While Brian worked, Victoria and I did the tourists' San Francisco and spent a productive half-day at the Jelly Belly factory. Then we camped nearby and hiked a little of Mt. Tamalpais, where Victoria decided she hates hiking. For the rest of the trip, we tried to think of obfuscatory language to disguise the fact that most of the time we weren't driving or sleeping would be spent hiking. She caught on pretty fast, however.
Drove to Yosemite, found out the Tioga pass wouldn't be open for another 12 hours and ended up camping at a ridiculous place just west of the park. I am mortified to admit we paid $62 for a tent site (and it was nothing special). Yosemite was very pretty and very crowded. Leaving the valley helped, but there was a bunch of stuff we wanted to see there so we shuffled along with the masses for most of one day. V did a trail ride on a mule, which she loved--loved the ride, loved the mule. His name was Braxton.
East of Yosemite, we stayed near June Lake. It's a really sweet resort town (skiing and fishing) everyone liked. We rode the ski lift up to admire the view; we were too late for the restaurant at the top, so they didn't even charge us for the ride. I saw a western tanager and got all excited about it until people convinced me they were a dime a dozen in the area. Actually, I'm still a little excited about it, they are very colorful birds.
We were headed toward the Bristlecone Pine forest when I realized that the big cartoonish Inyo National Forest map I'd seen on a kiosk was nowhere near to scale. One goal of this trip was to minimize driving, so we ditched and went to Mammoth Lakes. Great sections of the park were off-limits due to carbon dioxide--I do love saying magmatic carbon dioxide--but we saw the main lakes. Devil's Postpile was closed, too, but for some other reason. Phooey.
My next stop was the most planned part of the trip, which is good. You don't want to end up in Benton by accident. But there is a hot springs there and we camped next to our own private hot springs hot tub. It was fantastic, with quails and bunnies running around during the late afternoon and a beautiful sunset. Once the stars started appearing they just wouldn't stop. It was beautiful. Shortly after sunrise we could tell it was going to be beastly hot so we headed back toward the mountains. The section of 120 between Benton and Mono Lake has some spectacular dips in it, for added fun. We walked up to the rim of Panem Crater and saw more volcanic glass than I've ever seen in one place before. In case anyone wondered, obsidian is my favorite rock. Back at the car we tried to get pumice to float but we couldn't find an accommodating piece. Oh well.
We took a more northerly, windy, exciting pass and stayed at Calaveras Big Trees park the next night. This park is really nice, with a better batch of sequoias than the Tuolumne grove at Yosemite (which is still worth seeing). We also stopped at Moaning Cavern for a tour (V & B also did the zip line. It looked like fun, but not $39 worth of fun.) and hung out briefly in Angels Camp because why would you go to Calaveras County and not?
We stayed at a state park near Sonora the next night. It had potential, surrounded by orchards and with a river running alongside, but it was a raggedy, overgrown place. It also probably suffered from the comparison to our previous night at a lovely park. And, worse luck, the next park we visited was the jewel of the trip. Mt. Madonna County Park is just gorgeous. It's cool, the trails are fun, the ground is soft, and it has showers. Free showers!
We went to Gilroy Gardens, the world's only horticulture-themed amusement park. It's a little rinky-dink, which is fine by us. It had enough thrills for V and enough trees for me. We stayed all day, then spent our last night in the tent.
On the way back to San Francisco, we visited with K, a friend who moved to CA for law school and never came back. He's married with three kids now and his whole family is insanely adorable. Plus they fed us.
We checked into the Holiday Inn Express near Fisherman's Wharf and then walked to the Cable Car Museum, back through Chinatown, had a fancy dinner on Columbus Avenue, dropped some coins at the Musée Mécanique, and enjoyed the HIX mattresses and breakfast bar. On the way to the airport we stopped in Pacifica for one last look around and now we're back. I should probably get some laundry started.
That's the short version, anyway.
*I exaggerate. We also had zippers.