Long time no see

Guess where we are: Water costs more than a soda here. We decided to come back because we didn’t even visit all national parks of the southwest a year ago.

Finnair has direct flights to LA and San Francisco. We booked return flights to SFO with 500€+90€ for the luggage. Apparently some people travel to USA without luggage as Finnair basic economy tickets do not have luggage anymore. I hate the way they charge you nowadays. In US there are airlines which charge extra for the overhead bins. However we didn’t want to start driving from San Francisco so we also bought tickets from United from SFO to Salt Lake City with 2-hour transfer. What were we thinking? Needless to say we missed our flight from SFO to Salt Lake City because half of the passengers of Finnair got SSSS on their boarding passes, including myself. So half of the passengers had extra screening at the gate and most of the people had not noticed that boarding will start 1.5 hours before departure. So the plane left from Helsinki 30 minutes late. If it had left on time, we would have made it to Salt Lake City. We had given up hope and thought that our non-transferable cheap-ass tickets would be worthless but then a miracle happened: The agent at the United counter changed our tickets for the following morning without extra charge.

So we had to stay at SFO for the night and fly to SLC the next morning. We booked the cheapest hotel we could find which had airport shuttle service. With 92€ we got a room from Travelodge which had received 97 Excellent reviews in Tripadvisor. It seemed to be very popular among Mexican construction workers. I wouldn’t like to fly the airline which sent his pilot there though. There was a pilot in the shuttle who also jumped off at our hotel.

The room was actually cleaner than we had expected and the beds were comfy as well.

22 days, 11 national parks and 6000 kilometers

This was an amazing trip. We’ve both been to US numerous times and for us driving has always been part of the experience. In 1994 we drove from Boston to Niagara Falls and back. Later we spent many vacations driving around Florida and now recently on the west coast. We had been to Everglades in Florida but we never planned visiting national parks unless they were en route. This all changed when we visited Yosemite in April 2017.

In Yosemite National Park Visitors Center Minna laid her hands on a booklet: Travel Stamps U.S. National Park Series Album & Guide. It is a book in which you can collect a stamp (or actually a sticker) from each National Park of the U.S. We bought our first sticker from Yosemite.

You can buy stickers from National Park visitors centers but you can also order them online. We pasted the Yosemite sticker in the book but it looked very empty so we ordered the Everglades sticker from the supplier. It still looked very empty. We had been planning Route 66 trip to celebrate our 50th birthdays. We started having doubts about driving through midwest so we started plan B. What if we tried to collect as many stickers as we can during three weeks?

We started investigating the map and we found out that there were several national parks in the west which were very close to each other: Zion and Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Arches. We realized quickly that we could visit 10 national parks quite easily. Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Channel Islands were not in the original plan. We calculated the distances and noticed that it would be possible to see 8 parks quite conveniently. After Grand Canyon, which was supposed to be the last park, we had 5 more nights to go. In five days we would still have time to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon or stay around Los Angeles. We had been to LA before so it would be a shame to skip the parks as it would also require another visit in that region. The map below shows that Ventura was really between Kings Canyon and LA so it would have been silly to skip it.

What did we learn then? The Americans don’t, usually, build national parks to boring spots. Zion was amazing, Canyonlands had the vastest vistas, Joshua Tree was exactly the way the hippies saw it in the 70’s. To be honest why would you travel to Europe when you have such amazing sights in your own country?

We also learned to understand a little bit of the concept of Manifest Destiny. Driving through the desert gave us a glimpse of the hardships the pioneers must have faced. The Finnish concept of ”sisu” is not unique. People who crossed the desert in their wagons with all of their possessions with them did certainly have ”sisu” too.

Entrances 1
Entrances 2

We had one night left and we spent it in Hollywood. We found an affordable, very clean and nicely located hotel just a couple of blocks from Hollywood Boulevard: Hotel Lexen. There is another one in North Hollywood and we drove there first by accident.

Here is a 30-minute-video of the whole trip with some nice timelapses:

That’s a big tree you got there General Sherman

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National parks are practically the same area. They are very convenient to visit on the same trip and we visited both in two days. We left Barstow in the morning and drove all day to arrive at Plantation B&B in Lemon Cove, CA. It is very conveniently located with easy access to both parks. It also served excellent breakfast on the patio outside. Many of the rooms have a private bathroom (some not though) and so did ours. Plantation B&B was an old citrus plantation and each room has a Gone with the wind -theme. We stayed in Belle Watling -room. There is a swimming pool available on the patio but unfortunately we didn’t have time to enjoy it.

Plantation B&B, Lemon Cove, CA

We checked in and drove to Sequoia National Park main entrance which was just 30-minute-drive from our B&B. The drive from the park entrance to the park itself was an experience in itself. Generals Highway had tight turns and some roadwork which made our progress very slow but the scenery was perfect.

Promises, promises. No bears here.

At this time of the day parking was problematic. We parked at General Sherman Trailhead and walked to the biggest tree of the park. It rained a bit because this area is more than 1000 meters above sea level. It is also cooler than Lemon Cove area.

General Sherman and sergeant Huttunen

It was Memorial Day weekend and restaurants were quite full in Three Rivers when we got back from the park.

