Besides, I was more worried about the Horsetail Falls not flowing due to it being frozen more than anything.
So we wound up making a spontaneous stop at a Napa Auto Parts in Coarsegold, but after the helpful guy there said he didn’t have chains for our rental car, he did say that in Oakhurst up the road they did have one in stock.
Unfortunately, we braced ourselves for the fact that these chains probably won’t be refundable though he did say they should be exchangeable for another set of tires (like the one we got at home though we didn’t know the tire size off the top of our heads)…
- Day 1 (February 24, 2022 – Yosemite Valley, California): “Make It, Fake It”
- Day 2 (February 25, 2022 – Sonoma, California): “Trying To Fit Everything In”
- Day 3 (February 26, 2022 – Los Angeles, California): “Domo Arigato Town of Novato”
Day 1 (February 24, 2022 – Yosemite Valley, California): “Make It, Fake It”
It was 5:45am when I awoke, which was actually over an hour later than my typical 4:30am alarm, which I’d awake to in order to go to work.
But in this case, maybe I just didn’t feel like getting up so early when I knew Julie might take her sweet time to get out of the house and we’d be driving up to Yosemite to try to catch the Horsetail Falls “Natural Firefall” phenomenon.
By now, I knew that it was definitely something that just about everyone seems to be doing these days and it was a far cry from our first time here in 2006 when it was only a handful of people doing it.
That said, I also knew that we’d not want to procrastinate to do this special event again, and that it would take at least around 6 hours to drive into Yosemite Valley, where we’d then have to check-in, then try to find parking (at least get the parking permit if the room’s not ready).
Nevertheless, it was a chaotic morning (as it always is) because Julie and Tahia were always arguing with each other concerning what she has to do to get ready for school.
It seems like if Tahia had her way, she’d just stay in her cozy bed and ditch class.
Anyways, it wouldn’t be until about 7:05am when I started loading up the car after my hasty kefir breakfast, and it wouldn’t be until about 7:30am when we finally started driving off for Yosemite, which was just when Tahia and Julie’s Mom walked to school early.
The drive out of LA was what I dreaded, especially since I knew that we were leaving pretty much at the peak of the rush hour again, and so it seemed like forever just to even get out of the LA basin and even into the Burbank area where it then finally started clearing up.
It was already a chilly morning as the temperatures hovered in the 50s and 40s, especially as we were in the mountains and about the descend to the Grapevine.
In fact, we noticed there were still some blankets of snow from a storm that did blow into here on Tuesday, which I knew wouldn’t do us favors in terms of experiencing the firefall in Yosemite on this road trip.
But other than that, the drive was pretty uneventful though we did make a restroom stop in Delano at 10:50am, which also became a spontaneous takeaway Mexican food lunch, which was actually pretty decent.
Indeed, you generally can’t go wrong with Mexican food when you’re in a primarily Hispanic community, and in this case, you’ve got farmers and farm workers that really make up California’s breadbasket in the Central Valley.
Anyways, the drive continued pretty uneventfully until we started to heading north on the 41 beyond Fresno, where we started to see repeated roadside flashing signs saying chains were required.
I was kind of hoping that we wouldn’t need them for this trip since the storm that blew by here two days ago should be long gone, but then I knew that the cold temperatures might force the snow and ice to stick around longer.
Besides, I was more worried about the Horsetail Falls not flowing due to it being frozen more than anything.
So we wound up making a spontaneous stop at a Napa Auto Parts in Coarsegold, but after the helpful guy there said he didn’t have chains for our rental car, he did say that in Oakhurst up the road they did have one in stock.
Unfortunately, we braced ourselves for the fact that these chains probably won’t be refundable though he did say they should be exchangeable for another set of tires (like the one we got at home though we didn’t know the tire size off the top of our heads).
We thought there ought to be a bunch of Napa Auto Parts all around Southern California and they ought to let us do an exchange, right?
Next, we then made the drive into the South Entrance of Yosemite, and then up the familiar Hwy 41, which definitely had some stretches of driving over snow and ice though the lady at the entrance kiosk said that they just lifted the mandatory chains requirement about an hour ago.
Eventually by about 2:35pm, we finally made it to the Yosemite Lodge after passing by the expected crowded parking areas, which surprised me since Swinging Bridge and Cook Meadow were open for parking (I thought all of Southside Drive was closed).
And during the drive-by along Southside Drive, I could see nothing but streaks on Horsetail Falls, which pretty much realized my fears of the falls being dry or at least frozen.
Eventually after getting our parking permit, we then parked at 2:50pm, then we spent some time scoping out eating spots around the Yosemite Falls Lodge, where we learned that the Basecamp Eatery and bar food at the Mountain Lodge Room were all that were available.
I guess the sit down restaurant was said to be closed for a couple of years meaning that we got lucky having a family dinner there back in 2017.
So it wasn’t until about 3:25pm when we finally started walking to the Firefall Viewing areas for Horsetail Falls, and it was pretty much a roadside walk along Northside Drive where one lane was closed and the other lane was for road traffic.
