A multitude of landscapes in one day

Trip Start Dec 30, 2010
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Trip End May 05, 2011


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Flag of United States  , California
Tuesday, April 26, 2011

As a teenager I had a slight obsession with a website called "webshots". I haven't been on it for years, and a decade on, it’s probably changed a lot, but at the time it was essentially a photo-sharing site, used by professionals and amateurs alike.  The idea was that people could upload their photos, then others (like me) could download as many as they liked to use as desktop wallpaper or screensaver.   Soon after I joined they set a limit of five downloads per day, and I used it almost to the max.  I downloaded hundreds of beautiful high-resolution photos, mostly of landscapes and since the site was American, mostly of US National Parks.  As such I became quite familiar with these far-away places: evocative names such as “Grand Tetons, Wyoming”, “Bryce Canyon”, or “Punchbowl Falls, Eagle Creek” conjure up certain iconic images which though long lost in technological oblivion are forever imprinted in my head.  One of the locations that cropped up most frequently in my collection was Yosemite National Park.  It was many years later that I learnt it was pronounced “Yo-semm-it-ee” rather than “Yoss-o-might” and that just added to its exoticism.  It was with much anticipation therefore that I looked forward to actually seeing Yosemite for myself.

Our campsite was not far from the national park, but the most direct route, the Tioga Pass, was closed because late April at this altitude means snow, and lots of it.  We therefore left the campsite at 7am, anticipating a four hour drive to our destination.  We passed through a landscape of snowy peaks and pine trees, observing how different it was to the previous day’s Death Valley.  A few hours into the journey, Seth received news that his planned route was also closed due to bad weather, and we stopped for a short time while he consulted the map and tried to work out a different way in.  It was clear that our planned lunchtime picnic at Yosemite was now unlikely.  We drove on and the snowscape seemed to melt before us, as rainbows appeared and roadside babbling brooks chased us along our way. 

Our long route round to find a way into the park took us unexpectedly past Lake Tahoe, a major tourist attraction in itself.  Unfortunately we didn’t even have time to stop as by this time Seth had realised that the only way into Yosemite was to drive right around it to the western side, and we’d be lucky to arrive before nightfall.  Around lunchtime we stopped for literally a couple of minutes to grab our 'picnic’ from the trailer, and ate it in the car.  The afternoon was marked by a huge variety of landscapes ranging from Alpine lodges buried in snow, to palm trees in Sacramento, to lush farmland and orchards, rolling green fields reminiscent of home, and back to snow-blanketed pine forests.  We eventually arrived at Yosemite for sunset, and after a quick photo stop at famous granite cliff El Capitan we headed to the Visitor Centre.  Unfortunately it was closed, but by the time we reached our campsite it was dark.  Poor Seth had really cut it fine with his driving hours.

We’d been warned that as bears are allowed to roam wild in the park, it was vital that all campers be as vigilant as possible as far as this is concerned, locking all food and anything scented in the secure “bear box” provided.  As we set up camp and began cooking a park ranger came and told us that a bear had been sighted in our area the previous night, and she explained what to do if we were to see one (throw things at it and make loud noises).  Poor Terry, who shares the same animal phobia as me, was terrified, but my way of coping was denial.  I’d never seen a wild bear so simply couldn’t imagine it: somehow the idea of a neighbouring camper’s pet dog sniffing round my tent scared me more.  The night was freezing but I’d had the foresight to buy a fleece hat and blanket earlier, so in fact I didn’t sleep too badly.  We were all a little disappointed to wake the following morning with no bear stories to report.

It was a shame that we had spent so much time and effort getting to Yosemite, and only had the morning to enjoy the park.  After breakfast we loaded the trailer back up then walked to Yosemite Falls, which was iced over in parts.  I was pleased we had time to visit the Ansel Adams gallery, a photographer most famous for his Yosemite work.  As is often the case with me, it was only indecision that prevented me from buying a poster!  We drove a little further through the park to a short trail which was rendered much longer by the heavy snow on the ground, but it was really beautiful.  We enviously passed a group of school children in snow shoes.  We reached our destination: a grove of Giant Sequoia trees, apparently the world’s largest trees in terms of volume.  This basically means they’re tall but also have massive trunks.  One (long dead) tree had a large section cut through the bottom, ideal for photos!  In The Lost Continent Bill Bryson recalls an old postcard sent to him as a child by a relative, depicting a car full of people driving through a tree.  I’m pretty sure it must have been sent from here.  Photos taken care of, we returned to the van and prepared for another half-day of driving.  Not, however, before a picnic!  We had spotted a picnic table nearby, never mind that it was literally buried in snow, and cheerfully assembled our cheese and salad sandwiches as we looked forward to two nights of warmth in a hostel!
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