We visited Yosemite National Park for several days with our friends Walt and Barb. We hadn't been there in almost two years - it was wonderful to be back in my favorite place. We had great weather, though a little on the warm side, and did some things that we have never done before despite multiple trips in the past - and still did some old favorites, too.
You can make reservations for lodging in Yosemite 366 days in advance, and even though I attempted to do that back in June 1999 we *still* couldn't get into Yosemite Lodge - all I could get was 2 cabins without bath in Curry Village. Though at least they were wooden cabins with beds and not tent cabins with cots. (Competition for the campgrounds is even *worse*!) The population density in Curry Village is quite high, but at least it is *in* the valley itself - the closest lodging outside the valley is at least a 30 minute drive away.
The Sierra Nevada had a pretty average snowfall over the winter, so the waterfalls were not running especially high, but were still nice to look at. But I was happy because there were LOTS of wildflowers in bloom. :-)
(Pictured below: Canchalagua, Showy Milkweed, and Purple Milkweed)
Thursday, June 15
We worked a half day, drove to Walt and Barb's and picked them up. We managed to fit all our stuff in my Saturn again - there was even a little bit of room left in the trunk! :-)
We were on the road about 2:00, and even though we could take advantage of the carpool lanes in L.A., there was a lot of traffic on those, too! We arrived in Visalia, where we were spending the night with Lee's dad and grandmother, at about 7:45. Gram had cooked us a delicious chicken enchilada dinner. And Lee's youngest brother Ross, sister-in-law Dee Dee and nephew Chaney were there to visit with us, too. Chaney will be 2 in a couple of weeks - he's changed a lot since we saw him at Christmas!
Friday, June 16
Gram made us pancakes and sausage for breakfast and we left about 9:00. I seemed to be cursed, because I kept getting behind slow vehicles just as they were pulling onto the road. Most of them were good about pulling over when they had an opportunity, though.
We drove out to Glacier Point first thing - there are beautiful views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Half Dome, the Valley floor, and Yosemite Falls from there. It was pretty warm - and we were about 2500' higher than the valley floor, so we knew it would be a lot warmer down there!
On the way back down the road we stopped at the Taft Point/Sentinel Dome trailhead, packed a light lunch, and walked out to Taft Point. It's only 1.1 miles and a pretty easy hike - especially since it's mostly downhill on the way out there. Of course, that means it's mostly *up*hill on the way back... :-) There were lots of wildflowers growing along the way, and we crossed some pretty streams - it was a very plesant hike.
Once we got out to the point we had lunch (we were the only ones out
there, too!), took pictures (check out Lee's gnarly
pose!), and tried to get lost on the way back. The trail isn't real
distinct on the rocky parts - on the way *out* it's obvious where you
are going, but not so much on the way back - but we found it, finally.
We drove down to the valley with the obligatory stop at Inspiration
Point (gorgeous view!), and to Camp Curry to check in. One nice thing
about the *real* cabins as opposed to the tent cabins is that you *can*
keep food in the real cabins (we'd brought lunch and snack foods, and a
small cooler), otherwise you have to store it in bear boxes. You can't
leave *any* food in the car OR trunk - they tell you to get rid of all
trash, air fresheners, gum, *anything* that could smell appetizing.
And not even to leave a bag (even if it doesn't contain food) or a
jacket or something thrown on the seats, because the bears associate
THAT with food, too.
The cabins were ok, but small - and they were pretty stifling. We tried to let as much air circulate as we could, but couldn't leave the door open when we weren't there. Even when we WERE there we had a squirrel that kept trying to come in and make himself at home. :-) Each cabin had two double beds, which were actually quite comfortable, a desk and chair, and a small night table between the two beds. Walt and Barb had 4 hangars in their cabin, but we didn't have *any* - so they gave us two of theirs. :-)
We met for dinner about 5:00 - just went to the Curry Village Pavilion, which had an all-you-can-eat buffet dinner. There was pasta, Chinese food, Mexican food, bread, salad bar - nothing outstanding, but it was quite edible. We kept hearing cheers coming from the bar area and couldn't figure out why - and then we discovered that people were watching the basketball finals. We even saw one guy who had brought a generator with his portable TV so that he could watch them! Sigh.
