Another early rise got us on the road about 7:45. Everything I had read about Yosemite said to get there as early as possible. We still had a 2 hour drive ahead of us to get to Yosemite Valley.
I think we drove through the park for about an hour before we came to a really big tunnel. Funny--people slow down and honk when driving through this tunnel just like the do at the Wallace Tunnel--tourists! When we came out of the dark, we had a great view of Yosemite Valley.
As we continued to drive down into the valley, the traffic grew worse and worse. We were fixated on getting to the bike rental place before all the bikes rented out, so we missed the turn to Bridal Veil Fall. Then, we began searching for a place to park--not an easy task. We finally found a place and began searching for the bike rentals. We ended up having to take one of the free shuttles to the Yosemite Lodge. The bike rental place was right next to an Olympic size pool which looked very inviting because be then we had worked up a sweat walking. (The attendant told us that they keep the pool heated to 80 degrees year round, so I am not sure it would have been very refreshing!)
We got on our bikes and took off for Yosemite Falls. You can not ride your bike down this path. As we walked closer and closer to the falls, we started feeling sprinkles of cool water. I did not think we would be able to walk as close to the fall as we did. Once we were there, we could have gotten soaking wet if we stood in the right place long enough. The rushing water sounded like hundreds of cars speeding down the interstate.
We got back on our bikes and headed for Half Dome Village. This was about a mile and a half trek past a beautiful meadow and mountain views. We ate a great lunch at the village and then started to look for the Half Dome. Apparently, I am not very good at reading maps, because the girls and I got into an argument about which mountain was the Half Dome. I finally conceded that I was wrong, and we saw the Half Dome. It was awe-inspiring.
Next, we pedaled our bikes towards the Mirror Lakes. This trail took us by another swift moving river that bounded over large rocks and was surrounded by pretty trees. We got to a point where we could no longer ride our bikes, and had to hike the rest of the way up the trail. Before starting our hike, the girls had to test the water!
We arrived at the Mirror Lakes, but they were not what I was expecting. I thought there would be an actual lake! In reality, the river created a natural dam that formed the lakes. They are named Mirror because when they freeze, the ice reflects the view of the mountains above.
To my surprise, people were swimming in the river! I did not think this would be allowed because at Sequoia, you could not get in the water. Here, it was encouraged. There was a huge boulder in the middle of the water that one could swim to and climb upon. There were some crazies out there diving off the rock! Madison and Claire waded out into the water and said that it felt awesome. They talked me into joining them.
As I waded out into the water, my feet immediately began to hurt. I thought I would get used to cold as I walked out into the sun covered water, but I didn't. The pain intensified so greatly, I had to immediately go back to the shore. I though I would start crying due to the pain, but once I was out of the water, I felt much better. Funny thing is, my legs didn't hurt at all.
By now about three hours had passed, and we needed to return our bikes to the rental place. We rode through a beautiful forest that smelled wonderful. (Seriously, this scent needs to be bottled!) As we were biking, we came upon a family on the path. Madison yelled, "On your left!" At this point, walkers are supposed to move to the right. Instead, they moved to the left. Madison tried to miss them by driving off the path. This caused her bike to skid on the pine needles and resulted in her falling and scraping her knee pretty badly. The people helped her clean up and gave her a water.
We made it back safely to the rental place and began walking back to our car. As we were walking, a deer traipsed across the parking lot. It was very confused but made it safely into the forest.
As we drove out, we passed El Capitan. It cast a long shadow over us and the valley. It was truly awe inspiring.
We did not take many pictures in Yosemite because we were riding our bikes, and we were too busy looking around. I wish I had taken more, but I guess I will save that for next time. This is another place that you need to stay at least week at to experience a good bit of what it has to offer.
Steve was very correct when he told us that we cannot miss Yosemite!
We left Yosemite with headed to our Airbnb in San Francisco and got in about 9 pm and were glad to get some rest when we arrived.
So, we were up and out of Paris by 7:45 and headed to Sequoia National Forest. It was a six hour drive. We drove through the Mojavi Desert and Death Valley was just north of us. Needless to say, it was very hot; my car thermometer read 110 degrees!
We made it Bakersfield, California, around noon. It was interesting to see streets named after Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. This provided me the opportunity to tell my girls about Hee Haw. I thought of my friend, Cheramie J., as we saw these streets. I could hear her singing, "I'm a pickin'..."
