Getting Seasoned and Cultured

Crystal Bridges 2017

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Hutchinson, KS to Bentonville, AR  304 miles

Hutchinson to Bentonville

Hutchinson is home of Strataca, which is a humongous underground salt mine.  We decided it was worth a three hour tour to go 650 feet underground to see what is hiding underneath Kansas, so we were up early this morning so that we could get a good breakfast before going underground.  Our restaurant choice was the Firehouse Cafe, which, you guessed it, was in what used to be a firehouse.  We loved it!  Full of locals, of course, a cool venue, and good, hearty food – what’s not to love?

It was easy to find Strataca, since it’s the main tourist attraction in town and since it’s so flat you could see it coming.   It’s not so easy to get into the mine, since it is WAY down under.  This salt mine was formed 275 million years ago and it’s part of the Permian Basin, which you may remember we visited parts of a few years ago (Sassy Sisters 2013, Rocky Mountain High) when we drove from New Mexico into the western edge of the basin near Midland and Odessa, Texas.  We’d also driven across part of it (Sassy Sisters 2007, Roadside Giant Tour) when we saw the Monument Rocks of western Kansas.  This year, we’re seeing the purest portion of a 27,000 square mile salt vein, which just happens to be right under Hutchinson.  The entire Permian Basin salt deposit covers over 100,000 square miles!  The salt mine that is Strataca is 300,000 square feet and it was discovered in 1887 when Ben Blanchard was drilling for oil and found salt instead.

Emerson Carey, a local entreprenuer, started the Carey Salt Mine in 1923.  The salt mined here is rock salt, used mainly for de-icing roads or freezing homemade ice cream.  Over 500,000 tons of rock salt is excavated each year!  In addition to mining salt, the tunnels that remain happen to be the perfect storage place for important media collections.  Since 1959, Underground Vaults and Storage has been safekeeping data, movies, newspapers, and more (even nuclear waste!), right here in Kansas.

Our tour guide, Bob, got us outfitted with hard hats and buddy tags, and then we hopped on the double-decker six-ton transporter hoist that took us through frozen aquifer and many layers of rock and silt into the heart of the salt mine.  Once there, we had the chance to look at museum-like exhibits about the mine and its history, and then we took a train ride deeper into the mine.  We were able to drive down now-abandoned shafts and tunnels that were mined in the 40s and 50s.  What’s so interesting about the mine is that anything that goes into the mine stays there, so it truly was like traveling back in time.  The trash piles marked the decades as well as the decrepit vehicles that are frozen in their tracks (and in time).  It was one of the most fascinating tours we’ve done!

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It was almost 1 PM before we left Hutchinson, and we had 300 miles to go to get to Crystal Bridges.  We didn’t want to miss the Chihuly exhibit, so we skedaddled!  We had thought we might stop in Wichita for lunch or to see something of interest there, but we pushed on instead.  We got to Bentonville and found Crystal Bridges with no problem, and the timing was perfect.  We got to see the Chihuly glass in the daylight, then went inside to see the art inside the gallery, and then we went back out to see the glass all lit up at night.  Spectacular!

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was founded in 2005 by the Walton Family Foundation.  Sam Walton’s daughter, Alice Walton, is the patron and chair of the museum’s board of directors.  The museum was designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie and the building opened on 11 November 2011.  It was named for a nearby natural spring and the bridge construction incorporated in the building by Safdie.  The museum’s permanent collection spans five centuries of American masterworks ranging from the Colonial era to the current day.

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By the time we had seen all of the art that we wanted to, it was time for dinner.  We were so hungry (no lunch, after all!) that we opted to eat in the restaurant at Crystal Bridges.  Great choice!  Dinner was fabulous!  Afterwards, we made our way to our hotel and called it a day.  What a wonderful way to wind down our trip!

Redemption for Kansas?

Tuesday, 5 September 2017
Lamar, CO to Hutchinson, KS ~ 275 miles

0905 Lamar to Hutchinson route 275

Map credit: Google Maps 2017, courtesy AAA

We kind of figured the Thai Spicy Basil would not be open for breakfast, so we decided to give the nearby Hickory House a try.  Another good call – not only was the food fine, we had another cute as could be and super friendly server!  We had fun chatting with her and sharing our story.   On our way out of town, we stopped by a Roadside America site to see a building made of petrified wood – nothing terribly exciting, but since we’d been to the petrified forest state park, it was kind of interesting.  Soon we were on the road, and before too long we were crossing the border into Kansas.  Have I mentioned that until this trip, Kansas was our least favorite state of all fifty of them?  I had a feeling that after the past few days and the roads we’d been on, Kim may have been looking forward to some flat, boring prairie driving – and she was!


We’ve driven across Kansas (west to east), albeit on the interstate, and we’ve driven south to north across it on Hwy 83 (the Road to Nowhere), and we’ve explored the southeast corner several times (on Route 66), and while some of the sights we’ve seen (Dorothy’s House in Liberal, Monument Rocks in the middle of nowhere (one of the 8 wonders of Kansas), Prairie Dog Town near Oakley (now closed), Baxter Springs on the Route) have been good ones, others (Garden City, Scott (lake, city, county, state park, etc.) have been underwhelming.  As kids, we rode across Kansas and stopped at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene and then Daddy just drove and drove and drove.  For us, even North Dakota and South Dakota were more interesting; however, after criss-crossing Nevada twice now, Kansas was in good shape to move up a rung or two.  Fingers crossed, because our first stop was to be Garden City. Was redemption at hand?

