Archive for September, 2012

Evening entertainment

This was, after all, a romantic 25th anniversary trip made in celebration of our marriage, and so we celebrated in many wonderful ways, including, but not limited to mutual screen time.

One of the things that we tend to do only very rarely is watch a movie together.  There are several reasons for this.  We are busy folks with much to do, and we tend to “work” on into the evenings most nights.  Well, that would be nights that we don’t have a church service or a life group or a meeting or a potluck or whatever.  Actually, we usually default to our desks for a least a little while even after those events!  So, we’re busy, but there’s also my innate distaste for fiction. I often find movies hard to follow and boring.  I’ll generally take a documentary over a movie any day.

On our way to the airport in Springfield, Scott wanted to stop at a couple book stores to get some videos.  I think he wanted some for us to watch on our trip and some for the Rendezvous (our vacation rental home near Branson).  I was fine with that.  As mentioned earlier, I was on vacation from making decisions, so pretty much whatever he said was just dandy.  As long as we could be together with no responsibilities and no kids, what did I care where we went or what we did?!?

So we bought all these DVDs and shoved them into some close-to-overweight bag and took them to Yosemite.

We ended up watching three of them during our stay, and it turns out that all three were HEAVY.  Good, but intense.  The first was “Faith Like Potatoes.”  I had heard of this movie.  I knew it had something to do with a farmer in South Africa and potatoes.  It was a true story, and it was at once sad, inspiring, and challenging.  I didn’t want to cry on vacation, and while I was OK to be inspired, I wasn’t really looking for major challenge.  That flick really did something to Scott, and he seemed quite pensive and almost morose after it.  Not sure what that was all about.

Another night, we watched “October Baby.”  I don’t want to say too much about this one, because I hope many readers will watch it.  I did like that movie.  It had some intense stuff and some stuff that hit me pretty hard emotionally.  It made me cry, but it was really positive overall and very hopeful.  I’d like our kids to watch it.  There was a character in there that reminded me a lot of one of ours, and that made me smile.

Our final flick was “Rugged Gold.”  This one was based on a true story of a very well-to-do genteel widow (and her eight-year-old son) who marries an Alaskan gold miner in the 1950s and moves with him to the boonies of Alaska.  The story was familiar to me.  I like to read about Alaskan pioneering, and I think I may have read the book that formed the basis for this movie.  If I’m thinking of the right story, the real-life version did not have as happy an ending as the movie did.  In any case, the woman ends up living in a cabin in the woods for months, is critically injured in a terrible accident and has to set and cast her own broken arm, faces grizzly bear attacks, and ends up giving birth alone and raising her infant daughter there.  This movie was too intense for me.  Too much terror and blood. Several times, I had to bury my face in Scott’s chest and say, “I just can’t look.”  I would never make it through “The Passion of the Christ.”

I think we watched more movies in those eight days than we have probably watched in the past ten years!  Now I’m ready to return to our Ken Burns “Civil War” series.  I think we left it shortly after Gettysburg.

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Flume!

After Yosemite Valley on Sunday, Nelder Grove on Monday, and Yosemite Valley on Tuesday, we were ready for a day without driving.  On Wednesday, we stayed home, slept in (we ate breakfast at 11:00 AM!), blogged (me), researched IRA investment options (Scott), napped, and found a flume!

While driving home from wherever on Monday or Tuesday, we had taken an exploratory jaunt on Road 222 around the far side of Bass Lake and back into North Fork.  At one point, we had passed under a wooden trestle.  Interesting!  I looked up, expecting to see a railroad bridge, but the underside of whatever it was appeared to be grey metal.  Curious.  As we snaked our way on down the road, I told Scott that I thought maybe it was a flume!  We had learned that back in the 1890s, loggers at Nelder Grove had sent timber (mainly white pine and fir) by flume, all the way down to Madera, some 50 miles away!  I wondered at the time if the trestle we had just driven under might be one of those flumes!

On Wednesday afternoon, during our laid-back “home” day and after a fine lunch of calzone we brought back from The Pizza Factory in North Fork, we decided to get out of the house again for a little while and drive back to that flume to explore it.  Ten minutes from our house, we found it again, and no one was around.  = )  There were warning signs not to get into the flume, but no signs about trespassing, so we walked along it for a little ways upstream of the trestle.  Where the flume passed over the road, it was a metal trough, a semi-circle of maybe eight feet in diameter, but on the ground, it was a concrete trough!  I’m guessing the flat bottom was about four feet across and the straight sides angled up and were about six feet high.  There was about an inch of water in it, which really surprised me.  Everything in that part of California was completely dry to the point o fbeing parched.  Where was that water coming from?  It was moving very slowly downhill, as water does, but in the blazing sun with no humidity, why didn’t that little bit of water just evporate?  Something had to be feeding it.

The other odd thing about that flume – besides its being smooth concrete, which probably wasn’t the flume-building material of choice in the 1890s – was that it curved.  As in, it snaked around bends.  A lot.  wouldn’t something carrying logs have to be straighter than that?  The Curious One in the party had a lot of questions, and she knew just where to get them answered – from the Forest Service guy at the ranger station! So, while Scott waited very patiently in the car (maybe he was doing business on our own vaction rental home?) I took dozens and dozens of flume and trestle pictures from every angle imaginable and then a few more, and then we drove back to the North Fork ranger station.

Our friend, the forest guy, was there and remembered us.  I guess we’re unforgettable!  He and another good old boy, who was talking with him when we came in, explained the flume deal to us, and here’s the scoop.  In the old days, yes, wooden flumes did carry logs long distances, both before and after they were milled.  However, none of those particular log flumes came through the North Fork area.  The flume we saw – and there are evidently several more in the area, as well – is a water flume, and it’s in use regularly by Pacific Gas & Electric, the company that generates, stores, and tranports power for the northen two-thirds of California.

It turns out that the primary natural resource in the Sierra Nevada is actually SNOW!  It snows heavily up there each winter, generally an average of seven to 21 feet per year.  Much of that snowmelt is captured and sent down the mountains in flumes that run above ground in some places (like the in-ground concrete and trestle-elevated metal flume we saw) and underground in others (in massive buried pipes).  Large volumes of water flow with great force and rapidity through turbines at, for example, the Manzanita power station and then into Manzanita Lake, just above North Fork.  The flume we saw is a conduit for the generation of hydroelectric power!  There are reservoirs high up in the mountains where the snowmelt water is stored, and when power needs to be generated, it’s released through the flume system.  I found this whole thing terribly interesting!  The one question I didn’t get answered was, “How long has that flume been there?”  The best answer the forest service guy could give was, “a long time.”  I couldn’t find any kind of date marker anywhere on or around it at that highway crossing, but I will guess that that flume was built sometime in the middle of the 20th century.

