Thursday, August 25, 2011

Water Too Hot Or Too Cold

We had a little bit of time off before summer classes ended and my “September Experience” began, so we loaded up Ulysses for a little California adventure—to the see the Redwoods, to visit some old friends and see some architecture in San Francisco, and to do some hiking and beauty-gazing in Yosemite.

Rebecca in the Redwoods
We drove five hours south from Eugene to Crescent City, CA.  Our google maps got us a little bit lost trying to find the Jedediah Smith Campground, but we asked for directions at a little convenience store.  It’s hard times in Crescent City; all but a few of the aisles were empty, and the teenagers in front of me in line were buying cigarettes and coca cola with their California food stamp cards (they work exactly like debit cards, I learned).  I got directions from the women behind the register (who was missing most of her front teeth).  We found the campground, set up camp and had dinner, whereupon Rebecca’s irrational fear of bears returned.  I had forgotten how enjoyable her bearanoia is.

Hidden waterfall
We woke up early, and headed into the Redwood forest, which is exactly like the forest moon of Endor for you Return of the Jedi buffs out there.  We hiked the Boy Scout Trail, a five-mile out-and-back, and then bushwacked up a little secret trail over a water fall.  There’s not too much to say about the trees except: they are gargantuan.  When we were driving in to the trailhead we kept getting stuck behind tourists stopped between trees, their drivers outside, photographing the minivans dwarfed by the old trees.  Looking up towards their tops is kind of dizzying.

Later we went to the gift shop and sketched and wrote poems about a stuffed skunk, and met a poet and novelist from Detroit who worked at the gift shop and offered to tell us the way to El Norte and the Grove of Titans, but since we were leaving early the next day we passed on this little bit of insider knowledge.

Darling Footbridge
We also went for a swim in the Smith River, which was wide and deep and clear and very cold.  But it wasn’t too cold for a refreshing swim.  The river was traversed by a darling little footbridge, which we visited just before sunset.

The next day we headed south—about nine hours south on CA-101, which cuts through…a great expanse of forest, trees as far as we could see.  We stopped for lunch in the town of Garberville, mostly because Rebecca was getting drowsy at the wheel.   It was possibly the worst little podunk town I have ever been in.  According to the wikipedia entry on Garberville, it has been called “the marijuana heartland of the US”.  The dilapidation and half-assedness of just about everything and everyone in the town was a testament to that.  If only I hadn't lost my firebombing privileges…

Golden Gate Bridge in Fog
Anyway….we made it to San Francisco in time for a quick dinner at a nice little restaurant in the Outer Sunset called Outerlands.  Then I joined my friend Cary Tennis for a little Tuesday night writing workshop.  It was foggy—for pretty much the duration of our stay.

The next day we explored the city a little bit (Rebecca met with some architects) and then had dinner with some family friends in St. Francis Woods, where we learned about independent schools in San Francisco—among other things.   We had a delicious home-cooked baked ziti and chatted late into the evening.

Living Roof at CAS
On Thursday we had a late lunch with our hosts and then went to the California Academy of Sciences.  The CAS was designed by pritzker prize winning architect Renzo Piano, and boasts a living roof, an indoor rainforest and an aquarium.  From the roof we had a stunning view of the De Young Museum, which we visited the next night.  The De Young museum was designed by Pritzker prize winning architects Jaques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.  We saw some Picassos while we were there.  Rebecca really liked his little pen drawings.  I was more drawn to his larger abstract pieces.

De Young Museum
Alligator Headboard
We treated ourselves to one night in downtown San Francisco, just off Union Square, at a little boutique hotel.  We had a superb meal at one of those stereotypically awesome San Francisco restaurants, Canteen, which was tiny (we sat at the bar and got to watch the chef and his sous battle it out), tasteful and impeccable.  The food was grown in the backyard of the restaurant, actually combatted global climate change and helped to teach Sudanese refugees how to read (well, not really, but SF has this crazed attitude about local, sustainable food).

We left behind the crowds of tourists and the traffic and the fog and headed for Yosemite, where we met up with Tony and Yvonne, two close friends from Eugene and Portland.

Tony, Yvonne, The Author, Rebecca
Yosemite Falls From The Never-ending Trail
I had a grand ambition: to take this motley crew up Half-Dome.  But as we read about the trail (it would be a long, 16-mile day, probably starting very early in the morning and ending very late at night) we decided it might be wise to cut our teeth on something a little less ambitious on the first day.  So we hiked the trail to the top of Yosemite Falls, a six and a half mile round trip.  The elevation at the top of the falls is 6,526 feet, a gain of 2,600 feet from the valley floor.  It was a grueling hike, causing several members of the party to comment that it was the most challenging single day-hike they had ever done.  So much for half-dome.

View Over The Falls
But it was worth, so worth it.  It does feel, standing at the top looking down into the valley, like you are standing on top of the world.  I can see why John Muir would have spent so much of his life trying to preserve and protect this place.  I suspect that he would be a little unnerved by the view from the top of the falls right now.  If you look straight out it’s granite slabs, Half-Domes bald pate, but if you look down the valley is littered with roads and parking lots and lodges.  But still, I was reminded of that awe-struck feeling I had looking down into Glacier National Park from the highline trail.

Looking Up A Granite Face
Having decided that half-dome was out of the question, we checked our little guidebook and found reference to a beautiful river with some hidden swimming hole near the Tuolemne meadow.  And so we set out on our second and last full day in Yosemite for a relaxing day along and in the water. 

We Got Sunburned on the Tuolomne River
It was one of the finest days of my life up there by and in that river.  The river basically ran over solid granite, which was more and less eroded in places, making the river in that place one long cascade of waterfalls, nothing as grand as Yosemite Falls, just little runs down the granite with pools below, one after another after another.  We hiked in, lounged on the rock by the pool, swam for a few minutes (the water was extremely cold, too cold, really, for any prolonged swimming, but it was so cool and clear we tried to stay in as long as we could, then warmed ourselves on the rocks as best we could).  Then we hiked down a little farther and found another swimming hole, and we tried to stay in as long as we could, but it was so cold and the sun was so warm.

Tuolomne Meadow
Tuolomne River
We didn’t want to leave.  We kept saying that we didn’t want to leave.  But we had to leave.  So we left.  But we didn’t want to leave.

Hot tub, Too Sun-burnt To Enjoy
We all got terribly sunburned.  I knew, intellectually, that the sun at 10,000 feet burns the human body much faster, but it was so cold in the water, and the sun felt so good at the time.  And now we’re holed up in a little Inn just outside of Ashland, OR, where I reserved us a room with a hot tub, which we cannot use because we are so badly sunburned, but which I know would feel very good on my stiff calves, my aching thighs.


  1. I feel so special to have been a part of one of the finest days of your life.

  2. Sounds like a really great- you certainly packed a lot -especially vertical height - in a short time. Thanks for sharing. Love, Mom of R