Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fall in Yosemite Valley




According to the coffee table book in the room, the first guests handpicked to attend the grand opening of The Ahwahnee Hotel in 1927, helped themselves not only to majestic views of the granite walls rising on all sides of the regal lodge, but also to many of the items adorning the guest rooms from pewter ink wells to hand-woven Native American artifacts and delicately embroidered sheets. We can never hope to live up the accomplishments of previous generations, but rest assured, Ann’s backpack was bulging with about 15 bottles of earth-friendly lotions, soaps and shampoos.  Oh and this guy…


He now rides on the dashboard keeping a vigilant eye on the horizon. Working names thus far include Ranger Duck, Smokey the Duck and Quacker Texas Ranger but we’re open to suggestions.

The Revenue Cutter Service was established in 1790 to patrol the waters off the East Coast for smugglers seeking to bypass the tariffs so essential to the fledgling democracy of the United States. It merged with the Life Saving Service in 1915 to form the Coast Guard, making it the oldest continuing seagoing service of the military, but you already knew that I’m sure. Believe it or not, we didn’t until taking our seats for breakfast in the massive dining hall of The Ahwahnee, an action which, also unknown to us, signified that our conversation was open to the public and that anyone with an interesting tidbit, mundane to the discussion or otherwise, was invited to jump in at any time with a juicy factoid. It seemed to just be the code of the room. In the end, listening to the good natured story-topping of enlisted exploits being lobbed between the few tables around us was actually a fitting way to spend a Veteran’s Day morning. Still trying to prove that our generation had valuable skills (like recycling), we asked for a doggy bag for the remainder of the basket of pastries. Klassy…




“You all headed home?” the bellman asked, as I’m sure he did a hundred times a day. It’s friendly a question which I think every long-distance overlander both secretly hopes for and dreads.

“Well, we’re actually heading south. Tierra del Fuego as a matter of fact.”

“Huh. Heard of it… but can’t quite place it, “ he responded, giving us the impression that he was picturing something along the lines of “Del Boca Vista,” the retirement community where Jerry Seinfeld’s parent’s lived in Florida.

“Argentina. Like at the bottom of South America,” I offered.

At this point, he emitted the desired sigh; the one that communicated an appropriate admiration of the scope and weight of the trip we were undertaking. But then, he kinda ruined the moment.

“Is that like 5,000 miles?”

“Well… more like 15,000 miles,” I countered. 

“You mean 1,500 miles.” At this point, it was me who sighed.

“Nope, 15 THOUSAND.” I emphasized. “Say it’s 3,000 miles across the US. Drive south that far and you’re barely through Mexico.”

Here he chimed in that we better be taking a boat around Mexico if we didn’t want to get killed. This fulfilled the “dreaded” part of the conversation.

“Another 2,000 and you’re to the Panama Canal. Then look at South America on a map. It’s HUGE. Another 10,000 to the bottom.”

He took a step back, looked the truck over from front to back and through the open side door at the coolers, Action Packers and sleeping bags piled in the back seat and apparently accepted my approximations by responding simply, “Well, that explains it.”

We spent the morning driving around the valley, hiking out to Mirror Lake and taking countless pictures of the incredible Fall colors.





















It was already 3:30 by the time we started up Highway 41 towards Wawona and the southern exit of the park. Acknowledging that the “no driving at night” rules didn’t start until we crossed the border, we fired up a couple podcasts and sped south into the 4:45 sunset, still seemingly premature after last week’s daylight savings adjustment.



We nixed the idea of sampling one of Bakersfield’s surprising number of Basque restaurants after reading glowing Yelp iPhone reviews of the various ox tail soups and escargot platters. We’d been tempted to sample some of the local delicacies while traveling for a month in France this summer and well, let’s just say, it didn’t go well. Read about trying “andouillete” (scroll towards the bottom of the post).

So with that in mind, the La Quinta Inn on Merle Haggard Blvd in Bakersfield was made all the more inviting by its location across from the “Flagship Denny’s.” That’s right, the guy at reception had informed us that corporate bigwigs from throughout the organization would frequently come to this very Denny’s to take note of its operations. And sure enough, within seconds of walking through the doors at precisely 8:03 pm, we heard a cheery “Good morning!” When I quipped that the woman behind the counter must have had a long day if she thought it was morning, she didn’t miss a beat before responding “It’s always morning at Denny’s.” Textbook…

As we settled onto the bed at the La Quinta, we flipped on the TV. There over the shoulder of the newscaster was a picture of a 2000-something Nissan Frontier pickup truck. We turned up the volume just in time to hear her detailing a recall by Nissan of some model year Frontiers and, of course, 2000 – 2004 Xterras for an issue with the steering column. Classic. We called Nissan in the morning and they said the recall had not been made official yet and that dealers wouldn’t have any information until December. Guess we’re going to be getting to know the Nissan dealer in Puerto Vallarta.