We pulled into Yosemite National Park at noon. I'd spent the last two weeks monitoring its every move. Wildfires and prescribed burn smoke completely filled the valley the week prior, but an inch of rain two days before our arrival not only helped manage those situations, but it also brought the valley's waterfalls back to life. Yes! We were stoked!
I was still on probation with my kids from our backpacking trip in the Tetons, so we decided to make it easy and camp at a campground. We'd hoped to find a spot at Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley, but we were too late, and all campgrounds and lodges in the valley were full. We managed to find a spot at Hodgdon Meadow campground just inside the north entrance. We set up camp in record time and gathered wood. My niece found the LARGEST pine cone any of us had ever seen. (So cool!) We threw together lunch, and decided to head into Yosemite Valley to check it out before it got dark.
If you've never been to Yosemite (as we hadn't) driving into the valley is... an experience. Having spent the previous twelve days exploring five National Parks while driving through fourteen states, I thought we'd seen about every type of road. Of the many things ingrained in my brain from this trip, one is that many of our National Parks are wild and free places that at one time were not easily accessible, if accessible at all. And although there are now roads that allow us to enjoy them, those roads are often on sheer cliffs, dropping thousands of feet, with little (if any) guard rails, and very little wiggle room. God bless the folks that were tasked with building them.
Half Dome was my only guide to Yosemite. I have a very dear friend that made the trek to the top, and conquering it changed her life. Just its mention makes her glow.
About a half hour into our drive to the valley floor, we started to pop out on the edge of some pretty large mountains. Everyone started to sit up a little higher in their seats. But you still couldn't see Half Dome. A couple minutes later we went through a tunnel, and on the other side - an alternate universe. Yosemite Valley - Half Dome - in all its greatness, was in the distance. What seemed like a cliff minutes ago now looked like a hill. Everyone immediately reached for their door handles, and the car filled with "oh my gosh!", "woah!", "holy crap!" and "we're so high up!!" in-between a bunch of nervous laughter and a couple gasps. Sue, who was driving, immediately slowed the car to a crawl, trying her best to stop laughing long enough to bring the car under some order. Such a moment for all seven of us!
After an hour drive from camp, we'd finally made it safely to the valley floor. (Whew!) Then it hit me. We had no plans for Yosemite. I had all but written it off due to the wildfires just a couple days prior. With serious, jaw-dropping beauty in every direction, we weren't quite sure what to do. So we did what came natural, stopping at the first trail we saw, running out of the car and down the trail!
Yosemite is beautiful... almost as if you're wondering around in a magnificent painting that took a lifetime to create... only it's interactive, with an elk over there, a climber scaling a cliff up there, and oh! Look! A coyote passing through right there!
As the day started winding down, everyone was adamant that I watch the sunset on Half Dome. (I constantly remind my family how important it is to stop and watch a sunset and/or sunrise, and now they were returning that favor.) As I set out to do that, everyone else was ready to release some energy hiking a trail nearby.