From Kings Canyon we were scheduled to head back west, to the Californian coast to drive up the famous Highway 1 coast road, through Big Sur, and then to stay in Carmel for a few nights. But while we were in Sequoia we discovered that there had been a massive landslide at Big Sur. A ¼ mile stretch is meters deep in rocks, rubble and dirt and the road is impassable…..
The road is currently closed and will be for some months to come (there is a rumour it may never be reopened). So we decided to change our plan, give up on returning to the coast and stay inland. We had not originally intended to visit Yosemite. Ed and I have both been before and when we were originally planning our trip we could not find any accommodation. But now we had time, the spirit of adventure and thought “well, why not try?”. We also assumed there would be the added bonus of using the high altitude pass through the middle of the park as a clever way to reach our next destination, Mammoth Lakes to the east.
I made some phone calls and managed to find a funky hotel, 30 minutes outside the park, which could accommodate us – but only for for 2 nights. It was originally a back packers hostel (and still has bunk rooms and a communal kitchen and brought back memories of my back packing years!) but has now expanded to offer hotel rooms, a spa and an excellent restaurant.
Since we only had one day to explore the park on foot, we started early to make the most of it – we were parked in ‘the valley’ and raring to go by 9 am (we’d been told it gets impossible to find a parking spot after 9 am!). The car park had the same atmosphere as at Disneyland – with hordes of excited people unloading and rushing to get ‘through the gates’ and onto the trails first!
As we drove into the park we had seen that there was a dusting of snow on the peaks (yes, unbelievable! yet more bl**dy snow!).
This had fallen over night and meant that one of the most scenic drives in the park – up to Glacier Point was closed – due to ice on the road. Nevertheless, the views of the valley and El Capitan were magnificent.
We hiked (OK, it was really more of a walk!) to Lower Yosemite Fallsand then headed to Mirror Lake…
We walked the whole way around the lake, which turned out to be a little further than we thought….about 7 miles….but it was gorgeous.
At 4.30, pleased we had seen at least some of Yosemite,
we set off to drive back to the hotel. As were driving out of the Park we were confused to see a sign saying that Highway 140, the road we’d come in on, was closed. We later discovered that at lunchtime there had been a huge landslide, which had blocked the entire road. It was going to take around 24 hours to be cleared and the area made safe. There are only 4 roads into the park so this meant that we had a massive detour north out of the park to get back to our hotel on the west side. The 2.5 hour drive was long but at least it was scenic! And we knew we could look forward to a delicious dinner at the hotel!
The next day, we knew we had a long drive ahead of us – some 300 miles around the top of Yosemite to get to Mammoth Lakes – our plan of using the East-West pass through the middle of the park having been foiled by, you guessed it, “bl**dy” snow! This pass, which rises to an elevation of 9,950 feet, is normally free of snow and open to vehicles by the start of June – but the pass was still 20 feet deep in snow and not yet cleared. Ed was nevertheless determined, having been deprived of the views from Glacier Point the day before, to return to the park to try again. The weather had brightened so we were optimistic that the ice would have melted and road up would now be open. Highway 140 was still closed so we had to take the long way around back into the park – but once we got to Glacier Point we were rewarded with magnificent views.
Then we pilled back into The Beast to head out of Yosemite to Mammoth Lakes…
We did enjoy our short visit to Yosemite – the scenery is quite incredible but it is, in a way, a victim of its own success. It is by far the most crowded of the parks we have visited (so far). For us the hordes of tourists take away from the natural feel of the place. Added to this is the fact that it seems to be the most poorly run of the parks. The shuttle system was, quite frankly, utterly inadequate. There are not enough shuttle buses to cater to the number of visitors – 8M visitors anticipated this year (yes, you guessed it, I am going to email the park and let them know what I think!). I think the way to enjoy Yosemite is to plan to visit out of high season, avoid the valley floor as much as possible and to hike the less popular trails. This would make it a magical experience.
What Ed says:
The change of plan was really a blessing in disguise as it was quite selfish of Justine and I to “miss out” Yosemite because we had already done it. Yosemite is such an iconic & historic park and it played a key part in the creation of Americas national parks. Yosemite was created thanks to a federal grant even before Yellowstone NP was formed. A scot called John Muir invited President Roosevelt to spend two days camping in Yosemite. The President was struck by the beauty of the valley and surrounding areas. He realised that they should remain unspoilt, protected from development and available for everyone to enjoy. This visit was therefore the catalyst for the Federal Grant which set aside Yosemite and the later creation of Yellowstone and the rest of the National Parks. Interestingly the Californians did not want to hand Yosemite over to the state but with the US army “protecting” it there was nothing they could do about it!
We were lucky, in a way, that the huge amount of meltwater meant that the parks’ waterfalls were in full force. They have not been in evidence during the last few years due the terrible drought in California. This meant that iconic photos were obtained!
The chaos of the valley floor does need to be sorted out but the visitor centre is well done. Interestingly, the climbing politics of Yosemite are still raging, just as they were when I was a student in the 80’s! If you have the time there is so much more to Yosemite than just the valley.
Next Destination: Mammoth Lakes, California