20220731 Napa to San Francisco

Jelly Belly

We headed out at the crack of 10 for San Francisco. First stop, Jelly Belly. Our hosts had told me how close the Jelly Belly Factory was to their house. It was closer. Right next door to a Budweiser Brewery. Napa has wine and also happens to have the exact same water required to make an ice cold Budweiser.

Merryweather and I had done the tour last time.  Mrs. JonTheBruce opted for a slightly longer visit. She went down the wall of single flavors and made a series of custom Jelly Belly mixes. The traditional Chinese herbalists in the crowd were wowed by her perceptive, instinctual mixing. I opted for a more direct approach. I bought a case of Belly Flops, which are random rejects that are delicious. That is twenty pounds of Jelly Belly. Cash and Carry. Plenty for sharing. 


Next stop was Costco. I needed to update my tech. Crunched the screen on my iPhone. Mrs. JonTheBruce found some cute stuff, very practical. 

We headed towards our next stop

The home of tiki culture, Trader Vic’s in Emeryville 

Mrs. JonTheBruce and careful long time readers will remember that we have visited Trader Vic’s at the Beverly Hilton. My buddy Joe used to visit the location at the Palmer House in Chicago. 

One of my favorite things is a frosted Walt Disney tiki glasses from back in the day. I like to imagine some dad enjoying a tiny bit of alcohol while trapped in the Magic Kingdom living the American Dream. I bought another tiki glass for Merryweather that features a Magical Japanese Raccoon Dog with Giant Testicles (Tanuki). Tiki is fun. There are a billion “collectible” bar glasses secreted away in the basement bars and “man caves” of America. 

Trader Vic’s basically started Tiki culture, with a mish-mash of Polynesian cultures and plenty of alcohol in fun-looking barware. Conrad “Hotel Magnate” Hilton expanded Trader Vic’s to the world. Now caucasians every where drink out of fun shaped glassware and eat Asian Pacific stuff and come home to tell their friends about the authenticity of their experience with scantily clad natives doing the hula. 

Tiki is remix. Remix is the best thing about America. The Hawaiian Luau is also a direct descendant of this “fad”. Trader Vic’s in Emeryville is the the defacto source, the origin, the home base. 

I had pretty low expectations. Most of these vital, important, historic places I have visited are faded echoes of their glory days. Flaking paint on rusting, duct-taped road side attractions. Luckily, Trader Vic’s in Emeryville is still awesome. Clean, up to date, dusted, everything was in good repair, no duct tape. The drinks came in fun glasses. The food was good. I would go back again and exit through the gift shop which also tasteful and fun. 

One of the last of its kind, started in Oakland. One of a wave of tiki-themed-Polynesian-fantasies restaurants, bars and nightclubs that for a time spread around America. Not many places left that do this; very few do it without irony.

Anthony Bourdain, “Parts Unknown”

Onward towards San Francisco. 

We checked into our hotel. Found tickets to a San Francisco Giants game and walked down to Oracle Park. Oracle Park is no Busch Stadium. It’s pretty cool. I was very excited to see the kayakers. I would rent a kayak for a game if I went back. The dorks sitting behind us were the first indication that San Fran wasn’t in Kansas any more. Three guys. Poorly socialized, tech dweebs probably. The baseball junky asked his peers to guess who would hit the first home run and then gave the dumbest, had to wear a helmet but never played sports, suggestion to the guy who he thought didn’t know anything about baseball. Mrs. JonTheBruce and I chipped in with our suggestions. They pretended like we weren’t there. Weird. Later during the game, the bookmaker of the trio was talking about me like I couldn’t hear him either. Weirder. Good news though, he did tell his co-workers that he had gone on a date with a girl. 

We bailed because watching the Giants win or the Cubs lose wasn’t going to change the St Louis Cardinals history making run in 2022. Checked out the stadium. They have Churros. They also have the best value in MLB Cracker Jack. Easily 10 times as much as the serving at Busch Stadium and the mice riddled crumbs they serve at Wrigley for the the same amount of money. The cost of living is supposed to be really high in the Bay area, but not if you judge it by the cost of Cracker Jacks at the ballpark.

And the kayaks! I could get into baseball if they moved Busch Stadium closer to the Mississippi River. 

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

This was totally not even on my radar, but we ran into wild parrots down by the The Embarcadero & Ferry Building. I had watched a documentary about it several years ago. They may be hard to photograph or run into on purpose, but they are pretty easy to spot and recognize. Even in San Francisco they are louder and brighter than any native bird has any right to be. I was like…

what in the heck? PARROTS!!!

JonTheBruce, 2022

They left as quickly as they appeared. I was delighted. I didn’t get a single good picture. They are cleverly camouflaged for my type of color blindness, which was confounding. Mrs. JonTheBruce got some cute pics.

Photo credit – Mrs JonTheBruce

A typical tourist experience in San Francisco

I am usually head on a swivel in big cities. I am not going to name names, but one of my regular travel companions tends to carry a purse with a recognizable brand name. Usually something that screams… “Hey pickpockets! This thing is full of credit cards and valuables and the bag has a high value on the secondary market!”

I have the boys trained to form a tactical wedge when we are moving from location to location in big cities like Beyonce is visiting Tiffany & Co. This is a handy tactic when my own Queen B is visiting Tiffany & Co. We have never really had an issue. It’s always in the back of my mind.

We have upped our purse game for travel in the big city. Cross body that closes with a street value that makes it unlikely to be the real thing. It is important to note, that Mrs. JonTheBruce does just fine without me, also. It was actually a topic of discussion in Napa. We were advised to keep an eye out for the sneaky pickpockets, probably not going to see some Chi-raq style strong arm, snatch and grab action, social media wilding.

Sophisticated, experienced travelers

We were ready to hit San Francisco as we left Oracle Stadium. I downloaded the San Francisco Muni app. We got on the modern people mover thing towards the harbor then walked to the streetcar station.

