Yosemite and More May 31 – June 8, 2008 - Part 2
Part 1: Yosemite National Park; Kings Canyon National Park;
Part 2: Sequoia National Park; Cambria, CA and Monterey CA
Day 6 – Sequoia to Cambria
I woke up early, anxious to start the day exploring the lodge area and the Sequoia National Park. I wanted to walk around the Stewart Building to breathe in the fresh morning air, get some exercise and see if I could find any wildlife. I was surprised at how cold it was. There was frost on our car window, so I wrote the weather forecast.
Living in Florida, we don’t get to experience frost, so it was a reminder of previous life experiences. The walk was most enjoyable, but I only got to see one deer feeding at a distance. I walked down to the frost-covered lodge to get coffee and enjoy our brief time at the lovely facility before we had to leave.
After we loaded the car, I went down to the lobby again to check out. Some guests were talking about the different trails they had taken and were recommending the ones they took to each other. I wish I could have stayed another day to experience them myself. They did sound like nice trails. We drove a short distance to the Lodgepole Visitor Center. It was a really large nice facility, with a grocery store for campers to get supplies; and they were very helpful in giving us information on where to go for our short visit in the park.
As we drove to our first stop, the Giant Forest, I was thrilled to see giant sequoia trees all along the road. Previously we had only seen them in designated areas where there were groves. Sequoias were everywhere. I guess that is why it is named Sequoia National Park, but I just didn’t expect to see so many of them. Our first stop was at the Congress Trail. That is where the largest tree in the world, the General Sherman, lives. We took the short walk to the tree, passing other massive sequoias on the way. It is really difficult to take pictures of these trees because they are so big. I have an ultra wide-angle lens, but it was even a challenge using it at times to get the whole tree. As with the other groves we had been in, the grove had a walk through tree, but it went through the side of it rather than the core.
We came to a General Sherman viewing area, where we could get a view of the whole tree from a distance. It was quite large, but with all the giant trees in this grove, it was difficult to tell that it was that much different from this distance. On the trail to get an up close view of the General Sherman, we came across some deer wandering around and grazing. They certainly weren’t scared of humans.
Once we got to the General Sherman, we could see that it was indeed a giant among giants. Looking at the information placards, it showed that the General Grant we had seen the day before was actually wider with a 40-foot diameter compared to 36.5 for the General Sherman, but that this one had more total volume. Anyway you look at this tree, it is huge.
We spent some time walking in this grove, since we had decided that we had seen enough sequoia groves for one week and wouldn’t be stopping at any more of them during the rest of the trip.
One of the places I had planned on visiting in Sequoia was Moro Rock. The view from the top at a 6,725 ft. elevation is supposed to be quite a view of the Great Western Divide. I didn’t know if or how much of this rock I would climb, since there are 400 steps to the top, which is a rise of 300 feet in elevation. To get to the top, it would be like climbing a 30-story building. Not something I had any intention of trying to do. My plan before I saw it was to just walk up a little ways and get a few pics and come back to the car where Carol was waiting for me. She is the smarter member of this family. As I walked to the start of the steps, it didn’t look like it was that far to the top. Of course I couldn’t see the top. I walked up the first level and thought that it wasn’t too bad, so I would go up a bit further. The views from there were just marvelous. The snow covered mountains and deep valleys were just overwhelming.
I climbed a little further up. Once I would get to another stopping spot where I could take more pictures, it would seem like the next stop wasn’t that far away. I had to see if there was a different view further up. I kept going up and stopping for about 20 minutes. I finally decided that I had gone up probably two thirds of the way, and my common sense was starting to kick in. I really didn’t want to kill myself just to say I climbed Moro Rock. The steps were getting narrower and I was getting a bit nervous about the whole thing. I had seen more of the beauty visible from Moro Rock than most people do, so I was happy.
