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So on Sunday morning, I parted ways with rednikki and emdiar, they to head off to the desert for Burning Man and me to drive across the width of CA to Yosemite National Park.


(As usual, click through to enlarge some of these; and some of them will be worth enlarging for details later.)

I was actually looking forward to the drive because my experience of CA on the whole is so slight that everything's interesting... once. (Or twice, perhaps.) Even driving across the flat central valley. The most interesting part was the foothills of the Diablo Range (near the sea) and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada on the other side. Of which I foolishly don't have any pictures, but as a landscape, it was also completely unusual and unexpected to my eyes.

Note: northern CA was drier than I had expected it to be. I've been to the LA/Ventura area briefly, but I expected southern CA to be dry. Somehow, though, I had had it in my mind that San Francisco = lots of fog, rain = more lush than southern CA. And I'm sure that it is, technically, but it wasn't as lush as I was expecting. As both C. and Nikki told me -- CA is called "The Golden State" not because of the gold-rushes (which I guess I had also always assumed), but because of the golden tall grasses that cover things like the foothills of the mountain ranges. (Flying in, in fact, I had noticed this ground-cover, and thought it was dry and dead, and was surprised by that and wondered if there was a drought. Which, maybe there is, but I understand now that the golden grass isn't the *result* of drought.)

So, yeah, I wended my way across a series of small local highways, heading more or less due east, and got to see all these big foothills covered in golden grass and dotted with live oak, which was really neat; and then got to see the flat, crop-covered bits in between; and then picked up foothills and mountains again. The drive into Yosemite itself was also very cool, with the mountains just getting bigger and bigger, on poky little highway 140. Then I was in, and then I was driving into the valley itself, and then I was coming around a curve and WHAM, "Holy crap, that's El Capitan! Right there!"

Yosemite NP has learned to thoughtfully provide pull-over spaces alongside the roadway whenever you come around a curve and are faced with a vista like this. I guess they figured out a long while ago that it was either that, or the high season traffic jams would become even worse due to "scenery jams". So in fact, I pulled over, and just kind of stared. (Why did I not take a picture???) El Capitan is an intensely familiar-looking sight, but in a reversal of the usual case when meeting celebrities in person, it's bigger than you think from just having seen its pictures.

That would hold true for all of Yosemite. What I learned in short order was: it is a hugely photographed place, and NONE of the pictures you have ever seen -- or will see here -- do it justice. They just can't capture what it feels like to stand there in person, on a valley floor that itself is at 4000+ feet in elevation, when you are surrounded by these sheer granite cliffs that soar for another 4000 or more feet. The cliffs and peaks that surround the valley intrude on your vision and even on your consciousness constantly.

Moving on... I drove around until I found Camp Curry, which was where I was staying the first night. It's a 100-year-old camp of tent-cabins nestled underneath the cliff of Glacier Point. I couldn't get into my cabin until 5pm, though, so I drove onward to kill some time in Yosemite Village on the other side of the valley.


The day-parking lot had an Information Yurt! I should have taken an interior pic as well. (I took this because raqs especially would appreciate it.)

Then I got into my tent-cabin (which, as the name would suggest, is a canvas tent set up on a wooden base, so the tents are just up all the time).



This is the cheapest lodging that Yosemite offers within the park, basically. It's spartan, but snug. You can see in the pic above that the tents have heaters (but they aren't turned on during the summer). There was also a little safe inside, and that green box you see on the outside is a bear-proof locker. YNP is very serious about the bear problem. Bears have totally figured out that humans = food, and YNP warns you that in fact it's a fine-able offense to leave food in your car overnight, or in your tent-cabin, because the bears will just open up your car like it was aluminum foil. (They average a break-in a night, apparently.) You're supposed to put everything scented (including toiletries) in the bear-proof locker. All of the garbage cans are bear-proofed as well. I took this quite seriously.

So, that was my little cabin, and here is a picture attempting to show the backdrop of the cabin, with Glacier Point looming above:


And this was the view when I opened my door (the Royal Arches and North Dome, across the valley):


(In the interests of disclosure, I should say that the above pic kind of ellides the giant parking lot in the foreground, which was ALSO the view right outside the cabin.)

