For our last couple days in Palm Springs, we kept things low key.  On Friday, we hiked the South Carl Lykken Trail, North (yes, it’s a very confusing name).  It’s a thousand feet of elevation gain over a pretty well graded trail.  The view at the top was nice and of course coming down much easier.  Our evening dinner at Lulu’s was enjoyable.

Saturday, we browsed a nearby arts & crafts fair that we could walk to from our hotel.  It was similar to the Art Festivals we have back at home.  I took a nap and L’ went on an extra hike (but I thought about exercising, so it counts as a workout).  The weather clouded over a bit in the afternoon so it was far from optimum pool/spa weather.  We even saw a few brief sprinkles of rain.  Our dinner nearby at Johannes was excellent and definitely our best food of the trip.

There weren’t as many photos from these couple days, but the relaxation factor was very high and made it well worth it.

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Joshua Tree

We got an earlier start today than the past few days to have more time at Joshua Tree National Park.  It’s not too far from Palm Springs, but it gets dark around 4pm as the sun goes behind the mountains; we wanted to maximize our daylight adventure.  We picked up sandwiches (I find it a little odd how Subway’s are now often at gas stations) on our way to the visitor center .  With our brochures in hand and park fees paid, we were on our way into the park.

Many of the sites are part of short (1-2 mile) nature trails as opposed to longer, more strenuous hikes.  This was fine as it was cold out.  Some of the park is as high as 5000 feet above sea level and thus considerably colder than Palm Springs.  Much of our day was spent wearing all of our gear to stay warm in the 43 degree weather.  At least the sun was nice and warm.

We stopped at Hidden Valley, Barker dam, Keyes view, Skull Rock, Arch Rock and the Cholla Cactus garden .  Each of these let us see different aspects of the park.  There is a lot to see beyond just the namesake Joshua Trees (which technically aren’t even trees).  To top it off, we watched the moon rise over the mountains as the sun set.   We then headed out the southern entrance and returned to Palm Springs.

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Today we went to The Living Desert, a zoo located in Palm Desert (a few towns over from Palm Springs). It took surprisingly long to get there so by the time we made it to Palm Desert, we stopped for an early lunch. We finally made it to the zoo by the early afternoon.

palmsprings145The zoo is reasonably sized and we were able to see the whole place. There are two sections, North American and African. We saw a variety of animals and met up with friends from home who were also in Palm Springs for vacation.

While in the snack shop, I spotted my college friend and his family who I haven’t seen in several years.  Small world, since they live in Seattle. It was nice to briefly catch up.

Getting back to town, we went to the Fisherman’s Market & Grill, which was very good. You pick your fish and then they grill it for you. Tasty, reasonably priced, and quicker than a full sit down service restaurant. A good end to another fun day.

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We returned to Indian land today to visit Tahquitz Canyon. After a steep admission charge, we began the roughly one mile hike through the canyon that ends at a sixty foot waterfall. The hike is well signed and coordinated with our map for various points of interest. The waterfall is very pretty and we begin the hike back after a snack and photos.

When we got back to town, we had lunch at Sherman’s Deli, just a block from our hotel. We’re not sure what makes it the claimed “kosher style” (since they had a ham & cheese sandwich), but the rare roast beef sandwich was good. More importantly, they had egg creams! The waitress said it was the first one she had made so I gave her my expert assessment- it was very good.

I was now ready for my nap. L’ decided she needed more exercise so she went for a hike on the Museum Trail while I snoozed. When she returned, she took a short nap and then we went for dinner at a Japanese place around the corner from the hotel.  Not quite the traditional Christmas outing for Chinese food, but close enough.

View the pictures of Tahquitz Canyon:,%20Tahquitz%20Canyon/index.html#

We went to the Palm Springs visitors center outside of town to find out about hikes.  We were able to get discounted tickets to the Indian Canyons area.  It’s  owned by the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians and they charge rather steep prices.  At least we now knew better what we wanted to visit and had a couple useful maps.  As a bonus, there was a pretty rainbow outside which seemed odd in a desert.

palmsprings025After lunch back in downtown Palm Springs, we went to Indian Canyons and did the Murray Canyon hike.  The hike follows the stream through the canyon.  We saw the large palm oasis and continued hiking to the trail end where there is a small cascade of waterfalls (known as the Seven Sisters).  The hike had about seventeen stream crossings (each way), but none were too treacherous.  The hike was pleasant and we rewarded ourselves with a dip in the hot tub back at the hotel upon our return.

