Off to a Relaxing Start
Our plan for today was to take it easy, which meant drive more, and hike less. We had to save our muscles and joints for the following day, reserved for the insane all day hike up to Half Dome and back.
We started the morning with our usual breakfast at Julie’s house, and headed towards the already familiar South Entrance of Yosemite National Park. As soon as we passed through the gate, we stopped at the Wawona Visitor Center. This was the kids’ last chance to get their Junior Ranger badges and patches, since the next day was already allocated for hiking up to Half Dome.
The Newest Yosemite Junior Rangers
All of us went into the visitor center, and hubby and I quickly tested the kids just to make sure they still remembered some of the things Ranger Dave taught them the day before. We also gave them the usual lecture on how they had to look people in the eyes when they talked to them. When we felt quite confident that the kids would not mess this up, we approached one of the rangers. She was a very nice young lady who seemed genuinely excited to see our aspiring future Yosemite Junior Rangers. She checked their booklets, and asked them about the different things they had learned while in the park. Even though their presentation was by no means flawless, the kids did well, and were ready to take the Junior Ranger pledge. They raised their right hands, and repeated it after the nice lady.
When they were finished, the Park Ranger handed them their new badges, as well as Yosemite patches, and congratulated them. They were of course very proud, and happy to grow their badge collection even further. The day was off to a good start!
We got back in the car, and headed towards our destination for the day, Tioga Road on the North side of the park.
Passing Through Yosemite Valley
While looking at the map, I realized with joy that we would have to drive part of the way onto the Yosemite Valley loop in order to get to Tioga Road. I admit, I can never get enough when it comes to Mother Nature’s monolithic artwork, and Yosemite Valley is one of her finest masterpieces. As we drove on, we went through the long tunnel on Wawona Road, followed by the beloved Tunnel View. I just had to ask hubby to stop here once again, even though we had already been here twice. It was fairly early in the morning, and the wildfire haze was still settled in The Valley, making it appear like a mythical setting from an epic motion picture. Naturally, I had to stop and admire it, and take more. I really tried to wrap it up quickly!
We continued driving down towards The Valley, and lo and behold, there was El Capitan. It really didn’t matter how many times I had seen it before, I was just as stunned by it as the first time I saw it. I quickly tried to take some photos through the windshield as we were passing, but after inspecting them, I realized they were a bit blurry. So, using my sweetest voice and my puppy eyes, I asked hubby if he wouldn’t mind swinging around one more time, so I could get better pictures. He smiled, shook his head lightly, and agreed. What can I say! He knows his wife quite well!
Circling Back Around
We went back, and when we got to some of the best views of El Capitan, hubby made the wise decision to pull over to the side so I could jump out of the car. He figured that we might be going in circles for awhile if his wife didn’t get a satisfactory photo of El Capitan…because she didn’t already have enough! So, I hopped out, and took my many precious pictures.
When I finally felt that I had some good shots, I was content and ready to continue the journey.
Finally on Tioga Road
We made our way around the loop, and took Big Oak Flat Road to Tioga Road towards Yosemite’s Northern region. Shortly thereafter, we made a quick stop at the gas station near Crane Flat to stock up on snacks and water. Once we were back on the road, we drove for a while, slowly ascending towards higher altitudes. At first, we were surrounded by dense pine forests. In a few areas close to the road, there were large patches of burnt, dead trees, the result of previous wildfires. As we continued further along Tioga Road, we noticed that the forests gave way to large granite boulders. This new-to-us area of Yosemite looked quite different from The Valley, and the landscapes we had discovered near Glacier Point Road.
Our first sightseeing stop was Olmsted Point, a rocky site that provided a view of Half Dome from the back. On a clear day, and with the help of binoculars or a powerful zoom camera lens, one could see the infamous cables that help hikers propel themselves to the top of the iconic rock. If everything went as planned, we would be pulling ourselves up those cables the following day.
While at Olmsted Point, we let the kids run up and down the massive granite rocks near the parking area. They pretended they were hiking on the steep walls of Half Dome. My older daughter stated with confidence that she was born to climb! I sure hoped the kids would bring that enthusiasm with them the following day on our Half Dome crusade!
While at Olmsted Point, we also followed a short trail which took us across more granite boulders. It ended with a steep drop-off, and an overlook of Tenaya Canyon, a beautiful, rocky, panorama, still hugged by the remaining wildfire haze. After we enjoyed the view for a bit, we got back to the car, and continued our drive further along Tioga Road.
Our next stop was the beautiful Tenaya Lake.
The children were so excited to dip their feet in the cold mountain water, they just ran out of the car, and quickly threw their shoes and socks off their feet.
The lake was surrounded by pine trees and rocky granite hills. It had crystal clear, greenish water. Even though it was a pretty hot day, the breeze coming over the lake was fresh and cool.
I could sit here all day and stare at the scenery all around! One thing I definitely could not do, however, was go for a swim. I am not a fan of the cold. In fact, I am absolutely miserable when I am cold. Perhaps I have lived in Houston for too long, and as a result I no longer have blood running through my veins. The just-above-freezing temperature of the water did not seem to concern a small group of people, who were laughing, and splashing around in the lake. I was truly fascinated by their superhuman ability! Then, I heard them chatter in what I believed to be Norwegian, and suddenly, it all made sense.