We explored the area - and discovered all of the Curry Village amenities - pizza place, ice cream place, burger place, store, sport shop, and the location of the cabins *with* baths. :-) It was the night of a full moon so there was a moonlight valley tour that night, but it was two hours long and didn't start until 9:30, and we knew we'd never last until then. :-)
We took a walk across the meadow and into one of the old campgrounds that was destroyed in the flood 2 years ago - and we noticed that the Merced River kept surrounding us - in that particular area it was on three sides! It really meanders. I guess that's why this building looks like it belongs underwater! :-)
As we neared Camp Curry we saw two kids *in* the meadow, which is undergoing rehabilitation, so there are signs everywhere telling you to stay out of it - so Lee yelled "Get out of the meadow!" at them. You should have seen them turn tail and run - it was pretty funny. Several other people watching thanked Lee for doing that. Why is it that some people think the rules don't apply to them?
We made plans to meet the next morning and get an early start, and went
to bed. Our cabin was right next door to some German folks - and there
were 6 or so of them sitting outside talking in VERY loud voices. They
DID knock it off by 9:30, though, which we appreciated. But the next
morning they were up and talking to each other right outside our window
at 5:30! Sigh.
(Taft Pt. trail wildflowers: Layne's Monkey Flower, Forget-me-not, Brodiaea, and Blue-Eyed Mary.)
Saturday, June 17
We were supposed to meet Walt and Barb for breakfast at 6:30...they weren't quite awake when we knocked on their door. :-) Lee and I went to the little coffee/pastry bar and got a mocha (for him) and bagels, and went out to sit on the patio. It had been a warm night, and even I was comfortable in just shorts and a t-shirt!
We were amazed that the outside tables had NOT been cleaned up the night before - the squirrels and birds were having quite a feast. Evidently there hadn't been any bears around during the night before, or it would have been an even bigger mess. Walt and Barb joined us, and a few minutes later an employee showed up to start cleaning up - we told him we felt bad that he got stuck with the mess. He said the night crew had already been written up once that week for not cleaning up outside, so he was surprised to see that they'd messed up again...oops.
After we'd had breakfast and packed lunch we drove out towards Hetch Hetchy. Hetch Hetchy is a smaller scale version of Yosemite Valley - very similar geological features - but it was sculpted by only three glaciers instead of five. It was dammed in the 1920s to provide a water source for San Francisco, so of course some of it isn't visible. John Muir fought long and hard to prevent the dam going in, and it's said that learning that Congress had passed the bill authorizing it is what killed him. So the place kind of has a bad name...and it's not developed at all. Because it's a water source, boating and swimming are not allowed, and there are no facilities other than bathrooms and a backpacker's walk-in campground.
Walt and Barb had never been there before, and it had been a long time since Lee and I had visited. It's about an hour and a half drive from the valley floor, even though it's not that far as the crow flies. It must be a little more popular than it used to be, though, because there's now an entrance station for it, where they gave us a map and some information, and the road has been resurfaced recently. I think the backpacker camp and the second set of bathrooms are relatively new, also.
I had sprained my foot slightly the night before coming out of the bathroom (I missed a curb in the dark and the ground wasn't where I expected it to be!), so I wasn't sure how much I would want to hike, but it actually didn't feel too bad with my boots on. I wanted to get to Wapama Falls if I could - there's a bridge there that I had never been able to cross because the water had always been too high. Since it was a little later in the year than on any of my previous visits I was hoping that maybe this would be the year. :-)
From the top of O'Shaughnessey Dam we had a great view of water coming over the spillway and out through the dam - including some nice rainbows. The trail goes across the dam and through a tunnel (the coolness of the tunnel feels VERY good on a hot day!), and then around the left hand side of the reservoir. There were other cars in the parking lot, but we were the only hikers we saw for quite a while. The valley is full of lots of small wildflower gardens - we saw more flowers here (and a wider variety) than we did anywhere else - and I saw a few that were new to me. I took lots of pictures. :-)
Barb pointed out the poison oak that was growing along the trail, and
Lee took great pains to avoid it. :-)
The first waterfall you come to is Tueeulala, which is tall and slender. Of Tueeulala John Muir wrote:
"From the edge of the cliff to the top of an earthquake talus it is perfectly free in the air for a thousand feet before it is broken into cascades among talus boulders. It is in all its glory in June, when the snow is melting fast, but fades and vanishes toward the end of summer. The only fall I know with which it may fairly be compared is the Yosemite Bridal Veil; but it excels even that favorite fall both in height and airy-fairy beauty and behavior."
