Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Yosemite National Park

I recently took advantage of a three day weekend (for some people -- Veteran's Day) to spend some time in Northern California with one of my good friends, Shannon.  Little did I know the "relaxing" weekend away was going to turn into us being on the go the entire time, literally running on several occasions, and driving over 900 miles in 3 days...and I loved every second of it!

It started out with a half day of vacation on Friday and a looong non-stop flight from KC to Oakland.  They sent us way north of the usual route to get around the storms in the Rockies...  Thank goodness for wifi on the plane.  I spent way too much time texting people from the air.  :)

As soon as I landed in Oakland and made it outside, I immediately questioned my decision to live in Kansas.  Ha - happens every time I go to California.  The warm weather is just irresistible!

I had rented a car because I knew we were going to be doing some driving - to Yosemite at least - and it was super cheap.  No point in putting extra miles and wear/tear on Shannon's new car when we could get a full-size for $15 a day!  So just outside the airport, I hopped on the shuttle bus to the rental car place.  I sat right by the door so I could rush out first and beat everyone -- since we were already going to be late for Shannon's mom's birthday dinner.  As I was studying the map of the rental car companies locations, I realized my company, Payless, wasn't even up there!  What the....    So I called them, and no one picked up, but a recording came on and said to use the free phone outside the rental car facility once you got there and they would come get you.  UUGGHH.  Another shuttle to another place?  I wasn't happy.  Get what you pay for I guess?? 

So I called them twice and couldn't get anyone.  Finally a guy working at the rental facility felt bad for me and kept calling...and eventually got someone to pick up and come get me.  The Payless place - which was a warehouse - was literally about two blocks away.  I think I could have walked it faster.  Anyways, I got the car as quickly as I could and set out to meet Shannon at her apartment in San Leandro....aka the ghetto, as she calls it.  She made me promise to come straight there and not stop along the way - for my own safety, haha!

My phone was almost dead, and I was short on data for the month, so I was trying to navigate with my printed off map and directions.  It wasn't happening.  After two u-turns, I turned on my phone and typed in her address.  How in the world did we manage to do anything before iPhones??

Despite the stand still traffic, it really didn't take me too long to get to her apartment complex just two exits away off the 880.  Right as I was turning in to what I was pretty sure was her phone died.  Like, completely shut off.  I had a moment of panic when I realized if I wasn't at the right spot, I was completely screwed.  Then I looked up and saw her in her car at the entrance waiting on me.  Oh thank goodness...  

So I parked the rental in her spot, and Ryan (her boyfriend) and I hopped in with her to race across San Fran to hour late.  After weaving in and out of lots of super slow traffic, we pulled up to Fleming's Steakhouse in Walnut Creek and let the valet take care of the car.  Luckily, we weren't the last ones there for the celebration.  One of her sisters showed up shortly after we did, so I didn't feel quite as bad.  Everyone else was sitting around drinking wine, so I don't think they minded.

                                                       The wine list was on iPad's!

The restaurant was really fancy, which meant expensive, too!  No one seemed to care, so I ordered the salmon and a side salad...and some mac 'n cheese.  The mac 'n cheese was a family style "side" and we ordered about 6 different things.  That one was just my request.

I really lucked out with it being Shannon's mom's birthday.  I had recently bought some bear bathroom decorations for their house in Tahoe that I always stay at.  She loves all that stuff, and so do I, so when I saw it at Sears one day, I knew I had to get it.  Shannon said they only way I could was if I brought it out there - no mailing it.  So I packed it all up and brought it on the plane with me, along with some KC bbq sauce for her dad as a little "thank you" for letting me stay there so many times.  So I used it as an impromptu Happy Birthday + Thank You gift!  I was so excited to give it to her and couldn't wait until after dinner, so once we ordered our food, she opened up the nicely wrapped gift...and by nicely wrapped I mean it was still in the Sears bag.  She loved it all: shower curtain, shower curtain rings, a bath mat, and two towels! 

