Wednesday 29 June 2011

Day 88: Hetch Hetchy

 The dam face at Hetch Hetchy

At lunchtime, Mike said quite casually "Shall we go to Hetch Hetchy", and I said yes, but by the time we'd been driving for 45 minutes it emerged he had no idea how far away it was!  Oh well...  To get to Hetch Hetchy, you leave Yosemite Park and drive through the Stanislaus National Forest.  This includes 2 miles through some of the most beautiful open woodland I've seen, which turns out to be private property.  Then you re-enter Yosemite and drive along the kind of skimpy, crumbling mountain road we used to have in France back in the 1970s.  Except that we all had smaller non-automatic cars back then as well.

Artificial waterfall....

I'm glad we saw Hetch Hetchy, but it isn't nearly as stunning as Yosemite Valley.  At least the weather had improved, and we hung around for a while and did some photography.  I'm really into photographing dams while Mike is interested in waterfalls.  This is one of the wettest years Yosemite has had recently, and the waterfalls are particularly full and impressive.  Since it's the first time we've seen them, it's probably too easy for us to take them for granted.  Some other hikers did just that this morning, and unfortunately, there is now a helicopter out, looking for one of them.  It's sad that people find it hard to tell the difference between a picture postcard and several tons of water per second until it's too late.  A ranger told us that the most popular book in the Yosemite bookshops is the one called Death in Yosemite.  Having lived in mountains, I imagine they could bring out a new volume every year - and still not scare people into sensible behavior!!

... real power.

Speaking of not being sensible, we're not exactly risking our lives but we did get back to our hotel at 9:00pm, got told off for being late with our packed lunch order, vaguely threw together the stuff for a 13-mile hike tomorrow, and fell asleep by 9:30 without eating dinner.  I really don't like the kind of car touring we did today, so even though I can put up with it in bad weather, I regretted spending so much time on it I exhausted myself.

Day 88: Rainy Morning in Yosemite

Yosemite Falls

At 3.00am rain began pounding on the veranda roof and didn't let up, despite the weather forecast's insistence that we were experiencing scattered thunder showers.  It seemed a good day to drive down to Yosemite Village and work on Antonia's Junior Ranger Book.  We went to the reconstructed Indian Village to see how her acorn granary design compared with the real thing, the cemetery to find out how Yosemite Pioneers died and the museum because it rained again!  The museum was worth it for the amazing Indian basketwork and the lady telling Indian stories and making tiny baskets. The Junior Ranger programs in the parks are also excellent, but each park has its own style.  In Yosemite, we had to color our book ourselves!

 Joshua Tree and Yosemite Junior Ranger books
In the Ansel Adams gallery, Mike signed himself up to do a 4-hour photography workshop tomorrow.  So far he has met 3 or 4 people toting cameras with 3000-dollar lenses and no idea how to use them.  He showed one lady with very expensive equipment how to turn on the autofocus!  I am wondering whether he has paid a lot of money to go on a course with rich beginners.  Later in the afternoon we met a local photographer who knew the lady giving the course and talked her friend up a lot so I felt reassured.

In the afternoon we decided to drive to Hetch Hetchy, which gets a post all to itself.  Getting out of Yosemite Valley is where the traffic started to get to me a bit. I suppose it is not nearly as bad as the weekend, when our waiter said it took him 4 hours to drive from Bridalveil to Curry Village! Today, it's just a fairly busy road on which people are driving with their heads craned out at the scenery.  Every time they see what they think is a nice photo opportunity, they slow down in the middle of the road and think about where they can park.  Then they pull themselves off the road somehow, discover they aren't really where they want to be, and pull back out.  Usually they do all that with little or no awareness of other road users.  Luckily, there is a perfect solution to this nonsense, provided it's a fine day!  It's possible to walk the whole valley in a day, which is what we're planning to do tomorrow.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Day 87: Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

Half Dome

Sequoia groves and Wawona hotels are all very pleasant, but it wasn't until I saw this that I realised how justified Yosemite's international reputation really is.  This is just part of the view from Glacier Point.  I'm feeling quite privileged to be here really.

Mike doing his thing with the tripod.

