Our friend Chelsea invited us to her wedding in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, outside Stockton, CA. As luck would have it, the wedding happened to fall on the one of the few long weekends SUNY grants us hard-working faculty. Figuring the fates were once again on our side—we made a similar decision when spring breaks coincided for our friend Wren's wedding —we booked the flights.

As it turned out, both kids were awesome travelers! The did fine on all four flights!

In fact, it's safe to say they even had a good time!

Still, I think everyone was pretty glad to chill out once we picked up our rental car and made our way over to the Airbnb guest cottage Sarah booked.

It was a little late (local time) when we got in, and we hadn't had much to eat. We drove around the neighborhood a bit, looking for food, but came up dry. Eventually, we saw a coffee shop with the lights on and Sarah ran in. They were closed, but gave Sarah a box full of pastries for free. Pastry dinner ahoy!

The next morning we set out for the park. Sarah wanted coffee, so we stopped at a different shop. She tried to buy a scone, but when the guy behind the counter reached for it and found the corner broken off he gave it to her for free. Sacramento, it seems, is the land of free pastries.

More importantly: this.

Holy moly.

Since we moved to Potsdam six/seven years ago, we've been through an irrepressible burrito withdrawal. There's a pretty good place in Ogdensburg (40 min. away) and we frequently drive all the way to the Chipotle in Watertown, but nothing really satisfies the cravings.

So once the smell of Eucalyptus hit my 'strils, I was on constant taco truck watch. As it turned out, there was a killer truck just outside of Arnold, CA, a five minute drive from the park: Las Tres Perlas.

We couldn't wait and were glad we didn't.

Part of our justification for going on this trip was that Chelsea had asked Sarah to play in the ceremony. A former grad-school friend had written some arrangements and we met up with the gang for a rehearsal. I watched the kids while Sarah jammed and when they started getting a little antsy, we drove over to the campground to set up our (ridiculously humongous) tent.

Fortunately for us, the previous campers had thoroughly extingquished their fire.

Sarah joined us for family tent time.

(Can you tell that Otis likes camping?)

While Sarah helped out with the rehearsal ceremony, June and I took Otis to go check out some of these "big trees." We measure this one. It was 98 Otis steps long.

Some of the trees were much larger.

Prior to buying a telephoto lens, I never really appreciated how different the tops of giant sequoias are compared to the familiar, gigantic bottoms.

It's a little hard to tell from this angle, but we are here completely inside the hollowed-out lower section of a fallen sequoia. Otis started getting a little freaked out. Here he is asking if we can go back out.

Love that brown!

The North Grove was pretty much right next to the campground. Very peaceful and not at all crowded.

Except for these little fuckers.

There was a constant rain of pine debris falling from the branches above. If you looked up to see the source you would inevitable find some bushy-tailed rodent busily gnawing away at a cone.

(We discovered that the seeds in pine cones are equipped with little helicopter propellors and were immediately reminded of watching squirrels engaged in similar foraging in the maple trees back home.)

This magestically-lit cone is a lot bigger than it looks. Note, too, the specks of falling debris all around this illuminated branch.

Bored in the tent, waiting for Sarah to get ready for dinner.

Still bored.

(Dinner was delicious.)

It's no wonder that Otis, the striped-socked blur at the bottom of this picture, was into camping. We were shocked, however, at how delighted Juniper seemed to be. On the other hand, she had her own special tent-within-a-tent. So maybe it shouldn't have been such a surprise.

A naturally-framed morning tree.

When you're in these big trees with a camera, you can't help but take the same picture over and over again. Maybe if I invert the colors so it looks like a negative, I can get away with another one.

The wedding ceremony wasn't until Saturday afternoon, so we had some time to explore the park after breakfast in town. There was a swimming spot in the southern part of the park, so of course we had to check it out.

The water was, to put it bluntly, cold as a motherfucker. That didn't stop us from a quick dip, though.

Nice scenery anyway!

Otis fell asleep on the way back.

Anicia and Steve rolled up in Steve's van and set up shop.

I'd never seen these pals play together before! They sounded great!

The ceremony was lovely too. (And everyone seemed blissfully unware that a giant tree was about to fall on the whole operation.)

