Vacation Day 8: Amazing location for our stay in Yosemite

I’m running a little late with this  entry.  I don’t have regular WiFi connection here in Yosemite.  Oh yeah, and Rich woke up  on this day, too.

We left San Francisco to head out to the wilderness in Yosemite National Park.  I’ve never been to Yosemite, so this will allow me to mark off yet another national park from my list of places. 

For breakfast, we walked around the corner from our hotel to this cute little place called the Beach Street Grille.  Their sign offered American comfort food breakfasts.  The place looks like part Chinese, part Russian, and part something else.  After watching the waitress, I think this place started out in life as a Mongolian restaurant.  It was the cutest place and had the best breakfast so far. 

We got out of San Fran without much trouble.  Getting back across the Bay Bridge was an experience as everyone was driving very fast and changing lanes even faster.  We knew we had to take 580 out of the area, but the GPS got confused this time.  The highways all cross each other and take off at different points.  The GPS took us to 980/880 and then changed it’s mind!  Now I know what they have women’s voices as default.  They are making us look bad, girls!

The drive out to Yosemite is through some of California’s best farm land and orchards.  It was very beautiful and so abundant with fruit and vegetable stands.  Of course, there are irrigation canals running everywhere.  There is no water in this part of California either!

We got past the farm lands and started up this side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  Now Rich has a problem with my driving anyway, but going up the side of a mountain definitely makes him even more nervous.  We are talking about hanging on the side of the mountain by a slim shoulder.  But I have to admit, I do love driving the winding and mountainous ranges.

We finally got to Groveland, CA without a sign of our lodging.  So we kept driving out of town following the GPS directions.  Can I trust her after San Fran?  About a mile west of the Yosemite entrance, we get the direction to turn left onto Evergreen Road.  How does this ever get a Groveland address this far out?

Now Evergreen Road turned out to be just as winding and mountainous as the road we just came up.  It twisted and turned every which way.  The cool thing was the coyote that I almost hit.  I came down a hill and a quick turn just as the animal got to the middle of the narrow road.  He stopped and I stopped.  We looked at each other for a moment and then went on our ways.

I have no words to truly describe this place.  When I made the reservation, it looked like a collection of 1940s style cottages around a building.  This is a sprawling resort complex with many, many cottages.  Each cottage is very, very nice with all the amenities, except WiFi.  There is an office and store.  There is a restaurant with a tavern.  There is a pool with a poolside bar. 

We’ve had a couple of meals here now.  Very expensive, but so good.  I had salmon with smoky grits and snap peas.  Rich got the half chicken with truffle mashed potatos.  Rick just got a sandwich, but it was excellent. 

Rich and I went to the bar last night for a beer.  They have about 6 or 7 local breweries on tap and a good selection of bottled beer.  Rich has been eying their bourbon selection, including the small batch distillery from West Virginia.  He had a conversation with Doug at the bar on beer and other liquours.  Doug is from Brazil and has a different take on the drinking scene in America.

Today, we just took a tour of the park to get our bearings.  Once I got used to how everyone drives in the park, it got easier.  Man, the speed limit is 35 or 40, but they drive faster going up and down the mountain.  We stopped at Bridal Veil Falls since it was a quick and easy hike.  The falls are gorgeous. 

There weren’t as many people as I thought there might be at this time of the year.  Everyone appears to be British, Japanese, or have a dog.  This must be vacation season for those countries. 

While at Bridal Veil, we ran into a couple of young girls who yelled out that it was just like the Lorax. Rick and I thought they were talking about Rich’s moustache.  But I think they were really talking about the young man standing inside of a stump along the path.  The moustache comment was funnier.

Tonight, I was exhausted.  I made notes for my blog and then went to bed.  It felt so good to go to sleep. 

Tomorrow, there will be more from Yosemite. 

Bridal Veil Falls, the first of many wonders in Yosemite.
The famed El Capitan. It was indeed a wonder.
Rich had to check out the bar and found several good beers on tap and a bourbon offering that met with his approval.

Vacation Day 7: Walking the Golden Gate Bridge

Yep, Rich woke up yet again today!

Today was the first real 60 degree weather since the second day of our trip.  The sun was shining down and the wind wasn’t quite so bad today. 

The plan for today was to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Well, at least halfway across.  Everyone else was sleeping in again this morning.  They are so lazy.  Finally got showered and moving for the day. 

Breakfast was the first order of business.  We went around the corner to a little 50s diner place called Johnny Rockets.  It was close and I didn’t have to hunt for anything.  The waiters were yelling back and forth and yelling hello and good-bye to everyone.  After getting enough to hold us for a while, we walked back to the hotel to get the car.

The hotel clerk had told us to drive over the bridge to the Vista Point rest area.  You could easily walk out on the bridge and get a good view for pictures. The directions from the hotel were pretty simple also.  We jumped in the CR-V and went out on the streets of San Francisco. 

Getting to the 101 was pretty easy.  We drove through the Marina district and by Fort Mason that stood guard over the marina area.  The marina area was heavily damaged in the 1989.  So many houses had to come down and it looks like they used the opportunity to rebuild in very eclectic styles. Jumping on the expressway, we got to the toll area.  No toll to go north on the bridge though. 

We arrived at the Vista Point parking area.  I quickly grabbed a spot from someone pulling out.  We put on our extra coats to bundle against the wind.  The gauge in the car said it was 65.  With cameras firmely around necks or wrists, we headed for the bridge.

There are markers on the ground and posts to walk to the left side so that bikes could use the right side.  People just don’t know how to walk though!  The rule is up on the right and down on the left.  You had to go around people or just plain stop for them.  People will walk all over the place! 

Then add a few hundred bikes trying to go at top speed, it was a little messy out there. At one point, there were people walking in the bike lane.  An elderly Asian man was in the way and a biker had to push him before he got run over.  I was afraid we would be seeing an accident.

Also, there are signs everywhere telling you not to jump from the bridge.  Phone boxes with an automatic button to dial 911 appeared every so often.  Rick had to take a picture of one of the signs.  I guess the threat here is real.

