Last Days!

We had reached the end of our vacation. This would be our last full day in California. We unanimously decided to stay at Rush Creek Lodge and enjoy ourselves. And that’s what we did! I read by the pool all day, and the kids were in and out of the pool and the game room. It was perfect.

That evening we bought tickets to the poolside barbecue again. They alternate menus, so we had entirely different choices tonight.

I think there were a lot more people at the barbecue this time. We had to wait a while for the line to subside before we could eat. It wasn’t a big deal as there was plenty of food.

Of course we saved room for smores.

If you visit Rush Creek Lodge and want to do the glass art, you need to leave enough time for your glass to be ready. You can pick it up 24 hours or so after you make it. We picked ours up and we were very happy with it! Oh I forgot that you can use these stamp things to make patterns in the glass.

You can see how the colors pulled all the way through the stem.

More evening photos of the pool and fire.

And more photos of the flames.

We had to pack, and get up early the next day. We had to drive all the way to San Fransisco to fly home. Remember that whole debacle back in the beginning of our vacation? It feels like an eternity ago. We were supposed to fly home from Sacramento but the airlines changed our flight, and then II changed it again.

The drive to San Fransisco is long. You are basically driving across the entire state of California. We crossed farmland, and more farmland, and more farmland. It felt like such a long drive, but finally we were there, in San Fransisco, at the airport.

I have been to San Fransisco once, about 25 years ago. I wish we could have actually visited the city. Had I known we would end up flying from that airport we might have spent our last 2 days in San Fransisco instead. However I am glad with how things turned out.

I would say our trip home was uneventful, but we did have a bit of a snafu. Pretty much as soon as we exited the giant Ford Flex in the rental car garage (which, by the way, was stressful to find), I realized I didn’t have my camera. I had no idea where it was, and I thought maybe I had left it in the car (which had already been driven away). I also thought maybe it was at the hotel. The rental car employees were calling down to the people who had the car to see if it was there while I was calling Rush Creek to see if I had left it behind. Sure enough, I had left it at the hotel, in the safe, of all places. They said they would mail it to me (at my expense, which was fine), and I did receive it, safely packed, a few days after we returned home. The rental car people were very kind and were glad to hear I had found it. It was a good thing we were super early for our flight or I would have been extremely stressed out by that whole experience. Ok who am I kidding, I was stressed out about it. But it all worked out.

We had such an amazing time in California. I wish Yosemite weren’t so far from the airports, and I wish it didn’t have such treacherous mountain roads. I would go back in a heartbeat, but I am not sure I want to deal with all of that driving again. I highly recommend a visit to Tahoe and Yosemite, especially if you don’t mind a lot of driving and scary roads. Just remember that you will be doing a lot of up and down hill hiking, so prepare yourself. And bring a camera, but don’t leave it in the safe!

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On the Road Again

Today we had to leave Yosemite behind as we were moving to yet another hotel outside the park. I wasn’t sure what we would end up doing on this leg of the trip, but we have always enjoyed our post-National Park resort stays so that was part of the plan. I thought maybe we would go into Hetch Hetchy, and maybe do some light hiking, but that never happened.

We woke up, packed up, and headed out.

Of course we can’t just drive from Point A to Point B without stopping for lots of photos. My kids were SO OVER all of my stopping, but that wasn’t going to stop me from doing it anyway. And I am glad I did, because I found one of the best viewing spots.

I took so many photos here. How could you not? You don’t see views like this everywhere. Stop and enjoy it while you can!

I have like 20-30 more photos just like these.

Once again, to get out of the valley we had to go up and over the mountains and brave the dangerous roads in the giant Ford Flex.

We didn’t have to go far to reach our next destination. Rush Creek Lodge is just outside of Yosemite. You could easily stay here and take day trips in to Yosemite, especially if you don’t mind driving on the roads. Make sure you head out VERY early because parking inside Yosemite is VERY challenging.

Rush Creek Lodge is awesome. We loved every single thing about this place! We arrived and were a bit early, so our room wasn’t ready. So we walked around and explored a bit.

Some of the rooms are housed in smaller buildings set on a hillside. Our room ended up being up at the top of the hill. It was fine, though. There were stairs available, or we could use the roads.

Other rooms are in a more hotel-like building.

One of the buildings has a lounge area where you can read, gather with friends, find toys for your kids, and more.

There is even a small climbing area for younger kids.

Once our room was ready, we headed over to check it out. We had booked a room with 3 beds, as always. Well, 2 beds and a sofa bed. The room was divided into 2 rooms with a bathroom and a storage area.

None of the rooms have a TV at Rush Creek Lodge. Instead they provide books and games.

This was the view from our balcony.

The “Do Not Disturb” sign was adorable.

Each night there is a poolside barbecue. You can buy tickets at the pool bar. The menu is posted in advance so you are always aware of what will be available.

The lodge has a cute play area, unfortunately it is mostly out in the sun with no shade.

There is also a bean bag toss area and a bocce ball area.

We spent most of the day at the pool (well, the kids were in the game room playing pool and foosball for a good part of the day) and had dinner at the poolside barbecue.

Ok that doesn’t really give you an idea of what to expect from the dinner, lol. Is this any better?

There was no shortage of food and we all had plenty to eat. After dinner there were smores available at the fire pit.

