A Travellerspoint blog

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK - UP CLOSE TO THE FALLS!

sunny 10 °C

After much deliberation and “google earthing” we decided on a different route to Yosemite to what we had initially planned. At first we thought it would be picturesque to drive the coastal highway 1 and finish with Big Sur but that was going to be about 12 hours over the 2 days without any stopping time. We thought our sanity was more important than seeing some awesome coast line and planned a different highway route that went inland with a night at Fresno.

Thankful for the shorter distance, we were in Fresno in about 4 hours and also had time to drive through downtown Malibu. The drive into Fresno was very rural with lots of farming areas and the beginning of some of the wineries. Given extra time it would have been great to head out to the Napa Valley but our priorities were to get out to Yosemite for the weekend where I had booked accommodation in the park months ago.

From Fresno it was only about an hour to the south entrance of Yosemite, a steady climb all the way with lots of winding roads but no dramas apart from the one in the back that suffers with travel sickness. A move to the front seat relieved that problem, thankfully but I must admit it was like a ride from Disneyland being tossed around some of those bends.

Luckily we arrived on a Friday at about 12pm so no lines to get in the park. I had heard you can sit in a traffic jam for over an hour on busy weekends just to get in. The distances to get to the centre of the park where the majority of the accommodations are takes nearly an hour so it’s best to see what you can on the way in rather than have to back track out later. Like Grand Canyon, Yosemite offers a shuttle to get around the major sights.
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Once in the park the scenery was incredible and like nothing I had expected. Driving along ravines flanked by enormous rock faces on either sides of the valley with incredibly high waterfalls gave you the feeling of being quite insignificant.
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We visited the Sequoia’s on our drive in and walked through the forest of these amazing trees. Some upto 3000 years old and with diameters of about 3 metres they are the largest living things on earth by volume. From the cedar family they are very specific to this area and actually very rare elsewhere in the park due to their very fussy growing needs. Amazing history surrounded these trees and the main reason they are still growing in the park is due to their poor quality for logging.
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I had booked our Yosemite accommodation after searching far and wide on the I’net and looking at all the pros and cons of staying in the park versus driving in for a day. I can thank all the forums for helping me make the correct decision after discovering how much Yosemite had to offer, it couldn’t be experienced in a few hours. Accommodations are scarce, expensive and varied. We could have stayed at Curry House in a “tent” or at the Yosemite Falls Lodge. I managed to secure a room at the Lodge and how excited was I when we arrived and found our room was the closest room in the area to the Yosemite Falls!! Kids were also rapped to find they had an enormous back yard again and enjoyed some freedom running about the trees while we happily watched from our patio enjoying a beverage!
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After a very restful sleep listening to the plummeting water from the falls we spent the following day wandering some trails, enjoying the magnificent sunshine and the kids completing another junior ranger program. We searched long and hard for bears but they are still proving to be more elusive than we thought. After attending a ranger talk about bears in the park we found there were about 12 that reside around the valley and some had already been sighted this season. However the rangers do a good job of trying to keep them away from entering the valley and becoming dependent on the human food they always manage to find regardless of how many strategies are put in place. We heard some interesting stories from the ranger on bears that prove to be smarter than thought and have watched and learnt how to open doors, locks and latches on the different food lockers and trash cans.
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I had promised Jaimie a trail ride somewhere on this holiday and it just so happened that we came across a horse and mule trail ride in the park. They had vacancies for the following morning so with the promise that there would be no whining in the morning on the wake up call we booked an 8 am. Since the kids were too young to take a mule down the Grand Canyon they were keen to get the chance here. I especially liked the look of these mules and later I found they were “draft “mules so much bigger and rounder than your average variety mule!! (photos to come!)

Amazingly, there was no whining in the morning and we took off down to the stables on a beautiful, brisk and sunny morning for our 2 hour trail ride towards Mirror Lake. Wayne had suffered with a sore back for a few days ( our suitcases are getting heavier by the day) so declined from sitting in the saddle for a couple of hours but instead got the thankless job of returning to the room and packing up all our gear so we could get back on the road straight after our ride.