Wapama Falls is only a short distance away - it's *very* loud, and even though it was later in the season than on any of my previous visits there was still a LOT of water coming over it! And I'm going to subject you to another John Muir quote :-) :
"So fine a fall might well seem sufficient to glorify any valley; but here, as in Yosemite, Nature seems in nowise moderate, for a short distance to the eastward of Tueeulala booms and thunders the great Hetch Hetchy Fall, Wapama, so near that you have both of them in full view from the same standpoint. It is the counterpart of the Yosemite Fall, but has a much greater volume of water, is about 1700 feet in height, and appears to be nearly vertical, though considerably inclined, and is dashed into huge outbounding bosses of foam on projecting shelves and knobs. No two falls could be more unlike -- Tueeulala out in the open sunshine descending like thistledown; Wapama in a jagged, shadowy gorge roaring and plundering, pounding its way like an earthquake avalanche."
The Wapama bridge was open, and I could have made it across if I had to, but there was a section where water was flowing across it about 4-6" deep, with no handrail, so I decided not to chance it with my foot. (And besides, I hate getting my feet wet. :-) )
So I still haven't been across the bridge at Wapama Falls. Sigh. Oh well, we all need goals, right? :-) Walt and Barb went across most of the way, though they left the final bridge until I can do it with them - they're so nice! But they were soaked by the mist when they got back. :-) Fortunately it was a warm day, so they dried off quickly.
We had a nice leisurely lunch before heading back - taking lots more
pictures of water and flowers (Lee is fascinated by
running water, I'm
fascinated by flowers. :-) ) There was a beautiful meadow with lots of
Mariposa Lilies in it, which are one of my favorite flowers. (The first
meadow we came to only had one lily in it, and I went right to it - the
others were amazed that I could see that one flower among so many
others. What can I say...I'm attuned to Mariposa Lilies. :-) )
It was a very warm day, and the cool tunnel felt VERY good when we got back to it! The light was better for photographing the valley than it had been when we arrived - you could see both Tueeulala and Wapama Falls, and the Hetch Hetchy versions of "El Capitan" and the "Cathedral Rocks". I thought this picture, showing the natural waterfalls and the manmade waterfall, was interesting.
We saw a few more people as the day progressed, but no where near the numbers that you would see on any of Yosemite Valley's congested superhighways...err, trails.
There's a campaign to restore Hetch Hetch Valley - you can read about it at: Restore Hetch Hetchy Valley
And here's a neat photograph of what the valley looked like BEFORE it was dammed (this page has links to other photos, also): Hetch Hetchy from Surprise Point
But it's kind of nice to have someplace to go that *isn't* wall-to-wall people...
Here are some other Hetch Hetch pictures:
We drove back to the valley and took showers and naps, and then took the shuttle bus into Yosemite Village. At the Visitor Center Walt and Barb signed up to receive the several hundred page "Yosemite Master Plan Summary" - there are 4 *other* volumes, also, or you can get *everything* on 5 CD-ROMs. This describes what the Park Service WANTS to do to try and improve conditions in the valley - though for the most part this largely means limiting access. There would be even fewer campsites and hotel rooms than there are now, and day-use traffic would NOT be permitted in the valley at all - you'd park somewhere outside and take a shuttle. It all seems pretty drastic.
We noticed the same thing this year that we did on our last trip two years ago - the devastating flood the valley experienced in January 1998 continues to have an effect on the numbers of people in the valley. The flood destroyed about 2 1/2 campgrounds and a couple hundred hotel rooms - which means the valley can accommodate that many fewer people. So overall there *are* fewer people in the valley, though there continue to be hundreds of day visitors each day. The downside, of course, is that it is even harder to *get* accommodations in the valley, as my calling 1 year in advance demonstrates. I think that limiting access to the valley is great - as long as I'm not one of the people being limited. :-) It's a dilemma, obviously.
