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Tuesday 22 Oct 2013
Yosemite, USA

Yosemite at last!

I got myself up early before they started charging for the street parking and drove down to Old Sacramento, which turned out to be classed as a State Park.  Parking was free with a purchase from any of the shops, so I had breakfast in a lovely old coffee house and wrote my postcards until the rest of the place opened up.  There are several blocks of old clapperboard storefronts along by the railway station.  In peak season, they run steam trains along by the river, but I was definitely here at the wrong time, as most things seemed to have shutdown for the season.  I walked along to the golden Tower Bridge, with its bright gold-painted towers reminiscent of the riveted towers on the Golden Gate Bridge. 

I ducked into the California Railroad Museum shop to look for a Christmas present for my nephew.  I ended up paying to go into the museum too and discovered a treasure trove of highly polished steam engines, streamlined silver AMTRAK engines and carriages including an old sleeper car that rattled and swayed gently as you walked through, making it feel like you were racing across the countryside, and a dining car showcasing the trademark china of each of the main lines.  The museum started with a film telling the story of the Union Pacific railroad, financed by four Sacramento businessmen.  After the movie, the whole wall raised up to reveal a huge steam engine surrounded by model workers blasting tunnels, building snow sheds and laying tracks.  I spent a happy couple of hours wandering through and taking photos of Thomas with his big cousins – My nephew, Daniel, would have loved it here!

I headed south again to pick up Highway 120 and retraced the route Verity and I had taken two weeks earlier, stopping at the same Groveland café for a very late lunch.  I passed back through the burnt area along the Big Oak Flats road, no less sobering than it had been before, and continued into Yosemite National Park.  This time, the lay-bys were open and I was able to enjoy the last rays of sun on the face of Half Dome in the distance.  By the time I reached Yosemite Valley it was fully dark and I had difficulty negotiating the maze of roads leading into Curry Village.  I had arrived at the end of a long queue of people to check in.  While I was waiting, I watched a video above the desk showing images of bears ripping car doors off in search of food.  The message was loud and clear: leave NOTHING in your car.  No food, no rubbish, no cool boxes, no unopened bottles or cans, not even crumb-filled baby seats.  I was booked into the tent cabins, just like I stayed in with my family 25 years ago. I remember talk of bears then, and using the bear-resistant boxes to store food, but I definitely didn’t see a video like this or I’d have been terrified!  My imagination is active enough by itself without fuel like this to feed it.  I spent ages checking my car thoroughly for any scrap of food before I left it and felt glad I wasn’t sleeping in a normal tent, though the tent cabins probably wouldn’t offer all that much more protection if a bear really wanted to get in.

Tent cabins are wood framed huts on raised platforms, covered in thick tarpaulin, like a marquee.  They contain normal beds, shelves and some have heaters.  I paid a little extra for a heated tent cabin and was very glad I did.  There were two blankets on the bed, but I added an extra one for good measure.  By the next night I’d added the other four from the other two beds as well.  Even with the heater on, it was very cold at night.  But thankfully the bears stayed away.


I spent the next day driving to some of the further points in Yosemite, those that we’d been unable to reach on our previous drive through the park.  As I headed out towards Glacier Point, I saw the turning for Bridalveil Falls.  In spring, this waterfall billows out with the snowmelt from the mountains above, but in late October there was little more than a trickle.  Even so, a trickle falling 620’ is still impressive and I am glad I was able to see it.  Yosemite Falls has dried up completely and is now a target for climbers eager to take advantage of the narrow window this offers. 

I continued south and stopped at the Tunnel View turnout.  This offers one of the most spectacular views in the whole park.  A sweeping view back up the valley with the big five laid out in a row: El Capitan; North Dome; Half Dome; Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Falls.  This view alone was worth the trip back here.  I headed through the tunnel and turned up the Glacier Point road.  This also becomes impassable without snow chains later on, but for now it was still clear.  It twists and winds up until it reaches the Taft trailhead.  From there the road narrows considerably and winds even more tightly up and down to Glacier Point.  At 7214’, it puts you at eye level with the side of Half Dome, over 3000’ above the valley floor.  There is so much to see, whichever direction you look.  Down in the valley below were the tiny buildings of Yosemite Village, while across behind Half Dome it was possible to see both Vernal and Nevada falls.  I sat in the brilliant sunshine and ate my lunch, occasionally pinching myself to check I was really here at last.

I reluctantly dragged myself away and drove the 16 miles back to the main road, before continuing south to Wawona and the southern entrance to the Park.  A few miles further on, the road leads up to Mariposa Grove, home to over 500 Giant Sequoias.  They may not be as tall as Redwoods, but they have a bigger diameter and are simply enormous.  The biggest one here is known as the Grizzly Giant and is thought to be over 1800 years old.  As I walked up to it, standing proudly in its own small clearing, I was filled with memories of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree.  If ever there was a candidate for a magical tree with strange lands hiding at the top, then this was it.  I stood there looking up at it with a big grin on my face, lost in memories of childhood.  A short walk further along the trail brought me to the California Tunnel Tree, a sequoia with a tunnel carved through its base, as the name suggests.  This one wasn’t quite wide enough to drive a car through, though that was unlikely to have been the intention in 1895, but it is still standing nearly 120 years later.  Maybe this is what I remember from 25 years ago?

I made my way back up to Curry Village, stopping off just before the Wawona Tunnel to watch the last dazzling rays of the sun drop below the horizon.  The sun sets quite early behind the mountains and the valley gets dark very quickly, so I once again had to find my way back to my tent in the dark.


Mileage: 1437

Running total:  4,127

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #1 America

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