Yosemite a Great Adventure, like all national Parks


(Originally from The Roanoke Times)

While visiting family in Sacramento for the first time in several years, my son and I decided upon a side trip to one of California’s great natural wonders: Yosemite National Park. As a naturalist I’d read with great interest about conservation activist John Muir’s escapades there, from riding the top of a Douglas fir in a storm to pushing sheep across Tuolumne Meadows or climbing various peaks like El Capitan. He kept journals of his experiences, promoting preservation of Yosemite as early as the 1870s.

Yosemite is commemorating its 125th year as a park this October. With more than four million visitors camping, fishing and partaking of its unique beauty, it is only outpaced by our nearby Great Smoky National Park, the latter centrally located and much more accessible to the 9.4 million visitors who enter it each year. But even with Yosemite’s outer boundary at least an hour’s drive from Merced, the nearest town of any size, it is a tremendously popular vacation destination, and has amenities for all ages and skill sets who want to get close to its high granite cliffs, forests and wildlife.

This national park hugs the Sierra Nevada Mountains on its east side, making traveling through it subject to weather warnings about snow from November to early May. When my son Adam and I decided upon a route, we had to avoid snowbound Tioga Road, near the eastern park entrance. We chose the western entrance instead, popular because it is so close to Yosemite Valley with its cluster of natural geological wonders. Leaving Sacramento we headed south toward the almond and grape fields off Route 120, brown and bare in April. The Don Pedro Reservoir along the way was several feet below normal, yet when we arrived at Yosemite everything was a lush green and rain threatened, orange California poppies dotting the banks not far from the park’s entrance.

While the national parks in our region, the Smokies and Virginia’s Shenandoah Park, give visitors easy access to great views, hiking and picnicking, Yosemite is a bit different. You need to be patient. Once you pay your $30 dollar fee for entering the park, good for one week, (bus riders from Merced pay as little as $10), you have to drive another 40 minutes to get to Yosemite Village. There is one great spot after two short tunnels to stop. From this overlook you can see the majestic rock face of El Capitan and a bit beyond that, Half Dome. Half Dome’s granite face is flat in the front and rounded on the side and back. It requires a special permit and strength to step up a special rope ladder curved along its side till you get to the top, 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level, about 10 hours of effort round-trip.

There are numerous places in this 748,000-acre park to get a great view of the valley and surrounding “incense” cedar trees, pines and streams. Recently Linda and Joe Powers of Christiansburg went up Sentinel Rock. It was an easy two-mile round-trip hike from the nearby parking lot and they were able to get back to Curry Village for some delicious pizza. They stayed at Yosemite Lodge, a hotel close to the sights in the Valley, but Joe warned you need to get your reservation 10 to 11 months in advance; at $100 a night it is still a lot cheaper than Ahwahnee Hotel, which averages $400 a night. But you may be able to get a cabin or “tent” cabin without a reservation at Curry Village. There are 13 campgrounds in all (starting at $14 a night off season to pitch your own tent) west, east and south of Yosemite Village, so there are many options and price ranges, depending on what you want. Several of the tent campgrounds accept stays on a first-come, first-served basis. It is best to go to recreation.gov or call (877) 444-6777 about camping and RV possibilities.

After looking around the Village Store, where a chunky little beige California ground squirrel searched below a cafe deck for food, we decided for this day trip we would hike at least part of the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall and see Yosemite Falls, visible from different parts of the park. The Mist Trail involved going over the level Merced River, which eventually flows to these falls. From there it got rather steep, though the online guide says it is only a “moderate” hike. Along the way was an information marker on “talus.” Over time rock cliffs can shed material or have “rock fall,” and what is left at ground level is a pile of various sized rocks or talus. We passed several of these piles, which can be a home for rodents, snakes or other small creatures in the woods. Part way up, at the bridge, we shot a few pictures of the delicate looking Vernal Fall. If we’d reached the top we could have tried the steep John Muir Trail, which also goes up near Yosemite Creek. Muir wrote with great enthusiasm of one time getting very close to the white water of Yosemite Falls, and luckily lived to tell about it.

The trail to the lower Yosemite Falls was easy, and as it was already raining, would be as much as we could see on this day trip. Springtime lower and upper falls are dramatic; there’s 2,425 feet of Yosemite Falls in the Valley, the highest waterfall in North America.

Our car was parked near an area for campers, and there were brown “bear canisters” on its edge. These metal containers are to keep black bears out of your food, but the park being so big we didn’t see any, only a few mule deer bucks, the velvet on their small antlers prominent as they crossed the road, almost ignoring us. I would like for us to have seen the purple lupine and monkey-flowers the park officials said were along the Hetch Hetchy trail, near the reservoir now giving San Francisco residents water. That will have to wait for another time, because Yosemite is worth visiting again.

D.J. Mathews has written in the past on outdoor and travel topics, including Virginia wildlife. She’s taught logic and writing for several years at Radford University part time.

If You Go

Subscribe To My Newsletter!

Sign up for D. J.'s newsletter with helpful tips, blog info, and/or freebies.


You have Successfully Subscribed!