(Day 756 on the road)
My good old French friend Suzanne ("I want it to be top-e notch-e"), who had visited me in New Zealand just a month ago, was worried that Yosemite would be more of the same for me, as I had seen so much nature and so many mountains over the last few months in NZ. But she needn't have worried: Yosemite is an absolutely stunning piece of nature, and even though Suzanne has been there a few times over the last few years (I had been here once when I was 14 but couldn't remember a thing), we were both stunned by the varied scenery.
A short flight had taken me from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Suzanne's adopted home town. At Los Angeles airport I had been more than a little annoyed when American Airlines tried to charge me $25 to have my bag checked in, a fact that they conveniently forgot to mention when I booked the ticket And with all the restrictions these days what you can and cannot take on board (the ridiculous 100ml restrictions for liquid), taking my backpack as carry-on luggage wasn't an option either. In the end I argued that
I was technically just stopping over in San Francisco - as I am on my way down to Mexico soon - and somehow that worked and I didn't have to pay (since they don't charge for international flights and transits).
A little off-topic, but I recently watched a documentary about these liquid restrictions on planes: A guy constructed a bomb with liquids that are freely available for purchase, and using these in quantities allowed by the airlines his bomb caused a massive explosion, definitely enough to crash a plane. So much for the sensible rules imposed on travellers ("Your safety is our concern"); it rather seems that governments are trying to appear to do something to put the public at ease, even if the imposed rules are completely ineffective. But let me not get carried away here.
After a night spent in San Francisco, Suzanne and I were off the next morning towards Yosemite, a four hour drive due east. Approaching Yosemite, and coming from sunny San Francisco, we didn't take the "Snow chains required" warning signs along the road serious (as you do), so when a park ranger told us that the road ahead was closed due
to snow and ice we were more than a little surprised. Then we saw cars driving towards us that were just covered in thick snow, and we knew we should have done some research about the weather conditions.
But not to be disheartened, we set off on an amazing walk to the Lewis Falls (a winter wonderland stroll, with snow everywhere), where we soon found out that we were both utterly unprepared for sub-zero temperatures - it was absolutely freezing. So before long we checked into a cosy but severely overpriced bed and breakfast, utilising the electric heater to the fullest.
The next morning, the weather had much improved, but after an hour drive into the park yet another ranger told us that we couldn't drive any further without snow chains. It was absolutely ridiculous - the road was clear, it was close to 15 degrees (Celsius that is), and the sun was shining. I grew up in a fairly mountainous part of central western Germany with heavy snow every winter and spent a lot of my winter holidays in Switzerland, Austria and France, but I have never ever seen that a road was actually closed because there
was some snow or that they wouldn't allow you to drive without snow chains.
This brings me to something that I have a real problem with here in the US: The culture of constantly being told what to do. I have mentioned this nanny-approach
briefly before, but I feel it deserves a closer look: Roads that are shut because of a little bit of snow, gullies in the street that say "No dumping", the bus that constantly tells you to hold on as "sudden stops are sometimes necessary", and generally lots and lots of "Don't do this" or "Don't do that" signs everywhere.
My personal favourite was one on a four-metre tall bridge spanning a rocky river bed with maybe 30 centimetres of water in it that said "Diving and jumping from the bridge prohibited". Thanks, I really might have been tempted otherwise!
Unless I am missing an argument, I think there are only three possibilities why there are so many signs stating the obvious: 1) People and tourists here in the US are extremely dumb and lack any degree of common sense. 2) The government and companies think that people and tourists here in the US
are extremely dumb and lack any degree of common sense. 3) The government and companies are scared out of their wits regarding liability lawsuits.
I really hope it is number three. Assuming that it is, this then begs another question: If one bridge has a sign "No jumping", and the next one doesn't, is it OK then to jump from that bridge and hold the National Park liable for your broken legs? Or since only some of the gullies in San Francisco have the "No dumping" signs, would it be acceptable to dump my chemical waste into a gully without a sign? How far do you have to go to state the obvious? This might be a ridiculous example, but since I haven't seen any signs "No hitting your head on the asphalt", could I sue the city of SF because they didn't tell me I shouldn't do that?
Even without stating all the rules and laws, they are still applicable, so what exactly is the point? If the legal system of the US allows you to sue, let's say, McDonald's, to state a widely-known example, because you are stupid enough to burn your lips on the hot coffee that you ordered
, there will surely always be a way to something similar, no
matter how many stupid and annoying signs you put up.
But back to Yosemite, before I keep rumbling on here forever. As mentioned above, the national park is absolutely stunning, and the variety of terrain makes it a haven for families and outdoorsy people alike. If only I had more time and all my hiking gear, I could really spend some time here!
Every peak in the park seems to be a perfect backdrop for the photographer in me, and I think I managed to get a few decent shots over the course of the two days that we spent in Yosemite. Unfortunately however, a Dutch woman broke my camera whilst she was attempting to take a picture of Suzanne and me - she walked backwards, tripped over a rock and the camera fell and broke. And feeling sorry for her and not wanting a confrontation, I just let her walk away. Great! Luckily Suzanne had her camera, else we would have almost no pictures of this amazing place.
Whilst we stopped at all the main tourist points (Bridalveil Fall, Tunnel View, Mirror Lake, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome etc) and even spotted a bear near
Yosemite Village, our favourite part of it all was the hike up the Mist Trail
, which, incidentally, gave us a good soaking as it goes right through the fall's mist. The path leads to the top of Vernal Fall
, where we stood right at the edge of the 97 metre high water fall and watched the roaring water drop into the steep and narrow valley below. Wow!
And yes, in case you wondered, there are
signs up there right at the edge of the waterfall, on the tall fence blocking the whole area off, saying "No swimming". Why wasn't I surprised?
On the drive back to San Francisco, we very narrowly avoided a head-on collision with another car that had completely ignored our right of way, turning into a side street even though it saw us coming from miles away on the straight road. Only a full-blown emergency stop and a hard steer to the left avoided the collision, which would have surly had serious consequences. The other car simply drove on and didn't even bother to stop.
This incident prompted me to have a look at fatal road accidents, comparing the US with a speed limit of less
than 100 kph to Germany, which notoriously has no speed limit. Turns out, the US has a death rate of 15 per 100.000 people, whereas Germany has a rate of only 9 per 100.000 (2002 data, the latest comparable available). I must say after observing how crazy some people drive here (speeding in really heavy traffic, most people changing lanes without using their indicators, etc), I am not too surprised.
Next stop: San Francisco (California, USA).
To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com
. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon
(and most other online book shops).
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