Friday, October 31, 2008

Matthew Sharon and Big Trees

The other part of our trip to the Sierra mountains involved visiting Sequoia National Park, the place where the largest trees in the world grow. These are the Giant Sequoia redwoods, relatives of the the Coastal Redwoods that we have visited so often in Muir Woods as well as in the coastal mountains both north and south of San Francisco. My relationship with the tall Coastal Redwoods was love at first sight- the relationship is enduring. Though the Giant Sequoias tried to tease me away from my first love I did not waver. Oh, the Giant Sequoias are impressive, but they just don't take my breathe away- not the way the Coastal Redwoods do. The Sequoias don't grow as tall as the Coastal Redwoods, but they do get significantly bigger in diameter and therefore, their mass is larger than coastal's. But it isn't just the size of these massive trees- or even the fact that they were standing right here in California 2000-3000 years ago (being kept from abysmal loneliness by the locals- Native Americans- who did not ever consider cutting them down for shingles for their tee pees- but don't get me started!) when Jesus was walking about the middle east- though it probably wasn't considered the middle east at that point of anyone's world. Anyway- I think I lost this particular train of thought- But it was heading towards- though not in any linear fashion- Don- this sentence is for you- it was rather how different the relationship of these two trees with the world around them. With the Coastal Redwoods they are connected at the top which creates this giant canopy that then becomes another above ground world- in fact some of it's plant and animal life never come to the surface of this earth for generations and generations, while for the Giant Sequoias there is open space between the trees- they're not all connected so you can actually tell when one begins and another ends. I like the connected part of the Coastal Redwoods- and the fact that there is another world going on quite separate from mine so high above us all. You all might have some trouble following the red words above. I certainly wouldn't want to try to diagram those sentences, but it's what Max wants to say, so it will remain. I think you can mostly get the message that the Coastals keep each other company and the Sequoias were kept from being lonely by the Native Americans (at least that's what I think she said).

It was about a two hour drive south of Yosemite, but the drive was well worth it. When these trees were first discovered and decisions were made to preserve them, they were often given names of military leaders, but also names of states. Our first stop was to visit the General Grant Tree, the second largest tree in the world which is located at the edge of Kings Canyon National Park. This tree is 268 feet tall and has a circumference of 107.5 feet and is estimated to be 1800 to 2000 years old. That's the base of it behind Max.

We also got to see some more fall colors in this grove. These California dogwoods were just turning.

From Grant we drove to Sequoia National Park to the Giant Forest where trees of this "general" size are pretty common. The predominant tree is the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world. It is 274 feet tall, 103 feet in circumference and estimated to be 2300 to 2700 years old.

To give you some perspective of the size of the this tree, they built a brick foot print of the trunk that Max is standing in the center of in the picture below.

As we were preparing to hike into the Giant Forest to look at the array of trees we were abruptly stopped by the presence of a mother black bear with two cubs, one brown and one black. She and the cubs were obviously comfortable foraging for food in the presence of humans, as they basically ignored us. Oh my God! And I was not reassured when Don said- well the only person that has to worry is the slowest- And guess who is the slowest- you got it- yours truly!

It took just a bit for it to sink in- this is not the zoo- and there is no high chain link fence- just wide open spaces- and not that much space between us- and the bears. AND THEY WERE SOOOOOOOO CUTE! The mother was big and black- and there was one little brown bear and one little black bear. I actually had never seen bears move so much- certainly not in the zoo- where they are always laying around looking hot and miserable- these bears weren't looking miserable. Nonetheless we stayed well out of her way. Note that these pictures were taken with a telephoto lens and then enlarged further on my computer. We didn't want to get near her and her cubs. But there are some people that don't seem to have much sense that these are wild animals that could easily turn on you. This guy below obviously has outwitted the process of natural selection. He even got closer so he could make sure he got close ups.

Did this idiot really believe that a split rail fence would protect him from an angry mother bear?? And then this guy followed her and hid behind a tree and to flash pictures from about 15 feet away. I must say that the bear had a lot more patience that I would have had.

We all decided that getting away from these crazy people was in our best interest so we headed to a hiking path into the Giant's Forest. Just as we were leaving a large group of European tourists arrived, saw the bears and started running towards yelling "Ursa" in between taking puffs on their cigarettes. It reminded me of the book "The Ugly American" written to reflect how boorish Americans can be when in another country. They were yelling and screaming- and smoking non stop on the trails in the woods- and this is high alert for forest fires. We wanted to get away from them as fast as possible, so off we went on the trail to the Giants.