After a shower and an excellent nap, we had dinner at Las Casuelas Mexican restaurant which was good.   There were plenty of restaurants open even though it was Christmas Eve, so for once, we didn’t have to struggle to find decent food.

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After breakfast we went to the Santa Maria Museum of Flight. It’s a small museum located near the Santa Maria airport. Small museums like this are often fun because the people that work there (usually volunteers) are excited that you’re visiting and more than willing to give you a guided tour. This was exactly the case here:  as soon as we paid the small admission fee, the docent (a Marine in the Vietnam War) began walking us around the two hangers full of exhibits and the outdoor area of airplanes. While not the most amazing museum, it was a fun stop for an hour or so.palmsprings001

From Santa Maria, we drove to Lompoc for lunch. We ate at Bravo Pizza, which was no Speederia, but adequate and with a pleasant staff who gave us free bread sticks while we waited for our pie.  We then made the quick drive across town to the Wine Ghetto. Before another tasting at Flying Goat, we tried another winery that had some good reviews on yelp. The winery was Fiddlehead, but it was not as good as Flying Goat. The goat keeper was good as usual and we picked up a couple bottles.

We made a final wine stop at the Melville Winery (we had Melville wine with dinner over the summer and had a note to visit them when we were back in the area). There wasn’t much we liked, given how much we liked the previous wine of theirs that we had. 

Now we made our way to Palm Springs, braving the Los Angeles traffic and aggressive drivers. My Atlanta driving experience comes in handy here as the traffic moves at similar speeds to what it would in Atlanta.  Without any major delays, we made it to our hotel by dinner time.  After unloading the car, we had dinner at Sammy G’s Tuscan Grill, which we found adequate, but nothing we’d rush back to.  Our hotel is only a block away from downtown so we strolled back to our room and were now ready for our weeklong stay in the desert.

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We were able to book a room at Yosemite Lodge last minute and thus make a weekend getaway to Yosemite Valley.  This was my first time in the park in the fall.  Since last year was a relatively dry year (only about 50% of normal rain/snow), the major waterfalls were either completely dry or only a trickle instead of a thunder.   While still spectacular, I can’t help but miss the thunder and site of Yosemite Falls.


Unlike in the Spring and its fill of snow, higher elevation sections of the park were more accessible.  We took a one way bus ride up to Glacier Point, 3200 feet above the valley floor.  From here, there are wonderful views of Half Dome and the valley.   We then left the crowds and starting hiking down the Panorama Trail towards the valley floor.  The signed distance is 8.0 miles, but our total hiking for the day was closer to 9.5 miles, according to the GPS.  I was quite sore for a few days afterwards, but it was worth it.  The trail takes you by three waterfalls with almost continuous spectacular views.

To start our second day, we drove up to Tuolomne Meadows.  Along the way, we stopped at Olmstead Point for a different vantage point of Half Dome.  While it was around 70 degrees yesterday and today, on Friday there was rain, fog, and snow.  This had the added benefit of a light snow dusting of the upper elevations.  Tuolomne Meadows is above 8000 feet and the peaks visible from here are thousands of feet higher.  The views were even prettier thanks to the snow.  We hiked up Pothole Dome (much easier than Lembert Dome), and had wonderful views of the area.


Before heading home, we stopped at a vista point along the road and made a quick stop to Saddlebag Lake.  That area is over 10,000 feet in elevation and there was still snow on the ground.

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Much of Catalina Island is protected from development because it is owned by the Nature Conservancy.  With ample hiking, we walked uphill to the nature center to secure our hiking permits.  The nature center had some interesting displays about local flora and fauna, but we were itching to get moving before it got too hot.  We were off on the Hermit Gulch hike which takes us up to a ridge where we can see the other side of the island.  It did start to get warm and there is virtually no shade on the trail.  The views at the top were enjoyable and we spotted some of the unique plants, although to me, they just looked like plants.