We were all allocated our gorgeous mules, mine was Sandy , Jaimie had Minnie with Denver on Mickey and Mackenzie on Edith. With Mackenzie up ahead and ready to tackle whatever lay ahead we head off on the trail to enjoy the scenery from a different view point. Some of the trail points were extremely steep and totally rocky and it was very reassuring to watch how the mules pick their path so sure footed without a stumble or a trip. I was thankful we were all in big western saddles so there was plenty for the kids to hang onto going down the hills. We were on the lookout again for wildlife and I managed to get a glimpse of what was probably a bob cat before it ran off into the rocks but the only other animals that wanted to join us were the grey squirrels. Much cuter than the general variety found all over the place, they are bigger and fluffier. It wasn’t until we were out on the trail that our guide told us they had found a mountain lion in the stables that morning when they had come down to feed the animals. Obviously a little out numbered it was in one corner eating some hay with all the horses in the other corner standing perfectly still. We were then on the lookout for a mountain lion as well!!

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Posted by fiveofus 15:00 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

SANTA MONICA AND UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

sunny 23 °C

Our final pass on our Citypass was for Universal Studios and instead of staying in Anaheim and travelling from there we decided to get a few more km's under our belt and have a couple of nights to enjoy Santa Monica and the Hollywood area.

We drove first into Hollywood and did the mandatory tourist sights, pavements of stars, Rodeo Drive and Hollywood Blvd. To be honest, Hollywood Blvd was more stressful with hawkers asking you for money for photo shots in the tattiest costumes than any Asian or Indonesian city trying to sell you watches or a bemo ride. We took the necessary photos , me in George Clooney's shoes(!!) picked out a few notorieties then headed for the solace of the car. Drove the streets a little trying to spot someone important and made a few up but to no avail. Decided to save the time and not bother on driving about the hills looking at crime scenes and the 8 foot walls that these celebrities some times live behind.
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Instead we checked into our Comfort Inn which we have decided have the BEST beds and pillows of all the places we have stayed and took off down to Santa Monica Pier. The famous ferris wheel on the pier has recently been sold to another state's theme park and will be removed shortly. So we were keen to get to have a look at this landmark before it vanished. The beaches along this coast are something to see, such huge distances to the water and houses lining the beach front. Some very expensive real estate along this strip and all the way along the coast to Malibu. I liked Malibu a lot and it would be my pick of place for residency if I had to choose.
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We ate dinner at the pier at Bubba Gump's (for all the Forrest Gump fans) where the restaurant is decked out with all the memorabilia and info from the movie. Thought it must be special to the pier but have since found they are all over the place, not so special now, but we have a souvenir glass to show for it.

Universal Studios was nowhere near the pace of the other parks and we enjoyed a leisurely start to the day. Started the day with some more 3D shows of Shrek where we were sneezed all over and followed this with Monster's Inc. The Jurassic park ride was lots of fun with a sudden splash over the side of the mountain at the end.
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The highlight of the day would have to be the Waterworld Show where they have re-enacted a segment from the movie to show how the props and stunts were used in the movie. It was absolutley amazing to see the pyrotechnics and stunts they perform here twice a day and had us all on the edge of our seat to see what was going to happen next.
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The studio tour was well worth the time too. We were taken by trolley bus around all the back lots of the studio and shown where different movies were filmed. At different place the bus would stop and you would be in the middle of a re-enacted scene like the tunnel scene in Earthquake! With explosions going on around you and helicopters dropping from the sky, you really wondered what to expect next. The kids thought it all incredible and I don't think will ever watch a movie in the same way again.

During a special effects tour we went on, Denver was selected to go on stage to demonstrate how they manipulate robotic figures in movies. He had to put on the helmet and radio controlled gloves and move in order to make "Fluffy" a 7 foot wolf dog follow his directions. He thought it was pretty special and he did a great job.

Off to Yosemite National Park the next day but first of all we took a look at Venice Beach. Quite a disappointing area of town once you get off the main street and not the place where I would choose to walk down any alleys at night. We had to find Muscle Beach for the boys to strut their stuff but after that we were on the road again for another road trip to Yosemite. Too far to go in one day we decided to quit the idea of driving along the Big Sur and saved about 3 hours of travel time. Instead we stayed the night in Fresno and had an easy drive the following day into Yosemite.

Posted by fiveofus 22:58 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (4)

Back on track!

Finally we have worked out our internet problems and are back on track to adding some photos and catching up with some news. For the followers out there I have added new photos to our Disneyland page which you may want to take a look at. It has been great knowing that there are lots of you back home following our travels and we are always excited when we find someone has added a comment. I am a long way behind with updates so will keep them brief and maybe add more info later when I have a chance. We are off on our cruise tomorrow so don't know when I'll get another chance.

