Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Road Trip Part IV: Yosemite - the awesome and the annoying

We escaped Nevada, crossing into California at Reno, and then winding through a tiny, snow-packed pass on our way to the western entrance of Yosemite, which Mark and I agreed was probably the most beautiful stretch of road either of us had ever seen, and then proceeded to have our one and only bitter disagreement of the trip. Which is absolutely the way I would recommend enjoying the most beautiful stretch of road you've ever seen.

First lesson: a trip to Yosemite is a commitment, no matter where you are starting out from. There are no major highways anywhere close to the park and the surrounding area is hilly and twisted, so travel is slow at best and at times, tortuous.

And although the park is vast, the area most people visit - the valley floor - is constricted and filled with other people. So a 1-nighter is not really the way to see Yosemite.

Having said that, however, John Muir's lifelong love is nothing if not majestic and breathtaking. We finally left the entrance behind and made our way down to the valley floor around 7:30PM. The light played on El Capitan and the gushing waterfalls everywhere.

Like the other places we'd visited, Yosemite is experiencing an abundance of moisture so the main waterfalls were twice their normal size and spontaneous waterfalls had sprouted up all over.

We hit Camp Curry, a well-run National Park machine, only to discover at 8:30PM that all the food we'd packed in our cooler and bags would earn us a $5000 fine if left in our car.

Bears. Bears bears bears. If there's a theme to Yosemite it's bears and fines. Staying at Yosemite is a little like joining the army, with frequent and helpful reminders of the severe penalties for going AWOL.

So, before collapsing into our wall tent after 13 hours of driving, or eating dinner, or throwing back a shot of tequila, we had to pack up two weeks' worth of provisions and lug it to the Bear Box outside our tent. To say that Mom was a little crabby at this point would be somewhat of a wee understatement.

But the next day was magic. We all slept great, got up early, and headed out to the trail. After an awesome hike and about 1000 photos, we explored the Valley Floor by shuttle, taking our time and stopping off in lots of places and finally re-packing up the car to head out for San Francisco in late afternoon.

With only 4 hours of driving scheduled, we settled in and enjoyed the twisting, turning 2-lane blacktop through beautiful, sun-drenched country an
d even found Mark Twain's mostly-overlooked cabin. It's a humble little thing, sitting at the end of long shared driveway with some houses, but it's where Twain lived when his writing finally caught folks' attention - with a little frog story he heard down at the local tavern.

And then it was westward ho! once more, for a night in San Francisco and a good-bye to our Aussie cousin.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

We interrupt this travelogue with a brief diversion into yummy

Another fun pizza combination to add to your next Friday night ritual or casual sup with pals:

Crispy egglplant and proscuitto pizza

We started with a "base" pizza of tomato/basil sauce and cheese, a new one from Costco that is very clean and has a wonderful breadcrumb crust.

We sliced the eggplant very thin, dredged it in flour and shook off the excess, then pan-fried until crispy. Let the eggplant drain on paper towels and then laid it on the pizza, tore paper thin slices of prosciutto and placed them on top. Baked it on a pizza stone in a 500' oven for about 12 minutes, then finished with a little grated parmesan and some chopped green onion.

Delicious and different! And oh so easy ~

Road Trip, Part III - the west under water

Our trip focused on the American west's iconic national parks, and while Utah certainly boasts some beauties, they were too far south for this adventure. We packed up our gear on the last day at our Jackson Village ski resort hostel and trotted down to say good-bye to our gracious host. Only to discover that the road west out of town, shut over two weeks earlier due to a massive slide, had not opened on schedule.

We blinked, blank-faced, as he pulled out his iPad and started giving us our options. They all involved near-blizzard conditions and mandatory chains. We thanked him and sighed before heading out to rearrange the car and pull the chains to where they would be easily accessed.

But, before embarking on the dreaded climb ov
er the pass, we headed into town for a quick breakfast snack and on a whim decided to check the state hiway's website - miracle of miracles, the road had finally been re-opened, just 2 hours earlier.

We flew out of Wyoming across the southwest corner of Idaho and into the eastern farmland of Utah. Like Montana and Wyoming before them, these states had river and lakes looking ready to crest everywhere we looked. Many floodplains were already flooded and we knew from talking to folks in Jackson, where the unseasonably cold, snowy spring was about to break into 80' weather days after we left, that managing unprecedented quantities of water was the topic on everyone's lips. Everywhere we stopped, the conversation centered on the level of the dams, the swelling of the rivers. Moving people and livestock and hoping for the best.

We were looking forward to our second exciting food stop of the trip (the first, 2nd Street Bistro in Livingston, having fallen through with us arriving on a Monday, when they're closed) - Utah State University's famous Aggie Ice Cream shop, only to realize when we were mere miles from the school that it was Sunday and this being Utah, ice cream was unlikely to be available commercially.

Dejected, we gassed up and whipped through Salt Lake Cit
y to emerge on its western edge to seemingly endless water. Water so deep and widespread our little ribbon of highway seemed to be the only thing left unsubmerged and that just barely.

