yosemite national park, day one

We had an uncomfortable night - we hadn't made a fire, and didn't have a flashlight, and Allan was getting sick. But we had an excellent breakfast, then stopped in at the Crane Flat, the store and gas station for the Yosemite high country, for a flashlight.

We spent five days in Yosemite on our first big trip together in 1988, so I wasn't sure if we were going to do the "greatest hits" tour. But 1988 is a long time ago, and chances are we'll never be back, and those are greatest hits for a reason. We also wanted to stop at a visitor's centre to see about horseback riding, so we decided to drive into the Valley, about an hour away.

Yosemite Valley is amazing and horrible: the views are amazing, the crowds are horrible. From the Valley floor, you look up at enormous sheer granite cliffs and waterfalls, and have spectacular views. The most famous of these are Half Dome and El Capitan, and there are many others. Every vista point is full of cars and RVs, and with good reason.

We stopped frequently for photo ops and made our way to the visitors centre. One thing this did was validate our decision not to stay in Curry Village! The horseback riding in the high country was fully booked, a disappointment to me, but it freed up time and money, both in short supply on this trip.

Next we drove to Mariposa Grove, home to the largest stand of Giant Sequoia trees in the world. It was a long drive, made longer and slower by road construction, and the last portion had to be done by shuttle bus, as the number of cars allowed into each section of the Park is limited (thank goodness). Some of the Sequoias in Mariposa Grove are more than 2,000 years old, making them some of the oldest living organisms on the planet. These trees are not only tall - 210 feet or 64 meters - they are enormously wide: 92 feet or 28 meters in diameter at the base, with branches some six or seven feet or two meters in diameter.

I must admit that I did not feel the same awe and wonder I did when we saw these trees in 1988, partly because of the crowds, and partly because I was more prepared. (I also visited Yosemite as a child in about 1970 or 1971.) But it was still very cool to see the trees.

There are two groves in Mariposa, Upper and Lower. After seeing the Lower Grove, we hiked up to the Upper, but I had a really hard time. It was very hot, and Sequoias aren't shade trees; the forest is striped with shade but not shady. I have a hard time in the heat, and neither of us are in prime shape for uphill hiking. I had to stop frequently and a few times thought I would turn back, but didn't.

When we reached the Upper Grove, our efforts were rewarded: a deer was walking around by the roadside, right near us, completely unafraid. At one point, I held my breath while it walked within ten feet of me, checking me out with its huge, radar-tower ears and black liquid eyes. We saw two more deers near the spectacular trees, then reluctantly headed downhill. On our way to the shuttle bus, we saw two bucks with big antlers bounding off through the trees. No matter how many times I have seen deer in the wild, I love it every single time.

We drove back to White Wolf, at the complete other end of the Park, but this time without construction. That night was our bear paranoia experience. The evening was much more comfortable than our first night, since we had a flashlight and made a fire.

The temperature range was dramatic: about 7 C / 45 F in the morning, quickly rising to 65-70 F / 18-21 C in the high country, topping out at 95-105 F / 35-40 C in mid-day, and back down again at night. It's very dry, so it's much more bearable than Toronto or New York in similar temperatures, but it's still much too hot for me. On the other hand, I wore shorts and a light jacket in the morning, while most people were bundled up in winter jackets.

We experienced the same kind of extreme temperature range driving to Yosemite as well. San Francisco is famous for its chilly summers (love it!), and as you drive east, the temperature steadily rises to a typically hot, dry California summer.

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