Monthly Archives: January 2012

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite National Park is ridiculously huge, so there are many places you could feasibly miss out on during a first trip. But Yosemite Valley shouldn’t be one of them!

It also allows you the chance to wander around and simply look up in awe at the vast rock faces that surround you. Just beautiful.

One afternoon we spent a couple of hours just wandering around the valley region, and first we couldn’t resist another quick peep at the scene from Tunnel View – this time in the afternoon light. Yep, still amazing!

Then we took a walk through the valley to get a closer look at El Capitan. It looks so tiny here! Quite spectacular when you’re faced with it in person though.

And Yosemite Village is also a must – you get to look up and see the most beautiful scenery around here too. Apart from it being the main hub of activity in the park, by way of shops, food holes, etc,  the colors just amazed me – especially as this was only a couple of days after Christmas! I just couldn’t get my head around that, and felt conflicted about whether or not I should be thanking global warming!

And I just loved the historic Yosemite Village Post Office, completed in 1925 – so cute!

As dusk was upon us, I decided we needed a picture of the two of us in the valley. Being the one with the camera, I’m rarely in photos! So we’ve recently talked about using the tripod more frequently to get pictures of us both. So here we were in the valley! Just in front of the cluster of naked trees on the left, you can vaguely see a group of mule deer who wandered by!

Here are some of them a wee bit later at the side of the road – we drove past them after we packed up to head back to the hotel, & I managed to snap them quickly with my phone a they grazed.

It was bizarre how quickly the light changed at sunset. Literally within minutes you go from dusk to “I can’t see you”. But sometimes you get the reward of wonderful colors in the sky.

So try and set a little time aside to walk around the valley itself, and Yosemite Village too. The village is a great first port of call when you arrive on your first day – check in at the visitor center for maps and information, and catch one of their free short movie showings about Yosemite. Wander past the historic and beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel too – it was hopping busy when we drove by. I’ve added it to our bucket list of places to stay at sometime! Supposedly they have the most amazing Christmas celebrations.

And finally, be sure to visit the Ansel Adams Gallery nearby! It would be rude not to while you’re on his turf……

 

Weekend Updates

Swamped again between my real work and my freelance stuff! Not a bad thing, but it just cuts out all the fun stuff like my photo editing & blogging here! And I’m still behind on the Yosemite story….

But anyway, I had a fun weekend, although it disappeared far too quickly. I headed up to upstate NY once again. At this stage I’m sure my car could probably do the journey on its own (and thank God I have a diesel engine)….

Amazingly, I arrived Friday evening to find dinner ready & waiting for me. That was a first indeed! The wine was poured, and dessert (peppermint chocolate-covered Oreos) was already out on the table. I was flabbergasted. “Who are you? And what did you do with my boyfriend?”, I asked.

I’m still sure he wants something…..

Saturday it snowed (again), and temperatures were around 12 degrees F, so it was a tad chilly. But a beautifully sunny day nevertheless. Much to Mark’s chagrin, I decided we should head out in the afternoon. So we did the weekly supermarket run, and then took a drive out to Sackets Harbor, one of my favorite towns in the area.

It overlooks Lake Ontario, and is a very quaint village with lots of history – it was the site of a battle during the War of 1812.

It also has a wonderful Main Street with many nicely preserved 19th century buildings, and it’s on the National Registry of Historic Places.

We took a walk through the town and across the Battlefield Historic Site. By now it was late afternoon & the sun was quite low, setting the scene on the battlefield with just beautiful lighting.

Typically this time of year, the lake is largely frozen over & dotted with ice fishers, but this year it’s been strangely “warm”, and the lake isn’t as iced over as usual. So it allowed for beautiful reflections of the blue sky. Made it look almost inviting!

Luckily, even in our cosy winter gear, we weren’t feeling delirious enough to go in for a dip!

Eventually we went in the direction of their local coffee shop to warm up somewhat before heading home again.

But even though it was a cold afternoon walk, we were both glad we’d ventured out to enjoy the beautiful winter day.

 

 

Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park

I’m not sure when this last happened, but I’m sure it’s pretty rare – the only place in Yosemite that was closed over Christmas was their ski area! Typically most of the park is closed off to visitors from November through maybe April, due to snow and ice. But given the lack of snow this year, the whole park (except the ski area!) was available to us.