Anyway...we thought the pasta place opened at 5:00, but it wasn't until 5:30, so we went and amused ourselves in the Village Store for a while. Lots of touristy stuff in there...it's amazing the junk that people will buy.
By then the pasta place was open, and we were *hungry*. It was very good - you had your choice of different kinds of pastas and different sauces - you could combine sauces if you wanted to. The sauce guy was VERY happy that we were all choosing his pesto sauce - till I ruined it by getting marinara with pesto only on the side... :-)
After dinner we walked back to Curry Village - it's about a mile. We walked behind some of the employee housing - wow. These houses look out across a meadow towards Half Dome...what a view!!!! No kids to scare out of the meadow tonight, but there were lots of deer out - they're not very shy.
We got ice cream at the ice cream shop, and went to the amphitheater to eat it - there's a really nice view of Half Dome from there! There was a "campfire" program that night, but we didn't stay for it - the guy wasn't a very good speaker. Though we did learn that the park service has a new strategy for discouraging the bears - they actually patrol the parking lots and campground at night and if they see any bears they shoot them with guns loaded with firecrackers or rubber pellets. Time will tell if this method proves to be more effective.
(Hetch Hetchy wildflowers: Farewell-to-Spring, Mariposa Lily, Owl's Clover, Elegant Brodiaea)
Sunday, June 18
Lee and I took a walk after breakfast and consequently were a little bit late meeting Walt and Barb (they've been a bad influence on us! :-) ). But they evidently had a nice nap while they were waiting. :-)
We'd decided to have a mellow day and do some things that we'd never done before...so we went to the Curry Village rental area and rented bikes so we could ride around the valley floor. There are lots of bike trails, and places that you can only get to by riding (or walking).
The bikes were all single speed with coaster brakes, and that took a little getting used to. But the valley floor is pretty flat - not too many hills, so single speed was ok. I hadn't ridden a bike in probably 10 years, but the old saying is really true - you don't forget how.
It was a beautiful morning - sunny, but not too warm (yet), and not too
many people around. We had to obey the rules of the road, of course,
and stop at stop signs, but drivers seemed to be quite aware of the bikes -
and people in convertibles were especially courteous to us and always
gave us right-of-way even when it was our turn to wait for them.
We stopped in some of the picnic areas that we'd never been in before - Sentinel Beach was NOT a place we wanted to stay very long, though, because the mosquitoes were *fierce*! We rode out to El Capitan and spotted 3 different climbing groups on the face - fortunately Barb was thinking and had brought binoculars. BIG rock...itty, bitty climbers...I have great admiration for the people who do that, but it doesn't appeal to me at all!
We went across the "Swinging Bridge" (no idea why it is called that,
because it *doesn't* swing, though maybe an older version of it did),
which offered a wonderful view of Yosemite Falls. That's one of those
places that you can only walk to or bike to, though actually it's only a
short walk from Yosemite Lodge. But of course we weren't able to stay
*there*...Not that I'm bitter about that, of course. Nosirree. Not me.
Anyway...after that we biked over to Lower Yosemite Falls - which we'd passed at the beginning of our ride, but I'd vetoed stopping because the light wasn't good for photography. :-) It was much better the second time.
We looped around past Curry Village and out to Happy Isles and the Mirror Lake Junction, then past two of the abandoned campgrounds and back to the rental shop. By then it was starting to get kind of warm, and close to lunch time.
Yosemite sure has weird hours for some of their food places...a lot of
things open late and close early. The pizza place didn't open until
noon, and in the village, the ice cream shop closes at 7:00! And you can
pretty much forget getting *any* kind of a meal after 8:00 at night.
that, anyways??? We ended up getting burgers and sandwiches from
the burger stand, which were edible, but that's about it. There were
lots of opportunistic squirrels lurking about. (
This one was doing his roadkill impression. :-) ) Barb tried to suggest
to a woman that she really shouldn't feed the squirrels, to which the
woman responded, "Oh, is this your first trip to Yosemite?" When Barb said
no, she'd been coming for 20 years the woman said "Oh, I've been coming
for 40 years." Like that makes it ok for HER to do it, even when there
are signs everywhere telling you NOT to???? Argh.