On my way down I saw a fellow about my age kneeling down and having difficulty breathing and catching his breath. I asked him if he was OK and he said he was fine; but he didn’t look fine. I told him that he had a very long climb ahead of him; and that he probably shouldn’t attempt it, especially if he was already having issues. Some other folks came up and also checked on him. I don’t know what he decided to do, but I hope common sense kicked in for him too. This is not an easy climb, but what I saw was very much worth the effort.
I came back and found Carol sitting under a pine tree reading. I told her about my adventure and we got back in the car to head for our next destination on the Pacific Coast. The road out of Sequoia National Park was another very curvy twisty road due to our dropping from over 6,000 ft. of elevation to under 1,000 ft. The views were quite beautiful. I particularly liked being able to look up at Moro Rock from the other side of it. It looks a lot bigger when climbing it. I can’t imagine what El Capitan must look like when the climbers are hanging on the edge of it. I get dizzy just thinking about it.
The drive to Cambria would take over four hours including a stop for lunch. It did take a long time twisting and turning to get down from the mountains. The road looked like a snake. We also ran into some long construction delays in the middle of the state where we just had to sit and wait. Most of the drive was through brown grass covered hills. There were very few trees or anything green for that matter, other than irrigated farms along the way. It was interesting at first, but became boring rather quickly. The closer we got to the coast; we started to see grape vineyards. From that point the drive became prettier and more interesting. We aren’t big wine drinkers, but this would be a paradise for wine aficionados. There were vineyards and wine tastings offered everywhere. We were in the northern portion of the Central Coast wine region.
As we got closer to Cambria, it got much prettier with lots more trees and we were back in civilization. We finally arrived at our hotel for the night, the Best Western Fireside Inn. http://www.bestwesternfiresideinn.com/ The hotel was in a lovely setting right on Moonstone Bay. The room was large and comfortable and we had a nice patio area, which made it very convenient to unload our luggage easily from the car straight into the room. I was anxious to look around the property and to walk over to the beach. The hotel and its grounds were just gorgeous with lots of flowers.
I crossed the street and took the boardwalk through the undergrowth to get the best views of the coastline. It was quite a contrast from the last five days' scenery. Living in Florida, we don’t see rocky coastlines, just nice sandy beaches. The dark rocks with the waves breaking on them were a sight for sore eyes after seeing miles of desolate hills for the last several hours. I loved all the wild flowers. Every few minutes a group of pelicans would fly by looking for their next meal. I was very happy with my hotel choice.
When we checked in, we asked about restaurants in the area. He strongly recommended one right down the road named The Sea Chest. http://www.seachestrestaurant.com/ He alerted us to take cash since they don’t take credit cards. Since we had eaten a late lunch, we decided to take a quick tour of Cambria before we headed over to the Sea Chest. We were very impressed with the quaint town. It would be a nice place to come back and spend a few days. There were many interesting buildings and places to explore.
We spotted an eye catching structure with the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse lens in it. It was a massive lens that had been on a lighthouse further up the coast that had been partially destroyed in 1949. The lens was relocated to Cambria to be put on display after it was replaced with a modern rotating aero beacon. It was right next to the old Cambria Jail House.
After a short tour we headed over to the Sea Chest. When we drove by before we took our drive into town, it was pretty crowded with people waiting to get inside. We lucked out and were able to be seated right away.
We had a great meal and the service was superb. It was an excellent recommendation. I had brought my camera with me in case dinner took a long time, so I could get pictures of the sunset. We had finished eating before the sun went down, so after we got back to the hotel I was able to go down to the boardwalk for pictures. Several people had the same idea. The sunset was nice, but since we had a cloudless sky, it didn’t have the varying colors and textures I was hoping for. But it was a lovely sunset anyway.
