Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Coasts and Valleys

Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality. 

- John Muir

El Capitan

We have been in California for a little over a month now. We have taken over camp host duties at Butano State Park on the Central Coast. The first time we drove into this area I was awe struck. We drove through San Francisco and down the Pacific Cost Highway, a route that takes you past beaches and along cliffs that reach out to the pacific shore. It looks exactly the way you'd expect it to yet, somehow, when you see it for the first time, the hairs on your neck stand up. 
Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Just down the road from us. 

Fast forward - thirty days later - and the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) is our main route. Mountains to the east. Ocean to the west. It's no longer a scenic Highway to us. I mean, it is still scenic but it is the road that we use to get stuff done. Costco, Safeway, the library, and the mall are just a few of the places we travel to via Highway 1. It's sort of a pain in the ass too because while we are rushing to handle our business, others on the road are taking in the scenery, letting the hairs on their neck stand up. This transition in the way we appreciate Highway 1 is a little bit of a wake-up call for me so, to commemorate our one month anniversary, I decided it was time to take an adventure. We needed to shake things up.
Doing Laundry in Santa Cruz. 

I have a grandma who walks two miles every day. She does this simply to keep her joints from rusting. She says she needs to keep moving because if she sits down, she might never get up again. We had been sitting for too long. Perhaps we were rusting.

Finding an adventure in Central California is easy, you just need to decide what you wanna do. You can go skiing, swimming, hiking, biking, surfing, climbing and sightseeing all within a few hundred miles. We pulled out the California map with the idea of going backpacking somewhere. It didn't take long before our eyes landed on a 1,200 square mile piece of land just across the central valley from us. A place where animals run free and nature tells an interesting story. A place called Yosemite.

If I can offer you any advice on travel at this point it would be this - If you are going to see America's national parks, leave the dog at home and don't bring a huge RV. None of the parks allow dogs on the trails and some don't allow them at all. Most of the roads going into the parks are narrow, steep and downright treacherous. Your best bet, for seeing national parks, is to load up the car with tents, sleeping bags and blankets. There are also really nice lodges at most of the parks if you can afford it. They are top notch. We left our dog with our California friend, Becky, and headed out with a car full of gear.

One of our first views of Yosemite Valley
We rolled up in Yosemite around 2pm and I noticed the thermometer in my car read 49 degrees. That couldn't be right. The weather report said daytime highs in the 70's and nighttime lows in the 50's, We were at an elevation of 6000 feet and descending so I figured it would be warmer in the valley. I was wrong. It was much colder than anticipated and suddenly, the idea of camping in Yosemite didn't sound like fun anymore. Shit kinda got real. The visitor center had the weather posted with nighttime lows in the 20's...gulp. Okay, new plan, rent a structure that is heated and do some day hiking.

We went and checked out Camp Curry, a campground with cabins and heated tents that is operated by a 3rd party vendor. They wanted $80 for a heated tent. So now, our three day trip was going to come with $240 in lodging fees. I also learned that they don't allow fires or any kind of cooking. Great, food costs were going to skyrocket too.

I care about my family and I don't welcome opportunities to sleep outside in below freezing temperatures with them but, I am also a bit of a cheapskate and I simply refuse to spend money on food and lodging when I have a car full of canned goods and camping gear. So, I made the executive decision to stay at the campground.
Mom and Sammy at the campground. 

The campground (and entire park for that matter) are on high alert for bears. When you check in, there is a ranger that gives you a serious talk about food storage. Everything scented must go in the food locker otherwise, the bears will break into your car. Then there is a sign that says the number of bear incidents and total cost of property damage for the year. As if this wasn't enough, the rangers come just before quiet hours and inspect every site and go over the rules again with all the campers. Even after ALL of this, you would be amazed at how many people still leave food out. We had some neighbors who got a warning from a ranger for leaving food out while the took their dog for a walk. The following morning, they did it again! We watched a large group of ravens have a party on their picnic table. We could have scared the birds away and saved their food but we agreed that a hard lesson was just what the doctor ordered for these asswipes.

After a couple of nights sleeping in the freezing cold I was confident that our gear was standing up to the elements well. I froze my ass off the first night while everyone else slept like rocks. I had been subscribed to the theory that you will be warmer if you sleep in your underwear and let the sleeping bag do the work of trapping your body heat, I learned this while on a backpacking trip in the Rockies when I was a teen. It seemed to work then but the more I thought about it, while freezing in Yosemite, the more I thought maybe I was a stupid teen. Jessica suggested I sleep with pants, socks and jacket on and, lo and behold, I was snug and warm for the rest of the trip.

We saw a good amount of wildlife in the park including a coyote that was just wandering through the campground in the middle of the day. We followed it for a while, trying to determine if it was a coyote or wolf (it looked like a coyote but it was HUGE). Later we learned that there are no wolves in the park so that mystery was solved. While hiking, we spotted two black bears up in a tree. It was a mother and her cub. They were licking sap off the tree branches and paying no attention to the group of amateur photographers that had assembled on the ground beneath them.
Noah gives names to the mountains and explains his reasoning. 

The Yosemie Valley is unlike any valley I have ever stepped foot in. The mountains around you shoot straight up into the sky. It's like a giant footprint in a massive piece of granite. Because the mountains rise so dramatically from the valley floor, most of the hikes are steep climbs along switchbacks and stairs. We climbed to the top of Vernal Falls, a 3 mile hike that climbs over 1000 feet. Most of the old people bail when they get to the 600 stone steps and nobody brings small children on the trail...except us. Noah and Sam are advanced hikers for their age group. Plus, if they sleep in sub freezing temps, they earn the right to hike with the other campers. They both walked the entire trail by themselves with a little bit of encouragement from other hikers along the way.
Hiking up to Vernal Falls
On top of Vernal Falls. A sheer 100 foot drop to the valley floor. 

After three days of sleeping on the ground and not showering you would think that we would be ready to leave but, on the contrary, leaving Yosemite was sorta sad. It just felt like there were so many things that we had yet to see. I could've spent another three days there without complaining but, alas, our camp hosting duties awaited us. We broke camp and said adios to this gorgeous national park.
Noah leads an interpretive hike to Mirror Lake. 

The weather was great on the drive back so we made a few stops at scenic turnouts and had lunch in the valley. We drove through the mountains and crossed over to the coast and there it was, good ole Highway 1. The deep blue ocean was crashing along the cliffs and the sea breeze was coming in through the tall grass. Around every turn was a new vista that reminded me of how fortunate we are to be staying in such a beautiful place. The hairs on the back of my neck were once again standing up as I appreciated the Central Coast the same way I did the first time I laid eyes on it.

Sometimes, when you feel like you need a change in your life, what you actually need is just a chance to refresh and change your perspective.

Sammy tells an AMAZING joke. 

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