Trip Start Jan 01, 2012
Trip End Jan 18, 2012

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Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, January 8, 2012

Even before arriving in Yosemite proper, the scenery during the drive in was incredible. We approached the Sierra Nevada Range from the West with rolling foothills sprinkled with granite outcroppings gradually turning into towering peaks over the course of about a hundred miles. Once in the Park the road wound along the Merced River and we pulled over at one of the many scenic turnouts. The riverbed is full of giant granite boulders worn smooth by centuries of water, and the steep descent of the river’s flow creates tier upon tier of crashing white water and eddies. Perched on a boulder in the middle of the stream I had a strong temptation to take the plunge and go for a swim…maybe if it wasn’t the middle of winter I would have gone for it.

Nearing Yosemite Valley we pulled over again to check out Bridalveil Falls. From the parking area we could see through a gap in the pine trees and redwoods—the water sprayed over the edge of the rock and crashed down to a pool below, bouncing and spraying off the contours of the cliff face as it went. After a short hike up to the viewing area I clambered up a little further to the pool at the base of the falls. There was a giant boulder at the edge of the pool and I lay down on it to get a better and more panoramic view of the waterfall and surrounding valley.

Yosemite Valley is very developed, especially the area we were staying in with its multiple lodges, restaurants, etc. When I was younger I was really into backpacking in the wilderness and I would definitely have turned my nose up at this kind of excessively convenient “backwoods” experience. But nowadays I am more than happy to be sleeping in a warm bed and drinking hot coffee, and still be able to step onto the back porch of our hotel room and see the sun rising over the towering cliffs at the valley’s edge.

In the morning we got an early start and drove down to the Mariposa Grove at the south end of the Park. We took a short three mile hike through the grove of giant sequoia and managed to get onto a section of the trail that we had almost entirely to ourselves. These giant trees are incredibly thick at the base but their height seems out of proportion due to their stubby top portion; apparently the sap can’t flow high enough so the trees stop growing up at some point but continue to grow wider over the centuries. One of the sequoias, nicknamed “Grizzly Giant,” is over 2,700 years old.

On our way north back to the Valley we stopped off at Glacier Point. From this vantage point on the southeast side of Yosemite Valley we could see Half Dome from the other side as well as multiple sets of high altitude waterfalls arrayed panoramically before us. We had considered doing the four mile hike from the valley floor up to Glacier Point, but opted for the car ride instead, in keeping with the trip’s theme of convenient wilderness experiences. It is hard to describe how fantastic the view is from Glacier Point, but I’m sure even my low-quality point-and-click photos can do a better job than my prose.

At the end of the day we had a couple close encounters with wildlife. On the drive back from Glacier Point we saw another car stopped in the road facing toward us, it flashed its brights so I rolled to a stop as well. Then off to the right we saw a wolf paused on the side of the road staring at us. We stared back for a bit then rolled on. That night, back at the hotel, I was smoking a cigar on the back porch and heard some rustling in the undergrowth. A group of doe ambled out of the forest grazing as they passed by. They must be used to humans because they got within five feet of me and didn’t seem nervous in the least. After they went off into a nearby ravine I sat on a log nearby to watch them go. But they decided to swing back by, this time with a group of three bucks sniffing after them. Again, they didn’t seem perturbed by me or my cigar smoke in the least and passed by me in turn then trotted back slowly down the slope of the ravine.

We took off the next morning, headed south toward Las Vegas. Hard to imagine a more stark juxtaposition than the peaceful natural beauty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the glittering lights and hedonist excess of the City of Sin.
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