Yosemite National Park - July 2002 Megamail

It has been about six months so you should just about be finished reading the last MegaMail. It will probably be another six months to the next one so don't hurt yourself trying to read this one either. Sam and I had the opportunity over the 4th of July to expand a wedding of a friend into a very nice vacation to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California.


Pretty much a travel day as we skipped out of work at noon and headed to the airport. Jake would be staying at daycare all week and although we were told that he missed us, we're pretty sure he enjoyed playing with all the other dogs every day while we were gone. Plus we gave him an extra ration of food so he was fat and fluffy when we picked him up afterwards!

Our travel out there was rather uneventful with two minor exceptions: 1) we circled Dallas for about an hour while we waited for a thunderstorm to clear out. We almost had to redirect to Wichita Falls to refuel, but thankfully the storm moved out before that happened. Actually, I think they just *told* us that to make us feel lucky and thankful to land at all as opposed to being surly and upset that we were late.

The second problem is that Sacramento's shuttle system to the rental car area pretty much sucks. They don't quite have the system down yet where you get all departing passengers off *before* loading arriving passengers. The result is pure chaos as there aren't enough shuttles and people climb over each other and each other's luggage trying to get in and out.

But otherwise a pretty uneventful journey. After our three-hour drive to Mariposa, California (near Yosemite National Park) we went immediately to sleep at about 1:30am.


7am came awfully early, but we were excited to do some hiking and used that energy to lift our carcasses out of the very comfy bed to hit the road. We stopped at a grocery store in what would become part of our daily routine. We picked up some breakfast items and whatever we were going to eat for lunch that day.

After about a 40-minute drive we were in Yosemite proper, but to tell you the truth, the land outside Yosemite is nothing to sneeze at either. The road followed the Merced River right into Yosemite Valley. And although there are a few motels closer to the park entrance than where we stayed, they were quite a bit more expensive and quite frankly, one would be stuck there. In Mariposa there is at least some semblance of civilization... but more on that later.

On our plane ride the night before we planned which hike we wanted to do today and we opted for the Four Mile Trail from the Valley floor up to Glacier Point. This trail is actually 4.6 miles one-way and rises 3000 feet during a brisk two to two and a half hour ascent. The views were gorgeous and we saw surprisingly few people on this trail. Sam got a little camera happy on the way up, but honestly it was hard not to for everything was just spectacular. Along the way we stopped for a beef jerky break and had a small squirrel join us for a good 10-15 minutes.

Of course, everything that was going so right went so wrong when we reached the top. Not that the view from the top was bad in any way, it was just we were overwhelmed by the number of people up there. It seems that one can *drive* up to Glacier Point and take a very short hike up from the parking lot. So, to our dismay, Glacier Point was overrun with tourists! Bummer.

We attempted to find an out of the way place for our lunch break and were successful in doing so... for about five minutes. We managed to find ourselves a very fine view of Half Dome and Nevada Falls and things were perfect until... just like lemmings, other people saw how good our view was and soon our little area was bustling with activity as family after family came to get photographs.

Eventually our 15 minutes of fame were up and we were again left to our own devices until we finished our lunch break. After lunch we decided to take the three-mile round trip hike up to Sentinel Dome. This brought us another 1000 feet higher and provided a spectacular 360-degree view. It is well worth the view to hike up to Sentinel Dome from Glacier Point, even if you wimp out and drive to Glacier Point.

After taking yet another break at the top, we started our long descent back to the Valley floor. During our climb back down we realized how lucky we were that we went up in the morning for the afternoon sun was pelting us with no mercy. So if you decide to take this trail, be sure to do so in the morning. Also, if you did not want to come down the same way you went up, you could take the Panorama Trail from Glacier Point back down to the Valley past some nice waterfalls. However, as we were going to see these falls the next day on horseback, we just went back the same way we came.

Before heading home we zipped through the main village and were awash in people. In the main area we found a full-blown supermarket that was absolutely packed with customers. It gave ample evidence to exactly how many people were in Yosemite at that particular moment. However, away from the main lodging areas, the volumes of people quickly diminished.

That night, after cleaning up, we walked across the street from our motel to some restaurant that I don't even remember the name of anymore... perhaps the Charles Street Restaurant? This place was excellent in every respect! For whatever reason, during the hike, both Sam and I were craving steak and so we got the fillet, which was perfectly prepared. I had a small problem with one of the red potatoes that I was given in that I managed to catapult it off my plate, it then rolled off the table unto the bench I was sitting, and then rolled off the bench to the floor, and finally it rolled out under somebody else's table. Well... how embarrassing... for the other table! I mean really, can't they pick up after themselves!!! :) They had a fine Spanish wine available at a very reasonable price that went well with dinner. After dinner we soon crashed with exhaustion.