Posted by fiveofus 01:01 Comments (1)

3 DAYS OF FUN, SUN AND THRILLS IN DISNEYLAND

sunny 32 °C

3 DAYS OF FUN, SUN AND THRILLS IN DISNEYLAND
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The time had finally arrived for our Disneyland adventure. We had chosen to stay in Anaheim for 4 nights within walking distance to Disneyland so off loaded the car and were now on foot again. Very happy with the location of our motel (less than a 10 minute walk), we managed to thankfully secure a 2 room suite off the courtyard rather than backing onto the extremely busy highway. The kids were just as happy as we were with the sleeping arrangements given they had bunk beds and a sofa bed to fight over, oops share! and we could put them to bed and shut the door!

When we finally got to sit down and consider our plans for the next 3 days and how we were going to tackle our time here to get the most out of our day we discovered we were quite unprepared for our next adventure. At about midnight while browsing the Disneyland reviews and website we came across some information that had received rave reviews. It was a software package that you could download to your own PC, input the rides and rest times you wanted to have during your day at Disneyland then based on the data that had been collected re busy times and wait times at different times of the day, the package would formulate your own itinery even allocating which time you should access the fast pass system in the park. Initially we thought this was too good to be true – how could it work and why isn’t everyone using it? We were now way past midnight and looking at a 6.30am get up to get to the park for 7.30am. In the end what the heck, let’s go for it, so we downloaded the package for a whole $14.95!!!! Plugged in our 18 rides we wanted to do and it spat us out an itinery including a 4 hour break!
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Well, to date that is the best $15 we have spent. The itinery worked perfectly. We were constantly baffled at how simple this had made our day and in our first day we managed to complete 16 out of the 18 chosen rides. Where there were 60 -90 minute wait times on some rides, using the fast passes we strolled past all these people and probably had no longer wait than 10-15 minutes for any rides over the 3 days. It gave us so much free time for the kids to wait in lines to get character autographs; I think our longest wait in a line was to meet Mickey Mouse. By arriving at certain rides during quiet times it even gave us the chance to come out and go straight back in with no waiting. We never in a million years thought Disneyland could be this easy, but then this is the Year of a Million Dreams for Disneyland. Don’t know if I can advertise websites on this blog but if anyone is planning on visiting Disneyland California, Google Ridemax and you won’t be disappointed.
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Everything in Disneyland wowed us constantly to the effort made by everyone to make sure you were having a great day, to the incredible effects on the various rides and 3D shows. I suffered for days afterwards after being stung in the back in the Bug’s Life 3D show and had to drag Mackenzie and Denver off the floor of the theatre as spiders dropped around our heads. Everyone had their feet off the ground as they felt the cockroaches running over their feet. I have no idea how they do these effects but I had a bruise to prove how real it all was!!
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The kids, Wayne and I all had our favourites over the 3 days. On Friday we spent the entire day at Disneyland, watched the parade which was fantastic, (the Ridemax info even gave us tips on the best place to stand for the parade and once again it was perfect!).
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Finished up about 10pm and dragged ourselves home, got a taste for the fireworks with the promise to make sure we had a proper spot to watch them the next night.
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Our second day we planned our day with ridemax again to go to California Adventure. Gates don’t open here until 10am so we were thankful not to have to be up with the birds again after a late night. CA has bigger rides, including the rollercoaster. Fourofus did the rollercoaster, twice!! I’ll leave it to your imagination which 4, but the youngest 2 weren’t left out. The other favourite was called California Soarin’ which made you feel you were in a hanglider soaring over famous places in California.

We all managed to get very wet on the Grizzly River Rapids and Splash Mountain was another ride that got me very wet when I was allocated the front seat!! Lucky it was about 32 degrees and I was quite thankful for the cooling off.

