Tuesday 23rd – From San Francisco to Eureka

I was frustrated with San Fran (especially since all the hills meant Bertha was of little use, on top of the impossible traffic) so I decided to get out of town.  I had planned to do some shopping first, but gave it up when multiple road closures made the traffic even worse than usual.  But it did give me a slow-mo tour of Chinatown when a very frazzled traffic cop was attempting to merge 6 lanes of traffic down into one.

After I survived that I headed over the Golden Gate and stopped at the viewpoint just over the far side of the bridge – together with every other tourist.  I like San Fran a lot better from a distance!

I then went for a drive around Marin headland where I took this:

 And then through Sausalito – a very pretty, very expensive little town.  From there it was full steam ahead to Eureka (no, not that one unfortunately) – here’s my route

I think of San Fran as being pretty small – but it’s amazing how long it took to get totally out of town/suburbia.  Basically all the way to Santa Rosa it’s suburbs, and even after that it’s a lot of little towns.  After that it gets pretty – wineries, then LOTS of trees, it really starts to feel like the northwest with endless pine trees.  I really enjoyed this part of the drive.

Very curvy roads in parts, and not easy driving for the last bit.  I was tired by the time I got to Eureka.  I’m staying in the Eureka Inn –

A lovely historic hotel, with a great big room – they upgraded me so I wouldn’t have to climb the stairs – the lift was broken.  But it was still a long walk from the car to my room.  And I’m feeling a bit silly but I’m using not only my own pillow, but also towel and doona – no tiny scratchy towels, and no sweating under polyester doonas!

I’ve decided to camp out here an extra day to rest up and do some laundry.  They’ve got OK wifi so the plan was to catch up on blog posts – you can see how well that’s working, I’m still a week behind!

Mon 22 Sept – To San Francisco

First up my map for today’s driving.  I didn’t leave Merced till about noon – I slept and rested.  I’m finding it hard to balance lots of sightseeing with getting enough rest – I want to be out there doing things, but at some point I just need more rest than the average human, and it’s frustrating.

From Merced it was a pretty straight run up the freeway and into San Francisco.  But lots of traffic, especially the last bits, and confusing despite having a Tom Tom and also google maps.  And traffic in San Fran itself (ie after I crossed over the Bay Bridge onto the peninsula) is terrible.  Tiny streets, lots of cars, lots of hills.  But when the traffic does move it’s lots of fun – like driving a roller coaster with all those hills.  Every intersection is horizontal, but there’s a steep hill in between each.  Once I got to the hotel I got myself out onto the waterfront, and did some fun touristy shopping at Pier 39. 

And remember the saying about restaurants with views not having to provide good food?  Well, it holds true here too.  I ate at a place at the end of the Pier, overlooking the sunset behind the Golden Gate bridge.  But the seafood platter was mushy and tasteless (I could tell the prawns because of the tails, but otherwise couldn’t tell what was under the batter).  But still, this was pretty awesome:

Alcatraz:

Sunset behind Golden Gate:

Sun 21 Sept – Back to Yosemite for Wawona and Mariposa Grove

 So I woke up this morning (having arrived in the dark last night) and thought I was back in Australia:

But an hour back up the hill to the park apparently not:

Wawona is one of the early settlement areas around Yosemite.  There’s this lovely covered bridge and a bunch of other historic displays.

I mostly loved the river – I sat on one of the big boulders with my feet in the water – listening to the water burbling, birds in the trees, watching dragonflies flit past, and the smell of the pine trees (or is it the redwoods? Either way it’s lovely).

A lovely peaceful way to spend some time!

From there I went to Mariposa Grove – beautiful Sequoia trees a little further down the mountain.  Neither my legs nor Bertha would get me to the largest trees – it’s a rough track – the walking track dirt with roots etc, and another was a gravelly road which was pretty steep in places.

 Lots more people here than at Wawona, but still just lovely.  Those trees are just amazing:

And something a bit more artistic that I’m trying out:

From here I’m San Francisco bound.  I didn’t make it all today – just too far to drive after having spent a large part of the day sightseeing.  Once down the mountain I powered up the freeway, and got as far as Merced (I”m going to try to remember to put in maps for driving days: see here for today).

On the way there I apparently visited Holland:

Three continents in a day – pretty awesome.  Central California around Merced is pretty depressing – there’s a bad drought, so not many jobs available for agricultural workers who are living on tiny incomes even when there is work.  This has been one of the few places that I was careful about where I parked, slept, etc.  I parked the car right under my hotel window and made sure I took anything even vaguely tempting looking out of the car.