Day 7 –Cambria to Monterey
I woke up early and took a quick walk on the boardwalk. The tide was out, and it was still a lovely sight to behold. It looked like we were once again going to have great weather. Our main reason for spending the night in Cambria was to tour the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, which was only about six miles away. http://www.hearstcastle.com/ It was the home of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. We were scheduled for a 9:00 tour that I had booked online. That gave us time to be able to enjoy the Fireside Inn’s continental breakfast. It was very good. I really liked this hotel.
We checked out and took the short drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Simeon and turned into the Hearst Castle property entrance. We parked and went into the reception area. It was a large building and had a huge store. The store had everything one could imagine to put Hearst Castle images on. It was very difficult to keep from buying so many of the unique items they had, but logic prevailed.
We walked to the back of the reception building where there were several pay telescopes set up to look at the castle on top of the mountain. When I first looked up at the mountains, I couldn’t even see the castle. Finally, I saw something that didn’t look like trees on the top of a mountain. It looked quite small. I took a picture with my main lens zoomed in and I could see some of it. Then I put on my telephoto lens and got a much better view. It was really far away. I now understood why the bus ride was going to be five miles long.
Included in the ticket price is a ticket to see the movie, Hearst Castle Building the Dream. It is approximately 40 minutes and is shown every 45 minutes. I knew that since we had a 9:00 tour we would have had to wait until well after our tour ended to see the movie. Therefore, I had bought the DVD online at Amazon a couple of months before this trip, and we had been able to watch it at home. The movie was entertaining and provided some good information to know before seeing the castle. Buying the DVD saved us a lot of time and is a great souvenir.
Just before 9:00 AM, we boarded the bus that would take us on the five mile trip up the mountain. It was a very weavy and narrow road. It was quite obvious why visitors can’t drive up to the castle in their own cars. We unloaded; and our tour guide, Robert Latson, began telling us all about the Hearst Castle. Throughout the tour he told us fascinating stories about the construction and goings on in the Castle. He provided us with an excellent tour. When Carol mentioned to him that we had been in Yosemite, he told her that he goes there on vacation all the time. He said that he always stays at Wuksachi Lodge and was glad to know we had liked it, too.
The Hearst house and grounds have numerous statues and artwork that Mr. Hearst imported from all over the world. Rather than writing about different rooms, I will just put a lot of pictures with descriptions. I will say that the best-known part of the house is the incredibly beautiful Neptune Pool. Flash photography is not allowed anywhere on the property so it was difficult to get some of the interior pictures, and others I couldn’t get at all.
The following pictures are from the grounds around this marvelous house and the Neptune Pool.
The following pictures are from the guest house, Casa del Sol, and its grounds
The Casa Grande (main house) Billiard Room
Casa Grande Assembly Room
Casa Grande Morning Room
Casa Grande Refectory Dining Room
The indoor Roman Pool
We got back to the car around 11:00. Our plans were to go to a restaurant that had been recommended to us in Big Sur, so we needed to get on the road. The ride up the Pacific Coast Highway is known for its beauty. It was difficult not to stop at all of the turnouts, so I limited myself to just the ones that were marked as “Scenic Lookouts”. The first one we pulled over to was really nice. There were several elephant seals playing. It was the first time I had actually seen the species. Our Hearst tour guide, Robert, had mentioned that elephant seals were on one of the beaches north of San Simeon, but I didn’t know which one it was. We just lucked out stopping at this one. A black bird got jealous that I was paying all of my attention to the seals, so he landed very close to me. I felt compelled to take his photo also. We could also see the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse from this spot. This was the lighthouse where the lens we saw in Cambria came from.
We stopped at another spot where the view was great but the interesting thing was the large number of squirrels that were crawling all over the place. I’ve never seen squirrels that didn’t pay attention to humans. I had to watch where I walked to avoid stepping on them.
We were getting hungry and we still had a little way to drive till we got to Big Sur. I saw a gorgeous beach and just had to stop to get some photos. This coast is just so beautiful and calls to be photographed.