We stopped to take pictures as we walked out.  There were all kinds of views and directions to capture things from. It was windy, but not that bad.  We made it to the middle of the bridge in no time.  You could touch the support as it dropped down to your level in the middle.  We started to walk to the next support, but I had to ask the guys to turn back. 

The southbound walkway was closed today.  On Sunday, the city had a big fireworks display and had lights out on the bridge for the 75th anniversary of the opening.  Luckily, we didn’t show up in town on Sunday.  So the crews were still clearing away all of the equipment from the anniversary celebration.

We turned to walk back to the parking area.  Rich spotted a cargo ship coming into the bay and headed for the bridge.  We tried to get back to the viewing area in time to watch the ship come through. We managed to get a good spot out on the end.  I had to wait for some guy to remove his 2 and 3 year old kids from the brick wall that ran there. Not a smart thing to do since the cliff was right there.

We waited and we waited and we waited some more.  No container ship.  After maybe 20 or 30 minutes, we gave up and went to the car.  We decided to check out the Presidio, which sits on the hilltop above the Golden Gate Bridge.  This is still an active military base, but there are a lot of public areas around it.  Yep, that’s the Presidio just like the movie.

We stopped at the first parking area and got out to look at some of the original bunkers and ammo stations that remained around the rim of the hill.  We also got some really great shots looking back at the bridge.  We walked to a couple of other view points and continued to take pictures.  There was fog hanging over the Marin County side of the bay, which added to the effect.

We got back in the car and drove down to Baker’s Beach.  This was a wonderful view point for the bridge.  I was lagging behind the guys, so I got to one point in the path that meant I had to jump down into loose sand.  I yelled for the guys to come back and help me.

But then this very muscular, tan hand appeared in front of me.  A deep and very pleasant voice asked, “Do you need some help?”  I had to stop and think first.  A tall, dark, and very handsome hero?  I found my brains and said yes.  He helped me down into the sand and then took off running on the beach.  I assume this was his normal workout run.  Wow, a great day on vacation!

Back to my guys on the beach though.  We got some more great pictures and the guys were trying to judge when a wave would reach them.  The Pacific Ocean is very cold at this point on the coast, but plenty of people were playing in the water.

In the parking lot, I ran into a guy with 6 dogs.  He was taking them to the beach to run.  One little friendly and overactive guy wanted attention.  The man said that this guy runs the length of the beach several days and was very quick.  He looked like a minature greyhound. 

We got in the car again and drove up to the Legion of Honor.  I parked next to this vintage Volvo that looked really cool.  The owner smiled really big when I took a picture of it and I gave him a thumbs up for the cool car.  It took a few minutes to figure out that the Legion of Honor was a full colonnaded monument with an inside building.  So we started to walk up to the fountain in the center.

I heard someone cry out and several older ladies started to run for the covered overhang around the door.  I looked over and saw an older lady lying on the ground.  My heart stopped for a minute.  I ran over to try and help.  Corinne was her name.  She had tripped on the step and hit her head above the eyebrow on a column. My first thought was to keep her on the ground until help arrived.

She appeared to be bleeding around her right eye.  I examined her and found that she had a cut on her nose and her cheek from her sunglasses, which were not broken.  The cuts looked superficial, but they still bled a lot.  The bump above her eye was swelling, but only oozing a little.  She said that she didn’t feel any pain other than her head, but lying on the concrete wasn’t helping.  She had her sense of humor.

An attendant came outside to help.  Rick was shading her from the sun.  I took off my jacket to cover her knees since she was wearing a dress.  The attendant gave us her jacket to make a pillow.  I cleaned up her face with a Kleenex to remove some of the blood.  She seemed to be okay over the new few minutes.

The ladies around her kept yelling for her to get up and that she would miss the bus back to the facility.  I tried to tell them she shouldn’t move yet.  One lady told her if she didn’t get up, they were going to leave her behind.  That kind of upset her.

Another employee came out to help.  Corinne said she was fine and would get checked at the facility where she lived when she returned.  I had Rich and Rick get her to her feet to check if she was stable.  She appeared to be in good shape.  The attendants had a wheelchair to get her out to the bus. 

So the Legion of Honor houses a very nice art museum, which we didn’t know.  We went inside and one of the attendants came after us.  She wanted to arrange for our admissions in for helping with Corinne outside.  Rich jumped at the chance.  Rich in an art museum?  Couldn’t see it voluntarily, but he accepted the tickets.  Come to find out, it was $20 a piece to get in.  He saved $60!  So,  Aunt Fran, Rich went to an art museum on this trip after all.

We walked around and viewed the paintings.  I recognized several and knew many of the artists.  It was a very nice collection.  We went downstairs to view the special exhibit, which was on Victorian art.  It was beautiful.  They included a section on the premier interior designers of the time with wallpaper samples and other goodies.  William Morris was much more than an celebrity agent!  It was really great.  Rich liked the Venus done on a rough canvas.  Figures, a naked lady.  Oh well,  I had tall, dark, and handsome earlier in the day.

We came out and had then figured out how to get from the Pacific Ocean back to downtown San Francisco.  Not too hard, except that our exit was closed for construction.  They have that season here, too.  We followed the detours and figured out how to get back on the same road we came out on.  From there, it was easy. 

Did I mention that I got to drive on some of the rolling hills that the streets go over? It wasn’t quite like Bullet or the Streets of San Francisco TV show, but it was cool.  But then again, this was my second time to drive San Francisco streets. 

Arriving at the hotel, the street in front had trucks unloading produce, buses trying to get through, and lots of cars.  I did manage to get into the parking lot and find a spot.  We trooped upstairs and promptly collapsed onto beds.

We didn’t get lunch and it was around 3:00, so it called for an early dinner.  We went out and down to The Embarcadero St. Turning left, we went down to the original Fisherman’s Wharf from the turn of the century.  This was the wharf I remembered from 20 years ago.  The smells are wonderful.  You walk right by the sourdough bread factory and down to the outside vendors with all of their seafood specialities. 

