THE KAERU KID: Yosemite firefall


Horsetail Fall in Yosemite National Park. photo by The Kaeru Kid

bioline_KaeruKidOlder readers may remember seeing bonfire embers pushed off the cliffs in Yosemite at night, producing a glowing firefall like a waterfall.  It started early in the last century and continued until 1968, when it was terminated by the National Park Service director because it was an artificial phenomenon that attracted huge crowds, resulting in damage to areas where people gathered, and traffic problems when they left the area.

Horsetail Fall in Yosemite National Park. photo by The Kaeru Kid
Horsetail Fall in Yosemite National Park. photo by The Kaeru Kid

Did you know a similar natural occurring phenomenon can be seen at Yosemite?  It occurs in early February, if the right combination of adequate rainfall and clear weather allows the setting sun to light up Horsetail Fall ( Probably the most famous photograph was taken by Galen Rowell (

Unless one lives nearby, it is difficult to predict what the conditions will be during this crucial time period. I had to arrange my schedule so that I could reserve accommodations and take my chances. I was fortunate to stay in an Affordable Travel Club member’s custom-built Mariposa, Calif. home near Yosemite.

The first morning, I visited the historic courthouse and more than 150-year old Catholic church, which provides a view of what early life in Mariposa was like. Their historic museum was a delightful visit, and they were rightfully proud of being recognized several times by the Smithsonian as the best regional museum.

Following a delicious lunch at Sugar Pine Cafe, I drove into Yosemite with clear blue skies and temperature in the 60s.  There had been little rain, so unfortunately, the waterfall was just a trickle, but several hopeful photographers had gathered. Finally, at sunset, the scant water from the fall changed to a slight orange color, looking more like a burning fuse than the anticipated firefall.

Famished, I returned to Mariposa to the packed Charles Street Dinner House for a good rib dinner, but they were not as tasty as the ribs in Memphis, Tenn.  In the past, I stayed and ate at Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant in Oakhurst, Calif., which serves gourmet meals in case you are in the mood for upscale digs and food.

Before leaving Mariposa the next morning, I stopped at the California State Mining and Mineral Museum Park Property. It is the only state park that consists only of a few buildings and no acreage for a park. I expected better displays for an area so rich in minerals.

I made another stop at the historic gold rush mining town of Columbia ( to view the largest well-preserved historic still-functioning saloon, hotel, bank, general store and candy shop. The prices, however, were not like those of the past; one bite-sized chocolate cost $1.

A mandatory visit for the Kaeru Kid was Angels Camp, which was made famous by Mark Twain for its jumping frog contest that is still held annually in May. There is a cabin on the outskirts where he lived for several months and a saloon in town where he supposedly wrote many of his stories. The town is riddled with frog memorabilia. The sidewalk has frog plaques commemorating past winners and the distance they jumped.

Next, I took a short drive to the town of Arnold, Nev., where a friend who owns a cabin provided a pleasant overnight sojourn. Then it was onward toward Reno. There were nice scenic views, but lakes and rivers were distressingly low as a result of the drought.  A bathroom stop at the Chicken Ranch, a Native American casino near Jamestown, Calif., found a jammed parking lot, but with poor pay tables for video poker that usually correlates with poor gambling odds overall. A sucker is born every minute.

After an overnight stay in Reno with another Affordable Travel Club member, my travel mate and I visited Sierra Sid’s Casino in Sparks to view a large gun collection that included several guns and jewelry once owned by Elvis Presley.

Ferris wheel in Sparks, Nevada. photo by The Kaeru Kid
Ferris wheel in Sparks, Nevada. photo by The Kaeru Kid

The next highly recommended visit was to Scheels All Sports, a sporting goods store in Sparks. Among the attractions inside was a full-sized ferris wheel that cost only a dollar a ride. A showcase described the builder, George Ferris, for whom it is named. He was a bridge builder engineer, but was most famous for building the tallest wheel at the time for the Chicago World’s Exposition in 1893. Kids  would enjoy a free visit here to see many stuffed animals, aquariums and animatronic presidents uttering a famous speech.

Employees are also shareholders in the company and provide attentive helpful service. I looked at a $5,000 bicycle and an employee said I was welcome to take it for a test ride.

I wanted to drive US 50, known as the “Loneliest Road,” so named because of a Life Magazine article in 1946. We left Sparks on US 80, figuring to connect with US 50 after turning off in Fernley, Nevada. On the way, we saw a sign for the Mustang Ranch, the infamous first legal Nevada bordello once owned by Joe Conforte. It was seized by the government in 1990 for  tax fraud. I thought it had been made into a museum and asked my lady companion if she would like to tour it and she enthusiastically agreed. There was a large motocross course adjacent with youngsters and their parents enjoying themselves.

I buzzed the doorbell and a woman answered. I asked if this was a museum. She said no, it consisted of “working girls,” but would be happy to give us a tour for a tip. Women tour visitors are welcomed. She told us that the women are independent contractors and set their own prices.

Safe sex practices are emphasized and there are frequent medical examinations. An adjacent lodge allowed overnight stays in a regular room for $50 a night and suites that had an indoor huge jacuzzi for $150. Photos were not allowed of either the women or the interior. We were surprised by the plush surroundings.

Continuing our trip, we stopped for lunch at the Slanted Porch in Fallon.

The food was tasty and I highly recommend the restaurant. Once on the “loneliest road,” our first stop was at Sand Mountain to see the remains of a Pony Express office. Signs said the youngest rider was 11 and the oldest 40.

Sand Mountain is known as the “singing mountain” because when the wind blows, a strange noise is heard.  This area is used as an ATV recreation course, and with so many loud motors, it was impossible to hear any singing.

There was scant traffic on Highway 50, but I have been on roads with less traffic. A good way to fight boredom on such stretches is to listen to audiobooks and then the time flies as one becomes engrossed in the story like we did whizzing through Eureka, which bills itself as the friendliest town on the loneliest road.

An overnight stay at the historic Nevada Hotel in Ely (population less than 5,000) made for an inexpensive stay before completing our journey back to Las Vegas. We skirted Great Basin National Park that has one of the lowest visitor counts of any national park.  I plan on visiting it on another trip.

The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.


Las Vegas Tidbits

Everyone loves hamburgers and one of the most successful restaurants (judging by their stock performance since the IPO) has come to Vegas. Shake Shack is outside of New York City and has announced plans to open another outlet in Henderson. The prices are reasonably higher (starting around $5 and up), but nothing close to the prices charged by many of the “gourmet” burger joints like Fleur by Hubert Keller in Mandalay Bay and the Palms. Both of these include a bottle of French wine costing thousands of dollars. The Palms burger is just a Carl’s Jr and it is stupid to waste such a great wine for a hamburger of this quality. Burger Brasserie at the Paris Casino has a $777 burger, but again, fancy champagne ups the cost. Another high priced (but less than the previous two) is Umami Burger at the SLS Hotel. A fancy name and unusual ingredients don’t necessarily translate into burgers worth the higher prices. Steak ‘n Shake at the South Point is as good as Shake Shack with similar prices. Less than a mile away from Shake Shack on Tropicana is the acclaimed In-N-Out for half the price and some might say even tastier burgers. There are so many more burger joints but I didn’t have the space to discuss them. You pay your money and take your choice.

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