There's lots of people at Glacier Point and even quite a few on the Panorama Trail we followed out to Illilouette Falls.  That's because it's one of the major trails down to Yosemite Valley and Half Dome.  We've been picking up a few interesting stories from the rangers about the consequences of 'crowding' which are so unusual for the American wilderness.
  • Up to thirty years ago, they had a clearing where they dumped trash.  The bears came to eat it and the tourists came to photograph the bears.  They stopped all that, but the bears keep on coming, and they've taught their cubs.
  • They used to let organisations like universities pay to have a sequoia named after them, but they discovered the bark of the sequoias in question was being eroded away by people from those organisations collecting them as relics. People find it so hard to grasp the collective effects of individual action.
  • They used to show people where the sequoia saplings grew, but too many times, the sapling they had shown would disappear the next day.  So they stopped that too.
  • Lastly, where there are more people there just will be more accidents.  At Glacier Point today, I saw a fairly elderly lady fall and came rolling down a pile of boulders.  Fortunately, her grandson, who was quite a big guy, caught her in his arms, just like in the movies!!  The grandmother would not be in good shape now if he hadn't had such quick reactions.

Monday 27 June 2011

Day 86: Wawona, Yosemite

 Wawona Hotel main building (which is really old)

We decided to take it easy today, so this is the perfect opportunity to talk about the Wawona Hotel, where we're spending the week.  I booked it way back in October 2010, and already there were no rooms with private bathrooms left.  Still, it cost more than we usually pay for a hotel, so is it worth it?  People who expect a gold-plated jacuzzi when they've spent lots of money on a room, and people who don't have 'ambience' on their list of values are probably better off somewhere else.  For example, in Wawona campsite.  We met a guy who drove with his family down from Chicago in about two and a half days, scared himself silly on the Tioga Pass (I bet he has an automatic), and arrived at dusk to the joys of pitching tents and figuring out how to use the bear-proof food safe.  Personally, I have visions of not being able to operate a bear-proof food safe myself first thing in the morning.

Wawona annex looking cute.

I'm really in to ambience, and find it's something I can't really set a price on.  I do love the retro, early 20th century feel, and much more look forward to getting back to the Wawona after a long day's hike than to a campsite! When we arrived here on Saturday, it was full of unusually healthy looking Americans eating barbecue on the lawn, or throwing frisbees to equally healthy looking children, or drinking martinis in the bar while wearing floral print dresses, or laying out their backpacking equipment on the veranda for a final sort through.  The whole thing reminds me of when I was a boy scout, which I never was, so it's a little bit strange.  So what if it's a stroll along the veranda to the toilets or the showers, because we're here for the fresh air, right?
Our room on the top veranda, and the route to the shower on the ground floor!

Breakfast is kind of bustling and straightforward because most people just want to get off on their hikes.  There is still time for that exotic native ceremony known as the raising of the flag.  These three guys go out to the flag pole and two of them stand to attention while one of them whistles the national anthem and the third raises the flag.  Anybody who's in the vicinity stands to attention and when it's over they all clap.  I must say, it was pretty impressive whistling.  After that, Mike and Antonia went off on a ranger guided walk, while I settled down on the veranda with a cup of coffee to do some work.  The way to get coffee in your room at the Wawona is to bring a thermos and some instant coffee with you, and ask the kitchen to fill the thermos up. The way to get a WIFI network just outside your room is to be married to my husband!  (Well, the hotel WIFI is kind of working for lots of people, ours is just more sophisticated).

 Wawona Meadow looking like our own Chartreuse

When the guys got back, we had the packed lunch which the Wawona include with our hiker's package on the lawn.  It was so lovely sitting there looking at the golf course, I almost contemplated having a go at golf.  We decided to go on a 3-mile stroll around the Wawona Meadow loop instead.  In the evening, we decided to have dinner in the Wawona's restaurant.  This was not at all necessary, because they give us so much for our lunches, that the left-overs and the other food we have would easily feed us.  We just wanted to try it.  It turned out to be one of the best meals I've every had in the US (but European style portion sizes, thank goodness, and prices, unfortunately). We loved the pine nut tart. The idea was that the restaurant meal would leave us in better shape for the Monday night star-gazing session at 9pm.  In reality we were already realizing that we'd squeezed a lot into our 'quiet' day and that there was no way we were getting up early to hike 14 miles the next day.  Oh well!

