Sunday, November 30, 2008

One Last Time: Thanksgiving in Yosemite

This year Thanksgiving was very different than our usual tradition, but then again these past 14 months haven't exactly been traditional, at least not for Max and me. As we get ready to leave California, we are doing "one last times". This was not only our last Thanksgiving here (OK, it's only our second) but we also celebrated it by giving thanks for beautiful nature, specifically Yosemite. Yes, we were there about a month ago with Matthew and Sharon, but this time we met Will and Brandy in a cabin just south of Yosemite. I'm going to miss being so close to such beautiful mountains and trees. We can drive north to Muir Woods- or the spectacular Avenue of the Giants- or south to Big Basin- or Big Sur- or to the west to lake Tahoe or Yosemite- the longest drive is 5 hours- and you see the most incredible, breathtaking, humbling experiences of God's spectacular creation. I'm going to miss this the most (except perhaps my Bay- I do love this Bay- and never tire of watching the boats come in and out- and the surf rise and fall)- But it is the forests that take your breathe away- again and again. So this Thanksgiving we met Brandy and Will to celebrate Thanksgiving in this most remarkable of places- Yosemite. Our first full day there was Thanksgiving Day, so with all due tradition, Will, Brandy and I headed for the park and Max stayed in the cabin to cook our dinner. Such a wonderful little wife I have! Actually it was her suggestion, and I think she really wanted to do it that way, or at least she insists that she did. For me it just isn't Thanksgiving if I don't spend the day in the kitchen- And I was determined- and I wasn't alone because Will and Brandy's two puppies kept me good company. So I cooked and cooked and cooked and cooked. Our Yosemite experience was a little different this time. The day was beautiful (at least at the start), but because of some snow and rain in the mountains, there was actually some water coming over the falls. It wasn't the crashing water falls the park is known for, but it was water and it was falling.

In the upper right corner of this picture you can just make out Bridal Veil Falls. That was our first stop in the Valley. We walked up to the bottom of the falls at the viewing area. Below is a good picture of how much water was actually coming over the falls.

On our last trip, Sharon and I climbed up to the very bottom of the falls where the water lands in a pool. It's a fairly rugged climb over big boulders and Will and I tried to do it again this time. But when we got close to the top the mist from the falls was too heavy making the granite surfaces very slippery. We got close, but couldn't get the whole way there.

Coming down was a new adventure too. Climbing down wet slippery rocks is a lot harder than climbing up them. So Will and I had to carefully find a less difficult path back down. Below Will is demonstrating some of the skills he learned as a combat rescue officer as he walked the plank down the rocks.

The surprise of the day was that Yosemite Falls also had water coming over it. On our previous trip the falls were only represented by a water mark on the granite wall where the water normally falls. This time you can actually see water on the 1430 foot upper Yosemite Falls. The picture below was taken quite a ways away from the falls, just so I could get both the upper an lower falls in the same picture will Will and Brandy.

The picture below was taken about 300 feet from the base of the lower falls, which are themselves 320 feet high.

When Don, Brandy and Will got back to the cabin it was time for THANKSGIVING. We had to serve buffet style- straight from the stove- no serving bowls or utensils. But that doesn't make anything less tasty!

Brandy and Will went through the line...

And this year I made Grandma Lucas' Corn Pudding- and I'll make it next year and the year after and the year after...

Many of our traditional Thanksgiving foods were "discovered" in America- and then made their way back to Europe- And now we build our Festival around these NATIVE foods- turkey- corn- string beans- cranberries- potatoes- squash (pumpkin).

So we had sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, corn pudding, cranberry relish, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing- and of course the turkey. I've been making this same meal (that gets bigger and bigger when in Cincinnati- for 32 years- It's my favorite day- my favorite time- my favorite holiday- and I'm so looking forward to returning to Cincy to share this day with so many friends and family (PS: Brandy intends to run next year in the Cincy Thanksgiving Day Race- it is her POST BABY goal- so I think many of you need to get to the gym- or hit the streets- so you can keep up with her).

On Friday we hiked in the national forest just north of our cabin. The hike was about 4 miles along Lewis Creek. We planned this one well, by parking one car at the bottom of the hike and taking the other to the top. That way it was down hill all the way, and 830 foot drop. I forgot my camera on this hike, but Max had hers and got some great shots. The hike was GREEN and cool with a few waterfalls (not quite like the ones above, but very nice nonetheless).

There is nothing like a 4 mile hike- that is down hill all the way!

Now in between all this hiking- and eating (in typical Thanksgiving fashion this is the meal that keeps on giving- we had leftovers the rest of the time in the cabin- never had to cook again!)
But there were the games!

Will won scrabble...
Will won bridge... when I was his partner....when Don was his partner....when Brandy was his partner.... Not sure we would have noticed- but Will did point this out just in case it had escaped our notice.