I had chosen Alioto’s.  I had read about its history and it was highly recommended.  We got a table where we could see out of the windows and into the marina.  I ordered the Fisherman’s basket with shrimp, scallops, pollack, and calamari.  Rick got chicken penne with Alfredo sauce.  Rich went for the spaghetti with clams in tomato sauce.  We had warm sourdough bread on the table also.  It was heavenly.  I shared my calamari with the guys.  Rick’s Alfredo sauce was so light and cheesy.  How did they do that?  The clams in Rich’s dish were fresh and looked great.

After a great dinner, you need to walk that off.  How better to do that than to do a walking tour of a Liberty ship.  In the harbor, there is a Liberty ship that was actually used during WW II.  A group of people had been working for several years to refurbish the ship and make her seaworthy.  On Saturday, she had actually been on a cruise with contributors and others out of the bay and on to the ocean. 

We walked from the deck to the cargo hold for an exhibit.  I explained the places my father had been in WW II and some of the things he would have experienced with a ship like this.  We made our way up to the bridge and the guys dropped down into the engine room to check it out.  The old ship creaked and swayed, but she definitely seemed pretty seaworthy.  I had trouble with a couple of stairways and waited for the guys to check out the top deck.

Now going up, I had trouble with the gangway swaying so much.  And then I could look down into the water.  That is no sight for someone with a fear of heights!  Then we had to come back down the gangway.  It took a few minutes with the swaying, but I made it.

Rich went back to the hotel while Rick went with me to buy a sweatshirt and a postcard.  I found the sweatshirt I wanted, but not postcard.  We went down the street and there were stands out for you to look through.  I finally settled on one and went in to pay.  Souvenir shopping over.

Did I mention before about all of the languages that you hear on the street?  I bet we have heard just about every language while we’ve been here.  I’ve heard German from a lot of people.  Surprisingly, there have been maybe 3 or 4 instances of Russian.  Definitely, there are a lot of Chinese and Japanese tourists.  The French have been pretty prevalent also.  It’s definitely an international city.


We weren’t done for the night apparently.  After I completed this blog, we decided to go out one more time.  Rich was hungry, so we went by the vendors on Fisherman’s Wharf.  He got another round of calamari.  He claims this will be the last fresh ones he’ll be able to get for a while.  That’s probably true.

We then walked down to Pier 39 again.  Everything was closing up, but there were still lots of people hanging out.  The Wipeout Bar has an open fire pit on their deck and a lot of people were sitting around it to stay warm.  I assume there are beers to go with that.

Rich claimed that Ramya never brought him back a Ganesh statue from India.  I didn’t want to hear about it again, so I went into Enlightenment and bought him one for Christmas.  Maybe I’ll even put Ramya’s name on it.

Rich and I stopped by Trish’s Mini Doughnuts.  These things are awesome and warm.  Rick had to have ice cream, even though it was chilly.  We then walked over to watch the sea lions.  Three of young guys were playing the equivalent of king of the hill.  They were pushing each other off the dock.  Trouble was, there were sleeping lions on that dock as well.  Every one in a while, someone would tell them to quit.  Finally, someone’s mom showed up and they played like they were asleep until Mom left.  We left when the cold got to us.  So it was time to go back to the hotel for the evening.

Tomorrow:  Yosemite.

Rick and Rich walking out on the Golden Gate Bridge.
This is me stopping on my bridge walk for a picture.
This is tall, dark, and handsome who helped me at Baker's Beach. He apparently runs on the beach.
The guys are heading out to Fisherman's Wharf for dinner. This is the original wharf, which is not Pier 39.
This is me doing yet another Rose pose, but in front of my new seafood favorite, Alioto's.
While waiting for the guys, I took this nice picture of the skyline from the ship.

Vacation Day 6: Hello, San Francisco!

Rich woke up again this morning. It’s a great day for a vacation.

The guys tried to sleep in this morning. I let them go until 8:00, but we needed to hit the road.  Today, we were driving into San Francisco.  The drive was only a couple of hours, but I felt like we had a lot to do when we got there. So they grumbled a lot and crawled out of bed.

After breakfast, we made a stop at Target because someone forgot their body wash.  I know, I know.  I had it on the counter, but it never made it to the bag with the bath stuff. I had a small bottle in my cosmetic bag, but that ran out with this morning’s shower.  After that, we finally hit the road.

Driving the expressway for a while, it all came back to me on driving in California.  I hadn’t really been here since 1990.  If you strung all the time together that I spent in California over the years, I had lived here for almost a year. Back when I was here in 1989, I got to love the place.  Not many places where you could Christmas shop in shorts and flip flops. 

Before we got to Oakland, we stopped at the rest area and overlook.  You could kind of see the city, but it was still pretty far out there.  You could really see the valley where everything sprawled out in front of you though.

We had to go through the toll to get on to the Bay Bridge that took you from Oakland into San Francisco proper.  The lines were long and everyone kept jumping lanes in front of people. Finally, we paid our money and started over the bridge.  This was the bridge that fell from the top deck to the bottom deck during the 1989 earthquake.  That was a horrible thing to see.

The GPS took us off the expressway and right into the heart of downtown.  I had been worried about getting into the city streets, but it was quite easy and things flowed well.  We got out to the Embarcadero and moved around the outside of the city.  There you could see the landmarks and the people.

The Transamerica building is still in the skyline.  You could see the Coit Tower standing on its hilltop.  We saw a naked guy riding his bike along the piers.  Yep, totally naked as a bluejay and nothing covered. We went by the Get In Here! diner.  I think it had another name, but that’s all I could see on the side.

We finally got around to Beach Street and made our way to Mason Street.  Our hotel for the next days was on the corner.  The Wharf Inn is an older hotel, but it had free parking and was right there with Fisherman’s Wharf. I didn’t think it turned out too bad.  We pulled in and talked to the guy at the front desk.  We were three hours early for check in, but he let us park and sign in. 

