Alaskan RED

A lifelong Alaskan learning about the world one backroad at a time


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National Park Tour Part Two – Yosemite

I remember some years ago when I took the opportunity to drive through the redwoods in Northern California, a park employee recommended Yosemite as the premiere California park destination. I’ve always remembered that and so it made the short list of required stops for this road trip.

On our way south from an overnight in Alturas in northeast California, we came over a hill and got a surprise – Mono Lake with its white edges and tufas spread out below us. We stopped at the visitor center for a closer look and enjoyed the exhibits explaining how tufas are formed including a replica that was made to be touched. Tufas are created when underground spring water containing calcium leaches up and mixes with lake water containing carbonate and forms crystals which build hills over time.

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After exploring the lake, we decide to stay in Lee Vining, a small town whose claim to fame is that they are the gateway to Yosemite and has hotel prices to prove it. The Lakeview Motel is clean and convenient but only the upper section has a view of Mono Lake from several miles away.  As its late in the season, some of the shops and restaurants are closed but we found a diner dinner and hit our pillows early.

After a walk for coffee in the morning, we begin the drive, climbing up to 9949 feet at the entrance to the park – Tioga Pass.  From there we drive into what turns out to be our favorite part, the rocky upper portion of the park with gnarled trees growing out of bare rock, smooth flows of rock topped with random boulders, and beautiful Tenaya Lake.

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We continue on and drop down yet another twisty winding road to Yosemite Valley where we can look up at El Capitan and see Half Dome from the bottom.  It is pretty with a lovely creek running through boulders, but it is busy even on an offseason weekday so we don’t stop for our planned picnic here.  Instead, we climb back out of the valley and choose to return the way we came rather than drive out to the south through Mariposa or out the west entrance.  It is just as beautiful in reverse and we take time to check out a couple of campgrounds in anticipation of our next visit before stopping at Tenaya Lake for a picnic and a bit of wading. (It wasn’t that cold, honest!)  I’ve been itching to climb the rocks and we finally stop at one turnout where clambering over the rocks affords us a beautiful view of the valley.

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All the way back out of the park, we talk about what we want to do during our next visit.

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National Park Tour Part One – Crater Lake

While we were driving through Oregon, we decided to drive through the south side of the Columbia Gorge and up through the Deschutes River valley. This twisting winding drive down one side of the river and up the other would have been really fun in a sports car! Returning to the river for some rafting and fishing are definitely on our list. We dropped down into Bend Oregon and passed through quickly, hoping to stop at the Lava Beds National Monument at sunset but we were greeted with locked gates – closed for the season. So on we went, hoping to find somewhere to stay along the road before the turn off to Crater Lake but nothing really presented itself – again, several things were closed for the season. On we went to Klamath Falls where we checked into a Shiloh just off the highway.

Up early the next morning, we drove back to the turnoff towards the Lake and crossed wide flats of cow country and a couple small settlements that included some small cottage type lodging options – wish we’d taken the chance to drive in here the night before. On we went towards the mountain in the distance until we finally left the flats and started driving up into the pine forest. We stopped to take a picture of a river canyon and were amazed by both the chill in the air and the pine scent it carried. Onward and upward and we came to the visitor center where we bought a National Park Passport and put the first stamp in it. Then came our first decision – do we drive the loop clockwise or counterclockwise. As the driver and photographer, I chose – counterclockwise so the morning sun would be behind us as we looked at the lake.

We stopped early on to walk up to a viewpoint and found that the elevation does take its toll on a couple of sea level dwellers – the air felt thin – but the view was well worth it and the forest was so peaceful.  While the star is the lake, the trees are equally amazing in their own ancient, twisted way.P1050550~2[1]

The view from the first overlook is a rock formation called Phantom Ship – it is possible to see it from other viewpoints as well so you really get a see its different sides.

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Back in the truck, we found the road to be very twisting, narrow and some areas of sheer dropoffs on the side,  but the views were well worth it. There are many viewpoints to see the incredible color of the lake and a few places to picnic, though none have a view of the lake.  However, there is only one place to get to the water and it is supposed to be a very steep dusty trail – we were going to try it but it was the only truly busy area outside of the the visitors centers so we skipped it.

At another viewpoint, you can see the crater wall and a rock formation called the Castle – it is a completely different color as the wall it perches on and reminds me of the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.

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While we were there, this little chipmunk came out to visit.  He was obviously used to people and seemed ready to run up my pant leg looking for a handout.  When I had nothing to offer, he ran up on the sign and posed for this perspective shot.