After that most satisfying jaunt, we headed back home for grilled kielbasa, more delicious veggie kabobs, and a movie.

Biking in the valley

Lunch was next on the agenda, and Scott claimed to have pre-selected the perfect spot.  The part of Yosemite Valley that’s accessible by car is about eight miles long, and it’s one way in, one way out.  On Highway 41, you drive in from the west end of the valley through the Wawona Tunnel and tool along to the end of the road, so to speak, at the east end.  The Mist Trail trailhead is at the far east end of the valley, and Scott thought we should eat back by Bridalveil Fall, which is about one mile from the west end.  Large sections of the road through the valley are one-way, so we had to go back almost to the beginning and come around in order to get to the Bridalveil Fall parking lot.  From there, we walked away from the crowd around the bathroom and trailhead to sit on a log next to an enormous rock, where we enjoyed a nice private picnic.  Sitting down really felt good, even though I had to shoo a bee and his brother away from the last two bites of my sandwich.

Fed, rested, and rehydrated, we were ready for our next adventure of the day, our much-anticipated  bike ride!  We do like to ride bikes, but southwest Missouri tends to be a bit hilly for my biking taste, so we don’t do it often.  Actually, there’s not a good place to ride from our house.  Blansit Road is a lovely flat mile, but the road is so terribly torn up now that it’s only even negotiable in a four-wheel drive vehicle.  In places, the loose gravel is so deep that I just fishtail in it.  Usually, we have to get out the bike rack and load the bikes and go somewhere else to ride, and that generally doesn’t happen except when we’re camping.

[It will be noted that since we knew we wanted to bike on this trip, and since we didn’t know where we’d need to rent the bikes or how far we might have to haul them, Scott had brought a bike rack in his suitcase!  Getting the rack into that bag was a major engineering feat, and it did push his full bag up to within two pounds of the airline’s 50-pound limit.  There weren’t a lot of clothes in there, either, but now I know where Josiah inherited his packing style of moving to college with only a smattering of clothes in his suitcase, along with a computer tower and oversized keyboard!  These guys have clearly live according to their priorities.]

The last time we actually went somewhere and rented bikes was on our honeymoon in the Smokey Mountains.  We biked through Cades Cove and saw a bear!  We both remembered that bike hike fondly, and we were really looking forward to biking in Yosemite Valley.

There are two bike rental stands in Valley, both operated by the national park.  One is at Yosemite Lodge, and the other is at Curry Village.  These are two of the several places we could have chosen to stay in the park, thus avoiding our three hours on the road to and from.  Let me take a moment to explain lodging options in the Valley.  We chose not to stay in the park for several reasons, but many, many, many people – the majority of whom speak something in addition to English – do stay in the valley.  Since it’s such a long drive to get to the valley, and since there’s so much to see and do there, it does make sense to stay there.

At the low end of the spectrum is camping, either in a tent, a pop-up, or some other camper brought from home or rented along the way.  There are several campgrounds, and the all sites in all of them must be reserved.  It’s my understanding that reservations (for pretty much ANY lodging in the park) must be made months in advance.  You don’t just decide it would be nice to go camping in Yosemite Valley this weekend and head out.

The campgrounds there look pretty much like heavily-used campgrounds anywhere, with the exception of the bear boxes.  I’m used to seeing campsites with things like picnic tables, lantern poles, and grills.  These site had some of those features, but each one also had a large, low metal box with a latching door that evidently most humans can open, but most bears cannot.  It is illegal (as in, you can be ticketed and evicted) to leave any food sitting out anywhere at any time.  During the day, you are allowed to store food in your vehicle, but it cannot be visible.  After dark, ALL food must be stored in the bear boxes and not in your car.

Up a notch from camping is the tent cabins that are available by the dozens in a couple of locations.  These are wooden platforms with canvas “tents” permanently erected on the on them.  They are numbered and lined up in long rows along dirt paths.  Parking is nowhere near, so hauling your gear in and out would be an bit of an operation.  When living in a tent cabin, one would still use public bathrooms, cook outdoors, and store all food in bear boxes.  However, when we were there, the tent cabins were not even an option.  Those area of the valley were all completely deserted, thanks to an outbreak of hantavirus, which is evidently spread via mouse droppings and can also be transmitted through the air.  Posted warnings about how to avoid contracting or spreading the virus were rampant. I’m guessing those tent cabin areas were being fumigated, or something.

Moving up the scale, one could stay in the valley at the Yosemite Lodge.  This is actually a series of two-story wooden buildings, each of which appears to house about eight motel room-type accommodations.  They are arranged in rows, kind of resembling barracks, and Scott and I were both glad that we were not in such close proximity to so many other visitors.

There is also a section of privately owned vacation rental homes in the valley.  We had actually considered these when we were searching online, and several of them looked promising.  If we had been on a family vacation with kids and didn’t want to spend three hours a day on the road, I think the vacation rental home concept would have been quite appealing.  They were expensive, though, which is one of the main reasons we didn’t choose that on this trip.  Proximity certainly does have its price.  When we arrived at the park, though, and actually drove through that “neighborhood,” it didn’t look quite as nice as it had online.   = )

At the top of the line is the Ahwahnee, a luxury hotel where queens and presidents have stayed.  We opted out, because it seemed a little pricey to us.  HA!  The rooms there run in the $400-$600 per night range!  Besides that, we really prefer to stay in houses when we can.  We like having more room and more privacy.  Generally, we only do hotels when absolutely necessary, like when we’re in transit and only going to be somewhere for one night.

The bike stand we rented from is located at Yosemite Lodge, between a couple of the lodging buildings.  I was totally thrilled when I saw the bikes.  There were maybe 60 of them to choose from, and they were all single speed bikes with coaster brakes and saddles that are designed for people whose rear end is not shaped like Lance Armstrong’s!  Whew!  The evening before, when we had initially scoped out the bike rental scene, I had noted bike #1005, which had nice high handlebars.  That deal of bending over like a racer when biking and then craning your neck up to see where you’re going just doesn’t work very well for me at all.  The high handlebars on #1005 looked like they would let me sit upright, which would be truly wonderful.

