National Parks

Yosemite National Park Part 2: Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point

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Yosemite Valley

Finally, I am getting around to finishing up my recap of our trip to Yosemite in August 2013.  I’ve been putting it off for a while now, not because there is nothing to share, but because it’s so hard to put into words how I feel about Yosemite.  Both Ryan and I agree that Yosemite is our favorite park that we have visited so far.  There is something so special about it.  Obviously we aren’t the only ones that feel this way.  Last year Yosemite was the third most visited park with almost 4 million visitors.  In My First Summer in the Sierra, John Muir had this to say about seeing Yosemite Valley for the first time, “Never before had I seen so glorious a landscape, so boundless an affluence of sublime mountain beauty. The most extravagant description I might give of this view to any one who has not seen similar landscapes with his own eyes would not so much as hint its grandeur and the spiritual glow that covered it…”  I suppose I find comfort in the fact that John Muir, who was known for promoting the parks through his writing, also struggled with the feeling that no matter what words he used to describe Yosemite he would fail to do it justice.  Nevertheless, I thought I would write about some of the things we did, recommendations and things to keep in mind if you are planning  a trip to Yosemite in the future.

The first time we saw Yosemite was on the drive in, right after we came through the tunnel. Some friends had told us to stop and take pictures, even if its crowded and I’m glad we did.  Ryan was grinning from ear to ear as soon as we exited the tunnel and I’m glad we have some photographs to capture that moment in time.  After snapping some pictures we drove into the park and rode our bikes around, taking a self guided tour past the park lodges, villages and meadows.   Ryan and I were very surprised at the commercialized feel  we experienced in Yosemite Valley.  With tourists lining the walking paths and cars, RVs and buses humming along the traffic filled roads it felt more like Disneyland than the wilderness.  However, amidst the traffic, we saw several deer and fawns enjoying the last few hours of sunlight.

For lodging we camped at Crane Flat, it’s a perfect campground for tent camping with all of the basic amenities (fire pit, picnic table, bear lockers, potable water, etc).  While Crane Flat lacks the canvas tents, cots and showers, that some of the more ‘advanced’ campgrounds in the valley provide, it does provide the peace and quiet that we look forward to on camping trips or after a long day of hiking.   The campground is located about a 30 minutes from the major attractions in the valley at the intersection of Tioga Road and Big Oak Road (which takes you into the valley), which makes it perfect for exploring both the more commercial areas on the valley floor and the quieter, beautiful areas off of Tioga Road.  While we preferred the peace and quiet off of Tioga Road, we did take  advantage of some of the commercial offerings in the park.  On our first full day in the park we did a short hike to Lower Yosemite Falls and took an amazing photography workshop called In the footsteps of Ansel Adams, which I highly recommend, you can read about it here.  For our second day in the park we took a bus tour by Glacier Point Tours from Yosemite Lodge up to Glacier Point.  While the primary reason we took the tour was so we could do a point to point hike from Glacier Point back down to the valley, I really enjoyed the tour itself.  The bus driver was great, and he taught us about the park’s history during the one hour ride.  He talked about famous visitors to the park, prominent landmarks historic wildfires, and he also gave us a botany lesson explaining the phenomena of the pine trees growing on sheer rock faces (the secret is the lichen)!

When we got to Glacier Point we stepped off bus and started our 12 mile hike back down to our car on the valley floor.  We got to hike on the Panorama Trail, John Muir Trail and Mist Trail.  One of the neat things about this hike is that Half Dome is view-able from many different vantage points.  After spending a few days admiring it from below, it was really neat to see it from so many different angles and elevations.  It was hard not to stop every few feet to take another picture of it!  In addition, the hike took us past three waterfalls, Illoutte Falls, Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls.  Just like with Half Dome, we gained a new perspective of the waterfalls that terminate on the valley floor thousands of feet below.  From the valley the falls appear like  white ribbons unraveling, gracefully over the tall cliffs.  On the trail however, the thundering roar of the water slamming against the granite rock commands respect and reverence.  We stopped and ate our lunch (Jerk Chicken Wraps) at the top of Nevada Falls, several hikers got very close to the edge to take pictures, but I enjoyed the view from a safe distance.  After Nevada Falls, we got onto the mist trail and started our final descent.  The Mist Trail follows beside Vernal Falls and is incredibly steep, it has hand rails in some sections, however, the crowds were much harder to navigate than my fear of heights.  The Mist Trail is a very popular day hike in the park, so by time we made it there it was packed with hikers going in both directions.  Finally we made it back to the trailhead and started the trek across the valley to where we had left our car.   It is possible to take one of the shuttles from the trailhead, but despite our aching feet we decided against it.  All in all we spent about six hours on the trail, with a total of four hours and twenty minutes hiking.  After the hike we used the showers at  Housekeeping camp, you have to pay a few bucks to shower if you are not staying there, and wait in a long line, but, after a 12 mile hike, it was worth it.  We also, enjoyed a dinner at the Mountain Room, the food was alright, but the atmosphere was quintessential National Park lodge, with large wooden doors and tables and ceiling to floor windows featuring breathtaking views.  It was nice to sit and be served after a few days living in the outdoors, but we already knew we weren’t going to be ready for the trip to end and the best was yet come.

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