We are staying at Yosemite Lakes RV Resort just five miles from the west gate of Yosemite National Park. We are thrilled to have a shaded site on the river. Swimming, tubing and fishing are popular activities. Trout can be seen lurking in the holes and shadows of the crystal clear water. Sitting behind our camper around a campfire next to the creek is a favorite pastime. The quiet cool nights are perfect for a good nights sleep. It seems like a perfect spot to spend the next two weeks.
In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation declaring Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove a public trust of California ceasing private ownership and creating the first national preserve. This was the first time the U.S. government protected land for public enjoyment paving the way for the establishment of the National Park System. In 1890, Yosemite became the nations third national park.
Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite is home to breathtaking waterfalls, stunning granite domes, glacier sculpted rock formations, pristine lakes, cool cascading streams, lush valleys, ancient sequoia groves, and abundant wildlife. Some of the popular and most recognizable geological features such as Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, and Bridalveil Falls can be seen from the Yosemite Valley.
Yosemite National Parks is the third most visited national park behind The Smoky Mountains and The Grand Canyon. It attracts between four and five million visitors annually. But amid the coronavirus, like most National parks, Yosemite was shut down. After 2½ months, Yosemite unlocked its gates and reopened with new rules and procedures to reduce the spread of the virus. First and foremost, park officials capped the number of visitors allowed in the park to about half of what the previous normal was. Advanced reservations are required to get into the park. Grammi and I got our pass during the first hour they became available. We were repeatedly reminded by park rangers and frequent park visitors just how lucky we are to visit during the unprecedented reduced numbers. We never had an issue finding parking anywhere in the park.
Driving into the park on that first day was a stunning experience. Around every turn was another breathtaking site. It was incredible. I cannot describe the swell of emotion I felt any better than this following quote:
“I have seen persons of emotional temperament stand with tearful eyes, spellbound and dumb with awe, as they got their first view of the valley from Inspiration Point, overwhelmed in the sudden presence of the unspeakable, stupendous grandeur.” – Galen Clark, guardian of the Yosemite Grant.
We stopped often at the pullouts…just to gaze. Jaw dropping scenes like paintings from masterful artists expanded out beyond our widening eyes. As we entered the valley and came around a bend, a beautiful waterfall greeted us. Bridalveil Falls plunges 620 feet and is the first of many waterfalls we will see. Across the valley towering 3000 feet from the valley floor is the vertical face of El Capitan, where if you look closely, you might see climbers attempting to conquer the sheer granite wall.
We explored parts of Yosemite Village that first day and we hiked to the Lower Yosemite Falls. Consisting of three sections, it’s one of the world tallest waterfalls at 2,425 feet and the crown jewel of the park. It is a striking display of natures beauty that can be seen from several locations around the park.
We came to a pullout and stopped to take a picture of Bridalveil Falls across the Merced River. The reflection of the cliffs off the water caught our attention. There we found a downed tree that had floated up to the river bank. Another tree was lying across the top. What an ideal spot for a selfie! We leaned against the tree and positioned ourself for that perfect shot when suddenly the giant log started to roll back into the river. Grammi and I scurried off that giant log like a couple of mice running away when the lights come on. Who knew we could move so fast. We laughed as we counted our blessing. We both could of easily gone for an unexpected swim.
Yosemite National Park is a huge park. Not by Alaskan standards but it’s the ninth largest national park in the lower forty-eight. We made several trips to the park during our time here picking different areas to explore. On day two in the park, we drove Wawona Road stopping at Tunnel View. From this vista we could see a spectacular view of the valley with Bridalveil Falls on the right, El Capitan on the left and Half Dome in the distance. We continued up the road turning onto Glacier Point Road.
We stopped again, this time at Washburn Point. From this panoramic vista we got a sideview of Half Dome, direct views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, and witnessed the sheer drop off of the Yosemite Valley.
At the end of the road was Glacier Point. Touted as the most spectacular view in the park, (although I don’t know how anyone can make that determination) probably because of its easy access, it is one of the most photographed sites. From the terrace you can gaze across the Sierra Nevada high country seeing many of the park’s well-known landmarks. We spent over an hour walking the paths around the top of Glacier Point. There is an amphitheater for ranger talks, a small stone structure built in 1924 called the Geology Hut, a museum and gift shop. With the picturesque view of Half Dome in the foreground, we laid out a picnic lunch on a rock and soaked in the scenery.
