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  • Writer's pictureMartijn

“Roadtrip” down the US West coast continued: nature in Yosemite, friends and family in LA

The flight from Sonoma County airport to La Merced, my flight, was exactly one hour long and absolutely uneventful, as expected: no clouds, no wind, no traffic 😊

Pilot in command (on the right :))

La Merced (KMCE) is a small airfield, Southwest of Yosemite National Park. We were welcomed by Mr. Lopes and his team at Gateway air center. They had a car ready for us, gave us tips as to where to stay and we found out that Mr. Lopes managed a Cirrus Service Center and had a lot of ferry flight experience. What’s more: he had equipped many airplanes for ferry flights by connecting a “turtle pack” tank just like ours to the main fuel supply. All you needed was a little device which he showed Alex -who was fascinated- how to install. Suddenly we remembered that our round-the-world guru (John Bone from Florida) had mentioned that he had had his ferry tanks installed by an expert in California and realized that we were now in presence of this very expert! And on top of it all, when Alex mentioned he had gotten his floatplane certification recently, Mr. Lopes showed us a vintage floatplane that he was selling. All this in a place we had never heard of and had picked because it was the only one who had a rental car available.

old-fashioned floatlane

After having recovered from all these coincidences, we boarded said car and headed directly to the park, hoping to grab some golden hour views before checking into one of the only rooms available in the area at the Cedar Lodge. After a beautiful drive through Yosemite, we arrived at the famous Ahwahnee hotel for a sunset drink between gigantic rock walls. Alex, who is an eternal optimist, decided to check our luck and yes, they had a room available! But it was the presidential suite or something like that and would cost us about $ 1000 per night, so we passed and felt very smart when arriving at our 2-star motel, especially since we would not spend many hours in it: the plan was to get up early to explore the park by daylight.

And that is exactly what we did. It was impressive and exhausting, especially towards the end of the day where we had to walk 2 hours to see a handful of Sequoias because the shuttle was not running… but we really wanted to see them because we knew wildfires were raging in the Sequoia National Park down South, making a visit impossible. The same droughts that caused the wildfires also manifested themselves in Yosemite: many of the famous waterfalls that make for fantastic views, the Bridalveil for example which is supposed to flow all year, were dry. The views were instead of a darker area on the towering rocks, showing where the water usually rushed along them. Very sad. But the sheer dimension of the rock formations around and the depth of the ravines made up for the absence of water. The ravines were so abysmal and it seemed so easy to fall into them that I stayed meters away from the edges at all times. I have no problem flying in a small airplane but high balconies and high cliffs make my stomach turn upside down, even when it is not I but someone else standing on the edge. “Fun” activities like bungee jumping, viewing platforms with glass floors or roller-coasters are not for me, I feel sick at the simple thought of them.

There should have been a waterfall on the picture below

Dry/burnt trees

On top of the world

On the edge (really !?!?)

The Sears tower ledge in Chicago - yikes!

Grounded and happy


Winding mountain also make me nervous so I was happy to step on flat land again when we reached the town of Mariposa at dusk. Despite its cute name, Mariposa has a wild west/gold-digger atmosphere and the signs in our breakfast diner made it very clear how the locals felt about government.


How do you really feel about government?

One advantage of the US, as with many countries with huge territories, is that you can always find a place to live far from everyone else, and from government. On our way to Los Angeles, we saw dozens of tiny towns in the middle of nowhere, including in Death Valley which we flew over to see what it looked like and to check our GPS’s capability to detect terrain that is under sea level. (Spoiler alert: it works.) But before we reached negative elevations, we had to pass very high over the Yosemite mountains because the smoke of the California wildfires had risen and obscured the peaks, the highest of which is at 13,120 feet. So we climbed to 14,000 feet, still in the smoke, and tried to stay away from the peaks by using our GPS’ terrain information: yellow when you are less than 1000 feet and red when you are less than 500 feet from terrain. Luckily the weather was very warm, so we were absolutely not worried about icing.

Once the high peaks were behind us, we descended to look for Death Valley. It was not too hard to find because there is a loooong road full of trucks that goes there, via Owens Valley and all kinds of small villages, most with their own little runway (so basically you can hide there but you can also get out fast if necessary!). All around the world, it has amazed me to see settlements and people in the most unexpected places, even in Death Valley, a huge expanse of dunes and sand and salt -remember the sea was once there!- with occasional colored mountains.

Below sea level!

One of the tiny villages and its runway

Shortly after all this emptiness and vastness, we landed at Los Angeles’ little Whiteman airport where our Chicago friends France and Jim Vincent were waiting for us. They had moved there soon after we left Chicago and invited us to their house in Eagle Rock where we instantly felt at home, despite the fact that we hadn’t seen each other for more than 5 years.

No fuss parking, like in many US airports

LV GQF getting ready for the night!

Neither Alex or I were familiar with Los Angeles so the next day we set out on a touristy visit of Beverley Hills, the Griffith Observatory, The Getty Center and the buildings, Sunset Boulevard and Walk of Fame downtown. Elegant exuberance are the words that comes to mind there. I know it is not always elegant but it can be, however it is almost always exuberant. Even a low-key "pimp-mobile" exhibition on a parking lot close to Griffith Park made our heads turn. Every car was shinier, more "pimped-up" and flashier than the previous.

Beverley Hills City Hall

Spadena House

Griffith Observatory


Getty Center

Union Square Station

Walt Disney Concert Hall

The Broad

Effective advertising!

Alex also visited Los Angeles by air with Jim and his daughter June who were excited to see their city and neighborhood from above. They made a full tour of the surroundings, carefully prepared with the help of a local pilot – after all, Los Angeles airspace is one of the busiest in the world, and you don’t really want to come to close to one of those Boeings.

After two days at the Vincent’s in Eagle Rock, we moved to the Hyde Park neighborhood -one of the oldest of Los Angeles- where my ex-sister-in-law Caroline lives with her daughter Schalah. I had not seen them in more than 10 years so it was a wonderful reunion. Caroline was aware of our round the world trip and had reached out earlier in the year to make sure we knew we were welcome in Los Angeles, it was so great to know all along we had a temporary home there. And it wasn’t any home: they live in an “Craftman’s” house, very popular in California the early 20th century, at some point these were even sold by the Sears company. That architecture, mixed with the long rows of palm trees along the streets gave us a definite LA feeling which continued in the neighborhood of Los Feliz where our good friends Vania and Didier had recently moved to from Chicago. They are the only people we met twice, once on each side of the US, during our circumnavigation.

With Caroline and Schalah

Their Craftsman house

Vania and Didier's house in Los Feliz

With Vania and Didier back in April (Tobi's 18th birthday)

To enhance our knowledge of LA, Caroline and Schalah also pointed us to Venice and its beach, a completely different facet of this extended and varied city which we feel we only scratched the surface of.


Venice Beach

The lighter side... homeless camp next to Venice

If we ever go back, we should try wintertime though… apparently there are ski resorts nearby where you can enjoy the snow while it’s 20 degrees Celsius downtown and on the beach, where you can also go surfing :)

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