Tag Archives: California

The Pacific Coast Highway: Santa Cruz to San Luis Obispo

Last weekend Pam and I met some family members in Oakland for an Athletics game on Saturday night. After the game we went to Vallejo. On the return trip on Sunday we drove the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Cruz to San Luis Obispo. It was a grey day. The drive was much different from my last trip down Highway 1.

The Pacific Coast Highway in Central California.

The Pacific Coast Highway in Central California.

Miles and miles of curvy roads and beautiful sights.

Miles and miles of curvy roads and beautiful sights.

A bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway.

A bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Sunlight sneaking through the clouds and hitting the Pacific Ocean.

Sunlight sneaking through the clouds and hitting the Pacific Ocean.

We stopped in San Simeon to see elephant seals. They are such strange and fascinating creatures. The large males were not around, but the females and juveniles were plentiful.

Elephant seals sparring.

Elephant seals sparring.

ES4

An elephant seal scratches an itch.

An elephant seal scratches an itch.

Elephant seal negotiations.

Elephant seal negotiations.

Negotiations have broken down.

Negotiations have broken down.

After the seals I got a picture of Hearst Castle and the San Simeon Pier.

Far off Hearst Castle sits by overcast skies.

Far off Hearst Castle sits by overcast skies.

The San Simeon Pier gets a little sunlight.

The San Simeon Pier gets a little sunlight.

It’s a beautiful highway to have so close by. I’m sure we’ll be back to Big Sur for more exploring.

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Pismo Beach on a Saturday Afternoon

Today the weather was lovely, so Pam and I decided to spend some time at the beach. We packed up a surfboard, boogie board, books, and chairs. I sat on the beach while Pam surfed. I fluctuated between reading and taking pictures.

Pismo Beach on a sunny Saturday.

Pismo Beach on a sunny Saturday.

It was nice to soak-in some sun.

California has amazing diversity in weather. Last weekend we hiked through snow–this weekend we lounged on the beach.

My favorite surfer in action.

My favorite surfer in action.

Returning from the Pacific Ocean.

Returning from the Pacific Ocean.

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Yosemite National Park: Hiking Part of the Four Mile Trail

We returned to Yosemite on Saturday to take on a more strenuous hike than we had done during our first day in the park. It was a rainy, grey day. I really wanted to stop at Crane Flat on the way in (for the photo op), but the campground was closed for the season. We stopped briefly at the Crane Flat Gas Station, which had plenty of snow. This gave me a chance to take a picture of the snowy road we were driving into the park. The sight of the snowy forest was stunning. I appreciated the combination of the snow and the bright green moss.

Beautiful snow and evergreens at the Crane Flat Gas Station.

Beautiful snow and evergreens at the Crane Flat Gas Station.

We stopped at the same point from which we had first admired Half Dome. On this day a wall of fog had replaced the iconic rock formation. The fog was beautiful in its own way, blanketing the ridges and valleys with sometimes thick and sometimes wispy covering.

The views from the vista were shrouded in fog.

The views from the vista were shrouded in fog.

We drove to the Four Mile Trailhead, which provides a nice view of Yosemite Falls across the valley.

Yosemite Falls viewed from the valley.

Yosemite Falls viewed from the valley.

The Four Mile Trail leads to the top of Glacier Point. When we started we had no idea if we would make it to the top or not. Soon after we started the hike we met a hiker coming down the trail. He told us that the trail was closed ahead, but that the views were still good. So we pressed on.

Glacier Point looming in the fog.

Glacier Point looming in the fog, viewed from early on the Four Mile Trail.

The Four Mile Trail is actually 4.6 miles long (the original version was 4 miles long). We didn’t know it yet, but we would be able to hike about 2.75 miles before reaching the closed gate (~2,000 ft elevation gain). The trail started in fog, with bright mosses and a tree canopy covering.

The Four Mile Trail winds through the foggy lowlands.

The Four Mile Trail winds through the foggy lowlands.

