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Big Trees, Big Waterfalls, Big Rocks, Small Valley - Yosemite
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Big Trees, Big Waterfalls, Big Rocks, Small Valley - Yosemite


Original Article and Photographs by Kenneth A. Larson © 2007 - 2017

My family had visited Yosemite National Park several times when I was younger, but as an adult, it had been many years since last passing through. My wife had never seen Yosemite and had been asking to go for some time. We had tried to go the year before, but didn't make reservations in time, so I made my reservations a year in advance for Easter 2007.

Good Friday, April 6, 2007

We left at 8 AM, an hour late as usual. We were in the middle of moving but had planned this trip for over a year, so we closed the door on the mess, said goodbye to our four cats, and departed. My wife, Joy, took the first shift driving north on Interstate 5 and then Highway 99 through the Tejon Pass, Grapevine, into the San Joquine Valley, and through Bakersfield. We hope someday to make Bakersfield a destination and visit the Kern County Museum and enjoy a famous Basque dinner.
A little north of Bakers Field, we pulled of the highway so I could take my turn driving. Before getting back on the road, I stretched my legs while photographing a large industrial plant. What I found most interesting was the unloading of a large truck in the distance. It was driven onto a ramp, anchored, and then the ramp was tilted high into the air to dump the contents. It looked more like a toy as the front of the truck pointed straight up into the sky like a guided missile ready to launch. I fumbled with my camera trying to get a shot as the ramp started descending.
Tilt the truck, and the cargo slides out.
We continued north to Fresno and turned east on Highway 41, stopping on the way out of town for gas. Fresno is a rather large city in the middle of the great Central Valley of California. Far from any harbor or large metropolitan areas, it thrives on the agricultural bounty of the San Joaquin Valley.
About a half hour east of Fresno, we began the gentle rise into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The scenery changed from agriculture to forests as we climbed higher into the mountains. We drove through Oakhurst, the southern end on Highway 49 through the Gold Country. A few miles before entering Mariposa County, we stopped at another of those places I always wanted to see but my father would never stop.

