Archive for the ‘Road Trips’ Category

In January 2017 I planned a road trip up most of the coast of California, including Big Sur. We wanted to enjoy another “top-down” road trip up the coast again for our 5th anniversary. Five years ago we rented a Volvo convertible for a trip up the coast through Big Sur. I loved the plan I came up with, but long needed, but “too much all at once” rains made the plan impossible to follow. Highway 1 through Big Sur will be closed this summer due to a collapsed bridge and landslides. There is no telling when it will open again.

Since we can’t do the original plan, I’ve decided to do more than just adjust the route, I’m going to make changes to the goals. First we will still be visiting some of Big Sur, but only what we can get to by driving back south from the north. Second, we will not be going all the way to Crescent City (northern most point of California). We’ll still enjoy plenty of driving up the coast, but we’ll spend more time in a couple of places and only go just past San Francisco to wine country.

Like the original plan we will drive up to LA the evening before the road trip starts. So day one will be the drive from Los Angeles to the Santa Barbara wine country.

Day 1.

Driving Time:  2.5 Hours
Places to explore:
Beaches from Malibu to Point Magu State Park
Ventura
Santa Barbara
Solvang

Although the original plan had us staying near the southern entrance to Big Sur, I now don’t see a good reason to drive past Solvang. This will make the drive shorter and give us more time to explore the beaches of my wife’s childhood. I’m really looking forward to more stories that being there will bring to her mind. Also it will make going past Solvang unnecessary so we will be able to enjoy the wineries in that area without having to worry about driving on to Moro Bay. We will likely do lunch in Santa Barbara now, but still plan to get to Solvang early enough to check out some of the wineries like in the original plan. Some of the best rated (on Yelp) wineries/tasting rooms in the Solvang area are: Carivintas Winery (they donate profits to animal charity, so part of the rating may be animal lovers), Shoestring Winery, Bella Cavalli Farms & Vineyard, or Cali Love Wine.  There are lots of other choices, but these are the ones that jumped out at me when looking at the reviews for the original plan.

Day 2.

Driving Time:  4 Hours (Most of this drive will be away from the coast as Highway 1 is not open all the way to Big Sur River Inn)
Places to Explore:

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
Hurricane Point View
Bixby Creek Bridge
Rocky Creek Bridge
Point Sur State Historic Park

Changing the Day 2 plan is the biggest disappointment of the revised plan. I was really looking forward to this day of the original plan. Now instead of driving through Big Sur we will be driving up Highway 101, an inland route. We’ll definitely have to make up for this change on other parts of the trip. The day is not a waste though as we will still drive along the coast from Carmel to Big Sur River Inn. It will give us a chance to explore some of the areas that we originally planned for Day 3 on Day 2. We’ll get a second chance to explore these same areas on the drive back to Carmel on Day 3, but will not spend as much time exploring Big Sur as in the original plan.

Day 3 & 4.

Driving Time:1 hr
Places to Explore:

Second chance for the list from Day 2
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Berwick Park
Casanova Restaurant Carmel by the Sea

As part of the changes to the overall distance we are covering on this trip we will now be staying in the Pacific Grove for 2 nights and have one full day to revisit some of the places we enjoyed 5 years ago, and plenty of time to get to know the area even better. One of the options in the original plan was a bike ride along the Monterrey Bay Coastal Trail. That was pretty high on our list, but is now off the list as I injured my arm and will not be able to ride a bike this summer. We’ll have to save that for next time!

Day 5.

Driving Time:  3 Hours
Places to Explore:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Natural Beach State Park
Coast Dairies State Park
Shark Fin Cove
Pescadero State Beach
Half Moon Bay State Beach
San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge
Sausalito
Muir Woods
Wineries near Santa Rosa and Sebastopol

(Day 5 is unchanged!)Leaving the Monterrey area it would be nice to drive along the coast as far as possible, stopping in Santa Cruz for breakfast, but if we sleep in we’ll probably take the fastest route past San Francisco to Muir Woods just north of San Francisco to explore. This has been on my list for a while, and I would love to be able to hike some (or all – it’s only about 6 miles) of the trails in Muir Woods. We had lunch in Half Moon Bay five years ago and really liked the vibe of the place. But then there are lots of cool places around here. Sausalito was another favorite on that trip and during our later visit to San Francisco when we bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. Either place would work for lunch before hiking in Muir Woods.

Then the second big change in our trip happens. Instead of a quick drive through visit to the Russian River wine country, we will be spending a couple of nights and one full day. The original plan was to stay in Sebastopol, but on the advise of our friend Eleanor, who has visited this are many times, we will be staying in Windsor.

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Day 6.

Driving Time:  0 Hours
Places to Explore:

Russian River Area Wineries (Lynmar Estate, Iron Horse, Gary Farrell Winery, Korbel Winery, and others)

Day 6 will be the last full day of our trip before the drive home. We plan to take a driving tour of several wineries. The details of that are not worked out, but we will not be driving ourselves. Our first choice is a private sedan tour of the area. Then we’ll end the day with a nice dinner near our hotel. After all the wine tasting, a good dark beer at a nearby Irish pub sounds great!

Day 7-8

Driving Time:  5-6 Hours to LA on Day 7, and another 2.5 hours home on Day 8

The next day the top would go up for a long drive on I-5 to Los Angeles. Then the next day we’ll head the rest of the to San Diego.

I did not like deleting the section of the trip above the Russian River area, but we wanted to drive less and enjoy a couple of areas for longer times. We will look to do another trip that takes us the rest of the way up the coast from San Francisco another time. Since there are lots of camping options up there, maybe we’ll take the Wrangler instead. Still a great vehicle for a drive along the coast.

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We woke up early in Jackson, Wy on the last full day of our Yellowstone and Grand Tetons vacation. It had been a quick 3 day visit, but we had seen a lot. We had both visited the geysers and pools on previous trips to Yellowstone, so we spent the first two days checking out the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River area and taking a great hike on the Garnet Trail in the midst of the Tetons.

We really enjoyed Jackson Wyoming and hope to visit this area again soon. Our cabin at the Cowboy Village Resort, was comfortable and authentic. It reminded me quite a bit of the cabin we stayed at that the North Rim Lodge at the Grand Canyon.

cabin-at-cowboy-village-resort

It is a single room, and has a few more modern conveniences, but still a true log cabin.

bathroom-and-kitchenette-in-cabin-at-cowboy-village-resort

We were ready to head back to Yellowstone and have a relaxing day hanging out at the Old Faithful area. We would be driving through Grand Tetons National Park again, and we knew we would be stopping along the way to check out the sights. Because we wanted to see things from a different angle we headed west out of Jackson and turned north on highway 390. This goes by the Teton’s ski area, Teton Village and eventually connects with Teton Park Road. Although we loved the panoramic views we got of the Grand Tetons on our way to Jackson Wyoming, we were hoping to get a closer look than we had coming in on US 191 the first day. We weren’t disappointed. The mountains were definitely closer and in more detail as we drove into the park.

a-closer-approach-to-the-tetons

Every bend in the road gave a different look at these magnificent peaks. All of the views were spectacular, but some were a bit overwhelming.

grand-teton-straight-ahead-on-the-road

We were just one car of many winding our way toward the Grand Tetons that day.

cars-winding-their-way-toward-the-grand-tetons

Our first stop would be Jenny Lake. The views across this lake are well work the stop and a bit of scrambling to get down to the water.

jenny-lake-panorama

We spent a little more time and had lunch at our next stop, the Jackson Lake Lodge. This lodge was built in 1955 and is very impressive. The view out the lobby windows alone was worth the stop!

view-from-the-jackson-lake-lodge

We would definitely consider staying at this lodge on a future visit. It was a beautiful day, but for some reason not many of our pictures really captured the feeling. This one panorama shows a 360 degree plus view and comes closest to what we experienced.

360-panorama-of-jackson-lake-lodge

After stopping at Jackson Lake Lodge it was time to make some good time and make it to the Old Faithful area while we would still have some time to explore. We arrived around 3pm and headed straight to the main show. We grabbed a spot on the edge of the wooden viewing platform and waited for Old Faithful to do what Old Faithful does. After plenty of steam and anticipation, we were not disappointed!

