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ClearHalfDome

Yosemite National Park. October 5, 2018.

(Posting some individual pictures that deserved solo highlighting from the trip now.)

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In Which Dana and Mark Fail to Go to Canada

Speaking of weddings, astute long-time readers of this blog will know that the end of September marked our tenth wedding anniversary. Given that we usually celebrate our anniversary by forgetting about it entirely (including one year when we ended up on opposite sides of the globe and didn’t remember it had happened until a month later), we decided perhaps a policy of a larger celebration once a decade was more our speed. Hence, our decision to take a train tour of western Canada, from Vancouver to Banff and back again. Glorious! Fun! All decisions already made for us!

It was a good plan. Of course, the night before we were scheduled to leave, as we were finalizing our packing, we realized that perhaps Mark had not gotten all the reservation confirmations he should have… 45 minutes after the tour company’s offices had closed for the evening. We needed to get on the plane to Vancouver at 6:30 the next morning, long before they’d be open, too, so there was really no way to check with them before we left. (Apparently our real tradition is stress-testing our relationship every ten years. The night before our wedding we were plumbing the sink in our renovated-by-hand kitchen, after all.)

We called them from our layover in Seattle, and lo, they did not in fact have any reservations for us on the train, and furthermore, all seats on the train were booked for the entire rest of the year. So. We had about an hour and a half left of our layover. Options to consider: 1) Continue on to Vancouver, rent a car, drive the nine hours to Banff on our own. 2) Stay in Seattle and do PNW things. 3) Go home. 4) See if we could reroute the second leg of our flight to San Francisco instead and go to Yosemite, since we were already on the West Coast.

To my surprise and delight, Mark was actually in favor of option 4, so after lunch we flew off to San Francisco and rented a car to start our completely on-the-fly adventure!

Our first stop was in Palo Alto to have dinner with one of his former coworkers. (Former as of the day before; I’d always said if that company ever gave Mark more than three days’ notice on any of his business trips to SF, I’d go with him and we could go to Yosemite, and it never actually happened… until literally the day after he stopped working for them. Go figure.) After dinner, we drove on to Livermore to spend the night, just to be already part of the way to the park. (Side note: The rolling hills outside Livermore are all covered with wind turbines, and it is amazingly surreal. I wish I’d gotten a picture without weird car window reflections.)

Days 2-6: Yosemite! One of the only major national parks I hadn’t been to yet, a situation I’ve been trying to rectify for years. Our first full day at the park, we decided to do the full Mirror Lake loop hike, which is slightly under 5 miles. Mirror Lake itself, one mile in, has no water at this time of year, so there were no reflection pictures to be had, but that was okay! The temperatures were nice and we were just happy to be hiking. Most of the other Mirror Lake hikers returned back to the bus stop and we continued along the loop. Another half-mile or so in, it started to rain. We did the whole loop anyway. Sure, we were soaked by the end, but we had fun.

 

 

We went back to the hotel, had hot chocolate, and watched ridiculous blacksmithing competitions on the History Channel for the rest of the night. (Remember life before constant internet access? Wild.)

The next day’s goal was to drive up to Glacier Point, since I was willing to be kind and not subject Mark to the 6-8 hours Four-Mile Hike is supposed to take to get up there by foot. It wasn’t actively raining this day, but, well, have you ever wondered what it’d be like to get to the edge of the map in a video game, where everything you’re not allowed to see yet is just mist? That’s what being at Glacier Point when it’s literally inside a cloud is like.

 

 

Where’s Half Dome? Yosemite Valley? Oh, you know. Over there. Somewhere.

We stopped at Tunnel View on the way back down to try getting some shots from a slightly lower elevation after the clouds started to break a little, but Half Dome remained stubbornly shrouded.

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Our third full day in the park though! Totally sunny! We ended up hiking 11 miles over the course of the day, most of them on purpose!

First we went back up to Glacier Point, this time earlier in the morning just to make sure we’d catch it with the haze burned off as much as possible for the day.

 

 

 

On the way back down, we stopped first to hike out to Taft Point for a different dizzying view of the valley. (This time with a rock you’re allowed to go out on.)

