By Kim Carr:
Why not start from the very beginning? Read the first installments of Kim Carr's
Beyond the Farm series here.
As my friend Barb and I continued our adventure through three national parks, we headed over to visit General Sherman. Standing at the base of the world’s largest living tree is a humbling experience. It was fun to wait our turn to get a photo at the base of this giant. You hand your camera to the folks behind you, who in turn take your picture for you beneath this tree that towers high above Earth's surface. It is impossible to even get the entire tree into one image.
There is a sense of peace and calmness as you breath in the forest air.
Once again there were lots of people visiting the nearly 275-foot tree, but it wasn’t crowded. There was plenty of room for everyone to take in nature’s grand beauty. I especially enjoyed hearing all the different languages. I couldn’t make out anything that was being said, but I know that we all had an appreciation for the wonders of nature.
I also have a great fondness for the little things. All along the trail back to visit General Sherman, there were numerous fallen trees. I've always had a fascination for the gigantic root systems sticking out of the ground. I can only imagine the many, many creatures that live in and around these trees and in the forest. Many of the trees had to be sawed into segments because they had come down across the trail or nearby. One tree stump looked like a cityscape. I don’t know if the tree had fallen on its own or if the rangers had started sawing it and the sheer force of falling ripped out this cityscape from the core of the tree. There is so much to experience in nature that I can see why filmmakers, artists, writers, and so many others go outside for inspiration; I know that I found inspiration in all that I saw. It was my goal to soak up every single second, to breath it in and absorb it into my soul.
Next on our destination was Yosemite National Park. We gave ourselves plenty of driving time as we headed north to a bed and breakfast in Mariposa, California. Our plans were to spend the night, then spend all of Wednesday at Yosemite. Barb’s husband, John, had meticulously planned out our road trip—making maps and listing our travels turn by turn. I don’t really recall exactly when it was that I veered from his directions and started following the car's navigation system. Somehow, I crossed the two, and it set us out on an adventure I will not soon forget.
For some distance, we rolled along small two-lane highways with beautiful countryside as far as the eye could see. In my gut, I felt we were doing okay, and I didn’t worry much, feeling we were still headed in the correct direction for our B&B. Then like magic we found ourselves transported to a skinny little road that was more crooked than a pig’s tail. Truth be told, I’ve never seen anything like it. By this point, we'd gone too far to turn back; we would never make it to our destination before dark; we had to continue.
This little, curvy road had the big name of Ben Hur. I am most certain that chariots traveled this road in the first century. Somewhere along the way, someone slapped a little asphalt on it and called it a road. By 1st century standards, it is a mighty fine road, no doubt. I would not have been surprised at all to come face to face with a horse and chariot or horse and buggy. Maybe that’s the reason for all the curves. I couldn’t go faster than 5 mph because you just didn’t know if someone might be traveling from the other direction. There was no shoulder, and the road was not wide enough for two vehicles. I was certainly elated that we didn’t meet anyone on the road, but why would we? It was truly the middle of nowhere—gentle slopping hills, rocks, and an occasional tree or scrub brush.
While I reassured my friend that we would be okay and that we would find our way, I secretly wondered if the road would ever end and if we would find civilization or come out on some beach with the Statue of Liberty half buried in the sand. I enjoyed the drive, but it was a challenge. “S” curve after “s” curve, mile after mile, the road was more like a roller coaster for adults over 50. I had fun until the car’s GPS map showed us to be somewhere near Honolulu! While I have dreams of visiting the islands of Hawaii at some point, that was not the day. I believe it was then that survival mode kicked in.
Neither my friend nor I showed panic for fear of upsetting the other. We remained calm and, in her words, ”carried on." The good news—Ben Hur Road eventually came to an end. I’m certain if you straightened that road out it would be quadruple the length since it had the sharpest and shortest curves I’ve ever driven. For some reason, I felt once we reached civilization again that I should have been awarded a key chain with the words "Ben Hur" stamped on it. Upon retiring, my new life goal is to set up a small roadside stand at the exit of Ben Hur Road. There I will sell fresh fruit and T-Shirts that say, “I survived Ben Hur Road.” Most likely I would only sell four or five shirts a year, as I can’t see many people saying ”I’ll just run over to Mariposa by way of Ben Hur Rd.” I don’t see that ever happening.
