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Redwoods, water, and wine

Road Tripping in California

It was September 2022 and California was experiencing a prolonged, record-breaking heat wave. Heat records that were almost 70 years old were being broken as temperatures soared. The dangerous heat wave started the last week of August and taxed power grids, fueled fast moving fires, and posed a threat to those forced to endure the outdoors for extended periods of time. Expected to persist for a couple of weeks, the heat wave was being noted for its intensity, duration, and the extended area that it covered. Triple digit temperatures prevailed from September 1st until the 9th.



For days, temperatures soared over 100 degrees, including record highs of 116 in Merced near Yosemite, 114 in Fresno and an impossible 127 degrees in Death Valley. In Yosemite Valley, wildfires were burning 5,000 acres due to the extremely hot and dry conditions. Bears were so hot, they were venturing into residential neighborhoods…..not to terrorize residents or eat garbage, but to get in their swimming pools.

The news advised residents not to worry if they saw squirrels laying out flat on sidewalks like melted taffy to get cool (it’s called “splooting” in case you wanted to know). They also reported record numbers of baby squirrels plummeting out of trees in the heat.



That’s hot, people.

The governor declared a state of emergency.

Obviously, that is the week that we had decided to make our first trip to this part of California.

Lord help us.

What could we do? We packed our essentials, which included the obvious respirator, personal mist fan, and hardhat (in case of falling squirrels), and set off for the airport.

Day 1: Vacation Mode ON...OFF...ON...OFF...ON

We woke up to the blaring alarm at the unholy hour of 3:00 a.m. so that we could catch our 5:42 a.m. flight. While getting up that early is the pits, the upside is that we’d arrive at the Fresno airport by 10:00 a.m., with plenty of time to make the 2 ½ hour drive to Yosemite Valley at our leisure and enjoy the afternoon in Yosemite Valley looking for splooting squirrels.

You know what they say about the best laid plans….

We were informed at the ticket counter that our flight had been delayed.

Until 3:00 p.m.

This would get us to Fresno at 6:30 p.m. and would barely get us up the winding, twisting drive to Yosemite Valley by dark.

There was nothing we could do but put our hard hats on and go back home.

We headed back to the airport that afternoon. Our flight left as rescheduled and we landed in Dallas for our layover….only to find out that our flight from Dallas to Fresno has also been delayed.

We spent the next several hours at TGI Fridays in DFW drinking cheap wine.

We finally arrived in Fresno at MIDNIGHT, and we still had to make the drive to Yosemite Valley.

We arrived in the absolute, wretched dark and stumbled our way into the historic Yosemite Valley Lodge, which we had chosen for its proximity to the valley, not for its amenities. We dragged our luggage up the wooden steps to our modest and “rustic” room.

It was hotter than 5 hells.

With no a/c, we immediately turned on the fan and opened the window.

We immediately closed the window.

The smoke outside was worse than the heat inside.

Don’t get me wrong, I am used to very basic national park lodging. It’s a compromise that I make knowingly. You accept a subpar, yet very expensive, room in order to be inside the park. The Yosemite Valley Lodge was no exception. I would call it more “70 year old motel” than lodge, but I suppose that’s just semantics. It wasn’t terrible, but let’s just say it wasn’t amazing. It’s basically a Motel 6 in the wilderness where the daily management is subcontracted to the lowest bidder, but it’s better than sleeping outside with bears.

Day 2: Don't go chasing waterfalls


Yosemite is probably best known for it's iconic granite cliffs, like El Capitan and Half Dome, and for its massive waterfalls. On our first day, we planned to see both.


The advantage of sleeping in a very hot room is that you wake up early even though you went to bed at 2 a.m. Wait…is that an advantage?

With no Wi-Fi in the room, we had to head to the reception area to see what the day’s weather was supposed to be. The valley was deeply blanketed in smoke, so we didn’t feel very optimistic. Add to that the Glacier Point Road was closed for construction, limiting our hiking options even further. It was also late summer, which meant no waterfalls...making the Valley a trifecta of misery.

To allow ourselves to ease into hiking, we had planned to do some of the Valley Loop hikes. When your body is used to lower elevations, tackling a strenuous hike in a high elevation can be hard on your body on day 1, so it’s a good idea to give yourself a day or so to acclimate. We thought the valley loop would do just that. Unfortunately, the best valley loop trails were to lakes or waterfalls that were currently dry, and we quickly realized that the rest were simply trails beside the road. After walking down the busy road for about 30 minutes in the ridiculous heat, inhaling smoke and swatting at incessant flies, we needed a plan B.


