- Where We Started: Visalia, Calif.
- Where We Ended: Sonora, Calif.
- Miles Driven: 229 (12,588 total).
- New States: None.
- States So Far: 19 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
We continued our march north through California's national parks on Wednesday, spending the day at Yosemite National Park. We encountered perfect weather and a relatively uncrowded park, which made for a more enjoyable visit than 2003. Although two of the park's major roads are still closed for the season, this limited visit still afforded us amazing views from all over this unique park.
We entered Yosemite from the south, and immediately headed to the Mariposa Grove, the park's largest grove of sequoias. The grove was similar to what we saw at Seqouia & Kings Canyon National Park on Tuesday, featuring a number of giant sequoias, although its biggest tree -- the Washington Tree -- ranks only 17th in cubic volume, at 35,901. The grove also features the Grizzly Giant, ranked 25th in the world, at 34,005. Here's a list of the world's 48 biggest sequoias. All are located in the state of California.
From Mariposa, we headed north toward Yosemite Valley, the heart of the park. Unfortunately, the beautiful Glacier Point Road is still closed from the winter, so we missed out on some of the best views of the Half Dome and El Capitan, the park's two most famous sites. Tioga Pass, the road that winds through the less-crowded eastern part of the park, is also still closed.
The bottom line on Yosemite is simple, though. Even with the road closures, as long as you can get into Yosemite Valley, its totally worth it.
The Yosemite Valley, with Bridalveil Fall on the right, Half Dome in the back center and El Capitan on the left. (Photo by Jim)
Jim's full dome, in front of Yosemite's Half Dome, in the far distance.
We then drove down into the valley to see Bridalveil Fall -- yes, the name is singular -- which you can reach on a very short hike. It was a beautiful, clear day, but you never would have known it as you approached the fall, thanks to the driving mist generated by the all hitting the rocks 620 feet below. It felt like you were in the middle of a downpour.
One of Joan's goals for the trip was to get a photo of some of the insane people who like to climb El Capitan and Half Dome. We spotted a few, thanks to some other tourists with binoculars, but they were so small that you could barely make them out in photos. So we were on our way out of the park when Joan spotted one descending from a rock alongside the road.
Here are a few other photos from our day at Yosemite:
A chilled-out rodent of some kind hangs out on a rock at Yosemite. (I think it's a squirrel, but not 100 percent positive. And he wasn't talking,) Where were Fred and Hank while this picture was being taken, you ask? Once Joan saw this scene, she gave me both dogs and I went off in a different direction. Hunting dogs, my ass.
All in all, it was a terrific day. Once you get outside Yosemite Valley, there aren't a lot of specific landmarks to see, like at Yellowstone. But the terrain is consistently beautiful, and there are a ton of recreational and backcountry options. While we both still prefer Badlands National Park, Death Valley National Park and White Sands National Monument to Yosemite, it is high on our list of U.S. national parks.
- Many of you have commented on the photo of Fred sulking in the corner after his fight with Hank last weekend. It was quite a scene to witness, but since we only showed you one photo, here are the rest, along with our best interpretation of what's happening.
- Ken Sands and Nate Kettlewell both commented that we might be biting off more than we can chew by trying to hit Crater Lake National Park and the Columbia River Gorge on the same day. That may well be, but a few things to keep in mind: We tend to move really quickly through the places we see, since we know there's so much left to see. In national parks, the dogs limit our hiking options. Also, many of the parks we're hitting right now are only partially open. In addition to the road closures at Yosemite, we decided Wednesday that we're going to skip Lassen Volcanic National Park because it's mostly closed. I also just discovered that much of Crater Lake's rim road is still closed from the winter. So it's not going to take as long for us to move as it would other people. Despite the concern we were trying to do too much Wednesday, we easily could have made it to Lake Tahoe on Wednesday night. We were just both too lazy to push it, so we settled into Sonora early. All that said, the itinerary we post really is broad and more meant to give you an idea where we're headed than anything else.
- As you can all tell from the photos, Joan is clearly not a big eater. She always prattles on about how hungry she is, and then arrives at a restaurant and orders a soup and salad. So imagine my surprise the past few days. First, at a rest stop Tuesday in Madera, Calif., she cleared the shelves of the convenience store like Bonnie and Clyde cleaning out a bank. She bought a Three Musketeers bar, a bag of Funyuns and a pack of licorice, and dusted off all three before I could get back into the left lane of the highway. Then, at breakfast at Denny's on Wednesday, she went nuts, ordering pancakes, scrambled eggs, an English muffin and pancake hush puppies that you dipped into syrup. I watched incredulously, and thought, "This must be what it's like to watch me eat." For the first time on this trip -- and maybe ever -- the perplexed server was forced to put the bulk of the food on Joan's side of the table. And Joan almost finished everything. The only exception was the scrambled eggs. The little she left behind, she fed to the dogs. A free travel tip from the FHMA warriors: Never feed eggs to dogs before a three-hour trip in an enclosed car. Let's just say the windows were down A LOT at Yosemite.