Old Faithful

It was too early for dinner, but just about right for a snack so we headed over to the cafeteria. We just beat the majority of the crowd to line up at the ice cream shop! I took my ice cream out on to the patio facing Old Faithful and Jenny went in to look around and check out the gift shop. She planned to be back in time to see the next big show. We enjoyed the slightly different angle kicked back on a couple of rocking chairs on the Cafeteria’s porch!

view-of-old-faithful-kicking-back-on-the-cafeteria-porch

After the second show we got a little more ambitious and decided to tour the pools and geysers of the upper geyser basin. You cross the Firehole River first. It is obvious that this is not a hospitable place right away!

crossing-firehole-river-to-upper-geyser-basin

It was a partially cloudy, breezy day. A sunny calm day would be the best to get clear pictures that show the pool colors. But I’m not really complaining, we enjoyed the stroll around the pools and geysers, and got plenty of nice pictures. I found the beehive geyser to be pretty interesting.

bee-hive-geyser

I would love to see it erupt, but we only got to see steam. We didn’t feel the need to stick around the 10 hours to 5 days necessary to see the geyser erupt.

beehive-geyser-facts

give yourself plenty of time for this walk. The placards get lots of interesting information about what you are looking at. Although this place is visually interesting, the story behind the formations is even more interesting. Before we headed off Geyser hill to take in more of the trail, I zoomed in to get a picture of this formation.

castle-geyser-from-a-distance-zoomed-in

We commented that it looked like a castle. I guess we were not the first to think so, as this is called the Castle Geyser. We would pass right by the other side of this geyser near the end of our walk through the pools and geysers.

The first pool we came to after walking off Geyser Hill was liberty pool. We agreed this, like most of the area, was not beautiful in the traditional sense, but it was eye-catching. I like the way I got the reflection of the tree line in the picture.

reflection-of-trees-in-liberty-pool

The next feature was the Sawmill Geyser. It was erupting as we passed by. It does not go high, but it puts out a lot of steam and makes quite a bit of noise. You feel a bit concerned passing so close to it as it erupts (although Jenny doesn’t look too concerned here).

jenny-in-front-of-the-sawmill-geyser

Then comes the Spazmodic Geyser, which is much more calm, but it has two small pools and some interesting ground formations.

spazmodic-geyser

There are a few other smaller pools along the way. This is one of my favorite, although I don’t have its name.

clouds-reflecting-off-pool-upper-geyser-area

The last two we checked out before turning back toward the bridge over to the Castle Geyser and the path back to the lodge were the Beauty Pool…

yellowstone-beauty-pool

and the Chromatic pool.

chromatic-pool-yellowstone

I assume these pools change over time, although my pictures don’t do them justice, I’m not sure this was their best day either!

We planned to have dinner at the Lake Lodge and then check in to our room so we felt we needed to start heading back toward the lodge and the car rather than continuing down the pathway even further. There was a shortcut bridge that takes a path past the Castle Geyser. Although I think my zoomed in picture taken earlier from geyser hill looked the most like a castle of any angle, the formation formed by the Castle Geyser was still impressive up close.

castle-geyser

Last pool we passed as we approached a paved path back to the Inn was the crested pool. I liked the way this pool looked.

crested-pool

It was an easy walk back to the Old Faithful Inn from the Castle Geyser area. This lodge is very unique, with a very large and impressive log lobby area.

old-failful-lodge

It is even more impressive on the inside.

grand-log-lobby-in-the-old-faithful-lodge

There are stairs to platforms around the lobby, unfortunately an earthquake in 1959 destabilized the structure of these stairs and other parts of the lobby, so you can no longer climb above the second level.

We decided to have a beer out on the second level deck above Old Faithful and managed to walk out onto the deck just in time to catch a third Old Faithful eruption from yet another angle.

view-of-old-faithful-from-the-old-faithful-lodge-balcony

The drive to the Lake Village area is long, and after dark it is slow. The speed limits go down at night to prevent accidental wildlife strikes. Although we found the slower drive a bit tedious, we soon found out why it was necessary when we came upon several cars stopped in the road. A very large Elk was grazing on the side of the road. I stayed well back from him, and it was very low light, so the picture is not great, but you can tell that this was one big guy!

elk-on-the-side-of-the-road-at-dusk

After a few minutes enjoying the beverage and the view we headed back to our car and drove to the Lake Lodge. Unfortunately when we arrived we found that my memory (or understanding) of where our rooms were was faulty. Our reservations were actually on the other side of the lake at Grant Village. We decided to have dinner at the Lake Lodge, which was awesome, then head to Grant Village.

We would have much rather stayed at the Lake Lodge, it is a beautiful and historic hotel. We also were not looking forward to another long slow drive after dark. We arrived at Grant Village very late. There was no parking near the building our room was in so I had to make several long walks. After getting to our room we were even more disappointed that we were not staying at the Lake Lodge. The rooms at Grant Village appear to be very quickly and cheaply built. It is fairly low quality but reasonably priced. We are unlikely to stay there again or to recommend it. We did not spend any time in the area, so there may be good reason to stay here, but for just an overnight, it was uninspiring.

The next morning we had to head back to Bozeman to catch a flight back to San Diego. We decided to see something new, so we headed toward Yellowstone’s north entrance/exit. Not far before the exit is Mammoth Hot Springs. We stopped near the top of the Hot Springs and walked most of the way around the formation. Like many things in Yellowstone, this place is interesting, and somewhere between ugly and beautiful. The water flow moves around so some parts of the formation are dry and crumbling.

visitors-center-in-the-valley-below-mammoth-hot-springs

The parts with water flowing were the freshest and most attractive.

mammoth-hot-springs-water-flowing-from-formation

The view from the lower southeast corner of the Hot Springs was the most impressive, at least this year. The water was flowing fairly steadily and the pools and falls were in impeccable condition.

mammoth-hot-springs

After the drive out of the mountains the rest of the drive to Bozeman is pretty ordinary. It is worth it to go this way to see Mammoth Hot Springs, but if that is your main interest you may want to find out how much water is flowing for that year/season.

This 3 day trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons had been a quick visit, but we saw a lot. Each day had incredibly different sites to see. I hope we find the time to visit again, especially the Jackson Wyoming and Grand Tetons area. There are so many other things to see though, so I guess only time will tell. If this was our last visit to these areas, I feel like we made the most of it!

pigeon-point-light-house

About 5 years ago I planned a road trip from San Diego to Big Sur.  We ended up going all the way to San Francisco and getting married along the way.  After we were done we knew we wanted more, so this summer for our 5 year anniversary we will head back up the coast for more!

On our last trip we splurged a bit and rented a Volvo convertible for the trip. This is nearly perfect road trip in July with a convertible. We loved it so much my wife’s next vehicle was a BMW convertible. We’ve had the car a few years and just feel like we have not taken advantage of the car, the sun, and the coast enough. This will put that situation back into balance as we plan to do most of the trip up the coast or on back roads through other beautiful areas. Perfect places to put the top down and fully enjoy the drive.

The coastal drive from San Diego to LA is awesome, with both Laguna Beach and Santa Monica being on our favorite places list along this part of the coast.  However, we can do that drive on any weekend, so to get the most out of this trip we will bypass the coast between San Diego to Los Angeles.  We will likely drive up that far the night before we start our trip and stay in the Los Angeles area so we can start our drive along the coast bright and early.

Day 1.

Driving Time:  3.5 Hours
Places to explore:
Beaches from Malibu to Point Magu State Park
Ventura
Santa Barbara
Solvang
Pismo Beach (Cool Dunes)
San Louis Obispo (A favorite local musician Damon Castillo here)
Moro Bay

We don’t go beyond Los Angeles as often, and want to drive through Big Sur and add to our experiences in that area on this trip, so we will stay near the coast north/west of LA.  My wife, Jenny, grew up in San Fernando valley and spent many weekends and summer days on the beaches north of Los Angeles.  On our last trip she shared some stories that driving past this area brought back for her.  On this trip I hope we can make some time to visit at least her favorite beach (probably Leo Carrillo State Park) so we can enjoy her reminiscences again.    For lunch I would like something fun and romantic, but new.  We’ve eaten on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara several times, so although I’m sure we would love it again, I want to do something different.  I’ve never been to Solvang, so that is an option.  We could do lunch and throw in some wine tasting, but will have to take it easy as we plan to drive a little further after lunch.  If we like a wine we can pick up a bottle or two for that evening.   Some of the best rated (on Yelp) wineries/tasting rooms in the Solvang area are: Carivintas Winery (they donate profits to animal charity, so part of the rating may be animal lovers), Shoestring Winery, Bella Cavalli Farms & Vineyard, or Cali Love Wine.  There are lots of other choices, but these are the ones that jumped out at me when looking at the reviews.

