Peter and Elizabeth - RTW 2009-11 travel blog

Eugene O'Neill's house




Amazing views


Our canvas tent


Yosemite falls




























Cool reflection

Half dome




Half dome

Our village from Glacier point

Amazing colours




Elizabeth's pictures from photography course

Elizabeth's pictures from photography course

Elizabeth's pictures from photography course

Elizabeth's pictures from photography course

Elizabeth's pictures from photography course

Elizabeth's pictures from photography course

Elizabeth's pictures from photography course

October 29, 2011

We left Point Reyes early this morning as we had quite a drive and, like always, there was somewhere we wanted to stop along the way! We were going to visit the house where Eugene O’Neill wrote many of his most famous works. The tours to his house started from a small town called Danville and when we arrived we noticed there was a farmer’s market taking place near the museum where we had to meet. We had a quick walk around the market and bought some jam before checking out some other things we wanted for later!

When we met for the tour we were in a group of about 6 people and the other 4 were from the local retirement community. I guess this shows where Elizabeth’s tastes lie! The journey to the Eugene O’Neill Historical Site was only about 10 minutes and we were soon entering the house he had lived in and which had been decorated mostly by his wife. The entry gate was decorated with Chinese symbols as his wife liked the Oriental style and this was further seen inside the house. The ceilings were painted blue to represent the sky in almost every room and the walls were a plain white. Only in some of O’Neill’s personal rooms did the style change and even in his study the oriental theme was continued as he had chosen red for the ceiling. The darker walls and shelves lined with books didn’t add much to the room by way of natural light but it was still a large, open space and you can see why he was comfortable writing here. His study was on the top floor and tucked away at the far end of the house. They also had samples of his writing on display here and it was barely legible. He was lucky enough that his wife could understand and read it and she translated and typed it all for him. She was said to have considered herself more as a secretary than his wife. The house was really interesting and at the end we were able to see a copy of the Nobel Prize for Literature that O’Neill won which was cool. It showed a copy of the medal and certificate received which we hadn’t even seen when we’d visited the Nobel Museum last year!

Back in Danville we revisited the farmer’s market where we accompanied our jam with some lovely zucchini bread, fresh fruit, a couple of dips and some Afghan bread. We were certainly going to have a feast tonight! We also stopped briefly at Target to get some boxes for the back of the car so we could organize some of our food and drinks and this turned out to be a good idea.

When we arrived in Yosemite National Park, our home for the next few days, the weather was glorious and the road into the park had some amazing views of Bridalveil Falls and Half Dome, two of the sights we would see plenty of during our stay. We wanted to check a few things out at the visitor centre so rather than going to check in we headed for the main car park and headed to there. We were due to drive right across the park when we leave and we wanted to ensure the road would be open so we could plan accordingly. The rangers said the road was currently open and as the forecast was good it should still be in a couple of days. This was good news as crossing the park is about 4 hours driving quicker than going around! We also stopped at the Ansel Adams photography gallery and the massive store where just about everything was available from food to clothes to souvenirs. We saw a couple of mule deer around this area too and they certainly didn’t seem to be scared of people.

We drove around to Curry Village where we were staying. We got checked in and were told we were not allowed to leave any food, drinks or “anything scented” in the car and had to lock everything away in a bear-proof locker. We were also staying in a canvas tent which meant that it was not considered safe to have it in the room. This really sucked for us as we’d bought quite a bit of food and cans of drink just yesterday as well as all the food we had bought today so we had a lot of stuff to drag from the car to our tent and the locker outside it. In fact, we weren’t even supposed to have any food at any time inside the tent but we had to bring it inside at first so we could sort everything out. We even had to lock all of our soaps and shampoos in the locker as they were considered “scented”! We did eat some of the dips and Afghan bread for dinner whilst in our tent but we were careful not to spill anything.

When we booked the canvas tent we thought it would be quite a novel idea and we weren’t expecting the weather to be too cold at this time of year. We were at least hoping that we’d be warm enough in bed but even with three or four blankets we were both shivering in our individual beds. Eventually Elizabeth got her sleeping bag out and I quickly followed suit. We weren’t sure we’d need our sleeping bags on the trip but we had Lynda bring them just in case and we were so, so glad we had them! Even so, neither of us slept very well with a combination of the cold and the hard beds!

October 30, 2011

We were both wary of stepping outside the relative comfort of our sleeping bags but by the time we got out of bed we found out it was actually warmer outside than in! We had some cereal for breakfast (the milk stayed nice and cold in the outside “fridge”!) and while Elizabeth went to the toilets to brush her teeth, I managed to spill a drink inside our cabin! I was hoping we wouldn’t come under bear attack!