I wore my new Pendleton Westerley shirt to the game, because sports. I think this, in addition to my magnetic personality, attracted the attention of a woman, who claimed to be a Supreme Court Justice. She might have just been an under-supported, unhoused person with untreated mental illness. I briefly pondered out crazying her honor. I choose not to engage. This person was clearly local, clearly in her element. I was turned partially away from her. Not engaging. Mrs. JonTheBruce had my six. My ride or die watched Supreme Court Justice walk up behind me and tap me on the back with her magic wand. A koosh ball on the end of a pencil. 

“You are under arrest with all the power vested in me.”

Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Francisco

I like to think Mrs. JonTheBruce might have taken action if it was a gun or knife. In the future, I am going to keep her between the threat and so things get handled.  I was like Frozen and “let it go”.

Bend Like A Willow in the Wind.

There is a funny story in the JonTheBruce mythology about me and Mrs. JonTheBruce and Charbonneau and Merryweather walking in downtown Chicago. We were walking directly in front of bank in the heart of downtown. The door to the bank banged open right in front of me. A fella who was having a bad day almost ran into me. He screamed “Fuck You, too!” right at me, just like I was responsible for the color of his skin or my own, his credit rating, his circumstances, his kids, his baby mommas, and every bad choice he had ever made. He stormed off a victim of the universe. This tiny moment of human interaction is BURNED into my children’s minds. We kept walking to the next thing we are doing. I should have the boys recount their version of this story. The moral of my version of the story is…

How we choose to react to a situation is sometimes the only control we have over the situation.

JonTheBruce, 2022

Supreme Court Justice de-escalated a tiny bit, but got on the same streetcar. Thankfully, she fucked right off when we got to…

Fisherman’s Wharf 

Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf was packed with tourists. Probably the least masked, most crowded place we had been in a week. We had dinner at Fog Harbor Fish House. We covered all the day one tourist stuff. Clam chowder,  sourdough, fish on the harbor, boomerangs, shrimp on the barbie, tea with the queen. The SF Bay and my bae were cooling off quickly. We checked out the sea lions along the pier. From the restaurant to the end of the pier the temperature dropped about 90 degrees. We left before absolute zero temperature was achieved. We moseyed back to the hotel. 

If anything else happened.

I forgot about it. We slept.

20220730 Lassen National Park to Napa

We got to Lassen Volcanic National Park a couple of minutes before the gift shop opened. We bought a souvenir. 

The National Park app for IOS has a audio driving tour for the park. It’s pretty cool. I actually couldn’t get it to work at all the stops. I meant to investigate why. Maybe stopping in the geo-fences for the audio explainers would work? The parts that worked were great. 

Lassen had active volcanic stuff going on around 100 years ago. Handy information just in case Mount St. Helens or the super volcano at Yellowstone weren’t already on the back of your mind. There are four types of volcanic things at Lassen. Best of all, according to the Interpretive ranger I asked, there are NO BASALT COLUMNS. No Devil’s Postpiles. No satan toothpicks. Gods be praised! My new favorite ranger explained that conditions here were unlikely to produce basalt columns.  She might have guessed that I was too lazy to hike around and double check her facts. Her enthusiasm about geology facts from inspiring. Her enthusiasm for the subject was delightful.

I stuck my feet in a mountain stream. It was very cold. This did not improve the heat, haze and general UV index.

We got out of the park and headed towards Redding. Mrs. JonTheBruce found a Mexican restaurant in a gas station near the old Oregon Trail Road. I think it is the Chevron at 19973 College View Dr, Redding, CA 96003. I mention it because it was delicious. They had more kinds of hot sauce than I have ever seen outside of a hot sauce store.

Ask for the home made green sauce

The guy brought me out some his homemade green sauce because they were closing for the day. Super nice. Seems like a family operation. 

We turned towards San Francisco. Met a handsome Gordon Setter at a gas station. Made me miss our pups at home. The weather got nicer and the greens got greener as we approached the Napa Valley. We pulled into our next stop and there was a flock of turkeys guarding the gate.

Luckily, our hosts was keeping an eye out. We didn’t get eaten by wild turkeys. There were goats grazing on the hill. Luckily, our hosts were keeping the goats on the other side of the fence. We didn’t get eaten by goats.

We had an evening doing Napa Valley stuff, talking about electric hybrids, patio, wine, and stories with two of the finest people I have ever met. Even if one of them is a Detroit Red Wings fan. We slept with open windows. It was gorgeous. It was a welcome, refreshing change of pace from the National Parks, The Central Valley, the fires and haze and UV. Napa is something else.

20220729 Yosemite to Lassen

I woke up at 6am. Loaded with cameras and headed to the Ahwahnee Meadow in search of a bear. There were no bears in the direction I was facing. There was a herd of mule deer moving through the meadow very scenically. There were cars almost hitting the scenic mule deer, almost tragically. 

Always remember to look Left, Right, Left and remember that Bears can’t read “Bear Crossing” signs

The sunrise began to light the rim of the valley. I turned around and discovered that Half Dome was directly behind me. 

Around 7am, I started back towards the hotel, taking the long way around the meadow. Still no bear. The mule deer moved on. The sun continued to fire the rim of the valley. 

And the smoke from the fires was highlighting how much smoke was going to be in the valley today, because it was messing up my glorious sunrise photos of Half Dome. It wasn’t a total bust. 

Sunrise on Half Dome

On the way back to the lodge, I saw a Stellar Jay. I actually saw a bunch of them. If you have never seen a Stellar Jay, they are like a Cardinal, but Blue and Black, very handsome with a sweet mohawk. Pretty with attitude. 

A careless morning hiker had dropped some trail mix and a bunch of Stellar Jays were cleaning up the mess. Some of them had a mouthful of peanuts. I heard from a witness that they liked the nuts more than the raisins. I picked up the raisins, because #leavenotrace

Back at the lodge, we got cleaned up, and packed then went down for breakfast. It was awesome, slightly-less Westworld music selection.

