Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Long Road Home

We'd stayed in a B&B, a roadside motel, a cabin, a chain hotel, and we finished up the trip in a suite with a view of the ocean.

I enjoyed each style of lodging for very different reasons. On the last day of our trip I took great pleasure in sitting by one of the windows with the ocean view, breathing in the salt air and looking at the ocean through the binoculars they'd provided.

I'd missed the sea. The mountains along the 395 had a jagged majesty that overwhelmed the landscape. Traveling alongside them, I'd seen how someone might be a mountain person. Waking up in the morning and looking out at the massive landscapes, always part of the view no matter how built up the city, had been a pleasure.

But I'm an ocean girl. I love the cool breeze, the crash of the waves and even the smell of rotting kelp.

After another continental breakfast, I dragged Tech Support out for what was to be a short walk.

We headed up the wooden walkway, toward the park at the north end where Meggish and Nick got married over a year ago. There was road construction in the way, so we couldn't get all the way there without climbing along the shore.

We met two little bunnies along the way. The lady at the Fogcatcher said they were some kind of dwarf cotton tale, a wild version of the dutch miniature. They definitely weren't much larger than the fat, fat squirrels which threatened to chase us down and paw through our pockets for food.

There were beautiful wildflowers in bloom.

On a whim, I decided to drag us down to the beach to look at the tide pools. I read Cannery Row for the first time about a month ago, and Steinbeck's vivid descriptions had stuck with me. But I didn't see any octopi murdering any crabs, though I did see some crabs.

And sea anenomes.

And star fish.

And eventually we noticed this handsome harbor seal watching our progress toward him. We watched him with equal care, until eventually we noticed we were surrounded by at least 3 other harbor seals sunning themselves awkwardly.

This one climbed up onto the rocks while we watched, and then proceeded to do his best imitation of The Little Mermaid.

While standing out on the rocks we met an older couple who'd seen otters out in the ocean the day before, when they hadn't had their cameras. They had an accent, but I couldn't tell if they were from Britian or New Zealand. They'd been in Palm Springs and found the chilly weather in Cambria a bit shocking. Their son was trying to decide between medical schools in San Francisco and San Diego, and had almost been seduced by the sunny weather of the latter.

After all those comments on the cold weather I became convinced they were from New Zealand, as I think England is cold year-round.

We were feeling pretty cold by then ourselves, and were startled to discover we'd been out and about for over an hour. We packed up and got back on the road about a half an hour later than we'd intended.

In Lompoc we had a picnic and movie date with my parents. At their complex we found an ill acting little sparrow sitting in the middle of the road. Tech Support attempted to transplant the poor thing onto the grass using a newspaper, to at least get it out of the street, and ended up re-enacting a scene from "The Birds" instead.

We had our picnic at La Purisima, which has to be one of my favorite of the missions. They have a lot of land to hike around on, as well as animals and gardens.

After lunch my mother and I had to pay our respects to the resident bull. We both have a crush on bully, which my mother has written about on her own blog.

Next road trip I go on, I have to remember to take a hair tie.

My father, wanting to be sure we wouldn't be late for the movie, took us on a whirl-wind tour of the mission buildings.

He hikes around the mission about 3-4 times a week, leaves flowers on the grave of the padre, and has favorite pieces of art and furniture.

Apparently one day they even let him up on the bell tower.

After the mission I had to stop by at a nearby fruit stand and pick up a half-flat of strawberries for half of what they would cost in Los Angeles.

Thanks to dad's speedy tour we were more than on time to see Star Trek. Though I'd already seen it twice before I was happy to see it again. I also knew that the only way I could get my mother to see it was by dragging her there myself.

Determined not to confuse anyone about what goes on in the building, their local theater is called "The Movies." Tech Support, used to Los Angeles prices, had two twenties out and ready before the cashier told us the total was $14. About half what it would cost in Los Angeles.

The theater was about half of a Los Angeles theater too. The screen about half as wide and tall. The volume about half as loud. At least they ran the entire movie. The experience was charming.

My mother loved the movie.

After that interlude we were back on the road again.


We hit that part of the 101, just north of Santa Barbara, that snakes through some hills and spits us out by the ocean and always makes me feel like we're on the home stretch.

Then we hit that area of Santa Barbara that I hate.

Traffic was not something I missed, but since it was memorial day weekend I was expecting it. We crawled along behind a green Toyota Corolla for about an hour. The navigation system in Tech Support's new Element cheerfully kept us apraised of the fact that this should only have taken five minutes.

At one point we saw smoke, and worried that another big fire was up ahead. It turned out to be someone's car, the entire thing engulfed in flames. The traffic continued on for another fifteen minutes before we finally picked up speed again.

