Great American Road Trip Days 5 and 6: Yosemite – Tripping in the valley

We started out the day in Fresno with ambitious plans to leave by 9:30AM. We only had a bit of shopping and some goodbyes to take care of, but in the end we barely got out before 11AM. Still we were well equipped and had a chance to see my grandparents again before heading out, so no regrets.

The 2 hour drive to Yosemite passed quickly, though the foothills of the Sierras greeted us long before we actually made it to the valley. It’s a pleasant drive and I hope those Fresno residents realize how lucky they are to be so close! Our Annual Access Pass for US National Parks ($80) began to recoup its value here, good for the $20 Yosemite entrance fee.

I’ve been to Yosemite many times before, but this visit was different in two significant ways. First, we stayed in the valley itself whereas I usually stay outside the valley proper, often in Wawona, where it’s less crowded and the camp sites are better. Second, we stayed in one of the Curry Village “cabins”, which I’ve generally avoided because of cost and location. We stayed two nights in a cabin and though it was a basic setup (3 beds, a light, some electrical plugs, and a door with a pad lock), it was nice to have a structure around us that we didn’t have to set up and take down ourselves, and to have clean linens provided daily. There are showers and laundry available too. I’m not sure I would pay the relatively steep price during the high-season, but if you get a deal it might be worth it.

The Yosemite Lodge where the rest of our group was staying was basically like a hotel, a very different – and frankly rather appealing – experience in Yosemite. Hot, private showers, towels provided, a mini-fridge, 2 full beds and a roll-away (officially sleeps 3), and a back porch with a view of Yosemite Falls. Almost everything you could ask for. We spent a lot of time in the room, especially in the evenings, playing board and card games, and just hanging out, and although there was no toasting of marshmallows, it was the kind of fun that would be harder to have around a camp fire. So really just a different experience, not necessarily better. If you’re not an enthusiastic camper and can afford it, I’d actually recommend the Lodge experience, especially if you have a small group of people. Getting a good night’s rest in a real bed can help a lot on those long, tough hikes like the Half Dome trail too.

We were staying with the awesome folks at Tripping, which Katy now works for (go Katy!), and though I only had a short time to get to know them, by the end I felt like they were old friends. I had only ever met one of them before, but everyone treated me like a member of the crew and we had a lot of fun, from swimming to fishing to BBQing to night tours and more. So a big thanks goes to the Tripping people for being so welcoming!

The day of arrival we mostly spent running around trying to deal with check-in at 2 different lodgings, meeting up with everyone, and settling in. We happened to arrive right around the full moon so that evening we had a great moon-lit walk back to our cabin. I got a few shots of this which I’ve posted in my Picasa Gallery.

The next night we were able to take a rare moon-light tour, again a new experience for me, and it was well worth it. They only do them around the time of the full moon during the summer, but I definitely recommend it if you happen to be there at the right time.

We even got a bear “show”, with our tour guide Ranger Lauren taking off like a bullet without warning to chase a bear away from an abandoned pile of food, running at top speed at the normally imposing animal. It fled surprisingly quickly and they disappeared together into the night with the ranger’s shrill cries of “Get outta here bear!” echoing in our ears. She returned a few minutes later to continue the tour. So apparently that’s what you’re supposed to do if you see a bear – be loud and intimidating and, if you’re brave enough, scare it off.

Sunday was our real day of activity and we packed a lot in (including the full moon tour I just mentioned). During the day we went fishing, and one of the crew even caught a little something.

I meanwhile swam around in the rapids, scurried over rocks, and tackled snagged fishing lines for whomever was fishing at the time.

That evening, before the tour, we went to a great picnic spot on the Merced River where we cooked up some meat from our meat “CSA” at Marin Sun Farms – flank steak and tri-tip. We had so much meat in fact, that we had a tri-tip and a half as leftovers for the next few stops on our trip. More on that in Benton…

The picnic spot itself was gorgeous and we were there at my favorite time of day, as the sun is nearing the horizon (in Yosemite Valley this happens sooner than normal), the light gets more golden and the shadows get longer. There were kids running around and playing in the water, and light glinting off the river, with plenty of shade or sun, as you like it. It was idyllic. The sun disappeared just as we were about to eat, but the meal was none the worse for it.


Before we headed out, one of the group took a jump off a nearby bridge, and the experience was complete.

It was a unique few days in Yosemite, a surprise for me since I’ve been there so many times, and I was glad of the new experiences. I’ll look at a stay in the valley with a bit more interest in the future, I think. Our next stop is Benton Hot Springs, with Mono Lake and some other bits on the way… 

A brief stop in civilization

A quick update from Midvale, Utah, just south of Salt Lake City. The trip is going fantastically so far. From Yosemite we stopped briefly in Benton Hot Springs (lovely!), then crossed Nevada in a day to arrive in Zion, and on to Bryce from there. Both of these southern Utah parks are outstanding, but Bryce is definitely my favorite so far (I have yet to visit Capitol Reef or Arches, not to mention the many smaller parks in this whole amazing region).

So we’ve been camping and without much in the way of Internet access (or power) since Monday of last week. I had hoped to be able to put up some photos and do a bit of posting here more frequently, but so far that has proved difficult. I’ve been keeping mental notes though and I still intend to go back and write a post about each day. So far there has been more than enough of interest in almost every day that passes.

Look for those blog posts to begin in a week or less, depending on whether we find Internet access in any of our upcoming stops – The Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, The Badlands, Devil’s Tower. If nothing else, I’ll get it all up here once we reach Chicago around the 8th or 9th of September. I’ll begin on “Day 5”, our trip in to Yosemite, since that’s when things really kicked-off.