We went out to Fisherman’s Wharf to start our tour.  We’d only gone a block when we came across Dave Earl, sitting on his stool, at the corner of one street.  He was playing R&B and Blues.  He had a wonderful steel guitar and he made the music sound so good.  Rick and I moved on, not realizing the Rich wasn’t with us.  He soon caught up.

We walked out to the end of one pier and looked at Alcatraz and the sea lions.  You could hear the barking from the lions, but not have to experience the smell.  We started back to the sidewalk, but Rich wanted to go back and see Dave.  We backtracked a bit and listened to him play.  Dave had a very nice handlebar mustache that was properly waxed into place.  Rich wanted a CD, along with several other people.  Dave commented on Rich’s Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall t-shirt.  Rich picked out a CD and we were on our way again.

Pier 39 is a large, open air mall with small shops, restaurants, and cart vendors selling all kind of things.  We wondered along the bottom and then moved to the upper level.  I found an interesting crystal shop and saw a ring that I liked.  I knew Rich didn’t like to shop, so I thought I’d better move on.  But we couldn’t find him.  Turns out, there was the Beer 39 store around the corner.  Rich was standing in front of the bar eyeing the list.  I told him if he wanted to drink I had some things to look at.  He was delighted and found a seat at the bar.

So I went back to the shop with Rick.  We looked through things and I found a ring I liked.  Meanwhile, Rich had finished 2 of a 4 beer sampler.  So we left him to finish that while we went on to a couple of more shops.  In the Enlightenment store,  Rick found a Chinese jacket he liked and bought.  We went into the Forever Ireland store, but found nothing we had to have.  We returned to find Rich had a half of a full pint in front of him.  I was beginning to think he was enjoying his afternoon too much.

Rick had noticed a young sailor in uniform standing by the doorway to Beer 39.  Apparently, a couple of young Russian guys stopped him and asked to take their pictures with him.  He seemed surprised but flattered.  Not long after, a couple from somewhere else wanted to take their picture with him.  He seemed surprised to be so popular.

Getting Rich out of Beer 39, we went to eat a late lunch at the Eagle Cafe.  This cafe has been in this location since 1928.  The food was excellent.  Rich and I got a plate of oysters.  They tasted great, but the shucker wasn’t very expert and there were shell pieces in them.  Rich had no trouble finishing them off.  Rich had a Pyramid Hefeweizen.  I had an apricot ale.

We hit the street again.  With no real direction, I decided to head for Chinatown.  We took one of the roads headed in that direction.  Soon, the street was going straight up.  We continued to climb until it crested somewhere about Lombard Street.  From there, it went downhill. 

At the beginning of Chinatown, there was an orchestra of traditional Chinese musicians outside of a Hong Kong restaurant.  The music was very interesting.  I just didn’t see how they got all of those sounds out of 2 strings!  The street was very crowded with people and some of the stores had their wares out in front.  It was all very colorful with so much variety.

One of us had to stop for a bathroom.  We were told to go to the park where the public restrooms were located.  The park was full for Chinese people of all ages.  The children were running around chasing each other.  The older people were playing cards and some other traditional games.  Some kids were sneaking up behind pigeons and throwing snappers at them.  Of course, I jumped everytime one hit the ground.

I talked Rich into getting a good luck cat for his bar.  He agreed and we went off in search of some place to buy one.  This is one of those cats in Chinese restaurants that waves its paw, like a ticking clock.  He found a squat, fat, white cat that was a little different from the normal ones you see.  I guess if it’s right paw is waving, it is for the home and the left paw is for a business.

Time to start back to the hotel.  Unfortunately, Rich had a headache.  Probably from all of the wine he had to drink the night before with Larry and Fran.  Looking at the map, we determined that taking the diagonal street would get us to Mason Street faster.  Turns out, the diagonal street also had no hills on it.  We passed Lombard Street again and could see the part of the street that had the switchbacks.  There were a line of cars driving down from the top.

At the hotel, we got our key and loaded up our stuff to take upstairs.  Finding a home for everything for the next two days, Rich and Rick decided to rest a while.  I sat down to start this blog.  We’ll have to go out later for dinner and look around some more.

Sorry, no pictures of the naked guy, but we take pictures of some other sites.

Rich and I doing a double Rose pose with Alcatraz in the background.
Standing on the top deck of Pier 39, you can see all of the sea lions on their floating piers and the tourists.
Everyone lines up to drive down the switchbacks at the top of Lombard Street.
You can ride one of the Rocket boats that zooms around the bay, for a price.

Vacation Day 5: Onward to Lake Tahoe

Rich reminded me that he woke up this morning.  It was going to be a good day.

This morning, we started off on another leg of the adventure called the Zurek Family Vacation.  Today, we were heading into Lake Tahoe to look around and then to Placerville for a visit with Rich’s Aunt Fran and Uncle Larry at their house.

From Winnemucca into Reno, it was pretty much still high desert.  I didn’t see any tumble weeds, but you still got the sense they were out there waiting to roll across the highway. We stopped at a rest area by the Truckee River and read the signs.  Did I mention that we were following the California trail here?

Highway 80 at this point is just about on top of the old California trail taken by many emigrants from across the U.S. I could see how desolate the landscape was, but I didn’t think about the water sources out here.  There was a white substance lying in large pool shapes in the desert.  We thought it was salt at first.  This substance mixed with the water making it a very alkaline combination.  They went weeks without fresh water, until they got to the location where the rest area was. 

Rich decided that he wanted to see Lake Tahoe.  We were here and it wouldn’t take us any longer than going the highway.  We took 50 out of Reno down to Carson City.  From here, we climbed a very tall mountain.  I think we finally got to 7,500 feet in elevation, but no snow.  Of course for every action, there is a reaction.  This meant that we had to go down and it was one long hill! 

On the way back down, we came over a hill and around a curve.  There was Lake Tahoe stretching out before us.  It was so much larger than I expected.  It was huge.  We stopped at a marina to take pictures.  The water was cold since it is fed from high mountain runoff.

