Yosemite

Our family just got back from a few days in the glorious Yosemite National Park. We had an excellent time all around, with gorgeous scenery and some challenging hikes.

Upon our drive up, one thing stood out clearly, and that is all the dead trees in the Sierra Nevada and foothills. This is a news story that has been circulating, around here at least, for a month or so. After five years of serious drought conditions, and an increase in a certain beetle that preys on weak trees, the situation is dire. Looking around, it's impossible not to be awestruck at the magnitude of the problem and the possible fire danger. It's going to take years to remove all these trees.

The scope of the issue was very evident on our first day at the Hetch Hetchy reservoir.

Yosemite alone is nearly 1500 square miles. The Sierra Nevada range spans a distance of nearly 40,000 square miles. If one of every three trees is dead, you can start to grasp the enormity of the issue.

However, at Hetch Hetchy, there were plenty of nice things to look at, too! Clarkias and lupines, flowers that bloom in my yard in April and May, were on full display here, along with goldenrod, prairie coneflowers, and popcorn flower. In the meadows, there were carpets of blossoms.

The reservoir itself is spectacular, with one active waterfall at the moment, and more in the Spring. We took a hike up to see the lone fall. Some of us dropped out after a mile or so up, some of us after 2 miles or so, and Adam and my dad made it all the way to the falls. Dad brought his filter, which was great on these hot, dry hikes - as long as we could find a stream or lake to dip in to.

You can barely see the waterfall from here, center of the pic, to the right bottom of the 'shaved' dome

You can barely see the waterfall from here, center of the pic, to the right bottom of the 'shaved' dome

filtering water in a shallow stream

filtering water in a shallow stream

Adam gets his feet wet at the bottom of the falls

Adam gets his feet wet at the bottom of the falls

Our second day, we drove the the east rim of the park and explored Tuolumne Meadows. We started with an overlook of the Valley. 

That's Half-Dome on the right. We are looking West, over the Valley.

That's Half-Dome on the right. We are looking West, over the Valley.

After driving through the meadow, we parked and took a hike up around Lembert Dome to Dog Lake. It was a challenging, rocky path up to 9200 feet, and the altitude made us very short of breath, but the weather here was very cool and breezy and our lunch spot at the lake was gorgeous.

Lembert Dome from the trail

Lembert Dome from the trail

We met a ranger (and his horse, King) on the trail. The rocks in the trail were challenging for us, but must have been even harder for King.

We met a ranger (and his horse, King) on the trail. The rocks in the trail were challenging for us, but must have been even harder for King.

Dog Lake. Those mountains in the distance still have snow on their North slopes.

Dog Lake. Those mountains in the distance still have snow on their North slopes.

While wading, Mom 'found' a leech. On her foot. Not pleasant. But interesting to look at.

While wading, Mom 'found' a leech. On her foot. Not pleasant. But interesting to look at.

Chipmunk! We don't have these in the Bay Area so they're fun to see. But I imagine that for some people, the last thing in the world they want to see is a chipmunk! Kind of how I feel about seeing deer in Yosemite - all the other tourists gushing - and me just making a sour face!

Chipmunk! We don't have these in the Bay Area so they're fun to see. But I imagine that for some people, the last thing in the world they want to see is a chipmunk! Kind of how I feel about seeing deer in Yosemite - all the other tourists gushing - and me just making a sour face!

Goldenrod

Goldenrod

California Thistle in a rocky field

California Thistle in a rocky field

On our third day, Adam and my dad decided to take an extremely challenging hike to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls. This was a 7 mile round trip, 2700 foot elevation gain climb to the very top. For perspective, El Capitan is 3,000 feet tall, so they hiked nearly that high. It took them all day, but that was an experience Adam will never forget. Tom, Kate, my mom, and I decided to spend the day on the Valley floor, walking around, exploring, and taking a smaller hike to Bridalveil Falls (hiking is very decidedly NOT Kate's favorite thing). Man, was it crowded. There are backpackers getting permits and bear canisters and food and then heading out to the back country. There are tourists from every country you can imagine. There are day hikers, like us, looking for water and a shady patch to cool down (the temperature on the Valley floor was 95, a considerable difference then in Tuolumne Meadows the day before). There are kids everywhere and families riding bikes all along the Valley. It sure is great to see so many people enjoying this National Park, but it does sort of stink to navigate the traffic. Like many National Parks, Yosemite is trying out a shuttle system to prevent folks from driving from one spot to the next, and it helps a bit. There's a LOT of people, though.

