The California central valley is interesting. The area around Merced and where we were headed, Madera, is solid agriculture. Many of the fields are beautiful, and grapes are big here. I'm guessing these are table grapes.
Another field, however, has been fussed over much more. The grapes are planted on an overhead trellis and appear to be white grapes for wine, possibly chardonnay. The overhead thing looks MUCH easier to harvest.
The sun shining through them is beautiful, the grapes practically glow.
Further on we get to the town of Madera, which looks for all the world like time stopped somewhere in the late 40's or early 50's. Pardon the through-the-windshield shot of the drive-in.
I loved this place, the sign was awesome. Sadly, looking at their Facebook page, the sign no longer lights fully, nor does the neon edging the roofline.
Madera is lovely though, and loaded with trees. As we drive towards Oakhurst we see lots of political signs, including one for Jay Varney, a sheriff's office candidate, which uses a Glock handgun in place of the letter 'J' in his name.
Stay classy, California.
As we get to Oakhurst, a small town near the Mariposa Redwood Grove, the scenery begins to change, mixing pines in with the trees. The kid can't stop taking pictures through the windshield and is getting very excited. I hope that I haven't talked Yosemite up too much to her, but then I realize that is impossible.
We get to Oakhurst and wander about a bit. It's a cute town, but small and a bit squeezed-together to handle all the tourists, things tend to clog in the few blocks.
At first I thought that the dogs in Oakhurst must be pretty damned tough to be able to take being run through a car wash, then I see the small shed and realize that's where the dog wash is.
We stopped at the 41 Trading Post, where they had a dizzying selection of beads and other craft stuff--I could see that they cater to a lot of the tribal trade, all kinds of stuff for making jingle dresses and other regalia. Also the requisite tourist crap, which is always fun.
We had a bit of trouble finding the Oakhurst Talking Bear--he was behind several political banners and well hidden.
The Talking Bear is a tourist attraction in front of a realty office--press the button on the pole behind him and he starts spouting all kinds of bear factoids. He is nice and loud and easily heard, despite the traffic on the highway...but a bit long winded. Lord, he went on forever.
After saying goodbye to the bear we pick up a couple of Subway sandwiches and take them along for a picnic in Yosemite. As we drove we saw some evidence of the Rim Fire of last August, plus a few others. The south and west side of Yosemite was again being plagued by fires right now, too.
Along the way the kid took more windshield pics. "Wow, these are some BIG trees!" she says.
I grinned quietly and said, "Just wait."
Finally we entered the south end of Yosemite, yelling and cheering like complete idiots. We found ourselves a pretty little picnic spot just shy of the Mariposa Grove for lunch.
I asked the kid, "Are you excited to be in Yosemite?"
I got this in response:
Yeah, well...me too. Just sitting there eating our lunch we had all kinds of beautiful scenery to enjoy.
Red Manzanita branches twisting at the base of the trees.
While we were eating I got out some of my new origami models, some leaves I'd folded especially for Yosemite. I'd carefully sorted and prepared everything last night in the hotel room before I went to bed, so I had them all ready.
I swear, if I had sat for hours and deliberately tangled all of those damned things and tied them into knots I couldn't have done a better job. My heart sank as I realized after a few minutes of trying to untangle them that it was hopeless--I even tried sacrificing a few and cutting them out of the mess, but it was no good. I ended up with only a couple of the leaf models that I could use--the rest came home with us to be repaired there.
So much for grand plans. Onward to the Mariposa Redwood Grove we went...along with about 30 billion other people. We had planned to take the tram ride they offer, as the long hike through the grove was too much for me. But there were so many people waiting we knew we'd never make it and be able to see the rest of the park. It was a torturous decision to make, but we had to.
The trees we did see were impressive, and I promised the kid we'd be back another day to see the grove properly when it was less crowded.
In the parking lot for the grove, this lady had ignored the signs, hopped the fence and was quietly and reverently hugging one of the redwoods.