I loaded the Highlander.

Ahwahnee Meadow in the light

We headed out towards our next stop Lassen Volcanic National Park. We wound down out of Yosemite Valley into the part of California where everything gets grown. All the things. Up to Sacramento.  It was a big lot of driving. Central California is expansive and boring in the same way Indiana is boring when the corn is higher than your knee. Central California has the added benefit of having trees that you can pull up and pluck stuff off. There are also farm stands. I got a shaved ice with coconut milk and coconut shavings and a shrimp ceviche that had been plucked from a tree that day. Mrs. JonTheBruce was very on the fence about the quality and origins of the shrimps. Eventually, we pulled into Almanor near Lassen. 

I think it is pronounced “All Manor”. If it isn’t, it should be because Plumbing of All Manner, or Tacos of All Manner, or Hardware of All Manner, sounds fun. Our hotel was an updated motor lodge with no check-in, keyless entry. Something new. Since we had been driving in the heat, and dry and dust, we walked to dinner so that there was some exercise between meals. There was an asian restaurant close by. 

Happy Garden is a Chinese restaurant with a Vietnamese kitchen team. We had a pretty great meal. I asked our waitress for a recommendation. She said Drag Race Chicken. Mrs. JonTheBruce and I both heard it. I clarified. The dish was Dry Braised Chicken. It was amazing. No weird breading. No orange sauce out of a bucket. But definitely felt like it had roots in General Tso Chicken. It wasn’t soggy or overly sweet. 

I have been on a campaign to get what I want to eat from local Mexican restaurants. I want arroz con vegetables, con queso, con pollo. Rice with vegetables, cheese and chicken.

I want basically, the same thing from a Chinese restaurant. Rice, vegetables, chicken. Hold the cheese. Maybe a touch of orange sauce, but I am trying to watch my figure so maybe just sriracha. 

This is the kind of fusion I want in my life.

My mom makes a great American version of this… Broccoli Rice Casserole with sharp cheddar cheese. I think a can of cream of mushroom soup holds it all together.  Maybe I will send a special request back to the kitchen the next time I see her and request some chicken. 

The Dixie Fire in 2021 also affected Almanor and All Manor of locations in the area including the National Park.

We were exhausted. I was anyway. I went to sleep at about 8pm. Slept for 6 hours. And then starting dreaming that I was awake and couldn’t go back to sleep until I really woke up. Not the best night’s sleep.  

The room did have a fancy euro air conditioner. Interestingly, there was no window in bathroom. So while I was taking a shower in the morning and the lights went out. It was dark. Black out dark. I called out to Mrs. JonTheBruce in this my hour of darkness. After the third attempt, she cracked open the door and asked why I was showering in the dark. Her e-reader was working just fine. 

She called the contact for the lodge and let them know the power was out. From what I heard, this conversation could have been handled better by the customer service team at Timber House Brewing and Lodge. They did eventually call back and confirm that power was out in a larger area than our room. Like town or something.  We had breakfast from the snack bag and headed to Lassen Volcanic National Park. 

20220728 – Yosemite House Keeping

One of the nice things about getting to stay in one place more than a night is getting to do a little housekeeping. You also get some free time not checking in or out or setting up/taking down camp.

Ahwahnee room view – Apple iPhone 12 Pro back triple camera 4.2mm f/1.6


I did some of my laundry with a canoe dry bag that also doubles as a canoe dry bag or a recycling bin or trash can using water from the the jacuzzi tub. I use a couple of drops of Dr. Bronners soap. The bag works great for agitation cycle. And the rinse. I roll everything in a towel to get as much water as possible out of it before hanging it up, on every available surface. The dry bag is better than a trash can because it flexes. It uses less water, more efficiently than trying to wash directly in the tub. A clean trash can or the sink works too. I think the dry bag works better. Hotel sinks are scientifically designed to slosh water.

The Load Out

I was carrying more clothes on this trip than the previous several trips combined. Usually, I carry one bag, like I am carrying on an airplane, with no checked luggage. Three pairs or four pairs of everything. I wash clothes every night or two. Small toiletry bag. Chargers for everything I am carrying. I have basically 9 pairs of everything this trip and some dressier stuff, cause we fancy like Applebees on a date night.

The Carry-on Load Out.

  • Usually in a Timbuk2 Classic Messenger Bag.
  • 3- Ex Officio boxer briefs
  • 3- Wright Socks, ankle length
  • 3- Columbia shirts long sleeve, button down PFGs, Fishing shirts
  • 3- short sleeve quick drying, this time its Uniqlo brand.
  • Merrell Moab Low shoes – My trail shoes for walking on stuff that isn’t smooth or dry
  • Merrell Trail Glove 5’s  – My everyday shoes, worthless on rocks
  • Northface rain jacket –
  • My Trail 800 fill Down jacket – because high altitude is chilly. So is the Pacific Northwest. Also make a nice pillow.
  • A pair of Levi 550s.
  • 1 – Shelta Condor – XXL. I have been using this hat, off an on, in place of my Tilley LTM6 AIRFLO. This is usually my dump spot at the end of the day for all my keys and receipts and wallet.
  • 2- Belts
  • 2 – Quiksilver Union Amphibian Hybrid shorts. See below

Traveling with Mrs. JonTheBruce

  • 2 – RSVLTS The Big Lebowski “El Duderino” Long Sleeve – These are kind of like Columbia PFG’s but very “EXTRA”
  • 1- RSVLTS The Big Lebowski “El Duderino” Short Sleeve – “EXTRA” also
  • 1- O’NEILL Men’s Standard Fit Chino Walk Short – we did fancy stuff

What I wish I had brought

At one point, I thought it would be fun to have my Barbour coat or puffy vest. Probably San Francisco. I wouldn’t have enjoyed carrying it around until I needed it. Damn, I would have looked cool wearing it.

There is a more detailed run down of the luggage in this post over here.