Camp Curry features centrally-located bath/shower buildings, and that's about it. My verdict: it was fine. It was kind of fun to get that rustic experience for at least one night. That night, the temp *in* the cabin dropped to 53 degrees, but they give you a ton of wool blankets, so in fact I was quite comfortable (though I did wear layers to sleep in, too). The biggest "problem" with staying at Curry, IMO, is... well, you can see how close the cabins are to each other. People do not exactly pay attention to "quiet hours" as much as you would like them to. (Although I do have to say that they did quiet down by 11:30pm or so.) Also, I kind of felt like... you're at the mercy of your fellow campers also being smart enough to obey the regulations regarding bear-proofing, and I wasn't sure I really trusted my fellow campers to be that smart. (That night, one fellow -- I assume a teenager -- thought it the height of wit to run through the camp shouting "hey bear! go away, bear!" Har har.) And from within the tent, of course, there's no "view" outside, which makes sense, but is a shame.

So I was glad to have had the experience, but also glad to be checking into the Lodge at the Falls for the following two nights (heat! bathroom! a softer mattress!). (I will also say, though, that the Camp Curry "food court" situation was surprisingly good. Their main dining hall was cafeteria style, and more geared towards carb-loading than "really good" food, but it was cheap and filling, and the hall itself was a nicely atmospheric lodge kind of thing. I actually kind of liked it better than the similar dining set-up over at the pricier Lodge at the Falls. So, thumbs-up to that.)

Speaking of bears, I kind of would have liked to SEE one, though preferably not one breaking into MY car. But I didn't. I only had a few wildlife encounters, as follows:


This is a ground squirrel. They are as ubiquitous in the park as grey squirrels are where I live, which is to say, extremely. They're cute -- I liked their little spotted coats -- and FAT. You aren't supposed to feed them, of course. But I fear that horse has not only left the barn, but has bolted into the next county, at this point. I'm sure a lot of folks just ignore that, and even if they don't, that people drop plenty of stuff anyway.


This is a Stellar's Jay. I think they're gorgeous. They are also the most incredibly bold MOOCHES, like the ground squirrels. You aren't supposed to feed them, either. This one is about 4 feet from me as I eat my lunch. It had friends, too.

There was also an extremely unconcerned raven, but all the pics I got were blurry.

Probably my favorite wildlife experience there was... on the night I was in Camp Curry, I put all my stuff in the cabin and then after dinner, when it was dark, I walked along the road a short way to a big meadow that had a boardwalk out across it. My main goal was that I wanted to see the stars. Unfortunately, the boardwalk was situated at the point where a crossroads came in, so I had to deal with a lot of car headlights, which made things difficult. But as I stood there for a while, I eventually realized that I could hear a great horned owl hooting off in the distance, at intervals. And that was AWESOME.

I wished I was confident enough to hoot back (because if you do that, you can sometimes get the owls to come investigate who's there). Instead I just stood there for a bit and listened. It was too far away to try to go find in the dark. I stood there until a small horde of Japanese teenagers came out onto the boardwalk, with their flashlights and loud chattering. I kind of wanted to shake them and yell, "If you would just SHUT UP for 5 seconds, you might get to hear something really cool!" But I didn't, I just left.

Anyway, back to the incomparable sight-seeing...

So the next day I was up early (brrr!), had breakfast, and checked out. But I couldn't get into my room at the Lodge until 5pm again, so I just day-parked and decided to do a bit of light hiking while waiting for 5pm.

My first hike (I had bought a book called "Easy Day Hikes") was up to Mirror Lake (caution: may or may not actually be a lake at certain times of year), underneath Half Dome. The trail up to it was broad and paved and easy and not very steep, and it was a nice walk. The only thing that gave me pause was that at the outset, there was a sign about "This is mountain lion country", advising parents not to allow small children to roam ahead or lag behind, and giving advice on what to do should you encounter one (make yourself look big, and be noisy, essentially). That definitely got raised eyebrows from me. (I did like the fact that basically, YNP would *warn* you about stuff -- bear-proofing, what to do about mountain lions, steep or slippery conditions, etc. -- but they weren't really trying to baby you. Their attitude seems to be, "look, this is wilderness, there are dangers; don't be stupid". But they're not going to try to protect you from every little thing. Like mountain lions.)


The pic from above -- the trail up to Mirror Lake, with Half Doom's lip looming above.

Mirror Lake was not as full as it would be in the spring, but there was still enough water in places to get the effect. (It's not really a lake so much as a wide part of Tenaya Creek, which floods in springtime with the snowmelt.)



There was also a part just off the main path, up some granite steps, there there were dozens, maybe hundreds of little rock cairns built. I don't know by whom or why, or whether they ever last through a winter or if they have to be redone every year. But it was cool.



