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Westward Randolphs in 2014!!

Ahh, it's travel time again! We will be heading west in the family truckster for a 15-day adventure. Mike's mom, Charlotte, and our travel-daughter, Molly, will also be hitting the road with us.

Our travels will take us through New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada & California. We are looking forward to a great trip!!

Should you get bored, you can also see our old posts from our NYC trip back in 2010. Molly went with us on that one too!!

Diary Entries

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Location: Yosemite, CA, USA

There was actually no Internet service or cell service at the cabin, so this entry covers all four days @ Yosemite!!!

*** Update - didn't get to finish this on the road, and was brain dead when we got home, so this is WAY late…..sorry :) This now covers the remainder of the trip!! (Sunday, July 20 - Saturday, July 26)

The drive from San Jose to Foresta, a small community on the western edge of Yosemite, was great. California, like Texas, provides vast ecosystem diversity, which makes for interesting views! We went from the dry, golden hills of the San Jose area, through valley farmland, and ultimately into the beautiful Sierra Nevada range.

Mike's Uncle Alan's family has owned a cabin in Foresta since the 50s, and it is my understanding that as it was an existing community before the NPS increased the boundaries of the park, the homeowners were grandfathered in an able to keep their properties. We learned that a wildfire in 1990 destroyed the original cabin, along with the vast majority of the other homes in Foresta. Thankfully Alan and his family were able to rebuild!!

In addition to our party and Mike's aunt Nella & Uncle Alan, we were also joined by: Will, Michelle, and their two kids, Mike's Uncle Rich & Aunt Betsy, and cousin Melanie and her boyfriend Theo (pronounced "Tay-oh"). Thank goodness the cabin has plenty of bedrooms!!

Here are some highlights of our time in Yosemite:

Monday - after a lazy morning, we drove down into Yosemite Valley and stopped at one of the many lush meadows along the way. From the meadow we had a spectacular view of El Capitan and actually saw a rock climber, although from quite a distance so he/she looked miniscule. Alan explained that for most climbers, it takes two days to climb to the top. They just clip in a hammock and sleep dangling above the ground. Yowsers!!

Our immediate group hit the Yosemite Store for some souvenirs before meeting the others at "Cascades," a spot where the river forms a great pool for swimming. At this dry time of year, the river is quite low and this area was perfect for wading and swimming. Out of our group, only Molly and Mallory braved the chilly water. Malz was only in for a bit and then she and Hazel were off playing along the shoreline. Molly, along with Will and Theo, jumped from a large boulder into the deeper part of the pool. Cuh-razy!! She had a blast though and must have done it 7 or 8 times.
On the way out of Foresta, we noticed a large cat crouched down near a tree. As we got closer we realized it was a bobcat stalking something! We slowed to a stop and the bobcat turned & dashed into the brush. Wow! Nella said that was her first sighting of one in the park! It was so beautiful :)

We caravanned about 28 miles to Wawona and then took a shuttle to the Mariposa Grove, which is where some of the ancient Giant Sequoias are found. Like their cousins, the Coastal (or Giant) Redwoods, these trees are ancient beauties. We hiked up to the one remaining "tunnel" tree, like the ones from the early 1900s where you see Model T's driving through. Thankfully, the park service learned pretty quickly that tunneling through one of these giants was detrimental to the health of the tree and that practice was quickly abandoned. From what I remember reading, it is estimated that some of the larger trees were seedlings at the time of Cleopatra. How's that for a long life? Curious about the differences between the Giant Sequoias and the Coastal Redwoods? Check out this site for more info:

After our time with the Giants, some of the group opted to head back to the cabin, while others chose to head back to Cascades. Molly and Malz were the exuberant ones from our party and headed to the cold water while the rest of us enjoyed some quiet at the cabin :)

We had some pre-dinner excitement that night in the form of a baby rattlesnake. Mallory and some of the others were outside on and or behind the back deck when Mallory said "snake" and jumped back a bit. Sure enough, a baby rattler was sunning itself between a couple of rocks by the back deck. Alan was able to prod it into a 5-gallon bucket and safely relocated it far away from the cabin! Mike said it was about a foot long.

The night concluded with a star party in a nearby meadow. Nella was able to put her teacher hat back on and share her knowledge of the stars and constellations with us. We were able to see the Milky Way quite clearly, as well as a bazillion stars that are normally hidden from our city views! Stunning!


Wednesday - We said goodbye to Rich & Betsy, and Will & Michelle (and Miles & Hazel) in the morning. Such a great time with them!! Nella took us back down into Yosemite Valley later that morning. After dropping Melanie and Theo off at a trailhead (they had a long hike planned), the rest of us went to the Visitor's Center. The interpretive center was great and very informative. Lots of interactive displays taught us about the geologic history of the park, as well as the flora, fauna & human history. We also watched a great 20 minute film about the park. I was especially touched by the pieces of film dedicated to John Muir, who was one of the earliest movers and shakers in the conservation movement. I remember studying about him at A&M and was excited to see the "Father of the National Parks" honored in the film as well as throughout the visitor center.

