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When Yosemite is Your Yard

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The roads from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite wind around and around. I’m not used to mountain driving, but it doesn’t really scare me. You just stay on the road. The height doesn’t really worry me too much, because I keep my eyes on the road. Paying attention is probably the most helpful thing one can do in mountain driving where staying on the road becomes even more important than it is on flat land.

I was happy to rest in Angel’s Camp for a while. A cute little town, I loved how they had clothes hanging over the street. It reminded me of shoes that hang above Spectre in Big Fish. Signs were in every window for the upcoming Culaveras County Jumping Frog Jubilee. Apparently Angel’s Camp’s claim to fame is that Mark Twain published a story about a frog from there.

I didn’t really have a place to stay planned out for Yosemite. I thought I’d find a camping spot either inside the park or somewhere nearby. I had heard rumors about maybe some nearby BLM camping. I was caught off guard though when I found out that all the campgrounds in Yosemite were filled to capacity and that there wasn’t any BLM land nearby. I decided the smart thing to do would to be to stop and rent a bear can at least, so if I did make some last-minute camping arrangements than I wouldn’t have to worry about my car being broken into.

I struck up a conversation with the ranger at the information desk and he discreetly let me know that I could stay with him and his roommates for my time instead of camping in the Santislaus National Forest. The park service doesn’t allow overnight guests, so I was going to have to be kinda incognito about my new couchsurfing arrangements. I waited until dusk when the ranger got off work, he jumped in the car and I was pointed down a road with a sign that said “Official Use Only”.

I was already paranoid about bears, but then the ranger freaked me out some more by telling me about how one family had the door ripped off their car for a half a snickers bar left under the seat. That was enough for me to detail my car and sit anything that remotely had a scent in a corner of the living room.

I was advised to get up early if I was going to go down to the Valley. I wasn’t sure how long I was going to stay, so I decided to go into the valley even though it was a Saturday. I will say if you have an option, do not go to Yosemite Valley over the weekend. The morning was beautiful before everything opened. I got down there about 7:30 a.m. and deer were grazing so close. I decided to hike the Mist Trail. It’s 7 miles round trip and includes Vernal and Nevada Falls. It’s a pretty amazing hike, very steep in some parts and it was also very very crowded the day I went. I went on a good day none-the-less. It must have been record-breaking heat, as the rangers kept talking about how hot it was that Saturday for days on end and when I responded with, “It wasn’t that hot”, they said, “Of course it wasn’t for you! You were on the Mist Trail!” Towards the top you get soaked from head to toe in a beautiful rainbow laden shower, as you climb beside the waterfall to the very top. The top is pretty amazing. I know I can’t be the only one who’s ever wondered what a waterfall looks like from the top. Well at the top of the Mist Trail you get to see what water looks like when it hits the ledge!

That night, I headed right outside the park and over to the Evergreen Lodge for a ranger’s going away party. I got there before the crowd and ate a pretty delicious gourmet grilled cheese with tomato soup. The lodge had beautiful grounds and a sitting area with internet. It looked like a pretty high-class establishment.

I was sitting at the bar drinking Sierra Nevada and talking to a stranger, when all the employees showed up for the party. The lodge had live bluegrass music that night and the band was pretty good, but all the guests were chatting, rather than soaking in the music. I met lots of people about my age who worked in the area – whether as a ranger, police officer, fire fighter, researcher or bartender. I started to get grilled by a petite girl with big brown eyes, as my presence as a non-local sparked curiosity. She had that friendly gossip demeanor.

“Do you work around here?” “No.” “Are you staying at the Evergreen?” “No.” “So, how did you find out about our get together?” “Oh, I made friends with some rangers.” “Who? How long have you been here?” I just got here last night.” “Where are you staying?” “I’m staying in Yosemite.” “Oh, ok.”

Around midnight I got back to the house and I heard the scoop on all of what I had seen. Living in a national park seems very similar to living in a small tourist town with a high population turn-over seasonally. “The Evergreen is the hang-out for those that live on this side of the park. The people on the east side hang out at the 7-11.” I give them a look and repeat, “The 7-11?” “Well yeah, but the 7-11 has gourmet food, craft beer and live music on the weekends!”

There is talk every evening about who and who have gotten together, how no one can stand such and such’s husband, eye-rolling complaints about management, hilarious stories about dumb tourists, opinions about park problems and fearsome bear tales.

Quotes worth remembering include:

“I don’t understand… more into fly-fishing than woman…”

“If the bears ever stop being afraid of us, we’re in big trouble.”

“They asked when do we turn the waterfalls on!”

“Yeah, she’s the one who’s always in that Mr. Roger’s sweater.”

Sunday, I hiked to Dog Lake. The trail didn’t have that many people on it, which was an improvement from the Mist Trail’s crowds. I was annoyed though by this family that decided they were going to try to hike with their three walking children, while pushing a stroller. The peace of nature was broken by the whines of “I’m tired, my feet hurt.” I happily crossed creeks, climbed over logs and walked through snow hoping to leave the stroller family in the dust. That was one of the craziest things, there was still snow on the ground and ice on the water, but I wasn’t cold at all in shorts and a t-shirt.

Dog Lake turned out to be a beautiful mountain lake. Snow was spread out all around it in patches and the mountains stood snow-capped in the distance. I ended up walking around half of it to get to a shore where I could sit for a while without hearing the stroller family, which eventually staggered in behind me.

During the week, I spent quite a bit of time at the Mountain Sage in Groveland, California. It was the closest coffee shop and place where I could get internet. I got along really well with the locals and picked up both some work and some potential work while hanging out in the house. For lunch, I walked down to the Iron Door Saloon, sat down at the bar and ordered a burger with the salad bar. The Iron Door Saloon is the oldest saloon in California, which is pretty cool. The inside is decorated with historic artifacts and taxidermic animals. It looked like it had changed very little from the Gold Rush days.

IMG_20130514_163212_081On my way back to Yosemite on a hot day, I hit up Rainbow Pool. It was a gorgeous little swimming hole. The water was COLD though. As soon as I got out of the car, I was greeted by a black lab and met two teenagers. One was jumping off the rocks next to the waterfall and the other one was really pregnant. I didn’t jump in. I’m not big on heights, especially in places where I’m not sure of the depth, but I did get a bit of the refreshment, a photo opp and a game of catch.

Two of the rangers I was staying with had Wednesday off, so they invited me to join them hiking the Pohono Trail. It was a very long day of birds-eye views and uphill climbs. One of the rangers was in excellent shape and had biked 12 miles the day before, while the other was older and working on his gut. My body is somewhere inbetween.

My last day, I wondered down to take in the giant sequoias at Tuolumme Grove. It is so quiet and ancient in the trees. I also loved the dogwoods around. They reminded me of Georgia.

I look back and recognize how wonderful my circumstances were to be able to experience Yosemite the way I did. I keep trying to think of a good thank-you gift to mail, but I haven’t thought of one yet. If anyone has any ideas, let me know.


2 responses »

  1. Whitney,
    I am so glad you got to see Yosemite the proper way. Well done. I remember it fondly from my last trip 36 years ago. Onward through the fog, pardner. Keep me living the life vicariously. Next year in Big Bend!

  2. You have posted some beautiful pictures on your trip. These from Yosemite are particularly special. I’m so happy that you enjoyed it so much and that you were invited to join the locals. It’s always fun to experience your environment in a non-touristy way. It reminded me of some of my England experiences, teaching there. I would be invited to the homes of some of my students and do ordinary things with the towns people. A refreshing way to enjoy the city instead of always visiting the “queen’s jewels” or a destination like London Bridge.


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