Day 14-16: 29 June-1 July 2013
WOW!!! We LOVED this place. Too be honest, the experience is in some ways like what we said of the Grand Canyon – you just have to experience it for yourself!
We are initially greeted by Sophie and Barkley (2 of the 4 dogs). They end up in a play row as to who should get our attention first. In steps the smooth operator, the cool dawg, Reggie. He just leaves them play-fighting and strolls up to meet us. With the “alarm” raised our hosts, Deborah and Kevin come out to greet us. Deborah shows us around the house before Íde joins Kevin to see the barn animals. First, Kevin brings her on a short drive around some of the 50 acre site. He shows her a place where they have put a table and chairs so that their guests can sit alone in the middle of nowhere and relax. They have just dug out a pond to help attract the wildlife and Kevin spots a huge bullfrog for the first time.
Then it is up to the barn. Íde is brought right back to a childhood memory of her granny feeding the chickens in Santry. That house was torn down when she was about 5, so it is a LLOonng time ago. Granny would “chuck chuck” at the chickens while throwing feed to them. They would all scurry up to her feet. Here, the chickens are doing the same to Kevin, he takes a look to see have they left any more eggs and gathers a couple that are there. They have three beautiful horses that share their paddock with the chickens. Íde was curious about how they get along together. Kevin explains that the horses are probably keeping the coyotes away from the chickens, so they work well together. All this and we haven’t even got to talking about the property or the hosts.
Deborah & Kevin are just wonderful people and gracious hosts. They are in tune and in love with the environment. The ranch just oozes love and peace, from the hosts, to the animals, the trees, the birds and the stars. Oh the stars!! We have NEVER seen so many stars in the sky. It was mesmerising. We sat staring up at them on both nights of our stay. The second night we watched them from the hot tub, before drying off on the patio in the luxury bathrobes provided. Pádraig has been into astronomy from an early age and loved identifying the constellations and spotting shooting stars. The hot tub reminded Pádraig of one of the inspirations for this road trip: his mother, May, had waxed lyrical about a tour she did in the LA / LV / SF area many years ago, especially about her experience looking at the stars in a clear US sky while lying in a hot tub.
We dined well in the Charlotte Hotel in Groveland. There seems to be a mini car parking war in the locality involving local businesses.
We stayed in the Ansel Room. There is currently only one other room. They are considering expanding and when word gets out of this place they will have to, or they will end up camping forever. You see, while you stay in their home, they camp up at the barn. They say they enjoy camping and being at one with nature, but I wonder how long that will last if you are doing it permanently while others are enjoying your cosy and comfortable house. They are considering building small cabins on site, near the house, so that guests can just come to the house for breakfast (breakfast is another BIG success, by the way). I imagine what will happen is one of two things, either, they will build cabins, will still be full and end up letting the house or it will become a victim of it’s success and will lose the current theme of being peaceful. Íde, having slept on this dilemma, thinks that they should probably just build a few cabins, add a small spa area and make it a destination spa for adults only. Of course, that means that kids won’t get to be at one with nature there, but well, Íde reckons they wouldn’t appreciate it as much as the adults would appreciate not having the screaming kids! And after all the adults are paying!! Seriously though, it is so difficult to figure how they can do this. They only opened to guests in December last. They are fully booked for July and August and most of September. We can’t see them ever having to look for guests. We reckon within a year there will be so many repeat guests, they will be full from that alone. We would certainly think of making a trip just to be at the Ranch.
We were only staying for two nights. We had a night to spare (Íde wanted to allow wriggle room between Yosemite and San Francisco). Íde had checked with the Ranch a few days earlier to see if an extra night was available, but it was not to be. Kevin came up with a plan. We could take a loan of one of their tents and camp up at the barn with them. Íde explains that while she loves the concept of living outdoors, she doubts she would be able for it in practise. Have we mentioned Íde’s fear of snakes? By the way, she also loves horses, but is a bit afraid of them. But she was completely relaxed with the horses on the ranch. Loved them!!