When we got back to the bike stand Tuesday afternoon, I made a beeline for #1005, which thankfully was still available.  It was a peach of a bike.  Scott found one that would work for his long legs, and after filling out some paperwork (that basically said we understood that inadvertently hitting a pinecone on the bike path could cause us to have an accident that could leave us cut, bruised, paralyzed, or dead and that all of that was our own responsibility) and leaving his driver’s license as proof that we’d bring the bikes back by 5:45 PM, we hit the road.

Yosemite Valley, kind of by definition, is flat.  It’s very flat and very perfect for biking.  The rental bikes are only allowed on paved surfaces:  the roads, which are generally shoulderless and carry quite a bit of traffic, even in September, and the bike paths, which run along the road and sometimes off through the trees.  We stuck to the bike paths, simply because we wanted to relax and enjoy the scenery without having to make sure we weren’t driven off the road or hit.

I’m thinking that if you rode all the bike paths available, you’d cover some eight or ten miles.  I think we rode them all, and it was so much fun!  We’d ride a while and then stop and take pictures and drink water.  It was nice to be able to see all the sights without being in the car and having to crane your neck up and around while driving, AND without being out in the sun walking and sweating.  When you ride a bike, you’re just out there and you can feel the sun and the breeze and look up at the monoliths and be awed, all at your own pace.  The bike paths were quite nice, and although there were a number of people walking on them, too, we could generally get around the pedestrians without having to stop.

We saw a lot of squirrels while biking, and while on this trip in general.   It seems there are two kinds of squirrels in the Sierra Nevada, neither of which we have at home.  They have a grey squirrel that’s very similar in shape and coloring our our Eastern Gray Squirrel, but unlike ours, he also has a collar of white fur around his neck.  Then in the areas where there are giant sequoias, like up in Mariposa Grove, we saw smaller, thinner squirrels that have black stripes on them and chatter like they are laughing at you!  They seemed to follow us along and talk to (about?) us.

In addition to squirrels and the beautiful Stellar’s jays (my favorite!), while biking we also came across a number of deer; mule deer, I think.  They weren’t white-tails.  They must be quite tame, as they were grazing right along the path and didn’t even look up at us.  We saw a buck of (I’m guessing) a couple years, and I took pictures of him, moving in as close as ten feet, and he didn’t even look up!  Oh, how the guys around here would have loved to get their sights and trigger fingers on him!

All too soon, our two-hour ride came to an end.  Actually, we were out for about two hours and twenty minutes, but the guy only charges us for two hours, a total of $44.  It was worth every penny, as we both now look back and remember that bike ride and one of our favorite activities of the week.

A lovely drive of some one-and-a-half hours brought us home to our ready-to-eat skillet dinner and a romantic evening in our peaceful and comfortable home away from home.  Ahhhhh!

Yosemite, take two

Tuesday we returned to Yosemite.  Yes, it still took an hour and-a-half to get there, but this time I drove, which was fun.  There was some road construction on Highway 41 going up, which in places turned an already very curvy and shoulderless two-lane road into a very curvy and shoulderless one-lane road.  This meant some delays, but if you have to sit still in a long line of traffic, you may as well do it in one of the most scenic places on earth, right?

We knew we wanted to hike, and we knew we wanted to bike.  We also would need to eat lunch somewhere.  Scott decided that it would be best to hike first, eat lunch, and then bike.  Since in real life I expend huge amounts of time and mental and emotional energy trying to best align tasks and time, when I am on vacation, one of my primary goals is to NOT have to make decisions.  I told him his plan sounded great.

We knew the biking would be on the flat (definitely my idea of biking!), and I told him that my perfect hike would also be essentially flat.  Flat hikes in the Yosemite Valley area are not particularly easy to come by.   One option would be the Lower Yosemite Falls hike, but as we didn’t especially want to ride the shuttle bus, and as there was no auto parking anywhere even remotely close to that trailhead, and as there was NO water going over Yosemite Falls at this time of the year, that hike didn’t make a lot of sense.

Furthermore, I knew that Scott, who is not at all challenged by climbing up major landforms, really wanted to conquer something.  I mean, if he had the time and the skill and the equipment, he’d love to climb El Capitan or Half Dome!  Neither of those was going to happen on this trip, however, and I did want to let him have a little bit of fun.  During our long drive to the valley that morning, he had been reading a lot of blurb about what to do where when and how in the valley.  After his hour of extensive research, he announced that he had it figured out.  (Again, I was more than fine with his figuring it out.)  “We’re going to do the Vernal Fall hike.”

“Does it have any water this time of year?”

“Yes.  It flows year round.”

“OK.  Sounds good.  How long of a hike is it?”

“It’s two miles total.”

(Two miles is within my ability, for sure.)

“That’ll be great.  Is it a loop?”

“No.  We’ll hike up to the bridge and then turn around and come back down.”

“OK.  Let’s do it!”

We found parking in a lot somewhere and then walked through a silent, secluded section of forest – it’s totally amazing to me that at a major tourist destination, we often found ourselves walking in the woods totally alone; WOW! – for about a quarter mile, at which point we were delighted to find a bathroom that flushed, a map of our intended trail on a large sign, and an arrow indicating the direction to the trailhead.

Bear in mind that Scott did all the research on this trail.  It was listed as “Moderate” on a scale of “Easy,” “Moderate,” and “Strenuous.”  Things started off well enough.  The initial part of the trail was actually paved (!) and it sloped upward gradually.  We do like gradual.

Just as we had crossed the bridge to get to the trailhead, a bus had deposited a load of tourists, all evidently bound for Vernal Fall and points beyond.  This trailhead has deep significance to serious hikers.  The hike we were embarking on is not only the way to Vernal Fall. It’s actually called the Mist Trail (due to the mist that hikers get sprayed with from two different falls in the spring), and from its humble beginnings you can hike to the Vernal Fall footbridge, to the top of Vernal Fall itself, and to Nevada Fall.  The Mist Trail is also the beginning of the hike to the top of Half Dome, and it’s the beginning of the John Muir Trail, which runs 211 miles from Yosemite Valley to top of Mt. Whitney.  At 14,505 feet, Mt. Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States.  I was very glad we were only planning to hike one mile to the Vernal Fall footbridge and not 211 miles to Mt. Whitney.