Where there is fire, there is smoke

Smoke is bad.. It’s not healthy. I haven’t had much experience with large fires. Merryweather and I drove around a fire near Yellowstone, a while back. My main experience has been living in Omaha, Nebraska. Every spring cattle farmers in Kansas burn off their fields to force new growth and fatten cows quicker. The smoke from these fires blows away and then ruins air quality in Omaha or some place else. Look at a map. It is not very neighborly.

I am pretty much pro-wildfire, don’t be surprised I am pro-flood too. I think we nature sends you a message, you should listen. I am not pro loss of life. I am pro choice. Parts of Yosemite have several feet of material on the ground that could be burned. FEET. We need forest fires. It is a natural part of the life cycle of a forrest. All the flammable stuff on the ground needs to burn occasionally. It’s the circle of life. Forrests can Build Back Better! It will make America great again. 

Wildfires have an upside

Yosemite wasn’t packed. I presume this was because of the wildfires and the smoke. It seemed a little like it was just us and French and German people. We were wearing masks for smoke instead of COVID, which was a nice change of pace. Our ranger friend’s n95 mask was legitimately dirty from soot and over use. I wish we had been able to bring another case of them with us and leave them for the staffers. Smoke is not healthy, but for a couple of days we traded crowds for smoke. One of the best parts of nature is being alone. I enjoy a good people watch as much as the next guy, but I despise waiting in lines. There was still plenty of people watching in Yosemite. We didn’t have to wait in line for much in Yosemite Valley at the end of July. This was pretty awesome.

It was hazy. The smoke and haze ruined some of my pictures. It ruined my cardio-vascular ability.

20220728 – Yosemite

Breakfast at Westworld

We had breakfast at the hotel. It was the most surreal experience. Dinner the night before had a live piano player.  For breakfast, they were playing music from the Westworld soundtrack, basically muzak/elevator versions of fairly current songs. We are in the hotel from The Shining, in a national park, listening to music from a dystopian theme park music. I am still a little unnerved. I am a DJ at heart, the soundtrack from the Westworld series was the scariest part or the whole thing.

Are we the client or the product?

Breakfast was great. 

We jumped on the trolley and headed to Yosemite Valley Lodge for our valley tour. Usually the tours are conducted by Interpretive Rangers on Trams. Thanks to the Oak wildfire, and the recently less newsworthy Wawona fire and the smoke (These were both national news when I wrote this), they switched it to a bus. Normally, bus drivers do their own tours. When we walked up, the ranger and the bus driver were having a very professional and polite discussion on how this might work if they cooperated because Mr. and Mrs. Jon Bruce Entertainment had come all the way from St Louis, Missouri to see Ranger Bridget give a tram tour.

Smoke in the valley? I am not seeing it.

Bill the Bus Driver

Bill, the air-conditioned bus driver protecting us from the fire related air quality, has been working in the park for 30 years. He has toured members of congress, the Secretary of the Interior, and dignitaries of every stripe. I am forever grateful to him for sharing his bus with Ranger Bridget, because Mr. and Mrs. Jon Bruce Entertainment had come all the way from St Louis, Missouri to see Ranger Bridget give a tram tour. Oak fire smoke be damned.

Bus Driver Bill is also a Plein Air artist. His works are available on Saatchi Art and at the Sierra Artist Gallery in Mariposa. Learn more at



There soon may be a William Fontana Plein-Air hanging in a place of prominence in the Bruce Casa, based solely on merit and not on the fact that he did us a huge solid and is total class act.

Ranger Bridget

Ranger Bridget is working her third summer for National Parks while not attending Purdue University. She is the daughter of two of the finest people I know. She has been writing about her adventures for several years. She is a really tremendously talented writer.

Ranger Bridget in her natural environment

Did you know?

National Park Interpretive Rangers are responsible for creating their very own content. They have to research, find props, materials, and jokes then write all of that down and deliver that content to an audience. Bridget has put together several programs including her very own tram tour. It was awesome. Her own personal imprimatur highlights the diversity of people who contributed to the parks history, the geology, the biodiversity and the people who visit the park.

It was also fun watching her field questions from the rest of the bus. I think 90% of an Interpretive Ranger’s job is listening to someone else’s dad spew facts that are barely relevant. This is the job of 90% of the rangers I spew facts towards.

Next, Yosemite Falls

Everyone on the Insta is standing on the log

After the tour, we visited lower Yosemite Falls. I broke my iPhone. It was anti -climatic. I drop my phone all the time, this time it went crack. Ranger Bridget has recommended the Lower Falls as one of the easier hikes. It is but the last bit is uphill and the oxygen that was available was covered in smoke. We almost turned around at the bridge, but we were so close. I said “let’s do this one and no more” (maybe the most embarrassing thing I have ever said. We climbed the last bit to the bridge. We took pictures. We laughed at the Japanese tourists. 

Anybody who has been to this spot is laughing at how trivial this “hike” is. But today, in the smoke it was my own El Capitan. 

Mrs. JonTheBruce was right.

We rode the valley shuttle ALL the way around the Valley. We had lunch at Curry Village. We explored the Happy Isles /Mist Trail loop because I can’t read a map. Mrs. JonTheBruce as right at 305pm today. She tried to explain to me that we could skip a bunch of stops by walking across the street from stop 14 to 19. I was convinced that skipping 15 -18 would somehow also skip 1,2, and our stop three. 


Wayfinding at Yosemite may be deliberately bad. Maybe it is to slow down the crowds of people. I wandered around parking lots until I figured out which direction the thing I wanted was located. This seems to be the case for everyone. I am not even sure I have ever been by the Ahwahnee Hotel because it is “tucked” away off the main drag, and it’s not really visible from the main road.  

Back to the Hotel like N2Deep

We went back to the hotel and hit the pool. 

