Yosemite Valley

“But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its wall seems to glow with life.”– John MuirYosemite Valley  038

Some of you have been there. Some have seen beautiful images of Yosemite National Park by that famous photographer, Ansel Adams. Some may have read some of John Muir’s inspirational writings about the park.Yosemite Valley  047

As for me, this is the end of my California tour down memory lane. I was here with Hector once over thirty years ago. I remember wishing we could have a billboard on top of our rental car that spelled out WOW! And so my description of this place is simply WOW!

Yosemite Valley  037Hector was smitten on that first trip long ago and has returned several times since.  This is and always has been his favorite national park. And as we approached, he was jumping out of his shoes with excitement.

Excitement about being back and about finally bringing me with him.  I was excited too. This park has so much to offer – towering giant cliffs, waterfalls, a beautiful river, high sierra, sequoia groves, and an enormous valley, meadows, flowers, wildlife…Yosemite Valley  014Yosemite Valley  002Yosemite Valley  005

Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove became the first protected land in the U.S. on June 30, 1864 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act.

After the National Parks movement began, U.S. Congress proposed creating a new federal park surrounding the old Yosemite Grant and in 1890, Yosemite National Park became a reality.

There are four entrances to the park.  One from the east at Tioga Pass and three from the west.

After a somewhat harrowing curvy drive from the coast, we reached our campground, five miles from the northernmost west entrance called Big Oak Flat.

Angel was exhausted after the drive and enjoyed one of her favorite perches.

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Yosemite Valley  013Yosemite Valley  006We were also twenty miles from the town of Groveland and the closest (not too strong) Verizon signal and Wi-Fi. They even have a real phone booth, one of several.Yosemite Valley  007

Yosemite Valley  012We spent some hours at the lovely Mountain Sage Café drinking teas and lemonades and trying to catch up on internet stuff.Yosemite Valley  008Yosemite Valley  011Yosemite Valley  009

But back to the park. Driving into the valley, I realized that Hector knows this place like the back of his hand, and he was playing tour guide once again (Yosemite National Park management take note).

Here are the highlights of the “Hector Valley Driving Tour” and a few short hikes in the valley.

NPS Valley Map

NPS Valley Map

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We entered the park on Highway 120 and drove about 20 miles from the entrance down to the valley floor.  Along the way we passed the old ranch at Big Oak Flat and some beautiful flowers.

Yosemite Valley  020Yosemite Valley  021Then we caught the first distant view of Half-Dome, the most famous and tallest (8,842 feet) of the towering cliffs surrounding Yosemite Valley.

There are some smaller waterfalls along the side of the road. We scrambled down the rocks on the side of the road to get a closer look.Yosemite Valley  022

Yosemite Valley  023Yosemite Valley  024At last we reached an overlook with the first views of the whole valley from afar. People were gawking and we joined them.Yosemite Valley  029Yosemite Valley  027

And, alongside the road, we heard and saw the Merced River with its rushing water and tumbling cascades. Another opportunity for short scrambles.Yosemite Valley  025Yosemite Valley  028Yosemite Valley  030

Yosemite Valley  031Yosemite Valley  032We were then greeted by the first of several beautiful stone bridges and the beginning of the valley, accessed via Southside Drive. These stone bridges and other structures in the park add to the beauty of the place.Yosemite Valley  035

And then, an adorable little spring, and one of Hector’s favorites, Fern Springs. American Indians consider this spring not only a source of water, but a source of life. This place has great spiritual significance.Yosemite Valley  036Yosemite Valley  034

The area was restored through a partnership between Yosemite Indians and the National Park. Many people stop here to refill their water bottles with the crystal clear water. We stopped here many times just to look at and photograph this peaceful little spot.Yosemite Valley  033

Yosemite Valley  040Yosemite Valley  048Next, we turned up and took a side road to the famous Tunnel View overlook, with a sweeping view of the valley close to where Ansel Adams captured his famous “Clearing Winter Storm” image. Yosemite Valley has many faces, changing when the sky and the light change.

