’15 Yosemite


My Yosemite Valley Adventure

“God never made an ugly landscape. All that the sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.” –John Muir

The trip binder

From 05-09-2015 IAH-LAX-SF

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

I’ve wanted to go to Yosemite for several years. Last year I decided this was the year I was going. So I started planning back in December. I bought my ticket in December using a Christmas bonus from The Man. So this was a delayed gratification present to me. I even went first class. I made reservations for Yosemite. Even five months in advance, the only thing I could get was a heated tent in Curry Village. I’ll explain more about the stay there later. There was some trepidation planning a weeklong trip by myself, but I live alone and for the most part do everything alone, so I figured what’s the difference in being alone at home versus vacation? Of course I would have loved company for the trip, but it didn’t really fit anyone else’s schedule, budget, interests. So it was either stay home and put off Yosemite till it fit someone else’s schedule, and possibly never go, or just suck it up and fly solo. I really wanted to see Yosemite, so I chose solo.

IAH-LAX-San Francisco

My brother Brad took me to the airport so that saved me $100 or so in parking fees for the week. The flight left and arrived at LAX right on time. My bags were even the first ones down the chute at LAX, and I was first in line. Two guys standing beside me asked who I bribed to make that happen. Sometimes you’re the bug, sometime you’re the windshield. The first class tag probably had more to do with it than anything.

Have you read my book? “A dweeb in First Class”

From 05-09-2015 IAH-LAX-SF

100 Miles East of Los Angeles

From 05-09-2015 IAH-LAX-SF

LAX

From 05-09-2015 IAH-LAX-SF

First bags down the chute!

From 05-09-2015 IAH-LAX-SF

Lunch stop in Gorman

From 05-09-2015 IAH-LAX-SF

I rented a red Chevy Impala from Enterprise. The car has a lot of power, but many blind spots. More on that further down. San Francisco has been a favorite city of mine since visiting there with Brad and Angela in 2008. I decided I wanted to stay there for a night and see some sights. The drive getting to San Francisco was smooth; the drive getting to The Wharf Inn once I got to San Francisco took two and a half hours. The San Mateo Bridge was shut down for construction, which pushed the majority of traffic to the Bay Bridge, which is a toll bridge. Six months of working on a vacation spreadsheet did not account for that! After literally inching to a toll booth and paying 6.00 to cross the bridge, there was another wait to merge onto the bridge.

Except for the bay, San Francisco looks just like Houston (Traffic wise)

From 05-09-2015 IAH-LAX-SF
From 05-09-2015 IAH-LAX-SF

Finally I made it down to Fisherman’s Wharf and to The Wharf Inn which was about the quality of a Motel 6 and included free parking for $250.00. It’s all about location, and I decided to splurge. To say parking at the inn is tight is an understatement. The only spot open was right beside a fence, and there wasn’t much room to make the turn. I pulled into the spot, and as I backed out to straighten up, I clipped the rear bumper of a Toyota Prius. It scratched up my rental and the Prius which was also a rental, being driven by a couple from Oregon. Obviously they weren’t too happy about it, I don’t blame them. I gave them my insurance and driver’s license info, and called my insurance company to let them know what a bonehead I am. As of Tuesday evening typing this, I haven’t heard anything back yet. It’s a nasty scratch on the Prius, no denying it. My rental is not too bad; I think it will probably pass inspection. Results are pending. However, it totally killed my vacation vibe! I was tempted to go to the room and go to bed, but I made myself walk the block to Fisherman’s Wharf and walk around a bit. I grabbed a baked potato from a place across from the Inn, ate and went to sleep.

My handy work (most of the white marks wiped off)

From 05-09-2015 IAH-LAX-SF

A look at Alcatraz before calling it a night

From 05-09-2015 IAH-LAX-SF
From 05-09-2015 IAH-LAX-SF

Fisherman’s Wharf

From 05-09-2015 IAH-LAX-SF

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

San Francisco – Yosemite Valley

I woke up at 5AM so that I could catch cable car at the stop closest to me. The lines get really long if you wait until later in the day. I walked over to the stop and was the first one on the car when it rolled out about 6:20AM.

From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite

While I was waiting for the car to leave, it hit me that it was Mother’s Day, and this was the second one without Mom.