At last we had arrived at our lunch destination, the Nepenthe Restaurant. http://www.nepenthebigsur.com/ Several people at my office had raved about the restaurant and told me that we just had to go. We found a good parking space in the very active and crowded parking lot. Since the restaurant occupies the top floor of the building, we had a long walk and a lot of steps to climb to get to it. It was well worth the effort.
It was a big restaurant with lots of outside seating with a great view. It was very crowded and I was worried that we might have a long wait. There was a wait list for outside tables, but they had an inside table right by the window with a great view for us. In looking at the menu, we had to order the Sweet Potato Pecan Fritters with a mild curry and lime dipping sauce. Oh my gosh, were they good! We also ordered their Famous Ambrosia Burger. Also outstanding. It was a most enjoyable meal, but I was anxious to walk around the outside deck and check out the views from this great location high above the ocean.
In addition to the views, there were nice decorations. I particularly liked a piece of driftwood statue that looked like birds.
I wish we could have spent more time there, but we needed to get to Monterey and do some touring in that area. We took a last look and trekked down the stairs to the car. We headed back up the Pacific Coast Highway. I stopped at another turnout to try to capture some more of the coastal beauty. I couldn’t believe how strong the wind had become. It was difficult not to get knocked down by it while taking pictures. This stop happened to be right next to the longest bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway. I had seen a story about it on the National Geographic Channel. It was a major engineering feat and very difficult to construct.
We got to our Monterey hotel, Hotel Pacific, at around 3:30 PM. http://www.hotelpacific.com/ It is an unusually laid out design in the old Monterey adobe style. The interior is modern and very nicely appointed. Because of the layout we had to go through a couple of buildings to get to our room. We walked in the door and saw the huge room with a cathedral ceiling, couch, chairs, large flat screen TV and fireplace. This was some room, and there was also a small balcony that was very pleasant. The location was close to the downtown historic section and Fisherman’s Wharf. I was very pleased again with my hotel choice.
I took a quick walk around the hotel to get a lay of the land to see what was around us. The wind was very strong here also and it made for a chilly walk. The Monterey Conference Center was right across the street. It had an unusual but quite colorful mural on the wall. Also right next to the hotel was the Casa Soberanes, which is a historic house. I was most fascinated with the cactus that was in its front yard. It was quite unusual. Only a picture can adequately describe it.
I was also please to find that there was an MST free trolley stop at the hotel. It takes tourists to all the main locations. Since it stops running at 7:00 PM, we wouldn’t be able to use it tonight to go to Cannery Row for some touring and dinner.
The last time that Carol and I were in Monterey was when we were on our honeymoon in San Francisco. Since we had already seen the wonderful aquarium and other tourist attractions in the area, we didn’t have any places that we “had” to visit. We drove down to Cannery Row to find a restaurant for later tonight and saw a crystal store called the Crystal Fox. http://www.crystal-fox.com/ We love glass objects and can’t pass up an opportunity to walk through a glass store. This was a very nice one, and Carol and I both found a couple of objects we couldn’t live without. It was the only buying indulgence we had for this trip. All of the things we had bought during the week were inexpensive souvenirs. We drove around some more and headed to the wharf and downtown area to see where we could go tomorrow to tour, since it was a bit early for dinner.
We had been craving Mexican food and decided to go to the El Torito Restaurant at Cannery Row. The setting with it hanging out over the rocks along the ocean was quite picturesque. The parking in this area was horrendous, but we lucked out and found a spot just about the time I had given up hope. Thank goodness, because we didn’t want to have to walk too far in the cold wind blasts. The view from the restaurant was very nice and the meal was outstanding. We headed back to the hotel and relaxed before our last day of vacation.