On our first trip to Garden City, back in 2007, the main thing we wanted to see was the Big Pool.  The Big Pool was hand dug and concrete poured by the people of Garden City in 1921 and opened for its inaugural season in 1922. The bath house was a WPA project constructed during the 1930s, and a children’s wading pool was also added in the 1930s. Sounds intriguing, right?  Thing is, we arrived there on the day before Mother’s Day, which was early enough in May that the pool wasn’t open yet.  Bummer.  Not only that, but our meals in Garden City that trip were at Arby’s and Long John Silver’s – not because we were craving fast food (you know it’s against the rules) but because it’s all we could find open!  Well, that’s not exactly true – we were directed to the Ramada Inn for the Mother’s Day buffet, but after about five minutes inside (we had even been seated), we left.  Not happening! Anyway, here we were, back in Garden City, and it’s the day after Labor Day.  I was hoping that the pool would still be full!  You’re probably wondering what could be so exciting about a municipal swimming pool, but this isn’t just any pool – it’s the BIG POOL! When I say big, I mean BIGGEST!  At 330 feet long by 220 feet wide, it’s longer than a football field and four times wider.  It is so big that people have water skied and wind surfed in it!  It takes two teams of eight people SIX DAYS to vacuum it.  A motorized boat is used to sprinkle soda ash in it, and there is a guard stand in the middle of the pool, meaning you would have to get wet to get on the stand – all of you former lifeguards out there – you know what a bitch that would be on a chilly day, a rainy day, or on first or last shifts!  Thankfully, we were rewarded – the pool was closed (meaning we could take all of the photos we wanted) and it was still full of water.  The pool is right next to the city zoo, and we learned that, back in the day, they brought the elephants over to frolic in the pool after it closed for the season.  Sadly, the elephants aren’t there any more, so we missed that spectacle, but there is an elephant slide in the kiddie pool.



Some of the history of the Big Pool


It really is ENORMOUS! This is the shallow end, with the bathhouse/concession area at left.


Pictures don’t do it justice! Two low dives and two water slides in the deep end.


See the guard chair in the middle of the pool??

Turns out that the zoo and the city museum (also next door) are free, so we decided to get a few steps by walking through the zoo.  And, if you drive through the zoo, it’s $10, and you don’t see much.  Go figure.  Kim probably wished we had skipped the zoo, since I love taking pictures of animals, but I really enjoyed it.  It was not a huge zoo, but it had some fun stuff.  You can skip the pics if you want – I may have gotten carried away…


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After the zoo, we had to go to the museum, since the main reason we stopped was to see (I’m not kidding here) the world’s largest hairball.  There, I said it.  And it was right here in Garden City, although we almost missed it!  The museum was nicely done and we learned a bit more about Garden City, the Santa Fe Trail, and life on the prairie.  And about the hairball…


Our next stop after Garden City was Dodge City, which I was concerned would be the Gatlinburg of the Prairie.  In case you are not a long-term Sassy Sister follower, we have a habit of bestowing the ‘Gatlinburg of the ______’ moniker on things that we thought would be cool, interesting, or at least worth a stop but that ended up being tourist traps more than the places we expected (and that they probably once were).  It’s kind of sad, because we grew up going to Gatlinburg and loving it, before it became, well, THE Gatlinburg.  In case you’re wondering about some of our ‘award’ winners:

  • Gatlinburg of the Midwest – Wisconsin Dells
  • Gatlinburg of the Civil War – Gettysburg
  • Gatlinburg of the Coast – Myrtle Beach
  • Gatlinburg of the Badlands – Wall Drug

You get the idea!  Let us know if you have someplace we should include on this list!

Another blessing – Dodge City was not a Gatlinburg!  Our main stop in Dodge was as quirky as they come – the Wild West Wax Museum/Kansas Teacher’s Hall of Fame.  Yep, both of these oddities are housed in the same building, and the story is a funny one. Turns out the guy who owned the building was a photographer who somehow started collecting wax figures, mostly of wild west heroes and villians, with a few exceptions – John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Wolfman, Dracula, and Frankenstein, most notably.  His photography studio was on the first floor, and the entire second floor was filled with these wax figures in semi-elaborate dioramas with a backdrop of black velvet, black light painted murals.  When the teacher’s Hall of Fame was looking for a home, the studio was just perfect, and the wax museum was part of the deal.  The coolest part of the wax museum is that it hasn’t changed since the 60’s!!  We almost didn’t get to see either the museum or the Hall of Fame, as it was open by appointment only after Labor Day, but the nice lady who answered our phone call agreed to meet us at 3 PM or shortly after, and sure enough, when we arrived about ten after three, Miss Mary Lou was there to greet us.  She sent us upstairs to see the wax museum, and then she was our personal tour guide for the Hall of Fame and it’s piece d’resistance, an authentic one-room schoolhouse that has been restored and permanently placed on the property.


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The Kansas State Teacher’s Hall of Fame was very impressive!  Since 1977, the best teachers in Kansas have been honored by their peers, and it’s not easy to be in this group.  First, a teacher must have taught in Kansas for 25 years, and then, he or she must be nominated for the award.  Of course, many letters and recommendations are needed and then a group selects the award recipients from the larger group.  In addition to being a place of honor for these dedicated educators, there is a small museum featuring desks, books, typewriters. blackboards, musical instruments, etc. through the decades, and there is a gift shop, too – all in addition to the one-room schoolhouse, which is a museum itself.  We appreciated Miss Mary Lou taking time from her day to share these museums with us!


We thought about finding something to eat or drink while in Dodge, so we walked down the hill to the famous (or infamous) Boot Hill.  We opted not to pay to see the recreated Main Street, but we walked by it and then up and down a few blocks of the town.  In the end, we didn’t get refreshments (the brew pub and the distillery were closed) and just decided to head on to Hutchinson, our destination for the day.  On the way, we passed a huge feedyard of cattle and then an even bigger wind farm.  No kidding, the windmills, by the thousand, went on and on for miles!  We had already passed two different windmill-making facilities and a truck with a windmill arm.  This is definitely the place for it!


