It had been over a year since Denis and I had done any serious traveling, so a few months back we thought it was time to start planning a road trip. We mutually agreed that we'd had blinders on-- only considering the UK for any longer trips when there's plenty of this country that Denis has yet to see. I've been in about forty states myself, but there's still a lot left for me to see, too. Which is why we chose California as our destination.
All we have to do is drive a few miles south here in Phoenix, get on Interstate 10 and head northwest. Denis had paid his $10 for a lifetime pass that would get us in free to any national park in the country. (Yes, there can be benefits to getting older, you young whippersnappers.) I packed the suitcase, drinks, Kindles, and knitting, and loaded up the Jeep. All I had to do was wait for Denis to wake up so we could hit the road. (Denis had worked until 5 AM, so he definitely needed a few hours of sleep before starting out.)
============Before we really get started, just let me tell you that if you want to see any of the photos in more detail, just left click on any one of them, and they'll open full-size in a new window. Let's get this show on the road!
The hotel for our first night was somewhere in Banning, so 'round about Indio, we decided to stop to fill the gas tank and get something to eat. That way we could drive straight to the hotel, find our room and crash. We only wanted sandwiches, and we ate out in the parking lot. Sounds rather uncouth, but we did get to see the sun set over the mountains, which we wouldn't have done inside the restaurant.
|The sun sets over the mountains in Indio, California.|
The last time I'd been in Los Angeles was back in late 1980s/early 1990s when the term "road rage" was first coined out there. I was there for work, and I survived those two weeks because I stayed off the freeways during what little time I had free. The only change that had occurred during the intervening years was that there was even more traffic. Los Angeles is such a monster that you begin being drawn into its maw when you're still one hundred miles away. Not my kind of place. And I developed a serious dislike for a particular section of I-215. But... it seems that we brought some rain with us to parched southern California.
|The rain in LA stays mainly on the....|
Once we got off the I-215, it was back into the sun and into a seemingly endless round of fields as we made our way to Fresno. Almond groves. Pistachio groves. Olive groves. And vineyards! I lost track of how many different crops we saw, and this is probably the time to let you in on a little secret: I may have been born and raised in farm country, but I find driving through field after field excessively boring. There's only so many crop comments you can make before you need a change of scene. Well, at least I do. Thankfully we finally started working our way up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains and on into the clouds. We were going to drive through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks before going to our hotel in Fresno. We wanted to commune with the redwoods!
(If any of you are keeping score, our $10 senior pass meant we didn't have to pay the $30 vehicle fee to get into these national parks. We'd already saved $20.)
|Heading up into the clouds to see the redwoods.|
I had deliberately timed this trip to miss most of the tourists. I knew we would be traveling on some high altitude roads with very serious twists and turns, and I didn't want us to be continuously caught behind some scared-stiff flatlander. As we climbed higher, Denis and I both began to enjoy the cool, pine-scented air, all the trees, and even some fall color. I may love the desert with a passion, but I do enjoy seeing trees and green once in a blue moon.
|Some fall color in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.|
But once I started seeing cinnamon-colored bark on very large trees, I started thinking about my first sight of redwoods when I was ten years old, and I forgot all about fall color.
|Redwoods up ahead!|
|I'd never tire of seeing redwoods!|
I did spend a few minutes looking through the booklet and map that we'd been given at the park entrance, and I was surprised to see that Sequoia National Park is the second oldest in the country. Some people with foresight knew that, if nothing was done, all these magnificent trees-- the largest trees in the entire world-- would be chopped down for lumber. They needed to be saved, and thankfully they were.
Of course, you simply cannot drive through these two parks without stopping to say hello to at least one of the stars of the forest-- like General Sherman.
|Meet General Sherman.|
The trail down to General Sherman descends over 200 feet. Going down isn't that much of a problem. It's the going back up that has your tongue hanging out of your mouth. There are plenty of benches along the way for people to stop and catch their breath (and commune with those glorious, mystical, mythical trees).
General Sherman used to be both the tallest and the biggest tree in the world. Now it's only the biggest due to toppling removing some of its height. I was amazed to read that these huge trees have a shallow root system-- no taproots-- so most of them die due to toppling rather than to disease.
And remember what I said about driving up into the clouds? They caught up with us.
|The clouds and mist begin moving in.|
We spent three nights in Fresno, and one of the days was a day for sleeping late and not doing much of anything. It was a vacation, right? We did find a really nice shopping area in town. Denis wanted a heating pad for his aching shoulder, so while he went to the Super Target there, I walked to Michael's and headed right for the yarn. When we were done boosting the Fresno economy and trying to make our way back to the street, I also noticed that this shopping area also contained a movie theater, Home Depot, Costco, and Jo-Ann's Fabrics among many other places. A total shopping experience. Jo-Ann's? I could've purchased more yarn! Waaah!