We finally made it to our B&B in Mariposa about a half hour before sunset. As we excitedly pulled down the drive to park, out front we saw a herd of deer quietly grazing the hillside. Now Barb and I have both lived in the country, so I’m not sure why it is still such a thrill to see wildlife. Maybe you never outgrow this; I sure hope we don’t.
We met our host, Clay, and his lovely wife, Joy. Clay graciously walked us out to the wraparound deck. From here you could see more deer. Clay encouraged us to come out early in the morning when the deer and turkey would come up to feed. We all agreed this was a "must do."
After getting our bags in, Barb and I ventured into town for dinner. It was absolutely delicious. We ate at the Charles Street Dinner House in Mariposa. After dinner, my eyelids were heavy, and we headed back to our B&B for a good night’s sleep.
I can’t really describe walking out onto the deck, looking over the railing and coming eye to eye with a momma doe and her twin fawns. I found myself not wanting to breathe for fear of scaring them off. Mom gave me the look and decided I wasn’t a threat, so she swished her tail and went back to eating with her fawns sticking close by her side. As I walked a little further down the deck, a couple bucks came into view. Afraid I would miss something, I called out to Barb and told her she needed to come out and see all these deer. While I stood there taking pictures, the cool morning air was pierced by the gobble of a tom turkey. I looked in the direction of the gobble and could hear leaves rattling. It wasn’t long before he appeared from behind a tree dragging his wings through the leaves as he strutted toward a couple hen turkeys.
Without a doubt, I was in heaven on the deck watching the wildlife mill about. During the dry months, Clay told us that he puts out a special diet formulated for wildlife. When natural food can be scarce, he supplements the local wildlife with grain and fruit, serving several watermelons and cantaloupes scattered below the deck on the hillside. It makes for a very special encounter to watch the deer and turkey from a safe space for them and us. The view from the deck looked out over a valley covered in rocks and trees. I can only imagine all the wildlife one would see if you sat there long enough: eagles, bobcats, bears . . . maybe a mountain lion!
Clay had to come grab us for breakfast, as we would have stayed out there all day. Breakfast at the Yosemite B&B in Mariposa is an adventure all its own. In total, Clay and Joy have three units situated around the pool. Each has its own bathroom, queen bed, television, and all the amenities you would need, including hot chocolate and M&M’s. During their open season, they are almost always fully booked. All the guests eat at a large table in the main house. Joy treats you to a culinary delight as Clay explains what is being served. They go all out to make sure this meal not only fills your tummy but is also a culinary experience that you will be talking about to others.
We had two breakfasts while staying at the B&B, and each day we ate with two different couples. Barb and I were the only ones at the breakfast table from the United States. What an amazing experience to share a meal with folks from around the world. While we talked of many things, both days' main topics tended to fall upon political conversation of the U.S. president and climate change. These were both topics of great interest to the other guests.
We dined with a couple from Holland one morning and with another couple who were gardeners at the Queen Victoria Gardens in England. The following morning, we had the pleasure to dine with a couple from Estonia and another couple who own and operate an online shoe company called ShoeShoeBado in England.
We had such a fun and amazing time while feasting on delicious food. Joy and Clay offered a wonderful assortment of tea, coffee, and juices to make sure all their guests would have their favorite drink or the opportunity to try something new. At this point, I wish my taste buds were more adventurous, but I didn’t go away hungry, and I certainly enjoyed hearing and learning about all the choices. All the couples we dined with were on holiday. (I love the sound of that.) They were all visiting or had visited areas such as San Francisco and Monterey Bay. Some were traveling across the States, and I found it interesting to hear about their adventures. It was such a pleasure to spend a little time with folks from across the pond and to see how similar we all are.
Undoubtedly, it was the most cultured thing I have ever done in my life, and it made absolutely no difference that I was a little Missouri bumpkin; I fit right in.
I believe our B&B was the closest to Yosemite Park that you could get, other than staying at one of the Park’s facilities. It was a bit of a drive from our B&B to Yosemite, but the excitement grew along the way. It was amazing to see the variety of California landscapes. I loved every one of them. They all offer beauty and provide a connection to nature if you take the time to let it sink in. The entire drive was a treat, seeing landscape I may never see again. Thank goodness for my camera and a very tolerant friend who allowed me frequent pit stops to photograph everything and anything I wanted.