We were looking forward to staying in a Hampton Inn again, and we had no trouble finding ours in Hutchinson, since we arrived before dark (again!).  After getting some recommendations for dinner, we decided to drive a few miles south to the town of Yoder (population 194) and a place called Carriage Crossing.  Turns out Yoder is the center of several nearby Amish communities, and this restaurant (and bakery and gift shop) is family-owned and is known for its comfort food, which can be served family style if there are enough of you.  We were happy with our choice – good food, plenty of it, great prices, and PIE!


Animals, Dunes, and Depression

Monday, 4 September 2017

Blanding, Utah to Lamar, Colorado – 475 miles

Colorado route

Map credit: Google Maps 2017

There weren’t many options for breakfast this morning, but we found Yak’s Cafe on our way out of town.  The parking lot was pretty full, and that’s usually a good sign, so we were hopeful – and again, we were not disappointed!  The staff was friendly and though we got the expected ‘you’re not from around here’ looks from the regulars, everyone was nice and the food was hot and good.  Nothing fancy – good ole scrambled eggs, bacon, and hash browns are a great way to start the day.  You may have noticed that we’ve been eating only two meals a day most days.  We’ve learned that a hearty breakfast can go a long way, and we haven’t even been snacking on the snacks we bought at the Dutch Bakery.  Well, except for the vegetable chips which I may be becoming addicted to…  Back to the subject at hand – today’s route would take us across southern Colorado, most of which we had not seen before.  We visited Durango, Mesa Verde, and the Four Corners Monument on our Sassy Sister trip in 2013, and this time we’d be passing through Durango from west to east instead of north to south, although we did reminisce about our stormy, rainy, curvy, scary drive on US 550 past Ouray on that trip.   We also realized that the lovely day we spent soaking in natural hot springs was in Pagosa Springs, which was right on our route on Highway 160 today.  Sadly, we didn’t have time to stop at any of those places this time, as we had lots of ground to cover.

Our first stop of the day was an unexpected one, but who can resist hand-lettered signs for an elk ranch?  We were near Del Norte, and Kim gamely (haha) turned in at my request.  What a hoot!  From the Burma Shave-like signs lining the drive to the ‘Welcome to Ribeye, Colorado’ (population 12) sign to the photo ops to the store full of game meats to the pens of elk and caribou to the cute little kittens hanging out on the steps, we enjoyed our short detour at Anta Grande Elk Ranch.

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It turned out to be a good thing we stopped here, because from Del Norte to Lamar, there was very little of interest.  The small towns were sad – very depressed, very little open – we wanted to stop for rest and refreshment, but there were no options along our route, even in the bigger places.  We were astonished to learn that there was a National Park in the middle of this nothingness, so we decided to have a look at Great Sand Dunes National Park, and we planned to ‘sled’ down the dunes.  Alas, you needed to have procured your sled in town before arriving at the park.  Oh well, we just opted to take a short hike, get some photos, and learn a bit about the dunes and the surrounding area.

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The rest of today’s trip was blah!  No scenery, no people, no place to stop, and very little of interest.  We took a little accidental side trip in Walsenburg, and that was even more depressing! We were glad we actually knew a good place to eat in Lamar and we really wished we had known there was a brand new Holiday Inn Express (right next door to our dreary Days Inn) –, you let us down this time!  We stopped at a Sonic in Lamar for some iced tea and saw an interesting sight, but we couldn’t get a good photo. Until we stopped for gas a couple of blocks later (whew!) and the same truck pulled up next to us.  Too funny!  We passed our Days Inn and were really tempted to drive on, but it had been a long day and there was nothing promising on the horizon, and we had already paid for the room.  We ate a delicious dinner at Thai Spicy Basil (we had eaten here on our 2013 trip) – Kung Pao Chicken and Moo Goo Gai Pan, with some chicken coconut soup for me – and then we resigned ourselves to the motel.  Just to add insult to injury, there was no elevator, and even though we both had two bags and the guy ahead of us had a tiny bag, he got the first floor room and we got the second floor room that was as far from the front desk (and stairs) as it could have been.  We see how it is.  I think I get cranky when we are heading home!

Surviving the Surreal

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Cedar City to Blanding, Utah, 360 miles

0902 Cedar City to Blanding Route 360

Map credit: Google Maps 2017, courtesy AAA

Thanks to our superb server, Jacee at Centro Pizza, we knew that the place to go for breakfast this morning (another Sunday morning in Utah – sort of limits your breakfast choices!) was the All-American Diner, and we even knew where it was, since we had passed it on our way to dinner the night before.  We were not steered wrong – I had a standard All-American breakfast of eggs over easy, bacon, and hash browns with a splurge of a pancake.  It was all great, and I didn’t even eat all of the pancake or the potatoes.  It was about 9:30 when we started off on what would be one of our most challenging drives ever on our trip across what must be America’s strangest state, at least as far as terrain and topography are concerned!  The drive started out innocently enough, and we were on familiar territory, as we had stayed three nights in Cedar City on our very first Sassy Sister trip in 2006, on our way home from Route 66.  The first part of our journey took us through the Dixie National Forest until we turned onto Utah Scenic Byway 12 (an All-American Road), which took us past Bryce Canyon National Park, but we didn’t stop since we had spent a day there previously.

