Getting Geared Up for Yosemite
Our day started with a nice continental breakfast provided by our kind host Julie. We chatted with her a little about the surrounding area and the points of interest near Oakhurst, CA. After we finished eating, we prepared and packed some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bananas, and trail mix. From our previous travels to US National Parks, we knew how much there was to see and explore, and we had to be ready to address our hunger on the go, instead of wasting our time looking for expensive junk food. We also filled our hydration backpacks with water. Speaking of hydration packs, I have to say, these were a great investment. Not only you can sip water anytime while walking, but you can also save yourself the annoyance of listening to your kids whine for water every 10 feet. On the downside, the kids end up sipping so much water during our hikes, that we end up taking more potty breaks than we would like. At least we know they are staying hydrated…sometimes a little too hydrated!
So, we put all our gear and food in the car, and headed towards the South Entrance of Yosemite National Park. Our host’s house was about 20 miles outside the gate. The plan was to spend our day exploring and hiking in Yosemite Valley.
Entering the Park
We drove along the winding road leading into the park, and arrived at the entrance booth. We presented our 4th-grader pass, and entered Yosemite National Park. Why a 4th-grader pass you wonder? This particular year, the National Park Service offered free passes for all 4th graders, along with their accompanying entourage. Since my older daughter had just finished 4th grade, we could use the pass to enter all kinds of awesome federal lands for free…(not that we really mind paying and contributing to our national treasures!)
We entered the park and continued along Wawona Road towards Yosemite Valley. The first view of this majestic place opened in front of our eyes right before we reached the tunnel at Tunnel View. Hubby stopped the car and got out for a closer look. The vista was a little hazy due to an ongoing wildfire in the park. Even though we could not see every detail, we could make out the contours of the iconic El Capitan and Half Dome. The haze, in a way, made this monstrous panorama appear even more surreal. I remember experiencing an array of emotions. I felt a little frustrated because I desperately wanted to see everything clearly, and yet the hazy silhouettes of these giants left me in complete awe.
As I kept staring speechlessly and taking pictures that would never do this place any justice, I heard hubby urging me to wrap it up. We continued our journey through Wawona Road Tunnel, followed by Tunnel View. We decided to stop here later in the day because the haze would most likely clear, and the lower light of the late afternoon sun would really illuminate this inspiring vista. As we continued our descent further into The Valley, we came to Bridalveil Fall where we decided to stop.
The trail to the actual fall was a short, paved path which went through a thick shady forest. It was an easy and pleasant walk, and because of that, it was crowded.
We really enjoyed the beautiful tall pine trees all around us, and the rays of sunshine peeking through the branches. At the end of the trail, we came to a stretch of large boulders leading to the bottom of Bridalveil Fall.
Many people, especially young adults and kids, chose to climb on the rocks and approach the crashing water as closely as possible. Our children were no exception. They immediately proceeded jumping and sliding on the large rocks, and screamed with joy whenever the wind carried the mist of the waterfall to their faces. I let them enjoy Mother Nature’s magnificent playground hoping their play would end without any injuries. As I summoned the kids to go, I took one last look at this stunning waterfall. I realized that whenever the wind blew the falling water, it was truly like a swaying bridal veil.
We made our way back to the car, and jumped in ready to continue our adventure into Yosemite Valley. As hubby pushed the start button, we heard a choking and clicking sound followed by silence. We tried it again and again with the very same result. It began to sink in very quickly that our car was here to stay! Although we couldn’t be completely sure, it seemed likely that the car battery had died, little good our jumper cables did us sitting back at home in our garage! One thing was clear: We weren’t going anywhere unless we found some help.
There Are No Jumper Cables in Rental Cars!
