Sunday, September 30, 2012

Back Home

While going on vacation is always great, coming home is always better. We REALLY enjoyed seeing David and Yeh but Allyson was the center of attention. She is a sweetie and enjoyed hanging out with us. As usual, neither of us slept well the night before our return flight home. Mary awoke at 11:30 and I woke at 12:30. We only dozed off and on until 3 am and we decided to leave. We had no trouble getting to the Enterprise drop-off point and leaving the car. The shuttle arrived quickly and took us to the United terminal. As we feared, the bag check was very slow despite the fact that we had checked in and paid for our bag on line as well as printing our boarding passes. We got through security fairly quickly and had no problem making it to the gate well in time for our 6 am flight. The jet from Sacramento to Chicago-O’Hare was a Airbus A320 which has a lot of legroom and is a comfortable aircraft. A couple of rows behind us was a family with a two year old and infant both of whom screamed most of the flight. Thank goodness for noise cancelling headphones. We each had a scrawny but expensive ham and cheese breakfast sandwich on the flight then napped whenever possible. We had enough time to make the connection in Chicago after having to change concourses. We didn’t have enough time to get lunch so we ate the rice cakes and nuts that Mary had packed. The flight from Chicago to Charleston was on a small jet but was only an hour long. We stopped off for some groceries and arrived home in time to change the oil in the van and do some laundry. The rest of the evening was spent getting ready for the week ahead. Adjusting back to Eastern Time will be difficult as will getting back into a work schedule. I could get used to being on vacation!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Places we visited on our vacation

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Getting ready to return home

As usual, we were up early this morning.  After everyone got up, Yeh made a breakfast of pancakes which were very good.  We loafed and chatted most of the morning taking a little time to clean the rental car out a little and getting things together to pack for home.

We went for a late lunch at Oz Korean Barbecue which was very good.  There is a small gas fired grill in the middle of the table.  The waitress brings a variety of raw meats and vegetables that you can grill to taste and share at the table.  We had two kinds of marinated beef, spiced pork and marinated chicken.  We also had broccoli, salad, preserved bean sprouts, kim chee, mushrooms, peppers, onions and garlic.  There was also steamed rice and a variety of sauces.  We all ate a lot and the meal was very good.  I did a little better using chop sticks this time.  I suspect that it is because the meat was in chucks that I could pick up with them.

After lunch, I went out geocaching for a couple of hours.  There is a series of over 50 geocaches about 7 mikles away.  Each cache is about 600 feet from the others.  The density of geocaches in the area enabled me to visit 40 geocaches within less than three hours.  It was nice to get out geocaching in the afternoon while Mary visited with Allyson and did some packing for our return trip.

Since we leave before 6 am, we will leave in the morning around 4 am so we will have time to return the car to Enterprise and catch the shuttle to the terminal.  We change flights in Chicago O’Hare and are expected to return to Charleston, West Virginia by 4 pm.

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Friday, September 28, 2012

King's Canyon & Sequoia National Park

Mary with General Sherman, one of the oldest living
things on Earth (Mary is the one in the green shirt).
Since we were up early, we left the Days Inn Fresno around 7 am and drove east into the King’s Canyon/Sequoia National Park.  We arrived at the park entrance a little after 8 am and drove around the King’s Canyon area looking at the attractions there.  We took a half mile hike up the Panorama Point area that gives views of the Sierra Nevada range and the King’s Canyon.  A couple of nosey deer came over to investigate us and since we appeared harmless, wandered off.  An area of the park was a grove of giant sequoias called Grant’s Grove that includes a huge tree called General Grant.  We saw far fewer tourists than yesterday, probably because these parks do not have the name recognition of Yosemite.  Almost all the visitors we saw were from outside the US.  Many were from Eastern Europe but a fair number were from England.  We saw a lot of people from Poland, Germany and Holland.

We always laugh at the way Americans dress for a visit to a park.  To take a one mile walk to an overlook, they are wearing REI shorts, Columbia shirt, high end Merrell hiking shoes, a Camelbak hydration system and carbon fiber walking sticks.  There we are in shorts that we used to paint a room last week, an old T-shirt and worn out sneakers.  Oddly enough, we seemed to navigate the trail just as well.

Our rental Passat going through a tunnel in a fallen giant sequoia.
In the afternoon, we crossed over into the Sequoia National Park section.  We walked out to see the largest sequoia tree called General Sherman.  While there were a number of huge old trees there, General Sherman was a real giant.  The trunk diameter at the base was nearly 40 feet and the tree is estimated at over 2500 years old.  The tree is believed to be among the top five largest trees in the world.

We drove an overlook called Mora Rock that is a rigorous hike up a granite slab where a 360 degree view of the area is possible.  The path was narrow and steep but the view was spectacular.  We chatted with a family from near Frankfurt along the walk then took a number of photos up on the overlook.