I didn't get a picture of her going through it, so I had Shannon hold it up for one :)
I was SO hungry by the time the food came.  It was probably close to 8pm there - which felt like 10pm to me!  I had already had way too much bread and butter, but I was really ready for the main course.  And it didn't disappoint.  Every single bite of everything I had there (I tried a couple peoples meals) was just absolutely delicious.  I'm talking top 5 meals I've ever had for sure.  That place was no joke!

my salmon - which I split with Shannon for half of her chicken
Even though I was stuffed before I even finished all the food on my plate, we had to have dessert!  Shannon's sister is a baker and she made these ridiculous cupcakes with carmel in the middle.  THEN the manager of the restaurant, who knows the family, brought out 3 or 4 desserts to try!  Carrot cake, cheesecake, chocolate truffles...ugh.  I had to stop before I threw up, but Shannon and I made sure to get the carrot cake in a to go box for the weekend!

Cupcakes and carrot cake.... so much for eating healthy!

After dinner, I got a few pictures of the whole family -- or tried to.  The parking garage probably wasn't the best idea, but at least they have a picture with everyone looking, I guess.  

As we were all getting ready to leave - waiting on the valet guy to bring our cars - Shannon's sisters car died right in the middle of the parking garage.  It was completely out of gas!!  We all died laughing.  They knew it was low, but they were in a hurry and thought they could make it.  Apparently not!  We had to take her to a nearby gas station to buy a gas can and some gas to get them out of the garage.  It was all too funny.

Pushing the car out of the way until we could get gas

 Once we finally got on the road, Shannon took me to a few places to see the city from afar.  We drover over the brand new Bay Bridge and stopped at Treasure Island for a pretty cool view.

I was completely exhausted by the time we got home, and since we planned on getting up super early on Saturday to hit the road to Yosemite, we all went to bed.

Alarms went off at 6am and I was ready to go!  Felt like sleeping in until 8am to me!  But I about had a heart attack when I looked at my phone and realized it had hardly charged last night.  I had around 20% battery life for the day - which was absolutely NOT going to cut it.  Once I found out Ryan had a car charger adapter, I calmed down, threw on my clothes, made fruit smoothies for everyone - like 6 of them actually - and we were on the road before 7am!

(That's a lot of smoothie...)

(and the outside of her orange tin apartment)
It really wasn't a bad drive from Oakland to Yosemite.  Maybe 3 hours?  And of course we talked the whole way so it went quick.  For us girls anyways.  Ryan probably wanted to shoot himself.  (The only bad news of the morning was my cord to charge my phone decided to quite working.  Which meant I had very limited charge.  Airplane mode went on to make sure I could at least take some pictures!)

It was a perfect fall day - cool air, blue skies and sunshine.  The closer we got, the more beautiful the scenery was.  And the more excited I was.  I had no idea this much beauty was so close!  I mean, 3 hours from the city and you are in a gorgeous national park.  I can't believe I hadn't ever been there before.  Especially when I lived so close (in Tahoe)!

The big fires this summer had destroyed a lot of the surrounding land, which was sad to see, but somehow, Yosemite was basically untouched.  It was just across the road where giant trees were burned down!

(You can really see the fire damage in these bottom two pictures)

They sprayed some sort of green fire retardant all
over the trees to keep them from burning!
 I almost jumped out of the still moving car when I saw the big YOSEMITE sign!  Definitely time for a photo...or four.

As we kept driving towards the entrance gate, it donned on me that we had to actually pay to get in to the park...and I didn't have any cash.  Lucky for us, due to the Veteran's Day holiday, they were letting everyone in for free that day!  SCORE!  Ryan was nice and donated $5 to whatever cause it was they were supporting -- I think something to send kids to national parks for free.  

The guy who stopped to talk to us and give us maps was so excited for me when he found it it was my first visit!  I mean, almost as excited as I was, ha.  He was so cute! :)

Once inside the park, I just could not believe my eyes.  Seriously.  Every corner we turned just blew me away!  How had I not known about this place!?  I hollered for Shannon to stop about every 5 seconds, and they laughed every time -- knowing that if I thought this was nice that I would die when I saw the really beautiful spots the park had to offer - El Capitan, Half Dome, the waterfalls, etc.  But they still played along and let me jump out to photograph all the little streams and trees along the way to Yosemite Valley. :)


Gorgeous blue skies.  We couldn't of asked for more perfect temps/weather.