 

 

Then we stopped at Tunnel View again and got the full valley view:

ClearTunnelView

At the bottom of the drive, we stopped at Bridalveil Falls, though I’m going to skip posting a picture of that, because, like Mirror Lake, it wasn’t exactly at its most impressive during this season. (You can actually see it in the cloudy Tunnel View picture, though it’s kind of hidden in a shadow in the sunny one.)

After lunch, we decided to do the Valley Loop trail, which the book of hikes we’d picked up on the first day claimed would be under 5 miles, but ended up being more like 7, due to differences in where we started, which made our goal of hitting Sentinel Bridge for sunset pictures kind of challenge. (Our last mile was less of a pleasant saunter and more of a double-time march.)

 

 

On our way out of the park, we passed by the base of El Capitan again, this time in the dark, and we could see all the lights of various hanging tents of people in the middle of climbing the face, which was pretty amazing. (And definitely not a thing I ever want to do.)

The next day we said goodbye to the park and drove back to San Francisco. When we had stopped in Palo Alto the first night, I suddenly realized how close we were to where my college roommate and her husband (who was one of Mark’s suitemates the year I was in Japan) now live, so we’d arranged to meet with them for dinner when we were coming back into the city. They took us to a great diner, and we had an excellent time. And now I have finally met Ann and Erik’s cats in person! And I can tell them apart!

Despite having left Yosemite behind, we weren’t quite done with the hiking part of our trip. We spent most of our first full day in San Francisco across the bridge visiting Muir Woods and the Marin Headlands. (The Headlands stop was just supposed to be a quick thing for a nice view of the Golden Gate Bridge, but apparently everyone in all of San Francisco had the same idea and traffic into the park was insane, so we made the most of actually making it in and took some short hikes there as well.)

 

 

On our last day, we went to visit SFMOMA, since it was all of half a block from our hotel, where I particularly enjoyed the Ellsworth Kelly and Alexander Calder exhibits. (Remember that vibrant blue piece at NCMA that I always like whenever they pick it to use for Art in Bloom (2015, 2018)? Turns out that’s Blue Panel by Ellsworth Kelly, and I’m very consistent in artists whose work I enjoy.)

 

 

All in all, an excellent accidentally adventurous vacation! So glad we decided to roll with it instead of going home, because we definitely had fun, and we even came out of it still married.

 

 

Here’s to the next ten years!

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Mt. Rainier, July 2015

Still catching up on things I meant to blog. Some pictures from our early July trip to Mt. Rainier! We were quite lucky that the wildflowers were all in bloom, apparently several weeks earlier than usual.

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Mt. Rainier with cascading stream

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Mt. Rainier with wildflowers in bloom

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From the steps to the path behind the visitor’s center

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Mt. Rainier with rippled reflection

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Roots of a fallen tree in the Grove of the Patriarchs

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Tall, tall trees in the Grove of the Patriarchs

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Ferns in the Grove of the Patriarchs

We were only there for two days, and there were clearly still many things we could have seen and done. All the more reason to go back!

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Japan & Hong Kong 2015: Day 15

And now, our last day in Hong Kong! We originally had another big hike planned for this day, but as I recall, we got kind of a late start and the weather wasn’t great, so we ended up going to Hong Kong Park, where there was a tea museum (but it was closed that day), and an aviary. It was kind of raining, so we went to hang out with the birds for a while.

I haz a stick?

I haz a stick?

I'm so pretty.

I’m so pretty.

One advantage to the less-than-great weather was the line for the Peak Tram was finally sane! So we finally got to ride that. None of my photos attempting to capture the extreme steepness of the track really showed it, so here’s a shot from inside the terminal.

Peak Tram terminal art wall.

Peak Tram terminal art wall.

And some of Hong Kong’s buildings with the night lights coming on as we walked back to the apartment. By this point, I was rather fond of that building with all the X-crossed lights, because we had used it for navigation several times.

Ubiquitous Hong Kong skyscrapers.

Ubiquitous Hong Kong skyscrapers.

