Caution: The grandeur of Yosemite National Park will sweep you off your feet/slap you in the face before you even know what happened. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
One of the most epic moments of our entire trip (maybe the most epic) was our introduction to Yosemite Valley. We cruised in on Yosemite Highway winding through the forest roads and, naturally, playing Jurassic Park’s theme song. My blood was pulsing and my eyes were even watering – I think because I just knew these were some of the best moments I may ever experience in my life. The trees were reaching high and my anticipation kept building. Yosemite was a main driving force behind the entire Great North American Journey, so this was a pinnacle moment for us! We came to a tunnel. A very long tunnel. Then suddenly, the tunnel ended and spit us right out into a burst of bright light, followed by the most wonderful heavenly abyss I have ever laid eyes on:
Yosemite’s Tunnel View
I squealed. I screamed. I squinted through teary eyes. I yelled for Brad to stop the car immediately. I jumped out, jumped up and down and all around, I did jumping jacks and my happy dance – We hugged and kissed and took lots of pictures…And eventually I caught my breath and began to settle in to the moment. The moment. That moment when the valley quietly drew me in, and began to speak to me in hushed tones, as if this all had been patiently awaiting my arrival for so, so long. In that moment, Tent Girl was right where she needed to be. The ledges and peaks whispered my name and the raging rainbow waterfall roared with celebration, sending a surge of energy from my head all the way to my toes. The sky seemed to open up as the trees rolled out their red carpet. Yosemite National Park, my friends – Our home for the next WEEK!!!
Once I gathered up the bits and pieces of myself after that extreme explosion of excitement, we cruised down into the valley, windows rolled down, music shushed, driving in complete silence with our heads craned out the windows. The intensity of it all was almost too much. I knew Yosemite would be grand, but this was the grandEST. We got a little lost in the valley for a while, then found our way to our campsite, Hodgdon Meadows. It’s about a 30 – 45 minute drive (through an amazingggg forest), but we didn’t make reservations soon enough to be able to stay in the valley. This is another one of those places you should try to plan ahead for. Regardless, we were on top of the world (kind of literally), and happily created the sweetest little home up in the mountains, stringing tapestries and hammocks as Brad blazed a warm, cozy campfire. It was surprisingly very chilly up there in the mountains, great cuddle weather. We steamed some artichokes, stewed up some curry, and popped a bottle of champagne to celebrate. “We’re there!!!!!”
A view from the drive between the Valley and our campsite.
Baby Kia, overflowing upon our arrival…
We woke up the morning of the 19th with the primary goal of finding a shower. It had been a while. Hodgdon Meadows has fresh running water and flushable toilets, but no showers. We ventured down to the valley and made acquaintances with the Housekeeping Camp. Great area in the valley you can shower and do laundry…for a small cost, unless your sneaky like us and nonchalantly bypass the cashier window. I took an hour long shower, and how badly I needed and LOVED that! It’s the little things like being fresh & clean that makes for a good start to the day. We cruised around all over the valley on our bikes (best way to explore the valley), saw all the domes and peaks and cliffs, and they are all EQUALLY OUTSTANDING. I think El Capitan’s grandeur is my favorite. We hiked up to Mirror Lake, which is supposed to reflect Half Dome, but the lake is seasonal and it had dried up quite a bit. It was more like Mirror Puddles. We ninja’d around the dried up areas and made it to the river that the lake expands from when it is full. We spotted an adorable duck family, with her baby duckies all in a row, following their Momma. Even though the lake was dried up, Half Dome doesn’t go anywhere. We found ourselves at the foot of the massive rock, stooped in it’s magnificence. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” Mine was just about as wide open as far as the sky reaches – A feeling I’ll never forget.
