Lick Observatory is a University of California observatory nearby us on the mountains above San Jose.
After Thanksgiving we tried to drive out to the observatory. Despite countermeasures, carsickness killed the trip about a fifth of the way there. After Christmas we tried again, but instead of driving the mountain road all the way from Livermore we drove the highway route around in to San Jose and then up the shorter mountain road. This time we made it.
Corinne was a demon in the visitor's center and had to be taken outside. She did manage to stay quiet on the Lick Refractor tour for about 10 minutes before she had to be taken out.
The Lick Refractor is mostly a historical relic. They use it for tours, public viewing nights, and training students.
This is the same road at the top and bottom of the picture. The biker went across the bottom just a minute or so before taking that switch back. That's the kind of driving you have to do to visit the observatory.
The haze was settled in to the valleys and I thought the way the ridges stacked up looked pretty neat, but I don't think my pictures do it justice.
Heather had a Holiday Concert for school on the 18th. She had a blast. The program was all 4 kindergarten classes at her school so the multi-purpose room was packed. Luckily she's a head taller than most of the other kids in her class so I was still able to get a couple pictures of her through the crowd.
Then it was quickly in to Christmas Eve with our own little "program." Heather read us "Santa from Cincinnati":
After the program the girls opened their presents for each other:
Corinne fell asleep clutching the trowel from the garden tool set. Heather woke up at no-one-knows-but-possibly-2-something and colored in about 3 feet of her 10-foot space coloring roll.
After bed Santa arrived bringing a fully edible dig site for Heather:
And in the very early morning we snapped an obligatory don't-move-yet shot:
You'll notice it is still dark outside. Heather had been up possibly since as yearly as 2-something, but no later than 4. Corinne was up starting at 4:30. We held them off until 6:30, but couldn't keep them contained any longer.
Corinne got a chair in her favorite color:
Heather was a super helper handing out gifts from under the tree.
Corinne is enamored of this plane.
Jess is pleased with her yarn bowls (from different parties she, luckily, received a large one and a small one--so she can use both).
After a brief break for some much-needed breakfast, the sun had risen, and the unwrapping was complete. Now, nap time.
Last weekend we spent a few nights in a cabin in Calaveras Big Trees State Park. We drove up on Thursday (Heather had no school on Friday) and stayed until Sunday.
Our confirmation email said to arrive by 5pm. We pulled up about 4:45pm to find the entrance kiosk closed up and the park just about empty. As we considered what to do next we saw a park employee locking up the visitor center so I quickly went over to her to see if she could help us. She didn't have access to the kiosk where the cabin keys are kept, but stuck with us to help us out.
She went to check around the kiosk to see if the person who was supposed to still be there had left any information available and sent us to go look for the park ranger. We never found the ranger, but ran across another employee closing up for the day who also joined our party. He tried to raise the ranger on the radio without any success. The girls danced about in the rain and we ate apple-cider donuts we had picked up on the way while both employees tried to come up with a good next step.
Diane, the first employee we had found, decided to take us up to the cabin to see if it had been left unlocked for us which would have been the standard procedure for late check-ins.
The cabin was not unlocked.
Diane's cell phone didn't get any signal out there, but mine had enough to make a spotty call. So I let Diane use it to start calling numbers in her contact list to figure out who she could get to show up who would be able to get us in to the cabin.
While she did that we poked around the area. Next to the cabin was a storage shed. With nothing better to do I checked the door on the storage shed and found it unlocked. It was full of firewood, repair materials, and cleaning supplies. The cleaning supplies made me suspicious that it just might be possible there would be cabin keys around for whomever would do the cleaning.
Looking around on shelves, along wall studs, and behind electrical cords I hit the jackpot and found a ring of keys. One labeled for each cabin--except ours. But! There was 1 unlabeled key! Up the steps to the cabin door, key in the lock, and woohoo--the key turned--and we were in.
Diane apologized profusely throughout this process for the inconvenience (though accommodations was not her responsibility).
We brought in all of our stuff, turned the heat up, and then took off to town to grab a quick dinner. I think it had been about an hour and a half from when we arrived until we managed to get in to the cabin. There are 4 cabins together there that used to be used for rangers to live in (I believe). They could use a little work, but they're decent overall. Larger than we expected, big enough you could live an extended period of time there fairly comfortably. It had 2 bedrooms (one with 2 twin beds, the other with a queen bed), a living area, a kitchen, a mudroom, and a bunch of closet space.
The next day we went back to the park entrance to get our actual key and saw Diane again. We had been the talk of the park that morning when the employees arrived. I got the impression that the employee who was supposed to be at the kiosk had left early without permission and was now in a fair bit of trouble for leaving us in the lurch.
Anyway, that's the end of the drama regarding accessing the cabin. The ranger eventually stopped by to also apologize for our trouble and that he hadn't been available to help.
On Friday we drove down to the South Grove and hiked about a mile in before turning around to hike back out--without ever having reached any of the sequoias. At the beginning the trail crossed over a creek and I stopped to take some pictures.
We cooked dinner in the cabin and then had a campfire for s'mores.
On Saturday we headed out to Moaning Cavern. Heather does not like caves. They make her very anxious. Moaning Cavern involves climbing down 235 steps (and back up, of course). Many of the steps are around this ~100-year-old spiral staircase:
I carried Corinne all the way down and almost all the way back up. After we finished climbing the spiral staircase she wanted to get down, so I let her climb up the remaining wood steps herself.