Bakersfield is where the desert changes into farm land. We saw lots of orange groves. Something else interesting we saw was big trucks pulling large trailers of garlic.
Two hours later we were driving into the park. There was a swift moving river--the Kaweah-- on our left as we drove north. We saw some people white water rafting and kayaking. After stopping at the visitor's center, we made our way up a winding road and the temperature starting dropping. By the time we got to the top, the temperature was in the low 80's. Claire said she could tell when the temperature dropped by sticking her arm out the window.
As we drove up General's Drive, we saw a huge rock way above us.
While planning for our trip, Madison, Claire and I were hyper-focused on seeing the giant Sequoia trees. As we continued to drive up the mountain, we got our first glimpse of them and were awed. The first ones we saw were very tall but not too wide.
We continued up the mountain and ever looming over us was that big rock that we first saw when we entered the park. Finally, we arrived at it and learned that it is called Moro Rock. There are supposedly 350 steps to the top--it seemed like a lot more to me! As we started climbing, I was reminded of Stone Mountain because Moro Rock is also made of granite. However, its peak is at 6, 725 feet above sea level. It was a very steep climb, and although I am typically not scared of heights, my knees did get a bit wobbly. We also learned that Claire has an extreme fear of heights on the climb up. She really fought her way up to the top. I was so proud of her for not quitting and making it all the way.
Next, we hiked up to another rock called Hanging Rock. This climb was more through the forest. The undergrowth was made up of blue and white flowers, big ferns and many pine tree-like needles. The smell was so wonderful! Fresh, clean mountain air with a piney-flowery scent. Not as wonderful as the Cliff Rose, but still great! I wish my house could smell this way.
Where is sherman Williams?
After leaving Hanging Rock, we started our quest to find General Sherman--the largest tree in the world. We were so tired that we got a bit tongue-tied when saying its name.
As we drove, we encountered the Wawona Tree which we were able to drive through. The girls climbed onto it. While I was trying to take their picture, I was attacked by a swarm of angry mosquitoes. They were much more vicious than any Alabama mosquito!
More Big Trees!
We found him!
We had to drive about 30 more minutes before we came to the trail head to General Sherman. The trail leads down to the tree, and as you walk, there are plaques that show you at what level you are with the tree. So, it's like you start at the top of the tree and climb your way down it. The tree is 272 feet tall and over 36 feet wide at the base. It is enclosed by a fence; it has to be protected. Also, along the way, we saw a lot of signs warning that we were in an active bear area, so we kept our eyes peeled for a bear, but we were disappointed. We weren't disappointed with the General though! The tree was truly an amazing sight. I
There's a Bear over There!
So exciting to finally see a bear! It looked right at me. Madison thinks it was a baby. Back in 1998, Steve and I travelled to Whitefish, Montana. We kept looking for bears, but I never saw one. We went mountain biking down the mountain and didn't see one. Steve decided to go down one more time, and of course, he saw a bear! Seeing the bear here just made my day!
It took us about two hours to drive down the mountain, and it was a beautiful drive. Then, it was another hour to our final destination for the day, Fresno.
We arrived at our Airbnb about 9:30 and again, we had trouble getting into the lock. In fact, we tried so many times, the lock froze up. So we decided to get dinner at a local restaurant called Sequoia Brewing Company. We had delicious pizza. Ok, maybe it wasn't really that good, but we were tired and hungry.
We went back to the Airbnb and still couldn't get in. The owner had to come let us in. In the description of this place, it looked pretty cool, but we were disappointed. It did not have a standing shower. The beds were really soft though!
Spoiler Alert: Don't read if you love Las Vegas!
The only good thing I have to say about Las Vegas is--I had two free nights at the Paris Hotel.
I do not like Las Vegas. It is hot, crowded, smokey, stinky and frankly, overrated. What is the appeal of this city to people? I just don't get it. Admittedly, I was only on the Strip. The rest of the city might be lovely.
I went from one extreme to another. The awesome handiwork of God at the Grand Canyon to man's pitiful attempt to make his mark on the world.
Here are some pictures from our time here. I really have nothing else to say about the experience, except that I was more than ready to leave the next day.
You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view, as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain might be lifted, but to see it, you have to toil
from month to month through its labyrinths.
