Recently, I went to Yosemite with my family. Most people who know me are surprised at the fact that it was my first time there. The thing is, my parents never liked crowds and avoided Yosemite like the plague. That doesn't mean that we never got a taste of the Sierra Nevada; for a period of six years, we went to Sequoia and Kings Canyon with family friends and enjoyed it quite a bit.
It was in Sequoia that I first went hiking, first learned that picking up trash along the trails was a good thing (I even got a badge!), caves can be pitch black, the view from atop granite monoliths can be spectacular, campfires are cool, and bears are real and something to be feared.
It was Sequoia that planted the seed of the rugged wilderness into my mind and from there it grew into the love of the outdoors that I have today.
So when the idea of Yosemite first came up, I said I'd rather go someplace with fewer people. I then saw the National Parks documentary, and the history and the beauty of the place made me change my mind.
We left our house later than I had hoped, but made good time. Since we were traveling with two toddlers, we decided to stay in Fresno and head into the park the next day. The next morning, in no time at all, we were at Mariposa Grove, craning our necks upwards to see the wooden giants that lived in the sky. The kids were happy to stretch their legs along the trail and the smell of the forest was intoxicating.
After a while, we got back on the road and headed towards the valley itself, halted at times along the way by road work. Most of the way, however was on some of the newest and smoothest road I've been on, most likely as a result of the infrastructure portion of the recovery act. It looked great.
We made it to The Lodge before our room was ready, so we decided to go down to the beach by the river and cool off. The weather was warm, and we gratefully splashed in the Merced River and stared at the valley walls that towered above us.
We made it back to our rooms, pleasantly surprise at how large they were. The food at the lodge was also a lot better than we had anticipated. The girls saw a presentation for kids on bears and what they eat. We went to bed and wondered what we'd do the next day.
We woke up and decided to take the shuttle to Happy Isles. We enjoyed the tiny museum and walked along the rushing Merced, crossing over wooden bridges and crawling in the rocks, hearing the sounds of hikers coming down the trail from Half dome. It rained a little bit, but it was refreshing.
We took the shuttle to Curry Village, enjoying the pizza and Mexican food, again pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food in the valley. We are used to lowering our expectations when if comes to resort food, but that wasn't necessary here.
The girls were ready for their naps so we went back to our rooms. Most of the adults napped, too. McD and I decided to go for a hike and ended up at Lower Yosemite Falls, which, according to family that was there two weeks ago, was a gushing torrent. It was now dry as a bone; no sign of water anywhere. We kept on hiking and made it to the Yosemite Village Visitor Center, viewing a short presentation on the geology of rockfalls. We were distracted by a deer feeding nearby. On the way back to the lodge, I was treated to an amazing view of the sun shining on the valley walls as it set. This was one of those awe-inspiring moments that have made this valley a legend. We also came across a family of deer, feeding along a meadow. I am glad I took that hike.
The next day, we rented some bikes and rode out to Mirror Lake (seasonal). We didn't notice the seasonal part until we got there and were treated with a unique view of Half Dome and no water. The kids didn't mind and we splashed in the river on the way back. Another nap time came upon us and this time I was down for the count. Hauling a trailer behind a bike in the fresh air can really make one nap-ready.
We took the shuttle to the Yosemite Village General Store and crashed the Ahwanee before calling it a night.
The next day was our last full day. Our time in the valley seemed to go by so quickly. New buses were rolling in, bringing with them an avalanche of people looking upwards at the valley walls, just as we did.
We drove to Bridalveil Falls, which was still flowing, played in the river, and then drove up to Glacier Point, the kids napping along the way. Glacier point was as amazing as I've always imagined it. We spent a lot of time up there. I could only imagine the first explorers making their way to the top and being floored by the striking view of the glacial valley. The girls played on the rocks, developing their bouldering skills. I didn't want to leave, but the sun was starting to go down. We had dinner in Curry Village and went back to our rooms and started packing to go home.
Yosemite didn't disappoint. There is a reason that people flock to the valley floor every year. Its unsurpassed beauty inspires you and leaves you wanting more. I can understand John Muir's desire to protect this place.
While, like my parents, I prefer solitude when in the wilderness, it's good to see the popular places while traveling. Even in Europe, I prefer the small local shops and cafes, but it's still good to see the icons that attract people from all over. They can move you.