Planning for Early Return
After spending about 45 minimum at the lake, we decided to head back towards the Yosemite Valley. There was more to explore further along Tioga Road, but we felt it would get too late. It was a lengthy drive, and if we were to take it all the way, we would not be able to get back to town early enough. We needed to do a little shopping in preparation for our hike to Half Dome, have dinner, and get enough sleep. Not to mention, I was still hoping to return to Glacier Point Road, and go on the trail up to Sentinel Dome.
Back to Glacier Point Road
We ate some of our usual peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while still at the lake, and hit the road back towards the Yosemite Valley. We made only one stop at a scenic view along the way where hubby and I came out of the car to take a selfie.
After this very short stop, we passed pretty quickly through the Yosemite Valley. I sat tight this time, and controlled my impulses to stop for more photos. We drove South on the familiar Wawona Road, took a brief potty break at the Chinquapin intersection, and headed up Glacier Point Road. We drove until we reached the Taft Point/Sentinel Dome trailhead parking area. Hubby dropped me off there, and we agreed that I would meet him and the kids at Glacier Point. According to my map, I would be able to get there via the Pohono Trail after I made it to Sentinel Dome. This way I would be able to explore some more while the kids and hubby enjoyed some ice cream at the Glacier Point store.
Sentinel Dome Hike
I got my hydration backpack, and started walking on the Taft Point/Sentinel Dome trail. The path split very quickly, since the two are actually in opposite directions. I followed the trail to the right towards Sentinel Dome; the one to the left lead to Taft Point, which we had already visited with Ranger Dave the day before. The hike started nice and easy in a forest of tall pine trees with some rocks and open areas.
There weren’t too many people around, just a handful. I hadn’t been walking for long when I spotted the unmistakable profile of a round, dome-shaped granite boulder. I concluded it must be Sentinel Dome, and it was!
As I got closer, the trail exited the forest for a bit, and led across a granite terrain to the bottom of Sentinel Dome. I stopped to take some photos, and I thought it reminded me of a turtle.
I continued to follow the trail which went back into the forest, and around until it reach a side of the dome that was probably the most manageable to climb.
Getting to the Top
From there on to the top, the trail was not defined well. I basically went straight up the open granite that made up Sentinel Dome. It was steep, but not at all slippery as it had large grain to it, which created good traction. As I reached the top, I was immediately swallowed by the vast, 360-degree panorama. The Yosemite Valley sprawled far below, and even the tops of the massive rocks that enclosed it looked lower than where I was standing.
I came to find out later that Sentinel Dome was the second highest viewpoint in the Yosemite Valley after Half Dome. It was truly a magnificent place, from where every famous and not so famous feature in the park could be spotted. I could see Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, and even the smoke of the wildfire far to the right of Half Dome. There were no flames or glare, just a thin column of smoke.
I admired the views for a while longer, and asked a young couple to take a few pictures of me with the scenery.
To Glacier Point via The Pohono Trail
Not long after, I headed back down, and followed the signs for the Pohono Trail towards Glacier Point. The remaining hike was a beautiful path mostly in a dense forest with a few spectacular views of Yosemite Valley, and Half Dome peeking in between and above the trees.
Most of the way, I was hiking by myself which was incredibly peaceful and a little surprising considering the crowds of people found at Glacier Point. The only audible sounds were my own steps, the crinkling and whooshing of my hiking boots against the ground. I guess Ranger Dave, whom we met the day before, was right when he said that only 5 percent of National Park visitors actually go hiking. The other 95 percent never lose sight of their car.
As I got closer to Glacier Point, I started hearing cars passing somewhere nearby. The forest around me was still dense and beautiful but was no longer quiet.
A few minutes later, the trail came to an end, and I found myself at Glacier Point. I stopped for a minute to delight in the already familiar panorama of Half Dome, and went to look for my hubby and kiddos. As I expected, I found them at the Glacier Point store. I could tell that the kids had just finished devouring their ice cream since they still had some of it smeared around their mouths.
Back to Oakhurst
All of us used the restrooms and washed up, then got in the car, and headed back out of the park towards Oakhurst. We didn’t make any other stops until we exited Yosemite, and reached a grocery store in town. We had to stock up on snacks and drinks for our upcoming hike to Half Dome. It was going to be a huge challenge for all of us, but especially for the kids. In order to get them excited and fend off their imminent whining, I allowed them to pick out any candies and drinks they wanted for our hike. So, we filled a bag of Gatorade, Skittles, M&Ms, and some trail mix. After we finished shopping, we went to grab a bite in a little Mexican restaurant called Taqueria Plazuelas. The food was really delicious, non-greasy, and very authentic.
After dinner, we got back to Julie’s house, and I directed the kids to go to bed immediately. It was right around 8:00 pm, and we had to get up at 4:00 in morning. It was going to be a difficult, long, but exciting day.
Hubby and I stayed up a little later to prepare a ton of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and fill all backpacks with water. Before we went to sleep, we packed everything so it was completely ready to go. Our backpacks were crammed with full water bladders, sandwiches, fruit, trail mix, and most importantly, Gatorade, Skittles, and M&Ms. Hubby put everything in the car, and we went to bed. It was hard to fall asleep right before such an exciting day, but eventually we did. As the seconds and minutes ticked away, we were getting closer to our 4:00 am alarm jingle, and an experience we would never forget!
Join us again as we take on Half Dome with our kids on our fourth, and final day at Yosemite National Park!
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