Woke up this morning to find the skies less than promising. I guess all that finger crossing yesterday didn’t do much good. Not to be deterred by mere rain drops, I headed out from Salinas bright and early towards Carmel. After driving through fields of strawberries and artichokes (I know this because these famers labeled their fields. I guess they read my blog post last night), I came within sight of the Pacific blue ocean. Well to tell the truth, it was really more of a steely grey this morning. After driving through the streets of downtown Carmel-by-the-sea, I quickly realized I was probably underdressed for this part of town. Not to mention, I didn’t really see any places that seemed to be open for breakfast. I decided to head instead to a place I had read about on Yelp that was a little bit away from the tony part of Carmel. I arrived at the From Scratch Restaurant to find a warm fire burning and crowded tables of what looked to be happy diners. After perusing the menu, I chose the Big Sur omelet which consisted of mushrooms, green onions, tomatoes and avocado (well I substituted the avocado, it should have had zucchini). It was served with red potatoes and the house special cheddar biscuit (the biscuit was good but no match for yours Tammy C.). I washed it down with a plentiful supply of English Breakfast tea.
Woke up and decided to get an early start since I had many miles to go before I sleep. Loaded my bag into to the car and followed the GPS lady’s instructions onto CA Hwy 140 – Yosemite Parkway. Boy am I glad I had her or I might not have figured it out. As I headed into the rising sun over distant mountains, I kept my eyes peeled for a likely breakfast spot. Luckily, before more than an hour had passed, I found it: the Happy Burger in Mariposa. How could I pass up a restaurant boasting the largest menu in the Sierra Nevada’s with enough cars in the parking lot at 8:30 am on a Saturday morning to look promising? I gave my order to the lady at the counter who agreed that a spinach omelet sounded like a good thing (and shouldn’t she know!) and gave me the fixin’s for my hot tea. I settled at a booth to wait for my order. I should have known speedy service wasn’t on offer when I saw the reading material on each table, but the food was well worth the wait. Unfortunately (or fortunately for my waistline), I could only finish about a third of it.
Climbing back in the car satisfied, I continued my way to Yosemite National Park. Of course, I could help but stop to take a few pictures along the way. It even felt a bit like our yearly trips to Cape Breton since I had to wait at a traffic construction signal for fifteen minutes because of a single lane detour. The scenery to this point was actually more reminiscent of Scotland though.
Eventually, after stopping to pay the entrance fee to the NPS ranger ($20 per car), I arrived in the Yosemite Valley. I tried desperately not to wreck my car as the views in every direction literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. Pictures, let alone my words, can’t begin to do justice to the awesomeness of this place. You just can’t get a proper appreciation for the scale of the peaks and waterfalls. My first stop out of the car was for a brief hike over to Bridal Veil Falls. There were also breathtaking views from this spot over to other snow covered peaks. On the way back to the car, I passed the first of many deer I would see today.
Back in the car once more, I journeyed deeper into Yosemite, stopping several times to get out (or not) and take more pictures. I got my first views of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls.
Finally, I reached the day use parking area near the Village Store (me, shop, never!). Ditching the car, I headed into the store. I know, I know. Shock and amazement from everybody. I found some things that will remain secret for people at home. (Yes, Bonnie, I have Will a “’prise”.) I also bought myself a hat to help shade my eyes, since I refused to cloud the view with sunglasses. After a quick trip to the restroom and to take my souvenir goodies back to the car, I headed up the trail to the Yosemite Visitors Center. There I found a helpful park employee who gave me a hiking map and suggested the Lower Falls trail since my time was limited. I also gave into the urge to purchase a National Park Passport and got my cancellation stamp for YNP. I’m a sucker for anything that lets me check things off as I accomplish them. I also found something else Will couldn’t live without (Bad Auntie Mandy is working on her inability to stop spoiling Will, really I am.) Stuffing these additional items into my backpack, I head down the half mile from the Visitor’s Center to the Lower Falls trailhead, shunning the convenient Yosemite Hybrid Shuttle bus. I desperately need to work off some calories.
Finally, after about a mile, I came to the viewing point for Lower Yosemite Falls. Again, words simply fail me but at least this time I took a short video in addition to pictures. It’s amazing how loud the falls are and you can hear them all over the valley. Just tilt your head to the site as you watch it.