Little patches of snow started to appear soon. Eventually the trail was snow-covered.

My adventurous and wonderful hiking companion.

My adventurous and wonderful hiking companion.

At random times snow would fall from the canopies of trees and shrubs, causing miniature avalanches of snow to fall over the trail. These were small enough to pose no danger, but would have been viciously cold (we did not get hit).

We paused to take a picture on the Four Mile Trail.

We paused to take a picture on the Four Mile Trail.

Eventually we reached a gate notifying us the trail was closed. A headless snowman guarded the trail.

The end of the Four Mile Trail for the winter (about 2.75 miles in).

The end of the Four Mile Trail for the winter (about 2.75 miles in).

We got a spectacular view of a snowy Half Dome from the trail closure spot. We decided to take some pictures right away, since the fog had been rolling through the valley on and off all day.

The view of Half Dome from the spot the trail was closed.

The view of Half Dome from the spot the trail was closed.

Fog wisps around Half Dome.

Fog wisps around Half Dome.

And one last photo from this vantage point.

And one last photo from this vantage point.

If was a good thing we took pictures quickly. By the time we ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a few truffles the fog had obscured Half Dome.

Half Dome hidden by fog.

Half Dome hidden by fog.

We hiked back to the car. Seeing the valley in the fog was interesting. It was dramatic in its own way, but it prevented us from seeing the details of the valley in full panoramic view. So we got to see some dramatic sights, yet more sights remain for a return trip.

We visited Yosemite Village and the Ahwahnee Hotel, then headed back to Groveland.

I hope we get a chance to hike the full Four Mile Trail in the future. I’d like to stand on Glacier Point and see the valley on a clear day.

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Yosemite National Park: Hiking in the Valley and Around Mirror Lake

This year Pam and I decided to stay at home for Christmas. The decision was mostly made for us by work schedules and the vacation time we had this summer. To make the holiday season feel festive we spent a long weekend near Yosemite National Park. It was great to be able to drive a few hours and feel so far from home. New adventures. We stayed in Groveland.

The weather was cool, with a delightful chill in the evenings (Pam appreciated this chill far less than I did). We ventured into Yosemite twice. The trek up the ridge and down into the valley took us through snow. Thankfully the roads were in very good shape. On the first day I did not get any pictures during the drive in–I was focused on staying on the road. We stopped at a pull-off to savor our first view of Half Dome.

Half Dome in the distance.

Half Dome in the distance.

Another shot of Half Dome.

Another shot of Half Dome.

We didn’t realize at the time that this was the last we would see of Half Dome from this perspective, since fog would roll in over the next few days.

When we reached the valley floor we parked near Curry Village. We decided to wander through trails on the valley floor to reach the Mirror Lake Loop. The mosses were vibrant green. The sound of rushing water was all around us.

My hiking companion peers from behind a rock on a trail in the valley.

My hiking companion peers from behind a rock on a trail in the valley.

When we reached Mirror Lake we paused to savor the views. The lake was only partially full, so we were able to walk out to areas that will be underwater soon.

A sign tells us we are at Mirror Lake.

A sign tells us we are at Mirror Lake.

Thankfully there was enough water in Mirror Lake for us to see dramatic reflections of the ridges and peaks that lined the valley.

Mirror Lake living up to its reputation.

Mirror Lake living up to its reputation.

Yet another mirror shot from Mirror Lake (this one was later in the day).

Yet another mirror shot from Mirror Lake (this one was later in the day).

The enormous rock faces of the ridges were impressive. I especially enjoyed the trees that were ensconced in nooks, crannies, and seemingly impossibly harsh pockets. Trees are amazing.

The trees along the ridges.

The trees along the ridges.

Ridge trees in more detail.

Ridge trees in more detail.

As we wrapped around the far end of the Mirror Lake Loop I saw a deer close to the trail. It was close to us. I slowly pulled my camera up and took a few pictures, while the doe looked at me calmly. The picture below is not cropped, we were that close (it’s a bit blurry because it was taken in a dark part of the forest).

