Yosemite – Day 2

We got up at a reasonable hour and made The Best Breakfast over a campfire. Yosemite’s nearby grove of giant sequoias includes one of the oldest organisms in the world.

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The Grizzly Giant is a whopping 2,500 years old and HUGE. Even during a week of seeing big trees, these were in a category of their own.

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We had a picnic — Josh had never before experienced the yumminess of a Thundercat sandwich. What? You’ve never heard of it, either? This culinary joy is simply a peanut butter and honey sandwich; I often have one for breakfast on the weekdays.

Then was a run for firewood, and our first real look at the park.

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Yowza.

Also I should mention that the beautiful rock formations here are the result of a massive magma chamber that cooled, was thrust above ground over millions of years and then dramatically carved into their current shapes by glaciers. (in other words, LAVA LAVA LAVA)

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El Capitan is over a mile high. If you want to climb it bottom to top, it takes two days and you have to camp out halfway up. This involves a special camp hammock and NERVES OF STEEL OMG.

Half Dome (below) is my favorite of the formations. It’s one of the highest in the park, and I can just feel the geological history streaming from it. You can hike to the top (with great effort), and if we ever go back I’d love to try it. Josh thinks I am bonkers. As long as a storm doesn’t roll in (volcanic rock attracts lightning like crazy, and people have died up there from it), I’m sure I’d be fiiiiine. Probably.

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We watched the sun set at Glacier Point. I wish the colors showed up better here. The rocks turned this wonderful pink-purple, it was beautiful. Then, just seconds later, the color was gone and the rock was gray, but the sky and clouds were bursting in neon lavender and hot pink. We had considered staying to see the stars — Glacier Point is the spot for that, too, and it was a crystal clear night — but we were quite cold (temperature drops fast at that elevation), we had another hour until full dark, and we hadn’t eaten dinner yet.

We got back to camp and with some effort got our fire started. Dinner was hot dogs with a steaming mug of tea. When we got firewood, we had also picked up chocolate bars And Reese’s cups for s’mores. I don’t actually care much for marshmallows, but I will make an enthusiastic exception for s’mores.

The stars were INCREDIBLE. You see 10x as many stars out here and they come to the foreground so much you can’t find the stars you are accustomed to. I’m no constellation afficianado, but I can always find Orion’s belt — it’s three stars in a line: boom, boom, boom. I couldn’t find it on this sky, however, with all the supporting players moving into leading roles.

And my favorite part: the Milky Way sweeping from one side of the view to other, a cosmic gaussimer stroke. You know, just billions of our neighboring solar systems. In Hawaii, we saw a similar scene stretch horizon to horizon; here in Yosemite we were peering up through a clearing. Our view was a perfect circle of sky, rimmed with the deep black silhouetted top limbs of towering Redwoods and Douglas Firs. If that doesn’t move you, you are unimpressable.

We spent the rest of the night daydreaming of leaving our computer-driven urban life and going to live in the woods.

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Yosemite – Day 1

Are we campers? We were about to find out.

Yosemite was still several hours away and we got a late start. Josh is a laid back traveler, but has one rule: we must know where we are sleeping.

Everything I’d read about Yosemite said you should have reservations for camping, and so I called that morning to make said reservations. Unfortunately, you have to make them at least 24 hours ahead. We were showing up that afternoon. Uh-oh.

“What are we going to do?” Josh asked.

“They have first-come, first-serve campgrounds. I guess we give that a shot.” What I didn’t mention was that some of those campgrounds close at the end of the summer season. It was October.

Off we went.

Directions indicated it would take about 4 hours, but we got a late start and it took over 5. When we got into the valley, everything was enveloped in fog. A solid ceiling of cloud hung fifty feet above our heads, so there wasn’t any sightseeing today. We high-tailed it to the visitor center to find out where we could set up camp.

It was after 4pm and we were going to run out of daylight soon. Josh was very concerned.

Our only two possible options were both 45 minutes away, and there was no way to know if there was room… But they were our only shot.

“You’re going to want to Wawona. It’s 2,000 feet lower than Tamarack, so it won’t be as cold at night,” said the nice ranger.

What he failed to mention was that it was still a climb in elevation — 5,000 feet to be exact. So Friday afternoon found a white-knuckled Josh hauling tail up the windiest roads ever invented (without guiderails!), through a heavy fog that limited visibility to ten feet at times and made all those sharp curves look like they dropped off into a milky white oblivion. It was the longest 45 minutes of our lives.