So while I was sad to miss out on my winter wonderland, it was brilliant to be able to roam free across the park. And this included Glacier Point.

To reach the Point, you drive along Glacier Point Road, 30 miles from the Valley. Another, naturally, twisty road with an abundance of amazing scenery to look out at. When you arrive at the Point (the end of the road), you get to experience one of Yosemite’s most breathtaking viewpoints.

You’re now at an elevation of 7,214 feet above Curry Village down below, and the views are amazing – you can see the entire Yosemite Valley. One of the most spectacular sights is Half Dome.

If you’re not familiar with Half Dome – check out your coins! It’s on the CA state quarter, along with John Muir & the California Condor. And as if that isn’t enough, Half Dome now shows up on the new, revised CA drivers license. It’s also the inspiration behind The North Face corporate logo. That’s the stuff that Trivial Pursuits is made of!

This Yosemite granite icon is the sheerest cliff in the US, at only seven degrees from vertical! The granite rock that forms the Half Dome is an amazing 87 million years old – the youngest plutonic rock in the valley. Its peak elevation is 8,842 feet at the top, 5,000 feet above the valley floor.

I’d been told by one of the Park Rangers that Glacier Point would be a great place to catch sunset. And he wasn’t kidding! It was “spotlight on Half Dome” time, the light was just divine, and changed so rapidly as the sun was setting.

If you get the chance to see Glacier Point, it’s certainly worth every twist and turn in the road, and every slow driver in front of you! The views from up here are unsurpassed, and not to be missed.

The sheer majesty of nature is humbling indeed.

Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove

Back to Yosemite……I’m so behind with sharing my tales from that trip. Wish life would just stop for a week or so, it would allow me to catch up somewhat!

Usually during the winter, much of Yosemite National Park is closed to visitors due to snow and ice. This year, however, thanks at least in part to global warming, they’d had virtually no snow. So this year it was their ski area that was closed! Everywhere else in the park was uncharacteristically open. And although I was sad not to get the winter wonderland that I’d been dreaming of, having the whole park open to us was just wonderful.

Everywhere in the park is amazing, but there are certainly a handful of major regions and attractions that visitors target whilst there. After catching sunrise at one of them, Tunnel View, we headed down south to catch another spectacle, in the form of Mariposa Grove.

It’s well worth the slow, twisty, 45 minute or so drive south to Mariposa Grove. And naturally you get to see lovely scenery en route too. The grove is near the south entrance to the park, in Wawona, and having had an early start that day, we decided to stop off for breakfast before reaching our final destination.

We stopped off at the historic Wawona Hotel – well worth visiting if you’re in the area. It’s now a historic landmark – very quaint outside and inside (even my iPhone camera managed to capture its historic charm quite nicely!).

They offer a buffet-style breakfast each morning, so there’s plenty of food to choose from to allow you to stock up on carbohydrates and protein before you head off walking or hiking somewhere.

In our case, it set us up nicely as we headed a wee bit further south to Mariposa Grove itself. Again, this is usually closed this time of year, so we were extremely fortunate to be able to visit.

Mariposa Grove is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is home to about 500 of maybe the largest living things on Earth. Giant sequoias.

So you can imagine that there are lots of hiking opportunities in the grove – we spent about 4 hours there in total. Probably hiked a round trip of about 5 miles in total. Naturally you can do less – just walk around for half of your allotted time, and then head back to the car again if need be. Careful though – it’s kind of addictive in there – time flies when you’re having fun!

We’d really only estimated staying about an hour and a half, but before we knew it, that time was gone. It was beautiful though.

Some of the trails are not so easy-going, and require a little work – it’s not just mostly flat walking. Just be prepared – it’s not for kids in strollers, or people in wheelchairs or who have a hard time walking uphill. But in the warmer seasons there is a tram tour that can take you around, so that’s the time to go if you don’t want to do the walking. Or you can even drive your own car on the tram road if you have mobility problems.

Apparently Mariposa Grove was first visited by non-natives in 1857 when Galen Clark and Milton Mann found it, and named it after Mariposa County, CA, where it’s located.

