Saturday, March 26, 2011

Snow Shoes & Sacramento

So, obviously, we are home, now... back in NYC in the freezing cold winter weather! I am so ready for some spring weather! This winter seems to be dragging on and on. Hopefully its going to come to an end really soon!!

I have a couple of more posts to finish out this vacation, so although, we are home and you are not going to be getting real time updates, I am going to try to finish up the summary of our vacation so that it is all properly recorded. I had actually written out most of this post while we were still on the trip, but I am just now getting around to posting it and uploading the pictures that go along with it.

This is a picture of Jonah in the lobby of the lodge. He loved these wooden bears. He would put an arm around each of them and shout "goup uggh!" (Group hug!) So sweet!
(I meant to post this picture earlier and forgot to, so its really an add to the post from day 2 at Yosemite).

Saturday, March 19th
We woke up to about a foot of snow in Yosemite on Saturday morning. Yup. 12 inches. It was gorgeous. Snow is always beautiful, but snow in Yosemite National Park with the huge pine trees, cedar trees, and the mountains… it is just a whole new level of beauty if you ask me.

Mark headed out as soon as we woke up to get some pictures of the freshly fallen snow. Of course, he also had the motivation of going up to the lodge to get us some breakfast and coffee, but along the way, he did capture some beautiful pictures.
I had plans to go up to the lodge when he got back to go into the gym there and run on the treadmill. Mark had a better idea for me and convinced me it was a good one. I’m definitely glad I followed his suggestion. The lodge has snow shoes you can rent by the hour, so I ended up renting some snow shoes and hiking back through the woods behind the lodge for about an hour. It was great; a very unique experience, and much more out of the ordinary than a run on the treadmill, not too shabby of a workout either. The snow shoes kind of feel like big flip flops on your feet. You strap them to your shoes or boots and your heels are not attached to the snow shoe, so they kind of have the motion of a flip flop. With the snow shoes on, you still sink down an inch or two into the snow, so it’s not totally like you are walking on top of the snow. During my walk/hike, I saw various track prints of animals, probably some coyote and deer. I also am relatively certain that I saw bear tracks. I tried to take pictures of them, but it is really hard to tell what they are in the picture. I’m pretty glad that I did not see an actual bear. If I had, I’m sure I would’ve totally freaked out – exactly what you are not supposed to do.

The rack of snow shoes for rent

This is the path I walked down with my snow shoes on... beautiful, huh?

There wasn't really anyone else out on this path, so I layed down in the snow so I could take a picture of my snow shoes in the snow :)

Here I am laying down in the snow. At one point, I got thirsty on my hike/walk, so I ate some of the untouched snow.... hadn't done that in a good 15 years, kind of made me feel like a kid again.

scenery on my hike

Had to get a picture holding my snow shoes

Tenaya Lodge also offers sleigh rides. If we had planned ahead a little better and known for sure that we were going to get all of that snow, we definitely would’ve taken Jonah on one of these rides. While I was out on the trail behind the lodge, one of the sleighs went by… it looked like so much fun!!! I snapped a few pictures as it went by (as I secretly wished I was on the ride instead of in the snow shoes)

The beautiful horses pulling the sleigh

After my hike, I went back to our cabin to find Mark cheering on the UK Wildcats. Luckily, they pulled out a win over West Virginia. This means that they will be playing their next game on Friday in Newark, NJ. Mark is already trying to figure out a way to get to the game!

We had a great time in Yosemite and I already want to go back. I want to live there actually. They have a clinic inside of the park…. I’m pretty sure they have an opening for a Nurse Practitioner :)…. Maybe in my next life.

So, after watching the Wildcats pull off a victory, we quickly finished packing up and headed out for Sacramento to meet up with our friends Jenny and Jeremy. Jenny is my dear friend who I met in graduate school at Ohio State. I was so very excited to get to see her! Initially, we thought we might have to get chains for our tires to get down the mountain, out of Yosemite area, but fortunately we had waited long enough and the roads were basically completely cleared. We heared a few days later that Yosemite contined to get snow, got like 4 feet total, and all of the visitors inside of Yosemite had to be evacuated out of the area. Glad we got out when we did! (Although, that would have been kind of cool to see 4 feet of snow fall in such a short amount of time).

