It’s true; I just spent a whole week in the world of the Mouse, with warm, sunny days and cool, beautiful evenings.
I have never, ever, ever been to Disney World before, and I was looking forward to our trip as much as Lily and Emmy were. I was looking forward to warmer weather, while Lily and Emmy were looking forward to the rides! Before we could go to Disney, there was something else we had to do. We had to go meet…Rapunzel!
Rapunzel was not locked up in her tower, however. She was on the Fairy Tale Advisory Board to help fairy tale characters solve their problems. As you all know, The Big Bad Wolf has some anger issues. Rapunzel gave him some excellent advice on how to manage that anger!
Two days later we boarded an airplane and late that afternoon we were at Epcot. It really does seem magical to be able to fly across the country in just a couple of hours; to be able to shed our winter coats and wear shorts and T-shirts in March. We had a late dinner, and as we came out of the restaurant, the colored lights were shining on Spaceship Earth.
I had been hoping to be able to book an earlier flight on our first day in Disney, but with the expense of airfare, it hadn’t worked out. Our first day at Disney was over already and we had hardly done anything! But our adventure was just beginning….
During our trip to the Painted Desert last year, we learned that we should have brought raincoats.The day started out sunny, clear and hot, at 94 degrees, just the kind of day you would expect to experience in the desert. As we explored the petrified trees and historical sites, however, we began to see dark clouds in the distance. The temperatures began to drop. Our plan was to be in Petrified Forest National Park for only one day, so we raced against the storm clouds, trying to see as much as we could before the storm started. When the lightning started to get too close for comfort, we spent some time in the Visitor’s Center.
After the storm, it was cold and drizzling. But this was a place that we would probably not visit again for years, and I had to walk among the blue mesas. In sunny weather, anyway, they look blue. In the cloudy gloom, they were layers of greys and browns. The girls and I only had sweatshirts on. While our walk was well worth it, we got soaked. It took a while to warm up, and swimming in the outdoor pool was not going to happen!
As many of you know. this past summer we ventured into Sunny California, which has been in a drought for three years. But still, based on our desert experience, I decided we all needed to bring raincoats on our vacation. For the most part, we didn’t need them.
But then…we did.
On our drive from Yosemite to Death Valley, we made a stop in Bodie State Historical Park. Bodie is high in the mountains; it used to be a gold mining town. Now it is a abandoned ghost town. Everything is left as it was left, so most of the building are locked because they are unsafe to enter.
We wandered around the town with other tourists, and could see the rain clouds approaching. Pretty soon, it started to sprinkle. I was so glad that this time, we were prepared!
We weren’t as prepared as we thought, however, because then it began to do something we really didn’t expect to see in California in the summer in the middle of a three year drought.
It began to hail.
What unexpected things have happened to you when you’ve traveled?
Every day before we set out, I would look at our Visitor Guide. By looking at the map and hiking information, I could plan our day to get the most out of our time spent in the park. On our last full day in Yosemite, we drove to Glacier Point. All the glaciers are long gone, but Yosemite Valley was carved out by slow moving glaciers. Glacier Point is up high, and gave us a gorgeous view of the Valley.
Despite the altitude, it was very warm. We wandered around and ate our picnic on a big slab of black-and-white speckled granite. We were in one of those places where there isn’t much to do except gaze around in wonder. Oh, yes, and there was much climbing and walking on rocks, which is always fun. It was hard to pull ourselves away from Glacier Point.
Our second stop was Mariposa Grove, which is known for its giant Sequoia trees. Since it was later in the day, parking was a problem. We parked in a far away lot, and then took the shuttle bus up to the grove, which worked well.
While we were busy looking up at these magnificent trees, it’s hard to remember to look down. When I did, I saw this cute squirrel grabbing a pine cone lunch. That little pine cone is a Sequoia pine cone, which is about the size of a chicken egg. Isn’t it amazing to think that such huge trees come from such little seeds?
On our fourth day in Yosemite, we were only passing through. We drove over the Sierra Nevada mountains on one of the only passes, Tioga Road. Of course, we couldn’t just drive through, although we didn’t have time to explore as much as we wanted to. Tioga Road’s elevation goes up to 10,000 feet.
We stopped for lunch at Tuolumne Meadows, where we saw some backpackers who were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It goes right through Yosemite, and is the same trail Cheryl Strayed hiked and then wrote about in her book Wild. I loved that book, and so I wanted to put my feet on the PCT just to say that I did. But the trail I actually followed for a few minutes with Lily and Emmy was just a trail from the restaurant/post office to the campground. As we were pulling out to continue our drive across the mountains, I saw the sign for the PCT, but we needed to get on our way. Next stop: a ghost town at Bodie State Historical Park!
Are you tagging along on our California trip? Here’s more posts:
Our stay at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley did not start off well. Our hotel room was in a separate building from the office, quite a long walk away. The key was not opening the door, even though the light was flashing green. It was 124 degrees Fahrenheit, and there was no cell phone service. I flagged down a golf cart that an employee was driving and asked for help. The girl opened the door by pulling the door handle UP instead of down. That door gave us trouble for the rest of our stay!