After dinner and smores we had plans! When I was exploring the Rush Creek Lodge website I learned that they had a glass-blowing class on site. I have no idea why but this has been something that I always wanted to try! So I booked it for all 3 of us. We were told to report to the tent above the pool area at a specific time. Our instructor showed us examples of what we could make and asked us to choose between 2 options: ornament or flower. We all chose flower!

She showed us the tools and demonstrated how to make the flower.

As I mentioned the glass working area was just above the pool. We had an amazing view of the pool and fire pit areas. The long building you see houses the game room, bar, and lounge/restaurant.

Another family was making glass art as well, and we let them go first. We enjoyed watching the process and learning about what to expect when it was our turn.

My daughter went first. She chose the colored glass beads that would form color streaks in her finished piece. The glass artist got her glass blob ready and my daughter stuck it into the colored beads.

Back into the flames it went, to melt some more.

Oh yeah, those nifty glasses are safety glasses.

The next step is taking the glass blob out of the flames and pulling it with giant tweezers. First, of course, you have to wear a huge fireproof sleeve. It’s like an oven mitt for your arm, I guess.

The flower takes shape as you pinch and pull the blob.

The glass artist finished the piece by pulling the blob away from the iron rod, so the flower has a long stem.

My son had his turn to make his glass art. You can see the other option, the glass ornament, near his glowing glass blob.

Glass art is pretty serious business!

The glass artist used a blowtorch at the end, which was cool. When she has pulled the flower to form a stem, as shown in earlier photos, it is still attached to the rest of the blob. To detach it, you get to hit the iron rod with a hammer to disconnect it. That’s a bit scary, because you think you’re going to break the whole thing.

I don’t know why night swimming is such a fun thing, but it is. An inflatable ball makes it that much more fun. I need to remember to bring an inflatable ball on every vacation from now on.

Meanwhile I sat by the fire and took photos of the flames.

This was mesmerizing to me.

I took a few more photos around the pool area before we headed back to the room. There is an outdoor lounge area below the bar.

2 dart boards outside the bar.

Ping pong and foosball outside the bar as well.

I could see this lodge as a great place to visit with friends or extended family. There is so much to offer for everyone!

We headed back to the room and went to sleep. I don’t think any of us cared that there wasn’t a tv in the room! We hadn’t seen a tv in over a week at this point, and we were so tired we didn’t need any help falling asleep.

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They See Me Rollin

Since the two options in Yosemite are 1) vertical hiking and 2) horizontal hiking, we decided to take advantage of the horizontal valley and rent bikes for a day. Yosemite Valley Lodge has bike rentals available, but they are first come first served, and the sizes are limited.

We woke up, had something to eat, packed a lunch, and went to rent bikes. My foot was better, and a quick test ride proved that biking wouldn’t aggravate anything. When we got to the bike rental place we had to let the guy know how long we thought we’d use the bikes, and then we had to choose bikes. There were a lot of other people trying out bikes so we had to grab bikes that looked like they might fit us as soon as we saw them. The guy was fine with us trying them out a little bit.

I am fairly short (5′ 2″) and basically ride the next size up from a kid-size bike. It was really tough finding a bike that worked for me. The bike I ended up with was OK, but it was tricky getting started and stopping.

We had no real destination in mind. The plan was to ride around and eventually find a place to eat lunch. OF course I took plenty of photos. II leaned how to take photos while riding a bike, which was difficult.

There were so many places to stop and take photos. My kids were super annoyed with me but I didn’t care.

The paths are great. There were only a few areas where people were also walking on the path. Mostly the paths were for bikes only.

I couldn’t ride past these views without stopping to take photos.

Eventually we found an area down by the water and decided to stop and have lunch.

I know we stayed there for a short while, and then we got back on our bikes and rode around some more.

I am quite certain that I stopped in the middle of a path to take these photos. But come on, can you blame me?

This is one of my favorite photos from the entire trip.

Sometimes I missed the mark a bit when trying to take photos while riding my bike.

And then other times it worked out ok.

So here you can see other people walking on the path. It wasn’t bad passing people on paths like this because they could step off the path so we could pass. However it was more than a little nerve-wrecking when we were on paths that were more like a boardwalk, where no one could step off to the side.

It is entirely possible that this is the place where we had lunch. I might have been mistaken before.

We decided we had enough bike riding. We dropped the bikes off at the same rental place. I think we were only charged for the time we used the bikes, which was nice.

Much to my children’s dismay, our activities for the day continued with a walk back over to the “Village” area. This is where you will find the store, a few places to eat, and the Yosemite Museum. There is also a cemetery but somehow we missed it. The museum has some interesting exhibits and small trails behind it.

I really thought I had more photos than this, but I can’t seem to find them. I know we went to the store again, and then walked back to the lodge. Of course I took a million photos along the way.

We had to stop and take a million photos of this bridge.

This was our last day in the valley, so I took as many photos as I could. The next day we would be moving on to a more relaxing part of our vacation.

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The Grand Tour

When we first started visiting the National Parks I didn’t know where to begin with planning. How do you choose what sites to see? How do you choose hikes? Where do you stay? Why do you have to book lodging a year in advance? It was all so overwhelming, so I booked us on a 5 day tour of Yellowstone. We went around with tour guides who took us everywhere. The lodging and meals were all planned out. All we had to do was show up. It was great!

Well Yellowstone is one of the only parks that has that (unless you book an outside tour company) so when we went to Glacier I figured it all out on my own. Yosemite was feeling overwhelming, and there were several different areas, and I didn’t want to do all that driving (that was an EXCELLENT choice) so I booked a full day tour through the park service. We would go to several different parts of the park (we wouldn’t go to Tioga Road) and see a lot. And I didn’t have to drive.