From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite

I had a hard time keeping my composure. Fortunately, no one else was around as the cable car workers were in a nearby office. There is a brakeman and a conductor who operate each car. The brakeman does just what his title says; the conductor collects fares and levers in the track when needed. The brakeman told me the day before had been really crazy with people, as a cruise was in town along with all of the other tourists. I rode the Powell & Market line to the stop near Union Square and then back. It costs $6 each way. It’s a really cheap way to see some great views throughout San Francisco. It was neat seeing the locals get on and off, the brakeman, conductor and they all knew each other by first name. Along the way the Brakeman chided a few ladies who were getting on but wanted him to stop the car right beside them when he said “This isn’t Uber, you get on where the car stops”.

The view from the top

From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite

After the cable car ride back to Market Street, I went down to Fisherman’s Wharf and walked around, then had breakfast at Johnny Rockets.

From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite

I guess their love is safe unless someone cuts the fence wire.

From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite
From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite

After breakfast I did the Big Bus tour, which is on a double deck open top bus. It took about two and a half hours to do the full loop. You can get on and off, but I wanted to get an early start toward Yosemite.

The Haight Ashbury district

From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite
From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite
From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite
From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite
From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite

Star Fleet Academy in the new Star Trek movies

From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite
From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite
From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite

Chinatown

From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite

The Towering Inferno

From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite

The Bay Bridge

From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite

San Francisco Videos

Originally I had planned to rent a bike in S.F. and take with me to Yosemite, but as much as I like S.F., I was ready to get away from the traffic and also wanted to try and put my bonehead fender bender behind me, even though it’s still ongoing.

After I got away from the Bay area, the drive out to Yosemite was pretty peaceful. It started really flat through a lot of orchards, and then was really hilly. Then the closer to Yosemite, the windier the roads get, and high you go. I think the highest elevation sign I saw was 7000 feet. I went in on highway 140. I finally arrived at the gates of Yosemite about 3:30pm, it costs $30 per car and the admission is good for 7 days. Don’t be fooled, once you get past the gate, it’s still another 40 miles or so of windy, mountain roads. It’s a beautiful drive, though I was concentrating on keeping the car on the road and didn’t get to fully appreciate the views.

Once I made it to Yosemite Valley, which is 7 miles wide, 12 miles long if I remember the facts correctly, I was immediately in awe. Seeing El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks, The Three Brothers, and of course Yosemite Falls. I found the registration office for Curry Village. There was already a line of people checking in. it was a little after 5pm. While standing in line, a lady portraying Mother Curry, the camp’s namesake, gave everyone a bear aware paper to be signed. It basically says to not have any food in the tents, and keep it all in the bear lockers outside each tent. This includes deodorant, etc. The native black bears (which are brown) have a sense of smell seven times greater than a bloodhound. After getting the key to tent 428, I drove around to the camp parking lot and drug all my stuff to the tent. Then had dinner at the Curry Pavilion, there is a pizza place and a buffet line similar to a cafeteria. I had a small pizza. Then I went and rode the shuttle system that loops around the valley. The shuttle system is really great and the drivers are really helpful. Oh, it’s free, or included in the cost admission. Then I made my way back to the communal bathroom, hoping to avoid a trip during the night. There are heated and unheated tents. I had a heated tent and it was very much appreciated as the nights turn really cool in May, and cold in the mornings (upper 30’s). If you are having a normal conversation, people on all sides can hear you, I wasn’t talking to anyone, but I could hear everyone in the tents around me, ear plugs are really helpful when going to sleep! It cost me $136.00 a night for the tent. The alternative if you can’t get other lodging is driving an hour and a half outside the valley to stay. I would have rather had a regular room, but am not complaining, you can’t beat the location! The setup reminded me of my family reunions as a kid at Camp Lutherhoma in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Half Dome!

From 05-10-2015 SF-Yosemite

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Yosemite Valley

Google Now was really helpful, telling me how far away from Yosemite I was, even though I was in Yosemite.

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

I made myself sleep until about 5AM, then I really had to go. I grabbed my toiletries out of the bear locker and had an early morning lukewarm shower.

Tent 428

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

How is this for a morning view?

