Saturday, July 30, 2011

Steinbeck's California

I've discovered several personal camping truths-

- I need my wide brimmed hiking hat, caps just don't cut it.
-I like bottles over camelbaks.
-I'm never spinning in circles around some little town looking for a laundromat again.
-and I need a map.

A real map, like in the olden days.  A borrowed, never updated, Garmin is a recipe for a feud, so I gently forced my husband to stop and get his wife a map.  I'm sure he thought I was completely backward to want one because he brought me the "special" map with lots of cartoon pictures of tourist sites for children or something.  It was like the "You are here" maps at Astroworld; only instead of pictures of The Bamboo Shoot ride, there were California highlights.

It's a good thing, too, because we decided then to make The Steinbeck House one of our Coastal destinations.

 We were staying in the area The Grapes of Wrath was set in, then drove from Yosemite to Hollister, the scene for Travels with Charley.  We passed through the hills and patchwork of farms and ranches near Salinas that inspired the backdrop for East of Eden and The Red Pony (this book was one of the first gifts I ever gave my husband.)   It's the same valley that Of Mice and Men was set in, further south, and it really was beautiful.  It finished off the last of my preconceived notions about California.

My husband and I wondered how much of the farmland was still owned by the same families and how much had changed for migrant workers since The Grapes of Wrath was published - besides the obvious.

 John Cerney's larger than life field hands along the highway seemed to celebrate the same workers.   It was on a farm in this very area the John worked jobs with some of the men whose stories inspired the characters of one of my husband's favorite books, Tortilla Flat

Then there was the Steinbeck house itself.  We really didn't spend much time there except to get a guide to all the sites that influenced his writings.  You didn't really think I just knew all of this history on the man, did you?  From Salinas, we headed to Monterey (Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday.)

I read that the Chamber of Commerce in Monterey was horrified when Cannery Row was published because it seemed to cast a seedy light on their city.  Of course, the Cannery Row was seedy, but in years since the city has learned to embrace, and exploit, the color his novels gave them.  There is Steinbeck hype all over the place...

and very little seediness.
 We walked the length of this strip, seeing the old Wing Chong Market (called Lee Chong's in the book)

and La Ida's Cafe next door.

We ate at The Monterey Canning Co, now a restaurant, where my son and daughter wore their first lobster bibs.  Aw.

 All of the old canneries are now restaurants and souvenir shops.  That part kind of made me think of Galveston and shirts with big, red shark bites taken out of them for sale.  The coast, however, was very different.

 This was the view from our table at the Fishhopper.

 And it was COLD.  After getting some hot chocolate, we drove along the coast to Pacific Grove's Perkins Park footpath where my well-meaning daughter and her bread crumbs were accosted by some very intimidating sea gulls.

(Perkins Park, polaroid)
 This path leads to a tidepool where the real and fictional Doc collected specimens.  (I know how dorky I sound.  Let me just push my thick glasses up the bridge of my nose now and clear my throat.  There, that's better.)

It's so foreign to us- this foggy, rocky coast.  My son loves to climb on rocks and could've played there, climbing and looking for groundhogs in the wildflowers, until dark.

I am so glad my husband bought me the gas station kiddie map.

Friday, July 29, 2011


I read that Yosemite is a zoo in the summer.  
It was, but it was a zoo we needed to see.  I mean, we were so close that it would be a sin to not go for a  day, at least.  
As soon as we entered the park we pulled off of the road with the rest of the millions of tourists for our big Valley photo op.  It was lovely, far above all of the bobbing heads and not a car in sight, and one of the most natural shots of the day.  

(Yosemite Valley polaroid, day 172)

 From that point forward, we joined the herd and began our search for parking.   I later learned from my doctor that if we'd just left our car there, we could have walked all over the valley away from the crowds.  Wish I'd known I could do that.  

(Bridal Veil Falls, polaroid)

We walked by Bridal Veil Falls and did get soaked :)
 (Bridal Veil up close)

After finding a place to park (it took hours to get into the park and another to find parking), eating, and spending too much on those Yosemite hoodies and argyle mugs(?), we actually started looking for a real trail.

But we learned that in the crowd it is too hard to get a shuttle to the more remote trails and have enough daylight  to hike them.  One guy told us we had to camp there and ride the shuttle at daybreak to the trailheads.  Oh well.  We did see the Lower Yosemite Falls and walked the Mirror Lake Trail, but these were very short and much of it was paved.   Most of our day was spent in our car or the shuttles, then it was time to go. 

We knew it would be like this, rushed and less wild, but we only had one day.  I kept thinking about what one ranger had told us: that when naturalist Carl Sharsmith was asked what he'd do if he had only one day to see Yosemite, he said, "Madam, I'd sit by the Merced River and cry."

