"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Big Snow, Big Water, Big Rocks, Big Trees - Yosemite

The change could not have been more dramatic. Two days before we were in a warm, dry, palm shaded oasis. And then this...

Our change of location began with saying goodbye to Rancho California and driving north to Bakersfield where we stayed in the Orange Grove RV Park, a sweet little place literally in the middle of the orange groves.  Then we drove through the agricultural miracle that is the central California valley, and splurged on lunch at the Harris Ranch, a favorite stop. Continuing north, we landed in Mariposa and parked the RV in the Mariposa County Fairgrounds for an overnight. The next day we left the RV at the Fairgrounds and headed for Yosemite in the car, planning two nights at the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal (the closest town to the National Park) and three days in the park.

Yosemite View Lodge along the Merced River

A winter storm warning was in effect, but that was just what we wanted. Rick had a special wish to tromp through Yosemite in the snow, and he got his wish in a BIG way.  As we passed through El Portal it was raining, and at the park gates we saw the signs "Chains or Four Wheel Drive Required." We were set on both accounts, with Ms. Subaru the super car, and chains stowed in the back. We felt pretty comfortable without the chains on, being New England drivers and Subarus being what they are in the snow, but were glad we had the chains just in case.

Unfortunately, we forgot to get gas in Mariposa, so our first need was to find a gas station asap. We were directed up Rt. 120 to Crane Flats to the only gas station, 18 miles from the gate, uphill all the way.

The snow started in earnest. Within minutes we were in a white out. Luckily we didn't blink and miss this tiny gas station just off the road in the trees.

Back down the hill and into the park for several hours of nonstop snow and three days of breathtaking beauty as the park revealed itself gradually.

At first all we saw was snow and trees.

Then the surrounding walls of the valley began to peek out. By the end of the day we caught a few glimpses of the rocky cliffs that Yosemite is known for, and actually saw a bit of blue sky.

Our last stop of our first day was Lower Yosemite Falls, where we also saw the only wildlife (other than birds) of the weekend.

Back the the motel we dried off and warmed up, and I had a long hot bath!!! for the first time in months. Read my yummy new book, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, as I soaked in the tub. Our efficiency motel room was bigger than our whole rig. Fun.

We woke the next morning to snow everywhere, and still more falling. Once in the park, we found a classic winter wonderland, and got more glimpses of the valley than the day before. These conditions led to some spectacular scenery though, of the kind photographers say they wait years for.  You can see how the photos begin to look like color instead of black and white.

Our first stop of the day was Bridalveil Falls.

After lunch at The Ahwahnee we headed out for more exploring and found one incredible scene after another.  I think we did enough of tromping around in the snow to satisfy Rick's winter fantasies.

A local photographer we met directed us to this gorgeous view of El Capitan along the Merced River at the Cathedral Beach picnic area.

Back to the motel for another hot bath and an OK dinner in their dining room. (I had been hoping for pizza in a big way.) On our last day we woke to even more snow on the ground, but a clear blue sky. There was easily over a foot in the valley. We had reserved a place on the 9:00 am Camera Walk led by a staff member from the Ansel Adams Gallery, and so hurried to get there in time.

Matt, our guide, was a professional photographer and gave us lots of advice about lighting and composition, and took us to a few incredible locations that we would not have found on our own.

Both these shots are of Half Dome from different locations.

He recommended we go to Tunnel View on Wawona Rd. so we did that and were rewarded by this amazing scene.

We hoped to visit the Tuolumne Meadows sequoia grove, back up Rt. 120, but when we got there found that it was a 2-3 hour hike in through deep snow and unfortunately we were not sufficiently prepared for that.  We did see a lot of big, gorgeous trees though, from a distance as well as up close and personal.

Coming back down the mountain we got this parting view, making the drive worthwhile.

Yosemite in the snow is clearly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I'm glad we tackled it. Never change your plans because of weather, but be prepared!

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