We made a quick stop at the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Cannonville and talked to a friendly ranger there who suggested that we stop at the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park and do a short hike there, since we really didn’t have time to explore the Grand Staircase much more than that.  It wasn’t too long before we traveled the 32 miles to the park, where the ranger there didn’t seem to think we would be up to the challenge of the short but steep hike up to see the petrified trees. Needless to say, that decided it.  We filled our water bottles, put on sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses, and after checking out the 50′ petrified tree at the base of the hill, headed up the dirt trail, which was almost completely unshaded.  Mrs. Ranger had given us a map that had info for each of the numbered stops along the trail, so we learned a bit as we hiked.  The trail was at its steepest early on, so the going was hardest at the beginning. Since we were just off of Vernal Fall though, it was a piece of cake!  One of the interesting things we learned was that the town of Escalante was named for a Spanish Franciscan priest who had explored the area in 1776, looking for an overland route from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Monterey, California.

With a little hike under our belts, we were ready for some more driving.  We thought! What no one had mentioned to us (and since we had done no research, we didn’t know) is that the next section of the road we would be traveling was near another road called ‘Hell’s Backbone‘, which is a gravel road built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933, and let me just say that I am sure it is very aptly named!  I have to give total props to Kim, who drove Highway 12 masterfully and didn’t get to enjoy the spectacle nearly as much as I did.  The road featured several sections of 8 to 10% grades, no guardrails, and lots of curves.  The best news was that the road was obviously recently repaved!  The other good news – evidently, most people travel on interstate highways!  We were both thankful that we didn’t come upon any crazy bicyclists on this road and were stunned to read (days later) that Colin had taken this exact route on his travel the opposite direction!  Colin, when you read this, we are SO GLAD you made it safely!! These next photos need no explanation – the first ones were taken over about a 15 minute time period, and the ones with the aspen trees were about 25 minutes after that.

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About thirty minutes later, we turned off of Hwy 12 onto Hwy 24 at Torrey and soon found ourselves in Capitol Reef National Park, with yet another stunning terrain change. Capitol Dome is a Navajo sandstone feature that was named for its resemblance to the US Capitol. This dome, along with the nearly 100-mile Waterpocket Fold (a barrier of rock that obstructed early travelers like a barrier “reef”), inspired the park’s name.  Capitol Reef became a National Park in 1937, and it has three main districts – the Fruita area, which was a Mormon settlement with a school and orchards, which are one of the largest historic orchards in the National Park Service with almost 3,000 trees, including apple, peach, pear, apricot, cherry, and plum; the Waterpocket District, which encompasses the 100 mile long Waterpocket Fold; and Cathedral Valley, which is a backcountry area.  While we would have liked to have explored this park more, it was quite hot and we still had a long way to go to get to our destination before dark.  And if the road ahead was like the one we had just traveled… Anyway, we stopped in the Fruita district to see the petroglyphs.

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We continued on Hwy 24 until we reached Hanksville, where we turned south on Hwy 95 (the Bicentennial Highway), headed for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Natural Bridges National Monument, and ultimately, the town of Blanding.  Kim was almost over it with the driving (and I can see why) and we really wanted to make sure we were situated well before dark, so we mostly enjoyed the views from the car.  We stopped at an overlook to see Lake Powell, and we were in for a nice surprise.  From the Hite Overlook (which was quite a ways up and a mile or so off the road) we could see not only Lake Powell, but also the bridge over the Colorado River that we would be crossing soon.

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Before long, we were pulling into Blanding, not sure whether or not we would be happy with our choice of a place to stay.  Let’s just say it was not up to our usual standards, and if we had known then what we know now, we would have gone a bit farther up the road. But we were safe and had beds and a shower – and air conditioning, so no complaints. Before we checked in, we drove around town a bit since it was still light and found pretty much the only place to eat, which looked okay.  Turned out, we really enjoyed the Homestead Steak House!

Crossing the Desert

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Yosemite NP to Cedar City, Utah, 495 miles

0902 Yosemite to Cedar City 495

Map credit: Google Maps 2017, courtesy AAA

Saturday morning, we were not in a huge hurry to get going, as we planned to use our breakfast vouchers at the Majestic, so we got packed up and made our way down to the dining room.  While we would have preferred to order from the menu, it was pretty clear that having the buffet would be the thing to do, so we surrendered.  The buffet was good, and the food was fresh since there were a lot of people getting it, too.  Just one problem – the eggs Benedict was a very popular item, and it was out almost the whole time we were there.  I finally got one just when I was about to give up, and had the egg over the delicious lox they served.  It was time to say goodbye to Yosemite Valley, though we would still be in the park for quite a while longer.  After one last look at the lovely old hotel, we hit the road – turning east for the first time….

Our route would take us back out to California Highway 120, which would take us completely across the northern portion of Yosemite, and then we would take US 395 south for a bit.  It was a pleasant drive through parts of the park that we hadn’t seen, and there were lots of people hiking, camping, swimming, and hanging out on this holiday weekend.  We drove past Tuolumne Meadows and then caught a glimpse of Mt. Dana, the second-highest peak in the park, which still had snow on it!  Kim was getting her first practice at winding mountain roads after a few days of no driving at all.

We were almost out of gas, and we had heard all about a little gas station that had a great restaurant in it, but somehow we missed seeing it.  We went into the town of Lee Vining hoping to find it, but no luck.  We did find Lake Mono National Park, so we stopped there to see what it was and to find out about the gas station, which turned out to be just inside the park.  We had a look at Lake Mono, which is a big saline lake with some volcanic islands in it, and it’s a great place for birding.  It was already getting hot, and we had a lot of ground to cover, so back we went to the Mobil station (home of the Whoa Nellie Deli) to fill up, and then we were off, ready to cross the desert that is Nevada.