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

I had breakfast at the Curry pavilion; it cost about $12 for two eggs, toast, bacon, hash browns, and a bottle of water. If one were going to stay in Yosemite for several days or with a family, an ice chest with sandwich stuff and snacks is definitely recommended! You can’t cook in Curry Village, at least in the tent section. I noticed grills at other lodging places around the valley.
After breakfast, I caught the shuttle to stop 6, which is the closest to Yosemite Falls. The walk/hike is about a mile round trip from the shuttle stop.

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

I am really fat and out of shape, but I made it! A bike would have been very helpful, but you can only take them so far, they are restricted past the trail heads. Next time I go, I will be sure and take one, but the shuttles help out a lot. There was not a crowd at the falls, one guy on the bridge with a tripod taking pictures. A few people would come and go. I spent about an hour there just taking pictures and soaking it in.

Yosemite Falls

It was very humbling staring up at the falls, something so serene and majestic about it. I don’t know if it’s age or what, but I became pretty emotional just thinking about it all. Yosemite was a goal I’ve had for several years, and there I was looking at the falls in person. That alone was worth the journey.

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

From the falls, I walked to Yosemite Lodge, looked around in the gift shop for a few minutes and then waited for the Valley Floor Tour, a ranger led tram tour through the valley. Ranger Sasha led our tram, a very beautiful woman (though I never saw her eyes that were covered by classic Ray Ban sunglasses). Her winter park is Yellowstone; her spring/summer park is Yosemite. What a cool life! Throughout the tour she explained the history of Yosemite, the volcanoes and glaciers that formed it. She told a lot of folklore stories, mixed in with facts about the valley. The tour was two hours long, and it well worth the time and money ($25 for the tour).

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

Ranger Sasha

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

El Capitan

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

Sentinal Rock

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

Cathedral Rocks

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

Bridalveil Falls

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

Looking at the valley from Merced River

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

Tunnel View

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

Merced River

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

The falls from a distance

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

Full dome

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley Ranger Led Floor Tour

I had lunch at the Yosemite Lodge food court, about the same pricing as Curry Village. After lunch I did the Glacier Point tour. A four hour trip on a bus up to Glacier Point, a spot where Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir stood on when TR visited in 1903, Teddy Roosevelt was the president who officially made Yosemite a national park, Abraham Lincoln set the stage by setting the land aside during the Civil War, it was a state park for the 25 years before it was a national park. Bob was our Glacier Point Tour Guide/Driver; he had a real dry sense of humor, and looked/acted a little like Richard Dreyfuss. It took about an hour and a half to get to Glacier Point, and then we had 50 minutes to look around before the hour and a half back. On the way up and back we saw a coyote. Bob told a lot of history about Yosemite, some of which overlapped what Ranger Sasha talked about on her tour, but being three hours on a bus, Bob had a lot more time to tell stories. The views at the top were spectacular, and I learned a lot from Bob’s commentary.

Coyote

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

The view from Glacier Point

From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
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From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley
From 05-11-2015 Yosemite Valley

Glacier Point Videos

After that tour, I had dinner again at the Yosemite Lodge Food Court, then I had a ticket to a presentation by a ranger about search and rescue in Yosemite, but there were technical difficulties with the projector. So the presentation was cancelled. I was pretty wore out by this point, I had been going nonstop since 7AM, so I laid down about 8PM (my body is still on central time). When my phone died, I had over 9000 steps for the day. If I had enough battery life, it probably would have been close to 12000 I am guessing. I know, that’s what I should be walking every day anyway. I slept pretty well.

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Yosemite Valley-Santa Cruz

Abraham Lincoln had set the Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove land aside and turned it over to the state of California, but Teddy Roosevelt made it a national park after a camping trip with John Muir.

From 05-12-2015 YV-Santa Cruz

As much as I hated to leave, I decided to get an early start out and checked out about 7AM. I drove around the valley a little and walked up the Bridalveil Falls trail before heading out.

Campsite of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt in 1903

From 05-12-2015 YV-Santa Cruz

Along the trail to Bridalveil Falls

From 05-12-2015 YV-Santa Cruz
From 05-12-2015 YV-Santa Cruz

Originally I had planned to return to San Francisco, do a bay cruise, and go to the Marin Headlands, but as beautiful as San Francisco is, I was on sensory overload from being in Yosemite. Instead I took a leisurely drive to Santa Cruz my stop for the night. Along the way I stopped for breakfast in Oakhurst, at a fruit stand outside of Gilroy, and a stop at Seacliff State Beach, about 6 miles north of Santa Cruz. Even though I have been out on the Pacific Ocean a few times, I have never set foot in it, until today. That was all I did, set foot in it, but now I can say I’ve been in the Pacific.