The drive to Sacramento went by quickly. It was about a 4 hour drive. A lot of people have made comments about all the driving we did. It really wasn't that bad. Jonah did so great. He didn't seem to mind all the driving either. I think partially, especially for me and Mark all the driving was pretty enjoyable since we don't have a car or drive that much.

We met Jenny and Jeremy at the state capitol building in Sacramento. It is a beautiful building. It was really interesting to walk around in the building and see the rooms where the legislative bodies meet. Jonah seemed to enjoy being in such a big building and being able to run around in some open spaces. We also saw the giant bronze grizzly bear that Govenor Arnold Schwarzenegger had put in front of the public entrance to the govenor's office while he was in office. Jonah really liked the giant bear (as you can see!)

The beautiful state capitol building in Sacramento

Jonah kissing the grizzly bear.... glad its a bronze one

All of us with the Grizzly

Jonah standing on the steps of the CA state capitol buliding

After visiting the state capitol building Jenny took us by the hospital she works at. I wanted to see where she works and learn more about her position. It was really interesting to me to see the hospital and learn a little bit more about her daily life. I am always interested in seeing hospitals and learning about them. I always have Mark drive me by the hospitals in the cities we go to.... I guess that's the nerdy nurse coming out in me. After visiting Jenny's work, we went to dinner at a favorite local resturant (of Jenny and Jeremy's) and then we got some coffee and dessert. We tried to go to Old Sacramento, but it was getting really late and it was raining, so we decided just to drive by rather than get out and walk around.
We had a great afternoon and evening with our friends! We then went back to their house in Davis, CA and spent some more time with them before we all crashed for the evening.

My last post about our vacation will be about what we did the next day... we spent the day in San Francisco with Jenny and Jeremy... it was another great day!! I'll blog about it as soon as I can!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pinecones and Sequoias

Friday, March 18th - Day 2 at Yosemite National Park

Friday morning we went into the lodge restaurant for breakfast. That was my first time to see the inside of the lodge. It was beautiful. It is just what you picture when you think of a mountain or ski lodge. It had a huge stone fireplace and various wild game mounted on the wall. Around the fireplace were nice big comfy couches and chairs to lounge in. The restaurant had a nice breakfast buffet, which we took advantage of.

Main entrance of Tenaya Lodge

Fireplace in lobby of Lodge

After breakfast, we looked around the lodge a little bit and then headed back to our cabin to get ready to hike up to the Giant Sequoias inside the park. In the summer, you can drive your car up close to the sequoias and then ride a little tram around to see all of the famous trees, but this time of year, the road is closed. So, in order to see the giant sequoias, you have to walk up that road. It didn’t make much sense that the road was closed because it was totally cleared off. We were even able to take our Bob stroller and push Jonah up the road rather than having Mark carry him in the hiking back pack. This road was entirely uphill for about 1500 feet of elevation change, about 3.1 miles total. I had the ‘great’ idea to try to run up this hill….. yea, we didn’t make it very far running. We ran in spurts to get some exercise in and to also save a little time. Overall, we mostly walked but it was still a work out. You really can tell a difference when you are exercising at an elevation of 5,000 feet.

The Giant Sequoias were just that. Giant. They were incredible. SO big and so tall. I guess it’s not something that can fully be understood until you are right there standing beside them. It got colder as we went up in elevation and there was more and more snow. We had Jonah bundled up in his snow suit, but he was still saying he was cold when he got out of his ‘BundleMe’ in his stroller. Once he got out though, he did enjoy the trees, especially the ones he called ‘Nunnel Tees!’ (tunnel trees). These were the ones with a whole in the base where you could walk through. There were one or two that had these tunnels in them.

Jonah getting ready to go on our walk up to the Sequoias. This is in our little cabin.. we had our own little fireplace in there too!!

Entering Mariposa Grove

This picture is just funny -- Jonah looks like he is about to fall over, he was stuck down in there though, we had to help him get out!!

Me next to one of the Giant Sequoias.. they're HUGE, aren't they!?!

Mark and Jonah underneath 'Clothespin'; looking up at the tree.

Now you can see why this tree is named 'Clothespin'

That's me and Jonah (in the stroller) back in between the trees... kind of gives you an idea of just how big these trees are! GIANT!

