Saturday, February 28, 2015

Travels with Father- our trip to Sequoia, Kings and Yosemite

One of my longtime goals has been to share the stories about the travels I did with my father. I wrote an introduction back in November of 2013, and you can read that here. So today, as I sit waiting for the rain, inspired by the desire to share, allow me to tell you about the first trip we had together in 1985.

Travels with Father – 1985, Sequoia National Park, King’s Canyon and Yosemite

I had never been on a vacation. Frankly, I hadn’t deserved one as of yet. A series of part-time jobs since I was 17 never earned the time to have a vacation. But, as I became gainfully employed in 1983 at both a full time job and a part time job, I finally gained the perk of having a vacation. But I really had no clue as to where I wanted to go. So, once again, I had to count on dad to help make the decision. 

Dad had been retired for eight years, and had spent all of his retirement time in landscaping the yard, building a studio on the end of the house, helping the church with the construction of the new sanctuary, and building his art business. He and mom had traveled to see my brothers at their schools in New York and Arizona.  For their 25th anniversary in 1977 they went to Hawaii. But dad and I had not taken a trip yet ourselves. And I had no idea on really HOW to plan a vacation. So, I asked him to help. 

Dad pulled out maps, and we discussed options: recreate the trip the family took in 1969; maybe New Mexico where he had gone with his parents in the 60’s. Finally, I decided that I wanted to go someplace that I’d only heard of and never seen:  Sequoia National Park. Since I had a full week, we planned a trip to there, then to nearby King’s Canyon, and then finish off with a couple of days in Yosemite. Since my wedding photography schedule kept me busy through September, the first week of October was determined as the time to go. Little did I know that the first week of October would be the best time to take a vacation. It still is my favorite time to be out and seeing things. We planned the trip to include stops on the way up and back to see his cousin in Visalia. I was looking forward to this for many reasons: the chance to drive on mountain roads; the chance to take photographs of my own choosing, not what a client would want; and finally, to actually take time off, a novel concept. I also anticipated time with dad. Getting one-on-one time with him, as well as exploring new things with him. 

Dad was a true Renaissance man. He was very well educated in many subjects. He had majored in both art and photography in college, and minored in physics. He was very well read, and kept a stack of National Geographics on his nightstand always. He believed that education did not stop when schooling was complete. But education to him had a broad definition. It included life education. It included learning from experience. It included learning from the environment around you. In being a true artist both with pen and camera, he was attentive to photographic composition. Yet he never allowed the rules of creating images to interfere with the actual creative process. Subsequently, his photographs were examples of excellent photographic composition, blended with the depth of feeling that was present in his emotional response to the landscape. Dad used the entire photographic frame to tell his story. There was both an economy in his photographs, and richness in depth and beauty. His was a truly balanced approach.  It was this imagery that I had grown up seeing, and would recognize later was the greatest influence upon my own photography.

Jean Lally and dad - cousins. Image by John Prothero
So, it was the beginning of the trip. I cannot recall what day we left, possibly a Saturday. But I do recall that on our first day we traveled to Visalia to visit and stay with his cousin, Jean Lally. Jean was, without a doubt, his favorite cousin. She had wonderful wit, and was very warm. We had visited her as a family on past occasions, so we were very familiar with her and the other family members on this side of dad’s family. We arrived at Jean’s in the mid-afternoon, and were concerned that we might awaken her (Jean was a cancer survivor, but still needed to take daily naps.) As it turned out, she was not home. But she had left the front door unlocked, and a note inviting us in. We did go in, and it was not long before she arrived home. That afternoon was filled with laughter as Jean and dad visited, catching up on old times and family stories. That evening we had dinner with her and some other cousins at a local Chinese restaurant. 

Sequoias, Fog, image by Cliff Prothero
The next morning was, in my mind, the real start of the trip.  We breakfasted with Jean, and then continued east out of Visalia into Sequoia National Park.  The day was foggy as we drove through Three Rivers, filled up on gas and some food, and then into the park.  The fog added an otherworldly look to the drive, and I recall being concerned that we’d end up with inclement weather.  Our first stop upon entering the park was the Visitor’s Center.  As with all Visitor’s Centers, it was very informative, and had both the geographic history of the park along with examples of the flora and fauna.  I was amazed at a large stuffed owl that they had displayed there.  It reminded me of our days in Glendale, occasionally hearing barn owls that lived in the foothills.  After visiting for a bit, we continued east along the General’s Highway and up into the park.  The road was twisty and narrow as it climbed the western face of the Sierra Nevada.  My ’82 Honda Accord was well-suited to this kind of road, and I enjoyed the drive from that standpoint, as well as the beauty of where we were.  The fog stayed with us all the way to the top of the mountain.  We reached the village where we were to stay that night, and attempted to check in.  We were too early, our cabin not being ready until after 3 PM.  So, we chose to explore, first having lunch out of the back of the car – one of many over the next few years.  To this day, I have memories of many of our roadside lunch stops, and the odd looks we got from other drivers as they zoomed by us while we ate our sandwiches or apples.  Lunches with dad were always simple affairs.  We packed meats, sodas, Ritz crackers, and ALWAYS apples.  Occasionally we’d treat ourselves to cookies.  Since we’d often have been driving for a few hours, we’d stand, and walk around.  They were often quiet times too, as we’d both still be in a reflective mood from the drive.

