Jun 25, 2016

Vacation Is The Best

6/25/2016 — cori

This year's trek took us back to one of our favorite places to visit: California. This vacation was dual purposed: college shopping and Yosemite hiking. We flew into San Francisco and spent a few days exploring the area before heading off to the universities.  

After securing lunch, we headed up to the Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley. It gave us spectacular views of the bay, the city of Berkeley as well as San Fran. The weather was sunny and mild, only in the high 60s. After learning of the arrival of a family of Minnesotans, California decided to have a small cold front move in. No kidding. It was cold the whole time we were there. But at least it was sunny.

We kept finding these little button like things all over on our little nature walk. Come to find out, they are the seed pods for the Eucalyptus trees that are so abundant in the area. The amazing thing was, they had several different designs on the inside. The intricacies of nature never cease to astound me.

Our first hotel stay was in Santa Clara, south of the city. Heading down that way we stopped for a visit at the Intel Museum.

Chloe learned how to write her name using only binary code.

Next we headed over to Stanford - not one of Gavin's colleges of choice. We wanted to walk around the campus just to say we'd been there.  

The next day we thought it would be fun to go see some Redwoods. So we packed up and headed up to the mountains to hike the El Corte De Madera Nature Preserve. We thought we'd only be gone maybe an hour; that is why we didn't bring any backpack filled with water, whistles or food. Turns out we got lost and we gone over 3 and half hours. 

Apparently the signage wasn't all that good. We were hopelessly lost, hot, thirsty and tired. It felt like we walked uphill the whole time. Chuck's fitbit said we climbed 187 floors. It was an adventure nonetheless. From that day on we carried a backpack full of water and snacks with us everywhere we went. Lesson learned.

Once we found the car and our water, we headed straight to Half Moon Bay Beach. It was freezing! But it was beautiful. 

The absolute coolest thing about being at the beach this day was all the whales we got to see. It was incredible! They were everywhere. You could tell where they were about to come up because the seagulls all crowded around that area of water. 

A family selfie to prove we were here.

Our hotel for this night was up in San Rafael which is a beautiful little town on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. We ended up crossing that bridge at least 3 times during our entire stay here. We didn't mean to come to this particular location. We got lost (by last count we had made over 10 u-turns throughout the trip) and ended up at this viewing area instead of the one we thought we were going to. Turned out even better than we planned. Some of our funnest times have been unplanned mistakes.
The next morning we left San Rafael to head back into San Francisco to actually explore the city.  But before we got there we decided to visit Point Bonita. There was supposed to be a light house there that we could go see. Unfortunately for us, it didn't open for another 3 hours. Fortunately for us, there were a bunch of other cool things to explore.

Like this! This old ruin is actually the Battery Mendel. We were shocked that it was open and that we had free reign to explore. We were the only ones here this particular morning and had a blast.

Bennett climbed a wall in true American Ninja Warrior fashion and hung on to the metal ring.

As did Gavin, but he took it a step further and decided to take a selfie while hanging on for dear life.

This is the view from the ruin. The place was surrounded with such pretty wildflowers.

We finally made it into the city and down Lombard Street.

We ate in THE BEST Chinese restaurant in Chinatown.

We took pictures of buildings really close up....and remembered our backpack.

We drove down Highway 1 and stopped every so often to appreciate the view.

The next two nights we stayed in Fremont with our friends the Submaranians. We stayed at the house of their Uncle Shikrant. We didn't get too much time to sit and visit as we had to drive at least 2 hours everywhere we went. We planned to visit both colleges and Yosemite together.

We toured the campus of UC Berkeley 

We also toured the campus of UC Davis

We headed up to Napa Valley to tour a local vineyard.

Rama and Chuck enjoyed some superb taste testing.

We were surprised to see only green grapes. We learned that the grapes don't turn red until September.

From Napa we started our trek over to Yosemite. 3 hours later we arrived at the western park entrance. Unfortunately, our hotel was still another 2 and half hour drive from there. I unknowingly booked our hotel at Mammoth Lakes. On their website it says its only a 50 minute drive to Yosemite. True, it only took about 30 minutes to get to the east entrance. But what they fail to tell you is that everything you want to see is at the Yosemite Valley area which is another 2 hour drive into the park through numerous switchbacks, mountain passes and treacherous roads. We drove ALOT! On the plus side, I got less scared of looking over the side of cliffs as our car drove precariously close to the edge multiple times a day. On a sadder note, we learned that Chloe doesn't do so well with rapidly changing altitudes. She threw up in the car for the last hour of the trip. Thank God we had a plastic bag in the car.

