Saturday, October 13, 2012

Neal Family Archive Letters
California Trip 2011

To:  John P. Neal
From: Patrick W. Neal

April 25, 2011
Grandpa Ken and I just got back from taking you on an 11-day driving trip from Houston to California.  I thought I would write down some highlights of the trip before we all forget and since you will likely not remember most of what you experienced.  
Grandpa Ken drove down to Houston to pick us up in his 2010 Infiniti QX-56. This was the same car we had taken to Yellowstone National Park in August 2010 and you named this car T-Rex because it was so big. It had a drop- down DVD player for the back seat passenger and throughout this trip and our previous trip you really liked watching DVD's in the backseat. One drawback to this was that to start or change a DVD, the car had a safety feature which required that the car be in park and that the emergency brake be engaged. Therefore, anytime you wanted a DVD changed or re-started we would have to pull over and completely stop the car. 
At the time of this trip the price of gasoline had recently appreciated to over $4.00 a gallon and T-Rex unfortunately required a lot of gas, only averaging about 15 miles per gallon. By the time Grandpa Ken returned home to Tulsa (after dropping us off in Houston) we had tallied approximately 5,900 miles. 
We had initially thought of taking this trip while we were on our trip to Yellowstone in 2010. Grandpa Ken had travelled all over the Western part of the United States as a kid, because his parents (Fred and Fannie) loved going on car trips and particularly loved driving out west. Grandpa Ken had also visited Yosemite National Park in the mid-1980's, but had not visited Sequoia National Park or Grand Canyon National Park since he was a boy. He had never visited Disneyland (can you imagine that).  I had been to California several times (making three car trips with your great grandparents on my mothers side, i.e., Howard and Esther Bray), but had never visited Yosemite National Park or Sequoia National Park.  I had also never been north of Los Angeles. I had been to Disneyland and Grand Canyon National Park several times, the first of which was in 1979.  So, since we had taken you to The Great Smokey National Park and Yellowstone National Park in 2010, this trip seemed like a natural next step and gave me and your Grandpa an opportunity to see some new places or re-visit some of our favorite places.
Here is the itinerary for the trip:
Day 1 - Drive from Houston, TX to Tucson, AZ
Day 2 - Drive from Tucson, AZ to Visalia, CA
Day 3 - General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park; General Grant Tree, Kings Canyon National Park; Drive to Oakhurst, CA
Day 4 - Yosemite National Park (including Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Village and lunch at The Ahwahnee Hotel)
Day 5 - Yosemite National Park; Drive to Apple Inc. Headquarters in Cupertino, CA; Drive on CA Highway 1 through Pebble Beach and Carmel to Cambria, CA
Day 6 - Moonstone Beach, Cambria, CA; Drive by Hearst Castle; Drive to Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, Simi Valley, CA
Day 7 - Los Angeles - Walt Disney Concert Hall, downtown; Jurassic Garden, North Hollywood; Will Rogers State Park, Pacific Palisades; The John Paul Getty Museum
Day 8 - Disneyland Resort
Day 9 - Disneyland Resort
Day 10 - Drive to Grand Canyon National Park; Drive to Gallup, NM
Day 11 - Drive from Gallup, NM to Houston, TX
Below I will describe a few of the highlights from each day and describe what you were doing or saying. Let me start by saying that you were generally very well behaved on this trip, particularly given how long we were in the car.  You spent most of your time watching DVD's, playing with an iPad or talking.  You had a stomach virus for the first few days of the trip, so Grandpa Ken spent a big part of the drive out to California trying to get you to drink water by bribing you with the promise of 10 cents per drink (I think you earned about $2 by the time we got to CA). Also, throughout the trip you kept asking when we were going to be at Disneyland, which as you can imagine did get a little repetitive.
Day 1
We headed out early in the morning (about 5am) from Houston. After we passed San Antonio we nearly ran out of gas because there were very few gas stations. We drove through some pretty bad dust storms west of El Paso. 
