Camp Lotus to Lower Pines CG, Yosemite NP, CA
Thursday, October 12, 2006 … 168 Camper Miles – Total 9,988
Clear & sunny, 40 deg morning, low 70s pm
We were up before 7:00 and on the road by 7:45. This area is full of picturesque, small, historic towns. One of them, Coloma, is where the first gold was discovered in California, triggering the state’s gold rush. Many of the towns are quite attractive with many original buildings and appear to cater to the San Francisco crowd that heads toward the mountains during the summer. The two-lane road that passes through them, CA-49, is good but the going is a bit slow since it is full of tight curves that wind through the small hills and valleys.
We wanted to get our e-mail and check our finances and were looking for a public library. We finally found one but it was closed. It turned out, though, to be the Calaveras County Library … Calaveras County as in Mark Twain’s “Jumping Frog of” fame. This is where Twain visited and was inspired to write the story. The last 60 or 70 miles of the trip to Yosemite NP followed CA-120, an even more steep and winding road than CA-49. Finally, we arrived at our destination.
Yosemite NP encompasses a large valley on the west side of the Sierras. Huge glaciers filled an old, eroded valley, covering all but the very highest peaks. The glaciers reshaped the valley into the characteristic “U”-shape of a glacial valley. In the process they polished the granite walls of the valley, rounded the mountain peaks into beautiful domes and left hanging valleys which created spectacular waterfalls. It is a glorious place and, deservedly, popular … almost too popular.
Arriving in the park we found no help in determining the availability of campsites. There was a first-come, first-served campground near our entrance but it seemed pretty far from the action. So, we drove down into the “valley” to find out what the situation was. The “valley” is where everyone wants to be in Yosemite and it is reportedly extremely crowded in season and merely fairly crowded the rest of the year. We headed to the campgrounds to find that three of the five in the valley were closed and that all sites in the remaining campgrounds were fully booked. But, they put us on the standby list and told us to return at 3:00 for an assignment if there were no-show sites available. The time restriction would cramp our ability to do much hiking but we decided to chance getting a site.
We started with a stop at the Visitor Center. Actually, it is a half-mile walk from the parking lot unless you decide to wait for a shuttle bus. The center is big but most people are not getting guidance for their visit. They are in the gift shop or getting food from one of a few restaurants. We did also visit the Ansel Adams Gallery. Several excellent photographers are represented in addition to Adams. The prints are pricey, though, ranging up to about $35,000. We just looked and bought a few postcards but we enjoyed every minute.
We drove the loop road through the valley, stopping first at Yosemite Falls. It has been a dry year and the falls was mostly dry. But there were climbers on rocks beside the falls and we watched them ply their trace for a while. Next, we stopped below Half Dome, probably the most famous of the domed peaks. We had perfect lighting and hope we got some good photographs. We also did the short walk to Bridalveil Falls.
The highlight of the views was when we stopped at the base of El Capitan. El Capitan is a huge, vertical rock face that towers more than 3,500 feet over the valley floor. There are apparently always rock climbers on El Capitan. We were told that it typically takes 2-3 days to climb, though the record is under 3 hours by a guy who free-climbed it; i.e. alone with no safety ropes. With our binoculars we were able to identify about 25 climbers in about five groups who were doing the climb. Since it was getting late in the day, all who we saw would be spending the night hanging on the face of the rock … not for us! It is also quite a spectator sport. There were quite a few people, many with telescopes, watching from the meadow below the rock. People have maps and keep track of how the various groups are doing in their climbs.
We did get a campsite in the “valley”. We were assigned to a site in Lower Pines CG. The campground was full and a bit noisy. There were no showers in the campground. They were in the nearby area called Curry Village. This is a huge collection of tents pitched on platforms. They are like small cabins and you rent them complete with beds and linens. The showers were used hard. Also, in the “valley”, is a large area of housekeeping cabins and the Yosemite Lodge. Even on a weekday in the off-season we found the “valley” to be much too crowded for our taste.
The wok worked just fine, crowded campground or not. We prepared a delicious ham stir-fry over rice and savored every bite!