It was very nice. Mrs. JonTheBruce was easing her way into the pool, slowly. I dove in straight away. The air was hot and hazy with smoke, but the pool is at 4000 ft above sea level and refreshingly cool. As Mrs. JonTheBruce was trying to acclimate, she made a new friend. Cole is the kind of four year old swimmer about to be rescued, at all times, but beelined straight to Mrs. JonTheBruce and hugged her around the neck. Strange four year olds in pools distributing hugs is just weird. Kind of adorable. But weird.

We don’t know Cole. We don’t know Cole’s people. Cole’s dad came over and made it all better.

Cole’s dad probably has to live in California for medical reasons. He has no body hair or body fat to keep him warm or protect 6 – 100 perfectly chiselled abs from the cool mountain air. I was easily, only the second most attractive man in the pool area.

Mrs. JonTheBruce was playing it cool, but her and Omaha mom and Australian mom were internally all cartoon wolf, uugga horn, bada bada bada. 

Team Cole and I were talking swimming skills. The Ahwahnee pool is old school. Cole needs to have a solid dog paddle or someone watching him from arms length. I don’t know exactly what Cole has accomplished or conquered in his time around the planet, but he is absolutely charming. He went around and hugged all the ladies on his way out. Luckily, all the ladies, and a couple of the fellas, formed a nice orderly line to hug Cole’s dad as they left. Floating in the pool staring at the valley walls, I realized I had enough of the wildfire smoke… I was dreaming about cigarettes. 

but seriously


We went back to the room and I decided to wash my shirts. Sadly, one of my shirts didn’t make it. I actually decided to toss a Columbia shirt. It smelled funny. It had smelled the same kind of funny every other time I had try to put it on for a while. I don’t know why. I have washed it a couple of times. Separately. I dried it in the dryer. I waterboarded it. This shirt had a funk. So it’s gone now. Probably only waited about 9 months to let this thing go. I miss it already. 

more details on washing clothes on the road are here

Dinner Reservations

We had dinner with Ranger Bridget at Ahwahnee. Mrs. JonTheBruce and Bridget are both Purdue Boilermakers and Ranger Bridget’s momma is one of Mrs. JonTheBruce’s oldest and dearest friends. They talked college. Mrs. JonTheBruce told her all the bad stuff her mom ever did. Ranger Bridget shared some stories about this park. There was 4-H talk! It was old Indiana day in Yosemite. (A month later, I just realized I may have forgotten about the difference between Archeology and Anthropology, sorry Ranger Bridget!) We had a great dinner. They offered us dessert and coffee and tea and everything. It was delicious. We got a tour of the special exhibit that was on display at the other end of the Great Lounge.

Ranger Bridget’s Mom and Dad

Ranger Bridget is thriving in her exciting new environment that is not at all close to home. Never the less, we loaded Bridget The Boilermaker down with as many calories as she could eat and all the prepared food she would take back to her apartment. We weren’t even entirely pushy about it.

20220727 – Onward into the Yosemite Valley

When life gives you lemons, make lemoncello. 

We made it!

The drive into the valley was very scenic and slow. Someone punted their car into a tree in the most single lane portion of the drive. We were stopped in a long line of traffic and missed our dinner reservation by a solid two hours. No one was answering the phone at the lodge restaurant. We got into the valley and checked into the hotel. We freshened up. The hostess was able to find us a seat. The dinner was very nice. 

Pro-Tip: I can’t tell you how many times asking the person at the place for help worked. Basically, every time. The person at the place knows what is going on and can help. Work Really Hard to Plan Ahead. Be Nice to People. Tip Extravagantly.


Dinner at Ahwahnee 

Ahwahnee was built in the 1920s as the premier destination in the National Parks. It is the inspiration for the hotel in the movie, “The Shining”. It is basically a visually imposing five story hotel hidden at the far end of the Yosemite Valley. It exists on a scale designed to inspire awe. The dining room is grand. Soaring ceilings. Giant windows. Due to COVID or staffing or whatever dinner was buffet style, not terribly inspiring. The Concert Grand Piano with pianist. Inspiring. Linens and waitstaff and atmosphere… Inspiring. It was very nice. Aramark is probably better suited to serving college kids dorm food, but it is a very nice buffet. They are working very hard and turning out great options at the far end of the supply chain inside a national park. The food was as good as I have ever seen in a buffet. The waiters were excellent. I wish I would have asked more questions to start. There was dessert at the buffet and also a served desert. I didn’t figure that out until the next night. I also hustled us out, because I wanted to see the park at sunset and not see a bear, again. 

After dinner 

We went for a drive, on the hunt for bears. We drove the whole valley loop. No bears to be found.

Ahwahnee – The El Dorado Diggins Suite.

The El Dorado Diggins Suite is now a Jr Suite at the hotel, which in years past has been a private dining room, a cocktail lounge, and even a chapel during World War II when the Navy used the hotel for convalescing servicemen. This suite has one king bed and features a sunken living room with a sofa sleeper, a large picture window, and a private bath with a Jacuzzi bathtub.


Due to the wildfires, our reservations at Wawona (another Yosemite lodge) were cancelled about eight days before we left. We switched over to two nights at Ahwahnee. For some reason, probably fires, there was more availability at Ahwahnee eight days out, than there was two weeks out. This worked out great because we got to stay in the same place for a more than a night. Being in one place is really nice way to really relax while traveling.

The Diggins is like a suite at the Venetian in Las Vegas with better views. We would have preferred cleaner window with fewer spider webs, but COVID/Wildfires/Staffing. The view was exceptional. Everything was a little old school, but well kept. The room is on the second floor above the dining atrium. There are hints that this space used to be something other. The panels on the dining room side match the panels above the entrance in the dining room. It has old school keys. There is a double door to access it. Very fancy and cool. The landing, outside the room,  overlooks the Great Lounge. There is another second floor space at the opposite end of the Great Lounge. I haven’t ever been in a hotel that rewards taking a look around so handsomely. 