And then we packed all our stuff, got up the next morning, and flew back to the US. The end!

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The next day was dedicated to Lantau Island. After the ferry ride over, we took the bus up to the Tian Tan Buddha complex. As you will see, it is at the top of the mountain. (This will be important later.)

Tian Tan Buddha, head in the clouds.

Tian Tan Buddha, head in the clouds.

Tian Tan Buddha from the top of the stairs.

Tian Tan Buddha from the top of the stairs.

Complex rafter details.

Complex rafter details.

So remember how I said the Buddha was on top of a mountain? The other place we wanted to go was Tai O, the town built on stilts in the water. Which is at absolute bottom of the mountains at the edge of the island. And Gene thought he had found a series of more or less interconnected hiking paths that would get us all the way there! Note that all guidebooks tell you to take the bus. There is no suggestion hiking between the two sites is a thing. But we did it anyway! After several hours and a few questionable turns, we did make it. It was very… humid. Gene took a picture of me at the end that he prefaced with “Okay, show me your ‘I’m so done with this’ face!” (I’m not going to post that one.)

Some views from our boat ride through the stilt houses and out into the bay.

Tai O stilt houses, with personal boats and balcony gardens.

Tai O stilt houses, with personal boats and balcony gardens.

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Fishing boat at the entrance to Tai O’s river.

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Japan & Hong Kong 2015: Day 13

Our next day was all in Kowloon, where we had found quite a few things to do. First we stopped in a park to watch the weekly martial arts demonstration (kung fu, tai chi, and dragon and lion dancing). It was so incredibly hot and humid that I didn’t get out my camera to take any pictures, despite enjoying the performance. I did note that martial arts demos are the same everywhere, though, and I found myself analyzing all the kids’ performances with the eyes of a tournament judge. Happily, there were several who showed excellent promise. Eventually the adults got to do their thing, though, and I was able to enjoy those more for the artistry, particularly the woman who appeared to be in charge of the tai chi group, who did a solo form with a fan that was my favorite.

The park also had a walkway lined with statues of famous animated characters, which were interesting. Gene took this picture that accurately captures my feelings about the weather and has the unfortunate side-effect of making me look like I want to murder an otherwise rather amusing cartoon pig.

Contemplating murder or just thinking about how frigging hot I am?

Contemplating murder or just thinking about how miserably hot I am?

Then we went to Wong Tai Sin Temple, where it was slightly cooler because at least there was more air moving around. Hence more pictures:

Mother entrance lion. (Note baby lion under her paw.)

Mother entrance lion. (Note baby lion under her paw.)

Lanterns strung across the courtyard.

Lanterns strung across the courtyard.

Turtle-lion fountain surrounded by actual turtles.

Turtle-lion fountain surrounded by actual turtles.

We took a quick jaunt through the Chungking Mansions, which are indeed an experience, but also full of narrow, winding hallways and lots of people, so not one I wanted to experience for very long. (Also no pictures.)

Then we spent the rest of the late afternoon in the Walled City Park, looking around as we waited for it to get dark enough to head to the waterfront for nighttime Hong Kong skyline lights. Apparently there’s been a big project recently to make an accurate reconstruction of where all the buildings were in the Kowloon Walled City, which was torn down in 1993-94 in a fit of progress. According to the guy we talked to, one of people who had worked on gathering all the information from former residents and then making the reconstructed model, quite a few residents of Kowloon are still resentful of the park that took the Walled City’s place. It’s a very nice park, but after having seen the model, I couldn’t help but wonder how all those buildings and people really fit into what seems like not really that much space.

Kowloon Walled City reconstructed model.

Kowloon Walled City reconstructed model.

We were told this model is really pretty accurate. While we were there, a former resident came by the exhibit and was indeed able to point to exactly where he used to live. The main problem, the project researcher told us, was that they hadn’t been able to convince the company that made the scale model to give them enough tiny shacks and improvised buildings to put on all the roofs. So we’ll have to use our imaginations for that.

Some pictures of the park as it looks now:

Walkway mosaic.

Walkway mosaic.