~John Wesley Powell
I’m not sure when I began to feel the urge to visit the Grand Canyon, but for some reason, it has been calling to me to come visit. Just talking about getting to see it would bring tears to my eyes. So as we left Williams to make the one hour drive north to the canyon, I could barely contain my joy to see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World!
As you drive to the canyon, there is not a lot of homes or commercial sites. There are many tall pine trees, though and lots of signs warning of elk. (We didn’t see any outside the park.) When you get to Tusayan, you see a much more commercialized town. There are many hotels and restaurants. The National Geographic Visitor Center and Pink Jeep tours.
Last summer a sweet friend of mine visited the Grand Canyon, and she took a Pink Jeep tour. She told me that we just had to do it, too. I made a reservation back in March for our tour. We checked in and then headed into the park.
Driving into the park, wasn’t too bad. We only had to wait in line behind two cars. We received a map, and Madison became our official Grand Canyon navigator. We headed on to the Visitor’s Center and found a shaded picnic table to eat our picnic lunch—still eating Mimi’s fried chicken!
Then we headed to our first glimpse of the canyon at Mather Point. (Named after Stephen Mather—the man with the plan for the park.) Seeing the canyon for the first time evoked a strong emotion from me. There is an 18 mile path for people to explore the South Rim of the canyon here. We just walked to two viewpoints before we head to back for our Pink Jeep tour. The only negative about Mather Point was all the people. It was so crowded, I could barely get to the edge of the lookout points.
Back at the National Geographic Center, we watched a 45 minute IMAX movie about the history and future of the canyon. The theme of the movie was the fact that a man’s life is just a tiny blip of time compared to the millions of years of the life of the canyon. It is humbling to realize your insignificance when compared to the Grand Canyon. The movie also re-enacted the history of the canyon. I enjoyed learning about U.S. Army Major John Wesley Powell’s (who only had one arm) successful journey through the canyon.
It was time to get in the jeep for our two-hour tour of the Grand Canyon! Our guide was the sweetest, most patient, and knowledgeable Retired Army Vietnam Veteran, Fred Stone. (Yes, he gets jokes all the time about his name—Fred Flintstone!) There was nice family of three from Ohio on the tour with us.
Mr. Fred did not take us back to Mather Point. He took us to some less popular viewpoints. The people who named the view points did not have get too creative with their names. We visited sites along the Desert View Drive with names like Two Trees, Duck on a Rock and Grand View. Along the way, Mr. Fred provided us with many, many facts about the canyon and even had great ideas for ways to take our pictures—and he took some for us.
At the end of the tour, he took us by the Geographical Building where we were able to see a scaled map of the canyon and see a scaled model of both the South Rim and North Rim. I was amazed at how much time Mr. Fred took with us to help us understand the canyon better.
One good analogy he gave us was to help us understand how fast the water moves in the canyon. I think he said it moved 115,000 cubic feet (if you know me, you know I’m bad about remembering numbers!) of water per second moves on the Colorado River. One cubic foot is equal to about one basketball. That’s crazy!
After that, we took a quick tour of the Grand Canyon village where visitors can stay in a hotel designed by Teddy Rooselvet, the mule pens and the train station. We learned that there is a K-12 school in the park for children of the park employees. They just graduated 19 students!
Mr. Fred took us back to Geographic Center. Before we could exit the jeep, he gave the girls a Collectable Grand Canyon quarter. I had such a wonderful experience, better than I could have ever imagined, and this man was just so nice, I started crying—tears of joy. The Grand Canyon had that big of an effect on me.
Sunset at the Grand view
I forgot to mention the elk we saw in the park—too many to count. We also saw a Mountain Lion crossing sign. We really wanted to see a mountain lion, from a distance, but sadly, we did not. Mr. Fred said several mountain lions are killed by vehicles each year.
Our tour ended about 5:30, and the girls and I decided we could not leave without watching the sunset.
I do not know how anyone who visits the Grand Canyon can say that there is no God. I love the beach and beach sunsets, and here I feel God’s presence, but at the Grand Canyon, one cannot deny God’s handiwork. While we watched the sunset, all I could do was praise God over and over for his amazing creation.
I am sad that we only had one day planned to visit the Grand Canyon, but I will be back for a much longer visit.
On the Road again
So, we left the Grand Canyon about 8 pm and headed to Las Vegas. On the way, we watched the temperature soar to 108 degrees. Steve really wanted us to see the Hoover Dam; we drove right past it about midnight, but were unable to actually see it--and Claire was asleep.
