In June, about a month after my Achilles tendon surgery, I sat with my casted leg up on a stool and made a list of national parks in the west that I hoped to visit again sometime. We have chipped away at my list and today's visit to Yosemite made the list complete. It was great to finally be here after a 45 year gap. Last time we were here we camped in a blue tent and experienced a minor earthquake as we sat outside that tent sipping wine. Was it the wine? We didn't think so. Both because of my health problems and fire and weather concerns, it felt so very good to finally be at Yosemite today.
Yosemite is an odd park in some ways. Although the park is huge, nearly everything most people want to visit is located in a small valley that is easy accessed from the west near where many of California's biggest cities are located. We've read about how crowded this area of the park can be, how you have to make reservations months ahead of time to get a place to stay, how you have to take shuttle buses because there is nowhere to park. Not exactly the pristine national park experience we hope to have. Since there are few places to drive east-west without running into high mountain passes in the Sierra Nevada in this part of California, we decided to camp on the eastern side and do the rest by car.
The drive to Yosemite Valley took us over 9,100 foot Tioga Pass. This road was briefly closed last week due to snow and even today, when temperatures rose high into the 70º's, we could see snow patches in the shade. The sky was bright blue and the air was clear until we entered the valley. We couldn't believe we were dealing with forest fire haze once again. We discovered that parts of Yosemite are on fire and that this had nothing to do with the fires farther west that have gotten all the media attention recently. We drove past a smoldering tree a short distance from the road. Signs cautioned us not to bother notifying a ranger; they know it's there and not worried about it spreading further. From the high views at Glacier Point, we could look down on the smoke from seven more small fires. People are not allowed to hike in their vicinity, but otherwise nothing is being done about them. The national park service has learned its lesson from its past policy to extinguish fires ASAP. Now things are handled naturally and Mother Nature takes its course.
When it comes to dramatic mountain formations, Yosemite is hard to beat. Half Dome and El Capitan are famous all over the world. Even late in the fall Bridal Veil Falls was awesome. We strained our eyes to spot climbers on El Capitan. There were a few spots on its face that could have been scars from the recent rockfall as big as a seven-story building that killed a climber here a few weeks ago. Even though the park was not crowded today, it felt like almost everyone who was here to enjoy the views was from somewhere else. English was a low incidence language.