Thursday, June 2, 2011

Yosemite, then on to San Francisco....and where is that famous Cali warm weather?!?

After a decent nights sleep in wonderful Fresno we set out for Yosemite.  We were only a couple of hours from Yosemite, so our plan was to get there, get a camp site and spend the next 3-4 days enjoying Yosemite.  We had originally planned to do Yosemite a week or two earlier, but since much of the park was still closed due to bad weather (they had a lot of snow this winter) we put it off hoping things would open up.  We didn't wait long enough, evidently.  We arrived at the southwest entrance of Yosemite and began the 35 mile trip down to Yosemite valley, as that is where the greatest concentration of lodgings and sightseeing landmarks are located.  We spent nearly an hour taking a leisurely pace enjoying the beautiful scenery.  As beautiful as it was,  it was nothing out of the ordinary for this trip, until we came through the tunnel that opens up to a view of Yosemite valley.  The first thing you notice is there is a very busy scenic pullout on your right, so before we could even see the valley properly, we pulled over and parked.  We then got out of the car and went over to look at the viewing area.  My mom, who has been to 49 of our 50 states (Mom, you need to get to AK and finish it off! :) ) has always said, if there is one place to see in the USA, it's Yosemite.  Once you get a view of Yosemite Valley from this vantage point you start to understand why.  The view of the valley from this point is just simply awe inspiring.  It is right up there with the Grand Canyon.  The GC may be more surreal in its unbelievable massiveness, but this view of Yosemite Valley is more beautiful in my opinion.  I think the difference is the GC is not inviting.  It doesn't seem to call out to you to come and interact with it.  Yosemite Valley yells at you to get your tail down to the valley and start exploring it up close.  Which we did in short order.

After taking several pictures of the valley from what is called "tunnel view," we jumped in the flower power van and headed on down.  The first attraction you come to is Bridal Veil Falls.  We got out and started walking towards the base about 1/2 mile from the parking lot.When we got within about 200 yards of the base it became apparent we were going to get soaked if we went any farther, and since it was rather chilly we decided to stay dry; we still had to find a camp site and get set up.  We jumped back in the car and started looking for our camping options.  Unfortunately, that was much easier said than done.  The park was absolutely packed with people.  There were crowds everywhere.  I guess this was part of the down side of waiting a little longer till coming to Yosemite.  And once again, just like at every other major national park we've been too, at least 33% of the park goers were non-American (maybe more).  Not that there was anything wrong with that, it just seemed kind of odd for there to be so many Germans, Italians, French and Japanese relative to the number of Americans there.  I expect that will change when we get into summer and more kids are out of school.  Anyway, in our search for a campsite, we found out that of the hundreds of campsites in the valley, there was only one site available and it was only available for one night. For our first time actually camping on this trip, we broke our rule of only camping when we were at least camping for 2+ nights.  Normally there would be thousands more camp sites available around the park, but all of the non-valley campsites were closed due to snow, so we were forced to take this campsite for one night if we wanted to camp.  As it turned out, our 2+ night camping rule would have been broken, even if we'd been able to stay.  It was just too damn cold for the kids.  Or rather I should say, it was just too damn cold for the parents, because Michelle and I were awake nearly all night freezing and worrying about the kids being too cold even though they slept fine.  I got up early the next morning, still very cold and looking forward to building a big fire to get warm and cook breakfast on.  As I'm building the fire, but before it was lit, one of our camp neighbors comes over and tells me that we aren't supposed to have camp fires in the morning because they are trying to control the smoke in the valley.  I look around the campground and sure enough, there is not a single fire lit.  Let me tell you, I was bummed.  My favorite part of camping is building the fires!  Although this would be reason enough not to camp in the valley, the very commercial nature of the campground is a put off, too.  The view from the campground itself is very nice, but there are too many people in too small of a space and it hardly feels like camping (except for the work setting up and taking down camp, that felt the same! ;-)).  Oh, and you are not allowed to gather wood in the valley for campfires.  Your options are to go outside the valley and gather wood (about a hour round trip, from the valley campgrounds), bring your wood with you, or, you can buy a box of wood from their camp store for $9.24 (the same size you can get at a convenience store for $5).   If you come to Yosemite and plan on camping, come later in the season and camp at one of the more scenic campsites outside the valley.  That's what we'll do next time.

