Every year I visit my family in California in late March, and every year we try to find something new to see or do. This year, we decided to see Yosemite National Park. In a lifetime of visiting California, I somehow never managed to make it there. I've flown over it several times, but it's hard to see much detail from 30,000 feet.
My mother and I drove eastwards from the Bay Area, passing whole hill-sides of windmills:
Then we crossed the San Joaquin Valley, passing through half-completed malls and housing developments that didn't quite make it through the 2008 subprime crisis. We entered the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and soon found ourselves going along a rapidly narrowing river valley. We had to take a single-lane detour due to the main road being completely blocked by a landslide:
The valley grew steeper and rockier, eventually coming right up to and sometimes even over the road:
Finally we came across a large cliff face and a rocky bend in the river, with small waterfalls in the distance.
As with every other first-timer, we pulled over and took a lot of pictures, not knowing what was waiting just a few miles ahead.
We drove through a small forested area and then out into open pastures - and I realized what the big deal was with Yosemite. I've seen my share of impressive scenery, but this was jaw-dropping:
We got to the hotel just as the sun was going down. We were staying at the Awhahnee Hotel - the only hotel that's actually in the park, and one has to pay a big premium for the privilege of the location. The place made me a little uneasy for some reason, and it wasn't just that I'm not used to staying in such expensive lodgings. Then I saw the elevator:
(If the embedded video above doesn't show properly, you can watch it directly in YouTube.)
While the original story of The Shining was based on a hotel in Colorado, and the exteriors for the movie were shot at the Timberline Lodge in Oregon, the set designs were heavily based on the Ahwahnee - including that elevator.
Needless to say, I was always a little nervous whenever I pressed the "Up" button. However, only the right door opens, it's a bit smaller than in the movie, and it's actually quite pleasant inside:
(Also, if you were wondering, there is no Room 237 at the Ahwanee - it just goes from 236 to 238.)
The next morning, I realized why the hotel cost so much. This is the view you get from your bedroom window:
Because I really like reviewing my travels on my computer and phone and iPad, and even more so because my GPS pictures can automatically make a daily map in Remembary, I tend to take a lot of pictures whenever I'm visiting a new place. I realized that this was going to be a big few days for pictures. I started early, setting up my little travel tripod:
Note that I took this picture before I got dressed, about three steps from my bed.
After I actually got dressed and had breakfast, we drove through the Valley, stopping at various interesting spots to go for short hikes - or just to gawk at the scenery.
Yosemite is a long twisty valley, with cliffs that rise straight from the flat valley floor. It was carved out by glaciers, and reminded me a bit of Newfoundland's Western Brook Pond - but taller.
We got very lucky with the weather: the forecast had been for thunderstorms and rain, but those only happened at night while the days were sunny and bright. The sunlight evaporated the moisture on the rocks and trees, causing mist to rise out of the forests and over the cliffs - making the scenery even more dramatic, and giving everything a great sense of depth.
(The next few pictures are best viewed as large as possible. Click on any picture see it in Flickr, where you can get larger sizes.)
We stopped at one point at the base of El Capitan, and I walked out to a meadow to get a better look. I didn't get many good pictures of El Capitan, because I saw this in the other direction:
The Cathedral Spires rise almost vertically from the valley floor, wrapped in mist. They seemed particularly Chinese to me - and it turns out that the famous Huangshan mountains are geologically quite similar (and they are even Sister Parks).
Yosemite is a photographer's paradise. This is one time that I wish I had a very fancy DSLR with lots of lens and exposure options. However, I was able to get some good shots from my iPhone5 and with the big 14x zoom lens in my pocket-sized Canon SX230 HS.
I was feeling a little weak in the knees after that spectacular view, so I appreciated that we were going for a bit of a drive. It turned out, though, that we were driving to this:
This is the world famous "Tunnel View" over Yosemite. It's grand, but the view point is packed with busloads of tourists, and everyone is taking the same picture. Sometimes with friends and family in it:
The zoom lens helped me pick out some of the more gorgeous details, though.
We later went for a walk near the hotel, right up to the base of one of the smaller waterfalls:
Then we had a lovely dinner and went to bed, exhausted after a long day of hiking, fresh air, and ridiculous scenery.
My body still thought it was in Halifax, so I woke up in the early hours of the dawn and saw the moon set behind the nearby peaks:
We went for breakfast, and got a table right next to a window. The morning was clear and cold, which meant that the nearby peaks had a dusting of snow, shining in the clear pale morning sunlight. I cut my breakfast short to run outside and get these shots before the light changed.
I felt like I was living in a Maxfield Parrish painting. Except I was standing just a few steps away from my hotel.
We got in the car and drove out to a waterfall. A waterfall that is taller than the CN Tower. It's a popular destination, and the landscaping frames it well.
You can walk right up to the base, which when we were there had a lovely rainbow:
The most obvious spots were filling up with tourists, so we took a small trail through the woods nearby.
As we returned to our car, several busloads of tourists walked by, hundreds and hundreds of people from all around the world. This was before 11am. In the off-season. Supposedly Yosemite is completely packed in the summer, with endless traffic jams and huge crowds of people.
We headed out of the park, but I had to get my mother to pull over in one of the meadows for one last batch of photographs - some of which have turned out to be among my favourite from the trip:
Then we drove out of Yosemite and back to San Francisco.
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