Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Over the Mountains and Through the Woods.

Posted on | October 2, 2018 | 1 Comment

So there we were in Bakersfield, CA in the summer of 2017.  Bakersfield wasn’t originally part of our trip.  My original plan was to head north from Phoenix, hit the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Death Valley, and then the Sequoias.  ‘Cause they’re all lined up neatly from east to west.  Too bad there’s no pass through the southern part of the Sierra Nevadas.  Which kept throwing me off in Google Maps.  How in 2017 was there no road through the mountains?  In 2017??  Honestly, I didn’t realize the Sierra Nevadas were much more than a beer, never mind something that can barely be crossed in the 21st century.

But travel is nothing if not a chance to see things that you weren’t planning on seeing.  So we cruised down Hwy 99 past all of the fruit packaging plants.  We saw the home of Halos and Cuties mandarin oranges as well as Dole packing plants and a Sunmaid Raisins facility with its own storefront.  Although I admit my favorite part was blooming shrubbery in the highway medians.  For mile after mile we flew past flowering pink and white oleanders.

Until we finally veered off and entered Sequoia National Park on our way to the Giant Forest Museum.  The big trees of California were on my bucket list and the Sequoias did not disappoint.  The trees on the Congress trail were out of fairy tales–General Sherman (the largest living tree), President Tree, the Senate group, the House group—an entire forest beyond belief.


That’s not even counting the bear that came to hang out in the middle of the Big Trees Trail.  Hard to say if we were bear watching or she was people watching.


But Sequoia National Park isn’t just about the trees.  We climbed the 400 death-defying steps up Moro Rock.  At the 6,000+ ft high precipice we were rewarded with a view of Kaweah River Gorge and  the Great Western Divide separating Sequoia National Park from Kings Canyon National Park.  Although I don’t consider seeing my kids wandering around barely protected summits particularly rewarding.  More like terrifying but worth it.





After a long day we blew through Fresno and made our way to Yosemite.

I had prepared the kids well for Yosemite.  Forcing Taking them through an Ansel Adams photo exhibition. Watching Valley Uprising, a documentary about climbing in Yosemite.  And showing them the Half Dome straight-up-using-cables hike we would NOT be doing…..

Because heights are bad enough.  Barely protected summits are worse.  But I draw the line at inviting death into my family vacation.  Oh, look!  Some family fun….

So, instead, we started off with the usual tourist attractions.  Tunnel View….



Glacier Point….





and the much easier, no cables involved, Sentinel Dome trail to the top of this bald…

where we could look down at this:

Luckily, when all the mountains and waterfalls and started to blur, when the kids just started to shrug at the amazing scenery that has captivated artists and writers and adventurists for centuries, came the part of the Yosemite trip that I had not really prepared them for–the Curry Village campground at the base of Half Dome.  Where we were sleeping in a canvas tent. With 4 cots for the 6 of us.  Surprise!

The tents were…unassuming.  Just the right thing to reset the bar.

Needless to say, the idea of hanging out in the tent was quickly abandoned.  The boys headed to the lodge in hopes of wifi access and some video games on the laptop.  Pretty and I caught a shuttle bus to the Ansel Adams museum and then decided to hit the Mist Trail.  Which was less of a relaxing pre-bedtime hike and more of a lung collapsing climb straight uphill alongside the Merced River to Vernal Falls.

It was a testimony, though, to the power of water.  Even in June the Merced River was a raging monster and the only boulders it wasn’t able to shove out of its path were the size of trucks and small houses.  We were traveling light, without any cameras, but plenty of other people have snapped images of this iconic trail.

We stood on the footbridge over looking the Merced and cooled off in the mist before returning to the lodge to find the boys surrounded by a swath of admiring teens and extremely irritated adults.  Apparently, whatever video game they were playing was worthy of an audience, while simultaneously sucking up all the limited bandwidth provided by Half Dome Village.  I dragged them out of there before things got ugly and we settled into our stifling tent for the evening.  I had just faded off to the last of the kids’ grumbling about the heat when I was awakened by a mad struggle between family members over any unclaimed blankets.  The joy of being in a tent is that you get to experience the full range of Yosemite’s temperature shifts—from 80 degrees during the day to 50 degrees in the middle of the night.  This fluctuation is called Camping-in-the-Mountains.

The next day we hiked to Lower and Upper Falls, had lunch by the river at the base of El Capitan, walked through the Grove of the Giant Sequoias, and strolled Tuolomne River Trail.  We made our way toward Olmstead Point, a famous vista off of Tioga Pass.  Our excitement ramped up as we headed up the mountains (by vehicle instead of by foot, for once) and we spotted a young bear scampering through the woods.

And then we came around a curve and hit a dead end. In the middle of nowhere there was a silver gate barring the road. Plus a beat-up RV parked in front of it with a middle-aged man (Which I used to think was 30 years old.  Now I think it’s 40 years old.  I have a feeling that very soon I will consider “middle aged” to be 50 years old)  making pancakes on a griddle. In the middle of the road. With two dogs laying down beside him, watching and waiting patiently for their share of the pancakes.


We got out and asked him what was up with the gate. He calmly explained that the road was closed due to snow blocking Tioga Pass through the mountains. I considered this for a minute. It was June 22nd and it hadn’t occurred to me that Tioga Pass would still be, um,…unpassable. I pondered the fact that 6 months ago I didn’t even know where the Sierra Nevadas were and now they were my personal nemesis. Should we really be supporting that mountain range by naming a beer after it? Really?

“When will it open?” I asked him.

He smiled and shrugged and flipped a pancake. The dogs watched the griddle closely.

“Don’t know. Tomorrow. The next day. Next week.” He shrugged again.

There was nothing else to do but get back in the car, turn around, and head back to Big Oak Flats and the western exit to Yosemite. But I paused for a second before turning around, peering out the windshield at the man and his RV and his dogs.  And his pancakes.

Did you ever see something and realize that your life could be very different?  I mean, radically different.  Not better necessarily.  Just insanely different.  Like sitting-by-your-RV-with-your-dogs-and-making-pancakes-while-waiting-for-snow-to-melt-different.  Is it even legal to camp outside the gates to the Tioga Pass and just wait for them to open?  Do people waiting for snow to melt even worry about legal?  is it possible to have nothing to do or no place to be while waiting for snow to melt.  Is that a thing???  Why is it that eating pancakes for a meal other than breakfast makes them taste twice as awesome.  We all know dinner pancakes are better than breakfast pancakes, but why? Why???

Herein lies the danger of travel.  Travel makes you question everything.  Even yourself.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”   — Marcel Proust

Since we missed a few hikes we made it to our airbnb outside of San Francisco much earlier than planned.  Which meant we got to eat dinner at In-N-Out Burger for the first time ever and had still had time to stop at the Ghirardelli Factory Outlet before crashing for the night. Two fine California traditions.

We made plans to be up early as our airbnb host warned us that the 28 miles to San Francisco could take us 2 hours if we didn’t get on the road by 6:00am.  Traffic.  Another fine California tradition….







One Response to “Over the Mountains and Through the Woods.”

  1. Cheryl
    October 3rd, 2018 @ 10:33 am

    You’re a true storyteller… Even though you revealed the end of the story yesterday, you’ve left me anxious to turn the page and read the next chapter just to hear how it all went down. I do hope “writer” is the second job you mentioned yesterday!

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