Topiary dragon.

Topiary dragon.

Windows along the covered walkways.

Windows along the covered walkways.

Not pictured, because it seemed rude to take their pictures without asking, are the residents who do seem to appreciate the park as it is now: at least two separate groups of cosplayers doing major photo shoots, plus a fashion photography crew.

When it seemed like it was finally getting dark, we headed to the waterfront for the “Symphony of Lights” that’s supposed to happen along the Hong Kong skyline every night. Sadly, this was rather underwhelming thanks to the pervasive cloud cover I mentioned in my last post. Note, for example, the two sad green roof lasers valiantly trying to cut through the fog:

A very sad symphony of light.

A very sad symphony of light.

At least I managed to get this pretty cool picture of a boat:

Dramatic sails against the Hong Kong skyline.

Dramatic sails against the Hong Kong skyline.

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The eleventh day of our trip was mostly taken up by traveling from Tokyo to Hong Kong, which was fortunately not very eventful. Hong Kong is, of course, very much its own uniquely international place, but the two-hour miscommunication between the owner of our AirBnB rental and the doorman of the building that resulted in our taking refuge in a KFC for wi-fi and air conditioning until we were allowed in did remind me I was technically in China. Fortunately, it all got sorted out in fairly short order. Once we made it into the apartment, though, all I managed to do was eat some dinner because I had caught a crud during our final days in Japan and it was causing my asthma to flare into an actual mild attack–I so rarely get them now, I had almost forgotten what it was like, and I didn’t enjoy the reminder very much. So I wimped out on further activity for the evening, electing to stay in my room with my Kindle while Gene went out for some city night lights photography.

The next day, I felt enough better to actually do stuff, so out we went. When asked what I felt up to, I replied, “Walking is fine, but I probably shouldn’t try anything too exerting, like climbing Victoria Peak instead of taking the tram,” . . . which of course meant that, due to that day being Saturday, the line for the tram was ridiculously long and we ended up sort of accidentally climbing the Peak on foot anyway via an extremely circuitous route that started out going gradually upwards via the Midlands escalators, but then ended with a very steep climb on one of the fitness trails. Clearly I shouldn’t have said anything. My overwhelming memory of this day is how incredibly humid it was. All of Hong Kong was essentially inside a cloud from the time we arrived, and the higher up the Peak we got, the more inside the cloud we were, too.

Hong Kong from Victoria Peak, just below the clouds.

Hong Kong from partway up Victoria Peak, just below the clouds.

The top of the trail comes out where the tram ends, in a plaza between two malls, more or less, but there’s another trail that continues up to Victoria Peak Garden, which we took after I managed to start breathing again. On the way there and then in the Garden itself, I think we must have seen at least half a dozen couples having official wedding photo sessions done. Each couple had an entourage of photographer(s), photographer’s assistants, friends, and people holding various props (balloons were popular.) I sat on a bench for a while and watched several couples take turns having pictures taken at the below gazebo (picture taken between groups to try to show how low the cloud layer was), amusing myself by how differently the various grooms took direction for cheesy and often awkward poses meant to look like they were gazing longingly at their brides.

Victoria Peak Garden designated wedding photography gazebo.

Victoria Peak Garden designated wedding photography gazebo.

I also observed that the brides took different approaches to footwear. The ones with the traditional long, trailing skirts had an easier time of it than the more modern, short-skirted brides, because they could wear boots or sneakers and thus fared much better on the grass.

When it started to get dark, we went back to the malls to find somewhere to eat dinner and then wait for true dark to fall so Gene could take some night skyline pictures from above. Unfortunately, the observation deck from the top of the mall was so high in the clouds, all my pictures turned out too misty to be interesting. The best one I took was on the way back down, which (again) we walked, because the line for the return tram was just as long as the one to come up earlier in the day.

Hong Kong at night from the trail on Victoria Peak.

Hong Kong at night from the trail on Victoria Peak.

All in all, a thorough and exhausting introduction to Hong Kong, but by the time we got back to the apartment, I don’t think I have ever been more happy to take a shower.

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