We had already checked out of our room, so we sat in the car while I looked at a map. Luckily, I had the foresight to purchase the required, and limited, entry pass for the Tioga Road, so we headed up to higher ground. While the valley sits at about 4,000 feet, the Tioga Road climbs to almost 10,000 feet, so we were able to get out of the smoke that was sitting in the valley. We were also able to escape some of the heat.
Because we had already burned half a day, we chose the Gaylor Lakes Trail, which offers some crazy scenic views in just 5 short miles, if you choose to walk to all lakes and walk around. However, the trail starts at an elevation of 9,960 feet, and the beginning gives you no breaks, starting with an immediate steep ascent…so probably not the smartest hike to start with on day 1 after getting about 4 hours of very hot and restless sleep.


I am not sure what happened at the trailhead. I consider us reasonably accomplished hikers. I don’t know if we started at the wrong spot, I don’t know if we just weren’t paying attention, I don’t know if we just wandered off the trail at some point without noticing….but we found ourselves on a rocky ridge and we were clearly not on a discernable trail.

In my defense….the trail looks like THIS….seriously, can you see it? I didn’t think so. It’s a trail of dirt and rock on a slope full of dirt and rock.
I was also busy staring at my feet because I had an irrational fear that I would step on a rattlesnake, so I wasn’t really watching where the barely visible dirt line was going.


We wandered around that ridge like lunatics, trying to find the trail. Matt wanted to keep pushing on, certain we were headed the right way, and I was certain we were headed in the wrong direction, destined to find ourselves alone in the wilderness, no doubt stumbling onto a bed of pit vipers. We’d be those people that got picked up by a helicopter weeks later, with crazy eyes and wild hair, having survived by eating tree bark and our own shoelaces for 17 days.

When we finally saw some people down the hill below us, we were able to put eyes on the trail again. Whew! We had to climb down a rocky slope and trudge through a few scrubby bushes, but we were back on track.

In hindisght, it appears the trail goes LEFT….and we are clearly going RIGHT……


Lunatics…or trailblazers? You decide.

After that initial fiasco, the trail was LOVELY. It first descended down to Middle Gaylor Lake. At the shore, there was a path that went around the entire perimeter, but since we didn’t really know how much time we needed or had, we decided to do that on the way back if we had time to spare.


We hiked on to Upper Gaylor Lake which was also incredibly lovely.


We hiked back to Middle Gaylor Lake and took the trek around the entire lake.

When we reached the opposite end of the lake, Matt was somehow emboldened by his recent “trailblazing” and decided we had not spent enough time being lost and looking for rattlesnakes, so he decided to keep trekking past the lake even though it did not appear to go anywhere. He was somehow convinced there was a stunning overlook that no one had ever discovered before and he was going to be first. Instead, we walked for 30 minutes through a bunch of nothing before I refused another step and turned back to the lake.


Seriously, was he just begging to find a rattlesnake?

We made it back to the trailhead without getting lost, getting divorced, or finding a venomous bed of snakes, so we’ll call it a success.

Before heading back to the valley, we stopped at Tenaya Lake to take a peek. It was a lovely lake, large with mountains framing it in the background. People were spread out on its shores enjoying the warm day.


As we descended back down into the valley, we noticed an amazing thing…the smoke had dissipated in the afternoon! We were able to see the valley views and El Capitan without the haze.


Instead of heading back to the Yosemite Valley Lodge, our second night was at the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal, for no reason other than I had been unable to get a room anywhere else.

I will say that it was worth the extra 15 minute drive for AIR CONDITIONING. The rooms were nothing special, but wow, did they have a gorgeous view.



With only 1 restaurant choice in the area, deciding where to eat dinner was easy. We walked over to the lodge restaurant. While it was nothing fancy, it was surprisingly okay.


Day 3: Taking the road less traveled

Because the smoke in the valley was overwhelming in the morning, but disappeared in the afternoon, we made the decision to head back up the Tioga Pass Road to do another high elevation hike.

We grabbed some lunch snacks at the El Portal Market and planned to do the Cathedral Lake hike. At a little over 9 miles, this hike promised outstanding views and a beautiful lunch spot.


It delivered.

The trail started at 8,500 feet, but after yesterday, the elevation was no bother. Once you’ve gotten lost at 10,000 feet and started hyperventilating because you thought you saw a rattlesnake, 8,500 feet is nothing.


The climb back to Upper Cathedral Lake is steady, gaining about 1,000 feet. Once there, you have your choice of any number of lovely spots to stretch out in the sun and enjoy your lunch.


After lunch, we took the spur trail down to Lower Cathedral Lake, which was just as scenic.


From there, it was back to the trailhead.

We didn’t get lost once.


