There are things I’ve always wanted to see. The Vatican comes to mind. That’s right. I’ve never been to Rome. Karla’s been a bunch of times but yours truly is bound to the North American landmass. I did visit Ireland once but it wasn’t much to write home about, despite the postcards I sent.
Another example or two of places my heart has always harbored a desire to visit (for whatever reason) is the Anne Murray Center in Spring Hill, Nova Scotia. Oh you thought I actually went there after reading that post… Yeah, it never happened. Sadness. There’s also a neat little place I’ve read about along the Vermont/Quebec border where the international boundary actually goes right down the middle of the two towns’ library. Thought we’d hit that on this trip but we didn’t have the time. In fact, other than Mike the Chicken I’ve kind of gotten screwed on seeing some of my wish-list of the bizarre. It’s OK. It’s all in the name of efficient Grill’n & Chill’n.
Then there are those places I’ve read about but probably would never go out of my way to visit. A few years back we happened to be in Arizona and close enough to visit the Grand Canyon. What a magnificent sight! Glad we stopped. Couldn’t imagine going there just to go there, though. It’s kind of off the beaten path and not near any major city. It is a destination unto itself and in that regard, well, its just a big hole in the ground.
DAY 41/The High Sierras
Another such place we had an opportunity to visit is the region surrounding Yosemite National Park. I never would have planned a trip to this place but since we had to get from Nevada to San Francisco, why not? We headed out through the desert after packing up at the hotel. Someone who shall remain nameless but who’s name rhymes with Jim forgot it was a Friday and had sausage at breakfast. Perhaps some of the following was God’s way of offering me an additional penance to make up for it. The road we set out on (US 6/US 50) is, in parts, called the “Loneliest Road in America”. Honest to God, it even says so on our Rand McNally trucker’s atlas! For two hours we saw nothing. There were no other cars and definitely no gas stations. We adopted the practice that when we saw one we would top off regardless of how much was still in the tank.
After a while we reached the end of Nevada. How could we tell? The prostitutes were lined up along the border waving goodbye. Also, we passed the highest point in the state and a tiny sign that said “Welcome to California. NO SMOKING!” Prior to this day – and I consider geography a wheelhouse of sorts – I was not aware that the Sierra Nevadas, also called the High Sierras, are actually the highest mountain range in the Lower 48. Seriously, in grade school they always make such a big deal out of the Rockies that I just didn’t draw the connection. But when you enter California at this point on the map you recognize the truth of that statement immediately. Staring us in the face was an enormous mountain range and we, my friends, were about to traverse it.
Our first stop was a place called Mono Lake. A rival of sorts to its northern friend Lake Tahoe, this lake is magnificent in its color – a cool blue – and the presence of ospreys, despite a lack of fish in the lake. We drove down a sandy, one-lane road right up to the beach and got out. Karla, not knowing what an osprey is, asked if the tiny hopping bugs on the coast were the birds in question. I’m a city boy but I’m pretty sure those were just flies.
We drove a few more miles, had lunch, and headed into the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite. Immediately we began pulling all of our weight (including a few dozen Grill’n & Chill’n tee shirts still in our car) up to a height of over 13,ooo feet, taking in some of the most incredible scenery I’ve ever seen.
Can I tell you that Yosemite is vast? I just did. The thing is we didn’t know just how vast until we began to realize we came into the park from the far side. We drove about an hour without seeing any of the things we were expecting. Then we doubled back and down into Yosemite Valley. And then we saw it all!
There was Yosemite Falls, Half-dome, and El Capitan – familiar to me as the background on my Macbook. The pictures can do the talking at this point. As for the five of us, we simply enjoyed God’s handiwork for a bit, getting an ice cream, and posing for some pictures. Then it was time to head on out of this park.
The exit took us back up out of the valley, over more mountains, and then down a painfully slow two-lane road back toward the coast. We had three hours ahead of us. Our destination tonight was San Francisco. Along the route we encountered a section of road called Priest Grade. Coming down from the most dramatic peak we were given the option of taking the new road or the old road. I’ll lay it out for you and you decide.
- New road: 4% grade, descent of 2500 feet, covered over six miles and a hundred switchbacks.
- Old road: 17.5% grade, descent of 2500 feet, covered over two miles.
From our vantage on the new road, gently swaying back and forth, hugging the hillside we could see a line of cars and campers on the old road across the valley, smoke coming off their brakes. I think we chose wisely.
We arrived to our hotel ready for an exciting day of sightseeing and visiting a dear friend or two. I unpacked the car. Having done my manly duties for the day – driving, lifting suitcases, carrying sleeping children into bed – I opted for a little break. I am accustomed to stepping outside for a smoke here and there. The good folks at the Holiday Inn San Mateo must have seen me coming. They carved out a cute little smoking niche from a parking space.
What won’t they think of next?