While US 50 across Nevada may have earned the title “Loneliest Road in America”, we would beg to differ with that opinion.  At least it had three little towns on it!  This southern route was much more deserted!  If not for the horses, cows, and extraterrestrials, we would not have seen any living things.  We saw not a single other car going in our direction!  Early in the route we went through the town of Tonopah, home to the creepy Clown Motel (calling David M!!) and then we saw not much else except the ‘town’ of Rachel (which was pretty much a trailer park). We enjoyed the Extraterrestrial Highway, but we disappointed not to have any (live) ET sightings. We stopped for gas in Caliente, the smallest incorporated town in Nevada (population around 1100) and admired the depot (which is also the library, town hall, and museum) that was across the street from the Sinclair station. We finally made it to the Utah border and found our way to the Holiday Inn Express in Cedar City.

Even though it was Saturday night, we barely made it to Centro Woodfired Pizza before it closed at 10 PM; however, the host seated us cheerfully and our server, Jacee, could not have been friendlier.  We shared a pizza – Kim had Fennel Sausage and I had Pollo Bianco – and had a beer and both were delicious!  The thin crust pizza was done perfectly and the toppings were plentiful and good.  We were enticed by the Nutella Piegato for dessert – “pizza dough filled with creamy Nutella, folded (Piegato) and baked in our wood fired oven until gooey and delicious. Finished with whipped cream and a nutella drizzle.”  Oh boy, was it good!  And we saved enough to give Jayce a couple of pieces, too.

We didn’t even try to blog or do pictures tonight, because tomorrow would be a LONG day and we needed to get some rest.


Majestic Yosemite

Friday, 1 September 2017

Yosemite National Park

Kim and I had big plans for the day today, as it was our last full day at Yosemite.  We had to check out of our Yosemite Lodge room before 11 AM and then check into the famous Majestic Hotel, but not until 4 PM, so we planned to pack up, load the car, and do a couple of hikes in the morning and then do a Valley tour in the afternoon before moving to our new not-so-humble abode.  I won’t say how much, but let’s just say in all of my travels, I have NEVER paid anywhere near as much money for a hotel room of any kind as we paid for 18 hours (maybe) at the Majestic.  We were sure hoping it wouldn’t have been a mistake!  (The only reason we were moving was because that was the only place in the park that we could get a room for the first night of Labor Day weekend.)

Anyway, we went to the Lodge’s food court for breakfast, and my mom told me if I couldn’t say anything nice, not to say anything at all.

We caught a shuttle bus right outside the front desk at the Lodge and rode it to stop #16, Happy Isles.  The bus was almost empty when we got on, and thirty minutes later, when we got off, it was packed to the gills.  Almost everyone got off with us – seemed a hike to Vernal Fall was on lots of people’s agendas this morning.  It was a gorgeous day – not nearly as smoky as it had been yesterday – and it was just starting to get hot.  The Vernal Falls hike (aka the Mist Trail) had been listed as ‘moderate to strenuous’ on the info sheet, but the info lady we had spoken to yesterday decreed that we would have no trouble with it.  The hardest part about it, she said, was that there was a pretty steep elevation change over a short distance, but that if we took it slow and easy, we’d be fine.  Right.

It didn’t help that we chose the wrong trail to start off on, but we got to see a stream measuring station and talk to the nice lady at the Happy Isles visitor center, and we weren’t the only ones who had made that mistake.  Off we went, back to the bus stop, across the bridge, and up the hill.  We were behind a large group of Asians who were about our age or older and who had grasped the idea of ‘slow and steady’.  I guess I am more hare than tortoise, and I have no problem stopping to rest and then moving on again.  With my long legs, it’s harder to go slowly than to move on a rest when I need to!  We had been warned to stay adequately hydrated, so every time we stopped, we had a drink of water.  I was loving the cool water ‘bottle’ that I bought at Tahoe and wishing I had purchased more than one.  I really wish my photos were a better representation of the elevation change and how strenuous it was.  Granted, some young people seemed to be having no trouble with it, but there were LOTS of people having way more difficulty than Kim and I were.

Before too long, we reached the footbridge and were rewarded with a fantastic view of the waterfall.  Our original plan was to refill our water bottles here (with the potable water available) and head back down, but the activities guy at the Lodge and implored us to continue up the hill for a better view.  So after we rested a bit and took some photos, off we went, looking for the big rock he had told us to climb to.  We found the rock, but kept going, always hoping for a better view around each turn.  We went until we reached the rocky stairway that led to the very top of the falls and decided we’d had enough – in fact, had we kept going, we wouldn’t have had time for the rest of our day’s agenda!  After a few more photos, back down the hill we went.  As expected, going down was as hard on the knees as going up was on the lungs, but it went lots faster!

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We made it down to the bus stop just before another bus arrived to take us to the next stop, the Mirror Lake trailhead, which was about a mile away.  We had been told that there was still water in the lake (usually there was only water in winter and spring) and that it was a nice, easy hike on a paved road.  Thankfully, those reports were correct.  We had great views of Half Dome and the lake, while not full, did have enough water for people to frolic in and for us to cool off with.  We walked back part of the way on a trail instead of the road since it was shady and nice.  We didn’t have to wait long for a bus, so it looked like we would make it back to the Lodge in plenty of time for our planned 2:00 Valley Tour.

