Thursday, August 12, 2010
Back From Cali 2
Okay, taking a break from my Lilitu revision to report on the rest of our trip...
Picture above is Spaghetti Western Stuff, and High Plains Drifter was kind of imitation Spaghetti western stuff, and Clint Eastwood made it at Mono Lake, and was the Mayor of Carmel, and Mono Lake and Carmel figured in our trip, so there...
As I recall, when last I wrote, I got as far as the KOA in Coarsegold...huge campground, not too many people there. Nice swimming pool. Big locker-room clubhouse thing with a pool table. Old Western motifs...batwing doors in the shower-room. As I said, all full of Frenchies. Lot of Gallic teenagers, kind of raucous, but what the Hell...they were singing Old Macdonald and Bingo in French. Wierd experience. However...one of the things you notice out west is the shortage of Americans in the big parks..it's like we don't even care about all these magnificent spaces, whereas Europeans, French and Germans mainly, come all the way across the Atlantic and then some to see stuff like Yosemite. The Chinese call this country Meiguo, which means Beautiful Land...do they know something we don't?
Drove up to the park the Next day. Before you hit the main valley, there's a turn off for the Glacier Point and Washburn overlooks, which are pretty close to each other, both of them giving you great views of the little Yosemite valley where it empties into the big one...ton of waterfall action, and you see the rivers coming down and spilling over the edges. Half-Dome dominates both overlooks...very strange looking thing. I understand they still don't really know how it was formed, that is to say, how it was sliced away sheer like that. In any case, I preferred the Washburn overlook...it just seemed, I dunno, more composed.
Turned out there was kind of a rim trail, and Jason suggested we try this big loop between Taft Point and the Sentinel Dome, which is a couple of miles down the road from Glacier. Had some lunch and headed along through a forest full of some kind of big evergreens and lots of ferns. Among other things, there was this stretch where one of these big trees, which are all red on the inside, had fallen directly onto and along the path, so that everyone had been walking in the trunk, and grinding up the interior...very vividly colored way to go.
Trees cleared out below Taft Point, which sloped upwards beside a huge notch with a waterfall in it...there were fissures running sideways from the notch which you couldn't see till you were right on top of them...one had a great big boulder stuck in it halfway down, and was reminiscent of the Slotbeast illo I did for Flaming Sword. Taft Point itself is this big platform of rock looking out over the main valley, towards Yosemite Falls...decided we'd do that hike the next day.
The rim trail took us back east, in the direction of the Sentinel Dome, through a bunch more great forest, and out onto some other wonderful overlooks, almost as good as Taft, generally with waterfalls on either side of them. Surrendered some altitude, which I always hate, but finally got to the long climb up to the Dome...The dome itself is actually a very nice relaxing ascent, although it looks pretty steep. The top offers maybe the most spectacular view that I've ever seen...Sentinel's very centrally located, and gives you a completely unobstructed 360 degree vista of the entire Yosemite basin and the surrounding mountains and glaciers. Highly recommended.
Drive back to the KOA wasn't as bad that afternoon, since I wasn't as tired, and the oil seemed to be keeping the dust down better on the road construction. Kate and the kids made an excellent dinner, and we went for a swim in the pool...good night's sleep.
The following day, we went to Bridalveil falls, and climbed up the wet boulders beside the stream that comes down...got right to the pool where the waterfall lands. Sun hadn't quite cleared the clifftop, but it was blazing in the mist...quite an effect.
Had lunch in the meadow below El Capitan, then went down by the river...Jason had to leave after that, and he took his Jeep and skeedaddled, back to El Segundo. As I said, we'd decided to do the Yosemite Falls hike, but I'd miscalculated...the trip to the top and back is actually an eight-hour slog trip, according to the literature, but I'd thought it was only five, since i was looking at the lower Yosemite falls hike. Thing turned out to be the longest toughest hike we'd ever done on one these western trips (though not much compared to the stuff my son Pat was doing in the Himalayas). There were a whole lot of very steep switchbacks, and the trail was paved with these tilting rocks all covered slippery sand, treacherous to walk on. I found it all downright unpleasant, although the views were grand.