We started back a little after 2 pm and drove into Fresno then north of Highway 99 through the towns of Madera, Merced, Modesto and Stockton.  We stopped for dinner in Merced at a place called Mi Casa.  We picked the place because we were tired and hungry and the restaurant was nearby.  Turns out it was a great choice.  Mary had the Chicken Mole and I had the tamales.  The mole sauce, tamales and the tortillas were all homemade and excellent.  The portions were huge and delicious.  The service was very pleasant and the price was low.  We are often fortunate to stumble onto great places to eat.  There was a tremendous change in temperature from the mountain areas in the National Parks to the Fresno area.  When we were up in the mountains at over 7000 feet above sea level, the temperatures were in the 60s at mid-day.  By the time we drove down to Fresno at about 600 feet above sea level the temperature was 97 degrees.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yosemite National Park

We left El Dorado Hills a little after 7 am and headed south on Rt. 49 toward Yosemite National Park.  As usual when we travel, we like to avoid the four lane highways as much as possible.  Rt. 49 was perfect since traffic moved well at 55 mph and took us through some interesting small towns like San Andreas, Angel’s Camp and other small California mining and agricultural towns.  We especially enjoyed the towns in Calavaras County since both Mark Twain and Bret Hart have strong connections there.  When I get back home, I will have to read Twain’s Celebrated Bret Hart’s Angel’s Camp again.

We arrived in Yosemite around noon and stopped for the iconic photos of El Capitan and Half Dome among others.  At our first stop, we were pleased to see a young black bear walking along the edge of a wooded area.  We were able to get a snapshot of the bear before it reentered the woods.  We walked several short trails to vista points and to artifacts of the area’s rich history.  There were a number of people climbing El Capitan and some other rock faces.  There was also a cleanup event going on in which volunteers were picking up trash and giving the park a facelift.  Even though we were there on a weekday in the last week of September, the park was plenty crowded.  We walked out to Yosemite Falls (which weren’t falling because there had been no rain) and decided to catch the shuttle back to the parking area,  We were packed in like sardines!  Getting a parking space in some of the lots was a wild adventure as well.  I can’t imagine what the place would be like in peak tourism season.  We did notice that the great majority of visitors were European, many from Eastern Europe although many were from France too.
El Capitan

El Capitan
Half Dome

Half Dome

Cathedral Spires
Young black bear near El Capitan

On our way out of the park we stopped at the Mariposa Grove which has a stand of giant sequoia trees.  We took a hike of less than a mile up to a huge tree called Grizzley Giant as well as one called the California Tree that had a tunnel carved in many years ago through which a car could drive.  The tree is still living despite the tunnel and tourists can now walk through it.  The trees were massive and quite impressive.  Fires in the area were inhibited from around 1900 until about 1970 when forestry biologists that the nature of the forest was changing.  The National Park Service started controlled burns in 1970 and the health of the ecosystem was restored.
Mary in the California Tree
We drove to Fresno to spend the night before going to Sequoia National Park on Friday.  Dinner was at a local favorite, Don Pepe’s Taqueri.  The tacos were cheap ($1.89), filling and delicious.  The dining area was filled with customers and we were the only people there speaking English.  We got one each of pastor, chicken, asada and carnitas tacos that had soft wrappers and beans.  There was a bar with a variety of sauces although the tacos were great as the were.  We really enjoyed them.
We stayed at the Day’s Inn Fresno and will hope to leave fairly early for Sequoia on Friday morning.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jelly Belly Factory

This was a relaxing day for us.  Although we were up early, we didn’t leave until around noon.  The morning was spent catching up on some things, cleaning out the rental car after the previous days’ road trip and mostly getting some rest.

At noon, we picked Allyson up at school.  She got out early because of teacher conferences.  We took her to the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, CA, not far from the Pacific Coast.  The tour was interesting and informative.  The took us through where the flavorings are formulated, where the gum interior of the jelly beans are made and where the candy shells are added.  We were impressed with how the Jelly Belly logos are printed on each jelly bean.  At the end of the tour, we went to the Jelly Belly gift shop to get some of our favorite flavors to bring back.

The drive back to El Dorado Hills was slower since the afternoon traffic had already started.  We were glad that we came back when we did before the afternoon traffic peaked.

We had a dinner of leftovers followed by dessert of some of the Jelly Belly treats that we brought back.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Since we had a long drive ahead of us, we left for Lassen Volcanic National Park at 7 am driving through very agricultural areas of California seeing fruit orchards and groves of nut trees.  We stopped in Chico, CA to pick up sandwiches and snacks at a grocery store since there is no shopping or fuel available within 60 miles of the park.