We not only made it back before the tour started, we had just enough time to grab a beer and make a quick rest stop.  Rejuvenated, we hopped on the tour train, sitting in the front row, since all others were taken.  That turned out to be great for several reasons – we had the whole row to ourselves, there was no one in our way when taking pictures, and we got to be the ranger’s pets.  Our ranger guide was Owain (pronounced Owen) who had been a ranger at our old favorite, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  He did a fabulous job pointing out the sites and telling us a lot of history about the park and filling us in on the flora, fauna, and geography of the park as well.  The tour was two hours, and we made two stops – one about 30 minutes in and one 30 minutes later – and even though it was really hot by mid-afternoon, we kept moving just enough to stay cool.  It really helped to be able to spread out a bit, too!  We got to see all of the most iconic Yosemite landmarks and we saw parts of the park we had not gotten to on our own, so it was a good activity for us.

By the time we got back to the Lodge, it was check in time at the Majestic, and we were hot, tired, thirsty, and pretty stinky.  We self-parked, lugged in our bags, checked in, and made our way to our room, only to find out that it was occupied!  Ack!  At least the couple lounging in there was fully dressed!!  I went back down to the desk and after many apologies and no one knowing quite what happened, we got a new room (a corner one!) and a voucher for a free breakfast (no small change there – that was a $45 value!).  Kim reported that we should be glad we were the ones to move, as a very large and very loud party had checked in to the room next door to our original room.  Thankfully, we were on the same floor, so our move was a short one.

Our room was plenty big and hooray!!  It had air conditioning!!!  Best of all, the shower was heavenly!!!  I think I took a 30 minute shower!  Once we were clean and fresh and ready to rejoin civilization, we went down to the Majestic Lounge and got a table on the patio, had a cocktail, and then enjoyed a nice supper.  We split a Caprese salad and a Cuban sandwich and then we each had a dessert – Kim had a chocolate chip cookie with ice cream and I had the famous Majestic boysenberry pie, also with ice cream.  It was the perfect end to our fun-filled and busy day!

We would be leaving Yosemite on Saturday morning, which also meant we would be heading east for the first time in two weeks….but we still have almost a week to go!

Walking Through Woods and Meadows

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Yosemite National Park

For the first time in weeks, we slept in because we had no place to be at any particular time and we didn’t need to be moving on.  It’s probably a good thing we didn’t have AC, because we might have slept until noon!  Kim was feeling pretty nervous about the forest fires in the area, and it didn’t help that it was very smoky outside – it was not going to be a great day for photos, that much was certain!  As it was, by the time we were ready to head out, we had pretty much missed breakfast, so we wandered over to Yosemite Village and got some lunch at the Yosemite Grill.  We had burgers and split an allegedly unbelievably good milkshake – neither were anything to write home about, but they hit the spot.

We had already decided that some pool time was going to be in order later in the afternoon, so we did the short hike back to see the beautiful Yosemite Falls.  This was a very easy, very flat trail, but we still got a kick out of some of the hiking attire sported, mostly by women.  Heels, flip flops, fancy jewelry, and my favorite, designer backpack/pocketbooks.  Seriously?  When we arrived at the base of the falls, lots of people (and many, many young children) were playing on the huge rocks, despite constant warnings of falls, swift water, slick rocks, etc.  So many people forget to pack their common sense when they go out into nature!   We learned that at Yosemite, if a waterfall is one single cataract, it is called a fall, like Bridal Veil Fall, but if it is made up of multiple parts, like Yosemite Falls, it is called falls.  Important distinction, evidently!

We walked on back to our room in the Willow building of Yosemite Lodge and got our suits on and headed for the pool, which was right next door.  We practically had the whole pool to ourselves, and yes, we not only got in, but we stayed in for a while and swam.  And impressed the lifeguards with our stellar floating abilities.  Until we heard them discussing body fat and its relationship to good floating…. Once we were fully refreshed and had maybe had a short nap in the sun, we geared up for more afternoon activities, starting with happy hour outside the Mountain Room Lounge.  We each had a Peach Mule and shared some popcorn.  A little squirrel may have been the recipient of some wayward kernels.

After our libations, we took a photo walk through Cook’s Meadow.  The light was great, but it was still too hazy and smoky to get really good rock/waterfall photos.  Thankfully, there were plenty of other great photo ops!  After our walk, we had a lovely dinner at the Mountain Room.  Kim had a smoked salmon flatbread and I had grilled salmon with sweet corn polenta and asparagus.  We split a decadently rich chocolate cake – so good!  It was dark by the time we walked back to our room, and the moon was gorgeous!  It was a fun day – restful and full of nature!

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So Long, Long Hike, Longer than Expected Drive

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Lake Tahoe, California to Yosemite National Park, California, 245 miles

0901 Lake Tahoe to Yosemite Valley 245

Map credit: Google Maps 2017, courtesy AAA

Since it was our last morning in paradise, Kim and I wanted to take Laura and Don out for breakfast and one of their favorite places called Bert’s, which happens to be right across the street from Ernie’s.  Too funny!  Bert’s  would have been one of my go-to joints as well – my sausage Benedict was incredible, and Kim’s eggs, bacon, and blueberry pancake looked yummy.  We went back to the cabin and loaded our car, and then Kim and I headed up the lake toward Emerald Bay for a hike and a tour of Vikingsholm.  We parked the car at Eagle Point Campground and made our way to the trailhead of the Rubicon trail, which was about 1.5 miles from Vikingsholm, which was a private home built by Mrs. Lora Knight in 1929.

Rex and I had been to Vikingsholm before, but we had hiked down the driveway, which is a VERY STEEP 1 mile hike – killer on the knees going down and aerobically exhausting getting back up.  The Rubicon trail is longer, but on a much easier grade.  It was a fun hike, as we could see the tea house on Fannette Island and then even Vikingsholm on the way down the mountain.  Just before reaching the house, we crossed a bridge over a pretty running creek.  We got there just in time for the noon tour, which we thoroughly enjoyed.  Be sure to read more about Vikingsholm HERE, and visit it when you go to Lake Tahoe.

