We arrived in the area of Yosemite National Park in November and were treated to lovely Fall colors on this day-trip. However, it was a little too late in the year, and after this visit, snow closed many of the park roads for the year. So, while we intended to do more exploring of the park, it will have to wait until another time. Still, we're glad we go to see so much of this iconic park in this one day.
With limited daylight, a 30-mile drive to Yosemite National Park's south entrance, and another 30-mile drive to Yosemite Valley (the most popular area of the park), we needed to get an early start.
FYI, Yosemite is pronounced "yo-SEH'-meh-tee". I used to call the cartoon character "YO-se-might" Sam, so I thought I'd throw that out there.
Today was forecasted to be beautiful but rain and a twenty-degree drop in temperatures is expected at the end of the week into the weekend. So, we packed some snacks and water, dressed in layers, and headed out at 7:00 a.m. this morning to take advantage before the weather turns.
On Hwy 41, we drove through the towns of Coarsegold, Oakhurst, and Fish Camp finally reaching the south entrance of Yosemite. The entire trip was uphill, and it's pretty curvy from Oakhurst on. The south entrance fee booth wasn't open yet, so vehicles passed through freely. We have a National Parks annual pass, so we weren't going to have to pay the $20 fee anyway.
Through the gate, you either make a left to visit the rest of the park or you can make a right and visit the largest of the three Sequoia groves in the park - Mariposa Grove. Since it was only two miles in, we drove to the Mariposa Grove.
There was no one there when we arrived, and we walked into the grove about a half mile.
Giant Sequoias are not as tall as their Coast Redwood cousins, but they have more mass. They're not the trees with the biggest circumference in the world either, but with their combination of height and mass, they are thought to be the largest living things on earth.
We passed the Fallen Monarch, ....
and several other specimens. Just beyond the Bachelor & Three Graces, ....
we came upon a Mule Deer doe and her fawns.
They weren't bothered by us at all. As we continued on the trail, we were separated from the deer by a downed tree, but one of the fawns took a peek to check on us.
Eventually, we made it to the Grizzly Giant, which is over 200 feet tall and 28 feet in diameter.
One branch alone is 7 feet in diameter.
Before moving on, we watched a little Douglas Squirrel (aka "chickaree") gnaw the heck out of a pine cone.
It used its "hands" to rotate the pine cone like it was munching on corn-on-the-cob.
Just 50 yards away from the Grizzly Giant is the California Tunnel Tree.
A hole was carved through the middle of it in 1895 to allow coaches to pass through. It was a marketing ploy for tourism at the time.
From there, we opted not to complete the grove trails and returned to the parking area so we could get in more exploring.
The drive on Hwy 41 was beautiful as the fall colors - the yellows of the Black Oaks and Bigleaf Maples and the reds of the Dogwoods - shined under the evergreen canopy.
We made a stop at the Wawona Visitor Center, but it was closed - it's only open on weekends in the winter season. Since we were there, we took a picture of the historic Wawona Hotel.
From there, it was several more miles of lovely, twisting road that went up to around 6,000 feet elevation until we reached Glacier Point Road. Glacier Point Road is sixteen miles and usually closes sometime in November due to snow. That's one of the reasons we wanted to get to the park today - snow is forecasted for the mountains over the next couple of days.
At about fourteen miles in, we passed the Sentinel Dome trailhead at about 7,600 feet before descending the last two miles to 7,200 feet at Glacier Point. Just walking from the parking lot provides a great view of Half Dome.
The first overlook isn't too shabby either.
Another quarter mile, and we reached Glacier Point with its spectacular views.
In addition to the glacial domes and the mountains, there is a great view down into Yosemite Valley, ...
and you can see three waterfalls in the distance. Well, we could see Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls in the distance. Yosemite Falls would be visible in the photo above except that it is dry this time of year.
Here's a little dead tree photo ....
as we walked back toward the Geology Hut where the views were still amazing.
I've got lots more photos from Glacier Point, but you get the idea.
We made a couple of stops at viewpoints as we drove back out to Hwy 41. At the intersection, we turned right to continue to Yosemite Valley.
Immediately after going through a long tunnel, there was a viewpoint on the left. It's called the Tunnel View and those that have seen lots of photos of Yosemite will recognize the following pics.
The big rock on the left is El Capitan. The Cathedral Rocks are in the shadows on the right, and then Half Dome is just over the ridge on the right near the center.
From there, we descended into the valley. Yosemite Valley is about seven miles long and a mile wide with the Merced River running through it.
El Capitan greeted us as we finally reached flat ground.
A young Mule Deer buck was browsing off to the side of the road.
We continued on but made a quick decision and a left turn into the Cathedral Beach Picnic Area. There were few people and some gorgeous photo ops along the river.
The three pointy peaks on the left are the Three Brothers.
Looking back at El Capitan.
El Capitan reflection.
That was wonderful stop.
Moving on, we crossed Sentinel Bridge and had to stop to get another few shots. Half Dome with fall colors along the Merced River.
View from the other side of the bridge.
One of the many meadow views.
Finally, we reached the parking lot for the Valley Visitors Center. A free shuttle runs throughout the valley and you can take it to the visitors center; otherwise, it's a ten minute walk.
We walked over and went into the theater behind the visitors center. Every half hour, the 20-minute "Spirit of Yosemite" movie runs automatically. We had the theater to ourselves at 1:00 and really enjoyed the movie - it's very well done.
After the movie, we grabbed a quick lunch and returned to the visitors center for the 2:00 guided walking tour. Our ranger guide was Shelton Johnson who happened to be the same ranger that invited Oprah to come to Yosemite in an effort to bring more African-Americans to the National Parks. Linda recognized him from the show when Oprah and her friend, Gayle, went to Yosemite and camped in a pop-up for a night.
I don't think Oprah was much into the camping thing, but it certainly got international attention.
In addition, Shelton appeared in the highly acclaimed documentary by Ken Burns called The National Parks: America's Best Idea. He also published a historical novel called "Gloryland" about a Buffalo Soldier that was eventually sent to Yosemite to protect the park in the early 1900s.
As part of his passion for history and the parks, he also performs in a show here at Yosemite reprising the Buffalo Soldier role. As it happens, today he had to do a photo shoot in his Buffalo Soldier garb, so he decided to, for the first time, do his 90-minute interpretive walk "in character".
We didn't know that when we walked up. We just thought it was a ranger, albeit dressed funny, doing a normal tour.
Although sometimes a little hokey, it was different and interesting listening to the storytelling from the viewpoint of a black soldier in 1903.
Shelton believes it is tragic when people lose a connection with the land, so his passion comes through when he is talking about the plants and animals, has his guests gently hold the branches of live trees, and stand silently in the meadow listening to only the sounds of nature.
Of course, with us, he was preachin' to the choir.
At the end, Shelton came out of character and answered questions. We thanked him and slipped away while he continued to hold "church" in the meadow as the sun started to set in at the western end of this precious valley.
Yes, Yosemite certainly is special. And we hope to return to become more connected with its spirit through hiking and exploring some of the less popular areas. Today was an simply an overview, and "highlights" might just be an understatement.