We made it before dark, and got the last camping spot in the park. Success!

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We’re campers!

Redwood Coast

After Crater Lake we made for the coast… Goodbye Oregon. Our drive took us on the Redwood Hwy, which is a terrifying winding road as it descends into CA, especially when it’s after dark and starting to rain and you’ve got local drivers riding your tail because you are driving too slow for their taste. These were our first glances of the giant Redwoods, and they flashed big and bright and RIGHT NEXT TO THE ROAD as we raced to Crescent City, CA.

The next morning we were headed South by way of some national Redwood forests.

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Redwoods are BIG. We got turned around a little, and a nice park ranger helped guide us to Lady Bird Johnson grove. It was rainy and very foggy, which added a wonderful magic to the 1+ mile hike. Seeing the scale of these trees is sobering. One can’t help but be in awe.

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So, yeah. PRETTY. We pushed on, through the gorgeous Avenue of Giants and down Hwy 101, finally taking a break at a lakeside resort for a “quick” dinner. They sat us in their courtyard, which would have been delightful except a flock of birds had taken a noisy (and messy) roost in the pretty tree above our head. Bird poop and feathers on the table, two hours to get a burger and spoiled creamer put us in a bummed mood. We listened to a Steeler loss on the way to our hotel (still hours away), and learned what $50 gets you in the way of motel rooms in CA. Answer: crazy, and you can hear all of it.

Spirits were still high, however, and whatever was happening was happening in a new different place, so there.

Day 5 – Crater Lake

There a couple things in the world I automatically love with the fervor of a five year old — and volcanoes is one of them. I didn’t realize that this trip would be so rich in volcanic activity, but way to go West Coast: you’re full of past volcanoes and Rachel Approved.

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Crater Lake is the caldera of Mt. Mazama, a GIANT ancient volcano that blew up 10,000ish years ago. In the eruption, a good portion of the volcano actually caved into the magma chamber below the cone-shaped volcano, and the result was a big pit that was eventually filled with enough precipitation to make the beautiful and vibrantly blue Crater Lake. It is six miles wide, and it’s highest peak is over 8,000 feet above sea level.

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The mass you see is Wizard Island. The island might not look like much, but it’s pretty big: that divet on top is three football fields across. The lake is the deepest lake in the U.S., clocking in at almost 2,000 feet at max depth. It was devoid of fish until man introduced them, seeing as how there was no way for anything to get in or out — there are no streams or creeks feeding or flowing out of the lake. It’s only source of water is rain and snow.

One of the higher peaks in the park is the Watchman, a mile hike that takes you high up above the rim. A mile might not sound like much at sea level, but if you’re making the trek at 7,000+ feet, it taxes the lungs. It was a bit of a struggle, but we made it.

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There is another smaller island, called Phantom Ship. It is teeny, but just as lovely.

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There is a river that originates on Mt. Mazama, even if it isn’t from the lake; this is the Rogue River. It begins as a trickle and grows into a full river miles away. Here it is near its start, at the Rogue Gorge. It is rough cold water — it rarely gets warmer than 40 degrees, and there was a paper posted at one of the overlooks translated into many languages indicating what to do if a body was spotted.

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Also, collapsed lava tube:

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And finally, Jimmy’s Classic in Grant’s Pass, NOM.

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Day 3 & 4

We spent the morning in Portland. We never get to spend enough time downtown, and this was another too-short time. We grabbed our rental and shopped at Powell’s before heading back to my parent’s neck of the woods. This also included lunch. Josh drinking a dead guy:

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And, while we didn’t eat here, we got a kick out of the sign:

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Josh played a little on my mom’s dulcimer.

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Sadly, it was time to leave my parents and head for the coast. Sad because I love spending time with the ‘rents, but happy because, you know, ocean.

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Our friends Oose and Danelle put us up and fed us. We had many beers, went on a sweet hike, enjoyed an amazing breakfast and generally reminisced and learned about their new life on the Oregon coast running a cafe.

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Then Josh and I met my bro in Eugene for dinner and spent the night at the glorious Dunes Motel in Roseburg — staying there cut the following days’ drive in half. The front desk man was an adorable Turkish man that shared all sorts of stuff about Crater Lake, Wednesday’s planned destination. We went on a quest for medicine (I had a blossoming cold).

West Coast Sagers – Day 1

First things first: our 5:45am flight to Texas on Friday broke into a cheer of “Let’s goooooo, Mountaineers!” AWESOME.