We continued around the south side of the lake to the Visitor’s Center.  We walked into the building to discover it was all the way in the basement. So down all of those stairs.  The room was large with a bear painted in blue and a lot of names written all over him.  Dan came from behind the desk to welcome us.  Come to find out, he was from Niles, IL! 

We have this strange thing that happens to us.  Wherever we go in the U.S., we always find someone from Illinois.  Dan knew exactly where McHenry was.  We talked about Chicago, the weather, and how he came to be in California.  Last year, we were hiking in Bandolier National Park in New Mexico with a lady who grew up in Carpentersville and another couple originally from Aurora who lived in Albuquerque.

Dan told us about a good spot to get to the lake and see some history on the lake.  We said good-bye and headed around the lake to Camp Richardson.  There stood the Baldwin house and the Pope house.  Not really mansions, but very nice summer cottages with their own estates and outbuildings for the help. We were able to get right down to the water on a sandy beach that was dark brown underneath and golden sand on top.  Really cool to look at. 

Of course, I found a couple of labs on the beach and talked to their owner.  The dogs were wet from swimming in the lake for their afternoon exercise.  But I got to pet a dog.  I miss Sascha.

After hiking around and looking at the estates, it was time for lunch.  We had seen an interesting place on the way in, so we made our way back to it.  We pulled into the Burger Lounge.  The parking lot was full at 1:30, which is a really good sign. 

Inside, we had to choose our burger and side.  I went for the Just in a Jiffy burger.  This came with bacon, cheddar cheese, and peanut butter.  Yeah, peanut butter.  Rick got the Smokehouse with bacon and cheddar cheese.  Rich got the Hangover Helper, which came with an egg on top.  The guys split a basket of garlic fries. 

Sarah S., the other Zurek sister, had told us about having a peanut butter burger, so I thought I would try it.  It was great.  The guys enjoyed the garlic fries, but I think there was more garlic than they were prepared for.  Jon Zurek would have loved it. We had a really great lunch sitting outside.  Yep, Rich finally ate al fresco.

Time to head on down the mountain to our stop for the night.  It was a ride, too!  We went from 6,000 feet to about 2,000 feet, which was all curves and 6% grade. I can now say I’ve driven the Sierra Nevadas.  It was exciting.  But then, I love hills and curves.

After getting settled in our hotel, we headed over to Aunt Fran’s.  Now this was also adventure.  The roads getting back to their house were narrow, curvy, and went almost straight uphill.  Their house hangs on a hillside and is the only one on that hill.  It’s like being in a treehouse looking out over the tree tops around you. We found it alright after driving very carefully.

Aunt Fran had prepared chicken alfredo, fresh bread and salad.  It was delicious.  We talked and talked.  The guys took a walk around the property with Uncle Larry.  I stayed behind since I have trouble with inclines.  Bear, the dog, and I had a good conversation and waited for them to return.

Aunt Fran is an artist and she took some time to show Rick some of her work and her studio.  She does some beautiful work.  Rich enough found one that he really liked.  Wonder if Aunt Fran would sell one of her pieces? 

Uncle Larry took the guys through is winery in the garage.  Rich said the tasting was very good and stuff that he would think about drinking.  Good think we don’t live close by.

We said good night to Aunt Fran and Uncle Larry and crawled back down the hills to our hotel.  Rick had a night time swim while I did some laundry for the days ahead.  As typical, the hotel dryers always take longer than you want them to.

We had a really good.  This is what vacations are about!

Our first good view of Lake Tahoe from the marina.
That's me with the I want to be a birdy bear in the Visitor's Center.
Rick was too tall to climb into this old fashion lodge. He had to settle for a manly pose outside.
Rich and Joy outside of the Burger Lounge. Rich made a halfhearted attempt at a Rose pose. Must have been the garlic fries.

Vacation Day 4: What season is this?

Today started out cold yet again.  Isn’t this supposed to be summer?  Listening to the weather on TV, the western part of the U.S. was experiencing temperature 30 degrees below normal.  You would know this would happen on my vacation.  And it was upper 80s and 90s back in Chicago!

We left Park City this morning on our way through Salt Lake City.  The town has grown since I had come through here in the mid 1990s.  And they have had several other changes in their attitudes.  In the 90s, we tried to watch TV, but it was heavily censored.  Screens were blacked out when content was inappropriate.  There were limited channels.  Beer was limited in alcohol content and quantity that you could buy.  Now, there were more than 25 different religious channels and there were no limits on beer.

Our visit stop today was to the Great Salt Lake.  We rounded the southern edge of the lake until we found the Salt Lake Marina.  We could drive to the lake and got out to take pictures.  A couple were having their engagement pictures taken out there.  Then a set of Japanese tourists arrived.  We walked around and took pictures.  Rich told us about Antelope Island that we could make out through the fog.  The guys had to taste the water to be sure that it was salty, and it was. 

The drive from the lake out to the Nevada state line was rainy.  It was like driving on one very long causeway.  There was water and salt flats on the left, right, and in the middle the entire way. 

At Wendover, we were looking for the Bonnieville Salt Flats where they do all of the speed racing over the flats.  There was the Bonnieville Salt Flats park.  There were signs for the Bonnieville Speedway.  So we stopped at a gas station to ask for directions.  The man said to go to the end of the road we were on, but not to drive on the flats because the rain had made them soft. 

Good, we had found the flats!  We drove the 5 or so miles out to the flats.  We parked.  I had Rick take my pictures with the sign.  No Rose pose this time.  I did my best Vanna White though.  It was amazing.  It was miles and miles of white salt.  The salt around the road had hardened into a type of concrete. 

While we were standing around taking pictures, a group of Mustang convertibles started arriving.  They turned and backed onto the salt flats.  There were probably 20 cars.  The first guy jumped out in shorts and a tank top.  He was waving his hands and shouting something about having arrived.  He asked where we were from.  We explained from northwest of Chicago.  He was amazed and said they would be there next week.