Thursday (July 4th)

Independence Day was not the fireworks infested day I was expecting. After all, with all the wildfires going on out West things were decidedly locked down in the fireworks department. Long ago we reserved a horseback-riding trip for the afternoon of the 4th. That left the morning with us finding something to do. Our choice was to do a relatively short and easy hike up to Mirror Lake (2.5 miles round trip). This lake was getting pretty dried up in the summer heat and was soon going to turn into a meadow. However, the one thing that did not dry up was the view of Half Dome.

The morning sun made it difficult to take pictures so you might want to do this trip in the afternoon. Also, there is a bike path that goes up to Mirror Lake so you might want to bike up there instead of hike up there. However, there aren't a whole lot of bike trails that one can go on so if you rent a bike... probably a half a day rental is adequate. A third method of transportation exists if you are interested in Mirror Lake! The two-hour horseback riding trips go up there so you could even go that route if it appealed to you!

Soon enough it was noon and we had to be back to the stables for our half-day horseback-riding trip. Soon we found out however, that it would be a muleback-riding trip as mules were better suited for the trip up to Clarke's Point, which is between Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. Horses have longer rear legs, which makes going down a hill impossible (or at least difficult and dangerous) for them. Mules have four legs of the same length so, although they may not be happy about it, they are at least better equipped for hill work. I, being the most inexperienced of the riders that day, was naturally given the most challenging mule to ride, a large beast called Kodiak. Sam, being far more advanced than I was given the very tame (and slow) Clint. Despite her prodding, Clint moved along at his own pace.

I soon found out that Kodiak wasn't all that difficult, he was just made of the same fabric that I was. We are both kind of surly, adventurous, yet lazy and pretty much have a mind of our own. Once I realized this I could talk to him at a common level and from then on we got along pretty good. Well, except for our descent in which he started to trot a few times and I felt much like Yosemite Sam saying "Whoa, Whoa!," trying to stop a runaway horse only to be thrown off when the horse finally complies. Fortunately, Sam and Clint were ahead of us and Clint didn't move for anybody and stopped Kodiak dead in his tracks. I managed to hang on.

Everything about this little adventure was great other than I wish we had a little more time for ourselves at Clarke's Point. As it was, we had little time to finish our snack lunch. Our legs were totally spent after the trip and we managed to stumble back to our cars and drive back to the motel. Along the way we stopped by Bridalveil Falls, which was positively crawling with tourists. We did manage to find a low-traffic area up in the rocks and were fascinated as the waterfall constantly swayed back and forth in the wind. It is much better to see these falls with the afternoon sun with the rainbows created by the sunshine and the mist, however it started to haze up a little and so our view was not much different than during any other time during the day.

That night we desperately needed some time in the Jacuzzi at the motel to unwind some knots in our legs and butts. We then had a fairly unexciting dinner at a place called The Miners. If you go, skip the Alfredo... *boring*! We then went to bed even earlier than the day before.


Friday marked our last day in Yosemite. After much discussion we opted to check out the Sequoia groves in the west side of the park. These are the smaller and less famous of the three groves in the park, but it was a lot less driving from where we were and thought they would have fewer people.

However, as we got a later start on the day, and given that it was the Friday after the 4th, we witnessed a large increase in the level of traffic enroute. However, even with this, the overall crowds at Yosemite were a lot less than we were expecting. Note that I was in Yellowstone in August once and was using that as a benchmark. Yellowstone was positively crammed while Yosemite only seemed only moderately crammed.

Anyway, we made our way to the Tuolumne Grove of Sequoias. A two-mile round trip hike is required to see these beasts, however it isn't that difficult. It was with great anticipation that Sam and I entered the grove, pointing at big trees and wondered, "Is that a Sequoia?" Believe me, once you see one you will know it for they stand out quite noticeable. If you have to ask yourself if it is a sequoia, than it isn't a sequoia, let's just put it that way.

It was kind of sad to walk through this grove as there was a bit of a history exhibit about the trees and it is apparent that there used to be thousands if not millions more of these trees 150 years ago but they were cut quickly when it was realized a single sequoia contained the same amount of wood as an acre or more of standard pine trees. Fortunately they have been spared from further logging and should be standing tall for your grand childrens' grand children and beyond.

The second Grove, the Merced Grove, I thought was a lot better. First, the longer hike to see them meant fewer people (about 4 miles roundtrip). Also, one gets to see more of the trees as they are in the woods and not as though millions of people have trampled out the vegetation around their roots. Very impressive and I recommend seeing this particular grove of Sequoias if you are undecided which to see.

