necessities, the simple bear necessities."  Nevertheless, we excersised due caution and kept our distance.  Later in our stay we saw another two mamma bears with their cubs crossing the trail in front of us.  The scariest sighting, however, happened just after we had finished making dinner one night.  It was just after dusk and the rocks to the north of our camp were just shadows.  We were finishing eating when suddening Seymour started barking and growling.  Looking to the north we saw a mamma and her cub casually strolling down the hill to our campsite!  Luckily, with a few claps and loud sasquach like "Whoops!" the bear diverted course and wandered back into the woods.

Amber's Family and Southern California

From our nice long time camping we then headed to the city areas to be spoiled by Amber's family and then mine.  Our first stop was to Bill and Liz's place, Amber's uncle and aunt.  They set us up with a nice spare room, treated us to enormous amounts of delicious food and we let our brains turn to mush watching Hoarders on TLC all night.  After that we headed to Lompoc, where Amber grew up, saw the flower fields, tasted the local coffee and got some work done on the car.  We were also treated to the wonder of the kindness of strangers by a couple named Dave and Bonnie.  After Lompoc, we spent a night and morning with Amber's cousin Rich, who with his many cats and welcoming home offered us a relaxing night of conversation and tacos.  For a more thorough telling of this part of the story, please see Amber's post.   

Los Angeles

Me and my Dad at the adult playground
From Amber's clan we went to my clan in Monrovia, CA just north of Los Angeles.  We had somewhat been dreading the experience of L.A. since the bad taste San Francisco had left in our mouths.  But to our surprise, it ended up being a joy.  I hadn't seen my dad for about three years and it was a very happy moment to see his smiling face when we rolled in.  Determined to spoil us while we were there he paid to put us up in a hotel room for a week!  What a treat that was!  We had a bed to sleep in every night and stove and a refrigerator and TV.  Quite luxurious I must say.  Beyond the hotel room, he took us out to Venice Beach where walk for the day down to Santa Monica Peer.  Venice Beach was very fun, with Medical Marijuana and head shops everywhere and a crazy guy jumping on glass.  We also found another adult sized playground and I even swang on a swing for the first time in who knows how long.

After Venice Beach we checked out the USC Science Center, which was very interesting.  There were many interactive displays and sections ranging from Middle Eastern science in the "Dark Ages" to ecological systems, to basic technology, and even a few of the landing pods used by NASA during the space race.  We topped off the day with a visit to the little Mexico near the Union Station where we had some excellent food and were even treated live performance of Rancho Grande by an itinerant musician. 

After USC and the Mexican food, we drove out to see my brother Michael.  His house was a little hard to find being that on his street all the streets are named the same thing (I don't know who came up with that genius idea).  But once we were there, we were treated to sandwiches and beer.  Michael's house was also quite nice.  He has worked in construction and loved projects since he was a youngster and his house definitely showcases this.  Even as we were there he as busy casually completing some frames for his daughter's bedroom as well as some metal panelling for his garage.  It was very nice to see him again and to meet his wife and kids.  Hopefully we can make more of a habit of it.

Griffin Observatory
The following day, we went to the Observatory just outside Hollywood, which was just as interesting as I remember.  With exibits showing everything from the movement of celestial bodies, to the intricacies of the Sun's activity, to the passage of cosmic particles through a special device that could detect them (and there are more of them than you think) I was very pleased to visit again this temple of the sky.  After the observatory we went down into Hollywood, to Graumin's Chinese Theater and the Walk of Fame.  We had a good time pointing out the names that we recognized and my dad had a good time gasping at the fact I knew so few of them.  Capping that off with some In-N-Out and some good reminiscing, it was a great day! The next night we went out to dinner and karaoke with Amber's friend Tanna, who most generously treated us to everything.  Along with her came her friend Udi, a genuine pro at karaoke, featured on America's Got Talent. 

Our last night in L.A. was spent having dinner with my dad and grandma at their place.  I got to play for them some of my songs on guitar and we had a nice quiet night chatting until way past their bedtimes ;).  In the morning we packed up our things and said our goodbyes, which are always a bit sad, but agreed that we'd be back the next year for grandma's ninetieth birthday.  Hopefully I can drag my brother Mark down too.