A number of the biggest trees even have names! The Grizzly Giant is the oldest tree in the grove at 1900-2400 years old. The Wawona Tree is another one that is much-visited. It had a tunnel cut through it in the nineteenth century – wide enough for horse-drawn carriages and early cars to drive through! Sadly this weakened it, and it fell in a 1969 storm.

It’s a sight to be witnessed. Don’t miss out on seeing it if you visit Yosemite when the Grove is open. You won’t be sorry!

A Weekend in Georgia

This weekend I had the privilege of a three day holiday, courtesy of the great Martin Luther King, Jr. So it was quite fitting that I should be flying into his hometown of Atlanta on Friday. It seemed strange flying into there again – I did that journey from Boston a lot at the end of 2010 when Mark returned home from Iraq to his base at Fort Benning, GA.

But this time, however, I’d taken the opportunity of the three day weekend to head down there to visit some friends who moved south just over a year ago from MA, for new positions at UGA. It’s been a year since I saw them, and I miss them no longer being local, so I was excited to be visiting them.

Janet kindly collected me at the airport when I arrived, and we drove back to their hometown of Winterville, an hour and a half north of Atlanta. By the time we arrived, it was after 8pm. Joerg had been cooking dinner, so we spent the evening eating, drinking wine, and catching up. It was so great to be able to sit and enjoy their company again.

They were excited that I’d brought them a case of haggis too! I cooked it for their “leaving dinner” at the end of 2010 when they were about to leave MA, and they loved it. So before Christmas I had a bright idea of taking some down to them when I made the trip this weekend. So I ordered a case  from The Caledonian Kitchen. I reminded them that it’s Burns’ Night on January 25th, so maybe they’ll have their own haggis, neeps and tatties supper that night!

Their house is in the middle of nowhere – just perfect! Along a single track road through the woods – I didn’t see another car along it all weekend! Such a beautiful home – it’s like a log cabin retreat! I told them I’d never leave the house if I lived there.

On Saturday they took me for a spin around the UGA campus, and then we went for a wander around Athens. It was my first time visiting the Athens region, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by it all. The UGA campus is huge – its facilities seems amazing too. Some of the the grounds on campus are very picturesque as well, it was so nice to walk around for a while.

Later we met up with a mutual friend of ours, also now at UGA – he has a couple of dogs, so we took a walk with them in a local park for a while – it was certainly a beautiful day for a walk.

In the evening we headed over to visit some of Janet & Joerg’s German-speaking friends from the vet school. They regularly get together at weekends for board games and wine! Apparently playing board games is a big thing in German culture. I’m not big into board games (clearly it wasn’t part of my culture growing up!), but am always game to join in – we played a few different games through the evening, and I must say, we had a lot of fun.

Sunday was another beautiful, sunny day, and after a leisurely breakfast we drove out to the town of Madison. Named after US President James Madison, the town has the largest historic district in Georgia. Apparently, during the Civil War, General Sherman’s Army spared Madison from destruction because it was the home of pro-Union Senator Joshua Hill.

Such a lovely Main Street area, with beautiful, historic buildings to see. Here’s a few of my favorites……

Back at the ranch later on (after a wee bit of ice cream, and some antique-store hopping!), I took a meander in the woods around their house. It’s so peaceful and lovely to walk around.

Before we knew it, it was dinner time. We had talked about going into Athens for a beer after dinner, but we ended up deciding against it quite quickly after we’d eaten. So we stayed home for beer instead. I think we were all just tired after a late night the previous evening, and a full day driving around the countryside, and walking around Madison!

And then this morning I left for the airport again. The long weekend was wonderful, but still went by far too quickly. I could do with another day to recover. But alas, it’s back to work again tomorrow.

Maybe time for a glass of wine before I head off to bed though…….

In Our Home

In our home, we prefer not to open food bags the conventional way…….

Yet another sign that Tiddles has thumbs. The food bags are kept in a secure location, in a closet – given her propensity for a little B&E when it comes to these! Yet somehow I discovered this latest bag to be somewhat breached. Without my help or permission.

I’m thinking of just leaving it open like this in the kitchen so she gets free access…….I might get some peace!