When I had originally planned this trip and realized that Yosemite was going to be part of it, I knew that since my kid was a first timer, I owed it to her for her to be able to get her first glimpse of Yosemite in the best way possible--via the Wawona Tunnel view. As we snaked along highway 41, I told her we'd be passing through some tunnels, and her first look at Yosemite would be at the exit of one of them.
Some trees had either burned or had been cleared at one little point before the tunnel though, and suddenly as I came around a curve we got a quick glimpse of what lay ahead.
"HALF DOME, HALF DOME!" We both shrieked and squealed at the same time. We're both grinning too much to be embarassed.
Then the tunnel.
The kid is bouncing in her seat, she's spotted the parking lot. "Can we stop? Can we stop?"
Of course, I tell her. We park and get out, joining the crowd, who all wear the same goofy smiles as we do. I see more than a few people doing the same thing I am--gazing quietly and wiping away tears. I've missed this place dreadfully.
Sadly, all of the waterfalls are dry because of the drought. The waterfalls are a huge part of Yosemite, and I've never seen it to the point of even Bridalveil and Yosemite Falls being dry, it's jarring.
In the viewing area is a neato little bronze marker, a topo map of the valley we see before you. Several kids are staring at it, not really getting it--so I show them how to use it.
The X marks where we are standing, just having come through the tunnel. The valley and the roads through it are there in front of you...
...and if you hunker down and get at the right level, the map mimics the landscape before you!
Onward into the valley we went!
We stopped at the parking lot for Bridalveil, even though we knew what we'd see.
Down in the valley floor, even though everything was dry and there was a pervasive smoky haze, it was still as beautiful as ever. Weirdly, we see no climbers on any of the rock faces today thoughout the valley.
We stopped at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, which opened in 1927, to gawk at the place. Most of my photos of the interior didn't come out, but there are good ones on their site. The place is gorgeous.
The fireplace is tall enough to walk into.
They even had a 'Don't be a dick in the Ahwahnee' plaque for those not able to remember to be decent human beings on their own.
The back of the hotel--this is the view you have when you awake in the morning and open your curtains.
As we leave the Ahwahnee parking lot we see our first climber--and he's staring at a group of large boulders, making gestures and planning his handholds. The kid waves at him and off we go. The shadows are getting long and we still have a lot of road to cover, it's time to say goodbye. After this we start the long climb up Highway 120 out of the valley.
As we go we see many of the 'Red Bear = Dead Bear' signs--yellow caution signs with a picture of a bear in red, placed alongside the road where a bear has recently been struck and killed. They are good reminders for people to slow down, although I can't imagine anyone speeding through Yosemite. The few people we do see tearing through the valley get a muttered, 'Wow, how does it feel to have no soul?' from me.
As we make the long haul up and out of the valley we spot yet another fire.
It all just gets to be too much once in a while.
Now it's starting to get dark, and up ahead of us we see tons of thunderheads building, so we know what we're in for. We stop to stretch our leg at the Tioga Pass Resort, a cool little place high up at almost 9500 feet, famous for their pies and as a warming-up spot for hikers.
A bit further on we pull over by Ellery Lake, where parking is limited. I see the only open spot and pull up to it at the same time as a guy in a pickup. I'm a native Californian, and I've had to fight for parking spaces before.
It's time to throw down.
We stare at each other.
Our eyes narrow.
We both know what we must do, and our hands come up as one.
We claim our parking space with a smile and a wave and the guy goes off grinning. We only stay a few minutes and then head out, the weather is really moving in.
At Lee Vining we stop for a minute and watch the thunderstorm attacking the other side of the lake, the lightning show is amazing. There's no sense in delaying, so we head into it. Thankfully we again seem to be a few steps behind the weather, and while the rest of the way home everything is wet, we miss out on getting stormed on.
Finally we make it home, in time for a quick sleep before the fence guys show up tomorrow!