Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Great American Road Trip Days 5 and 6: Yosemite - Tripping in the valley

We started out the day in Fresno with ambitious plans to leave by 9:30AM. We only had a bit of shopping and some goodbyes to take care of, but in the end we barely got out before 11AM. Still we were well equipped and had a chance to see my grandparents again before heading out, so no regrets.

The 2 hour drive to Yosemite passed quickly, though the foothills of the Sierras greeted us long before we actually made it to the valley. It's a pleasant drive and I hope those Fresno residents realize how lucky they are to be so close! Our Annual Access Pass for US National Parks ($80) began to recoup its value here, good for the $20 Yosemite entrance fee.

I've been to Yosemite many times before, but this visit was different in two significant ways. First, we stayed in the valley itself whereas I usually stay outside the valley proper, often in Wawona, where it's less crowded and the camp sites are better. Second, we stayed in one of the Curry Village "cabins", which I've generally avoided because of cost and location. We stayed two nights in a cabin and though it was a basic setup (3 beds, a light, some electrical plugs, and a door with a pad lock), it was nice to have a structure around us that we didn't have to set up and take down ourselves, and to have clean linens provided daily. There are showers and laundry available too. I'm not sure I would pay the relatively steep price during the high-season, but if you get a deal it might be worth it.

The Yosemite Lodge where the rest of our group was staying was basically like a hotel, a very different - and frankly rather appealing - experience in Yosemite. Hot, private showers, towels provided, a mini-fridge, 2 full beds and a roll-away (officially sleeps 3), and a back porch with a view of Yosemite Falls. Almost everything you could ask for. We spent a lot of time in the room, especially in the evenings, playing board and card games, and just hanging out, and although there was no toasting of marshmallows, it was the kind of fun that would be harder to have around a camp fire. So really just a different experience, not necessarily better. If you're not an enthusiastic camper and can afford it, I'd actually recommend the Lodge experience, especially if you have a small group of people. Getting a good night's rest in a real bed can help a lot on those long, tough hikes like the Half Dome trail too.

We were staying with the awesome folks at Tripping, which Katy now works for (go Katy!), and though I only had a short time to get to know them, by the end I felt like they were old friends. I had only ever met one of them before, but everyone treated me like a member of the crew and we had a lot of fun, from swimming to fishing to BBQing to night tours and more. So a big thanks goes to the Tripping people for being so welcoming!

The day of arrival we mostly spent running around trying to deal with check-in at 2 different lodgings, meeting up with everyone, and settling in. We happened to arrive right around the full moon so that evening we had a great moon-lit walk back to our cabin. I got a few shots of this which I've posted in my Picasa Gallery.

The next night we were able to take a rare moon-light tour, again a new experience for me, and it was well worth it. They only do them around the time of the full moon during the summer, but I definitely recommend it if you happen to be there at the right time.

We even got a bear "show", with our tour guide Ranger Lauren taking off like a bullet without warning to chase a bear away from an abandoned pile of food, running at top speed at the normally imposing animal. It fled surprisingly quickly and they disappeared together into the night with the ranger's shrill cries of "Get outta here bear!" echoing in our ears. She returned a few minutes later to continue the tour. So apparently that's what you're supposed to do if you see a bear - be loud and intimidating and, if you're brave enough, scare it off.

Sunday was our real day of activity and we packed a lot in (including the full moon tour I just mentioned). During the day we went fishing, and one of the crew even caught a little something.

I meanwhile swam around in the rapids, scurried over rocks, and tackled snagged fishing lines for whomever was fishing at the time.

That evening, before the tour, we went to a great picnic spot on the Merced River where we cooked up some meat from our meat "CSA" at Marin Sun Farms - flank steak and tri-tip. We had so much meat in fact, that we had a tri-tip and a half as leftovers for the next few stops on our trip. More on that in Benton...

The picnic spot itself was gorgeous and we were there at my favorite time of day, as the sun is nearing the horizon (in Yosemite Valley this happens sooner than normal), the light gets more golden and the shadows get longer. There were kids running around and playing in the water, and light glinting off the river, with plenty of shade or sun, as you like it. It was idyllic. The sun disappeared just as we were about to eat, but the meal was none the worse for it.


Before we headed out, one of the group took a jump off a nearby bridge, and the experience was complete.

It was a unique few days in Yosemite, a surprise for me since I've been there so many times, and I was glad of the new experiences. I'll look at a stay in the valley with a bit more interest in the future, I think. Our next stop is Benton Hot Springs, with Mono Lake and some other bits on the way... 

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