"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Napa Valley

So, now we're in Vacaville, CA. Yesterday was our first sightseeing day. We drove over to Napa, where we had lunch at the Oxbow Public Market - sort of a mini Faneuil Hall for you New Englanders. It has several different kinds of eateries, but we went simple with Gott's Roadside, an infamous burger joint right next door. I had fish tacos. (I'd like to start documenting my fish tacos, but I'm a little slow on the uptake.) Rick had a burger of course.

The market is chock full of a variety of food vendors:






Italian pastries

...as well as fish, olive oil and the ubiquitous wine.

After lunch we drove up the valley and took in the vineyards. The landscape and the vineyard buildings are gorgeous, even in this season with the vines barely budding.

In Calistoga we drove west, up over another winding road, into the neighboring valley, and south through Santa Clara and Petaluma. At the bottom of the valley we passed through some unusual and grand emerald green cattle and sheep grazing country, and then along the San Pablo bay, where we spotted some shore birds (avocets, black-necked stilts and great egrets and snowy egrets) and ran into the rush hour traffic before we got home.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

San Francisco

For one week we lived in Morgan Hill, a far southern suburb of San Francisco, or maybe more accurately, San Jose. It is still an agricultural valley, but slipping fast into suburban mall-sprawl. I like to look for RV parks in these far suburbs so we are close enough to visit the city but far enough to be surrounded by agricultural or natural areas. There often seems to be an outlet mall nearby, as there is nearby in Gilroy. I think outlet malls are now being built in these far suburbs (like Aurora, IL) with the anticipation that they will soon be surrounded by residential areas. There is one in Vacaville too, where we are living this week, northeast of San Francisco, almost to Sacramento. I don't need to post a picture of an outlet mall, you know what those look like.

I should share that over 30 years ago I lived in Berkeley for a couple of years, while being a dancer (and a produce clerk and housecleaner). During that time I had a boyfriend with a motorcycle and we traveled around the area a bit: Yosemite, Napa, Marin, Halfmoon Bay. The whole area has change dramatically in many ways. The dot.com era and the post-dot.com technology boom have transformed the area south of SF into the Silicon Valley of course. (Both the Apple and Google campuses are here.) And all the little towns around SF are now suburbs. So as I'm touring the area I can't help but compare it to "how it used to be." Enough said.

From Morgan Hill we traveled to the coast and to the Big Basin Redwoods (see previous post). We also took a day to visit San Francisco. I know, a day is too short to do San Francisco justice, but I'm just not wild about cities, even one as beautiful as SF. But our one day was so lovely; we even had sun for a good part of it.

We drove up Rt. 1 to get there, passing by lots of cliffy beaches and less agriculture than I expected.

Once in SF we drove through the city and across the Golden Gate Bridge, stopping on the north side to look back.

Spent a little time in Sausalito.

Back across the bridge to the Presidio and Crissy Beach so Kona could have a swim. Great view of the bridge.

Dinner at Scomas, right out on Fishermans' Wharf. If you are there for lunch you can watch the fishing boats come in and out. They have their own fish processing room right across these dock with big windows so you can also watch them take in and process the fish (which we didn't see either because we were there for supper). Rick had their famous clam chowder and scallops. I had fresh dungeness crab cakes and lamb. The meal was big enough to bring half home for lunch another day.

Fisherman's wharf is a noisy, touristy place with endless T-shirt stores and more italian seafood establishments than you can shake a fish at. We finished the long day with a loop on the Embarcadero and around the eastern side of the city and south, back home to Morgan Hill.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Finally Dancing!

One of our intentions, the one that inspired the name of this blog, was to find contra dances across the country as we traveled. (See the page in the right hand column of the blog if you're unfamiliar with contra dancing.) Well, in reality they have been few and far between. As hard as it is for us to believe, there are not contra dances everywhere!  Dancing was especially dry in Montana, South Dakota and Utah. Many dances also take the summer off.

So, down in Southern California we finally started to run into some dances again. We found one in Brentwood, near LA, and then another in San Diego. Now, up here in and around San Francisco there is a thriving contra dance community. On Saturday night we danced in Palo Alto, with caller Jean Corrindo and dynamic music by the Rosin Doctors.

Then on Sunday afternoon we attended a lively dance in Hayward with Susan Kendig (from Portland, OR) calling and Triangularity (from Seattle) providing the music. Great crowd, friendly people and quite a feast of snacks at the break. Thanks to Michael and Lenore (yes, the first one I've ever met at a contra dance) for your welcomes and wealth of information about local dances up the west coast.

As we head north through California and on to the coasts of Oregon and Washington we expect to run into more dances along the way, especially in Portland and Seattle. So we are really dancing across the country now. Or maybe up the county.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Big Basin Redwoods

We're now parked in Morgan Hill, about an hour inland from Santa Cruz. Yesterday we took Ms. Subaru over the mountain on Rt. 152, through Watsonville and into Santa Cruz for her 15,000 tune-up and fluid check. We had some time to tour around while she was being worked on so we took a loaner out for some sightseeing.  First thing on the agenda was an ocean swim for Kona. After a few that weren't appropriate...

...we finally found the 21st Street Beach which did the job.  Then we took about an hours beautiful drive on Rt. 9 from Santa Cruz to a California State Park called Big Basin Redwoods.  According to the website, it is "home to the largest continuous stand of ancient coast redwoods south of San Francisco, the park consists of over 18,000 acres of old growth and recovering redwood forest, with mixed conifer, oaks, chaparral, and riparian habitats." 

You can see how you'd spend a lot of time looking up. It's hard to really get a sense of how huge these trees are in photographs.  Here's Rick standing inside one of these coastal redwoods:

Although they are not the biggest at the base (I think the giant sequoias are) they are some of the tallest.

This gives you a little sense of how it feels to stand amongst them.

The tallest ones here are about 380 feet tall. That's taller than the Statue of Liberty (289 ft.)!

This tree is called the Father of the Forest. There's a Mother of the Forest nearby too.  The whole experience of being with them is awesome. I'm looking forward to more visits to similar groves along the coast in Northern California.

So, Ms. Subaru is all checked out, and soon we'll be taking her for a trip into San Francisco.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Big Snow, Big Water, Big Rocks, Big Trees - Yosemite

The change could not have been more dramatic. Two days before we were in a warm, dry, palm shaded oasis. And then this...

Our change of location began with saying goodbye to Rancho California and driving north to Bakersfield where we stayed in the Orange Grove RV Park, a sweet little place literally in the middle of the orange groves.  Then we drove through the agricultural miracle that is the central California valley, and splurged on lunch at the Harris Ranch, a favorite stop. Continuing north, we landed in Mariposa and parked the RV in the Mariposa County Fairgrounds for an overnight. The next day we left the RV at the Fairgrounds and headed for Yosemite in the car, planning two nights at the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal (the closest town to the National Park) and three days in the park.

Yosemite View Lodge along the Merced River

A winter storm warning was in effect, but that was just what we wanted. Rick had a special wish to tromp through Yosemite in the snow, and he got his wish in a BIG way.  As we passed through El Portal it was raining, and at the park gates we saw the signs "Chains or Four Wheel Drive Required." We were set on both accounts, with Ms. Subaru the super car, and chains stowed in the back. We felt pretty comfortable without the chains on, being New England drivers and Subarus being what they are in the snow, but were glad we had the chains just in case.

Unfortunately, we forgot to get gas in Mariposa, so our first need was to find a gas station asap. We were directed up Rt. 120 to Crane Flats to the only gas station, 18 miles from the gate, uphill all the way.

The snow started in earnest. Within minutes we were in a white out. Luckily we didn't blink and miss this tiny gas station just off the road in the trees.

Back down the hill and into the park for several hours of nonstop snow and three days of breathtaking beauty as the park revealed itself gradually.

At first all we saw was snow and trees.

Then the surrounding walls of the valley began to peek out. By the end of the day we caught a few glimpses of the rocky cliffs that Yosemite is known for, and actually saw a bit of blue sky.

Our last stop of our first day was Lower Yosemite Falls, where we also saw the only wildlife (other than birds) of the weekend.

Back the the motel we dried off and warmed up, and I had a long hot bath!!! for the first time in months. Read my yummy new book, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, as I soaked in the tub. Our efficiency motel room was bigger than our whole rig. Fun.

We woke the next morning to snow everywhere, and still more falling. Once in the park, we found a classic winter wonderland, and got more glimpses of the valley than the day before. These conditions led to some spectacular scenery though, of the kind photographers say they wait years for.  You can see how the photos begin to look like color instead of black and white.

Our first stop of the day was Bridalveil Falls.

After lunch at The Ahwahnee we headed out for more exploring and found one incredible scene after another.  I think we did enough of tromping around in the snow to satisfy Rick's winter fantasies.

A local photographer we met directed us to this gorgeous view of El Capitan along the Merced River at the Cathedral Beach picnic area.

Back to the motel for another hot bath and an OK dinner in their dining room. (I had been hoping for pizza in a big way.) On our last day we woke to even more snow on the ground, but a clear blue sky. There was easily over a foot in the valley. We had reserved a place on the 9:00 am Camera Walk led by a staff member from the Ansel Adams Gallery, and so hurried to get there in time.

Matt, our guide, was a professional photographer and gave us lots of advice about lighting and composition, and took us to a few incredible locations that we would not have found on our own.

Both these shots are of Half Dome from different locations.

He recommended we go to Tunnel View on Wawona Rd. so we did that and were rewarded by this amazing scene.

We hoped to visit the Tuolumne Meadows sequoia grove, back up Rt. 120, but when we got there found that it was a 2-3 hour hike in through deep snow and unfortunately we were not sufficiently prepared for that.  We did see a lot of big, gorgeous trees though, from a distance as well as up close and personal.

Coming back down the mountain we got this parting view, making the drive worthwhile.

Yosemite in the snow is clearly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I'm glad we tackled it. Never change your plans because of weather, but be prepared!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Huntington Gardens Part IV: The Chinese Gardens

The Japanese Gardens were closed for renovations, so after a quick peek through this arbor at the cherry blossoms we walked on to the Chinese Gardens, or "The Garden of Flowing Fragrance."

The Chinese Garden is relatively new and seems to be work in progress. Because of this the plantings are not matured and the overall effect emphasizes the form of the structures surrounding the lake. I found the architectural details more interesting than the landscaping.

There are botanical motifs used throughout in wood carvings and in the stone work. 

This is a view through a window to the inside of the tea house where we had lunch. 
The walls are made entirely of intricately paned windows like this one. 

These stone mosaics are used on several of the courtyards and walkways.


Inside the building above there were a series of carved wood panels, like the one below. Notice the similarity between the building and landscape above, and that depicted in the carving.  The place has all kinds of internal coherence and resonance, like the Mission at San Juan Capistrano did. Love it. 

We were reminded of Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford Illinois, which is our all time favorite. If you like botanical gardens, both Anderson and Huntington are must sees.