Pádraig is all on for camping, but Íde is having none of it. Kevin and Deborah tell her that they have never seen a snake on the Ranch. Deborah says that she has only seen a venomous snake around 3 times in her life. Íde has seen one in the wild once before, in North Korea, but that is a whole other story!
Anyway, we settle on an 8.30 start for breakfast in the morning. It is normally served at 8am, but is delayed for Pádraig because he is a late riser. The breakfast was scrumptious, but Pádraig doesn’t eat much and goes back to bed. We are both still very tired and altitude exhausted, and so we probably have an excuse, but even if we hadn’t, I doubt we would have left. Íde used the time to catch up with family at home (using the excellent wifi) and writing up some more of this very blog.
Kevin had just purchased a wildlife / night vision camera. While Deborah is tech savvy, Kevin isn’t. On hearing that Pádraig is a computer consultant and teacher, Kevin asks him to help figure out how to operate the camera. Pádraig gives him his usual line for things like this. RTFM – “Read the F’n manual”, but helps out of course. This gives Pádraig the chance to have some MAN time with Kevin, while they go install the “TreeCam” down at the pond. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any wildlife while we were there (other than the bullfrog). All that showed up was two wild creatures driving away from the camera and then again driving up to the camera to have a look at it the next day.
So anyway, if you find that we aren’t telling you much about other accommodation along the route, this place is why. There is nothing else that is going to be able to compete! Nothing! End of!!
So, in the afternoon we eventually drag ourselves off on a 35 mile drive to to Hetch Hetchy on our hosts’ recommendation. Hetch Hetchy is part of Yosemite national park so yet again, we used our trusty annual pass. The lake in the beautiful valley is held in by the O’Shaughnessy Dam to form a reservoir into which plummet two of America’s tallest waterfalls – only one was visible during our mid-summer visit. This reservoir supplies San Francisco in the same way that Lake Mono streams supply Los Angeles and Glen Canyon / Lake Powell supplies Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico. Like many artificial reservoirs, Hetch Hetchy has been controversial and there is a movement to have it drained to restore the old valley. Indeed this was one of the very first environmental conflicts, dating back to John Muir in the late 19th century.
We crossed the dam and went through the tunnel on the other side.
What do we see there ……….a rattlesnake. Not a little baby snake……….. this is a 5 foot RATTLE snake. Luckily we are warned about it by two woman. Otherwise we probably wouldn’t have even seen it at our feet, just underneath the sign telling us all about Hetch Hetchy and the bears…….The sign doesn’t mention rattle snakes. Íde doesn’t want to keep walking because she is afraid that she will end up in the same situation as her previous encounter, where she had to jump over the snake to get past it, without provoking it. Pádraig tells her not to be silly, “why would it come out into the open, with so many people around? It’s not going to go across the path, it will go into the bushes”. Yeah, right!! So after a short walk we turn around and on the way back…………….we carefully walk around the rattle snake which is now in our path. Yes, I know that the snake is probably more afraid of us….etc., etc. Any chance of Íde camping is gone. Any argument – futile!!!
Íde wakes on the 2nd morning at the Ranch to a constant tapping noise. It is too low a noise to be someone hitting a wall with a hammer, too loud to be someone knocking at the door. It is a beautiful woodpecker, tapping holes in the patio so that it can store nuts. Kevin had explained this to us the day before. We asked Kevin what he planned to do if they chipped right through the wood. Kevin said that in this unlikely event, he would just build another one. Again, this was about encouraging the wildlife to use the facilities in harmony with humans. Íde tried to film the woodpecker at work, but it was having none of it. Oh well! Íde went back to bed and left the Woodpecker to hammer away.
We would challenge anyone not to fall under the spell of this place. From the second we arrived all other parts of the holiday dispelled and we found it hard to tear ourselves away from it……..even for the wonderful sites that we glimpsed in our drive through Yosemite.