The Ahwahnee Bar

The Hotel Bar is iconic. This is where Aramark needs to get out of their own way. All the crap that isn’t a place for serving patrons needs to be swept off the bar into the trash. No cash registers. No Juice. No Coffee. No drink trays. No muffin stations. No sneeze guards. The bar needs to just be the bar. Take away the barstools if you need to protect the staff. Currently, you can see the possibility, the potential, underneath all the bullshit. It’s just wrong. Bartending is a noble professional. This bar should be treated more respect. 

We slept well.

20220727 – Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite

I woke up early. I had booked a private tour of Mammoth Lakes. Mrs. JonTheBruce slept in and ordered room service. My driver, Mark, picked me up at the hotel and gave me the deluxe, abridged Mammoth Lakes tour. 

Winter time Mammoth Lakes is a skiing destination. Summer time Mammoth Lakes is delightful. There is camping and hiking and climbing and the riding of bicycles and mules and such. There is a bunch of things to see that Merryweather and I missed. 

According to my driver, he first visited Mammoth Lakes as a youth completing a 50 miler for a Boy Scouting award. He has been coming back ever since, until finally settling here with his lovely wife, several years ago. We broke off the tour in favor of breakfast at the Stove. 

I recommend the booth by the back door. One of the benches is directly attached to the coffee grinder or a blender. It vibrates vigorously like magic finger breakfast booth. It turns out Mark and I have quite a bit in common. I used to mobile DJ quite a bit. Mark did too. At one point, I started treating my DJ business like a business. Similarly, Mark had written and delivered a seminar to the mobile DJ world called. “Getting What You Are Worth”. Coincidently, this was the same seminar that changed my DJ life. 

Mark Ferrell is only slightly easier to find than an black bear

You can learn more about Mark here. 

If you are a mobile entertainer, you should be learning from Mark Ferrell. If you are the spouse of a mobile DJ who is watching more money go out for the DJ “business” than come in. Drag your loved one to a Marbecca Seminar, now!

Private Tour of Mammoth Lakes – 4.5/5 Stars

Mark dropped me at the hotel. I only gave him 4.5 stars rating because I saw no bears. Mammoth Lakes is lousy with bears this time of year, but not the kind that show up for over eager tourists. This was an unreasonably high standard. Bears are basically imaginary. You are NEVER going to see a bear, until you happen to be looking at one. I have seen wild bears once in 52 years. We were in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. A momma bear and cubs crossed the road in front of our car. If I hadn’t yelled and stopped, the rest of the Corp of Discovery (Mrs. JonTheBruce, Merryweather, Charbonneau) would have missed it. They didn’t even cross at a Bear Crossing sign. Bears can’t read. 

Reservations Required

A reservation will be required to drive into or through Yosemite National Park from May 20 through September 30, 2022, for those driving into the park between 6 am and 4 pm.

National Park Service, 2022

Part of my process in last minute planning is figuring out most of the thing and then hopefully putting everything together as I get there. We had reservations at the Ahwahnee Lodge. When I found out about the Entrance Reservation I thought we were screwed. I read the web page info 10-50 times. Around the last moment, I realized that the lodge reservation would have gotten us into the park whenever we wanted. 

This is what happened instead

After breakfast, I had picked up Jamie at the hotel. We loaded up. Went on a 2.5 star tour of Mammoth Lakes, hit the grocery, and ventured to Bodie, California. Interestingly, Patrick Swayze’s character in Point Break (1991) is called Bodhi. Bodhi is short for bodhisattva, an enlightened being in Buddhism.

Merryweather and I learned about Bodie from a podcast. The timing was awful. We were already on the opposite side of the Sierra Madres smack dab in Yosemite Valley which was packed like a mall parking lot at Christmas. Not a chance we were going to go back and check it out. 

Bodie is ghost town.

They mined gold back in the day. The next day, everybody left. They left the town. They left the stuff.  It is actually much bigger than I expected. It’s in much better shape. It it located at the end of a very, very long washboarded, gravel road. They charge admission to walk around and admire the sun bleached, abandoned dry, withering, ghost town. It would have been more fun if there was a tree. I imagined there was a tree or two. Also if it was closer to the main road. The public restroom was pretty nice. We admired the scenery and left.

Ghost Town Flippers coming soon to HGTV

Geo Fences & Online Marketing

In fact, after arriving in Mammoth Lakes, Facebook showed me bear stories. Facebook immediately started showing Mrs. JonTheBruce houses to buy. I think the only property we were ready to buy was a one bedroom with outdoor plumbing, no utilities or insulation, covered in Hanta Virus, and abandoned for a 100 years, in Bodie. Also. It is 12 miles from the highway and behind three miles of washboard gravel roads. Listed for $1.2 million.

Stay Tuned

I am pitching the idea to HGTV. “Ghost Town Flippers” has a 12 week commitment. But we can’t find anyone who wants to drive there more than once for any amount of money.  

Mono Lake 

We checked out Mono Lake. It looks very interesting from a distance. Up close, it is very bright, sunny, salty and dry. I think I leaned in a bit more the last time I was here. I was hot, and dry and uncomfortable.

Mono Lake

Lee Vining, California

Lee Vining, California is the place to take pictures of outrageous gas prices. It’s basically the eastern side of Yosemite. Probably your first taste of California taxes, and it is probably more expensive in the park, you can’t know. Where is the next gas station? “We should probably fill up just in case!” Gas prices were slightly better in Mammoth Lakes, but it is already 30 minutes away. The price difference between the two gas stations was outrageous. Like a $1 more at the “name brand” place. The other place was also “name brand”-ish. Buy gas before you get to Lee Vining. There is a gas station on the other side at El Portal, also expensive. Gas in California gets slightly less expensive in regular places. California is perfect in many ways, but it is not cheap. 

Reservations required

We had a snack at the cafe in Lee Vining to idle away our time. I read the info about three hundred times. The first hundred times I was like “oh shit. We don’t have a reservation. We can’t get in until 4pm.”

The second hundred times. I was like… “We need to leave Lee Vining, California at 3:40pm, so we can arrive after 4pm and not get a ticket from a very annoyed ranger.”

