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Tuesday
Apr082014

HOW I FOUND MYSELF AT THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE: NASA SOCIAL EVENT #DSN50 DAY ONE APRIL 2014

"Welcome to Our Universe" is a friendly sign posted at the entry station to Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. Once past the litmus test of proper government-issued identification, a complex of buildings very like a college campus (and so it is - CalTech) with gentle landscaping and outdoor gathering areas welcomes you to this brain trust of the space program. Picturesquely located in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles, visitors may be lulled by the laid-back California vibe of the professorial types employed by JPL, but once inside, a much grander claim emerges on a plaque mounted inside the Space Flight Operations building at Mission Control: "The Center of the Universe." The justification? JPL Mission Control manages all spacecraft communication via the Deep Space Network. Since all messages to and from space are routed through here, JPL must be the Center of the Universe. How did I get to the center of the universe? I applied for a NASA Social event and you should too.

Mission Control at JPL by Sean Hueber. Click on the photo to see the rest of Sean's photos from the #DSN50 event.

NASA has embraced social media wholeheartedly as an effective way to reach a large audience, and they are killing it. Utilizing all forms of media, they are on a mission (pun intended) to spread the word about the space program to anyone who will listen. With blogs, chats, NASA TV, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Flickr and 122 Twitter accounts (not counting astronauts!), NASA has made excelllent use of the public relations capability of social media. And what is the first rule of good social media? Create quality content. So Back in 2009, NASA's News and Social Media Manager at JPL, Veronica McGregor, hit upon the idea of NASA Tweetup events which have since become NASA Socials. Hosted at NASA facilities across the country, NASA Socials invite ordinary citizens to become a VIP of the space program - if only for the day. My first application for a NASA Social resulted in my first participation and I hope it won't be the last. Along with 49 other superlative space geeks, I was handed the keys to the kingdom at two of California's NASA facilities: Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena for a day and the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex on the Fort Irwin military base for a second day during the #DSN50 celebration of the 50th anniversary of NASA's Deep Space Network. To introduce us to NASA Social and each other on the first day, they let us hang out in Mission Control at Jet Propulsion Laboratory where we promptly wrangled our devices so we could tweet and post about how excited we were to be there. After all, this was the very room where JPL engineers guided the Curiosity Rover to its landing on Mars in 2012!

NASA Social Tweeps by Jason Major. Click on the photo to see the rest of Jason's photos from the #DSN50 event.That's me - JPL propulsion engineer for the day

The morning program consisted of presentations by JPL engineers, scientists and administrators of the Mars Science Laboratory (rovers), Cassini Project and Deep Space Network, and the JPL Visualization Producer. We even heard from Bobak Ferdowsi, the engineer that rose to fame during the Curiosity landing as NASA Mohawk Guy. The program was broadcast live on NASA TV (viewed by 9 million people so far!). We learned many things about the wonders of the Deep Space Network, such as:

  • Voyager I is 18.99 billion miles away and the network still communicates with it regularly.
  • The DSN is currently tracking 33 active spacecraft from countries all over the world except China.
  • Peanuts at mission control are a JPL tradition ensuring mission success since 1957.

Doug Ellison, JPL VIsualization Producer, helping us visualize the DSN by James Lundblad. Click on the photo to see the rest of James' photos from the #DSN50 event.Me and Bobak

Though Mission Control at JPL is indeed the center of the universe, we left our posts in capable hands to tour the rest of the facilities including the Mars Yard, the Spacecraft Assembly Facility and the visitor center museum. At the Mars Yard, we were introduced to the rugged terrain of Mars and Curiosity's earthbound twin, Maggie. An exact replica of Curiosity, Maggie the rover practices maneuvers as if she were on the surface of Mars for more tests and the possibility of troubleshooting any issues that Curiosity may encounter many millions of kilometers away.

Maggie by Oscar Rivas. Click the photo to see Oscar's blog post about #DSN50

Annie, Farid and Veronica in the Mars Yard.

Haven't you always wanted to visit a building marked Spacecraft Assembly Facility? To be honest, I was a little too giddy to pay much attention to what our very knowledgeable guides were saying about the craft being constructed because Spacecraft! and Science! It looked exactly as a spacecraft assembly facility should and was referred to as "the clean room". We weren't invited inside, but instead watched from the observation deck as people built things to launch into space.

