See The World
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I finally remembered to get my hands on that laptop before it zooms off to work every morning.

The last of the vacation pictures. And, oh, how I saved the best for last.

The final leg of our vacation was spent in Yosemite National Park. There is no other finer place on the planet... except maybe certain wineries in Northern California or backstage at a U2 concert, but still, pretty darn close.

We'd been here before, a handful of years back. The girls were small or smaller and we had one of the most memorable experiences of our life.

It started out simply. We were going on a hike. We decided upon a three mile hike that led to a waterfall. We'd been warned that it was a steep one, that three miles up a mountain is far different than three miles down the road. We decided to take our crew as far as they could go without whining. Our Julia was six, so the whining might make this a five minute hike. At the halfway point we stopped. Julia was already on her dad's shoulders and we were on an incline so steep, I felt as if we were stepping up into the sky.

The girls and I were game, but more importantly, my Hubby with the crushing pounds of dead weight planted on his shoulders was fine. We continued on, passing travelers on the downside of the hike who shouted their encouragments as we ascended, struggling with the incline and our need to breathe while they jauntily trotted down the slope.

Around a narrow corner, a woman emerged, stopping us on our trek. She thrust a bundle of rain ponchos into my hands. "Here," she said. "You'll need these at the top. Be careful, the waterfall makes the 600 granite steps very slippery. And on your way back down, give the rain ponchos to someone else. Keep it going. They've been handed off all day."

It was such a simple, but heartwarming gesture, this commonality, all of us trying to reach the heavens. It kept us going.

We made it to the top. Well, kind of. There was no way we were climbing 600 steps, made out of granite, wet, slip-and-slide granite while on top of a mountain with three children. We climbed ten steps. To say we did it. We stood on those slippery as ice, granite steps, (clutching those children with an iron grip,), so proud of our accomplishment, so in awe of the splendor laid out before us. The roar of the waterfall was thunderous. The "mist" of that mighty waterfall coated us all in a downpour that seemed to come from the heavens. (Thanks Poncho Lady)

On our way down, I eyed the hikers climbing up gasping for air, looking for a worthy face. I decided upon a family trying their best to make it. I stopped the woman who most looked like the mom, handed her the ponchos and gave her the speech.

She stared at me the whole time I was talking about the climb and the waterfall and the keep-it going ponchos and it wasn't until I was done that she hesitantly thanked me

In German.

Yes, I broke the rain poncho cycle. Swarms of American tourists and I pick the German. Go figure.

We didn't attempt that hike this time. But, what we did do, was even better than granite stepped waterfalls with pass-it-on rain ponchos.

First this is where our adventure in Yosemite began.....
The Ahwahnee Hotel, slap dab in the center of Yosemite.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I'm up for a lot of things. I'll eat just about anything, at least once. I'll be the first fool on the dance floor. I'll always take the Dare in Truth or Dare. I'll karaoke.

I'm the one you want on your team, when, let's just say, you're on a scavernger hunt in the party district of a big city. Let's just say, your list might need a picture of someone on your team with a drag queen. Let's just say, when your team gets to the Drag Queen Club, those flashy girls are onstage in the middle of their show. Let's just say, somebody on that team might just vault onto the stage, screaming, "Take the Picture, Quick! Security's right behind me!" Let's just say it might help that team win.

Let's just say.

But, there is this one thing I do NOT do. I do not camp. No, sir. I'm really not one for sleeping on the ground or peeing in the woods or spraying DEET on my porous skin or not sleeping all night because I'm ascared of lions and tigers and bears. Yosemite has GRIZZLIES, for Land's Sake!

Most of the folks who come to Yosemite, camp because they want to be one with nature and all that.

I love the beauty of the place, but I'm totally up for loving it from my hotel room with the good sheets and the room service and a bathroom where I don't have to wear my rubber shoes to take a shower.

The problem with loving all of those things is hotel space fills up fast in Yosemite, especially at the Ahwahnee Hotel. It is next to impossible to get a room here, but I got a tip that the bleak economy is good for some things, like getting into impossible hotels that are always booked.

The magic that is this place is indescribable. A hotel built in the 1920's that has been a place of respite for queens and celebrities. As My Hubby checked in, the Bellman, actually I'd call him a Bellgentleman, he was so gracious, filled us in on some of the lore of this place. Everyone from Queen Elizabeth to Brad Pitt to President Kennedy have all relaxed in this majestic haven, wedged under the redwoods and mountains. Even, a young studly actor, Ronald Reagan, rode his horse up to the entrance. He was unable to gain entry, though. In those days, hotel dress code of jackets for men, elegant dresses for women was strictly enforced.

Lovely in itself, but its splendor did not compare to the view from our window.

If we were in the hotel room, this is where you would find me, parked in front of the window, crying at the sight. And yes, that is my wine bottle. Remember, I had three children with me....

My sister who joined us in an improptu moment, couldn't get a room here, since it was booked up.

The National Parks reservationist assured her over the phone, that this place was just as nice.

We were greeted by this large, wheeled receptacle, blocking the door to her room. I guess the hotel staff thought my sister carried a lot of trash around with her. Note the ODawg's look of horror. Boy, Is she ever in for a shock when her house is a dorm the size of this receptacle, probably as gross, too.