Fruit stand near Gilroy

From 05-12-2015 YV-Santa Cruz

The view from the fruit stand

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Seacliff State Beach

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From 05-12-2015 YV-Santa Cruz
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From 05-12-2015 YV-Santa Cruz
From 05-12-2015 YV-Santa Cruz
From 05-12-2015 YV-Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a cool beach town, made up of a mix of college kids, middle class, affluent, and a lot of homeless people that I have noticed. I went to Taco Bell for lunch and there were four or five guys and a girl on bikes, hanging out in front of Taco Bell. After I placed my order, the girl probably early 20’s placed her order and it amounted to about three dollars. She also requested ice water. As I was eating my meal, I saw her go outside and cut up everything she had bought and share it with the guys outside. I could be wrong, but I think at least the guys were all homeless. The girl probably was too. Witnessing this made my problems seem really small. I was tempted to buy one of the bean burrito/taco packs and take it out to them, but wasn’t sure how well it would be received. I know there are a lot of reasons why people end up homeless, and that it usually has a lot to do with the decisions of the individuals, but it still cuts me hard. I think about how that could have been anyone of us if we made some bad decisions.
I checked into the Coast View Inn about 3pm. My plan was to get out and go to the beach which is just across the street, but I decided to take some downtime and get the pictures and video I’ve taken so far organized, and of course write this journal. I wrote everything from the start to this point sitting here in my room at the Coast View Inn. It’s been a great trip so far, minus the fender bender; parts of the trip have been lonely, while other times have been comforting to just be on my schedule. Well I will call it night writing wise.

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Santa Cruz-Monterey

I left Santa Cruz and headed south to Monterey about 7:00AM and made it to the Fisherman’s Wharf at Monterey about 8:00. A whale watching trio with Monterey Bay Whale Watch was today’s adventure. The boat left at 9. We went out on Sea Wolf Two. The crew is all very nice and really knowledgeable. We saw 19 humpback whales, several hundred common bottle nose dolphins, sea otters, sea lions, and harbor seals, as well as several kinds of birds. The passengers on the boat had a lot of foreigners, folks from the UK, and several other European countries given the accents, languages, and physical traits. That is one cool thing about California is you rub shoulders with people from all over the world. I guess you can say that about anywhere, but a lot of people from outside the US come to California for thier holiday.
The whale watching experience was really awesome; it’s something I have wanted to do for a long time. I don’t really have any profound thing to add, the pictures speak for themselves!

Monterey Fishermans Wharf

From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch

First whale sighting!

From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch

First real whale sighting of the day

From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch

They are looking too

From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Whale’s Tail!

From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch

A group meeting

From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch

There she blows!

From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
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From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Dolphins

From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Heading back in

From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Monterey Bay Dolphins

After the tour was over, I took the advice of the crew and ate at a restaurant on the wharf called Café Fina. It’s a seafood place and really looked above my social status, but other people from the tour weren’t being turned away for wearing sweatshirts and carrying backpacks, so I decided to see if they would let me in. They did! It is a small seafood place; I am guessing seats less than 100, maybe even 75. I had fish and chips, garlic bread, and splurged for dessert. I would tell you what I had for dessert but I didn’t register what it was called, I just read the descriptions and picked something that looked good. The waitress was really nice and quite pleasant to look at! She had a Kate Bosworth with glasses vibe. Anyway, the food was good. I spent a lot on food at Yosemite out of necessity, but really this was the first nice restaurant I’ve ate at on this trip, and will probably be the only one. It’s expensive enough just eating at fast food and casual dining places. The food is about the same price as Texas, the exception being juice. It was 4.95 for a glass of orange juice yesterday morning at breakfast.
Back at the wharf

From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch
From 05-13-2015 Monterey Bay Whale Watch

