“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
There is nothing quite like the stunning beauty of Yosemite. From the stillness of dawn to the shimmering, golden hour under a purple starry sky, Yosemite is a natural wonder to be seen and explored. It is a rewarding sight to get up at the crack of dawn and witness the pale sunlight peak behind the mountaintops as it spreads over the misty valley floor. At dusk, the glow of the setting sun dances across the vertical faces of towering granite behemoths. These are some of the iconic moments that have long been treasured before social media helped further promote the everlasting beauty of Yosemite and America’s beloved national parks.
After many weeks of anticipation, we finally made it to Yosemite for the first time as a family. Thanks to President Obama and his Every Kid in a Park Initiative, every fourth grader in America gets a free one year admission to all the national parks for them and their family members. Despite having saved $15 per individual and $30 per vehicle each time we entered the park, we ended up staying at a Best Western Plus in the town of Oakhurst, about an hour and 20 minutes south of Yosemite valley. I couldn’t justify spending $400 or more per night at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly the Ahwanhee Hotel), which is located a stones throw away from Yosemite Falls in the heart of the valley. So we opted to have a fancy dinner instead at the Ahwanhee and soak in its intimate views of the valley and the surrounding mountains from inside the double height, rustic-styled dining room.
(left) Yosemite Falls in the background. (right) View of Half Dome in the distance.
Well, that hour and 20 minutes ended up more like 3 hours due to bumper-to-bumper traffic inside the Yosemite valley loop! Once we made it pass the Tunnel View and onto Southside Drive, there was no way of turning around, because it’s a one-way road. At first, we were in awe of the beauty surrounding us, especially the 3,000+ feet high granite cliffs looming over us from a distance but after nearly 2 hours we started fidgeting. And plus, the heat was unbearable. (It was 90 degrees in the shade!) We were pleasantly surprised when we called the hotel dining room to tell them that we were going to be an hour late and they said they will still hold our reservation! When we arrived, we noticed that the 89-year old hotel was undergoing some major renovation but that didn’t seem to faze us as we were greeted with warm smiles and a lovely piano serenade inside the restaurant.
(left) The Ahwahnee Hotel dining room features a cathedral-style ceiling with structural log trusses, stone walls and hanging wrought-iron chandeliers. (right) The Great Lounge reminded me a lot like the one from the fictitious Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s The Shining.
The food was fine but not exceptional although I have to admit that my daughter’s petite prime rib au jus was very tender and delicious. After dinner, we took some more pictures and then headed back to our hotel. On our way out of the parking lot, we were surprised to bump into some friends who were staying at the Tenaya Lodge, just outside of the park along the way to Oakhurst.
* * *
In order to avoid the traffic again, we managed to get up really early despite coming back late last night. We ate a light breakfast and filled up the gas tank before heading back up highway 41 into Yosemite. It was 55 degrees but we knew today was going to be another scorcher. When the turnoff onto Glacier Point Road appeared, I made a last minute decision to follow that route instead of descending into the valley. This is one of the most scenic routes overlooking Yosemite valley. We drove for about a half hour until we passed Sentinel Dome to reach Washburn Point, where we took in the amazing panorama of Half Dome and Mount Broderick and Liberty Cap. The sun was relatively high above the horizon at 7 o’clock in the morning and the temperature had already reached 65 degrees. It felt even warmer as we were facing the sun and the reflection from the snow on the other side of the valley. We gazed silently while listening to the distant thundering roar of the Nevada and Vernal Falls flowing down the Merced River below.
(left) Soaking up the view of Half Dome from Washburn Point. (right) A photo of Half Dome taken from Glacier Point Road by @tiffpenguin on Instagram.
We drove a few minutes down to the end of the road and parked our car at Glacier Point, another well-known scenic spot where you can get a 180 degree view of Eagle Peak from the west to Half Dome and Mount Broderick in the east with the valley in between. There is a famous ledge that juts out from the rock face at 3,200 feet above the valley floor. Apparently, thrill-seekers walk out onto it and take pictures or have their pictures taken even though there are signs that prohibit you from doing so.
(left) View of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls and Yosemite valley from Glacier Point. Note the precipitous ledge on the left hand side of the image. (right) Photo of sunrise behind Half Dome by @everchanginghorizon.
There are two similar ledges on Half Dome, one known as the Diving Board and the other called the Visor, the former located westward on the shoulder of Half Dome just below the 2,000′ northwest face. It is this location that Ansel Adams shot one of his most famous photos in 1927 titled ‘Monolith, the Face of Half Dome. Adams was drawn by this location and described it as a “wondrous place… a great shelf of granite, slightly overhanging, and nearly 4,000 feet above its base… the most exciting subject awaiting me.” The Visor is a 30 foot overhanging lip that is located near the summit and can only be accessed by climbing up the eastern face’s 45 degree ascent on a cable route, which requires a permit, adequate hydration and just plain grit and determination. This is one hike on my bucket list.