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The hike back up was not bad at all, although it was a good bit warmer by the time we started up the hill.  Just as we reached the end of the trail, we met a couple and a Tahoe photography tour guide who were on their way to the Point, so we extended our hike long enough to see the view from there.  We were rewarded with panoramic views of the lake and of Emerald Bay, and we could even see Don and Laura’s place from there.  We saw a huge eagle’s nest on the way back, but no eagles – bummer!

Since we were going to Yosemite, we knew we needed to get on the road soon, so we didn’t delay any more, nor did we stop for a cold drink.  It was just as well, since the route we had decided to take proved to be impassable due to a forest fire.  Thankfully, we did not have to backtrack too far to get on a different path (thanks to a friendly sheriff who was in the right place at the right time for us – getting his mail from a rural mailbox where we just happened to be turning around!) and we made it to the Yosemite Valley Lodge just as darkness fell.  Turns out it was really good we talked to the sheriff, because the alternate route we would have taken was also closed due to a different fire!  Yosemite is one of those places that you have to wanna be – it was not an easy drive, but it was beautiful!  At least I was able to enjoy it – I had to keep telling Kim not to look, as it was a steep, curvy mountain road with very few guardrails.  We were very thankful to have gotten as far as we did before the sun started setting!

We got checked in, found our room (not without incident!), unloaded the car, and headed to the Mountain Room Lounge for a late dinner and a well-deserved adult beverage.  We opted to share a big appetizer platter of ceviche, a charcuterie, and chips and salsa while sipping on cocktails.  We had enough food for about six people and we did not eat it all!

After our long and tiring day (all 17,000 steps of it), we sort of collapsed into our beds and were asleep right away.  If only we’d had some air conditioning, we may have slept really well!  And if Kim hadn’t waked up worrying about forest fires!  Anyway, it was a fantastic day and we were thrilled to be in the park!



We’re on Tahoe Time

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Lake Tahoe, California

It sure felt great to wake up and know we didn’t have to pack things up and move on!  I woke up early and went out to see the sun coming up over the lake – what a sight!  I might get up earlier if I knew I would see that every morning!  Laura fixed us a wonderful breakfast of pastries and fresh raspberries and strawberries – so juicy and good. After breakfast, we just sat outside and watched the lake come alive here at the end of the summer.  Before long, we saw a huge yellow hot air balloon floating almost silently across the lake.  It was so quiet that we could hear the bursts of fire as the balloon went higher.  Laura showed us the barge where the balloon would land out in the middle of the lake (well, middle from where we were – it’s a BIG lake!).  So we watched the landing and we watched a parasailer, and we watched Laura’s friends and their dog go out on their paddleboards for a ride.  I brought my laptop outside and sat at the picnic table and wrote a blog post – it was a wonderful lazy morning!

After a while, Laura took us on a walk over to a historic section of Lake Tahoe called Tallac, which was very close to their neighborhood.  We saw old lake homes, boats, cars, and firetrucks that have been protected and restored – so fun to see how the really wealthy lived here, way back when!  From there, we walked to the Stream Research place where we could go inside a building and see the actual stream next to us – fish, crawdads, and other living things right in front of us.  The pine trees provided loads of shade for us near the old homes, and pines, birch, and other trees offered a canopy otherwise, until we crossed a meadow.  Going back, we followed the bike path, which was paved and faster, but not nearly as shaded.

Once back at the cabin, Laura fixed us a light lunch of corn chips with ground beef, salsa, and cheese – very yummy!  We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting outside and only going in to do some laundry.  I even got brave (and hot enough) to go swimming in the lake – pure refreshment!!   Way better than the fountain in Carson City!  It was not nearly as cold as I was afraid it might have been – I really enjoyed it.  The water is so clear – I could see the bottom way out past where I could touch it!  Before we knew it, it was time for a sundowner.

For dinner, Don grilled delicious pork tenderloins and Laura made salad, pasta, green beans, and hot rolls.  How lucky were we??  Thanks so much for your wonderful hospitality, Don and Laura!  Laura showed us some photos of the cabin (which was built by her dad back in 1956) and its evolution, along with family photos and photos of her new grandbaby.  We had a mini Historian lesson and then we all spent time on our laptops in front of the TV.  Oh, and we may have had a bit of ice cream…and of course we chattered all evening, as if we had all known each other for years!  Kim and I got the laundry done and got things packed up as best we could.  We were both sad to be leaving such a magical place the next day!


Carson City, Colin, and Cozy Cabin

Monday, 28 August 2017

Carson City, Nevada to Lake Tahoe, California, about 35 miles

0828 Carson City Tahoe 33

Map credit: Google Maps 2017, courtesy AAA

We awoke to a bright sunny day in Carson City and decided to have some of our French silk pie from the night before for breakfast.  My, was it good – rich and chocolatey – and we didn’t even eat the whole piece.  Our plan for the day was to go see the capitol of Nevada and explore Carson City a bit and then drive the short distance to Tahoe early enough to enjoy the lake a bit and to get there before Happy Hour!

Carson City is not a big place, so it was easy to find our way into town, and we parked in a public lot behind the State Supreme Court, which is next to the silver-domed capitol building.  In between the court and the capitol is a lovely shaded greenspace full of monuments and lined with an arcade of leafy trees.  It was so cool and attractive there, especially on a hot summer day.  We saw a statue of Abe Curry, founder of the city, and Kit Carson, for whom the city was named.  There was a memorial to law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty and a statue honoring the miners from this state, which probably became a state due to the wealth of mineral deposits found and mined here.

