Laura and Lee's Yosemite Yearnings

June 19-22, 1998


Ah, Yosemite...If I had to pick my favorite place in the entire world, I think I would probably choose Yosemite National Park. I have so many wonderful memories here - so many great experiences and special times shared with family and friends. And the scenery is pretty darn impressive, too. :-)

But there's something about Yosemite that always makes part of me feel like I'm coming home. And even though millions of people visit the park every year, there's still a sense of peace here - a serene beauty that makes you forget the noise and exhaust fumes and crowds and the cares of everyday life.

As you can see, Yosemite is a special place for me, and I always enjoy sharing it with people - well, except that I wish there were fewer clueless tourists around. :-)

This trip was planned way back in January when my IRC buddy Jeff Spencer and I were chatting about the vacation he and his wife Susan were planning to California in June, and I suggested that they should see Yosemite, and oh, by the way, Lee and I would be happy to go with them. :-) We finally settled on dates, and I made lodging reservations - initially for the tent cabins, but we were finally able to get all three nights at Yosemite Lodge.

As the time got closer, we found out that my parents, who live on the east side of the Sierra, were planning to be over in Monterrey that weekend, and were interested in stopping along the way and spending a day with us in Yosemite.

El Nino had given California a very wet winter, and so we expected to have a pretty good waterfall show. Even though we've had a very cool spring, the snow has still been melting steadily, and rather than the runoff peaking around late May like it usually does, it was peaking at about the time that we were there.


Friday, June 19 - Drive to Yosemite

We managed to get up and finish packing the car and be on the road by 7:00. We sailed around L.A. via 57 and 210 instead of trying to go through town on 5 or 405, and had NO traffic at all - it only took us about 2:20 to get to our normal rest stop, when we normally figure it'll take us 3 hours to get that far!

We were way ahead of schedule, and arrived at Fresno just after noon. From there, the driving becomes two lane mountain road for the next 90 miles to Yosemite Valley. We were concerned that the traffic might be heavy because they had had to close one of the roads into the valley earlier in the week because of flood damage, so the road we were taking was the only route into the park. But, unbeknownst to us, the road had re-opened the night before, so traffic was actually quite light, and we had a really nice drive into the park.

At the Entrance Station we bought a Golden Eagle pass, which will get us into any national park for the next year - and since we plan to visit Mt. Acadia next month, and Yosemite again in September, we'll get our use out of it. Even if we didn't, we still think it's worthwhile to support our national parks.

We stopped at the overlook to see Cascade Creek, which was across the valley from us, but beautiful even from a distance. There were a lot of wildflowers in bloom in the area, and I had fun photographing them - with Tigger's help, of course. :-)

We stopped at Inspiration Pt. for our first look at Yosemite Valley (pictured at the top of this page). It was a perfect day - it just doesn't get much better than this!

The waterfalls were flowing beautifully, and I stopped to photograph Bridalveil Fall (pictured right), Ribbon Falls, and Yosemite Falls. There were also a lot of unnamed falls cascading over the sides of the valley that only flow during the peak season - they were gorgeous, too.

We finally arrived at Yosemite Lodge and checked in. Maria at the front desk was *very* helpful, and got rooms for us and the Spencers in adjoining buildings, and also took care of our reservation so that we wouldn't have to check out and check back in. (I'd had to make several reservations to finally get all the nights at the Lodge that we wanted.)

The Yosemite Lodge is right across the street from Yosemite Falls, and from the parking lot you get a great view of the Upper Yosemite Fall. Our room, in Tamarack Lodge, looked out on a wooded area, and was nice and fairly quiet - we could hear the roar of the falls, in the distance, though. Can't they turn that thing off at night? :-)

We were told at the front desk and read in the Yosemite newspaper that bears are a HUGE problem in Yosemite right now - they are breaking into cars if there's any hint that food might be inside. So they are asking everyone to get anything that might even remotely smell of food out of the cars - this includes things like trash, gum, even air fresheners! They even caution against leaving any bags visible, even if they *don't* contain food, because bears know that bags usually do contain food, and will break in just to get to the bag. We saw a couple of cars that bears had broken into - bears are obviously far smarter than the average tourist. We got everything out of our car - we didn't want any "Close Encounters of the Bear Kind".

After we unpacked and relaxed for a while I went out to take a walk around the grounds while Lee took a nap - we were expecting my parents to arrive and call us in our room at any time. I stopped by the Lobby on my way back and there they were - they had just arrived. Great timing! We went back to the room and visited, then all headed to Camp Curry to check them into the tent cabin they were staying in for the night (we'd originally had reservations for the tent cabins, but I was VERY glad we'd been able to get into the Lodge!), and then we went out for dinner at the pasta place. Our timing was great, and we arrived just before the place started to get crowded. The food was pretty good - Dad especially enjoyed the spiral pasta with vegan basil sauce.