Our final day with our Citypass at Disneyland gave us a special early entry into the park. This means we could get into the park at 7am instead of 8 and according to ridemax was a great opportunity to ride all the busy areas before the general admittance. The Finding Nemo ride has only been open since July last year and for many reasons has a wait time of about 90 minutes all day! The only way to get to find Nemo without spending all this time in line is to get in on an early entry and make it your number 1 priority to get to the ride before the crowd. So that we did. We were at the gate about 6.40am (yes, me too!!) and in probably the 3rd sub to leave. A very cute and clever ride where you enter a sub and “dive” down onto the Great Barrier Reef all with an Aussie commentary to search for Nemo.
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We had managed to ride 5 of our favourites by 8am and even went back to California Adventure during the day to catch the Aladdin show in the theatre which was spectacular. We were astounded that a show of this quality was included inside the park inside a 2000 seat theatre with props that equalled any travelling musical.
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We finished our day on Sunday with a show called “Fantasmic” which was a laser light show on a lake that also included lots of other special water and light effects. We were amazed at not only the outstanding effects during the show but also the incredible logistics involved at doing these performances night after night and the number of personnel required to make sure these events go off without a hitch. Just the crowd control of getting the thousands of people from one place for the fantasmic show then less than 10 minutes later in the centre of Disney the fireworks show begins with Tinkerbell flying over the top of the Disney castle.
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The fireworks were just beautiful and based the music and display around the different areas and rides of the park. It made our Australia Day fireworks look rather plain but maybe having the Disney castle as the backdrop made it all the more special. We managed to crawl out of Disney about 11pm after finishing off with some shopping and crawled over the road to the ihop restaurant to finish a very big day with some pancakes. A wonderfully memorable experience for all fiveofus. Definitely a place where dreams are made and come true!
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Posted by fiveofus 00:03 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

SAN DIEGO SIGHTS

sunny 12 °C

After a couple of big days of walking we enjoyed a big sleep in and catch up on some necessary “house keeping”. We had managed to catch up with Brad and Kiz on the Sunday night we arrived, with thanks for the contact from Sue in Perth, it was a welcome relief to chat to some fellow Aussies and swap stories. Brad and Kiz had travelled to many of the places we had been but are also now residents of San Diego as of the last 10 months so they had lots of tips for us.

We thought we should take the opportunity of the car and take a drive to downtown San Diego and were keen to explore the Harbourside area.

I have discovered that most US cities are about the same, big and smoggy, busy and stressful. The amount of homeless people on the streets everywhere in the CBD is quite overwhelming and has been the same in all the cities including Vancouver. While they are not intimidating and we have never felt unsafe it’s been quite disturbing and difficult concept for the kids to understand, “Why don’t they just get a job?” For us that live quite happily and go about our work and day, able to provide for ourselves without a second thought, with kids thankfully not exposed to this hardship , it has been a real eye opener. A very hard line to measure when the kids are suggesting we should give them all the money we have because we have eaten today and this man on the corner is holding up a sign asking for money for a meal, and he has a cute little dog. The balance between being compassionate to others and looking out for yourself has been a difficult lesson.

Anyway, downtown San Diego was busy and much the same however we really enjoyed our walk along the harbour with its parks and open areas. Lots to see including the USS MIDWAY , an aircraft carrier that was decommissioned in 1992 and is now a floating museum in San Diego harbour. An awesome sight in the harbour it was even more incredible to be on board and walk the length of the flight deck and experience the size of the hangar to the cramped quarters of the sailors below deck. The museum included a self guided audio tour which was informative and included real accounts from WW2 in 1945 to the liberation of Kuwait in 1991. On board were loads of volunteers who actually served on the Midway and were only too keen to share their stories. Definitely a must see for anyone visiting San Diego.

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery was a sight I wanted to visit. The military cemetery often seen in movies, A Few Good Men, for example, I found was only 10 km out of San Diego. SD is a very big navy city! Lots of area dedicated to the military including this 77 acre cemetery. I have always been amazed at the precise organisation of the headstones on this beautiful hill over-looking the bay and it was as eerie as I had imagined but at the same time made you feel incredibly poignant for the huge number of families that have loved ones away at war or on peace keeping deployment at the moment.
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We met up with Kiz again on Wednesday night before we left for Anaheim. Brad and Kiz live in La Jolla and we had heard that there was a beach in the area where a bunch of seals and their pups had moved into. Kiz was keen to meet us at La Jolla cove ( Brad was working away in Blythe) where we enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the water and marvelled at the huge number of seals and their now rather large pups. There has apparently been lots of local contention about the seals deciding to call this beach home. During the summer it is a very popular beach, called Children’s Beach and some groups wanted the seals moved on as they are a bit on the nose and you can’t safely use the beach while the seals are there. Hey, it’s not like there is a shortage of sand and water around?? Very cute to watch all their different antics, could have stood for ages if it hadn’t been for the icy wind ripping through us. Decided dinner and a glass of red was a more sensible option.
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Posted by fiveofus 11:36 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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