California Vacation: Jelly Belly Factory Tour

We took Route 80 which led us all the way to Reno. Reno will be our last stop where we will be spending just a couple of days and then head home.

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Along Route 80, in Fairfield CA, we made a stop at the Jelly Belly factory which made the world famous Jelly Belly. We wanted to make a stop here too because the Jelly Belly factory tour is known as the Best Factory Tour in America by Readers Digest.

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We had our brunch in Jelly Belly. It was quite a nice restaurant they have there — bright and cheery.

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And the food there are quite cheap too. Got ourselves some sandwiches and even a pizza which is shaped like a jelly belly.

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Yosemite Vacation: Glacier Point

I don’t know about you all but I am sick of writing about Yosemite by now! So, here is the last post about Yosemite before we move west to the Bay Area for the next phase of our vacation. We actually look forward to getting back to civilization!

One thing about bus trips in Yosemite is that you can almost chat with anyone. People are so friendly, especially people with cameras … and I find that Canon users are friendlier to me than Nikonians. LOL! So, there I was on the bus and there was this friendly guy with some kick-ass “L” lens who also spotted mine. We chatted about photography and he told me he had been travelling from one national park to another for the past 4 months. Some people are so lucky.

Well. he told me I must get to Glacier Point. To him it was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. I just gotta share with you that one panoramic photo from Glacier Point first … click on the picture below but I gotta warn you that it’s a 2.7MB file. I hope you like it … it certainly made my jaw drop when I first saw the view. If there is only one place you visit in Yosemite, you must make your way to Glacier Point … and don’t forget your camera.

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There are two ways to get to Glacier Point from the Yosemite Village. You can either do a 4 mile major hike or you can take an almost 1.5 hours drive. At our fitness level, driving is certainly faster. Moreover, we’re just gonna drive to Glacier Point and then move on to Santa Clara immediately. We had a stop by a waterfall … can’t remember the name now.

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We also drove past the tunnels one last time …

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… and although we pass by this spot several times already, we always stop and just gawk at the majestic view.

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Although it’s quite a long drive, the view is beyond description. Glacier Point basically overlooks the Yosemite Valley below. From this point, we can make out …

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Yosemite Vacation: Sequoias in Mariposa Grove and Dinner at the Yosemite Lodge

We certainly cramped a lot into the second day in Yosemite. One of the places we wanted to go see is the giant Sequoias at the Mariposa Groove. It’s located at the very south western side of the park and involves over an hour drive from the Yosemite Village. By the time we got there it was already quite late.

It is here in Mariposa that you will see two of the largest 50 Sequoias in the world.

Just slightly off the car park area was the Fallen Monarch. This tree fell over 300 years ago and even despite all these years, it is still pretty much intact. Almost everyone who walked through here will take a picture with the upturned roots.

A bit about Sequoias that we learned. Sequoias are the largest trees in the world in terms of volume but not in height. These are the trees that are so large that people have bored holes into the trunk large enough for a car to get through. There was one such tree in Mariposa but fell due to heavy snow back in the 1960s. Are there any such trees in the world right now that is still standing?

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The reason why they are so bulky and large is that they are extremely resistant to fires and disease. The oldest known Sequoias is about 3200 years old. The oldest here in Mariposa is the Grizzly Giant.

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Note that large fire scar on the base of the Grizzly Giant. Despite that large scar, it did not kill off the tree.

It was quite a long uphill walk to reach this point. We had enough and decided to turn back.

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As hardy as the Sequoias are, the one weakest link is their roots. Their roots does not grow deep and is as shallow as inches from the ground surface. So, they are susceptible to root damages that brings them down. Most of the trees here are now protected by fences so people do not go right up to the base of the tree. (more…)

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Yosemite Vacation: The Yosemite Valley thru Arkensen’s Lens

Some of the best thing in Yosemite is actually free. There are photography walks organized by the national park several times a week. Unfortunately, they don’t have one during the days we were there.

So, Arkensen and I decided to make our own photography walk. For once, he took over the camera and made shots on his own. He wanted to share these pictures on chowtimes … and so here it is … the Yosemite Valley through Arkensen’s lenses.

We walked and discuss each shot before they are made … about the composition, the angles, the colours, the shadows and the subject.

