Archive for the ‘California’ Category

Yosemite National Park

December 3, 2009

For many of us, the photographs of Ansel Adams are the first experience we have with Yosemite National Park.  Ansel’s masterful use of light and shadow provide a window into a place of epic beauty.  As a result of these photographs, Ansel Adams became one of the world’s most renowned photographers.

In September, our family vacation took us to see Yosemite firsthand and the experience gave me a new perspective on Ansel’s work.  His pictures are wonderful, but I’m not sure he deserves all the reverence and accolades he has received?   Yosemite is one of the most jaw-slackingly beautiful places on Earth.  If you can’t fire off a couple of attractive pictures of the Half Dome or El Capitan, it’s because you suck and it’s irresponsible of you to own a camera.  It’s just my observation.  You can take it or leave it.

Beautiful Yosemite

I didn’t do a lot of actual research in preparation for our trip to Yosemite.  Instead, I did a lot of excited bragging.  Any time I’d tell someone we were going to Yosemite they’d start talking about the giant trees; one in particular.  “You can drive through one of them,” they’d say.  “You gonna drive through the giant tree?”

“Yes, absolutely I am!”  I got excited about driving through a tree.  I was willing to go out of my way for it.  I told my two-year old about the drive-through tree.  I described to him the concept of a tree big enough to drive a car through.  He was excited about it too.  Sadly, a couple of days before we were due to arrive in the park, we learned that the drive-through tree had given up and fallen over.

It fell over in 1969!  How is it, in the much-lauded information age, it has taken 40 years for the news of the Great Tree Collapse of 1969 to reach us in Ontario?  For forty years Ontarians have been suffering under the delusion that glamorous people are motoring through trees in Yosemite and its’ just not the case.  Never mind, I’m still a little bitter but I’ll get over it.

We arrived in Yosemite intending to take the Tioga Pass and drive through the park to Mammoth Lakes where a comfortable bed awaited us.  We hoped for a leisurely drive, filled with dazzling sites and plenty of stops along the way.  We reached the park gate and learned that our plan had hit a snag.

“The roads closed,” the man in the box told us.  “It’s been closed for the past two weeks because of a wildfire.  It’s supposed to open up at 5 o’clock today.”

A wildfire!  How inconvenient.  I did a little post mortem research on the fire with startling results.  The Big Meadow Fire, as it came to be known, was the result of a prescribed burn gone wrong.  It was purposely started on August 26, 2009 with the intent to burn 90 acres but it changed direction right off the bat and raged out of control.  In the end, it had consumed 7,425 acres and cost $16.3 million USD to fight.  Woops.

Our Little Naturalist

Well, at least Yosemite is an easy place to kill time.  There is plenty of hiking to be done, and there are plenty of educational exhibits to be visited.  We enjoyed ourselves and then, shortly before 5:00 p.m. we made our way to the road closure to join the other tourists waiting to make their way to the Tioga Pass.

Five o’clock came and went.  Impatient Europeans paced back and forth along the road, wondering what the holdup was.  I joined them.  Pace, pace, pace, what’s taking so long?  They’ve had two weeks!  What could they possibly be doing to take an extra 20 minutes…an extra 40 minutes?  You know the kind of ludicrous impatience that can develop when a group of strangers are waiting for something that’s behind schedule; an airplane to take off, a road to open.  You know.

The road did, eventually, open and as we drove, we realized the magnitude of the fire that had delayed us.  We saw acre upon acre of, still smoking, white ash covered ground.  Sooty, tired looking firefighters were cleaning up their tools.  The smell that hung in the air was the, normally pleasant, scent of campfires but magnified about 1,000,000 times, it became sickening and gave me a headache.

We drove out of the fire zone and through the Tioga Pass, which provided vista after vista of startling beauty.  It’s seems surreal that views like that exist on Earth.  Nature is often configured in some startling and awe-inspiring ways.

Awe Inspiring Vistas

It was dark by the time we reached our hotel in Mammoth Lakes.  A man who, I’m assuming from his attire, was a Jimmy Buffet fan, handed us a key to a 1980’s time capsule of a room and warned us that bears hang out in the hotel parking garage.  I didn’t care anymore.  I wanted a Big Mac and my bed.  I was wiped out.


Death Valley – A Little Slice of Hell on Earth

October 2, 2009

Duncan (aka Mr Weather) is always searching to find and experience the most extreme climates the world has to offer.  So it comes as no surprise that he has always dreamed of visiting Death Valley California.  It is, after all, the hottest, driest, most godforsaken place in the western hemisphere and nearly the world.

The road that leads into Death Valley boasts little more than road signs and desert as far as the eye can see.  There are no buildings.  There are no plants.  There are few other motorists.  The road signs bare warnings; stay on the paved roads, turn off air-conditioning for the next 8 miles, radiator water in 2 miles.  There is a sense of foreboding to the journey that makes you feel like a legitimate adventurer.  If something goes wrong, it’s going to get really bad, really fast.