The hike has an added advantage in that the downward trip ends at the back entrance to the Wrigley Memorial, thereby skipping out on the entrance fee.  We explored the memorial to someone who had a lot of impact on developing and preserving the island.   Our empty stomachs motivated us to quickly walk through the native plant garden and catch the trolley back in to town so we could get lunch.

Since we had our unlimited tour package, we reserved a trip up to the “airport” (it is in fact an airport, but pretty rural).  Our tour group had only six people and a rather goofy driver.  He decided we should take the Hummer rather than the bus.  His goofiness was apparent in his numerous pun jokes he told and his giggling way too often.  Still, he knew his stuff about the island.  We were able to see the Wrigley mansion, the buffalo that inhabit the island (after being brought in for a movie), and the airport. 

After dinner, we went on a flying fish tour.  This was really fun and unique.  We board a motorboat with tens of other people.  It departs at dusk and the boat has a couple big searchlights on either side.  Once in the open water, they shine the light out into the water and you can see flying fish.  They really are airborne, sometimes for several seconds.  You can also watch the seals and birds trying to hunt them for a tasty dinner.  It was impossible to get a photo given the speed and lighting conditions, but was very fun to watch and a great way to end our vacation,

Photos from today:

After checking out of our San Diego lodging, we headed north towards the port city of Long Beach.  The GPS lead us a bit off the path at the port area (which is enormous), but we finally found our boat area.  Our boat company had added a departure an hour earlier than the one we were booked on, but they said we could take that which got us to Catalina Island an hour earlier than we were planning on.

Catalina Island is the only substantially inhabited island of the Channel Islands.  Developed to a large degree by William Wrigley, Jr. of bubble gum fame, there are few cars and many gas powered golf carts. The main town is Avalon, home to a few thousand permanent residents and the destination for our boat.   We arrived after a little over an hour on the water and walked the short distance to our hotel. 

Our lodging included various tours so we lined one up for this afternoon – the submersible boat.  It’s kind of like a more advanced glass bottom boat.  After you board the boat, you walk down a few stairs and then can sit below the water line and look out the windows at the marine life.  Once out to sea, the crew throw food into the water and the fish swarm around boat.  It was a neat site.

There are a bunch of restaurants since this is a tourist town and the quality fit with a tourist area – not as good as it should be for about the same price.  In any event, we were full and enjoyed the music during dinner.  We played a round of mini golf to cap off the evening.

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Today we went to the La Jolla area of San Diego.  While much of the country is having a huge heat wave, here it’s downright cool – maybe getting up to 70 today.  La Jolla was foggy, so rather than kayaking in cold weather, we walked along the coast.  There are lots of seals and sea lions frolicking in the water and they were fun to watch.  There’s an area called “Children’s Pool” right on the coast.  It’s a protected beach cove that was originally designed for kids to swim in.  Unfortunately for the kids, the seals found they liked it, too.  There have been off and on court battles over beach access vs. animal protection.  In the end, the seals won, although some adults still felt they should walk up as close as a few feet to the seals.  We watched some of these people, I mean idiots, hoping for some good seal-human carnage, but no such luck.

We wandered along the coast and then visited Sunny Jim’s Cave.  This is a bit of a tourist trap where you go down a bunch of stares to visit a sea cave right on the coast.  Sunny Jim today was really Foggy Jim, but hey we saw a sea cave.   For lunch we found an Amici’s Pizza of all places (only recently opened in San Diego).

For the afternoon we headed to Torre Pines State Natural Reserve.  It was a bit of a pain to get to because of some road construction that caused traffic and prevented us from turning where we wanted to.  In the end we made it, only to find they had more than doubled the admission fee.  We like supporting the parts, but this place is no where half as good as Yosemite despite that being what they charge. 

The torre pine is only found here and is a unique pine tree.  I’m not enough of a botanist to really appreciate the differences, but we had a nice walk around the park and along the coast.

After cleaning up and a quick dinner, we caught a show at nearby Balboa Park.  We saw “Divine Rivalry”, about the rivalry between Michelangelo and Leonardo.  I didn’t realize that Machiavelli was involved and that they all were alive at the same time.  The show was pretty good and we enjoyed catching some live theater.

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