Monday, November 7, 2016

From the Sierras to the sea: Escape from Election 2016

I turned in my ballot a few weeks in advance of tomorrow (Election Day) three or four days before kicking off a vacation from work by attending the Bioneers 2016 conference (see What I learned at the 2016 Bioneers Convention, posted on 25 October). Voting didn't untether me from the "news" cycle, a hoped-for effect that I didn't actually believe would happen. The Bioneers, a few days in Yosemite National Park later that week, and an afternoon out on Tomales Point (in Point Reyes National Seashore) this past Friday were much more effective distractions.

I thought I'd share some photos and videos as a contribution to those who aspire to pull their attention out of the gutter of last-minute campaigning and early-voting hyperanalysis.

Yosemite Valley

Bridal Veil falls was flowing as we entered the valley, a bit wispy but that's it's nature, if long-ago memory serves. We stopped on the side of the road between the falls and El Capitan, and watched through curtains of golden-leaved oak trees, filled with sunlight.

The footbridge below Vernal Falls is only about a mile each way from the Park Service's nearest shuttle stop, though I have to admit that it felt like more after being bunched up in the car for four hours (the New Priest Grade on Hwy 120 above Moccasin had been an extra-special steering wheel gripper). Here are the falls:

And here we are at the footbridge, courtesy of a fellow hiker:

I hadn't been to Yosemite for about as long as it takes Saturn to circumnavigate the sun, and Matthew hadn't ever been. And it turns out that in all the times I visited the Valley as a kid and a much younger adult I'd never set foot in the Ahwahnee Hotel -- which everyone pretends to call the "Majestic Yosemite Hotel" nowadays, at least until a current (and maddening) trademark dispute is settled. Matthew and I had decided a few weeks beforehand to check it out by having dinner there, and had reserved a table. The (yuuuuuge) dining room was fully booked.

Yep. It was as good as it looks... That'd be seared scallops with a scallion pancake; onion soup; artichoke and spinach ravioli; and grilled swordfish.

The next morning we got on the waiting list for the bus to Glacier Point, but just missed getting seats. Instead of driving up ourselves, we decided to spend the day in the valley. Here's Yosemite Falls on Thursday morning; and a young buck foraging among the trees by the river, met on our way back to the road.

Check out the contrast between the flow of the falls on Thursday and Friday morning in these videos:

Pretty dramatic difference, eh? Thursday night it rained hard and steadily, then the rain continued intermittently into Friday. Hence the torrent pouring down the cliff on Friday morning. By the time we left the park in mid-afternoon, the Tioga Pass and the road to Glacier Point had been closed due to snowfall.

Of course, no catalog of a trip to Yosemite Valley would be complete without a dramatic photo of Half Dome, this one on a bright, clear afternoon following our hike up to view Vernal Falls.

And here's a farewell look back to the valley from Highway 120, through fog and rain:

I can't really explain what possessed me to wait nearly three decades to return to Yosemite Valley, but I'm glad I didn't wait any longer.

Point Reyes National Seashore

The week following our return to the Bay Area for the staycation half of my away-from-work program, I was assaulted by way too many furiously angry memes posted to way too much social media, and read many too many news and pseudo-news articles. My bad. I couldn't help it. And, no, I'm not the type that enjoys gawking at trainwrecks. The last days (apocalyptic connotation intended) ticked and tocked away in advance of tomorrow's election, and like pretty much everybody I know, it was driving me nuts.

I decided to head for the coast to clear my head, despite high surf warnings published in the SF Chronicle. I drove out the Tomales Point Road and hiked down a short trail to McClure's Beach for lunch, and to be mesmerized by the pounding breakers. The most aggressive waves were washing up just short of the steep cliffs: the ranger's warning at the visitor center -- not to turn one's back on the water -- turned out to be sound advice.

The trail to the beach was lovely as ever ...

Up the hill from McClure's Beach, a herd of tule elk were congregating high on a ridge, where I've often seen them grazing before, protected on the Tomales Bay side of the point from the ocean-side wind.

But my favorite and least-expected wildlife sighting came during the drive back to Point Reyes Station, as I salivated for an Americano from Toby's in which I expected I'd be able to stand up a spoon. Later that night, friends on Facebook responded to the photo below with stories about coyotes they'd seen lately in urban and semi-urban environments from Orange County to San Francisco to Vancouver ... but in decades of visits to Point Reyes (where I've seen elk, deer, a bobcat, weasels, bazillions of vultures and ravens, countless small birds, harbor seals, elephant seals, whales, and shoals of beached jellyfish) I've never before spotted a coyote.

This trip I saw two specimens of Canis latrans -- one away up on a hill as I rounded a curve in the road (no chance to snap a photo), and the one in the photo above. The coyote in the snapshot crossed the road about fifty yard ahead of my car, then ducked under a barbed-wire fence before pausing to vogue for a bit while I wrestled my iPhone out of my jeans. None of the shots through the open car window came out very sharp, but this one -- particularly if you click for the enlarged view -- has the virtue of looking a bit like Elmer Bischoff painted it.

The Americano in Point Reyes Station was perfect, as always. It kept me alert, if perhaps a bit less than serenely patient, during the interminable stop-and-go past San Quentin, approaching the Richmond - San Rafael Bridge.


It's Monday.

And here we are, on the cusp of Election 2016. Perhaps you'll browse this travelogue today. Perhaps by the time you get to it the election results will have been called and ... well, and then the real work can carry on, inside government and out, assuming the U.S. sidesteps full-on apocalypse. For now.

Keep breathing, okay?

Thanks to Matthew Felix Sun for photos of Vernal Falls from the footbridge, dinner at the Ahawahnee Hotel, and Yosemite Falls on Thursday morning.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
What I learned at the 2016 Bioneers Convention
A day at Bodega Head
Never mind Election Day 2014, consider Fall in Northern California
Point Reyes National Seashore at the start of the year
Amateur food porn from Austria and Italy

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