                                                         Shannon definitely found the biggest leaf of the day!

I remember coming around one curve in particular and just gasping when I saw this in front of us:


Seriously.  Look at that blue sky.  I didn't even edit any of these pictures!

And after walking a little further down from the road, we found this beautiful spot.  Just ridiculous.  I think I'm going to have to print / frame some of these!


We didn't have much of an actual game plan for the day, but I did have a list of about 37 things I wanted to see / do in the 8 hours of daylight we had left.  In all reality, I was already so thrilled with what I had seen in the first stop that I said I could go back home and still be happy with the days trip.  So after looking at the map and narrowing the list down, we decided to start out with a hike up to Vernal Falls (Mirror Lake got ruled out), followed by a stop for lunch.

Shannon and Ryan had each done this hike on separate occasions, and assured me it was just an easy couple of mile hike.  I was already a little skeptical of that once we pulled up and we were just about the only ones without a backpack, water bottle, and/or walking stick...  

Oh well, we set off anyways, and somehow managed to lose the trail in the first 2 minutes.  Insert an impromptu water crossing to meet back up with it, and that's my kind of hiking! ;)

Left:  the start of the trail
Right:  the crystal clear water we ended up on the wrong side of

Shannon:  Are you serious?  We have to cross that??

I love this picture - the sun rays are just awesome!

                                                                      Just gorgeous...

Once we got on the actual trail, it didn't take me long to realize that this was not "just an easy hike."  I'm in pretty good shape, and I literally thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest after about 5 minutes of walking up the steep incline.  What the... !?


Break #1 -- just a few minutes in and we were all panting!

We continued to hike up...and continued to stop every few minutes so we didn't pass out.  The views were breathtaking, with a new mountain or waterfall around each turn.  I took an absurd amount of pictures (ie 550 in 2.5 days).  See for yourself. ;)


"While we're taking a break, let's look at some of these amazing pictures!"

(A bad-ass couple hiking with babies on their backs took these for us)


Taking another break...

Our first view of the waterfall that we hiked to the top of

We continued on-ward and up-ward.  The trail got so steep at one point I literally felt like I was crawling up!  After a few more breaks, we took a turn and walked up some very narrow steps (with a guard-rail) that looked straight down on to the water below!

Thew view from the top was pretty spectacular.  And it was HOT up there!  People were laying out sunbathing!  We walked over to the edge of the guard rail and got pretty close to where the waterfall pours over the rocks.  (The view of the actual waterfall was better from down below, of course.)  




A little further back and away from all the people, we walked over some logs and rocks and found a nice calm spot to rest and enjoy the scenery.  And Ryan proceeded to take a bath in the ice cold water to cool off.  He's crazy!



The walk back down was honestly almost worse than the walk up! My knees are getting bad in my old age...especially since that stupid marathon.  They haven't been the same since.  So instead of taking breaks from being out of breath, I was taking breaks to rub my knees!  It actually felt better / less impact to just lightly jog down the steeps parts of the mountain.  Ryan agreed.  So much to Shannon's dismay, we ran most of the way back.  And once we got down and realized how much time it had taken us to get there and back, we kept running to get to the car.  Too much to do.  Not enough time!  Shannon's comment was, "I knew  we were going to be running through Yosemite at some point!"  We have a running joke about how fast I walk...but she was right, this was actually running!


Too hot for a shirt??

 Once we made it back down to the car, we decided to cut out Mirror Lake and just go get some food.  It was around 2pm and we were all past ready to eat!  First stop was a little market, but more like a gift shop + grocery store.  Somehow I walked out of there with $96 less money in my account and no food!  A t-shirt, blanket, Christmas ornament, and picture frame should not  cost $96, but I guess that's what you get when you're at the only store in Yosemite!

