While staying in the Stanislaus National Forest one cannot help but to be reminded how close you are to one of the most magnificent jewels in our National Parks system, Yosemite. Our second camping spot in the Forest was close to Hwy 120 and 24 miles from the National Park Entrance. Willow was not alive the last time I had been to the park so…overdue for me and a new adventure for her. We would only be at this campground for a few days and were just waiting for the right day to road trip it over to Yosemite. The first two days we were there it was constantly rainy and overcast. Frankly that would have been a beautiful time to go and get a different view of the Valley than you get on postcards. Sadly that was also the weekend and, for us, weekends and National Attractions are not a good fit. So, we waited through Monday and then…. How cliche’d can I be about it but to say “It dawned a beautiful spring morning with dew glistening on the ground, birdsong in the air and a breeze gently wafting through the trees.” Not kidding.
We took that as a good omen, loaded up the bear box in the campground with whatever we didn’t need and wouldn’t be sad if “it disappeared” while we were gone and headed towards the park.
Heading towards the Big Oak Flat Entrance we meandered along the smooth, winding two-lane road getting ever more grandiose views of the park’s immediate surroundings. Right before the official kiosks at the entrance to the park we pulled off and took a picture of the girl to mark the occasion.
A couple of cars with photogenic humans were there as well and we volunteered to take some pictures with their cameras so that they could all be in the picture. Once at the Entrance to the park we had to wait in line for two or three cars for only a couple of minutes.
Lots of people visit this park every year but that still leaves hundreds of millions of Americans and Billions of other Earthlings who have never been to the park in person. I kind of get the impression that many of those who have never visited imagine that, once you pay and enter the official entrance, the whole famous, picture postcard, grandiosity that is Yosemite Valley is immediately Right There Before Your Eyes. This is, in fact, not the case. You have just entered Yosemite National Park as a whole. Yosemite Valley and all its famous sights is merely one small portion (about 8 miles square) of the complete 1,168+ mi2 (747,956 acres; 302,687 ha; 3,026.87 km2) that make up the entire park. Once through the gate we still have another 24 miles or so until we arrive at the Valley itself.
Starting our descent down into the Valley we pass through a cool, old tunnel whose exit places us right at a small turnout already filled with cars and RVs and a tour bus. We are tempted to skip this clot but the view is worth it.
After essentially waiting in line at what seems to be the premiere spot for views here we take a few quick pics of the girl and get out of the scrum. It is not the official Tunnel View down in the Valley off Wawona Road but it certainly is a nice second choice.
Once in the Valley and on Southside Drive the first Major attraction you come to is Bridalveil Falls and the Cathedral Rocks. We turned out to park and take a few establishing shots of the Falls and the late morning mist that was still hanging around in spite of all the Sun’s efforts to banish it.
Traffic was light enough that I had time to kneel out in the road and take a couple of shots back towards Willow, the Tacoma and the Falls as a backdrop without risking my life.
The morning was just so nice we decided to not be complete car tourists and actually get out on a trail and walk places. Since we’re right here at the Falls let’s get this party started with the short walk there.
We know this is not The Mist Trail at Vernal Falls but it is A mist trail so I grabbed my Arc’teryx Jacket and we headed the short half mile to the falls. When we were close enough the jacket had to be zipped up and the hood put on because the copious mist bursting upwards from the rocks at the base of the falls was collecting on all the trees in the surrounding area and essentially making it rain hard as we walked up the short path that ends at the base of the falls.
She had been gleefully and persistently rolling around in dirt for several days before this so we decided to forgo any of her jackets so that we could take advantage of this natural hosing off. She was sopping wet after the 10 minutes we spent in the artificial rain zone. Later that day after shaking off and spending some more time in the sun that had eventually broken all the way through she smelled and looked noticeably better than she did when we first arrived that morning.
With a fresh, dry dog blanket covering her passenger seat throne the Princess and I next turned into the Swinging Bridge Picnic Area for a pitstop and another opportunity to get the girl and some iconic beauty in the same picture. We found a little spot where rays from the sun were barely wiggling their way through the overhead tree cover. I pointed “go over there” and then “sit down” and finally made some embarrassing kissy-face noises so she would stop looking for squirrels and glance my way. The short turned out okay for a camera phone.
We spent a whopping five more minutes here walking out on the bridge to grab a shot with the Merced River as well as Yosemite Falls.
Back out on Southside Drive after heading away from the Swinging Bridge Area we got all of .3 miles down the road before coming across another vista spot. This was a closer look at Yosemite Falls that had one of those low wooden walkways out across a meadow to protect it from millions of trampling feet each year. We walked out and took another few shots of the more photo-worthy of the two of us.
