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California Adventures: Pyramid Lake and Yosemite

Golden state day trips to Yosemite and Pyramid Lake lived up to expectations this winter.

Bridalveil FallsBridalveil Falls/Yosemite National Park
© copyright 2010 Scott Holleran

In one day, I saw the breathtaking Bridalveil Falls, which is stunning, El Capitan (the largest monolith of granite in the world), Cathedral Rocks and spires, Half Dome, the famed Ahwahnee lodge and hotel, named after the Ahwahneechee Indians that roamed the Yosemite Valley, and a mighty black bear. Waterfalls roar, giant sequoia trees tower, meadows dance in the wind and it is a wonderful experience with nature. The park has it all: backpacking, rock-climbing, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, birdwatching, museums, buildings, and points of historical interest. This park, granted to California by President Abraham Lincoln, offers an authentic California adventure.

Visiting the vast, federal government-controlled Yosemite requires having an agenda, so plan ahead and be prepared, as the Boy Scouts motto goes. There’s a government-imposed fee for practically everything, including a new tax on hiking at Half Dome, in addition to other fees and taxes collected for the parks program (park admission is $20 per vehicle). Only the handicapped are admitted for free. Check daily for weather conditions, updates, and seasonal rules and regulations. Bring plenty of money if you plan to visit and stay inside the park, where everything from smoking, pets, and traffic to lodging is tightly controlled by the government and subsequently terribly expensive. I opted for a stay at a cabin located just outside the park, which was fine.

This swath of wilderness is bear country. Though guides claim that rangers patrol the park for safety, I spotted one ranger during the visit and that was outside the visitors’ center. This being my first bear sighting in the forest, I must say I’m glad I wasn’t close enough to be noticed. Deer also dart in front of a moving vehicle, as happened on this trip, and rocks near the waterfalls are of course wet, slippery, and dangerous. It’s a good idea to wear hiking boots, bring bottled water, and pack a camera and binoculars. You’ll probably want to remember your trip to Yosemite. I know I will.

Pyramid LakePyramid Lake/Gorman, California
© copyright 2010 Scott Holleran

The manmade Pyramid Lake, near where gold was discovered in 1843, is located in Gorman off the Golden State freeway (Interstate 5) at the Smokey Bear Road exit (Emigrant Landing). The recreational lake is named after a pyramid-shaped rock carved by engineers who were creating the old highway 99. Here, there’s camping, picnicking, boating, water skiing, swimming, fishing (large and small-mouth striped bass, trout, catfish, blue gill, and crappie), and the Vista Del Lago Visitors Center, which sits on a bluff overlooking the lake and contains exhibits in the state’s water treatment and its version of the state’s and region’s history, which includes interesting facts about businessman Henry Newhall and the Newhall companies that built and developed the Santa Clarita Valley. According to Pyramid Lake’s Web site, most beaches are accessible only by boat because of the steep shoreline.

Disney’s Train Tour for Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’

Disney is getting the word out about its new, 40-city movie publicity campaign, Disney’s A Christmas Carol train tour, sponsored by Hewlett Packard. It begins in downtown Los Angeles (at our wonderfully Art Deco Union Station) on Memorial Day weekend (May 22). The tour, promoting the studio’s upcoming picture, Disney’s A Christmas Carol, based on Charles Dickens’ classic anti-capitalist Christmas story, will end at New York’s Grand Central Station the weekend of October 30. Disney’s computer-generated movie is directed by Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future) and stars Jim Carrey (Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!) and Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight).

Disney says the tour will include artifacts on loan from the Charles Dickens Museum of London, artwork, costumes and props from the film, demonstrations of the movie’s performance capture technology (used in Mr. Zemeckis’ previous pictures, Beowulf and The Polar Express) and a chance to morph into one of the film’s characters using Hewlett Packard’s TouchSmart PC. Carolers, decorations and surprises will also be featured. America’s government-run passenger rail monopoly, Amtrak, will provide the four-car train’s locomotives and engineers. Dolby Laboratories will be supplying its Dolby® 3D Digital Cinema technology for an on-site mobile theater showing 3D footage from the film. Each stop on the tour welcomes guests of all ages and is free to the public.

Walt Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook—who used to work on Disneyland’s Monorail—said in a company statement: “‘From Los Angeles to New York, and all points in between, guests are going to have a fabulous time discovering things about the making of this extraordinary film, participating in their own festive fantasies, and getting into the holiday spirit all year round.” Other stops include Seattle, Denver, Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis, Indianapolis, Miami, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston.

It’s nice to see Disney doing something original and nostalgic, which, unlike its dreadful Disneyland and theme park campaigns, seems properly themed and integrated. It is a smart move to feature the original novel as a part of the exhibit, which Disney doesn’t do often enough (the studio’s 1996 animated adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame comes to mind). The Christmas Carol campaign seems to embrace the author’s voice.

Doing Dickens has its drawbacks. While A Christmas Carol is well-known and popular, it is also terribly dark and gloomy and I wonder whether that will play across America through November. Will cash-strapped audiences pay to see another heavy-handed attack on capitalism at a time when capitalism is being all but destroyed by government intervention? A lot depends on Jim Carrey, an often vulgar actor who can come across as unhinged, and how the multimillionaire actor plays Scrooge. Is Scrooge depicted as evil because he makes money and because he doesn’t sacrifice himself for others—or as merely missing out on the milk of human kindness? Disney describes A Christmas Carol as a “thrill ride” which captures the essence of the Dickens tale in 3D. It opens in theaters nationwide on November 6.

As for the train tour, I wonder if waiting in line to see a special effects showcase is worth a Saturday. People may walk in thrilled by the anticipation of experiencing the train only to be disappointed by what’s inside, especially if it’s merely another glorified video game or a perceptual assault of 3D toilet humor, in which case people may not be keen to see Disney’s A Christmas Carol by fall. The movie’s emotional pull must come through. Of course, it could be a terrific event for an anti-profit movie that makes piles of money.