Here in Midvale we’re staying in an Extended Stay hotel that we booked for $25/night ($35 with taxes and fees) through Priceline (awesome!), and I have to say I’m impressed. Unlike a regular hotel, this is setup as an “efficiency”, so it actually has a small kitchen with 2 electric burners, a fridge, microwave, even a toaster oven. It also has 2 small desks, along with the usual recliner, bed, etc. Not to mention tons of electrical outlets – heaven for someone like me. The bed is a bit smaller than other hotels, but it’s fine for 2 people (we were nearly lost in the bed of the room we stayed at in Fresno). In every other way it is comparable to or better than other cheap hotels I’ve stayed at recently, and at $35/night all told, it’s hard to argue. There’s even on-site laundry! Now I’m not about to start schilling for a hotel chain, but I’ll definitely be looking for these the next time I want an inexpensive place to stay, and maybe other budget travelers might find the recommendation useful.

Anyway now that I’ve got access to all the power I need, I finally have a chance to offload all the pictures I’ve taken on the trip thus far to the external hard drive I have for the purpose. Anticipating a lot of photos, I brought along a 2TB USB drive, that also includes a bunch of music. Since the trip began I’ve already taken nearly 2400 photos, and I’ve realized that doing photo posts just on my photoblog will be somewhat limiting if I hope to maintain anything close to its original purpose (1 photo per day). So I will be putting my single favorite photo from each day/location there, and then putting a wider range of shots in my Picasa Gallery. I’m going to try to get one photo up tonight before I crash, just to give you something to tide you over. I ought to be able to do a full update around the time the rest of the blog post backlog is taken care of.
I also have a bunch of videos from the last week or so of travel, including some of a fun little rodeo we went to at Bryce Canyon, along with cute animals and lots more fun. I’ll be posting those on YouTube as time (and bandwidth!) allow.
Links to all of these different posts are in the new section for “My Other Sites” to the right.
For now I’ll wrap things up and try to get a decent photo posted. I hope to be back soon with lots more! Feel free to email me or comment below, I’d love to hear from you if you’re following our travels.

Great American Road Trip Days 1-5: Fresno – All packed and ready to shop

After leaving San Francisco on Tuesday, we have spent the last several days in Fresno visiting family and making sure we have all the essentials for our long-distance trek. We packed very well, but there are always things that get missed, or that you don’t have time to buy before you leave. Everything from new hiking shoes to water containers to jumper cables and more.

In-between trips to sprawling mega-stores, we had a moment to visit the Tower District of Fresno, which was apparently recommended to Katy by my first cousin (once removed) as the “cool part of Fresno”. I mainly remembered it for the classic old theater and its tower that unmistakably identify the area.

We found a rather nice little tea shop and had some enormous iced teas while we relaxed and did some people-watching. One or two other little gems presented themselves…

But my favorite was the pie shop.

We unfortunately didn’t have time to sample, but I’m curious for next time.

Tomorrow we leave for Yosemite which is the real start of our trip, though we’ll be in a cabin so the first test of the tent will have to wait for Benton Hot Springs on Monday. From there we drive straight across Nevada to Zion National Park, the first major destination that neither Katy nor I have seen before. I expect to put up the first pictures from the trip on my photoblog as soon as we get Internet access again after Yosemite.

It’s been great to see everyone down here, lots of relatives we don’t get to spend much time with, and some of whom were in from out of town as well. There’s no hospitality like that of close family and we’re fortunate to have this be our first stop. It’s a nice way to ease into the coming weeks of travel. Soon enough we’ll be on our own, fending for ourselves with nothing but our new (and largely untested) camping equipment to rely on!

Next check-in will probably be from Benton or beyond…

Time Flies and the Epic Road Trip

Just a quick update this time. I started writing a longer, more involved post, and then I realized it was kind of a waste of time. A lot has happened since my last update and I can’t possibly do justice to it all in any single blog post. So rather than try to do that, I’ll just mention a few things and leave the rest for future updates.

Most importantly, although this blog has seen very infrequent use, it’s about to get a lot more action. I’ve quit my “day job” at Bauman College, where I have worked for the past 4 1/2 years, and I’m going on an 8 week road trip with my girlfriend who just graduated from college. We’ll be doing a big loop around the US, first North then South, and we’ve got a ton of things in the itinerary already.

We’re also hoping for input from our friends and family on recommended places to visit and things to do on our route, so take a look a the PDF of our planned itinerary and let us know if you have something we just have to do or see on the way (in comments or by email). This is by no means a complete list of what we’ll be doing, it’s just an overview of the route and major “way points” (and we’re leaving it somewhat open to allow for a good amount of flexibility in the details).

Along the way we’ll both be blogging, taking photos, and even trying to get some decent video. I’ve got a new compact digital camera with high definition video recording capability (Panasonic ZS7), an intervalometer for my dSLR for shooting time-lapse (Pclix), and a new wide aperture prime lens as well (Sigma 24mm f/1.8). Photos will be at my photoblog, and video likely on my as-yet unused Youtube (or Vimeo) account. Reviews of all the new equipment will probably show up somewhere on our journey as I get the chance to use it all.

So if you’d like to follow us on our trek, we’d love to have you along for the ride. We’ll try to make it interesting. 😉 When I get back I expect to have some more time to keep the blog updated on a regular basis and I’ve got some potentially interesting posts waiting in the wings that I’ll be finishing up and publishing. Not least of which is the 2nd part of my 5 day week concept.

You can expect to see a new blog post at least once a week from here until the end of the trip!