As I said, a bus had deposited a lot of hikers just as we got started, and Scott commented that he really preferred hiking without crowds.  Well, so do I, but that was simply not going to be the case on this hike.  It turns out that the Mist Trail is one of Yosemite’s most popular, and it was quite popular on that Tuesday morning.  I began to get a little concerned when I noticed that virtually all the hikers had one or more of the following characteristics:

~ appearing to be in excellent physical condition (Scott was, but I was not)

~ wearing a backpack, or in many cases a frame pack with sleeping bag and other camping gear affixed (we each wore a small belt bag, and the only “equipment” we had was a camera and two water bottles)

~ wearing well-worn hiking boots (we each wore tennis shoes, and Scott’s didn’t have superb traction)

~ carrying hiking poles (never thought about that, but they sure looked helpful)

Early on, I began to suspect that I was in over my head.  However, Roberts’ are not ones to turn back, and, do or die, we were going to get to the Vernal Fall footbridge, one way or the other.

Concerning the crowd that had debarked the bus, I told Scott that maybe we could just walk slowly along the flat at the beginning and let them all get ahead of us, and then we’d be more alone.  Well, letting them all get ahead of us was no problem at all!  As they passed us – maybe some thirty or so folks – I noticed that a lot of them were speaking languages that were not English.  I had commented to Scott on the way in to the park that morning that I guessed that the percentage of non-English speakers would be even higher on a weekday than it had been on a Sunday; the reason being that if you’re on vacation from Europe or Asia, you probably don’t care what day of the week you do which touristy thing, but if you live in central California and therefore probably speak English, you are most likely to work during the week in September and go to Yosemite on the weekend.  I told Scott I didn’t have a good way to scientifically test my hypothesis, but I was pretty sure we’d be hearing lots of foreign languages.  I mentioned to him as we started up the Mist Trail that the  percent of non-English speakers seemed to be well over 50%, maybe more like 55%.

On uphill hikes, I travel at one of two paces:  extremely slow and steady, or very slow with frequent pauses.  The main issue seems to be breathing.  I am especially fond of it, and the combination of a week of asthma stuff plus our being at a slightly higher altitude than at home plus my less than stellar physical condition was making breathing more labor-intensive than usual.  I stopped to rest a lot, but I was determined not to quit.  It was Vernal Fall footbridge or bust!

As we hiked and as we listened to more and more people speaking in more and more foreign languages, I said to Scott, “You know, 55% may not be accurate.  I think it’s more like 62%.”

One thing we do a lot of when vacationing in areas loaded with scenic wonders is offer to take pictures of two or more strangers.  Here’s the pattern:  He takes a picture of her standing in front of whatever; they then switch places for her to take a similar picture of him.  At that point, because what we really want is a picture of the two of us in front of whatever, one of us offers to take a picture of the two of them.  They smile and nod (because they generally don’t speak English), a bit of hand motioning ensues, their photo is taken, and we ask them to return the favor.  Sometimes we are fortunate enough to nab someone (usually a woman) who knows how to compose a good shot; sometimes not.

Partway up the Mist Trail, we did the swap-a-photo thing with a couple who probably lived in eastern Europe.  In the scramble to delay our volunteer photographers as little as possible (who, by the way, looked as if they could both run to the top of El Capitan) I set down my water bottle on the rock ledge, but left my belt bag on.  We smiled, they clicked, we all nodded and murmured our appreciation, and the hike resumed.

I did notice that at that time of day – around noon, I guess – there were almost as many people coming down as going up, and many of the descenders were dressed in long pants and long-sleeved shirts.  It was a hot day.  Who in their right mind would hike in such warm clothing?  Well, I guess long pants and long sleeves would protect you from the attack bees, but still?  Then it occurred to me that these guys must’ve started out, either in Yosemite Valley or somewhere else, early in the morning when it was cool.  Wow.  I was suitably impressed.

Some little way farther up, we swapped photos with a very gregarious couple who appeared to be perhaps of Asian descent.  Her English was heavily accented, his less so, but he spoke very energetically and expressively with much use of the hands.  Scott asked where they were from (meaning which nation) and the guy said, “Phoenix,” but that they he had also lived in Missouri and before that in North Carolina, where at the age of 60, he had discovered rafting.  Now, well into his 70s, he was a rafting enthusiast.  Quite a fit guy.  Scott then said that his English betrayed a bit of an accent. . . ?  Turns out they were both from Iran!  I don’t know if folks in Iran speak Arabic or Iranian, but I told Scott I was pretty sure the accurate non-English statistic for that day would be 73.8%.

I was actually fairly pleased with myself.  Yes, I was breathing heavily, and yes, we did have to stop often, but we were making progress, and anyway, how much farther could it possibly be to the Vernal Fall footbridge?

One feature of the Sierra Nevada, or at least of the Yosemite portion of that mountain range in September, is that everything is very dry.  Parched, in fact.  Therefore, throughout our whole trip, I was constantly carrying a water bottle, swigging water, re-filling water bottles, and thanking Scott for carrying my water bottle.  (His belt bag hols tow water bottles; mine holds zero.) While hiking and later while biking, every single stop, whether for breathing, photography, or bladder relief, also involved a big drink of water.  So, when I paused to breathe and reached for my water bottle and realized that I was no longer carrying it – and that I had left it back down on the ledge, and that by now (some fifteen minutes later) any one of the hundreds of thirsty folks on the Mist Trail may have thankfully picked it up and downed the contents – I was shocked and slightly embarrassed.

Not to worry.  My Hero volunteered to go back down after the water bottle!  He didn’t even shake his head in disgust or anything.  Down he went, while I continued to plod upward, and in about ten minutes he was back, bottle in hand.  He treats me like a queen!

We did make it to the Vernal Fall footbridge, a place where, evidently at other times of the year, one can see a stellar view of Vernal Fall.  We could see the fall, but there was only a small ribbon of water flowing.  That was OK with me.  I also told Scott it would be fine with me if he wanted to hike on up to the top of the fall.  For guys, you know, there’s this conquering instinct, and I knew that being at the bottom of the fall – or actually, being at a point from which one could look up to the bottom of the fall – just wasn’t fully satisfying to him.  No, he didn’t want to do that, although he did say wistfully that it looked like it wouldn’t be too much farther to get to the top. . .

Instead, while I sat on a rock, enjoyed the scenery, watched people, and surmised that surely 89% of the guests in Yosemite were non-native English speakers, he prowled the area until he found a hefty branch that I could use as a walking stick on the way down.  Boy, did that ever come in handy.  A continual downhill, even when it’s paved, does give one’s thigh muscles a workout, and the walking stick was a big help.

