Thursday, April 21, 2011

Yosemite Bound (Yosemite NP Trip Part 1)

Half Dome Sunrise

Half Dome Sunrise.

At the start of October last year[1] my wife and I sojourned out to the wilds[2] of Northern California on a weeklong trip to Yosemite National Park. Sadly, we’d never been to this “Park of Parks”, so when my Uncle Dave[3] suggested that we meet up there for an epic hike or two, we jumped at the chance. The Plan[4] was to spend part of the time with family and friends, and then have a few days to ourselves at the end of the trip to do some more hiking, frolic in meadows, dodge bears, etc. (Given the length of the trip[5], I’m going to make this a multi-post entry.)

Day 1 – Getting there, and other diversions.

I always love flying west, especially with a window seat. The cities of the plains give way to a dry and chaotic landscape, almost untamed by human hands. It’s such juxtaposition with flat, human-dominated Houston. Heading west, the human element is quietly but inevitably subsumed by the scale of the landscape[6]. When the sun rose, the eastern face of the ridges below us, blue in the pre-dawn light, melted into a river of gold that washed over the plain[7]. We flew into Sacramento, which surprised me. I had assumed it would fit some Steinbeck-ian lush agricultural tableau, but it actually looked pretty dry[8].

Sunrise on MountainsSunrise on Rock formationsSunlight on MountainsDesert SunriseSacramento Agriscape

Sunrise on Mountains, Sunrise of Rock Formations, Morning Ridge , Desert Sunrise, Sacramento Agriscape.

One of the highlights of the trip for me was a detour out to nearby Davis to see some old friends, Stan[9] and Amanda Gibson (now a subset of the Gibson Family along with their two darling daughters). I hadn’t seen them in a decade or more, but with some people it’s like time never stopped. Or at the least, some people are so warm and welcoming that it feels that way, regardless. We had a fantastic lunch outside on their patio and whiled away a few hours catching up and reminiscing[10]. It was about the best way to start the trip that I can imagine. We reluctantly parted their company in order to attempt to make Yosemite by nightfall. The drive out to Yosemite was nothing short of amazing[11]. We passed through miles of almond orchards, through winding roads in hilly grasslands, and fields of odd boulders and sun-soaked earth. The colors may have been subdued in range of hues, but they were extraordinary in the afternoon glow. We stopped only briefly along the way[12], racing against the light.

DryscapeHeartland (B&W)Lone Tree (B&W)Fenceline

Dryscape, Heartland (B&W), Lone Tree Rise(B&W), Fenceline

Even with that haste, we made the last third of the trip[13] in the dark. We arrived at Curry Village[14], one of the more populated camping spots on the Valley floor, got signed in, and checked out our new digs. Curry Village is not roughing it by any means. Besides the hundreds of neat CCC-esque tent cabins, there is a commercial sea of every amenity you could want (or not want as the case may be..), including a bar, several restaurants, a gear shop, etc[15]. Our tent cabin was clean and delightfully bear-free, so a quick pizza dinner later, a choice sighting of a ring-tailed cat, encounters with some amazingly aggressive raccoons, and stocking of our bear locker, we settled in to sleep.

Don Pedro Reservoir VistaStanislaus National Forest VistaSierras Sunset

Don Pedro Reservoir, Stanislaus National Forest Vista, Sierras Sunset.

[1]In an effort to catch this blog up on the last year or so, I’m firing up the Wayback machine for a retro post. A generous man might suggest that it has taken me six months to ruminate over the Yosemite experience, and let its myriad flavors and nuances soak in through comparative contemplation. A less generous/frilly man would say I may have been a bit of a procrastinator in getting this post up…

[2] Actual wilds, not the Houston definition of “areas with less than one Starbucks per square mile”.

[3] A local who, while my senior by some years, is an avid Sierras hiker, as would become painfully apparent later on based on our comparative performance on the meander up Half Dome.

[4] Any Plan involving epic hiking and expeditionary zeal in the footsteps of Mr. Muir deserves to be referred to in the capitalized, proper noun form.

[5] And the inversely proportional length of my attention span for writing

[6] This is one of the reasons I love Albuquerque.

[7] ..for your 2011 Pulitzer consideration... What, no? Ok, well, if the post is this late, I might as well make it poetic. Throw in some adjectives and ….stuff.

[8] We get the same reaction from visitors to Houston, who remark how relatively lush Houston is compared to the (mostly deserved) mental image of Texas as dry, desert-y brushland.

[9] Or, “the good people over at ‘A Fiercer Delight and a Fiercer Discontent’” J.

[10] Living so far from old friends and family, we get to feeling a bit isolated at times. Visits like these recharge my batteries for a good while.

[11] We have had fantastic timing most of the times we have arrived at National Parks, in that we always seem to get there in the absolute height of the “golden hour” of afternoon/evening light. There is no better way to see a grand vista for the first time than in the warm, red-gold light of later afternoon. Our entrance into Zion, as we came through the tunnel, gave us brief golden flashes of light at the overlooks, until we burst into open road and met the amazing vistas bathed in afternoon light. It remains one of the most awe-inspiring moments of my life.

[12] Being an enthusiastic amateur photographer, I couldn’t just drive by every vista…we stopped at Don Pedro Reservoir, and several unnamed overlook. As we neared the park, the twilight sky behind us was blazing with color.

[13] Which, of course, was the most winding and treacherous. However, driving over the Merced in the dark was an amazing moment, as the trees opened up and the sky and water converged.

[14] Curry Village is not our usual style of no frills tent camping. It’s a large encampment of expedition style tents on platforms, with cots and mattresses, like little vinyl and canvas houses. It was a compromise with the people we were meeting there, between tent camping and staying at a lodge. Given the deluge to come (Foreshadowing!) We were pretty happy

[15] It was hilarious to contrast this with the last National Park camping experience we had thought of as “being too crowded and not primitive enough.” That was at the Devil’s Garden trailhead in Arches, which, in retrospect, is about as primitive as you can be and still be a campground (no showers or other amenities, primitive camping). This would be the echoing theme throughout our time in the Valley. As lovely as the scenery was, this was no longer the untamed place it may have once been. Thank goodness 95% of the visitors never leave that tiny portion of the park…


Amanda said...
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stanford said...

It was a pleasure to see you both on the front end of this great trip. I'm looking forward to hearing about how it went.