SMAP solar shield (right!) by Jason Major. Click the photo to read Jason's article about #DSN50 on Universe Today.I know a thing or two about visitor centers and JPL has a good one with dazzling science displays. But what made our visit so memorable was getting the VIP tour from engineers Randii Wessen and Todd Barber. Since I had occupied Todd's seat at Mission Control, I felt an immediate kinship, but both men made an indelible impression with their passionate presentations. The enthusiasm for their work at JPL was heartfelt and contagious. They covered a mind-boggling array of NASA JPL science in a relatively short amount of time.

Randii Wesson by Simone Todd. Click the photo to see the rest of Simone's #DSN50 Day 1 photos.

Me and Propulsion Engineer Todd Barber.

And with that, Day One of NASA Social #DSN50 was over. Whew! Like I told the group several times - it was wonderful to be with my people. People who take photos of everything, people who are space geeks like me, people who share their geekiness on social media. I met many lovely people that day, including NASA Social team members Veronica McGregor, Courtney O'Connor, and John Yembrick. You'll find the rest of the NASA cast of characters below. In addition to the NASA team, my fellow #DSN50 spacetweeps were just as lovely and I spent the following day with them in the Mojave Desert at Goldstone DSCC - so look for more about the crew in the upcoming Day Two post.

Stephanie Smith, JPL Social Media Team
Shannon McConnell, JPL DSN Outreach (our tour guide on the bus tour and she took the group photo)
Jeff Osman, JPL DSN Project office (our tour guide on the bus and at the dishes)
Alice Wessen, JPL Solar System Outreach lead
Leslie Cunkleman, Goldstone Outreach team
Marie Massey, Goldstone Outreach team
Kate Squires, NASA Armstrong Center social media specialist
Jaime Catchen, MSL systems engineer (our tour guide at the Mars Yard)
Randii Wessen, JPL project formulation (our tour guide at the JPL museum)
Todd Barber, JPL propulsion engineer (our tour guide at the JPL museum)
Peter Waydo, SMAP engineer (our tour guide at the Spacecraft Assembly Facility
John Wirth, RapidScat engineer (our tour guide at the Spacecraft Assembly Facility)

Junket Rating:

Jet Propulsion Laboratory: Junk in the Trunk!!!

 

Saturday
Mar292014

NASA in California March 2014

Four years ago I started my very own travel blog because I like to travel and I like to write. Though I am lucky enough to live in Yosemite National Park, I chose California as the focus of the blog because I love so much about the Golden State - desert, ocean, mountains, night sky, agriculture, history - and we are mad campers who like to experience California in the dirt. In the past year I became even luckier as I now get paid to to write about travel to Yosemite as the Communications Coordinator for DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite. And in the past month my luck has escalated off the charts as I was chosen to attend a NASA Social event here in California. On April 1st and 2nd, I travel to southern California to Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and then to Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex located in the Mojave Desert outside of Barstow with a group of 50 people selected to share our experience through social media with the purpose of encouraging others to learn about American space exploration. Mission Control at JPL talks to deep space craft through the Deep Space Network, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and we will attend the celebration event at the Goldstone complex.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California

California, though one of the most populated states in the country, has millions of acres of public lands that provide amazing night sky experiences. Because I live in a national park and travel to others, I can spot satellites and view the Milky Way on a regular basis. A love of stargazing soon fed a fascination for space in general and the remarkable history of space travel. Along with millions of other people, I watched as we landed the Curiosity Rover on Mars in 2012, chuffed with pride and wonder. But I attribute much of that wonder to the way I experienced the rover landing through social media. I felt part of a great collective with live updates via the NASA TV app, Facebook and Twitter that gave me a sense of place in the space program though I will never experience zero gravity.

I hope you will follow me on April 1st and 2nd when I share my experience with NASA at JPL and Goldstone DSCC as I will be posting live from the events. You can follow along via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram:

California Junket on Facebook

@CAJunket on Twitter

michelleinyosemite on Instagram

As a prelude to my adventures with NASA in April, here is a roundup of all the NASA facilities that you can visit in California when you get the urge to be inspired by the commitment to knowledge and science that created the American space program.

Ames Research Center at Moffett Field near San Jose, CA: "One of 10 NASA field Centers, is located in the heart of California's Silicon Valley. For over 60 years, Ames has led NASA in conducting world-class research and development. With 2500 employees and an annual budget of $900 million, Ames provides NASA with advancements in entry, descent and landing technologies, information technology, next-generation aviation improvements, astrobiology, airborne sciences and small satellite programs." Visitor Center Hours: Tuesday through Friday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and weekends 12: 00 noon to 4:00 p.m. Closed Mondays and federal holidays.