Day 2
This day started out with some excitement because after you had breakfast at the hotel in Tucson with Grandpa Ken you got sick to your stomach in their breakfast bar area and vomited all over the floor. I scrambled to put down some napkins on the floor and some hotel staff quickly cleaned it up. We took a quick drive through the University of Arizona campus before hitting the road.  By late afternoon we passed through Los Angeles before turning north to Visalia (this was the first time you were in Los Angeles).  Our hotel in Visalia was an older hotel that I had found online called the Lamp Lighter (it was a staggering $65 per night for a double) and was actually very nice. We had dinner at their restaurant where you had french fries.  Grandpa Ken had the honors of putting you in the shower with him and during the middle of the night you got sick to your stomach. 
Day 3
We got on the road early to drive into Sequoia National Park and you were very excited to see the "large trees" and snow.  You insisted on wearing shorts and once we reached the parking area for the General Sherman Tree I had to make you change into long pants in the backseat of the car (it was about 35 degrees).  Before walking up the trail to see the General Sherman Tree we all stopped to use the bathroom and you were very interested by the fact that the toilets were basically big holes in the ground.  You had a lot of fun playing in the snow (several feet was still on the ground) around the giant trees. After lunch, we drove over to the General Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park. While we were there, you really enjoyed playing in a hollowed out trunk of a fallen tree. Because there was so much snow on the ground, we were able to walk over the fence to stand next to the General Grant Tree. We took several pictures of you at the base of the tree and you and I walked all around the tree. From here, we drove down out of the mountains to Oakhurst, CA. On the way we passed a fruit stand by the side of the road that had a sign out that read $1 for a bag of oranges. Since we had been driving by orange trees all day, we decide to buy a bag.  However, Grandpa Ken discovered the sign was somewhat misleading because the bag of oranges for $1 was very small. He purchased two pretty big bags of oranges and throughout the remainder of the trip he would peel oranges for you to eat. When we arrived in Oakhurst, we had dinner at a local seafood restaurant and we tried very hard to get you to eat a hush-puppy, but after several tries you eventually gave up and spit out the tiny piece we had given you (this made Grandpa Ken angry...probably because it reminded him of how I would not eat food as a kid). You also sweet-talked two waitresses into letting you pick out some toys from a little treasure chest that the restaurant had for kids (you picked out two toy cars).
Day 4
We spent all of Day 4 in Yosemite National Park. Oakhurst is only about a 20 minute drive from the south entrance to Yosemite, however, the weather for most of the day was not very good. The day started out foggy and on our initial drive into Yosemite Village you really could not see much (in sone cases visibility was a out 50 feet). By the time we arrived on the valley floor, the fog had lifted and we had a great view of Yosemite Falls. We parked the car and spent some time at the Yosemite Visitors Center. In the gift shop at the visitors center, you talked me into buying a souvenir gold coin that had El Capitan on it for $4.50. Eventually we walked over to get a better view of Yosemite Falls, but since it was cold and cloudy we quickly got back in the car.  On the way back to the car we stopped in the Yosemite Village grocery store and Grandpa Ken bought you a DVD on Yosemite that you would watch several times during the remainder of the trip.
After a short time, the sun came out and we drove towards Half Dome. From there we stopped at the Ahwahnee hotel where we eventually had lunch. While we were there, the weather changed again and it started snowing. You and I went outside and you played in the snow for a little bit. Grandpa Ken sat on one of the couches by their large fireplaces and read a newspaper. 
Once we finished lunch, we drove over to the Yosemite Falls area again, and this time you and I hiked over to the base of the falls. When we arrived, it stopped snowing and the sun came out. I took some good pictures of you on the bridge at the base of the falls and you had a lot of fun running around the trails that meandered through the forest in that area. 