After dinner we drove over to Sentinel Bridge to admire the view of Half Dome with the evening light on it - beautiful. Then we all went back to our room for a while, hoping that Jeff and Susan would have arrived. They hadn't yet, but they did before Mom and Dad left, so they came over to our room and we introduced everyone, and decided on when/where we were meeting the next day.


Saturday, June 20 - Vernal/Nevada Falls, Yosemite Theatre

I woke up early and got dressed and grabbed my camera and went out for a walk - the sun wasn't quite up over the valley walls yet. It was very quiet, and for the first 20 minutes I hardly saw anyone else. I walked around the meadow and Sentinel Bridge, and then went over to Lower Yosemite Falls. As I was walking back from the Falls I saw this nice-looking guy walking towards me so I stopped and talked to him and we went back to the Falls - and then I took him back to my hotel room. :-)

We met Jeff and Susan downstairs a few minutes later and drove over to the Ahwahnee Hotel together, and met my parents outside the dining room just as our table was ready. Good timing. :-) The Ahwahnee is a beautiful hotel - we stayed there last September. We all had a good breakfast to prepare us for hiking later.

After going back to our hotel room to change into hiking clothes and make lunch, we caught the shuttle bus from the Lodge to the Happy Isles trailhead. Our plan was to hike up to the top of Vernal Fall via the Mist Trail, then up to the top of Nevada Fall, then back down the other side, and avoid backtracking as much as possible.


Our first stop was the bridge below Vernal Fall - the view of the fall and all the rushing whitewater was spectacular, as always. We walked a little farther up the Mist Trail to the overlook - it was a bit misty there, and tended to fog up the camera lenses a bit. :-)

Mom left us at this point, since she didn't want to climb the Mist Trail, and was going up the normal trail to meet us at the top of Nevada Fall. The rest of us put on our rain gear - there's a reason they call it the "Mist Trail". :-) The last two times Lee and I had done it it was dry, but it was pretty wet that day, though I've seen it worse - the wind was not blowing too much. I discovered that my rain pants are no longer water resistant, so my legs got a little wet, but overall I think we were all pretty comfortable - much more so than a lot of people who came up the trail without any raingear at all, and got soaking wet. (Here's Dad, Susan, and Jeff just after they arrived at the top - they don't even look too drowned! :-) )

There's always lots of people drying off on the rocks at the top of the fall, and today was no exception. We spent quite a while at the top drying our jackets/pants off so that we could pack them again, taking photos, and having a snack to eat, before heading up the trail toward Nevada Fall.

Along the trail we got a *really* nice view of Nevada Fall from the left side, and we stopped to admire the view and take pictures. We also took some people pictures - here's Susan and Jeff, and my dad Jim and me.

When we made it to the top we discovered that Mom was already there - she made good time. We pulled up a comfortable section of rock and ate lunch and took pictures - the sun was warm but not too hot. A squirrel came over to see if we had any food - he was not at all shy, and would have climbed into our lunch sacks if given the slightest encouragement.

After a while we headed down the trail, and back to the bridge below Vernal Fall again. Jeff stole Tigger from me not long after we started down from there, and banged poor Tigger's head against the rocks. Jeff is really NOT a nice person - earlier in the day he dropped a big rock on Tigger's head.

Fortunately I recovered Tigger, and he seems relatively unharmed...kinda hard to tell, though. :-)

Here's a couple more pictures from the hike - Illilouette Fall, and Nevada Fall from the right side.

We caught a shuttle bus back to Yosemite Village (a standing room only bus crowded with tired, sweaty hikers...how pleasant...) and stopped at the ice cream shop for, you guessed it, ice cream. We'd tried to have ice cream the night before after dinner - but the place closed at 7:00! My parents were outraged at the idea that an ice cream place could close so early! :-)

We still almost had an ice cream crisis - Mom, Jeff, and Susan all wanted butter pecan - and the guy in front of us wanted three scoops, but they were almost out, and had to go get another bucket of it from the freezer. By the time they got their ice cream, Dad, Lee and I were almost done with ours.

While eating ice cream we discussed our evening plans and decided try to see the Yosemite Theatre presentation called "The Spirit of John Muir", so I walked up to the Visitor Center to get tickets - the rest of them assuring me that "we'll be here" when I got back.

You can probably guess what happened - I got back, and no one was at the table. Sigh. Very funny, guys. I looked around in the ice cream place and the deli, and finally walked back up to the Visitor Center, and there they were. My parents had gone to the Village Store to look for t-shirts, so the rest of us caught the shuttle back to the hotel, and arranged to meet for dinner a little while later.