Today was tour day. We woke up early and get out to the bus early. I didn’t want to end up in a situation like we had in Skagway where we were the last ones on the bus and train and we had terrible seats. We were the first ones on and we claimed the front row. I like looking out the front of the bus, and feel motion sickness if I am not looking forward. Not all the time, but it definitely happens.

The weather, again, was perfect.

This is a viewing area called Tunnel View. This was not the time to stop here. We were coming back later, with good reason.

Here’s a photo that shows one of the crazy roads that Californians seem to enjoy.

We were heading to Mariposa Grove, where the giant Sequoia trees live. We had to go up and over the mountains (remember how I said earlier that this vacation’s theme was “Up and Over”?) and at this point we were at the highest elevation and could see quite far in the distance.

The bus parked at Mariposa and we got to explore on our own for a while. I think our driver was giving a tour, or there were rangers doing tours, I don’t know. But we did hear that this fallen tree is famous for the below photo.

The photos really do not do justice to how huge these trees are.

We weren’t the only ones interested in the trees.

If you look closely at the next one you can see the people who are near the trunk and how small they are in comparison to the tree.

When we finished at Mariposa we went to Big Trees Lodge for lunch. We were supposed to get some sort of presentation that the driver had totally built up, and I don’t think it ever happened, so we were led to the back where lunch was available. They had sandwiches, chips, that sort of thing.

We had a little time here, so we headed over to the store to grab some snacks for later. Lunch wasn’t very filling, and I didn’t want to deal with hangry kids later in the day.

We got back on the bus and headed to Glacier Point, where we would have a great view of Half Dome and the valley, from above.

Our driver told us that Glacier Point is a little tricky. There are signs that point to a viewing area and the signs say Glacier Point, or something. But that isn’t really the good viewing area. To get to the good viewing area you have to go farther to the left. We followed his advice, though we did check out the lesser viewing area as well.

It was terrifying taking this photo, but it was completely safe. This is the view of the valley down below. This shows how high we had driven into the mountains.

Clearly we were at the good viewing area.

You can see how high up we are. There are guardrails all around (they actually do exist, just not on the roads apparently) so it is safe. There are signs all over the place telling people to stay in the viewing areas and not to cross the rails. Do you think people listen? Of course they don’t. We saw so many instances of people doing whatever the hell they wanted on this vacation. It was unbelievable.

See this rock?

There are all kinds of famous photos of morons doing dumb things on this rock.

Well today was no exception. As we approached the view, there was a guy, in his early 20s most likely, out on the rock. Again, look how high up this is. And no there isn’t anything below this.

He had belly crawled out there onto the rock to take a photo, like a genius. I absolutely could not watch. Just could not. It was one of the most tense moments of my life. I am actually getting anxious just thinking about it now, 7 months later.

Luckily he was fine and he made it back to solid ground. However, his phone was not as lucky. Yes that’s right, he dropped his phone over the edge. I can’t remember if it totally went over or if it dropped onto rocks that were inaccessible. But everyone around was in agreement that karma had taught him a lesson about doing stupid things. Who knows if the lesson stuck, but I sure hope it did.

Such a great view.

For the record these rocks were completely fine to climb on. They were in the viewing area and not high at all.

Remember the hike we did the first day that ruined my foot? And I said there were 2 waterfalls, and we had gone to the smaller/worse one? I am pretty sure this is the other one.

It would have been cool to see up close, I am sure.

After Glacier Point we came back to Tunnel View. The driver had timed it perfectly.

What do I mean by that? Well, there’s a special phenomenon that happens at a specific time each day. See that waterfall over to the side?

We’ve all seen “rainbows” that are created from the sunlight hitting the spray from a garden hose, or similar. Well this waterfall has a similar effect, but it happens gradually. It is the craziest thing ever.

If you look again at the photo above, look at the bottom of the waterfall. Can you see a yellowish hue? That’s the beginning of the rainbow effect. As it progresses the colors move up the falls.

So now you can see some orange coming in.

Now there is some green creeping in at the bottom.

Actually I can already see the blue and purple in the above photo, and the red and orange. Once again the photos don’t really do it justice. I didn’t have my zoom lens, so I had to make do with what I had.

So the rainbow “grows” on the waterfall, instead of just appearing all at once. It is really cool and much better to see in person.

So after the rainbow, we headed back to the lodge to complete the tour. Once we got off the bus we walked around a little bit because we still hadn’t gone back to Lower Yosemite Falls, which was right behind our lodge. It was like 1/4 mile so I dragged my poor children along with me.

We did have a nice look at some of the streams nearby. This was probably from the bus but whatever.

It was nearly dusk, but there were lots of people around. I am so glad we went as we saw some really cool things.

One of the cool things was this rock field, or whatever it is called. It was full of cairns, and I mean FULL of cairns. So we decided to add a few.

I dragged the kids away from the rocks so we could get closer to the falls. They would have been happy to play with the rocks and really I could have left them there. However I was mean and made them come with me.

Again, for perspective, you can see a tiny person in red off to the right side.

Signs like this were all around.

It was in reference to the rocks here. If you look closely you can see there are people on the rocks.

There were so many people in the rocks! I do not even understand why! What were they doing? There were paths along the side of the rocks so they could go higher up. You can sort of see them in this photo but they are tiny.

You can see the people better in this one, at the bottom of the photo.