Turns out, these people were visiting New Zealanders on tour from California over Route 66 to Chicago.  They called themselves Kiwis on Tour. When we left, they were kissing the salted ground and taking turns driving their Mustangs out on the salt they could get to and saying they drove on Bonnieville. 

Going out of Wendover, we began to climb into the moutains to get over the Silver Mountain range into Nevada.   At about 6,000 feet, it began to snow!  It was a  little snow either, it was flying and pretty white conditions.  I had Rick take a picture out of the window.  We had snow until we got out of the mountains and still had some off and on at the lower elevations.

It rained and stormed almost the entire way to Winnemucca, our next stop.  At one point, the clouds seem to fall down from the sky to touch the ground.  It was a very eerie feeling. At least there were no tornadoes.

In Elko, we stopped for lunch.  Once again, the place we chose to eat was closed.  We’ve had that kind of luck on this trip.  We have a Basque-American diner.  The food was OK, but I didn’t see anything special that made it Basque.  I guess the Basque came from Spain to look for gold.  After finding nothing, they looked around and liked the land.  It reminded them of home and they went back to sheep herding.

Arriving in Winnemucca, we found out that the town was hosting a motorcycle rally.  Not too many bikes, but some part of town were closed off for them.  I think I counted 6 individual casinos.  I forgot that Nevada has major gambling.  Even the restaurants have slot machines in them. 

We decided to go to the BBQ place down the street from the hotel, The Pig.  It was really good.  I had the pulled pork, Rick got the BBQ chicken sandwich, and Rich went for the Smokehouse platter with pork, beef, and chicken.  The only problem was the beer.  The selection was OK, but Rich found something to go with dinner.

Tonight, we settled in.  I realized I didn’t have Fran’s number to call her to arrange our meeting tomorrow.  I guess I’ll have to do that as we drive down tomorrow.

Most of the pictures exceed the upload limit here.  Only a couple of pictures from our day.


My Rose pose at the Great Salt Lake.
This is snow at 6,000 feet in the mountains. At the end of May on my vacation?


Vacation Day 3: WTFwith the WiFi?

Sorry about not getting my post for Day 3 up.  The hotel in Park City, UT had a horrible connection.  Rich got his newspaper loaded on his Nook by standing in the doorway of the bathroom!  It’s hard to image someone having a WiFi that only has one bar of strength.

Leaving Cheyenne was cold and damp.  I made Rick start us out of town.  Just outside of town, there was a dense fog that limited visibility quite a bit.  Don’t pity Rick.  He needed this kind of experience and we were with him to help with info.  The traffic was light, so it wasn’t so bad.  Just a few big trucks.  I explained that this type of fog is where the pea soup description came from. 

I have a new rule to add to my Rules for Travel list:

* Rick is always a passenger, until I make him drive.

Rick doesn’t like to drive.  He says it’s just with us because we make too many comments on his driving.  Boy, he should never get married then! 

Driving through Wyoming was uneventful.  The land is pretty much high desert with lots of scrub.  You see cattle now and then, but not as often as I thought.  Isn’t Wyoming known for their beef production? 

We stopped for a rest area and discovered the remains of an old fort there.  Rich loves these types of forts.  So we just had to go and check it out.  We pulled up to Fort Steele and got out to look around.  A man on an ATV came roaring up with brochures and info.  I love this about these sites.  Someone lives on site and greets the visitors who come out.  He assured us that the wigglies weren’t coming out today since it was so cool.  By that, he meant the rattlesnakes. 

In the west, there is a cool job that retired people do at these sites.  They come out in their travel homes and live on site.  The organization behind the site pays for water, gas, and other utilities.  So you get a free place to live and you just have to say Hi and explain the site to the few people who come out.  Not bad.

We did the self guided tour of the remains and walked over the fort grounds.  Not much is left, just some chimneys and part of an old corral.  The schoolhouse built after that time was standing.  The quartermaster had been rebuilt, but was locked.  We took some pictures and even got some of the train going over the trestle right by the site. 

We made it toward the Utah border and realized this would be the best route to reach Flaming Gorge and Dinosaur National Park.  I’ve wanted to go there, but could never work it into a vacation because of it’s location.

Our stop for the night was in Park City, UT.  My friend, Kim, has spent time there and highly recommended it.  I found a hotel and a brewpub, so it seemed like a great place to stop.  We got into town at a good time and settled in.  We prepared our appetites and headed out to Squatter’s Grille and Pub. 

Their beer list was adequate.  Rich had an IPA to start. It had a nice flavor and fit the description well.  I ordered the Polygamy Porter, but was disappointed that it didn’t have enough flavor on the end of the taste.  They were drinkable though.  Unfortunately for Rick, they were all of root beer.  He had to go with a Coke.

I ordered the Chicken Chimachanga, which came with a green chile sauce and spice guacamole.  Rich had the lamb shank while Rick had a BBQ chicken pizza.  The Rich tried the Brewer’s special, a pale ale called Apollo 13.  We purposely left room for dessert.  One order of bread pudding and one order of Peanut Butter Chocolate pie, please.  The pudding was more of a souffle than bread, but it was tasty.  The pie was awesome and none of us could stop eating it.

Yes, we did the Rose pose in front of the building before going in to eat.

I had noticed a trailhead on our way to the brewpub.  We decided to stop and see where the trails ran.  We found a short trail (1.5 miles) to McLeod Creek that would help us walk off dinner and dessert.  The atmosphere was alpine meadow, but with a busy road in the middle of it.  We walked down to the creek and admired the sculptures placed along the path.  One set were musical instruments that Rick played a tune on.

We got down to the wooden bridge and turned to walk back.  I realized that the walk back would have a slight upward incline.  Oh my gosh, the back of my legs were aching at the end.  So it was 1.5 miles down there and 1.5 to come back.  I did my first hike!  A whole 3 miles!

Getting back to the hotel, Rick and I went down to the pool and hot tub.  The pool was warm enough for me to swim around a bit.  Then we transferred to the warm, warm water of the spa.  Ah!  So much for aching muscles. 

We returned to our room, showered, and settled in for the evening.  Since there was no WiFi to be had, I settled for TV.  I just had to ignore the young child running in the room overhead.