Since we couldn't stay in the campground the next night, and it was too cold to camp for us anyway, we had to find other accommodations.  We first checked the the onsite hotel, The Awahnee, and with rates from $449 for a standard room to almost $1200  for a deluxe room (no, those aren't typos) it was not an option.  The regular lodge was $249 and was booked, though we wouldn't have paid that anyway.  The last option was a heated tent cabin.  It was a 12x10 canvas tent that comes with a double bed, two single beds, linens for the beds, an electric light, wood floor, and most importantly...a heater.   You can have this luxury for the meager sum of $117.  In my opinion this was about $50 too expensive, even considering the setting, but we were stuck between a rock and a hard place because we were not ready to leave the park (leaving the park and getting a regular hotel room anywhere near the park is even more expensive) so we decided to get the tent cabin for one night.  We did that fairly early on and spent the rest of the day enjoying the valley.  Unfortunately, Tioga and Glacier Point roads were closed, so we didn't get to see the views from those areas, but that just gives us a reason to come back.  Since we only had 2 nights (and had planned on spending 3 or 4), we had plenty to see and do in the valley before we left.

One of the positive aspects of the large amount of snow they received this year is the waterfalls are absolutely gushing all over the valley.  I think I counted at least 10 different waterfalls and the two most prominent ones, Bridal Veil Falls and Yosemite Falls, were crashing down with tremendous force.  We hiked to the base of both waterfalls before we left and paid the very wet price for it both times.  Even umbrellas were no match for the spray coming off Bridal Veil Falls near the base. The Merced river, which runs through the valley, was quite high and ran very fast in some areas.  It's very clear water with the most beautiful green hue I've ever seen in a river.  There is not a hint of muddiness to it whatsoever.  You can clearly see the bottom whether its 6 inches or 6 feet deep.  It really made you want to jump in it, till you touched it and nearly got hypothermia in your fingers.  We spent the night in our heated tent cabin much more comfortable, and then spent the next afternoon hitting the highlights in the valley before we left the park and headed toward the San Francisco area.

We got a latish start leaving the park, so we ended up spending the night in Merced, Ca.  I'm going to be as nice as I can about Merced and just say that is a typical central CA valley city and leave it at that.  After an uneventful night there we headed for my friend Chris' house in Menlo Park, CA, just outside San Francisco.  Chris graciously offered to put us up for a few nights so we would have some time to see the sights in the area.  As it turns out, we had such a great time hanging out with Chris, his wife Britta, and his Mom Marjorie,  we stayed for four nights and mostly visited with them.  We did get to downtown SF one day to check out Golden Gate Park and the surrounding neighborhoods, but it has been COLD so we didn't do a lot of walking around.  Chris took me to work with him (he works for a firm that manufactures and sells high quality motorcycle components and tools) and showed me around his work and the fantastic motorcycle collection the owner of his company has.  For those of you who don't like motorcycles you may not understand this, but that little tour Chris gave me was one of the highlights of this trip so far for me. Britta took us to Santa Cruz one day to see the boardwalk area (which is actually concrete) at the beach with all kinds of games and rides (think Ocean City). They cooked us fantastic meals, entertained Bella for hours and put up with The Beast (AKA Aldous) trying to get into all their stuff for four days.  I'm recommending them all for sainthood when this trip is over!

We left their house yesterday to head up to Cotati, CA, about 45 miles north of SF, to spend some time with my aunt Heidi, uncle Vince, and grandma Mimi who all live there.  We hoped to spend some more time in downtown SF on our way there, but again it was rainy and cold so we didn't get to see much.  The trip across the Golden Gate Bridge was too short and the view from the vista in Marin County was mostly blocked by low clouds.  I think we will try to get back down to SF one more time if the weather clears up before we leave the area.  In the meantime, here are a few pics from the last week...

