Our ten days in California began with three nights in Los Angeles visiting Charlie and Kevin, who had just moved there from Chicago and were still settling into their apartment in Marina del Rey. Sean and I were excited to see them in their new life.
Back in Chicago, we spent the morning of Friday, June 29 putting the final touches on prepping our apartment for our friends, Rick and Dale, who would be staying there on a little ten-day vacation from their home in Wisconsin.
At O’Hare Airport we had our traditional Tortas Frontera before our flight across the continent.
And what a flight it was! I was able to pick out the Illinois, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers before we crossed the Great Plains in earnest and reached the Rocky Mountains over Colorado, where we had quite a view of the massive Spring Creek Fire in the Sangre de Christo Mountains near Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Farther on, we flew over northern Arizona and saw iconic Monument Valley from above. On this flight path, I knew we were likely to get a view of Grand Canyon.
Sure enough, we spotted Lake Powell and the Vermillion Cliffs in the distance before we flew just south of the South Rim.
This time over the canyon, it was easy to spot North Rim locations we’d visited on the ground not quite two years earlier.
We could easily see the Transept. We’d camped right on its eastern edge.
And I was able to get a photo of Grand Canyon Lodge, perched on the canyon’s rim near Bright Angel Point, from 36,000 feet.
Farther along, we were high enough and positioned just right to get a sense of the canyon as a gash in the curved surface of the Earth.
We crossed the Mojave too far north to get a glimpse of Joshua Tree National Park before beginning our descent into LA.
We picked up our rental car, which turned out to be a small Cadillac SUV (good grief!) and drove over to Charlie and Kevin’s (stopping to pick up a housewarming gift at a nursery on the way).
The guys and their dog, Kelie, were settling in just fine. Charlie liked his firm’s LA office a lot, and Kevin, who had finished his student teaching in May, had just been hired for the fall as a middle school math teacher.
Charlie had come up with an array of options for our visit, so we chatted about final plans, which included hikes, exploring the neighborhoods, visiting Griffith Observatory, and lots of good food.
In the late afternoon, we walked over to Venice and explored the canals on our way to dinner.
We had rooftop drinks at Hotel Erwin and watched the sunset.
Then we walked to dinner at Salt Air and had a nightcap at Roosterfish.
Next morning, Saturday, June 30, Charlie and I spotted a dolphin from their balcony overlooking the marina.
After the others woke up, we drove back over to Venice, got takeout from Flake, and picked up some juice and unicorn tears at Moon Juice.
I made a quick pilgrimage to Groundwork Coffee (where I’d worked to set up my Out in the Parks business license two years earlier) up the street before we hopped back into the car and drove down to Rancho Palos Verdes to do some hiking at Portuguese Bend Reserve.
The trails descended a chaparral slope with views of the Pacific and Catalina Island.
We ended up doing a three-mile out and back, or rather a three-mile down and up since the parking area was at the top of the slope. On the way back up, little Kelie stopped and laid down every time shade crossed the trail.
Back at the top of the slope, we got a firsthand view of crazy big houses perched insanely on the edge of the slope. We could even see where previous slumping had eroded away part of the hillside.
Afterward, we drove down to Point Vicente Lighthouse.
Back in the car, Kelie was a pooped puppy, and she dozed against my leg in the backseat.
Her disco nap did her good, and by the time we arrived at the dog-friendly patio at La Playita in Hermosa Beach, Kelie was ready to receive all the attention deserved by a very sweet and adorable pup.
We rounded out our coast adventures with a stroll on the Hermosa Beach Pier and watched the surfers below.
Back in Marina del Rey, we relaxed and watched almost all of Bring It On before going to dinner. A water taxi services the marina, which we rode over to The Warehouse for terrible jazz and unironic wedge salads.
Next morning, Sunday, July 1, Charlie, Sean, and I drove over to the Santa Monica Farmers Market to procure items to grill that evening. We passed, foolishly, on an opportunity to buy a forty-five pound crate of grapefruit for only twenty dollars. Think of all the greyhounds we could have made!
After the farmers market, we dropped off the groceries, collected Kevin, and drove to Griffith Observatory.
The upper parking area was full, so signage instructed us to park down the hill at the Greek Theatre and then take the bus up to the observatory. We did, and the bus traveled one-hundred yards up the road when the bus driver stopped and told us that the route was closed because of an emergency.
Sure enough, fire trucks and ambulances went roaring past, and then we spotted the problem: a car had crashed through a fence and was suspended on the hillside above us.
We were allowed to continue on foot. As we passed the car, the circumstances of the crash were even more baffling and dramatic. How could this sedan have built up enough speed in the short distance down from the observatory to jump the curb and smash through a very solid fence?