Exploring the Valley
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”
– John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912
Upper & Lower Yosemite Falls (top left & bottom); Half Dome (top right)
When we got back from the short hike to the lake, we hopped back on our bikes and kept cruising – This time down the hill we had panted to get our bikes up on the way to the lake, and we SOARED down that hill SO FAST! Everyone struggling their way up the hill were giving us the dirtiest looks as we blew past them, wind in our hair, smiling ear from ear. It was a good two-minute cruise, and it was awesome. (Brad & I both agreed that was our favorite part of the day..don’t judge us.) We bopped around the museum, I did some yoga in the fields, we gawked some more and kept cruising on. It was a great introductory day to Yosemite Valley. When the sun left the sky, we retired to our cozy campsite, made cracker sandwiches and fell asleep in front of the dragon’s mouth fire Brad created for us. That is, until Brad dreamt a bear was breathing down his neck, and bolted out of his chair from a dead sleep. It was then that we decided to call it a night and retired to our tent…
…And during the middle of the night…it started raining. What started as a peaceful drizzle, after 15 minutes, graduated to a steady rain. It was the first rain of our trip, and the pitter patter was soothing to hear from our comfy, cozy, warm bed. Then the sky started to rumble, and thunder, shaking the Earth beneath us. That’s when we felt our first drip. A cold, wet, fat drip – right on my cheek. I was shocked into consciousness. Before we knew it, the dripping was coming in across the entire span of the ceiling of our stupid, massive tent. Luckily, we had a heavy duty sleeping bag lined with parachute material and found some refuge under that baby, but it was getting bad. Brad ran out and threw some tarps over the top of the tent, which helped A LOT, but you know when something is just too little too late? Before long, everything in our tent was SOAKED, heavy with moisture, and the cold dampness started seeping in to our bags, our blankets, our pillows…Are you cringing yet? And let me just remind you that it was in the 30’s up there on top of that massive mountain. It was horrible. I cried sad, sorry, miserable tears. Thank God I have a soldier of a boyfriend, because while he tied down our tent from every angle (again) and configured drainage routes and protected me from the wet cold, I just panted and whined and told him I wanted to go home. Not my proudest moment. It was the longest night of my life. I remember having dreams when I was finally able to kind of fall asleep of just trying to figure out how to clean up the messy situation. And when, alas, I poked my head out from under the sleeping bags and finally saw the light of the morning beckoning, I was so happy – but also scared to even move. What an experience. Pretty sure I would have died of hypothermia without Brad.
..You see what had happened was..We borrowed the massive tent from a friend, and it was just so old the material had lost it’s waterproof quality. We spent the entire next day hanging shit from clotheslines, formulating a plan, and giving each other reassuring gestures and lots of hugs. We actually weren’t the only ones to have suffered through the storm – We made friends with a quirky Aussie lady, Hillary, that was having similar issues. She was all by herself, and ended up moving her tent to our site so we could be neighbors. Nothing like bonding over struggles. We made coffee and headed 2 hours out of the park to the nearest town to buy a new tent. We also hit up the local laundry mat and filled every dryer available with all our shit. The laundry mat regulars were not happy with us, but we were in a state of emergency. After that, we hit up the BIG 5 Camping Store, which for the record is an awesome outdoor outlet strewn all up and down the West Coast should you need anything. It’s like the WalMart of camping/outdoor gear – but even cheaper! We bought a new tent, another sleeping bag, some beanies and thick socks, and ended the day with some hot, steamy, spicy chicken wings. We had to make ourselves feel better somehow. Eventually, we made the long trek back into the park, and fell asleep on the floor of our new tent by 4 PM, sleeping the whole night through, incredibly happy to just be warm and dry.
We woke up early the morning of the 21st and had coffee with Hillary. She’s an Aussie that’s married to a German man from South Africa, who she currently lives in San Francisco with. She shared all kinds of knowledge and stories with us – She’s a Burning Man veteran, so you can just imagine. Brad & I were totally entertained by this lady and the crazy awesome life she leads. Although crazy, she has a good head on her shoulders. She explained she was just in the park to get away from the city so she could study for the GRE as she was planning to get her MBA, and her hubby would be meeting her at the end of the week to go rock climbing. Quite the interesting woman. Eventually we left Hillary to her studies and cruised down to the valley to shower again. It was super foggy and overcast, with pockets of rain throughout the day, but we made the best of it. Had some Chili and a warm sandwich in the valley, caught a film on the history of Yosemite, and toward the end of the day the clouds started to part and we decided to hike to Lower & Upper Yosemite Falls.
The Yosemite Falls Trail is filled with amazing views around every cut-back – Cliffs were mysteriously disappearing into the clouds, misty waterfalls were cascading out of the fog, and the valley loomed low beneath us. Once we got up to the base of Upper Yosemite falls, the clouds dissipated and revealed the waterfall in it’s entirety – And this entirety was EXTRAORDINARY. The significant amount of rainfall really emphasized it’s power and beauty. On our way back down, the clouds parted enough to reveal the blue skies – and eventually the sun! – that I had missed so much.
Lower Yosemite Falls
Upper Yosemite Falls
Stoked to see the Sun again!
The drive home at the end of the day was gorgeous, a hazy, cloudy, golden sunset that we followed the whole way home. I think it was Mother Nature apologizing for the previous nights catastrophe. The sky was glowing and the colors on the horizon were pastel & perfect. So obviously, we forgave her, we know she didn’t mean any harm. Once back at our abode, we refashioned our fortress using our clean, dry materials, and I spent the entire evening laying in our cozy bed, sleepy and content – Once again, a happy camper. 🙂
With the storms behind us, Yosemite reemerged the next day, fresh and glimmering from the rain and even better than before. Stay tuned for the best hike we discovered the entire trip. Til then, stay dry out there you crazy kids.