Friday, September 9, 2011

Yosemite, Sequoia, Family in Southern California

Oh boy it's been awhile! 6 days in Yosemite, 3 days in Sequoia, and now we've been in Central and Southern California for about a week. Unfortunately we've been mostly camera-less the entire time. I've taken some cell phone pictures, but without internet on my phone, I can't seem to figure out how to transfer them to a computer. There is much to tell about...

our first camp spot, right before Yosemite, was a view point called "The Rim of the World"

Yosemite is swarming with tourists-and with good reason, it’s amazingly beautiful and incredibly unique. We’ve only been on this See-America journey for a month, but I sure haven’t seen anything at all like it before. I think you could stare up all day long and not get sick of it, because the light shines on each rock face in vastly different ways during different times of the day and different seasons.

On the Mount Rainier trails we took, we only saw a few people during the day, and the trails were occasionally overgrown and hard to see. In the Redwoods we only saw a couple people more, and the improved trails were still just dirt and stone paths, with narrow, steep and winding parts. In Yosemite, nature feels a bit like a spectacle, it's like an amusement park of nature. The paths are paved and big enough for cars to go down and there are tourists and parking spaces every way you turn. Now, you may be thinking “But, Amber, you say ‘tourist’ like it’s a dirty word-you’re a tourist, too!” and you would be right. We are tourists, but I’m still using that word with a sour face a little bit. There seem to be 2 different types of tourists at Yosemite-those that are there to explore and experience the beautiful nature…And those that are there to do that, but go on trails in full makeup, perfume, and fancy clothes. They only take their ear buds out or set their iPhone down for a moment to take a picture, blast their music in the peaceful picnic areas, feed Cheetos to squirrels, trample across meadows instead of using the paved paths, make rude commentary about the Natives that had this land stolen from them to create the park, and litter their trash wherever they please. During our stay there I saw all of these things and more multiple times. There is definitely a reason why every 10 feet you see a sign warning of the $5000 fine if you’re caught feeding an animal, a list of reasons why NOT to feed an animal, a sign saying “Give nature a chance! Please keep off!” or the reason trashcans are everywhere. I was picking up litter everywhere I went. I talked with a little kid, who said his favorite parts about his trip was that he got to watch Wipeout in the hotel at night, and he loved feeding the squirrels. They got caught and almost fined, so he was trying to feed Seymour instead.

Anyways, I despise crowds and heat, so I got a little cranky-but still Yosemite’s beauty prevailed and made it an amazing experience. For my hike day I took a short hike to Bridalveil Falls and fell in love. I climbed the rocks and laid down, looking up at the falls for a few hours while I watched the sun come up from behind it. Bridalveil is a misty waterfall, and moves around down a sheer rock, changing direction according to the wind. At the point where the water starts to fall down, there are misty swirls dancing around, and with the sun shining in behind it, I had no choice but to sit and stare, enjoying the mist blowing across me.

Yosemite Falls, the tallest falls in North American, and our favorite ride-eh-attraction at the park

When the weekend came, we decided to hit up a less popular area-Hetch Hetchy lake/reservoir. Years ago it was dammed up to be used for the San Francisco area’s water and hydro-electric power. It had been a big, long battle between John Muir and other nature conservationists and the people of San Francisco. After the great earthquake and fire that they suffered, it became obvious that the people needed this water source, and John Muir lost. Well, I don’t know what Hetch Hetchy looked like before the dam, but I am inclined to think that it is even more protected now as a reservoir than if it had stayed public access. There is no swimming or boating on the lake and fishing is regulated. As a result, you have a less frequented part of the park, with a beautiful vast, untainted view of the water (except for the dam, but that’s not on the more beautiful side of it. When it was my turn to hike, I hiked to the big waterfall and sat and stared for 5 hours. Pictures can never do justice for the beautiful things we’re seeing, even if I was taking pictures with something better than a camera phone.

On our 6th day in Yosemite we went to the Mariposa Grove to see the Sequoia trees. We each did a 0.3 mile hike, reconvened at the van and realized we were just sick to death of tourists, moving around, hiking, and sleeping on the sides of roads. We were terribly home-sick and missed having a roof over our heads, a fridge and most importantly, our friends. We decided to search for a hotel that night, but our budget of $60 (which is a big splurge considering our weekly budget is $75 plus gas money) didn’t hold up, so we ended up at a rest area that was disgustingly hot after the sun went down, and had hundreds of semis driving on one side of us, and a busy train track on the other. Thank goodness we’ve just learned about Valerian Root’s sleepy powers, otherwise we never would have slept.

The next day we found a campsite at the Sequoia National Forest and didn't move for 4 days and 3 nights. It was a magical mental and emotional battery re-charge, I'll let John tell you about all the bears we saw.

So after 10 or so nights in the Yosemite/Sequoia area, we emerged from popular nature and came down to the Central Coast, in the Lompoc area where I grew up. We got spoiled rotten by my Aunt and Uncle Bill and Liz in Santa Maria. We basically spent another 2 nights not moving, but this time had a mattress, TV and cold milk to drink. It was wonderful to see family I don't get to see often!

We didn't have a working camera in Lompoc, but this is what a lot of it looked like when I grew up there; flower fields

Then we went down to Lompoc, and I gave John a tour of the town-which probably took about 40 minutes. We sat in the grass at the park, drove around, and went to the 99 cent store. After all the winding and steep hills we'd been going up and down, Luna the Car was starting to have brake problems. First she was getting shaky coming down hills, then she started screaching at us when we braked. So, we took her in and got the back brakes replaced. Definitely could have been worse!

We got spoiled yet again in Lompoc when a big crew of my family met us at Mi Amore, the best Italian food in Lompoc. Bill and Liz spoiled us yet again, and John got to meet and fall in love with my late Grandpa's girlfriend Peggy. We filled up like we wouldn't eat again in a month and said our see-ya-laters.

Our first night in Lompoc we slept on a side street. The second night, we had our first big experience of kind strangers. We had tried to go to the beach near town, but it was closed down for an endangered animal that nested there. We were sitting in the parking lot, when a guy came to lock the gate and kick us out. He asked us if we needed a place to sleep, and ended up directing us to another park just outside of town that he lived on. He locked the gate behind us and assured us the cops wouldn't come knocking. This was a glorious treat of a place to sleep! It was dark, quiet, safe, legal, and in the morning light we saw that it was beautiful, too. In the morning Dave and Bonnie, the couple that live in a bus at this park, made us a huge delicious breakfast while Bonnie chatted our ear off about everything from their battles against cancer to her husband's impotence. I'm happy to say that this kindness from these strangers happened in my old hometown. We said our thank yous and good-byes and headed on our way.

I got this pic from Rich. John, me and Rich in front of Luna. Yay!

That day we tried to be tourists in Solvang, but it ended up being too hot to move. We sat still in some shade until we felt brave enough to venture into the farmers market. We stuffed our faces with fruit, then headed on our way to Santa Ynez to see my cousin Rich. (Hi Rich!) We have never met as adults, and so it was great and a little odd to see each other. We got spoiled yet again, this time with homemade tacos, beer, garden fresh tomatoes, and many adorable cats and kittens. They let us sleep in their quiet driveway under the stars. It was very great to hang out and see what kinds of people we've become in adulthood, and getting to touch on early childhood memories with someone I haven't seen in such a long time, so he had a different set of them.

The next morning we headed out early for LA-John's dad lives in Monrovia, on the Northern edge of the sprawl. It looks like we aren't done being spoiled! We had been dreading LA, but it looks like it'll actually be a great experience.