A couple of my over-priced purchases.

 We were on our way to our next stop - FOOD followed by Glacier Point - when Shannon turned around to show me the famous Ahwahnee Hotel.  It was pretty awesome and really showcased all the natural beauty it was set in.  Too bad it's also ridiculously epensive. ;)


L:  outside view                              R: one giant fireplace

The main dining hall at Ahwahnee Hotel
Since we still hadn't eaten anything, our next stop was the closest cafeteria we could find.  The food was - you guessed it - mediocre at best and overpriced.  And the old guy messed up our orders, so after an argument with the guy at the cash register, we still paid $3.50 for some fries we didn't even want!  Shannon and I each had a teriyaki turkey burger.  I choked mine down.  She couldn't stomach hers.  At least the view outside was nice!

We didn't sit around long.  We knew we were cutting it short on daylight, so we high tailed it up to Glacier Point for another amazing view.  Along the way, we saw a car abruptly pull over on front of us.  As I looked to the side of the road, I saw a pretty big black bear full-on sprinting across a ridge!  I screamed so loud that poor Shannon almost wrecked!  I didn't even wait for the car to come to a complete stop.  I was out the door and on the run to chase him.  Maybe not my brightest idea, but he was on the other side of a small creek.  Although I never got a picture of him, I definitely saw him running, Shannon saw him cross the water, and then I saw him crawl behind a large tree and some rocks.  We stood in the same spot quiet...watching...and we never saw him come back out.  Either way, pretty awesome that I got to see one!  And on top of that, the spot we happened to stop in was phenomenal.  No surprise. 


We couldn't get up to Glacier Point for me begging to stop in "just one more spot" for pictures.  The view in this field was gorgeous with El Capitan in the background and a giant fallen tree.  And we even saw a rock climber hanging off the side of the sheer rock thousands of feet above.  I love to rock climb, but those people are on another level of crazy!

                                              (The rock climber is in the middle of the pic on the right)

 We did eventually make it up to Glacier Point for a quick stop.  We ran over the the edge, snapped lots of pics, and jumped back in the car.  The view was amazing, but the pics on my iPhone didn't turn out that great.  We were in the shade and the mountains were still in the sun.  Shannon broke out her big fancy camera for the first time and got some better ones, but I don't have them yet.  



We didn't spend much time there because Ryan promised he had a better viewing spot if we could make it there before sunset.  I was skeptical, but we followed his directions and drove up to the top of the mountain for another "short hike."  I was really hoping this one was easier than the last one he said called that.  The sun was going down quickly -- and it was getting cold.  We grabbed our coats, and after a quick pee break in a disgusting port-a-potty, we set off down the trail.  We were the only ones headed out -- everyone else was just coming back to the parking lot!

TAFT POINT.  Remember that spot if you ever go to Yosemite.

Ryan had just nailed me with a snowball in the pic on the left

Ummm...recent mountain lion spotting?  Are you serious!?


Ryan was right -- on all accounts.  The hike was much shorter and much easier than the last one.  It was mostly flat and only 1.1 miles for the most spectacular views we saw all day.  Seriously.  Just breathtaking.  And to to it off, we got there just in time for the amazing colors of the evening sun.  


(Being up there really makes you feel so small...)




While Shannon and I were standing up on the this viewing point (above) -- secure with a metal railing -- we spotted a cliff not too far away.  We sent Ryan first, and when we saw how cool it looked from where we were, we had to go, too.  The result:  one of the coolest pictures I think I have of me!



The above three pictures - which are un-edited, I might add - are my absolute favorites.  The view was so incredible.  It was quiet and calm and you were just surrounded by natural beauty:  cliffs, trees, a stream down below, and the sun slipping behind the horizon.  It will definitely stay in my memory as one of my favorite moments. 


Once the sun had gone down, we started the hike back - not wanting to do it in the dark.  The colors continued to amaze us the whole way.  Well, until we got in the thick trees and then it was just dark.  Shannon and I started singing to make some noise to keep the mountain lions away.  Really  not interested in seeing one of those out on the trail!

