Return to Yosemite

 

I had to get out of there. They don’t call it the Jungle for no reason. I had spent the last couple of days in Southern California, with the majority of time being spent in LA’s infamous bumper to bumper traffic. That coupled with the usual – the crowds, the smog, the lack of nature – had me eager to make that long drive up north, to the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains.

 

Traffic clogs the San Diego (405) Freeway, looking north from Palms Boulevard on June 15, 2012. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer)

 

Sierra Nevada Mountains of California (eastern)

 

On the evening of April 7th, I had returned to Anaheim after dropping Audrey off at LAX. Because of some issues I had with my rental car, Enterprise provided us with an insanely powerful Ford F 150, that took me some time to get used to. The long drive from LAX to Anaheim Hills, however, had me feeling pretty good about my long drive north.

 

My beloved F150, motor trend truck of the year – miss ya buddy

 

Upon arriving at my uncle’s place though, I received a text from my father asking me if I still intended to go to Yosemite as there had been severe flooding and torrential downpour the whole weekend. I became quite dismayed at the sight of those words and began to think of a backup plan. Immediately my mind drifted to Big Sur. I took it as a sign from the universe that I was meant to go to Big Sur and spend more time there this time around, as opposed to the measly couple of hours I had spent there years ago.

With my plans for the next few days in the hands of Mother Nature and Yosemite park officials, I took the evening to relax and lay low, eating copious amounts of food with my family that night. I knew that being on the road and solo for the next few days, especially in the mountains, meant that this would be the last big meal I’d have for a while.

 

Before going to sleep that night, the last news out of Yosemite was that there was a chance that they would open by noon the following day. Knowing that, I planned to drive north to Bakersfield and from there, depending on the park reopening or not, I’d drive to Yosemite or to Big Sur. All along, I didn’t want to give up on going to Yosemite. Being in California, I’ll always have this pull to go there, a feeling which I can’t ignore.

The initial stages of the drive were uneventful. I was, however, elated at the thought of being back in place that I have so much love for. All that separated me from my destination was an arduous drive through California’s central valley – a place I am not fond of to say the least. Upon making a stop in Caistic, in northern LA County, I learned that Yosemite Valley had been reopened and was good to go. I excitedly got back into the truck and carried on, enjoying the sights of the mountains, hills and even lakes of the Angeles National Forest.

To my amazement, California was so GREEN. I had never seen it like this before. The prior two time I had visited were during periods of severe drought and it showed. The hills and countryside were dry and yellow, tinged by a lack of life. This time around, the hills were green, the wildflowers were blooming, and I’d even go so far to say that some patches of land were lush. I felt as if this was how California was supposed to be.

Angeles National Forest (not my picture)

 

At one point I said goodbye to the hills and mountains and sadly, made my way north, through the mountain passes to the lowlands of the central valley. This next stretch was terribly uneventful and devoid of anything noteworthy. What kept me sane during this stretch were the tunes I was actually able to stream (bless data roaming). After hours of driving through terrain that was never changing, I finally ended up in Fresno. I had to make a stop to use the washroom and reroute my GPS, and every minute spent at the parking lot of 7/11 was a minute filled with this unease of not wanting to be there. Maybe it’s slight paranoia, or maybe it’s the experiences I’ve had being a brown guy in small American towns in Trump’s USA. Either way, I wanted to get out of there quickly.

After a few minutes, I was finally on the road again and within minutes was in northern Fresno with the Sierra Nevada’s foothills and mountains in sight. Everything was SO green. The last time I was here was far different. Fields of yellow were all you could see for several kilometres. To the right, lay visible the higher peaks of the mountain range, its apices coated in unrelenting snow. It was a welcomed sight after driving for hours through the Central Valley.

As the road wore on I eventually reached Coarsegold, an old mining town that flourished during the California Gold Rush. I stopped here briefly to refuel both myself and the truck, opting for the infamous meal of two footlong subs. And off I went, driving and steadily and eventually rounding a sharper corner until I saw a view that I had missed. I remember driving in the hills about Oakhurst my first time here and being astounded. The views driving into Oakhurst are unreal and man, I was so happy. I actually made a wrong turn, opting to trust the outdated GPS instead of my memory and gut feeling and drove the wrong way for a bit until realizing something was wrong. Correcting the error, I made my way back up the hills, this time on the right path to the Valley.

 

Coarsegold, California (not my picture)

 

Oakhurst, California. 693 m (2,274 ft) (not my picture)

This part was unbelievable. The pines and other conifers immediately became more immense and taller. The views to the right would occasionally open up through the trees, revealing striking granite domes bathed in clouds. The sky became very clouded and it seemed as if  a storm was imminent. To my dismay, while the area was greener overall, there were also many more dead trees than there were a couple of years prior. One section of the forest in particular was so brown and yellow that it suddenly felt like autumn.