Angel charming the tourists

Angel loves kids

Germa tourists … the masks started at the Grand Canyon ...

German tourists …

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Yosemite Valley  042Next we arrived at Bridalveil Fall, the waterfall that you can see from Tunnel View.  Bridalveil changes direction and resembles a delicate veil when blown by the wind.Yosemite Valley  044

We walked to the bottom of the falls where a mist forms from the crashing water.  It was just a bit wet this year but it can be very wet in a non-drought year.Yosemite Valley  056

We had our first distant view of the massive El Capitan.Yosemite Valley  057

Yosemite Valley  063Yosemite Valley  062Next on the valley loop we reached the Cathedral Beach Picnic Area, which offers more views of El Capitan (El Cap), the largest granite monolith in the world.   A single chunk of granite over 3000 feet high considered the holy grail of big wall rock climbers.

Photographs simply can not capture just how big El Cap is.  Astounding.Yosemite Valley  064

Next on Southside Drive was the Swinging Bridge (which doesn’t swing) with a view of Yosemite Falls,  one of the world’s tallest, with a total drop of 2,425 feet.Yosemite Valley  069

Yosemite Valley  068Yosemite Falls are actually three waterfalls; Upper Yosemite, the middle cascades and Lower Yosemite. There are some nice reflections of the waterfalls and cliffs on the water in the beach by the bridge.Yosemite Valley  067Yosemite Valley  065Yosemite Valley  071Yosemite Valley  073

Yosemite Valley  072May and June is the time of year when the waterfalls are at their mightiest, many become just a trickle by August. Because of the drought, the waterfalls were not as massive this year as they can be, but if you’d never been here before, you wouldn’t know that. They were still quite a sight.Yosemite Valley  075

Across the valley from the falls is Yosemite Chapel, the oldest structure in the park. The chapel was moved from its original location in 1901 and was given Historic American Building status by the National Park Service in 1965.

They have morning worship service every Sunday. They also host non-denominational weddings, and we caught a glimpse of a wedding as we drove by one day. Sweet!

Yosemite Valley  076Nearing the east end of the valley there are great views of the beautiful Half-Dome.  Including from the Stoneman Bridge, which we renamed the Marvin bridge after a nice gentleman that we met there. Yosemite Valley  077

Yosemite Valley  080The last stop on Southside Drive is Curry Village, which includes the least expensive (but not cheap) lodging in the park. There are a few hotel rooms, a few cabins, and the most popular option – the tent cabins – more than 300 of those.Yosemite Valley  079

This is where we stayed during our visit here decades ago, my first “camping” experience! My camping accommodations have since become much more sophisticated 🙂Yosemite Valley  081Yosemite Valley  082

Curry Village sits near the base of Half Dome at the east end of the valley.

The village has a couple of restaurants, a grocery store, a community room with internet access, a gift shop, an amphitheater (offering movies and programs) and a swimming pool.Yosemite Valley  078

Yosemite Valley  084Yosemite Valley  083There’s also a place to rent bicycles or rafts for floating down the river here (floating is only allowed in a very specific part of the river and only when the water temp goes over 45 degrees!).

Along that road is the path to the trailhead of the Mirror Lake Trail. At certain times of day when it’s calm there’s a reflection of Half-Dome in the river.  It was a nice hike to a very pretty lake right at the base of Half Dome, but alas no reflection.Yosemite Valley  085

Yosemite Valley  088Yosemite Valley  093Also at the east end of the valley is the Happy Isles Area with nature trails and access to more of the powerful Merced River. With lots of water rushing over rocks and several of those elegant stone bridges. We enjoyed several walks by this scenic river. Yosemite Valley  095Yosemite Valley  089Yosemite Valley  094Yosemite Valley  096Yosemite Valley  087Yosemite Valley  090Yosemite Valley  092

Yosemite Valley  001Turning back towards the west on the valley’s Northside Drive we then came to the Historic Ahwahnee Hotel. The hotel was designed to highlight its natural surroundings, combining Art Deco, Native American, Middle Eastern and Arts & Crafts influences.Yosemite Valley  098Yosemite Valley  097

It has magnificent public spaces, including a dining room with 24-foot ceilings, floor to ceiling windows and a massive stone fireplace. Gorgeous.