Got to the first overlook, which was sensational, but we decided to push on.Didn't look that far to the rim, but distances on these things nearly always fake you out. Once it became clear it was going to be a real beast, I let Pat, Nick and Soph advance at their own pace, to see if they could make it to the top before we lost our light...Me and the other pokier members of our party followed in disgrace, dropping out one by one. I got to within three hundred feet of the rim before I hit my turnback time, then started down. Those slanting rocks were all tilting downhill now, and that sand was very slippery, and I fell several times...wished I'd had birkenstocks. Got almost all the way down before Pat, Nick and Soph caught up with me...we caught up with everybody else right at the bottom of the trail. Actually, we hadn't done that bad...the whole thing lasted five hours, and three of us had actually made it to the top...they reported it wasn't that great, however, and that the best view really had been the lower falls overlook. Oh well. We really earned our dinner.
Last day at Yosemite we went back up to Toulumne. It's bear country...you're supposed to take all your food out of your car and put it in special lockers, but we couldn't fit our cooler in those, and didn't bother...the bear-ravaged cars they show you pictures of are all convertibles, by the way, and we were driving that big Expedition, as I said, and just didn't feel too compelled.
Decided to take the Muir Trail for a while and go up to Elizabeth Lake. Turned out to be pretty confusing...the trails in Yosemite aren't very clearly marked. We'd had a bit of a problem with that the previous day, finding the bottom of the Yosemite falls Trail. Up in Tuolumne, the Muir Trail goes into a camp ground and just kinda dissipates, and even if you ask the pakrs people, they can't give you a very clear idea and apologize. The maps they hand out are just plain inaccurate too...big problems with scale. After some upset, we did manage to find the foot of the Elizabeth lake spur...pretty steep going, but nowhere near as bad the big hike the day before. Went right up to the treeline, almost. The trees started getting stunted and wierd, particularly these pines that come up all cork-screwy and sparse, looking like something from Doctor Seuss. I was exepcting to have some issues with the altitude, since we were about at 10,5000, but didn't. My Daughter Jeannie saw a bear, evidently...as far as other wildlife was concerned, mucho mosquitoes, particularly at the lake. They went right for Jeannie...bugs really like her. She's also good on point when you're going through cactus...attracts all the spines. Anyway, the lake was just as blue as you could possibly ask for, and towered over by the rim of the east wall of Sierras. Lot of little glaciers on the slopes. Rather reminded me of the scene in Flaming Sword where we're introduced to Brother Forty.
Headed back down. Nice quick descent. More trail trouble at the bottom...wound up taking a rather long route back to the car, although we did get to go across the river by two bridges on either side of a big island with a granite dome down the middle of it, and that was pretty cool.
Drove back out of the heights, down into the valley, just caught a sunset at the tunnel overlook. Following day, we headed off on the last leg of our trip, out to Monterrey. Went through the Central Valley, which is not very attractive...if you've ever seen North By Northwest, that scene with Cary Grant getting strafed, which was ostensibly Indiana (Indian doesn't look like that at all) was filmed there. Amazingly, even though you have the Sierras off on your right, and the Diablo Range on the left, you can't see either for most of the ride. However, the road heads off Diablo-wards towards the end, and the landscape gets vastly most interesting, with preposterously round, surreal, lion-colored California hills, dotted with round dark green trees. Road goes through a vast reservoir-recreation area that looked like a lot of fun...then we came down into the Gilmore area, where they grow such much garlic that the whole place smells like an Italian restaurant. Crossed the coastal range after that, and rolled down into the Monterrey area...big change in climate. At least in mid-July, there's this permanent bar of long-hanging cloud about halfway down the western slopes of the mountain, extending well out to sea...doesn't quite obscure the sunlight, but it gives it this odd (at least to me) filtered blue-grey quality. Everything gets bleary and starts to look like Vertigo or The Birds.
Had reservations at a huge swanky KOA in Santa Cruz, which was absolutely packed and full of kids riding various sorts of colorful little kid vehicles...Campground even had its own theater, which was playing Lilo and Stitch, the last good 2D Disney cartoon. Got ourselves installed in in our camping cabins, then hopped back in the car and spent the rest of the day at Point Lobos.
