Crystal, who was my girlfriend back in 1999, invited me to spend two weeks with her and the rest of her family in Chico, California, over the summer. I had never been to California before, but I had been wanting to see the state for a long time, so I was really excited.
We started out in Wilmore, Kentucky, where Crystal was staying for the summer. We flew out of Louisville on the long trip to Sacramento. Here's a tip for people flying the discounted flights with Southwest Airlines: those tickets are cheap for a reason. We stopped three times to pick up additional passengers and changed planes once before we finally got to Sacramento.
The first thing that I noticed about California was the large number of rice fields that dotted the landscape. I had no idea that the state was so agricultural, but I was soon to find out that there was stuff growing everywhere. The valley is full of orchards and fields. Everything else is dry as a bone, but the fields are lush and green. Irrigation turns the valley into an oasis.
Chico and Sacramento
The first week of our trip, we hung around Chico doing stuff around the city. Crystal has a huge family. She's the youngest of six children, and she has seventeen neices and nephews. There were people at her house all the time. It was a huge change from my introverted family. I did enjoy interacting with the kids though. (That probably isn't a big shock for those who know me.) We had some pretty funny moments. The kids reacted comically to the fact that Crystal and I were dating. One day, we went to a cookout at Crystal's sister Mary Ann's house. Crystal's niece walked up, put her arms around me, and said, "You're going to be my uncle, right?" Crystal and I nearly died on the spot.
At the end of the first week, we took our first real road trip. Crystal and I headed down to Sacramento. She wanted to show me the state capital. I enjoy looking at architecture and such, so I enjoyed it quite a bit. First, we hit Old Sacramento and the historic district. A lot of buildings still stand from hundreds of years ago; however, most of the area has been modernized. A lot of the old shops have been replaced by newer ones, but the feel of an old, old place still comes through.
We left the historic district and walked through the tunnel under the interstate where we found a much more modern world. Sacramento has one of the most fascinating malls I've ever seen. We passed through it on the way to the capitol building. We walked around the capitol for a while, checking out the architecture and looking at the displays. Several rooms are set up just as they were a hundred or more years ago, and a display contains pictures and other artifacts for each county in the state.
From the capitol, we headed to Aunt Kathy's house. Actually, Kathy and Jim are just friends of the family, but they have been around long enough to get the aunt and uncle designation.
Yosemite National Park
The next evening, we left for the destination I had been waiting all week to see: Yosemite National Park. We all piled into Naomi and Jerry's newly refurbished motorhome and headed to the park. Much to my surprise, we didn't drive to a campsite. We just parked beside the road and spent the night there. I've done a lot of car camping in my life, but I had never once spent the night at a parking area in a motorhome before that night. It worked out pretty well. We were at the entrance of the park and ready to head into Yosemite Valley by 6:00 the next morning. That gave us plenty of time to catch the sunrise.
Yosemite turned out to be one of the most incredibly beautiful places I've ever been. I've travelled a decent amount in the United States, but I had never really found anywhere I thought was as beautiful as the Blue Ridge Mountains where I grew up. Yosemite changed all that; the natural beauty was incredible. I was astounded by the sheer size of everything from the granite formations to the 2,000 foot high waterfalls.
Crystal and I really packed our day full. We had only one day in the park, so we had to make the most of it. We started out by hiking to Vernal Falls on the Mist Trail. This was one nasty trail. We gained 1,000 feet in elevation in a mile and a half. The last half mile or so of trail was just a series of steps cut into the side of the granite face. It was worth every step though. Vernal Falls is over 300 feet high, and it is on a major river. It was impressive even though the river was at half flow because of the dry summer. The rainbow visible when the sun climbed into the sky just made things even better.
We left the waterfall and headed back down to the floor of the valley. After lunch, we decided to head to Mirror Lake. I was excited to see this because of the photographic history of the area. Ansel Adams spent a lot of time in this part of the country. This walk was much easier than the hike to Vernal Falls. It was almost level, and it was on a road. We got to the lake, or what should have been the lake, to find a small creek. The lake dries up during the summer. That made my photo shoot of the granite cliffs easier because I didn't have to swim through the lake to get to them, but we were still pretty disappointed. I walked around taking pictures of the rock formations, and then we headed back to Yosemite Village.