Being on East Coast Time is awesome when you’re on the West Coast. Josh and I need to be up early to take advantage of as much daylight as possible anyway, so naturally waking at 5am has a bright side… It’s not the sun, however — since that only comes up after 6am.

We met my mom’s new dog. She is a French bulldog named Leila and she is short and adorable.

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I brought some knitting to work on, and dad thankfully helped me work out a little issue I was having.

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We had lunch out and tried some local beers, then mom and I went to a thrift store to look for pans (Josh and I will need something to cook on once we get camping). No luck on pans, but I did find a belt and a sweet mega flashlight.

Then: Alpacas!

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They don’t smell and they eat about the same amount as our 30 lb dog. Their noises are crazy; they have a sort of a one syllable bleet, they trill, they hum. They have distinct personalities, and they know their names. I got some yarn from alpacas named Clapton and All That Jazz.

We got some Papa Murphy’s pizza, some great local beer:

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…and watched the Mountaineers beat Texas and the Oregon Ducks beat Washington Huskies 52-21.

Day 8 – Roaming Kona and Waimea

We’d passed a recommended restaurant on the way to Kona, so we backtracked down Rte 11 and had a yummy breakfast at the Coffee Shack. Cute geckos roamed the outdoor patio – or “lanai” – and one of the gentlemen at the counter tried guessing where we were from. Seattle was the first guess based on Alethea and Josh’s knitting projects; Pittsburgh was an exciting answer since the guy grew up on the Mexican War streets on the North side! He even said “yinz!”

Alethea greets a local during breakfast.

Alethea greets a local during breakfast.

We wanted to see the Northern part of the island, so we wound our way up the island’s oldest (dead) volcano, Kohala, before turning toward the coast. I love me some geology, and got mocked as I ooh’ed and aw’ed over the two impressive cloud-shrouded mountains towering above us.  I guess it was time to shut up about the mountains – even though we were enjoying the paradise product of these massive volcanoes erupting in the middle of a freakin’ ocean, which I think is pretty dang impressive.

Moving on, we visited an important heiau called “Pu’ukohola”. The construction of this heiau (sacred structure) was the third in a line of prophecies that secured King Kamehameha’s role in uniting the Islands, which was kind of a big deal.

Spencer Park Beach. That sound you hear is me still kicking myself for not having my suit with me.

Spencer Park Beach. That sound you hear is me still kicking myself for not having my suit with me.

We were tired of driving at this point, and found refuge in the form of the most perfect beach ever – yes, all the beaches in Hawaii are quite perfect, but this one was the perfect air and water temperature with the softest current and the cutest families… and we found it at the most wonderful part of a long lonely drive North. We regretted not having our suits with us, and I know each one of us seriously considered sitting in the surf fully clothed. Common sense won out – by mere centimeters, I tell you – and we regrettably got back in the car.

Oh hey, ANOTHER HAWAII ISLAND.

Oh hey, ANOTHER HAWAII ISLAND.

Maui accompanied us North.  Only 30 miles of ocean lay between Hawaii and its smaller (older) brother. Between the hazy day making the island appear ghostly and the clouds around its base making it float over the water, the island was an ethereal site to behold as we continued up the coast.

Hawi, at Hawaii’s Northern tip was our ultimate destination, and totally worth it. Ice cream from Tropical Dreams came very highly recommended by our book (and our yurt owners), so we were obliged to try it. We pre-gamed the scoops with The Best Hot Dogs Ever, and the coffee and vanilla and mango ice creams did not disappoint.

Our next destination was another heiau, this one used for countless human sacrifices and described as “the loneliest place on the island” and “having no soul”. Yeeg. We chickened out when we saw the road that led to it– Alethea’s little Ford Focus was not built for that kind of terrain. We aborted that mission, but saw an impressive wind farm instead.

You know where we should put a Wind Farm? Right beside the airport.

You know where we should put a Wind Farm? Right beside the airport.

Our final stop before going back to the hotel was a field of Hawaiian petroglyphs. Exhausted tourists were we, and the hike to get to them was challenging; when the sign says “Wear appropriate shoes” you should listen.

Lord of the Rings things going on right here. I got bit by a Wraith, swears.

Lord of the Rings things going on right here. I got bit by a Wraith, swears.

The painful hike through lava rock and Thorns of Doom gave way to a lava field full of petroglyphs. Their origin, age and meaning are lost to time, and when you factor in that their creators made the same walk we just did barefoot: dang.

A field of hundreds of petroglyphs.

A field of hundreds of petroglyphs.