Unfortunately, Julie talked ourselves out of wearing our hiking boots and opted to wear these really crappy snow boots.
Without spares other than our trail runners back at the car, this was definitely going to suck, and indeed, this was the one time that I was pretty angry at the shoes we wore.
Julie’s reasoning was that there was supposed to be snow on the floor, but it turned out that there was hardly any on the road.
She was also worried about our feet freezing, but it was definitely a case of we were the only people wearing the snow boots and we were apparently the only ones suffering for it.
Anyways, this special event was now about a 1.5-mile hike in each direction to at least the main firefall viewing areas but not all the way to the El Cap Picnic Area.
Actually, this felt less of a hike and more like a pilgrimage as you had all these people going along the road towards the viewing areas, and I kind of chuckled with Julie about how this is the “Firefall Pilgrimage”.
Some of the drivers going by were wondering why so many people were walking the roads, and we had to educate them about the Horsetail Falls Firefall phenomenon.
We overheard other people doing the same as we made our approach.
Eventually at about 4:05pm, we made it to where people were scoping out and set up for firefall shots.
There was one group furthest to the east part of this cluster where one of the guys told us that there was more water today than there was yesterday, and they got amazing photos.
I said, “really?” since in the back of my mind, I clearly saw that Horsetail Falls was frozen and we’re probably faking it in the photos today.
Indeed, it seemed like with every attempt that we make to visit the “Natural Firefall”, the waterflow seems to be getting worse year after year with the exception of the high snowpack years (which we never really got the chance to do in 2017 nor 2019 nor even 2020 when the pandemic shut things down).
That said, our cameras have been getting better with subsequent visits so there never really seemed to be that nice convergence of getting the legit firefall phenomenon with a nice camera to capture it.
Oh well, “c’est la vie, mon ami” as a Tunisian coworker once said to me.
And so we waited out the firefall event like everyone else, and we managed to scope out a tree stump where we could get a framed look at the natural firefall even though trees kind of blocked the profile of El Capitan.
But we already had gotten that view with El Cap’s upper profile before so I was content with the between-the-trees shot this time around.
It was definitely started to get cold as we weren’t moving anymore, but at least now I was all set up with two tripods (one with the Sony Mirrorless Alpha A7 3 on our old Giottos tripod and another Canon EOS 70D with 70-300mm telephoto L-series lens on our Manfrotto BeFree 3-way tripod).
My hands were starting to get painfully cold though I knew that I couldn’t really control the camera with gloves on so I had to just suck it up.
I also had the iPhone set up on the Switchpod and taking time lapse photos so indeed, I was making sure that I covered all my bases with this visit.
Eventually, the sun had set and the lighting really hit the Horsetail Falls quite well, and in fact, it was probably the best lighting effect that I had seen so far in our 4 attempts so far.
However, the falls definitely wasn’t flowing but then who can tell? I’m sure people were telling themselves that they saw the falls going, but really it was just the lighting on a frozen ice waterfall.
So I guess we’re pretty much faking it as anticipated.
There were hordes of people now walking east on the Northside Drive, but at least all of us had to earn the visit, which probably enhanced the experience against the myriad of cars driving off when this was more of a roadside deal.
Then, it wouldn’t be until about 7:10am when I finally scored a table for us to sit at while Julie was still in line waiting for the food, and then it wouldn’t be until about 15 minutes later when she finally brought the food trays.
So we had ourselves perhaps the healthiest things they had on the menu (basically lamb meat balls and salmon as opposed to the pizza and fried chicken junk), and it pretty much got us through the night as we left at settled into our room at 8:10pm after a really chilly walk back.
Plus, we made some sacrifices like not stopping at Tunnel View for a nice afternoon view with all the snow crusting around the Yosemite Valley’s walls as well as the Bridalveil Fall having good flow.
Well, at least we’ll plan on visiting the base of Yosemite Falls tomorrow morning. I guess we mind as well savor the experience while we’re here though it will make things tight for making the Sonoma Coast sunset tomorrow…
Day 2 (February 25, 2022 – Sonoma, California): “Trying To Fit Everything In”
It was 5:30am when I awoke though I actually could have gotten up earlier than 4:30am today when I thought I had heard some people getting out of their accommodation somewhere next door or downstairs.
I guess some folks needed an early start to get to wherever they were going because it was still quite dark outside while all this was going on.
Nevertheless, I thought I could get by with sleeping in for another hour before the iPhone alarm would go off, and then I could get back to getting caught up on the blogging and photo naming chores, etc.
So it wouldn’t be until after Julie got up and started assembling her belongings that I then braved the frigidly cold morning air and started loading up the rental car at 7:05am.
When Julie was finally ready, we decided to head straight for the Base Camp Eatery to get some morning breakfast out of the way that would hopefully hold us over until at least dinner or possibly tomorrow if we run out of time.