Jonah under the 'Nunnel Tee'

This one was named 'Fallen Monarch' it was so enormous!

While we were up in the Mariposa grove, the area of the Giant Sequoias, I was in search of large pine cones. I had seen giant pine cones in the gift shop (for $15 each) at Tenaya Lodge, so I figured there had to be some in Mariposa Grove. Mark spotted one first and I was thrilled. Not sure why, but I really wanted to find one. After Mark initially found one for me, I found 2 others, one of which was larger and in better condition than the one Mark initially found, so that is the one I decided to keep. I have no idea what I am going to do with this giant pine cone now, but it is giant and makes a good (free) souvenir. :) I’ve just got to figure out how to get it home in one piece.

My giant pinecone...I did make it home with it all in one piece... now to figure out what I am going to do with it.

On the 3+mile walk back down from Mariposa grove, Jonah fell asleep. He slept all the way down, so that ended up being a pretty decent nap for him. We went back to Tenaya lodge, grabbed some lunch and just hung out in our little cabin for a while. Later in the afternoon, we went to the indoor pool and hot tub. Jonah had a blast. While we were in the hot tub, it started snowing…… and it didn’t stop until Saturday morning (more about that later).

Friday night we went back up to the lodge restaurant for dinner. We then looked around in the lodge’s gift store, got some hot chocolate and just relaxed in the lobby of the lodge (well, relaxed as much as possible with a 2 year old running around). It was a really good day. The Giant Sequoias make it up to the top of my list of things we’ve gotten to see/do on this trip.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Tunnel with a view

Thursday, March 17

We left Ridgecrest, CA early on Thursday morning and set out for the drive to Yosemite National Park. This would be our longest stretch of driving yet, about 5 hours. It actually went by really fast and Jonah did great. It really helps that we have a portable DVD player in the car. I don’t know how my parents survived without one. It’s really the greatest thing. Jonah watches various DVD’s, such as, Thomas the Tank Engine, Elmo or Sesame Street, and Word World. So, for the most part, the DVD’s keep Jonah entertained. We also have some books that he looks through or I read to him. We have his travel sized Doodle Pro which entertains him for quite a while as well. We also listened to some of Jonah’s CD’s, you know kid appropriate music that he likes, mainly the CD’s we’ve gotten from his Music For Aadvarks classes.
During the drive to Yosemite, we had to cross over the lower part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was a very scenic drive. We saw several signs warning us of potential wildlife crossings for wild cows or bulls and even wild horses. I was keeping my eyes peeled for some wild horses, but we never saw any, unfortunately. Towards the end of this drive, as we got closer and closer to Yosemite National Park the roads got more curvy and more mountainous.

We arrived to Yosemite National Park in the early afternoon. The weather on Thursday was nice. It was in the mid 50’s, so we headed down to Yosemite valley to see some things and do some hiking. Along the way, right beside the road, we saw a coyote. It was just chillin’ beside the road. I was literally about 10 feet from it in the car with my window rolled down taking a picture. I guess maybe the wildlife is somewhat used to visitors? It didn’t act like it was bothered by us at all.

Our coyote friend

Our first stop in Yosemite was Tunnel View. It is called Tunnel View because you drive through a tunnel, approximately ½ mile long, when you come out of the other side of the tunnel, you have a view, and when I say a view, I mean an AMAZING view. I really cannot put into words how beautiful this was. Just gorgeous. This view included El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, and Yosemite Falls. Jonah was asleep in the car at this point, so Mark and I alternated getting out and looking at the view.

Tunnel View

Next up was getting a closer view of Bridalveil Falls. Jonah was still asleep in the car, so Mark and I alternated again to go out and see these falls. It was a one half mile (round trip) hike, so it took each of us like 10-15 minutes to go see it. It was a pretty amazing view too, you were basically right at the base of the falls and could feel the mist of the falls hitting you.