I bet he would love some comments and said that he don’t mind criticism. For the shot below, he went down lower than usual so that he can catch some blades of grass. This gives a bit more interested view of the valley.

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For this, he went down on his bellies. The reason why he did so is because it’s an angle that most people do not see which makes it a bit different. Moreover, he attempted to focus on only one flower rather than to take a lot of it. Notice that the flower is off centre too.

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Plain waterfall shots are boring because what you only see is grey rocks and white water. In order to put some colour and perspective to it, he framed the waterfall with the surrounding trees.

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Yosemite Vacation: The Yosemite Village

I always have a fixed sequence when visiting new, unknown places like Yosemite. Obviously, the first thing is to get orientated, decide on what you want to do and find out how to get around. Food is secondary in this case. There are no better way than to get to the centre … in this case, the Visitor Center in the Yosemite Village.

Despite the immense size of Yosemite, most people would only see the few square kilometers within the Yosemite Village. Yosemite Village is like a small town and is the most developed part of the National Park with its own bus service, fire station, post office, clinic, stores, restaurants, and even a court! This is also where the park HQ is located.

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Like all other national parks, there is an auditorium where you can catch a film about the area. It was showing an award winning documentary called The Spirit of Yosemite which described the stunning splendor of the park.

There is a scale model of the valley in the Visitor Center which give an excellent overview of the valley and the high sierra. Until now, I have only seen the view of Yosemite from the valley floor.

BTW, do you know that Yosemite is an Indian word that translates to “they are killers”? Apparently there were a lot of bloody disputes for control of the valley and the surrounding areas many many years ago.

Just next to the visitor center is the Ansel Adams Gallery. I am a fan of Ansel Adams work. Wanted to buy a few prints but I knew they will not survive the rest of the vacation.

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Behind the Visitor Center is a reconstructed village of Ahwahneechee tribe. We spent some time walking around the small village. We always enjoyed learning about how people lived in this area. The indigenous people lived in tepee-like huts made of wood.

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Yosemite Vacation: Buffet Breakfast at Curry Village

Back to normal programming …

We had a rough night in those tents in Curry Village. It was so bloody cold. Moreover, me being such a hero, did not bring along even a light jacket for this trip. Suanne insisted everyone bring one but I thought, well, it’s summer … why would I need a jacket right? The blanket was so thin and SHORT … does not help a bit at all. I decided to wake up at 5AM and took a walk to warm myself up.

Everyone else woke up at 7AM. Decided that since this place is so rough, we let the boys go without brushing their teeth for today! I was amazed that Suanne allowed that. Well, considering we had to take a long cold walk to the bear lockers to grab our toiletries and then endure a long wait to use the limited washrooms, I guess it’s quite OK to skip brushing their teeth for once. They were happy.

About the only warm place that morning was the Curry Village Buffet. We did not plan on having another buffet since we had so many already in Las Vegas. It was either this or we take a bus to the Yosemite Lodge.

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Service was atrocious even though it was a buffet. The people who worked there are obviously seasonal workers who does not care to give us a fake smile or a fake greeting. No eye contact … mono-syllable communication … in another words, just plain rude, if you ask me. After a rough night, I admit I am quite cranky … but these kind of attitude will not bring these workers far in life. Sorry for being so judgmental! I had already decided then and there … no tip whatsoever for you guys … sorry.

The good part is this place is warm.

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There were lots of food though. Count on this as standard American breakfast fare. It was quite good and we enjoyed it.

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Yosemite Vacation: Curry Village

Yosemite is beyond what I could imagine. Click on the picture below and see what I mean. I did not plan on doing much in Yosemite because I initially thought it’s just a big park. The more I learn about it, the more I wished that I had planned for more than two nights here.

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We stayed in a place called Curry Village which is located just right smack in the middle of the Yosemite Valley. I only started looking into booking accommodation just a week prior … I’m just a big procrastinator. By the time I started looking for a booking, the only available place is Curry Village and it’s a tented accommodation. I guess I had no choice and being so close to the vacation dates, I had a lot more planning to do. I placed my booking and hoped for the best.