We checked out her little patio and realized, Ooops, somebody forgot their wheelchair. That might be a tough thing to leave behind.
She was fine with the place until a notice was slipped under her door from the front desk, telling her to check her room thoroughly before going to bed. The raccoons were breaking in to rooms and you certainly don't want to wake up to a snarling racoon in your face. Damn raccoon thugs.

But, our hotel stories were peanuts to what came next.

I have seen many sights in my lifetime. I have traveled a bit and adventured a lot. But, nothing, nothing compared to our mule trip up to the tops of the mountains in Yosemite National Park.

I'm coming back.

Forget chauffering kids around, cleaning up after them and making their dinner.

I'm going to be a mule guide, the greatest occupation on this planet.

I expressed this desire to our very hot Cowboy guide who was telling me in his cowboy drawl as we rode up the mountain that his favorite thing to do on his days off from riding up the mountain is to ride up the mountain, find a clear spot with a good leaning post and spend the day finding new shapes and forms in the rock formations of the mountainside.

Dang, life does not get much sweeter than that!

After he told me, it just burst out of me, "I want to be a mule guide, too!"

He looked at me with those Yosemite sky blue eyes and said in cowboy drawl, "We've got an opening."

On certain days in this house, I let the girls know that they're very close to having to tell their friends their mom left town to be a mule guide in Yosemite.

I was my usual scaredy cat self, as I thought about hauling my family up the mountain all day, on the backs of mules. But, the wonderful staff at the stables reassured me, telling me that mules, (a cross between a donkey and a horse) were very surefooted and very smart and they have an innate sense of danger that keeps them from stepping off the side of a mountain.

That information and the two perfectly gorgeous cowboys guiding us, gave me my bravery.

The staff chose well for us, pairing us up with mules that fit. The Hubby got a mighty big boy with a lot of spirit. Odawg's was even tempered.

And Julia got a sweet, little mule, a thirty something year old who knew the mountain steps with a wise, sure foot.

Victoria got Jezebel, small like her and aptly named.
Jezebel was the youngest of the group and she had the attitude of a toddler in the fiery midst of the terrible two's. She went at a Jezebel pace, no matter what anyone else wanted. Anytime I looked back at the trail of mules during our ride, there was Victoria and Jezebel holding up the line, Jezebel just plodding along as if to say, "I don't give a crap what the rest of you want me to do. I'm taking my time. It's a mountain, people, not a pony ride!"

The only time she picked up her pace was when one of the hot cowboys would snap her lightly with their rein and say in their cowboy drawl, "Come awn, baby muuule!"

And then there was Alice. Sweet, sweet Alice.
Alice and I understood each other. I think it was that she, too was blonde and knew how tough it is to be blonde and taken seriously. I'm sure it's even harder when you're a mule.

But, Alice carried me up that mountain with nary a complaint. She was gentle and surefooted and reigned easily and listened with her ears up high when I petted her soft coat and told her what a beautiful, good girl she was. She always snorted in return.

I love Alice and I don't think I'm bragging when I say, I'm pretty certain she loves me, too.

So, off we went over the bridges, down tree-lined paths and up, up, up the mountain.

We saw sights like this on our sure footed steeds....
And this:
As we way made our way up the scary, narrow, steep passages...
Our cowboy, the one in the front, told us on the way up that we were traveling the same path as the brave folks who settled this land of rugged mountains in their wagons and mules. I contemplated this as we made our way up the rocky mountain side.

A day trip with sweet Alice was one thing. But, I think if a group of pioneer friends had included me in their plans to trek across our uncharted country with no Ahwahnee and no hot showers, I would have said, "Oh, thanks anway, but I think I'll stay here. Send me a pony express letter when you get there. I'll join you when someone invents a car."

The way down was a little less relaxing than the way up. My 11 year old was in front of me on the trek down and everytime we had to guide our mules around a pin-turn switcback with plummeting dropoffs, I would shout out in abject fear, "REIGN YOUR MULE! TURN HIM! OH, MY GOD, TURN HIM, JULIA!"

Until Hot cowboy rode up next to me, reassuring me with a sexy wink, that he'd never lost a tourist yet.

It was scary and lovely and intense and amazing and I couldn't get enough of it, all wrapped up in one beautiful, blonde mule package named Alice.

I will come back. I know this. The Mule Guide thing is in the stars for me.

So, if you hear, Internet, that I've disappeared from town, you'll know where to find me, on Alice, meadering down the cool breezy paths of the mountainside, encircled by mountains and waterfalls and twittering birds and hot cowboys, guiding tourists through the experience of a lifetime.

I leave you with an exceptional treat. A little snippet of our ride. And yes, that is the Hubby speaking in awestruck tones over the fact that he had service with his new IPhone while on a mule on the top of a mountain. Strike one up for AT&T and Apple.

If you go to Yosemite, check out the Yosemite Valley Stables and Cody the Cowboy. Ask for Alice, but not Jezebel. She's got some growing up to do.

Today's Definite Download: "See the World" by Gomez. Not only a freaking, underrated genius of a group, this song so sweet in its earnestness, its says exactly what we've tried to spend our days doing, seeing the world, on planes and cars and bicycles and the best so far...mules.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Is this where you are? I can see where the inspiration would come from but wouldn't it be kind of hard to type while riding on the back of a mule guiding German-speaking tourists up a mountain, even on a Mac?
Where in the world is Joann Mannix?? Are you with Matt Lauer? I will be soo jealous!

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