The third time around 3:39pm. I was like… “We could have gone whenever we want, we got a reservation.” Because I had a lodging reservation.

A Lodging Reservation is also an Entrance Reservation

Reading is fundamental. Timed entry and reservations are awesome! I really believe this. Sincerely believe this. The last time I was at Yosemite Valley, it was too busy. Not fun.

We pulled up to a moderately long line at the East Gate to Yosemite. Jack Booted Park Rangers were clubbing people without reservations like baby seals. We bought a National Park pass at Great Basin, so we got waved in by the very efficient friendly staffer at the east gate. It was awesome. 

Next Time

I am skipping the Yosemite Valley in favor of hanging out over by the East gate in the Tuolumne Meadows. It is so other worldly. Mountain streams, verdant greens, granite chunks the size of a house tossed artistically about from time and hydrology. No climbing because you are already on top of the whole thing.

20220726 – Mountains are Magic

Mountains are magic. 

Fairy tales tell us this is true. Religions use mountains heavily.  There is no mountain more magical than Mammoth Lakes, California.

Merryweather and I drove from Las Vegas to Mammoth Lakes, a few years ago. The air was crisp. The oxygen was in short supply. I was giddy. We had dinner. Mule deer came right up to the sides of the Overland Rig. In the morning, the cool mountain air was still. The lake was a sheet of glass reflecting the mountains.

Mammoth Lakes also has convenient shopping and great gas prices.

This Time Around

We got to our slightly more upscale hotel in the center of Mammoth Lakes. The Westin Monache Resort in Mammoth is smack dab in the midst of the ski resort part of town. There is a ski lift to the mountain close by. We were in the center of the action. We freshened up and headed to dinner. The air was crisp. The oxygen was in short supply. We might have needed to bring a jacket. Delightful.

I got to introduce Mrs. JonTheBruce to a couple of old friends. We had an amazing dinner at Burgers Restaurant. We caught up then shut the place down. Said our good-byes.

The air was crisp. The oxygen was in short supply. I was giddy. We got lost wandering back to the hotel. Amused some native French speakers. And slept. Not a mule deer in sight.

20220726 – Great Basin National Park to Mammoth Lakes, California

A different sort of National Park sign

We got started pretty early. Great Basin National Park is as pretty as metaphor about the driving distance that doesn’t end in a preposition. The best looking Aspen groves I have ever seen. Same for the Bristlecone Pines. Not too crowded.

Great Basin National Park

Lehman Cave

We had a single ticket reservation for the 9:30am Cave tour and the 10:30am cave tour. The online reservations people patiently explained that there was no chance in hell we would be able to go on the same tour. We arrived before the 9:30 tour. Luckily, the ranger at Lehman Cave fixed it with a pencil. 

Pro-Tip: I can’t tell you how many times asking the person at the place for help worked. Basically, every time. This cave tour is a great example. The online reservations were not encouraging, but the person at the place knows what is going on and can help. Work Really Hard to Plan Ahead. Be Nice to People. Tip Extravagantly.


The cave tour is really quite pleasant. Lehman Cave is cool and dry, unlike cool and wet caves of the Midwest and Midsouth, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri. We went on the short tour with mostly people under the age of 10. They were very brave.

Lehman Cave also has natural lighting

Leave personal flashlights in the car

The adults in charge of all these damn kids brought their own flashlights. They were not schooled in courteous flashlight usage. Luckily, the National Park Service has helpfully provided lighting for cave tours. It only took two suggestions me and then the Park Ranger for dad with the headlamp to put away his toy. The ranger doing the tour was great. She had cave jokes. 

Back Outside

Great Basin National Park is a really nice big basin. My favorite part were the bushes along the road. They were blooming and covered in butterflies and tiny bees loaded like pack mules with pollen. Teeny, tiny hard at work moving pollen from place to place, industriously serving their own interests as well. This was a highlight. 

Nature in all it’s wonder

We drove around the Basin which was up hill and then turn around and down hill. It wouldn’t be a basin if it didn’t have top and bottom bits.

Lunch was at Sugar, Salt and Malt. They had drinks and panini press sandwiches. It was fine.  

Back on the road

US 6/US 50 Across Utah was long and boring. US 6/US 50 Across Nevada was longer and boringer. Famously so. There is a survival guide for HWY50. Available here. 

I am glad we got to experience the road in all of it’s primal, boring glory. We refueled in Ely, Nevada. This is a drive so long and boring that the previous days suffering pales in comparison. We planned ahead. Limited Fluids. And drove, and drove. We didn’t see a single open grazing cow, wild horse, burro, mule, donkey, or hippie despite signs warning about them every 20 miles. 

We finally found wild horses about a mile across the California border. 

Wild Horses should be treated like wild animals. I pulled up about 50 yards away from a small pack. They scattered frantically. I still tried to get a picture. They moved on. I moved on. 

A bit later we rounded a corner and there was something green. A whole field of green. A small pond with water. This was a solid evidence that we had made any progress all day. We wound up hill into the Sierra Madres and Mammoth Lakes.

There! Fixed it!

20220725 – Homestead Crater

We woke up and had breakfast at Homestead Resort. We laid about until our Homestead Crater reservation time. Book early. and Book often folks.

Homestead Crater was actual first stop on my itinerary. It showed up on a list of swimming hole. Looked interesting. I saved it on Google Maps.

 A hundred years ago some guy found a hot spring, actually a “geothermal hot spring in a 55ft limestone dome” I suspect it may be a Terracettes or a Hot Spring Cone for all you geology fans out there. A big one. I wasn’t there when it was discovered. Right now. You walk in the side of the hill, past the cash register, down a slope to a dock with a pool. There is a hole in the top. I imagine that water was coming out the top at some point in the past 100 million years.

