My family moved to California when I was 9, but in the 20 subsequent years that I lived there, I never once visited Yosemite. Yosemite was an idea – an amorphous National Park, somewhere out there (was it north, south, east? Who knew?). You know, where Yosemite Sam lives! I had heard the terms “El Capitan” and “Half Dome,” but never specifically linked them in my mind to Yosemite, and certainly couldn’t form a mental image of either of them.
It turns out that Yosemite is breathtaking. And I hereby accuse my parents of child neglect for not exposing me to this phenomenal place when I was an impressionable youth.
First of all, Yosemite is in the middle of nowhere – and it’s HUGE. Here it is on a map – pretty much due east of the Bay Area. Notice the paucity of interstates leading to it:
That’s right – it’s basically little state highways all the way. And it’s about a 4 hour drive, just to get to one of the park entrances (of which there are 2 on the west side). Once you get into the park, it’s about another hour’s drive to get to any real destination. And you’ve got to CLIMB to get there. Yosemite Valley, and yes, it is actually a valley, it at 4000 feet. The surrounding mountains climb to 10,000 ft. Our campground was at an impressive 9,000 feet, which made the uphill walk from the bathroom a long, breathless, crawl.
So this is what Yosemite looks like:
It is spectacular. The pictures really don’t do it justice. That big giant rock is Half Dome – it’s not the only dome in the valley. We visited one that was near our campground called Lambert Dome. The base isn’t too steep to walk quite a ways up, which the kids eagerly did! Here is the gang making their way up as far as they felt they could safely go:
Walking back down proved more challenging than we thought – Jake had the bright idea to employ a crab-walk. His reasoning was that four feet are steadier than two!
The river that cuts through the valley is called the Merced. It’s filled with snowmelt, and as a consequence is extremely cold. But that didn’t stop us from swimming! It’s right underneath El Capitan. Here is Nate diving in – Brrrrrrrr!
We also hiked to Mirror Lake, which isn’t actually a lake at all – just part of another river that flows right by the base of Half Dome. We all swam a bit (even colder than the Merced!!), and Uncle Sam dove off a rock into the icy waters:
It really was a beautiful spot – well worth the whiny hike to get out there. Here are each of the kids enjoying the chilly water:
It was an absolutely amazing three days. I wish we had been able to stay longer, but two nights of camping is about all I can take. We’ll have to plan another trip in a few years, once the kids are old enough to do some day-hikes. There is so much to see there – but only so much that little legs can accomplish!