After viewing the falls (with many others. I’m amazed at how many people are here at the quiet time at the park), I continued on the loop trail, stopping to watch kids playing in the snow (Yes, there is still snow on the ground in many places although the air temp was pretty warm today). I even saw more deer. I’m pretty sure I could have reached out and touched one of them. He was way more interested in his lunch than in me.
Speaking of lunch, I stopped back in the little store next to the Visitors Center to grab a Diet Dr Pepper and some nuts for the trip from Yosemite to Salinas. Reluctantly bidding goodbye (although I really, really want to come back and do some backpacking here. Any volunteers?), I turned the car back westward and made my way out of the valley.
Heading west through agriculture country, I continued to be amazed by the wide variety of crops that were in the ground. My frustration was in not being able to identify what all of them were. I propose that farmers should have to post signs for those of us with insatiable curiosity. I’m pretty sure I saw cherry orchards, onions and what may have been alfalfa (for the dairy farms I assume). Speaking of dairy farms, I passed some huge ones again. They all seem to have huge stockpiles of hay (I guess) that is covered with tarps and weighted down with tires.
After successfully navigating through Pacheco Pass (no problem with the high wind gust warnings), I gave into the urge to stop at Casa de Fruta, which I had seen yesterday. According to the signs, they were celebrating their 100th anniversary of providing services to tourists. Pulling off the highway, I marveled at the mini amusement park including carousel and many other outbuildings such as Casa de Wine, Casa de Train, Casa de Sweets, etc. Any guesses as to where I headed first? Yep, headed over to the bakery to grab some homemade fudge and some hot tea. I’m on a mission to find homemade fudge as good as what Mom and I found in Edinburgh on the Royal Yacht Britannia. Unfortunately, this didn’t come close. However, I did finally break free from the Casa de Tourist Trap and hit the road again. (Insert your favorite Willie Nelson clip here).
Finally, I arrived in Salinas the salad bowl to the world. (No really, that’s what the sign says as you enter town). The GPS lady earned her rest by successfully guiding me to my hotel. Yep, another Courtyard Marriott. Thank goodness for points. After a quick consultation of the hotel guide, Yelp and Trip Advisor (no entries for Salinas on RoadFood.com, boo hiss), I chose the Monterey Coast Brewing Company for dinner where I had a delicious salad (I would hope so!) and a bone-in cowboy ribeye (my absolute favorite kind of steak).
Tucked in for the night, I’ve made a check-in call to Mom and am calling it a night. Heading to Carmel-by-the-sea and the Pacific Coast Highway tomorrow and then back to Santa Clara. Everyone cross your fingers for good ocean viewing weather.
Day 1 – Driving through a Kate Wolf song
After a successful week of work, I think it’s time to take advantage of some free time in sunny northern California. Luckily, I had imparted so much information to my customer, that they were more than ready to call it a week by about 2 pm. So armed with my GPS and an overnight bag, I left Santa Clara to head towards the Yosemite Valley for the start of a major tourist weekend. My goal is to hit Yosemite National Park, Carmel and the Pacific Coast Highway all this weekend. Think I’m going to be logging a lot of car miles. Luckily my Mitsubishi Gallant rental isn’t too bad. I’ve also promised my mother to check in regularly and to avoid anyone who looks strange (how old am I again?) Just kidding, Mom.
My chariot for this jaunt!
After a quick stop to pick up a Subway sandwich for lunch, I joined the mass exodus from Silicon Valley towards Gilroy. Driving through the valley was very interesting. The scenery actually reminded me a lot of Ireland and Scotland. There were lots of very green hills with few trees and lots of sheep and cattle. After making it through a few traffic slowdowns (it’s amazing how 4 lanes of traffic will slow for half a mile for no apparent reason), I made the turn near Gilroy to head through Pacheco Pass. Along the way I passed many fruit barns ( must be the California equivalent of roadside farm stands and boiled peanuts in GA). I really wished I liked oranges because most places were advertising oranges at $1 a bag (and they looked like big bags). I also saw hand-lettered signs touting olives and garlic. Looking back I really wish that I had stopped for at least one of them. Maybe on my way back through I’ll stop for the one advertising Garlic ice cream.
