Sunday, June 22, 2014

Yosemite for Beginners

Yosemite is both awesome and overwhelming. As I tried to comprehend is while making our plans, I was often confused and perplexed.  I found out quickly that it was hard to find lodging in the park.  Of the four entrances I picked the south entrance and found lodging as close as I could.  I couldn't remember why I went for the south entrance as we drove the extra miles to get there.  The White Chief Mountain Lodge was not fancy but adequate.  Perhaps I had found the sweet spot between price and location.

As we were eating dinner at the lodge, I did what I often do.  I asked the waitress for advice for our visit the next day.  Both waitresses were ready to help out.  It was a good thing I asked because they gave us two great tips that I had not found in any guide book.  They told us to leave early and start at Glacier Point.
We set our alarms for six and were on the road before eight.  The park entrance was close, and Peter's magic Senior Pass got us in free once again.  It was a long, winding road, first to the  turn off, and then climbing to Glacier Point.  It was the perfect place to begin.  For the first time I understood what all the guidebooks were talking about.  The view overlooking Yosemite Valley was spectacular.  You could see the high mountains surrounding the relatively small u shaped valley. The Merced River wound through the valley from east to west, fed by the enormous cascades falling all the way to the valley floor. We could see four of the main waterfalls from that height.  The heights where we stood had been under 400feet of glacier thousands of years before, and as the glaciers melted, and slid, the melting flow eroded the soft granite in the valley, leaving enormous monoliths rounded and scratched for us to marvel at. 

We then descended from Glacier Point, winding our way down until we drove through a long straight tunnel which opened into a spectacular view of th valley. The famous El Capitan was stark silver on the left and the smaller Half Dome was hazy blue in the distance on the right.  We stopped to photograph along with bus loads of other visitors.  The numbers were a bit unsettlling.  We continued to Bridalveil Falls which had been invisible from Glacier Point.  Crowds jostled to get close and some ignored the warnings against climbing on the rocks to get a better view.


Our next stop was Cathedral Beach where we ate our lunch in the shades of El Capitan. As we were leaving we heard a man talking to a group looking up and holding binoculars. We stared at the rock and began to see what he was talking about. A team of four climbers were hanging on the sheer rock face. During the afternoon we spotted two other teams as they gradually advanced hanging high above the valley floor. 

After lunch we found a path across the meadow to Sentinal Bridge where we watched jolly rafters float down the gentle Merced.  

By that time we needed more water, bathrooms and coffee, so we continued toward Curry Village.  Bad move. The untold secret at Yosemite, perhaps the reason the information is so confusing is that the valley is actually highly overcrowded.  Curry Village with rows of canvas tent cabins looks more like a Civil War campsite than a recreation spot.  We headed toward the Visitor Center, usually an island of sanity and information.  There was no parking. Rows of cars baked in the sun. We decided that we needed calm more than coffee so we continued on till we found another view of El Capitan. The climbers were getting closer to the top, far from the parking problems. 

We drove up the north side of the valley where evidence of recent fires was all around.  Calm had returned to the park as we headed home.  We found an elegant restaurant not too far from our lodge, and rove to Oakhurst for gas before we turned in.

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