After Solvang we’ll likely be looking for a place to stay, the lodge at Vandenberg is the price winner, but I’ve stayed there a couple times and I’m thinking we could make it a bit further north.  So maybe we’ll look to stay in Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo or what I think would be best, based on the goal of the trip would be to stay in Moro Bay.

Day 2.

Driving Time:  3 Hours (approximately… Google maps would not give an estimate in January 2017 as Highway 1 was closed due to a mud slide.  Hope that is cleared by July!)
Places to Explore:

Moon Stone Beach Park
Hearst San Simeon State Park
Hearst Castle (San Simeon)
Lots of stops along the way at: Elephant Seal Vista Point, Point Piedras Blancas, Ragged Point, Salmon Creek Falls, Willow Creek Beach, Limekiln Falls, and at least 50 view points.
McWay Falls

Hikes:
Partington Cove Trail
and either:
Tanbark Trail loop (at the same trailhead as Partington Cove)
or
Ewoldsen trail (Same trailhead as McWay Falls which would be nice to visit again)

Leaving Moro Bay in the morning we would be driving the final stretch of California Highway 1 before Big Sur. It will be a great stretch of highway to put the top down and enjoy the drive along the coast.

On our last trip to Big Sur we stopped and toured “Hearst’s Castle” or San Simeon. There are multiple tours to do here, but this trip is about doing different things, so again I think we will drive past San Simeon and look for a hike or two further up the coast. We could drive right through Big Sur and keep going, but depending on what the rest of the trip plan is, I think one good option would be to spend the night again, so that we have time to check out some things we missed last time. We stayed at Big Sur Lodge in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park last time. It is a definite option again, but there are several other places in this area worth checking out too, like Deejens Big Sur Inn, Big Sur River Inn, or for a bit of a splurge Glen Oaks Inn, or if we want to spend a huge chunk of the vacation budget in one night… Post Ranch Inn.

With 2 days to explore we’ll have time to see some things we did not check out last time.

Day 3.

Driving Time:  Places to Explore:

High Bridge Falls
Andrew Molera State Park
Hurricane Point View
Bixby Creek Bridge
Rocky Creek Bridge
Point Sur State Historic Park
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (lots of walking here too)
Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Berwick Park
Casanova Restaurant Carmel by the Sea

We’ll have a second day to explore Big Sur. Many of the sights are quick stops, but I think we will want to spend more time exploring Point Lobos, and possibly bike parts of the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. I don’t think we will want to go too far up the coast after a full day exploring so our next night could be in Carmel by the Sea, Monterey, or if we are more ambitious Santa Cruz. Since we were married between Carmel by the Sea and Monterey, I think we’ll want to revisit some things there (especially the pretty little cove in Berwick Park where we were married) and explore some new things before we leave.

Day 4.

Driving Time:  3 Hours
Places to Explore:

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Natural Beach State Park
Coast Dairies State Park
Shark Fin Cove
Pescadero State Beach
Half Moon Bay State Beach
San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge
Sausalito
Muir Woods
Wineries near Santa Rosa and Sebastopol

Leaving the Monterey area it would be nice to drive along the coast as far as possible, but even better to take the fastest route past San Francisco to Muir Woods just north of San Francisco to explore. This has been on my list for a while, and I would love to be able to hike some (or all – it’s only about 6 miles) of the trails in Muir Woods. We had lunch in Half Moon Bay five years ago and really liked the vibe of the place. But then there are lots of cool places around here. Sausalito was another favorite on that trip and during our later visit to San Francisco when we bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. Either place would work for lunch before hiking in Muir Woods.

Then it would be good to head up the coast for a ways then turn inland to explore the Russian River wine country. Maybe dinner at a winery and then spend the night on the east side of this area, say in Sebastopol.

Day 5.

Driving Time:  3-5 Hours
Places to Explore:

Russian River Area Wineries (Iron Horse, Gary Farrell Winery, Korbel Winery, and others)
Highway 116 along the Russian River back to the coast
Sanoma Coast State Park
Fort Ross (Historic Russian Compound)
Stillwater Cove Regional Park
Salt Point State Park
Bowling Ball Beach
Point Arena Lighthouse and Museum
Point Cabrillo Lightstation
Westport Union State Beach Park
A beautiful drive by the coast with the top down!
Drive Through Tree Park

Then the next day take California state route 116 back to the coast along the Russian River. There are tons of places here to eat lunch. All of them are rated well, so we’ll just stop somewhere that looks cool once we get hungry. This day will mostly be about driving along the coast but I’m sure we will be stopping to check out some things along the way. That evening it would be nice to get to an area just south of Redwood State and National Parks. I think Myers Flat would be a good stopping point so we can enjoy the Avenue of the Giants drive the next day. There is an Inn and camping available in this fairly small town. Depending on how far we want to drive, we may want to stop sooner, either along the coast maybe Fort Bragg, or at a forest area before Myers Flat like the Redwood River Resort.

Day 6.

Driving Time:  3-4 Hours
Places to Explore:

Avenue of the Giants
Humboldt Redwoods State Park (Humbolt Redwood Hikes)

Del Norte Coast Readwood State Park (Damnation Creek Trail, Mill Creek Trails)

From Myers Flat it is only about 3 hours or less drive to Crescent City, but there are lots of places to explore. I would like to pick a couple easier hikes rather than one tough hike so we can explore different areas of the Redwood State and National Parks.

That night we could stay in Crescent City or continue on through some more Redwoods to Grants Pass Oregon.

Day 7.

Driving Time:  8-14 Hours

The next day the top would go up for what could be a very long drive on I-5 all the way down to San Diego. Optionally we could spend the night in Sacramento to break it in to a two-day trip.

Update (2/22/2017):  Highway 1 through Big Sur is not looking good for the summer of 2017.  So I’ll be updating the plan.    Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge has been condemned.  I’m pretty sure it will take more than a few months to replace that bridge.

Update (6/30/2017): I have posted a new plan to adjust for the road closure and other things that have come up: Updated Planning for a California Coastal Road Trip (2017 Revised Big Sur Plan)

We were lucky enough to be invited to the wedding of the son of close friends in Bozeman Montana at the beginning of August 2016.  Unfortunately for us we already had floor tickets to Adele in Los Angeles the day before the wedding.  These were tough tickets to get and even tougher tickets to sell or give away.  For better seats Adele had set a rule to reduce/prevent scalping that the person who ordered the tickets had to present a credit card to get into the venue.  There were no tickets to sell.  We wanted to go to the wedding so we checked for flights from the LA area the morning of the wedding.  There were very reasonably priced flights from John Wayne airport to Bozeman early Saturday morning, so we decided to go to the concert, stay in LA, and drive to the airport early that morning. We also decided to add-on a visit to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National park to the trip. It would be a fast 3 day visit, but we would pack a lot of stuff into those 3 days.

The Adele concert was awesome and our hotel was walking distance from Staples Center, but we still got to bed fairly late and had to get up at 4 am to catch our flight. We got into Bozeman early, but by the time we got our rental car we had just enough time to go to our hotel, check-in, change and head to the wedding. The wedding venue was awesome, but there were dark clouds approaching.

Wedding Venue Bozeman Montana

We had a great time at the wedding, but started to feel the long day way too soon. We hung in there, but eventually had to head back to the room and catch up on our sleep. The next day everyone else was heading out-of-town early, so we got up fairly early, had breakfast at a terrific French coffee shop, then heading toward Yellowstone. Originally we had planned to go in the north entry into Yellowstone as it is closest to Bozeman, but later decided to go in the west entrance and leave out of the north entrance on the final day.