Bridalveil Falls

After Bridalveil falls, we went down to Yosemite Visitor’s Center to look around at the museum and to get some more information on the hikes that we could do in Yosemite. Since Yosemite is at a much higher elevation, some of the trails are still not passable this time of year due to snow and ice. Once again, Jonah loved the little museum… it had several stuffed, real animals and also had a model of one of the giant sequoia’s with a little tunnel he could walk through, so of course, he did that over and over. Mark was able to find out about a hike we could do, which would be about 3 miles round trip, and was safe and passable this time of year. The hike was to Upper Yosemite Falls.
This was definitely the most challenging hike we have done this whole trip. We gained 1500 feet during this hike, so it was strenuous. I do not know how Mark did it with an additional 40lbs + on his back. It was basically zig-zagging up a mountain, climbing over rocks and crossing over small water falls. About 1000 feet up the hike was Columbia Rock. I climbed down below Columbia Rock and Mark was able to take my picture as I stood out on the rock. Even Mark got a little nervous when I was climbing out there… usually it’s the other way around :)

Jonah playing around at the visitor's center

Mark and Jonah on the hike to Yosemite Falls

Me on the way up to Yosemite Falls

View on the way to Yosemite Falls

Upper Yosemite Falls

Not the greatest picture of the 3 of us, but I love how Jonah is giving a cheesy grin

Lower Yosemite Falls

view of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls together
Although the hike was strenuous, it was well worth it. The view at the top was amazing. We could look up at Upper Yosemite Falls and look down at Lower Yosemite Falls. This water fall is technically the highest waterfall in America. It’s kind of cheating though because they add the distance of the two falls together. Its technically one waterfall since it’s all in the same stream of water. Mark felt somewhat hurried to turn around and get back down the mountain because he was worried about it getting dark. We hadn’t started the hike until about 4pm, so he did not want us to get stuck coming down the mountain in the dark. Going down the mountain went by a lot more quickly than going up and we made it down before it got dark.

For dinner we stayed down in the valley and ate at a restaurant in Yosemite Lodge. We then headed back up the mountain to exit the park and go to our hotel. The drive back up the mountain at night made this Momma a bit nervous. It was very dark and the roads were very curvy. We also saw 2 more coyote running alongside the road. We made it though… and checked into our hotel, the Tenaya Lodge. This hotel/resort has a big lodge where you can stay and also has individual cabins. We chose an individual cabin. Each has its pros and cons obviously, but overall we were happy with our choice. Our little cabin had a fireplace, which we especially enjoyed. Once we got our stuff in and settled it was pretty much time to hit the hay… we were tired from that hike!!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Be Cawefuu Daddy!"

You know the $1 section at Target? Well, Jonah loves rummaging through that section of stuff. Most of it is junk, and thankfully most of it is not breakable, so its ok to let him rumage through it. Occasionally, you can happen upon something good in there!!

As we left Vegas and headed for Death Valley, we stopped by Target to get a few things we needed. Jonah was quickly distracted by the $1 isles. He found a selection of Elmo and Sesame Street themed books. One of the books he found was entitled, "Be Careful Abby!". It quickly became apparent that we would not be leaving Target without this book and another book with Cookie Monster's picture on the front of it. "Be Careful Abby" talks about times when Abby should be careful (pretty obvious, I know). So, we read that book a couple of times on our ride down to Death Valley. He is really into Abby and Elmo... well, really all of the other characters on Sesame Street too for that matter. He really enjoyed these two $1 finds. It also became apparent that Jonah was really listening and understanding when I read "Be Careful Abby" to him.

We were on our hike of the Mosaic Canyon in Death valley and as we were climbing over rocks, Jonah exclaimed, "Be cawefuu Daddy! (be careful daddy). It was so cute! Throughout the hike, at various times, he would say this to either me or Mark as we hiked and climbed along. I guess a combination of reading that book and a nervous Mommy who had probably been saying a similar phrase somewhat frequently (to Mark) on previous hikes had an influence on Jonah.

Friday, March 18, 2011

282 Feet Below Sea Level

Wednesday, March 16th

Wednesday morning we packed up and left Vegas headed for Death Valley, CA. It was about a 2 1/2 hour drive. We were in the middle of nowhere! Really... there was nothing for most of the drive. Pretty refreshing... just wide open spaces.

We stopped to take a picture as we entered California. It was also in the middle of nowhere. It did not look like what most people think of when you think of California.

Entering California, the 22nd state Jonah has visited!!!