Then there was this guy, who was flying a drone, which is also not allowed.

Anyway, stupid people aside, it was a beautiful area and I am glad we saw it. By the way, that was Lower Yosemite Falls. This is Upper Yosemite Falls.

The rest of the evening was similar to others. Dinner at the lodge, stop in at the store to buy some souvenirs or look around, and hang out in the room. We had a more active plan for the next day and we needed some rest.

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Day Off

In the morning my foot was feeling only slightly better. I could walk with a limp, but any extended walking wasn’t going to happen.

There was a lot of indecision on my part. Did I really think this required a trip to the medical center? What did I think they would do for me? Well finally I decided to err on the side of caution and go.

We took the shuttle since I couldn’t drive (it was my right foot) and I also didn’t want to deal with trying to find parking.

The medical center is sort of near the Village, which has a general store.

This store has a much bigger selection of groceries and necessities. It is also crowded almost all of the time.

We slowly walked to the medical center, which was up a hill (everything in Yosemite is up a hill). There wasn’t anyone else in the waiting area, so I was seen fairly quickly. This was the waiting area.

The health care provider, I think she was a nurse practitioner? She examined me and said she could do an x-ray but she was pretty sure it wasn’t a stress fracture or any other fracture. It was muscular, and there wasn’t much they could do for it. At first I actually wanted the x-ray as I was convinced that there was more to it than just muscle strain. It hurt so much! But we talked a lot, and she explained a few things to me. She was extremely patient, and our conversation was extremely helpful. We talked about hiking and she helped me understand why I was probably in pain. She explained that Yosemite is all granite, and in Yosemite you are either hiking a flat hike in the valley or you are hiking up and then down a granite mountain. We all know that granite is super hard, right? Imagine hiking up and down hill on your kitchen or bathroom counters. We talked about how other locations (Glacier National Park, etc.) aren’t like that so you don’t have the same impact on your body when you are hiking. She said that it happens to her often, too, though not as severely as it was happening to me. She said she just can’t run/hike there very much because it is such hard ground.

Hearing all of this from someone who was in great physical shape, and who hikes whole lot more than I do, was reassuring. I decided not to get the x-ray and just wrap it, ice it, and rest. We didn’t have a hike planned for the following day, or for this day, so we could take it easy.

We walked over and explored the store a bit, and it seemed like the more I walked, the better my foot felt. I think we may have ended up walking back to our lodge.

I think I had hoped for a pool day but it was closed, of course. I am not actually sure what we ended up doing.

I do know we went out for a walk (not a hike) near the lodge. There are paths (flat) all over the place, and I wanted to explore. I mean, we were there, and there was no way I was going to sit in a lodge room and surf the internet all day and night. So I dragged at least one child out with me for a walk. We got some great photos.

Not sure which of these I prefer.

Even at dusk the parking lot is full.

We had walked a short distance on a path to that water, then back through and toward the lodge.

Yosemite Falls

My foot was feeling a lot better so I was glad that we took the day off, and glad that I had done at least a little walking which seemed to have helped. The following day would be fairly light on walking as well, but it was a very full day, so we went to bed somewhat early.

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Getting Settled and Exploring

We woke up to another beautiful California day. The weather could not have been more perfect. We packed up the behemoth and headed to the main building to check out. I managed to get some photos, of course.

The previous day when we arrived, we had a bellman help with our bags. Well really he was showing us where the cottage was, but also helped put our bags on a trolley. I was asking him tons of questions about where to hike, what not to miss, etc. and somehow we got on the subject of rock climbing. He pointed over to this sheer wall of granite and said there would be people climbing all day. I don’t see anyone, but I am sure he was right.

By the way, this became a mission of mine, finding climbers. I mean, people come to Yosemite specifically to climb. Climbers should be everywhere, right? Yeah well I never saw anyone. I’ll have to zoom in on some photos and check again, but I never saw climbers.

Anyway. Oh yeah, the hotel had a pool which we did not use at all.

Here’s another example of how they hadn’t yet updated the signs in the hotel to reflect the new (old) name. And yes, you can rent bicycles here. We ended up doing that elsewhere, later in our stay in Yosemite.

We had to cross this little bridge to go between the cottage and the main building. There are these weird benches built into the sides of the bridge. We did see people sitting on them at one point, but they lean so far back it would be awkward to sit in them for very long unless you enjoy staring at the sky. And I am sure some people do enjoy that, but still these benches seemed like an unusual feature.

So after we loaded up the Flex we drove over to our next hotel, the Yosemite Valley Lodge. This was another time where we really should have got an earlier start on our day.

Yosemite Valley Lodge is kind of a central location in the valley. Lots of bus tours and hiking tours depart from there, which means a lot of people park there. So when we arrived we could not find parking. I drove around and around, from one lot to another, searching and searching. It took forever but I finally got a spot. Well, I wasn’t really sure it was a parking spot, and I was worried I would get towed (do they tow in Yosemite? I didn’t really want to find out the hard way).

We checked in and went up to our room. We had a huge room with a queen (?) bed, bunk bed, and sofa bed. The room was on the 2nd floor and there was no air conditioning. This did become a problem, though the room had like 4 fans that we were able to use to try to cool off. We just never managed to figure out how to get a good cross breeze going.

Anyway, here is our ginormous room!

One of the many fans in the closet.

More fans in the other closet.

Lotion and soap dispensers near the sink.

I think I remember the floor getting really wet near the shower. It was in this little room with poor ventilation, and that curtain somehow didn’t really prevent the water from getting all over the place..

