Friday, August 14, 2009

Unexpected Summer Vacation

This post lies about its date. Hey, it's when I started writing this post, at least... :)

Driving to California

Since both Forrest and I are between jobs right now, we decided to take advantage of the freedom and have ourselves a summer vacation. We drove down to California to visit family and camp. We went through central Washington, which I've never been through before. There was a ton of grain; in fact, probably more than 1 ton. ;) We also got some pretty cool vistas of several Cascade stratovolcanos at once.

We took our time, camping one night at some state park whose name I don't remember, and then a second night at Howard's Gulch which had the most amazingly clean pit toilets I've ever used.

Camping in California

The third evening, we finally arrived at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, where my extended family camps in the Sierras*. Our first morning there, we woke up to discover that yellow jackets really love our orange backpacking tent! It was quite the exciting event, escaping from inside a tent swarmed by 10-20 yellow jackets! Not friendly little bumble bees, but angry carnivorous yellow jackets. :( We managed to get unscathed, thankfully.

The area has a lot of limestone caverns, so we took Forrest to see his first one! He commented that photos of cavern formations always look a little creepy, but when you're there in person they're anything but. So true! Caverns remind me a little of how cathedrals make me feel, actually.

After camping, we drove along the eastern Sierra, heading for Yosemite and eventually Santa Cruz. Forrest saw a road heading up a hill/small mountain; he wanted to check out the fire lookout tower at the top, so up we went. Up a rocky dirt road, in his lowered del Sol. I kept worrying that something important would be ripped out from under his car and we'd be stranded up this random mountain with no one around, but such badness did not happen, so it's all good.

We saw some hawks close-up driving up to the lookout. At the top of the mountain, we were actually above some of them. Pretty cool!

We had cell reception at the lookout, so Forrest called his dad to say hi and tell him where we were. Apparently Forrest's grandfather had worked in a fire lookout like this one summer when he was young.

Then we drove back down — again, without incident — and headed for a camping spot near Mammoth Lakes. We found a pretty awesome campsite, complete with all-morning shade and our own personal creek, in an otherwise dry and sunny Tuff Campground.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest

While we were in the area, we checked out the ancient bristlecone pine forest in the White Mountains. These trees are short, stubby, and gnarly because at 10-11,000 feet, growing conditions aren't exactly ideal for big, fast growth. So these bristlecone pines grow very slowly and densely, and if one section of the tree dies, the rest of just keeps on growing around it, resulting in the gnarliness. They're amazingly long-lived — thousands of years old, in some cases. They're not as big as the giant sequoias of Calaveras or as tall as Santa Cruz's coast redwoods, but they have their own kind of ancient, twisted impressiveness.

And just in case you're wondering, everyone feels like a wuss hiking around at 11,000 feet!

After huffing around the quarter-mile trail near the visitor center, we drove out a 12-mile dirt road (in better condition than the lookout tower road) to see the rest of the forest. There were some awesome views of the eastern Sierra while taking an hour to go 12 miles, especially on the drive back through sunset. We even saw a horse, of all things.

The alpine environment up there is very pretty, in an awe-inspiring, stark kind of way.

Sightseeing Before Santa Cruz

Another day, we checked out the Devil's Postpile. Forrest was disappointed at how Disneyland-esque it felt, since you have to ride on a shuttle filled with touristy types who look like they've never gone for a hike in their lives. The formation itself was pretty cool-looking, though. The basalt columns naturally form hexagons, which was weird to see.

Finally, we started heading to Santa Cruz to visit with Forrest's family. We drove through Yosemite, which I had only been to as a little kid and had no real memories of. Those are some impressive granite domes! Which I managed not to take any pictures of. Hrm. You'll have to ask Google for pictures of Yosemite. ;)

In Santa Cruz with Forrest's Family

Forrest's family was doing a house-sit, so we stayed there rather than at the boat. The house was really nice! It had several outdoor areas that felt almost like rooms themselves, including the deck you see in the photo. We grilled some really tasty dinners there.

Forrest, his mom Sandy, and I went one evening to Fins Cafe to play Spite and cribbage (which I didn't-lose by one whole point!). This cafe makes its own chai mix and will blend spices to your liking. I still have trouble getting independent-coffee-shop mochas to be as sweet as I like, though... :(

I spent one evening plotted with Sandy about last year's NaNoWriMo story, which I'm still editing. In talking with her, I discovered that the end of that story is really just the beginning of larger troubles for my characters: I have a trilogy on my hands! Eep! But that's a good thing, right? At least now I know what I'm writing for NaNo this year.

Forrest and I had been planning on backpacking for our last week of "vacation" before returning to Seattle in time for my Amazon interview. But I developed this nasty rash on my chest, back, and neck that lasted a week. We figured a backpack rubbing against a rash would be Bad Times, so we canceled our trip. Really rather disappointing.

I was hoping the rash would resolve itself over time, but after a week I gave up and went to a drop-in clinic. The doctor took one look at it and declared that was hot tub rash if she'd ever seen it. She gave me a prescription for some cream that kinda reduced the itching — but more importantly, it cleared up the rash in the next two days! Too bad it wasn't in time to still go on a backpacking trip. :(

Forrest, Sandy, his brother Ari, and I went into San Francisco for the day. We had dim sum at the Four Seas like always, then visited Grace Cathedral like always. I kinda like their SF traditions. We also spent like 2 hours (well, it felt like 2 hours...) driving around looking for a magic shop that carried some special cards Forrest wanted. We finally found them, though, after he had searched for months to find them. And the card trick he does with them is pretty fun, so I guess it's all good. :)

We also went out sailing on their boat one day. Just around the coastline, but still, it was a beautiful day and I had a good time. Except for the part where we stopped at a dock and I was severely menaced by a pelican. Have they no fear?!

Driving Back Home

Finally, we left Santa Cruz and started the long drive back home. We took Highway 1 along the coast, which is very slow going compared to I-5, but much prettier. We stopped to check out the Point Arenas Lighthouse and took lots of pictures; follow the photo link to see the rest of them, if you're interested in lighthouses.

We arrived home late Wednesday evening, just in time for my Thursday morning interview with Amazon. All's well that ends well!

* This has been something of an ongoing debate, me vs Forrest and his dad. They both insist that "the Sierras" would imply multiple ranges, whereas in my usage I'm only talking about multiple mountains within one range. It's the Sierra Nevada mountain range, with "Sierra Nevada" being just a name in English and thus capable of being referred to in the plural, like any other mountain range's name. I intend to write a longer post defending my position. ;)

Apparently I say "the Sierras" but "the Eastern Sierra." What an odd mix.