We made it to Yosemite today. Todd’s early rise enabled us to cross the park entrance gate just after 10:00 am, so we had a lot of time to drive through the scenic roads and explore the visitor center.
In a word, the biggest first impression the park made was rock. Massive, unyielding, monoliths dominate the landscape in ways not even the Grand Tetons did. These glacier-formed, almost white, sloping mounts border the eastern entrance to the park on almost every turn.
The well-known El Capitan and Half Dome were visible almost our entire drive from the eastern entrance into the valley. A drive that Todd and I agreed was the most harrowing we have undertaken so far. I am not exaggerating when I say that we did not experience any stretch of straight road longer than a quarter mile. The two lane, narrow byway twists and turns constantly, challenging whoever is driving to never take his or her eyes off the road to enjoy the sights, and forcing multiple pull-offs to allow faster traffic to pass.
But perhaps even more startling than the monoliths were the sheer number of human beings. Yosemite is virtually crawling with people.
Waiting to enter the park
They are everywhere – the side of the road, the parking lots, the road, the trails, the visitor center, the overlooks – almost everywhere we went the entire day was absolutely inundated with people. Most of whom, based on the conversations we overheard in the multiple languages we could identify, were not from the U.S.
We, of course, headed first to the most popular area of Yosemite – the Valley Visitor Center. Nestled between skyscraper-like peaks, you truly feel encapsulated as you make your way down the narrow valley floor to Yosemite Village. After grabbing lunch and yet another set of walking stick badges, we hopped a shuttle to Mirror Lake, an easy hike to a lake on the valley floor. It was on this path that we had our first opportunity to escape the crowds.
Faced with a fork in the road, we had the option to either continue along the paved, populated path, or take the road less travelled through the woods. We opted for the latter, looking forward to enjoying the quiet solitude that the redwoods and pine forest alluded to. It didn’t take long for us to reconsider that choice, though, as we discovered
that the trail we had chosen was apparently a popular horse trail – evidenced by the fact that more of the trail was covered with horse droppings than not. The kids got a big kick out of teasing anyone whose foot misstepped, while I tried to keep my eyes on the surrounding forest on the lookout for any mountain lions the sign at the beginning of the trail had warned against.
When we emerged from the woods, we were surprised to find that Mirror Lake was really more of a pond. We had heard that we were coming to Yosemite during the dry season, but did not realize just how much of a differential there would be. What is typically a good-sized body of water (maybe 20 yards across the short side?) is now only a wading pool.
Though the water may not have been the big attraction, we were not disappointed in the destination. In the middle of the pool was an enormous, 12-foot high granite boulder. Precariously perched on its lowest ledge was a pine log, a balance beam over the water for the daring, including our daughter. With Todd’s help, she made her way from
shore to the rock island, and spent most of our time there sunbathing on its smooth surface or coaching other young guests on their attempts to cross the balance beam bridge.
Billy, on the other hand, had his closest encounter with wild life yet. In the midst of about 20-30 people milling about, a doe and her fawn wandered in for a drink. They were immediately swarmed by tourists armed with cameras, with Billy practically leading the pack. Remarkably, they seemed completely unaffected by the attention and intrusion on their evening stroll. If anything, the fawn appeared downright curious about the visitors, playfully scampering back and forth between momma deer and the human onlookers.
They stayed for almost half an hour, meandering between the water and the surrounding grasses. After taking about 50 pictures, Billy finally just sat and watched them. If he doesn’t do something related to animals for a career I’ll be astonished. The only other wild visitor we had was a lone duck, who seemed a bit affronted at the people wading in his personal pond.
While Maggie was atop the boulder sunbathing, we met a family of four from Sweden. Their son and
daughter managed to scramble to the top of the boulder as well, and the mom and dad wandered around the pond until the dad came hurrying back over looking distressed, motioning for his son to get out of the water. Turns out he had just snapped a picture of a rather large snake in another part of the pond. He asked Todd to take a look at the photo, and we believe he saw a Copperhead. That was enough to get everyone out of the water!
We took the easier, paved path back to the shuttle bus, and then headed out of the park for the night to our campground. Never made it, though, as we realized that we had booked a campground that was easily two hours from the park. We managed to find a KOA on the way that had a spot for the night, so stopped there and crashed a bit. Unfortunately, the wifi didn’t work and we couldn’t get online. Will try to get this posted and caught up tomorrow night, depending on where we land.
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