As we came upon the city, we were overwhelmed with lights, and by the time we made it onto Las Vegas Boulevard, I was a bit disoriented. Imagine Times Square on steroids. Thanks to our good friend, Hu L., we had free accommodations at the Paris Hotel. We pulled right into the valet parking, walked right up to the front desk, got our room key and went straight to our room.
But our night was not over yet! We still had to take showers because the Grand Canyon was hot, and we were stinky! We finally fell asleep at about 1:30. If you know me at all, you know this is way past my bedtime! I wasn't sure what adventures the next day would hold for us, but with a good night's sleep I would be ready.
Amarillo by Morning
We left Amarillo at 8:30, June 19. We would have left earlier, but I had a technological issue with the entry App, August, at the Airbnb. It was a really cool app; the door lock links to your phone. You simply press a button on the app to unlock and lock the door. Note to my future self: If you use August again, be sure to charge your phone overnight. Otherwise, you will be locked inside until your phone charges!
Our first stop was the Cadillac Ranch. Now, we had been here before on our trip with my parents back in 2009. I forgot how small this place is. The cadillacs are planted in the middle a field on the south side of I-40, and you have to walk just a little ways to see them up close. This time we came prepared with our own can of spray paint. While the girls were putting their mark on the cars, I was attacked by a swarm of mosquitos! After about five minutes, we were ready to get back on the road.
The Blue Hole, Santa Rosa, New Mexico
Our next stop was in Santa Rosa, New Mexico at the Blue Hole. This spring fed swimming hole was located just off the interstate—very easy to find. We had to pay $5 to enter the park, and it was totally worth it. We got there around 10 am, so it was not too crowded. The water is always a cool 61 degrees. We watched a view people climb up the steps to the rocky jump off point and take the leap to the cold water. Each time, the jumper would pop up out of the water exclaiming, “Whew! That’s cold!”
The girls decided that since I was the oldest I had to jump off first. So, I did. I didn’t stop to think about it; I just jumped right in. I’m not going to lie—it was freezing cold! I thought it would be about as cold as the water at Camp Ozark, but I was wrong! Much colder. I swam quickly to the stairs to climb out—probably haven’t swum that fast since I was in college! I climbed the steps shivering and complaining about the cold. Madison said I was exaggerating.
Next, it was her turn! She swam quickly to the steps also! When I asked her if she wanted to do it again, she said she didn’t think so because of how the cold water knocked the breath out of her.
Claire was the bravest of us all; she jumped in three times!
After we had our fill of the cold water, we had a great picnic lunch thanks to my Mom. She had fried some of her world famous fried chicken for us and made some chocolate chip cookies and sandies. Overall, it was wonderful experience and a great memory for us.
I highly recommend going to the Blue Hole if you drive by it on I-40.
On the Road again
We settled in for a long drive to Painted Desert, Arizona. What struck me the most was the lack of trees. I don't know exactly what I was thinking; I mean, we were in the desert after all! I was just really missing my trees!
Claire drove us safely through Albuquerque and the Sandia Mountains. I-40 was steep and curvy, but she handled it like a pro! As we continued down the interstate we saw many beautiful mesas. I was excited to see these in person.
About five and a half hours later, we made it to the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. Let me say that it was mighty hot here! The landscape made me feel like I was on the moon or mars. This is one part of the world that has remained untouched by man. Words can't really describe what we saw. Below are just a few of my favorite pictures.
Keep on Keeping on
Driving through the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest took us about two hours. When we exited the park, we ended up in Holbrook, NM. Here we were glad to eat at the local DQ.
We continued driving until about 9:45 where we reached our final destination for the day--Williams, Arizona: The Gateway to the Grand Canyon. After a long, hot day of driving and exploring, we were glad to get showers and go to bed. I think we drove about 14 hours this day.
Today, we left my parents’ house about 8:30 AM and headed West. Our first stop was in Arlington, Texas, to eat lunch with my youngest brother, Kevin. He is currently living in Arlington near the Lone Star Race Track where he is a jockey’s agent.
We ate at Mariano's Hacienda where the margarita machine was invented! Sadly, I did not try the margarita since I would be driving pretty much all day long! Kevin and I split the Tacos al Carbon—which were delicious! Great chips, cheese dip and salsa.
The food was awesome, but even better was spending time with my brother. I enjoy hearing his take on life. Unfortunately, we couldn’t spend much time with him because we needed to get on the road—and he needed a nap!