For our next adventure, we walked to Yosemite Falls. Even at half flow, this waterfall is nothing but impressive. The bottom two drops are a combined 1,000 feet tall, and the upper falls thunder 1,000 feet down the rocks as well. As you are walking down the trail to the lower falls - the one we took - you get a nice view of both the upper and lower falls. The trail goes right to the lower falls. Unfortunately, half of the rest of the people in the park were there at the same time. We walked to the bridge across the creek and stopped there. We could have gone on to the very base of the falls, but we were both exhausted, so we headed back to the motorhome and drove back to Chico, our first major travel adventure complete.
We hung out in Chico for a few more days while Jerry fixed some problems with the motor home, and then we embarked on our big trip to the California coast. We drove through San Francisco and across the Golden Gate Bridge. I thought the wind was going to blow me away. It was pretty foggy, so we had to strain to be able to see the top of the bridge. The view over the bay towards the city and Alcatraz was impressive. The fog wasn't nearly as bad in that direction.
We headed up highway 1 along the Pacific coast. I was quite excited because I was going to get to see the Pacific ocean for the first time. We pulled into the visitor center at Point Reyes National Seashore to decide what to do. We drove to lighthouse, where we were supposed to be able to view sea lions. The sun was shining brightly, and everything was going well. We noticed some fog in the air as we got closer to the point where the lighthouse sits. By the time we got to the parking area, we could see nothing but fog. I could hear the Pacific, but I was going to have to wait until later to look at it. We could hear sea lions too, but the fog was too thick to allow us to see those either. To top it all off, the lighthouse had closed about half an hour before we got there. We really struck out at Point Reyes.
I did get to see the Pacific that day, finally. We got a few glimpses of it through the fog as we drove up highway 1. We stopped for the night -- beside the road again. Crystal and I hiked down the cliffs to the beach. She made me take my shoes off so I'd get the full effect of the water. The catch is the sand and water were freezing cold. I almost lost a few toes before I got back to the motorhome.
The next day we made our longest drive of the trip. Highway 1 is very curvy, so the going was slow. It took almost twelve hours to get to our destination for the night: Humboldt Redwoods State Park. We camped there in the middle of a second-growth redwood forest.
The next day, we viewed several different redwood groves. We hiked a trail that wound through the big trees. I have never seen so many trees of that size in one place in my life. The old growth forest we hiked through reminded me a lot of North Carolina's Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, but the trees were bigger -- much bigger. I felt like a dwarf as we hiked. A little later, we stopped at a parking area and walked to a tree labelled Giant Tree and another tree labelled Tall Tree. We also walked through a grove that had a fallen tree with a hollow big enough for Crystal to stand up inside it.
Back to the coast
That afternoon we stopped in Redwood National Park on the beach. I didn't realize the park included the beach, but it does. I stopped and burned some film on the waves crashing over the rocks. We climbed through an arch the waves had cut into one of the cliff and ended up on a little piece of land that definitely would have been under water had the tide been in. Trying to get the pictures without getting soaked was a challenge. We ended our day by driving into Oregon and stopping for the night beside the road. We could hear the surf pounding the rocks right next to the motorhome.
We got up the next morning and went beach combing. I spent my time just enjoying the Pacific and the varied sea life. Crystal and her mom found several starfish, some purple and some orange. A whole host of other creatures found habitat on that beach as well. The sun had finally come out after a week of fog and clouds, so we drove farther up the coast. We stopped at Cape Blanco, which has a lighthouse. The Pacific was a beautiful blue that day. This is what I'd had in mind when I had been thinking about this trip. Driving on, we stopped in a small, seaside town and did some shopping.
We ended the day on the beach at one of the many Oregon state parks. God provided us with an absolutely beautiful sunset. I had been looking forward to seeing the sun go down over the ocean for this entire trip. At first, the sun shining through the waves turned them a beautiful green, and then the sky started to turn red and orange. Even as the sun sank below the horizon, the light show kept going. The clouds on the entire western half of the horizon changed color until they were a beautiful pale pink. It was a perfect conclusion to our day on the coast.
Our two weeks were almost over, so that night we started the drive back to Chico. We arrived back in Chico the next day. Crystal and I did some last-second shopping, ate an incredible meal at Jasco's, and then packed up to head back to Kentucky.
The next day, we drove to the airport. We made a couple of stops along the way. As the our flight time got closer and closer, I got more and more nervous. We finally got to the airport about five minutes before scheduled takeoff. Terror shot through my heart. We ran to the terminal with all of our bags, and the attendant let us check them there with only a light scolding. We boarded the plane only a couple of minutes before the scheduled takeoff time. A few hours later, we landed in Kentucky, and our adventure was complete.