We had a great picnic that afternoon in the valley and enjoyed the stunning views. Afterwards we headed to the historic Ahwahnee Hotel to meet up with Melanie and Theo. Nella treated us to a brief tour of the hotel, which included a fantastic room that was decorated with old photographs from the hotel's early days. Once back at the cabin, Nella took Charlotte, Mallory, Molly and I on a jeep ride down a dirt road to see Foresta Falls, and then dropped the girls and I off at a magical place they refer to as "Paradise." Before I say anymore about Paradise, let me just say that the jeep ride was awesome! I felt like I was transported to the set of M.A.S.H. as the Jeep has been running since 1946! It was so cool! As the nickname implies, Paradise is a beautiful place where the creek (Crane Creek I believe) trickles over miniature falls and forms mini pools thanks to large rocks and logs. The water was so clear and cool, perfect for wading!

After a great dinner and lots of packing, Nella & Alan took a group out for another star party…fun!!

I forgot to mention earlier that we had a special family member join us for Yosemite….Winter, a charming cat who belongs to Nella and Alan. Due to eye infections when she was young, Winter is blind, but she sure has adapted and gets around like a champ. The kids all fell in love with her!!

Thursday - It was with a heavy heart that we said our goodbyes to Nella and Alan in the wee hours of the morning. Our stay was simply magical; the beauty of the park, the amazing accommodations, and the time spent with family…we were blessed! Our route would take us east through the park, and up through the high country of the Sierra Nevadas on our way to the eastern gate at Tioga Pass (elevation 9,945 feet!). At one point we stopped at stopped to take pics of the back side of Half Dome in the distance, just beautiful. We also stopped at a mountain top lake that was simply breathtaking; and boy was it cold! The van's thermometer showed 35 degrees at one point along the way. Crazy!

Our descent down from the pass along Hwy 120 was a bit harrowing to say the least. I learned to drive on mountain roads and I think I can attribute my early confidence on those roads to the wide use of guard rails in Colorado. The lack of guard rails through the Sierra Nevadas erased all confidence I once had! Thank goodness Mike did the driving as he was calm and simply fabulous :) **Note: we did have to get new rotors for the brakes upon our return! Seriously steep roads!

The goal on Thursday was to cover as much ground as possible, so we made only necessary stops along the way for gas and food. I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery as we traveled along the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevadas, so pretty!! By late afternoon we were back in the good ole Mojave Desert with Kingman, AZ as our destination for the night. Prior to reaching Needles, CA, Mike decided that we would take a slight detour in order to drive through a snippet of Nevada. So, we took the less travelled road (seriously, hardly any cars along "Needles Hwy) and headed to Laughlin, NV along the Colorado River. Remember how I mentioned that the thermometer read 35 degrees at one point while still in Yosemite? Well, when we got out of the car for a pit stop in Laughlin, it was a scorching 118!! Yikes. I've come to the conclusion that when folks who hail from desert regions say "but it's a dry heat," they are just trying to fool the rest of us into thinking that such temps are comfortable. What they should really say is something like, "it's so hot and dry that the moisture from your body gets sucked right out within just a few minutes of standing outside," but I guess that would be a tourist deterrent. Molly kept saying she'd take the humidity of Bryan/College Station any day!! I'm with you Molly!

Our drive from Laughlin to Kingman was quite beautiful. There are some stunning landscapes along the way that Charlotte and I enjoyed tremendously. Hopefully we'll get some pics uploaded at some point (I'm talking to you Mike).

Friday - We drove along 1-40 east through Arizona to New Mexico. I can honestly say that the Flagstaff area was one of the most beautiful parts of our whole trip! New Mexico greeted us with its rugged and arid terrain, which kept us company until we stopped for the night in Roswell. I take that back, there were a few beautiful meadows along the way once we turned south on 285 (east of Albuquerque). Lots of sheep, who knew?


Saturday - We made it home safely by about 7:00 in the evening, yahoo! It was a fabulous trip and we are so glad that Charlotte and Molly were able to join us.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Location: San Jose, CA, USA

After leaving the charming cottage in Santa Cruz yesterday morning, Mike dropped the kids and I off at the Boardwalk so that we could use up the last of our ride tickets while he and Charlotte ran a couple of errands. The kids enjoyed their last hurrah at the Boardwalk and we even managed to get some souvenir shopping taken care of.

From Santa Cruz we headed east to San Jose, where Mike's aunt Nella & Uncle Alan live. They live up a windy road on a beautiful hill that overlooks the city and the southern tip of the San Francisco Bay. Simply breathtaking! The kids enjoyed feeding the chickens, collecting eggs, visiting the two horses, climbing the hill to the redwood grove, playing with the cats….. So much to do!! Friday evening was an absolute joy as we spent it dining out on the patio with lots of extended family members. Great company and great food!! Mallory was super excited because her cousin Hazel (the daughter of Mike's cousin Will & wife Michelle), was able to spend the night. She is a year younger than Mallory and the girls got along fabulously. The last time they had seen each other was in '09, so neither had strong memories of the other. I'd say they have definitely bonded now & will create some great memories over the course of the next few days as Hazel & her family will be going to Yosemite with us on Sunday!!

