Friday, July 30, 2010

Road Trip: Mariposa, Yosemite, Steam Trains and wildlife.

After Comi-Con, Raccoon, who comments here, offered to let us stay there for two nights, in order to get our energy back for the drive home. So the plan was to go from Fresno to Yosemite and to the edges of San Francisco in one day. What? That’s totally possible right? Well, it turns out it is possible if you are some sort of driving masochist.

The road into Yosemite has not been upgraded since the 60’s and they had stripped many miles so once in the ‘National Park’ lands the two lane road turned to gravel for miles. The up to 5,000+ feet (a mile high) and down again and up again and down again was playing a bit of havoc with my lungs but the scenery was nice and people even stopped for deer.

On the way up we stopped at the Yosemite Steam Train, which is a narrow gauge train that was used in this region for logging and transport and still runs today. If you look at the picture of the engine, straight down from the steam whistle, you can see the vent and the puff of steam venting as the engine is building power. They combine dinner and a steam engine ride, with the number 15 engine in the shed along with some of the other vintage train cars. We sadly didn’t have time for a ride (but picked up postcards!).

We entered the park inner system where you can go left to go to Yosemite Valley or right to go up to the Mariposa woodlands. We went right and started climbing even more. We had wanted to go to the Sequoia National Park but couldn’t fit it in, and to find that the Mariposa had groves of Sequoia trees as old as 1,800 years was a win/win. There was a trail that I was told, “I wouldn’t even recommend mothers take strollers on it.” So we wheeled on the road and then went a bit off road when needed. The road climbed another 1,000 feet so both Linda and I got our exercise that day. The Sequoia’s are tall and majestic and people have been visiting this area for such a long time, most of the trees are named. In fact there is a tree which you used to be able to drive through from the 1880’s until 1969 when it fell down in a storm. Pictures of people taking their wagon teams through the tree show that people like big trees and they like to go through them.

We encountered a fallen giant soon along the path and it was covered with carved initials and dates, the oldest I saw was from 1934 but I am sure if you looked hard there was some from over 100 years ago. A picture of Linda down near the root system gives a sense of perspective on this mid sized Sequoia tree. The Sequoia are a type of Redwood but unique. One of the unique aspects of them are the LARGE pine cones they produce (do not stand under the tree when they fall!). I think you are not supposed to take them from the park but we saw people walking with them (the one photographed was put back on the display stand after). I also think they release the seeds during a forest fire, maybe someone can help me on that. Which would make sense as if you have a forest of 1,000 year old trees you don’t need new ones every year, but when some of them have been wiped out.

While we were up there we looked up at noise and saw a woodpecker who had already made several holes into a tree working away, I don’t know if you can spot him in the bark, as this is up 40 feet or so.

We saw a LOT of wildlife in a very short period of time, which was very refreshing after staring at bad driving, very bad driving and lots of cityscape (hey drivers, there are things called ‘indicators’ you can turn on before you change lanes….just a heads up!).

Here is a blur of a tree, and that black blur is a black squirrel, which I have a film of. He just kept running round and round and round the tree, so I will put a film up of that later, as motion is so much easier to see with animals in the wild. So consider this ‘coming attractions’ once I get the films uploaded to youtube.

We also saw a small type of squirrel called Peco’s which live around the Sequoia. We saw two of them which were running around the place like it was a giant track, first round and round the tree up and down then on to the next park, over the log, down the fallen log, then racing each other right in front of us and around back to the tree again. They did this several times (getting a pictures of two racing Pecos is harder that you might think). If you look at the tree on the left at the bottom you will see a black shape (one Peco) and the other is a grey stretched out blur approaching the tree, the second picture shows the grey on the tree as the black is about to scamper around the corner. It was amazing to watch, like some Chaplin film, or a high energy comedy energy.

There were also three male deer grazing in the valley down from us but blocked mostly by trees and not giving great pictures. However while looking at them a squirrel or Peco jumped up on the stump behind me and started to chitter in chastisement. I wonder what I did? So the wildlife was literally running up to me, in various forms.

Here is Linda between two of the younger Sequoia’s in order to give some perspective on the size of these trees. Soon after we met a couple from Chester in England who said, “You see one tree, you’ve seen them all.” Which I though odd since in the UK, any Oak Tree of significant age is on the survey maps and named and recorded in a national registry. I like lots of trees, the giant Douglas Fir of Vancouver Island, the Moss and Trees of the Hoh, the Redwoods, the Sequoias, and would love to see the gaint Mahogany trees of South America. We have seen the Oaks of the UK, the Black Forest and looking forward to more.

