In early September, Samantha and I trekked westward to Oakland, California for the wedding of one of Sam’s best friends. Not only were we attending, but Sam was in charge of the reception…which meant hauling a rented SUV full of décor to the Pacific coast. It was a long journey, but very worthwhile. We were still able to make a few stops along the way, too!
The road to the Golden State was one I was very familiar with: I-40, paralleling old Route 66. We overnighted in Shamrock (shout out to the wonderful Western Motel across the street from the iconic Conoco Tower station!) to get a head start. The next day, we stopped outside of Amarillo to leave a mark at the quirky Cadillac Ranch in honor of Kelechi and James’ pending nuptials and had a piece of pie at the Midpoint Café in Adrian. We made it all the way to Williams, AZ that first full day and stayed at the same motel – and same ROOM – that we had enjoyed when we ventured that way on our first wedding anniversary.
We set out again early the next morning, stopping in Kingman for breakfast with our good friends Jim and Judy Hinckley. Timing was perfect and we were treated to a group of Apache pilots departing as we caught up with one another over coffee and pancakes. We also stopped to see the brand new bronze statue of Jim near the old train depot in town, which marks the start of their walking history tour!
After Barstow, we branched north towards Bakersfield and our next sleep stop in Fresno. Along the way, we made a quick visit to Tehachapi – a beautiful little town with some great vintage neon! We arrived at our destination just as the sun was setting – with just enough time to stop downtown so I could get a photo of the historic Crest Theatre. It has seen better days and the area around the venue wasn’t in great shape either – I hope the venue is saved and not demolished.
On Sunday, our last day of driving before our Bay Area arrival, we awoke SUPER EARLY – in order to arrive at Yosemite National Park when they opened at 6:00 AM. I have desperately wanted to see the park for years, and although we would only have a few hours to experience it I couldn’t be THIS close and NOT go. Well, folks, it exceeded my wildest dreams. It is very easy to see why this landscape inspired the entire National Park system – it’s just incredibly beautiful.
We came in near the Mariposa Grove; after breakfast at the Wawona Hotel (a historic Victorian lodge that dates back to the 1850s) we took a walk through the Sequoia grove, marveling at the largest trees we’d ever seen. It gives you a sense of perspective and humility, being among such feats of nature. It was also still pretty quiet that early in the morning and a few times we had the short loop trail all to ourselves…save for a few chipmunks, squirrels, and deer.
Our introduction to the spectacular Yosemite Valley came as we emerged from the Wawona Tunnel, a spot appropriately named Tunnel View. Although the sky was a bit hazy, it still took my breath away. Throughout the morning, we also stopped at the El Capitan Meadow and explored a bit of the valley itself. We didn’t do much hiking in the park — but it was enough for our short window of time.
Our final leg of the drive took us through Merced, where there were a few more neon signs I wanted to capture. As we drove down Highway 140, a tall white obelisk caught our attention. When wealthy California rancher George Hicks Fancher died in 1900, his will stipulated that he be remembered with a $25,000 granite monument. That’s almost a million dollars today! Locals lobbied for a more modest marker with remaining funds used for the county’s first library, but the family said no. The marker sits next to the highway and the railroad track today, on the edge of a large field. It definitely stands out.
After 3+ days on the road, we made it to Oakland and checked into our Airbnb. We celebrated with our soon-to-be-wed friends and prepared for the week to come.