Sunday, February 10, 2013

Epic Road Trip: Day 11 - Grand Canyon National Park

In December of 2010, Oscar and I drove to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas and could not see a single thing due to the fog. We vowed to come back and actually see it one day, and now thanks to our July 18th trip, that's one more thing we can check off on our bucket list. It's one of those jaw dropping, awe inspiring things that you just have to see at some point in your life. We first visited a couple friends of mine in Mesa the night before, stayed in a huge hotel room that was incredibly well priced for everything that came with it, and then drove up to the Grand Canyon the next day coming in through the east entrance.

Before you get into the park, there's a lookout area belonging to the Native Americans of the area. The Colorado river shaped all these crevices, which is pretty remarkable to think about when you look at the size of the river today.

The first lookout available when you arrive in the park from the east is the Desert View.

The cool thing here is going up into the watchtower and seeing the petroglyph decorations.
This is the view from the observation area below the tower. Pretty sweet!

As we continued driving towards Grand Canyon Village, we saw a couple of moose. We also saw a female elk with her baby as we drove into our campsite that evening. Oscar hadn't noticed them in the dark and nearly drove into them. In spite of that, they barely even acknowledged our presence. 

It's hard to believe this now tiny river is responsible fore shaping this grandest of all canyons.

I wanted to get a good couples picture, but we never got a fantastic shot of the two of us together. People don't know how to hold the iPad properly so it comes out blurry or shadowed.

Though we did get some cute individual shots of us.

I'd definitely recommend taking the shuttle bus to Hermit's rest. It's totally worth the time, and the lookouts at Pima and Hopi point were my favorites.

And to finish up a beautiful day of sightseeing, we inadvertently arrived in this part of the park just in time for a glorious sunset.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Epic Road Trip: Day 7 - Pebble Beach and Big Sur

On our final California coast day, Oscar and I decided to take the 17 mile drive around Pebble Beach.
Unfortunately the weather was not ideal for our sightseeing, but we still got some nice pics.

Though Oscar's tablet camera has the cool panorama feature, you can see from this pic on the right that my ipad camera is better. The coloring is considerably more accurate. I was definitely wearing a purple shirt that day, but it looked blue (top pic) in Oscar's camera.

Towards the end of the tour, we followed signs for a valley overlook. It's lovely, but this pic is zoomed in and enlarged. The view is very distant. They need some sort of lookout station to get you above all these trees.
Fortunately the weather began to clear up as were were leaving Pebble Beach.

I planned on us seeing a few coastal waterfalls along the way. Our first stop was Pfeffer Falls. Unfortunately this was an extremely dry year for California, and these falls have low watersheds, meaning they're best seen in the spring. We took a shortcut, causing us to originally miss the sign for the side trail leading to the falls and finding this lovely overlook by mistake.

The coastal drive is curvy and slow compared to I-5 or Highway 101, but it's definitely worth doing once on a nice day.

And at last we made it to Big Sur and beautiful McWay Falls - the main reason I wanted to travel the coastal route.

There really is no better combination of waterfall and scenery.

We couldn't linger in any one place too long that day since we had a lot of distance to travel. As it was we didn't make it to Burbank until after Midnight, and that's with getting on the freeway once it was too dark to see anything on the coast.

Next we dropped by Limekiln Falls.

And the beautiful views kept coming as we drove more and more south. 

We tried to hike to Salmon Creek Falls, but became discouraged and turned back when we saw from a distance that it wasn't going to be all that fantastic. Click here to see what it should look like on a year that's not so dry.
And the last sight to behold our eyes that day was seeing a bunch of sea lions asleep on the beach. It was marked as a tourist sight, so this must be a common area for them to sleep.

We spent the night and the next couple of days at Oscar's grandparents' house in Burbank, CA, and on Monday Oscar surprised me with a day at 6 flags. He's not a huge fan of crowded theme parks, so it was sweet of him to take me here. Our favorite ride by far was X2! It's completely disorienting since you lose track of which way you're facing or where exactly the ground is, but it's super fun.

Click here for our next epic adventure!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Epic Road Trip: Days 5 and 6 - Northern California Coast and Santa Cruz

When we first arrived on the northern California coast, it was quite foggy. White fog, the kind you know will eventually pass, but since we'd already visited here before, we didn't bother waiting around. You can see a little bit of the fog in the pic on the left. The pic on the right was a mere 100 yards away from an area completely blanketed in fog. We decided to just check in to our KOA in Eureka, relax, and take advantage of their internet service. The problem with using internet at campsites is sharing bandwidth with people who've brought their RV's and are streaming videos to their TV's. Some of us just need a little bandwidth to check our emails and such, but the RV people suck it all up.