Mom and Dad came back and finished loading the car, and we said goodbye to them - we all had a great day.

After cleaning up we met Jeff and Susan downstairs and walked over to the Garden Terrace Restaurant for dinner. This was actually a pretty nice soup/salad/pasta bar, and if you went away hungry it was your own fault! :-)

We headed for the Visitor Center to see "The Spirit of John Muir". This is a one-man show, featuring actor Lee Stetson in the role of John Muir. Lee and I have seen several other Muir plays that Stetson has done, but this one was new to us. John Muir is one of my personal heroes - Dad used to read John Muir stories aloud to us when we went camping when I was a kid, and I wrote a term paper about him in high school, and I went to John Muir College at UCSD, and I taught a class about Muir my senior year, so I'm always interested in anything about him. In this particular show, Stetson is Muir's ghost, and tells the audience about several of Muir's adventures in Yosemite, Alaska, and Mt. Shasta. He had some interesting observations to make about Yosemite tourists, too. :-) I thought it was pretty entertaining, and I think the others enjoyed it - as far as I could tell no one fell asleep, and after our long day of hiking I was concerned about that.

We caught the shuttle bus back to the hotel, and arranged to meet the next morning to walk to Mirror Lake/Mirror Meadow.


Sunday, June 22 - Mirror Lake/Meadow, Columbia Rock, Valley Tour

We met Jeff and Susan bright and early at 7:00 and drove to the parking area and headed off towards Mirror Lake/Meadow. We had a nice walk there - we didn't see anyone else around. Since the spring runoff was about at its peak the Meadow was more lake than meadow this time. The morning was fairly still so there were some decent reflections in the water, though not as nice as I have sometimes seen. They actually turned out a lot better in the photos than they looked in person, though. :-) Here's the reflection of Half Dome.

(It's called Mirror Lake/Mirror Meadow because it can't seem to decide what it wants to be - it used to be a lake, but it started to fill in, and they actually dredged it for a while because of the terrific reflections. Once the Park Service started its "let nature do its own thing as much as possible" policy they left it alone, believing that it would eventually fill in and become a meadow. But the current thinking is that there's too much waterflow through it in the springtime for it to ever become a real meadow, and it's probably going to continue in its current half meadow/half lake state. Hmm. Can geographic features have identity crises? :-) )

As we were leaving the area Susan, our designated Wildlife Spotter, pointed out two coyotes that were up on the trail. I'd *never* seen coyotes in Yosemite before - that was quite a treat. (And it really is a coyote in this picture - there just wasn't a lot of light to work with.) They kept a very wary eye on us as they moved down the trail. (We didn't see any bears on this trip, but saw lots of deer and of course lots of squirrels and birds.)


We had breakfast at the Lodge cafeteria - our timing continued to be good, and we were ahead of the morning rush. But Lee wanted French Toast, and it was popular that morning so he had to wait quite a while - there were plenty of pancakes, though. Susan and Jeff were almost done eating by the time we got to the table.

After breakfast we packed our day packs and went up the Yosemite Falls trail as far as Columbia Rock. This is a significant climb - it climbs 1000' in just over a mile - it's quite steep. Lee set a very good pace, and we made good time. The view was pretty nice, and we could see all the way up and down the valley. But unfortunately the air was hazy and the light wasn't very good for pictures.

We decided that was enough major exertion for the day, so we headed back down. Several people coming up asked us if the climb was "worth it" - Lee and Jeff were rather noncommittal, which I don't think was very helpful. :-)


We walked over to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls, and then over into the meadow where we had a great view of the Upper and Lower Fall. Photo time - another sacrifice to St. Kodak. :-)

We all went back and rested at the hotel for a while, and then got in the car and toured the floor of the Valley, and drove to Inspiration Point, Bridalveil Fall (wet!), and then back to the Village to go to the Visitor's Center, and then, most important of all, to the store to shop for souveniers. :-) I think this is the first trip in a long time when I *haven't* bought a t-shirt, though Lee did. I got a book instead - a collection of 8 of John Muir's books. Several of them I already have, but it's cheaper to buy the big book than to buy the others separately.

Dinner that night was at the Mountain Room at Yosemite Lodge - we had a table with a wonderful view of Upper Yosemite Fall. Not too bad at all! :-) Jeff had the seafood linguni, which had peppers in it, which he doesn't like - so he picked them out, and his plate looked rather festive when he was done. :-) (The plates were plain white - all the red and green you see on the rim was stuff he picked out.)