Yosemite Falls from the Valley floor

Yosemite Falls from the Valley floor

Halfway up!

Halfway up!

Made it to the top!

Made it to the top!

Half-Dome

Half-Dome

El Capitan. No climbers on it this day - too hot.

El Capitan. No climbers on it this day - too hot.

Bridalveil Falls

Bridalveil Falls

Today, we had a nice leisurely drive home with a stop at a cheesemaking farm in Oakdale. We bought some of their aged gouda, some fresh baguette that had just come out of the oven, and some salami. We stopped off at the next farmstand and bought a flat of strawberries. Lunch was complete. Finding a picturesque spot to eat it an hour on, around Tracy, wasn't so easy, but we finally found a neighborhood park in which to enjoy our purchases.

Gouda ripening in the shop's cave

Gouda ripening in the shop's cave

The person who had lived at our home this week did a wonderful job, and we came home to a garden full of tomatoes, cucumbers, and green beans. The animals seemed happy to see us, and I spent a good amount of time taking a look around. It's nice to travel, but nice to come home!

Nebraska Wedding

Nebraska Wedding

Amaryllis belladonna, or 'Naked Ladies'

Amaryllis belladonna, or 'Naked Ladies'

This last plant is very interesting. It puts out greenery in the Spring, which then dies back. In the hot summer, it blooms without any foliage, hence the common name 'naked lady.' But it's actually the only true Amaryllis. The ones we see indoors at Christmas aren't really amaryllis at all. They are from an entirely different family!

Weekend Away at The Apple Farm

On Friday, I promised you tales of a grand adventure. I can deliver on that promise! Tom and I took the weekend away, leaving the kids and the dog in the care of my folks, and spent a "Stay and Cook" weekend in Philo at The Apple Farm

an ornamental apple tree in the farm's flower garden

an ornamental apple tree in the farm's flower garden

The farm is located in the Anderson Valley, a forty-mile stretch of hilly land between Highway 101 and Highway 1, on Highway 128. Many folks take this road from our neck of the woods en route to Mendocino. But Anderson Valley is a good trip in its own right; full of good food, wineries, fun shops, and an excellent State Park, Hendy Woods.  

Wild chamomile was prolific all over the side of the road

Wild chamomile was prolific all over the side of the road

When I was in my 20's, I used to take this drive all the time. When Tom and I got married, we came to the Anderson Valley to buy our wedding sparkling wine from Roederer Estate.  We came up here with the kids and my folks several years ago to camp at Hendy Woods and ride the Skunk Train. 

Lilac in the farm's flower garden

Lilac in the farm's flower garden

On that camping trip, we stopped to buy apples and juice at The Apple Farm's fruit stand. They had a lovely pink apple I had never tried before, the Pink Pearl. It was crisp and sweet and perfect, and that apple stuck in my memory.

This apple tree seems to be looking back at us!

This apple tree seems to be looking back at us!

Fast forward to my birthday of this year, a couple of months ago. Tom surprised me with a wonderful trip to this same farm. He had remembered, too, and thought to check out if we could stay there. He booked us on a 'cook and stay' weekend, which meant we would stay in one of the cabins, and cook three delicious meals in the wonderful kitchen, with the owners, Karen and Tim.

Happy chickens on the farm

Happy chickens on the farm

We took the day off Friday and drove up in pouring rain, stopping for a delightful Cuban sandwich in Windsor at Rumba Cuban Kitchen.  By the time we got to the farm at 3, the skies had cleared, and after getting settled, we immediately went for a walk through the orchard. We were sure glad we took the opportunity, because it started raining again that evening and didn't stop the entire weekend. 