Day 5
John in the California Tree
We got up very early this morning and went back in to Yosemite National Park to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia Trees. Since it was still early spring, the up to the grove was closed, so you and I hiked 2 miles from the car up the road to the entrance to the grove. Grandpa Ken stayed with the car and did crossword puzzles (don't ask). Anyway, the hike up to the grove was pretty steep and I was a little concerned that you would have trouble hiking that far. It was about 8:30 am and there was nobody on the road for the entire hike. Once we arrived at the Mariposa Grove we walked another 8/10ths of a mile up to the Great Grizzle Tree and the California Tree (which has a hole through the center of the trunk).  It was very quiet up there that early in the morning, the sun was bright and there was nobody else around the trees.  You really liked the California Tree and I took several pictures of you standing in the middle of the tree. As we started walking back to the car we passed another hiker making his way up to the grove, he asked how much further to the trees and I told jumped in the conversation and told him where to go and not to get lost. He asked if you had hiked the whole way and when I told him that you had, he seemed a little surprised. We passed several groups of bikers on the way back down and eventually I did have to carry you part of the way. I convinced you to walk the last portion by promising that I would by you 3 more Yosemite gold collectors coins. By the time we reached the car, we had been gone for over two hours.
Once back in the car, you feel asleep after about 15 minutes as we drove back over to Yosemite Village. While you were asleep, we stopped at a couple of overlooks of the Yosemite Valley that we could not see the day before due to the heavy fog. Eventually, we stopped at the Visitors Center again and I purchased the 3 collectors coins for you. 
We left Yosemite and headed for Cupertino, CA (just south of San Francisco) to visit the headquarters of Apple Inc.  Apple was very popular at this point, and Grandpa Ken and I had been using their products (iMac, iPhone and iPad) and you could only buy t-shirts with an Apple logo at their company store. Apple had just released the iPad 2 a few weeks before our trip and they were still hard to find in stores. You decided that you really wanted a new white iPad and kept asking for one the entire time we where in the company store (you even berated a lady working in the store for one). Turns out they actually did not sell electronic devices at their company store even though they had some on display. You were also very disappointed that I could not show you where they actually made iPads (which was China, not Cupertino).
From Cupertino we headed south on Highway 1 and visited Pebble Beach and Carmel. On the way to Pebble Beach is were you first saw the Pacific Ocean. We had a slight hiccup that evening trying to drive down the coast on highway 1....just south of Carmel the road was closed, with no detour. It was getting dark, and we had to backtrack about 20 miles to find a detour. Since we were going to be getting to our hotel so late, we actually grabbed "dinner" at a gas station and I fed you a chocolate donut, potato chips and part of a turkey sandwich (this was not very good parenting, but keep in mind that Grandpa Ken and I ate nearly the same thing). We eventually got to our hotel on the beach in Cambria, CA at approximately 10:30 pm.
Day 6
You joined Grandpa Ken for breakfast at the hotel and when I arrived you had several bites of my waffle. After breakfast we went across the street to walk on Moonstone Beach. It was a very pretty morning and we hunted for shells on the beach, but it was mainly rocks. We took a bag of rocks that you collected home with us. 
We left Cambria and drove to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, CA. You really enjoyed their hangar that contained Air Force 1 from when Ronald Reagan was president. Also, you asked several questions about how Reagan was shot and if he had died from the shooting. They had a pretty vivid video of the shooting which you watched several times.  They also had a stuffed horse for kids to ride on that I took several pictures of you in the saddle. In the gift shop I bought you a Lego version of Air Force 1 and a ruler with pictures of all the presidents. Before we left, you got two ladies at the ticket counter to give you a sticker...they thought you were pretty cute.
That evening we had dinner at a restaurant near our hotel and ate outside on their patio. Prior to the trip, you had just started eating hot dogs, but you would eat the wiener and the bread separately for some reason. Anyway, at this restaurant, you had two children's corn dog meals and made me peel the breading off of the wiener (Grandpa Ken shook his head at this insanity).
Day 7
Us at the John Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA
On Saturday we visited three places: the Jurassic Garden, the Will Rogers State Park and the John Paul Getty Museum. 
