A West Coast Swing And The High Sierras

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I have traveled to 128 countries and all 50 states, but had never visited the High Sierras in California. I have probably flown over Lake Tahoe more than 100 times, but had never visited there.

Now that I am no longer hosting a daily weekday talk show on KMOG, I am free to travel as I have wanted. Norma and I talked about where to travel here in the U.S. by automobile. The West Coast is always desirable and not that far away.

Recently we packed our suitcases and began our car trip to California and Santa Barbara. We are both from that state and have relatives and friends all over the territory.

Our first day, we drove to Scottsdale and had a very fine lunch. With our bellies full we began our highway voyage to California. The first destination was to be Santa Barbara to visit relatives for a few days. Since we departed Scottsdale after lunch we thought an overnight stop in Palm Springs would be nice since we didn’t wish to drive into and through the greater Los Angeles area at night.

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Photo courtesy of Ken Brooks

Hotel rates are much lower in Palm Springs in the summer and we secured a very nice suite at the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Palm Springs for the night.

One of my favorite restaurants there is Sherman’s Kosher Deli. If you are a fan of Jewish foods, this is the place. The menu is very complete and the servings are so large you think you will never eat even half of the food on your plate, but you do.

One of my favorites is chopped chicken livers on rye bread. Oh boy it’s good. Try it at a deli perhaps in the Valley sometime.

After rising to a beautiful morning with the summer sun coming up over the desert valley where Palm Springs is located, we placed our suitcases back in the car and began our drive to Santa Barbara. This happened to be the first day of the Fourth of July weekend. Traffic wasn’t bad until we reached the city of Pasadena where it began slowing. By the time we reached the outskirts of Los Angeles and were traveling west on the freeways traffic slowed to between 10 and 20 MPH and continued at this pace until just before we reached Santa Barbara. We knew before we left Arizona traffic on this day would be bad, but not this bad.

Santa Barbara is really a special city with beauty, nice people, beautiful surroundings and the Pacific Ocean on its western borders. It is home to more than 100,000 residents now with an even greater population in the surrounding area. Here, we stayed for three days during the Fourth of July weekend. We enjoyed several meals in fine restaurants.

We took grandkids to the zoo. Norma and I attended master classes at the Santa Barbara Academy of Music. One class was for piano, another for violin. The students pay no money for these lessons and are selected in the spring of each year to attend these master classes. The training is for artists who wish to become concert players with major symphony orchestras around the U.S., as well as soloists and conductors. The academy’s campus is also most beautiful situated at the ocean’s edge.

After Santa Barbara, we headed north on Highway 101 to drive to Santa Cruz, which is just south of San Jose on the coast.

This took about six hours of driving, plus a stop at San Louis Obispo for lunch at the unusual Madonna Inn. Here is where each one of the 112 rooms has a distinct décor. One is done with antiques of the 1800s, another is 1950s modern, while another might look like a mountain cabin. Sounds crazy and perhaps it is, but the tourists love it. The food here is wonderful also.

Our destination this day was the Redwood Forest northeast of Santa Cruz, found on Highway 17/9. You barely leave the city of Santa Cruz and you find yourself in the deep green Redwood Forest. Along the way we spotted cabins for rent just off the highway. We inquired if there was a vacancy and the answer was yes. The cabin was large, clean and very modern in the interior. We were located near a running brook. Dinner that night was sandwiches we purchased at a nearby Safeway deli as we sat on our patio overlooking the running brook and magnificent Redwoods.

Next day we departed rather early with our destination being Lake Tahoe. After breakfast we placed our bags in the car and headed northeast through San Jose, Sacramento and into the tall pines in the High Sierras.

We arrived there in the later afternoon having driven through a drenching rainstorm on the way. I should say here that the High Sierras received more water this past winter and spring than they have received in years. Lake Tahoe, for instance, usually receives some 300 inches of rain/snow during the winter period, but this year received about 600 inches. All lakes are high, rivers are full and waterfalls are the best they have been in years.

There was still a lot of snow low on the mountains around Lake Tahoe as well as other mountains in the High Sierras.

Our hotel here was positioned right on south lake, two blocks from the Nevada border. Our room was only 50 feet from the water’s edge and from our patio we could view the entire lake.

During the three days here, we sailed around the lake in a paddle wheel steamer, enjoyed an 88-mile drive around the lake, visited the nearby capital of Nevada, Carson City, and trekked our way into another lake nearby, Fallen Leaf.

Lake Tahoe is even more beautiful than I have imagined. I had seen photos, but the real thing is spectacular. If you have not visited this area, do so as soon as you can.

The last night here, we took out the California map, spread it on the bed and wondered where next we would visit. The decision was to take Highway 395 south past June Lake and Mono Lake to Mammoth. The drive through the High Sierras found us almost gasping for breath after each turn on the highway. The beautiful mountains, the pines and snow coming down to the highway were breathtaking. The altitude on this stretch between Tahoe and Mammoth varied from 2,500 feet to 10,000 feet. Highway 395 had little traffic, which we appreciated.

The town of Mammoth is not large and is geared to skiers, who flock to the area during the winter. We found a Best Western Inn in the middle of town and slept well.

There are four lakes in the Mammoth area and we visited each. If you are a photographer, this is the area to visit. There is spectacular scenery all the way from Tahoe to Mammoth and you will want to keep your camera handy all the way.

That night in our room we spread out the California map on the bed again to consider where next we should travel. Not far away was the diamond of the High Sierras, Yosemite National Park.

We looked at one another and said, “Why not?!” The next morning we headed north again on Highway 395 and at Mono Lake is the entrance to the Tioga Pass road that took us to the eastern entrance to the park.

The wait to enter the park was only 15 minutes at which time we began the drive westward through this wondrous scenery. Yes, there were many tourists while we were there, but there was never a traffic tie up and we found that there were many locations we could pull off the road for photography.

We had both visited here many years ago and Norma remembered how wonderful the famous Ahwahnee Hotel was in the middle of Yosemite Village. We stopped there for lunch and inquired if there were rooms available. Unfortunately there were not any, but we did have a marvelous buffet lunch in the dining room.

I was able to secure a very nice room at the Yosemite View Lodge located only 12 miles from the western entrance to the park. Our room, with large balcony, was situated right on the banks of the fast moving Merced River. We could hear the roar of water moving past our room all night.

We had been gone 11 days and decided it was time to head for home. We took two days to accomplish this. The High Sierras can’t be beat for absolute beauty. See them soon.

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