Sunday 26 June 2011

Day 85: Hike around Mariposa Grove and back to Wawona

Hike length: 11 miles (17.7km), 5 miles around Mariposa Grove, passing all the 'named' Sequoias, out to Wawona Point, then 6 miles from the Grove back to Wawona. The trail back is downhill all the way, we did a bit of climbing in the Grove.

 Right there in the back is Antonia waving from the base of Grizzly Giant, the largest and most visited sequoia in Mariposa Grove

Yosemite has the reputation of being very crowded.  Actually, if you're used to the population densities in Europe and the number of people you would usually find in parks like this, you wouldn't really notice.  It's not like Joshua Tree, where we almost had the place to ourselves.  There are some consequences of the 'crowding'.  For instance, there is a shuttle bus service from Wawona store to Mariposa Grove every half hour from 8:30am to 6:00pm.  This is really useful, because the Mariposa to Wawona trail is such an obvious one-way hike.  Second, the animals here are really tame.  The mule deer don't care if humans get within a few feet of them, and the squirrels will literally show off for the camera.  Apparently, we're all supposed to be quite cautious of bears, but we haven't seen one yet.  Third, on our first evening here, we picked up quite a bit of trash in the picnic ground.  When we went to the visitor center to get the Junior Ranger package, we found it included a trash bag which the kids are supposed to fill.  This seems like an excellent scam - the National Trust might want to get on board with that one!!

One of many show-off squirrels

The interesting thing about the crowding is that it's very localized.  Within perhaps a mile of the car park at Mariposa, and around the most famous sequoias, there are lots of people.  On the tourist 'tram' running through the grove, there are lots of people.  On most of the trails around the grove, there were just enough people to socialize with a bit.  It's a shame for most of the people that they aren't more adventurous, because the sequoia forests in the upper grove, around the museum, are the ones that have a really impressive 'alien planet' feel to them.  On the pleasant and easy 6 mile trail back to Wawona, we did not meet a soul, though I did meet an English lady at the hotel who was planning to do the same walk tomorrow.  In other words, it's really easy to get away from the crowds here!!

None of our photographs do justice to the forest, but at least in this one, you get the idea that these trees are tall.  And these aren't even sequoias!

Saturday 25 June 2011

Day 85: Roadtrip from Joshua Tree to Yosemite

Wow, we have internet at Yosemite!  That means I get to post my experiment in roadtrip blogging.  I just snap away as we're driving along, then pick out one picture for about every hour and a half.  It's a lot of fun, though if I had Photoshop, I could make the colors look more normal.  The van windows fade them out a bit.

 8:50 am - Crazy sign as we leave Joshua Tree for the crazy sign fans.

 9:07 am - The 247 swoops down like a roller coaster between Yucca Valley and Landers.  We love this bit.

 10:22 am - Somehow, this doesn't seem like the road to Yosemite.  This is the road to Deep Creek Hot Springs where Mike has decided to take a detour.  He's worried because his Internet friend was supposed to get back from here last week, and hasn't been heard of on the Internet.  He wants to ask random people at the ranch and car park if they know anything about his friend.  He wants us to fee grateful he doesn't spend 4 hours hiking in to the springs and back.  Predictably, at the end of an hour and a half, we still don't know any more about the friend than we did at the start.  This is the sort of behavior that has earned Mike the nickname Force of Chaos.  So 3.5 hours into our roadtrip, we have clocked up 41 miles towards Yosemite.

 11:43 am - We are still in the Mojave Desert, trying to get out of the built up areas around Apple Valley.

 13:22 pm - We're back on the 58 where we should be, and no longer in the desert but in the golden hills of California.  They're covered in golden grass (surprise) and scattered with trees.  They look just like African savannah.  This is a very beautiful part of the road.

 13:49 pm - After Bakersfield, the 99 takes us through California's Central Valley.  It may be a good place to grow food but it's as flat as a pancake and as boring as possible.  Actually, it looks a lot like the part of the south of France I grew up in, but with fewer redeeming features.