A mule deer doe glances at us.

A mule deer doe glances at us.

I glanced to the left, behind a tree, and saw the doe’s friend munching on foraged forest food. It was a nine-point buck, looking magnificent. He also was very calm, surveying us intently but showing no alarm. Once again, the photo below is not cropped.

A mule deer in Yosemite Park.

A mule deer in Yosemite Park.

We carried on down the trail. On the way back to the car I shot a picture of the backside of Half Dome. It is not as impressive as the front side. Ahwiyah Point is visible from this angle, though, so that adds interest.

A view of the backside of Half Dome and Ahwiyah Point.

A view of the backside of Half Dome and Ahwiyah Point on the left.

We stopped by Yosemite Lodge on the drive out of the park to scope out the facilities. It was fun to explore when the park was so quiet. During the day we went very long stretches of time without seeing anyone else. Even the lodge and main trails were quiet.

Yosemite National Park made a good first impression.

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Hiking the Little Falls Trail

Last year I looked up information on the Big Falls and Little Falls trails near Lake Lopez, but I did not hike them. Part of the reason for this was that I did not want to do stream crossings with my car. The crossings are required to reach both trailheads.

On Sunday afternoon Pam and I decided to go for a hike. Pam’s car is better suited for offroading than mine, so we decided to attempt to reach the Falls trailheads. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon. We drove through Arroyo Grande village, then past orchards and vineyards, and finally reached Lopez Lake.

As we drove toward the trailheads the road deteriorated to an unpaved state. We crossed some concrete culverts in the road, and for a moment we thought they might be the stream crossings. “My Sonata could handle this” I said. And then we found the stream.

We crossed the stream four times (in a manner that my Sonata could not handle). The fifth intersection with the stream caused us to pause. It was wider and deeper than the previous ones, and we were in a remote place with no cell phone reception. After some discussion we decided against making the crossing by car.

You Shall Not Pass. The stream crossing that stopped us.

You Shall Not Pass: The stream crossing that stopped us.

We proceeded on foot. After four more stream crossings we arrived at the Little Falls trailhead. By this time we realized we did not have time to walk all the way to the Big Falls trailhead (it was a few miles farther), so we decided to hike to Little Falls.

The Little Falls trailhead.

The Little Falls trailhead.

The trail was littered with branches. Some were from the recent storm. Other were just a testament to the remoteness of the trail. Large oak and sycamore trees create a canopy over the trail.

The Little Falls trail, with large trees overhead.

The Little Falls trail.

Early in the hike we encountered a California newt. It was moving along sluggishly. Deliberately placing one foot in front of the other. The little thing looked tired, drunk, or disoriented. I guess that’s just how newts go through life. I read about them after we got home–they are poisonous, so they do not need to fear most predators. Pretty cool.

A California newt by the Little Falls trail.

A California newt by the Little Falls trail.

About halfway to the falls we passed a sign informing us we were entering the Santa Lucia Wilderness. So we continued into the wild.

A sign for the Santa Lucia Wilderness.

A sign for the Santa Lucia Wilderness.

We stopped for a picture by the sign.

Little Falls was so little we almost missed it. A small side trail leads to the base of the falls, but it was thoroughly blocked by fallen trees, so we had to settle for a view from the main trail.

Little Falls, which lived up to its name.

Little Falls, which lived up to its name.

After reaching the falls we backtracked to the car.

On the drive back we stopped several times to get pictures.

A panorama from the drive out, with distant hills and a very blue sky.

A panorama from the drive out.

The sky was very blue. Clouds were plentiful.

A panorama of the sky and horizon

The sky was big and blue.

Blue sky with clouds, with a silhouette horizon containing a tree.

My favorite picture from the afternoon.

It’s great to have these trails and Lopez Lake so close to home. I’m sure we’ll be back. I still need to see Big Falls.

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