Before leaving on this adventure I had heard about and seen pictures of Half Dome and several of the waterfalls. I also new that this was the third busiest national park in 2011 so there were likely to be a lot of people visiting during the summer. We had made reservations at the Ahwahnee Hotel for dinner as this holds a spot on the Monopoly National Parks Board. Other than that, I didn’t even look at a map or things to do before making this trip so I didn’t even know where we needed to go for dinner. Part of this was due to the craziness of spring with school activities coming to an end along with extracurricular activities ending and all of the end of year celebrations that go along with that. Being a horticulturalist I was also working hard in the yard as life was returning and getting things ready for the up coming summer. Part of my lack of preparation was wanting to be somewhat surprised and flexible to explore whatever caught our attention.
After arriving at our overnight lodging we headed to Yosemite National Park for a few hours of adventure. We stayed outside the park in Oakhurst as many of the areas inside the park were filled before we could make reservations and the cost was somewhat less. There was no disappointment as we headed to Mariposa Grove to get a glance at the giant sequoias. I have seen some large trees but these were almost unbelievable they can grow so large. There were a lot of people walking around which I expected but there were still areas of solitude allowing us to listen to nature around us so all was good. As night was beginning to fall it was time to leave and hopefully catch the setting sun over the mountains.
Our first full day provided us with warm temperatures and blue sky as Glacier Point was our first destination for the first glimpse of Yosemite Valley. Along the way we stopped a time or two to take in the sights. There was even a park ranger filming a video. Not sure for what, we didn’t ask but this is California. Filming is expected I think. Once arriving at Glacier Point we started to get a taste of all of the other people visiting. Parking became a little more of a challenge and there were plenty of lines for the bathrooms. Make sure you plan extra time if going during the summer for lines and finding parking.Views from here are phenomenal! All at one time you can see Half Dome and several waterfalls along with most of Yosemite Valley where people are full of activity. Bring binoculars and you can see people climbing Half Dome. They look like ants busily exploring one area or another.
As early afternoon could quickly turn into evening we decided it was time to go down into the valley and locate the location of our dinner plans. It takes about an hour to get into the valley with plenty to see along the way. You may get carsick as there are many twists and turns jolting you from one side of the vehicle towards the other as you meander down the road. Along the way there is a tunnel carved out of the mountain adding to the interest of the trip. Once out of the tunnel you are struck with an amazing and popular view of Yosemite Valley. Moving on towards the village we stopped and became mesmerized by the base of a Bridalveil Falls. Watching as the water plunges toward you and feeling the mist as the breeze directs the falls towards you was well worth a few minutes to stop. Continuing on we began to feel the presence of so many people as the only way to find parking was to wait for another vehicle to leave. With an hour or so to spare before dinner we stopped at the visitor center to look over the exhibits and took in a quick ranger program. Then it was off to the Ahwahnee for dinner.
After dinner it was time to take in a little wildlife viewing, sometimes a little closer than desired, and off to find a nice location to see the sunset and possibly take in the night sky. Off to Glacier Point once again as this is partially on the way back to our hotel and was high enough we could possibly still catch the setting sun. Along the way a Coyote decided to play chicken with the vehicle. We won. (there were no animals injured during this adventure) Unfortunately we missed the setting sun and had to settle for the evening sky and wait for the stars to appear. As the night grew darker we could see hikers as they descended from Half Dome using flashlights (In the photo below if you look hard enough you can see bright light on the left side of Half Dome towards to bottom. That is a hiker descending). Being exhausted from the day’s activities it was time to return to the hotel and catch a few hours of sleep.
The final day was filled with a 5 mile hike to explore many of the sequoias in Mariposa Grove. For many it may seem odd that we could fill a day with this short of a hike but I would like to mention we were with 5 children and the youngest was 4 years old. This is not just a straight hike, there are many stopping points along the way such as playing in the water whenever there is a stream, climbing any available rock, and playing around the trees. This does not even include the water, snack, and bathroom breaks. Are you starting to understand? Besides, it was not a race but an opportunity to explore our surroundings. I was amazed at the number of people we encountered along the way. How do you keep things as natural as possible when there are so many people beating the trails through the forest? This is the dilemma for the National Park Service. Maintaining nature while allowing as many people as want to explore it. After the hike it was off to find a ranger to sign our board and get something to eat. There is so much more I would like to do but that seems to be the case at most of the parks. Our Monopoly Travels were never meant to be full explorations, just a taste of what each park has to offer in an attempt to experience different landscapes and cultures that the United States has to offer.