We needed somebody who had jumper cables to jump-start our car. It turned out, finding someone who fit these criteria was not so easy. You see, in a national park like Yosemite, most visitors were driving a rental car, which doesn’t normally come with jumper cables. We also found that many visitors, being foreign, didn’t speak much English. So, we faced quite a challenge finding someone with jumper cables, who understood what we needed, and who was willing to help. Not to mention, our car was facing a small grassy area, so the only people who could readily help us were parked right next to us. The jumper cables, if they had them, could only reach so far. We waited around until the driver of one of our neighboring cars showed up. Unfortunately, he didn’t have jumper cables, and could not help us. Hubby started asking random people driving by, or walking by, for help. Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out how to contact a park ranger. As luck would have it, there was absolutely no phone signal in this area of the park. I tried to locate an emergency phone near the parking lot, and I couldn’t.
Saved at Last
Just then, I noticed that hubby was talking to an elderly couple in a large white SUV. They had jumper cables, and tried to help us. The parking spots next to our car were taken, but they came around, and drove onto the grassy area in order to get close to the front of our car. The man got out and located his jumper cables in the trunk of his SUV. Hubby helped him connect his car battery to ours, and then voila! Hubby pushed the start button, and we heard the sweet humming sound of our engine start up! We thanked these kind people who interrupted their leisurely day to help us out, and they seemed genuinely pleased to have helped us. They truly were in the right place at the right time, and we couldn’t have been more grateful for that! We were on our way! Just as we were exiting the Bridalveil Fall parking lot, I saw a large sign with a phone receiver on it. Apparently, there was an emergency phone somewhere close by after all!
Given this kind of a situation, most sensible people would probably head straight out of the park, and to a car repair shop or auto parts store. Well, we were not those kind of people! Instead, we went the other way, deeper into the Yosemite Valley, because it was a beautiful day and there was still so much to see and explore. We were in Yosemite National Park after all, one of the most breathtaking monuments of Mother Nature, “Nature’s Cathedral” as John Muir called it.
Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and Theater
We made our way to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, and started looking for a parking spot. Finding one at this time of the year is a major challenge. We circled around the area for a while, and finally we saw an empty spot near stop number 4 of the Yosemite Valley shuttle. Hubby was thinking ahead, and he backed into the spot. This way if the car failed to start again, it would be much easier to access the battery to jump-start it. Before leaving the car, he shut it down, and started it up again to see if it would work, with no problem. We left the car and got onto the shuttle to the Visitor Center. There, we got information about the nearby hiking trails, and we also picked up the Junior Ranger booklets for the kids.
Our daughters have enjoyed collecting Junior Ranger badges for a number of years. Normally, the major national parks require kids to not only fill out the Junior Ranger booklet, but also participate in a Ranger-led program in order to earn a badge. Yosemite was no exception. After we gathered all the materials, we went to the theater right next door to watch a beautifully made movie about the park. We learned that it was President Lincoln who in 1864 signed the Yosemite Grant, which made sure the area was protected for the enjoyment of the public. Even though Yosemite was not technically the first US National Park, it was the first federally protected area, and the idea of National Parks started here! The movie taught us a lot more about the environment and wildlife in the park, which was absolutely fascinating! It was a great way to get acquainted with this incredible land.
Yosemite Falls, the Highest Waterfall in North America
After we left the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and Theater, we topped off our backpacks with water and headed towards Lower Yosemite Fall Trail. This hike was in a way very similar to the Bridalveil Fall one. It was also a nicely paved path weaving through a forest of tall pine trees.
Because it was a short and easy hike, it was busy with people of all ages and fitness levels. It was a beautiful walk, which offered truly stunning panoramas of the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls seen together.
We stopped halfway through the hike to eat some of our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and then walked to the bottom of the waterfall.
It was another spectacular display of water powerfully crashing near massive rocks. We joined the crowd of people staring in awe at the falling water and snapping pictures galore. It was truly a sight to remember and cherish! We were standing at the bottom of Lower Yosemite Fall, which combined with its upper counterpart form the highest waterfall in North America. That is 2425 feet of plunging-crashing-water awesomeness!
After admiring this vista for some time, we made our way to Cook’s Meadow. This was another easy, and truly spectacular hike which looped around, taking us into the heart of the Yosemite Valley. There, we were surrounded by the colossal profiles of Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, and Columbia Rock…I felt like a tiny critter, standing next to giants of unimaginable proportions.