Talking of peace…..remember I mentioned my neighbors from hell? Things have not improved. I’ve now complained to our leasing office about them. They’e received verbal notice from the office that they need to be more considerate. Then a letter from their lawyers when nothing changed after a couple of phone calls. Still no change. Right now it’s 5:40am and their dog woke me up barking at 4:17am – he is still barking now!

I definitely could have done with more than 4 hours sleep – I worked until almost midnight and I’m exhausted. That extra hour to take me to my normal 5am alarm would’ve been wonderful.

Time to start the audio recordings of these neighbors’ shenanigans….

Weekend Recap

Ah, the weekend never quite seems to last long enough these days……

I made the tiring drive to upstate New York to see Mark on Friday afternoon. I tend to do most of the traveling because, shockingly, the Army is less flexible than me. Having said that, however, I’d been spoiled a bit over the holiday when he drove here. It seems like it’s been a long time since I had to make the drive. I actually love driving – I swear I could be a driver for a living.  In-car satellite radio, a travel mug of coffee, and off I’d go……

But the problem with the weekend driving is that there’s always the “rush” to get there and back, so it’s never a relaxed drive. Friday’s journey was quite a nice one though, the weather was great for the drive, so that helped a lot. It certainly made a nice change from this time last year when my drives were all snow and ice.

Friday evening turned out relatively uneventful. By the time I arrived, there was time for pizza and beer, and watching some of our favorites on TV – “Gold Rush” being one of them. I’m addicted to watching anything based in Alaska – can’t get enough of the scenery.

Saturday was also relatively quiet. Some more laundry in the morning. I think I counted up that we’d done about 8 washes since Friday evening. To say Mark needs a wife is a gross understatement.

Later on we decided to get out of the house for a wee while. The weather wasn’t great, but it made a concerted effort to shine a bit of sun on us by the afternoon. So we headed out to the mall, meandered a bit, ended up “accidentally” in Best Buy (maybe all guys are addicted to this shop?), and then did a coffee run.

Back home it was time for the Master Chef to emerge. Mark had decided to cook for me in honor of my birthday, so it was nice to just sit back and have dinner prepared for me for a change! And very tasty it was too. I swear everything tastes so much better when someone else makes it for you.

Sunday morning Mark headed off to the airport around 9am – he’s away in Virginia for a training course this week. He drives me nuts. Despite being someone who’s “mostly” (I think he just about gets by) organized at work, he takes that uniform off and I’m convinced he reverts to 6 year old boy mode. I’ve never met anyone so forgetful and disorganized in my life. We’re complete opposites when it comes to the general planning involved in everyday life.

Bizarrely he made some random comment to me on Saturday evening about how he hoped I wouldn’t forget to lock the door when I left the house on Sunday. I counted to three, bit my tongue, and resisted the urge to simply choke him. I had no idea where that came from.

It seemed even more bizarre next morning. He was standing at the door with his case, and I asked if he had his paperwork, wallet, phone and charger. “Yes”, he answered, as he was on his way out.

Half an hour after he’d left, I heard the unmistakeable peep of his cellphone…….still in the living room. I spoke to the guy who was the “incoming text”, just so he’d know Mark had forgotten his phone. I pondered on driving to the airport with the phone – it was an hour and a half drive away. I’d have to leave immediately, and would be faced with my additional 6 hours drive home to Massachusetts afterwards. Plus there were no guarantees that I’d find Mark when I arrived.

After about a 10 minute debate with myself, I decided he’d just have to do without for the few days he’s away. It might teach him a lesson anyway!

Although somehow I doubt it…..

So instead I hit the gym, and then gathered up my belongings for the drive back to MA. (Yes, I did lock the door!)

Another decent drive though, with good weather conditions for the trip home.

And naturally the obligatory coffee stops to keep me going!

I arrived home around 6pm, but somehow didn’t make it to bed until about 11pm. I’ve no idea where the time goes……

 

Sunrise at Tunnel View

One “must” for your to-do list if you hit Yosemite is Tunnel View overlook – less than a 10 minute drive from the toll gate at the east entrance of the park. It’s the viewpoint that looks east across the valley, allowing you the spectacular iconic vista that you classically see on Yosemite postcards and posters. It’s just outside the east entrance of the Wawona Tunnel, and allows you a breathtaking view of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall (although the latter was more of a trickle this time of year!). If you happened to have enetered Yosemite via the south entrance at Wawona, this would actually be the first view of the valley that you’d see when you emerged from the tunnel.