We decided to do a walk around the valley floor this morning and we decided to start at the Yosemite Falls. The national park runs shuttle buses around the park which link the accommodation blocks with various trailheads and viewing areas and we were lucky enough to catch a bus immediately outside Curry Village to take us to the Lower Yosemite Falls. We followed the short Yosemite Falls trail and by the time we reached the bottom of the lower falls we had a great view of the upper falls, too. The Yosemite Falls are actually recorded as the fifth highest in the world and although the water flow wasn’t overly strong, it was certainly falling from quite a height!

At the bottom of the trail we saw some more mule deer lazing around and we headed along the valley, roughly following the Merced River as it wound in between the roads, the meadows and a criss-cross of various trails. At times we struggled to find where our trail was going but knowing we only had to follow the river made it much easier. The views were amazing and even through the trees we were able to see much of the surrounding mountains, from the 2300m El Capitan to the 2700m Half Dome at the far end of the valley. The trees were turning for autumn and the colours were great and although the wildlife we saw was limited to Steller’s Jays, woodpeckers and loads of squirrels it was a really enjoyable walk. The loop we were doing was around 6.5 miles and with the additional side trail to Yosemite Falls and walking right back to Curry Village we were set to do around 9 miles in total today. When we reached El Capitan Bridge we were around halfway and were ready for a lunch break and after we’d crossed the rived we stopped at an area called Cathedral Beach for a short rest. It wasn’t a relaxing rest as an obnoxious family allowed their children to scream and shout while they had lunch. I guess that also explains why we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife!

After stopping for lunch we were unable to find the trail so we followed the road for a bit. Elizabeth didn’t really enjoy walking along the road as she didn’t trust the drivers whizzing past but we were soon at the Swinging Bridge and were able to find the trail and walked our way back into our freezing cold tent! Despite being mid-afternoon, the tents were tucked away right beneath the nearby hillside and received no sun at all during the day so it never really warmed up. We decided to grab some stuff and check out the lounge area. When we entered we were annoyed we hadn’t found it last night as it was a large, comfortable and WARM area where we could have sat and had dinner and relaxed. Still, we were glad we found it now and it was nice to warm up and enjoy our dinner while we used the internet and did some of our travel journals, both of us being quite a way behind – we’re obviously having too much fun to be concerned with writing and stuff! Of course, we eventually got tired and had to venture back to our freezing cold room in the dark and wrap up for sleep!

October 31, 2011

This morning I had decided I wanted to go on a short photography walk and Elizabeth decided she would come with me. I wasn’t sure if she would enjoy it but thankfully it wasn’t very technical and she was able to use my smaller camera to take some shots of her own. We met for the short walk at the Ahwahnee Hotel, a much classier accommodation within the park, and met our guide, Phil. He was quite young and it was interesting seeing the dynamic of the group. Most of the people were much older and many of them had cameras which were older than Phil! Only a couple of people in the group had larger, SLR cameras like me and most of the first half an hour of the walk was Phil showing people how to use their cameras and the basic functions. One woman didn’t even know how to view her pictures on her camera. Thankfully the setting was lovely and I was able to take some nice pictures of the Ahwahnee Meadow while I stood around and waited. One old guy with a nice camera was really annoying and acting like he knew it all. All I knew was that he was wearing the most horrific sweater I’d ever seen with a picture of Snoopy on it! As we walked around the Ahwahnee Meadows we got some great views – from the fall colours on the trees, to Half Dome, North Dome, Washington’s Column and, finally, one of the lakes with the reflections of all these things in it. Elizabeth and I got some lovely pictures but we didn’t really learn anything from the course due to Phil’s time being monopolized by a bunch of old ladies.

Once the 2 hour walk was over, Phil rushed back towards the hotel leaving much of the group behind but we decided to head off too and actually got a chance to chat with him. He gave us a picture postcard as he left us with one of the shots he had taken and his name details on the back. Honestly, I didn’t think the picture was anything special but given he already had contacts with people at National Geographic and he lived and worked in this amazing setting, he was well ahead of me!

We hadn’t realized exactly where the Ahwahnee Meadow was and how close we had been to the post office and visitor centre so when we reached the hotel we lazily got the shuttle bus to these areas. Elizabeth had a letter to post so we got a special stamp from Yosemite at the post office there before heading to the Ansel Adams gallery so I could buy a book featuring some of his photos of various national parks. From this area you also get a view of Yosemite falls and at the time we walked past there was a stunning rainbow across the upper falls. At the main store we bought a couple of postcards, magnets, stickers and such like before walking back to Curry Village. It was at this point that we walked directly through Ahwahnee Meadows and realized we’d have been quicker walking last time than waiting 10 minutes for the shuttle bus!