Armstrong Flight Research Center (Formerly Known as Dryden Flight Research Center) located inside Edwards Air Force Base near Palmdale, CA: Home to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, AFRC is an aeronautical research center that operates some of the most advanced aircraft in the world. Armstrongs's mission is advancing technology and science through flight, performing flight research and technology integration to revolutionize aviation and pioneer aerospace technology, validate space exploration concepts, conduct airborne remote sensing and science missions, and support operations of the International Space Station. Currently, public tours of Armstrong have been suspended indefinitely. However, you can take tours of Edwards AFB and the Air Force Test Center Museum. Visit the museum through the general public tours program offered twice a month, except in December. General Public Tour reservations must be made in advance.

Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex located outside of Barstow, CA: "Goldstone is one of three complexes around the world known as the Deep Space Network (DSN) established to provide the ability to communicate with spacecraft; not only in orbit around the earth, but also in the farther reaches of our solar system. The Deep Space Network complexes, placed 120° apart, provide constant communication with spacecraft as the Earth rotates. The remote location of the Mojave Desert in California, near the old mining town of Goldstone, was determined to be an optimal location and in 1958 the first antenna was built. Facilities near Madrid, Spain and Canberra, Australia complete the Deep Space Network providing 360 degree coverage for spacecraft tracking." Tours of Goldstone are offered Monday through Friday at 10:00am. Each tour lasts about 2.5 hours. Tours must be scheduled in advance.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA: Predating NASA, JPL began operating in the 1930s developing rocket technology and was transferred to NASA in 1958. With NASA, the laboratory turned its attention from rockets to payloads. Developing payloads and scientific spacecraft became the new focus and placed JPL at the center of the Space Race with the Soviet Union. Even though JPL's charter evolved away from rockets technology, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory name was retained. JPL is also responsible for operating NASA's Deep Space Network to communicate with deep space craft. The JPL Public Services Office offers several types of tours free of charge for groups and individuals on an advance reservation basis. Visitor parking is also available free of charge.

Sunday
Feb022014

DEATH VALLEY IN DECEMBER 2013

On the way home from Las Vegas where we spent Thanksgiving with Mom, we took a short and sweet detour to Death Valley National Park. We have visited Death Valley in March and November every year since 2010 and though we actually arrived this year on December 2nd, we find this to be a mighty fine time to visit the hottest place in North America. Arriving for the ridiculous sunset pictured above, little did we know that this resulted from some unusual weather moving through the area. Had we arrived in November as usual, we may have caught the snowstorm that blanketed DV the week before. The staff at Panamint Springs Resort told us they took off for the day to go SLEDDING at Towne Pass on the 190. Talk about climate change! And speaking of climate change, many roads around Panamint Springs were still closed due to damage from storms the summer before. Normally we'd truck in to the Saline Valley during a visit to PSR, but not this time. Instead we planned to explore the roads around a blip on the map known as Darwin, a desert community between the park and China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station. Since we had spent the week in Vegas, we opted not to haul all the car camping gear with us and this guided our decision to rent one of PSR's two tent cabins for our stay. And it worked out just fine.

I never tire of the view at Panamint Springs Resort, and I always enjoy my stay. One lovely amenity that never fails to delight me is the wireless access. You can choose to share that gloriously empty view with as many people as you like in the moment, or keep it all to yourself. Options make life rich. In keeping with technological options, we used our iPad for some evening entertainment as dark comes early to Death Valley in December. In preparation for our trip, I had downloaded the documentary, "Darwin: No Services Ahead" and we had a premiere viewing from the cots in our tent cabin. We were heading out on the Darwin Road next day, to hike the Darwin Falls trail and drive the desert before cruising through town. The community of Darwin consists of 40 or so souls with a median income of $15,000 and one available job - postmaster. There are no services besides the post in Darwin and most people seem to have settled here after leaving behind some trouble in their past. If you are interested in a different type of Americana, give "Darwin" view. These people may not have much, but they certainly have amazing views of the Mojave Desert just outside their door and all the solitude they could possibly desire.