Many of the carvings are figures, and most orient toward the mountain. Mysterious and exciting.

Humans, sea turtles and aliens, oh my

Humans, sea turtles and aliens, oh my.

Then we took a well-earned dip in the pool, Josh and I watched the sun set over the Pacific, and we had a final toast to Hawaii and our trip.

Sunset over the Pacific, Kona, HI.

Sunset over the Pacific, Kona, HI.

Day 7 – Getting to Kona

We will not miss the roosters. You could set a clock to cockadoodledoos starting at 4:30 in the morning… We got showered and cleaned up our little home – dishes, trash, and packed up our belongings. There is a bookshelf where people leave their finished books; someone else can enjoy them now. We bid adieu to Gail and Greg and leisurely breakfasted at our favorite little Desert Rose – both Alethea and Josh are knitting scarves – and then headed North toward our hotel.

I can get behind monster pottery with boobies, ha!

I can get behind monster pottery with boobies, ha!

We needed to find a post office, and we couldn’t check in until 3 pm. Our plan for travel was loose, keeping our eyes out for something interesting along the way. We found a pottery studio and shop tucked away off the main road. We got some lychees at a roadside fruit stand (although we were on the hunt for white pineapple).

A totem pole at the Kona Coffee museum.

A totem pole at the Kona Coffee museum.

We toured the museum/shop at the Kona Coffee Brewing Co. , and walked through a another lava tube.

Further down the road was the Painted Church – a wooden structure originally constructed close to the coast and then moved via donkey further up the mountain.

Captain Cooke's Painted Church

Captain Cooke's Painted Church

The cemetery at the Painted Church

The cemetery at the Painted Church

The graves near the church were terraced in lava rock, and I have to say it was one of the most beautiful graveyards I’ve ever seen. Flowers, both wild and cultivated, crowded the gravestones, and the vibrant plants gave life to a place I’m accustomed to seeing sparse and manicured.

The Painted Church ceiling

The Painted Church ceiling

The interior of the church was furnished simply, with elaborate murals on the walls, pillars and ceiling. A short hike beyond the church revealed a replica of La Pieta, which happens to be one of my favorite sculptures in the world.

Mmmm... delicious life blood of the islands.

Mmmm... delicious life blood of the islands.

We checked into our hotel and took a walk to the Kona Brewing Company, where we enjoyed good beer, free wifi, and Alethea spilled water all over herself. Don’t worry, it was worth it – a stranger wearing a twirling beanie gave her a keychain.

Day 6 – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Mauna Loa

We piddled around our newly discovered breakfast bakery while hunting for a place to rest our heads on our last two nights. We scored a place on Alii Drive, so we’d be in the midst of Kona activity.

Today was about finding LAVA! LAVA! LAVA! We grabbed some sandwiches for a later picnic lunch, and wound our way toward Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The weather didn’t look promising, but we pressed on (and pressed our luck).

Halfway up the world's biggest volcano.

Halfway up the world's largest volcano. Bladow.

We detoured off of the main road to climb half-way up Mauna Loa. 13.5 miles of twisting winding road that peaks at over 6,000 feet of elevation led us up into the clouds. The weather cleared long enough for a sunny climb, a nice view and a pleasant dismount. Our picnic lunch was a welcome rest, since our stomachs were turning from the intense, curvy drive (and possibly some elevation sickness).

A pretty rad view. The summit was obsured by clouds the entire time we were there.

A pretty rad view. The summit was obscured by clouds the entire time we were on the Big Island.

What is happening?

"What is that? What's happening?" "We are being run into by a cloud." "NO WAY!"

One of the guides at the Visitor’s Center advised us of a lava flow on the move, so we mentally marked that before walking Thurston’s Lava Tube. The Lava Tube is a ½ mile shaft that once kept a constant flow of lava running through it.

Who wants to go in the scary dark hole first?

Who wants to go in the dark spooky hole first?

From there we headed East, turning South just before getting back to Hilo. We followed this highway all the way to the end of the road, parking the car right before a place in the road OBSTRUCTED BY LAVA.

Road to NOWHERE.

Road to NOWHERE.

Years ago, a lava flow covered the road – aaaaand a subdivision. Homes still stand amongst the cooled flows; I imagine many of their neighbors’ homes probably burned to the ground. The molten lava could return next week or next year – they never know.

Some questionable real estate.

Some questionable real estate.

The people that live here are isolated, but not enough so they can’t get some ribs for that BBQ… we saw several people out on the deck grilling, drinking and entertaining themselves by watching:

TREES BURSTING INTO FLAMES FROM A LIVE LAVA FLOW.