After our "slug day," we headed for Yosemite National Park on a road which was closed a week later due to an avalanche of huge boulders. (That senior pass of ours saved us another $30 for you accountants out there.)
|A small boulder at Yosemite.|
Once past the entrance to the park, we drove through two huge boulders leaning on each other, forming an upside down V. I had my mouth hanging open in awe instead of grabbing my camera for a photo.
|Soaking up more "cool and green and shady."|
|Yosemite National Park|
|I think there's a WOW up ahead....|
We were in one of the most scenic places on the planet: Yosemite Valley. First, we stopped to see Bridal Veil Falls, which reminded me that there's also a Bridal Veil Falls in Utah on the way to Robert Redford's ski resort.
|Bridal Veil Falls|
And then it was on to see El Capitan (left), Half Dome (background), and the Falls (in the shadows, right side in the middle).
The National Park Service has had to put up explanatory signs for the constant questions about all the dead trees. Denis and I needed no explanation. Arizona has been in a severe drought longer than California. Having driven through our own forests, we didn't need to be told about Ponderosa pines killed by drought and bark beetles. But seeing it here in such an iconic place made our hearts hurt.
After our three nights in Fresno, it was on to Lake Tahoe for another three nights. Like the redwoods, Lake Tahoe is another place that I was thrilled to see when I was ten years old. I was just as thrilled to see it the second time around.
The Sierra Nevada Mountains are one of my favorite mountain ranges. (Yes, I grew up a flatlander, but my soul never belonged there.) This mountain range has several places in which it never loses all its snow, and Tahoe had recently had a storm that did some snowcap touch-ups. This lake is a dazzling cobalt gem surrounded by high mountain peaks and heart-stopping skies. If I lived here, I could never take the scenery for granted.
|Lake Tahoe is perfect for all sorts of sports enthusiasts.|
|Sand Harbor, Lake Tahoe|
The water in Lake Tahoe is crystal clear down to a depth of seventy feet. When I was there at the age of ten, it was clear down past one hundred feet. I wouldn't be at all surprised if seeing Lake Tahoe all those years ago is the reason why blue is my favorite color.
Now I'm going to skip a couple of days in my vacation narrative because Denis and I visited a place that deserves its own separate post. Let's skip to when we were headed back to Arizona and stopped off at a very windy-- and very scenic-- overlook at Mono Lake. As I stood there getting my hair whipped all over my head, I kept thinking... Mono Lake... Mono Lake... why is that ringing such a bell? When we got to our hotel room that evening, I did a tiny bit of research. I went to see James Rollins at The Poisoned Pen when he was there to talk about his book The Sixth Extinction. Where did Rollins do some of his research for the book? You guessed it-- Mono Lake.
|Mono Lake in the distance|
People who stop at this scenic overlook seem to like to leave their mark behind in the form of stickers.
|Mono Lake mementos|
This entire section of California is a bit out of this world. Another one-hundred-plus miles from the Mono Lake area is Death Valley National Park, which we didn't get to see this trip. You're also a turn-off away from the oldest trees in the world: the bristlecone pines.
We spent the night in Ridgecrest, and when we got back on the road the next morning, it took me a while to realize that we had an extra passenger. Sunshine found the perfect angle to show me many delicate strands of spider web across the inside of the windshield-- and the little creature that had worked so hard all night long to make them. The first thought in my head was about the tiny spider finding its way into the Jeep thinking, "Hot damn! I'm going to winter in Arizona!" (It would've been better for its plans to have made that web in the back window....)
Once again when we were pulled back into the orbit of Los Angeles on our way home to Phoenix, we brought rain. This time it was more extensive and lasted till we were in the Palm Springs area. I could've shared a photo of my "favorite" stretch of freeway-- the I-215-- when it was raining, bumper to bumper, and stopped because everyone on our side of the freeway was slowing down to take a look at a one-car accident on the other side of the freeway, but that behavior just plain drives me nuts. Me? I glance over, say "Godspeed," and keep moving. Instead of that shot I refused to take, I'll show you a bit of rain and a brief look at the huge wind farm in the Palm Springs area.
|The State of California may want to hire us as rainmakers.|
|I-10 and the wind farms of Palm Desert.|
I've seen wind farms here and in the UK, but I've never seen one as large as the one in the Palm Springs area. Those things were everywhere! We first saw them in the dead of night driving to our first stop on our trip. Then all we could see were lines of blinking red Christmas lights. Well, at least they looked like Christmas lights until we got closer and could actually see the ghostly turning of those huge white blades!
This concludes this segment of our vacation photos. Next week, I'll show you what was probably my favorite stop in the whole trip!