Tenaya Creek -- I gather that all of the sandy bits that could be seen would be lakebed in higher water conditions. At this point there were lots of folks out on the sand, playing in the water and sunbathing. It would have been a great place to spend a lot more time, if I hadn't wanted to go see more stuff.


But no, more stuff to see!

The next Easy Day Hike I decided to do was to go up to see Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall.

A note about Yosemite's famous waterfalls -- they are not "on" during August. Most of them, anyway, including most of the really big/famous ones. Because those are snowmelt. However, the two mentioned here are part of the Merced River, and while they aren't as big as they are in spring, they don't ever go dry. (The Merced is the river that runs along the valley floor.)

The Easy Day Hike book claimed that the hike up to a bridge from which you could obtain views of Vernal Fall was the "easy" part. I think it was, in a relative sense. It wasn't as easy as the walk up to Mirrow Lake. It was a few hundred feet of climbing along a mile of trail, but the trail was wide and paved (even if it had steep drop-offs, mostly un-guard-railed). I mean, c'mon -- *grandmothers* were doing it, little kids were doing it.

So I got up to the bridge and I looked, and Vernal Fall was really teeny in the distance. In this pic it's like right in the middle:


There it is:


And that was cool, but it wasn't enough. I knew from the Easy Day Hikes book that you could go up to the top of it. (You could go up to the top of the falls *beyond* it, in fact. The trail was the main trail that you would use to climb up to the top of Half Dome, if you had a full day to kill and were in good enough shape; or you could hike it all the way up into Tuolumne Meadows.) So it was still pretty early, and I said, what the heck. Let's go to the top.

The trail starts out encouragingly. This looks okay, doesn't it?


And the falls are getting closer! And you hit a sign that says, "Top of Vernal Fall, .3 miles", and you think, aw man, I'm almost there! Piece of cake!


And then you hit this:



Steps? Really? Really?

Yes, really. From here on out, folks, it's stairs. Over 600 uneven granite steps. But, I grant you, *spectacular* views of the falls.


If you look at the above shot at full size, you can see this little orange dot against the trees at the upper right. That's a person. Standing at the top.



Fortunately, as you are going up, you have to pause a lot to let people coming down get by. As the pics above will show you, there are no handrails on these steps, just sheer drops. And I mentioned how uneven the steps can be. It felt kind of precarious. (Fun fact: people like to do this trail in the spring, when the falls are much, much heavier, and all of these steps are soaking wet from the spray, and possibly icy.) I felt kind of wimpy for needing to stop so often, but I also kept reminding myself that it was only my first full day at this elevation. (The top of the fall is over 5000 feet.) And a lot of other folks were pausing, too.

And just when you are completely sick of stairs, the trail is like, fine! No more stairs! Here, have a trail that's just hacked unevenly out of a granite cliff-face. You can have a guardrail.



But is it worth it, in the end, when you get to the top? Yes, it is.





Just above the falls is Emerald Pool, in which you are on no account to swim (unless you want to be possibly swept over the falls, with a 300+ foot drop onto the rocks below).


A short hike of a further quarter or half mile or so, and only a slight increase in elevation, takes you to another bridge across the Merced from which you can view Nevada Fall:



Looking back down from the bridge, Emerald Pool just visible:


That, however, is the point at which I said, "ha ha, NO". As I said, the trail goes on up to the top of Nevada Fall, which would have been cool, but oh my god. My knees already hurt. And I had all of those 600 uneven stops to go back DOWN, without railings to hang onto.

I decided I didn't care if I looked like a wimp, and just went down very, very slowly and gently. There was a lady behind me with a little girl of no more than 3 or so. They were obviously going down really slowly too. After we got past the lower bridge and onto the easier, no-stairs part of the path down, they drew even with me. The mother said, "Wow, you're really brave to be doing this by yourself!" (Me, thinking: ??? I'm on this trail with like 500 other tourists, and there is no point at which I am not in sight of several dozen someones.) What I replied to her was, "You've got to tell me -- did she do that whole thing on her own?" (Meaning the 3-year-old.) "Yeah," said the mother. "She really likes steps." "Obviously," I said, "she has young knees and hips". It made me feel a tiny bit better that the mother was also limping and explaining to her daughter that no, she couldn't pick her up and carry her because Mommy's knee hurt.

Grandmothers. Toddlers. It lessens the sense of accomplish just a *tiny* bit. But still.

Back at the car, pausing to get a pic of the meadow and boardwalk (where I had heard the owl the night before). Plus, spotted a deer settled in for the day in the middle of the meadow.



