My first trip to Yosemite National Park was through my grandmother’s eyes.
She had traveled there in 1938. It was a rare vacation for a woman whose husband had abandoned her with nine children to raise on a working ranch in the Nevada County foothills on the cusp of the Great Depression.
Edna Towle spent five days soaking in what she called God’s greatest canvas etched from granite.
As a 6-year-old it seemed unbelievable that such a magical place was nearby.
It wasn’t until I was 31 that I ventured there. But I did not go by car. Instead it was part of a fully-loaded bicycle touring trip crisscrossing Sierra passes. I traversed the high country via Tioga Road (Highway 120) three times by pedal power before I opted to drive there. It was after I had moved to Manteca 24 years ago. My first glimpse of the famous glacier carved valley that lures 4 million visitors a year from around the globes got me hooked. I’ve made my way to Yosemite three dozen times since then. It’s safe to say I’m under the spell of the 1,500 plus square miles that President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation 150 years ago this coming Thursday to designate it as this country’s third national park.
The task at hand for 209 this week is describing my favorite spot in Yosemite.
It’s kind of like being asked to name your favorite grandchild. Every place I’ve ventured in Yosemite has managed to find a cranny in my memory that I can tap to bring a smile to my face.
It was below Vernal Fall getting drenched from the spray of the cascading Merced River that I fell in love. It was a magical moment capped a few steps later with a soaring rainbow arching across the Merced.
It was descending from Tuolumne Meadows 35 mph into a stinging hail storm after bicycling up Tioga Pass in a snow storm on the first day of summer that I understood the joy of doing simple, but crazy things.
It was walking the narrow spine of Cloud’s Rest where granite boulders create a four to six foot wide path along a 4,000 foot drop to the west and a lesser 1,000 foot drop to the east that I conquered my fear of heights and realized the path less traveled is often more rewarding. The views from Cloud’s Rest at 9,931 feet top those from Half Dome at 8.829 feet just to the north and does so with a fraction of the foot traffic.
It was sitting near the edge of El Capitan after hiking Tamarack Flat that I appreciated the unique solitude that comes in sitting atop one of the world’s largest granite monolith without another soul around the entire 30 minutes I was on the summit knowing there were countless tourists craning their necks skyward to take in the masterpiece Mother Nature carved with ice.
It was on skis while in the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Seqouias that I never laughed so hard. A friend — Gary Pogue — wanted to ski through the tunnel tree after we traversed the snow covered trail from Crane Flat. Other skiers resting near the “tunnel’s” entrance heard us talking. Gary wanted to ski through, I didn’t think it was a good idea. Gary said he was going to do it prompting the other skiers to pick up their stuff and more away. A minute later Gary took a spill that would have made Jerry Lewis envious as the snow inside the tree had iced over.
It was being on Mt. Dana at 13,061 feet that sharpened my appreciation for the vastness of California and Nevada. Some three plus miles away to the north and below the summit blanketed with hail from an August storm the day below was Highway 120. Beyond it were numerus jagged peaks. To the east was what some believe is among the oldest lakes in North America — Mono Lake — along with the vastness of the Great Basin. To the south the horizon dropped off toward Mt. Whitney while the west brought views of Yosemite that few see.
It was on North Dome where I found a view of Yosemite Valley 10 times more intriguing than the famous Tunnel Vista that made Kodak a small fortune. It helped being able to look eastward and feel that you could almost touch the face of Half Dome.
It was hiking to Rancheria Falls along the shores of Hetch Hetchy in patches of snow along with low lying rain clouds that softened the stark granite outcroppings that I learned to appreciate how Yosemite morphed into almost an entirely new place as the seasons changed.
It was nearing the top of Mt. Hoffmann’s 10,856-foot summit where I stretched my limits and opted for a free climbing route that was out of my comfort zone making me realize the journey is sometimes more thrilling than the destination itself.
It was at the base of Bridalveil Fall during one of the wettest springs on record that I saw adults transformed into giggling 10-year-olds as they were pounded with non-stop water rendering the umbrellas they brought with them about as effective at staying dry by protecting yourself from a downpour by holding Kleenex over your head.
It was descending from Mono Pass after seeing two deer gallop by some dozen or so feet away that I was stunned by the power and incredible speed of a black bear that was in hot pursuit.
It was on a granite perch overlooking Ten Lakes where I realized that I had just barely scratched the wonders that Yosemite holds as I gazed across the incredibly deep chasm of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.
The list of favorite Yosemite spots are endless. Even on those rare hikes where I feel pounded into the ground such as traveling the 13-mile loop to Young Lakes near Tioga Pass earlier this month just weeks after tripping and doing a chest slam into a Manteca sidewalk, it is still a great experience.
All of that and more is just two hours and 15 minutes to three hours away from cities along the Highway 99 corridor in the 209.
It is $30 for a seven-day pass, $60 for a year pass, or $80 for an all access pass to all national parks.
Given as you are reading this I’m on my 10th trip to Yosemite (hiking Cathedral Lakes) since buying the national parks pass in May, it’s the best deal on earth.
And while it can save you a lot of money the ventures and peace of mind the plastic card allows you to access is priceless.