For tonight’s stay, I had managed to score 1 night at the Ahwahnee Hotel. I was elated. And disappointed. And elated.

Elated that I had managed to get even one night because this hotel is simply breathtaking.

Disappointed that I had only been able to get one night because this hotel is simply breathtaking.

Elated that I had only been able to get one night because this hotel was flipping expensive. If we had stayed 2 nights, I would have been eating tree bark and my own shoelaces for the next several days.


When we checked in, the gentleman that showed us to our room told us we had gotten one of the best views in the hotel. I believed him.


We grabbed some cocktails at the bar and found a seat outside on the patio to watch the sunset.


As the sun dipped, it cast a glow on the mountain peaks above.


As we sipped, we noticed these adorable spotted squirrels everywhere. Apparently, the California ground squirrel not only knows where to buy cuter outfits than the drab TN squirrel, but they burrow underground rather than living in trees, which probably explained why they weren’t splooting on the sidewalk in the heat.

Dinner at the Ahwahnee is a formal affair, complete with a dress code, candlelight, and a live pianist.


Definitely a step up from our cheese tray and canned wine from the El Portal market.

Day 4: Are we there yet?


We woke to slightly less smoke. At this point, it was more haze than smoke. Our plan for the day was a drive from Yosemite Valley to Three Rivers, CA which would take us about 3 hours. Since we couldn’t check into our accommodations until late that afternoon, we had time to kill, so we wandered around the valley for a bit before heading out.

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Despite the smoke and the lack of waterfalls (which are typically dry in late summer), we could tell the Yosemite Valley was a very beautiful and special place and we made a promise that we’d be back.

We drove as far as Oakhurst and stopped for lunch at Idle Hour Winery and Kitchen. It was seriously HOT and they only offered outdoor seating, but I grabbed my portable mini fan from the car and we made it work.

This place was lovely. The food was absolutely amazing and their sparkling wine was perfect on such a hot day.


As a bonus…Frozen Boozy Pops!


From there, it was on to Three Rivers where we checked into our Airbnb on the Kaweah River, a short drive to Sequoia National Park where we hoped to do some hiking the following day.


It was getting late, so we simply enjoyed sunset by the river with some wine before heading to dinner nearby.


There aren’t a lot of choices for dinner in Three Rivers, so we literally picked the closest place. The Gateway Restaurant and Lodge had a surprisingly awesome patio complete with blue lights, a view of a shiny pink tree, and an entertaining duck swimming circle. What more could you want?


Day 5: Yes, Virginia, there ARE giants

Today was supposed to be an absolute scorcher, so we got up super early to do some hiking in Sequoia National Park.


There are just no words for how it feels to walk among these giants.

The trails meander all over the place and you can take many different routes to make it as long or short as you’d like. We hiked until we got hot and hungry.


We drove on up to the Lodgepole Visitors Center, where you can buy a pretty nice lunch to eat outside.


At this point, it was 112 degrees in the shade and we’d had enough.


We headed back to the house to do nothing more than sit in the river until dinner.


We grabbed dinner at nearby River View Grill, who boasted an amazing burger and an even better view.


Day 6: Done with the pines....bring on the wines


We’d made several trips to Napa and Sonoma since becoming wine lovers, but had noticed that many of our current favorite wines were from Paso Robles. We felt like it was time to give Paso a try, so we headed out that morning to drive 2 ½ hours to Paso Robles.

We arrived right at lunchtime, which was perfect since our first winery was Niner. Niner is known as one of the best kitchens in Paso Robles, in addition to having amazing wine.

We had an incredible lunch paired with a luxurious wine tasting in the blessed air conditioning overlooking Niner’s famed “heart hill.”


Welcome to Paso!

We quickly learned that we had been saying Paso Robles ALL WRONG.

What we thought was “Pah-Sow Robe-Lays” was, in fact, “Pass-oh Row-Bulls.”

However you pronounce it….it is delightful.

We had made most of our reservations for outdoor spaces, but in the heat of the afternoon, the wineries were kind enough to move us indoors.

After a fantastic lunch, we made our next stop at Hope Family Cellars. While their indoor tasting room isn’t nearly as lovely as their outdoor cabanas, it’s infinitely cooler.


When it was time to check-in to our house, we made our way to our rental for the next few nights and it was simply divine.


We headed to dinner at Fish Gaucho in downtown Paso for margaritas and Oaxaca Flocka Nachos. You know I went level 3…don’t even ask.


And yes, it did F¿$% me up, thank you.


Next door to Fish Gaucho is Cane Tiki Room. Matt and I can’t resist a good tiki bar so, despite the fact that we had consumed 174 glasses of wine that day, we headed in for a nightcap.