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Back down the mountain, we stopped again to look over the river canyon and some interesting formations in the walls of the canyon – hollow spires of soil that looked like fairy temples.  We did not see those on the way up, pointing out that driving both directions around the lake would also have been a good idea.  I think a return trip will be on our list.

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IN WHICH WE PLAY IN THE ORCHARDS

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We are very fortunate to have family friends who own orchards in Omak, Washington. As a lifelong Juneauite, it wasn’t until we visited those orchards many years ago that I tasted a fresh picked apple. It was incredible – so unlike the ones we could purchase back home, the ones I’d grown up with, the ones so tasteless and mushy. This apple was crisp, clean, and oh so good.

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As we were deciding where our travels would lead us, we knew we’d be visiting family and friends along our route and of course, Omak was included. Not only could we visit friends we’d not seen in many many years but I would be able to wander in the orchards, marveling at the fruit. And with any luck, my incessant questions would be tolerated and I’d learn a few tidbits about the fruit business. Here are a few things I learned…

  • Cherries are dried by low flying helicopters; it is incredibly dangerous
  • A foil like material can be laid between the apple rows to reflect light up to the fruit so it colors properly
  • Even orchard owners prefer Honeycrisp apples to Red Delicious
  • Pears are picked before apples (and there didn’t seem to be as many on the ground)
  • A drive lined with trees groaning under the weight of red apples is a beautiful sight
  • There is nothing more depressing for a fresh produce deprived Juneauite than hearing the sound of apples falling to the ground and seeing the hundreds of apples that have fallen, never to be savored

But most importantly, I was reminded of what generous, caring people we call friends, how I truly appreciate their patience with my questions, and how much I love the taste of fresh picked fruit.

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Now – want to bet on how many miles that box of apples will last?

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THE SERENDIPITY OF OKANAGAN WINE TASTING

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We spent a couple days in Banff doing all the touristy stuff – visiting Bow Falls, taking pictures of the Fairmont Chateau, walking in the pine forest, and pretending we were twelve years old racing through the streets of downtown on bicycles on loan from the hotel. But it felt like time to move on so we drove back to Lake Louise, across through Revelstoke and on Vernon where we rested up for the wine country to come.  We were fortified by a visit to the Okanagan Distillery where Peter shared with us the workings of the copper still and some very fine spirits and liqueurs. Do not miss this place if you get to Vernon or Kelowna where they have a second location.
The next day we began wine tasting in earnest. Anyone who knows me knows I like wine so the hundreds of wineries stretching from Vernon to the border seemed like heaven. We visited several on the drive from Vernon to Penticton where we decided to spend the night so we could venture up onto the Naramata Bench before winding down to Osoyoos for a last bit before we crossed back into the U.S.
When touring wine country where the options are vast, it is often difficult to choose where to stop. Recommendations from friends or locals help and a stop by the local visitor center can net a map and a few ideas. I’ve asked hotel clerks and restaurant waitstaff for ideas and I’ve had strangers offer up a suggestion. But sometimes the best thing is to drive through an area, stopping where the whim strikes – a neat logo, a funny name, or a beautiful property. But our favorite experience tasting in the Naramata Bench area of the Okanagan, northeast of Penticton can only be described as Serendipitous.
While we had recommendations, we attempted some other wineries that looked inviting only to find they were not open. Then we spied the sign…Serendipity…and I knew we had to stop. It looked small, my favorite kind of tasting room, and the name was perfect. When we hopped out of the truck, a woman walked out of the vines – we’d obviously disturbed her at work and apologized but she brushed it off saying that it was her job to both work the vines and to serve tastings.
Now what most people don’t know about me is that the part I like most about wine tasting is finding a small operation and learning the story. And the story of Serendipity was no exception and the owner was happy to indulge me.
She had been a lawyer in eastern Canada but has hesitations about returning to work after a bad car accident. She loves food and cooking but was physically unable to be a chef. On vacation in Kelowna, she saw an apple and pear orchard for sale, made an offer on it while at the airport for her return flight and by the time she reached home, she was the new owner. She went to farm school, ripped up the fruit trees, planted grapevines and started making wine, the kind of wine that goes well with food. If she couldn’t be a chef, she could provide the wine that went with the meal. Every bottle had a picture and a quotation that meant something to her. A picture of Sir Isaac Newton’s apple and gravity moment, the inclusion of Alice and her Wonderland companions, a wine named Devils Advocate, and intriguing Red-Handed, bearing the quote “Don’t regret the things you do, regret getting caught.”
She named the winery Serendipity because that is how she came to trade her life as a married lawyer for that of a strong woman running her own business, owning a winery, sharing that experience with her children.And indeed it was serendipity that brought us to her door and had us packing several bottles of her wine in our truck and that has kept this story in my head.