And, in case you’re curious, the hotel nightly rate is $500+ a night – room only. Ouch!Yosemite Valley  099

Yosemite Valley  086As the name implies, Northside Drive follows along the north wall of the valley close to the base of Yosemite Falls, the visitor center area, the famous Camp 4 base camp for the El Cap climbers, and along the base of El Cap.Yosemite Valley  101Yosemite Valley  100

Yosemite Valley  102Yosemite Valley  104Just before you exit the valley you get one last view of it at an overlook appropriately named Valley View.Yosemite Valley  105

Yosemite Valley  103There are many opportunities to walk and hike in the park, including nature walks, day hikes and endless backcountry trails.  Yosemite Valley is only about 6 miles long and is a very small percentage of Yosemite National Park but has an incredible concentration of stunning sights.

Yosemite Valley  066Although dogs are not allowed on the trails, they are allowed on the six-mile loop bicycle trail in the valley and all “developed” areas. This includes a number of paved walks out to the meadows, Curry Village, the hotels, and all of the picnic areas.Yosemite Valley  026Yosemite Valley  091

We returned time and time again to the valley for short walks, day hikes, bicycle rides, internet time at Curry Village and just to ogle. And Angel had an opportunity to tour the valley a bit as well.

During our two week stay we had terrific weather with bright sunshine and often a cloudless blue sky.  Always the photographer, Hector grumbled about the weather being too nice and wished for more clouds and  stormy skies.   Then on our last day it absolutely poured rain.  Yosemite Valley  106

Yosemite Valley  107So off we went with rain gear for us and for the camera driving around the valley looking for interesting clouds between downpours.  As Hector says, amazing things can happen.Yosemite Valley  074 Yosemite Valley  108

There were stormy clouds all around and it was indeed moody and beautiful.Yosemite Valley  109

Then we went up to Tunnel View to see that iconic view during the storm.  We decided to hang around a bit to see how the clouds would move around.Yosemite Valley  049

And then this happened.

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Just a few minutes later, it was gone.  Hector was literally moved to tears.   One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.  Magical.

Note: Even though we’ve since moved on to new adventures, there will be several more posts (and a lot more photos) of our time in Yosemite National Park, including some beautiful surprises. Please be patient as we catch up.

~ BrendaYosemite Valley  053

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  1. WOW! Most wonderful break to read and see these pictures. That rainbow, OMG what timing for you guys and so beautiful. Looking forward to see more. TGIF for us working stiffs. : ) Karen

  2. That last rainbow shot got me too….just stunning!! It’s been too many years since I last saw this area. Your photos make we want to go back.

    Nina

  3. I really thought you skipped Yosemite! This is my favorite national parks ever! crowded it may be. All your great photos in my nick of the woods are really making me homesick:(
    The rainbow says it all, an AMAZING place indeed.

    • We had to be in SF on specific dates to meet our friends so couldn’t stop there before. So we wound up zigzagging a bit, but worth it!
      Brenda

  4. That is an amazing photo with the rainbow and the falls! What a stunning header photo. Yosemite certainly is a special park (as I found most of them are). People ask us which is our favorite place. We can’t really chose one because each park seems to offer something different. How exciting that we get to explore all these amazing places with this life style.