We stopped at Jurassic Garden to pick up some plants for our house. I had recently bought a couple of plants from them (they specialized in Cycads). You charmed the owner of Jurassic Garden (Maurice) and he even gave you a free starter plant (which had a retail value of $95). You ran all over the nursery and even wrote your name on Maurice's whiteboard, which he found so funny that he called to tell me about it after we had left.
At our stop at thenWill Rogers state park, we went on a group tour of the old Will Roger's house, and after about 5 minutes on the tour, you asked the older lady who was giving the tour if the "detour" was over yet. This made everyone on the tour laugh. You also seemed very interested in going into the kitchen and were very impressed with a really old waffle iron that they had on display.
Before heading to the Getty Museum, we stopped for a hamburger at In-n-Out near UCLA. You were not very hungry and would not eat the french fries that we ordered for you. You carried the Lego Air Force One that I had dutifully put together for you.
One of the more memorable things to happen at the Getty Museum was immediately after we took the train up to the museum, you found a statue of a nude woman and climbed up the steps that it was on and touched it (even though there was a big sign that said don't touch the statues. Later, as we were walking in one of their gardens, you asked me if we could find more naked lady statues, which prompted a couple of people nearby to laugh.
Day 8
This was the big day...we woke up early and drove from our hotel in Simi Valley to Disneyland. We stayed at the Grand Californian Hotel on Disney property. After we checked in, we all headed to the park.  Since our trip to DisneyWorld the previous summer, you were very interested in The Haunted Mansion and The Pirates of the Caribbean, so we rode both of those rides that morning.  Grandpa Ken and I had giant turkey legs for a lunch snack and you had popcorn.  You rode the Autopia with Grandpa Ken and were very excited that they gave you a drivers license.  In the afternoon, I bought you a couple of things at the Lego store and you and I were in the park until Grandpa Ken joined us for the fireworks at 9:30 pm.  After the fireworks, we talked Grandpa Ken into riding Space Mountain (not bad for a 75 year old). We watched Great Moments with Abraham Lincoln before the park closed and you fell asleep.
Day 9
On this day, you managed to stay awake for 17 hours, of which 14 of those hours were spent in the parks.  I shot video of you eating a giant vanilla ice cream cone on Main Street at midnight as the announcement that Disneyland was closing for the night was being made. We had a character breakfast in the morning, where you had several Mickey-shaped waffles and got your picture taking with Dale (or was it Chip?). You and I got our picture taken with Mickey Mouse.  We finally rode The Matterhorn (your first time) after trying to ride it on three separate occasions (it kept closing due to mechanical problems).  Grandpa Ken rejoined us that evening and we rode the Tower of Terror and we all watched a nighttime water show called The World of Color. Before the park closed at midnight, we rode Space Mountain and The Matterhorn again.
Day 10
Ken, Patrick & John at the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park
We got up and piled back into the car and headed towards Grand Canyon National Park. This was about an 8 hour drive from Anaheim and you were a little grumpy (tired from the previous day no doubt). We arrived at The Grand Canyon about 4 pm and spent about an hour taking pictures and videos. You seemed a little disappointed, because you kept referring to it as "the black hole" and mentioned that several times while we were there.  We drove to Gallup, NM that evening and stayed at the El Ranchero Motel, which was an old motel from the Route 66 days. We got in there pretty late, and of course they did not have any air conditioning, which made for a very uncomfortable night of sleep.
Day 11
I really felt bad when we woke up due to the lack of cool air and a really uncomfortable bed. You talked me into buying you an Indian arrow in the gift shop and we hit the road. We drove nearly 1,200 miles on this day and didn't get back to our house in The Woodlands until 2:30 am.  You were pretty well behaved in the car considering how many hours we were in the car!
Well...that is basically what happened on your first visit to California. I hope you remember some of the trip (you seemed to have a lot of fun) and perhaps this letter will help your recall years from now (not to mention the 1,800 photos and 3 hours of video). We had so much fun taking you around and laughing at all the funny things you did or said. Please remember that no matter what fabulous places or things we saw on the trip, the star attraction was always sitting in the back seat.
With Love,

California 2011 Photos and Videos:

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