Before Yosemite celebrated it’s birthday and was closed by the Federal Government shutdown, Rem and I enjoyed three beautiful days there. We have just returned from a wonderful vacation with both of us having our first look at this captivating park.
I was really concerned about smoke from the Rim Fire which was still burning as we got closer to our planned vacation date but I hadn’t even thought about the park being closed.
After a tantalizing first glimpses of the gorgeous rock formations in the valley, this vantage point gave us our first good look. As you can see, we were not the only visitors. Before we departed, we’d heard and conversed with travelers speaking different languages and English with many different accents.
Busloads of tourists from all over the world were visiting when we were there last week, and I’m sure just as many people from just as varied places were planning on visiting today and in the upcoming days. I feel terrible for all the people coming for a visit now as well as for all the park employees, not only at Yosemite, but at all the National Parks across the country.
Our trip started with a visit to the mechanic in the morning before loading the car and hitting the road. About two weeks ago my brake light came on and I had the car serviced, glad to get it taken care of before our departure. So I was especially dismayed to have the “Check Engine” light come on as I was driving home from work the day before our trip.
Luckily, when I took the car to the garage, they were able to diagnose and repair the problem fairly quickly (a faulty thermostat) and we were on the road by 11:30 that morning.
We both like road trips and we had a nice time driving through the Central Valley, playing word games and eating homemade snack mix. I don’t know many of the crops we saw (I wish there were signs so I could learn a bit more about what was growing in the orchards and fields we passed), but we were able to recognize these beautiful pomegranates.
I know what grapes, olives and cotton look like but others I’m less sure of. Do you know what this is?
It was warm when we got to Fresno (about 82 degrees around 5:30 PM) where we stayed the night with friends. The next morning we were both excited to get on the road to the park. I was surprised at breakfast to learn that our waitress, who had grown up in Fresno, had never made the (less than two hour) drive to Yosemite.
Our anticipation mounted as we gained elevation. Coming down towards the valley and seeing the familiar shape of Half Dome in the distance was breathtaking.
It only got better. The weather was gorgeous, there was no smoke in the air and the sky was a brilliant blue.
We checked in to Curry Village and carried our duffel bags to our (unheated) tent-cabin, home for the next two nights. Our small cooler and toiletries were all tucked carefully into the bear box outside of the tent.
But before we settled down for our first night in the tent cabin, we still had more to see. We drove up to Glacier Point for another vantage point of the valley.
The wind was blowing and at over 7,200 feet, it was 34 degrees. We piled on layers of fleece and sweatshirts but I was annoyed with myself for forgetting a sturdy windbreaker and would have also been happy for some warm gloves.
An Irish photographer with a bunch of gear had a tripod set up to capture sunset. He tried to convince us to stay but with the biting temperature and the impending end of dinner service in the cafeteria we drove back down to the valley, more than happy with our photos and memories.
After dinner we were ready for our first night in the tent-cabin.
The blankets provided (two thin ones like you get an airplanes and two average ones) barely hung over the edge of the bed. I was glad for the picnic blanket and stadium blanket we brought in from the trunk of the car because the forecast low that night was 31 degrees. With the blankets overlapping and layered, and wearing wool socks, fleece pullovers and fleece caps we were snug in the bed but trekking to the bathroom in the wee hours was very chilly!
The next morning was cold but hot showers and a hot breakfast had us ready for a drive up to Tioga Pass and more lovely vistas.
At Olmstead Point Overlook we enjoyed conversations with other visitors to Yosemite including one couple from Belgium and another from Australia.
A view of Lake Tanaya with snow-covered peaks visible in the distance from a storm about five days earlier. There was still a little under trees in the shade, but most of it had melted.
I would love to see Toulomne Meadows in the spring.
Hikers are just visible on the rock in the distance.
Re-entering the park at Tioga Pass we were in a long line of cars. A group of motorcyclists came alongside us on the shoulder and Rem struck up a conversation with one man. They were French and had been in Death Valley the previous night. We chatted about the chilly conditions before saying goodbye. We spoke to an American couple who had just come from camping in Death Valley and they said it was in the 80’s at night and around 100 during the day.
Around some of the buildings where we were at Tioga Pass, there was snow was in the shade. The elevation at the pass is 9,943 feet, and it was a clear and cold 31 degrees. An Australian man in shorts and flip flops, when I asked if he was cold said no, his car was “warm as toast”. But he was out by the snow snapping pictures and it was freezing!
We got back in our warm car for the long, scenic drive down into the valley.
We happened upon a training for rescue personnel in progress in a meadow with these two helicopters. The side of the road had a number of fire and paramedic vehicles.
We walked up to the base of Bridalveil Falls.
The thin trickle was blowing around, not much at this time of year, but still a beautiful location.
A few teenagers from a school group had climbed up past the base, ignoring the signs.
Can you see them?
Here is a closer picture – they are on the right side up on a big rock.
Those kids got down safely but later the same afternoon when we were on a shuttle bus, we passed the same field we’d gone by earlier where we’d seen the rescue exercises taking place. Our bus was stopped and we saw another helicopter land and a person being wheeled over on a gurney. This time it was not an exercise. We learned a climber had been injured at Yosemite Falls.
Coming back down the path from Bridalveil Falls we had a nice conversation with a retired couple from Mississippi who were touring on motorcycles. They’d been traveling for weeks and had even been up to Gualala, the town past Sea Ranch.
I snapped a few pictures of the rocks, like this one, lining the trail.
Later, crossing the Merced River on a footbridge, I noticed a different kind of rock arrangement.
Deer were not at all phased by our presence – this was near the Visitor’s Center.
It was a full day in Yosemite. We had another night in the tent, and with a forecast low of 28 degrees, I was bundled up.
That night, trekking back from the restroom with light from my headlamp to guide me, my heart stopped for a split second when I heard (what I was sure was a bear) a kind of low, breathy growl very close by. It was only a moment before I heard the sound continue into a recognizable snore from a nearby tent, but for that tiny space of time, the adrenalin surge had my heart pounding. It was a few minutes before I was breathing normally again and could fall asleep, snug under the covers, with all my layers of clothing and blankets.
On our last morning we took a walk up the Happy Isles trail, probably the shortest and easiest trail in the whole valley. It was a beautiful, fall morning. A trio of hikers heading off to climb Half Dome asked me to take their picture. They were carrying packs and were going to make the climb over several days, leaving gear at a base camp. We wished them well and headed off on our little stroll.
We also took the shuttle to Lower Yosemite Falls and walked up to where the falls would be another time of the year. Even though we didn’t actually get to see any falls, it was a beautiful and easy walk..
Our first visit was an unforgettable success. We soaked in the beautiful views of many familiar landmarks. It was really amazing to see everything in person. I’m imagining a return visit in the springtime.
I hope the gates of Yosemite are open very soon so other visitors can go and experience the natural beauty of this awe-inspiring valley.
Thank you for your visit.