Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Tioga Pass and into Death Valley - Thursday 7th July

Thursday 7th July (345 miles)
A quick visit to the Fish Camp General Store for beer (Blue Moon) and supplies and to Wawona for fuel before heading back down into the valley and up the other side to pick up Highway 120 again and up the Tioga Pass road. Amazing views at every turn, snow at the roadside despite temperatures in the 20s, and Tenaya Lake at the foot of a mini Yosemite Valley. Most amazing though was the view back to Half Dome and Glacier Point from the other side.
Rob at the Tioga Pass
Half Dome from Tioga Pass
The road levelled off at Toulomne Meadows at 9,000 feet or so. What a spectacular place. Finally, the Sat Nav read 9,980 feet as we exited Yosemite National Park. Ben started his science experiment by sealing an empty plastic bottle. On the bendy, steep but thankfully wide descent to Mono Lake and Hwy 395 South I discovered the extent of the problem with our brakes. They work, but when pressed hard or at speed they shake the car to hell. I decided to get them fixed in Vegas and we pressed on South past Mammoth Lakes, stopping for a McDonald's in Bishop. Driving South East with the Sierra Nevada mountains on the right, storm ahead and more mountains on the left before picking up Highway 190 East into Death Valley.
Entering Death Valley
Ben rides Death Valley
The long descent, ascent and final descent into Death Valley is another spectacular drive through desolate but strangely beautiful landscape. I was getting a bit nervous as we were low on fuel, especially after the first place we tried was sold out. Thankfully, I was able to fill up at Stovepipe Wells, where the attendant said you never get used to the heat, which was 45C at the time! We also met a crazy Dutch family in the same car as us but pulling a trailer and having the same brake problems. He only had half a tank of gas, his consumption was twice mine and he was headed to Vegas, 130 miles away, and he asked me if he should fill up!

After registering -240 ft on the Sat Nav, and checking Ben's plastic bottle experiment (it was totally crushed), we finally reached Furnace Creek Ranch, where the kids hit the pool and we hit the Laundry. That's living alright! A good steak, local Badwater Beer and a good night's sleep was all I had energy for after a 345 mile drive down from Yosemite and a massive change of scenery.

Furnace Creek Ranch was better than I expected, like an upmarket hotel, with good air conditioning to cope with the 45 degree heat. The waiter we had was a kind of Jim Carrey with a serial killer mixed in.
Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley

Yosemite - 5th and 6th July

Tuesday 5th July (235 miles)
We upgrade our breakfast before leaving the Best Western Tuscan Inn. The hotel was lovely, in a great location and with really comfy beds and adjoining rooms.

An Armenian cab driver took us to the airport to collect our car. Straight out of the airport we took wrong turn number one, missing US101. Not a promising start. Then 235 miles over the Bay Bridge, through Oakland and the hills, across the valley and up into Yosemite. The drive into Yosemite is simply amazing, including a very scary hairpin road where we were always on the side of the drop. After stopping for photos a couple of times and one wrong turn in the valley we had fun finding our cabins at Tenaya Lodge.
First sight of Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley
The cabins were really spacious and just a 5 minute walk from the impressive main lodge. We had our meal on the terrace by a roaring gas fire! Ben spent the evening riding his new board whilst we slumped in front of 101 Ways to Leave a Game Show, with a beer.

Rob made a video blog about this part of our trip.

Wednesday 6th July (102 miles)
Amazing breakfast buffet sets us up for a day exploring Yosemite's main valley. First stop, the gas station. This car eats fuel on these roads. Then on to Glacier Point, including the squeakiest moment so far, where you drive downhill towards a hairpin, at 7,500 feet, with nothing ahead of you except Half Dome and nothing to stop you going over the edge. Glad I didn't know about the brake problem at that time!
Rob and Yvonne near Glacier Point

Half Dome from Glacier Point
Glacier Point was spectacular. Cannot describe it. Driving at 7,200 feet up a mountain is insane. Yvonne's loo experience was similar. Giant bug landed on my hand. Photos cannot capture this place. Boys spotted a Bear and Cub on the drive back down, photos of similar quality to the Bigfoot ones though.

Then we drove down into the Valley bottom for views of Bridal Veil falls, El Capitan and Yosemite Village. We got two buses to the base of Yosemite Falls then walked up the trail. I waited out the last ten minutes as there was an incline and my ankle was very painful by then and worst on downhill slopes. We then walked back to the car via the Village, where we saw someone being busted, presumably for shoplifting.
Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls
Finally, we drove out of the Valley and up to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Redwood trees. A tough 1.2 mile walk in the heat and the pain but well worth it to see these majestic things. The boys spotted deer on the way back and I caught a glimpse too. Also got a bastard mosquito bite on my right ankle. If the bugger had bit my left it would have hit the swelling bruises and been exploded by the pressure!
Mariposa Grove Giant Redwood
Then it was back to the hotel for a laundry failure - no soap, a trip to the Jacuzzi for me - instant pain relief - and the pool for the boys. Another meal on a different terrace, with a different fire, but the same waiter. Amazingly, 100 miles of driving today.

Monday 4th July in San Francisco

After breakfast we took a cab to Haight to get Ben's skateboard and Rob's hat.
After a walk around Haight Asbury we took another cab to downtown, Starbucks at the Marriott and then the Apple Store. We had a good look around the shops and bought some stuff at Old Navy before Riding the Cable Car all the way back to Fisherman's Wharf. Fun but painful on my ankle.
In the evening we ate at a restaurant on the sea front called Tarantino's and watched the tree man jumping out at people, then walked along to a live concert and the 4th July Fireworks over the San Francisco Bay. Very patriotic and spectacular. Fireworks of smiley faces and cubes, then a big red, White and blue finale.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday 3rd July - A Tour of San Francisco

Across the Bridge by richardfrost
Across the Bridge, a photo by richardfrost on Flickr.

Our Limo tour was booked for 11:30 so I had time to buy binoculars first and ended up with an iPad keyboard from Radio Shack whilst waiting for the binoculars store to open. Turns out the guy was really helpful, I got a good deal and free tips for Yosemite. Apparently Sheiks fly in to visit his shop. Haven't they heard of the Internet?

Our tour driver was Mark. We drank all his beer and champagne, got stuck in holiday traffic and ended up with a 6 hour tour for the price of 5. See the photos on flickr for the itinerary. I won't bore you with the details as the photos tell a better story.
House on Pacific Heights

Spotted this house in Pacific Heights from the Limo and really liked the architecture, si I fired off a shot through the window. Later, in Vegas we came across a painting of this house and the view down the cable car route to the Bay.

Went to Pier 39 afterwards and ate at the crab shack. Only 4 seals there at the end of a long day

End of a hard day?