Yosemite and Mono Lake

October 18 – 19, 2012

We had another lazy morning with Amber and Miles while we made plans for the next two days before heading to Vegas to meet Chan’s brother, Tayler.

We decided on Yosemite because neither of us had been there before. The drive was uneventful, except for the cotton.

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I had never seen cotton plants and felt like we should have been in Georgia or Alabama instead of central California. Chandler was able to find a field without a fence, so we were able to get up close.

We made it to Yosemite just after sunset. Chandler tried taking some photos of half dome in the fading light, but none of them were blog worthy. We decided to get up early and take some pictures at sunrise. I’m surprised we actually managed to do this as we shared a bottle of Meeker’s graffiti zin (it was delicious, thanks Ty) that night.

Waking up before the sun was a good idea, as the park quickly became a zoo. Chan was able to get some nice photos of the sun rising with Half Dome and El Capitan without having to fight any crowds.

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We bailed early because national parks are not especially dog friendly. Since Lucy was not able to have any fun today, we stopped at a lake just outside the park so she could swim. The lake was called Tioga Lake and was just to the east of Tioga Pass which was probably the highest point we’ll hit on the trip at just under 10,000 feet.

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We descended to Mono Lake. Los Angeles began diverting water from the lake’s contributing creeks in the 1940s, which resulted in the water level dropping dozens of feet. As the lake level lowered these crazy formations called tufas were exposed.

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Tufas are fossilized springs. The lake water has high salinity and has high pH so when fresh water from springs under the lake mixes with the lake water, minerals in the lake water come out of solution and form towers under water. When the lake level subsided, the towers were exposed.

We drove towards Las Vegas that afternoon and camped out in a pullout out in the desert to the west of Death Valley.

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Family meeting

October 16, 2012

We started the day slowly by going on a run and a leisurely cup of coffee before meeting my parents for lunch. After Mexican food, we boogied down to my cousin’s place in Campbell. But of course we got distracted along the way. At Suisun Bay there are a bunch of large rough looking ships moored in clusters that had caught our eye on a previous trip to California. It turns out they are part of a reserve fleet of cargo, tanker and military ships that can be used during times of national emergency. The inventory and purpose of the mothball fleet changes over time and it sounded like currently the ships are primarily used for oil spill training and hostile boarding exercises by the Marines.

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After the stop in Suisun Bay we drove straight to Campbell in some pretty wild traffic. My Aunt and Uncle were in town from Saint Martian, which was an added bonus. We talked about our upcoming bike trip and ate pizza, but mostly were entertained by the cutest boy in the room, Xander, my “nephew”.

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We sang songs, played musical instruments, went to the park (tetherball is really fun) and watched Xander brush his teeth.

We had already made plans to go to Hollister to stay at my cousin Amber’s house so, after the little man went to bed, we drove south..

October 17, 2012

We woke up in Hollister to a very warm day ahead of us and decided the beach was the place to be.

My cousin and aunt took us to Lover’s Point in Monterey to do some snorkeling and sun tanning.

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Coolest guy on the beach

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Again, I was a big weenie and didn’t go in the water. Instead I stayed on the beach with Miles, my other “nephew”, so his mom and grandma could enjoy the water. Good looks certainly run in my family, who wouldn’t want to hang out with this guy? Miles was pretty entertaining as he was unsure of the sand and waves and it was fun to watch him explore his surroundings.

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On the way back to the house, we stopped to check out some local history. The Old Mission San Juan Bautista was built in 1812 and has three aisles, making it the largest of the mission churches.

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The day ended with pizza and deep fried artichoke hearts at my aunt’s house.

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Sonoma county

October 12 – 13, 2012

Here is a disclaimer right off the bat- we broke our cardinal rule when posting these updates by not including any photos in this one. Unfortunately we didn’t take a single picture over the weekend!  We will get better and will try our best not to do it again. If you have any interest in the basics of winemaking or the breweries of Sonoma county California, you may still find it interesting though.