Then I decided I would go check out 17 Mile Drive, home of Pebble Beach and the famous lone cypress. I made it to 17 mile drive, paid the 10.00 to drive it. Then the gas display went from saying I had 75 miles to get gas, rapidly dropped to 40 within a few miles, to a constant chime telling me fuel was low. I looked on my Garmin to see if any fuel places were located in 17 mile drive, I thought it was a slim chance, but was delighted to see a Valero listed just a few miles away. The Valero it led me to was someone’s driveway. Maybe their last name is Valero? I decided it was time to bail on the 17 mile drive and find some gas. So I headed for the hotel figuring there would probably be gas nearby, fortunately there was and I did not run out. It looked like I would have to pay money another 10.00 to take the 17 mile drive, and I didn’t really feel like driving back and asking. I took a few hours to upload pictures and freshen up. For dinner I went to a place called The Black Bear Diner. It’s a west coast chain, kind of like Cracker Barrel. Then I came back here and started updating this. Something triggered me to look at my phone, which wasn’t here. I checked the car, came back up and looked through the room. Then I called the diner and sure enough I left it there. In the middle of writing today’s update, I left to retrieve my phone and came back. This has been a really good trip in spite of my boneheaded stupidity (brushing another car, almost running out of gas, losing my phone! It’s like I have a couple of cylinders not functioning! Maybe I need to see a mechanic when I get back. Well that’s it for tonight! All I have to do is go to bed and I will make it without screwing something else up.

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

Monterey-Ventura

Well today is my birthday, I turned 39. One year until 40. Yikes. Most of my adult birthdays have been spent working for “The Man”. When possible I would usually have dinner with my parents. Mom surprised me a few times by getting some friends together. Those are great memories! I don’t want to belabor the obvious, but I sure do miss her. If I didn’t see her on my birthday, she would always call me early. Dad sent me a text early and also left a voicemail, we talked a few times today. I appreciate that I still have him. Since I don’t have a family “of my own”, my roots stretch deep to my Dad, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Some roots are deeper and stronger than others, but I think of my family a lot.
When I started planning this trip, the biggest factor was when would be a good time to visit Yosemite, everything I read said that May would be a good time as the snow is melting and Yosemite Falls are usually roaring. I decided that I might as well plan it the week of my birthday. Last year I spent the day in a room with two strangers for what was supposed to be work training, I didn’t learn much except strong armed sales tactics if I ever decide to be a salesman. I did have dinner that night with family. This year I just thought it would be nice to be on a trip during my birthday. I don’t regret my decision, but it is an odd feeling to not see any of my family or friends today. Obviously I took that decision out of their hands.
I said all that to say, that it was no accident that my birthday is the day I chose to head south back towards Los Angeles and drive the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) again. Last year Dad and I squeezed in driving up from LA to Monterey and then back down to Lompoc. While it was a beautiful sight, I think we were both wore out. Our flight was delayed and we got in really late, and we were squeezing a lot in on a three day weekend, or basically two days since the 3rd day was flying back. I wanted to take the drive again and take my time. So that’s what I did today.

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

I left Monterey about 6AM, and headed for the Bixby Bridge.

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

Unlike last year when it was crowded on Good Friday, today I was the only one there for a good ten minutes until one other guy showed up to take pictures too. I saw him a few other times further south down during the day.

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

Bixby Bridge Videos

I pulled over a few more times and stopped at little grocery/convenience store for breakfast, which was Pepperidge Farms Oatmeal cookies. I had planned to eat some peaches and strawberries from the fruit stand on Tuesday, but I managed to get them all smashed up.

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

After my deluxe breakfast, my next stop was the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which contains McWay Falls, a freshwater fall that drops out onto a beach and rolls into the Pacific Ocean.

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

Last year Dad and I drove through the crowded parking lot, and couldn’t find a spot, today there were only about three cars in the whole lot. The trail to the falls is about half a mile one way. I’ve been getting a lot of walking in on this trip! I just need to keep it up when I get back. There were a few people on the trail along with a young Korean couple who remarked that they expected the falls to be bigger. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen and I just came from Yosemite earlier this week. I told them that it’s all about perspective. We were higher than and across from the falls looking down, and falls are dropping a long way to the beach. Look at me being all philosophical or literal. Take your pick. I spent about an hour there before continuing on.
Tunnel Vision

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
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From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

What a nice view from this bench!

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

The view from the end of the trail

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Before this land was donated to the State of california, the couple who owned it had a cabin that sat up there.

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

A very nice quiet place!

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Headed back up the trail

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From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

If you don’t want to pay $10 to park, and you can find a place along the road, you can take this trail down:

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

I highly recommend this drive, while it’s winding and curving, it’s beautiful! I would love to come back and stay at one of the lodges around Big Sur, but they are all a bit pricey.
The next place I stopped was in San Simeon at the Elephant Seals Vista Point. It’s close to the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, and just a few miles from Hearst Castle.