The tall grass in the meadow had its own unique properties, as it moved like ocean waves with the blowing wind; waves that were fresh, light green with golden undertones.
We crossed over the Merced River a couple of times, stopping to listen to the moving water, and we enjoyed the surreal vistas all around. The majestic serenity was occasionally interrupted by our kids bickering or complaining, but we tried to keep it under control.
Eventually, we made our way back to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center where we relaxed for a little bit. We knew it was probably time to get back to the car, in case we needed to drive to an auto parts store for a new battery.
More Car Troubles
We took the shuttle back to the parking lot, and got back in the car. We hoped it would start right up, but were a little nervous. Hubby pushed the start button, and just like before, we heard choking and clicking followed by silence. After a couple more attempts, we knew it was time to start looking again for help. Luckily, we didn’t have to look for long.
A family pulled their SUV into a nearby parking spot, and what do you know?!? They happened to have a set of jumper cables! This time accessing the car battery was much easier because hubby had backed into the spot. The family drove up in front of our car, we opened the hoods, and hubby skillfully used the jumper cables to connect the two batteries. Then he pushed the ignition button, and we were once again back in business. We thanked the family for helping us out, and got going. I took a mental note: Next time we decide to take a road trip, jumper cables will be at the top of my packing list!
On the Way Out
We started making our way out of the valley when lo and behold, we saw a deer with large fuzzy antlers grazing right near the road! As it often happens in national parks when wildlife makes an appearance, traffic got pretty congested. People were slowing down and stopping trying to take pictures and get a closer look. We were no exception. The kids and I wanted to jump out of the car immediately, and go see this beautiful creature. Luckily, hubby found a nearby parking spot at the side of the road. The deer was grazing calmly in the forest right under El Capitan.
The kids and I snapped some photos and watched in amazement, while hubby waited in the car, keeping the engine running. When the deer finally moved away, we made our way back to the car. Just then, I noticed the Cathedral Rocks on the other side of the Yosemite Valley. Like a crazy person, I ran towards them, holding my camera and phone up ready to snap more photos! I quickly realized that these rocks were too enormous, and if I wanted to fit them in a single picture, I would have to stand as far away from them as possible. I backed up until I found a good spot, and barely managed to get them on one photo. They were so immense and monumental!
Tunnel View in Late Afternoon
Once all of us were back in the car, we continued the drive back to Oakhurst. We made one final stop in the park at Tunnel View, which we skipped on the way in. By now, the haze from the wildfire had cleared due to shifting winds, and the lower afternoon sunlight provided the perfect illumination for this glorious panorama! On the left, El Capitan rises 3000 mind-blowing feet straight up a sheer wall above the floor of the valley. In the middle, Half Dome majestically sports its granite hood. To the right, Bridalveil Fall sways graciously with the wind. No wonder artists and photographers could never get enough of this iconic scenery. It’s magnitude and breathtaking beauty are truly beyond imagination!
As I admired all of this in a timely manner, hubby was again waiting in the car keeping the engine humming. I somehow made my way back to the passenger seat while my eyes remained fixed on the view. Once I was inside the car, we proceeded through the tunnel, and followed the curvy Wawona Road back out of the park. When we got to Oakhurst, we drove straight to the local O’Reilly Auto Parts store. After one of the workers there performed some mysterious tests on our car, we ended up buying a new battery. After that, our car was as good as new, starting up like a beast!
Back to Oakhurst
We got a nice dinner at South Gate Brewing Co. where hubby and I ordered delicious black bean veggie burgers. The kids managed to fill out most of the activities in their Junior Ranger booklets while waiting for their food. After dinner, we returned to Julie’s house, and almost immediately went to bed. The plan for the next day was to hike and explore along Glacier Point Road. Although filled with overwhelming excitement, even I was tired enough to fall asleep quickly.
Join us again, as we explore the sights along Glacier Point Road on our second day in Yosemite National Park!
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