With its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, giant sequoia groves, and biological diversity, Yosemite is so magical and unique and, in my opinion, can’t be compared to any other mountains or national parks.
It takes about five hours to get there by car from L.A. and the drive through the Central California prairies and little gold mining towns (such as the charming Coarsegold) is enjoyable. When approaching Yosemite, the altitude is not noticeable as the road is not winding but rather straight. You start realizing you’re in the mountains by the quality of the fine, fresh air and for the thick woods of green pines that greet you on both sides of the road. The first place to stay after entering the park is Wawona (I couldn’t help but call it ‘My Wawona’ at first … LOL), the awesome pioneer village is located in this area and features a few cabins, a covered bridge, and working water pumps.
Yosemite Valley appears with all its splendor after passing through a tunnel; here, a scenic point allows to take everything in and admire the Half Dome an El Capitain emerging from the valley. This is the same view that fascinated the Indian tribes and the first settlers, an unchanged scenery that is as vast as the eyes can see. From there, winding roads, through what seems like an enchanted wood, lead down to the Yosemite Valley Village. The Duke and I stayed at the Curry Village (one of Yosemite’s first lodges built in 1899) a cute little place with hundreds of cabins, tent cabins, and common areas with a restaurant, meeting hall, and gift shops. After dropping our belongings, we began our adventure by exploring the closest point of interest in our map: Mirror Lake. This is perhaps one of the easiest hikes in Yosemite; the path is wide and almost flat and it leads to a small but charming lake that reflects the beautiful surrounding mountains. There’s so much history and fauna in this location that there are boards in every corner describing what the first Indian tribes were utilizing a specific plant for.
We spotted a few lovely deers on our way back and were able to hop on a shuttle to get back to the village (vehicles are not permitted in some areas of the park, but eco-friendly shuttles circles the valley every 15 minutes). After dinner, we decided to go on a night expedition — we bundled up and armed with a flashlight, we walked through the nearby meadow to stare at the starry sky. It was so grande, I was breathless and after a few minutes, even scared: I spotted a bunch of little lights coming our way and I thought the aliens were upon us, until I overheard some laughters and realized those were some fellow night hikers. Apparently, night hikes are as popular as the ones in plain daylight!
The following day, delighted in finding out that no bear visited our storage locker or our car (any food or scented item must be removed from tents and cars in order to avoid close encounters with bears), we reached Glacier Point by car and hiked a path surrounded by some great sequoias and white smooth flat rocks. This hike is a little difficult, but so rewarding; the view at the top is phenomenal, you can see pretty much all the waterfalls (Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, and Clouds Rest). I couldn’t believe all the meadows I spotted from here back to the village — they were all covered in fantastic autumn colors. In Yosemite, you really experience all the seasons (unlike L.A.).
After a brief recharge, we went on another hike, this time to Vernal Fall and this one was sooo difficult because it’s all uphill. It was creepy, too. It was close to dusk, many fellow hikers at that point were going back, we tried to go as far as we could but at some point, due to the Duke’s phobia of running into a hungry bear and the warning of some older men that told us “you know, some people get stuck there”, we decided that we saw enough and headed back. Our brush with creepiness kept going, though, after dinner we jumped on the shuttle and joined some other 150 tourists on a night excursion of the Pioneers’ Cemetery. The visitor center planned a mini scavenger hunt here, appropriately the night before Halloween. We were divided into teams — each team, armed with flashlights and clues, had a designated pioneer’s tomb to find. We were given a brief summary of the dead person’s life and achievements. It was an interesting way to learn about the history of Yosemite and its founding figures. After this haunting experience, we warmed up with a delicious soup at the Ahwahnee Hotel, the only 4-star hotel in Yosemite.
Our last day was marked by a visit at the Indian Museum and village, and the Yosemite and Bridal Veil Falls. The Mariposa Grove Garden by the exit of the park was my favorite place to see. This is home to the giant sequoias and some sequoias in there are considered the longest living being on the planet.