- Sign of the Day: "Welcome to Selma, Raisin Capital of the World." Now, we see lots of claims on signs that cannot be justified -- who knew so many places made "The World's Best Coffee"? -- but this one seems to be pretty close to accurate. Ninety percent of United States raisins are produced within eight miles of Selma. I guess saying "the world" might be a stretch, but that's a small quibble. Funny story, though: Selma used to call itself the "Home of the Peach," when that was its major crop in the 1950s and 1960s, but once the raisin moved in and asserted its dominant, the city booted the peach, officially adopting the phrase "Raisin Capital of the World" in 1963.
- Some odd combinations we spotted on the road to Yosemite: In Madera, we saw a combo Chevron and haircut shop. In Coarsegold, Calif., we saw an even odder combination: a Chevron and a church in the same building. I know I've taken the lord's name in vain while watching the price of filling up my tank, but this seems a bit much.
- Another interesting pass-through, after our trip to Yosemite: Chinese Camp, Calif. It's the kind of town name that begs an explanation. Apparently, when the first Chinese laborers reached California in 1849, they were driven out of nearby Camp Salvado and settled here. At one point, an estimated 5,000 Chinese lived in the town. Now, its population is 146, and 0.68 percent of that population is Asian.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "The Promised Land," by one Bruce Springsteen, whose name has come up here and there in this blog. This is one of my favorite songs from the terrific "Darkness on the Edge of Town," along with "Badlands," "Prove It All Night" and "Factory." In terms of albums, I'd put "Darkness" behind "Born to Run" and "The River," but it's still wonderful. In the no-one-asked-but-I'll-tell-you-anyway category, here are my favorite Springsteen songs: "Jungleland," "Trapped," "Born to Run," "Wreck on the Highway," "The Ties That Bind," "Drive All Night," "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," "Atlantic City," "My Hometown," "Brilliant Disguise," "Lonesome Day," "Secret Garden" and "Countin' on a Miracle."
- I'm going to ditch the most-played albums, since we decided to do something different for the remainder of the trip. We decided to start playing every song on my iPod -- all 8.932 of them -- from A to Z. We probably won't make it through everything before we get home, but we did this to find some new music -- I've downloaded a lot of music I have not yet listened to -- and re-surface some classics I have not heard in many years. So, every day, I'll list the first and last songs we heard, the best songs of the day, newly discovered songs and guilty pleasures:
- First song: "A-Tisket A-Tasket," by Chick Webb.
- Last song: "Ain't That a Shame," by Fats Domino.
- Best Songs: "Achilles Last Stand," by Led Zeppelin; "After the Gold Rush," by Neil Young; and "Ain't Talkin' Bout Love," by Van Halen.
- Pleasant Surprises: "Above," by the Blue Man Group; "Absolutely Sweet Marie," by Bob Dylan; "Across the Borderline," by Ry Cooder; "Adukbe," by Baka Beyond.
- Guilty Pleasures: "Against All Odds," by Phil Collins.
- Breakfast: Denny's, Visalia, Calif.: Yes, after all the abuse we took over Denny's, we went back there for breakfast on Wednesday, and as I reported earlier, Joan was creating sparks with her silverware. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I didn't eat my share too, but it's not news when I eat a lot. This was a performance on par with DeNiro in "Raging Bull." I had a ham, egg and cheese sandwich and a side of toast, helped Joan with the pancake bites she ordered and mostly stared in fascination across the table at what I was witnessing. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1 star (out of 5). Restaurant Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5, on the fast-food scale). I'm sorry, I am not as down on Denny's as everyone else. It's perfectly serviceable. And we weren't even shit-faced. But, Rebecca, I would agree with you: Comparing it to Shoney's was not accurate.
- Dinner: Pine Tree Restaurant & Lodge, Sonora, Calif.: We ate at the restaurant in the Best Western, since we were tired and there weren't a lot of other options in Sonora. And like the Best Western restaurant we ate at in Chinle, Ariz., it was pretty good. We both got the cream of tomato soup and thought it was excellent. I had a French dip for dinner, and it was merely fine. Joan had a Greek salad, and deemed it quite good. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1.5 stars (out of 5). Restaurant Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5). We were looking at a 4-plus after the soup, but my French dip resulted in the dip to the rating. But the service was great, and the people lovely.
- Best Western Sonora Oaks, Sonora, Calif.: We got a nice big room with a comfortable bed and a door to the outside (the latter of which is only a plus on a trip like this). The hotel was a little loud for my taste, as there was some tomfoolery going on outside until about 1am, which led to a brief Fred barkfest. But, overall, a very solid hotel. Hotel rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5, on the budget hotel scale). They even make dog-poop bags available.
COMMENTS OF THE DAY
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTOS
Hank in front of a giant sequoia at Yosemite National Park. The dogs -- after a boring Tuesday -- got a lot of run time at Yosemite, as there are a lot of short walks and paved paths they were allowed on.