On Saturday we hiked another National Forest trail up in an area that at one time was a grove of giant redwoods. Unfortunately, most of them were cut down in the early 1900's and turned into roof shingles. This was more of a grave yard of the giants in that after the trees are cut and carved into lumber, the stump remains for several hundred years as a reminder of what used to be there. The rest of the forest has grown up around these stumps leaving them as ghosts of what was there.
This stump on the left is close to 6 feet tall and the one in the back on the right is at least 15 feet tall. But the axe and the saw missed a few like this one in the picture below. This tree was about 250 tall, standing alone, surrounded by firs and pines that have grown up around it.

This hike took up up about 500 feet over a distance of about 1.5 miles. It was a beautiful hike with vistas of the lower mountains that make up the western edge of the Sierra range.


And then there was a nice walk in the forest....

We spent a two days hiking in the National Forest so that we could take Brandy and Will's dogs along with us. Dogs are not allowed on trails in the National Parks, but they are allowed in the National forest as long as they are on leases. So Caymen and Brumby both got some long walks with us on Friday and Saturday. But while in the cabin, they claimed the coach in front of the picture window as their own, and enjoyed naps there when they weren't protecting us from intruders.

And of course Don built the most fantastic of fires...

And we had such a wonderful time- and felt so lucky to spend this time with Brandy and Will (and Grandbaby #7)!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

One Last Time: A Trip to Point Bonita Lighthouse

For the second day in a row we have made a last trip. This time to another lighthouse at Point Bonita. Are you getting the idea that we like these lighthouses? Point Bonita is quite close to us as it sits at the entrance to the Golden Gate on the north side. This trip has been one of our favorites- it is so close- but it seems that a lot of "locals" just haven't discovered it yet- so never so very crowded- and always spectacular. This light house was first built in the 1850's and has been replaced at least once. It sits out in the Pacific on a rocky ledge above a rocky shore that took many boats to the bottom. This next picture was taken from the Marin Headlands high above the point and you can see how it stretches out into the ocean.

In this picture you can't actually see the lighthouse, but trust me it is at that tip of land in the distance. And I do mean a tip of land, or rock in this case. As you can see in the picture below, the ocean has worn away the original route to the lighthouse, so they now have a short suspension bridge that you use to walk over the rocky coast line to the actual lighthouse. In fact only two people at a time are allowed on the bridge,

and if you look down while crossing it you will be relieved that there isn't more weight on it. I only looked down a couple of times- and decided that if I looked again I might just freeze in place- besides there is a line on either side waiting to cross- and we'd waited for a while before embarking- so didn't want to suddenly start delaying this process of crossing- but it is a LONG WAY down to the water- and there a gaps between each board so you see the raging waves beneath your feet!

The picture below is of the same bridge taken from the lighthouse side. And yes, that is the surf just below it.

And if you look north up the coast line, you can see why this area was so dangerous for shipping before the lighthouse was built.

This light house is still being used, although they now use a 1000 watt bulb in it instead of wicks and whale oil. But the Fresnel lens is the original that was installed in the 1850's and it still warns ships of the rocky coast.

I loved the eagle head rain spouts just under the roof.

OK, I promise that's the last lighthouse picture you will see. We don't have any more to visit out here. Well- at least all the lighthouse pictures from the "left coast". I do believe we'll be visiting lighthouses- on the "right" coast whenever the occasion arises.

One Last Time: A Trip to Point Reyes Lighthouse

One of our favorite places to visit and one we have been to several times is the lighthouse at Reyes Point. Reyes Point is a needle of land that extends west about 11 miles into the Pacific about 30 miles north of the Golden Gate. But it's not just the beauty of the lighthouse- but the road that you take to get there. As you follow highway one up the north coast you drive the most windy, mountainous road to get there. Part of the highway is the road they use for that spectacular stretch of road to advertise cars- cars that go fast and take the curves close in- And the road that makes even me queasy in my stomach- and it takes a lot to make me queasy. But this stretch of road is spectacular- and I'm going to miss this spectacular beauty- around curves, and then by the flats with the waders fishing in the estuaries. A coastline so rugged and spectacular and remote- that it is still virtually uninhabited- except by birds and deer and fish and seals. The north coast Reyes Point runs straight east and west and is a beautiful straight beach onto which the winds blow and the surf pounds.

The south coast is a big curve that forms Sir Francis Drake Bay (he supposedly landed here back in 1570) and the waters there are calm and blue.

The western edge that faces the Pacific is all rocky cliffs, rock outcrops in the water and pounding surf that continuously wears at the coast line.

To make it more interesting, this piece of rock is moving north as the San Andreas Fault slowly moves this western part north. The fault line moves Reyes point away from the coast and another bay is formed on the east end of this piece of rock opening to the north called Tomales Bay.