 16:08 pm - Just outside Fresno, somebody decided to brighten the environment.  If you're going to be patriotic, you might as well go the whole the hog and paint your barn.  None of this wishy-washy buying a cheap flag at Wallmarts.

 16:36 pm - We made it to the hills behind a 1950s car that couldn't pass a fuel emissions test if it tried.

17:17pm - It's amazing how much the landscape has changed with one day's driving.

 17:20 pm - We've arrived!  I am so glad to be here that it's only a little bit galling to think that if we hadn't made that detour to Deep Creek we would have arrived before the Visitor Center closed!  BTW, as soon as Mike got on the Internet, he found an email from his friend.

Friday 24 June 2011

Joshua Tree in a day or a month

We think here are two really good ways to see Joshua Tree in the warmer seasons.  BTW, we were there in June with highs of 85 to 100 F, and people told us it was unseasonably cool!

Way 1 is for artists, writers, work-at-homers, exam-preparers, people who want to do a retreat or a small seminar.  This is the sort of thing we did, and the nice thing is to rent one of the many vacation rentals in the area for a few weeks, settle down to do your work and go out into the desert in the morning and evening.

Way 2 allows you to get a really good feel of Joshua Tree in a single day, even if it's pretty warm.  It involves spending one or two nights around Yucca Valley, walking 4 to 8.5 miles and driving about 170 miles.  The ideal thing is to start as early as you can bear, which would mean getting maps and admission fees sorted out the evening before if possible. The National Park Center on Park Boulevard in Joshua Tree opens 8.00 - 5.00. Having seen most of the more accessible parts of Joshua Tree, I think this is the best itinerary for seeing the maximum variety of desert environment, with most of the walking in the cooler morning.  You need a lot of water and sunscreen in Joshua Tree.  Lots of water means maybe a couple of gallon-size bottles in the car from which you would refill smaller drinking bottles.  The water will get hot, but it's better than dehydration.

  1. Entering the park from West Park Boulevard in Joshua Tree, the pull-offs in the flats are a great place to stop and take a good look at a Joshua Tree Forest.
  2. The Hidden Valley nature trail (1 mile) is the most beautiful first introduction to this desert park I could imagine.
  3. The Barker Dam nature trail (1.3 miles) is a great introduction to human use of the desert with its Native American pictographs and the artificial lake behind the dam. Wall Street Mill trail (1.5 miles) from the same car park leads to abandoned cars and mill machinery,. We did have some issues with evening mosquitoes in both these areas.  If you really hate walking you could skip one or both of these.  Barker Dam is the most interesting walk.
  4. It requires a detour, but Keys View loop (0.25 miles) has an unmissable panorama to the south with views over the San Andreas fault and Salton Sea.  This is the highest altitude on this route and almost certainly as cool as it's likely to get.
  5. For seeing the higher desert plateau and the boulder piles for which Joshua Tree is famous I think it's enough to do either Skull Rock nature trail (1.7 miles) or the Arch Rock nature trail (0.3 miles).  The shade of boulders is a good place to get some respite from the heat.
  6. There are no more Joshua Trees in the southern lower part of the desert, but there are chollas.  The one's on the Cholla Cactus Garden nature trail (0.25 miles) are monstrous.  Please, please don't touch the chollas.
  7. Ocotillos at Ocotillo Patch are another wild and wacky plant.  Ocotillo Patch is just a pull-off, not a walk..
  8. The Cottonwood Spring nature trail (1.4 miles) leads to a botanically beautiful little area that gives the idea of a desert oasis if there isn't time or it's too hot to walk to an official one.  It's even possible to drive all the way to the car park overlooking the spring (about 0.25 miles).
  9. Drive back round to Yucca Valley on Interstate 10 and 52.  The wind farm at the intersection of these two roads is strangely monstrous.  Route 52 after the intersection is quite attractive.
  10. In Yucca Valley, turn off down Pioneertown Road for a few miles, for drinks and a meal at Pappy and Harriet's.  Check out their music program - most concerts start at 7:30 pm, they cost quite a bit but must be great fun.  If you show up for dinner at 7:30 you may find you have to pay for the concert too.  We were here at lunchtime so I'm not sure

The most rewarding longer walks we did in Joshua Tree were Ryan Mountain which was challenging because of the heat, but a great view, and 49 Palms Oasis, which was really pretty, but a bit disappointing in that the actual oasis area is protected.

