Yosemite, the winter wonderland

Trip Start May 07, 2011
Trip End Nov 09, 2011

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Where I stayed
America's Best Value Inn (Livermore, California, United States)
What I did
Drove to Yosemite in the snow
Got soaked by Bridalveil fall's spray
Took in some great views

Flag of United States  , California
Monday, May 16, 2011

Since we weren't very far from Yosemite, we thought we'd drive through on our way to San Francisco. This would allow us to get a feel for the weather conditions and check with the park rangers which trail heads are open at the moment. It turned out to be very lucky that we went. Winter has not left Yosemite yet this year and there has even been fresh snow fall over the last few days. In fact it is still snowing now. 

We are going to have to change our plans for the next few weeks. While it would be possible to hike and camp in the snow on some of the lower level trails, we are fair weather outdoor people and whilst we have some warm clothes, we aren't really kitted out properly. Maybe we can come back in a few years time and spend a week or two backpacking then.

On the drive up to Yosemite National park, the temperature dropped steadily and the amount of settled snow increased. As we started climbing through the trees, it started snowing and we were transported to a winter wonderland. We ignored the signs stating that snow chains should be carried at all times and carried on. I think plenty of other people were doing the same and we were carrying warm clothes and some food so we could survive being stranded if the weather got really severe. We discovered that Yosemite valley didn't have any snow in it anyway.

On the way in to Yosemite valley on Highway 41, you have to go through Wawona Tunnel which is at 6000 feet and is 0.8 miles long (1.3 km). Obviously, you have to hold your breath when going through tunnels so we did. It's probably not the most sensible thing for a driver to do and I thought I was going to burst by the end but I made it which is the important point. Alison forgot to take a fresh breath at the tunnel entrance and sadly failed. Passengers are also supposed to lift their feet off the floor and touch the car roof by the way. 0.8 miles at 35 mph takes 1 minute and 23 seconds. 

On the other side of the tunnel is the famous Tunnel view. Tunnel view on a clear day should look like this. You should be able to see the southwest face of El CapitanHalf Dome, and Bridalveil Falls. For a few seconds, we could just make out Bridalveil but it clouded over again before we could take a picture.
Next we got soaked by getting too close to Bridalveil falls. The spray was intense and the path was really a 2 or 3 inch deep fast flowing stream. Freezing cold water got in to our boots. Some people really don't come prepared; we saw people in flip flops, shorts and t-shirts and one girl in ugg boots. It was barely above freezing and raining.

We then drove along to swinging bridge to take in the views from the middle of the river Merced. Very pretty. Not sure why it is called swinging bridge though since it doesn't swing at all. 
We were stereotypical American tourists today and mostly followed these steps:

1. Stop car.
2. Get out, walk 5 or less paces, take picture.
3. Get back inside warm, dry, air-conditioned car.
4. Drive to next lay by.
5. Repeat

That probably sounds disparaging but we had a fun day. It's a nice way to see the park if you don't have much time or aren't physically able to walk far. The valley is definitely set up for this type of tour anyway. The main loop through the valley is a one way road which is 2 lanes wide and at points it has parking lanes at either side where you can stop to get out and take photos etc. Again the speed limit was mostly between 15 and 25 mph giving plenty of time to take in the views and plenty of time to stop in case a bear crosses your path (none did). Many dual carriageways in the UK are smaller. In fact, I'm sure the M60 is narrower at points. 

Before leaving the valley, we ate small pizzas in Yosemite lodge. Just to tick all the tourist boxes really. It was surprisingly good pizza though and kept us going for many hours. 

The drive out of the park heading north has possibly even better views. Lots more snow and some fire damaged areas. We spent the night in a nice little town called Livermore. Ate dinner at an ale house and had a few beers. Apparently all beers are called ales here. Pale ale is larger, amber tends to be ale and dark is possibly stout. I had three different beers and all were good. So good I can't remember the names of any of them. I've also had a pint of Stella Artois whilst in America. It tasted like watered down weak lager. Alison liked it.

Although this was not how we planned to spend time in Yosemite, we still had fun and definitely plan to come back at some point in the future. Hopefully we'll be more lucky next time and avoid unseasonable winter weather! Onwards to San Francisco...

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