Days 11-20: Southern California

We are in Southern California and hopefully crossing over into Mexico tomorrow. Yikes. Things are gettin’ real, peeps!

We had grand plans to be fantastic bloggers but we’re finding that spotty wifi and no down-time are conspiring against us. It’s doubtful that it’ll get better in Mexico but we’ll do our very best.

We’ve been zigzagging our way across California. Nights have been a mix of wild (free) camping, paid campground camping, cheap motels, and crashing with friends. Here is a link to our basic route. 

We drove up to Yosemite after visiting friends in the Bay Area. This was a heavy winter for the Eastern Sierras; parts of Tuolumne Meadows are still under water/snow and campgrounds were just reopened for the year. Predictably, Yosemite Valley was a zoo (hello traffic jams!) and we didn’t have time to hike above the crowds as we hadn’t secured a camping spot for the night.

The Merced River is a raging torrent; not the peaceful stream we saw on a previous trip .

Ribbon Falls on the west side of El Capitan is the single longest drop in North America, clocking in at 1,611 feet.

Bridal veil falls at sunset.

My parents have done the high country camp-to-camp hiking for several years. It remains one of my mother’s most favorite places on earth. Someday, when the kids are older, we’ll do it with them. But for this trip we had to content ourselves with winding along the valley floor and then out Highway 120 to Lee Vining. Most of the campgrounds were still snowed in at the east entrance to the park; it wasn’t until we dropped down into the valley on the other side of Tioga Pass that we were able to find a spot to set up camp.

That Merced River water was recently snow. Super cold.

Deer at sunset at Touloume Meadows.

Hey Emma, check out Half Dome. Nope, gotta walk along that rock wall instead. Ain’t got no time for pretty views of large rocks.

This is actually a photo from Mt. Diablo State Park near the Bay Area. No filter on this gorgeous sunset.

Ben was delighted to find this GIANT California toad and equally ecstatic when another came to join the party.

We lived in Southern California for 5 years but neglected to visit Owens Valley. Major mistake! It’s spectacular. This is Mono Lake, home of limestone tufa towers that resemble massive dribble sand castles.

Gorgeous lake? check. Spectacular mountains? check. Cool geology? check. What does the kid do? Chases sand flies. That or doing some crazy interpretive dance.

We dipped into the Travertine Hot Springs near Bridgeport.

Ben thumbed his nose at the silty water, electing instead to do a little climbing.

We’re not completely without creature comforts. This free campsite in the national forest outside of Mammoth Lakes had enough internet for Chris to place an Amazon order for our renters back in Seattle.

Kids at play. Grubby, sweaty, and so very happy.

Twin Lakes Mammoth Lakes. We had a little picnic lunch here but didn’t have the courage for a chilly dip in the water.

Another place we didn’t get to visit while residents of SoCal: Death Valley. So why not visit in the summer? And take the remote back entrance into the park?

We cheated a bit with the above photo. They only have the Death Valley sign at the official entrance, not the back alley, so we had to wait until we were leaving the park to get our picture.

We also visited Teakettle Junction and the mysterious sailing rocks, adding an additional 40 miles of dirt roads to this little jaunt. It was a long, hot, dusty day.

The mystery of the moving rocks (leaving trails of their path) was solved a few years ago: the rocks fall off the neighboring mountains onto the dry lakebed. In the winter when rain falls, a few inches of water gathers in the lake and freezes. Occasionally it thaws slightly, leaving a layer of water under rafts of ice. The wind blows these floating ice rafts across the lake, which carry these rocks with them, leaving gouges (trails) in the now-soft lake bed. 

The lakebed was dry and hard as a bone when we were there although there was evidence of flooding on the road into the valley.

Cross Death Valley off the list. I won’t feel the need to come back here anytime soon. 117F at 7pm at night. No gracias. We had grand plans to camp at Furnace Creek; we opted for a motel nearby with AC and a pool. I love deserts but Death Valley tested my ability to stay cool pretty much every second of our visit. Hot and cranky!

I won’t lie: I’m moderately anxious about the next leg of our trip. The journey so far has been fascinating but exhausting. It’s a bit like parenthood: when you’re pregnant for the first time, you read all the parenting books, take all the classes, and think constantly about what’ll be like to have your baby. All that preparation, however, is no match for the real thing. Living through those first few weeks of new parenthood is intense, nerve wracking, and exhausting.

This trip has been similar. We knew it was going to be hard, despite our planning and preparation. But the reality has been rough at times. For us, it’s mostly been sleep-related. The camper, at 100 square feet, is essentially a large tent. So every time someone gets up to pee, rolls over, or snores, everyone hears it. We’ve had nights where we’ve been up 4-5 times attending to kids; we haven’t experienced that since Ben was 2 weeks old (Emma to her everlasting credit, was an amazing sleeper, even as a very wee little babe).

Additionally, Emma is still, at age 3, solidly in need of a daily nap. She’s pretty good about falling asleep in the car but the driving times (and stopping for meals and sights) has been irregular, throwing off her schedule and consequently messing with her nightly routine as well. Recently, she started taking two daily naps in the car, turning our little girl into a night time party animal. Her parents are not amused.

Our best sleep has been at friends’ homes, where we have been welcomed with open arms. It’s been lovely and some much-needed down time for our family. We need to focus on providing a stable routine for our little girl and hopefully that help her sleep dilemma. Also, I think we moved too fast through this part of the trip. I need to be ok with seeing less and putting down roots for 2-3 days while we laze around and catch up on sleep. For Central and South America, this will likely mean AirBNBs or hotels. In Baja, we’re hoping to spend a lot of time camping on the beach

We still working on this challenge and are reasonably optimistic that we’ll settle into a better routine. This trip has been such a rollercoaster of highs and lows; somewhere is a slightly less dramatic route, I’m sure of it!

Speaking of rollercoasters, Ben and Chris went to Lego Land yesterday with our friends here in Orange County. Holy moly they had a blast. We joked about forgetting Mexico and living at the Lego Land waterpark for a few months; Ben was enthusiastically on board with that idea.

Our deepest thanks and appreciation to our wonderful and amazing family and friends that have met and hosted us along the West Coast. We invaded your homes with four grubby humans and a giant truck; the fact that you even let us in the front door, let alone the rest of the house is amazing and we are deeply grateful for your hospitality. Thank you Marcia, Grandpa, Beverly, Ken, Julie, Ellie, Ahmed, Lana, Zade, Maya, Andrew, Henry, Mindy, Heather, Emily, Julia, and George.




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