Back at Curry Village we made some sandwiches and had our lunch before deciding to go for a drive around to some of the far flung corners of the park. We hadn’t planned on doing too much this afternoon but given the canvas tent was freezing and the lounge area had seen enough of us, we thought we’d do some driving around. Just as we left Curry Village we saw a coyote stroll out into the road in front of us. I wasn’t able to get a picture as I wasn’t prepared for it which was a shame because it was so close and was hardly moving at speed across the tarmac!

As we drove out of Yosemite Valley, we got some great views of Bridalveil Falls and stopped at an area called Tunnels View to get some different views of the valley. It is amazing I’ve not crashed yet as some of the scenery we have driven through has been breathtaking and it is hard to concentrate on the road. I’m sure Elizabeth’s parents, whose car we are driving, are pleased it is still in one piece!

We drove all the way to Mariposa Grove to begin with and this area has the largest giant sequoias in the park. Whilst in this area we went for a short hike and along the way we saw the Fallen Monarch, a tree wider than Elizabeth was tall, Bachelor and The Three Graces and, finally, Grizzly Giant. This tree is not the biggest circumference wise but it is the tallest tree in the park and is estimated to be 1,800 years old. It was magnificent to see, too, as this tree was afforded a little more space than some of the others so it stood out. I suspect that the root system to keep this entire tree upright is fairly extensive and probably other trees struggle to survive too close to it! A little further on we saw Tunnel Tree, named for the tunnel that was cut in the trunk around 1895 for horse drawn carriages to pass through. This doesn’t sound anything major but imagine how wide those carriages were and then imagine how wide the tree must be not only to have a carriage-sized hole cut in it but still having enough trunk left to hold up the rest of the tree! There were originally two such Tunnel Trees but one of them no longer exists. Elizabeth was dwarfed standing in the tunnel of the one still remaining.

After the Grove, we drove up to Glacier Point. Along the route winding upwards, we saw hundreds of trees covered in bright green moss lining both sides of the road and on the few occasions the tree coverage broke, we were able to see across to the opposite side of the Yosemite Valley. Our first stop was a viewing point which had great views of the Vernal and Nevada waterfalls before carrying on to the main viewing area at Glacier Point. This area was over 3,000ft above the valley floor and gave some amazing views. It was really cool to try and spot the things we had seen and walked around including the Yosemite Falls, the Ahwahnee Hotel and Meadows, the visitor centre and, lastly, the freezing cold, shaded Curry Village. I’m sure we could see our tent as well – it was the ice covered one with the beer inside licking up the drink I’d spilt! There seemed to be lots of people who were at Glacier Point for sunset and this seemed a bit weird to me. The sun was setting behind them and most of the Yosemite Valley floor was already shaded as the sun plunged beneath the valley walls. As we left the viewing area and traced the road back down, we were on the opposite side of the valley walls and we were able to watch the sunset as we drove. The colours of the leaves on the trees really changed as the angle of the sun altered and some of the oranges and reds on the leaves were so bright and vibrant. Eventually we decided to pull into a small parking area to watch the sun go down before continuing our drive back.

We decided to try and eat at one of the local places near Curry Village for dinner tonight so we grabbed our stuff and went to lounge where we found out that EVERYTHING in Curry Village was closed. When we checked in we’d been given a timetable for the restaurant opening hours but they’d forgotten to tell us that halfway through our stay they switched to winter hours and, tonight, nothing was open. This really annoyed us as it meant we’d have to head out in the car again and the double annoyance was that the lounge and our tent in Curry Village weren’t close together and I’d left the car key in the room and would have to run back and get it. We had to go to the Yosemite Lodge for food and here they had a cafeteria style area where we actually had a reasonable choice of food. I got a Philly cheese steak and Elizabeth got a grilled cheese sandwich. Even though we were around a hotel, the area was really dark. The downside of this was that it was impossible to see anything as we walked around trying to find the car but the upside was some amazing views of the stars in the clear night sky. After dinner we decided to do the same as we’d done last night and we headed back to the Curry Village lounge and wasted some time there, in the warm, until they kicked us out at 10pm when they closed. At that point, we had little choice but to return to our canvas tent for one final night and to freeze our balls off.

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