At the bottom, as we sauntered along the paved path toward the turn-off that would take us back through the silent forest toward our car, as lot of hikers passed us.  Not ONE of them was speaking English.  I turned to Scott and said, “Clearly 98.6%!”

[Note:  We later read that the elevation gain from the trailhead to the Vernal Fall footbridge was 400 feet.  From there to the top of the fall, which had appeared to be not all that much farther or higher, the elevation gain was an additional 600 feet!]  Things are not always as they seem.

Nelder Grove

This trip has featured staying up late, sleeping late, eating meals whenever we want to, napping, driving, and experiencing some of God’s most marvelous creations.  We had thoroughly enjoyed our time in Yosemite Valley on Sunday, but we had not yet seen any giant sequoias, and doing so was very high on the list of desired experiences.  We had two options for seeing them:  Mariposa Grove within Yosemite National Park or Nelder Grove not in the park.

Our landlord, Mary, had a page of blurb in her notebook about places to see and things to do in the area.  Most of the stuff listed there didn’t appeal greatly to us, but she mentioned Nelder Grove as a place to see the giant sequoias without the crowds – our kind of place!

The pile of blurb on our dining room table was getting deeper and deeper, but we didn’t have a really clear map of the area, and from Mary’s directions, it was hard to understand exactly how to get to Nelder Grove.  Not to worry.  On one of our little trips into North Fork (five minutes away) to get toothpaste and Kleenex, we saw a sign for a Forest Service station up behind the grocery.  Bingo!  Forest Service people are about as informative as Park Service people, and from the looks of the nearly empty parking lot, would have time to give us good directions.

It was early afternoon when we talked with the Forest Service guy.  He was friendly and confirmed that Nelder Grove was definitely the best place to see the giant sequoias.  It would be peaceful and quiet up there, he assured us.  He told us there were stumps there – big stumps.  Loggers used to hammer “springboards” into the giant sequoias and then stand on those to saw down the trees.  They giant sequoia is really wide at its base, and then it narrows gradually as it goes up.  At about 25 feet it gets as narrow as it’s going to, so the loggers would cut them down at 25 feet, there being a lot less wood to saw through at that height.  We really wanted to see trees instead of stumps and I asked if Nelder Grove was just stumps.  Oh no, he assured us.  There were over 100 living giant sequoias there.

We should just take road 274 up to highway 41, and less than a mile after getting on 41, take the right turn onto Sky Ranch Road.  He then whipped out a little map of the actual Nelder Grove area and showed us which turn-off to take to get into the grove.  On the way out, we spotted one of those plastic-covered massively detailed county maps that I love.  We have one of the Georgetown, Colorado area, and it shows every little dirt road and creek.  I have this thing about maps, you know.  I just love them, and the more detailed, the better.  Scott bought me the Sierra National Forest map on the spot.  He loves me so much.

Armed with our new massive map that’s nearly as big as a twin sized bed (try unfolding THAT in your lap in the car), the forest service guy’s map of Nelder Grove, and full water bottles (water is hard to come by in the Sierra National Forest; they almost never waste it flushing toilets, and faucets and water fountains don’t exist in these drought-afflicted parts) we headed out.  Actually we headed up.  Everywhere we want to go is always up.

We were by this time quite familiar with the drive along Bass Lake up to Highway 41, and we turned onto 41 and immediately began looking for Sky Ranch Road to our right.  You may remember that Californians don’t like signs.  I think this may be because they really wish all of us tourists would go away and leave them alone; they like our tourist dollars, but they are just sick of us always getting in their way.  They probably think that by not putting signs anywhere, we will get frustrated and leave, but what they don’t realize is that people like us who have made a major trip here to celebrate a  major event, and who have an uncommon affinity for maps (paper ones that fold up, and while I’m on the topic of folding maps, can anyone explain why is it that whenever you buy a map, the part of it that shows the place where you are or the place where you want to go is ALWAYS located on a fold, such that no matter how you arrange it, you absolutely cannot fold the map to a manageable size and see what you need to see?!?) – anyway, people like us are simply not deterred by a lack of signs.  Frustrated, yes.  Deterred, not at all.

So Scott’s driving and I am diligently scanning the scenery for Sky Ranch Road.  That’s how it’s indicated on the Forest Service guy’s map, and on the massive Sierra National Forest map, it’s also designated National Forest Service Primary Route 10.  That’s indicated by a 10 in a trapezoidally-shaped box.  Since it has an official number, as well as a name, it can’t be too hard to find, right?  Wrong.

We go a mile.  No Sky Ranch Road, although we did pass a commercial billboard for Sky Ranch.  We go another mile and zing past Cedar Valley Road.   “Whoa!  We passed it.  It was a mile back.  We’ve gone too far.”  So we turn around and head back, now looking for the elusive Sky Ranch Road on our left.  No road sign.  No surprise there.  No road number sign.  Again, we aren’t surprised.  The only turn-off we can find at all is the one with the billboard about Sky Ranch, but that road’s sign says “Road 632,” and it kind of looks like someone’s long driveway.  Could this be it?  We’re supposed to snake some eight or ten miles up this thing if it is.  We set out.

It’s a paved but very narrow road, really more like one and-a-half lanes wide in places.  There are houses along it.  There are no lines on the road.  It winds around for a while, and about two miles up it, we see, lo and behold, a highway sign!  It’s a 10 in a trapezoidally-shaped box.  How very nice, but really now, wouldn’t that sign have been better positioned about 500 feet in from Highway 41?  And why, on earth was National Forest Service Primary Route 10 labelled Road 632?!?

Up, up, up we wind through more tall pines (or firs or cedars or maybe even juvenile sequoias, who knows?) and more mountain vistas.  And eventually, we do come to a sign (!!!) for Nelder Grove campground.  Yee hah!  Soon the road turns mostly to dirt, and we weave around tiny curves and big trees until we come to what appears to be an abandoned camper with a sign in front of it:  campground host.  Across from it is a very short porta-potty.  Duck when entering? We park in front of two small cabins that are standing alone in a huge forest.  These cabins turn out to be ones that were moved here from some other location to show how the pioneers in the area lived.  The most striking thing so far about Nelder Grove is that there is no one here.  Absolutely no one.  We are totally and completely alone in a grove of some of the biggest trees on the planet.  We clearly have the place all to ourselves.  (Note added later:  I am guessing that on that late Monday afternoon, there was probably not another human being for at least three miles in any direction.)