As I headed up the hills of the Pacheco Pass, I couldn’t help but have fragments of Kate Wolf song’s running through my mind. Especially Pacheco (obviously) and Red-tailed Hawk. It’s easy to see where she drew her inspiration. I’ve never really understood the draw of living in California (I guess because I’ve only ever been to the really big cities) but I saw sights today that let me understand the allure better.
After about an hour and a half of driving, I was ready for a break so I stopped at the San Luis Reservoir to take a look at the visitor’s center (not much there) and take some pictures.
Hopping back in the car, I headed on towards my destination for the evening, Merced, CA. Since it is over a 3 hour drive from where I’m staying in Santa Clara to Yosemite National Park, I decided to get a head start by driving to Merced today. One of the perks of travelling A LOT, is the accumulation of Marriott points, so I cashed in a few for a room at a Courtyard in Merced for tonight (only fair since Microsoft is paying for the room in Santa Clara).
After the drive through the Pacheco Pass, I made my way through the town of Los Banos….very slowly….many, many traffic lights. However, once past the town limits I was able to make better time. The terrain became very flat and obviously dedicated to agriculture. I saw many different crops planted, although I had no idea what most of them were. I was able to identify some rapeseed fields since I have seen these before in Scotland. They are easy to identify due to the electric yellow color and the fact that my eyes started hurting. There also were some orchards of what I think were fruit trees of some sort. As I got closer to Merced, I began to pass several very large dairy farms. In addition to a very large number of cattle, I think the field there were probably wheat or some type of feed for the cattle.
I arrived in Merced about 3:30 and checked into the Courtyard. Being a true computer geek and FaceBook addict, the first thing I tried to do was hit the web with my laptop only to find (horror of horrors) the INTERNET WASN’T WORKING. After reporting this fact immediately to hotel management, I decided to do some exploration in the Merced, CA. (By the way, Merced is pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable and not the second…MERced not MerCED.)
Driving into downtown Merced, I found a very pretty downtown area. It seems to be pretty healthy as well. I didn’t see a lot of empty storefronts and there seemed to be a lot of people strolling and enjoying the beautiful weather.
After perusing my dinner options, I decided to dine at Bishop’s on the Square as it promised gourmet dining for lunch and dinner. Boy am I glad I did. It was a truly spectacular meal. I decided to go with several small plates instead of a large dinner entree (mostly because I couldn’t narrow my choices). After being seated on the second level of the converted storefront next to large windows, the waitress brought me my first plate….an amuse bouche consisting of a lobster and goat cheese deviled egg to welcome me to dinner. (Boy am I glad I’ve watched Top Chef. At least I know what an amuse bouche is thanks to Padma and Tom.) The next course was Asparagus and Artichoke Bisque topped with a dollop of crème fraiche. Yummo as Rachel Ray would say. It was truly excellent.
Next course was Sea Scallops with Asparagus, Field peas, Sprouts and crispy bacon over a leek puree. Dad would have really, really like the bacon. It tasted more like country ham than regular bacon. It was maybe the best scallop dish I’ve ever had or at least as good as Maximiliens in Seattle. Lastly (or so I thought), was a spring salad mix with blue cheese, asparagus, field peas and Meyer lemon vinaigrette. I felt very European with a salad for a last course.
Finally, the waitress stopped by to see if I would be interested in dessert. Well although I’m ALWAYS interested in dessert, even the temptation of trio of crème Brule with assorted cookies wasn’t enough for me to be able to order dessert after such a filling meal. However, instead of the check, the server returned with a dessert “bite” as a thank you for dining. The bite was a delicate scoop of chocolate mousse served over a thin slice of strawberry, some kind of simple syrup and an edible sweet pea. I, of course, forced myself to eat every bit and it was scrumptious. Chocolate mousse is one of my favorite things in the world.
Believe it or not, the entire meal was less than $35. After thanking my server for such a wonderful meal, I strolled the sidewalks of Merced to try in vain to walk off some calories. I also made a check-in call to Mom so that she wouldn’t worry (too much). Stopping to grab a hot tea at Starbucks (maybe I can melt some of the calories with hot tea), I headed back to the hotel for the night to find that the Internet was working again. Hurray for technology!
Planning to get up early tomorrow and head for Yosemite. El Capitan or bust!