We decided to head there at sunrise on our first morning. Well, I say “we”, but it was more like “I”. Thankfully Mark loves traveling, and strangely enjoys my camera habit (or at least the end result), so he doesn’t put up too much resistance. And in fact he has increasingly started scoping out photo opportunities, and suggesting things for me to photograph, which I find kind of cute! Lately he also keeps talking about wanting to market “our” photographs, starting up a travel business, etc etc. I wish he’d put that kind of dreamwave energy into doing laundry or clearing up all the piles of stuff that he randomly leaves around the house, or even loading the dishwasher every now and then. But that’s for another post…….

I’d spoken to one of the park rangers the previous afternoon when we arrived, and he’d suggested that Tunnel View would be the best place to catch sunrise images. So we were all set for sunrise at 07:12 next day.

The sun just begins to shed some light onto the valley from the east

It was lovely seeing the changing colors in the valley that occurred over about an hour or so. It was probably mid-morning sometime before the sun finally rose high enough above the rocks to actually be seen itself, but naturally we didn’t wait that long. But I did manage to stick around for an hour or so to capture different stages of the sunlight over the valley.

A little later on we started to see more of the blue of the sky creeping in to the west, and the valley floor brightened up a little

At one point Mark commented that he wished he’d brought his book along. So I persuaded him to head into the car to read the guide book and figure out where we’d be going next. So that kept him entertained as I hung out with my tripod and the other numerous photography peeps who were also gathered at Tunnel View for the same reason. I was the only Caucasian there, and I seemed to be the only person using Canon gear. The other guys were all Nikon-wielding Japanese tourists. I wonder if any Japanese photographers actually prefer Canon gear? Anyway, I digress again……

After about an hour and a half, Mark had finished eating all the snacks we had in the car, and was clearly done reading the guide book. And other than waiting on the sun peeping over the rocks, which clearly wasn’t going to happen for a couple more hours, I was content that I’d caught some nice changes in the stages of first light in the valley. I did smile sweetly and remind Mark that it was a small price to pay in return for all the hours of American football that I have to endure. And I have to admit, he was really patient waiting on me. But eventually I got his squeaky voiced “We go now”, which is usually code for “Final warning – I’m done”. So we packed up and headed on with our day!

90 minutes later, still no sign of the sun itself over the rocks, but I liked seeing more color to the sky. And it was lovely to see El Capitan beginning to brighten up

A little orientation to the three main park attractions that you can see from Tunnel View

I found my experiences in Yosemite to be similar to those I had in the Grand Canyon – words like spellbinding, magnificence, grandeur, and beauty all spring to mind. It’s breathtaking to be there and take in the scenery, and at some point, the next amazing scene that you witness almost becomes expected. I had to purposefully keep myself in check, and remind myself that all of this wasn’t “normal and everyday” for me! Seeing photos of these spectacles just doesn’t cut it – you simply have to be there for yourself to truly take in and appreciate their splendor.

And I didn’t want to be guilty of taking any of it for granted.

Birthday Girl

It was my birthday a couple of days ago. It always seems to get lost in the melee of Christmas and New Year. It used to bother me when I was younger, but not any more. Maybe I’m just older and wiser. Or maybe I’d just prefer to forget how many I’ve had!

Me with my grandparents a few decades ago! Apparently I liked squeezing kittens then.

 

 

Either way, it was mostly uneventful, but in a good way. I had to work, so that added to the non-birthday feel. And these days the thought of a night out midweek is a killer since I’m up at 5am each morning for my hour-long commute to work. So I’m entrenched in the habit of a quiet night in on most weekday evenings, followed by an early night in preparation for the next day. But Tiddles at least helped me celebrate with a bottle of beer!

 

And I was excited to receive a lovely package from my kid sister. She was upset earlier because it hadn’t arrived in advance. But I know how the mail can be this time of year. Delivery time for anything posted from overseas over the holiday can be very unpredictable. But it arrived right on the day of my birthday, so we were both happy!

My main present was this lovely necklace. I just loved it. My sister chooses the best gifts!