Saturday 21st – More Yosemite

Blog note: OK, I apologise – I suck at keeping this updated.  Much as this trip would be totally do-able if I could fill every day to the brim – I can’t.  So I’m stopping when I’m tired, and at that point I’m too tired to write any sense.  I’m in Bend, Oregon right now, and have more than a week of blog to catch up on, but also have to (want to) keep traveling.  And I don’t always have energy for both 🙁

Anyway, on with the blog:

It was hard to get up and get moving this morning (ie Sat 21st), especially since I don’t know where I’m staying tonight.  All accommodation in the park is full (including this place that’s just outside) so I’m going to have to find somewhere else.

But first up:  A tour of Yosemite valley floor (by car and Bertha).  It’s impossible to not get good photos around here:

From there I headed out to find somewhere to sleep – but got distracted by Glacier Point – a lookout on the south side of the park.  A bit of a drive but totally worth it:

Thankfully the stormy weather stayed to the north of the valley, but the static on the south side was enough to have my hair literally standing on end!  VERY weird feeling, that.  I’ve since discovered that my camera (and one lens in particular) didn’t like it much either.  I’ve been chasing replacements all week but there aren’t many local camera stores left – and even fewer that stock my kind of camera/lens…

After all that I drove out of the park about an hour before finding a little motel by the side of the road to sleep in – run by a Vietnamese lady.  A bit dilapidated but totally clean.  The TV and shower managed to defeat me, though – thankfully I’m the only one who’ll notice if I’m a bit smelly!

Fri 19 Sept – Photography day with BillNeill

Bill picked me up at 6 o’clock this morning – not exactly my favourite time of day!  But it was more than worth it.  We spent a few hours at three different sites in Yosemite valley taking photos – and once the light got a bit harsh at about 11 o’clock we retreated to the cafeteria to look at what I’d taken, review older photos, etc.  Some of the results:

 

And see the long shadow just to the right of the jutting out part of El Capitan?  This is what I saw when I zoomed in:

Ripples in the river between two rocks that were causing the interference pattern below.  Pretty neat!

It was a fantastic day.  I got some great shots, learnt a lot, and was reminded of a lot of things I’d been neglecting of late that I’m now paying more attention to.  Hopefully I’ll be able to keep it up, and increase teh elvel of creativity in my pphotography.  But I’m certainly inspired!

During the afternoon smoke from one of the bushfires (wildfires here) came over the valley and we got that eerie red light that we sometimes get in Sydney when there are fires around.  But I was too exhausted to take advantage of it – I took one quick snap of smoky light over trees – it turned out pretty well!


When Bill dropped me back at the hotel I went to bed – and didn’t get up again for 16 hours!

Thurs 18 Sept: Over Tioga Pass to Yosemite

So, lots of driving today.  I’d wanted to do this drive back in 2010, but I was here in February that trip, and during the winter the pass is closed due to snow (it goes up to 3031m).  I particularly wanted to see the high alpine meadows, but due to the drought, the time of year (generally dry in late summer) and also lack of accessibility for Bertha, it wasn’t as much as I’d hoped for.

Still, it was a lovely drive overall with some impressive views:

And finally, Half Dome:

I’m staying just outside the park – all accommodation in the park is booked out on Friday night and I couldn’t face moving hotels twice in two days – especially since I’ve got an all day class with a professional photographer tomorrow.  So I drove all the way through the park from West to East and out the East entrance, my hotel is another 20 mins or so beyond there.

And photography all day tomorrow!  Woohoo!

Weds 17 Sept – Bodie ghost town, Mono Lake

So, it turns out that I’m staying in a ski town!  I thought the name rung a faint bell but I didn’t recognise it, but it’s impossible to miss now that I’m here.

I’m pretty tired – not sure if it’s the heat, CFS, jetlag or the altitude (almost 2400m) but I’m taking it a bit slow today.  I’ve decided to stay here another night – I couldn’t face having to load and unload the car YET AGAIN.  Especially up in the mountains.  Most hotels in other places I’m just pulling a few things inside that I need or that need to be secure – basic clothes and toiletries, electronics and my passport. Everything else can take its chances in the car.

