The Good, The Bad, and the Bay Area

Trip Start Nov 17, 2011
Trip End Dec 14, 2011

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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, November 28, 2011

In picking up where I left off my last entry... We awoke in Merced, CA. Now, in my opinion, the best thing about this is city was seeing it in the rear-view mirror... There were numerous homeless people on every street and corner and graffiti covered many a wall. But as the city slipped into the distance, the countryside took on a much nicer appearance. We followed hwy-140 east towards Yosemite National Park, one of the country's first, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The flatlands quickly turned into pronounced, rolling foothills, which then quickly became rolling granite mountains. We crested a mountaintop, dropped down over the back side and began to follow the beautiful Merced River. Then, almost out of nowhere, these gorgeous, steepsided (nearly vertical) cliff walls rose on either side of us. We came around a bend in the road and WAM! BAM! BOOM! We came to a sudden stop...

The traffic congestion was as bad as the city. Vehicles were pulled over, bumper to bumper on the shoulder of the roads, as far as the eye could see. People of all types, sizes and shapes where everywhere! We proceeded slowly through the throng of people and managed to escape yhe largest crowds when we found ourselves one of only a few remaining campsites. We later discovered that the Thanksgiving long weekend crowd was in the area. Note to self (and anyone ever planning a trip to Yosemite) DO NOT VISIT near the US Turkey weekend. We did not want to fight the crowds or see anymore people than the ones already crowding around our campsite, so we stayed put, had a fire and roasted hot dogs and went to bed early.

The next day, after a slow start, we awoke to a crisp, clear, beautiful morning. As the crowds began to shrink in size, we began to tour around the Yosemite Valley. We did a short day hike to vernal falls and saw a small, scrawny looking brown-colored black bear. With our leg muscles feeling the uphill elevation gain of the walk, we returned to the Xterra, and drove around the valley floor, to various lookout points and photographed some of the area's signature landmarks: The incredibly steep verticle face of El Capitan, the distinctive Half-Dome, and North Dome. As the sun set early in the afternoon, we snapped a few more photos of the entire valley from Tunnel View lookout point and then hiked inti the nearby Bridalveil Falls. Upon returning to our campsite, we enjoyed another campfire, smokies, dogs, a few cold brews and smores.

Our third day found us virtually waking up alone in the campground. With the weekend crowd long gone, we found the silence and solitude we'd been seeking. The cold, brisk morning was the perfect excuse to start the day with a mug of hot chocolate and a bowl of ichiban soup. After breaking camp, we drove around the park, walked into lower Yosemite Falls (the lowest of three tiers which make this the 5th largest waterfall on the planet) and then slowly began to make our way back to the park gate.

As we left this beautiful granite miuntained park behind, i begsn to liken it to Canada's Banff N.P. It is incredibly busy (2.3 million visitors during the summer - over 4 million across the entire year), and seems to place more emphasis on visiting the area to shop, stay in hotels and enjoy the commercialization, as opposed to getting out into the backcountry andtruly appreciating the area for what it really is.

With a stop in Mariposa, CA., for lunch we continued back to South San Francisco and called it a night. The next day, we awoke early and headed to downtown San Francisco, and the Embarcadero - Pier 33. Here we boarded one Alcatraz Cruise Lines tour boats and took the 20 minute ride through the fog to "The Rock", as it is called. Upon disembarking inthee ever prevailant fog, we were greeted by an NPS employee and given a briefing of Alcatraz Island. We then watched a short 15 minute video on the histiry of the island,were we learned about its use as a military installation, then as the infamous prison, as an area for Native Americans seeking greater rigts, and finally, as an educational tool of the National Park Service. After the video, we took our time foolowing along with the self-guided, walking audio tour of the prision facility, were we saw the various holding cells, dinning area, and attempted escapes. As the afternoin arrived, we walked back to the dock, just as the sun managed to burn away the fog. As we returned to the mainland, we were treated to pretty, clear views of the island as it dissapeared into the distnace. Back at the pier, we walked down to fishermans wharf, a very cool, character-filled area made up of shops and restaurants. We continued to walk down the Embarcadero andvisited the Ferry Building (another very cool place to check out), before our weary feet told us it was time to call it a day.

The next morning, we had planned to return to central San Fran, but at the last minute, we reevaluated our game plan, and decided to begin heading south early... However, that is a story for another blog entry...
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