West Coast (Part 3): Yosemite et al.
After we left Crater Lake our next photo destination was the Mecca of all National Parks, Yosemite. Our road trip took us down the coast of Oregon, into California, through Redwood National Forest and into San Francisco before we turned our sights on Yosemite. This was our true destination and the whole reason we were out west. Chad had never been to Yosemite and it was finally time for him to make the pilgrimage to the place immortalized by John Muir. Along the way I learned that I am really bad at shooting giant trees and that beer tastes good.
Now is when we get to the free lesson part of the post. When you determine to travel somewhere, do a little research about that place before you pick the time to go. For us the timing was somewhat predetermined but never-the-less if either Chad or I had done some research we probably would NOT have chosen the first week in August to visit Yosemite. For one, the crowds are insane. When you read John Muir's descriptions of the valley and the natural cathedral that he came to love and revere you feel a certain way. When you arrive there in the middle of summer and see it filled to the brim with tourists in their cars, rarely venturing more that a quarter of a mile from a paved path, you have a different sort of reaction. This is the modern story of the National Parks though and I think John would be happy to know that Americans use them and revere them in their own way. Another reason not to visit in August is that one of the most iconic sights in the park, Yosemite Falls, isn't flowing. If we had read anything at all we probably would have known that. We would have also been a lot less surprised when we grabbed our cameras and tripods and hit the trail the night we got there, just to wind up at the base of the non-existent falls. Whoops!
Fortunately for us there are a few other undeniably iconic features of Yosemite. After getting skunked at Yosemite Falls we decided to head to a place where we would be able to take in a number of those features all at once. Tunnel View. From here you can see El Capitan, Bridal Veil Falls (when it is light out and there is water), the Three Brothers and off in the distance, Half Dome. We arrived at night with the stars shining and the moon about to set so we set up our tripods and got to work
That night we found a place to park the car and catch a few hours of sleep before waking up and taking in a closer look at El Capitan for sunrise.
For the rest of that day we did some exploring of the park trying to find some corner that wasn't filled to capacity with people. We drove up out of the valley to the Tuolumne Meadows area which is a bit less traveled and from there we took a hike to Cathedral Lakes. This was a nice, albeit semi-strenuous way to see a part of the park that most people don't even consider.
Lower Cathedral Lake
After an afternoon of avoiding crowds we plunged right back in because our destination for sunset was Glacier Point and an amazing view of Half Dome. We arrived about two hours before sunset to stake our claim on some prime real estate and then stayed well into the night to capture the stars above the mountains. Our goal was to stay up really late and capture a meteor shower but the cold got the better of us that night.
The next day we left Yosemite and drove a bit down the road the Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks. Sequoia is home to the largest trees on Earth. There really are no words to describe the size of the Giant Sequoias, they are prehistoric in both size and age and are something that everyone should experience in person if they can. King's Canyon is an adjoining park but seems more suited for backpacking and trekking in the back country than for day hikes. I have a mental plan to do a long trek through the High Sierras in King's Canyon some day. From the brief glimpse that we got the scenery must be amazing. Most of our day was spent exploring the parks by car and planning some photos for the next day. We did make a small detour to Roaring River Falls and along the way we spotted a black bear wandering through the woods.
Roaring River Falls
Roaring River Falls
The inside of a fallen giant sequoia
We settled down for the night near the trail head for Moro Rock. This is one of the best vistas in Sequoia National Park and we were determined to get up there for sunrise. We woke up bright and early, strapped on our headlamps and made the climb up the steps built and carved by the Civilian Conservation Corp. At the top we were greeted with a spectacular view and a brilliant sunrise.
The last stop on our journey was General Sherman, the largest living tree on the planet. We arrived just after hiking back down from sunrise meaning we arrived at the time when most people are just waking up. This meant that we had a private show and could take in the awesome views with no interruption.
Just a little perspective
After sitting and staring in amazement for what felt like and eternity and an instant, we climbed back into our car and headed back towards civilization and a reality that I don't think either of us will ever approach the same way again.
Until the next time, Ian
In case you missed the other parts of this West Coast series...
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