Iconic national parks like Yosemite aren’t usually an easy last minute trip. Lodging isn’t particularly quick to come by, and campsites are challenging to secure too. I’ve been meaning to visit for as long as I’ve lived in San Francisco, but somehow it’s just never happened. So after talking about it for long enough, availability aligned, and we made a reservation for three weeks later at the end of April. Finally, I’d visit Yosemite!
We left on Friday right after work. So by the time we had arrived, it was long past dark. The climb through the mountains and the following descent to the valley floor were obvious as we drove, but all the majestic beauty had simply faded into black. The valley walls that John Muir, champion and protector of Yosemite, had described as “mountains in size,” and “so compactly and harmoniously arranged … that the Valley, comprehensively seen, looks like an immense hall or temple lighted from above.” Those walls would have to wait, at least until the next morning.
En route we’d discovered that there was a winter weather advisory in effect for Yosemite overnight and for Saturday night as well. Filled with canvas tent cabins, Curry Village is the least expensive lodging available in the park, and the only option when we booked had been an unheated tent cabin with two single beds. Since it was practically May, we assumed we wouldn’t need the heat anyway. Now we weren’t so sure. Freezing temperatures were forecasted, and snow was possible.
We woke up the next morning to more than 5 inches of snow on the ground and more continuing to fall. Pillows, linens, and heavy wool blankets are provided, but if you come early (or late) in the season, you really still need a sleeping bag. Thankfully, ours were rated for freezing temperatures, and they actually kept us plenty warm, especially when we burrowed way down deep inside with no chance of noses or faces peaking out from within.
We agreed upon waking that the best possible place from which to watch the beauty of the ongoing snowfall was from the heated comfort of The Ahwahnee Hotel. Morning had come, but the view I had eagerly anticipated was still delayed, now clouded by snow and fog. We lingered and enjoyed the breakfast buffet and ample coffee until the snow finally stopped. Actually, it might be more accurate to say there was a break in the snow quickly followed by slushy rain and fat drops of melting snow. The temperature began to rise, but the rain remained, and only nearby roads were open.
We wandered along the valley floor and stopped at each of the waterfalls — Bridal Veil, Horse Tail and Yosemite Falls — while still mostly bundled up against the cold temperatures and often under an umbrella.
About an hour later, the rain eased, and the fog shifted moodily. By then we’d caught a glimpse of almost all the sights I’d hoped to see. An outline of El Capitan’s rock face was just visible beyond the fog. Highlighted for a moment and then gone again. Then the fog cleared enough that the walls slowly came into view. Only Half Dome stayed hopelessly out of sight.
The pitch and scale of those massive walls felt Gothic in magnitude, but to borrow words from Muir, “no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite.”
We weren’t the only ones excited to see the weather lift. These two foxes happily played and lounged on the valley floor while visitors like us gathered and watched in wonder.
Sunday brought all the sunshine and warmth we’d originally expected of this trip, and finally views of both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls and the exceedingly elusive Half Dome.
We hiked the popular Mist Trail to Vernal Falls, and then basked in the warm(er) temperatures atop that giant slab of granite.
On our way out of the park, we discovered that the road to Glacier Point had been reopened, and we couldn’t resist the diversion.
It was an unexpected first trip to Yosemite — a dramatic, almost cinematic unveiling of natural beauty that I felt lucky to behold.
P.S. – You probably noticed a new face in these photos! His name is Cesar, and one of the many things I love about him is that he’s always up for an adventure. He’s been a big part of my adventures over the last 8 months, and there are plenty more to come together. I’ve been meaning to share this for a while. Even considering my recent increased responsibility at work and the resulting travel, it’s overdue. Let’s just call it my own slow reveal.