But up here you can’t leave food or anything that smells like food in the car because it attracts bears.  They’ve been known to do this.  And of course apart from destroying the car and contents, it’s bad for the bears, too.  So that means my esky, cutlery, plate, snacks, etc. all have to come inside.  Plus ALL my medications, toiletries, etc, since the scents in those are attractive too.  Which altogether is just a hassle.

After a good sleep in this morning I headed out to Mono Lake – a very salty, alkaline lake with no outlet.  Because of the quality of the water the chemical reactions grow calcium carbonate towers called tufas.

As the photographers among you know the middle of the day isn’t the best time to take photos – the light is very harsh and coming from straight above – not flattering to anything, especially out here in what’s effectively desert.  I wandered around the visitor’s centre, bought an annual pass to the national parks, and looked at a photography exhibition, including a couple of actual Ansel Adams prints.

So I headed off to Bodie first – a ghost town about an hour up the road. It was an old gold mining town with its heyday in the mid 1800s. It finally died out altogether in the 1940s.  Sometime since then the government decided to keep it in an “as is” condition – they’re not letting it deteriorate, but not “fixing” anything, either.
 

And that includes the interiors, which are apparently as the residents left them, including whatever they chose (or were forced) to leave behind them.

 I spent about an hour there – I could easily have stayed longer but Bertha wasn’t coping well with the rough dirt “roads” through the town – no pavements here!  And I wanted to get back to Mono Lake for sunset.  Which I just managed, but I didn’t leave myself enough time for the earlier good light, and it wasn’t a terribly spectacular sunset (often the towers glow with spectacular colours).

And one more photo from Bodie for good measure:

Tues 16 Sept – Griffith Observatory and Driving inland

I was up and out relatively early today, and out to Griffith Observatory.   It’s an art deco (?) building high up on the hill in a park.

You get a  good view of the Hollywood sign from there, plus amazing views right out over LA.

The building itself doesn’t open till noon on Tuesdays, which I didn’t wait around for.  But I was mainly there for the architecture and the views, and to take some photos.

Stunning place, and I probably would have stayed longer and maybe had a look inside, but in the ridiculous heatwave that LA has had the last couple of days meant that according to the car thermometer it was already 107F (almost 42C) at 10:30am.  Despite the fact that I was wearing a hat, on Bertha and therefore not walking, and drinking heaps of water (over 1L in less than an hour) I quickly started feeling the early symptoms of heatstroke so I beat a retreat to the car aircon and got on my way inland!  Click for my route for today (ignore the grey lines, the blue one is the one I took)


 Thankfully the traffic wasn’t too bad and it didn’t take me long to get out of town (I was already on the right side of LA to start with, so that helped).  Unlike yesterday when I criss-crossed the place today’s itinerary was a little more efficient.  And the good roads here really do help – the maintenance often isn’t great, but they built them well, with plenty of capacity, good cambers, wide lanes, etc.

 I stopped for a break in Palmdale, which I thought was a little pipsqueak place but turned out to be pretty big, with multiple huge shopping malls.  I did the last of my shopping there – I needed a paper map (can’t rely on Google everywhere, much as coverage is pretty good these days) and a few other things.

After that I had to decide – do I go to Death Valley or not?  Given that I’d just nearly cooked myself in LA, and that it’d mean at least a 200 mile (320km) detour off my route, I decided against.  Most of my trip is pretty relaxed but I’ve got a deadline to meet in Yosemite on Friday – I’ve got a full day photography lesson booked.  So I headed on up the highway.

An hour or so later I came around the bend to see this:

The photo really doesn’t do it justice, this huge field of wind turbines just kept going left and right, and way up and over more hills to the left.  There must have been thousands of them. From some googling I think it’s Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm.

California geology is made up of a series of mountain ranges all running parallel to the coast – I’m guessing they’ve all been created by the Pacific tectonic plate diving under the America plate (ie the San Andreas fault and others).  But it means that as you go West to East you go over mountains, through valleys, then over the next set of mountains.  Each valley is a little dryer than the last, as each mountain range stops more rain from reaching inland.  The main one (Central Valley) is east of the Sierras and grows a majority of the USA’s fruit and veggies.  I’m passing that one by right now and heading for the one behind the Sierras, which is pretty dry (especially now with the drought they’ve got here).

So once I’d passed those turbines I turned North, going through a valley with mountains on either side.  At sunset I had this on the left (Appalachian hills with Sierra Mountains behind).

