Vacationing, 2021 Style

I am constantly being reminded of how much things have changed since I was younger.

Indeed, I remember flying as a kid, and having a meal on a tray served to me, accompanied by metal utensils, all as part of my ticket.  Flight attendants were called stewardesses and were glamorous and professional.  Airplanes had smoking sections, and one could actually walk up to the gate, show a boarding pass and enter the airplane.

Well, that’s all gone.  And so is carefree vacation travel, it seems.

I have returned from my trip to four of California’s national parks, and while I had an extremely enjoyable time, the reminders that today’s reality is far removed from the past were everywhere.

I have taken to mentioning the “triple-whammy” that affected this trip:  COVID-19, heat and wildfires.

Arriving in Fresno, I learned that the area (the central valley of California) had been experiencing a record-setting 66 straight days of 100°+ temperatures.  The heat and lack of rainfall or mountain water runoff has resulted in drought and wildfires.  A look at the map here suggests the entire Pacific northwest is ablaze (the map in the link is updated continuously).  The rampant fires had two immediate effects:  A smoky haze over the valley (which, I was told, could affect the taste of crops), and the closure of all of California’s national forests.

But once I got into the higher elevations, the sky was clear, strikingly blue, and the parks were tremendous!  But COVID-19 had wreaked havoc on the park workers.  Visitor centers were closed, as were restaurants and a number of facilities.  Earlier closures had caused the workforce to find work elsewhere, and the slow re-opening of the parks found jobs unfilled.  In Yosemite, for example, only the hotels (the Wawona and the Ahwanee) had open restaurants, and the Yosemite Lodge’s eatery was the only other dining choice.

The Ahwahnee Hotel

Ahwahnee Hotel. Built in 1926 at a cost of $1.25 million.

Still, it was the scenery I was after, and scenery I got!  Having visited Yosemite in the winter of 2015, it was quite a change to see it in summer.  The Tunnel View was spectacular, despite that lack of water in Bridalveil Falls.

Tunnel View, Yosemite NP

The famous Tunnel View scene, entering Yosemite National Park, with El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls

The giant Sequoia trees were impressive, even though I found photographing them a challenge (maybe different lenses might have helped?).  Some of the oldest living organisms on the planet, hardy and majestic.

General Sherman Giant Sequoia

It took 32 of us humans to circle the trunk of the General Sherman, estimated to be 2,500 years old.

Kings Canyon reminded me of a lesser-known Yosemite.  The granite formations were similar, and some of the scenery every bit as lovely.

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

But Death Valley was the place I wanted to visit most.  Zabriskie Point, in particular.  I remember having a (vinyl) record album of the soundtrack of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 film of the same name.

Zabriskie Point Soundtrack

Album cover for Zabriskie Point soundtrack

I never saw the movie (it can’t be found online today!) but the music was early Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead and John Fahey.  For some reason, images of Zabriskie Point have always appealed to me.  I wanted to see for myself.

Our bus descended down from the heights, and I saw the elevation markers dropping: 8,000 feet, 7,000 feet, 6,000 feet…

Before the trip was done, I found myself at -282 feet.  The lowest elevation point in the United States, only about twenty miles from Zabriskie Point.  Choosing one photo out of the many I took was quite a challenge.  I may change my mind, but here it is:

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley NP, CA.

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley NP, CA.

The author at Badwater Basin.  Sunglasses, wide-brimmed hat required!

Badwater Basin, Death Valley NP, CA.

Badwater Basin, Death Valley. The lowest elevation (282 feet below sea level) in the U. S.

Suffice it to say, it was HOT.  Some people say that it’s not so bad due to the absence of humidity.  Still, it was HOT.

Furnace Creek (Death Valley) Visitor Center.  At noon.

Furnace Creek (Death Valley) Visitor Center. At noon.

Another notch on the scenic vacation belt!

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