September 12th, 2006

piranha - coming up roses.

Friday - Mariposa Grove

So Friday afternoon Dad drove us up to Yosemite via Highway 40, which is not the most stimulating drive in the world. The road flies right through the heart of California's agriculture, but I could honestly care less about the orchards and cows growing at the side of the road. (I ought to care. It's where my food comes from. But you seen one cluster of trees sprouting almonds, you've seen 'em all, am I right?)

We got to Yosemite around seven in the evening and went straight to the Mariposa grove. It's one of my favorite areas on the park; it is the home of the Sequoia 'Big Trees' like the Grizzly Giant and the Columbia Tree. Even when it's crowded with tourists – and so late in the day, it was not – the majesty of the towering trees fills me with awe. Many of the trees are suspected to be 2,000 years and older. Isn't that just crazy to think about? When Christ was nailed to his tree, these trees were growing too. Amazing. Ignoring the history, the trees are also just very, very pretty greens and reds – they're so distinctive against the backdrop of sugar pines, lodgepoles, and firs.

We started in the Lower Grove and worked our way around the popular trees – the Grizzly Giant and the California Tunnel tree. I wanted to see the Clothespin Tree; the trunk has nearly been split because of fire and there's a space in it large enough to drive a car through. Speaking of driving a car through, the Wawona Tunnel Tree would have been neat to see it its prime; a hole was carved through it large enough to drive an horse-and-carriage through. Sadly, that tree fell down way back in 1969. I wanted to go see its corpse – Sequoias are very slow to decompose and the trees are so huge that they can lie on the forest floor for hundreds of years – but we never made it up that far, because the sun was setting. We did hike up to the Upper Grove to see the Telescope Tree, which I had never seen before because I was too small to walk that far when Dad brought us to Mariposa before.
We didn't hike a great distance – maybe three miles in all – but it was late and the last half mile was in the dark. Dad was quite confident about it – "Just follow the path, it glows in the moonlight because of the granite dust!!" – but I couldn't help feeling a little nervous, because I didn't have a flashlight and the consequence of 3.5 million people stomping around Yosemite each year means that the ground has been worn away virtually anywhere rangers haven't blocked off with fences, and 'the path' usually seemed to be forking off at every turn. Dad knows the area quite well and boldly lead the way, and we made it safely back to the car without being eaten by mountain lions.

Mountain lions! There were signs everywhere warning of their presence. I'm not sure if there was an attack to make everyone more cautious or if there was merely a bumper crop of cubs this year, but EVERYWHERE I saw warnings to watch for lions and to report sightings to a ranger. But where was one of the big kitties when I wanted to get a peek? Nowhere to be found!

So instead of mountain-lion chasing Dad checked us into the Wawona Hotel, which is very Historical Landmark, which in non-historian English means old and rather-run-down. Don't get me wrong! The hotel is clean enough, and the staff really busts hump to keep it that way. But any hotel that freely warns you about the potential to find mice in the first few pages of the visitor's book – well, let's just say it's not for the average Mr. and Mrs. American. We were fortunate enough to be staying in the Washburn Cottage, which has private baths. No marching down the hall to the showers for us! We're a hoity-toity lot, we are.

Come with me, and I'll introduce you to the Grizzly Giant.

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Man, the photo totally didn't turn out, but this is from the inside of the Telescope Tree. If you stand at the bottom in the middle of the tree and look up, you can see right through to the sky.
piranha - obviously everything is fine.

Saturday - Yosemite Association

Saturday was fantastic!

First of all, I got to sleep in. It's a little thing, but Saturdays are the only time I ever get to do it and it just makes me so giddy. The Yosemite Association had thoughtfully provided a variety of classes for everyone, so at ten-thirty I trundled (man, trundled is a great word. Possibly misused in this context, but a great word nevertheless.) over to the Pioneer Historical Center to hear Ranger Steve (man, I'm not sure that was his name now that I think about it) talk about managing bears in Yosemite. Not only did I get to learn about the fascinating history of bear-human interactions in the park, the ranger also talked about wildlife management's attempts to reintroduce bighorn sheep and spotted frogs into their original habitats. The frogs are an especial problem because non-native fish have taken over many of the lakes the frogs live in; every time they bring in a new colony of frogs the fish eat them all up! I should've taken notes, because I thought the lecture was really interesting – and I also wouldn't be surprised if I could catch some extra credit points in Bio if I had enough information to write a short report!