Though we had hiked the Darwin Falls trail before, we hadn't quite made it to the namesake and we were surprised by the plural 'falls' aspect. I knew there was a pretty permanent waterfall in Darwin Canyon - a remarkable attraction by itself in Death Valley - but I had only recently read that there is another permanent fall past the first, and I was gobsmacked to learn it was an 80 foot fall! We started the sunny morning on the trail with silence, wildflowers and the leftover remnants of autumn in the canyon. You follow the trail until you stumble upon Small Darwin Fall, which has created a lovely green grotto in the desert, complete with greenery clinging to the mossy canyon walls. Accessing Big Darwin Fall, however, was not quite as easy. The next part of the 'trail' requires scrambling up and over rocks and ridges of the canyon to the overlook of Big Darwin Fall. Here is where having a rockclimber husband comes in handy. I couldn't have done it without him, or maybe it would have taken me a hell of a lot longer. I wouldn't recommend it to the average hiker, but the view is entirely worth the effort.

Gaping at Big Darwin Fall was just the beginning of the day's adventure, so a hike back to the Landcrusier in the sun and a revitalizing snack was what we needed to keep rolling. So we rolled over the Darwin Road, and since we weren't sure what to expect from the dotted dirt road line on the map, we were again pleasantly surprised by the vista. And the snow. Perhaps I am one of the few humans on earth to have built a snowman in Death Valley? Put that on my gravestone, please.

In a day filled with surprises, goldfish in the desert may certainly top the list. After taking an inadvertent turn on a side road that we believed would eventually dead-end somewhere near the top of Big Darwin Fall, we came across a place on the map designated "China Garden Spring". Yet another permanent water source in this area, the spring housed trees and the foundations of previous dwellings as well as goldfish. Many, many miles in the middle of nowhere, there are goldfish thriving in Death Valley.

Back on track, we began a descent into Darwin proper. Though we saw the various dwellings of Darwin in various stages of habitability, we never saw a single person as we cruised slowly through town. I have no idea if the documentary has increased the percentages of looky-loos, so perhaps they hide inside while the tourists gawk. Or maybe they were inside watching their stories. Anyway, we came, we saw, and then we left.

Did you notice the clouds in those photos? Weather was moving in and the wind was picking up righteously. After applying some Fix-A-Flat to our slowly leaking right front tire (in accordance with our Death Valley Flat Tire Ritual), we hustled back down the hill to Panamint Springs. Back in Panamint Valley, we experienced the distant view of a serious dust storm that hadn't quite reached our location, as the wind had died completely. This provided an opportunity to set out yet again to locate the site of the first launch by the Hansen Space Agency. Outside of the park, of course. Leaving Las Vegas, Ted had made the puzzling request to stop by Hobby Lobby to shop. Just for me, he said, would be the first model rocket endeavor by the Hansens in the wide open expanse of the Mojave Desert. Though the Silver Arrow didn't quite reach the 50 mile limit of earth's atmosphere at the edge of space, two successful launches gave us hope for a space-faring future.

The tent cabin turned out to the best idea when the wind picked up ferociously that evening - as it will in the desert - and we had to right our overturned camp chairs in the morning. On the way out of Death Valley via Olancha, our Fix-A-Flat became permanently flat and Ted changed the tire in the sand on the side of the 190 in the Owens Valley. The view of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada was divine. Outside of Ridgecrest we stopped by the Indian Wells Brewing Company tasting room with a Mojave Gold beer break in mind. One last surprise - Indian Wells is now bottling Rocket Fizz soda and creating sodas of their own with the Death Valley label. Crazy flavors like cookie dough, Buffalo wings and bacon make an entertaining display and the nice man handed me a sample right off the bottling line. We brought a six pack home as a Christmas gift for family: candy cane, chocolate, marshmallow, red licorice, peanut butter and jelly, and cinnamon.

Junket Ratings:

Panamint Springs Resort Tent Cabins: Junk in the Trunk!

Indian Wells Brewing Company: Junk in the Trunk!

Sunday
Jan122014

GIVING THANKS FOR VEGAS NOVEMBER 2013

We spent our Thanksgiving in Las Vegas. I can't see your reaction to that sentence, but I can sense the blank stare and confusion - why on earth would you spend the homiest of holidays in Las Vegas? Here is a list of Pros and Cons:

Pros
1. Cheap hotel rates
2. Sunny 65-70 degree weather in the Mojave Desert
3. Thanksgiving Dinner involved foie gras
4. Crazy shopping deals on the weekend without the crazy crowds
5. Thanksgiving Day activity involved hiking at Red Rock Canyon (in that sunny weather!), and did not involve televised sports of any kind

