Sheer cliffs and tall trees

Trip Start Sep 01, 2010
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Trip End Sep 01, 2011


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Where I stayed
Hostel

Flag of United States  , California
Monday, October 18, 2010

California Discovery by Intrepid Sunday17th
We have a very important meeting at 8am in the hotel lobby.  Our tour guide, Jake, arrives all bright eyed and bushy tailed.  He's got a thatch of curly brown hair with a neatly trimmed beard topped off with a cheeky grin.  Its all a bit confusing as there are all these young people with luggage of varying descriptions standing around looking lost.  Jake makes a few announcements and then directs us to a conference room which has been booked, but someone is also using it to store cardboard boxes.  We squeeze in and look at each other.  Everyone else is in their 20's and there is only one other guy (Martin from Farnham - England), the others are variously from Canada, France & Australia.  We introduce each other and pack all our luggage into a trailer which is attached to the mini bus.  We've all filled out insurance details, next of kin details and disclaimers involving optional activities.  We're off after obeying the mandatory rule to wear seat belts, driving over the very long bridge across the southern end of San Francisco Bay and on to the central Californian Plain.  Soon we are passing through what looks like nectarine trees - they turn out to be almonds - acres and acres of them.  Jake stops at a roadside fruit and vege stop with a huge display of pumpkins outside.  Halloween is approaching here (31 Oct) and it's big.  Already people and businesses have ghoulish decorations hanging out of their windows and pumpkins are everywhere.  Jake buys a mini pumpkin for the dashboard of the the Bus while we stock up with cheap, quality fruit and snacks. Apples, plumbs, grapes, and roasted salted almonds will keep us going on he road.  Others buy savory corn snacks and banana chips.  We break the ice by sharing our purchases around.  Phillip's initial reaction is that we are too old for this group, but I'm more optimistic.  We almost immediately strike up conversation with two of the Aussie women and Martin who are in the seat behind us.  The next stop is the sustainable supermarket to buy food - we've all put in $ to cover the self catering parts of the week.  Jake has asked for suggestions for our evening meal and everyone has a dish to shop for  The French Girls (who are working as Au Pares) are doing quiche, Phillip and I have volunteered roast vegetables (we're promised an oven), Martin and the Australians reckon to do salad and the Canadians, desert.

As we arrive in the Yosemite Valley, its raining.  The clouds seem to hang around the mountains.  Undaunted we peer through the mist and retrieve coats and umbrellas from the luggage trailer and make for the visitor centre.  This is one of the oldest National Parks in the US and is all one piece of granite which has been lifted and cooled slowly by volcanic activity & it's still rising.  The valley itself has been dramatically gouged by glaciers creating sheer and sometimes smooth cliffs.  The misty clouds add to the mystery.  There's an excellent display at the Visitor's Centre with a beautifully photographed introductory film, all inclusive in the park admission price.  Once again it's good to see that the native tribe who lived here for thousands of years has been acknowledged.  Outside again, Jake has fed the sunshine meter and the rain has lifted.  After a quick look at a gallery dedicated to Ansel Adams, a photographer famous for his black and white prints of Yosemite (visit www.anseladams.org ) we take the free shuttle and then walk into a deserted clearing (there are actually hundreds of people here in the park) to look at the sides of the valley.  This is one of the spots where Ansel took photographs but the pine trees have grown a lot since then,  I'm thinking fantastic and the Australians are saying 'awesome' - not sure what the quiet Canadians are saying, but one of the french girls finds all the best photographic spots - she has an eye for it.  Jake is a staunch environmentalist, so we are forbidden to leave the path, leave litter and so on.  I approve.  I learn later from him that although the recycling and sustainability industry looks fine in California - other states (like Texas - always gets it in the neck) are zero on the scale.  We make another couple of visits but by now it is raining and getting dark as we head for our hostel accommodation.  This is something we haven't done since our youth.  All the guys in one dormitory (12 bunks) and all the girls in another.  Its basic but the bunks are comfortable with clean sheets and a quilt.

We all gather in the communal kitchen for our cooking task.  We find we are sharing this space with all the other hostelers who are cooking and washing up.  Its all chaotic and although there are two ovens, only one of them works.  The desert base has to be cooked first so everyone else commandeers the tables to prepare.  Phillip & I have bought potatoes, parsnips, squash. beetroot, carrots, Jalapeno Peppers and Garlic.  Australians Jess and Mel are desperate for 'veges' and it all looks very pretty as it goes into the oven, sharing with the still cooking desert base.  We've bought too much though and it all takes a while to cook.  The temperature is in Fahrenheit so we have to guess.  It's a juggle with the oven as we have four quiches to go in and they take longer than expected, so we decide to be American and start with the salad.  This pleases Jake.  Sabrina, who is Chinese, living in Brisbane is intrigued that all this cooking takes so long compared with her style done in a wok.  She has contributed by peeling the garlic.  Phillip tries to persuade her that parsnips are a well known Chinese vegetable, but she's on to his joke.  In the end we have the vege course next while the quiches finish off.  We're a huge success thanks to Jamie Oliver or Hugh Fearnly Whitting whatsit or one of those TV divas.  Sabrina likes the parsnips and is delighted by the roast garlic, none of which she has had before.  The peppers are nice and hot and also go down well.  Quiche is next and we manage to get through all three of them.  While this has been going on, the Canadian desert has had its topping of sweetened condensed milk, chocolate and nuts baked and then cooled in the freezer.  Its incredibly sweet and gooey - great comfort food but we all get a bit of a sugar rush so it takes a while to get to sleep.

Monday:  We have to be up, packed and fed before 8am.  We also make our own sandwiches, (I make Phillip's) and head back into the park, stopping first at the Bridal Falls where there is a party of Japanese school kids crowding on the rocks.  At this time of the year there is not much water coming down.  For rushing torrents, come in the Spring and early Summer.  We then wind our way up and up the steep road, stopping to get fantastic views of the valley and mountains.  The sun holds out and our lunch stop is the Mariposa Grove, home of some of California's giant Sequoia trees  They are massive and surprisingly pink.  Their bark contains tannins which discourages lichen and algae growth.  Many of them are over 2,000 years old.  We spent ages walking up through the trees to the grove, passing characters like the Faithful Couple, the Enduring Giant and the Grizzly.  Fire is essential for their seeds to germinate, so the rangers do controlled burns to encourage this.  The old trees themselves are not affected by the burning, though some of the pines and redwoods are.  This explains some of the charring you can see around the trunks.  A chap called Galen Clark discovered them and managed to persuade President Lincoln to sign a bill to protect them - in a lull in the civil war!   What a surprising day!

Our Journey to Bakersfield took us though acres of vineyards, citrus groves, corn and diverse agricultural activity.  Saw one dairy farm with cows on bare earth, eating hay from troughs.  Although they weren't exactly crowded, it all looked pretty mucky.  Great roofs had been constructed to protect them from the Californian sun.  Bakersfield is named after the Bakers, who came prospecting but ended up farming.  They acquired quite a few fields in the area so as the town grew Baker's Fields became Bakersfield.  The Ramada Inn was comparative luxury with 2 double beds per room. 
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