We picked up a little booklet about the grove from a box and began looking around.  Oh!  Just 100 yards down this path, we would see Big Ed.  Let’s go!  I can’t really tell you what it was like to be just walking through the forest – just taking a really nice walk in the woods, pine needles thickly covering the ground, surrounded by tall evergreens, and SUDDENLY come upon the biggest tree imaginable.  You didn’t see Big Ed from far away; you just kept walking, and there he was.  And my goodness, was he ever big!  I don’t remember how tall, but it’s not just the height that’s overwhelming; it’s the girth.  These trees are monsters!  We just stood there with our mouths open saying stupid things like, “Wow.  That’s amazing.  It’s so . . . big.” And other equally inadequate and inane things.  You can’t take pictures of these trees, either.  Well, you can, but you can only get about a third of the tree in the pic, because you’re in a forest, and no matter what you do, you can’t get far enough away to cram the whole thing into your viewfinder.

Wandering back toward the car, we passed a huge stump.  Now, “huge stump” doesn’t really convey the concept of the thing in front of us.  It was massive.  It was enormous.  It was really tall and kind of sad-looking and big and fat and so high and flat on top and, gosh, it was big.  But trust me, none of those words really does justice to the size of the stump.  Being as how it was 25 feet tall (somewhat curved at the bottom, and then basically straight up), Scott decided that he wanted to climb it.

This was no small undertaking, and he did it with much deliberation and finesse.  = )   It took him a while to figure out the best plan of attack.  He began the ascent, and then, at a point not too far from the top, he paused – for a LONG time – to further analyze his options.  While he was climbing and/or cogitating, I was taking pictures.  The picture-taking was seriously challenged by a deliberate assault from one or more of the aforementioned bees.  While attempting to frame the perfect shot of my husband’s splendid assault on the stump, a bee stung me on my knee.  This was not a little sweat bee, and the sting really hurt.  However, I swatted away the offending insect and continued with my photographic duties.  [Note:  over the next three days, I was stung three more times, always on the same knee, and always while taking pictures!  OUCH!]  Scott made it to the top of the stump and felt totally victorious.  Getting back down was tricky, but not as difficult as going up had been.

Next we walked the 1/4 mile trail to the Bull Buck tree, so named by loggers in the 1880s because its massive size reminded them of their felling foreman, who was called the “Bull Buck.”  That tree is about 2700 years old, 250 feet tall, and 100 feet in circumference at the base.

I think our very favorite part of that afternoon in Nelder Grove was our hike of the 1.2 mile Chimney Tree Trail.  It was a very tranquil, very beautiful, very fun walk through a forest of some of the biggest trees imaginable.  Numbered markers along the way corresponded to descriptions in our little guide brochure.  We learned a lot and relished being totally alone in such an awesomely amazing place.  Ahhhh!  There are a couple other trails there that we had to leave unhiked because daylight was waning, but we decided that no matter what else our week held, we definitely wanted to return to Nelder Grove.

Yosemite!

We knew that our home was only thirty minutes from Yosemite, but it turns out that that was only part of the picture.  Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and you drive up, up, up through mountains to get there.  First, you meander on winding, two-lane roads (it should be noted that ALL the roads around here are winding, two-lane roads) through lovely scenery of many tall pines, along Bass Lake, a man-made lake, lined on the near side by private residences.  Then you turn north on Highway 41, and snake up even more gorgeous mountains to the park.

You have to pay $20 to get in, but that payment is good for seven days.  Once in, we stopped for me to use the bathroom.  Scott has got to be THE most patient man in the continental United States.  He NEVER complains about having to make frequent bathroom stops for me!  I take a diuretic twice a day, and that basically means that I have an opportunity to personally evaluate virtually every public facility between any given Point A and Point B.  I even have a rating scale for them.  I can tell you that between our house and the southern entrance to Yosemite, there are no bathrooms.  I can further tell you that the one at the park entrance ranks a 2 (zero being the worst outhouse imaginable, and five being luxury accommodations).

From the little parking area there at the place where you pay and visit the facilities, you must turn right or left.  Two miles down the road to the right is Mariposa Grove, home of many giant sequoias and three zillion tourists.  I had seen the coast redwoods north of San Francisco several years ago, but Scott had never seen any of those giant trees and very much wanted to.  However, we took one look at all the traffic – including several tour buses – crawling to the right and decided on the spot that left was the way to go.

Turning left, we were immediately greeted by two road signs.  [It will be noted that this section of California in general, and Yosemite National Park in particular, are both known for poor to non-existent signage, so any time there is a sign of any type, we non-natives rejoice.]  One was a simple 35 mph speed limit sign, and the other stated ominously, “No passing for next 26 miles.”  Yowsah!  Well, there was nothing for it but to press on, and for the next 55 minutes, we did just that, through mile after rising, falling, ever curving, two-laned mile of gorgeous alpine scenery.  There were no signs, no litter, no bathrooms(!), and absolutely nothing but trees and mountains and stunning vistas in every direction.  Well, I guess I should take that back.  Four miles after our initial left turn, we did pass through the village of Wawona, a place where I guess rich people spend a lot of money to stay in a classy hotel and play golf.  Wawona is the only place in the southern part of the park where you can buy gas, which thankfully we did not need.  The price per gallon for unleaded at Wawona is $5.oo.

Wawona is at about paper plate 6.  What, you may ask, is paper plate 6?  I, too, wondered about that, but we eventually figured out – you can do a lot of figuring while driving 35 mph for 55 minutes – that every half mile there was a paper plate nailed to a post at the side of the road, and each paper plate sported a big black sharpie marker number:  6, 6.5, 7, 7.5, etc.  Evidently our government’s excessive spending on social programs has resulted in cuts to the national park service. . .

The goal of our 26-mile sojourn was Yosemite Valley, of El Capitan and Half Dome fame.  Our arrival there was dramatic: we rounded a turn (probably turn #262) to the right and there before us, in all their glory were those two famed landmarks, with lots more granite cliffs in between.  The road then entered a tunnel, and that is an understatement.  The Wawona Tunnel is 4233 feet long, 28 feet wide, and 19 feet high.  It was bored through solid granite over a period of nearly a year at a cost of $847,000.  The tunnel was completed in 1933, and no one was killed or seriously injured during its construction.  Incredible!