On to Day 4 and Nevada.


Our morning start was very foggy. Rick got to drive it, which was good experience.











Alpine valley in Park City, UT.
We attempted a synchronized Rose pose in front of Squatters before dinner.
Rick played a tune on the bells while we hiked McLeod Creek trail after dinner.

Vacation Day 2: Long and Winding Road

Day 2 is another driving adventure.  We drove from Council Bluffs, IA to Cheyenne, WY.  On Wednesday, the temperature was 92.  Today, we never hit 70!  I hope it gets better.

I forgot to mention that Rick continually searches for great root beer.  As Rich is tasting beers at brewpubs across the west, Rick is tasting root beers.  Brewpubs not only brew beers, but they also brew their own root beers.  Yesterday, Rick tasted the Bugeater root beer at Upstream Brewery.  He declared it one of the best he has had, but the label was the best.  It was a preteen age boy with bug eyes and a butterfly net.  Rick searches on for great root beer on this trip.

I wanted to say that nothing exciting happened today.  Rich corrected me on that though.  He says it was a plus that he woke up today.  I think so too.

Driving across Nebraska, you cross the Platte River about 600 times.  It has different names at different places, but it’s still the Platte River.  The exciting thing was all of the swallows flying over and around the river.  I wondered what bugs they were eating.  We stopped in North Platte (the town) for lunch.  I could see quite clearly that they were eating a ton of grasshoppers!  Keeping the next plague in check.

Rich says the other exciting thing to happen was his free coffee.  We stopped for gas before leaving Iowa and went in to get coffee for the drive.  There was coffee in the container, but the attendant was afraid it wasn’t hot enough.  It was fine with me, but Rich thought it was cold.  The poor guy quickly made more coffee for Rich.  But when we got to the register, he didn’t charge us for Rich’s cup because it wasn’t right the first time!

We stopped at one rest area for a break.  There was a lake behind the visitor’s center with a kinetic sculpture floating just off shore.  It moves and expands with the wind and contracts when there is little or no wind.  Today, there was a mild breeze, so it was tightly compacted.  I can’t image what it looked like yesterday with 35 mph gusts!

As we got ino Wyoming, we could see a storm just south of the highway.  It was raining, looked really dark, and threatening.  It’s amazing how far you can see out here.  At one rest area, I walked out to take pictures of the storm.  It just looked so near, but yet so far away.

We arrived early in Cheyenne, which gave us a chance to relax.  I logged into email to look around.  I know, I know.  I’m on vacation.  I guess I just don’t completely disconnect, but I still enjoy my time off.  Then I don’t feel totally disconnected when I return.

For dinner, we found the Shadows Brewing Company housed in the old train station in downtown Cheyenne.  It was beautiful inside and the brewing equipment was the center piece of the station.  We got seated and ordered drinks.  Rick got his root beer.  Rich started with an IPA (I don’t remember the name).  It had a strange flavor to it.  Not the best drinking beer.  I ordered the Buffalo Brown Ale, which had a slightly sweet flavor with a deep background that hung in your mouth.

For dinner, I had the beef brisket with cole slaw and sweet potato fries.  It came with a brown sugar sauce for the fries that was heavenly.  The brisket was so good.  Rich had the sirloin steak.  He enjoyed it a great deal.  Rick got a simple meatball sandwich since he claimed not to be all that hungry.   Rich ordered the amber ale as his dessert beer, which turned out to be very good.

So now is time to post pictures and settle in for the night.  I could use a good night’s sleep.  Tomorrow, we’re off to Park City, Utah.

Kinetic sculpture on the lake behind a visitor's center in Nebraska.I love reading the signs at rest stops. This explained the Great Plains that we were about to drive into.
Tried to get a picture of this storm going on just south of the highway. It was sunny on the highway.
Rich and I created a double Rose pose at the Shadows Brew Company in Cheyenne before going in for dinner.

Vacation Day 1: A Humbling Beginning

Family vacation is here again. After my blogging for the Memphis getaway in January, my Zurek sisters have applied the pressure for me to blog this entire vacation.  Since I now have more than 5 total readers, I should probably attempt to share some of the highlights of our day as we travel, explore, and have adventures.

Our first adventure was taking Sascha to Dominoe Kennel for her vacation.  As we were driving out of the neighborhood, a squirrel went across the the road in front of us.  Before we could stop her, she dove into the windshield.  I believe she really thought she could get him.  Last night, Rich and I took Sascha for a walk around the neighborhood.  While walking beside the channel, a deer came out of nowhere and ran along side of us.  Sascha pulled at the lead, barking, and jumping.  Her favorite things seem to be fuzzy and very fast.

Sascha is extremely friendly and social.  She doesn’t know a stranger.  As we talked to Mr. Murray about the details of Sascha’s stay, one of the young ladies came from the back to gather Sascha up and take to her digs in the kennel.  Sascha gave her a husky hug before I could stop her.  The young lady told me she remembered Sascha.  Apparently, Sascha remembered her too.  Then she told me that she has a picture of Sascha on her phone because Sascha was so beautiful and friendly. Is that some sort of cyberstalking?  Sascha’s only been there twice.  They really love the animals there.

After packing the car, we headed to Crystal Lake for breakfast.  After getting well fed, we headed out to catch 88 into Iowa.  We crossed the Mississippi with good weather and traffic.  After that, we ran into some issues with drag racing semi trucks.  That’s what Rich calls it when one semi tries to pass another, but doesn’t quite have the speed advantage to do it in a timely manner.  It took about 15 minutes for this one truck to finally get by and open up the left lane again!