That said, when we showed up to the Base Camp Eatery, we were the first people there, but it was still a few minutes too early before their 7:30am start time.
However, when a female employee opened the door, she mentioned that the doors would open on schedule, but the grill still had to be tended to with some maintenance issues and wouldn’t be available until at least 8am.
Rather than waiting over 20 minutes to get the grill food breakfast, we decided to do the Yosemite Falls Loop Walk, which I had advocated for earlier on instead of waiting for the Base Camp Eatery.
So we left a bit later than I would have liked, but Julie talked me into doing this familiar short walk to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls.
And so by around 7:35am, we headed out but not before changing into our Trail Running shoes (both of which were Altra Lone Peak 5s) despite the frigid temperatures on this cold morning.
Shortly after crossing the Northside Drive, we were on the path that was once a parking lot but now a pleasant loop around some restrooms and a clearing with already a teasing glimpse of the Upper Yosemite Falls.
Then, when we got to the direct walkway, we could see the familiar tree-framed view of both the Upper Yosemite Falls and Lower Yosemite Falls in almost a direct two-stepped line.
It was nice and quiet at this time of the morning even though it was frigidly cold (so much so that Julie had me wear a beanie, which was something I hardly ever wear though the GoPro on it was awkward and I wondered if it was positioned properly).
There were already some tensions between us in the morning because Julie kept wanting to take selfies and make it perfect even though the lighting wasn’t great and we had to use a Switchpod or something like that to even make an attempt (albeit not great).
Knowing that we had a long drive ahead of us, I guess I was worried about the move to prioritize creature comforts (i.e. going to the breakfast place first instead of this walk) over the real priorities (i.e. hitting the things you want to visit like this waterfall and Phillips Gulch later on).
I knew that with the Sonoma Coast ahead of us, we had a long drive to get there in the first place and another long drive back towards Sonoma where we were spending the night.
I didn’t even expect to do the Lower Yosemite Falls, but I was glad she talked me into doing this given how quiet and peaceful it was here as well as the unusual sight of seeing Yosemite Falls flanked by snow and ice.
There were only a handful of people here though we were the only people wearing masks out here (mostly to keep ourselves warm though) so there wasn’t as much peace and quiet as I would have liked, but considering this was the park’s most famous waterfall, I guess it’s about as good as this gets.
Another nice thing about our visit on this morning was that there was a morning rainbow rising against the mist of the Lower Yosemite Falls.
By the way, I always remembered how there was skepticism about the 320ft height figure of this waterfall, but now that we experienced this place again, it definitely felt like a very tall waterfall tier and it goes to show you how nothing beats in-the-field observations versus looking at photos to judge something like height.
Anyways, after having our fill of the Lower Yosemite Falls footbridge area, we decided to complete the loop walk, which was something that we had never really done before in all the times that we visited this waterfall over the years.
So after getting across the bridge, we then followed a pleasant forested walk on the well-developed trail, which went by a huge boulder (that undoubtedly must have fallen from the vertical cliffs flanking Yosemite Falls) before reaching a trail junction by some wooden structures.
We then continued back in the direction of the Northside Drive on this side of Yosemite Creek, which continued to be a serene forested setting though when I looked back at the falls, only a hint of the top of Upper Yosemite Falls could be seen.
So it was wise to do this loop in a clockwise manner since it was nowhere near as atmospheric as the approach to the base of the falls coming up from the Yosemite Lodge.
As we continued along the loop, I was suddenly inspired to perhaps make a video of all the different ways you can experience this waterfall since the completion of this loop was something we never had really done before.
And so I had it in my mind to at least do this since I was trying to gain a better presence on YouTube though making these kinds of videos was quite time consuming.
Pretty soon, we got to another trail junction, where there appeared to be a bridge over Yosemite Creek that I didn’t recall was in a spot that would have taken us back to the atmospheric approach.
So we explored it, and it soon got us to a clearing (covered in ice and hard snow) with a view of both tiers of the Yosemite Falls though the Upper Falls was kind of partially obstructed by trees unless you positioned yourself towards the right side of the clearing.
It was definitely a viewpoint that we had never experienced before, and it was an unexpected benefit of actually doing this loop walk.
After having our fill of this spot (as we were soon joined by a large group of birders and other early morning visitors), we then continued on the loop as we made our way towards another clearing near the Yosemite Falls Shuttle Stop along the Northside Drive.
Julie continued ahead with the walk back towards the Yosemite Lodge while I was checking out the nice open views back towards Yosemite Falls as well as against-the-sun views towards the contours of Half Dome and Sentinel Rock.
There were also interpretive signs about James Hutchings and the early days of tourism in Yosemite, which was interesting (especially since Julie wondered who this guy was though she didn’t take this short detour to find out though I tried to explain it to her).
Anyways, after having my fill of this spot, I then rejoined Julie nearly back at the new restrooms before the familiar atmospheric approach to the base of Yosemite Falls, and then we finally got back to the Yosemite Lodge area and the Basecamp Eatery at 8:45am.
