Thursday, March 27, 2014

Yosemite: Defining The Great Outdoors

When someone says, "The Great Outdoors" I always get this picture in my head.  You might share the image:  forests, mountains, waterfalls rushing down hills, hiking trails, clean air, brisk breeze, sweaters, and adventure are what I see in my mind's eye.

When we arrived in the Yosemite Valley I saw that picture in sparkling and vivid reality.

The Great Outdoors?  It's in Yosemite National Park

We left our lonely campground (us and one other rig in the entire place) as early as possible to get in a full day of the park.  As we drove, evidence of the Rim Fire were all around us: orange pine trees, scorched and blackened bark - fallen limbs - balds where there should have been foliage. Luckily, we were here months after the fire was contained, and plenty of beauty remained.

As we entered the park, for the first time on the trip:  snow.

We brought the "good camera", and I was eager to jump out of the car to take pictures.

The snow covered trees and roadsides decreased as we traveled down the mountain and toward the valley.  Evidence of the fire gained clarity. 

Ghosts of a Forest.

We had no agenda for the day - we just wanted to see the park.  So we kept looking out of the windows for opportunities to pull over and snap pictures or take time to explore.

A photo opportunity at Half Dome pulled me back out of the car to snap the shots you see above.  Once again the camera does not do it justice.  Half Dome is on the bucket list for many avid explorers who hike or climb to get their thrills.  It was closed for the season, but I can imagine its draw in late spring and early summer for all sorts of visitors.

Gasps were collective when we spotted this cascade as we drove around a mountain curve.  Snow was thawing all around.  This waterfall wasn't even on the map.  We pulled over and all of us ran to the overlook sidewalk along the bridge crossing the falls.

Michael decided he wanted to try and hike down the cliff for a closer look.  I shook my head: no way.  Too steep, too high, too dangerous.

Of course the kids both wanted to go.

I took a deep breath, and told them to go.  Have fun.  Be safe.

Holy cow.

And I waited at the top... terrified.

Me.  Waiting.  Trying not to freak out.
Michael got his pictures.

The kids climbed way down and sat on rocks closer to the falls.

Michael took this shot of me while I waited.  Pretty sure I'm chewing my fingernails maniacally. 
Me on the bridge, waiting, with the view of the falls from a rock in the middle of the stream.

Another of Michael's shots.

His final shot before ascending again with the kids.
We were all a little reluctant to leave these falls.  We felt some kind of odd ownership of them - one of those feelings where a place seems blessed as "our place".  It felt secret - our own hideout - only two other people bothered to stop on their way to the valley.

Jonah got in on the photo frenzy, taking several amazing shots with his DS.
As we rounded another curve, Michael and I both literally squealed with excitement.

Another cascade, this one more dramatic than the last, pouring over the top of the mountain as we entered the beginnings of the valley.

This one had a name:  Bridal Veil Falls.  It also had a parking lot with restrooms and a paved trail to the bottom.

We had to stop.

That's Jonah, running toward the trailhead.

And Jonah snapping a photo on the way.

Along the path.

Michael capturing me capturing Jonah as he shoots a photo of the stream below the falls.

Near the bottom.
There was a sign that said to be careful on the rocks because they were slippery and people have died.  So...  Michael and the kids decided they should climb over the slippery rocks closer to the falls.

I stayed behind and took pictures for families and couples who wanted group shots with their camera phones.  Good thing I've had all this practice.

Michael got a few more shots as they neared the base of the falls.

Jonah climbed even farther than Michael and sat for many minutes gazing at the falling water.

We hit the restrooms before piling back into the car and moving forward, into the valley.

Yosemite Valley is a little town.  It has free public transit, a full bore grocery store, clothing shops, restaurants, a post office and more.  Many people live at Yosemite full-time.  We took advantage of the reasonable prices and availability of organic, healthy, whole foods at the Yosemite deli (I also took advantage of the organic and fairly traded coffee).

Chillin' at our bar-style table and checking out the views of the valley after gnoshing on sandwiches and kettle chips.
With full stomachs and renewed energy, we made our way to the visitor's center and I did my best not to purchase one of everything in the gift shop .  I did buy postcards for the state of California.  I figured it wasn't going to get any better than this (I was wrong, of course - more on that later).  I also bought a National Geographic Kids Guide to the National Parks and an Audubon Society Guide to North America Mammals.

At the Center we learned all about the mighty Sequoia, and how forest fires are necessary for them to reproduce - making the fires a healthy, natural, and necessary part of forest growth and conservation.

We also visited the Ansel Adams gallery and checked out all of the majestic photographs that Michael adored, but we couldn't afford.

Maeryn asked then if we could go home.  We compromised and decided to take the public transit bus all the way around its loop so that we could see sites and Maeryn could rest at the same time.  She was excited to do it.  In the end, this bus ride was Maeryn's favorite thing about the park.

On the bus ride we met a man who works and lives full-time at the park.  We swapped stories about our adventures.

The last stop was the lot where we'd parked Sally.

And, sadly, it was time to go.

At home we indulged in time to just chill.

I indulged in the Audubon Society Guide to North American Mammals.

Tomorrow, we would have the chance to visit the park again.

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