The toilet was in its own room. There was one light switch that controlled the light in the toilet room and the shower room. So if someone was taking a shower and you went to use the toilet and you turned off the light when you were done, the other person would be showering in the dark.

Outside the hotel.

This hotel also had a pool, and I had thought it would be nice to hang out by the pool after hiking, relaxing and maybe cooling off a bit.

However, that never happened because the pool was closed the entire week that we were there. Why was it closed? There were several different stories. Once we heard there weren’t enough lifeguards. Then we heard there were mechanical issues. It was really disappointing because that pool looked so inviting.

I wasn’t going to waste any time hanging around. We had a hike planned. So we made lunch, packed our bags, and waited for the shuttle. I think this was the day we waited forever for the shuttle.

Apparently we saw a deer.


Once we got to our destination we went to this nature center that was nearby. They had some interesting exhibits about the area. We kept seeing these blue birds everywhere, and these seem to be my best attempts at photographing one of them.

down to a stream to have lunch.

It was really pretty. Some people came down and decided to take off their shoes and go wade through the water. I think they went all the way over to the waterfall, which was stupid. It wouldn’t be the last of the stupid things we saw in Yosemite, though.

This tree had an elaborate root system above ground. DD sat and had lunch in the roots.

So, we were supposed to be hiking to a waterfall. There were actually 2 waterfalls. One that we would arrive at first, and then another that was supposed to be much better. The hike to the first was short, about a mile, which sounded easy. Well it was anything but easy for this flat lander. Pretty much the entire hike was uphill. I felt like I was so out of shape, it was ridiculous. So I just used my resting time as an excuse to take lots of photos. I had new hiking poles, though, which helped a lot.

If you have read my Alaska report, you might remember “Branchy” who became the star of a fictitious TV show my kids invented while we were hiking in Stanley Park. This must be Branchy’s Californian cousin.

While the hike was torture, the scenery was amazing.

I think this was at or near the first waterfall. My photos are all out of order so I am not 100% certain.

These photos are from my camera and they turned out awful. I have no idea what I did. I must have accidentally changed the settings because all of the photos are faded and weird. So disappointing.

The photos from my phone are much better, in my opinion.

We decided not to go to the second waterfall. It was more uphill hiking and none of us wanted to go.

The thing about hiking up a mile is that then you have to hike down a mile. I was glad to have the poles, but it was still a steep descent. It doesn’t look like it, because I took photos of the flat parts. But trust me it was not that fun. The scenery was still great though.

Once we got down we went to wait for the shuttle. I have no idea what was going on but we waited FOREVER for the stupid shuttle. Then one came but only took half the people who were waiting. It felt like we were waiting for hours.

Once we finally got back to the lodge we were tired and hungry, so we showered and went to the food court for dinner.

The food court has these kiosks where you order and pay for your food. The options come up on a screen and you choose what you want and pay with a credit card. Then you get the receipt and go pick up your food.

They had the kind of food you’d expect, like pizza, burgers, etc. Then they had some other options like stir fry, or meatloaf, etc. They said you couldn’t customize pizza, and refused when I asked again, but I saw them customize it for someone.

The lodge had a store with some groceries, necessities, and souvenirs.

We went back to the room and hung out until we were ready to sleep. The room really heated up during the day and since all of the windows faced one direction it was very difficult to get fresh, cool air in the room. I tried several different positions for the fans but nothing really seemed to work. By about 6am the room had usually cooled off significantly, but it would heat back up again every day.

At some point that evening my foot was in extreme pain. I couldn’t bear weight on it at all. It was the top of my foot, which was weird. I hadn’t injured it or anything but it was extremely painful. We didn’t have anything planned for the following day so I figured we would rest, and possibly go visit the medical clinic if needed.

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Yosemite Valley… At Last!

We had some scary roads ahead of us on our way to the valley. We were up in the mountains and descending to the valley, so we had a lot of of switchbacks. The road was one lane each way, with no guardrail (because California doesn’t believe in guardrails), people passing on blind turns, and altogether a lot of reckless driving on mountain roads.

At this point I was driving faster than usual in the giant Ford Flex, because I just wanted to get there. It was scary, and I did not like it, and the whole time I was telling myself I would never do it again.

But luckily it all worked out because we did get to the valley while there was still light.

I don’t know what I had expected of the valley. I didn’t really have a picture of it in my head. But I know I expected an open area with mountains all around and buildings and not much else, sort of like the Old Faithful area in Yellowstone, I guess. But that’s not what Yosemite Valley is like. At all. I mean, there are some open areas, but mostly you are in the woods and there are these towering granite peaks all around.

I did manage to get a few photos as we drove in.

We were spending our first night at the Ahwahnee Hotel. Our plans had changed a few times and I was extremely lucky to secure a huge room at the Yosemite Valley Lodge for most of our stay, but I couldn’t add on our arrival night. So we ended up in a cottage at the Ahwahnee, which was quite nice! It is definitely the fanciest National Park Lodge I have seen, and the cottage was cute.

Fun fact: Up until recently the Ahwahnee had been operating under the name “The Majestic Yosemite Hotel”. There’s a whole story about ownership and lawsuits. But less than a month before we arrived the name was changed back to the Ahwahnee Hotel. They did not have time to change everything, so some things around the hotel referred to it as the Majestic Yosemite and some things referred to it as the Ahwahnee.