Naturally we took our two year old into this so-called valley of death.  We stayed right in the heart of it at Furnace Creek Ranch.  It’s an unusual place, but it was quaint and homey.  There are no towns within an easy commute of the ranch so most of the employees live on site.  Everyone there is friendly and welcoming.


Duncan taking Liam back to our little ranch house.

Our room was in the old part of the ranch.  We were on a narrow street lined with semi-detached cabins with cute front porches and shared driveways.  It was adorable.

Spring Fed Swimming Pool at Furnace Creek Ranck

Spring Fed Swimming Pool at Furnace Creek Ranch

The ranch has a swimming pool that is fed by a warm spring.  Feeding the water in from the spring keeps the pool cooler than it would be if left to bake in the summer sun.  It’s still too hot to be refreshing in any way, but it was interesting to try out.

Heat catches up to kids much sooner than it hits adults; poor Liam.  Mommy and Daddy learned their lesson when we were walking back to our room from the pool, in the 47 degree heat.  We stopped halfway to peek into the Borax Museum but noticed that Liam had started to look absolutely ill.  We got him back into our room where the air-conditioning was cranked and he fell fast asleep on his bed.  When he woke up we gave him some Gatorade.  From then on we made him sit in his stroller with water whenever we went outside.  No more exertion for him!

That's me!  Bad Water, Death Valley CA

That's me! Badwater, Death Valley CA

One of the most popular sites in Death Valley is Badwater.  Badwater is the lowest area in the park at 282 feet below sea level.  There is a small, very salty, pool of water and a heavily travelled salt flat that stretches out in front of the parking lot.  We took a wander out onto the flat.  We gave it a taste.  It was, in fact, salty.

Driving through Death Valley and seeing its landscape with my own eyes was probably the most impactful aspect of the trip.  It’s difficult to describe.  It’s a parched, rugged, rocky place yet the mountains and canyons give it so much depth and dimension.  It’s something you have to experience firsthand.  Pictures can’t do justice to the beauty or express the oppressive heat or the sense of accomplishment at having made it through the valley to the other side.  My hat is off to the pioneering souls who first ventured into the valley.  I’ll take a Canadian winter any day.

My little boy in the middle of the Mojave Desert

My little boy in the middle of the Mojave Desert

Just a Quick Update

September 5, 2009

Our Tom Tom died died, piece of crap crap that it was.  It prompted an emergency trip to WalMart for a new GPS receiver.

We spent the better part of the day driving up Pacific Coast Highway 1.  It was gob smackingly beautiful.  Many times so-called scenic drives end up being a disappointment, but this was honestly some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen.  We saw mountains, the ocean, vineyards and wild elephant seals.  It was so, so worth the drive.

We are staying in the Hilton in San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley.  I love staying with Hilton.  It’s always a cut above the average.  Liam was a very good boy to sit patiently in the car all day so he was rewarded with a swim in the hotel pool.  I used the fitness room so we all had some exercise to work off the Carl’s Jr we had for supper.

We’re off to San Francisco today.  I’ll update again in a few days.

A Postcard From The Road

September 4, 2009
Venice Beach

Venice Beach

Hello from Santa Monica!

We’re having a great time.  The flight went well.  Liam did his very best to be patient but came to hate the seatbelt light above his head.  When we finally got off the plane he just kept giggling and exclaiming “We did it!  We did it!”

We’re zipping around the west coast in a brand new Ford Focus.  It’s a good little car.  It’s big enough for us and our luggage but still small enough to be really good on gas; which is good because they apparently don’t like to sell gas to foreigners.  Never mind, I’m just griping.

We spent our first night it Las Vegas.  What an amazing city!  It’s just a complete sensory overload.  I just about short-circuited.  We stayed at the New York New York Hotel and Casino.  It was an absolutely massive hotel, but every hotel on the Vegas strip is an absolutely massive hotel.

The next morning we got up and headed straight to LA.  Actually, we headed straight into an hour long traffic jam.  That was awful.  Once we were free of the traffic jam we just kept following the wild fire smoke into California and fought traffic the whole way to Santa Monica.  Duncan was very annoyed that California drivers don’t reserve the left lane for passing.  He kept muttering away about the lack of lane discipline.

Needless to say, I was more than ready for a beach day yesterday.  I had a headache I just couldn’t shake and I needed to relax.  We spent the day at Venice beach.  The beach is so peaceful and relaxing, it gives you no indication of the wackiness you encounter once you hit the street.  I’ll tell you all about it when we get back.

Today we went into Hollywood and did the Hollywood tourist stuff.  Liam was terrified by a guy in a Darth Vader costume on Hollywood Blvd.  He’s still talking about it.

Anyway, I’ll post pictures and more details later.  Tomorrow we’re going for a very long, scenic drive along the coast from LA to Santa Clara.  It should be good, as long as Liam takes a nap.