Wandering West, Days 10 & 11 Saturday & Sunday, July 3 & 4
We arrived at Yosemite National Park on Saturday, July 3 and it’s been a busy last 48 hours. Johnny had been looking forward to this leg of the trip the most. Yosemite is in his “Mount Rushmore” of national parks (Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yosemite). We had long ago decided to stay the night in Yosemite Valley in tents. There were several reasons for this decision. First, it was a long drive into the park from our campsites outside of the park. It only took us about 3o minutes to get to the South Gate of Yosemite but from the South Gate to the valley was another hour! Second, you had to have reservations to even get into Yosemite, which meant you had to try your luck at nabbing a day pass when they go up for grabs about a month before. However, if you made a camping reservation, which you could do six months before, you were guaranteed entry for 3 days. Third, we just really wanted to experience camping in Yosemite Valley. Some of our group was not looking forward to this (Jaci…LOL!) and the Boo Boos (as the kids have taken to calling Linda and Barbara) opted not to camp out with us and instead made the drive each day. However, once we got there and got set up, Jaci said she was happy we were camping and her opinion had not changed by morning. The Boo Boos, however, were happy to be going back to the quiet campers and said they slept at least 12 hours! Apparently, we had worn them out!
As I mentioned earlier, we arrived at Yosemite through the South Gate, which means we got to go through “Tunnel View” for our first glimpse of the magnificent views of Yosemite. It is truly breathtaking when you come through the tunnel and then the valley is in full view in front of you. I actually heard someone from our party say that this is what they imagined heaven would be like, you enter it and it just takes your breath away. From this point, you can see Half Dome and El Capitan. We, of course, had to stop to take in the view and get some pics.
We went on into the valley from there. I hate to have anything negative to say about a national park but the signage and road design in this one leaves a lot to be desired. We spent a lot of time trying to decipher the map, navigate one-way roads, and looking for signs to point the way, of which there were very few. So, after several wrong turns, we finally found a parking lot that looked like it would lead to some information we needed. Almost immediately we were greeted by a wildlife officer who told us that we would need to move our ice chests to the back seat of our trucks anytime we were leaving them unattended. What?!?! Well, turns out, it’s due to the bears. Apparently, they are very smart and have figured out that they can find food easily in the back of visitor’s vehicles. So, we all moved our junk around, put the ice chests in the back, and went on to try to figure out where we were and what we were doing next.
We did find some information and found the perfect hike to start off our sightseeing, the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail. The trail meandered through some wooded areas and big boulders (which the kids had to climb), then it led up to the Lower Yosemite Falls, which were gorgeous. My favorite hikes always lead to a waterfall. Some of our group was a bit braver than others and they climbed through the rocks that led up to where the waterfall pooled. Honestly, I wish I’d have done that too but I was a bit more cautious that day. We also saw several deer along this hike. The deer in the valley are not afraid of humans at all. We were able to stand just feet away from them and watch them graze.
We finished up our first hike just in time to check in to our campsites at Upper Pines Campground. Y’all, it was so cool, our campground was nestled right in the valley and at the base of Half Dome. We could sit at our tent and just relax and look at the amazing granite wall above us. However, you still had to be cautious of the bears. We had to put all of our ice chests and food into a “bear locker” at our campsite. And the rangers are serious about it too. We watched the ranger walk up to other campsites, check their food storage situation, and issues citations or warnings if it wasn’t stored right. We found out why the next morning when we watched a wildlife officer park right in front of the Baber’s campsite and pull out a tracking device and a gun similar to a paintball gun. Apparently, there was a bear spotted right around their sites. As he was looking around the campsite across from us a car pulled up and told him there was a bear just down the road, so off he went. Of course, Johnny grabbed a camera and followed him (I was cooking bacon or I would have too!). Sure enough, the bear was not too far away. The officer shot at it with the pellets (or whatever they were) to chase it away. Johnny struck up a conversation with him. Come to find out this particular bear is a frequent visitor of the campground. She is five years old and is not afraid of people. The officer told Johnny that he spends most of his day chasing this bear out of the campgrounds. Kind of sounds like Ranger Smith and Yogi Bear!!!