Unfortunately, this image would haunt me on hairpin mountain roads for the remainder of the trip.
Griffith Observatory opened in 1935 and has been free to the public ever since (although the planetarium shows charge admission). The building itself is art deco beautiful, and its hillside location commands amazing views of the Los Angeles Basin.
We got tickets for “Centered in the Universe,” showing in the planetarium dome. In addition to traveling through the stars, the show (which incorporates a live presenter) explores the history of human understanding of the cosmos from the discovery of planets to the mystery of dark energy.
We got a snack in the observatory’s restaurant before our walk back down to the car.
Afterward, we drove down out of the Hollywood Hills to the Los Feliz neighborhood and got tacos at Tacos Tu Madre.
We also explored Skylight Books and a charming little florist wall, Floral Art by Mia.
Back in Marina del Rey, we went for a swim in the pool at the apartment complex.
One of the things left to do on Sean’s list of activities for the day was riding a BIRD scooter, the almost bizarre scooter share service. Basically, you download an app and then can ride scooters randomly left everywhere. Everywhere. Like literally on sidewalks, lawns, street corners, etc.
We found a couple just outside the building and gave them a spin. It was almost unreasonably fun.
We spent the rest of Sunday evening grilling and lounging in the public grill-and-lounge area of the complex.
Kelie had been very happy that her friend Sean was there to visit, and she didn’t want him to leave.
But leave we had to. Next morning, Monday, July 2, we said goodbye to the boys and to Kelie and then turned our sights to the Sierra Nevada.
We did stop, however, at an In-N-Out Burger in LA before hitting the road in earnest.
We exited the Los Angeles Basin on I-5 and crossed Tejon Pass before dropping into the Central Valley.
After the town of Exeter, we turned east and began driving through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The highway wound around Lake Kaweah, a small reservoir caused by the damming of the Kaweah River, before entering the town of Three Rivers, California, gateway to Sequoia National Park.
The town of Three Rivers is long and narrow, following the river up Kaweah River Canyon. The town begins just above the reservoir and ends at the border of Sequoia National Park. Its name comes from the confluence of the three forks of the river.
It was only about 2:30 when we arrived, too early for our 3pm check-in at our AirB&B cabin, so after finding the cabin, we backtracked to the market in town for some provisions. The cabin had a grill, so we got some chicken and steaks and portobello mushroom caps to grill on our three nights in Three Rivers.
We headed back to the cabin, which was out beyond the formal end of a road on the north side of the river. Not too much further east, the Park started.
Even though it was after 3, the housekeepers weren’t quite done with their work. We dropped our things inside and then headed down a path on the property to the Kaweah River.
All around was oak grassland foothills habitat.
Down the path and rough-hewn staircase, the property abutted the river at a clear, calm swimming hole. A sixty-something couple had just finished going for a swim. They were from Indiana and were staying for a week on an adjacent property. It was not the first time that we’d met fellow Midwesterners on a trip to the National Parks.
Back up at the cabin, they still weren’t quite done cleaning, so we hung out and tried not to get in the way.
Once the cabin was all ours, we settled in. It was a hot day, over ninety degrees, but the window air conditioner and the swamp cooler kept the cabin reasonably comfortable.
Shortly, we got back in the car and were back at Village Market to get a few more supplies. I’d forgotten to pack our bluetooth speaker, so we stopped at the hardware store to see if they had one, but they didn’t. We ended up using Sean’s iPhone in a bowl to amplify the sound. While we’d been driving into and around Three Rivers, I’d noticed some signs about protecting the perimeter of your house. At first I’d thought it was some sort of weird “prepper” thing, but at the hardware store I realized it was about best practices in case of wildfires: not having flammable material (brush, shrubs) immediately around your house.
Back at the cabin, we grilled up our chicken for an arroz con pollo feast. Gazing out to the east from the grill, everything beyond what was in the immediate foreground was part of Sequoia National Park.
In fact, although we didn’t realize it at the time, some of the trees to the left of Moro Rock were the Giant Sequoias of the Giant Forest grove.
We sipped our greyhounds and watched the light fade against the mountains.
After dinner, we packed our daypacks for our adventures in Sequoia National Park. The shuttle would pick us up in town at 7am, so I set my alarm for 5:30 to make sure we weren’t pressed for time.
Then we played a round of Battleship before getting ready for bed. With no wifi or cell service in the cabin, we were actually able to relax from the news or other distractions. I started reading John Steinbeck’s The Wayward Bus, which was quite appropriate for California.
It felt nice.