And I also received other wonderful goodies from her too. One of my favorites included a few boxes of my favorite Twinings tea. Haven’t been able to find it in the USA, so my sister kindly bought some for me. It’s really nice. I received some last Christmas and initially didn’t like the sound of it. But I tried it out of interest one day, and was instantly hooked. It has a lovely spiced, citrus taste. Very festive, but I love it any time of year.

And naturally, another of my favorites was a selection of tasty chocolates. There’s a very distinct difference between European and American chocolate. And although I’m all about equal opportunities when it comes to any decent chocolate, I do miss the easy access to Euro-grown chocolates! But that just makes them all the more sweet when they appear on my doorstep.

It’s been a short week since I didn’t return to work until Tuesday. But I’m suitably exhausted and don’t feel as if I’m really back in the swing of things yet. Hopefully next week won’t be so much of a blur.

Cedar Lodge Hotel Outside Yosemite National Park

After leaving Mariposa, you’ll find Cedar Lodge on the right side of the road, about 22 miles on, in the town of El Portal. It’s literally at the roadside, and is located 8 miles outside of the park. From the hotel to the actual toll gate of the park, it’s about a 10 minute drive (bearing in mind the 35mph speed limits on the mountain road). Once inside the gates, it’s another 10 minute drive to reach the famous Tunnel View lookout point over the valley.

I wanted to give a shout-out to the hotel because I’d read some not-so-great reviews about it beforehand. We didn’t have too much choice due to our late booking, and we didn’t want to stay “upscale” at The Ahwahnee in the park. Nor did we wish to stay further away from the park, say in Mariposa itself. So we were content to just take a chance on it.

I have to say, it was just fine. We only paid about $68 per night, and we didn’t have any issues with the place at all. I’m not sure what some people expect around National Parks, but clearly expectations were running high in some of the reviews I’d seen.

It’s called a hotel, but really lives up to the “lodge” of its name, with separate buildings comprising rooms on two levels. The rooms are cleaned daily, but it’s a very basic service, so if someone is expecting chocolates on the pillow etc, they’ll be disappointed! Our room had two queen beds in it, and was quite big – we had a table and chairs too, as well as a fridge, hairdryer, iron and ironing board. There was no in-room coffee maker, although they do provide coffee and tea in the reception area each day. The rooms are not internet-ready either, so if you can’t live without your internet hook-up, this probably won’t be the place for you either! You can take your laptop to get internet access in the lobby though – currently they charge $11 for 24 hour access.

The lobby was open from 7am-11pm, so if you have to check out early in the morning, make sure you chat to someone at reception to coordinate the key return – they charge $5 for “lost keys”, so it’s a good idea to get some information on what they want you to do with the key if you need to leave before the lobby opens.

There are dining facilities on site – a breakfast diner opens at 7am (7:30am in winter) – we never used it, but I think the breakfast buffet was about $10. They also have a bar area where you can grab a beer and some bar food. Again, if you’re looking for 5 star food, you’ll be disappointed – but if you’re ok with burgers and fries, it’ll be right up your alley! Nothing special, but just fine for a weary traveler. I’d read a lot of bed bug commentaries in various reviews, but I am happy to say that we did not have that experience.

There were no laundry facilities on site, but the Yosemite Lodge a few miles along the road, literally just outside of Yosemite Park gates, has laundry facilities that you can use. They do have an outdoor pool for the warmer months, as well as an indoor pool and hot tub which seemed to be busy while we were there.

Also a few miles along the road towards the park, there’s a small grocery store and a gas station next to each other, on the left side of the road. The grocery store seemed to sell a bit of everything that you could need, including some decent ready-made sandwiches, salads and pastas that were great for taking along on our driving days. It also had an ATM, but it was out of action when we were there. Apparently Yosemite Lodge also has one, and I did spot numerous ATMs in the stores within the park too. So it’s unlikely you’ll be stranded without cash – but as always, it pays to plan ahead.

Mark was particularly taken with the small train outside our room. He was determined that we should have our photo taken inside it at some point. So just before we left early morning, I set up the tripod so we could capture the moment!

If you look closely, you’ll maybe see little Cheeky sitting up in front of us…..(and the bear standing under the street light behind….)