But, let’s get back to our first day of exploring the park. Once we got all of our tents set up and our food stored properly, we all hopped on our bikes and went to see what we could find. Exploring Yosemite Valley on bikes is the way to go. There are plenty of paved paths and then places to leave your bikes if you want to hop off and walk. We started out by riding about a mile up to Mirror Lake. The part we found was just a shallow area that we could wade in. We all took off our shoes and cooled off our legs in the FREEZING cold water. My feet were numb by the time I came out but it felt so good. As we rode through the rest of the valley I felt like there were new things to see or at least new angles to see things from around every turn. Something I was surprised by was how many places there are to jump in and take a dip if you want. There is a creek that runs through the whole valley and you can jump in just about anywhere you wish. And trust me, the weather was pretty warm, so I was tempted to jump in. The only thing stopping me was that I did not want to peddle back to camp in wet clothes. We ended our ride with a trip to the gift shop then back to camp. According to my Apple Watch, we biked 8.5 miles around the valley. My booty definitely felt like it! Also, if you are following the stolen bike saga, Johnny did get a new bike so that he would have something to ride here. But, he hates it and will be selling it as soon as we get back home, LOL!
We finished up our evening by cooking hot dogs and making s’mores over the fire. I mean you can’t call it a camping trip without making s’mores at least once! We were feeling a bit filthy after all that sweating but the shower houses are still not open at the campground we were at, so a few decided to go rinse off in the creek by camp (Johnny, Noah, Houston, Halli, Hunter, Tiffany, Kevin, Eli, & Riggs). They were brave because that water was ice cold!!! But, as Noah said, “you only live once” and when else can you bathe in a creek in the middle of Yosemite while looking at the massive granite above.
We all settled into our tents and were pretty much out by 10 pm. I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as weather even though I had read and read about the average temps this time of year. Would it be too hot, too cold?? Who knew…but it ended up being perfect. When we fell asleep it was actually fairly warm but when we woke up it was cold enough to need a sweatshirt. Johnny even got up around 4:30 to be able to watch (and record a timelapse) the sunrise over Half Dome. Overall the camping was amazing and I’d do it again in a heartbeat, though Macy said she’d never do it again! I guess our girl is not much for “roughing it”.
We started out our 4th of July morning cooking eggs and bacon to get us fueled for the rest of the day. The Boo Boos arrived just in time to join us for some breakfast and helped up us break down camp. Then we were off to check out Glacier Point. It took us an hour to drive to the top of Glacier Point, it was steep with a lot of switchbacks and not much room on the shoulder before you could fall off the mountain. But, the view at the top made the drive worth it. The views were absolutely breathtaking. You can see the whole valley from the top plus get some great views of all the waterfalls that flow into the valley. There were a few hikes that we could have done from the top of Glacier Point but everyone was hungry and tired so we chose to make lunch in the parking lot there then go on to check out Mariposa Grove.
Mariposa Grove is supposed to be a grove of giant sequoia trees not far from the South Gate. We arrived and I went to the Park Ranger desk, honestly just to get my National Parks Passport Book stamped but I went ahead and asked her how much of a walk we had until we saw the trees. Well, that’s when I learned that it was almost 3 miles in (mostly uphill) just to see the trees. I relayed this to the group at which point pretty much every kid with us said “I’m out!”….I think we have finally wore them out! All of us adults agreed though. We were all tired and ready to get back to our “homes” for some showers and rest. And, we’re heading to Sequoia National Park next where we will see plenty of giant sequoias. While we were in the parking lot though we did take the opportunity to line up the trucks to get our 4th of July pic, since they are red, white, and blue!
We have spent the remainder of the day napping, cleaning up, cooking hamburgers (because what else do you cook on the 4th of July??), and just enjoying each other’s company. Yes, we are all still getting along even after being on the road together for 11 days. Tomorrow we pack up and leave Oakhurst and head toward Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. Halli and Macy were reading the reviews for our next campground, supposedly it lives up to its name, Lemon Grove RV Park, and smells like lemons. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.
Overall, Yosemite has been fantastic. The views were gorgeous, the camping was fun, and the hiking and biking topped it off. I know we didn’t see even a quarter of the park, as it is huge and it requires hours of driving to get to each section, but Yosemite Valley is beautiful and well worth the stop.