Granted, mine was more “old man whiskey” than “tiki,” but whatever. You say “tomay-to” I say “tomah-to.”


Day 7: In dog wine, I only had 2 glasses

Today was the day I had been looking forward to the MOST. We had booked the Defender Tour at Halter Ranch. I have a penchant for old trucks, but I reserve an extra special place in my heart for old Land Rovers.

I nearly cried when we arrived and were told that, we could go out in the Defender if we wanted to but that, given the heat of the day and the lack of air conditioning, we would be dead by noon.


Not wanting to die today, we opted for the cushy, air-conditioned SUV tour.

We immediately loved the laid back vibe of Halter. Because of the heat, they had opted to start our tour early in the morning, so the winery wasn’t quite open when we arrived. While they geared up for the day, the sat us at the bar indoors with a lovely chilled glass of white wine.

Breakfast of champions.

Shortly after, we were whisked away in our air conditioned chariot to the first stop of the tour of this stunningly beautiful 2700 acre property, the Victorian farmhouse built in 1880. When the ranch was purchased by its current owner in 2000, he had the home restored to its original glory. The tasting took place on the shady patio, surrounded by flowers. At each stop we would be served one wine paired with a fruits, nuts, and cheeses. The first wine was the effervescent rose. Just short of being a sparkling wine, but delightfully bubbly all the same. We loved the relaxed nature of this tour. As it was just the 2 of us, we were served food and glasses of wine, were educated by our guide on the location we were in and the wine we were drinking, and then we’d be left alone for a good half hour to simply enjoy.


Bubbly finished, we loaded up and headed toward our second stop. En route, we stopped at the warehouse where the owner was having a totally operational, mini-sized steam train built. We were able to check out the train cars. This might have been Matt’s favorite part. I guess boys never outgrown trains.


We made our second tasting stop at the ranch pond where we enjoyed a glass of Halter’s granache blanc with another cheese platter.


The third stop was a lovely table in the shade overlooking the vineyards where we sampled the CDP, a blend of granache, syrah, tannat, and mourvedre while enjoying more snacks.


It was here that I learned that woodpeckers will drill holes into the oak trees and then use it to store hundreds of acorns. Kind of like their own personal snack bar.


As we drove between stops, we were educated on aspects of the ranch, the property, the winemaking, the history. It was fantastic.

We reached our fourth stop at the top of a grassy knoll high above the rest of the property where we sampled the Tannat …with more food…..Lion’s Ridge is the highest elevation point of the property and the views were fantastic.


For the last stop, and 17th glass of the tour, we stopped at the 700 year-old Ancestor Tree, the largest coast live oak on record. Here we sampled their iconic Ancestor wine.


When we returned to the tasting room, we decided to have lunch at the ranch restaurant, Le Jardin, not only because we knew the food would be amazing, but because we never wanted to leave.


Eventually, however, they pried my sweaty fingers off of the steering wheel of the Defender and told me I had to go.


We made a second stop at Calcareous Vineyards, but to be honest, I have no idea what we sampled there because I was 6 glasses in at this point. I’m sure it was lovely, although I’m pretty sure I mostly went for the fries.


This is us, trying to look sober several hours later on our way to dinner.



We had wisely chosen Buona Tavola where we could eat a lot of carbohydrates. We were seated at a lovely little outdoor table that could not have been more romantic.


Day 8: Love the wine you're with

We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise at the house and spent the morning watching the hummingbirds on the back patio.


However, we had to rally. There was more wine to be tasted!

We started our morning at Daou.

While Halter was my single favorite experience of Paso Robles….Daou was the most beautiful winery, hands down.


The place was breathtaking.


With beautiful views, incredible food, and lovely wine, what more could you ask for?

Why…..you could ask for a dog in boots, that’s what.


Inside, you can purchase additional wines by the glass if there is something else you’d like to sample. We couldn’t leave without trying their two signature wines – Patrimony and Soul of a Lion. Both were exquisite. Well beyond my price range, but exquisite.


And each glass came with a free cat.


Our next stop was lunch at Parrish Family Vineyard, because why go to a restaurant for lunch when you can go to a winery with food instead?
Parrish makes lovely wines and is situated in a beautiful farmhouse, but the real reason I was there was for the legendary BLT.


Loaded with candied almond praline bacon; piled with crisp lettuce, fresh tomato, and avocado; slathered with creamy garlic aioli; and served on homemade Cabernet Sauvignon sourdough bread… I can still taste it. Paired with a mile high salad, it was a perfect wine country lunch.


We headed back to the house for a power nap before pressing on.