So we headed down Highway 191 through the Big Sky area on our way to West Yellowstone. A friend recommended this route and now that we’ve gone both ways, I would definitely recommend this route. It is has very scenic landscape, and we saw both elk…

elk-grazing-in-big-sky-montana

and buffalo along the road. I believe the buffalo was a commercial herd, but still cool.

buffalo-along-highway-191-outside-yellowstone

We only stopped briefly in West Yellowstone, but it looked kind of interesting for a future visit. Our first destination in the park was Canyon Village. Both Jenny or I have been to Yellowstone before, but neither of us had visited the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. We did end up having one unscheduled stop along our route though, Gibbon Falls.

We planned to just stop for a minute to take a couple of pictures from the closest view-point…

gibbon-falls-from-the-lookout-area

but ended up walking on a path for about a half a mile…

trail-along-the-road-to-the-lower-overlook

to get a better view of the falls. The view actually changes quite a bit as you walk along the path to the lower viewpoint. At first there view opens up so you can see the walls on both sides of the falls.

the-view-of-gibbon-falls-along-the-walk-to-the-lower-overlook

Then it opens up even more and there are trees in the view also.

view-of-gibbon-falls-from-the-lower-overlook

We enjoyed the break from the car and the short walk, but then it was back on the road to the Canyon area of Yellowstone. The one advantage of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone over the Grand Canyon, is the much shorter drive from the North Rim to the South Rim.

map-of-the-grand-canyon-of-yellowstone-area

We were able to see the canyon and falls from most of the view points in just a few hours. We did three short hikes during this time. We started with a drive along North Rim Drive. I would actually recommend going to the South Rim first as the North Rim Drive is a one way that takes you back the way you came for several miles. It just makes more sense to do it last. The first stop on North Rim Drive is a trail to the Brink of the Lower Falls. The weather was threatening rain, but of course we had forgotten to pack ponchos. We decided a little water would not hurt and started down the trail. The trail is less than a half mile, but descends about 600 feet. There are switchbacks, but it is still pretty steep. If you look up on the way down, you get a pretty good view of the Upper Falls less than a mile up the Yellowstone River.

view-of-the-upper-falls-as-we-walked-down-to-the-brink-of-the-lower-falls

The rain was threatening and we could hear thunder in the distance so we knew our visit would be a fairly short one. The falls are impressive. We’ve been to Yosemite several times, and the waterfalls are impressive, but the lower falls at the Yellowstone River’s Grand Canyon are right there with any falls in Yosemite. That is especially true this late in the year. The waterfalls slow to a trickle in the late summer and fall in Yosemite. Our first view was from directly over the top of the falls.

view-of-the-lower-falls-from-the-brink-of-the-lower-falls

The view of the water, and the mist, and the green sides of the canyon set against the golden color of the rest of the canyon was spectacular. I can’t recommend visiting this place in strong enough terms, it is my favorite spot in Yellowstone.

I stretched the camera out a ways and got a slightly different angle/shot.

leaned-out-for-a-better-look-at-the-lower-falls-from-the-brink-of-the-lower-falls

This shows how sudden the drop is and how much water is flowing. Finally we went up one level to get a different perspective. This shows the area we had just left, right on the “brink of the falls”.

view-from-a-higher-vantage-point-of-the-brink-of-the-lower-falls-viewing-area

It started drizzling at that point. We were really wishing we had ponchos, but it was a bit late for that. The walk back up was a bit tougher, but it was cool and the threat of heavier rain kept us motivated. There is also a trail from here to the Brink of the Upper Falls, but with the weather we decided to drive further down the road. The next place we stopped on North Rim Drive was Lookout Point. There’s a full view of the Lower Falls from here.

view-of-the-lower-falls-from-lookout-point-at-the-grand-canyon-of-yellowstone

If you look closely in the picture from lookout point you can see a wooden trail heading down into the canyon below. Although the rain had started to fall, we decided to head down this trail to Red Rock anyway. The trail alternates between a steep and more gentle descent. It not only takes you down into the canyon, it takes you a lot closer to the falls. I enjoyed the trail…

along-the-trail-from-lookout-point-to-red-rock

but the view of the falls from Red Rock were even better than from lookout point.

view-of-the-lower-falls-of-yellowstone-river-from-red-rock-in-the-rain

There is something joyful about hiking unprepared in the rain. Sometime it’s hard to contain that feeling so you just have raise your arms to the sky!

jenny-raising-her-arms-to-the-rain-at-red-rock-with-the-lower-falls-of-yellowstone-river-in-the-distance

Jenny seemed to enjoy it so much… I didn’t want to get left out!

eric-rial-raising-his-arms-to-the-rain-at-red-rock-with-the-lower-falls-of-yellowstone-river-in-the-distance

We stayed to enjoy the view for several minutes. I managed to get a picture of this bird (Clarks Nutcracker I believe), resting for a minute in the top of a tree between us and the falls.

clarks-nutcracker-perched-on-a-treetop-in-front-of-the-lower-fall-of-the-yellowstone-river

We waited just long enough to catch the blue sky starting to peek out at the top of the falls. Love the coloring of this picture!

blue-sky-appearing-behind-the-falls

On the way back up I took this picture of the wooden stairs that form the path for much of the bottom of this trail. You can see the rim of the canyon above us.

view-of-the-stairs-as-we-climb-back-to-the-rim-of-the-canyon

I got a couple more pictures near the top of the trail. One back toward the Lower Falls…

one-last-picture-of-the-lower-falls-from-near-the-top-of-the-trail-from-lookout-point-to-red-rock

and the other away from the falls and into the canyon.

view-of-the-canyon-away-from-the-lower-falls-from-near-the-top-of-the-trail-between-red-rock-and-lookout-point

We were soaked to the bone by the time we got to the top. We did take some pictures (evidence), but the smiles could not hide the cold, wet, and a bit worn-out from the climb look. No need to share that look!

We decided to go the Canyon Lodge area for some supplies (bear spray and some ponchos) and to get a bite to eat. Then we headed to the North Rim. Even though the route we took was not the most efficient route, everything is pretty close together here, so we didn’t lose much time, just enough to dry most of the way out!

Our first stop on the North Rim was at Uncle Tom’s point. There is a trail here that leads to a metal staircase that takes you right beside the Lower Falls. The pictures from here were unbelievable. If you are in reasonable shape, definitely go down this trail! The trail is in good shape, but the fun part of the trip is the stairs and the views of the falls.

The first view you get of the falls are some of the best. You are close enough to see the size of the crowd on the Brink of the Lower Falls.

initial-view-of-the-lower-falls-from-uncle-toms-trail

That is near the top of the stairs. There are lots of stairs – 328 per the sign.

some-of-the-stairs-on-uncle-toms-trail

The stairs are impressive mostly because of the spectacular view from them.

the-lower-stairs-and-canyon-on-uncle-toms-trail

You get great views of the canyon down river…

rainbow-over-the-yellowstone-river

of the walls straight across the canyon…

view-of-the-canyon-from-uncle-toms-trail

and of course of the falls.

jenny-and-eric-at-toms-point-grand-canyon-of-yellowstone

Then you get to climb back out! At the top, we debated whether to go on to Artist Point or to hit the road to Jackson Hole, where we would be spending the night. It’s about a 2 and a half hour drive. I’m glad we decided on a quick visit to Artist Point.

From the parking lot at Artist Point it is a short walk to the end of the trail. The difference in the view you get as you walk is dramatic though. At first you catch glimpses of the falls through the trees.

view-of-the-lower-falls-of-yellowstone-river-from-artist-point-trail

The trail takes advantage of a curve in the river so as you walk down the trail the canyon seems to open up and fill your view. At first the trees still dominate the view.

another-view-of-yellowstone-canyon-from-artist-point

But eventually as you approach the end of the trail you can see the full canyon and a long stretch of the river.

canyon-views-open-up-as-you-approach-the-end-of-the-artist-point-trail

From the farthest point you can walk to, the view of the canyon dominates the landscape.

full-view-of-grand-canyon-of-yellowstone-river-and-lower-falls-from-artist-point

I could spend a whole day at this location just taking pictures with different lighting. It is obvious how this place got its name.