Driving back toward the valley we stopped at Sentinel Dome Trailhead. The hike is a moderately challenging 2.2 mile round trip ascending 530 feet. The reward is a unobstructed 360 degree view from a dome 8,123 feet above sea level. If you’re not up to hiking Half Dome and are looking for a relatively easier hike with nearly matching views as I was, then Sentinel Dome is the hike for you. Once to the top, it was hard to leave. Grammi and I sat on various rocks looking in different directions. It was a lot to take in. But finally we trekked down the path to the parking lot.
Back at the valley we saw our first bear. We heard reports the bears were very active in the valley as they became accustom to having no visitors in the park for the past 2½ months. It was a black bear walking along in the meadow oblivious to the fact that crowds of people were gathering to take its picture.
The next day we didn’t go to the park. We stayed around the campground for a quiet relaxing day. We went for drive to Groveland, the nearest town, for supplies. We did some exploring outside the park. Grammi and I bought tubes from the local store to float down the creek. There are some rapids that we bounced and splashed across before coming to a lazy river float. The next day however, our third day in the park, following the recommendation from a ranger we hiked the Mist Trail to the Vernal Falls footbridge. The hike is rated as a moderate 1.6 mile round trip from the trailhead with 400 feet of elevation gain. However, during this time of COVID-19, the shuttle buses are not operating so there was and additional 2 mile round trip walk from the parking lot to the trailhead.
The hike was steep and somewhat strenuous for me so I was hoping for a worthwhile payoff. I was disappointed. From the bridge the falls were further away than I thought and the view was obstructed by trees growing over the river. Thinking we would continue on to Vernal Falls we walked up to the point where the Mist Trail and the John Muir Trail diverge. It was there we saw the trail to Vernal Falls was a oneway trail due to its popularity and heavy foot traffic. The loop trail would add an additional 400 feet of elevation and more than a mile to the return trip. So we called it good and made the walk back to the parking lot.
Driving back over the mountain to the camper, we saw dark skies ahead. There was a chance of storms in the forecast. I indicated earlier that it is desirable to have a shady spot along the water, however it comes with some risk. It is common practice for me to look for suspect trees branches before selecting a site, nevertheless I was drawn in by the desire to be on the water. During the evening while sitting in the camper, we heard the sound of wind coming through the trees.Then we heard branches snapping and falling to the ground. I looked at grammi and said “let’s get out of here”. We grabbed the keys and our phones and headed out. Then I heard a loud crash. People started running and hollering. A pine tree had snapped and fell on a truck and camper just four sites away. Luckily there was no one inside the camper. Nobody was hurt. Grammi and I spent the next couple hours parked away from the trees until the storm passed. We returned to the camper to find the power was out. The next day crews were working to clean up the damage. The vehicles were towed away, the tree was cut up and hauled off and it wasn’t long before things got back to normal. It is a stark reminder just how vulnerable we are in our camper and how we must keep a vigilant eye toward the weather.
The next morning we felt exhausted. The power was still out. Generators ran all night long. Sleep was fleeting. The park allows generators when the power goes out. We stayed around camp and rested. The power returned around 2:00 P.M. In the afternoon we played in the water for a while. We lite a campfire and roasted marshmallows before calling it a night.
In the morning we were better rested and up early. We were out and through the park gates before 8:00 A.M. for our forth day in the park. Our destination was Tuolumne Grove Nature Trail. This hike is classified as an easy 2.5 mile round trip hike with 500 feet of elevation gain. It follows the Old Big Oak Flat Road— one of the first roads into Yosemite Valley—down to a grove of giant sequoias trees.
The sequoia trees were impressive but not more so than the ones we saw in the Sequoia National Monument at the Trail of a 100 Giants that I wrote about in a previous blog titled The Giant Sequoia Trees.
The highlight of the trail is the remains of the Wawona Tunnel Tree, a famous and often photographed sequoia tree that fell in 1969. In 1881 a tunnel was cut through the tree big enough for a automobile to drive through. Tourist flocked to have their picture taken in the tunnel. Today all that remains is the base of the tree with the tunnel. Grammi said it reminds her of Batman. I can see the resemblance.
We took the rest of the day meandering along the Tioga Road stopping to climb on top of big boulders like a couple of kids and picking up large pine cones which is one of grammi’s favorite objects of interest. It was amazing how the topography changed in just a short distance. We went as far as Olmstead Point, a viewing area looking south into Tenaya Canyon where we could see the north side of Half Dome. As the day was slipping away we turned around and headed back to camp.
We still have another week here at Yosemite. There is still much more we want to see, so much more we want to do. We want to finish the drive along Tioga Road to Mono Lake. We want to explore the Wawona area. On our next blog we will continue this adventure through Yosemite.
So until next time…Happy days and safe travels.
To Be continued…