On to Yosemite, Linda saved me a hard wheel by driving down to meet me. We drove for another hour before the Yosemite valley started opening before us (This was taken by me while Linda drove). You go through a long tunnel and then the valley is there, broad before you with half dome in the back, Angel Falls on the right and El Capitan on the left (apparently this year you have to reserve to do the 3-5 day rock climb up it – just in case you don’t have enough things to do or train for). I guess the park service got tired of people stopping so they put in a view right at the end of the tunnel and I got a picture of Linda and the Yosemite Valley. When planning Linda was ‘Why do we have to drive all those hours to Yosemite?” and I kept saying, “It is just something you have to see.”

Yosemite IS something you have to see, along with the giant mansion sized boulders on the ground which are just a ‘cracked chip’ fallen off of these giant granite faces. Thanks to Ansel Adams (who has a museum of his work here) and others, this valley is preserved and an ad saying “Pepsi” or “Got Milk?” is NOT spray painted across any of the majestic towers.

It was close to 7:00 by the time we made it down into the Yosemite Valley Drive and we didn’t know when the visitor center closed or if it was already. Linda had gone out and took a picture, but on the way back two squirrels were getting ‘busy’ which we were told later was not sex, but just ‘playing’, er, okay, well, here is a picture of them and you can decide (Yaoi: Squirrel Style?). I hit the horn to get Linda to look up as I found the visitor’s center closed at 7:30. We drove, we got lost, we got lost again, and then we found the visitors center, with Linda going ahead to look in the gift store. This picture was taking by a kind and very nice looking German female (hee hee!).
On the way in we had passed a sign reading “Speed Kills Bears” with a picture of a bear. I guess it was supposed to make us slow down but considering most people are scared of bears, maybe it ended getting people to speed up? Linda wanted a picture but in the visitor’s center we found a magnet of it. We also got a FEW (dozen) postcards in the 12 minutes we had. Plus I talked to a Ranger and showed him the videos, and he identified the Peco’s versus the black squirrels.

The Ranger also let me know that because we had the blue badge I could drive on an ‘official use’ and ‘do not enter’ road which went out to Mirror Pond and from there we caught the sun shining the sunset on Half Dome.
Yes, these few hours were a fast and rushed tour of Yosemite and while we wanted more, it was enough. On the way back we saw a male buck with antlers feeding with the Yosemite Valley behind. The park seemed to have animals and scenery everywhere we looked. Two cyclists rode between me and the buck deer while I was about to take the picture, the husband saying to the wife "Deer, what deer, I can't see anything?" as he passed by 10 feet from the deer and rode past and away, never seeing.

The sun continued to descend and up above, in the clouds, the sunset continued. We headed out of the park stopping to make some sandwiches and prepare for drive to San Francisco. Eiki Eiki and I had not left the van much but we had seen a lot and taken a LOT of pictures (ohhh, about 200).
The road down from Yosemite is a twist rapid elevation drop which is the hardest on me and made me pass out complete for about 90 minutes (not sleeping but literally BAM, unconscious). It was as we neared San Francisco that Linda let me know that she wasn’t EXACTLY sure where she had the directions to Raccoon’s house.

Oh. (It turned out she had left them……at Raccoon’s house on the way down).

So we hit a lot of exits since a lot of them got the ‘that looks familiar’ to Linda. As for me, since it was a week ago, I had no memory at all. Eventually I decided we would systematically take EVERY exit, and we had eliminated each one until we had one left. It was 1:00 am and we were both punch drunk from exhaustion. There were orange cones and there seemed to be a gap so I directed Linda into what I thought was the ‘construction exit’. I directed her instead to a police car waiting in the dark which popped on the lights, and started writing things down and checking Linda’s eyes (that red is exhaustion, not drugs, honest!). The police officer let us go, but he didn’t know how to get to Raccoon’s address. He did know that the Trader Joe’s we knew was nearby to Raccoon was ‘around here’. Great.

We didn’t get a ticket and after one final wrong turn, corrected we finally made it to Raccoon’s where I lay down, irritating his two cats who had claimed the futon as their new plaything.

Yosemite was worth it, though I woke up the next morning in shock with blue fingers and shuddering. It was good to know we could have a day to rest up as well. Because after that we were headed into the unknowns of southern Oregon, then a long driving day from there straight back to Cheryl’s (who had flown back earlier).


