Yosemite revisited

Returning to California was supposed to be the beginning of the end of our journey. From Cayman we were booked to return to San Jose, catch up one last time with our friend and collect the suitcases we left in her keeping before flying back to Australia.

We were not done with travelling yet and the opportunity presented itself for us to extend for about a month, starting with a sneaky trip to revisit Yosemite National Park. As we arrive the park is just emerging from the winter snows and spring is in the air. The birds are chirping and the tourists are visiting.

I had plenty of time to pause for reflection while waiting, perched on a rock, for a particularly enthusiastic couple to get all the angles they needed for their new book.

We had planned to camp overnight in the valley. On arrival in the early afternoon we discovered the rest of California had decided it was a perfect weekend to do the same. We added our name to the (long) list on standby for a campsite with strict instructions to return at 3pm to see if we would have a place.

This gave us time to find a lovely spot away from the bustling crowd for a picnic. As an aside, it strikes me as odd how, across the US, picnic spots are put in the least scenic areas of carparks. It certainly makes it easier to carry your food to the table but misses the point as far as I'm concerned. 

Returning to see if we could stay the night we filed in with a crowd of other hopefuls. Names are called out for the reserve campsites. We are still a long way down the list when the last name is called. Even though we lucked out I am struck again how motivated and helpful the park rangers are. We have been to a fair number of National Parks in the US by now and we are yet to come across a Ranger who won't go out of their way to be helpful and seems to genuinely enjoy their job.

Making the most of the rest of the day we circle the valley before heading up higher to areas that were closed off due to snow on our previous visit. We made it to Glacier Point just as the light faded and had a glimpse of the spectacular waterfalls and the valley below. It was just enough to make sure I want to come back again. Maybe with some hikes next time...

You can see the post and photos of our original visit here: Yosemite National Park

p.s. We had said our teary goodbyes the night before with much 'you must visit us in Australia' and 'oh you're welcome back anytime's. Well we cashed in on the 'anytime' offer the following night after we were unable to find a campsite in Yosemite. So be warned if you invite us back after we've come to visit!

Yosemite National Park

This is our last US National Park, at least for a while, and what a way to finish. Even in the shoulder season (late November) there are a lot of people in the valley and it was the first place we visited where the visitor shuttles were still running.

Whether walking around in the iced meadows, waiting for the morning sun to reach them, or driving around the scenic loop in the valley (most other roads had closed this close to winter) it is easy to understand why this park is so popular.

A free photopgraphic tour by the Ansel Adams Gallery provided a 1.5hr walk around the meadow area inside the valley and pointed out several locations where Ansel Adams captured some of his most famous photos. 

Yosemite valley. El Capitan on left and a very miserly Bridalveil Fall centre right, taken late Fall.

The Temp-RATE-ture canvas tents we stayed in while at Yosemite. Note each one has a food box out front to protect you from inquisitive bears in the night.

We eschewed our traditional hiking tent which has served us so well for an option that intrigued us, the Temp-RATE-ture canvas tents. These are unheated tents where you pay whatever the overnight minimum was (in Fahrenheit). We were too cheap for the All U Can Heat offer. I think our hiking tent is warmer, but it offered an extra level of psychological protection (the door has a lock!) against the bears. Try to ignore what the walls are made out of.

The bears in Yosemite have become used to humans and there are many warnings posted about the perils of leaving food in cars (the nicest consequence being it may get towed). Despite our concerns we didn't see one, even from the safety of our car. Perhaps they are thinking hibernatory thoughts by now.

Sequoia National Park

The largest trees on Earth

The great Sequoia groves of the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks contain the worlds largest (by volume) trees. It's hard to get a sense of the scale by looking at the tree. It needs a person, or better yet a car or a 13 story building, to give you a sense of scale.

Shannan stands inside the root system of a fallen sequoia tree. The root system is very shallow compared to their size and Sequoias are known to have fallen oven in a gentle breeze. This particular tree fell in the 1950's and doesn't show much inclination to decompose anytime soon.

The Sequoia National Park contains the highest mountain in the mainland US, Mt. Whitney at over 14,500ft or 4,400m (keep that in mind for the upcoming Machu Picchu post). We couldn't see it because it is surrounded and hidden by closer mountains in the chain from the parks vantage point, Moro Rock, which overlooks the valley and the fun-to-drive switchbacks of Generals Highway.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley. The lowest, hottest, driest place in North America. Let's start by saying our experience of Death Valley was not exactly typical. Arriving ready to face the harsh sun we are greeted instead by a consistent downpour of rain. And it's cold. At higher elevations the water had fallen as snow.

I arrived ready to face the hottest, driest location in North America.

Even the water sounds hot.

Even the water sounds hot.

There are constant reminders how hot and dry this place is during summer. From the urine colour chart in the restroom to help catch your dehydration before it's too severe to the constant reminders posted at trailheads to drink 2 gallons of water (about 8L) per day when hiking to the bewildered expression on visitor and Ranger alike as the rain continued to fall for a second day straight as we arrived.

In our case the rain seemed to bring out the contrast of colours in the rocks and sands that make up this national park. For me, it was a park of textures.

Zabriskie Point

Artist's Palette

Formerly a Borax mine, the ground consists of a variety of unusual colours. These colours are caused by the oxidation of different metals (red, pink and yellow is from iron salts, green is from decomposing tuff-derived mica, and manganese produces the purple) [1].

This was also the most expensive place for fuel we found in the US. The cheapest grade petrol was $5.989/gal. Priced in the 'if you're buying gas here you don't care about the price anymore' category of petrol stations. Typical prices for our journey averaged about $3.20 to $3.50 with our cheapest refill at $2.699/gal in the south (and, I got the impression, a slightly dodgy part of town). To put that in perspective the Death Valley price is equivalent to AU$1.74/L and our cheap refill was 78.3c/L! (in fact, even less as the exchange rate was better at the time).

San Francisco

Today we went on a day trip to San Francisco. The Caltrain from San Jose takes about 90mins but we managed to do it in 2 hours. An all day pass for the Muni is highly recommended and we made sure to get our full value by taking as many trams and busses as we could to see as much of SF as possible in the day we had.