Cons
1. No turkey leftovers

Let's compare those lists, shall we? We stayed in the ever-evolving historic downtown Las Vegas (DTLV) at The Plaza Hotel & Casino which serves as the frontispiece of Fremont Street where our first two nights cost $39 and the weekend rates shot up to $59 per night. Our spacious rooms with good bedding and swanky decor overlooked the bright lights of Fremont Street (for mom) and the mountains that ring the Las Vegas valley (for me and Ted). We walked to great restaurants and bars that make up the burgeoning scene of downtown in the Fremont East area, as well as enjoying the tourist-ridden portion of the Fremont Street Experience. We had dinner at Pizza Rock TWICE because the margherita pizza is so damn good. We sipped hand-crafted cocktails at the newly revitalized Atomic Liquors - an original from Vegas' atomic age past. We sized up new cool places like Container Park - shopping/dining in a facility created out of old shipping containers and serious bloddy marys on the funky patio at Park on Fremont. We swilled incredibly cheap drinks from the friendliest bartenders at the Fremont Hotel & Casino while losing at video poker. And then we walked back to our room.

Did I mention the 70 degree weather in the blessedly sunny desert? To prep for Thanksgiving feast, we hiked the La Madre Spring trail in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a mere 20 minute drive from downtown. We certainly weren't the only ones with this idea, but the traffic was manageable on the thirteen mile loop road and once we started hiking we saw few other people. We did, however, see a tarantula prowling around for a mate. And we did not see the highly-recommended visitor center as it was strangely closed on Thanksgiving day. The weekend brought a drive through the desert of Lake Mead National Recreation Area and hiking in Valley of Fire State Park where the red rock desert of the southwest begins. Valley of Fire is a treasure with easily accessible petroglyphs, old movie locations and spectacular views. On the return drive through the land around Lake Mead, we discovered two natural springs - Blue Point Spring and Rogers Spring - just to add to the otherwordliness of the landscape. Rogers Springs has restrooms and picnic tables along with the developed warm spring pond riddled with tropical fish. Apparently the locals add their unwanted pets to the spring where they thrive in the warm water. You can view the blue waters of Lake Mead through the palm trees growing near the spring.

I did mad research to find the best Thanksgiving dinner for us in Vegas. When I say mad, I mean it - every restaurant in the city is trying to outdo themselves on this dining occasion. Options range from gourmet fancy-pantsness to turkey sandwich combos at the sports book and everything in between. Take out Thanksgiving is a thing in LV. My goal was a bit of fancy (foie gras) that didn't break the bank. I admirably succeeded, if I do say so myself, with the Thanksgiving Dinner offered at Tender Steakhouse in the Luxor Hotel & Casino on the Strip. The dimly-lit steakhouse interior was good for a cozy meal and the service was very friendly. For $49 per person from 5:00 to 10:00 pm, four course Thanksgiving consists of starters butternut squash ravioli with sage maple reduction and pickled ginger, or soup with roasted pumpkin, Fuji apples with apple cider and cream reductions or a garden greens salad—a mixture of baby greens tossed with Persian cucumber, sun-dried tomatoes, fennel, radish and black currant balsamic vinaigrette. Main course of heritage Diestel Ranch turkey with dried fruit and foie gras sourdough bread stuffing, and plentiful Thanksgiving sides like sweet potato purée with maple butter, braised Brussels sprouts and green bean casserole. Don't forget the dessert tasting trio: caramelized pumpkin maple pie, Pennsylvania Dutch apple tart and eggnog crème brûlée.  And though there were no leftovers the next day, Thanksgiving was delicious and delightful at Tender and I would recommend the experience to anyone who dreams of having no dishes to clean after the big meal.

Other fun in DTLV: deep holiday discounts at the Las Vegas Premium Outlet Stores where we found the best lunch at the Curbside Cafe food truck with specialties like fish tacos & Sonoran hot dogs, the Elvis impersonator at the Parlour Bar in the El Cortez (with a kickass bar menu and very reasonably priced cocktails), and the good beer at the Triple 7 Restaurant and MicroBrewery in the Main Street Station Casino with a ridiculously extensive bar menu that includes sushi. The Neon Museum, always hip, is now even hipper with night tours of the Boneyard where old Vegas neon signs go to die and then become rehabilitated.

In other words, more fun than you know and none of it on The Strip. Downtown Las Vegas is undergoing transformation from seedy to fabulous with new bars, restaurants, and shops popping up all the time. This is a sweet addition to the draw of classic Vegas casinos like the El Cortez and the Golden Nugget. Vegas got its glittery start on Fremont Street and the luster has returned. So what are you doing next year for Thanksgiving?