Shay Locomotive

Jenny Car
Just to the right, off Highway 41, is Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad with the Logger Steam Train. There is a cluster of buildings ranging from the Depot which sells tickets and souvenirs, to the maintenance buildings. The Thornberry Museum is half museum, half gift shop and occupies the Thornberry family log cabin which is over 140 year old. A book shop sells railroad books and other books relating to the area. The Gold Rush City Miners Camp offers gold panning. We had just missed the last run for the day of the large Shay locomotive but were in time to watch this mighty metal beast return from the forest with fire in the belly and steam hissing from the sides. Instead of riding in a converted logging car behind the Shay, we rode in a Jenny railcar, one of several made from parts of Model-A Fords. These unusual contraptions were named for the daughter of lumber company's owner, Jenny, who loved to ride these vehicles.
From 1899 to 1931, the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company operated many miles of 36 inch narrow gauge railroad track throughout its logging operations. The Shay locomotives were designed for the steep grades and tight curves necessary to log this mountainous region. The track was frequently moved and relaid as operations shifted about the property. Today these trains haul tourists with many special events and tours available. We were still a few miles from the entrance to Yosemite National Park and had a long way left to Yosemite Valley, so we climbed back into our small metal beast and continued on Highway 41.
About fifteen minutes later we were in Yosemite National Park and on our way to the Mariposa Grove. It was a beautiful day and we set out for the big Sequoia Redwood trees. About half way up the trail, it started a light rain. We hadn't brought coats but it wasn't raining too much so we continued a few hundred feet more. It was getting a bit worse and it was hard to take my pictures with rain on my lens and when I finished a few shots of an old tree stump, I didn't see my wife. Seems she had turned back when the hail started. I turned back toward the parking lot and finally caught up with Joy about half way to the car. We decided to try again on the way out, but as you'll read later, we didn't make it.
We stopped briefly at the Wawona Hotel, Wah-wo-nah - meaning Big Tree. This 104 room, six building hotel began in 1856, a year after a miner named Galen Clark, passed through the Wawona Valley. The hotel had some good and hard times until 1932, when the Wawona Valley area was added to Yosemite National Park and operations were assumed by Yosemite Park & Curry Company. On this day, a group of fire fighters were training in the hotel lawn. We looked around for a few minutes and continued.
My plan was to drive up to Glacier Point but somehow missed the turn. After a few miles of driving, we turned around to try to find it. The road was a little easier to see from the other direction but the sign said the road was closed from Badger Pass the rest of the way to Glacier Point. Disappointed, we turned around again and continued to Yosemite Valley.
About fifteen minutes later we rounded a curve and were getting bits of glimpses of the valley when we entered a long tunnel. I'd been this way many times before and know what was coming up, but didn't say anything to Joy. About two minutes later we emerged from the tunnel and pulled into the parking lot at Tunnel View, so named for the breathtaking view of Yosemite Valley beyond. From here, most of the landmarks of Yosemite are laid out before you. Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Half Dome, Three Brothers, and Bridalviel Falls all rose majestically from the valley floor.
From here it was only a few minutes to the valley floor and a quick stop at the Bridalviel Falls parking lot. It was getting late and we decided to try this short hike on the way out. I shot a quick photo of Lower Yosemite Falls from the car as we drove on to our accommodations at Camp Curry. We checked in at the Registration building for Camp Curry and was told we could only park by our cabin long enough to unload. We were officially warned not to leave anything even looking or smelling like food in the car because of bears. Bears have very sensitive noses and strong claws and can forcibly open a car door more easily that the Fontana gang member who stole my camera a few years earlier. After dragging in all our stuff, we left to move our car to where instructed. That area was full and I returned to registration to ask why I couldn't park near my cabin like so many other's had. I was then told that I could park there and spent an hour trying to find a parking space near the one I had reluctantly left for no other reason than I was told to. We left the car there until we left two days later.
Bridalveil Fall
Once reparked, we walked the short distance to Curry Village arriving only a few minutes before the Buffet closed. I was annoyed to be required to show my receipt before I could re-enter the dining area after washing my hands, but finally was able to relax and eat dinner, about 9:00 pm. We returned to our cabin and settled in for the night.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

We got a late start Saturday morning, leaving about ten, taking the convenient shuttle to the trail head for Mirror Lake. Within a short distance, we came upon four deer, so used to people that they grazed, seemingly oblivious to the small crowd of city slickers watching them. The trail is a sort of loop, taking us back into the valley about two round-trip miles. It was an easy hike beside the creek, up the valley to the lake, which is more a wide spot in the creek. We stopped several times to view and photograph the creek as it rushed over and between rocks on it's way out of the valley. There were many good spots along the lake edge where the reflections of the near and distant mountains were beautiful. The water was shallow and still, despite the small rapids a few hundred feet downstream. A natural rock dam creates upper and lower lakes. This dam had once been enhanced by people and threatened to turn the lake into a meadow because it disrupted the natural scouring of sediment. The return trip was rocky with more vertical changes.
Rather than hike all the way back to the shuttle stop, we chose to walk the two miles to the Visitor Center at Yosemite Village. The Village includes not only the stores and eateries, but also an Art Activity Center, Museum, and the Visitor Center. We stopped at the Visitor Center which has a topographic (3D) map of the valley which makes the geography of the valley easier to understand. Near the Visitor Center is the Museum with the "Indian Village" behind. This Indian Village was the only thing in Yosemite Village that I remembered from childhood. Topo Map
Topo map of the Valley
We return to our cabin for lunch and a little rest. I'd like to say something nice about the staff and general accommodations at Camp Curry, but I can't. I had many fond memories of staying at Camp Curry as a child when MCA ran the place, but I don't expect to stay there again. On the other hand, everyone else, especially the friendly and helpful shuttle drivers were nice.
It was now late afternoon when we finally boarded the shuttle back to Yosemite Village. It was only a short walk to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall. The power of this majestic column of falling water must be experienced to fully appreciate. There is a well placed viewing station, but many people chose to climb further out, closer to the falls. Everyone was posing before the falls and I teased my wife about a particularly show-offish German woman tourist. On the way back, there is a short side trail that allows another view of the falls, a little further back, but better able to view the entire waterfall.
Lower Fall
It was a short walk back to the Village where we enjoyed an Italian-like dinner at Degnan's Loft. It was the evening before Easter and we thought it appropriate to attend Mass at Our Lady of the Snows church in the theater behind the Visitor Center. There was another service in the morning, but it didn't fit our schedule.
As we fumbled our way through the dark back to the shuttle stop and then to our cabin, my wife scolded me for not bringing a flash light. We settled in and enjoyed our last night in Yosemite.