We met up again in the afternoon and walked back over to the rental place to rent river rafts. The line was pretty long, but eventually we ended up with life jackets, paddles, and two inflatable rafts. We had to carry them over to the river, which seemed like a rather long walk, but we made it and got ourselves loaded and on the water.
What a great time! The river was flowing nicely, and we even got to run a couple of rapids. :-) It was a warm day, but it felt really nice being out on the water. We got some beautiful views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome that you can't get anywhere else.
We stopped several times on beaches and gravel bars just to enjoy, and to wade in the water a little bit. Lee and Walt and Barb actually "swam" a little bit...but I don't think any of them stayed in the water longer than 10 seconds, though. :-) It was COLD!
We beached the rafts at Sentinel Beach - but because of our scouting trip on the bikes that morning we knew that it was mosquito feeding grounds, and we had the repellent ready! We waited 15-20 minutes before the bus showed up to shuttle us back to Curry Village...the bus driver was pretty interesting. He came blasting in, whipped the bus around and into place (and there were lots of trees that he was barely clearing!) and then once the bus was loaded he took out of there like a shot - I never knew a bus could move so fast! He pretty much snarled at Lee to get his arm in the bus (he had his elbow propped on the open window) - and after watching him clear his side mirror by maybe 2 inches we understood the reason for the warning. We had to laugh, because the bus had the usual sign that reads "Your bus driver <name goes here> Safe, Reliable, Courteous", and as far as we could tell he was none of those!
Some more river pictures:
We got cleaned up and "dressed up" (casual pants and polo shirts) for our dinner at the Mountain Room at Yosemite Lodge. This is just about the best restaurant in Yosemite Valley - the Ahwahnee might be better, but jacket and tie is required to have dinner there! Anyway...many tables in the restaurant have a view of Yosemite Falls, though we didn't get one of those. The food is very good, and we had a nice dinner - the only disappointment was that they no longer have Chocolate Spoon Cake on the menu - this was a wonderful chocolate cake with a thick fudgey filling and chocolate mousse icing. They didn't really have any kind of a super chocolate dessert on the menu - our waitress Lynda gave us comment cards so that we could make a note of that - she evidently was a Chocolate Spoon Cake fan, also. :-) Barb and I had the latte cheesecake, which was pretty good, Lee had creme brulee, and Walt had something with fresh berries, I think.
We'd intended to walk around the area and work off our dinner a little, but we got oh, several hundred yards away from the Lodge and along the river, and discovered that the mosquitoes were out, and had decided it was *their* dinnertime, and that *we* were the main course! We all looked like we were doing a little Tourette's Syndrome dance trying to brush them off while we were hustling back to the car. It was pretty funny.
(Pictured below: White Clover, Mock Orange, and a Little White Flower (LWF) )
Monday, June 19
Our last morning...after our usual bagel breakfast we drove to the Happy Isles parking area (something else we didn't know about but had discovered on our bike ride!), and hiked up to the Vernal Falls bridge. I'd convinced the others that a trip to Yosemite was just not complete without at least going to the bridge. Though we actually went up the trail another 1/4 mile or so to the overlook.
It was still pretty early, and the sun hadn't come over the canyon walls yet - not great light for photography. There weren't too many people out on the trail, either.
We went back to the cabins and finished packing and loaded up the car and headed out. We'd thought about stopping at the Mariposa Grove of sequoias on the way out, but the parking lot was full, so we just continued home - it's a long drive. We stopped at a Taco Bell in Fresno for lunch (the woman taking our order should have been a Disney employee - she was so pleasant and cheerful - she could certainly give the Yosemite employees a few pointers!).
We hit some traffic in the L.A. area, but not too bad. We stopped at the Thai chicken place not too far from Walt and Barb's for dinner, and had them home by about 7:00, and we were home around 7:30.
(Pictured below: Western Azalea, Spicebush, and Violet (yes, it's a *yellow* violet - don't ask me! :-) )
Some Final Thoughts...
(Pictured below: Klamath Weed, Lupine, Monkey Flower)
Text and photographs copyright © 2000, by Laura Gilbreath and Lee Zimmerman. Some photographs copyright © by Barbara Fletcher and Walter Aviles, used with permission. Feel free to link to this document, but you may not redistribute it in any form without the express written consent of the copyright holder.Laura Gilbreath, firstname.lastname@example.org
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