It was still terrible weather in the morning, which was pretty concerning since we'd planned to drive down the coast that day. We started driving down highway 101, and fortunately the weather had cleared up by the time we reached the junction with highway 1. 

Here we are at Stinson Beach north of San Francisco. Lovely!

Technically the pics below are not in any sort of order. I thought I'd uploaded them according to how we drove, but I just looked it up and saw that Stinson Beach is further south than the hike we did at the end of this day, so I know I'm out of order. It's hard to keep track of everything when you're using 4 different cameras (2 small ones for hikes and zooming in and Oscar and my tablets for anything we can drive to). Since I have no idea what these pictures are besides "pretty coastal views," feel free to post in the comments where these places are if you recognize any of them.

I love this pic below with the bird soaring in the top left corner.

And finally we made it to Point Reyes National Seashore where we'd planned a hike to Alamere Falls. Oscar and I hadn't thought we'd want to do an 8 and 1/2 mile hike immediately following a 7 hour drive, but by the time we arrived, we realized we were still up for it. We had barely enough daylight, though. It was getting dark by the last couple miles of our return trip. But look at the coastal view we had on our way there!

You hike 4 miles on the trail before a side trial veers off to take you down to the ocean. Alamere Falls has several small drops like these before it's final cascade that drops directly into the ocean. Getting down is a bit scary though. The picture on the left below isn't just Oscar showing off in the middle of the rocks. That's actually how you have to go in order to get down to the coast. I managed to get down first and take the picture of him. The trip back up was much less scary since you were less likely to slip.

Though it meant coming back partly in the dark, I was happy with this lovely view at the bottom. The sun was in the perfect place for these pictures.

I can't say the waterfall was terribly impressive in size and intensity, which may simply be due to California having an especially dry 2012. But it was still enjoyable to see such a unique ocean waterfall, and it's worth the hike if only for the gorgeous views you get on the way there. 

You'll pass two pretty lakes on the way in. I love the midnight blue color against the crisp green of the one in the left.
We got back after dark and learned that in the tiny town of Bolinas, everything closes early. We were desperate for something to eat, but there was no restaurant/market/gas station or anything open. We continued driving south and after searching multiple places, we finally found a little restaurant that was closed up except for the bar. Technically they don't sell food after that point, but the chef said he still had some macaroni and cheese left, and we gobbled it up. At least it was delicious!

Unfortunately I have to say a word about our terrible accommodations that night. Since state park camping was only a few bucks less, we opted for privately owned Olema Beach campground that put us a few miles closer to the hike, had internet access, and had showers. I really wish we'd just driven further after the hike and paid for a cheap hotel in San Francisco (particularly since we drove halfway there just trying to find somewhere to eat), but we hadn't expected to do the hike that day and had already prepaid $44 for a tent site. The nearby hotels are all $200+ a night expensive resorts, so we opted to camp, even if it was pricey. $44 for a tent site is outrageous in and of itself, plus the internet service didn't work for us at all (due again to too many people taking up all the bandwidth streaming video), and the showers were horrible! The flow was incredibly weak, and they were on a short timer (mine was about 25 seconds and Oscar's was even shorter), which meant you had to keep turning it back on and getting really cold while you waited for it to start up again. I would have rather given my money to the state of California than to this horrible campground. 
The next day we drove down to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. I spent a lot of vacations here growing up, so it holds a lot of nostalgia for me. We mini-golfed and went on the roller coaster before driving to the lighthouse to take some pretty pictures. We wanted to get more pictures of the coast in this area, but unfortunately, everything in this area is a frigging state beach! California State parks/beaches don't just charge a lot for camping, they also charge $10 just to enter them. Since all we wanted to do was take some pictures, we didn't think it was worth it, so we continued driving. 

That evening we stayed at a $60 a night hotel in Seaside, CA. I never thought a 1 star hotel would feel like a palace. But after the previous night, having a warm bed and a functional shower was absolutely joyous! We stayed the next few days at Oscar's grandparents house and then spent another day at a hotel before we camped again. It totally spoiled us. It made camping feel so much less pleasant, particularly in Zion National Park where we struggled to sleep due to the heat and then again in Yellowstone where we struggled to sleep due to the cold. Next time we go for a long trip, I'm going to have to take into account how quickly I tire of camping.