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Summer vacation in California

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We had a strangely warm winter in Oregon this year and by June we were having a record breaking heatwave with temperatures near 100 for 3 straight weeks.  So we flew to San Diego where it was about 20 degrees cooler and had a wonderful visit with Nai Nai for a few days.  As luck would have it, she had three wonderful relatives visiting from Taiwan, and the youngest of them was Julian’s age.  They had a lot of fun playing together and we all enjoyed swimming in Nai Nai’s pool.

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Then we headed to LA to visit Charles, Helen, George and Ed.  We took the kids to La Brea tar pits, which I remember loving when I was a kid.

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Another favorite from my own childhood was Santa Barbara, with it’s amazing Natural History museum which my great grandfather once directed.  Here are Julian and Nutmeg at the interactive rattlesnake exhibit which he helped to create.

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The tour continued to lovely San Luis Obispo with it’s beautiful Spanish mission, river walk and hiking trails in the hills overlooking the town.  Apparently Nutmeg has no respect for history, or else why would she be standing in an ancient Spanish pot?

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From there it was a long drive through drought stricken Californian farm lands to Sequoia National Park, a wonderland oasis of towering trees, wildflower filled meadows and wildlife.  We got to see the General Grant and the General Sherman, the two largest trees on our planet, and lots of exciting animals including 11 bears, 17 deer, and many chirping golden bellied marmots.

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Julian took this next picture.  Can you spot Nutmeg peeking out of the ergo on my back?

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Most of the giant sequoias have burned out caves and tunnels inside them from long past forest fires.  These hollows are so big that people have actually made cabins inside them (before they were protected), and they make perfect dens for hibernating bears.

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The General Sherman tree: as tall as the Statue of Liberty or 22 African elephants standing on each other’s back, and wide enough to block four lanes of LA traffic.

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Here’s the first bear we saw (that little brown guy up behind Julian’s hat).  We got much closer views of them in later hikes.

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Sequoias are awesome even when they’re dead.  The roots of a fallen sequoia make a great climbing structure!

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And a toppled sequoia makes a great slide!

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Or even a tunnel!

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Here’s Julian hiking to a waterfall.  He hiked 40 miles of trail on this trip!

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The waterfall was a lot leaner than it would have been in non-drought years, but it was still flowing.

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Here’s a little bear cub sneaking up on me from behind:

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And here’s another bear looking for grubs in the meadow:

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Mama bear teaching baby bear how to forage for lunch:

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Sleepy bear taking a nap in the middle of the trail:

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From Sequoia we drove to Kings Canyon National Park, which looks a lot like it’s more famous cousin Yosemite, but without the throngs of visitors.  It is a peaceful and beautiful spot, and it was on the very rock pictured below that John Muir himself would lecture visiting luminaries about the importance of saving these special places for future generations.

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From the top of Muir Rock it is an 8 foot drop into the icy Kings River below.  Julian took the plunge twice and was very proud of himself for doing so.

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After quiet Kings Canyon, the crowds in Yosemite were a bit of a shock to the system, but the granite geography was dazzling.

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David splurged and booked us two nights at the Ahwahnee Hotel.  Here are some dark photos of the wood paneled, tapestried interior.

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We thought that the chandeliers looked a lot like the floating candles of Hogwarts.

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We did some beautiful hikes, including the iconic mist trail to Vernal Falls.  Julian was a trooper that day, climbing flights and flights of granite stairs.  We were really impressed with how strong his legs had gotten, and how much his hiking attitude had improved.

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The icing of the cake of our trip was the Peace Corps Thailand reunion at the Evergreen lodge outside of Yosemite. Out of 40 volunteers in our group, 11 made it out, including one of my dearest friends, Milena, who flew in all the way from New Zealand.

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The ex- Peace Corps volunteers are an outdoorsy bunch and we went on some great excursions.  We were lucky to have a botanist in our group, who knew about every plant we passed.  Another is now a bird biologist and he identified the bird songs we heard and kept a log of all the birds he saw.

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Milena hasn’t had a peanut butter sandwich in a long time so we made sure she got a couple of them!

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One of the nicest things about the reunion was how well the second generation got along together.  I think Nutmeg and Julian were thrilled to have some kids to play with again after being with David and me for two weeks.

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Here’s Myka opening up an 18 year old bottle of Thai whiskey:

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And here are the kids about to get wired up on sugar:

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Milena planned a really fun scavenger hunt for the kids, and gave them gifts from New Zealand as prizes:

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On Sunday we hiked to Carlton Falls near Hetch Hetchy.  The trail passed through the site of a recent forest fire, and the kids wasted no time in completely blackening themselves with charcoal.

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Not even a swim in the waterfall could get them clean. It took vigorous scrubbing and many applications of soap until we could see their natural skin color once more.

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Sadly, lots of other hikers don’t pack out their trash!  Milena found this foul smelling bag of it in a hollow tree and generously carried it all the way out.

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On our last night, John Neil made Nutmeg this origami napkin hat:

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Nutmeg had a lot of fun eating dinner with her new boyfriend, Silas.

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Then all the kids got ice cream and Nutmeg got the most gigantic popsicle in all the world.

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Silas was coveting the giant popsicle, so Nutmeg gave it to him after she realized she’d never be able to eat the whole thing.

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That was a vacation we did NOT want to come home from!!  Exactly 2 hours after we got back, David started planning our next vacation, even though he had told me ahead of time that it was my turn to do so.  We already have tickets to Nicaraqua booked for Christmas, and an exciting itinerary mapped out.  Stay tuned for photos!

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