Our room was nice and cool, but the phone didn’t work. There was no way to contact the front desk when we needed more towels. (Hotels always put only three towels in the room. We are a family of four. Why do they do that?)
Another strange thing about that room was that the water coming out of the faucet was always warm. We brushed our teeth with warm water and filled up water bottles with warm water. At a place called Furnace Creek, I guess that was to be expected. Fortunately, the little refrigerator in the room worked very well, and the ice machine in the next building did made ice.
We ate a decent dinner, although it was overpriced, at the Forty-Niner Cafe. There weren’t many dining choices, and I imagine food is expensive to transport into the valley. The server was extremely nice and accommodating; I asked him if soft drinks were included in the kids’ meals. He didn’t know, so he threw them in for free.
Dinner had been early, so we decided to drive down to Badwater Basin. Badwater is the lowest elevation in North America, at 282 feet below sea level. It was hot.
By now, you are probably wondering why we went to Death Valley. Everyone knows it’s hot; why in world were we in Death Valley on a summer vacation to California, when we could visit the beach or the mountains or wine country?
Simply put, Death Valley is amazing. Death Valley’s heat is incredible. We carried a water bottle every time we left the car. We didn’t go on hikes. We couldn’t. But the places we explored were beautiful, amazing, awesome places…awesome in the true sense of the word.
I wanted to take the Artist’s Drive on the way back to the hotel. It is a 9 mile twisting road that goes back among the foothills, and it is most beautiful at sunset.
We thought that the range ahead of us shone brilliantly. The rocks were gleaming in the last rays of the sun shining into the valley. We thought we were already seeing the beauty of Death Valley.
Suddenly, we drove around the curve and an explosion of color was before us. It. was. awesome.
These colorful hills were already in the shadows by the time we arrived, so my pictures just don’t do it justice. This turn in the road is called Artist’s Palette, and it was easy to see why.
The temperature, the hot wind pummeling us, and the gorgeous view all combined to make us literally breathless.
We arrived at our hotel room in a much better mood. The best part of the day was yet to come, according to Lily and Emmy. While the night air cooled down to 110 degrees, we swam in the huge, warm spring-fed pool, surrounded by palm trees. It was the place to be, and even with all the other tourists swimming with us, there was plenty of room to swim.
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I was the first to wake up in our beautiful rental house, and the first thing I did was open the front door. We had arrived in the dark the night before, so I hadn’t been able to see our surroundings. The house looked out on a field with grazing cattle and a forest beyond. The air was cool and inviting, so the first thing I did when I went back into the house was open the kitchen window as I began to prepare our picnic lunch for that day. That’s one of the great things about renting houses or cabins on vacation; we make our own breakfast and lunches, and also have the option to eat dinner “at home.”
We wanted to get an early start to the day, because it was going to take up to two hours to get to Yosemite due to the fire and road closings. Normally, the house was only half-an-hour from Yosemite. We hadn’t brought coffee with us, so we stopped at the grocery store/gas station down the street to get our caffeine start to the day.
Jackie, the awesome cashier working that morning, told us that the store closed at 6:55 that evening. She said she had a heck of a time getting the locals to understand when the store closed, and they were always rushing in that the last minutes to buy groceries! I wanted to stop back on the way home to buy something for us to grill for dinner.
After driving that torturous mountain road again, we finally arrived back in Yosemite Valley. What I didn’t expect was how crowded it was. When I think of National Parks, I think of wide-open spaces, wilderness, and quiet. But this was summer, peak tourist time. So we found a parking spot and took advantage of the National Park’s shuttle service.
One advantage of being in the middle of throngs of tourists is that there is always someone who will offer to take a picture of your whole group if you return the favor. I took a lot of photos with other people’s cameras! I hope they all turned out as good as this one did:
Due to the three year drought, Yosemite Falls was a little on the thin side, but still beautiful. A nice man with a British accent took this photo.
The girls were working on their Junior Ranger books, so we went in search of a Ranger Walk. We found one at Happy Isles! It was hot that day and so our hike was not very long, with frequent stops. The ranger talked with the girls about the importance of water, and we went into The Fen, where it was cooler. Water came bubbling up from several springs, and it was green, lush and full of life in the Fen. And we were the only ones there. Even in such a busy place, Yosemite is so huge that there are quiet places if you know where to look. We didn’t know, but the ranger did.
At the end of our adventure, Lily and Emmy received their Junior Ranger badges.
We knew the day would be a hot one, and we also knew that there were a couple of beaches on the Merced River. Ed and I had planned ahead of time to bring swim suits and towels so that we could take the girls swimming after our hike.
Remember how I wrote yesterday that entering Yosemite Valley is surreal?
Swimming in a river surrounded by such beauty is surreal. I only wish my pictures were clearer, but smoke still filled the air that day.
After splashing in the river for far less time than we wanted to, we needed to head back to the house. The grocery store closed at 6:55, and I didn’t want Ed driving on 49 to Coulterville in the dark! We made it to the Greeley Hill Market just in time to buy some steak and salad for dinner. Perfect!