Once more onto Southside Drive and a quick half mile before turning off onto Sentinel Drive and stopping in at Cook’s Meadow. Turning on to the bridge over the Merced River we caught a glimpse of Half Dome down the Valley to the right. Once we had parked at the Cook’s Meadow Loop we walked back to the bridge and I got Willow to hop up on the side of it so we could get a shot of her, the bridge, the sign about Half Dome and Half Dome itself all in the one shot.
Lots of smiling faces and pointy fingers in the windows of cars crossing the bridge as they watched this taking place. Walking off the bridge back to the parking lot we came across a small group of Mule Deer contentedly nibbling on bushes on the access path to the bridge. Maybe two doe and a few fawns. They looked up in unison as Willow rounded the corner and did the momentary, prey decision-making process of “can it kill me/should I run” and all quickly decided Willow was a wuss and went back to grazing. Willow gave out one of her little groans which, in this instance, means “oh please oh please let me off this leash and I will teach these tick-infested, pig-hoofed, leaf-munchers who is a wuss or not…oh please oh please!” The grunt brought a secondary perusal from the deer but I’m pretty sure they know that the dogs they come across in the park are supposed to be leashed and the humans they are attached to are slow, ungainly creatures so they have nothing to fear. They were our first animal interaction of the day. They would not be the last. See what I did there with that foreshadowing.
Back in the day when my parents brought my sister and I to the park at least once a year every so often we would go have dinner at the Ahwahnee. We couldn’t afford to stay at the Ahwahnee and a dinner was a splurge but when it happened it was an occasion. I remember having to borrow one of the clip-on ties the Ahwahnee Dining Room had in reserve so little heathens like me would be allowed inside to help their parents spend money. Those thoughts reverberating in my head we next decided to head in that direction. Along Ahwahnee Drive we came across a meadow still in the process of absorbing all the runoff from the last storm. There were a few benches made from logs and I persuaded Willow to tromp through the little puddles to hop up on one of the benches and get a few shots.
When we came here as children we usually stayed at the Curry Housekeeping tents which was just roughing it enough to be camping and just civilized enough for my mother. Across the way from there is the LeConte Memorial Lodge which is the headquarters for the Sierra Club within the park. When we were young we always went over there and played around it pretending it was our own little castle to protect from the encroaching hordes.
Another icon in the park is El Capitan. The massive granite monolith extends about 3,000 feet (900 m) from base to summit along its tallest face and has been a destination for world-class rock climbing since the late 1950’s. Pulling off of Northside Drive into a small parking area we saw that the trail to the base of El Capitan was a mere .3 miles and decided we were still up for a bit more leg work.
Yes, you read that caption correctly. Bobcat encounter. Happily no vet or hospital bills were required and it was actually a calm, relaxed interaction that took all of one whole minute. We crested the hill right after that sign and, up ahead, I glimpsed what I at first thought was a dog that someone had allowed off leash and was just slowly traipsing after its owner. Soon enough though its little stubby tail and tufted ears and that fact that it obviously was not a dog gave its true identity away.
It wasn’t smooth or elegant but I was able to get my phone out and take a movie of our encounter. Willow wanted to take a closer look so I had to tell her to stop and stay and then followed after the bobcat as it slowly and nonchalantly walked off the path and over to a fallen log where it hopped up and gave me a thorough once over.
I melted into a blabbering idiot and told it what a handsome cat it was all the while filming.
With a few wiggles of its little tail it turned and melted back into the brush but not before stopping to turn back and give the weirdo human one last look.
Very cool encounter. I am glad Willow was about the size of the Bobcat or else it might have given her a second look. Hearts pumping after that blessing we continued on to the base area of El Capitan stopping once for a quick shot of Willow and the granite face towering in the background.
At the base area there was sign display explaining why climbing was banned for the time being.
The needs of nature taking precedence over human wants, if only for those short, critical timeframes made us happy. Taking a final look up the massive face we then turned back towards the parking area. It was starting to get late and we wanted to start the 48 mile drive back to our campsite in the Stanislaus National Forest before it got dark. On the way back we saw the sign for the Rainbow Pool Day Use Area which we had passed heading towards the park that morning and decided to give Willow another adventure.
Again, way back when on our trips to Yosemite as kids with our parents we would often stop here for a picnic lunch and go swimming and diving off the rocks into the frigid snowmelt runoff.
Willow was a bit tired from her day traipsing around Yosemite and declined my invitation to go for a swim. I was kind of hoping for another virtual hosing off of my dirt dog but at least she had the one rinsing at Bridalveil Falls earlier in the day.
That was our last detour before arriving back at the campground just at the right time to start dinner and watch the sun go down through the trees and then dip behind the surrounding hilltops. Tomorrow we are planning on exploring some of the off-road trails around the campsite and see what fun we can find.