Yosemite Part 1
Wednesday, September 24, 1997
We entered Yosemite National Park around noon, after a long and scenic drive into the Sierra Nevada Mountains and along the Merced River. Like virtually every other tourist to this place, we drove right into the Valley, a flat plain at the bottom of sheer, 3000 foot cliffs on all sides. It's an incredible feeling to be there, and you instantly understand why this park is so popular; there is beauty everywhere. Everywhere you look in the Valley, there's something worth taking a picture of, from the colorful meadows and trees on the floor to the easily recognizable rocky peaks like the incredible Half Dome.
I was glad to be there on a weekday in early autumn instead of a weekend in June. Here it was Wednesday and the place was bustling with thousands of visitors. I was glad that we'd made campground reservations back in July we were definitely going to need them.
We were booked at the Upper Pines camping area, one of the few that had not been destroyed by the flood in January 1997. Signs were posted about the valley floor indicating the height of the waters during the flood, easily six feet above the dry ground I stood upon. After getting situated at the site and setting up our tent, we sat down to yet another peanut butter and jelly. I know it was repetitive, but it was good sustaining food.
The popularity of the Yosemite Valley is so great that the park service has begun taking measures to protect the park from the visitors. In a few years they intend to eliminate virtually all tourist car traffic and replace it with buses or other public transportation. For now, they had a bus service running throughout the valley, stopping at 15 or so places along the way. It was an easy way to get around the valley, and seeing how there's only a couple of places to park your car anyway, the buses were the fastest way to get around.
We made our first stop at the visitor center for a look around. For me, the first thing I wanted to do was move on, because all there was to see here was tourists. We climbed back on the bus and managed to find a space behind a mob of twelve year-olds on a field trip. I was jealous my field trips had been to the Cincinnati Zoo.
We spent some time hiking the leisurely and crowded trail below the Yosemite Falls. These falls were officially "off" as all of the high-mountain snow that melted and went over the falls had finished doing so over the summer. You could still see the well-worn area smoothed out by millions of gallons of water over thousands of years.
The big thing I wanted to see for the day was Glacier Point. You could see Glacier Point as it was about a half-mile from our campsite. The sticky point is that it is 3000 feet above the campsite. There's a trail that leads to Glacier Point from the valley floor, but it was way more than Jen's knee could take, and it would have taken until after dark to get there. So we hopped back in the car once again. To get up those 3000 feet by car, you have to drive 30 miles of twisty mountain roads, which ends up taking an hour.
The view that you get after ascending to Glacier Point is spectacular. It's as if you've floated up into the heavens and are looking down upon the world. All of the familiar peaks are visible, though you get a different perspective on them from up here. And then, you can lean over the protective wall a little and look down onto the valley floor. I would've been able to see our tent if not for the trees at the campsite. From that vantage point, the depth of scenery visible to you is almost all your mind can handle. We stayed for a while, just staring into the expanse.
We returned to our campground just around sunset. On one side, our neighbor was a middle-aged man with enough camping equipment to outfit an army of Boy Scouts. I got the feeling he was waiting for people but no one ever showed up. On the other side of our campsite there was a rental RV populated by three Germans. It seemed that throughout our California trip, we were surrounded by European tourists. I was both envious of their overseas vacation and disappointed in the lack of American tourists. I spent a good amount of the trip exercising my high school and college German by eavesdropping.
Our German neighbors didn't seem completely prepared to camp we never saw them eat a meal at their campsite, and they wore the same clothes the entire time we were there. But they did have a steady supply of beer.
We were starved for hot food, so we hopped on the bus and had a great pasta meal at a restaurant in the village. We stopped in the village store and had a nice chat with a woman who had come from New York on vacation, and liked Yosemite so much that she moved there. She was now working at the store. We bought a couple obligatory T-shirts and headed back to the tent for a good night's sleep.