Seriously.  Those clouds.


It was mostly dark by the time we made it back to the car.  But that wasn't stopping us!  We raced - literally - over to the next viewing point for the best place to see Half Dome.  Despite our best efforts (ie Shannon driving crazy on windy roads), we thought we were too late.  Everyone was already heading back in their cars to leave.  But not us!  We ran - again, literally - down the short path to the edge, and while we could still see it, we didn't think the camera would pick it up.  Man were we wrong!  iPhone does not disappoint!!

It definitely was NOT that light out...but technology is amazing!


The picture on the left shows how dark it really was out.  But with a little editing from the iPhone, we got the picture on the right!  Amazing!

The picture on the left is of the lights in the village down below.  


We used the self-timer on Shannon's big camera - propped up against a rock since we were the only crazy people still out there - to get a pretty good picture of the three of us.  Again, I don't have those yet, but it's a keeper!  It took us several comedic tries, but it all worked out just perfectly.  Of course. 

Now you would think we would just call it a day, right?  Well, not quite.  I really wanted to see the giant Sequoia trees!  And since they were pretty  much on the way out of the park -- right by the exit we were taking - we decided to just check it the dark. 

Perfect lighting from the headlights for picture taking, right?


I really had to go to the bathroom by this point, and I knew we weren't going to find a spot for miles since we were about to exit the park.  There were bathrooms nearby, but Shannon convinced me they would be closed and boared up for the winter since most everything else had been in the park.  So I grabbed a kleenex for tp and squatted behind once of these giant, beautiful trees.  I kind of felt bad doing it. And then when we drove off - and by the bathrooms - they were open.  Siiigghhh....

My phone had been on it's last leg for the last few hours.  It was on airplane mode all day because there wasn't any cell service in most of Yosemite and I was trying to conserve the battery for more picture taking.  But it completely died about 30 seconds after we got in the car to call it a day.  What timing!

None of us were that hungry, so we decided to just drive a few hours before stopping for food.  Along the road - out in the middle of nowhere - we saw a stalled car with a woman standing outside, so we pulled over to see if she was okay.  She said something about waiting on a tow truck and that no one would stop for her, so we turned back around to go to the closest hotel a few miles back and ask for jumper cables...even though I knew it wasn't a battery problem.  Well, the lady at the hotel said the husband had already come up there to call for help and that a tow truck was on the way.  What the...?  So we drove back to the car, and her husband was there and almost crawled in the car with us - he was so creepy - and told us that three people had already tried to jump it AND that the Maintenance light had been on for awhile.  Come on, people!  They were so weird and we were regretting stopping, haha.  Needless to say, we left them there to wait on the tow truck.

Anyways, we eventually ended up at a Target about an hour or so out of San Francisco, and got bread, peanut butter, jelly, some cheese, fruit veggies...and an Oakland Raiders t-shirt and a $35 phone charger.

I actually ran back to get non-runny peanut butter right before we checked out so it wouldn't be quite as messy to make a pb&j in the car.  Apparently I didn't look close enough at the jar I grabbed, because it was the runny kind, too!  And stirring it with a plastic spoon from Starbucks was no easy task.  Shannon almost wrecked the car laughing so hard at me, but I got it made with minimal spills and enjoyed my sandwich while they munched on $7 grapes. 

Trying to make a sandwich with runny peanut
butter in a moving car takes some skills...
They were still hungry when we got back to Shannon's neck of the woods, so they called in some salads at their favorite spot.  She always says she lives in the ghetto, and sure enough, there were multiple cop cars on our drive through her neighborhood...


It was a long day -- and a late night by the time we got home after 11pm.  I was exhausted, but we decided to watch some movie about base jumpers when we got home.  Which kept us up until 1am!  What a day...  I think we did more in one day in Yosemite than most people do in three days!  Crazy.

The equally crazy trips to Monterey / Carmel / Big Sur and Napa Valley / Golden Gate Bridge up next...

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