Day 84: Onwards and upwards

The Palins may have given up on their Round The USA Adventure, but we are made of much tougher stuff! (1).  We just keep on going!  Tomorrow we are making the longish drive to Yosemite where we're staying for a week.  After that, I gather from Mike that we're going to be spending a week or more sleeping in our campervan on friends' driveways.  So, if blogging is sporadic for a little while, it isn't because we sneaked off back home without telling anyone. (There is almost certainly going to be no internet in Yosemite).

Today is all about laundry, packing, cleaning up the house and the van, and collecting Antonia's well-earned Junior Ranger Patch for Joshua Tree.  We're also stocking up on food so that we can at least make our own breakfasts and lunches in Yosemite: better for our budgets, our health and our use of time.... 

(1) OK, so maybe this is not the ideal comparison to try to claim family credit points!

And then, we tried to order a small 'New York' pizza from the local take-out in Joshua Tree, so we could have a quick snack, an early night, and an early start in the morning.  This was the result:

Thank goodness it wasn't a Texas pizza.  There go all our plans of sleeping lightly and getting up early.  Really, they sold us a large 21" pizza by mistake.  It's a shame we didn't enjoy it much, because the base was great.  It's probably our fault for ordering two toppings that had been preserved in vinegar, one that had been frozen and a final one that was canned in syrup.  The overall effect was vinegary sweetness.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Day 83: Gubler Orchids

People are very hospitable here.  Whenever we meet anyone, that person scratches their head and starts worrying about us having nothing to do, and making lists of attractions for us.  Never mind that we are very happy just going out in the desert every evening.  It turns out that the two prominent attractions of the neighborhood are Pappy and Harriet's and Gubler Orchids.  Pappy and Harriet's turned out well, so we thought we'd take a look at the orchids before we leave.

Gubler Orchids is a business that manufactures orchids in a large set of greenhouses in the middle of the desert and ships them all over the US.  It might seem a strange thing to visit but it turned out to be quite interesting (and beautiful).  A very nice lady showed us round and explained the technicalities of the greenhouses and orchid growing to us.  One of the interesting things about wild orchids, if you're a natural history buff, is that they rely on the presence of a fungus to germinate, so growing them in greenhouses is a complicated business involving fungus hormones!  Meanwhile, Antonia went wild with the camera.  I know she rates Gubler pretty highly as an attraction.

 She took several photos of the backs of orchids which is something an adult probably wouldn't do, but they came out quite interesting.

Cute orchids by Antonia!

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Day 82: Life at Magical Cottage, Part II

This is the second post about magical cottage.  This time, life in the great outdoors.

Before going out, we glare at the thermometer through the window.  This is the first time it got so high (100F/40C in the shade, if you can't tell).  Today we decided to stay in until the evening!

As well as being hot and dry its always very windy so the sound of wind chimes is a constant background accompaniment.  These are the quiet, photogenic ones.

The front porch with its hummingbird feeder, and a barely visible hummingbird.  In the morning and evening, we have lots of birds and animals in the garden.  For some reason, nobody seems inclined to hang around with a camera to photograph them.

I'm cleaning windswept leaves out of the outdoor bathtub so I can take a bath under the stars later.  Y'all ain't invited, as they say around here.

Here's what the neighborhood looks like: a few low houses, desert and hills, and usually a few animals hanging around in the middle ground.

Antonia is playing in the road outside our house.  Nearly all the residential roads around here are sand, rather than tarmac.  It looks a bit like she's making a rude sign at me, but really she's beckoning me because she wants me to pretend I'm a coyote and she is a roadrunner.  Sheesh...  I think she was even saying 'beep-beep'!

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Day 80 and 81: Life at Magical Cottage

We aren't planning any big adventures this week, so I thought it would be nice to do some posts about our house, which is lovely.  I'll need to clean it up first, and that is another good thing.

Ordinary life around here has a routine, which will last for all of another 5 days.   In the morning Mike works with the East-Coasters and the Brits, while they're still awake at the same time.  Antonia does her lessons.  Since my main job is to help her, I do whatever I can in the gaps around that.  Such as make apricot compote for our yoghurts, sort out the photos, plan our evening walk in the desert, take care of any trip related admin or planning, read and write.  Sometimes I get a lot done, sometimes not so much...

This is where Mike works.  He knows who the band are in that painting above him.

This is where I work.  Mike thinks he is a better person because he doesn't work on a bed, so I let him go first.

This is Antonia's room where she talks on the phone to her friends in France.  Hmmmm... I wonder why I don't seem to have a picture of her working.

This is me in the kitchen making something or other and trying not to get photographed.

This house is owned by an artist and this is just a tiny part of a huge and hard to photograph installation.  I think it's supercool and I want to make one. 
Mike is not so sure about the dead things motif.

All in all we are very, very comfortable here.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Day 79: And now for something completely different

Following the advice of our propane delivery guy, we made the 2-hour drive up to Big Bear today.  I am a planning freak so not many of our trips are as totally impromptu as this.  I tend to research everything we need to know before we set out. I usually even know the layout of a place before we arrive.  I thought it would be interesting to analyze the differences between the two types of trip.

OK, it's not as if I did no planning.  I did ask Mike to look up the temperature at Big Bear, and he said 16 Centigrade, so we packed our coats.  It turned out that wherever he got that from, it was a bit unreliable on the low side.  We threw together a picnic, set the GPS for Big Bear Lake, and headed off into the unknown round about 9:30am.  Two hours later we pulled into Big Bear City, admiring the complete change in scenery and style of houses, and Mike said "Now what?"

Well, now obviously, we find a source of information! I hazarded a guess that the north side of the lake might be most interesting, and on our way there we found signposts to the Discovery Center.  First point of call.  We got trail maps, advice on picnic sites, a list of boat rental places, then drove off to a picnic site about 15 minutes away.  When we arrived there, we found a sign that said we couldn't park without a Forest Adventure Permit, so we drove back to the Discovery Center with Mike fuming because they hadn't told us that.  He was also determined to see if our National Park Pass would work instead.  I didn't think so, but it turns out it is good for Federal Recreation Lands as well as National Parks.  We didn't need to get anything after all. We drove back and had our picnic in the cool shade of amazingly tall pine trees by the blue lake.

We still needed to make a plan for doing the things we actually wanted to do.  We wanted to go on a hike up the Gray's Peak trail which was right there AND go boating AND I wanted to swim in the lake.  We decided that if we were to do all those things, we needed to figure out how long the boat places stayed open and what they cost.  It would be faster to call them on the phone, but they didn't answer, so we had to drive around to the nearest marina, find out they shut at 5.00pm and drive back to our trail head.  It was 1:00pm by then and I already knew we didn't have time to complete the trail and go boating, but I was happy to go along with the other two, if they decided to turn back after a while.  It's hard though, to turn back on a trail that has a summit as its destination, so in the end we got back to the car at 5:00pm and didn't do any water-based activities.  We did have a really nice hike though, our first real hike on this trip.  We found that we had taken just enough water with us, because although the temperature here is pleasantly warm, it's still very dry.

I think one of the things that's going to be really special for me and Antonia on this trip round the world is thanks to the amount of David Attenborough documentaries we've both watched.  Sometimes, we come across something we're not likely to have seen in real life before, but we know what it is from David Attenborough.  We get really excited about recognizing things and inspecting them.  Like the holes in this tree trunk.  They are made by woodpeckers which store a single acorn in each hole.

The other unwitting highlight of our hike was on the way down from Gray's Peak when met Slick the horse, and his owner. They were going up to the top of Gray's Peak where there are some nice bits of lush grass.  I was really interested in Slick because he was such an American horse.  He had an American-style saddle, and no horseshoes on his hooves.  His owner was pretty interesting to foreign eyes too, with his cowboy hat, denim dungarees and checked shirt and the really fancy leather boots. It's funny to think how differently people (and horses) dress here from in Europe, for a common activity like horse riding.