This is one view we never would have seen had we only stayed on the west side of the park and not been forced to come in and out of the east entrance. 

I could sit and look out at this all day long.

The serenity of the area is palpable and awe inspiring.

More driving.

On our first day in Mammoth Lakes we decided to just stay in the area and not take the 2.5 hr jaunt over to the park. There was more than enough for us to explore here. We took the gondola up to the top of Mammoth Mountain. It was the most amazing, breath-taking experience! I have never been in a gondola that went that high. We later learned that Mammoth is the only year long ski resort in California. There was still snow and still skiers (going straight down on double black diamond runs). It was 23 degrees on top of the mountain with a 20-40 mile an hour wind gust. We were FREEZING! But oh, was the view and experience so worth it!

Here we are at the top of the world. Not the best family picture because we were looking directly into the sun. It almost looks as if we have a fake background behind us.

Can this get any more breath taking?!

Love this!

All the kids on top of the world. We were at 11,053 elevation. Don't worry, Chloe was fine by now. She only threw up in the car. We pumped her with much more water the rest of the trip so her body could better handle her new elevation.

So good to have such good friends to share this adventure with. 

After being on top of the world, we headed over to Mono Lake which looks almost more desert like. The black mound in the middle is an actual, non-active volcano. The color of the lake was an erie green color. They explained to us that it was only green because of how windy and dusty it was that day. They said that normally it's the brightest of blues. There is only one fish in the whole lake and its a type of shrimp. Cool fact: there is more salt in this lake than in The Great Salt Lake and the Pacific Ocean.

Since meeting up with our friends, we separated into our new "Car Families". We did everything as a car family.

Our first day in Yosemite. Our first hike was a strenuous one: The Vernal Falls. It was a consistent and steady climb to the top. All said and done it was an elevation increase of 1000 feet. We probably only hiked up 800 feet.

This is near the top of Vernal Falls. Those steps keep going up an up and up until you reach the very top. It was sopping wet on those stairs. And the higher you got, the more narrow the stairs got. Plus the spray from the falls was everywhere. There was no staying dry. 

This is as far as I made it. It was thunderous and loud, gorgeous and terrifying. I almost made it to the top, but I was afraid of my camera getting wet and Chloe and Priya were still down below and I didn't want to leave them there alone. The boys made it a little farther up, but still not all the way.

Tree huggers.

This was interesting. Of course we had to check it out. Unfortunately, there were no bears in there.

At the awesome resort we stayed in a 2.5 hour drive a way, there were 6 hot tubs and 2 pools for the kids to relax away the days hiking aches and pains. Of course they all made use of the complementary robes. It really was freezing outside (like maybe in the 40s and 50s), but thankfully, all the water was heated. 

The other car family. The one where most of the puking occurred.

The best mistake ever! Our last day in Yosemite, as we were coming through the east entrance for the last time, we saw this hike leading to Lake Tenaya. Unfortunately, because all the snow was melting, the trail was too muddy and we had to turn back.  Fortunately for us, right next to where we parked on the other side of the street from where we just were was this Rock Playground (our name, not Yosemite's). Not another soul was here. We walked all over the place. It was THE BEST hike we took by far. We explored our hearts out, jumped up, over and around rocks/boulders/cliffs. It's hard to tell from the angle of this picture, but these were steep mountains. And the best part was they went on and on and on. We lost ourselves in their beauty. I think we wandered around exploring aimlessly for over an hour and half. 

The view from the top of the Rock Playground hike.

Our last day. A beautiful vista we couldn't resist along the side of the windy, mountain pass. This is a spectacular view of the Yosemite Falls with the Merced River in the background.

My favorite people with the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls behind them.

A picture perfect postcard.

The clouds gave us a beautiful treat on this last warmish day.

Too beautiful a photo op to pass up.

Goodbye beautiful Yosemite.  Goodbye Halfdome. Goodbye El Capitan. Goodbye Bridal Falls. I will miss you all.  Goodbye mountain passes and long drives. It's been fun. Until next time!

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