July 9, 1997 Salinas, California
We spent the afternoon driving to the hostel, located just outside Yosemite. We drove into the park that afternoon and saw the upper and lower falls, which together form the highest in North America and the second highest in the world.
The park is interesting, but there are a lot of tourists. Tons. And the scenery isn’t necessarily more magnificent than that of most other parks I’ve been to (am I becoming a national park snob?). Although, it is the largest national park in the country. In the valley, where Yosemite Village is located, most of the tourists converge there to begin their trips. A mile-wide, 7-mile-long cut by a river, the valley was widened and deepened by ancient glaciers. And despite its massive stature (domes and pinnacles soar above the forested valley), it covers very little of the park.
We experienced the High Sierra wilderness ourselves by hiking 4 ½ miles and 2,000 feet up into a high-country valley just outside the lower valley.
July 10, 1997 Yosemite National Park
By early morning we were at the trailhead, where we packed our food in a bear container and headed up.
A most difficult and exhausting hike, the trail was crowded with others just like us, everyone headed high into the park.
The hike itself was the more difficult I’ve done so far. Unlike the Grand Canyon, which was a 3,000-foot descent on a mostly sandy trail, this one was at times a near-vertical climb 2,000 feet up a trail made of nothing but boulders hammered in place by the California Conservation Corps.
The steep ascent led past a little mist-covered valley where the surging Vernal Falls rush hundreds of feet down, crashing against rocks and showering the trail with a heavy mist. A rainbow ran from the base of the trail, a spectacle I didn’t think I would see on the grueling 4.8-mile hike.
The falls provided for a magnificent sight. A sort of natural halfway marker to the campground, they took my mind off the hike itself just long enough for me to keep going. I didn’t expect to see an enclosed, three-stall compost toilet nearly five miles in and 2,000 feet up from the valley, where most of the millions of yearly visitors end up, where there’s a supermarket, sporting goods store, camping store, Ansel Adams gallery, wilderness center, visitor’s center, restaurants and enough auto congestion to warrant the use of a shuttle bus system that drops visitors off at all the major stops around the valley.
A lone doe tip-toed past our camp with wide, ebony eyes in search of food. The early afternoon sun glistened off her thin coat. There is something about that experience that I cannot really address. Almost sacred, the brush encounter of a human with a wandering deer. I didn’t startle her or frighten her away. Why would I? As long as I made no physical gesture of aggression, she had nothing to worry about – and she knew it. She wandered past me knowing that I was there but having faith that I wouldn’t harm her. Instinct. A natural sense of calm.
That is precisely what I felt as soon as we settled in the campground of firs and pines. The diffused sunlight illuminated only the thin bare branches that grew on the trunks like natural rungs on a ladder. The ground captured the constantly alternating light pattern that was created from the swaying tree tops and drifting clouds, which masked the sun for moments at a time.
I rinsed off in a clear, cold creek at the edge of the campground – a well-deserved break after a four-hour hike. After that, we did little to nothing for the rest of the evening until we slept.
This is a city that I fell in love with the first time I met it. With its zydeco bands wailing music from the clubs at all hours to its lush tropical courtyards hidden among quaint and unassuming buildings. Flickering gas lamps, timeless streets, chicory coffee, beignets, muffulettas and po-boys, jambalaya, alligator gumbo, paddleboat cruises. Everything. I love the place, and I am excited to return for the third time in as many years.
I’m in town for an industry trade show (one of the perks of the job), and I intend to balance work with a little sightseeing.
I’m off to a decent start: I bought a ticket to the Saints exhibition game against the Texans in the Superdome, whose ghosts have all but disappeared in the years since Hurricane Katrina and its subsequent flooding drowned the city in more ways than one. But there remained an eerie atmosphere in that packed stadium, which just three years ago was home to the displaced and the distraught, those left behind in the wake of the flood. But today Drew Brees and Reggie Bush were sharing the same surface that the nameless thousands once slept on in cots.
Read more at http://bit.ly/crescentcity
I’m conducting a sort of audit of my souvenirs from my travels. Some of this stuff has been stored away. Some of it’s been sold. And some has disappeared. Let’s continue with the letter “S”…
Switzerland: watch (Basel); miniature souvenir mug, cow bell & assorted chocolates (Interlaken)
The modern era of dragon boat racing began in Hong Kong. Since it’s held in early summer, it didn’t coincide with my recent trip a couple years back. But I wish it did. See, I have a connection to dragon boat racing. I am, by all accounts, a veteran of the sport.
The Hong Kong Tourism Bureau thrust dragon boat racing into the modern era with the first international races back in 1976. Today, hundreds of thousands of participants in more than 60 countries participate.
I myself was introduced to the sport back in 1999, when I joined a team in Red Wing, Minn., where I was living at the time. It was a last-minute decision, as the team didn’t have enough people to compete in the city’s annual race.
At the time I couldn’t seem to figure out why anyone wouldn’t want to be a part of such an ancient Chinese rite, to celebrate the cause of honor and strength despite the panting and grunting of the paddlers and the loud-mouthed drummers yelling for more, more, more.
The modern sport consists of 21 men and women (both fit and unfit). They don’t need to be healthy, strong-willed or Chinese. But to win – whether it’s at this year’s world championships in Macau or at the local summer festival – they’ve got to be fast.
Still, I think of it as a sort of intramural crew, a festive, colorful event that many decide not to take too seriously. It’s more Gilligan than Thurston Howell.
Nevertheless, when I joined that team for the first time nine years ago, it was my duty (I told myself) to learn the history of this sport that now drives thousands to the waters every summer throughout the world.
It began on the banks of river in southern China – not far from Hong Kong – more than 2,000 years ago as a fertility rite to ensure plentiful crops. The races were held during the summer solstice, often associated with disease and death.
A more colorful story relates to a poet and aide to the emperor Qu Yuan, who fell out of favor at court. He was banished and wandered the countryside composing poems. He threw himself into the river, and his devotees beat their paddles on the water and banged drums and gongs to frighten the fish away from him.
Whatever the true nature of the sport, it’s an addicting one. Back home, a Midwest regional circuit was formed in 1989 with events in Illinois, Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota. Chicago’s Chinatown even hosts a race every July.
Much has changed from ancient times. Drowning paddlers no longer are considered good luck, and these days participants pray to the mighty dragon for less – not more – rain.
In Minnesota’s Fillmore County, it’s not just the descendants of the area’s gunslingers who are familiar with the belly of the local jails.
Tourists who have never been bold enough to inhabit the austere confines of the big house can volunteer for a night of pampered incarceration at Preston’s Jail House Inn, built circa 1869. Twelve rooms in the restored former county courthouse and jail serve all sorts of tastes including those who really want to feel what it was like inside a jail. The “cell block” room is the original and can sleep four. It’s even got the original toilet and bars.
Have a mocha cappuccino at the Brickhouse in Main, a pre-Civil War building that is the former home of a Chinese laundry, and visit the restored Railway Depot Museum.
One of the area’s dozens of antique shops, The Red Bench occupies the building of one of Preston’s four former banks. Built in 1889, the building now houses the shop’s owners upstairs and their collection downstairs. The vault is original.
Read more here: http://bit.ly/rootriver