Another train to wave at.

We stopped in Oxnard at Cabo, recommended to us by my parents, and absolutely gorged ourselves on mexican food. By the time we were done we wanted a nap far more than we wanted to get back on the road.

The navigation system was far kinder to us this time, reassuring us that we were only about an hour away from our final destination. I convinced Tech Support to take the 1, so we could return home along the coast rather than traveling through the valley on the 101.

The ocean was an endless darkness to our right. Eventually I saw bright lights, and knew we were almost home.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Back To The Coast

The best night of sleep I got on the trip was in the clean, functional room of the Holiday Inn in Fresno. Thanks in no small part to the blackout curtains, which efficiently kept out all rays of sunlight. We got up and stumbled around a little later than usual, getting ready to leave in time for our next stop.

Down in the lobby I competed with an entire wedding party for attention. Their arrangement for an early check-in had gone wrong and the young women of the party were not pleased. I couldn't blame them, and didn't want to get in their way. At my first chance I checked with the lady behind the desk to make sure they didn't need anything else from me, and fled the scene.

Downstairs in the parking lot, more of the wedding party stood together looking anxious and impatient.

Tech Support and I backtracked up the 99, headed for the Forestiere Underground Gardens. It was conveniently located across the street from a McDonalds and we had just enough time to get breakfast, shove it down our throats, and be the last people they let into the gates.

The underground gardens were pretty interesting.

A citrus farmer from Sicily had come to the US in the early 1900s and bought terrible land unsuitable for any kind of farming. Instead of farming, the man became obsessed with digging an underground resort, and it seemed like eventually he was just obsessed with digging. He was at it until his death, about 40 years total.

We skipped on Hearst Castle, which we had done before but I wanted to do a different tour, in favor of doing this and in the end I was glad. Wandering around the cool, hobbit den of this farmer in Fresno was a very unique experience. Tech Support was fascinated and delighted, even though he had to duck most of the time since the man who'd dug the place was 5' 8" and hadn't imagined that anyone taller would come into his tunnels.

Since he was a citrus farmer originally he did have some trees planted down in his underground lair, with plenty of open sunlights above them. Not only that, but he was majorly into grafting. There were lots of decades old trees there with some of the original grafts remaining. It made me think of Uncle Bob and his experiments with rose grafts on apple trees.

After the roughly hour-long tour, it was time to get outta Fresno.

In my family, you always have to wave at the train.

We continued along on the 41, which took us from the farmland covered 99 highway to the farmland covered 5 highway. The view provided mainly farmland. Eventually we hit an aquaduct, with egrets poised along the edges of the water, and that was pretty exciting.

There had to be some kind of old-car-festival-thing going on, because we passed at least 20 restored vehicles that were at least 50 years old. They didn't come all at once, but in clumps that we saw throughout the day. Unfortunately, moving vehicles are difficult to take pictures of from other moving vehicles.

We damaged ourselves at a fast food restaurant for lunch, then continued into Paso Robles area, heading north on the 101 until we got to Mission San Miguel.

I'd never been there before, at least not that I recall. It's a sweet little mission that is being used by a Novitiate of Franciscan Monks (I have no idea if I've said that right at all) and is heavily under restoration.

Outside was a bell that had a large, laminated sheet of paper on it saying "Do Not Ring This Bell". So of course while we were there a man came out, grabbed the warning sign, and rang the bell. I wanted a hoard of angry monks to descend on him, but it didn't happen.

Tech Support spent a lot of the day ducking.

After that we were back on the road again, going down the 101 to Templeton to visit Tech Support's Step-Grandma Sylvia. Sylvia's parents had started a winery there quite a long time ago, and though the winery has been sold in the last 10 years, Sylvia got to keep her house. From her living room you can look out on hills full of vines and baby olive trees and horses, with very few buildings to mar the view. Sylvia says her friends keep asking when she's moving into town, but she isn't planning on anytime soon, despite the troubles she's been having with raccoons lately.

After a too-brief but pleasant visit, we headed out of vine-country.

Our stop for the day was Cambria, where I'd booked a suite at the Fogcatcher Inn, a place I've stayed several times in the past. We had over an hour to kill before our reservations at a nearby restaurant, so we went outside to look at the ocean.

But it was so windy, I couldn't really see much. I need to remember to bring hair ties on these trips. Still, after spending several days away from the salty sea air, it was nice to be back.

Once again we re-discovered the aggressive Cambrian ground squirrel.

These guys are fat. And some of them charge at you when they see you, hoping you have a peanut or something else wonderful to feed them. Don't let their small furry bodies fool you, we were a bit intimidated.

Tech Support is getting good at the one-handed photo.