Just after getting on 80, we stopped for our first full rest and to get gas.  I just had to stop at the World’s Largest Truck Stop in Walcott, IA.  It’s big, but I’m not really sure that it qualifies as the largest.  We lost Rich for a while, but found out he had left the building and gone to the car!  Before leaving, I just had to practice my Rose pose with the sign for the truck stop in the background.  So, how did I do Rose?  (see photo below)

Did I explain the rules for driving on a Zurek family vacation?  We’ve had to develop some basic things to prevent arguments, preserve sanity, and just draw the line somewhere.  Here is a list of some rules:

  • Driver rules.  Whoever is driving makes the rules.
  • Driver gets to pick the radio station.
  • Once the temperature hits 84, the AC comes on. No questions asked.
  • When Mom drives, the driver’s window is down (unless the previous rule applies).
  • Dad is always the co-pilot, unless he is the pilot.
  • Headsets are required for any music played that is not on the radio station dictated by the driver.

While driving through Iowa, we passed this massive, metal I beam that was just incredibly huge.  Rich made a pit stop and there was another huge one.  I just had to take a picture of it to show what we were sharing the road with.

Some odds and ends facts:

  • In Grinnel, IA, the first intercollegiate football game was held between Grinnel College and the University of Iowa.  This game was held in 1899.
  • Most of the cars in Iowa have Illinois plates.  When do they stop? 
  • Amana Colonies have sold out to tourism.  There is now a waterpark there called Wasserbahn.

We were talking about our various vacations.  I have always thought I should have a tour agency and call it Zurek Family Vacations.  I do all the work and you go out and enjoy the vacation.  I arrange the dates, places, hotels, choices of restaurants, and activities.

Rich mentioned that next year is the annual 10 year return to Yellowstone.  We went there for our honeymoon in 1993.  We returned in 2003 with several of our friends in tow.  Do I really want to return to Yellowstone again?  I had thought about the Smokies and Outer Banks next year.  Anyone want to go to Yellowstone with us next year?  Remember, I camp when I go there.

We got to our hotel for the evening in Council Bluffs, IA.  It’s a nice Holiday Inn Express.  We were disappointed to find out that someone took a baby into the pool and it had defecated.  The pool and hot tub are currently closed by order of the Health Department until further notice. No pool time for Rick tonight.

We decided to try a brewpub in Omaha for dinner.  Omaha is just across the Missouri River from Council Bluffs.  It’s like I just couldn’t make the decision to leave Iowa yet.  We found our way across the river and into the downtown area.  Wow!  This part of town is hopping.  It was Wednesday and it was packed.  All of the old warehouses, firehouses, and downtown buildings are filled with restaurants, stores, and art galleries.  It was amazing.  And there was no parking to be had.  We finally got into a parking structure and walked out to the street.

Upstream Brewing Company is housed in the original firehouse that serviced downtown Omaha.  The brick is gorgeous.  The wood is old and well worn on the floors and doorways.  We got seated right away and Rich ordered his first beer.  He settled for the Flagship IPA since the cask conditioned version was not available due to faulty equipment.  We ordered artichoke and cheese dip, which arrived very quickly.  It was served with warm artisan honey wheat bread that was soft and chewy.  Rich got the Omaha 12 oz steak, Rick got a hickory burger with bacon, and I ordered the pork fritter with gouda cheese and beer soup. 

There was a second round of beer with the porter.  Now this is one of my favorite types of beers, but I was driving.  A sip was all I could have.  It was so roasted and toasted and tasty!  I so wanted one, but that would mean Rick would drive back.  He was not happy about that.  No room for dessert though.  Too bad, because it looked great, too.

Storms were coming in, so we didn’t get a chance to explore any further.  We did see a human powered bar rolling through town.  This is one of those 10-20 people circular bikes where everyone is pedaling to make it move forward.  It just needed some neon lights. 

We got back across the river and managed to wind our way through all of the casinos in the area.  Who knew there were so many Indians!  Oh yeah, and there is a greyhound track.  We got back and settled in. 

As the guys are going to sleep, I’m still writing this blog and getting ready to post pictures from today.  More to come with the drive tomorrow to Cheyenne, WY.  We disagreed about it’s capital status, until we checked the map.  Reference materials are always good to have.


Joy in front of the World's Largest Truck Stop sign in Walcott, IA. How's the pose, Rose?
This is one of those I beams we saw going down the road in IA. One was at the rest stop in Grinnel. Just had to snap a picture of it.


Another Milestone Complete

Last night, Rick graduated from high school.  There were times when we wondered if this day would come.  But for all the struggles with homework, Rick has been a fair student.  He loves to go to school, so getting him up and out of the house was no problem. Just doing the homework was quite the struggle. 

Gotta say, the kid is smart enough.  He can pass a test and pull out the grade.  Just seems easier to do all the work and make sure you have an A or B.  Not that he worried much about it.  Now a big sigh.  We are done with that part.

Rick has decided to go on to college.  But do you really get a choice these days?  Everyone wants the piece of paper.  He really wants to do Graphic Design and that is where his talents lie.  His plan is to get a minor in Computer Science and put the programming with the design.  I hope that makes him marketable in the real world of jobs.  Either way, he needs to go out and do what makes him happy.  After all, it’s not really about the money if you don’t like what you are doing. 

So the first two years, he will go to McHenry Community College.  That’s the local college here.  I figure the first two years I can pay for here.  Then he plans to transfer to Northen Illinois University in DeKalb, IL.  This is about an hour from our house.  We visited there last October and he really liked the campus. 

From there, I hope he finds something he likes to do and can take it on like he means it.  Not all jobs are great when you start out and you have to take things just to figure out what you want to do.  If it includes some creative and artistic, I think he’ll do just fine.

Since we had a couple of extra tickets, Barb and her daughter, Gracie, came out to watch Rick graduate.  Barb, Rich, and I all worked together in the early 90s and we’ve stayed friends.  Our kids have grown up together.  Gracie graduates in 2 years.  Thanks for joining us, Barb and Gracie.

So pictures from last night.  We sat at the top of the bleachers just so we could see.  The camera allowed me to get some fairly good photos and then I photochopped them. 

Mr. Being Cool in the parking lot.Hanging out at school one last time
Rick and his 8 bit tieLast for the last time in this class.
Topher leading the color guard.Getting his diploma from the superintendent.
Rounding the crowd to head back to his chair.