For our final Paso Robles wine tasting, we had reserved the cave tour at Eberle, because Matt loves cave tours and because I love giant poodles.
Eberle had both.


We had to admit….we loved Paso Robles as much as we loved Napa Valley. We found Paso to be less expensive, more laid back, and just as beautiful. We also felt a more personal experience at each winery. The wines were just as amazing but with significantly less traffic and fewer people. Not once did I see a tour bus filled with people unloading at a winery. Paso felt more approachable, down-home, and inviting than its elite counterpart, Napa Valley, and that suited us just fine.

Day 9: You say "Caramel," I say "Carmel"


Our time in Paso had passed-o.

Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.

For our final day, we planned to drive straight over to the coast and drive Highway 1 through Big Sur and all the way up to Carmel-by-the-Sea, where we would spend our last night.

We hit the road, grabbing donuts at Twisted and Glazed in downtown Paso to fuel the drive.


Our first stop was at the Elephant Seal beach just north of San Simeon. The smell hit my nose as soon as I stepped out of the car. One part sweaty gym socks, one part rotten fish, and one part National Park pit toilet in the sun….it made my eyes water. I smelled them before I heard them, and I heard them before I saw them. A wet sound like a snort-burp-snarl rattled the air, sounding like a sleep apnea convention. And then I saw them, hundreds of gray and golden bean bags wallowing in the sand, their bodies looking like fat lazy hot dogs baking in the sun. There were so many of them. It was one funky, stinky, fatty shindig. They were all over each other with no sense of personal space, noses in bellies, tails in faces, heads on backs…..like a giant, sandy game of Slug-Twister.


We enjoyed watching the blimpy beach bums for a while. We watched this poor, fat seal try to climb this inches high incline for what seemed an eternity. It was like watching Jello try to walk. If you ever feel something is insurmountable in your life, just remember this seal.

We left, the smell of Piedras Blancas beach clinging to our clothing like something living.

The rest of the drive was spent pulling over every 5 minutes for a more incredible view than the last.


Shortly after lunchtime, we arrived in Carmel-by-the-Sea. We had heard about this picture-perfect storybook town, but had never seen it. I wanted to see if it lived up to the hype.


It did. This might be the most adorable town in the U.S., like something straight out of a fairy tale. Ivy covered cottages, candy striped awnings, and flowers bursting forward from every window…it was too adorable for words.

We checked into the Vagabond House Inn. We selected it because it was one of the only places in town that allowed a one night’s stay, but it turned out to be a lovely inn with a perfect location for walking around town.


We walked over to Tree House Café for a late lunch. Tree House Café has a cozy interior and a lovely veranda climbing with ivy and flowers. Not knowing what time we’d arrive in town, we hadn’t made a reservation, but were seated immediately thanks to the odd hour.


We spent the rest of the day wandering the quaint streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea.


We headed back to the inn to rest our feet, clean up for dinner, and enjoy their complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres on their lovely patio.


Afterward, we popped into Barmel, a cozy outdoor patio bar with live music. We enjoyed lovely cocktails and music until it was time for dinner.
It was tough to choose where to eat with only 1 night and so many amazing restaurants, but we settled on Little Napoli where we were seated at an adorable little outdoor table under the twinkling lights.


Day 10: Vacation mode OFF

It was time to head home. We enjoyed the complimentary breakfast at the inn before loading up and heading out.


We had taken a large, circular route which allowed us to visit some diverse places, have some great adventures, drink some wonderful wine, and see some beautiful sights.


Another amazing CA road trip!

Note: While I have a lot of trips to catch up, thanks to being very lazy on this blog for the past few years, I decided to post this one now because we are repeating Yosemite and Paso Robles very soon! Stay tuned!

As a bonus for making through the entire post....here is a very determined, and non-splooting, squirrel trying to carry a pinecone as big as its own body across a bridge. Never give up!

Posted by vicki_h 15:47 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls mountains lakes road_trip nature hiking california national_parks yosemite sequoia big_sur redwoods wine_tasting fresno paso_robles wine_country california_road_trip _california_coast carmel_by_the_sea

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I’m so glad to see you active on this site again! I’ve missed reading about your adventures. I’ve duped several of your itineraries with great success, and looking forward to some new ones. We share a lot of the same tastes in travel, obsessive planning, food, booze, and outdoor adventure mixed with a little luxury. Thanks for sharing.

by Milissa-F

Thanks Milissa! I took a bit of a hiatus from writing but not traveling, so I’m determined to get back into the writing part. Life got busy, but it’s slowing back down….so ….fingers crossed! Thanks for popping in! :-)

by vicki_h

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