It was called Snider’s Hot Pot Ranch and Spa in an early picture, in the resort lobby. The families name was actually Schnietter. Early photographers were too busy taking pictures to take down facts. 

pretty cool

It’s basically a 97 degree hot spring in a cave. With a vent in the roof that lets in sunlight. Everybody has to wear lifejackets. Sessions are one hour. No jumping in, use the ladders, no life guard on duty. RULES IN ALL CAPS CENTER JUSTIFIED WITH ASTERISKS. 

Petty dictators, with petty empires should be required to take classes in page layout so the rules are more clearer. 


We had to be out of the hotel by 1pm. So we stayed for about half of our swim. Our session was sold out, but there was room for everybody. The line going inside looked worrisome. The spring is bigger than the pictures. There was plenty of personal space, but not much to do. Floating in a lifejacket in warm water was not on my bucket list. I slipped off the deck and splash slightly, twice. I also took off my lifejacket because I am already SUPER buoyant. I am not anybody’s role model. 

We bopped back to the hotel room and showered. The rule sheet says the spring is very refreshing, but you know what is more refreshing? A shower. With soap. 

We stopped at a farm stand on the way back to the main road. They had really beautiful looking Rainier cherries from Washington. The best I have ever seen. I didn’t buy any. We are headed that way, eventually. 

The girl working the stand picked out some blackberries, and raspberries and apricots. We inhaled them all in the 30 minutes to took to get to Salt Lake City. Hot springing can make you very hungry.

Salt Lake City

Yes, that Salt Lake City.

I can imagine what it must be like
This perfect, happy place
I’ll bet the goat-meat there is plentiful
And they have vitamin injections by the case
The war-lords there are friendly
They help you cross the street
And there’s a Red Cross on every corner
With all the flour you can eat!

Robert Lopez, Matt Stone & Trey Parker – “Sal Tlay Ka Siti”, The Book of Mormon

We went to a store in search of a practical gift for Merryweather. There was a restaurant with a 5.0 rating around the corner from the mall. We went looking for it. I ended up asking for help. The guys explained that it was a food truck and wasn’t there right now. 

We walked through a Starbucks for Alphas called Alphas. I am not making this up. They had pre-made sandwiches like an incel, beta-cuck Starbucks. I knew is was spot for Alphas. because they had Diet Coke. Diet Coke is for life’s winners. I should know. I love Diet Coke.

We went to the bar/sushi place next door. It’s like two restaurants in one. They scanned our IDs, because this establishment was a bar in Utah. I got a Bud lIght because we were in the shadow of the tee-totaling Temple. Aah Sushi! was amazing. Some of the best I have had EVER. A real treat prepared a sushi wizard. 

Ahh Sushi and O’Shucks a place that sells Budweiser in the shadow of the Great Mormon Temple

It was interesting to watch him help his assistant with the roll ordered by Mrs. Jon Bruce Entertainment.  He showed more restraint than I do. I could see the concern and the impulse to just do it himself in his eyes. He also possessed the mastery necessary to give his student room to learn.  His notes were delivered discretely and elevated the food and presentation.


We headed out to Kohls because I had an Amazon return that I want to carry around for 1283 miles. 

Got a new travel soap dish. You can learn more about it here.


Mrs. Jon Bruce Entertainment took the wheel towards our next stop, the vicinity of Great Basin National Park. This is a deceptive drive. You leave SLC on 15 towards Las Vegas. The shorter distance is the first turn onto US 6/US 50. A two lane flat desert road with spotty cell service and miles of nothing. It’s 20 minutes longer to drive about twice as far on Interstate 15 and then trail over to US 6. I am glad we got to see this drive, but I might spend the extra 20 minutes on the interstate next time. I tried to give Mrs. JonTheBruce a heads up.

No services for 88 miles

The end of the drive was exciting. The last stretch is 88 miles with no services. No gas stations, no restaurants, no bathrooms. About 20 minutes after she breezed through last chance town without stopping, she mentioned that she needed to go to the restroom. I tried to warn her.

I said “Next one is in an hour” She was dismissive, like I was kidding. She scoffed at my navigational guidance. The previous hour of driving should have been a fair warning.

40 minutes later

She had the 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid at a speed I am not comfortable publishing. There was no other traffic. There was nothing to run into. I picked out several nice places to pee out of doors and explained the process. She was having none of it.

“Faster, Faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death.”

Hunter Thompson

I feel the need! The need to Speed pee!

My Copilot

Hopefully, the only tracks were left on the tarmac outside that gas station were from the regenerative braking system and the Firestone tires… The Border Inn Casino, gas station, restaurant, bar, country western autograph museum, pool hall, campground, and RV Park was excellent. They seem to be aware that half of their guests really need to use the bathroom, right now. It is really quite nice. I had hamburger. The bun was on point. The phone service was spotty.


Hidden Canyon Retreat was our goal for the evening. The directions were written. I had downloaded a local copy of the area on Google just in case. The printed directions we got were perfect. Hidden Canyon Retreat would still be hidden otherwise. We got to there. It is located in a hidden canyon. It is about 30 minutes outside of Great Basin National Park. And six miles off the paved roads. Remote. Very nice, but remote.  

The check in was exceptional. Our host gave us a map of the property that was hand colored with information. They also weren’t doing breakfast, so we got to raid the camp store/pantry. I picked all practical things. Peanut Butter, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, 19 Crimes Cali Rose, Apples.

Dark Skies

Great Basin and Hidden Canyon are an excellent place to look at the stars. The sky was partly cloudy. The unclouded part was some of the darkest skies I have ever seen. Let me recommend DarkSiteFinder.com https://darksitefinder.com/maps/world.html

Go visit one of those places in the black, black, at night. Look up. I have been to a couple of them. Thanks Nebraska! The sky is so much bigger than you can imagine when you are looking up in the vicinity street lights or civilization. So much bigger. You are so much smaller.

We slept with visions of No Service signs.

When it rains it pours

Merryweather called from St Louis. There was a massive rain storm. 9-12 inches of rain. I asked him to make sure water wasn’t messing up anything. We slept.