Junket Ratings:

DTLV (including every business mentioned in this post): Junk in the Trunk!

Tuesday
Dec102013

PART TWO: JUST CALL ME TIPPI AT BODEGA BAY AND THE SONOMA COAST OCTOBER 2013

Bodega Bay is not a large bay as far as coastal bays go. Remember the scene in "The Birds" when Melanie Daniels commandeers a small fishing boat and motors across the bay to pursure her man perfectly kitted out in her mink coat? I believe the entirety of that scene is how long it would actually take you to cross Bodega Bay in a motorboat. Small but lovely, providing a calm counterpoint to the crashing Pacific, Bodega Bay is a lovely place to camp on the ocean. However, the Bodega Dunes Campground is not directly on the beach, so if you are wanting to camp close to the water, this is not your campground. Access to the beach is within walking distance, but no dogs are allowed on Salmon Creek Beach next to the campground so we had to motor down Highway 1 a bit to access a dog beach - of which there are plenty. Today, Belle had to wait in the Landcruiser while we visited Coleman and Miwok Beaches, because I love tidepools and the dog beaches had none. It all worked out for the best since as we reached the end of the trail the stairwell down to the beach was missing a section, forcing us to navigate over the cliff face to reach the water. If ever there was evidence that California's state parks need funding, this was surely it. The tidepools were excellent, filled with endless rock-hugging mussels, ochre sea stars, red crabs, giant green anenomes, cosmically iridescent seaweed and the occasional hermit crab tooling around in the cold water with his house on his back.

Tidepooling is thirsty work, so we set off in search of beer (and oysters, of course). We patronized the other wharf in town - Lucas Wharf - and had a lovely sit-down on the deck overlooking the bay with oysters barbecued with garlic, butter, parmesan & bacon and no attacking seagulls were anywhere to be found. This prompted me to begin my search for "The Birds" filming locations in earnest, so we took a drive around the bay to Bodega Head and into the nearby town of Bodega (not Bay) where the schoolhouse and church are still located. The town of Bodega is quaint and comes complete with life-size Hitchcock replica at the Bodega Country Store. It's a one lane town and you hook a right to view the schoolhouse and church up close once you spot them from the road. The schoolhouse is a private residence now and looks the same. The church was mostly a silhouette in the background of the movie, but I noticed something special as we approached - the afternoon sun was shining just so through the stained glass windows, creating a reddish glow inside.

Bodega Head is located at the end of the arm of land that creates Bodega Bay and the views are spectacular. The short drive around the bay leads to these state park lands and hiking trails criss-cross this area, beckoning you on to experience more ocean views, but the area is not dog-friendly so we had to settle for some snapshots from the parking lot trails. Apparently this place provides an exceptional vantage point for whale-watching during the winter months. On the way out we spotted our old friend David Buoy (pinpointed by the sound, of course).

Due to the ongoing government shutdown, we stayed an extra day on our Sonoma Coast retreat as no one seemed to need us back in Yosemite. You do, however, have to go home sometime, and we packed up our gear for a drive down the coast and through San Francisco before crossing the Central Valley back to the Sierra Nevada on Monday morning. We thanked our lucky stars for the unseasonably warm and sunny weather during our stay (every local commented it should be a bit more gloomy and chilly in the fall). We blew kisses at the ocean and waved as we headed north, determined to have one last oyster fling before returning to the mountains. Back up Highway 1 to the town of Marshall on Tomales Bay where we took a constitutional at The Marshall Store with seafood in several forms, all delightful: bay shrimp cocktails, oysters and sardine bruschetta with Anchor Steam and Sancerre. I never wanted to leave.

Plenty of amazing coast views on this drive before enduring San Francisco traffic and and then being subsequently forced out the other side. Uneventful until we reached Yosemite where we were tasked with our good deed for the day: clearing a small rockfall blocking Highway 120 on the way to Yosemite Valley. Since no one would be patrolling these roads with the park closed, we felt obligated to help, though no one would likely be traveling this road much. We applied ourselves and our big muscles and then returned home to the eerily quiet Yosemite Valley. Neither of us worked the rest of the week and spent most of our time enjoying the quiet. We weren't allowed to recreate with the park closed, but we walked the dog every day to places we would never normally go since they would be clogged with visitors and it was surprisingly refreshing. Don't get me wrong, it was an economic disaster for the park and the surrounding communities, but the silence, while it lasted, was golden.

Junket Ratings:

Lucas Wharf: Junkety-Junk-Junk

Marshall Store: Junk in the Trunk!