A Little Vacation to a Big Park

Tunnel Vista of the Valley

I was fortunate enough last month to be able to visit my sister in California for a whole week.  It was a wonderful trip– I am always so happy to see my sister, and we spent a lot of time looking and shopping for her wedding next year.  She had asked me ahead of time if there was anything I wanted to see while I was out there.  I love natural wonders, and thought this would be a good time to see Yosemite National Park.  Yosemite is about three hours south of Sacremento, and with a reservation for one night at Crane Flat camping site (in the park) we were poised to spend two days on a “mini” vacation to Yosemite.

My sister’s fiance got some time off work as well, so that we could all go camping.  He already had the tent, cooking and dining utensils, and other accoutrement for our stay.  My sister and I made a menu and went grocery shopping, and all that was left was to buy a lantern (so that we could see well enough to play Settler’s after dark).  We headed out on a Wednesday, and made decent time.   I think part of the reason we did get a camping permit was because it was in the middle of the week, and it’s not quite peak season.  It was also nice to be able to drive around, and get out at various overlooks without it being very crowded.

Our first stop was at the campsite, to sign in and set up the tent, and lock up the food in the bear box.  My sister chose a great lot out towards the end of a cul-de-sac, and we ended up only having a few neighbors.  The sites were also large enough that you didn’t feel as though you were on top of your neighbors.

Campsite at Crane Flat

Campsite at Crane Flat

We found a slightly sloped, relatively even clearing and quickly set up the tent.  It was so easy to put up- unlike memories of camping when I was young.  This is the first time I’ve been camping since I was about 15 years old.  My how the technology has changed and is so awesome!  They let me sleep on one of their thin air mattresses, and I used my sister’s old sleeping bag.  It was not uncomfortable.

We did not spend much time at the site because we wanted to get on to Tuolomne Meadows (try to say that five times fast).  Along the drive, we stopped at a few lookouts, including this one that had a short hike to what I call the end of the world.

The end of the world

The end of the world

You are standing on the edge of cliff here, with little but the soft gray granite sculpted in front of you.  Behind you, there appears to be nothing but more granite sparse with trees.  Few people have ventured this far, and it is quiet.  There is little sign of life, except further down you see a small, furry creature quickly make it’s way from boulder to boulder, stopping to rest in the shade.  Our first Marmet sighting!  In this view, you see the back side of the peak, Half Dome, in the distance.  On the clearest days, with strong binoculars, you can make out the climbers making their way up.

Etched Rock Paths

Etched Rock Paths

Also at this overlook, we saw a photographer doing a photoshoot with models.  Probably for an outdoor equipment catalog. But what I thought was more fascinating were these deep lines gouged into the rock.  When this valley was covered in a glacier, as it moved, boulders were dragged along the surface, etching these paths into the surface.

Tuolomne Meadows

Tuolomne Meadows

Tuolomne Meadows is north of the famous Yosemite Valley, and is even less visited.  It is absolutely beautiful, although apparently the flowers don’t go really crazy until July.  Because of how elevated the area is, the spring and summer months are very short here, and mostly only perennial flowers can survive.  We did see a number of creatures here, including a very close view of a marmet.

Marmet Rock

Marmet Rock

There was a large rock right next to the path, and this guy was camped out on this rock.  You can see that he (or one of his friends) spends a lot of time here, that’s his “poop pile” just in front.  I don’t know why we found it so fascinating that he used a specific corner of the rock as the defecation area.

Further along the path, we came to a stream that was crystal clear.  Further down you could see the fish swimming and jumping for bugs.

River View

River View

Also along the path was a natural soda spring.  The water that bubbles out of the ground here is naturally carbonated, and scientists are not exactly sure why.

Soda Spring and Meadow

Soda Spring and Meadow

It was getting late, so we started heading back.  It is dinner time for the animals, and we saw more birds out, and some deer, and then came across even more marmets.  Interestingly, they had commandeered many of the larger boulders, and were now talking to each other.  They emitted this high pitch chirp that penetrated far–they seemed to be calling to each other to meet up and go in for the night.

Once back at the campsite, we made dinner (mac-n-cheese, yum!) and settled in around the campfire.  I felt lucky and honored to be in such a beautiful place on the summer solstice.

The next morning, my sister made a real tasty breakfast- I don’t think you can match pancakes cooked in a cast iron skillet over an open flame.  And we took a few last pictures before leaving.  Here I am standing among the giant trees in our campsite.

Among the Giants

Standing Among the Giants

Thursday was all about visiting the Valley and seeing the more popular tourist sites.  We did a brief detour to soak in the view from the Tunnel View vista.

Tunnel Vista of the Valley

Tunnel Vista of the Valley

From left to right, there’s El Capitan, Half Dome, Cathedral Rock, and Bridal Veil Falls.  Bridal Veil falls is one of the only falls that does not dry up in the summer months.

In the valley, we chose to do another very easy hike to the base of Yosemite falls.

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls

This is the only shot from the ground where you can see the entire falls.  From the base, you can only see the lower falls, and further along the path, only the upper falls are visible.  It is hard to tell the grandeur of these falls, but they are the highest measured falls in North America.  I think I read literature that said they were nine times taller than Niagara Falls.

By now it was lunch time, and we found a secluded spot in the woods to eat.  Looking up, there was El Capitan.  A very imposing rock.

El Capitan

El Capitan

A brief siesta later, and we headed out of the park.  It is such a beautiful area, and we had a great time.

Out of the whole experience, the only thing that made me a little nervous were bears.  There were bear-proof boxes all around, to store anything that smelled.  You have to put up not only all your food but sundry items as well.  I felt safest just to put everything except my current clothes in the box.  I did not want to take any chances.  We did have a can of bear mace on hand though, and we did not see any bears the entire time.

Half Dome

Half Dome

I look forward to going back someday.  Maybe I’ll even go camping again!