Day Thirty Nine: I’ll Buy You Tall Tall Trees and All The Waters in the Seas: California (Nelder Grove, Yosemite)

(Events of Thursday, April 23rd, blogged Monday April 27th)

The sun rises over a lonely campervannie deep in the woods…

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And life bursts out!! WE’RE ALIVE!! WE’RE ALIVE!!! We were troubled nowt by marauding axe murderers and their trained bears (subtle John Irving shout out). Oh, and I totally made Annie lick up the spilled chowder as punishment/breakfast. She does a much more thorough cleaning job than I do!

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Given this fortuitous turn of events, although I was still more than a little uneasy (and increasingly filthy, this was now Day Two without a shower), I decided to take a hike through the aptly named Grove of Giants-where all the best Giant Sequoias can be found (and one of the few trails not located down an untraversable road). It was gorgeous and serene and felt like we were in some ancient lost world.

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Of course Annie preferred the  insides of the trees to the outsides . . .

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As you can see, I am NOT kidding when I say these trees were REALLY REALLY big!! The Giant Sequoias are literally the largest living things on earth-the ones in this grove were approximately 270 feet tall and have a circumference of roughly 70 feet. I don’t know if you can spot Annie in the foreground of that middle photo, but she is dwarfed by the blackened, twisted, lightning scarred trunk. The sequoias are mere babies though compared to that Bristlecone Pine I told you about back in Bryce Canyon. While the oldest of the trees in this grove is probably only 2,000 years old, the Bristlecones are closer to 4,500. Insanity!

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We spent a good hour or so frolicking through the forest and never saw hide nor hair of predators of any sort. Perhaps we got lucky and the bear ate the axe murderer. It’s been known to happen.

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Not wanting to push our luck any further, we headed a few short miles down the road to the much more well known (and relatively densely populated) Yosemite National Park. Full disclosure: Despite hearing rumors of its grandiosity, I hadn’t been super stoked for Yosemite. I had even considered scratching it from the list to stay a little longer on the coast. BIG MISTAKE!! Yosemite literally takes your breath away.

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Every corner you turn provides some incomprehensibly grand new vista-like this dude here- El Capitan!  Now THAT is one badass dude.

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And then there are the waterfalls (at least at this time of year). This one, which was a bit too crowded to get a really good photo of, is Bridalveil Fall. The native Ahwahneechee tribe that originally populated this area believed Bridaveil was home to a vengeful spirit named Pohono who guarded the entrance to the valley, and that those departing it dare not look directly into the waters lest they risk being cursed. Intriguingly, they also believed that if you closed your eyes and inhaled the mist, you would increase your chances for marriage. Somebody’s been inhaling some SERIOUS mist if they believe that.

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Later we wandered past placid streams, and towering pines, and yet more sheer granite rock faces. All while soaking in a glorious sunshiney blue sky day!

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As a bonus, despite what I had read, there were a lot more (short) trails I could take Annie on than in many of the previous parks we had visited.

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Another of the big name rock formations here in Yosemite is Half Dome. After I took this picture, I realized Ol Halffy has basically the same profile Annie does shen she is doing BARKBARK. Scary!

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Yet to be seen: a rock replica of Annie in her default position of bottom in the air and head in a hole sniffing out critters.(While destroying more federally protected land.)

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Probably my favorite area was Upper and Lower Falls. This spot right here is where John Muir, who was the first white man to really promote this area and advocate for its conservation, lived in a little sugar pine cabin for three years. I can’t even describe to you how intoxicating it was and how clean and fresh the air smelled, and how it’s probably the only non-coastal spot I would want to have lived. There is a quote from Muir on the plaque below which reads: “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees, the winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” Which pretty much sums up my experiences on this journey..

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A short walk through some tall pines led us to the base of the Lower Falls. Together with Upper Falls, they comprise North America’s tallest waterfall. These rushing waters were dubbed Cholock by the native Ahwahneechee and the plunge pool at the bottom was rumored to be inhabited by devious witches called the Poloti!

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The eagle eyed may notice ominous dark clouds starting to roll in. While we were at the Upper Falls, admiring the view, there came a crashingly loud rumble, and the heavens opened up, and we were soaked before we made it back to the car.

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This seemed like a perfect time to take a much needed shower and catch up on some laundry. So let me just say that while I found the natural beauty of Yosemite among my top experiences this trip, the infrastructure of the park was definitely on the low end. It’s the only National Park I’ve visited that charges for WiFi and the spots that have it are very limited and can only be accessed on foot. Also, the shower was FIVE DOLLARS (when the going rate elsewhere is $2) which the teenage boy running the joint tried to justify to me by saying they give you (crappy) towels and shampoo and soap. Well A.) I have all that already, and B.) Grand Canyon gives you that as well. I guess the other “upside” is that there was no time limit on the shower (although I was surprised to find that I never had a problem with the 8-10 minute cut off at other places), but it took so long for the water to be even marginally warm I honestly thought it was broken and was going to get dressed and move to another stall. The rest of the time it alternated between scalding and freezing, and the shower head was fixed in place so you couldn’t move out of the stream. And also… ONE sink in a bathroom with three toilets and eight shower stalls?? Hello!! Every time someone came in to pee I had to stop brushing my teeth so they could wash their hands. Even a mirror and shelf off to the side would have helped. Very disappointing.

Happy to be clean, and glad to be out of the Witches Curse Shower, we headed back to the campsite (photo taken in dryer times) where we huddled inside Marigold snacking on leftover quinoa.

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Day Thirty Eight: Watchin the Sun Set in Monterey, Girl I Swear Just the Other Day : California (Monterey, Nelder Grove)

(Events of Wednesday, April 22nd, blogged Sunday, April 26th)

The day broke gray and foggy and a tiny bit drizzly. The perfect weather for hanging out in a seaside town, wandering the wharves and warming up with a steaming bowl of clam chowder. So Annie and I broke camp and headed over to check out Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey. It was early, so it was fairly deserted, which added to the desolate (but in a good way!) feel of the morning.

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Annie was in heaven with all the fishy smells, and even contemplated a life on the sea. (Nah-too much work.)

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I was casually leaning on a railing, staring out at the boats that likely wouldn’t be going out on sightseeing tours anytime soon, and wondering where to head next, when what to my wondering eyes should appears, but an adorable otter with cute little ears!

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He was all the way on the other side of a channel from me, floating all by his lonesome, and then suddenly, he started heading my way, spinning and diving and rubbing his belly and scratching his ears all the while. It was amazing and beyond adorable, and I was mesmerized. He swam up really close and then slipped under the dock I was standing on and out of my life forever. Trip. Made.

After wandering to the very end of the wharf, I spotted this line of rocks off in the distance with what appeared to be seals lounging about on them. I asked in a gift shop, and was told it “couldn’t be accessed”. I followed up by enquiring the best spot to see otters. “Oh you probably won’t have any luck there, they’re pretty hard to come by.”

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So seeing as I was already ahead of the curve, Annie and I set off on a handy bike/pedestrian path that hugged the shoreline and led us to…

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Looks promising already! While we technically “couldn’t access” the rocks that did indeed boast a bevy of sea lions and a clamor of cormorants, we could get pretty darn close, and along the way saw plenty of Sea Lions (these guys are brown and do BARKBARK and have ear flaps (the better to hear you with), and big flippers ( the better to walk on land with).

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I was also excited to see Harbor seals, which have tiny little flippers so they have to wriggle around on their bellies a lot, and no ears with which to hear my squees!

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Eventually we had to stop being seally and get on with the business at hand. Which for now, meant taking a short drive to check out Cannery Row, immortalized by John Steinbeck in the novel of the same name.

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Alas, what I thought might be a gritty historical district has since been bastardized with 1001 souvenir shops, boutiques, chain stores, chi chi restaurants, and a whole bunch of boring. One of the biggest disappointments of the trip (luckily it hadn’t been a huge point of interest for me). These were about the only photos I could get that had any sort of character to them. On the up side, I did get an incredibly tasty large bowl of clam chowder that I ate half of while exploring the area, and planned to save the rest for dinner that evening, until Annie did a sneak attack on it WHILE I WAS IN A PET STORE BUYING DOG FOOD and ate some and spilled the rest all over the passenger door.