Look in the far left side of the picture above and you can see Sharon sitting on a bench next to this tree.

In the above there is also a person just visible between the two trunks of these giants.

And above is Matthew standing next to a fairly typical tree in this forest.

As we were finishing our hike and returning to the starting point, guess who Max almost walked into? She looked up there about 15 yards in front of her was momma and babies.
Now this was a double "Oh My God!" moment. I was leading our little merry group- Don, Matthew and Sharon were photographing every single tree in that particular forest- so I was up ahead- I rounded the corner- and there they were- THE BEARS! Not too many feet away- and no little picket fence- They were standing in the path for our return- well trust me- that is not the way we were going to go!

We took another wide detour and headed back to the car. The guys went back for the car while Sharon and I waited- well trust me- we were on HIGH ALERT for the bears!

And we didn't only see bears in this park. On our walk back to the car, this buck was looking for something to eat.

And this coyote didn't seem to be very afraid of us as we drove on the park roads. I think that maybe all of these animals have read the park rules about not bothering them.

Finally on our drive back to the cabin, the sun was setting and we were hoping that we would find a vista where we could see the sun set. We were lucky in that a pull off came into view just as the sky was turning red and we got these pictures.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Matthew, Sharon and Yosemite

It was one year ago that Matthew and Sharon came to San Francisco as our first visitors. We didn't know it at the time, but they were on their way to Hawaii to get married. We were over joyed that they came back here one year later and celebrated their first anniversary with us. We love our new daughter-in-law! She has enthusiastically embraced her new family, and we have so appreciated this. She is interesting- and interested. And she also happens to be beautiful. We were delighted they were coming to see us again- and this time staying a bit longer.
They arrived on the 21st and on the 22nd we set off in the car heading for Yosemite for four nights in a cabin in the mountains.

Our first day in the park started at the top of the Yosemite Valley instead of the usual drive down into the valley. A friend from my work told me about a road that goes above the valley and provides amazing top down views. I thought that might be a good way to start and give us some perspective of the size of the natural wonder. Our first stop was at Taft Point which was about a mile hike from the parking area. It took us to an amazing vista overlooking the western part of the park. Here are a few pictures taken from the top:

The picture above is El Capitan, a rock wall that is over 3000 feet high. The first climbing of this wall was done 50 years ago this year. That effort took 42 days to complete. Most people who climb it now take 3-5 days to complete the climb, but two climbers have set numerous records climbing this wall. Their latest was just over 2 hours and 40 minutes!

Now Don's pictures of Yosemite are fantastic- But pictures cannot do justice to this place. If you haven't been there, it needs to be on your list of MUST DO's. The pictures above and below are of Yosemite Falls, or at least where Yosemite Falls would be if there was any water coming over them. Unfortunately at this time of year it is very dry in the mountains. There hasn't been much rain here since the snows of last winter and hence the falls were mostly all dry. In the closer picture below you can see the stained rock of upper Yosemite falls. It is a 1430 foot drop, one of the highest falls in the world.

This was our view to the west and the entrance to the valley. I believe these formations are called Cathedral Rock. You can see that we are quite high above the valley floor.

This is a picture of Sharon sitting near the ledge. I was quite a distance away from her.

The next picture is taken at the same place with Sharon still there but zoomed to a much wider view. This cliff was about 2000 feet straight down. I get a woozy stomach just looking at these pictures.

Taking them was even harder because I was on a different point a little higher, but at least with a rail next to me.

I watched as she leaned over the side of a cliff- and shot pictures straight down- But never fear- this is our rock climber! You can rest assured that I stayed far away from the edge!

From Taft Point we hiked back to the car and onto a second location call Sentinel Dome. It's a large dome shaped granite rock that is farther east into the park with views of the east end of the valley.

But we did make to it the top of Sentinel Dome which in itself was a bit of a climb. This wasn't a trail either, but just this big rounded, steep rock that we worked our way up. I can't believe I made it to the top. When we started and Don said we were going to climb to the top of this DOME, I really thought he was teasing- I mean you could see there wasn't a trail. But yes we did climb- and no there was not a trail!

Max loved the old tree that at one time has been growing out of the rock. No telling where it got it's water, but it was quite a reasonable sized tree before it died several years ago. Now it is on its side providing a perfect place to rest with a magnificent view. The tree was exquisite- and sitting also had it's reward. And from this perch on top of the Dome you could see on all sides the beauty of Yosemite.

