It's now been almost three weeks since we were in Yosemite. This post would have come sooner but going through 800+ photos and deciding which ones to keep was harder than can be imagined. What a place!
Yosemite has been #1 on "life list" for many years and it turned into the first half of our "last great family vacation". Since our daughter is a junior next year presumably next years vacation plans are all going to involve colleges. This dream trip wound up being 5 days in Yosemite, a stop over in Monterey (including kayaking Monterey bay with the otters and sea lions) and finally a week in San Francisco. It was probably the best (and certainly the most jam-packed) vacation ever for us. But on to Yosemite...
It is difficult for a place that you've been dreaming about for so long to live up to expectations. In many ways it exceeded even those dreams as this is truly one of the most beautiful and spectacular places on earth and one that has to be seen in person to truly appreciate. The down side is that Yosemite Valley is an absolute zoo in the summer (and it was technically still spring when we arrived). Quite like Disney - except Disney knows how to handle the crowds. Sitting in traffic jams and standing in line for an hour to order a pizza are a regular part of the experience. That said, IT IS STILL VERY MUCH WORTH THE TROUBLE!!! I think the secret to visiting Yosemite is to go once, see all the "main attractions" with the rest of the crowds (there is a reason they are the main attractions) and then return many more times and visit all the other wonderful places in the park - the back country in particular - that are equally or more amazing. That "return many more times" idea is certainly one of my hopes. But no more negatives - on to a journey through the home of John Muir's inspiration.
Day One - Mariposa Grove and a Valley Tour
"It has been said that trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment rooted in the ground. But they never seem so to me. I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do. They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!" - John Muir
We spent the night before our arrival in Merced so that we could leave bright and early for the park and get a full day in. We took the long route so that we could come in the South entrance on Rt 41 and visit Mariposa Grove before heading into the valley. We wound up having to park in Wawona and taking the shuttle back to the grove since parking was already full by mid morning. We spent several hours wandering through the largest trees in the world - the Giant Sequoias. We'd been to Muir Woods before and seen the Coastal Redwoods (which are also Sequoias) and while they are taller the trees in the Mariposa Grove and simply gigantic! We wound up making a 5 mile loop through the grove and seeing many of the trees. It was a good hike and the sights were spectacular. The upper part of the grove was also much quieter as most of the crowds weren't up for the long hike and we thoroughly enjoyed the solitude.
Leaving the grove we headed into the valley. It was late enough in the day that the morning rush was over and traffic wasn't bad. Driving up Rt 41 was a pretty drive but it in no way prepared us for the sight when we turned the corner and got our first valley views. There is nothing that a picture can do to portray this - when you see it the breath is just sucked out of your body. It takes every bit of concentration to keep from just driving off the road into the view.
After regaining our senses from that, we headed through the Wawona Tunnel and emerged at Tunnel View. We only thought that those first views were spectacular. This spot - the view for Ansel Adams' famous winter photo of the valley - has to be one of the most amazingly beautiful views on earth. All of Yosemite Valley is spread out before you from El Capitan to Clouds Rest, Half Dome and Bridal Veil Falls. Good signs for what lies ahead...
Driving into the valley we were again assaulted by the sights. Yosemite Falls thundering above the meadows. Half Dome so close it seems you can touch it. El Capitan looming over the valley floor. Definitely a place that makes you feel very small.
Valley Meadow and Yosemite Falls
Half Dome Meadow View
Upper Yosemite Falls
We checked in to our new home in Curry Village. The tent cabins are actually very comfortable with decent beds, lights and electricity (at least if you prepare correctly). Every tent cabin also has a bear locker outside where all food and anything with a smell (right down to toothpaste) has to be kept. Lots of bear stories being told by the staff and warnings about how to be prepared, however we only saw one bear during the week and that was outside the valley. Doesn't mean they aren't around though.
Home Sweet Tent - Bear locker outside door to the right
Glacier Point from Curry Village (outside our tent cabin) - 3000' up
We ended the afternoon by renting bikes and riding the bike path loop around the western end of the valley. This really is a great way to see the valley floor sights without the traffic or having to wait for the shuttles. Definitely a good idea for day one to get oriented. After our tour we headed over to the Curry Village Pizza Deck for dinner and a beer. Even waiting in the long lines didn't seem so bad as we were still just soaking in the experience. None of us had any trouble sleeping that night (or any other night for that matter) - we were exhausted and happy.
Half Dome evening light
?Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.? - John Muir