And that is where I will leave you for now. I checked into the Lodge at the Falls, had a luxurious shower, and a really nice dinner in their Mountain View restaurant. (Which has a spectacular view of the famous Yosemite Falls... which unfortunately at this time of year, as mentioned, are dry.)

Tomorrow: the high country.


( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 14th, 2010 03:38 pm (UTC)
I really do love these photos. And your description. Thank you for posting! *hugs*

PS. I still think you're brave to climb all over those places.
Oct. 14th, 2010 03:42 pm (UTC)
Grandmothers. Toddlers..
Oct. 14th, 2010 03:43 pm (UTC)
Heee! For Grandmothers are also brave. ;)
Oct. 14th, 2010 04:11 pm (UTC)
I have no doubt that some of the porters on the Inca Trail were grandfathers.

(US: Oh god I've gone fifty steps I can stop now and breathe for a few minutes.

PORTERS: La la la, I think I'll run while carrying forty pounds!)

So, er, yes.
Oct. 14th, 2010 04:27 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I kept telling myself "elevation! it's the elevation!"
Oct. 14th, 2010 08:01 pm (UTC)
To be fair, LOTS of the issue is the elevation. Because remember how well you did in Muir Woods! Don't beat yourself up.
Oct. 15th, 2010 12:36 am (UTC)
Ehn, I actually thought I didn't do that well on that trail in Muir Woods, either. ;-) There was still "wow, this is a lot of UP" and stopping to catch breath, even there.
Oct. 14th, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC)
What beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing them
Oct. 14th, 2010 04:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you. :)
Oct. 14th, 2010 04:20 pm (UTC)
I am loving these pictures and your descriptions. (I forget what a good writer you are.)


also: i want a yurt again.
Oct. 14th, 2010 04:28 pm (UTC)
Tomorrow we get to the part where the word "plummet" was banned from the car.

(Yes, I was driving alone. It doesn't matter.)
Oct. 14th, 2010 05:15 pm (UTC)
Awesome trip, awesome pictures. That there is all kinds of gorgeous.
Oct. 14th, 2010 06:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks. :) It's really amazing how gorgeous a place it is.
Oct. 14th, 2010 05:26 pm (UTC)
Oh, these are spectacular! I want to go there so much ::envies::
Oct. 14th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
Go! Go! Make a point of it. :)

I was going to relate, but did not, that I was sort of so-so about the idea of going to Yosemite previously. The Ken Burns National Parks series changed my mind somewhat, but it was still lower down on my list of "want to see"s. Yellowstone was where I most wanted to go. But then this wedding came up, giving me an excuse to travel to the area (or to put it another way, making me have to spend the money to travel to that area), and I decided I might as well "start" my experience of the Great Western Parks with Yosemite.

And my reaction was just... WOW. Just driving in there felt almost religious, and I'd *heard* all of the descriptions of it being like that in the Ken Burns series, but didn't really credit it. I'm also not ashamed to admit that at the start there, when I rounded the curve and saw El Cap and pulled over to stare, I started to get a little teary-eyed, too. Even full of tourists, , it's a profoundly affecting place (if you are the sort to be affected by wilderness).
Oct. 14th, 2010 05:32 pm (UTC)
Your pictures are absolutely awesome!....we drove through Yosemite last year (didn't really have time to stop much apart from take some snaps) but we all fell in love with the scenery.....

Thank you for sharing such magnificent photographs and a wonderful narrative of your trip...

Deeds xx
Oct. 14th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
Thanks! :) If you drove across it on 120, the Tioga Road, then the pics I'm going to put up tomorrow are going to look REALLY familiar. ;-)
Oct. 14th, 2010 07:04 pm (UTC)
It looks like you had a great trip! It's been years since I've been to Yosemite, so I really enjoy these photos. Sadly, I didn't get to do much hiking myself, since we were mostly in the car and drove on to Bodie (I think?) later.

So, these bear-proof lockers... obviously, you don't want the bears to break into your car or come into your tent...BUT: if all the bear-goodies are inside the lockers, won't the bears come, you know, to the lockers, and try to open them anyway? And then, if they don't succeed, maybe hang out in front of your tent for a while and discuss strategy with the other bears?

Somehow, I think I'd feel safer if the bear-food was far, far away from my sleeping place.
(maybe it's better that I stayed in the car, I don't seem to be very outdoor-proof...)
Oct. 15th, 2010 12:35 am (UTC)
Well, I guess the theory was that the bears could come and TRY to get the food out of the lockers or out of the bear-proofed garbage cans, but they were constructed solidly enough that the bears couldn't. I think it's entirely possible that by this time, the bears even know this. I mean, they're not entirely stupid. But who knows, maybe they can smell stuff that's in the lockers, and sometimes futily try to get at it. I get the feeling though that they mostly just know "cars? oh, cars are EASY to break into, man..." (Cars have an awful lot of exploitable weak points.)