Slick's owner said he was born wild in Nevada, was only half-tame, and that eleven years ago, he had got him out of 'jail' where he'd been sent for being too wild.  I'm not sure what that metaphor means in concrete terms.  He told us about trimming Slick's hooves and how he wears slip-on shoes when he's going to be going over rocks. It turned out that Slick goes down to Pioneertown pretty often.  I suppose he plays at being a cowboy horse and his owner likes to eat at... guess where... Pappy and Harriet's!  That place really is the place to be around here.

However, Mike suddenly decided he wanted to eat Mexican tonight, so he hooked up his wifi device to his cell phone so I could find us a Yucca Valley Mexican restaurant on the way home.  I soon realized that people in Yucca Valley rate places a lot on the price/quantity ratio, rather than on quality, interest, genuineness or any of those other qualities that interest weird foreigners.  I plumped for Las Palmas which turned out to be a mixture of amazingly excellent (lime margaritas, salsa, meatball soup), and just kind of average.  It was extremely copious, so I guess it meets the local requirements.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Day 78: Pioneertown

Yesterday, a man called at our house to deliver propane, and while he was here, he very kindly gave us lots of advice about things to see in the area.  As a result, we decided to change our plans for the weekend a bit.  Instead of camping at the south end of the park, we would go to Pioneertown and Big Bear Lake.  And since we would end up near our house on Saturday evening, we decided not to camp, which, quite honestly, saved a lot of time getting organized.

Pretend wild west town and cowboy

Apparently, the main reason we should go to Pioneertown was to eat at a place called Pappy and Harriet's, but our friend also mentioned the kid friendly Wild West main street and the cowboy shoot-em-up show.  Antonia and I have been to one of these cowboy movie set shows in Spain.  It was fun, and I was interested in making the comparison.

The address on sponsorship from the local bath house

I have to say that only in America does the cowboy shoot-em-up show begin with a lecture on gun safety for the children in the audience, together with the assurance that the actors are not using real guns.  Only in America is a demonstration of thuggery, sexual exploitation and violence (as expected in cowboy shows), interrupted with a speech on 'The Cowboy Creed' which is all about respecting your parents, helping people, and saying your prayers (I suppose that last part only shocks us foreigners, right?).  There were some other differences.  In the cowboy show we saw in Spain, the actors were professionals.  Here they are an amateur group.  They are very nice, but much less flamboyant than the professionals we saw.  They are not trained in performing stunts.  It's also telling that I thought the plot flowed a little better in Spanish, and I don't even understand Spanish very well.

Antonia and the other kids swearing a solemn oath never to play with guns.  After this morning's incident, I'm wondering if this will be counterproductive.

Getting more analytical, I think my main criticism is that with one thing and another, they were obviously not comfortable with the outrageously bad behavior expected in shoot-em-up shows.  Unfortunately, it's the outrageousness that keeps the show firmly on the side of fiction.  These guys know you can't have cowboys in a cowboy show behaving like Sunday School teachers (which seems to be their natural inclination) but they toned it down so much that the stuff they had to leave in came across as a bit sordid, rather than far-fetched enough to be entertaining.  Maybe it all has something to do with the fact that it's related to their culture and history, whereas to us, cowboys are on a par with space aliens, and just a big laugh.  But in that case, why not do something that reflects the real history of the west, instead of the Hollywood fictional version.

Mike emerging from Pappy and Harriet's with his beer.  He's using the cowboys entrance.  The white sign on the door says "Hippies use side door"

Eating at Pappy and Harriet's was much more the main experience of the afternoon.  It's a large pub filled with 'western' objects.  In that respect, it reminds me of the chalet bars and restaurants at home, which are filled with mountain objects, like old skis and portraits of cows.  Here we have US license plates and portraits of old men and nubile young women with guns.  Also lots of amusing signs about keeping the unruly customers in order.

 Harriet and all the things she can do.   If you act up she throws "your pimply butt outta here"

Pappy and Harriet's is quite well-known for having live music in the evening, but that was going to be a bit too late and/or expensive for us.  The menu is the usual American fare of burgers and hotdogs, with a few more unusual sandwiches, like catfish.  The great thing is that it is all real food.  The burgers are made from real beef, and cooked over an outdoor barbecue pit.  It's a far cry from the cardboard objects we ate a couple of nights ago.  We stayed there soaking up the atmosphere and the food for quite a while, and had a good time.