Once we actually entered the Park, we learned a very important lesson—it is a very popular destination. If you expect to take a guided tour, you better book a couple months in advance. Fortunately, the park offers a free bus shuttle so that you can hop off at any stop you like and explore. We opted to take the shuttle instead of driving ourselves around the park. Admittedly, we did have some fear that we would never find the car again once we parked it. Yosemite is HUGE! Let me say that again: it is HUGE!
The first stop we hopped off at put us on a short hike across the Sentinel Bridge and down to the river. From here, we had a spectacular view of the famous landmark Half Dome. For Barb, Half Dome holds a lot of special memories. Having grown up in California and meeting and marrying her husband there, Yosemite is a place they visited often. John had climbed Half Dome with friends while Barb hiked to the top where they camped. Just thinking of climbing Half Dome gave me heart palpitations. I really can’t even imagine it. I lack that sort of bravery but admire those who can conquer such a feat.
We spent a good deal of time enjoying the breathtaking views. We also saw a couple wild ducks sunning along the bank and floating down the river. It was a peaceful time to just take in the surroundings. The water was clear and cold. Do people float these waters? Boy, how much fun would that be?
Back on the shuttle bus, we decided to hop off at the High Sierra Loop Trail, which consisted of a series of trails, one of which was the 211-mile John Muir Trail—we didn’t do that one! When we started out, we were hiking for the fun of it. There were signs at the beginning of the trail that reminded you to make sure you had water. Barb had packed a nice lunch and water—which we'd left in the car. Luckily, we both survived without water or food, but in the future, I’ll be sure to put that backpack on. A snack along the trail would have been nice. Once we reached the Vernal Fall Bridge, there was a water fountain that was very busy. Apparently, we were not the only ones to forget to bring a water bottle up the trail.
As a farmer, I don’t get out in the big wide-open world too often. Probably my biggest outdoor adventure was a weeklong float trip in the Boundary Waters that I didn’t ever want to end. I also did a weeklong float of the Eleven Point River as a teenager. Both of those float trips were strenuous and pushed me to my limit, especially upper body strength, but I must say the hike up to the Vernal Fall Bridge was the most challenging hike I’ve ever done. The trail was well-maintained with well-packed ground. There were people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Some carried big packs, some carried kids—and I cried a little bit inside for them.
I’m not sure what it was about the trail—it must have been the steepness—but it took a couple hours for us to get to the bridge. Fortunately, I had a great hiking partner. We would eye-up a spot along the trail—a big rock or a little offshoot. We'd hike to it and rest and repeat the pattern so I wouldn’t die. The hike/rest, hike/rest method worked out well, and we made it to the bridge where the roar of the river drowned out the screaming of my tired leg muscles.
While resting and taking in the scenery of the roaring river, we were visited by a little squirrel. There are plenty of signs warning not to feed the wildlife. You could tell by how close it came that it was looking for a handout. The best I could do was take his picture and promise him fame.
Since we didn't have camping gear, we decided that we best turn around and head back down the trail. In my mind, as we climbed, I told myself that I would find redemption by easily making my way down the mountain. About a minute into the hike down, I was quickly humbled and needed to take a break. It seemed silly, but we were not in a race, and there was no need to overdo it. Neither of us desired to be carried off the mountain. I quickly learned that going down the trail was just as challenging, if not more so, than going up. The trail was so steep that you had to lean slightly backward. With each step, you had to apply your brakes, which really works the calf muscles. I was thankful I had on decent sandals with good support.
I think the combination of the challenge of the trail, being outdoors, the beauty of the surroundings, and hiking with my best friend really made this a special and memorable moment. The fact that I lived also made for a monumental day. I’ve never climbed a mountainside before or a portion of a mountainside—it was amazing. It was also a great reminder that I need to get outside more and take in more adventure; it is good for the soul. Surely all my chores on the farm helped me in some manner. I think the frequent stops along the trail for rest breaks helped, too. Neither Barb nor I had sore legs that night or the next day. Rest is good.