This morning I was able to enjoy one of the things I had been looking forward to most when we planned this trip; a couple cups (or three) of coffee sweetened with honey from the hives that Nella and Alan keep. Oh my, it was divine!! We headed to downtown San Jose this afternoon for some museum time. Mike, Braden & Molly went to the Tech Museum while the rest of our group went to the San Jose Museum of Art. Mike & co had a great time and raved about the visit There was some sort of funky, electronic music thing….so Mike was in heaven! The art museum was okay, definitely modern, so not necessarily my favorite style. Whilst looking at 2 canvases that were basically just painted with different colored stripes, Hazel exclaimed, "those are just stripes, anyone could do that." Hah, I told her I was with her on that!

We spent the evening at Will and Michelle's beautifully restored 1905 home before heading back up the hill to Nella & Alan's. Tomorrow we head to Yosemite for 4 days, yippee!! My park ranger heart is fluttering at the thought….sigh.

We won't have any Internet connectivity while there, but in theory our smart phones will work. If that's the case we will try to update a couple of times while there. If not, we'll update once we stop somewhere for the night on Thursday.

This trip has been amazing so far!! We are blessed :)

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Location: Santa Cruz, CA, USA

Two late nights in a row prevented me from sitting down at the computer. I have some quiet time now, so here we go….

With the exception of Charlotte, who is an early riser, we all enjoyed sleeping in on Tuesday morning. After breakfast, we walked down to the beach, which is about 3 blocks from the house we are staying in. We saw the dark heads of a few sea lions popping out amongst the waves, about 20-30 yards from shore. Pretty cool! Molly and Mallory became experts at catching sand crabs. The largest was probably the size of my thumb! It was pretty awesome to watch them burrow back down into the wet sand.

Later that day we met up with Mike's cousin Jenny (from his mom's side of the family) and her family at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. If you've never been and haver have the chance, you need to check it out. It's an old-school boardwalk amusement park and it's fabulous!! Mallory quickly bonded with her 9-yr-old cousin, Paula, and the two had lots of fun on various rides. Molly became my thrill ride partner and she helped me check off one of my "musts" for the trip by riding the "Giant Dipper" with me. It's one of the oldest roller coasters in the country and has been giving riders a rickety thrill since 1924! With the exception of Braden having some tummy issues and having to head back early to the house with Mike, the Boardwalk was a blast!

Yesterday we went with Jenny & her clan to Big Basin Redwoods State Park and enjoyed a picnic amongst the redwoods. Mallory had an absolute blast playing with her cousins (Paula has a twin brother, Daniel, and an 11-yr-old brother, James). Turns out fallen redwoods make a perfect kingdom and any adults who inadvertently wandered into their domain were quickly banished! So great to see imaginations at work :) Molly and I did some exploring and especially enjoyed climbing up on a particularly long fallen redwood and walking along it length. It had to be 100 feet or so, and would have been longer but the top had gotten sawed off where it fell across the trail. Those trees….like the Grand Canyon, pictures just don't do them justice. Standing amongst them and looking up is just overwhelming. Many of the trees in the park are estimated to be between 1,000 to 2,000 years old! There is a cross section of a tree near the ranger station, and if I remember correctly it was cut down sometime in the 30's (or perhaps it had fallen, not sure). Using the growth rings as a guide, the plaque indicated that the tree was over 1,300 years old when it fell. Wow! Talk about putting things into perspective.

We ended the night with Jenny & her family at their rental up in Boulder Creek. It was a charming house along the banks of a creek with giant redwoods all around. One of the redwoods must have had a portion that had fallen (sometimes they grow in a ring, all sharing the same root system & sometimes the same trunk), and the owners flattened that portion out and built a tree house! The kids loved it and had a blast! It was a great night and we enjoyed spending time with Mike & Jenny and their family (yep, another Mike).

Later today we'll be meeting them at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for another fun filled day. With that being said, time to sign off!!

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Recent Messages

From The dog's Aunt Linda
Sounds fun--glad all are safe and well! The dogs like rain--all I'm gonna say! Enjoy yourselves!
Response: Rain?? Yippee! Here's hoping we got a lot of it!!
From Bryce
Who are the Eagles? Just kidding!
Sounds like you all are having a wonderful trip. Love reading your adventures. Glad that Mallory is feeling better. Look forward to reading more. Love you all 😘
Response: Whitney Bryce!!! Haha, you are such a kidder. We love you too!!
From Mom
Sounds quite exciting so far. Why were you in such an all-fired rush to drive so far on the first day? Y'all don't need to be over-doing it right out of the gate. There is still lots to do and see. Don't know if you remember or not, but when we drove to CA in '82, Flagstaff is where we encountered snow and passed all the TX, FL, etc. vehicles 'cause we still had snow tires on the old wagon. Great scenery thru that part of the state.
Response: We wanted to get far so that we could make it to Williams with time to enjoy the town. I don't really remember much from our drive to California way back when. I'm not surprised about the snow. One local I talked to last night in Williams said that they can get up to 70 inches of snow in a year! That seems so weird. Love you guys!