We spent the weekend with our good friend, Ty who is currently working the harvest at Meeker Vineyard and invited us to spend the day with him making wine. After the tour and introductions, we waited for the grapes to be delivered from the fields and Ty explained the wine making process to us. In general, the process is pretty straight forward, grapes are harvested from their vines and crushed into a mash of juice, skins and seeds. The crushed fruit is chilled then eventually inoculated with yeast in fermentors. Large stainless steel tanks similar to beer brewing fermentors were used for large batches while open bins around 4 to 5 feet square were used for smaller runs. The fermentation process continues until the yeast is finished converting the sugars in the juice to alcohol, then the wine is aged and bottled. There are a ton of other small but important details that flesh out this process, such as monitoring and balancing pH and nitrogen.

While we continued to wait for the fruit to arrive, Ty and Chandler knocked down the “cap” of skins and other material that rises to the surface of the tanks during fermentation. In the bins of fermenting wine, this just involves shoving the grape parts to the bottom with a metal disk attached to a pole. The stainless steel tanks are too large to use this method, so instead a large pump is attached to an outlet at the bottom of the tank and a hose is run up to the top of the tank. The cap is knocked down by spraying wine from the bottom of the tank onto the cap essentially out of a firehose, which is pretty effective. The last tank we turned over was in the middle of rigorous fermentation and Chan took a pretty heavy blast of CO2 to the face, which burned his nose and eyes, not in a painful way but was very startling. The only analogy he could think of is putting your face in a giant cup filled with soda just dispensed from fountain.

After that project, the grapes arrived and we were able to participate in the crushing of a 2012 pettite sirah. Our job was mainly to pull leaves out of the grape clusters as they rode up a conveyor belt from the picking bin to a hopper above the actual crusher. We were also looking for moldy grapes and overly raisined clusters, but for the most part the grapes were in good shape. It was fast-paced, manual work, but it was fun, and fascinating to handle to grapes while they rode up to be crushed. After a few tons of grapes we were standing in a modest pile of leaves sticky with grape juice up to the elbows.

I admit, I was hoping we would be doing this:

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But instead, it was like this:

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Despite the let down, we had a lot of fun and are pretty much ready to start making world class wine also. The day ended on a high note with good food and beer at Bear Republic while watching the Tigers beat the Yankees!!

Chandler and Ty spent the next day drinking lots of beer in Sonoma County. We hit Lagunitas in Petaluma which is a pretty large brewery that takes pride in heavy hop use, then stopped in at the toad in the hole pub in Santa Rosa for a wet hop special event, where they tried a bunch of beers made with very fresh “wet” hops which produce a grassy, earthy taste to the beers they’re in. The last stop was to the relatively famous Russian River brewery which was absolutely slammed (Ty was right) but for good reason. I drove us 2 hours back to my parents and we fell asleep quickly after a very long day.

To California

October 11, 2012

We crossed into California in darkness camping out in chateau frontier at a vista point somewhere around elevation 5,000 feet. We woke up to a pretty fantastic view of Mount Shasta which sports several alpine glaciers including the Whitney glacier, which is the longest in California.

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You have no idea how hard it was to put that photo there. This is the first post written completely on our Nexus 7, so there is a little bit of a learning curve that we are working on at this end.

Anyways, it was a cold morning so after a quick cup of coffee cooked up on the tailgate, we quickly headed outh. The next stop was the Oroville Dam, which was constructed in the 1960s as a flood control structure and is also used to generate hydroelectricity and provide storage for drinking and irrigation water. This dam doesn’t get the respect it probably deserves since it is an “earth and rockfill dam” which just means it is made out of soil rather than wood or concrete, but it is the tallest dam in the USA, at 770 feet, which is about 44 feet taller than Hoover. Well now that your eyes have glazed over with boredom, here are some pictures:

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Here is a half apology to those who skimmed that last section- there will be more dam posts as our tentative route through the south west has us picking up 2 more of the top 4 tallest dams in the US. Something to look forward to!

We ended the day by arriving at Jenny’s parent’s and a wonderful home cooked meal of vegetarian chili.