(The Mercer River)

 I think what I enjoyed most about Yosemite was in my head.  I  may have been surrounded by big groups of people but enclosed in the car, I could imagine John Muir's team exploring it without sidewalks and roads.   I read that he called Yosemite "God's big show."

And in the Ansel Adams Shop (?) I could see how things looked just a generation ago.

I could picture the climbers that frequently come to scale El Capitan, some without harnesses, as I drove past their packed campground.

  (El Capitan and the exit line )

 (Lower Yosemite Falls)

I took advantage of every little niche we found that was either quiet or loud with roaring water.

 And we had fun talking to each other and getting advice and entertainment on the shuttles.
Then there was the Cory Feldman lookalike vogue-ing along the side of the road.  I think it's really sad that I remember Cory Feldman.

 (My husband by Mirror Lake)
 (my boy watching him)

 (Mirror Lake, Polaroid)

 Yes there were rattlesnakes here too, despite my husband's pishaw-ing me that it was too high in elevation.

  As we ate pizza and hung out waiting for the traffic to thin out after dark, I knew this park just hadn't blown my mind.  But it was such a feast for my eyes, that I can see how another day, at a different time of year, it could.

(The Merced, polaroid) 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ttv Trees, California Pt.4

These are some of my ttvs of the Sequoia National Forest.

 (General Sherman- the largest living thing in the world, day 167)
 (Sequoia cross section)

 (Gen. Sherman from a distance)

 (This gives you an idea of the massive-ness)

 (The President)

 (view from Moro Rock)
More on Flickr

Next up,  a day at Yosemite.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

California Part 3, More Big trees

I'll picking up where I left off...
 On Day 3 we sought the pictographs near the suspension bridge over the Kaweah and made it much more complicated than it had to be.  After basically blazing a new trail (the kids were now a little nervous about underbrush and snakes) we realized we'd passed them right beside the trailhead.  I did enjoy the accidental trip by the old flume.  My kids said it was like something out of their video games.

 Once back at the river, we enjoyed hopping from one big rock to another beside the river.  They had little holes in them, with pockets of water and tadpoles swimming about.

 After lunch it was time for an easy trail around the Crescent Meadow via the Meadow Loop and High Sierra Trail.  This one was Alpine like- cool and refreshing.  I loved the quiet and lack of people.  I could easily imagine cougars and bears here.    

 After missing another turn off, we backtracked and rounded a huge fallen trunk with a mess of roots when my son spotted our first bear.

 It seemed so small that my Grandfather's words of wisdom, "Wherever there's a bear cub, there's a mama bear not far behind" went through my head.  We quietly backtracked and rushed along the route we'd come.  We'd have to get to Tharpe's cabin another way.  But as we reached a halfway point, we saw people gathering in one spot and realized there was another bear maybe 20 feet from the path, fishing in a barely perceivable stream.

  My daughter wasn't as frightened here.  I guess she thought she could outrun all the other little kids :)  We passed by and got a few pics on the way. He didn't care about us at all, in fact, I was feeling so confident and the light was so perfect in the meadow, that I stopped to take a polaroid of him, even waiting for it to develop before moving on.   I would never go up to one, but passing by with the throng, that's okay, right?

 We did make it to Tharpe's cabin, made from a sequoia trunk, and wondered at the difficulty he would have had driving a herd of cattle from the little town of Three Rivers, where we camped, up the same mountains it took us hours to drive through to this meadow each summer.    But we could see the value of the trek.

(Tharpe's Cabin)
 It really is a beautiful spot.  My daughter even decided she could live there, in a log, as long as she had cable, a computer, and cell service.  I'm thinking I'd like to without it.

(Tharpe's Meadow)
  Our last day there we passed the Lincoln Tree and went down Rim Rock Trail.  It was different with wildflowers, fallen rocks and trees.  One thing I completely got to indulge in was conversation with my children.  Once we were a fair way down a trail they'd just open up and the stories and thoughts would pour out like water.

My daughter updated us on all the crazy happenings of her friends and told us how the book Weird Texas had scared her when she was little and how she had trouble sleeping after reading urban legends in the school library (ever heard of the Bunny Man?)  Our son relayed some funny stories he and his friends had written and how a martial arts rival got justice under the bleachers of a high school football game through a series of hilarious events.  Sometimes we played a song lyric game where I would give my daughter a word and she had to think up a song lyric that included it.  I so enjoyed those moments.

We also saw our fifth bear, who walked right into the middle of the Giant Forest tour area and proceeded to roll around and scratch his belly like our dog Moses.

Sequoia Forest was everything I had hoped it would be.

(evening on a mountain, day 169)
 Next up: ttv photos of The Giant Forest.

 I realize this was long, but it serves as a scrapbook for me.  The rest won't be so bad.