After our al fresco lunch, we continued exploring by driving out to Morro Rock. The fog which had accompanied us on our journey up from Three Rivers was clustered around the trees, but it was clear at the large, granite outcropping. But it was at Morro Rock where our view of the eastern Sierra was not fog enshrouded, and the magnificent backcountry spread before us.  It was glorious. I had never seen such magnificent beauty. I declined to climb the face of Morro Rock (which could be done by taking a carved-out trail with a single handrail) due to my fear of heights. The sun was out now, and we left Morro Rock and spent the rest of the afternoon going to Zumwalt Meadow, and the Giant Grove.
The Giant Grove, image by Cliff Prothero
I was in awe of the trees – the magnificent, large, impressive sequoias. These were huge trees, with massively thick trunks.  It was the first time I recall being in awe of the power and beauty of nature, and it would not be the last time for me. After our afternoon of exploration we returned to the village and got our cabin. Later we had an early supper, and retired to the cabin. That night as we went to sleep we heard the sounds of thunder and saw the flashes of lightning, followed by rain. But it wasn’t only the lightning and thunder that kept me awake: dad snored. Loudly. We had always joked as a family about his snoring, taking our first cassette tape recorder into my parent’s room as he slept to record his “wood sawing”, but he emphatically (and with great humor) denied it. But I was now forced to find a way to plug my ears in that small cabin so I could sleep. I had brought ear plugs along, anticipating this, and I put them in, which blocked his snoring and the sounds of lightning.

The next morning yielded a wonderful sight: snow. It had snowed the night
Snow! Image by Cliff Prothero
before, maybe 2”. It was not that much and it had already begun to melt. But to me it was a wonderful sight. We peeked out the windows at the ground squirrels maneuvering through the snow between the cabins. We went to breakfast, and then loaded up to go to our next stop. I had to take a bowl that we’d brought along to clear the snow off the windshield. I also discovered that the struts that held up the liftgate on my Accord were not very strong when it gets cold. Many times, during subsequent trips, we had liftgates and tailgates that would drop on us when we were in cold areas. We did a second visit to the Giant Grove, photographing the red-barked trees frosted in snow. It was then up the General’s Highway, which was clear of snow. Our drive was beautiful, and quite lonely. We rarely came upon a car at all on the drive between Giant Forest and Grant Grove. But there was still snow all around, and it was a beautiful sight. By late morning we were at Grant Grove in King’s Canyon National Park. There was a little snow here as well, but it was obvious that the weather was too warm for snow to stay. We again found ourselves too early to get into our cabins, so we drove down into King’s Canyon itself. 

The road into King’s clings to the sheer cliff face. It had only been 4 years since I’d been in an accident, and I still was slightly unsure on roads such as this. But I drove slowly, used the transmission to keep my speed in check, and still managed to see the sights around me. 

Kings Canyon, image by Cliff Prothero
King’s Canyon is like Yosemite in that it was glacially carved. However, King’s is deeper than its nearby cousin, and in some ways more dramatic. It is in some places very narrow, and does not offer the accommodations that one is used to in Yosemite. It is therefore much more “wild” in its feel and appearance. And for me, it was breathtaking. We spent the afternoon there, and had another lunch outdoors. We were lower in elevation than the surrounding forest, so there was no snow. But it was brisk. After an afternoon exploring we returned to Grant Grove, and explored in the grove of giant trees near the village. Snow was still abundant.

Our cabin was wonderful. Just rustic enough to feel “ourdoorsy”, but not so rustic that it wasn’t comfortable. A common, thin wall to another cabin adjoined it, and I recall that the floor sloped downhill a little. There was no TV, so I began to read the books that I had brought. We went for an early supper, and retired early for the evening. 

The next morning we left the park, heading west to Fresno on our trip to go north to Yosemite. The Sierra foothills were dry and bare after being in the lush sequoia forests. We continued north towards Yosemite, taking a side trip to Bass Lake, and having lunch at the location where I had gone camping with the church youth groups. We had our first experience with yellow jackets, a recurring pest on most of our trips. We reached Yosemite in the afternoon, and found our cabin in the main village. I had not been to Yosemite in years, and never in the fall. It was different, and very magical. It was quiet, crisp and cool. Dad and I took this time to just sit and relax, and I found myself a place to sit
Enjoying the view, image by Cliff Prothero
outside of our cabin that offered and unfettered view of Yosemite falls. We spent the next couple of days exploring the park, going up to Glacier Point, Yosemite Falls, and just enjoying the serene, grand beauty of the Valley.  We took hikes along the Merced River, stopped at the base of El Capitan, and photographed along the trial to Bridalveil Falls.  It is here that I began to see things, and made efforts to photograph the details, not just the grand landscapes. 

I found myself looking down a lot, looking at leaves and shapes. And I found myself thinking of the photographer whose work made Yosemite so famous – Ansel Adams. Little did I know then how much his work would influence me in the future. Our dinner that night was in the lavish cafeteria, returning to our rustic cabin to read and turn in early. 

Aunt Nell and dad, image by John Prothero
Soon, it was time for us to go home, and on our return drive we stopped to see dad’s aunt Nell, a grand lady who lived in a home in Fresno. After a visit with her we continued to Visalia for another night’s stop with Jean. And then home.

In retrospect, the first trip was a trip of discovery for me, on so many levels. Discovering the freedom of photography as I saw images around me; the freedom of the open road; the freedom if being in nature; and finally, the true journey that I wish to write about – the journey taken with my father as we went from father and son, to close friends.

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