The next part of our trip was a very very long drive from Grand Canyon all the way to the giant trees in California. In one day we drove something like 14 hours and stayed in a motel for the night to have a proper break from Big Bertha. We love her a lot but she’s kind of like having a kid: a little break isn’t a bad thing (I’ve been told). After a restful night and some good ol’ fashioned American diner food, we drove on to the Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon. The Douglas firs on Vancouver Island were fairly big. The biggest one I measured was about 8 or 9 Rachels wide! (me hugging the tree from fingertip to fingertip all the way around). Now, that is a lot of Rachels. They were super tall as well. But I had never seen a Sequoia until this trip. Those are big. I didn’t have much opportunity to measure the truly biggest ones we viewed but some others that were accessible on the trail we went on were as big as at least 17 Rachels! That’s a heck of a lot of Rachels. Callum says that Cathedral Grove’s Douglas firs were pretty cute in comparison.
While driving to see General Sherman and General Grant (the names of the two biggest trees in the world, named after an American Civil War general and the 18th President of the USA, respectively,) we commented that it was really nice to be with all the other tourists who were all coming to look at trees. No mountains, no animals, no vistas or views. Just trees. We thought it was pretty neat that all of us cared enough to drive such a long way to see them. Not to downplay the awesomeness of these giants, but, I guess on this journey I have repeatedly been delighted that others also value nature as much as we do.
After being in awe of the giant trees, we drove on to Yosemite National Park which is one of the ones Callum was most looking forward to. It’s the park where serious climbers go. The park is best known for its granite cliffs El Capitan and Half Dome which tower over the Yosemite Valley. The park itself is over 3,000 square kms, but people spend most if not all of their time in the valley which is only 15 square kms. When we were there, the traffic was horrendous. The valley has a one-way system in place to help alleviate traffic issues but because of two deadly rock-falls certain roads were closed and trying to get in and out of the park was a nightmare. We also had a very difficult time finding a campsite. All the sites were booked except for one about 45-60 minutes away (depending on the aforementioned traffic) for one night and then we just gambled on the first-come first-serve site. Early our second morning we were competing with others to nab a site so we could enjoy the park with the knowledge we had somewhere to sleep that night. Rangers do patrol the whole park so you can’t just find a quiet street somewhere to set up camp; you’d definitely be told to move on. We stayed in Yosemite for three nights and had to drive in and out for 45 minutes each time. What bothered us was we did see several vehicles just off the road here and there, who obviously had camped right where they parked. We were jealous of their confidence but never ventured to do the same, preferring to sleep peacefully in the knowledge we were allowed to be where we were.
Besides the tragic rock fall which killed a British tourist while we were in the park, our visit to Yosemite also coincided with the annual volunteer clean-up event where hundreds of people were there to climb all sorts of trails and clean up any rubbish along the way. A great event for sure, but that meant there were tons of extra people there. Also, there was some sort of school event where hordes of children and teens were on a camping trip. The 15 square kms of the valley were packed!
Callum and I did a valley floor walk for a few hours, enjoying some silence along the way, but a lot of the trail was parallel to the roads. However, it was a nice walk and a good way to get some kms under your belt if exercise in a beautiful park is your desire. We eventually made it to our goal destination: Mirror Lake. It was beautiful indeed.
One important historical figure to Yosemite is John Muir, the naturalist and author. He introduced the park to Theodor Roosevelt, who was inspired to protect the Yosemite valley and surrounding mountains and forests as a national park. Muir was passionate about protecting wilderness and is sometimes referred to as “Father of the National Parks”. Another historical figure is a well-known name in the photography world: Ansel Adams. He is credited with some of the most beautiful black and white nature images, but worked primarily in Yosemite. Because of this, Adams inspired Callum and I to try our hand at our own black and white photos, albeit digital ones.
The next day Callum saw what he terms as the most beautiful waterfalls in all of North America that he has seen so far. He hiked to the Vernal and Nevada Falls. He said that the trail was overrun with cockroaches and wannabe instagram models, and therefore he listened to podcasts on his ipod instead of the busyness of the trail. Starting at the visitor’s parking lot, it took Callum about four hours to complete the hike (with very long rest periods to enjoy the view—at least an hour). He began the hike along the Mist Trail and ended his hike on the John Muir trail. Callum enjoyed this hike a lot, but regrets not getting a permit to hike Half Dome while in Yosemite. The problem was not really having a firm itinerary and not being organized enough. While Callum was busy doing his hike, I was enjoying myself at the coffee shops, gallery, gift shops and other amenities available. I edited photos, planned our stay in San Francisco, and people-watched. Readers will have to appreciate that I was getting a bit tired of hiking, so needed this peaceful alone time to recharge.
My advice about Yosemite is to plan your trip well in advance. Book your campsite or lodge as soon as possible and decide before hand what parts of the park you wish to see. It was doable to just show up but it was difficult. Yosemite is gorgeous and well worth the trouble to see it. One day Callum would like to go back to hike Half Dome.