Although we had arrived in the valley while there was still light, it was after dark when we found parking at the Ahwahnee. We checked in, got our bags, and headed to our cottage. Many of these photos were from the next day when it was light out, but it makes sense to share them all at once.

Outside the cottage:

We asked for a rollaway because we do not sleep well if we have to share beds. The rollaway fit nicely in the room. (These photos were taken when we were leaving, so excuse the rumpled beds).

The bathroom had an inner area with the toilet and tub/shower, and an outer area with the sink/vanity.

I can’t remember if the ducks were free or if we were supposed to pay for them. And I don’t remember if we took them or not. I do think they were free, though.

Opposite the bathroom was a changing area and make up table/vanity.

There is a safe in there, and a coffee maker.

Back in the room, there was a table and chairs as well as a room service menu.

There was also a breakfast menu where you could order breakfast in advance, or order a lunch to go. This would have been nice but we had all that food we had brought from Tahoe.

The room had a fridge, but somehow I didn’t take a photo of that side of the room. Probably because our groceries were all over the place.

Here you can see that they hadn’t updated this info to the new name.

We left our things in the room and headed to the main building. It is pretty dark at night, but there are lights to the main building.

I think there was a private function going on in the hotel, and I am pretty sure we ate in the bar area.

The lobby/sitting areas were really nice.

I ordered a giant pretzel and it was good!

Someone ordered nachos.

It was very clear that Disneyland’s Grand Californian Hotel was modeled after this building.

We would get to see the beauty of the building and its surroundings the next day when we woke up, checked out, and headed to our more permanent home at the Yosemite Lodge.

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Back on the Road

Somehow the drive out of Bodie was much easier than the drive in. It wasn’t as bumpy, and it wasn’t as scary. The landscape was just beautiful.

Once we got back onto the highway, we headed toward Yosemite.

If you’ve been there, you know this. But if you haven’t, I’ll tell you a little bit about Yosemite.

If you are driving in from the Tahoe/Reno area you will drive in from the east and take Tioga Road alllllllll the way across the park, only to turn and drive about 1/3 of the way back on a different road. Yosemite consists mostly of granite peaks and a valley. Tioga Road is mostly in the mountains, and then when you turn around you are going down into the valley. If you are staying in Yosemite Valley and hiking, you are either hiking a flat hike across the valley or you are hiking up into granite mountains (aka really hard ground that is hard on your knees). That’s why I had a hard time finding hikes for us. They either sounded too easy or too difficult. We weren’t planning to hike/climb Half Dome, so we just had some lame flat hikes and a few short incline hikes planned.

But first I wanted to stop along Tioga Road since we wouldn’t be going back that way. Did I know where we were going to stop? Not really. That was dumb. I had read that Tuolumne Meadows was beautiful, so I had a vague plan to stop there. I figured it would be obvious. We also planned to stop at Olmsted Point. And then I assumed we would stop at a million other places where I randomly decided to pull over and take photos, because I know myself and that’s just how I roll.

I honestly don’t know if we were in the park when I took this. But it was on the way to the valley so here it is.

No clue which stop this was, but I made us get out and walk around.

We walked down a little bit toward the lake.

This seems like maybe it was another place? I don’t know.

Not sure where this was.

Ok, it was starting to look like the golden hour, and that meant it would be dark soon. I really wanted to get to the valley before it was dark, but I really wanted to stop and enjoy this road! This is why we should have left waaaaaay earlier in the morning. So if you are leaving Tahoe and going to Yosemite and stopping in Bodie DO NOT wait until noon to leave Tahoe. You will regret it.

By the time we got to Olmsted Point it was. truly the golden hour. Now, I was anxious because it meant we would never make it to the valley before it was dark. But I could not have planned a better time to be here. This is where we really saw the smooth, granite landscape for the first time. It was where we really saw the glacial scars on the granite. It was where we first saw Half Dome, too. The lighting made it feel very surreal and magical.

To be honest I am not sure this first photo is from Olmsted, but I think it is.

It was so weird, and so smooth, and so cool.

I really liked this twisted tree.

The lighting was nearly perfect.

There’s Half Dome in the background.

As much as I wanted to stay and watch the sun set, climb, and enjoy the scenery, we had to get going if we had any chance of getting to the valley before it was dark.

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Bodie, California

We had arrived at our destination: Bodie, California. What’s in Bodie? Nothing. Well, that’s not entirely true. There IS something, and that’s what we were there to see.

Bodie is a “ghost town”. It used to be a mining town, but it was abandoned and left completely intact. Nothing has been touched. They were actually having some sort of festival so there were booths and tents set up (which took away from the feel of the ghost town) and people dressed in character (which added to the feel of the ghost town).

The elevation is something like 8,000 feet so the air was super clear.

There are old machines all around the entrance.

The town is not terribly big.

You can look in the windows of most of the buildings. There are steps or benches allowing you to climb up safely.

Here’s what you will find inside the building above:

I mean, it looks like they just got up and left while in the middle of doing something else.

Some of the structures have fallen over, or are falling over.

This is the rest of the above building:

Looking inside another building

The church doesn’t look like the other buildings on the inside. You could walk up to the door of this building and look in. I am guessing they do things in here, which is why it is clean and has electricity.

Inside the above home

The whole area has nothing else other than this town. Nothing. There is nothing anywhere.

They had decorated for the festival.

I don’t remember why there were people riding horses around the town.

Not sure what building this was.

This was inside the school. It was one of the creepiest buildings by far.

