Yosemite Summer Vacation 2014 Part II: Finding Heaven

Vernal & Nevada Falls 2When I last wrote about our recent trip to Yosemite, we’d been up to Glacier Point but were itching to get away from people. Unable to hike the Panorama Trail due to a sore ankle and some unexpected, but very welcome rain showers, we simply enjoyed our view of Nevada and Vernal Falls.

The following day – thanks to the hard work of 864 Fire Personnel – significant progress was made in containing the El Portal Fire, thus reopening Big Oak Flat Road and making the high country accessible in time for the last day of our trip. Our first stop was Olmsted Point, where we had a magnificent view of Clouds Rest and Half Dome.

Half Dome & Glacial Erratic Boulders from Olmsted PointThese giant granite boulders (called ‘glacial erratics’) were randomly placed here long ago by the melting ice of retreating glaciers. Also notice the surface of the slope – the granite surface was polished smooth by ice, much like sandpaper on wood.

Clouds Rest & Glacial Erratic Boulders from Olmsted Point

Olmsted Point Trees 2

Windswept trees growing up and around erratic boulders are an unusual but not uncommon sight. These trees sprouted from seeds deposited here by wind or by small animals taking shelter in the crevices under and around these boulders.

Olmsted Point TreesAfter exploring this surreal landscape in the hot mid-day sun, we were ready to relax along the peaceful shores of Tenaya Lake (surface elevation: 8,150 feet) with our cooler full of cold water, red seedless grapes, gouda cheese, proscuitto and hard salami.

Tenaya LakeAs much as we hated to leave this little slice of heaven, we packed up after our picnic, but not before taking a refreshing splash in the lake. After a brief stop at the Tuolumne Meadows Post Office, we drove straight to our long awaited destination: Dana Meadows (elevation: 9,728 feet), not far from Tioga Pass.

Tioga Pass Dana Meadows 2

Finally, we had a found a corner of Yosemite that was blissfully quiet and devoid of people.

Tioga Pass Dana Meadows 1

Yosemite High Sierra snow in July

Yosemite - Mt Dana

Unlike other peaks in Yosemite, Mounts Dana and Gibbs are reddish-brown in color; erosion has revealed that they were once part of an ancient volcanic mountain range.

Dana Meadows sub-alpine kettle hole

More evidence of past glacial activity: randomly placed boulders and kettle holes.

Tioga Pass Dana Meadows 3

 Much to my delight, this sub-alpine meadow was a carpet of wildflowers in late July.

Tioga Pass Dana Meadows Wildflowers

Tioga Pass Dana Meadows wildflower 4Tioga Pass Dana Meadows Wildflower 2Tioga Pass Dana Meadows WildflowerTioga Pass Dana Meadows Wildflower 3Sub-alpine lake & MtSub-alpine mushrooms 2Sub-alpine pine coneWhen you decide to visit Yosemite National Park, please remember to leave no trace behind. Pack out all of your trash and never feed the wildlife. There are so few places in this world that are untouched by humans, let’s all do our best to keep the wilderness sacred and pristine. And please, I beg you, lower your voice. Better yet, stop talking altogether and just listen to the sounds of nature. Immerse yourself in the experience.

If you’re just joining us now, this link will take you to the beginning of this adventure: “Yosemite Summer Vacation 2014 Part I: Rekindling a Love/Hate Relationship”

fog, clouds, sunshine …

Coastal SucculentsYou never know what you’re going to get when you drive to the northern California coast in August. We made the trek over the mountains twice last week only to find ourselves enveloped in a cold grey haze. I wanted to take a long walk on the beach for my birthday, but the dark sky and heartbreaking amount of trash at Pescadero Beach made it difficult. Instead, I stubbornly insisted on picking up the candy wrappers, Chavez Supermercado plastic bags, crepe paper streamers, colorful napkins and other bits of trash left behind from someone else’s party. My husband knew better than to try and dissuade me. Rather, being the supportive and wonderful man that he is, he ran back to the car for a garbage bag and pitched in to help.

When our bag was full, we got back in the car and drove further south to the Bean Hollow Coastal Trail. I needed a change of scenery. With a cold wind blowing, we zipped up our jackets and settled into our beach chairs – binoculars in hand – to enjoy our view of the Harbor Seals. A short while later we spotted a whale and the dark cloud hanging over me blew away. We had found my smile, now we needed sunshine and strawberries.

Freezing our butts off, we got back in the car and drove even further south, to Swanton Berry Farm. Before heading out to pick berries, we stopped by the farm stand for some hot coffee and homemade treats. Honestly, how can anyone resist Olallieberry cobbler with real whipped cream? Or luscious cheesecake with berry topping? Sitting inside the cozy farm stand with our coffee and delicious desserts, it was finally feeling like the sort of day we had originally intended. We struck up a conversation with a Danish family here on vacation and before long we were showing their two young sons how to play Shoot the Moon, just as we had done with our nephews in prior years.

Shoot the Moon 1

Feeling much better, we were ready to pick strawberries. With it being a Monday, we knew the plants might be picked over, and sure enough, the field closest to the farm stand was. But further up Highway One – down a long, dusty, dirt track – we came upon another field (Swanton’s Coastways Ranch) bursting with ripe berries. Here we found ourselves on top of a small hill that sloped gently toward the ocean, behind us was nothing but forest and up above were clear blue skies. With the sun was shining brightly, we were all alone except for the resident birds and the girl in charge. It was heavenly. Gently strumming a guitar, the girl smiled and warned us that the field closed at five o’clock. With less than half an hour we set straight to work and managed to pick over three pounds in fifteen minutes! Supremely happy, I made my final birthday request: dinner, nothing fancy.

JP read my mind and drove straight to our favorite gas station taqueria in Pescadero. What? Didn’t your mother teach you to never judge a book by it’s cover? With a huge smile on my face, we feasted on shared plates of the lightest, most addictive freshly fried tortilla chips, my all-time favorite pico de gallo, damn fine tacos al pastor and the best carne asada super burrito in the entire state. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday dinner. As we were leaving, we ran into a nice young man who was bicycling down the coast. He had gotten permission to pitch his tent in the yard next to the gas station and was locking up his bike as we were getting ready to drive home. Over the course of two weeks, the young man (who reminded me of my nephew DJ) was bicycling from San Francisco to San Diego. After talking a bit more we wished him well and offered him some of our freshly picked strawberries. He was thrilled.

Swanton Spread Joy

I can’t tell you how good it felt to spread the love.

Thanks sweetheart for being so patient … for helping me find my smile. xoXOxo