Elephant Seal Beach

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

Elephant Seal Beach-San Simeon

San Simeon

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

Further down the coast

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

It was lunchtime, but I didn’t see anything around San Simeon I was in the mood for, so I just kept driving. I stopped in Pismo Beach for lunch, then continued on south, and ended up at The Cliff House Inn in Mussel Shoals, CA (north of Ventura) for tonight’s stay. This place is quaint but beautiful! You cannot beat the views. I’ve been staring out at the ocean with the door open, listening to the waves crash, while writing this. It cost me $130, originally I had planned to stay at the Crowne Plaza (it is my birthday), and that was going to cost $180. I am glad I stumbled on this place during my planning. They have an onsite restaurant, when I was checking in the man asked if I wanted to make a reservation. I didn’t see any restaurants around within ten miles, so decided I would try it out. The restaurant is on the bottom floor, it’s a small, but higher end Italian/seafood restaurant. No burgers or sandwiches on the menu. I had the Pesto Fettuccini Pasta with chicken breast. It was good, but not really my thing. I could have gone for some regular spaghetti or lasagna, but they didn’t have it. They do have steaks on the menu, but they were all north of $30. With my entrée, iced tea, Crème Brule (first time I tried it, it was ok. I’d rather have cake or cobbler, not that I need either, but it’s my birthday) and tip, I was already at $40 for just one. Hey it saved me a drive into town. I’m not knocking the place, it’s just the kind of place Gordon Ramsay would love, I am not refined. Hey I tried something different. That’s what I am doing now that I am 39.
After dinner I went outside and looked out at the ocean, several of the Channel Islands were visible, including Anacapa Island where Brad, Angela, and I took a day trip to in 2011. A rainbow was also on display. This place really is beautiful. Well I will close the lid on the laptop as a newly turned 39 year old and still hopeless wanderer.

The Cliff House Inn

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

Dining room for one

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

Rainbow

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway
From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

The view out the window

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

Anacapa Island

From 05-14-2015 Pacific Coast Highway

Friday, May 15th, 2015

Ventura-LA

I slept really well; the sound of the ocean waves crashing all night was very soothing. I usually sleep with a sleep playlist on my iPod dock at the leased living space; it’s about five tracks of one hour long waves, rain, and thunderstorms. When you live in an apartment and have heavy footed neighbors above you, it helps out a lot. Having a real ocean outside the door was way better than my sleep playlist!

Good Morning!

From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA

Today’s big activity was a 9:30AM tour of Paramount Pictures, which meant I needed to get an early start. This morning I left the Cliff House Inn about 6:30. I probably could have sat and enjoyed the view of the Pacific Ocean for a bit, but I wanted to get a jump on the LA traffic. After a deluxe breakfast at a Taco Bell (they had an empty lot with parking spaces, McDonald’s did not) down the street from Paramount, I arrived at the parking lot way early, so said the parking lot attendant. It was 8:20, the email said to be 30 minutes early. I just walked around outside the gates until 9 when the visitor center opened.

Paramount Pictures

From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA

A guide named Caleb walked us to a coffee shop/gift shop on the Paramount lot to wait for our guide. There were several different groups; the guide for our group of 9 was Chris. The group was made of several people from Australia, and I am not sure where else. I think I was the only American in the group (besides Chris). Chris has the David Spade “Buh Bye” vibe from SNL. He was friendly though. We walked a block or so to where his golf cart was parked. Then he drove us by several buildings that have been used in exterior scenes for Castle, NCIS: LA, Community, Rizzoli & Isles and a few others. We went to the Bronson Gates which were the original main gates that in the old days actors and actresses would line up outside and try to get the attention of casting agents. I asked about the Bronson gate as to whether it had any relation to Charles Bronson, evidently he took his last name from the gates/street that leads to the gate rather than it being named for him.