Our cabin, aptly named "Blue Door"

Our cabin, aptly named "Blue Door"

What an incredible farm. Tim grows over 80 different varieties of apples, along with other fruit trees. Karen keeps a large kitchen garden with plenty of veg and herbs, and there are flowers all over the property. At the moment, they have sheep and goats, ducks and chickens, and several farm dogs. 

a friendly goat popping up to say hello

a friendly goat popping up to say hello

The acreage is bordered by a small, unnamed creek on one side ("some people call it Bitter Creek," Karen told us) and the extremely swollen-at-the-moment Navarro River, which runs all the way down to the Pacific Ocean.

the creek

the creek

We very much enjoyed our walk around the property, throwing sticks for the dogs and checking out the flowers growing everywhere. 

Tom made a friend

Tom made a friend

That night, we had a truly memorable dinner at The Boonville Hotel, which is owned by Karen's brother. After that meal, it was up to us to cook and create Karen's menu for the weekend.

our plan for the weekend

our plan for the weekend

We had a terrific time learning from Karen and her helpers in the kitchen, as well as from the other couples (there were two) that were cooking with us. Karen's family owned, among other restaurants, the French Laundry before Thomas Keller, so she was an excellent teacher and we learned so much from her. I was glad that Tom and I had some pretty extensive cooking experience going in, but it was clear that you didn't need that to succeed over the weekend. Beginners are also quite welcome.

the kitchen, as we were gearing up the first morning

the kitchen, as we were gearing up the first morning

We used many ingredients from the farm itself, as well as local meats and dairy. It was very much a farm-to-table experience as well as a great lesson in locavore eating. We went hoping to learn how to use or preserve some of the excess in our own garden, and perhaps pick up some fancy (and practical!) techniques that would help us in our cooking going forward. We learned all of these things.

Swiss Chard from the garden

Swiss Chard from the garden

There was also plenty of time to get to know the other couples and the owners of the farm. Tim was supposed to take us on an 'official' farm tour, but since it was raining so hard, we just sat and talked about the farm and his operation. It was fascinating.

chopping produce was always a group effort

chopping produce was always a group effort

I don't have to tell you, the meals were excellent. I mean, mind-blowingly good. Karen showed us how to make the most out of our garden herbs to extract fabulous flavor. We used the farm's homemade vinegar and juice constantly. Tim served local Navarro wines with every meal, as well as the farm's own hard cider.

Rhubarb clafouti

Rhubarb clafouti

We also had plenty of TV-and-computer-free time in our bright and cheerful room, snuggled under duvets, reading books, with the fireplace on, listening to the rain on the roof.

We loved our weekend, cooking, eating, exploring the beautiful farm. I hope we get to come back someday.

Driving home, we wondered how things had fared flood-wise at our little homestead. Sure enough, we came back to extensive standing water in the back yard, and some water in the garage. The experts say the drought isn't over, but I'm guessing we've had a good dent in it, anyway. I made a mistake leaving the tomato and pepper seedlings outside while we were gone, as the forecast was for a little rain and a little sun. They look pretty droopy, but I'm hoping a few days in the sun will perk them up. (We're supposed to have five clear days before the next storm.) I took a short, wet tour of our garden just to make sure everything was ok, and I was given a gift, near the kale.

This is a 'bird's nest fungus,' which I have always hoped to see in our garden, but never have. These are all over right now. Aren't they fabulous and strange?

There's broccoli to pick, as well as shelling peas, carrots and beets, and of course the ever-present greens. I have a heeled-in Asian pear waiting for planting along with 10 lavender plants, two rhubarb crowns, and two lemon verbena plants. Oh yeah, and don't forget 50 plugs of herbs! And before that gets done, three cubic yards of dirt needs to be wheelbarrowed over to the new beds. It's a good thing the weather is supposed to clear up.

the frog friend we found on our steps outside the cabin

the frog friend we found on our steps outside the cabin

It was a wonderful weekend. Here's to vacation!!! And thanks so much to The Apple Farm for a really incredible experience.