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.
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!
Hector 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 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.
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.
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.
We 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.
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.
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.
Next, 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.
Next 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.
Yosemite 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.
May 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.
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!
The 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.
Curry Village sits near the base of Half Dome at the east end of the valley.
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.
Also 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.
Turning 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.
It has magnificent public spaces, including a dining room with 24-foot ceilings, floor to ceiling windows and a massive stone fireplace. Gorgeous.
As 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.
There 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.
Although 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.
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.
And then this happened.
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.