Day 8 –Monterey to San Francisco
The Hotel Pacific had a very nice continental buffet for breakfast. While Carol was packing for our drive to San Francisco and catching up on her reading, I decided to walk around the area a bit and get some photos. I was thrilled to find out that the wind had finally stopped. It had been howling when I woke up during the night. The historic area was just a few blocks away. There were so many beautiful flowers along the way as well as other interesting sights. I walked out onto Fisherman’s Wharf to see if it was something that Carol would be interested in visiting. When I got up in the morning, I had heard what sounded like seals barking. I found where those sounds were coming from. This seemed to be the main seal meeting place. They were a noisy crew.
When I got back to the hotel, Carol was packed and ready to leave. We loaded up the car and checked out. We asked if we could leave the car in the parking lot for a few hours while we took the MST tram around town. I could tell that trying to find a parking spot in Monterey would have been a challenge. They said it would be fine and we headed on our way. We hopped on the tram and went to the Monterey Maritime and History Museum. The main attraction was the historic Fresnel lens from the Point Sur Light station with 580 glass prisms. There was also as a nice assortment of other maritime memorabilia. I also took Carol over to Fisherman's Wharf to see the seals.
We then visited the Old Custom House, which is now a museum, before walking out onto Fisherman’s Wharf. The seals were still carrying on, which thrilled Carol. We are both fond of seals, probably because we were fascinated with them during our honeymoon in San Francisco.
For our last touring we wanted to go back to Cannery Row. We hopped on the tram and picked a stop in the middle of the tourist action. It was a lot more pleasant today with a normal wind level and beautiful blue skies. Since it was Saturday, there were lots of locals and tourists walking around enjoying the area. It was such a beautiful area with so many flowers blooming; as well as the rocky beach. We also had a great view of El Torito, where we had dinner the night before. There were so many different and interesting restaurants, bars and shops to look at. We checked out some of them and enjoyed the beauty of the area. It is a great place to chill.
We decided to have lunch there before getting on the road. We spotted the Bubba Gump Restaurant & Market. http://www.bubbagump.com/ It was a fun restaurant with a nice view of the ocean and very good food.
We caught the tram back to the hotel and headed for San Francisco. It wasn’t a long trip to our San Francisco hotel, so we weren’t in a rush. Not too far out of Monterey, we saw some hang-gliders out over the beach. When we saw some more farther down the road near a park, we decided to stop and watch them. Many years ago I was going to try to hang-glide, but the wind wasn’t right that day. I never did try it, but have always been fascinated by it. There were several people riding the wind currents and flying back and forth along the beach. This seemed to be a great way to hang-glide. Quite a bit easier than climbing a hill and waiting for a breeze.
We finally got back on the road and drove to our final destination, the San Francisco Airport Double Tree Hotel. Thank goodness we had the GPS. The traffic was so heavy it was not possible to be able to move over to the exit lane where we were supposed to get off; but the GPS did a wonderful job of rerouting us. Having seen how difficult and time consuming it was to get from the terminal to the rental car center when we had arrived eight days ago, I didn’t want to have to do it again at 4:30 AM. We had a 6:10 AM flight and wouldn’t be getting much sleep. We had decided to turn in the rental car that afternoon rather than in the morning and let the hotel airport shuttle take us directly to the terminal. That idea worked just beautifully, and saved me a lot of aggravation.
It was very difficult to get up at 4:00 AM, but it did get us back to our normal Eastern Time Zone schedule, since it was 7:00 AM on Florida time. I was so glad I had taken the rental car back early. This was a much easier way to end a vacation. And it was indeed over.
This was a wonderful trip in so many ways. We drove over 1,100 miles, but most of it was through incredibly beautiful scenery. It was exciting, relaxing and just a sensory overload of so much beauty. We have traveled all over the world, but some of the most beautiful places on Earth are right here in our own country. It is easy to understand why so many tourists flock here from overseas. When it comes to natural beauty the USA has it all and in every form.
Below is a link to the Shutterfly albums with other photos from the vacations:
Photographic Equipment Used in Review:
Canon 40D digital SLR camera
Canon 17-85 IS lens
Canon 10-22 ultra-wide lens
Canon 70-300 IS telephoto lens