San Francisco, Marin County and the Sierra Nevada.
A quick one-hour flight took us high above the Nevada desert, over the Sierra Nevada and dropped us into San Francisco. At long last we were able to knock on the front door of my dear high school friend Bonnie and be welcomed into her family home for the next two weeks. Surrounded by Kiwi accents, combined with surrounding rolling hills strangely similar to the Wairarapa, NZ, I was momentarily lulled into forgetting I was in the U.S.A at all!
We had two days to explore Marin County on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge before we headed to Lake Tahoe for Christmas and skiing. We used these days to check out the coastal redwoods at Muir Woods, eat clam chowder at Sausalito, and spend time getting to know my friend’s young children. Even the character homes unnerved my senses, such were the parallels with Wellington architecture.
South Lake Tahoe was another amazing experience. We drove into the mountains via the Mother Lode road past Sacramento. Snow dustings became more substantial the higher we climbed until, finally, we pulled up to our AirBnB house to find the entire ground completely coated with it. With a light flurry on Christmas Eve, our dreams of a white Christmas were realised. Despite a lower than expected snowfall for this time of year we couldn’t resist checking out the ski slopes of Sierra at Tahoe for a couple of days. On another day we braved the gondola at Heavenly, which was extremely busy with the onset of the school holidays but worth the wait in line to see the panorama over the lake, beyond the mountains and into the Nevada desert. The only downside was, in order to fully embrace the American obsession with peanut butter, our oldest son consumed half a family size pack of peanut butter cups and broke out in hives.
After our alpine adventure we returned to San Francisco for three more days, stopping off at Coloma to check out the spot where James W Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's Mill, kicking off the California Gold Rush on 24 January, 1848.
Back in San Francisco, we ferried across to famous Alcatraz, and took a Big Bus Tour around the main sights of the city. We spent the last day with our friends out at Drake’s Beach, sharing it with a couple of huge elephant seals who were taking a snooze on the sand.
It was then sadly time to say our farewells and head to the magical and majestic Yosemite National Park. We found warm accommodation at Cedar Lodge, situated a 10 minute drive outside the park. Photos really do not do justice to the monolithic splendour of the granite walls of Yosemite Valley, rising two kilometres high in places. The sun didn’t warm the valley floor until the middle of the day. The theatre and museum educated us on its history, and the store kept us equipped with chocolate as we wandered around the trails. As Mariposa Grove is closed for restoration, a quick morning trip up Highway 120 took us to Tuolomne Grove to view the giant sequoia.
We are now on the homeward stretch, heading back down to L.A, via the Pacific Coast. This trip has been an amazing experience, at times fraught with the frustration of trying to keep five individuals relaxed and happy. We've drunk our weight in Pepsi, discovered caramel and almond M&Ms, and eaten too many tacos and quesadillas. If I could, I’d keep travelling around for another month or so but hardly anywhere stocks a teabag in this part of the world so home is starting to look pretty good after all.