A Day in San Diego

First things first, this is one of those “reality of travel” kinds of posts. I wish I could say that San Diego was all we cracked it up to be, but it wasn’t for us. Traffic, parking, crowds, expense – it was all too much. We did spend the day in the city, wandering around Balboa Park and exploring the tide pools at Cabrillo National Monument – both of which were pleasant. We visited the San Diego Natural History Museum (also known as “The Nat”) and purchased extra tickets for the Maya Exhibition. The Nat is highly rated on TripAdvisor, so I was sure that it would blow our socks off. I don’t feel that we got our money’s worth – $56 for two tickets. We couldn’t help compare it to the Smithsonian in DC or NYC’s incredible American Museum of Natural History.

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the shores at cabrillo national monument

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skulls exhibit at the NAT

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our birthdays, according to the mayan calendar

After a ho-hum day, we were ready to head out of the crowds and back to the road. Several more frustrating days, including a nerve-wracking car break in,  led us to abandon our initial plan to drive the California coast to Big Sur and beyond. We were high-tailing it to Oregon and couldn’t be happier!

R&R in Monterey

We drove from the High Sierra to the coast in just a few hours. Watching the landscape change dramatically as we descended was the perfect way to pass time on the short drive. As soon as we caught the first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, we stopped for a walk on the beach. Check out the cows on the beach in the second photo down. Maybe happy cows really do come from California?!

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We camped for a night in beautiful Big Sur. Big Sur is a laid back kind of place that just oozes with that California feel that we were looking for. This was one place that was recommended to us many times when talking to other travelers. The Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park was a great place to spend the night. It was pretty pricey for a tent site at $35 per night. During our first night there (we planned to stay three), an unidentified animal managed to gnaw through the side of our tent! That was enough to make me check out early, folks.

hello, lover! Hyatt Regency Monterey Bay

The change in location turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we scored a great Hotwire deal on the Hyatt for just $80 a night. It ended up being a perfect place to just relax and explore the seaside towns of Monterey and Pacific Grove. The hotel was pure luxury…ahhh! We spent our time there in the cute shops and restaurants and on the beach.

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20130627-225715.jpgOne of my favorite experiences in Monterey was eating at an amazing Mexican spot called Mi Tierra. We pulled up to the place after putting it into the GPS and discovered it was actually in a Mexican grocery store. Talk about authentic! The food was amazing – some of the best we had on the entire trip! They even had Mexican Cokes in glass bottles. Delicious.

Up next, a mini post for a mini excursion in San Francisco.

Muir’s Paradise – Yosemite National Park

John Muir walked the Yosemite Valley and wrote about its wonders so many years ago, and its beauty will still take your breath away. As you emerge from the tunnel, it is suddenly just there. Half dome, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and the Valley sprawl out over the landscape.

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We made the short walk up to Bridalveil Falls and then Yosemite Falls. Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America!

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I had such high hopes for Yosemite, but it sort of missed the mark for me. It pains me to say that, because this was one park that I was really looking forward to visiting. The problem was that we happened to be in Yosemite on a beautiful Saturday in June. So was every other person on earth, it seemed. The beauty of the park is unparalleled, but there was a huge problem with traffic flow and the management of visitors. Many visitors were climbing on the falls, yelling to one another, wrangling rowdy children and dogs… having to share my time at Yosemite with these rude tourists who didn’t seem to appreciate the beauty of the park put a damper on the whole experience.

After Yosemite, we headed west to the coast for some of the most breathtaking scenery yet!

Walking in the Shade of Giants

Sequoia National Park was one of those places that just exceeded my expectations in every way. We planned on camping there, but had to change our minds after reading too many things on the Internet about bears in the park. Now, I know that a black bear won’t hurt me, but I don’t want it breaking into my car for a gum wrapper. Apparently this happens often in Sequoia and Kings Canyon due to the lack of attention paid to regulations by other park goers. You can read alllll about the bear issue here or here. I totally freaked myself out. I can also contribute this unreasonable fear of bears to the summer of 2001 when I read Mark of the Grizzly while visiting Yellowstone. I’ll never get over that book!

We entered the park on a winding road after passing through countless citrus orchards along the way. As the road crisscrossed the mountainsides, the landscape started to change from dry valleys to shrubby riverbanks, and finally into a dense forest.

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You wonder along the way where the big trees are and then suddenly one pops up and overwhelms you. Imagine the biggest tree you’ve ever seen and then make it even bigger. Clint and I couldn’t hold in our gasps of excitement as we continued deeper into the Giant Forest. It honestly felt like we were tiny people in some kind of magic woods. Think Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, maybe?!

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The feeling of smallness as you realize that these trees stood in this exact spot when Cleopatra ruled over Egypt, Jesus walked the earth, and John Muir explored these same forests is unbelievable. They will stand there still when my great great grandchildren live and die.

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On the way out of the park, we were lucky enough to spot a bear ambling along in the woods! I’ll be honest, he looked kind of cute and not at all like he would rip my tent apart.

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We loved our experience in Sequoia- in fact, it’s tied with Arches for our favorite so far! Next up, Yosemite!

California Dreaming

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After Las Vegas, we were ready to get back on that open road. We have discovered that we are more about the journey than the destination. We are finding ourselves looking forward to those long drives across the flat plains and deserts of the west. Who knew?

Reaching the California state line was a huge milestone, as neither Clint nor I had visited Cali before this trip. It was also state #10 on our journey!20130617-181335.jpg

Clint used this time to do a little check up on the Malibu, our faithful steed. As of now,wee have put 4,500 miles on the car, which had 172,000 when we left! Our parents were nervous about taking such a long trip in my well-worn car, but I have to say that she is doing just fine!

20130617-181615.jpgAs soon as we got back on the road, we entered the Mojave desert. I had to snap a few photos of these gorgeous Joshua trees.

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Our first California destination was Sequoia National Park, which gives Arches a run for its money on my favorites list so far! Until next time.