Lower Pines CG to Hodgen Meadow CG, Yosemite NP, CA
Friday, October 13, 2006 … 25 Camper Miles – 10,013
Clear & sunny but chilly morning, can’t tell how clear because sun not illuminating valley, high of low 70s
We decided to explore the north edge of the park. And, we wanted to leave the crowds behind and didn’t want to go through the stand-by procedure again. So, we moved to the first-served Hodgen Meadow CG near the north entrance that we’d passed up the previous day. We hauled the rig back up out of the valley and found the campground to be very nice and much, much quieter … ahhh!
We drove CA-120 (Tioga Rd) through the mountains on the north side of the valley. First stop was Olmstead Point lookout. This is an area of exposed, glacier polished rock with a nice view of the valley from the north. Here, you can see a few of the peaks that are still jagged since they weren’t covered by the glaciers.
Next was a walk into Tenaya Lake where we found a sunny spot on the rocks beside the lake to have ourselves a little picnic. We walked the mile into Medicott Dome and watched some climbers tackling this rock, not an overnight affair like El Capitan. We next stopped at Tuolumne Meadow, a natural meadow with a stream winding through it. We decided we needed a better view so we climbed up the very easy Pothole Dome for a look … nice!
Dog Lake was not as easy. It didn’t sound like much, just a 600 ft elevation gain in a 1½ miles. But, the climb actually occurred in just the middle ½ mile and the top of the climb was at 9,240 ft elevation. We were winded but the lake was very pretty and no one else seemed to have had the energy to get there so it was very quiet! It was also nice to see a dusting of snow remained in several areas, a remnant of a few inches that fell the previous week.
Finally, we drove out past the edge of the park toward Tioga Pass. At 9,945 elevation, there were few trees and several beautiful alpine lakes. However, the real thrill happened when you got to where the road started down the other side. It took our breath away. The mountains on this side of the pass were not rounded by glaciers; they are very rugged. The valley descends precipitously and the road, barely clinging to the side of the valley, looks very thin and fragile. The views are just spectacular!
Returning to the campground, we both remembered seeing inexpensive gas at a place just a couple of miles outside of the park. Twenty miles later we still hadn’t passed the place we remembered and it was getting late. We settled for gas at about the price they charged inside the park and paid for dinner out, to boot! We ate at the Big Oak Restaurant in Groveland … decent but not highly recommended.
Hodgen Meadow CG to Grants Grove CG, Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP, CA
Saturday, October 14, 2006 … 157 Camper Miles – Total 10,170
Sunny & clear, low 40s am, 60s in pm, evening fog
On road by 8:45, we dropped the camper at Chinquapin and drove to Glacier Point on the south side of the valley. It had been our hope to hike the 8 mile Panorama Trail to the “valley” but a shuttle ride would have cost us $20 each and taken two hours. We decided to settle for just the view. Ah, but what a view. Nearly all the iconic features of Yosemite are laid out in front of you at this point.
Then, we walked in to Taft Point and the rock fissures for a look at the rest of the valley including an outstanding look at El Capitan.
A lesson, if we may: At first, we were disappointed, no, annoyed, with Yosemite. It is crowded and it seems that in park management’s struggle to manage those crowds, who mostly head for the valley, they do little to provide guidance to the first-time visitor. We would advise you to begin by entering the park from the south and starting your visit with a drive to Glacier Point and the walk to Taft Point. Then you’ll have a much better idea what you’re looking at when/if you go to the “valley”. We also recommend not leaving the park until you drive the Tioga Pass Road, perhaps exiting the park on your way to some destination in Nevada, only a few miles away. If you really like crowds the “valley” is fine, but we probably wouldn’t camp there again.
On the way back out to pick up the camper we were amused to see a caravan of about fifteen similar, new BMW sedans heading in toward the point. Yeah, we know they are BMWs but, hey guys, it’s just a sedan from the showroom. What’s so special?
We finally left Yosemite on the way to see some more big trees, sequoias this time. Some clouds were rolling in as we left but the sun came out by the time we got to the valley. We drove south to Fresno and then headed east to Sequoia and Kings Canyon NPs, now administered as a single park. As evening approached and we climbed back to the park, it got foggier and foggier. By the tine we got to the park the visitor center was closed. There wasn’t even a fee station since the one at the entrance had been removed because an old sequoia was threatening to fall on it. We did finally find a ranger on his way home and he directed us to nearby Grants Grove CG. We set up the tin tent in the fog and made a chicken stir-fry for dinner.