PL, in case you haven't heard of it, is a fabulous state park located south of Carmel, across the bay, right at the top of the big Sur area...the Coastal Highway, which I highly recommend, goes right by it. Anyway, the park is about five or six square miles of the best stuff ever....groves of achingly beautiful coastal cypresses, wonderful rock formations, tidal pools teeming with urchins, anenomes, colorful huge starfish, nifty crabs...there are seals on the rocks, and whales out in the bay...we saw a couple of cetaceans (maybe blue whales, since it was the wrong season for greys) just lolling at the surface and blowing. The spouts were so big that it looked as though someone were shooting artillery at the big guys, although we knew better.
Shopped at a Ralph's north of Monterrey...the evening was cold and very damp. Woke up with stuff clicking in my lungs...much as I love the area, I think the climate doesn't agree with me...worried as I was about the lack of air in Yosemite, it was the Big Sur stuff that actually made me uncomfortable. Wasn't just me...my son Pat, Himalaya boy (also know to his Indian buds as Jungle Ka Raja), also came away with a cold.
I wasn't too incapacitated, though. Recovered sufficiently to enjoy an excellent day heading south on the Coastal Highway. Got to the Bixby bridge (you see it lots of car commercials), and hung a left onto a dirt road up into the Los Padres National Forest...if you ever find yourself at the Bixby Bridge, take that damn road. Gigantic mossy coastal redwoods rising up out of the lushest ferns imaginable, sunlight shafts slanting down through the trees...the hills look like regular tawny california stuff from the west, but once you get in behind them, it's a Tolkienesque hallucination. Makes you realize how inadequate most of the NZ forest locations in the LOTR movies were.
Got back on the highway, headed for the state campground at San Simeon. Stopped at the Elephant seal beach north of there...those seals are very bizarre creatures. Enormous, bloby, boneless-looking...rather remind one of sights at a Science-Fiction convention. Anyway, the seals are always emitting these wierd honking noises and flipping sand over themselves, for no reason that anyone can fathom, apparently...when they crawl about, their movements are indescribable, so I won't describe them. They look horribly out of shape and extremely lazy, although...turns out they're these really bad-ass deep-sea hunters. Once they're in the water, they descend to five thousand feet looking for big ole squids...they go deeper than any mammals except Sperm Whales, I guess.
Saw the Hearst castle up on a hill, didn't get up there...got set up at the State park. Excellent place. Has its own beach access, and a river full of frogs (actual frogs, no Frenchies) to provide a soundtrack during the night. Largely Hispanic crowd there...whole clans arranged around big firepits. They get loads and loads of firewood and start burning it midway through the afternoon, with the old folks bundled up in blankets around the concrete-sleeve firepits. Big cowboy-hatted Mex dude named Ed told us where to do our shopping, at a weird resort down called Cambria...it's located in a valley just off the highway, and it's pretty twee and gingerbready and full of Grandmas' kitchens and antique stores. Supermarket was called the Cookie Crock, and we'd never have known it was a supermarket and not a cookie store if Ed hadn't told us. Anyway, we loaded up on food, then went down to the beach to watch the sunset. Lotta washed up kelp, including the big root-bulbs with the long tubey tentacley stems attached. Very good for swinging around your head at your offspring, or splattering against rocks, as the bulbs are full of fluid. Sunset was most spectacular, although we didn't see the sun plunge right down into the pacific...that bar of cloud had crept down from the mountains and was hanging offshore, so we had to settle for the sun going down blazing into that. It still lit the sea up considerable, however...the waves were burnished real bright, and it was eminently diggable.
Got back, ate dinner, and had our last campfire of the trip, bundled up in blankets like Mexican grannies. Lots of good conversation. Went through a big damn load of firewood, didn't go to bed till after two, listening to those froggies, who were really whooping it up.
Hopped in the car for the last leg...really enjoyed the ocean, although I wasn't sad to get away from that dank sea air. Things got warmer farther south, although Southern Cali remained pretty overcast. Got to Jason's, which, being in El Segundo, is right near LAX...we went down to the water to kill some time, went from El down to Manhattan, which has a lot of fabulous houses down by the boardwalk, all of them very different, in all sorts of motifs, some of them wacky (Felix the Cat statues), some very nice. Soph and Jason saw us off at the airport. Our flight was late...we had weird pizza at Wolfgang Pucks...I took some melatonin and crashed at the gate, then got on the plane later and took some more. Had just about the nicest airline-sleep I've ever had...woke up in Baltimore, and it was already the next day....drove home and slept some more, feeling most entertained but quite trashed by my adventures...