About 5 hours later we arrived in Amarillo, Texas at our Airbnb.
This is the first time I have used Airbnb, and let me tell you we had a great experience. We stayed at a place called Travis Street #1. Originally, we were to stay at #3, but the owner called and asked if we would mind getting upgraded—for free—to the #1 so that we would have good air conditioning. Of course, we said yes. This place was beautiful, cool and comfortable. Just what we needed after a long day in the car.
After unloading all our stuff—and it is a lot crammed into the CRV—we headed to the Big Texan. This is the second time we have eaten here and it has changed some. The last time we were here was in June 2009. We ate breakfast with my parents. This time, Madison went for the steak!
We got back to the Airbnb around 9:30, took showers. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow!
There is a sunflower in my life called Paula Taylor.
Like the beautiful flower, she is a true American.
She has devoted her life to educating the sixth graders of Louisiana on the facts of American history. Paula doesn’t just teach the facts; she makes her students apply them to the world around them.
She is so deeply rooted in her community that her students consider her a “legend!” Anyone who has every had the privilege of having Paula for a teacher will always remember her innovative and creative teaching strategies.
She began her teaching journey with me. Since we met 36 years ago, we have been fast friends.
What started as a teacher-student-mentor relationship has evolved into a deep friendship that has gone through many of life storms, but like the sunflower, she always looks for the bright side of any situation.
Paula is always up for an adventure; her sunny disposition always brings laughter and joy to my life.
Like the sunflower, she is sturdy—I can always count on Paula for advice and a level-headed assessment of a problem I bring to her.
Aside from my mother, Paula Taylor is the most influential woman in my life. I am truly blessed to call her friend.
Our Latest Adventure
Sunflower Festival and Trail
After solving the puzzle of how to fit all of our stuff into the CRV, we left Spanish Fort, Alabama, at 1 pm on Thursday, June 15.
You can see from the smiles on our faces how glad we are to finally start our journey. (And, according to Claire, "I take selfies like a mom!") Today, we headed to my parents' home in Bossier City, Louisiana.
Our route took us through Hattiesburg, Mississippi--where the gas is always cheap! No kidding, the gas was 20 cents cheaper here than in Alabama!
Then on to Jackson and Vicksburg. Between Jackson and Vicksburg--near Flowers, Mississippi-- there are two homes I always look for--one is a gorgeous planation style home that sits south of 1-20. First you see a white fence surrounding the property, then a large pond and a wide sloping lawn that leads up to the house which is surrounded by many large oak (or maybe pecan) trees and pink flowered crepe myrtles. Sometimes you can see horses, but not today.) Just west of that house and across the interstate is a much smaller cream-colored home with a comfy wrap-around porch. These homes have been here since I first started traveling on I-20 back in 1987. They now mark the halfway point between our home in Spanish For and my parents' home. I love to see how these places are always the same, year after year.
Mississippi Welcome Center, vicksburg
If you need a safe, clean and interesting place for a break, stop at the Mississippi Welcome Center located on the bluff of the Mississippi River. Here you can find clean restrooms and a great view of the Mighty Mississippi!
Next, we drove through the lush, green delta of Louisiana--familiar territory for me. In high school, my basketball team travelled these roads often for tournaments and games. Confession: I used to trick the girls on my basketball team into believing I had memorized all the parishes in Louisiana, but really, I just looked for the signs on the side of the road. (Madison says I was truly a nerd back then.) Since then, I have memorized all the parishes found on I-20.
Madison and I were surprised and amused to see a sign warning of us bears on the highway around Rayville. We looked carefully for a bear but sadly did not find one.
The next landmark I look for is the house that sits on top of a nine story building in Monroe, La. It's not just a tiny apartment; it is an actual two-story bungalow that is on top of the Old Monroe Hotel situated on the bank of the Ouachita River. The bungalow used to be pink, but now it is white. I know I am almost home when this house comes into view. I have to take a quick peak at it every time I drive home. You can own this home for a mere 1.1 million dollars! Here is link to a virtual tour.
Next is Ruston and Louisiana Tech--one hour away.
The final landmark is Louisiana Downs. When I see the racetrack, I know I am home.
Finally, we pull into my parents' driveway, and I notice how tall the trees have grown since my last visit.
Waiting at the door is my mother with a smile on her face and her arms open wide.