Thursday, February 16, 2017

Yosemite National Park - Part III (January 2017)

Everyone has seen the pictures of El Capitan, Half Dome, and the many waterfalls plunging thousands of feet to Yosemite Valley, but much like the Grand Canyon and perhaps Crater Lake, nothing can properly prepare you for the majestic beauty unfolding before your own eyes.

The driving was still slow due to snow, ice, and the many curves along our drive. Progress was further slowed by the many cars navigating the same treacherous roadway. It was hard to steal a few views of the landscape with my eyes focused on the ice in front of us, but I managed to quickly match the sights so ingrained in my brain from years of admiring photos of Yosemite. I opened the sunroof to allow my passengers to gaze up past the towering pine trees to the granite walls and waterfalls reaching towards the heavens.

Even though it was cold and windy, the park appeared to have a large number of visitors as every parking spot was taken in the first several pull-offs and lots. Drivers were even blocking the already narrow travel lanes to view the sights and snap their own photographs. I gave Laurel a camera and she was snapping hundreds of pictures from the backseat.

As we approached a parking area, I saw an open spot. I was pleasantly surprised that there was a perfect view of Bridalveil Falls without having to leave the warmth of the Pilot. However, I was too excited to sit still while taking in the beauty of the 617’ falls. Plus, I wanted a better vantage point for pictures. Lisa had a great view from the front seat and opted to remain while Laurel was content to continue snapping pictures. Kellisa was more than ready to get out of the Pilot which she made clear with her constant yelling, “Meeeee, Meeeee” when I asked if anyone wanted to get out with me.

Backseat photography by Laurel

It’s a giant pain to get Kellisa’s Hippocampe out of the car, wheels need to be attached, handle installed, followed by me lifting Kellisa from the car to her chair. Since we wouldn’t be “pushiking”, I decided to use her travel wheelchair. I’m getting older and Kellisa isn’t getting any lighter! Although, it is more than worth the effort as Kellisa smiles and points wildly to her surroundings with unbridled approval.

After many pictures, we continued deeper into Yosemite Valley. Just past El Capitan, we found an open area with a faint mist hanging slightly above the valley floor. Many people had pulled over or even just stopped to take in this wild beauty. I didn’t see any open parking spots, but knew I wanted to jump out and experience this sight close-up.

I found a spot to leave the Pilot among the many abandoned vehicles at the side of the road contributing to the chaotic flow of the valley road. This time Laurel was anxious to get out and play in the snow. Since only a few minutes had passed since I loaded Kellisa back in the car, I did not feel guilty leaving her with Lisa to watch through the windows.

I had to help Laurel up and into the knee deep snow. It had been a year since she experienced snow and it was like a new experience for her. After a little struggle, she was slowly postholing her way across the meadow. Her smile was infectious as several strangers commented on how happy she looked with her ear to ear grin. Once we were in an open area, Laurel was ready for a snowball fight with her dad. After taking a few hard snowballs which included snow down my back, I was ready to settle down a little and start photographing the scene. Laurel, of course wanted to continue the fight, but she agreed to stop with the promise of future fights in Yosemite.

We eventually reached Yosemite Village where we planned to stop at the Visitor Center and bookstore. It was hard to find because of all the snow piled as high as or higher than the signs. After asking for directions, we had a long walk through the village because the road leading closer to the Visitor Center was closed.

Laurel with Muir
When we finally arrived, the bookstore and Visitor Center shared a building with a museum. We spent several hours shopping and learning about Yosemite. Ever since first learning about John Muir, Laurel has been very interested in the man and his life’s work in and around Yosemite. Her favorite part of the museum was the area dedicated to Mr. Muir. Kellisa liked the thunder roaring from the weather display.

We had planned to eat dinner in the village, but the restaurant was closed. We were told there was a pizza joint not too far away as the only place still open. As we drove in the direction we were advised, we stopped to admire Half Dome in the fading sunlight as it reflected in standing water from the recent torrential rains.

It was dark and freezing by the time we arrived near the pizza place. I was beyond surprised to find a disabled parking spot available (very rare in popular national parks due to the number of elderly visitors and I’m guessing many abusers too). Rant over. We could not see the pizza place from the car, so I decided I would scout it out before unloading the family. I wandered around in the cold darkness for 10 minutes without finding it before I stumbled into an outdoor gear store to inquire. I was pointed in the right direction and told when to make a left turn. I walked all the way to the pizza place to make sure it would still be open. It was open late which was good since this was our last chance for a real dinner in the park.

The place was packed with visitors of all kinds from the previously mentioned elderly to many that looked to represent the next generation of the Yosemite climbing community. We warmed ourselves by the large fireplace to remove the chill experienced from the 10 minute walk from the car. Dinner was cafeteria style. The girls ordered hot dogs, Lisa chose Eggplant Parmesan, and I feasted on two large bowls of chili overflowing with crushed crackers.

Walking back to the car, I walked straight into a brick wall, not physically, but mentally when I realized that I would have to take the snow chains off the Pilot for the first time in complete darkness and bitter cold. 

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