(above) Photo of Half Dome taken at sunset by Leor Pantilat on Flickr. Note the ‘Visor’, the overhanging lip near the summit.
There were so many people up at Glacier Point that we didn’t get to take a proper family photo. I managed to take a few shots of my 1/12 scale Stormtroopers with my Canon DSLR as we hiked 1/10 the way down to Yosemite Valley on the Four Mile Trail. A few people stopped and asked me if they can take pictures of my figures and I happily obliged. It’s always nice to run into so many Star Wars fans.
(left & right) Whenever we travel, I try to make use of my toy photography.
Like typical tourists, we went into a gift shop and bought some over-priced souvenirs and sandwiches and then ate lunch in the shade. We headed back on Glacier Point Road and down into the valley as we did the night before, only this time we were going to stop off at Bridal Veil Fall. We wanted to visit El Capitan and check out the Ansel Adams gallery and all these other attractions but we realized that we would need to spend at least a week here to do everything. Which explains why I was running on adrenaline the past 24 hours with barely 5 hours of sleep the night before.
We were lucky enough to find parking outside of the Bridal Veil Fall parking lot along the side of the main road, just past the tunnel view before it turns into a one way road. Being that it was the Fourth of July, which I forgot to mention, the trails leading up to the waterfall was jam packed. It was not terribly hot as the day before but it was definitely nice to feel the cool mist on our faces as we neared the base of the waterfall. A ton of people made their way up the slippery rocks with the occasional stumble and fall into the rapid, icy cold stream. My daughter and I scaled a couple of large boulders further up the base so that my wife can take a picture of us, but we did not climb further up for fear of getting wet and possibly stuck.
(above) Making our way up Bridal Veil Fall.
We decided to head back to our hotel and have dinner early before meeting up with our friends at the Tenaya Lodge. I was contemplating about driving back out to Glacier Point sometime after dinner so that I can take some breathtaking photos of Half Dome as the sun is setting over the valley. So I did just that while my wife and daughter were hanging out by the pool with their friends. I looked at my watch and had another hour and a half left before the sun started to go down. I got in in the car and drove 10 minutes up to the south entrance of the park and the ranger said I cannot use the free admission pass without my daughter present with me. He added that I probably wouldn’t be able to make it up to Glacier Point on time although I disagreed. Feeling dismayed, I could either pay the $15 admission plus the $30 vehicle fee and run the risk of missing the sunset or not go at all. I begrudgingly chose the latter and tried to convince myself that at least I didn’t waste any more money on gas and that there were no cloud formations in the sky to justify an amazing sunset shot. This only confirmed that next time we would have to shell out the extra cash to stay at some place inside the park. The hotel industry knows exactly how to persuade you to pay more to enjoy the experience. Otherwise, we can opt for camping, which is fine but I have a natural tendency to get bitten by mosquitos. Another reason to find accommodations inside the park is the fact that we would end up having to pay the admission & vehicle fees each time we entered the park.
(above) Beautiful sunset over Yosemite valley. Photo by Jim Patterson Photography.
I feel lucky to have spent this Fourth of July with my family in one of the most beautiful locations on earth. When you visit natural wonders such as Yosemite, Grand Canyon, the Swiss Alps, etc., you can’t help but feel so infinitesimal and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. If and when you do visit Yosemite, observe around you the city-sized granite rock formations that have been around for over 114 million years. The passage of time is evident when you see how large house-sized boulders have fallen off the cliffside and onto the valley floor below, dramatically changing the landscape. Boulders that have accumulated lichen and moss indicate that they have been part of landslides some time ago relative to those without any vegetation on their surface. Even standing in the presence of 2,000 year old Giant Sequoias at the famous Mariposa Grove (and the less visited Tuolumne and Merced Groves) is awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, we also did not get a chance to see these living giants, considering Mariposa Grove is fairly close to where our friends were staying. But I definitely sense that a fall and/or winter visit to Yosemite is beckoning. I have to agree with John Muir that “It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.”
(above) Photo taken of the Grizzly Giant, a Giant Sequoia that is estimated to be 1,900 – 2,400 years old. Counted to be the 25th largest tree in the world, this living giant stands 210 feet (64 meters) tall with a base circumference of 92 feet (28 meters) or a diameter of 30 feet (9.1 meters). It pales in comparison to General Sherman, another Giant Sequoia that is located in Sequoia National Park and is the largest known living tree in the world. Photo & source: Wikipedia.