Yosemite – Yogi Bear has a bloody nice house

Too many good photos of Yosemite – view them here

Our gateway to Yosemite was the quaint little town of Mariposa.  There are some small towns in the US that just have a good feeling about them.  Everyone is friendly and in a good mood, the buildings are old fashioned but not touristy, and overall it’s as pleasant as being in Canada.  Mariposa is just such a place.

We arrived as the sun was going down.  We immediately hit the visitor information centre where a classic older American lady mapped out an itinerary for us through Yosemite and down to Death Valley.  She couldn’t have been more helpful and pleasant.  She is obviously a Yosemite tragic as she kept popping off to the monitor on public display to refresh the webcam showing live pictures of the park.  I don’t know how she kept her enthusiasm for planning people’s journeys through the park going but she was as excited as if she was coming with us.

Mariposa also has a classic American diner, one where they still actually cook original food rather than schlepping out the usual hotdogs and burgers.  I had delicious pork chops with caramalized apple and onion with country style mashed potato.  Delicious.  Sarah had a bowl of chilli all washed down with local beers.  We sat up at the counter and watched the chef work.  It was a thoroughly pleasant way to end the day.  As we walked back to the hotel we couldn’t help being reminded of the religiosity of the US.  There was a sign near the visitors information centre listing the two dozen churches in the area for this tiny rural population.  They love a good church over here.

We got up early the next day and drove into Yosemite valley.  The park ranger we bought our tickets from at the booth on the road was shockingly enthusiastic.  “Where you folks from?  Australia?  I love you guys.  I want to visit there one day.”  We could imagine him trotting out exactly the same line to the Austrians in the car behind us.  Yanks are generally terrible at picking accents.  At our hotel that morning we heard an American talking to a British lady.  He asked “Where are you from?”  When the lady replied with “England” he said “I knew there was some kind of an accent there!”  Americans on the free shuttle mistook a man with a northern English accent for an Aussie.  No clue.

Yosemite is another one of those places that is difficult to convey in words and photos.  Ansell Adams spent a lifetime trying and even being familiar with his work the real thing is still gob-smacking.  Just driving into the valley you are confronted with giant granite monoliths featuring incredibly high waterfalls.  In true American style all of this stunning scenery is visible from the comfort of the car or the free shuttle buses that travel around the main sites every 10 minutes.  The park is so accessible that we even say a small dog with wheels for rear legs happily pulling itself around.  The dog was wearing little dog shoes on its rear feet for some reason, as if he was going to stand on his hind legs and start jogging when the miracle cure kicked in.

Despite Yosemite being an easy place to see spectacular scenery while doing the bare minimum amount of exercise, there are also some seriously hard hikes for the fit Yanks, of which there are quite a few as well.  One of the hikes is four miles but with a 2700 foot elevation.  We were a little less ambitious but ours went up 1000 feet in short order past a beautiful waterfall in the most amazing steep valley.  The steepness of Yosemite is so startling because the granite cliffs are so sheer and smooth.  It looks like a giant has cleaved them with an axe.  One of the mountains, called Half Dome, looks like a mountain has been sliced in half.

A storm rolled in late in the afternoon.  As we scurried back to the car to manically drive to attractions further up the hill a harried doe and her faun trotted nervously into the car park, presumably looking for shelter in the worst place possible.  The other common wildlife attraction are the chipmunks which look impossibly cute when they hold a nut in their little paws and nibble away.  They would also be good in a revenge of the chipmunks horror movie with their dark, beady eyes.  Despite best efforts to educate people about not feeding them, the best place to spot a chipmunk is outside tables at the cafe.  They scurry all over the place picking up crumbs and becoming entirely dependent on their human friends.  Luckily for them the human tide to the cafe doesn’t look like stopping any time soon so it’s a conveniently symbiotic relationship.

The other big attraction in Yosemite are the Giant Sequoia trees, billed as the largest living thing on earth.  They are not the tallest (that honour goes to Redwoods) and they aren’t the  oldest (Bristlecone Pines take out that award) but the Giant Sequoias have the most heft, and boy do they deliver.  We drove 2 hours back into the park on our second day in the area just to see them.  I wasn’t sure it was worth the trip until I googled photos of them in the hotel.  After all, we had been seeing a lot of big trees lately, did we really need a special trip to see more?  It was well worth it.  The scale of these trees is incredible.  In the stump of one dead tree they drilled a tunnel which people in the past drove cars through for some ye olde time entertainment.  One of the fallen Sequoias has a trunk with a diameter twice as tall as me.  They live to three thousand years old and really only die when they are physically incapable of supporting their own weight, often when snow and wind combine. Another downside to being the biggest thing in the forest is that lightning is very attracted to the top of you, so often the very top of these trees are dead and withered while on their lower limbs they support branches that are as big as other trees.

So it was definitely a good move to make the drive back to see these extraordinary trees.  In the parking lot on the way out I was waylaid by one of those American guys who just has to have a conversation with you.  It’s like a compulsion. He was from Seattle so it’s possible caffeine had fused with his DNA making it impossible for him not to talk.  He and his wife had just driven down from Seattle, and you know, these Giant Sequoias are ok, but you should see the Redwoods on the coast of Washington State – they are really incredible.  I must make a mental note not to turn into this guy after our year of travel is done.

Our days in Yosemite were long.  It’s difficult to stay near the park so we drove in at dawn and spent all day with necks craned upward hiking around, before driving home as the sun set.  This was not particularly smart as there is no shortage of wildlife in Yosemite just waiting to leap out at us from the pine covered verges.  On our first night we drove down Tioga pass in complete darkness, oblivious to what surrounded us.  Coming back the next day we were amazed at the size of the mountains we had driven past.  The Sierras are steeper on the Eastern side and are such a contrast to the rounded Yosemite mountains.

On the second day we did a small walk up to Dog Lake, one of the easy ones.  Once fifty or so hikers had passed us coming the other way it was beautifully tranquil with not a sound in the forest.  Dog Lake was a suitably serene spot to soak my feet and look at the reflection of the mountains.

Onward to the Valley of Death…

Too many good photos of Yosemite – view them here

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