Why was it creepy? Well, the books strewn about are part of it. But this below photo has the biggest reason why it was creepy.

That doll head on the table… I have so many questions.

Then there is the cursive writing still on the board.

I hadn’t noticed the doll head but my kids were talking about it so we came back later and I took another photo.

Is that a ripped up American flag on the table, too? I mean, what happened that they didn’t bother cleaning up the school?

The mine is uphill. You can’t go in there, unless you are on a guided tour.

In this photo you can see the road leading in and out of the town.

There was an old-timey camera here for no apparent reason.

One of the more dilapidated buildings in the town.

Near the front there was a ton of broken glass. People had arranged some of it artistically in some places. I found a bunch of it on top of something.

So after we walked around for a very long time, it was time to hit the road. We were way behind “schedule” and I was really getting nervous about having to drive in the dark.

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Hiking Emerald Bay

Today our plan was to go back to Emerald Bay on land and hike. There was also a plan to take a smaller hike to a waterfall. This would end up being a good day, but something did happen that has haunted me ever since. It cast a shadow over a good chunk of our vacation and I still don’t like to think about it. There is an important lesson to be learned and if even one person makes a change after reading this I will feel a lot better. I’ll get to it later, though.

We woke up a bit later than I had wanted, and took too long getting ready. Such is the story of our lives. We eventually got into the giant Ford Flex and headed off to Emerald Bay.

You have a few options when hiking Emerald Bay. You can park at the Vikingsholm lot and hike 1 mile downhill to Vikingsholm and the lake, you can start in Emerald Bay State Park, or you can start in the other state park whose name I cannot recall. I had wanted to start in one of the state parks but II could never quite figure out how it would work with parking, so I decided to go for the Vikingsholm lot.

The drive to Vikingsholm was partly terrifying. These California roads were a nightmare for me! I am very much afraid of heights, and I am even more afraid of heights if I don’t feel like I have something holding me back from the edge. So a high road with a guard rail is a lot less scary than a high road with no guard rail. Californians do not seem to believe in guard rails. It made me crazy to the point where I Was considering driving the long way around the entire lake just to avoid this one part of the road that was absolutely terrifying.

The road mostly had been in the foresty landscape, but we were slowly climbing up. There was a drop off with no guard rail on the passenger side and I hate that.

But I’ve done it before, so I took it slow and figured we would get through it and be fine. We passed that stuff and I thought we had to be past the worst of it. But no. We got on another section with a drop on the right.

It seems pretty scary, right? How could it get worse, you ask?

What was happening? How is this even possible? So now there is a steep drop on BOTH sides of the road. Who decided to make THIS the main road?

This road was really scary and disorienting. I can’t explain it, and it doesn’t look that bad in the Google Earth photos above. But trust me it was very scary. I actually googled it (that’s how I ended up with the screenshots above) and found it on a site called dangerousroads.org. So yes. It is scary and I am not just a big baby.

I seem to recall some parking drama. We could not find a spot in the Vikingsholm lot or the lot across the street. We waited, watched, saw people grab parking spots that we should have had. It was brutal. We ended up parking on the road, in an unofficial parking area among other cars.

We went over to the Vikingsholm lot and got some great photos.

DS climbed the rocks, like so many others. It looks super dangerous in the photo, I guess, but it wasn’t.

I think I titled this photo “I can see our car from here.”

The views were great up here.

The Vikingsholm parking lot has a fee. There is a small booth where you are supposed to pay. I wasn’t sure if we had to pay even though we were parked on the road, so I asked the guy in the booth. Since we were out on the road and not in an official lot, we did not have to pay. Better safe than sorry!

The parking lot area has some places where you can just sit and enjoy the views. If you aren’t able to hike down and uphill, you can stay here and just relax.

We began the hike down to the lake. The landscape was really interesting.

It was a long downhill hike, and I was glad to have my hiking poles. I had bought these because when we hiked at Glacier National Park I realized that hills are not my friends, and having some poles would help take the pressure off my knees.

When we arrived at the lake, we took some photos and explored Vikingsholm before we set off on our hike. We opted not to take the tour, probably because DD and DS whined about it. So we walked around the outside and took pictures, then went in the gift shop.

Vikingsholm was one of the first summer homes to be built on Lake Tahoe. It was used for residential purposes until the owner’s death, at which time it changed hands before being sold to the state.

Despite the name and appearance, the woman who commissioned the architect who built Vikingsholm was not of Scandinavian descent. She felt that Emerald Bay reminded her of her travels in Scandinavia and decided to hire a Scandinavian architect to build the home.

We walked around and peeked in windows like stalkers. We did go through some rooms that must have been a sort of small museum, near the gift shop. That was where I learned some of the information above (which I then partially forgot and had to google and “remember” with the help of this site).

As you can see, Emerald Bay is shaped like a horseshoe. Vikingsholm is at the center of the horseshoe shape. We had the option of hiking toward either point.

I cannot remember how we decided, but we ended up hiking toward Emerald Point. It started to clear up and become a beautiful day. Luckily most of our hike was in the shade. The views were just beautiful. There were lots of places where you could go down to the lake and just sit for a while.

We definitely stopped to enjoy the scenery. There’s DS up on some rocks again.

I guess he went up there to take some photos.

I was pretty happy with the photos I could get from my location.

I did go up and check out his view as well, and I guess it wasn’t so bad either.

The trees were pretty amazing, too.

That lake though…

The whole trail wasn’t in the shade, but the parts that were exposed were few and far between.

