Grace Wu

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Stop #18: Yosemite National Park

6am, my phone alarms goes off, and we get up to pack up camp. My dad knows the drill well by now: pull off the rain fly and fold, shake out the tent and take out the poles and fold, and then shake out the bottom tarp and fold that. We’re on the road towards Yosemite as the sky lights up.

Yosemite National Park is one of the more popular National Parks, with about 4 million visitors per year. And just like the other busy parks, most people spend all their time in one or two places in the park. In Yosemite, that place is Yosemite Valley. The Valley has the famous Half Dome, El Capitan, and a few waterfalls. And add in campsites, a lodge, visitor center, store, paved walkways, etc., and you can see why the average visitor doesn’t see much of the other parts of the park.

We drove towards White Wolf Campground, north of the Valley by about an hour and at a higher elevation. It’s a first-come, first-serve campsite, with running water and toilets but no showers. It turned out there were plenty of spots, so we picked one near the bathrooms and set up camp. The food went into the bear bin.

With camp all set up, we headed to the Valley. Since the Valley is, well, a valley, the temperatures are much different from the higher elevations. The campground was probably in the low 60’s when we arrived, by the time we got into the valley it was easily in the 70’s. The high of the day would be around 85 degrees. We first stopped by the Visitor Center and watched one of their 30 minute films about the park. Behind the Theater is a small Native American “village” where they have structures that were common in the area. Some of the structures are still used today in ceremonies.

We took the shuttle to Stop #16 which is the start of an easy hike called the Mirror Lake Trail. Mirror Lake isn’t actually a lake; it’s called that because the Tenaya Creek overflows in Spring after the snowmelt, creating a large lake-like pool. If the water is calm enough, you can get great reflections of the granite walls nearby.

As it was late summer by the time we did our hike, there was no lake, but just a shallow Tenaya Creek with large sandy shores and patches of grasses. It was nearing mid-day and it was getting hot. We attempted to cross the creek on some wobbly logs and a woman came rushing over to help us. How nice! Turns out she was a volunteering as a camp host for the summer and her and her husband told some good stories about the area. She told us about Facelift, the annual clean-up week started by climbers.

My dad and I headed back to the shuttle and took it to Yosemite Falls. This is a popular spot as the trail is really easy and leads right up to the base of the last waterfall. It was packed with tourists when we arrived and just like the rest, we jockeyed for a photo in front of the dwindling falls and tried not to get anyone else in the photo. I saw a kid with something in his hand, reaching out to feed a squirrel. Without even thinking, I shouted out, “You’re not supposed to feed the animals!” It was so frustrating to see that happening. It’s something I’ve been noticing at every National Park I’ve been too. People stomping off trails to get photos of animals, littering or picking flowers. I can’t explain other people’s actions, but I do my best by following the park rules and picking up litter if I see it.

After a long day, we find our car and head back to camp. We make ramen noodle dinner, relax a bit, and head to bed.

The next day we head to Mariposa Grove, at the very south end of Yosemite. They also have a shuttle service there which is awesome. The less I have to drive, the better. 🙂 We attend the morning’s Ranger talk about the Giant Sequoias. Our Ranger was super awesome, it turns out she grew up outside Cleveland! We strolled among the Sequoias as she talked about the life cycle of the trees, as well as some of their amazing features like how they can live to be thousands of years old, their bark can be up to two feet thick and grow from a seed as big as a pinhead. After the talk, we finish the hike, seeing the Grizzly Giant, and the California Tunnel Tree.

We take the shuttle back to the car and head to nearby Wawona. There they have a fancy hotel, visitor center, and the Pioneer Yosemite Visitor Center. As we walked over the covered bridge, we met a volunteer there, dressed in period clothing, talking to a couple. He gave us a tour of the historical buildings there, such as an artists’ studio, a house that housed the Army when they patrolled the park, and even a bakery! It was fascinating to hear about the history of buildings but also what happened in the Park in the past. We talked to the two blacksmiths who were there for the week, demonstrating their craft.

We hopped back in the car and drove up to Glacier Point, which has a great view of the valley. A volunteer had binoculars set up on a stand and pointed toward Half Dome, where we could see hikers coming up the back of it. On the way back home, we stopped by a popular look out point, where many photos are taken. It’s a great view because you can see El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall.

Our last full day in Yosemite, we went to the other side of the park, all the way to the east, to Tuolumne Meadows. We headed there early, perhaps around 8am, and all of the parking lots we passed were backed with cars. Whoa, I wasn’t expecting that for being not in the Valley. Turns out Tuolumne Meadows is a popular starting point for backpacking hikes AND for climbing. We first stop by the visitor center, (I gotta get my stamp!) and then head to a parking lot for the Soda Springs hike. This short hike took us to Soda Springs, a carbonated spring (yes, a spring spouting drinkable carbonated water! Although visitors can’t drink from it now.) Nearby is Parson’s Memorial Lodge, which was used by the Sierra Club back in the day, but now has exhibits. The trail passes the Tuolumne River. I sat on the bridge to do some sketching. A few minutes later, a hiker passes by me and says, “Just so you know, there’s a bear in the meadow over there.” Whoa! My dad and I look for it and we see it ambling across the meadow. It seems to be coming our direction. A few other people see it also and start snapping photos. Luckily, they were smart and kept their distance. We finished up the hike and had lunch near Lembert Dome.

We check out the Wilderness center, where people go to get backpacking permits and rent bear canisters. The day is getting hot and parking lots are getting busy, so we head back to camp and relax for the rest of the day. We have dinner and settle in for our last night in Yosemite. I fell asleep pretty fast but then in the middle of the night I am woken up by coyotes! They must’ve been having a party because it was a chorus of yowling and yipping. And it sounded pretty close by. Maybe they were just having some great conversation. I tried not to think of them coming into camp and slowly fell back asleep.

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