For dinner that night we went to Robin's Restaurant, where Meggish had her wedding reception a little over a year ago. I was very excited because I knew the food would be good. Even better, our reservation got us a cute little table tucked into a quiet nook off the main area. We could look out and see the others, but it was like we had our own private area. Very romantic.

And the food was good too.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

California is a Land of Contrasts

All along this trip we've come across information boards that say things like "Wilderness Has Many Intrinsic Values" (which sounded like a justification) and ask questions like "How else have these animals adapted to the climate?" (which is what I wanted the board to tell me). At some point in Bodie, I believe, we came across one that said "Bodie is a city of Contrasts." As per usual, we were not impressed.

However, I can now say that California is a land of contrasts. We started out the day in a cute little cabin besides a bubbling creek, and ended it in a business hotel attached to a casino.

Let's start at the cabin.

An absolutely adorable lodging at the Virginia Creek Settlement just outside Bridgeport. The creek could be viewed from our porch or the windows of the living room area.

Our first dilemma of the day was where to eat breakfast. Unfortunately we had two strong possibilities in the area, the well known Whoa Nellie Deli near the enterance of Yosemite and the Hay's Street Cafe in Bridgeport. Ultimately we decided to go with the cafe, which had been recommended to us by Virginia in Kern River and again by my mother.

Fishing is a big deal in Bridgeport. Our cabin had fishing paraphernalia all over the walls and we watched kids sit on the creek with little rods and tackle. The Hay's Street Cafe has different hours for "Fishin' Season" and "Freezin' Season" and I could imagine a lot of the patrons there doing both. Breakfast was delicious and we enjoyed an almost 360 degree view of the mountains from the windows.

We took the 395 back down through Lee Vining and took the 120 into Yosemite. Here was our first contrast, as we climbed altitude and entered some kind of alternative winter wonderland.

It was cold, and the lake was still partially frozen over.

The east enterence to the park is closed for the winter and had only recently been opened. The roads were lined on either side with snow that had been plowed out of the way.

After going back down a couple thousand feet the snow dwindled into little puddles. Tech Support got out and decided to be silly.

As we got closer to the Valley, the snow disappeared entirely and it got hot.

Down in the Valley it was crowded. I'd been forewarned, but I was still overwhelmed after being spoiled in Manzanar and Bodie with relatively few other tourists. We were directed to park a short ways away from the visitors center, and entered the fray around the area.

After having our fill of exhibits on granite, John Muir, and the Awahnee people, we went and had lunch at the Awahnee.

Tech Supprt fretted over what hike to take. Half Dome wasn't going to happen (it's 16 miles long), that was for sure. We were still feeling tender after Bodie too, so a short hike was all we wanted. In the end we decided to hike from the Awahnee over to Yosemite Falls, about 1 mile. It was crowded, but worth it.

While in Yosemite I learned something about Tech Support that I hadn't discovered in our almost 6 years together: He has a crush on Half Dome. The entire time we walked around the valley he kept angling his head and pointing through the trees and saying, "If this branch weren't in the way, you could see Half Dome," and "Don't worry, we'll get a really good view of Half Dome from Glacier Point."

I wasn't worried.

When pressed on this obsession with Half Dome he explained that there were very few sights in the world that were so unique. The way Yosemite was formed, the granite, the sheer scale of the mountains, these things impressed him.

But his cool reasoning didn't convince me. If that were true, he would have been looking for El Capitan too. No, the man has a crush on Half Dome. Matters of the heart cannot be explained with plutons.

We did get a few good views of Half Dome from the Valley.

But the better views were up at Glacier Point.

How can I compete?

After Glacier Point we'd had enough of people and traffic for one day, and got back on the 41 to head down into Fresno. So far in the day we'd been on snow covered mountains, a hot summer day in the valley, and now we entered cute little California towns with names like Coarsegold.

And for ten minutes it even seemed like we might be in Illinois.

In Fresno we hit the first highway with over 2 lanes that we'd seen since we left Los Angeles.

And we found our hotel. I'd booked the Downtown Fresno Holiday Inn for some reason or another that I couldn't remember. We weren't planning on spending much time in Fresno, so a functional chain hotel seemed a good idea.

We got off in the empty, industrialized downtown of Fresno and discovered our hotel was attached to a Casino. Across the street from our room was the courthouse.

And when we went to get something to eat at the closest restaurant in the area (though, does McDonalds qualify as a restaurant?) we discovered there were at least 5 bail bondsmen within walking distance of our hotel. When we got on our elevator to go back up to our room we were joined by smiling older people who tried to talk to us in German.

Do people really come from Germany to go to a Casino in Fresno?

We were now far away from the cabin and the bubbling creek. The king sized bed was nice though.