Easter Sunday, April 8, 2007

We got up early Easter morning and just missed the first shuttle out of Curry Village. The day we arrived, we each made three trips carrying anything that a bear might think of as food from the car to the cabin. This included the obvious like food, but also a new picnic basket that never held food before, full and empty water bottles, empty coolers, Easter baskets, and emptied the trash, all the things we were told to remove frm the car. This morning, I came out to find a warning on my car for leaving hand lotion. You just can't win.

We caught the second shuttle and got off at Happy Isles for the short walk to the trail head to Vernal Falls. For some reason, I thought this was a half hour hike. Two hours later as we waited for the shuttle back, my lovely wife let me have it. It had taken us an hour to reach the footbridge, the first view of this less visited waterfall. Joy stayed behind while I went another quarter mile up an even steeper part of the trail, to get a closer view.
Bear Warning
The hike was classed as strenuous and I was exhausted when I finally turned around at the base of the waterfall my cameras dripping with spray. It is smaller than the falls visible from the valley, but being more remote makes it special and more peaceful.
We returned to our cabin, packed, made three more trips each hauling our food and food related items back to the car, loaded the rest of our things, and checked out a few minutes before the 11 AM check-out time. After being so rudely treated yesterday, I made my wife go in to check out. We made two quick stops on the way out of the valley, the historic Ahwahnee Hotel and the store.
The Ahwahnee Hotel is sometimes called the "Premier Lodge" in Yosemite. The hotel was built in 1927 and is a National Historical Landmark. The 123 Room hotel is an eclectic mix of styles, including Art Deco, Native American, Middle Eastern and Arts & Crafts Movement. The main hotel has 99 rooms and 24 cottages stretch out into the valley. We took a quick look around this Yosemite icon and headed for home. pix pending
We stopped at the Village Store on the way out and decided we were tired and skipped the hike to Bridalveil Falls. We made a last fair well stop at Inspiration Point and back through that long tunnel and out of the valley. Badger Pass wasn't far off the road, so we did make a detour as I had promised Joy snow and hadn't found any yet. The road to Glacier Point was closed at Badger pass because of snow. The ski lifts were not running as the snow slowly melted. There were several families tobogganing on the slops and I did notice a bear track in the snow. The snow was slushy and Joy was happy to see a little snow, so we moved on.
We got a tank of gas at Wawona which took us all the way back to Los Angeles with plenty to spare. Joy was anxious to see our cats and we decided not to try Mariposa Grove again. So we exited the park and headed down the out of the mountains. Maybe it was because we were tired, but it seemed to have taken much longer to descend from the mountains back to the flat lands than ascending two days earlier. We retraced our steps back through Fresno without stopping and back onto Highway 99. Joy took a turn at driving a while and I took over again at the Tejon Pass rest stop. We were home before dark, back to four cats who let us know they hadn't approved of our absence. The trip had been ill-timed as we still weren't finished moving, and there were some disappointments, but we were glad we had gone.

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