At this point, partially to silence my screaming bladder, and partially to see one of the few waterfalls in Yosemite that would still be flowing during this, the driest part of a drought year, we pulled off at Bridalveil Fall.  A short walk took us to a place at or near the bottom of the fall, and looking way, way, up, we could see a bit of spray blowing in the wind at the top.  There were a lot of boulders there at the bottom, with a sign warning that climbing on them is dangerous, that they are slippery wet or dry, and that every year numerous injuries and fatalities result.  I stayed behind the sign while Scott went past it (slipping at times) to climb on the boulders.  He remained alive and returned with his head soaking wet, proud that he had dunked it into the run-off of Bridalveil Fall.

We had a picnic lunch at the Cathedral picnic area along the Merced River.  We quickly learned that for some reason – maybe the drought? – the bees this year are numerous, intense, and mean.  They are clearly carnivores, landing on one’s sandwich and going straight for the meat.  Eventually, we gave up and stood up, as walking around while eating slightly hinders their attacks.  Also at that picnic area, I got my first up-close look at a Stellar’s Jay.  These are blue jays with the coloring of indigo buntings!  I think they are only found west of the Rockies.  I tried to get pictures, but couldn’t do it justice.  However, when I (purposely) dropped a half-inch cube of apple core on the ground, that jay flew down within five seconds and nabbed his prize.  We quickly learned that in any place with a picnic table, the squirrels, birds, and bees were totally tame and fully in charge.

The Cathedral picnic area is just across the river from El Capitan, that massive hunk of granite – the largest in the world?  the highest in the world? – that serious rock climbers attack on a regular basis.  We had watched a documentary about climbing it before our trip, and it takes three DAYS for the best of the best to ascend its sheer face.  The lesser of the best take up to a week to scale the beast.  From the bottom, we could actually see a couple of folks climbing.  Actually, the ones we saw most clearly were sitting on a ledge, but the very idea of looking so far up and actually seeing humans on that virtually smooth rock face was amazing.

After lunch we took a nice hike on trails there along the river, crossing to the north side on a bridge, and later wading back across to our car.  At that point, the river was only knee deep, but it was deliciously cold and clear.  Actually, I have very tender feet and really can’t walk barefoot on anything rougher than concrete, so wading back across the river was not going to happen easily.  I considered just wearing my tennis shoes and socks and letting them be wet the rest of the day, but Scott nobly volunteered to wade across to the car, get my crocs, and toss them over to me.  He’s such a nice guy.

The rest of the afternoon, we tooled around the valley, getting our bearings, trying to see what was where and what we might like to do on subsequent days.  It was a Sunday, and we still had Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to enjoy in the area!  WOW!  This was going to be WONDERFUL!

We noticed several striking things about the people in the valley.  First of all, there were a lot of them.  Parking was difficult to come by in any location.  There is a free shuttle bus system (a la Grand Canyon) that gets people around, but we had not used that yet.  If you don’t want to ride the shuttle, it’s a matter of parking and walking (usually 1/4 to 1/2 a mile) to get to wherever you want to be.  That’s really no big deal, especially as it’s all flat down there, but to us lazy midwesterners who are used to always parking AT the desired destination, it can initially seem a little irritating.

The second thing about the people is that a full 30% of them spoke a native language that was not English.  Most all of them probably could understand and speak English, but to each other they spoke something else.  When we went into the visitor center to buy postcards and get information on bike rentals, we stood in line behind some Asian folks.  The guy at the counter talked with them for a moment and asked if they’d like park blurb in Japanese!  Which he then handed to them!  I think they have English, French, Spanish, German, and Japanese stuff prep-printed; maybe even more.

Finally, I noticed (and wondered if Scott noticed, but did not ask him) that the Europeans, especially the European females, were typically dressed in ways that would not in southwest Missouri be considered modest.  I suspect that perhaps there is a dearth of textile manufacturing in Europe, such that there’s very little cloth available for clothing manufacture.  Little was left to the imagination, and for the uninitiated or confused, strategically placed spots, arrows, and commentation provided extra assistance in fully understanding exactly what was located where.

We watched a short flick about the geologic history of the park.  It was fairly green and Indian spirit-ish, but I have learned that when you visit impressive natural wonders in the western part of the U.S., such stuff just goes with the territory.  As Pastor Caldwell used to say, one must learn to, “eat the hay and spit out the sticks.”  We’ve learned.

Our final task of the day was to actually visit the Yosemite Lodge bike stand and get prices and details.  We do like to ride bikes, but my idea of bike riding is quite similar to my idea of hiking.  Both are best done in a scenic area, on flat terrain, at a leisurely pace.  Yosemite Valley meets all those biking conditions, and assuming you don’t want to ascend anything, it can accommodate those hiking conditions, as well.  I tried out bike # 1005, which for me, appeared to be the perfect bike.  All the rental bikes there are old-fashioned, full seat, single speed, coaster brake bikes!  Given my propensity for cycling on the flat and therefore not needing any gears, this was the bike of my dreams.  Its handlebars were even situated at an angle that allowed me to sit up straight.  For me, the worst part of riding a bike (other than sweating and going uphill) is the fact that I have to lean forward to reach the handlebars, forcing me to crane my neck up to see where I’m going.  This always gives me a pain in the neck, which makes bike riding not so very fun.  #1005, with no gears that don’t work right, no handbrakes that don’t stop the bike, a full seat to accommodate my full rear end, AND handlebars located where my hands actually are looked to be the perfect vehicle for me.  Maybe it would still be available when we returned.

It was an hour back to the park entrance, on roads that were hilly, curvy, scenic, and 35 mph.  Actually, I am not complaining about the 35 mph.  Most of the time, the turns were so close and so tight that you really couldn’t drive much faster than that anyway.  Another half hour took us home to our grilled pork tenderloin, seasoned pasta, and broccoli salad.  Yum!!!

As Gomer Pyle would say

“Sooprize, sooprize, sooprize!”

That’s how I felt when we walked into our vacation home for our 25th anniversary celebration.

Getting here was part of the fun.  We left our home (the one we live in full-time) in heavy rain and 60 degrees.  I had worn jeans, knowing I’d be cold in the airports and planes, and a short-sleeved shirt, knowing it would be almost 100 degrees when we landed in Fresno.  Our friend, Donna, met us and took us to the airport, so we wouldn’t have to leave the car there, and while Scott transferred our two enormous bags, one carry-on bag, and his laptop bag from our car to hers, Donna laughed at our absurd amount of luggage while I stood in the rain holding an umbrella over Scott and FREEZING.