After the cavern we grabbed lunch at a local pizza place, which I thought was pretty good. Then we headed off to find the Sutter Creek Ice Cream Emporium. Along the way we ran across a glass-blowing shop with lots of neat, but very expensive art pieces. We did not buy anything, but the girls enjoyed feeding the two chickens that live in the shop. The dog took one look at us when we came in and wisely disappeared.
After dark that night I sent Heather out into the field with a flashlight to play with long shutter times on the camera:
On Sunday we packed up and walked the North Grove trail to actually see some sequoias before heading home.
I enjoyed the quiet of the cabin (as quiet as you can get with the 2 nutters jabbering constantly anyway). There's no TV, no Internet, no phone, and just about no people. It was nice.
Heather's last day of school was Thursday, so I decided to take Friday off from work so we could go on an adventure for my birthday, which sounded much more fun than work.
We went up to the Lindsay Wildlife Experience in Walnut Creek. They have a wild animal hospital and outreach program and provide homes for animals that can't be released back into the wild due to injury. They have a roadrunner with bad eyesight, a peregrine falcon that can't fly, and a barn owl with a bum wing (as well as many other critters, particularly raptors). It's a bit of an island-of-the-misfit-toys kind of place.
Unfortunately, after getting the camera all prepped and ready, I left it on the couch, so the only pictures we have are phone pictures, which aren't nearly as nice.
Despite lack of quality pictures, the trip was great. The birds were really cool to see so up close. We watched a flight demonstration by the barn owl (with the bum wing). We had lunch in the park. We'll have to go back again sometime.
Due to the timing of the trip and a very late lunch (and Heather and Corinne were exhausted from the excitement) we postponed birthday dinner until the next day. So we went home and got some quick food into the girls and had cake and opened presents. It was a good day.
We took an extended-weekend trip out to the northern California coast last weekend. We left Wednesday afternoon (April 5) and headed out to the Red Lion Hotel in Eureka. We got in a little late so it was straight to bed the first night.
On Thursday we headed out to the Elk River Trailhead & Old Town of Falk Walking Tour to take the ~2 mile round-trip path out to what I was led to believe was a ghost town. But, at least as far as we could see from the trail, there really isn't anything to see left of the old logging town. You can see some of the remnants of the old caretaker's house from the 1970's, but that's about it.
Though the goal of the hike was a bit of a letdown, I really liked the quiet of walking through the redwood forest with mostly nobody else around.
After our hike we headed to the Loleta Cheese Factory (not to be confused with the Cheesecake Factory restaurant). They had already completed their cheese production for the week so we didn't get to see any being made, but we had lunch at their grilled-cheese bar and then completed their garden scavenger hunt.
We bought some cheese to bring home and then headed back to the hotel. For dinner we walked across the street to the China Buffet. Corinne was happy to have a plate of green beans and honeydew.
On Friday we got up and headed out to the Samoa Cookhouse for breakfast. They claim to be the last operating cookhouse (from the logging days). They have a daily-changing, set, all-you-can-eat menu served at communal tables. We had pancakes, eggs, sausage, orange juice, and biscuits with gravy.
We needed to fill up for our drive up north. Our first stop was at Trees of Mystery and stereotypical tourist trap, but with the unique draw of gondola rides through the redwood forest. We were thwarted in this plan due to a power outage and the gondolas weren't running. So we kept on driving up to Crescent City to see the Battery Point Lighthouse.
The road up to Crescent City from Eureka (US 101) seems to have suffered some damage from California's rain this year. Several sections were down to one lane due to landslides, with construction going on to rebuild the lost roadways.
Here the stormy weather made for a much more interesting visit. You can see a wave crashing over the far side of the cliff upon which the lighthouse sits. It's an operating lighthouse with a 24/7 staff. Its cliff is an island during all but low-tide and when low-tide aligns with midday they offer tours.
We got there a little early for the tour, so we headed to the Apple Peddler for lunch where we narrowly avoided getting caught out in an impressive hailstorm. After lunch we headed back to the lighthouse for a tour.
The stormy sea made for some moody pictures I really like:
I would have taken more long exposure pictures of the waves, but I didn't bring my tripod, so I took a few by setting my glove down on some seaweed on a rock and putting the camera on that. This rather limited my subject options.
On the way back from Crescent City we tried Trees of Mystery again, but the power was still out. However, I snapped this picture from the parking lot.
Dinner was at Marcelli's Pizzeria.
Saturday morning we got up and had breakfast/lunch at Kristina's Restaurant before heading out to Trinidad State Beach. Our GPS unit doesn't understand where that is and attempted to kill us. It wanted me to drive down some steep, dark, dirt/mud, little one-lane road. I vetoed that option and Jess used her phone to find our way to actual beach access.
After the beach we ate at the Lighthouse Grill in Trinidad and then headed back in to Eureka to get dessert at Vampire Penguin (shaved snow sundaes).
On Sunday we packed up and headed on the road back towards home. We drove through Avenue of the Giants where I snapped this picture:
Then we stopped off at Chandelier Tree to see if I could squeeze the van through a tree. We managed to squeak through but not much room to spare.
Heather and Corinne desperately needed to get out of the van and run around for a bit, so we stayed at the tree for a little while. Heather explored the meadow and Corinne played with the gravel.
Then it was back in the van until we managed to find a Taco Bell for a quick dinner before pushing on home.