Monday, January 12, 2009

January's Author Post - Barbara McMahon

Best Laid Plans

This past summer the Romance Writers of America's conference was held in San Francisco, California. I was presenting a workshop with two other Harlequin American authors - Jessica Hart and Barbara Hannay. We worked for months via the Internet deciding how we would present the workshop, dividing up the different aspects and garnering photos to illustrate our points.

Since Jessica lives in the UK and Barbara H in Australia, both decided to fly into the States a bit early and see something of California. We decided to visit Yosemite National Park. It's one of the loveliest parks in the US National Park system. I live only a couple of hours away so go frequently and have seen it in all different seasons. It's truly spectacular.

The first clue that things might not go as planned was on Friday night when I was heading for the Bay Area to pick up Jessica and Barbara on Saturday for our three days in Yosemite. The news was reporting a new forest fire near Mariposa - which is a few miles south of Yosemite. Oh, oh. California had been plagued with major fires prior to that July, was this going to be as bad?We headed for Yosemite Saturday morning and when we reached the first lookout which normally displays Bridal Veil Falls in all it's beauty, the entire valley had a hazy look. Plus, thanks to a very dry winter resulting in a smaller-than-average snowfall, the billowing plumes of water normally associated with Bridal Veil was missing. It was a mere trickle.

Not to be deterred, we continued and drove around the valley floor. There definitely was a smoky haze and the air was not clear, but we could see towering El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and some of the amazing sights of the valley.

We headed for our motel room in the late afternoon. Entering the lobby we were surprised to find it crowded with long lines of guests-- and very dim. Were they conserving on electricity? No. The power was out. Only emergency lighting was available and only one computer running, so all reservations had to be checked on that one computer, leading to a very long check in time. When it was our turn to check in, we were also issued a flashlight to light our way. The clerk also suggested we might wish to buy a candle from the gift shop. Which we did.

It gets worse. Not only is there no power, the restaurant we expected to eat at was also without power. Fortunately they had brought in box lunches. Which were not the best thing in the world, but with word that the power was off from the fire all the way to where we were staying, we knew there was no other place open to eat, so took the box lunches and went to our room.

It was a lovely room with a balcony off the back that overlooked the Merced River and the hillside beyond. Very pretty despite the smoky haze. We sat out until very late, with our one candle. We ate, talked, laughed and had a great time. The next morning we were up early and back to Yosemite. We decided to visit Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, the giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron gigantea), about an hour's drive from where we were staying. Once we crested one set of mountains, we dropped down toward the Big Trees and the air was clear, the sun shining and the temperature pleasant. Reaching the Grove, we initially wanted to walk the trail to the top and see all the Sequoias along the way, but after only a short trek, the two Barbaras (me and Barbara H) turned back. I injured my knee several years ago and it's not up to hiking steep trails. We took the tram and ended up running into Jessica at the top. We all enjoyed the day. And on the way back, saw two small brown bears frolicking near the side of the road. What fun to watch. My first bear sighting in Yosemite.

We stopped at Glacier Point on our way back which normally offers a grand view of the valley floor, but it was so smoky, we couldn't even see the valley floor and could barely make out Half Dome. Such a disappointment.

Back to the powerless motel. This time to take cold showers (no power to heat the water). We had stopped at one of the stores in Yosemite so had another picnic dinner on the balcony.

Nothing was turning out as planned. We couldn't access Jessica's laptop with no power. We couldn't read our own notes with only one flashlight and a single candle. So another night was spent on the balcony. But by the next morning, we had had enough and decided to leave after our day in Yosemite--no more cold showers. After another day in the valley, Jessica who is a champion trekker, going to Vernal Falls, and the two Barbaras to Mirror Lake, we headed for Sonora, a gold rush town from the 1850's. Good thing we'd already checked out of our motel - as we made the turn for Sonora, we saw the road we would have taken to the motel was closed. The fire was spreading and the road closed due to even heavier smoke. Can you imagine all our clothes and things being there and we stuck 20 miles away in Yosemite Park? We found a nice motel room in Sonora, and the first thing we did was take hot showers. Then the rest of the evening and most of next day we finally worked on our workshop. As Jessica said on our way to San Francisco, it was good that things happened as they did. We got to know each other very well on our late night balcony talks and were more candid and forthcoming when working on the program than we might have been otherwise. After the conference, one of my editors visited Yosemite. The fire was out, the air crystal clear and she had a wonderful visit. How sad that my two writer friends missed all that. So the best laid plans...

Yet we had an adventure few share and grew closer because of it. Have you ever had a vacation that didn't go at all as you'd planned? Did it turn out to be even more special because of it? I have a book out in January, Nanny to the Billionaire's Son. In it the heroine has always wanted to be a National Park Ranger. Only, her goal is to work in any of the western parks and she ends up in Mesa Verde. It's a beautiful park as well, but nothing compares to Yosemite when the air is clear! Sam should have gone for Yosemite!


  1. Barbara, I loved every minute of our time in Yosemite. Nothing could mar its stunning beauty and sheer grandeur and I have to agree that overcoming a few setbacks forged stronger memories and friendship.
    Three writers from three different continents bonding via cold showers, candlelight and scintilating conversation. What more could we want? :)

  2. Me too! I was just looking at my photos of Yosemite yesterday and marvelling anew at that incredible scenery. Everything is on a different scale over there - all a very long way from little old York!

    I can't tell you how many times I've wondered what on earth I'm doing somewhere on holiday when everything seems to be going wrong - but those trips are always the most memorable ones too!

  3. Oops -- I do know that the UK is not a continent. (blushing)