We had seen a lot, but not all of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, but it was time to head south. Our route would take us through a big chunk of Yellowstone, past Yellowstone Lake and through Grand Teton National Park. We were hoping there was enough daylight left to enjoy the drive. About a half hour into the drive we noticed a lot of cars stopped in the road. As we approached the area we could see why. There were several buffalo grazing near the road.

traffic-stopped-for-some-buffalo-near-the-road

The traffic was just crawling past this spot and we were at a complete stop several times. We saw the “classic” behavior that can lead to big issues around such big animals. Too many people, too much activity, and people getting way too close. One young lady got to within 30 feet or so to take a selfie. She turned her back on the buffalo smiled big and took her picture. I was afraid to watch!

We took a picture (not great, but good enough for me) from the car as the traffic crawled along.

yellowstone-buffalo-picture-from-our-car-window

We zipped past Yellowstone Lake. We would be back here in a couple days, and we were anxious to get to Grand Teton Park. We got there in time to get some great views of the Tetons. Although we had zipped by Yellowstone Lake, we could not help stopping for pictures of the Tetons across the lakes we were passing in Grand Teton Park.

clouds-floating-above-the-silhouette-of-the-distant-grand-tetons

A few minute later we stopped again with a slightly better view of the mountains.

grand-tetons-visible-in-the-distance-across-a-lake

At this point we were worried about getting to Jackson in time to get a good dinner. We would be back to spend the whole day in Grand Teton Park the next day, so I told Jenny we should not stop any more. Of course a few minutes later I looked over at the mountains, exclaimed “Whoa Nelly” and pulled over again. The full view of the mountains as the sun was setting was too good to pass up. I took a landscape view picture with my phone…

grand-tetons-just-after-sunset

and then this panoramic shot.

panorama-of-grand-tetons-after-sunset

Our reservations in Jackson were at the Cowboy Village Log Cabin Resort. We checked in quickly and got our stuff into our cabin, then walked a couple blocks to have dinner at Snake River Brewing. The service, food, beers, and atmosphere were a perfectly relaxing end to a full day.

We would be having breakfast with a friend, Charles, in the morning, enjoying Jackson Hole for a bit and then going for a hike in the Tetons. We had chosen what was described as the “easiest alpine meadow hike in the Tetons”. But more on that in the next post.

We had been planning a day trip to the Sonoma wine country for our final day in San Francisco, but we just felt we wanted more of San Francisco on this trip, so we decided to stay in town and check out some of the sights. Since two cable car lines, Hyde Powell and Mason Powell came within a block of our condo we decided to take the cable car to Market to start our trip. We walked down to the front of the cable car museum and only had to wait a few minutes before we were able to catch a ride. We were in the enclosed part of a car but I guess are hands and arms were much safer.

Dave and Wendy on the number 14 cable car

During our honeymoon stay a couple of years earlier, my wife had nearly lost a hand pointing at something right when a cable car had passed us. She got a piece of the gripman’s mind for that! It was still a fun ride down the hill to Market Street. Just before Market everyone has to get off the car.

Cable Car we road to the Market Stop

There is always a long line at the ends of the line, so we were glad there was space on a passing cable car near our condo. We decided the first “sight” we would see should be Coit Tower. Of course our cable car ride had actually taken us further from Coit Tower than when we started, but it was still fun. We decided to take a streetcar down Market Street to get closer. I think the street cars are almost as cool as the cable cars, and they are usually much easier to get on to since they are bigger, run more often, and do not seem to be as popular with the tourists. Since we had a 3 day metro pass, it just made sense to take advantage of it.

There are posters in the streetcars that give you information on the style of streetcar and the city the particular paint scheme was used for. If you don’t can’t remember later a quick search with the streetcar’s number will get you all the information you need about its history. The streetcar we rode in was a PCC style Streetcar, painted in a 1946 and later Brooklyn style. The PCC style car was popular and used in many cities. This one had been purchased from Philadelphia.

San Francisco PCC Streetcar 1053 - with Brooklyn 1946 paint

I should really start using paper maps when I’m somewhere new or less familiar. Once we got on the streetcar I tried to get my bearing using Google Maps on my phone. It kept pivoting and wasn’t tracking our current location, so it really wasn’t very helpful. We should have ridden almost all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf, but we got off before we reached the end of Market Street. I was completely turned around! Once I realized my error I decided to just use Google walking/transit directions to get us there. It suggested crossing the street and getting on a city bus. This went much smoother and we got off the bus at Washington Square Park about 4 blocks from Coit Tower. There were lots of people in the park, exercising, stretching, and hanging out. Just to the north of the park is

St Peter and Paul Catholic Church

We went north a block, then headed up Greenwich Street toward Coit Tower. No matter which direction you come from, if you are walking, there are tons of stairs. There are bus lines that go up the hill and you can drive up, but there is very little parking at the top of the hill. I would recommend walking up the stairs!

Climbing the stairs to Coit Tower

There are 360 degree view of the city when you reach the top of Telegraph Hill and walk around Coit Tower.

View toward the Golden Gate Bridge from near Coit Tower

I’m sure they are even better up in the tower, it is impressive.

Coit Tower San Francisco

However, on this day the line was long and there are terrific views from lots of places around this very hilly city, so we skipped the ride to the top. I love the art deco style, inside and out. The city has taken very good care of this landmark.

Coit Tower Plaque

We walked back down along Telegraph Hill Road for part of the way back down the hill, then took some stairs down to the corner of Filbert and Kearney Streets. Rather than heading back toward Washington Square Park, we decided to zigzag toward the northwest. We had seen a nice area with lots of outdoor seating along Columbus Avenue just before we got off the bus, and wanted to walk back toward that area for lunch. We decided on a place called Calzone’s Pizza Cucina. The food and service were very good. We felt recharged after lunch and decided to walk down Columbus Avenue toward Lombard Street. The famous Lombard Street hill was only a few blocks from the intersection with Columbus Avenue. We got the mandatory group picture at the bottom of the hill.

All of us below Lombard Street San Francisco

Then we walked up the hill, for the experience, but also because the cable car stop at the top of the hill is a good place to be able to find a short line to get on the cable car combined with lots of people getting off the cable car. The hill is steep, but it’s not too tough of a climb. Although it has lots of winds, the sidewalks go straight up which is steeper, but shorter. If you get short of breath here are lots of reasons to stop for pictures. One of my favorites is the house with the largest Bougainvillea I’ve ever seen climbing the front of the house.

The largest bougainvillea I've ever seen

The view from near the top back toward Coit Tower is pretty impressive too.

Looking down Lombard street with Coit Tower in the distance

As we had hoped, there was just a short wait for space on a cable car. The location of our condo, just a block from the Cable Car museum really simplified getting back there. All the cable car lines pass fairly close to the museum, which also houses the motors and wheels that move the cables! We took a short break at the condo, then decided to take the car out for a ride to a couple of other sights. We started with a drive down Lombard Street with the top down.

Riding down Lombard Street with the top down

Then we headed to one of our favorite places in San Francisco, the Palace of Fine Arts. If you’ve never been there, you’ve probably seen it in the movies, like Bicentennial Man and The Rock. The one thing that is hard to grasp in both movies and pictures is the scale of the place. The structures are huge, especially the domed rotunda!

Palace of Fine Arts

We strolled around the pond taking the structure in from several angles. Even with us in the picture it is difficult to see the massive size of the structure.

Jenny and Eric Rial at Palace of Fine Arts San Francisco

We took our time and enjoyed the park like feeling around the pond, including this shade.

Jenny in the shade at the Palace of Fine Arts San Francisco

Although I took dozens of pictures, I think this is the only one that lets you see the size. Notice the people walking under the dome. They are dwarfed by the size of this place.

Fountain in the pond in front of the Palace of Fine Arts San Francisco

Although we had ridden our bikes up there yesterday Wendy and Dave had not stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge yet, so we also drove up to the park. It was starting to cool down, so we made it a quick visit. We walked down the hill a ways from the parking lot for a few pictures at a different angle. This shot shows the Golden Gate over Fort Point.

View of the Golden Gate from Battery Park

A little further up the hill I took this picture of Dave and the two ladies.

Wendy Dave and Jenny in front of the Golden Gate Bridge

When we got to the top Jenny and I took another picture in the same spot we had taken pictures when visiting for our honeymoon.