SharonMV said...

thank you beth for telling us about your visit to Yosemite & the beautiful pictures of the amazing trees & all the wildlife. It makes me realize that I can see a lot there even in my current condition (well, a little better than I've been the last couple of weeks). And knowing that the blue badge will allow me more access is good news. your pics of the sunset are lovely. I enjoyed reading about the squirrel races. The two by the roadside certainly looked like they were doing more than "playing".

Hope you both had a good rest at Racoon's house.


wendryn said...

I'm really glad you got to see so much of Yosemite - definitely worth it!

Only you would manage to get a picture of squirrels not really playing... :P

cheryl g said...

What a great visit to Yosemite! Boy you really did see the wildlife. Ummm, the squirrels were playing but it was grown up playing. Those Sequoia trees are incredible. It is easy to see why Yosemite is considered one of the crown jewels of the park service. You have had some amazing adventures on your road trip but I am also glad you are at home again and can rest and recover.

Linda McClung said...

Thanks for suggesting the drive to Yosemite. It was a bit harried at times and very disconcerting when you became unconscious. The only things that kept me going were 1) you were still breathing and 2) there were no pullouts on the highway.

It was amazing how much wildlife we saw in the park. The racing pico's were so much fun to watch - it sure was hard trying to capture them on camera.

I loved the big trees. The fallen one doesn't look very big until you see me beside it and then it looks huge. It would have been interesting to read the names/dates carved into it over the century.

Being stopped by the police sure gave me a burst of adrenaline. We were so desperately lost that the guy took pity on us (after checking my eyes, of course). Whew! That night I dreamt of getting a speeding ticket. Gee, wonder why!

I loved all you photos Beth. Great pictures! And THANK YOU for all the navigating you did. It made driving so much easier.

Aviatrix said...

Wow, you guys are crazy. Who would think of taking every exit?!

Lorna, Bob and Liam said...

We got back from our trip to southern Oregon yesterday and spent some time recovering, so I'm late to this blog entry. Wow, I always really enjoy the trip to Oregon but now think we'll have to add Yosemite to the list!

Your pics are marvellous, as always, kudos to you as photographer/navigator and to Linda as driver/companion!

Neil said...

Oh, Beth, now I'm even more happy for your recovery of the lost camera. The photos are almost unbelievable; those sequoias have seen so much history flow by them...

My Beloved now wants to write a story in which one of the characters gets concussed by a falling pine cone. Or would that be more of a spinal injury? I guess it depends on the weight.

Without taking anything away from your photographic skills, dear, is it possible to take a bad photo of Yosemite? (By the way, I've read of people trying to recreate some of Ansel Adams's photos. One article claimed the people are looking for his tripod holes.)

Raccoon, thank you for looking after Beth and Linda! The Internet's a wonderful thing when you can find a group of such nice people.

Of COURSE the squirrels are playing! That's what squirrels do. But that particular game looks like they should find a room in a tree house.

It's good to hear you're safe and home(?). Or at Cheryl's, at least.

Love and zen hugs,

Elizabeth McClung said...

I uploaded the photos friday but was not able to write the rest until monday at a public library. It turns out that navigating is taxing, particularly if we arrive at 10:00 pm without a nap, not a lot of time or brains left for blogging.

SharonMV: Yes, I even saw a Victorian Graveyard without ever leaving the car, and National Parks for example in Mariposa let you drive the entire way the paid tram takes, you just drive behind the tram, so you get the whole tour in your car - National parks REQUIRE equal accessibility (We found that state parks were FAR less committed to this).

The only down side is the stress of the road on your body, which I would have included more rest days on our road trip. However the Presidents' work act means many national parks are upgrading roads right now.

Wendryn: Yosemite is hard to put into pictures, for us it was great to see so much wildlife, after being in cities so much. But the whole feeling of 'a small person in a small van in a very BIG looming valley and passing 'little' chips that had fallen down, chips of granite which are boulders bigger than our apartment building put things in perspective but is hard to put into photos.

And you know me, I am always looking for 'THE Photo'.

Cheryl: I think a lot of the US visitors miss the Mariposa grove and go to the Yosemite Valley instead as the people at the Mariposa section were speaking french, from the UK, from India, and other countries but not a lot of people from the US, while in Yosemite, every single campsite was full and Americans outnumbered other nationalities. That seems too bad as while it is not as famous it is very wildlife friendly and has several distinct animals which we say 2 or 3 of. But yes, the big Y is a great international treasure.