Even the median between the freeway's two directions seemed a long, straight navigable river.

A lot of very little for a very long time, and at last we hit our night's goal. Elko, Nevada. I'll just say...Nevada was everything I expected. And leave it at that.

After checking in at the Thunderbird Motel, I headed over to Albertson's for dinner stuff. Had to txt Mark and let him know that the one-armed bandits in the grocery store had me in their clutches and I'd be pulling a line of credit out of the house before heading back with a loaf of bread.

But, by making it to Elko, we'd chewed up a signficant part of Nevada, after exiting out of Wyoming, cutting across Idaho, and dissecting Utah all in a single day. We slept soundly and headed to California and John Muir's Yosemite the next morning.

Part IV: Yosemite - how badly do you want to see it? And San Francisco!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Road Trip, Part II - Wyoming beyond Yellowstone

My only other exposure to Wyoming was driving the largest UHaul made, with a car attached to the back, filled with my mother's belongings when I flew down to New Mexico 5 years ago and moved her up to Vashon. That Wyoming, the Wyoming found along I-25, the Wyoming where the wind howls incessantly and one is forced to wonder Where Art Thou, Wind Turbines? The Wyoming of miles and miles of absolute nothingness and white knuckle grips on a seemingly possessed steering wheel - and this coming from a native New Mexican, so I can throw that stone. That Wyoming I can live the rest of my life without seeing again.

This was not that Wyoming.

Western Wyoming is a different animal entirely. Thank goodness. It greeted us savagely - the photo above features Mark taking a photo of me taking a photo of him taking a photo in the snowstorm that marked our journey from Old Faithful into Grand Teton territory. Once Mark gets the camera bug, mere blizzard conditions are no match for his determination.

A couple hours later, this was all of the Tetons that greeted us. Our Aussie companion, conveniently named Jackson, dutifully captured the majestic range's feet.

But we had fun that night any
way. Here's Jackson having pizza and Coke in Jackson, and wearing some of Dylan's napkin handiwork.

We fell in love with Jackson Hole - the whole thing. Jackson the To
wn, Jackson Village the ski resort we were staying in, at a dirt cheap hostel, the amazing beauty everywhere, and the wildlife.

From sitting in a bear's lap.

To enjoying happy hour while a stuffed moose shed
s on your appetizers.

To coming home after a day of exploring
only to find a fox (a FOX!) in the parking lot.

We were instructed to go see
Wyoming's most photograhed barn, which lies in front of the Grand Tetons and miraculously on the day we ventured off with our cameras, the clouds parted and we were treated to a most iconic vista.

I spent about 20 minutes shooting pix of this beautiful old barn with the mountains behind it until I realized that the REAL beautiful old barn with the mountains behind it was across the road.

Jackson is simply amazing. You can see why all t
he celebs have their 2nd homes here. I didn't want to leave. I've never been anywhere where the ski resort is 12 miles straight off the town - no altitude climb required. We took North America's longest tram up to the top of the ski slopes for a good look around.

And every night you get to watch a real live old west shoot out in the town square!

Next up, Part III - Utah under water and slot machines in Albertsons!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Road Trip! A 12 day odessy across the American West, Part I

Just got back from a tour of American West National Parks. Fantastic! Here's Mark and Dylan in front of Old Faithful just before the blizzard starts and quite a while before the geyser blows. Yes, a snow blizzard just days before June.

We welcomed our 19 year old Aussie cousin Jackson at Sea-Tac airport on Saturday, May 21st and set off on our adventure as dawn broke Monday morning. I'll have to break this post up into 3 or 4 sections - manipulating more than a handful of photos through one entry proves very frustrating.

But, first things first. We covered something like 3,000 miles in our 12 days. I was tracking it on the odometer, but Mark kept resetting the odometer in Yellowstone, so we're estimating here, using the power of the internets. A lot, a lot, of miles in a pretty darn short time, but we still managed to dawdle for a couple days in Yellowstone, a couple more in Jackson and the Grand Tetons, and another couple in the wine country - but that meant making sure the rest of the west really flew by our car windows...

We made Livingston, MT at 8PM the first day, just ahead of a bruising storm, the latest of many that were causing flooding in southwestern Montana and the straw that broke the back of I-90, forcing authorities to close our ribbon to freedom just hours behind us.

We thanked the weather gods for sparing us and passed under the northern gate to Yellowstone the next morning.

The first thing that greets you just inside the Mammoth entrance and near the visitor center is Mammoth Springs.

The whole Mammoth area is ethereal and amazing. Feels like you're on a different planet.

We camped Day 2 by Tower Fall. Late May is a dicey time to head to Yellowstone, weatherwise, but the risk paid off with lots of great wildlife spotting and minimal crowds.

Bison were just everywhere, trotting along with their babies and generally creating traffic jams wherever they could.

I'm including this last photo to document that we actually did camp in one of the 18 slots available in the only open campground in all of Yellowstone's 2.2 million acres. Even if this was the only time we camped the whole trip...

Part II - Grand Teton and fabulous Jackson!