From Sentinel Dome we had more views of both El Capitan and Yosemite Falls.

But we also got our first view of Half Dome. This is a mammoth piece of granite that towers over the east end of the valley. You can hike to the top, but it is a 16 mile round trip. The last 400 feet to the top isn't exactly a trail, but rather a line of steel poles put into the rock and connected by steel cables that you are supposed to use to pull yourself up the extremely steep rock. Needless to say, we passed on that little walk

All the pictures with someone- i.e. someone of us- in the pictures are mine. I didn't take many- Don and Matthew and Sharon were certainly on top of their game- besides I was trying to catch up- so instead of just "waiting" for me- they took more pictures. Guess it worked out for all of us.

Next we drove back down and into the valley from the west end. The road goes about a half mile through a tunnel before emerging with a full view of the Yosemite Valley in front of you. It is quite a view.

The picture below has El Capitan on the left and Half Dome on the right in the distance.

From this point there is also a view of Bridal Vail Falls, that is if there had been any respectable amount of water coming over the top. As you can see in the picture below, there was a little water coming over the cliff, but you had to get pretty close to realize it was water falling. This fall doesn't look very spectacular, but keep in mind that the drop is 620 feet.

Sharon and I felt energetic so we climbed up the granite rubble (boulders) to the base of the falls where there was a pool with the final cascade of water. For perspective of the size of this pool, look in the lower right hand corner where there are some tiny people climbing on the rocks. I tried to get a picture of them on the climb- but most of the time they were behind massive rocks- and when they would "pop out" for a moment and wave both arms- they were tiny specks up the rock and would disappear again before I could get a shot. And I couldn't capture both them- tiny specks they were- and the massive rocks they were climbing.

One of the positives about the timing of our trip was that we also got to see some fall colors. We don't get those in San Francisco and seeing maples, oaks, and dogwood in their fall colors was a real treat.

From time to time there was a place to rest along the way- but there is so much to see it was hard to pause too long.

On our way out of the park on our first day, we were lucky to have perfect weather and a great sunset that cast a beautiful pink glow on Half Dome. We were in the right place at the right time and got this great photo of the face of the dome reflecting the sunset. This isn't a Photoshop moment. It was the real thing.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Trip to the Beach.... With the Babes!

We left San Fran for a trip down the coast with a destination THE BEACH! We had originally planned on making this trip in January- but our more immediate plans to return to Ohio shifted the trip closer. We had definitely wanted to see the Monterrey Bay, Carmel, Big Sur- and of course most of all this beautiful California coast line.
Our drive down the coast gave us new views of this rugged, rocky coast line. Here are a few pictures that demonstrate the beauty of this area.

The haze in the distance here was a fire on top of the mountains in Big Sur.

But there is nothing like lazy days with grandchildren for a lingering time on the beach. And the pictures tell it all! Reeder did some "swimming" in the surf as it rolled in.

And Lefty and Poncho had a great time running on this almost empty beach.

Grandpa is walking down to the ocean- carrying the bucket- to get one more pail of water for the granddaughter...

And it takes LOTS of water if you're 2 years old...

And of course Lefty and Poncho were a BIG HELP with those trips to and from the ocean...

But Mom and Dad certainly did manage to avoid the work of moving the ocean...

And the Baby Boy just watched the Fun!

And it was lots of fun transforming Clint into a mermaid...

It was fun for all!

And beautiful as well!

And if you look real close you can see Grandpa, Marianne and Reeder searching the tide pools of the cove...

And there was some fun in our beach home as well...

And thanks to Aunt Karen's special gift there were blinking Halloween socks!

The view from our house was pretty spectacular too. We were at the top of a hill overlooking the whole city below (it's a pretty small city). Here are some pictures taken from the deck on the front of the house. We did have some really nice sunsets.

It was especially pretty on the second night as the marine layer (fog) rolled in from the sea around Morro Rock

Finally we made the return trip up the coast to our HAH- and on the way stopped to visit Highland Hills Inn where my sis was married 32 years ago at Carmel. I finally stood in the spot I wished I could have stood those many years ago...

And Mary- it is absolutely as beautiful as you said- even better than the pictures- and those were pretty grand.
And before we returned to our drive home we paused to "celebrate" this special place and this special day...