TREES BURSTING INTO FLAMES FROM A LIVE LAVA FLOW.

The live flow we saw was not far off. Most of the evidence of the lava came in the form of smoke puffs and burning plants, and the park guys kept us corralled at a distance of maybe ½ mile. Still, we were able to see a few spots that glowed the tell-tale lava orange-red, and that was very cool.

I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t get closer, but one consideration gave me a great deal of satisfaction: the state has built a road to where we were standing to provide a good vantage point for lava watching, and that road is always being rebuilt and the line for viewing moved around. The very same road on which we stood had been blocked as a giant flow covered it days before, and that hunk of “cooled” lava was hot enough where it had sloughed over the road that the air above it vibrated wildly with the heat.
It’s not poking it with a stick (which is still on my bucket list), but that’s pretty darn cool. I’ll take it.

LAVA LAVA LAVA

LAVA LAVA LAVA

The sun was setting and as we got back onto Hawaii’s Rte 11, we swung by the Kalunea again to see the caldera – this time at night. Wowie. During the day the hole spews a giant column of smoke and nasty gases.

You are standing on a magma chamber. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

You are standing on a magma chamber. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

At night, you can see the magma sloshing a few hundred meters below the hole bathes the smoke in bright orange light. It really drives home what you’re standing on – A FREAKIN’ VOLCANO.

We wrapped up our last night in the yurt with an Eat the Rest of Your Food Party. The menu was a salad, Hamburger Helper and a couple of deliciously crisp beers. We will miss the yurt, for sure.

Day 5 – Punaluu Beach & Pancakes

Inspired by a flyer in our Biscuits-and-Gravy Bakery, we checked out a pancake breakfast at Ocean View’s Community Center. Our original plan had been to volunteer, but since we’d slept in (all the way to 6 a.m! Roosters be damned!) we had to settle for simply partaking in the food. We were taken on a tour of the community center, and both Josh and Alethea are now proud members – we were encouraged to visit often.

Seriously some of the best pancakes I've every had. Alethea seems pleased.

Seriously some of the best pancakes I've ever had. Alethea seems to like them too.

This day was about low stress and relaxation. We decided we felt like a swim, and opted for Punaluu Beach – we’d heard a lot about it, and a rumor of consistent sea turtle sightings sealed the deal. On our way, we finally stopped at Ai Lani for the “Coffee and Macadamia Nut Tasting” we’d been eyeing every time we drove by.

They also had a sign that read: "we reserve the right to kick your okole out"

They had another sign that read: "We reserve the right to kick your okole out". Okole = Butt.

We bought coffee, fruit and some nuts.  We also finally went by Punalu’u Bake Shop while it was open and stocked up on malasadas, some fruit pudding cake and one delicious bizmark (chocolate covered donut)… I think my travel mates got something, too.

Mango malasada, yum.

Mango malasada, yum.

Punaluu Beach was everything we wanted it to be. It turned out a little chilly to swim, but was the perfect environment for sitting on a beach mat and filling out postcards and reading.

Punaluu Beach

Punaluu Beach

The lagoon behind the beach.

The lagoon behind the beach.

There were indeed sea turtles – one solidly on-shore, at least four more stuck in amongst the rocks since low tide, and more out in the open water.

Here, turtle, turtle, turtle.

Here, turtle, turtle, turtle.

The sea (and rocks and temperature) intimidated me out of snorkeling, but my goodness it would have been amazing to see the creatures out in the water. I spent a good hour standing and watching one. It is easy to see why they inspire people all over the world – they are fascinating creatures.

The little plants I'm eating down here sure are delicious. Grade A cuisine.

"The little plants I'm eating down here sure are delicious. Grade A cuisine. I will bring my mom here for her birthday, probably."

Federal law prohibited me snuggling him, of course.

"Get off my lawn!"

We also made our own sea turtle.

RIP, Todd the Turtle.

RIP, Todd the Turtle. You fought the tide valiantly.

Rumbling bellies led us to Hana Hou in Naalehu. I finally got some fish – local “ono” – and had a Hawaiian oreo that was as big as your head.

We are trying to name all 50 states. Please pay close attention to the "map" that Josh drew as a visual aid.

We are trying to name all 50 states. Please pay close attention to the "map" that Josh has drawn as a visual aid. He assured us the coastline is accurate, but I am no so sure.

The day wrapped up with an Apricot beer and maps of lava (lava!) flows – it was a very good day.