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As has happened to me frequently on this trip, I ended up parking WAY further away than I needed to and paying more than I could have for the privilege. But I eventually made my way back to Marigold, and was looking for something else to erase the bad taste from Cannery Row. I had read of a street linking Monterey, Pebble Beach, and Carmel called Seventeen Mile Drive (for obvious reasons), which is supposed to be one of the most scenic drives in America. So even though it was going to cost me ten dollars for the privilege, I decided to check it out. OK, so, I get to the booth where you have to pay the entry fee, and it’s in a really fancy shmancy neighborhood, and the toll dude has a fancy uniform with like a HAT and everything, and then he tells me I have to pay cash for the fee, which I was out of at the moment because all the ATMS around here charge insane surcharges, and then I remembered I had my back up money in my lock box which was chained under the passenger seat of Marigold (lock box courtesy of Allyson). So, (and keep in mind I’ve not showered today AND I’m driving a crazy hippie van) I say to they guy (I have some money in a secret stash, can I pull over to try and dig it out?) He gives me a funny look, but waves me to the curb. So, I’m trying to fish out the box, unlock the cord, and get it open. Now I’ve also got some other things in there, and one of them is a REALLY LOUD panic alarm thingamabob (I have two and the other one is on my key ring). so OF COURSE I set it off and it’s all BAAANNHHH BAAAAANNHH BANNNHHHH, and this one works differently than the one on my key ring in that it is activated by pulling a pin out (like a grenade) and you have to reinsert the pin to hush it up. The one on my keychain works via buttons, so I’m looking for buttons and not finding them, and then I remember it’s the pin but there are multiple holes, and OF COURSE all this commotion sets off BARKBARKBARKBARKBARK  and it’s a giant fustercluck which I feel is just screaming to the world “THIS WOMAN IS UP TO NO GOOD AND SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED NEAR YOUR VALUABLES!”  But finally it all works out and they let me in. And thank goodness, because this drive is worth every penny and then some. Amazing amazing views.

We started out at a windswept beach that smelled so good I spent whole minutes with my eyes shut just breathing it in.

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And it had a nice little boardwalk we could stroll along and meet some of the locals. Annie and the gull had quite a stare down.

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And then there were rocks that caused the waves to CRASH BANG BOOM in every direction!

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And rocks that had more cool critters on them.

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And some spots that were just so BEYOND I got my pirate face on.

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Not to mention ridiculous mansions, pristine golf courses, and then, the piece de la resistance, The LONE CYPRESS! This bad boy is none other than the official symbol for the Pebble Beach, and is shown on TV pretty much anytime a golf match from here is broadcast, it is possibly the most photographed tree in North America (this is a fact, not just my usual hyperbole). The city even claims it has trademarked the tree’s image. It’s about 250 years old, but is so important it’s been propped up by cables for the last 65.

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But, like all good things, our seventeen miles in heaven had to come to an end, and with it we had to say a tearful farewell to the coast (for now) and start heading eastward into the mountains.

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Observation from the road: if there is any bit of random open space anywhere in this country, someone is going to put a cow on it.

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Observation from the road number two: At some point Annie decided she could see better from my lap.

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Observation from the road number three: I pledge allegiance, to Donut Nation… and to the delectables, served round the clock…

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Observation from the road number four: some of these trees look ready to do the dance of the seven veils.

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So here’s where things get a bit hairy. When planning the trip initially, I had discovered this amazing looking spot called Nelder Grove where you could see Giant Sequoias and hike around them with your dog and even camp with “none of the crowds of Yellowstone.” So this was my destination for the evening. And it involved a really windy narrow road going up up up a mountain. And then the last mile was a windy windy rocky bumpy dirt road. And that’s just to get to the entrance. You go another mile down it to get to a fork with a sign for the campground. Only it’s a little ambiguous which way the campground is, so I pick the left fork, and about 100 yards down there’s a locked gate across the road. So I (stupidly) think “the campground must be to the right.” And I go 100 yards down that way only for the dirt road to become completely impassable with really deep ruts. And then I do a Google and realize the campground doesn’t open for another few weeks and I am THE ONLY PERSON FOR MILES AND MILES.

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And it’s beautiful and I should be thrilled, but my mind starts racing with thoughts of axe murderers and hungry bears, and it’s getting late, and the thought of driving back down the challenging road in the dark seems equally dangerous and I’m not sure where I would go anyway, so I do a quick SheWee, lock all the doors and windows, assemble my pocket knife, panic alarm, and wasp spray by my pillow and proceed to lie awake thinking of the clam chowder leaking out of the side door and sending a signal to every bear in a ten mile radius. And whatever you do, DONT google “how to fend off a bear who attacks your car,” because all you will get is SIXTEEN YOUTUBE VIDOES OF BEARS ATTACKING CARS! (Which they do to get at food you have stored in there-I don’t BLAME the bears, I just don’t want to deal with one.) It was a very long, very tense night… (to be continued)