As they say, the people of California may be like a bowl of granola. Fruits, nuts, and a few flakes. In jest of course, that refers to the people of California. We’ve met a number of exceptions, but we did find it interesting that most folks in California do not care to give you the time of day. However, if you are into nature, California is a pretty amazing place. It is home to the lowest place in the western hemisphere (Badwater Basin in Death Valley), but 88 miles away sits Mount Whitney at 14,494 ft, not to mention 11,049ft Telescope Peak which is only 18 miles away AND visible from Badwater Basin! It is home to the oldest known living organism, a Great Basin Bristlecone Pine by the name of Methusela (see Goin’ to California entry). As we were about to discover, California is also home to the most voluminous tree too.
But before we could visit the aforementioned tree, we had some business to attend to. While visiting with the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, we learned from the Forest Service rangers that an alternative energy fair called Kickin’ Off the Grid was happening in Mammoth Lakes, California. Teresa and I had very little information about the event, so we ended up arriving fairly late on Saturday. Unfortunately, we missed the majority of the lectures, but did end up catching a great lecture on solar for heat and electricity by Russ Cartwright from Independent Power Corporation and got a number of questions answered. We learned about the latest green technology used to heat water, homes, and pools as well as the latest in photovoltaics (solar panels used to produce electricity).
Our next stop was Mono Lake, known for it’s bizarre tufa formations. Being part of the hydrologic great basin, water only leaves the lake by evaporation. The lake is far saltier than the ocean, but, as opposed to the Dead Sea, supports a very tight web of life including algae, alkali flies (we saw literally millions scatter out from under our footsteps along the shoreline on our walk), brine shrimp, and birds. For a period of time, Los Angeles was diverting so much water out of the streams, that Mono Lake began to fall significantly, raising the salinity of the water. Thankfully, a deal has been reached to bring the lake back up to a reasonable level… high enough to re-balance the salinity of the waters and sustain the delicate web of life. The tufa forms underwater where an underwater spring rich in calcium meets the salty lake (sodium bicarbonate [baking soda]). This allows tufa towers to grow up to 30 ft underwater. Oddly enough, we would not be enjoying the bizarre tufa formations now if LA hadn’t diverted the fresh water streams because they would be underwater.
We were very surprised when the Forest Ranger at the lake recommended we stop at the Tioga Gas Mart for a gourmet meal at gourmet prices (more info here). So stop we did, and all I can say is… Wow. The first thing that may tip you off that this isn’t your normal gas mart is that you can’t find parking. Then you notice a few other things, like the trapeze, or the band getting set up for the evening, or the huge line of people at the Whoa Nellie Deli. This is a happening’ place!
We were about to head into John Muir’s home country. I suspect many folks outside of California have no idea who John Muir is. In summary, the National Park system probably wouldn’t be quite the same without his efforts. He created the Sierra Club, arguably the world’s most effective grassroots environmental organization. He also fought hard for the creation of Yosemite National Park and other areas including Kings Canyon and the Giant Sequoia groves. He knew all the right people in congress and in the media, and would bring them out to see the amazing country he loved so much. He wrote eloquently on behalf of nature and man’s nature. One of my favorite quotes:
I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.
On to Yosemite National Park, also known to many as paradise. It is incredibly beautiful. Imagine coming out of the somewhat lengthy Wawona a mountain tunnel, and spread out before you is a gorgeous wide U shaped glacial valley with nearly 4000 ft granite cliffs, as well as granite monoliths, and three huge free-fall waterfalls pouring off into the basin. This was my first experience with Yosemite years ago. Unfortunately we also found the largest crowds AND traffic we had ever run into in our travels thus far. Let me just say that folks looking for an escape from the cities will NOT find it at Yosemite. The Yosemite Valley, is, for all practical purposes, a city during the summer, at least with regards to the hoards of people.
We got soaked hiking the Mist Trail which is cut into the rock right next to Vernal Falls, but must have run into at least 400 other people hiking the trail.
We escaped the crowds for a bit by heading over to Hetch Hetchy Valley, a less visited area in the Northwest corner of the park. Hetch Hetchy represents one of John Muir’s lost battles, for in this beautiful valley, sits a portion of San Francisco’s water. The battle actually continues to this day. Regardless, it is still a beautiful area, but one does have to wonder what this looked like back before it was dammed in 1923. We did a nice, hot hike out to a very powerful waterfall, Wapama Falls along the edge of the reservoir.
It was so hot, I decided to slide down a natural waterslide into in some water which has been warmed on the exposed granite on its way down to the pool. It’s fun to act like a child every now and then.
Next, it was off to visit some of the biggest trees in the world, the giant sequoias. Our first grove we visited was the Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park We again ran into large crowds, but still enjoyed looked at the huge trees. We ended up taking a different trail back to the car, which, oddly enough, no one was on.
Business took priority over the next few days. We resupplied in Fresno (including a stop at Trader Joe’s for some 2BC and went off to find a hotel. We needed the hotel so we could have an address to receive documents from the closing company for our land purchase. We first tried out the Rose Motel in Sanger, only to find out that our closing company had closed for the day and we could not provide them an address. To make matters worse, we got to our room and found 2-3 bullet holes in the window and a disconnected smoke detector. Yikes!
We decided to bite the bullet (so to speak) and pay a more per night. We made a reservation at the Squaw Valley Motel, a bit closer to Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park. The motel was very well kept and you can tell someone put a lot of effort into this place. We also met some nice visitors staying at the motel, including a couple from Paris, France. (We got our closing papers too.)
We did a day-trip into the Kings Canyon and hiked along the river and a meadow. We pretty much had the trail to ourselves until we got the waterfall. It was a very nice hike, and a pretty nice canyon… a much better bet if you are looking to escape the city-like atmosphere of Yosemite Valley.
After leaving the motel, we spent a few days in some of the other Sequoia groves, including the Grant Grove and Giant Grove, which included General Sherman, the worlds most voluminous tree.
We hit these areas during a heat wave. Daytime temperatures we in the high 90’s or above… Even the being in the shade at nearly 8000 ft wasn’t terribly comfortable. Teresa and I decided it was time to head North to Napa.
Napa is one of the world’s premiere wine growing regions, and there are some outstanding vintners in the valley. I shot off an e-mail to my cousin-in-law, Ricardo from Long Beach (outside Los Angeles). He sent me back about 2 pages of suggestions! Well, we wouldn’t have time to check out all the wineries he recommended, but we did check out a number of them. Our favorite was Anderson Conn Valley. We had a very personalized tour of their vineyards and wine caves, and enjoyed their outstanding wine.
We also stopped at Beringer (had to do a big one), Frank Family Vineyards, and Chateu Montelena, which had some of the most beautiful winery grounds I’d ever seen, including a little private lake called Jade Lake. We also stopped for lunch at Taylors Refresher in St. Helena before heading out of the valley.
We drove through the bucolic country side of Northern California. Our last California stop was Mt. Shasta, an incredibly beautiful volcanic mountain in Northern California that juts up out of nowhere to 14,162 ft.
We made use of the public library in the cute town of Mt. Shasta to update our website. The folks in Mt. Shasta were incredibly nice. Hmmm… No sign of the aforementioned fruits, nuts, and flakes. Well, except for the place that had an incredible cool “aura” camera.
Tumbleweed say: “California otay.” See ya in Oregon!