The capitol building, completed in 1872, is a Victorian building made of sandstone quarried from a local quarry (owned by Abe Curry) using prison labor (no extra cost to the taxpayers) and whose cupola was topped by a real silver dome, back in the day.  Today’s dome only looks like it’s the real thing.  It’s not a big building, nor is it lavishly decorated.  The walls are made of Alaskan marble and there is an interesting painted border at the top of the walls that honors the many different minerals, metals, and rocks that are (or were) so plentiful in the state.  The original Supreme Courtroom here was big enough for about a dozen people to sit in.  The legislative branch is no longer housed in this building, either, but the House chamber was still set up as it had been.  The Senate chamber is now a museum about the capitol and Nevada’s history, so we spent some time in there.

While in the museum, we ran into a young man in biking clothes, so of course, we started talking to him.  Turns out he is riding his bike from Boston to San Francisco (and moving there) and we’re pretty sure he is the biker we passed on Highway 50 yesterday.  His name is Colin, and his blog is called No Edge Lines.  As I am writing this post, he is likely riding victoriously into San Francisco to the cheers of his friends and family.  Way to go, Colin!  We also met a Carson City resident and author named Don (check out his blog HERE), who told us about the city and some places to be sure to see and places we might want to eat.  Since it was getting on noontime, we decided it was time for lunch, so we walked a few blocks down to the Union, a new brewpub that Charlotte at the Hampton had recommended to us.  Good choice!

We sat outside (under shade) and started off with a shared flight of beer samples –  Peach Ale, Taco Truck Amber, Cherry Berliner Weisse, and a stout called Redheaded Stranger  – and a most satisfying heirloom tomato salad.  For lunch, Kim had a pepperoni and homemade sausage pizza, and I had a BLTA sandwich and a cup of onion lentil soup.  Our server, Heather, was so friendly and nice – we enjoyed chatting with her and with the two other tables of women out on the patio.  Since we were in no hurry, and since we were going to Scoups later for ice cream, we took time to enjoy another adult beverage.  Kim had a peach ale and I had the special of the day, a lavender lemonade (with a bit of gin).  One of the women next to us suggested that we go to the Nevada state museum, so when we were done, we headed that direction.  Sadly, it was closed on Monday, so we followed the blue line on the street per Don’s recommendation and went to see the home of Orion Clemens, former Secretary of the Nevada Territory and brother of ne’er do well Samuel, who became famous as Mark Twain after moving in with Orion to serve as his secretary and to get his act together.  Samuel went on to become a newspaper editor in nearby Virginia City, and well, you know the rest of the story!  The home is now a law firm, and was across the street from a sweet little Episcopal church which had won an award for the best stop on the Wine Walk.  My kind of church!

We were getting pretty hot and it was getting late, so we walked on down to Scoups, which is famous for its ice cream and for its soups, hence the name.  Kim splurged and had a brownie sundae with salted caramel ice cream and I just had a scoop of salted caramel with chocolate sauce.  Oh boy, did that hit the spot.  The ice cream parlor was right next to a splash pad where a mom was watching her two kids run through it in their bathing suits.  I was still so hot that I made them (and anyone else watching) laugh as I ran through the cold water, fully clothed.  Gosh, did that feel good!  And my hair looked great afterwards…

We walked back through the arcade on the capitol grounds and got ready to go to Lake Tahoe.  Laura had warned us to be sure to gas up in Nevada, so we made that stop on our way out of town, and it wasn’t long before we saw the huge blue shimmering water between the trees and mountains.  We also passed Colin going up the mountain, so we honked and waved at him.  If you have never been to Tahoe, I highly recommend it!  I had been here several times before, but it was a new experience for Kim, and it was new for me to have such a perfect place to land for a few days!  Thanks, Laura and Don!


Our first glimpse of Lake Tahoe

Laura is one of my Facebook friends who I had gotten to know via pixels2Pages, and it just happened that she saw a post about our trip one night a couple of weeks ago.  When she heard we were headed west, she asked if we would be coming to Tahoe, and since it was a big part of our plans, I answered affirmatively.  She insisted that we stop by to meet her and talk to her about what to do, as she has been summering in Tahoe for her whole life!  The Sassy Sisters never turn down an invitation like that!  As it turned out, it took us so long to get there that we ended up being invited to stay with them in the most delightful cabin directly on the beach of the lake!!  It could not have been a more perfect place to stay! Laura is a great cook and Don is a fab grill master, and we even got to do laundry!  We slept like logs and woke up to the most spectacular sunrises over a lake that looked like glass.  We had cocktails every afternoon at five and we delighted in the ducks and dogs that frolicked nearby.  We met neighbors (lifelong friends of Laura and Don) and we had a blast sitting by the lake sharing stories and becoming ‘old’ friends.

I had read Colin’s blog to Kim as we were driving to Tahoe, and we knew his plan was to stay a day or so here, so we contacted him and invited him to join us for dinner.  Laura suggested a place called Freshies that was not far from where Colin was staying, so we left Don watching football and took off to meet Colin.  Freshies was awesome – fantastic healthy and fresh food as well as wine and beer – and Kim, Colin, and I all had tacos, and they were so tasty.  Laura, Kim, and I peppered Colin with questions about his ride, his new job, his old job, his schooling, etc. and he was a good sport and filled us in.  It was quite dark by the time dinner was over, so we offered Colin a ride home in Laura’s Santa Fe (just like Kim’s).  He took the wheels off his bike and we crammed it in the back of the car and dropped him off at his motel.


Back at Laura and Don’s, we gave Don his stir fry (I’m sure he was about to gnaw on his arm by then!) and we just sat and chatted and looked at photos and blogged a bit until time for bed.  What a fabulous day!