And this on my right (not sure what it’s called but it’s the next mountains over).

Believe it or not this place was called Lone Pine – a name with totally different connotations for us Australians.  And co-incidentally, as I pulled up to take some photos, I got an email from  Bill )my photography teacher for Friday) who was wondering how my trip was going, and that I should stop at Lone Pine to take some photos!

Pretty spectacular stuff!  Once past that I started thinking about where I was going to sleep.  My next objective tomorrow is Mono Lake and Bodie (a ghost town), just up the road a bit.  But I need to find somewhere to sleep first.  Mobile internet to the rescue again (once I found some wifi at a McDonalds) – hotel all booked at Mammoth Lakes.  Job (almost) done – another 90 mins up the road and I can get some sleep!

Mon 15 Sept – Mostly Chores

Oh dear.  Day two and I’m running behind on the blog already.  I’ll try to do better!

Lot of running around today, shopping, getting the rest of the van fitted out as a “campervan”.  I’m now the proud owner of a mattress, doona and sheets, a basic kitchen kit including a 12V esky, and some food. Plus some extra clothes and outlet shopping – I definitely didn’t pack for this ridiculous heat, it’s been in the high 30s. Funny how that feels like work to me when a lot of people would see that as a main feature of a US holiday. 

I started in Venice and Santa Monica, where I had breakfast of a bagel with garlic cream cheese at a little place on Main Street.  And Ruth: the garlic had some real bite, just like we never see in Australia any more!  Yummy.  And for those of  you who are or were Californication fans – the place really does feel and look like that.  Tiny streets and lanes, high fences with what you sense are expensive houses behind.  And very cute little boutiques and shops.  And even numerous bald men with large cigars!!!

One thing I did enjoy was my first visit to a fabric store.  I promised myself I’d only buy what I could see myself making up and enjoying straight away – and I think I stuck to it pretty well.  This place was amazing – a massive range, mostly great quality, and good prices compared to what we pay in Sydney.  I’ll be doing more of these as I travel around, but since none of you are sewers I’ll keep my comments to a minimum 🙂  I was aiming for a second fabric store but lost my nerve when  drove into the neighbourhood.  The fashion district here is block upon block of what can best be described as chaos – what looks from the road like tiny jam packed shops, hundreds of people everywhere, and men with flags ready to wave you towards parking garages.  I declined and headed out – it just seemed too much to deal with.  I might come back before I fly out, I’ll see.

Although today was mostly driving, it did give me a good sense of L.A.   From Santa Monica I headed up Wilshire Boulevard, through Beverley Hills, downtown, the fashion district, and ended up in Burbank (where a lot of the actual filming of movies is done) for the night. Fascinating to see the variations, from hugely expensive (even though I didn’t head into the really rich areas) to very poor and lots of homeless.  Even the police cars show the difference – LA police have old basic cruisers, while Beverley Hills have nice new model SUVs.

Nice Art Deco and Spanish style architecture everywhere.

Sun 14 Sept – Venice Beach!

I’m here! I had a good flight, got to gate check Bertha (ie I kept her with me all the way to the door of the plane, where they then took her and put her in the hold). It’s a huge advantage, it meant I was mobile while hanging around at the airport, as opposed to someone pushing me in a manual chair straight from checkin to the gate.

The roads and keeping to the right felt familiar pretty much straight away – good going given the jetlag. After getting myself sorted out with the car (van?) and some basic shopping I decided to head straight for my hotel at Venice Beach rather than try to do too much else.

Apart from some hassles accessing the parking, the hotel’s great. Right on the boardwalk so you feel like you’re in the middle of all the action (tall building in picture below), I can distantly hear everything (including a drumming festival that’s been going since I got here) but soundproof enough that I had no trouble falling asleep even in the middle of the day.

Once I’d checked in and changed (it was 35C here today!) I had a wonderful walk (or should that be Bertha?) along the boardwalk. Very touristy but good fun! They seem to manage a very good mix of tourists, locals, and (unfortunately) lots of homeless people.

Cheap tourist shops, mixed with hawkers, buskers, and LOTS of people just out skateboarding, dancing, biking, walking the dog, whatever. And of course with that wonderful ocean, beach, palm trees etc in the background.

After a slice of greasy pepperoni pizza just before sunset I’ve retreated back to my room. The noise regulations are clearly strict – after sunset the place went dead quiet. I was in bed just after 7, and asleep not long after that!