After that we left Yosemite and took highway 49, named for the 1849 gold rush that occurred in the area 150 years ago. It was a pleasant drive that went though several smallish towns with touristy downtown districts. There are many places one can stop to shop or eat or quench one's thirst.


At last, the whole point of our trip was at hand, the wedding of our friends Jeff and Kris who we knew from Madison but who have been living in the Bay Area for the past several years. The ceremony and reception took place in a small community called Foresthill, which is about an hours drive east of Sacramento. The ceremony had several unique elements to it, the most obvious of which was the parade following the ceremony down to the reception.

At the request of the bride and groom, friends and relatives made banners representing how they knew the bride and groom. Both the parade and the odd combination of banners in the parade made all the locals take notice and shake their heads in confusion. This is because the parade seemed to have three major themes that were radically different from one another and came across as: "A gay pride, women's self-defense, pro nuclear demonstration" It was funny to watch as cars drove by starting out giving the peace sign that turned into the finger as they saw pro-nuclear banners. Quite funny indeed.

All in all, a bang up wedding that allowed Sam and I to catch up with a number of friends from around the country.


Our last day. Whew, I bet you can't believe how short this MegaMail is! We had one final wedding duty to perform by attending a brunch. This allowed us to soberly say our good byes. But we had to say good-bye rather quickly as Sam and I had one more activity up our sleeves before we left that night: whitewater rafting!

The area south of Auburn, California (which is where we stayed during the past two nights) has the American River running all around and it provides several excellent opportunities for doing some rafting, mostly class 2 and class 3 rapids. As this was a last-minute activity, we frantically called several outfitters to see if they had any openings. We did not have any luck, but decided to drive out to Coloma (where most of the rafting is done) to see if we had any better luck in person. Along the way we witnessed a young bear molesting a storage shed and it was attracting quite the crowd along the road!

We stopped by the photo shop (which if you have gone rafting before makes perfect sense. If you haven't, know that photographers are on the shores taking your picture in hopes to sell them to you afterwards. Quite the little operation actually!) Anyway, the photo place mentioned that we head down the road a few minutes and ask one of the companies if they had any openings. As luck would have it, we arrived at the perfect time and indeed there were two openings on one of the rafts. So we quickly changed and got the 'crash course' in how to paddle properly and what to do when we fell out of the boat.

And so began our half day voyage on the whitewater of the Middle Fork of the American River. All in all a most enjoyable little adventure. Our raft guide was experienced enough to get everybody in the raft wet whenever he wanted. Sam was his favorite target. Although the rafting wasn't, in my opinion, as good as when I went on the Rio Grande several years ago, it was still fun nonetheless. This was confirmed when we went to the photo shop afterwards. Just like my previous adventure, everybody in the raft had huge smiles as we challenged the rapids. If you haven't gone whitewater rafting, I highly recommend you do so.

After our trip we stopped for dinner at an Italian place in Placerville Lil Mama Cucina or something similar to that. Anyway, it was on the main drag and had heaping, quality portions. Neither Sam nor I could finish what was put before us. But in our defense we had a *huge* Portobello appetizer that took us by surprise at its size. Positively delicious!

We then drove back to Sacramento and stopped by the old town for a drink before we headed to the airport. Although it was Sunday night and things were kind of dead, I would imagine that Old Sacramento, as it is called, is an excellent place to visit. Lots of shops and restaurants and watering holes. All along the river and set to an old west motif. We stopped at the best looking bar for a drink. We just got two very watered down sodas for a whopping $5. But the guy after us lost $20 for just two beers!!!! Absolutely criminal.

In fact, one of the people we knew who was at the wedding called $20 bills "Yuppie Food Coupons" because they disappeared so fast out there. "One for lunch, several for dinner," is what he said. Well, dropping $10 for a pint of beer is not my idea of fun and we were soon scared out of there.

After dealing with the rental car shuttle one more time, we boarded our 12:15am flight back to Richmond via Dallas and had no problems on the way back, other than me getting a sore neck from sleeping funny. Jake was very glad to see us and we took a little nap to rid ourselves of any jet lag.

If you are heading out to the Yosemite area, I would start by checking out the NPS web site. It covers all the basics. However, I would avoid going in July and August if you can because the crowds are the highest at that time. Furthermore, due to snow, much of the park is closed from November to early May. Late May and June are probably your best months to go given the high water levels on the rivers and waterfalls.

Hope you enjoyed reading about our little adventure. If you wish to be taken off the MegaMail mailing list, you are out of luck! Until next time.

Eric and Sam


Sam and El Capitan on the way up the Four Mile Trail.


Dead tree at the top of Sentinel Dome.


Mirror Lake and Half Dome.


Sam shows her environmentalist roots as she hugs a giant sequoia.