Published on Friday, July 21, 2017

TravelMole writer flees California blaze on US road trip

As Dinah Hatch and husband Ben continue their family US road trip, they're diverted by a wildfire.

"I was planning to report back from our California and Oregon road trip a few days ago from small, friendly Monterey where the whales swim right in the bay and your kids can go scuba-diving at the world-famous aquarium.

The early morning trip out to sea with Captain Scott (yes, really) and his Monterey Bay Whale Watch Center had been nothing short of breath taking, with orcas, dolphins, hump backs and blue whales swimming close to the boat. The Monterey aquarium (often described as the best in the world) was huge, fascinating, well-thought out and, its best feature, offered one-hour scuba session to kids in its own shallow bay. Our13-year-old ADORED it.

I was, as I say, going to say much more about these gorgeous tourist attractions but then we set the Google Maps app for the Yosemite National Park gateway town of Mariposa and everything changed.

Mariposa, in the foothills of the Sierrra Nevada mountains to the west of the park, has a feel of a little frontier town you might see on a John Wayne movie, with cute wooden general stores, hiking shops and a century-old courthouse. This is gold-rush territory. We swung into the Pioneer Stores supermarket to stock up for our five-day stay at a rental house just outside the town and noticed a kind of hurried feel about the place - people talking about filling up their gas tanks and getting in supplies but we didn't really take it in.

As we wound through the Sierra Redwoods to the house, Ben remarked: "There's a strange light here, isn't there" and then minutes later, "What the hell's that?" as a plume of smoke filled half the sky and grey ashes started to gently rain on the car bonnet.

At the rental house, the owners arrived just as we did and told us a fire had started just over the hill the day before and was spreading fast. It was 2000 square feet square and no one knew which way it would head next. They invited us into their own home, helped rehouse us 25 minutes away in Midpines and offered help and guidance about our trip. Californian people have impressed us enormously since we got here - when the lovely folk at Visit California told us we'd find friendly, helpful people everywhere they were not exaggerating.

Within an hour, we were in a different home, settled in although still careful to keep an eye on what, as it grew, became known as the Detwiler Fire. As I write this three days later, the blaze has now grown to 70,000 acres and has forced more than 4,000 residents to flee their homes.

Like the determined tourists we are, we went to Yosemite the next day and did the fabulously-informative Valley Floor tour, an open-air trolley ride during which a ranger talks you through what you are seeing - utterly terrific. And lucky we did. This was the last day for a few days that you could still stand at Tunnel View in the park and view the spectacular El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall rising from Yosemite Valley, with the awesome Half Dome looming in the background.

The next day, thick grey smoke blown east from the fire had obscured it all. We abandoned the big ticket sights at this point and headed an hour south to Fish Camp for a horse ride with Yosemite Trails through the Ponderosa Pines. Upside: the kids loved it, downside: the kids now want riding lessons.

We moved on again a day later as evacuation warnings got closer and, after scoring a miraculous last-second booking right in the park because of cancellations from wary tourists (you need to book ahead by 12 months normally), we finally abandoned Yosemite and fled south west to Mammoth Lakes after consulting this nifty little site Discover the ultimate American Roadtrip
Well, we did want adventure on this trip..."

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