Cabin in the Woods

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 cabin living room with wood stove (there's also a wall heater)

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.

Breakfast in the cabin

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.

A Trip to the Coast

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.

I call this "Heather versus the ocean"

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.

2016 Family Adventure - Part 8: Returning Home

On Friday, October 21st, Heather helped Grandma make sugar cookies and we went over to Dinosaur State Park and sifted out some fossils and rocks in the sluice.

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On the 22nd we had a farewell lunch at Dairy Queen:

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On our trip back, during our layover in Chicago, the weather was clear and we went up in to the Willis Tower.  Up to the 103rd floor to go stand out in a box of glass:

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Then a couple more days on the train:

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Heather woke up early 25th in desperate need of something to read.  So she read the passenger safety card:

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As we prepared to arrive back in Martinez we ventured out to the observation car, which was oddly deserted at this time.  I guess not many people take the train into Emeryville since the observation car is usually packed.

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And with that, our trip was over.  We loaded back up in the van and drove home.2016-connecticut-travel-map

2016 Family Adventure - Part 7: Castle Craig

Okay, let's clear this up immediately, "Castle" Craig is a lie.  It should be "Tower Craig" or something, but I didn't name it.  It's a little tower built up on the side of a mountain in Meriden, CT.  But it has a great view and we got nice colors from the leaves.  I don't have much else to say about it, but it makes me miss New England.  I mean, just look a these pictures!  Trees!  Everywhere!  They just grow all on their own without being carefully tended and watered!

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Just pretend that guy in the red shirt isn't there...2016-10-20_12-28-01 2016-10-20_12-30-38 2016-10-20_12-31-23 2016-10-20_12-46-24

After visiting the "castle" we had pizza at a local pizzeria before heading back to Cromwell.

2016 Family Adventure - Part 6: Newport, RI

On October 19 Mom agreed to watch the girls and Jess and I went to Newport, RI to see the "summer cottages" of the Gilded Age.  When we got to town we first stopped for some lunch at the Brick Alley Pub & Restaurant.  After lunch, while walking back to the car to drive to the mansions we walked by a little art gallery and popped in.  We really liked some of the pieces and the prices seemed reasonable for actual oil paintings, so we decided to buy a few and have them shipped home.

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The big one is about 40"x30" as framed.  The little ones are about 15"x13" as framed.

Despite the proprietor's claim, I'm pretty sure they're not local-artist works, but instead probably come from somewhere like Dafen Village in China which mass produces oil paintings.  We like them regardless.

Then we were off to the Breakers, built by the Vanderbilts.  Ostentatious is probably an understatement.  Every light fixture is wired for electrical and plumbed for gas.  Materials were imported from around the world so that every surface is just perfect.  The extravagance rivals the Palace of Versailles (though on a much smaller scale, Versailles is about six times larger).

The great hall: 2016-10-19_14-17-06

The dining room, I believe:2016-10-19_14-21-28 2016-10-19_14-22-59

Some unidentified room: 2016-10-19_14-34-16

The kitchen, naturally: 2016-10-19_15-05-32

The front of the house: 2016-10-19_15-12-23

After the Breakers we headed over to the Elms for their Servant Life Tour.  I believe this tour was developed in response to the popularity of Downton Abbey with lots of people suddenly wanting to know more about how the servants lived in these mansions.

We went through the servants' quarters upstairs, which are actually fairly large.  Then out on the roof before going down to the kitchen, storage areas, mechanical rooms, etc.

Outside before the tour, because who doesn't want a sphinx to greet their visitors? 2016-10-19_15-22-02 2016-10-19_15-25-06

The view from the roof (up on a platform to see over the wall that hides the servants' quarters from view):2016-10-19_16-08-36

The coal dump:2016-10-19_16-23-23

Every house should have an underground coal delivery rail system:2016-10-19_16-24-23

Jess posing with the pastry chef:2016-10-19_16-33-33

The back of the house that overlooks the rest of the property:2016-10-19_16-41-31

After the Elms we grabbed a quick bite to eat at Panera and headed on back to Cromwell.