There was a big tent in front of the Bronson Gates, so this was a good of a shot as I could get

From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA

We walked in between several buildings that used to house writers, producers, directors (including Alfred Hitchcock who was kept in the producers building so that they could keep an eye on how much he was spending. Everyone came to work on a 9-5 type schedule, the writers would go to the directors building hawking scripts, if the director found a script the liked they would go to the producers building to get someone to fund the pictures, when it was funded the director went to the actors building and picked who they wanted to cast as the actors/actresses were under contract with the studio they could not say no to being in a film they didn’t like. That system went away around the time Grease came out. Olivia Newton John and John Travolta were under contract for Paramount and were sitting in the actors building when they were cast for Grease. The buildings in this area were also used for exterior shots in numerous movies and TV shows, including The Brady Bunch, and Mission Impossible. For Mission Impossible the same building was used as the embassy for whatever country was being featured in an episode, they would just change the flag to reflect that country. Elvis also had an office at Paramount that was in this area.

We went back to the tram and over to a big ocean view screen, it looked like a drive in movie screen with an ocean backdrop painted on. The parking lot can be filled with water for ocean scenes. Some of the things filmed here were the TV show Cheers when Sam proposes to Diane in the Boston Harbor, Star Trek IV and a surf scene from Orange County. With California under a severe drought, they haven’t been using it a lot lately.

From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA

Next we went to the back lot including New York Street. We went in one of the brownstone buildings and took a look. Intel had rented a big part of the back lot for an event tonight, and it was raining this morning so tents were blocking a good portion of the views. We drove by a filming taking place in an RV/bus, but could not take pictures of that. Chris thought it was probably NCIS:LA.
Next we went in the soundstages for Dr. Phil and The Doctors, which are both on hiatus. They are filmed in the same soundstages where the Godfather movies were filmed. We couldn’t take pictures inside, but it was basically the sets you see from the TV shows. From there Chris took us to a prop warehouse that had props from Transformers, GI Joe, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Anchorman 2, the new Star Trek, Bad Grandpa, cars from Jack Reacher and Dreamgirls. There was also a remote control motorcycle used for stunts too dangerous to have a stuntman do. And then the tour was over.

Inside the Bronson Gates

From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA

Optimus Prime

From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA

A couple of Anchorman 2 Props (Jack Reacher’s car in the back)

From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA

Elvis had an office here in the row to the left of the middle building

From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA

The tour guide Chris

From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA

This building was used as the embassy for all of the Mission Impossible TV Show episodes

From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA

The Hollywood sign is barely visible back there

From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA

One of the benches used in Forrest Gump

From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA

LL Cool J’s Trailer

From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA

Backlot

From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA
From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA

The alley Captain American gets beat up in before he’s Captain America

From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA
From 05-15-2015 Ventura to Paramount Pictures Tour LA

I did the Warner Brothers tour in 2011 (I am doing the WB tour again tomorrow morning), this one is similar to that tour. Between the two, I would probably give the nod to WB, but Paramount is definitely worth doing.
After the tour I started looking for someplace to have lunch. I drove by Canter’s Deli but it was really crowded, I think I will get up early and have breakfast there tomorrow. I ended up at Hooters in Burbank which was no crowded and I didn’t even have to pay to park! There were a few other things I was going to do this afternoon, but after lunch I decided I was just ready to head to the Motel 6. So I checked in a little before three. Other than going somewhere close for dinner, I’m pretty much done for the day. Some of the places that I was going to go, I have already been to (Griffith Observatory, The Grove/Farmer’s Market). I will have some time to kill between the WB Tour and going to the airport, so I might do some of those things tomorrow.

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

Warner Brothers Studio Tour, LAX-IAH

After basking in the luxury of the Motel 6 Sylmar, I woke up early and headed into LA for breakfast at Canter’s Deli. If you get there about 6AM you can park right on the street and there is no crowd! I guess that’s the case with anything early in the morning.

Canter’s Deli

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH
From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH
From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH
From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH
From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH
From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH
From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

From there I drove towards Burbank to the Warner Bros Studio Lot, along the way I passed by Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, all the touristy spots of Hollywood. Again since I was so early I was able to park on the street in front of the Warner Bros Studio Tour building rather than pay to park. If I haven’t mentioned it already, for the California rookie, on a weeklong trip you should budget at least $100 for parking (This includes parking lots, parks, etc, everyone has a booth setup it seems). When you score free parking, it’s like someone tosses you a gold nugget!