We took a three mile hike to an area called Bumpass Hell that has many volcanic vents releasing sulfur gas and had boiling mud pools.  The area was strikingly beautiful but had a foul odor of sulfur steam.  The steep incline, narrow path rocky path and an altitude over 8000 feet made the walking slow but the view was well worth the trip.  After returning to the rental car after our hike, we drove to a short trail showing the devastation from the eruption of Lassen Peak in 1915.  It was amazing to see the rubble field of stone that was hurled from the explosion less than 100 years ago.

We left the park around 5 pm and drove back to El Dorado Hills arriving around 9:30 taking a quick shower and heading for bed.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Virginia City and Lake Tahoe

We arose at 5 am but didn’t come down until nearly 7 am and had a breakfast of oatmeal.  We headed north on Rt. 49 through Nevada City, CA through Donner Pass to Virginia City, NV.  I was a little worried about stopping at Donner Pass with Mary when she suggested that we have a snack!

We loved Virginia City!  So many old Western towns have the historic old buildings ripped down only to be replaced with tourist traps that are new buildings that look like old buildings.  That was certainly not the case with Virginia City.  Most of the town burned in 1875 and was rebuilt shortly thereafter.  Those buildings are still the majority of structures in the town.  Of course, most have been repurposed and brought up to modern code but all of the buildings are real.  The newspaper office where Mark Twin worked in 1863 is still standing and looks much like it did back when old Sam Clemens was writing.

We enjoyed our lunch at the Palace Saloon which has been in operation since 1875.  I had a bison burger and Mary had a wild boar burger and we swapped halves.  Both were excellent.  I also had a draft beer which was very good.  We also appreciated that while the saloon and furnishings were vintage 1800s, there was no touristy pretense.  I expected that the waitresses would be in some stereotype of saloon girl garb.  However, the staff wore jeans and T shirts and served us well.  After lunch, we walked around the town, which is very small.  We were surprised to learn that Virginia City had over 25,000 residents in the late 1800s.  We could almost see Ben, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe riding in to town.

Upon leaving Virginia City, we drove through Carson City to Lake Tahoe.  The lake is very clear with objects in water nearly 70 feet deep visible from the surface.  From the shore, the water looked as blue as anything you would see in the Caribbean.

We drove back to El Dorado Hills via Rt. 50 and got to Fergsons by about 5 pm for a dinner of pasta.  We went out for fuel and ice cream after dinner. Tomorrow we plan to visit the volcanic areas near Lassen, California.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Spending time with the Fergusons

We had a relaxing day visiting with the Fergusons.  David played drums for a local church and we took Allyson, Yeh and us to a Dim Sum place for brunch.  The Dim Sum was excellent.  Staff go around the dining area with carts filled with all sorts of Asian treats, most of which were very tasty.  Some of the things we liked were shrimp wrapped in bean curd, spinach dumplings, yams with mushrooms and spices and pork bites.  We decided to pass on the chicken feet and a few other local favorites.

After lunch, we took Allyson to a couple of nearby parks for Geocache treasure hunting.  After the first cache, she got really good at it and found several that were well hidden.

In the evening, David and I watched the Steelers lose to the Raiders while Mary and Allyson played in the pool.  Yeh is preparing for a training that she has to attend all week in Irvine. 

We were tired and turned in around 9 pm and slept well until 5 am.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Arriving in Sacramento

After getting a few hours of sleep upon returning from the Denver trip on Friday, we left the house bound for Yeager Airport in Charleston at 4 am on Saturday.  Although the jet was small, our flight to O’Hare was easy and without incident.  We slept most of the way and arrived in Chicago with a couple of hours layover. Mary had made a couple of sandwiches in an effort to clear some things out of the refrigerator and brought some fruit as well. Our Sacramento flight left on time and we were pleased to have nice roomy seats and that the only empty seat on the aircraft was in our row so we had plenty of room. The in-flight movie, Battleship, was pretty dumb but we dozed on and off anyway.  We arrived at Sacramento around noon local time and had picked up the checked bag, caught the shuttle to Enterprise and had picked up our Volkswagen Passat by 1 pm. Thanks to Jill the GPS, we had little trouble getting to David and Yeh’s house by 2 pm. Of course, Allyson kept us entertained for the afternoon.  Our dinner was shabu shabu which is done a little like fondue.  The technique is sometimes called Chinese Steamboat. There is a big pot of seasoned stock in the middle of the table and everyone puts their meat of vegetable of choice in and cooks to choice.  We had shrimp, squid, and chunks of fish as well as thinly sliced beef.  Bok choy was the vegetable which was very good cooked in the seasoned broth.

After dinner, we watched Allyson play in the pool.  She is quite a little fish and swims well.  We all went for a walk around the neighborhood after that.  The neighborhood is really nice and is a great place for them since it is close to connections to the highway while being in a secluded and safe area a short distance from the city.

Since we were tired from the travel and still running on Eastern Time, we turned in around 9 pm and slept well until around 5 am.