You know, after coming from Las Vegas, it was pretty depressing — we simply hated the place. Although we knew it was a tented accommodation, we had no idea how rough it was. It was not that we cannot deal with this but it’s just that we’re so ill-prepared.

Firstly, by the time we got to Curry Village and checked in, it was already dark — and I meant pitch dark (that picture below was taken the day after). We can hardly see anything.

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Then we were made to sign papers saying that we will not have a single morsel of food or drinks (even bottled water!!) in our tents and cars. You see, we were told that this is bear country and food draws bear. I am a cynical person — I think they’re doing that more because they wanted us to buy food from them … and they are not cheap.

It was pitch dark right? Well, we had to walk all the way back to our car, bring all the food & drinks to the lockers (below) only to find that it was so dark we cannot see which is ours. Anyway, over the course of the two nights there, I have learned how to count the location of ours … I can still remember … count nine from the left and ours is the bottom one.

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Yosemite Vacation: Tioga Pass

This is so, so amazing. Just an hour outside of Death Valley, we are confronted with scenery like these. I wanted so much to make stop every 30 minutes or so to take pictures but we are running quite late already. I had planned to get to Yosemite before 5PM but by 6PM I was still miles from Yosemite.

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Most people would get into the Yosemite National Park through the western and southern entrances. There is only one way to get into Yosemite from the east. That is the Tioga Pass.

Because of the high elevation, the Tioga Pass is closed during winter months. Some years, it could be closed for up to 9 months. If you plan on taking this entrance into Yosemite, especially in spring or early summer, you better check if it is open to traffic.

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At the entrance to Yosemite, I was somewhat shocked to find out that it will take another 1.5 hours to get to the Yosemite Village. I had no idea how big Yosemite was and frankly, I was ill-planned for Yosemite.

The Tioga Pass is a mountain pass that winds through the Sierra Nevada mountains. The elevation is almost 10,000 feet from the sea level. To think of it, we were just hours ago in the Death Valley of which some parts were below sea level.

I lost track of the distance along the Tioga Pass but I think it is about 10km or so of winding roads. Although the road is generally clear, there were quite a bit of rocky debris on the sides of the road.

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The view along the Tioga Pass Road is simply breathtaking. (more…)

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From Vegas to Yosemite Through the Death Valley National Park

After three days in Vegas, our next destination is the Yosemite National Park. It’s a long drive between the two places. I have two ways to get to Yosemite. I could either take the 500 miles longer route via cities in California which is much safer or I could take the shorter 400 miles route through the Death Valley National Park. Both routes is estimated to take the same amount of time, 8 hours.

I decided to take the more exciting and precarious route — Death Valley! I guess we had been watching too many movies of overheated cars stranded in the middle of the desert. Suanne was unsure if that is the right thing to do. The boys were quite scared to tell the truth! Me? I would not pass on this chance to put another tick mark on my “Been There, Done That” list.

Let’s put things in perspective. I would say that 32C/90F is a hot day in Vancouver. When we were in Vegas it was 45C/113F — and that felt like you’re in a furnace. Guess how hot it COULD get in Death Valley … 54C/130F. Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in North America. That would put the fear of God in every man.

Oh well, you’ll only live once … I-95 it is then. Click here for the route we took (on hindsight, we should have taken this route instead).

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We loaded up with water. We started off with getting 20 bottles of drinking water two days prior. Then just the day before we left Vegas, I checked the internet and read of some horror stories of people getting stranded and all. So, to play it safe, we bought another 24 bottles and some 4 litres bottles! We should be alright.

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At the store, we also gotten ourselves some of our favourite snacks. Since the heavy breakfast buffet at Rio’s, we did not count on stopping for lunch. Nah … I don’t think they have McDonalds in the middle of the desert.

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We almost always have string cheese for snacks on road trips. This one is pretty good but the best we had was from Oregon’s Tillamook cheese. The Pringles Parmesan Garlic potato chips were unique … so, we bought that to try. Normally Pringles comes in the longish can. It’s very salty … a disappointment really.

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We made a stop at a small town called Beatty at the outskirt of Death Valley. It was all because of huge signs along the way advertising fresh home made jerkies for sale. We bought one pack.

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This one is called “Gus’s Really Good Fresh Cowboy Beef Jerky”. Let me tell you … (more…)

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