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH
From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH
From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

The WB tour guide’s name was Josh. Just like the Paramount tour, the tour group was made up of mostly foreigners, this time from France, Australia and Germany, mixed with some people from New Jersey and Washington D.C. This past week they events going on at all of the studios where international buyers are shown pilots and decide which ones to buy to show in their countries. So parts of the back lot were shut down because of that and construction. This included the town square section used in Dukes of Hazzard. I would have liked to see that again, but I did get to see it last time. This tour was great in its own right, we went on the soundstage for The Big Bang Theory (no pictures allowed), and we walked down Hennessy Street. It is named after the set designer of the first Annie movie. He died before the movie was complete, so they named the street after him. There is a plaque in front of the orphanage building. Scenes from numerous movies, TV shows, commercials, music videos were filmed on this street. Recently Don Juan was filmed here with Joseph Gordon Levitt and Scarlett Johansen. Also on this street is the burning pet store from Pee Wee’s Big Adventures, we walked in that building and looked around. The tour is themed around Batman right now, with a museum themed around Batman costumes, props, set design, and concept drawings. There is also an exhibit with several of the Batmobiles. I had a green screen picture taken where I am supposed to be escaping the Batmobile.

Batman Exhibit

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

Michelle Pfeifer’s Catwoman suit

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

Hello Ms. Hathaway

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

A Batmobile

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

Tour Guide Josh explaining the history of Hennesey Street

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

George Clooney’s apartment building in ER

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

Used in Don Juan with Joseph Gordan Levitt and Scarlett Johanssen

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

Hennesey Street

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

A scene from Minority Report was filmed right here

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

The upside down kiss between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst was shot here

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

Used as the casino in the new Ocean’s 11

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

When Michael Keaton’s Batman eyes Danny Devito’s Penguin going through Gotham’s birth records, it was right here

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

Site of the movie premiere at the end of The Artist

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

In the old Batman TV show, this is where Batman and Robin run into city hall. The sequence was shot one time and used in every episode. This building also houses Clint Eastwood’s costume archive:

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH
From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

Soundstages

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

The WB Shield

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

Green Screen Fail

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

Those are the highlights of the tour; I would give the nod to the Warner Brothers Tour over Paramount. They are both worth doing and both do different things better than the other. For instance the Paramount guides carry iPads and show pictures of scenes on the spot you are looking at. I think that’s a nice touch, but the Warner Brothers back lot is more impressive and it’s probably a personal bias with my affinity for The Dukes of Hazzard, but if I had to choose between the two, I would go WB. Josh is a great guide and I picked up several things I did not on my first visit. Both tours stand on their own, and I am sure you get a different perspective with each tour guide as they will point out things that interest them as a well as catering to their group. After the tour I picked up some trinkets in the gift shop, including my green screen picture which was $14.95, last time we had a Harry Potter themed one thrown in for free. Oh well.
At this point it was about 10:45AM and I had several hours to spend before heading to the airport for the 5PM flight. I drove to a park that house the Bronson Caves which were used as the exterior shot for the Batcave in the 60’s Batman TV show. It was crazy crowded though with cars and people, so I just turned around and drove back out. Then I was going to visit the Greystone Mansion and possibly the Griffith Observatory. However, the closer I drove back that direction the crazier the traffic was. I was just ready to be done with crowds and traffic, so I headed towards LAX. Along the way I was going to stop at a restaurant and kill some time, but nothing really caught my eye. The In and Out near LAX was nuts with crowds too, so I just turned the rental car in (the guy checking the car in didn’t say anything about the scratch. So far I haven’t heard from the people of the car I scratched in San Francisco) and went to the airport and had lunch there.

Goodbye California, until we meet again

From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH
From 05-16-2015 WB Tour LAX to IAH

The flight back to Houston was smooth, Brad’s wife Angela picked me up and I made it back to the leased living space right before 11PM.
Wow, what a great trip. Tomorrow I will be back at work back in my mundane routine. Vacation trips are like battery chargers, and I always look forward to visiting new places. For the last 7 years or so, I have been pretty blessed to have visited some place new every year. This year was Yosemite and it did not disappoint. I have no idea where the next trip will take me, but I don’t want to skip past the experience from this one. One thing I would have changed from this trip is spending more time in Yosemite. Like a lot of people I get caught up in the draw of the LA potential for people star gazing, but I find myself now wanting to look more at actual stars in the sky and wonders in nature. Staring up at Yosemite Falls, you realize how small of a speck you really are in the universe and in time. Until the next adventure…

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
–John Muir

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