As I drove by the settlement of Fish Camp, CA, along the 41, it became very sunny and it was gorgeous. Within no time I was at the park boundary speaking to park officials. I remember having the biggest, ear to ear smile on my face the whole time I spoke to this guy. He told me entry was free due to the flooding and park closure over the past weekend, which made me even more giddy if such a thing were even possible.

It just felt surreal. The expression I had, the happiness I felt – I just couldn’t believe I was back here. Yosemite is arguably my favourite place in the world (not quite sure it beats the Rockies for me), so in a weird way it felt like I was coming home, or at least back to a place that I have a profound connection with.

Learning from my last visit, I made sure not to rush the drive in and to pull over where I wanted to, to take in the sublime views. At a certain point I did just that, and was awarded with a clear view of the late afternoon sun shining over the now grander hills and mountains of the Western Sierra. With many more granite domes visible by this point, I knew I was close to Tunnel View, so onwards I went.

 

Somewhere along the CA 41 W

 

Granite Domes

And then I saw it. El Capitan,  Half Dome and Clouds Rest, among all the other beautiful features of this extraordinary place. There exists a GoPro video of me excitedly yelling in disbelief and I wish I could link it here. At a certain point I pan the camera on myself, capturing the moment where my jaw literally dropped. I continued on the road, driving through the tunnel, giddy with the anticipation of piercing the light and being welcomed with that oh-so famous view. The second I did, I was in even more disbelief. See, the last time I was here this place was DRY. SO SO DRY. The Merced was low, the falls throughout the valley seemed to just be trickles of water. But this time around was a completely different story. Bridalveil Fall was flowing in all of its glory and then some. (I would later get absolutely drenched by it).

I pulled over into the lot to take my time and take some pictures, recreating the same pose I had done two years before.

 

My next stop took me to the aforementioned Bridalveil Fall, and a moment I’ll never forget. I made the short walk over to the waterfall’s base, with my Patagonia rain jacket completely zipped up, hood on and everything, while also rocking waterproof lulu pants. I passed by a couple of hikers who had just been to the falls and on their way past me, told me to get ready cause I was gonna be drenched. In my head, I was overconfident, dismissing their comment and placing tons of trust in my apparel. It’s funny how wrong I was. Man, I got to the bottom and I could’t see anything. Well nothing except for the brightest, whitest light I’ve ever seen, and rainbows and light rays everywhere. It felt like I was in heaven, or somewhere more ethereal than everyday life. I know it sounds like hyperbole, but it truly felt otherworldly. Especially when compared to my first time here, and the fact that I was able to scramble up the fall’s rocks with how dry it was.

 

Overflowing creek from the Falls

 

 

Light, light and more light

 

The falls. As close as I could get without compromising my gear, hence the shot through the trees

Once done, I began the drive into the valley and itself and man I felt just like the Double Rainbow guy. El Capitan, as immense as ever, came within view, forcing me to drive incredibly slow as my gaze was drawn skywards to its top.

 

El Capitan

The rest of the evening was fairly relaxed, as I drove around the loop road, taking in many sights and slowing things down. As the sun set, I perched myself in the meadows below Half Dome, watching the sun set on its magnificent face and excitedly snapping pictures of the spectacle. The night grew on, as did the emerging sounds of the many frogs residing in the valley’s bodies of water. I soon found myself on the back of the pickup truck, scrambling to create a makeshift tripod comprising my backpack, my neck pillow and a roll of paper towel. It wasn’t pretty but hey it worked.

Last light on the face of Half Dome

 

I stayed out there for hours, watching as the Milky Way rose, alone but reassured by the presence of many others in the multitude of camp sites just a stone’s throw away. With the milky way to my back, I turned to face Half Dome and marvelled at the beauty of its strikingly dark figure illuminated by the thousands of stars above it.

 

Hours later – thousands of stars above Half Dome

 

Needing to arrive at the hostel before 11pm, I quickly packed up and made the nearly hour drive out of the valley so I could get some much needed sleep. Although incredibly dark, I knew that the drive was beautiful, but I’d have to wait until the following morning to see just how beautiful it truly was.

I’ve listed some more concise details below.

Thanks for reading!

Details 

 

Accommodation:

Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort, Midpines, CA

  • A beautiful and affordable hostel, located just a bit under an hour from the Valley
  • Offers a variety of lodging options
    • Private hotel style rooms, cabins, hostel dormitories
    • Health spa on site
    • Restaurant on site
  • Highly recommended for anyone unable to secure (or simply not wanting) a campsite in the Park

Means of Travel:

Rental Car

  • 2018 Ford F-150 courtesy of Enterprise El Segundo, CA

Photography Gear: 

  • Sony A7RII + Sony Zeiss 55mm F 1.8
  • Sony A6000 + Rokinon 12mm F 2.0
  • GoPro Hero 3+ Silver

Food:

  • Honestly, just go to Trader Joe’s wherever you can and stock up, you won’t be disappointed

Sights mentioned:

  • California State Route 41
  • Fish Camp, CA
  • Tunnel View
  • Bridalveil Fall
  • El Capitan
  • Half Dome
  • Clouds Rest

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