    We must return to Yosemite and do some hiking. We visited prior to falling in love with hiking. Hector’s gorgeous photos have reminded me of what I need to see again. We were there in the fall so there weren’t any waterfalls just dark marks where the fall was suppose to be. So glad you decided to drive back out and visit during the rain. I love those photos. Thanks for sharing this beauty:)

    • Thanks! It is tough to choose amongst the parks, I agree. May seems to be a good time to visit, although somewhat crowded. Apparently July and August are even more crowded.
      Brenda

  5. One of the most beautiful places on earth… Visited every year for over 20 years can’t wait to go back..
    Hector definitely has an eye…
    Great art..

    Can’t wait to see more of your stay… Safe Travels…

    • Welcome to our blog! Wow, twenty visits, sounds wonderful. Glad you like Hector’s photography, and that you’ll be coming along on the journey.
      Brenda

  6. Brenda this is just the most beautiful post… what an area… I love the slow shutter speed shots of the flowing river, magnificent… but the whole area is just too beautiful and must be very difficult to capture the enormity of the mountains, cliffs and falls… wonderful share… thank you…

    • Thank you, I love those river photos as well, he worked hard on those. There are definitely some aspects of the place that are impossible to capture, just lucky to experience them.
      Brenda

  7. We fell in love with Yosemite a couple of years ago and are anxious to go back. So many hikes, so little time. 😉 Hector, your photos are simply breathtaking!

  8. Wow! The crown jewel of parks and blogs. Wonderful blog, reminds me of all the wonders of Yosemite. Great stories and pictures bring back the grandeur! Thanks!

    Looking forward to more about this magical and wonderful spot!!!

  9. Could you mention the site you stayed in and how you liked it. I have been thinking about going there, I have a 35′ Allegro Bay and a Saturn Wagon tow. I travel alone, so I need to get to the campsite and unhook, then park. I need some room so you with a 39′ would be a great spot I could reserve.
    Tks, grammaDy

    • Hi and welcome to our blog! We stayed at Yosemite Lakes Campground, a Thousand Trails park five miles outside the northernmost west entrance to Yosemite, about a 40 minute drive to the valley floor. We tried to get a campsite inside the park, but they only have ten total spaces in all of their campgrounds that accommodate our size rig, and they were full.
      Our fourteen day stay at the campground cost the same as a one year membership at Thousand Trails, so we became members. Yosemite Lakes was an ok campground but we don’t necessarily recommend the membership, as the Thousand Trails campgrounds are variable. It just worked out best for us in this case.
      If you are planning way in advance, you may want to try to get a campsite inside Yosemite. But don’t plan on driving your RV in through highway 120 as it has several tunnels and one has only a 10’4″ clearance at the sides, so you might have to drive in the middle (we saw one RV do this). It looks like the west entrance off highway 140 might be a better choice for driving the RV into the park.
      One last thing, June, July and August are peak season and will have lots more traffic and crowds. But that’s the case for a lot of the better known national parks as you may know.
      If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask us, we’re happy to help.
      Brenda

  10. Great pictures, we plan to try to make it out there in September, before the snow. Quick question, what settings did you shot the water shots with, to make them smooth looking?

    Thomas

    • Hi Thomas … glad you like the snaps and thanks.

      The settings for shooting moving water and what makes for a good shot vary depending on the speed of the water. I usually will take my best reading and then do bracket exposures on either side (faster or slower shutter speeds). If you go too long it can lose all detail and be bright white, to fast and you might not get a good blur. Usually I wind up with 3 good exposures and then just pick the amount of blur that looks best. For example, the first stone bridge (Yosemite Valley 031) settings were ISO 50, at f16, for 15 seconds. Later in the post there is another bridge (Yosemite Valley 087) and for that one ISO 50, at f22, for only 6 seconds. If there is too much light and you can’t get slow enough of a shutter speed, a neutral density filter that simply darkens the lens opening can really help.

      Lastly and perhaps obviously, this is all on a tripod and slow so I turn the image stabilization off, lock up the mirror, and use a remote release or self timer to trigger the shutter.

      Hope this helps. We were admiring some autumn pics of Yosemite in a gallery, looks like a great time of year to go. Good shooting!
      Hector