This is your first real view of Yosemite Valley approaching from the south entrance.  You can clearly see three of Yosemite's most famous features, Bridal Veil Falls on the right, Half-Dome in the center, and El Capitan to the left.

Bridal Veil Falls is a few miles away from here, El Capitan another mile or two past that, and Half-Dome is about 10 miles away at this point.  From this vantage point it's very easy to envisage the glacier that came through here and carved out this valley.

Bridal Veil Falls in all its glory from Tunnel View.

What can I say, I was thirsty...I'm still looking for Beer Falls. :)

Looking across the Merced River in the valley.

Just one of the numerous "smaller" waterfalls which lined the valley walls.  It was not really small at all (for scale, those trees at the top of the falls are 50+ feet tall), but compared to Yosemite and Bridal Veil Falls, the rest are "small."

Aldie is one lucky little boy because I don't think in the history of the universe any boy has had a big sister that loves him more than Bella loves Aldie. 

This is BVF from the parking lot where you can hike up and view it at its base.

This is 100-200 yards away from the base of BVF.  No, it wasn't raining, all this wetness is from the fallout of the water hitting the base of the falls.

This is as close as Bella and I could get to BVF and we got soaked even with our umbrellas!

Sitting around the camp fire was nice.  It wasn't that cold at this point, but I swear it dropped 20 degrees in the middle of the night.

Bella, Aldie and me on the trail walking to BVF.

It was not the best campsite we've ever had, and it was COLD, but we still had fun.

This was the view from our campsite.

I believe these are the Cathedral Rocks. 

Fern Spring pops right out of the ground and gushes...tastes great too.

Half-Dome sits at the rear of the valley.

That's the Merced River, and Yosemite Falls in the background.

The Merced River, and Half-Dome in the background.

On a foot bridge crossing the Merced River with Yosemite Falls in the background.

More Merced River...

This is a neat picture Michelle took of some rocks in a shallow area of the Merced River.

Bella, Aldie and me walking toward Yosemite Falls.

Trying to give Yosemite Falls some perspective, we are somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 mile from the base at this point.

Yosemite Falls has three drops, which you can see here.  It's strictly a snow melt waterfall.  By fall it will have run dry until the following spring when the snow starts melting again.

This was a landslide that covered portions of 140 headed into Yosemite from the west.  It's hard to tell how big it is but I think you could have buried at least one and maybe two tractor trailers in there and not be able to see them.

This is the base of Yosemite Falls.  I am standing just outside the area where the air pressure from the massive amount of water falling makes it feel like you are in a big storm.

Bella on the "speedboats" on the Santa Cruz boardwalk.

Bella on Santa Cruz's about 58 degrees.  Amazingly, she was not the only one running through the water...believe it or not.  I was not one of the other ones.  :)

Britta treated Bella to her first "tattoo."  Here she is getting ready for it.

And here is the final product.  Nothing says "BADASS!" like a pink and blue kitty.  :)

This was our view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin side.  That is a cloud bank, hovering right over the bridge. 


  1. Yosemite is definitely on my bucket list. I absolutely love the pictures, especially the one of Bella running through the water, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Beer Falls shot is not bad either :*). The pics are really beautiful, you guys have a great eye for natural beauty. BTW what kind of camera are you using?

  2. Thanks Elaine! We are using two cameras. 95% of the pics are taken with our 6 YO Nikon D70, which is a pretty good camera (cost $1200 when we bought it). The other camera is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5. It's ok, just a little point a shoot. All of the good pics are taken with the D70.

  3. Great to read your latest adventures! You've got us sold on visiting Yosemite. We flew over it once (does that count?). Bill and I are headed to the Black Hills around July 4th...any chance you guys will near there, then?? Wouldn't that be wild to run into each other at a rest area?

  4. Rebecca, no that doesn't count...get your butts to Yosemite pronto! ;-)

    I THINK we'll be back home or at least in VA by July 4th...but if we are going to be in that area, I'll surely let you know. :)