Jenny and Eric Rial at the Gold Gate Bridge 2014

After the Golden Gate we headed down to Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner then back to the condo for the evening. This was our last day in San Francisco. We had a great time and look forward to another visit in the future. There are still lots of things we want to do in and around San Francisco. The next morning we headed to Reno and Tahoe to spend a few days there at a car show in Reno – Hot August Nights, and to spend at least some time enjoying the lake. I’ll do another post for that part of our trip sometime soon.

Panoramic photo from the Marin Headlands

We started the day enjoying the full kitchen and views from the condo we had rented on VRBO. After enjoying breakfast, processing 4 people through the single bathroom, and visiting for an hour or two… we decided to see if we could catch the cable car down to the Fishermans Wharf area. After waiting just a few minutes we decided to start walking along the cable car line toward our destination. It was mostly downhill and just a little over a mile walk. I love the Victorian style row houses that line the hills on many of the residential streets in this part of San Francisco.

Victorian Row houses climb the hillsides in San Francisco

So many examples of historic and well maintained homes really give San Francisco a unique atmosphere that I haven’t found anywhere else in America. As we got closer to the water, we decided to forget the cable car and take a more direct route to Pier 39. The older part of Fisherman’s Wharf is interesting too, but I like the food options, and general buzz of people on Pier 39.

Pier 39 San Francisco

We did a little shopping in some of the shops and then decided to have lunch at Neptune’s Waterfront Grill & Bar (no longer the same restaurant) at the end of the pier. We got a table with a great view. We could not only see Alcatraz Island…

View toward Alcatraz from our table at Netunes Waterfront Grill and Bar

we could also see the sea lions basking on platforms beside the pier.

View of the sea lions basking from our table at Neptunes Waterfront Grill and Bar

The food was good, the beers refreshing, but this meal was really about the view of the bay!

Lunch on Pier 39

After lunch we decided to head back to the condo to get the car so we could go checkout the Marin Headlands area. To get to this park, take the first exit (Alexander Ave) past the Golden Gate Bridge. Then go left toward 101 South (under the highway). Don’t go back on the highway – take Conzelman Rd instead to get to the Marin Headlands. There are other things to see here and some decent hikes, but we were there to see the spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay, and San Francisco. We made a couple stops, the first was about halfway up to the main view area. There were some nice flowers growing here on the side of the road.

Flowers and view of the Golden Gate from the Marin Headlands

But the best views were from the top of the road, just before the tunnel. The only problem we had was that a marine layer of low clouds/fog was continually blowing past us, making it hard to get a clear picture. While it might not have been the best conditions for good pictures, it was very cool to be there under those conditions. With patience I was still able to get some good shots including the panoramic picture at the top of the post, this view of the Golden Gate Bridge…

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands - 27 July 2014

and a similar view with a couple of familiar faces.

Jenny and Eric at the Marin Headlands with the Golden Gate in the background

We drove through the rest of the park, but didn’t make any stops. We would love to do some hikes along the coast in this area next time. As we headed back toward the city, Wendy mentioned that she wasn’t feeling well and would probably stay at the condo rather than going to dinner. We decided to walk to Chinatown for dinner since it was only a few blocks from the condo. The restaurant was just OK, but I enjoyed my first walk through Chinatown in San Francisco.

We took it easy the rest of the evening and planned to get up early the next day to bike across the Golden Gate bridge. I’ll cover that in my next post…

Previous post in this series: A Few Days in San Francisco (Day 1 – 26 July 2014 – Cable Car Museum and Dinner on Nob Hill)

Next post in this series: A Few Days in San Francisco (Day 3 – 28 July 2014 – Part 1 – Biking the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito)

Golden Gate Bridge view July 2012

We are planning a long weekend in San Francisco in July. We’re meeting another couple their, friends from way back, so planning will include agreeing on activities we all will enjoy. I have several bucket list things I want to do in San Francisco, but I know some of them are not going to work, but I hope we can check at least one thing off my list.

There are several sources of information when you search Google for things to do in San Francisco. Many of them either sell tours, or offer links to tours. I’m not big on guided tours. There are times when they are useful, especially when visiting historical places, but I don’t generally enjoy being led around places… I would rather do some planning and explore on my own.

We spent a couple of days in San Francisco in July 2012 on our Honeymoon following our wedding and stay in Big Sur. That trip was a road trip and we are planning to drive again, but we are not planning to drive from San Diego to Big Sur again this time. We’re taking a week off, but plan to spend half the time in San Francisco and the other half in Lake Tahoe, so no time for a long coastal drive on this trip.

We’ve arranged for a condo for the four days we’ll be staying in the city through Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO). We’ve used this website for several trips and have always been very satisfied with where we stay. Be sure to look at the reviews before renting. I avoid places that have no reviews even if the pictures look terrific. It is too easy to make a place look good in pictures even if it has issues. In 2012 we stayed in a Hotel in the Market area, this time we will be a little closer to the center of things in Nob Hill.

We also want to do new things and things we didn’t have time for in 2012. So here’s the list so far:

1. Ride a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. We had considered taking our bikes with us, but we are taking our car instead of the Jeep, so we will rent bikes if we do this one. There are several places to rent bikes, and we’ll be watching the local living daily email deal sites for bargains. When you are planning a trip it is a good idea to sign up, several months in advance, for emails for the places you are visiting from sites like Groupon, Living Social, and Goldstar. this one activity gives you a chance to visit the Golden Gate Bridge, get unique views as you cross the bridge, visit Sausalito for lunch, and the ferry ride from Sausalito to San Francisco should give us plenty of great views of the city from San Francisco Bay.

2. Visit Alcatraz Island. The site of the famous prison is now a National Park. Anytime I visit a National park I start with a visit to the appropriate National Park website to the Plan Your Visit section. In this case it helped me avoid a lot of tour companies selling this tour in combination with other tours to get more money. The National Park website pointed me to the official tour company so I can get my tickets directly and skip any additional fees.

View of Alcatraz July 2012

3. Wine tasting day trip! We considered spending an overnight in wine country. This would likely be a good idea when sampling wines from multiple vineyards! But this part of the trip is short so we will make it a day trip and someone (likely me) will volunteer to be the DD. There are almost too many choices. I could do an entire post researching and planning even just a good day trip to this area. Since this will be my first visit to this area I think I’ll suggest the easy way out. We can start at Sonoma Plaza (about an hour drive from San Francisco), do some wine tastings there and then visit a couple wineries in the hills nearby. If we take a few bottles (or cases) home I’ll still get to have the full effect, just delayed a couple of hours!

4. Hike in one or more of the National Parks and Recreation areas in and around San Francisco.

  • Muir Woods. This park has a wide variety of trails from paved to challenging. This would be a great place to hang out for a longer visit on a future camping trip!
  • Marin Headlands area of the Golden Gate National Recreation area – In addition to the National Parks site the Golden Gate National Parks ConservancyGolden Gate National Parks Conservancy organization site is a good information resource for this park. This is my top choice for a hike with a huge payoff – views of the Golden Gate bridge and San Francisco.
  • Mount Diablo is on my bucket list, but it is most likely for another less urban focused trip!

5. Take a scenic drive. The closest drive would be the Reyes National Seashore drive, but it is mostly through rolling hills but the first section to Stinson Beach looks amazing. If we do this one it would make sense to do it at the same time as a visit to the Marin Headlands area and to plan to do another couple few short hikes to lookouts like the Muir Beach Lookout and maybe a section of the coastal trail. The much longer drive to Santa Cruz would be gorgeous, but would take us away from San Francisco for too long and this is a visit to San Francisco…

6. See the 16th Avenue Steps. If we get ambitious maybe even walk up them! If we get really ambitious maybe continue up the steps to see the view from Grand View Park! Looks like a nice climb and I’m a sucker for a grand view!

7. Eat some terrific food from Chinatown, Fisherman’s Wharf, and maybe some of my favorite Italian dishes in North Beach. We can also take time to explore these areas before and after we eat!

8. Cable Car Museum. Of course we’ll ride one, but this might be a cool place to check out too.

9. Explore the Nob Hill area on foot. Since we are staying in this area it makes sense to check it out. The area has Grace Cathedral, Union Square, several historic hotels, and lots of high-end shopping…

10. Visit the James Lick Observatory. This is a bit geeky and probably for a future trip, but wanted to capture the thought here, because I would love to check this place out. Might be good in combination with a visit to one of our newest national parks Pinnacles National Park.