Now, we could finally have our breakfast burritos since we knew that we might not have a legitimate lunch for most of today given the long drives and how tight it might be considering we knew that sunset was going to be around 5:45pm-ish or so (considering that we experienced Horsetail Falls yesterday).
Julie and I were kind of amused at the 80s music that were still playing at the eatery (as it was yesterday) for a bit of a nostalgia trip, and it kind of stirred in us the nostalgia of going back to Yosemite time and again (at least it did for me since Julie says she didn’t remember our past visits very well).
Finally by 9:20am, we were finally back in the car, where we then headed out of Yosemite National Park and towards the Sonoma Coast.
The GPS wanted us to go up the Big Oak Flat Road and towards the northwest entrance near Crane Flat (a route that we were familiar with since it headed towards the Hetch Hetchy Entrance via Evergreen Road), but given the likelihood of encountering black ice, I didn’t want to chance it.
So we took the longer approach out the Arch Rock Entrance to Yosemite en route to Merced before finally getting onto the Hwy 99 Freeway.
Along the way, we actually passed by the Cascade Falls, which Julie wanted to stop for, but I knew that we were running out of time to do our hikes and she was actually trying to say that we should stop here and forget about the Sonoma Coast Waterfalls.
But I knew that I needed to better experience Phillips Gulch and made an executive decision not to stop for Cascade Falls even though it was the bigger waterfall (though we had been there numerous times and have numerous photos though perhaps not videos).
I dunno, maybe we should have stopped for it, but I was worried about the long drive and all those other bad decisions earlier this morning were piling up.
Anyways, it took quite a bit of time (though it was actually the same amount of time as it would be going from Fresno to Yosemite Valley via the South Entrance) as we had to go past the Ferguson Slide and also had to wait for slower drivers to pull out (if they did).
Driving on the Hwy 99 was pretty tense as there was a lot of road work going on though there seemed to be quite the volume of traffic all around on the highways (as well as idiots cutting people off and taking risks as well as those not keeping right except to pass).
We were making good progress on this approach though I resisted the GPS’s telling us to head west towards the East Bay and instead opted to go north towards the Fairway and Lodi vicinity via Stockton before heading west along the Hwy 12 towards Napa and Sonoma.
Well, after actually doing that, I noticed that this approach was actually not a good idea.
Not only did it cost us an additional 20 minutes or so according to the GPS’s, but the traffic on the Hwy 12 involved a lot of truck traffic and very limited opportunities to pass.
I knew that while enduring this stretch, I made a bad decision, but I guess now we know that if you’re headed to Napa and Sonoma Wine Countries, you’re going to want to stick with going towards Richmond Bridge instead of this more northern approach across the Sacramento River Delta.
Indeed, the long drive definitely felt long as there were lots of cars on the Hwy 12 and then even more cars on the Hwy 37 towards San Rafael.
Instead of cutting across the busy Napa and Sonoma Area, we actually joined the I-80 west, which would eventually get to the 101 Freeway around Petaluma, but then Julie’s phone routing had us go on this obscure Hwy 21 towards Petaluma instead.
I didn’t understand why we had to do that, but we got in another disagreement over this, and I was lamenting how we could have gotten to the Hwy 1 earlier.
Anyways, when we eventually got towards Petaluma, there was a lot of intense traffic in their downtown area, but then Julie blindly followed the iPhone Google Routing again, which had us go north on the traffic in the 101 Freeway instead of sticking with going west towards the Hwy 1.
I was really getting annoyed at this point (perhaps due to the very long drive), and so I was in a rather sour mood by this point as all the earlier decisions coupled with these missteps while road raging plus skipping lunch didn’t help matters.
Eventually, we’d get to the Hwy 1 via the rather roundabout way of going north on the 101 towards some obscure Railroad Rd exit near Santa Rosa, and then cutting across some rural farm roads to the west before finally getting to the very highway I was targeting in the first place.
Well, at least we got towards Bodega Bay at around 2:20pm, which was supposed to be well known for oysters, but there was no way we could stop and eat there and still make it to Phillips Gulch Falls before sunset.
However, we at least filled up gas at a whopping $5.19 per gallon, which ultimately resulted in a $63 fill-up which was actually one of the most expensive fill-ups I’ve had in the US.
That said, we’d been routinely paying way more than that when we self-drive abroad, which kind of tells you how artificially cheap paying to fill up gas in the US had been all this time (but perhaps with the war in Ukraine coupled with COVID-related inflation, the reality is finally coming?).
Anyways, we were finally doing the drive along the Sonoma Coast, which was pretty much slowed down by a line of cars as the people in front of us refused to use pullouts (quite the California trait of inconsiderate drivers).
So we tried to make the best of it by having Julie taking some road shots while I was concentrating on the road.
And it wouldn’t be until about 3:30pm when we finally arrived at the parking lot for Stump Beach as we decided not to take the shortcut way that we had taken earlier (especially after noticing how there was fencing erected by the pullout where the shortcut trail began towards Phillips Gulch).
With only about a couple of hours left to go before it’d get dark, we had to get our trail runners on, and then get going on the hike down towards Stump Beach and eventually to the Bluff Trail.
We didn’t linger at Stump Beach, which actually wasn’t as wide and popular a beach as I was anticipating, and in fact, it had driftwood, which was a characteristic of more northern coastlines along the Oregon Coast and the far north of California as well as Washington than what we’re familiar with in Central and Southern California.
Nevertheless, we continued to follow the narrow Bluff Trail as the signs helped to point the way, and then after climbing a gully with some narrow and steep spots, we then got into a forested area where pretty soon there were trails going this way and that, and eventually we were led back to the Hwy 1.
Well, this all happened at a spot where there were numerous deadfalls and fallen trees obscuring the Bluff Trail, and I guess the path of least resistence was to walk along Hwy 1.
However, there were trails that dropped back down towards the Bluff Trail, and we ultimately took one of them past some of the fallen trees onto an area by a power pole along with some yellow tape placed on the Bluff Trail itself.
From there, we then finally followed the familiar coastal bluffs looking back towards Stump Beach as well as further along the turbulent Sonoma Coastline.
And along the way, we noticed that there was a trio of deer that were rather jittery and made their way away from us and towards the road, which got me thinking about the possibility of hitting deer on the road especially when driving in the dark.
We then continued with the coastal Bluff Trail, where we then saw the familiar shortcut route as well as the familiar paths that ultimately took us down to the Phillips Gulch Falls at 4:15pm.
And as anticipated, this place had far better light at this time in the afternoon than our first visit in November when it was hard to see the waterfall in the morning light.
At this time, the waves crashing against the protected gulch didn’t seem as violent as on our first visit, but they were still somewhat violent regardless from time to time, and we didn’t bother entertaining the notion of climbing down to the base of this waterfall.
We did notice that there was a second segment to this waterfall as well as some green moss at the base which enhanced the viewing experience.
Anyways, we spent some time documenting this waterfall and taking selfies as well as videos, and I was glad that we finally got to experience the Sonoma Coast in this way.
Still, it was now about 4:30pm when we started to continue the hike as I wanted to get over to the Chinese Gulch to see if there was another waterfall over there.
And so we crossed over the top of Phillips Gulch Falls and continued along the Bluff Trail with its scenic views of the Sonoma Coast before we finally got to the Chinese Gulch at around 4:45pm.
Unfortunately with this waterfall, we were well atop a bluff and there wasn’t a clean look at the front of its two-segment drops, which was similar to the Phillips Gulch in that respect.
But getting down to the coastline for a frontal view of this waterfall didn’t seem to be worth the effort especially given the amount of vertical exposure and then needing to scramble along the rocks with high tide seemingly starting to come in.
And so we were content to just document the falls from the bluffs, which wasn’t very satisfying, and then we started to head back the way we came.
On the way back, we spotted another pair of deer, which made me wonder if they primarily use Phillips Gulch to hydrate or if these were just the same deer we had just seen earlier.
Again, given how close they were to the Hwy 1, I was a bit concerned about the likelihood of striking deer, and I wondered if these other drivers were even aware of their presence.
Regardless, we then got back to the Phillips Gulch to experience the falls one more time, and then we headed back up the Bluff Trail towards at least the shortcut trail.
As we did so, we definitely noticed that the waves did seem to be a bit more violent and sending pretty high sea spray into the air as they crashed onto the stacks and rocks below.
Then, we headed back along the shortcut trail back to the Hwy 1 where we got a closer look at the fencing that we noticed definitely wasn’t there before.
Then, we followed the Hwy 1 back towards the spot where we knew the Bluff Trail detoured towards the road though this time, we were taking that part of the trail back towards Stump Beach so we wouldn’t have to keep walking along the Hwy 1 longer than we needed to.
Ultimately after getting past the forested section, the trail then descended that steep section into the gully draining into Stump Beach, but by now, we started to notice the croaking of frogs hidden within the gully.
I knew that they’re likely to be heard but not seen, and that was kind of an interesting experience.
By about 5:35pm, we finally made it to back to the parking lot for the Stump Beach, where we were the last car left after there were initially about 4 or 5 here when we first showed up.
What was cool was that we were pretty much alone throughout the Bluff Trail, which was actually less used than I had anticipated (though there was one couple that did get to Phillips Gulch via the more northerly approach along the Bluff Trail somewhere beyond Chinese Gulch).
Regardless, we finally started driving off at 5:40pm, and then took the Hwy 1 back in the direction of Bodega Bay, where we did manage to catch a red sunset along the way.
Then, we had to drive in the dark, but at least we got through the curviest of the Sonoma Coast before we’d eventually have to deviate towards the 101 instead of taking it all the way to Petaluma (again another disagreement about following the iPhone versus sticking with the field observations ensued).
But thankfully by about 7:35pm, we finally made it to the Best Western Inn in Sonoma after a rather exhausting long day of driving and disagreements between Julie and I over what probably amounted to minor things in hindsight (though they definitely built up and really manifested themselves on this day).
Still, we at least got to have dinner and not have to settle for rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods across the street from the Best Western Inn, and we ultimately did a splurge of what turned out to be pretty good Portugese fusion with Sonoma flair.
We had like 4 appetizers (of roasted octopus, braised pork belly, cod cakes, and crusted scallops), a main of some fishermans stew, and a flight of white wines local to Sonoma.
We also each had a dessert of chocolate mouse as well as some kind of caramel flan.
And so we were glad we finally got a taste of the Sonoma area in a rather last minute way, and we really owed the receptionist for this nice recommendation, especially at the last minute.
However, Julie had set up the fireplace but the airflow wasn’t that great and the room pretty much had bad air quality so we had to open the back door to let some of the smoke out (and make us freeze in the room!).
That said, we had yet another long driving day tomorrow to go home, and this was definitely turning out to be quite the road trip getaway for a belated Valentines Day.
Still, we looked forward to Girl and the Fig tomorrow, though I still had to take care of business chasing waterfalls in the Novato area…
Day 3 (February 26, 2022 – Los Angeles, California): “Domo Arigato Town of Novato”
I awoke at 5am to the alarm knowing that I didn’t have very much time to get some hikes in around the Novato area while Julie was sleeping in and perhaps checking out downtown Sonoma on her own.
Given the long day that we had yesterday, I also had to take care of some business regarding all the photo processing and blogging to ensure that everything was captured while the memories were still fresh.
So it wouldn’t be until about 6:45am when I finally headed out the door in the frigid morning as the car said it was around 36F which actually was on par with Yosemite’s temperatures when we were leaving the valley after having breakfast there.
I guess it was just our luck that the one week that we happened to be doing this trip happened to be the week that had the snow and the frigid cold temperatures when the rest of the January and February were pretty much dry and unseasonably warm.
Plus, the forecast for the rest of the next week and going forward was going back to the “Winter Warm” that seemed to be the norm in a Global Warming world, especially as far as California was concerned.
Anyways, the traffic was delightfully light, which can be expected for a Saturday morning, and so I made good time driving out of the Sonoma area and down south towards Novato in Marin County.
Having been to Dawn Falls a couple of times, I kind of knew what to expect as far as chasing some waterfalls within neighborhoods containing pretty high-priced homes.
But I also didn’t expect much in the way of waterfalls flowing since these don’t really last long unless you were here right after or during a storm.
So really, this was more of a reconn mission just to see what the experience was like, and then maybe come back when there might be a better likelihood of seeing waterfalls flowing when we’re back in the Bay Area or in Wine Country again.
Julie was already lamenting that she couldn’t do a spa thing on this visit since it was either all booked out or they just don’t take guests on weekends anymore (I wasn’t sure what the story was about that).
There happened to be a couple of turkeys (though I regretted not stopping to take pictures of them) as I ultimately pulled out in a parking bay near the end of the cul-de-sac, where there was a home that I could hear some camera gimbaling.
So I got geared up and proceeded to put on my trail runners so I could get out and about with pack on, still wearing the thermals (that I hadn’t worn since Milford Track in 2004), and just getting about with business.
After getting past the gate and towards the end of the pavement, I did notice that there was some water in the creek as I was going into the Buck Gulch, but the water looked stagnant.
Beyond the first crossing, the well-established trail continued to follow the creek which seemed to be running pretty well, and I even heard some small cascade gurgling.
However, from the Dawn Falls experience, I also knew that wasn’t a guarantee of there being a waterfall further upstream so I kept going.
Sure enough, the trail then went alongside and across the dry creek a few times, but I still held out hope that the falls would be flowing because the creek surface looked loose and so I’d imagine if there’s water, it’d likely be below the surface here.
It made for pretty quick hiking as the trail continued its gentle climb while surrounded by some interesting looking trees (not coastal redwoods though like at Dawn Falls).
And eventually at about 7:45am, I made it to the foot of Buck Gulch Falls, which was definitely flowing though it had clearly seen better days.
Nevertheless, just the fact that this waterfall was flowing was already pretty good with my lowered expectations in my mind, and so I gladly took some footage and photos while I had this place alone momentarily.
That said, there were some Private Property signs all around this waterfall as it appeared to belong to the H Ranch or something.
And while I was busy trying to docment this waterfall, there was a fellow who came up here with his dog who actually didn’t mind the cold temperatures as it was chasing sticks within the waterfall itself while playing fetch.
The fellow was apparently local because he mentioned that this place was really pumping in December (which coincided with the rain storms we had most of that month), and he also asked where I came up from.
I wasn’t sure if he was mentioning the trail I took to get here or not but I just mentioned that I came up from the end of the road (thinking that was what he meant though in hindsight I wondered if he meant if I came from somewhere else).
He also remarked that I was out and about pretty early today, and I told him that my wife was sleeping in and I wanted to get some peace and quiet before people would be waking up (he gave me a nod of understanding like he could relate).
Well, after the fellow took off with his dog, I had a few more minutes around the waterfall before I had my fill and headed back at around 8:05am.
Encouraged by this experience, I wondered if the other Novato Waterfalls that I had targeted today would be flowing, but I also knew that I was running out of time as I expected to be back at the Best Western some time around 10am.
So I quickly made my way back to the car, where there was one guy who was headed up to the falls with his dog during that time, and he was the only other person that I saw this morning.
At 8:20am, I was back in the car, and then I saw that the next waterfall I pursued was a little over a mile away.
So I followed the directions into the Marin College campus, where the gates were open, and I found myself in a big parking lot for the Earl Gray Baseball Fields at 8:35am.
Then, I saw on my GPS as well as the paper printout map of Ignacio Valley and Indian Valley (which I had prepared before this visit) that I had to go across the baseball fields.
So I did an about face and went in that direction, where it seemed like quite a few people were out and about walking their dogs as well as just going for a walk in general.
I thought to myself that the residents of Novato must be pretty fortunate to have such convenient access to open spaces like this, and it would be even better if there was a waterfall to visit.
As I made my way around the pair of baseball fields (no infield grass, which brought back my Little League memories of getting strawberries or scabs from sliding on hard dirt), I then entered the Indian Valley Open Space Preserve part.
The obvious trail left the baseball fields behind and descended towards some ponds where there were signs saying that they supported endemic frogs and that dogs are not allowed to play in the water and disturb their habitat.
I then followed a very wide dirt path for a few minutes past some signage before reaching another signed junction that led to the left and headed alongside a dry creek as part of the Ken Harth Waterfall Trail.
After a few minutes more of following this much narrower trail, by 9am, I finally arrived at what I believed to be the location of the Ken Harth Waterfall, but it was not doing well at all.
In fact, it was barely a trickle and it was pretty much just some wet rocks.
Then, I saw that I was already pretty close to the Pacheco Creek Falls, which was the last of the waterfalls I wanted to visit in the Novato area so I figured that I mind as well check that out while I’m already here even though I’m cutting it close.
After all, I told Julie that I expected to be back in Sonoma by 10am, but if I went straight back to Sonoma now, I would already be back a little after 10am.
So I made the executive decision to just go for it, and so I headed back towards the 101 Freeway, and then took the next exit that got me into another neighborhood, where I took the streets to its end where there was a cul-de-sac with the start of the trail.
There were lots of signs saying something to the effect of only parking in the parking bays, but I wasn’t sure if this meant any of the dirt pullouts near the trailhead as I had already seen numerous cars doing that.
I wasn’t sure if they were residents or guests, but I didn’t have time to backtrack too far back and waste precious minutes as I knew I was cutting it close.
So at 9:35am, I got started quickly on the Pacheco Creek hike, and it didn’t take long before I encountered a fork in the trail.
Not sure which way I should be going, I went straight first, and after a few minutes of going past some stagnant water in the creek, the trail became narrower and kind of clinging to steep slopes.
Fortunately, I got to what appeared to be the falls though it was quite diminutive (not even 5-10ft I thought) though it was trickling), and I got there as the continuation of the trails really got out-of-hand with their steepness.
After documenting this trickling and tiny falls, I then headed back to the fork, where I then followed its use-trail along a different gully or drainage.
I did manage to take a distant picture of it, but once that was over, I then tried to quickly make my way up this stream not quite sure if I’d be wasting time or not since I didn’t know how far I had to go.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to go very far though I had have to duck under one fallen tree and then the trail clung to a hillside as it deviated and got even sketchier as it went towards the top of a rock wall that I presumed must be the Pacheco Creek Falls.
This one was pretty much dry (maybe barely trickling), and so I just documented it.
I did notice that there were more rock walls further upstream and so I briefly pursued that creek to see what might have been had this area been a bit wetter than now.
Indeed, I could see that if there were lots of water here, one of the side walls could be a fairly substantial cascade.
However, staying within the stream, there was another tiny waterfall that in my mind probably didn’t amount to much.
So I hastily documented this upstream experience, and then I quickly made my way back down to the trailhead as time was running out.
That was when I saw that Julie was waiting in the courtyard of the Best Western because checkout time was 10am!
I didn’t recall seeing anything mentioning when checkout time was and I had assumed 11am, but I guess Julie had to have been waiting in the courtyard for a solid half-hour by the time I’d be back.
And so eventually by about 10:35am, I did get back to the Best Western where we loaded up the car, and then promptly walked to the Girl and the Fig.
Indeed, Sonoma was definitely awake by this time as there were definitely lots of cars and quite a few people having breakfast or lunch.
However, we targeted Girl and the Fig for 11am as we thought it was the earliest time reasonably to have a legitimate lunch since we were after their most known dishes of duck confit and their sole meuniere.