Plus they were just so pretty, it didn’t matter that we were out in the sun.

We didn’t pass many people on the trail. We saw some people sitting down near the lake here and there, and we saw people in Boat Camp since there were campsites there. We also saw some people kayaking in the lake.

We didn’t really have a sense of where we would turn back on this hike. It isn’t really an out and back hike. The trail keeps going for a very long way and we weren’t planning to hike the whole thing. We stopped and goofed around for a while while deciding whether to turn back. The clearing where we stopped had a bunch of giant pinecones, and we decided to play golf with my hiking poles.

This turned out to be a TERRIBLE idea because DS broke one of my poles. I don’t recall how it happened but I think he hit the log instead of the pinecone. Either way the pole was broken and unusable. I was mad, but it was my fault since I invented the game in the first place.

I need to backtrack, though. Before we traveled I asked the kids if they wanted hiking poles, since this was primarily a hiking trip.

“No, I don’t need poles” they both said.

“Are you sure? Poles will really help with the inclines and declines. I think you are going to want poles, and I am willing to buy them.”

“No, I don’t need poles” they both said.

This went on and on and they were very sure they did not need poles.

You can see where this is going.

The entire hike to this point, they were begging for my hiking poles. Begging. Endlessly.

So I did the Told You So Dance:

And let them use the poles a couple of times. Until DS broke one, that is. Then I said no more. Of course I probably let them use the remaining pole once or twice because I’m not a monster. Besides, who can be mad in a place like this?

I think this is where we stopped for lunch.

The hike back up to the parking lot was not fun. We live in a very flat place. We are not accustomed to hills at all. This 1 mile hike was entirely uphill. I didn’t take photos because we were just trying to get back up.

The plan was that we would drop off some things in our car, then walk over to the waterfall area which is across the road from Vikingsholm. DD and DS did not fancy the idea of another hike but I was 100% certain that this is more of a “hike” than a hike and we would be fine.

We finally made it up the hill and were walking to the car. This is where the bad thing happened, so if you are sensitive you might just skip this and scroll to the next photos.

DS had one of the hiking poles. I don’t remember if it was the broken one or not. He was sort of swinging it in front of him as he was walking. No one was in front of us, and no one was walking toward us, and he wasn’t swinging it wildly. Just sort of waving it back and forth, or something.

All of a sudden a large dog (labrador sized, I guess) rounded the corner and came toward us. We stopped and stared. The dog stopped, too. I don’t remember why, I think it had to do with the pole in DS’s hand (which he had stopped swinging as soon as the dog rounded the corner), but the dog suddenly took an aggressive stance. We stayed frozen because we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know if the dog was going to attack or run. The dog then retreated, started running, and ran up toward the road. I realized what could happen and started trying to call the dog back toward us, but it was too afraid of us at that point.

We started desperately calling the dog back so it wouldn’t run into the road. It was lucky we were near the parking lot because cars were slowing down, but the cars on the opposite side weren’t slowing down much. One car going toward the lot stopped and rolled down their window. Between us we communicated that it wasn’t our dog and we didn’t know who it belonged to. They tried to call it, and pulled up and one person got out to try and call it, but it was far too spooked at this point and it took off on the road.

Then we realized we could hear someone shouting. They were getting louder and we realized they were coming toward us from the direction the dog had come. It was clearly the owner, clearly distressed, calling their dog. The dog just kept running away, though.

I have no idea what happened. We tried to point the owner toward the dog but she ignored us and kept running toward where the dog went.

I can’t imagine the story had a happy ending. The road was one of those that had a steep drop to one side and a mountain on the other side. There isn’t a shoulder or safe place on the side. I love animals and I am very sensitive to stories of animals getting hurt, so this bothered me tremendously for the rest of the vacation. It still haunts me to this day.

The biggest lesson of this, and the one I hope everyone who reads this takes away: Please keep your dog on a leash. I am sure the owner felt that her dog could be trusted. I am sure the owner felt that her dog was happier and safer on vacation with her than at home with a dog sitter. I am sure the owner let her dog off leash all the time for numerous reasons and felt it was totally fine. And it was totally fine… until it wasn’t. Please don’t bring your dogs to hiking trails. And if you do, keep your dog leashed.

Later in the day we were shopping for souvenirs and I overheard someone say something along the lines of “We’d better not tell [someone’s name] about the dog. She would not like to hear about that!” I have no idea if they were talking about that same dog, or some other dog. I walked away before I could overhear anything else about it.

When we got back to the Flex we had to decide whether to go to the other waterfall or just go back to the hotel. I kind of wanted to take my mind off what had just happened so I made the kids walk over to the waterfall. There was much mumbling and grumbling but since neither of the kids can drive they were forced to go with me.

As I had promised them it was a short walk to view the falls.

We then drove back to the hotel. I know at some point we went to some sporting goods stores to get me some new hiking poles. We had to go to 3 different stores just to find poles, and the ones I bought cost a fortune. I cannot believe a place like Lake Tahoe is lacking in hiking gear but sure enough, it is.

At some point on our shopping trip we came across this sign.

George Washington was ahead of his time.

That night we hit the pool and hot tub, and then we must have packed, because the following day we were leaving Lake Tahoe and heading to Yosemite. My only goal was to arrive before dark, because… well you should know by now. I hate driving in the dark. I had a sense of when we should leave the hotel, but there was the possibility of taking a detour, so I didn’t make an official plan. That wasn’t a good idea.

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