Anyway, my understanding is that they don't care about *people*. Meaning they won't come into your tent unless they smell food in there. So you had better not have taken that Snickers to bed with you.

At one point about 3am I woke up and needed to trek out to the bathroom, which was only a short walk away. And it was quite something, because everything was dead quiet and the moon was up and it was really cold. But I admit I was sort of hyper-alert for the bears. But I didn't see or hear any.
Oct. 14th, 2010 08:02 pm (UTC)
Oh, great photos! I need to go back to YNP at some point. It's so beautiful. Maybe next spring...
Oct. 15th, 2010 12:37 am (UTC)
Which, I gather, is exactly the time to go -- maximum waterfalls and wildflowers.
Oct. 14th, 2010 08:43 pm (UTC)
Oh your pictures are *gorgeous* :-D You're so lucky - I'd LOVE to go to Yosemite!

I'm so with you on the bear proof lockers and stashing of stuff therein: I spend a lot of my time in the States looking nervously over my shoulder for bears (bears! FCOL! bears! roaming free!) so I'd be inclined to take all the strictures pretty seriously too!
Oct. 15th, 2010 12:38 am (UTC)
Most especially, I did not want to find myself explaining a bear break-in to the rental car company. Nor did I really want to deal with "how would I replace my rental car if it got totalled by a bear, all the way out here". (I did buy the insurance for the car, which I think was comprehensive, and I have to assume that included bears. I just didn't want to test it.)
Oct. 15th, 2010 03:47 am (UTC)
Yosemite is my happy place and these are gorgeous photos!
Oct. 15th, 2010 04:23 pm (UTC)
I think it's definitely become my happy place, as well. I can see why it has for so many people through the years.

I'm usually the type who is extremely torn between "going back to a place I've been that I liked" and "using the time/money to go see something new that I also really want to see", and I'm mindful of the fact that there are other NPs I seriously want to see as well, particularly Yellowstone. (And Glacier.) But the tug of just wanting to go back and spend *more time* at Yosemite, in spring perhaps, is really really strong.

I felt almost at once that I understood Ansel Adams and many other people through the ages. There was just something about it that made me think, "I just want to stay here and photograph/draw this place from every conceivable angle and in every possible light".
Oct. 15th, 2010 05:25 am (UTC)
ZOMG gorgeous. I've always thought, "meh, Yosemite." I mean, I live an hour from Big Sur! How could anything else be worth seeing? Clearly, I need to get my ass out there ASAP!!!

Loved the rainbow on the waterfall.

Did I tell you that our first night at Burning Man it dropped to 38 degrees? We'd prepped for about 45, but 38 was well below our threshold. We piled pretty much every spare piece of cloth we had on top of us, and I wore two layers of clothes to bed. emdiar was fine. I was shivering all night.
Oct. 15th, 2010 04:29 pm (UTC)
I'm tellin' ya, man. You really, really do!

With all due respect to Big Sur -- which is coming up in a few days -- doing it after I did Yosemite wasn't a let down, as such, but, yeah. Big Sur was beautiful and scenic, a dramatic setting and a lovely drive. And I only got to see a little sliver of it. But holy cow, the Sierra Nevada, man.

And I also had that "meh Yosemite" feeling beforehand. I was much more interested in going to Yellowstone, for the wildlife. I was like, yeah, Yosemite, it's a valley. I watched the Ken Burns special and was only partially convinced by the extended paeans to it. It's so over-photographed that it seems deceptively familiar, too, I think. You feel like, "well, I've seen it, Captain Kirk is climbing the mountain, he's in love with the mountain, yeah, yeah, I get it, sure". It was startling how much no photo had prepared me for it.

(I did see you mention the unseasonable temps at BM in your posts! And you guys were on an air mattress, yes? Those just suck body heat right out of you. I experienced that at Pennsic, where it didn't even get nearly as cold as that. I'm surprised that emdiar, gentleman that he is, didn't share more of his body-heat. ;-)
Oct. 15th, 2010 08:22 am (UTC)
*stares* It's so beautiful there! :o
Must've been an awesome trip!
Oct. 15th, 2010 04:20 pm (UTC)
It really, really is. :)

It really, really was. ;-)
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )