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Shinzen and Yosemite

April 8 to 12
Written April 10+
Dear Diary and Friends and Family,

The last diary was a mixture of homey activities, not exciting perhaps, but our personal record.  This diary has visits to two parks, one is Fresno-famous and the other is world-famous.

On Sunday, Marianne and I walked and Magdalena rolled through the Shinzen Friendship Gardens in Fresno's Woodward Park.  For a city of a half million people, Fresno has a very limited selection of parks, especially ones where we can easily stroll.  We first scouted Chaffee Zoo, but were discouraged by the crowds and completely packed parking lots.  At Shinzen we found easy parking and reasonable crowds.

The greeter at the Friendship Gardens is a very friendly and loud peacock.  The brightly feathered bird seems to always be around the entrance gate, making his(?) presence known, either from the top of a gazebo or just walking around a specific patch of grass.  Fun to see, hear, and photograph.

The weather was perfect for walk-and-roll. The sun was warm, not hot, and many trees were in springtime decoration. 
Inside the Shinzen Gardens is the Clark Bonsai Collection, an attraction all by itself.  Several of the specimen are scores of years old, each precisely trimmed to tell its own story.

d180408_46_bridge.jpgMore broadly, the Gardens may have been at their peak, after winter doldrums, but before the Fresno summer heat.
All in all, we were glad the Zoo crowds had chased us away to this quiet and colorful corner of Fresno.

d180409_04_drivenorth.jpgAs nice as the warm walk-and-roll in Shinzen was, our  little Fresno home was starting to feel cramped.  We needed to get out and see a bigger world, at least for a few days.

We opted for a drive north and a couple-day stay at "Big Trees Lodge" (aka Wawona), a turn-of-the-century gem inside Yosemite National Park.  This is one of our favorite getaways and we are lucky and privileged that it is only about an hour from home. 
The excuse for hitting Yosemite right now was the report of high water flow from recent storms.  The park floor had actually been closed from mid-day Friday to noon Sunday, because the Merced River had gone as high as 15 feet above its flood level.  I figured there would still be plenty of water on Monday and Tuesday for some interesting photography.

d180409_10_fastriver.jpgd180409_12_rocks.jpgOn Monday, I tried a few river shots, but with only so-so results.  The rivers and streams had plenty of flow, and water-over-rocks can be dramatic, but I think I was just not patient or skilled enough for memorable pictures.  Nonetheless, it was an excuse to get out of the car and tromp around a river bank.  Not all bad.

Of course, the almost-never-fail place for pictures is Tunnel View, the most famous of  Yosemite viewpoints.  Bridalveil Falls was as full as I had ever seen it and other falls were also visible that only pop up after heavy rain and snow melt, so-called "ephemeral falls". Crowds of tourists at Tunnel View abound, no matter the season or weather.  As long as we can get a parking place, it's ok though, because the crowds almost always fill the overlook with happy sounds.

Farther down into the Vally floor, the other sure pictures in Spring are of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.  Even shooting from a considerable distance, we could hear the roar of water.  Very impressive.
At the end of our drive into the valley, Marianne wanted to make a shopping stop at the
Majestic Yosemite Hotel (aka Ahwahnee).  Because rooms are so expensive ($500 and up), we have never spent the night here, but trinkets and food are the same price as elsewhere in the Park, so it is still a regular stop.  Ogling inside and out is free.


All day long, we had been seeing colorful old cars zipping by us on the Yosemite roads.   At a couple of our stops, I took the opportunity to chat with the costumed drivers and passengers and learned that this was "The Grizzly Bear Tour",  organized by the Horseless Carriage  Club of America. Seventy or eighty pre-1916 cars were spending a few days driving around Yosemite.  They were clearly having fun providing the rest of us with a free car show.  Thanks! (And I learned that the logo for our 2015 Jeep has 100-year-old roots)

Monday finished with drinks on the Wawona veranda, dinner in the elegant dining room, and fireplace conversation with tourists from North Carolina, Great Britain, and Germany. A full day.

Tuesday started slow, with leisurely breakfast and "hobbies": diary for me, Zentangle for Marianne.  The glass-walled dining room remains one of my favorite "offices".  A good way to start a travel day.
Eventually, we moved on to our daily exercise, in this case a 3.5 mile walk around the Meadow Loop Trail.  This path is more of a stroll than a hike, but we all do what we can.

d180410_14_mushrooms.jpgThe Loop scenery can be both grand and, if I remember to look closely, interesting in details.  The hand-split rail fence is a 100-year-old relic from the farming past.
About half way around the loop, we came to a place where the path was washed out.  I know this may not look like a big deal in the pictures, but at the time it felt like a real river! 
Just as we were finishing the walk, an HCCA car putted above us and waved.  They were still having fun, and so were we.

For lunch, we walked over to the little grocery store to see what healthy food they had.  We settled on one Häagen-Dazs ice cream bar and a cup of Nestle Dibbs ice cream bites.  It seemed healthy at the time.

My last photo challenge was to find some flowing water and try my luck.  About five miles from the lodge, Alder Creek tumbles under the highway and we had noted it earlier with the remark: "We need to come back".  It was all I could hope for as the creek water was rushing full speed over and between huge granite boulders.

d180410_50_dining.jpgDinner was back in the Wahwona dining room. The setting was authentic, the service was good this meal (it isn't always), and the food was what we have come to expect as national park standard - simple and a bit expensive.  I can see why folks traveling on a budget might complain or just avoid restaurant meals, but we are lucky enough to be budget-free, and besides, I love the old room.

After dinner we sipped our coffee while listening to Tom Bopp, a Wahwona institution who has been singing and telling stories at his grand piano for decades.  With the slightest prodding, Tom can go on and on about Yosemite history or songs from the early 1900s and even earlier.  This night, a young boy, reportedly a new piano student at home, watched fascinated as Bopp played, sang, and told stories.  We all enjoyed it until it was time for bed, we seniors not that much later than the little guy.

So, that was another day in Yosemite.  Not strenuous, but all we had expected.  No matter what they call it, Wawona/Big Trees remains a favorite destination.

Wednesday starts as these days do: diary-writing and a slow breakfast.  Then it will be the not-so-long drive home.  Nothing planned.

Stay tuned for the next diary.

John and Marianne


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