View of St Peters and Pauls Church from Lombard Street July 2012

San Francisco is one of the great urban areas in California. It has a unique location, a unique history, and a unique population. We are looking forward to spending time exploring the city and finding even more things we have to do next time.

The more I research things to do, the more I wish we were spending more than 4 days in San Francisco. I’m sure we will be very busy, have a great time, and that we’ll be ready for at least one day of rest and relaxation when we head over to Lake Tahoe for the rest of the trip. However, there will be tons to do there too, not to mention Hot August Nights going on in nearby Reno while we are there!

Posts for the trip:

A Few Days in San Francisco (Day 1 – 26 July 2014 – Cable Car Museum and Dinner on Nob Hill)

Sawtooth Mountains

After the very busy 4th of July rafting and biking, we were ready for a relaxing road trip. The drive to Stanley is beautiful most of the way. There were some areas that had been affected by recent fires, so the trees were destroyed, which takes some away from the pristine beauty.

We stopped in a historic gold mine town for ice cream that is on the way, and got to Stanley fairly early in the afternoon. The picture at the top of the post shows the view of the Sawtooth mountains from our hotel rooms. Stanley is a small town, in a beautiful valley. After a brief nap in the hotel, we headed to the small downtown for dinner and some fun.

We played some pool… much better than we had a couple of nights before in Boise. The band was playing country music, so we decided to try out the other bar in town, about a block away.

Playing much better pool in Stanley Idaho

That bar also had a country band, so we decided to just give in to it and enjoy ourselves. By the end of the night I was trying to dance the two-step with Jenny, but I’m sure even as simple as the two-step is that what we were doing was not even close! We played dismally bad darts at the second bar. Thankfully no one else was interested in the darts because we were still on the first game about 90 minutes and several drinks later. I did manage to close out, this was right after closing out my last bulls-eye, but I was behind on points and we eventually gave up on the game.

Playing Really Bad Darts in Stanley Idaho

In the morning we enjoyed the spectacular view from the hotel again.

Enjoying the view of the Sawtooth Mountains from in front of our hotel

We slept in a little and all swore to never drink again… or play darts!

Eric and Dave Stanley Idaho

We got a recommendation for breakfast from the hotel owner, and headed over to eat at the Stanley Baking Company and Cafe. Stanley is a small town, but the cafe had a big line, so we headed to another place on the main road. It wasn’t the “recommended place” for breakfast, but it worked. After breakfast we headed over to the store to get some bait to do some fishing. We got the bait, some directions to a good fishing spot, and a few beers (just in case we changed our minds about drinking).

As we drove north to the recommended fishing spot we drove along the Salmon River. The view of the river, the valley, and the mountains was spectacular.

View of the Salmon River along the road just north of Stanley Idaho

We stopped at a view-point just above the Historic Sunbeam Dam. The dam was built by miner in 1910, but had a short life… being partially demolished in 1934. The remaining portion of the dam narrows the river and there is a fairly steep drop off. This would definitely be a challenging spot to raft through. The raft you see in this picture…

Historic Sunbeam Dam

…here’s a closer shot of it…

A raft on the Salmon River just north of the Historic Sunbeam Dam

did not go through the section with the dam. There is a raft launch right below the dam.

The recommended fishing spot, looked like a fish hatchery. There were several small pools on one side of the gravel road, and a stream on the other side. We could have stayed there all day catching fish, but they were too small, and it was not a pretty spot to fish. We decided to head over to Stanley Lake to try our luck. It is a gorgeous spot to fish or just hang out.

Dave enjoying the water in Stanley Lake

We may as well have just hung out because we didn’t get even a bite. But the views were worth the lack of fish.

More of the Sawtooth Mountains across Stanley Lake

Sawtooth Mountains across Stanley Lake

I spotted a butterfly on the sand by my feet and put the camera into macro mode to see how well my camera would take closeups. I was only able to get one shot of the butterfly with its wings spread before it took off. I wasn’t completely happy with the focus and there was a shadow on the tip of one wing, but it turned out OK.

Butterfly on the shore of Stanley Lake

The macro setting came in handy about an hour later on our drive back to Boise. We hooked a beauty – my wife!

I hooked a beauty

She was a good sport, claimed it didn’t hurt and insisted that we enjoy the rest of the drive. We stopped to take some pictures along the South Fork of the Payette River.

South Fork of the Payette River

Then headed back to Boise to visit an urgent car. The see this kind of thing all the time in Idaho and had the process of removing a hook down pat. They had the hook removed and the tetanus shot delivered in about 10 minutes and we were back into vacation mode. We had a visit to a local winery, with an evening Jazz concert on the schedule, but we had finally reach our “OK… we can take a break now point”. So we went out for a quiet dinner near our friends home and relaxed the rest of the evening.

We were leaving the next day but got in one more bike ride along the Boise Greenbelt for lunch.

Pausing for a picture on the Boise Greenbelt

Then it was time to pack and head to the airport. We had a terrific time in Idaho with great friends. The next get together will be in San Diego, so the challenge is on to show them a good time.

Kings Canyon along the Mist Falls Trail

We arrived in Sequoia National Park in the early afternoon. Our first stop inside the park was at the Kings Canyon Overlook. Although there are a lot of pesky trees in the way, the view of Kings Canyon and parts of Sequoia National Park, like Buck Rock, are a great way to kick off your visit.

Kings Canyon Lookout - Sequoia National Park

We planned to camp for four days, two on our own, and two with my wife’s brother and his family. We left the joint part of the trip unplanned, but I did a post to plan some hiking at the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park on our the first full day in the park.

View of Buck Rock from the Kings Canyon LookoutThere was also a great view of Buck Rock from the Kings Canyon Lookout. From this angle you can see just how high the fire lookout cabin is. We climbed the stairs to Buck Rock, from the other side, in 2011 and I would definitely recommend taking the time to check this historic place out. It is still manned 24 hours a day by the National Park Service as a working fire lookout.

After stretching our legs and enjoying the view for a few minutes we climbed back into the Jeep and continued the drive to Stony Creek Campgrounds in Sequoia National Forest. This is the same campground we stayed at in 2011, and it is terrific. The camp host was friendly, the sites are large and ours was a very private one near the back of the campgrounds. There is a small creek that runs along the side of the campgrounds that eventually becomes one of our favorite fishing and swimming areas (although it is difficult to get to and can be a hazardous area – use caution).

Deer at our campsite - Stony Creek Campgrounds

There were two deer eating some purple shoots on the side of our campsite. They were almost constant visitors. I’m not sure what the shoots were but the deer seemed to love them. There were deer within 10 feet of our tent almost every morning. We didn’t see any bears at the campsite, but as usual while camping in the Sierra Nevada’s we kept all food in a large metal storage locker.

On the first evening we set up our camp, ate a large dinner, and sat around the camp fire until late. In the morning we had a full breakfast (pancakes and bacon) and packed our hiking gear into the Jeep for our day trip to the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park. It’s about a 32 mile drive past Grants Grove to the end of highway 180 in Kings Canyon. The road is narrow, winding, and you would have time for one last conversation before hitting the bottom if you make a bad turn – it is a big drop! I’ve never been to Kings Canyon, but my wife had been there quite some time ago. She thought it was drier than she remembered on the way down, but as we got to the bottom and came along side the Kings River the scenery was more of what she remembered.

We stopped across the road from Boyden’s Cavern and scrambled down to the river and out on to some rocks. Here are a couple of pictures.

Checking out a rock in the Kings River - Kings Canyon National Park

Jenny sitting on a rock by the Kings River

Unlike some of the other National Parks I’ve visited in the past, there were no hiking trail maps available on the NPS website. We bought one for the Cedar Grove area at the Grant Grove area gift shop on our way. I had planned a couple different hikes in my planning post, but of course I didn’t print it out and there is no connectivity in Sequoia National Park. One easy hike I had planned was to the Raging River Falls. It is a very short, paved trail, and the falls are pretty cool. We were getting hungry so we brought our lunch with us to the falls. We relaxed on some rocks across from the falls, ate our sandwiches and took a few pictures.

Raging River Falls - Kings Canyon National Park

Although the pool under the falls was very inviting, there were numerous warnings along the trail, and a fast-moving outlet down some rocks and into a rocky stream below the pool. There have to be better/safer places to swim than this in the area.