Linda: You were the one who told me in the Redwoods, "No take the picture with the car in it, it will give perspective' and it really helped, as people can share the wonder of the large trees if perspective is given (usually you!).

Thanks for all those curvy roads and sorry I kept passing out and not breathing so many times, like every day. You must have handled it great because either I or my zombie is still here.

In the end the navigator takes responsiblity of getting the driver to the correct place, no matter how scant the info or map, I am sorry about the mistakes I made but glad I helped, I can't do much but helping and being part of it made it 'our' trip. Thanks.

Aviatrix: We had already eliminated about 6 exits so only have 4 or so left and with the little knowledge we had (the directions once at the off ramp, the turn left, turn right, directions, It would tell us if this was the right exit or not - just happened like all things, it was the very LAST). But like Sherlock Holmes said, when all else is eliminated, whatever remains...must be true.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Lorna, Bob, Liam: I hope you enjoyed the Shakespeare festival, we thought of you as we sped by. We stayed at a place which was having an ole Country Jamboree with a lot of big names (we did not know that when we booked the place, in Oregon we didn't find a place to stay and book a room online until 4:40 pm THAT DAY - then we had to go drive to it!). We missed the coast but did find another Oregon Adventure.

Neil: I am going to spend the time downloading all the pictures, some of the redwood I took to 'stitch' the full trees together to get the size of them (I stole that photo idea from the National Geographic). Then I will do a proper job of blogging the trip, with photos and video to match. I tried to do the same style as going to markets: talk to the people, find the unique and the often overlooked and seek out excellence in all forms. Or as in the case of Comi-Con, the Freebies of excellence in all forms! Haha.

I think the pine cone would be a concussion wouldn't it? maybe a subdermal hematoma.

The hard part of taking pictures of Yosemite is a) the low light, since we were in the valley and light goes low starting around 6:30, b) knowing the background, as if the camera isn't angled correctly you just get a granite wall, and c) trying to get a decent foreground, like the deer, I didn't know deer could look so awkward until I went through all the shots of the deer - deer stretching neck and legs to eat top of grass due to being lazy, deer staring into space, - this one got a good muscle definition and the background too. Also in Yosemite or anywhere, getting pictures without others in the picture takes patience and time. The downed log took about 10 minutes of waiting to get it without people posing or passing by.

Lene Andersen said...

Breathtaking views, that tree's HUGE and holy crap on the pinecone!

What a wonderful adventure.

Christianne said...

Wow, what a trip! I'm going to Yosemite myself in two weeks (for a party at the old haunted Ahwahnee Hotel), so I especially appreciated the "sneak preview" of the park. You and Linda saw more of it in a day, I'll venture, than I probably will in three!

Raccoon said...

Getting a phone call at 8 PM -- we will be getting in late, so don't wait up -- was not entirely unexpected.

You know, you have said many times how tall you are. It never really sunk in, seeing your pictures. But, seeing you in your manual chair 3 or 4 inches taller than me in my power chair...

It was great to finally meet you in person, the both of you. And Cheryl. And the couple of people that traveled to meet you, both in San Diego and here.

I saw the woodpecker, and the squirrel behind you, and the two roughhousing, but the other two that were running around the tree I completely missed.

Sue said...

Beth, I'm glad you insisted on visiting Yosemite. Your photos are fabulous! Now I'm longing to travel out West again. Here's wishing that the remainder of your journey home is just as fabulous. Drive safely.

Neil said...

The pine cone would probably give a concussion, but depending on its weight, it would also push the head down as it landed, and put a nasty load onto the top of the spine.

Linda, how heavy was that freakin' huge pine cone, please?

Raccoon, *I* would find Beth's height intimidating, and I'm a couple of inches taller than she is.

Beth, I think you've done a fine job of blogging the trip already; but if you want to do a better synopsis, I certainly won't stop you. Blog for your own memory, though, if you wish, but not for ours (or mine, since I'm speaking for me).

Love and zen hugs,

Neil said...

Good morning!

My oldest son (who's 21) was wondering why I was howling with laughter at your blog, so I showed him the photo of the squirrels at "play." Now my Beloved has just informed me that Son claims the photo haunted his dreams that night.

I think he's probably just jealous. Whether he's jealous of the squirrel, of your photographic ability, or the whole trip, we don't know. But we're quietly amused.

Squirrels rock!

Love and zen hugs,

JaneB said...

Thank you for the wonderful pictures - but I'm exhausted just reading about that long drive, how did you and Linda cope??? EFM indeed...

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your page of Yosemeti and the pictures:)