We drove the Smart (AKA Too Cute) up to Reyes Point on Friday (Vacation Day for me) to spend one last time exploring this National Sea Shore. We do love lighthouses and try to visit them whenever we see one.

This 11 mile rocky needle has been the cause of many ship wrecks. The lighthouse was built back in 1870 to warn ships about this rocky point. The lens from this lighthouse was able to penetrate into the night for 24 miles from the light of several whale oil wicks. The Fresnel lens weighs about 6000 pounds and was made in France. It rotated using a geared clock system somewhat like a grandfather clock works using counter weights that had to be cranked up to keep it rotating.

The tip of the rocky point is 600 feet above the sea and the lighthouse was placed into a level spot blasted in the rock 300 feet below the top of the rock. Consequently, to get to the lighthouse you have to walk down some 300 steps. They really are quite helpful though- they put numbers on every 10 steps so you can mark your progress and you climb up from the lighthouse.

And they quite conveniently put little cages (don't want us to suddenly decide to jump) with benches periodically so we could stop and rest- We did occasionally.

But this National Sea Shore is more than just a lighthouse. There are hiking trails that allow you to explore the rocky cliffs. There are lots of deer that inhabit the land and we saw many of them grazing on the newly greened grass. They pretty much just ignored us as we walked by.

And there are COWS! I love COWS!

I have more pictures of cows- I kept making Don stop the car so I could take just one more picture- But maybe this is enough...

Well maybe you have to see this one- so you see what an absolute gorgeous views these cows have while they munch the grass. And this is no ordinary dairy farm- No this is a HISTORIC DAIRY FARM...

You all know all about the gold rush- and how everyone wanted to make a fortune in gold. Well I haven't heard of anybody that made a fortune in gold- but all those miners needed stuff- So there are folks still around who made a fortune in Levis- and railroad (Haight of Haight-Asbury)- and now you know it- Dairy cows. It was actually dairy farmers from Vermont that established these early farms moving several hundred pounds of butter from Point Reyes via schooners to the restaurants of San Francisco. These ranchers ultimately formed an uneasy alliance with the Sierra Club (you got it- ranchers and environmentalists all on the same page) to keep out the high end developers who wanted to turn this beautiful countryside into another gated community. This alliance won- so today we have both wilderness- and lighthouse- and COWS- all in one visit- and not a McMansion in site. Life is grand!

We hiked out about a mile to a place called Needle Rock at the southern tip of Point. As we were walking back we came to a narrow area and in the picture below you can see the rugged Pacific coast line on the left and the blue waters of Sir Francis Bay on the right.

I loved standing right in this spot- and being able to look to my left and see the crashing of the waves against the rocks on the ocean side- and turning to my right- and seeing the quiet pastoral scene of the bay with the docks and blue, blue water. It absolutely takes your breath away- you want to just stay and stare and stay and stare...

After hiking we drove back to Highway 1 and ventured north a few miles to Tony's Sea Food Grill. Tony's is a family owned business and has been in the same location, sitting on Tomales Bay, for the past 60 years. Tony's is only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and doesn't accept credit cards or checks. Tony likes cash. And Max likes Tony's BBQ oysters.

Tomales Bay is the location of another farm- Oyster Farming- The Hog Island Oyster Company (You can read about them at they raise nearly 3 millions oysters a year- oysters you can actually eat without worrying that you'll die of some awful disease. And I do love OYSTERS- so you can say that a trip to Point Reyes is always a favorite for me- rugged coast, great lighthouse, COWS, nice hiking trails- and OYSTERS. Now Don hates oysters (I'm not sure what he thinks of cows)- but I know he hates oysters- So while I ate oysters- raw- barbeque and then fried- he had a hamburger and fries!

But before there were any oysters- everyone in the whole restaurant had to come out and check out the car- they took turns sitting in the seats- looking in the rear- So there was no service until the tour of the car was finished...

I counted- there were two cooks- two servers- and about three people who were just drinking at the bar- all checking over the Smart- We really drew a crowd- and were treated like celebrities after that.

They started me with a great big fat raw oyster- Oh my- this was good (by the way notice the finest of table setting- paper plates- now there's a road side joint that knows how to act like a road side joint).

And then to their specialty- five great big fat barbeque oysters- all for me- Don won't touch the things- go figure.

And then I made a strong finish with a fried oyster sandwich- three great bit fat ones- with tartare sauce and toasted sour dough bread. Delish!

After dinner and on our way back to San Francisco down Highway 1 the sun was setting as we were passing the estuary at Stinson Beach. You all know how much we do like sun sets and this one was another that was worth displaying.

I'm going to miss Point Reyes and the lighthouse and the cows and the oysters and the estuary and the sunsets. Maybe we'll visit- I don't know- but one thing for sure- I'll always remember the trips up the coast- and those great big fat oysters at Tony's!