After eating I had my son sit under this tree. It was a large tree with impressive roots, and seemed completely stable growing on top of the rocks.

Pine Tree growing in the rocks across from the falls

It was a small redwood, but I liked the view of the falls from this angle.

Small Redwood with the Raging River Falls in the background

After lunch we looked at the map and decided to hike to another waterfall – Mist Falls. The map listed the hike as 4.0 miles round trip, and since it was already well into the afternoon we wanted to just do a short hike. This trail is at the end of the road in Kings Canyon. There is a permit station there and a medium-sized parking lot. We parked, put on our hiking boots and set out on the trail. At the trail head we noticed a sign with several destinations, Mist Falls was one of them. The sign listed 4.6 miles, which would mean a 9.2 mile hike round trip. This was not what we planned, but we decided to do the hike anyway. The first two miles were flat with some trees and a couple of small streams. A larger stream was running beside the trail, but it was usually 100 yards or more away. The first interesting place we came to was “strange tree land”.

Strange Tree Land on the Mist Falls Trail

There were several strange-looking trees in this one area. In the above picture you can see a dead tree with a very narrow trunk near the bottom, and if you look a little farther down the trail and up you’ll see what we called the “Chair Tree” although my son didn’t want to take a picture sitting in the “chair”. Just in front of it was this tree…

One of the Strange Trees

Sean did walk into this one, but not until he looked it over real closely for creepy crawlers.

At the two-mile mark the trail splits and just past the split there is a bridge across the stream/river on the trail we weren’t taking. We took a couple of pictures on the bridge and then headed up the other trail toward the Mist Falls.

Sean and Eric on a bridge just off the Mist Falls trail

Jenny and Eric just off the Mist Falls trail

The trail toward Mist falls immediately became more narrow and headed uphill. There is about a 600 foot climb up the remaining 2.6 miles of the trail. It is a beautiful trail that continually changes. There is a stream running beside the trail all the way to the falls.

There are sections of forested trail…

Forested part of the trail to Mist Falls

mixed with rocky areas…

Rocky area of the trail to Mist Falls

and some granite dome sections of the trail.

Granite Dome part of the Mist Falls Trail

Our favorite part of the trail was Mist Falls though. The falls are large and the mist can be felt at least a hundred yards away.

Mist Falls Kings Canyon National Park

Another Mist Falls photo Kings Canyon National Park

It is hard to tell the scale of the falls even with us in the shot.

Eric and Jenny at Mist Falls

After enjoying the falls we headed back down the trail. On the way back down we saw two small snakes (one King snake and the other was an unidentified dark snake) and a bear cub. The bear cub was about 30 feet from the trail and headed our way. The cub didn’t seem to mind us being there and just kept coming our way. We snapped a quick picture and continued down the trail and out of the cubs way in case Momma Bear was not far behind.

Bear cub just of the trail on the Mist Falls Trail

On the way back we passed a large rock with a flat face that was pointed toward the stream. On the way up the trail I had noticed the way it reflected the sound and mentioned it to Jenny and Sean. As I came around the bend they were standing in front of this rock having a good time making fun of Hubbie/Dad… something about tired and delusional…

On the mist Falls Trail - this rock reflected the sound of the stream from below

I always love going in a different direction on the same trail and noticing what you missed on the way up… an absolutely gorgeous mountain view! The shot at that top of this post is from the same angle.

Heading back on the Mist Falls Trail

The longer than planned hike caused us to drive out of Kings Canyon fairly late, we decided to stop for dinner somewhere if anything was still open. Luckily the restaurant and pizza parlor at Grants Grove was open until 9 PM. The pizza hit the spot and we hit the sack as soon as we got back to camp. The next day we slept in… more than just a little! You can find out about the rest of our camping trip to Sequoia and Kings Canyon in this post: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park (Part 2 – Moro Rock and Stony Creek – June 2013).

View across Marsh Lake

I love to plan trips, but I also love to go along for the ride when others do the planning. Especially when it leads to some great times with family and friends. My Brother- and Sister-in-Law plan family camping trips every year. In 2011 it was to Sequoia National Park (a long standing traditional summer camping trip for them), but for the summer of 2012 they decided to do something different… condo camping in Mammoth. It was to a large part a family reunion but in a very cool place surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery and all the comforts, actually more than all the comforts, of home. One of my favorite activities, anywhere, anytime, is hiking. They chose a family friendly hike, with tons of scenery.

Rock Creek near the Little Lakes Valley Trailhead

We parked along the road just past Rock Creek Lake. The road travels beside Rock Creek. Having water nearby always adds to my enjoyment on hikes. There is a parking lot at the end of Rock Creek Road, near the trailhead for Little Lakes Valley Trail. There are restrooms and several great views of the creek. We got everyone together and headed up the trail. The mountain to the east of the trail was completely barren and rocky but to the west the mountain had trees at least part way up. Although the trail is surrounded by rugged terrain it is a fairly easy hike to the first lake. We stopped to have lunch on a rocky outcropping above Mack Lake. Plenty of seats for the whole group and a great view in every direction.

Getting ready for lunch above Mack Lake

We had a wide span of ages and hiking fitness, but everyone was convinced to go to at least the next lake. This was good advice. The name is not that appealing, Marsh Lake, but the view across the lake was spectacular! Be sure to hike out toward the lake on the small side trail, this is where you will get the best views. Here’s another picture of Marsh Lake.

Another view across Marsh Lake

The hike back also had some great views of the creek and valley.

Little Lakes Valley Trail

There were many more “things to do” in Mammoth than time to do them. We rented two 3-bedroom condos that had great views of the mountains and the pool/hot tub in the center of The Village complex in Mammoth. They were right next to each other which made spending time and eating together much easier. With a little “remodeling” we had one very large dining table in one of the two condos.

Pool and hot tubs at The Village in Mammoth

There were also several options for food, shopping, and nighttime entertainment very near by. We had a lot of fun “going out” one night… and played pool on one of the worst pool tables I’ve ever played on that was on the patio of the nearby bar. Not level, needed new felt, had a mishmash of balls that had been remarked to try to make a reasonable set of balls to play 8-ball with. Very confusing when there are 3 cue balls and only about 5 striped balls. But we had a great time anyway. Maybe it was the giant drink we all shared to kick off the night?

Sharing a giant drink in Mammoth

We also headed over to the “ski slopes” which in the summer are set up for downhill mountain biking. I would love to try that out some time! We took the gondola to the top of the mountain to check out the views. Of course, for no reason my “fear of heights” kicked in, not on the gondola, but on top of the mountain. This made no sense as their were very few areas with sudden drop offs and I wasn’t anywhere near these, but I had a constant uncomfortable feeling up there. I also managed to accidentally switch my camera to “special effects” mode in my pocket. It was set to “soft focus” mode, which I did not catch by looking at the pictures on my camera screen, but it was obvious later on the computer. I’m not sure why a camera even has this kind of “mode” when you can post process normal photos to have any of these effects. I changed the default “special effect” to be sepia so that if my camera is accidentally switched to the mode it will be obvious and I can switch it back to automatic. Even in “soft focus” mode, the photos show the amazing views from the top of the mountain.

Top of Mammoth Mountain

The gondola ride has an impressive “ground disappearing” moment as it leaves the station at the top of the mountain. This didn’t bother me, but it was a cool effect!

Gondola near top of Mammoth Mountain

On the drive back down the mountain we stopped and walked around the Earthquake Fault marked area just off the road. It is part of Inyo National Forest. It was really hard to capture in pictures, but an impressive tear in the earths surface. I recommend taking this walk if you are driving by the area.

Earthquake Fault Inyo National Forest

We had a great visit with the family in a beautiful place. I’m sure we didn’t even scratch the surface, so I’m sure I’ll go back for another summer visit to Mammoth.

Here are a few more pictures.

This is another view across Marsh Lake, taken through the trees.

A view through the trees at Marsh Lake

Hanging out on top of Mammoth Mountain.

Huddling up against the wind on top of Mammoth Mountain

Here’s a view of Marsh Lake from the main trail. Not that impressive. Be sure to take the small side trail over to this lake!

View of Marsh Lake from the main trail