The next morning we drove along Dry Creek Drive from Lemon Cove through Badger to Grant Grove Village where Kings Canyon Visitor Center is. Kings Canyon is actually much more interesting compared to Sequoia. Sequoia has bigger trees, which Minna said look like the trees the kids draw, and Moro Rock but Kings Canyon has very a beautiful valley with rapids and waterfalls. Kings Canyon also had less visitors during our stay.

At Moro Rock, not on the top though

Kings Canyon Scenic Byway took us to the far end of the park. First section of the road descends to the bottom of the canyon and then the road follows the river. At the end of the road we took a small hike around Zumwalt Meadow. The snowmelt from the mountains made the river flow rapidly and it was full of fish (see the fisherman and the fish by the walk bridge in the video below).

Kings Canyon Scenic Byway

Kings Canyon was supposed to be the last National Park of our trip. We still had 2 more nights before the flight would leave and we had planned to spend those nights in Los Angeles. But we had been to LA before, Minna even on this same trip.

California

Around Lake Tahoe in a day

So we woke up and drove back 100 km. Of course we had to see Emerald Bay which is one of the most beautiful spots on our journey. But first we had to buy some soda. Maybe I will try some bacon soda.

Also here, the bears had woken up already.

Emerald Bay is located in the southern end of the lake and the first lookout parking lot was still covered with snow so it was almost impossible to park. However, the best scenic spot is a bit further up right on top of the bay. This was a view worth driving to.

Driving further north we found some holiday villages where the cottages were still almost totally covered by snow. Apparently it wasn\’t the season yet. We drove up to Tahoe City and then we had to make a decision: take the small road along the lake shore to Kings Beach or drive inland route to Truckee. We chose inland route. Driving towards Truckee we noticed signs pointing to Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 olympics.

The main attractions of Truckee are the historic downtown and the Donner Party Memorial. A small but very interesting museum is built around the tragic story of the Donner_Party which was on its way to California but got stuck in snow here and resorted to cannibalism. It was really amazing what had happened here in the end of 1846. There was so much snow that it was impossible to continue and the party got stranded in what is now called the Donner Pass. The snow would have covered the base of the statue. Of the 87 members of the party, 48 survived to reach California, many of them having eaten the dead for survival.

Tunnel view, Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome and El Capitan

The night was so cold that we had to keep the air conditioner warming the room all night. And it makes exactly the same amount of noise no matter if it\’s used for warming or cooling. Anyway, we were about to see the most magnificent sights today. The Tunnel View lookout has a view which is world famous. It was quite a good weather in Mariposa and at the national park entrance. The picture with the sign also shows our Swedish ride for the whole trip.

Of course we headed towards the Tunnel View first as it wasn\’t raining yet. The clouds hang low and hid part of the view. We felt a bit disappointed. So much that we also visited the Tunnel View in the afternoon again just to find out the the morning view was actually much better. The left picture is taken in the morning and the right one in the afternoon. The clouds really made the view very dramatic.
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There is still a lot of snow in the park in April. This means that many of the popular sites like Tuolumne meadows and Glacier Point are inaccessible. It is really amazing to see the Yosemite valley in spring and still hard to imagine that there is a lot of snow further up in the park. The lack of snow in the valley meant that the bears had woken up already. No bags of chips or any other edibles were allowed to be stored inside the cars. Everything you had which might attract the bears was supposed to be stored inside sturdy metal boxes. Apparently the bears can enter locked cars.
The spring time meant also that all waterfalls were at their best:

Mariposa gives me butterflies in the stomach

We had chosen Mariposa as our base for the trip to Yosemite. Mariposa is monarch butterfly in Spanish. It\’s only 47 minutes away from the National park. The hotel was booked for two nights to allow full day in the park. The weather didn\’t look so great so most likely no hiking tomorrow. We arrived quite late and most restaurants were closed already so we chose between a burger joint and a restaurant. The 1850 Restaurant carried a craft beer called Nukin Futz. Hah.

To Los Olivos and back

We took the scenic route today and drove to the wine country (not Napa, though) through highway 154. Great views and excellent weather. Did some sipping in Los Olivos too. Los Olivos was the nicest of the towns we visited today and the two others (Lompoc and Buellton) were not worth a visit at all. 

Apparently Sideways was filmed somewhere close so we had a Pinot Noir tasting. Clearly very different grape from what we\’ve been used to. http://site.thelosolivostastingroom.com/Menu.html There was of course plenty to choose from. The tasting cost $20 and you got at least 8 different wines. We also bought one called Wrath. It was from Monterey, so not that close but I got the Steinbeck reference.
Lonely Planet recommended a visit to La Purisima mission http://www.lapurisimamission.org/ so we did visit it. It was part of the El Camino Real and had been renovated during the depression after been abandoned for a long time. 

























On the way back to Santa Barbara we sampled more of the PCH scenery.

We also visited a used car dealership.
Yesterday I noticed that the colours of my pictures really didn\’t portray California as well as they could have. That\’s why I started using filters today. This is how I always imagined California to look like. Saturated colourse from the 60\’s and 70\’s.