I had the salmon, which I'd had when we were there last year, and just like last year, they didn't get it cooked all the way through, and I had to send it back...so I got to sit and watch everyone else eat - and then they got to sit and watch me eat, although Lee helped me eat the salmon. The best part of the meal was dessert - the Chocolate Spoon Cake. Chocolate cake with layers of a thick chocolate truffle filling. It's pretty awesome stuff.

There was still plenty of daylight left after dinner, and we walked over to the meadow and caught the evening light on Half Dome. We got off the trail a bit (as John Muir's ghost had recommended we do the night before), and did some talus-hopping on the rocks, and found some logs to balance on, too. Just a group of kids out playing. :-)

We caught the shuttle bus and rode around - this was the last one of the day that was going to the trailheads, so the bus driver stopped and waited quite a while for people to come catch the bus. After getting back to the hotel we all went to our room for a while to talk and eat cookies, before calling it a night.


Monday, June 22 - Mariposa Grove, Visalia

I got up early the next morning (my last morning in Yosemite...waaah!) and headed over to Curry Village for a Tigger photo opportunity. As I was driving by the meadow I saw a guy out walking, and thought I'd offer him a ride...Jeff was up way early that morning, too. We drove to Curry Village and got my picture, and then drove back out towards El Capitan to see if we could see any climbers. There was a LOT of activity in the meadow right in front of El Capitan - a lot of cars and emergency vehicles and people looking busy. Not too long after we pulled off the road and got out of the car, a helicopter took off from the meadow. I haven't heard what was going on, but assume that it was a search and rescue operation of some kind.

We thought we saw some climbers, but didn't have any binoculars to really tell, and after a while we made our way back to the hotel. Lee and Susan had already done most of the packing - woo hoo! :-) (The early bird not only gets the worm, but doesn't have to do the packing! :-) )

Everyone except me had French Toast for breakfast - but fortunately it wasn't as slow today! After that we finished packing and loaded the cars and checked out of the hotel and headed out of the valley...sigh. I always hate leaving.

Just inside the southern entrance to Yosemite is the Mairposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, and that was our final destination. The parking lot at the grove was full, so we had to park in a satellite lot and take the shuttle bus up to the Grove. We were up at an elevation of about 6000', and it was much cooler up here than in the Valley, and there were more clouds that day - Susan and I were glad we had kept our sweatshirts on, but the guys were a little chilly at times.

We walked up to the largest tree in the grove, the Grizzly Giant (we're all standing in front of it in the picture), and then followed the trail into the upper part of the grove where the Grove Museum is.

The Upper Grove was *beautiful* - there's a nice meadow and a number of beautiful sequoia trees. We walked all the way up to the Fallen Tunnel Tree - this was a tree that they had originally hollowed out so that vehicles could drive through it (you couldn't get anything much larger than a VW Bug through it, though), but the tunneling weakened it, and the tree fell down about 30 years ago.

As we walked along the trails Lee and I quizzed each other about all the things we'd learned about sequoia trees last year - that the tannin in their bark makes them decay and disease resistant, the lack of resin and the thick bark makes them fire resistant, that fire is essential for the propagation of new sequoia trees, etc. To learn all the good stuff, read Laura and Lee's Sequoia Saga :-)

We decided that the signs in the grove are really inaccurate - they claim that it's .8 miles from the parking lot to the Grizzly Giant - we think it's more like .5. And then they claim that it's .8 miles from the Grizzly Giant to the Grove Museum - but it's more like 1.2 miles. It was really nice up in the Upper Grove area - most of the tourists stop at the Grizzly Giant and don't go any further, so there were very few people up where we were.

Here's some more pictures...Lee and a sequoia, me and Lee and a sequoia, the Clothespin Tree.

After catching the shuttle bus and getting back down to the cars we had a late lunch and then we said our goodbyes - Jeff and Susan headed towards L.A. and we headed for Visalia to visit Lee's family. It only took us about 2 hours to get to Visalia, not bad at all.

Lee's grandmother made us a wonderful chicken enchilada dinner, and his dad and his brother Ross and sister-in-law Dee Dee came over for dinner, too. Dee Dee is *very* pregnant - the baby is due any day now. It's their first, and the first grandchild/great-grandchild, so everyone is pretty excited.


Tuesday, June 23 - Home

We left Visalia Tuesday morning and had a fairly uneventful drive home, except that it seemed that every road we were on had at least 2 lanes shut down at some point because of road work. I guess that's what happens when you travel mid-week instead of on the weekends.


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Text and photographs copyright © 1998, by Laura Gilbreath. Feel free to link to this document, but you may not redistribute it in any form without the express written consent of the copyright holder.

Laura Gilbreath, lgil@cts.com
Last updated 6/30/98