When the class had ended there was a buffet lunch out on the lawn in front of the Wawona Hotel – it was a bit awkward because there was NO ONE within ten years of my age. I seriously saw children under ten running around playing tag and middle-aged adults discussing Hetch-Hetchy, but there was a serious dearth in twenty-somethings. I ended up next to my dad at a table with a ranger named Kristine Hutchinson, who had led a meadow-hike that my Dad went on in the morning. There were also several activists who were very interested in discussing the restoration of Hetch-Hetchy, a very pretty valley that was filled up many years ago to provide water to San Francisco. (That's also a fascinating topic that may come up in a few future elections, but I'll not go into detail at this time.) The conversation was educational, but it certainly wasn't the sort of material I would hash through had I been with my contemporaries.

The lunch was followed by the Yosemite Association's Annual Members' Meeting, which was why we were all up there in the first place. Different speakers came up and told us the state of the park, how much money had been raised the previous year, current membership numbers, etc. The guest speaker was Phil Frank, the cartoonist behind Travels with Farley who currently draws his strip exclusively for the San Francisco Chronicle. He talked about his characters and how they all enjoy Yosemite; as he would discuss, for example, how two beavers met at 'a water hole' he would draw the characters right in front of you. After he was done speaking, the drawings were auctioned off to raise money to kick-start a rockslide fund. (Yosemite's economy was devastated earlier this year by a rockslide that blocked Hwy. 140) Dad ended up buying two of the sketches – one for me and one for my brother – and while I swore not to reveal how much he paid (Mom would rip a few holes into him) let me confide in you, diary readers, that each sketch was paid for in triple digits.

Mr. Frank was also running book-signing line, so after Dad won the drawings I waited in line to get them autographed. Lo and behold! Ranger Kristine was standing in line next to me, and she introduced me to another Ranger, named Domby, who was – gasp! shock! – my age! We ended up talking for over half an hour (Phil Frank's line was long and not moving an inch) and Domby insisted I attend the square dance that evening.
(Square dance? Moi? I had fully intended to ditch the dance and do homework like the square that I am, but the Ranger was most insistent.)
I agreed to go and he took off to get his cowboy hat and pick up a friend or two. I finally got to the head of Mr. Frank's line and got my pictures autographed.

While I had been in line the auction had continued. There had been about fifteen drawings, and by the auction's conclusion Mr. Frank's work had raised nearly $3500.00. Everyone had been gleefully drinking wine during the past hour, which I'm sure helped the auction totals. There was also a raffle, and earlier in the day Dad had given me a twenty to blow as I saw fit. Unfortunately, I didn't win a thing. Some of the more interesting prizes included a beer tasting for twenty people, passes to different art museums up in San Francisco, rare books, and several fine photographs and watercolors.

When the meeting and raffle had wrapped up Dad and I had ice cream for dinner (and people wonder why I like going places with Dad. Life is one big dessert tray with him!) and returned to the hotel for a few hours of homework. Well, I did the homework; Dad went downstairs to visit with fellow Association members. After a couple of hours with microeconomics and biology Dad returned and together we headed down to the square dance.

I hadn't expected to do much, but I ended up having so much fun! Domby was very patient with my klutziness and we stomped and spun around the old Grey Barn with his friends. Their names are all a blur; two girls were interns, one guy worked in the Wawona doing housekeeping, and another friend who was just hanging out. (His name was Mike, I think, but I honestly can't remember anything else about him. I suck.) After the dancing was over we hung out around the campfire, and Domby proposed hiking out to the Mariposa Grove to see how pretty it is in the moonlight. (Doesn't that sound like fun?) I would've loved to go, but I thought it would be rude to Daddy, because I'd either ditch him and wake him up when I finally got back or drag him along and keep him from getting the sleep he needed. Oh well. I was pretty exhausted by this point anyway, so Dad and I said good night and went back to the hotel.

The band at the square dance:

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Here's the final shot from Saturday, hanging out around the campfire. The two girls were both interns, I believe. I totally didn't realize that the cowboy hat somehow went from my head to the other girl's. When did that happen?

Also, you totally can't tell from the photo, but I had not shaved my legs in like a week and my legs were HAIRY. It was gross, but I wore long pants the whole weekend so I don't think anyone found out. Except now you guys.