See what I mean?!

Otis, being an East-Coast kid, had never had tri-tip before. He didn't need much encouragement.

Nor did it take much coaxing to get him out on the dancefloor.

The next morning, as everyone else slept it off, Otis took his dad around to explore the park some more.

We found a felled sequoia that had become a carved guestbook. (Alexander here seems to fancy himself a bit of a John Hancock, huh?!)

There was a big meadow in the campground that needed circumnavigating. That's not our tent down at the bottom of the picture, but it is the next site over.

Otis noticed that the moon was still up. Here it is behind a truffula tree.

...and above some piney spires.

The meadow, which an informative plaque informed us had in previous lives been a baseball diamond and a livestock pasture, was now in a state of reconstruction. A Joe Versus the Volcano-esque path kept us off the delicate meadow plants.

A contrail appeared overhead.

Meanwhile, back at the campsite, the rest of the gang had arisen. Coffee was made while Berkeley Bowl plums were produced and cut up.

It was too cold in the shade, though, so we headed back to the now sunny meadow boardwalk.

Although I feel uncomfortable saying it, Anicia would tell you that she is here engaged in a classic Chinese FOB squat.

Steve, Sarah, and June soon followed, van-themed mugs in hands.

"Hey, Dad! Come check this out!"

One of the aforementioned rodents, making a mess out of a pinecone.

After a quick appearance at the thank-you brunch, we were off! We stopped for a proper meal at El Jardin Murphy's, which ended up being much nicer (and much more filling!) than expected. Then, it was a three-hour drive to Berkeley, for the second part of our mini-vacation.

It was at this point in the trip that June decided she no longer liked the car. She'd never had a problem driving before, but for some reason a switch got flipped this day and she screamed (and screamed and screamed) the entire time. There was nothing we could do to sooth her.

It was worth it in the end, though, because we got to see our friends Dave and Jenna and meet their awesome kids, Annabel and Augie.

They, and we, had kids right after we moved away to the east coast. This only made it worse when we realized how much we missed them after moving. It was a wonderful and emotional reunion.

The kids, of course, were fast friends. Here they are in a dog pile on top of a tolerant Auntie Anicia.

The timing of this trip worked out perfectly. We had great meal with our old friends on Sunday night, then met them at the Oakland Zoo the next morning.

(Sarah and I are completely confused as to why we never went to the Oakland Zoo before!)

Annabel and Otis risk getting poked to inspect this silk floss tree outside the main gate.

Some lush tropical flora outside the siamang habitat.

My favorite animals (we all discussed our favorite animals after the excursion) were definitely the giraffes. You could get right up next to them and they were very photogenic.

Meerkat.

Otis and Augie scare Andre by fearlessly running up and down the concrete steps of this little amphitheater.

Augie and Superman observe the (ridiculously active) otters.

Otter tail and bubbles.

The gang was like this the entire time. Annabel turned out to be very helpful. Here's a typical interaction:

Me: "Hey, Otis! Can you come out of those bushes please? Otis...? Now please!"

Otis: "..."

Me: "Hey, Annabel, can you go get Otis out of those bushes?"

Annabel: "Hey, Otis, let's get out of these bushes!"

Otis: "Oh! OK! Yeah, we can do that!"

(Word for word.)

Our zoo visit drew to a close with a gondola ride up to a new part of the zoo a little further up the hills. Naturally, we screamed "HIIIIIII!!!" and "BYYYYEEEE!!!" at every single gondola car heading down as we went up.

Before driving through the wildfire smoke back to the Sacramento airport, we had a quick lunch back at Casa Hoyt in Berkeley. Annabel came up to me at one point and asked me how to spell my name, then disappeared. She came out again a little while later and asked if I preferred horses or unicorns. I said unicorns and she disappeared again. When she appeared again she asked if I liked other types of mammals and I said yes. Her questioning was explained when she came back out with this, my new official logo.

After an In-N-Out dinner, we again found ourselves questioning our judgement before a cross-country redeye with two kids. But again, the kids showed us there was nothing to be concerned about.

As we basked in the orange-ish light of a smoggy Newark sunrise, we congratulated ourselves on our good decisions.