It smells different here. Evergreens and Cedar mingled with dry dusty air. Did I say dry? Clothes dry in seconds, nose bleeds happen at random, and skin about my ankles resembles chalk.
I believe my heart actually did leap from my chest and landed with a splash! at the sight of Mono Lake. This is a crystal clear blue glacier lake, featured in many of John Muir's writings on California. This time I insisted we pull the car over and I ran as close up to it as I possibly could, opening my arms and lungs in an attempt to draw just a bit of it moisture in.
However, upon entering the "village" of Mono Lake just outside Yosemite...my ethereal California experience abruptly disinegrated. My father and I found ourselves at a bustling gas station complete with over-priced gift shop with Muir's name and photo stamped upon every magnet / t-shirt / keychain possible, espresso bar, cocktail bar, sandwich shop, a live band blaring away outside, and not to mention, charging $4.50/gallon. However, this was only a taste of the "Yosemite Experience" , for my father and I had rather naively followed his vehicle's GPS unit into Yosemite National Park simply to get to King's Canyon National Park just south of here. Let me just say, do not attempt Tioga Pass (the main road-windy and mountainous) at 8pm at night after 10hrs of driving on Labor Day weekend.
I'll return to Yosemite in just a bit.
So we eventually find our way to King's Canyon - after an overnight at a Fresno Motel - and thanks to an amazingly helpful and kind ranger named Mary--thank you, Mary!!--found a lovely campsite just outside the park in Sequoia National Forest completely to ourselves, without any of the hub-bub of a busy campground. We camped beneath towering Sugar Pines and beside Sequoia stumps the size of cars.
Here we hiked in the evening to the Boole tree- this tree measures 113 in circumference- and bestows a strong presence to the woods surrounding and supporting it. We had to revisit it the next morning for the simple fact that it was too much tree to take in in just one sitting.
While in the park we also hiked through an extensive Sequoia Grove. We had marveled at several large trees on display the day before upon entering the park, however to walk amidst them in a forest is a whole different experience. These trees are so big it would take 20 people with arms outstretched to surround one's trunk and they stand stories tall- some 250ft tall. They are estimated to be 2000-3000 years old with dead trees standing and lying about for easily 1000 years longer since the wood is not subject to fungus and therefore not quickly decomposed.
We re-entered in the region of the park known as Wawona, passing the Yosemite Lodge (rates start at $385), numerous markets, and a golf course. Overwhelmed, we sought the help of a ranger at the visitor center. This man was quite friendly and informative, but I can't say after a run-down of "Well you could camp in the park, but considering this weekend we're filled to capacity approaching our mark of 5million visitors, it might be difficult to find an unreserved spot..sure you can camp in the backcountry but you have to get a permit first and we'll have to figure out what trails still have permits available...oh and you'll have to rent one of these 3lb bear canisters for your food...oh, the half dome, sure you can do that, but you'll have to call ahead to reserve one of the 400 permits we dole out daily to climb it...and a fire, well here, just fill out this permit...and you can pick up this trail here on the other side of the park only about two hours away...and this other trail over here about another hour away...and then make your way over here where you can hop on a shuttle bus with 100 other visitors...and don't forget to check out the watercolor classes happening over at the studio...and these should help you some," quickly piling up a stack of Yosemite maps, trail brochures, and activity pamphlets on the counter before us, made us feel any less overwhelmed.
We spent the evening sorting and planning and over the course of the next three days, miraculously, found the nature of Yosemite, experiencing just a taste, a tiny morsel, of the beauty and wilderness that Muir experienced in his explorations of and communion with this area over 125 years ago.
Camping in the National Forest just outside the park, we hiked to the Chilnuala Falls in Wawona the first day, climbing 2400ft up over 4.5miles, through a forest of Oak, Jeffrey Pine, Cedar, and Manzanita, and over granite slabs of rock. The sun was hot, but the breeze was cool, and the views were phenomenal.
Phaedra at Bridalveil Falls Campground, finally learning the names and some uses for these west coast plant beauties
I promise plant pics and info as soon as I get more wifi and time to sort through them all!!
On our last day we explored the Pacific Crest Trail and Tuolumne Meadows. Here my father and I climbed to an unmarked granite dome, claiming it our own with the name "Let's GO!" Dome, jogging across it flat-top surface, and gazing down to the meadow and across the nearby domes around us. I envisioned simply running and jumping from one granite dome to the next. I finished off the hike with a celebratory dip in the icy cold falls of the Tuolumne River below that followed us along the trail.
Oh...and we did pass through the infamous Humboldt County, where I ran into this big fella...Bigfoot!!