On the Road Again

From there we set off for the road once more.  Heavily fattened up and ready for adventure we drove for a staggering 7 hours.  And I must say that Arizona roads are by far the best roads we have encountered in this trip.  However, the great roads were offset by the fact that pretty much every rest area we drove past was closed, including the one we had planned to sleep at that night.  Luckily enough, just after it was a Pilot Station just after it, which turned out to be better than a rest area in that it had many amenities and we didn't have to deal with semi-trucks zooming past us all night. 

Grand Canyon

The following morning we arrived at the Grand Canyon Desert View.  Being that I wanted my first sight of this wonder of the natural world to be as breathtaking as it could be, I kept my eyes to the ground as we approached.  When I looked up, I truely did see a wonder.  In fact, I felt so overwhelmed by it that my mind just stopped.  Amber made a few comments about how this was just a small part of the canyon and ask what I was thinking, to which I could only say "shhhh".  Once I recovered from my giant "slicer" (a term used in my friend group to mean "I forgot what I was thinking about") we set up camp and awaited the arrival of Amber's mom and siblings.  When they arrived, we were immediately gifted many dried and fresh yummies from Julie's (Amber's mom) farm.  She had even brought the firewood we had forgotten!  After some fun setting up the "easy" tent they had brought, we enjoyed delicious calzones Julie had prepared next to an open fire.  It was a very nice start to our stay.

The next day was spent down at the Grand Canyon Village, a 25 mile drive west of where we were staying.  There we walked along the edge of the canyon for a few miles, taking time at many of the vistas to absorb the magnitude of what was before us.  Once again, my mind was totally slicered by what I saw and together with the heat, I was as empty as the canyon itself by the time we got back to camp.  That night we set up another fire and this time Amber's sister Hannah prepared a soup for us to eat.  After that the popcorn.  The thing you must realize about Amber's family is that they are all totally in love with popcorn.  From Bill, who inhales it jealously even if nobody else wants some, to Amber who would make it every night if she could, to now her mother and siblings who had brought a special heirloom pan to hold this precious yellow snack, the love affair this family has with popcorn runs deep.  After enough had been made to feed a small army, we sat down by the fire, set up the laptop and watched Monty Python's Holy Grail (a favorite of Hannah and Aidan) while chatting up a storm.

The next day we all took turns visiting various parts of the canyon while the others watched Seymour dog.  On the shuttle bus, the driver commented that some people ask, "What's the best view of the canyon?"  He went on further to say that "best" in that respect is regarded as a four letter word to those who know and love the canyon.  There is no "best" view.  Each is spectacular and breathtaking.  And that's the truth.  I could spend all day looking at that canyon.  After everyone was done looking, Julie, Aidan, Lila and Hannah had to go home to get the kids back to school.  While it was a sad parting, it was not so bad, because we know we will see them  again on the tail end of the trip. 

The next day we spent simply sitting with the canyon.  On the way to the Watchtower, we were told of a more secluded trail and view point not very far out of our way.  We decided to take it and were not sorry.  To our left and ahead of us was the canyon, great and glorious.  To the right was an endless expanse of desert marked by hills and mesas.  There we sat for much of the day, trying to even out our now starkly contrasting tan lines and absorbing as much as we could of this natural wonder.  After we had enough of the sun, we went back to the shade of our van until sunset when we headed back to the Watchtower.  We were in for one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.  As the sun set beyond the canyon a tower of purple shot up above the orange and greens which lined the rim.  To the left of the tower of purple was a greenish blue which extended into the northern sky.  Along it ran high altitude clouds which, taking the purple color, created a layered effect which was both awe inspiring as well as calming.  That night we started reading the Hobbit in our tent and fell asleep to the thoughts of dwarves and wizards and seed cakes. 

The next morning we made sure to get up early to watch the sunrise which, not as spectacular as the sunset the night before, was nonetheless very beautiful.  As the sun crept over the horizon of the desert, it lit up various parts of the canyon and gave a view to what we had been looking at that was clear and subdued.  After we had our fill, we took down the campsite and hit the road.  We are now in the town of Page, which boarders the magnificent Lake Powell.  I have been sitting writing now for a good two hours on my second refill of coffee in a local coffeehouse.  Hopefully I'll be more regular in my posts in the future.  Until then, I'll be thinking of you all!

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