Our initial flight was delayed a bit, so we grabbed some lunch in the airport, and then went through security.  For some reason, they were hurrying us through.  Something about the last call for our flight, even though we still had over thirty minutes. . . ?  I went through fine, but something about Scott or his bags set off the alarm and they detained him.  He told me to go on, which I did, and at the gate I waited and waited and waited.  He finally appeared, doing his O.J. Simpson imitation, and we made it on the plane just before they locked the door.  Marginless living at its best.  Scott didn’t know what set off the alarm but he figured maybe it was the tomatoes that he had packed in his carry-on.

Anyway, we made it through Denver to Fresno, where a very, very nice silver Chrysler 200 with black interior awaited us.  The rental car lady gave us all the talk about being back on time and having the tank filled and the odometer reading written down.  If we failed to fill the tank within five miles of the airport, they would charge us an additional $8.79 per gallon to fill it!  We assured her we’d be back on time with the tank filled and the odometer reading written down.

By this time it was pushing 6 PM and we were hungry and needed to buy groceries.  We decided the grocery shopping would go better if we ate first, so we had a fine meal at Chik-Fil-A, which was next door to an In-N-Out Burger, which I wanted to try after having heard Andrew Vandever’s rave review, but Scott said he did NOT want to eat at a place that served french fries.  Let us never confuse waffle fries with french fries.

We finally found the grocery and spent an hour to obtain enough food for a family of four for a week.  No, there are NOT four of us on this trip, but that’s what happens when you shop in a strange store from a non-existent list, crafted from a total absence of a menu.  We ended up wandering the aisles and saying things like, “What would be good with that pork?”  and, “We still need bread,” and “Won’t you be bored with just one kind of cereal?”  Pretty funny.

Actually, the really funny part had to do with cheddar cheese.  See, since we are on a very special once-in-a-lifetime vacation, we have chosen to splurge a bit, or at least to not count every penny in every situation.  However, a certain level of personal thriftiness is so deeply ingrained into both of our personalities that certain things just make us choke.  I prefer Swiss cheese on my sandwiches, and I can do co-jack or provolone when necessary.  Scott does NOT like co-jack, and although he will do Swiss occasionally, his preferred cheese is cheddar, the sharper the better.  Now, we knew we’d be eating sandwiches for about six days.  That’s 12 slices of cheese, and about four of those would need to be sharp cheddar.  So we went to the cheese section, but the smallest package of sharp cheddar had about 12 slices.  Normally this would be no problem – we’d just take the leftovers home – but since we’re flying, that might be a little difficult (although not as difficult as bringing home the Breyer’s).

So Scott had this great idea to go to the deli counter and just get four slices of sharp cheddar.  It would be a horrendous price per pound, but how much could four slices weigh, anyway?  It was something like 8 PM, and I had noticed earlier that the deli guy seemed to be cleaning things up, so I ran back over to the deli to ask if he could slice us some cheese.

“Sure, I can do that.”

“OK.  Thanks a lot.  Let me go find my husband and let him pick what he wants.”

Note that after 25 years of marriage, there are some things on which it still isn’t smart for me to make decisions for Scott.  After running wildly through the store, I finally found him in the frozen food section, in the corner of the store which is maximally distant from the deli.

“Hey, come quick to the deli.  The guy was closing up but he says he can slice some cheese for us.”

We drove our cart back to the deli, and the guy gave us some sobering news.

“It’ll take a while because our cheese slicer is closed down and I’ll have to clean the meat slicer.  Do you want to wait?”

Well, after all this, yes.  So we stood there for ten minutes while the deli guy meticulously cleaned the meat slicer.  I’m not exaggerating.   Then, when he FINALLY finished that task to his satisfaction, he turned to ask us which cheese we wanted.

“Sharp cheddar, please.”

Now, in the deli case were displayed partially used “logs” of every kind of cheese you can imagine:  provolone, mild cheddar, Swiss, pepper jack, American, mozzarella, etc.  But to get us some sharp cheddar, he would have to cut open a new log – you know, with the red wax covering?  I was feeling really embarrassed at this point, but we pressed forward, watching him in painfully slow motion cut open that cheese log.

“And how much sharp cheddar did you want?”

(wanting to sink into the linoleum) “Four slices, please.”

So he cut us four slices, and while he did, Scott said, “You know, it’s going to be pretty funny if we figure out that these four slices of deli cheese are costing us more than the 12 slices of packaged cheese that we could have thrown out the leftovers of.”  I agreed, and we never did do that math.

[Post-trip note:  We brought home two slices of Swiss and two slices of the deli sharp cheddar.  = )   We couldn’t bear to throw them out, and we figured that packed in one of the checked bags, they could ride in the belly of the plane, which would be plenty cool at 33,000 feet.]

Finally, we headed out of Fresno and drove through the dark for about an hour to our lovely home away from home.   It’s on a nineteen-acre plot of sloping, scruffy land, and the owner lives in another house on the property.  Aside from Mary, whose house is barely out of sight from ours, we are totally alone, which is both peaceful and romantic.  = )

So we had to haul into the house two massive bags, one carry-on bag, Scott’s laptop bag, my purse, and an unmentionable number of bags of groceries, including, but in no way limited to, Breyer’s PEACH ice cream!!!  That deliciousness is totally exempt from the constraints of innate frugality.

Since we were focused on getting the refrigerated, and especially the frozen, groceries put away, I didn’t at first see the gift bag on the counter.  But when I did, I saw that it said in big letters, “Happy Anniversary from Your Kids.”  From our kids?!?!?  Now, how could that be?  And then I saw a small stuffed pelican sticking out of the top of the bag!  A pelican.  “Oh, Scott!  A pelican!”  And I burst into tears.  As I pulled out the pelican, I saw a book entitled, “The Guide to Owning Skinks.”  Wow!  A pelican and a skink.  How did they DO that?

We sat together on the couch and went through all the contents of the bag:

~ an adorable stuffed pelican

~ a book about skinks

~ a letter from Josiah

~ a card from Jessica

~ a card from Andrew

~ a card from Katie

~ a puzzle made from a photo of us kissing in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado

Wow!  Wow!  Wow!  We were both totally overwhelmed and blessed.  And we cried.  We have such great kids, and it was so touching that they gave us such special gifts.  Those cards and letters contain some of the most affirming words any parents could ever hope to read.

We didn’t remember telling the kids where we’d be staying, but Katie emailed “Mary,” and they sent her all the stuff and she put it together for us.  So, our anniversary trip began very, very, very well.  Not only do we love each other, we know that our kids love us an awful lot, too.


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