It was about 10:50am, when we got to the Girl and the Fig, and then we proceeded to be seated and have our lunch a few minutes early (this place was actually open since 10am on the weekends).
Anyways, Julie and I indulged in our duck confit as well as sole meuniere (flounder), which really hit the spot.
We also paired up these foods with one white and one red wine (even though we’re totally not wine connoisseurs), and we also got some brussel sprouts since we really didn’t have much in the way of greens on our Sonoma meals.
As the place was getting really busy, the service was starting to slow down so we didn’t stick around for the dessert and induce more delay (besides, we were getting full).
And so we paid the bill and headed out, and got back to the car at about 12pm.
Now, it was time for yet another long drive as the theme of this trip seemed to be dominated by drives taking longer than 6 hours (though it’s probably more like a minimum of 8 hours on the road).
After all, we drove from home to Yosemite Valley to catch the firefall, then we drove from there to the Sonoma Coast and ultimately back to Sonoma (arriving in the dark), and now we had the long drive home.
That said, after getting through the pretty intense traffic to get out of the Sonoma area and in the direction of Napa, we then had to drive fairly extensive on a combination of the 12, 680, 580, and then finally the 5 somewhere near Tracy.
I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again thinking that the 12 all the way to the 5 was the way to go.
Regardless, it was a good thing we decided to go home on Saturday because we knew that there’d be more cars on Sunday, especially with people not adhering to road rules about keeping right except to pass.
There were already inconsiderate or ignorant drivers not doing it today so I could only imagine the fast lane getting clogged by even more people not understanding nor respecting the road rules on Sunday!
So the drive went by pretty smoothly for the most part, and I was a bit bothered with my eyesight seemingly becoming blurrier (it was fine earlier this morning), and I wasn’t sure if it was slow to respond to sun and then clouds.
For the rest of the drive, it seemed like it was getting harder to focus on distant signs when I was easily able to see them before this trip started.
In recognition of my body breaking down because of lack of sleep and aging, Julie and I also got into a tense discussion about trying to get her to help me out since I can’t do it all as far as earning income is concerned.
Aside from her initial resistance, I think I eventually got her to at least capture her experiences and thoughts and to stop coming up with excuses or ways to create obstacles to impede progress.
I know she always tends to fall back on that and then nothing gets done (her lectin free blog never took off after 2 years for this reason), but it’s getting to the point where I’m breaking down as a result of her inaction.
So I was insistent on trying to get her to at least do the bare minimum things of writing down her ideas, her research, her experiences, etc. instead of verbalizing everything so I’d have to do it. That way, I can be in position to develop them.
But for her to completely rely on me to do everything (including learning for us both), that was clearly unsustainable. Something’s gotta give.
Perhaps that was why I probably wasn’t the easiest partner to go on this belated Valentines road trip with her because all this spending money and hearing her opinions verbally seemed like a waste if she wasn’t willing to be an active participant.
Just doing the same things over and over again isn’t progress, and if you’re not happy with where you’re at, then you have to do something different.
Yet I got the feeling that she was content with where she’s at at my expense, and that was where I had to draw the line as my blurry eyesight and fatigue was definitely a sign that it can’t go on like this.
Anyways, as we got towards the merger of the 99 and 5, Julie was keeping tabs on how the kids were doing as my Mom was there along with Julie’s mom.
Not surpringly, they were having pizza, and Julie had this idea that if they’re going to be eating junk and they will have left by the time we get home, we mind as well take the detour deeper into LA for either Cuban or Ethiopian.
And at that moment as we were doing the climb up from the Grapevine, we then took the busy I-405 south and then to the even busier I-10 west in pursuit of Versailles for our Cuban fix.
By 6:05pm, we finally got to the Versailles where we lucked out finding parking as one person had just pulled out when we pulled in.
Parking was tight though, but that bit of worry was behind us, and then we promptly went inside the restaurant to eat the familiar Roast Pork (lechon) drenched in their famous garlic sauce as well as their famous roasted garlic chicken.
We also got a yucca frita though it turned out to not be as good as what they had at Isla, which was a different Cuban spot in La Palma.
Still, I don’t recall them giving out bread when you order takeaway so I guess that’s one little perk of doing this was a benefit of eating in.
By the time we were done at 7pm, we now had to face some pretty intense traffic on the I-10 before finally getting to the I-5 where it started to clear up a bit.
Eventually by 8pm, we finally got home, where we could finally unwind from this busy day as well as the anxst of road raging it.
That said, I was still worried about all the work before me to get this trip’s content processed and into the website, and there were also more work to do both at my day job and other tasks for my other blogs.
I guess that’s the new normal these days as I try to break free from the rat race, but if it was so easy, everybody’d be doing it.
I keep telling myself it’s worth it, but I know it’s still an uphill battle to get Julie on board to help, and for my own sanity as it seems like my body is definitely breaking down and showing its age…
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