Once we arrived in Death Valley National Park, we drove up to Dante's view. This viewpoint is over 5,000 ft in elevation. It was about 62 degrees up there and really windy. It was cold. Jonah and I didn't last too long outside of the car. The view was spectacular and unique... like nothing I've ever seen before. Looking down into Death Valley, it looked like you were looking at snow or water, but it was minerals that have arisen out of the soil and have not been able to make it out to the ocean because the land is so dry (no water to wash it out to the ocean). These minerals are referred to as the salts. Along the drive up to Dante's view, we saw several bikers. Not people on motorcycles, but people manually pedaling their way up to Dante's view. WOW. This was impressive. It was uphill for like 4,000 plus feet. No doubt, these people must be serious bikers, training for something or just wanting to stay in excellent shape.

Looking out at Dante's view

Dante's view

After Dante's view, we drove to another view point called Zabriskie point. At this view point, you could see different layers and colors in the sand. It was very pretty and again something unique, never had seen anything quite like this before. Mark walked way out on one of the hills with Jonah. It looks much more dangerous in the picture than it actually was. It was a gradual decline.

Jonah and Daddy at Zabriskie's point

Jonah and Mommy at Zabriskie's point

Mark and Jonah way out on one of the hills at Zabriskie's point

From Zabriskie point, we stopped by the Visitor's center for (a less than mediocre) lunch at a a buffet, looked around at the Information center and browsed through the gift shop. After this pit stop, we drove down to an area called Badwater, which is the lowest point in the western hemisphere, 282 feet below sea level. In the picture, you will see, it looks like you could walk out and be in the ocean. Again, this is the formation of the minerals on the dry land. Down in this area, the badwater area, it was 93 degrees, so that was a change in temperature of over 30 degrees!! This area was named Badwater by one of the travelers that passed through Death Valley during the goldrush in California. He tried to get his donkey to drink some water in the area and because of the strong taste of all the minerals in the water, the man's donkey would not drink the water, so the man referred to the area as Badwater.

Jonah standing in front of an old locomotive that was at the Visitor's Center at Death Valley.

The 3 of us at Badwater Basin

Jonah loved 'reading' the signs... he would trace each letter with his fingers and say the letter outloud.

View looking out at Badwater Basin

We also did 2 hikes while we were in Death Valley. The first was called Natural Bridge. It was a short hike, only took about 30 minutes... it was hot though!! Jonah really enjoyed drinking from the camelbak that we used to carry our water in. Every few minutes he says, "more wawa pease!" (more water please). If we stopped to give him water every time he asked for it, we'd be stopping every 2 minutes and we'd have a water logged boy. At Natural Bridge, Mark was able to climb up pretty high on the rocks. Jonah kept asking to go up with him, which of course did not happen, but Mark helped him climb around a little on some lower rocks and I got a picture of him sitting up on one of the rocks. He thought he was big stuff ! :)

One of Jonah's many drinks from the camelbak (I realize he looks like he is about to have a heat stroke here, but don't worry, this is not an accurate representation of how he felt -- its just the only picture I took of him drinking from the camelbak

Mark climbed way up high on the rocks

Jonah sitting up on the rocks that Daddy helped him climb

Mark and Jonah standing in front of Natural Bridge

The second hike we did was called Mosaic Canyon. This was a more unique hike and it was mostly shaded, so that was nice. The canyon has been created by water flowing through. The rock was very smooth. You still have to be careful when hiking here if there is a chance of rain, flash flooding can be an issue. During this hike, we let Jonah out of the backpack and he had a great time, running around playing with the rocks and being a boy!

Jonah playing around in the rocks on a hike through Mosaic Canyon

Off the beaten path in Mosaic Canyon

A picture of me from Mark's viewpoint in the picture above

The 3 of us at a larger part of Mosaic Canyon

Me down in Mosaic Canyon, while Mark took the picture from above

Mark and Jonah in Mosaic Canyon

We wore him out!!

That pretty much wraps up our day in Death Valley. We headed out of the park to go to our hotel for the night in Ridgecrest, CA. This drive took about 3 hours and was amazing. Again, we were in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We didn't see anything for a majority of that drive. We were in the mountains on some crazy roads. We had a view of the Sierra Nevada mountains as the sun was going down and it was beautiful.

Sun setting as we drove out of Death Valley