“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”
― John Muir, Our National Parks
My husband has fond childhood memories of Yosemite and thought it would be a perfect destination for our first road trip to a National Park. We brewed some coffee and loaded up the car just before dawn so the boys would sleep the first stretch of the drive. They woke up for a stop to pick up some sundries and we were back on our way. The kids took in scenery of dairy cows, windmills and railroad tracks before nodding back off to sleep, giving my husband and I some time to talk. Not before long, we entered the park and the landscape changed colors. Green dominated the area and riverbanks were bordered with bristly shrubs and deciduous trees. Rain drops pitter pattered on the windshield before turning into a short hailstorm. Flashes of lightening lit up the sky and thunder echoed in the distance.
Driving along Highway 41, we stopped at Yosemite’s iconic Tunnel View Vista. From there you can see El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall rising from Yosemite Valley, with Half Dome in the background. J called El Capitan the biggest rock in the world, “even bigger than the clouds.” Bridalveil Fall is one of the most prominent waterfalls in Yosemite and flows year-round. We explained to J that a circle cut in half is a dome and that Half Dome is named for its distinctive shape. One side is a sheer face while the other three sides are smooth and round, making it appear like a dome cut in half.
Nestled on the western edge of the park, we arrived at the historic Evergreen Lodge. Towering pines on 22 wooded acres, sweet mountain air and tranquility greeted us. The boys couldn’t wait to explore the rustic and comfy cabin we would call home for the next few days. J declared it a treehouse and announced that “today is a good day for a cabin day” and wished we could stay for “infinity days.” After settling in, we checked out the family-friendly property. Activities like horseshoes, bocce, a solar-heated saltwater pool and zip lines were available as well as some hammocks for relaxing. Later that evening we mingled with some other families while making classic s’mores over a crackling fire.
After a good night’s sleep, we woke up to watch the sunrise and the boys got a close-up of a pretty blue mountain jay cawing on our balcony. J grabbed his favorite book, Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World, to identify it. The rain cleared up and sun shined through white fluffy clouds. We ate an early lunch at the historic
Ahwahnee Majestic Yosemite Hotel. The spectacular chandelier-lit dining room features 34-foot high ceilings, enormous pine trestles and granite pillars. After our meal, we let the boys burn off some energy on the spacious lawn behind the lobby.
Without a plan for the day, we decided it would be well-worth the drive along the Tioga Road to Tuolumne Meadows in the High Sierra. Along the way, we stopped at Olmsted Point for stunning views of Tenaya Lake and the north side of Half Dome. One of my favorite moments was of J sitting peacefully on a large piece of granite and gazing off into the distance before we continued on. Situated 8,600 feet above sea-level, Tuolumne Meadows is one of the largest high-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada. We put on warmer jackets and enjoyed a peaceful walk along a flat hiking trail. We saw some deer in the distance and a yellow-bellied marmot perched atop of a pile of rocks before heading back to the Lodge. Back at the cabin, we marveled at the red, orange, pink and purple colors that illuminated the evening sky.
The next morning, we packed a backpack with our necessities and made our way to Lower Yosemite Falls for an easy one-mile loop. B was snacking on some snap peas when a chickaree tried to swipe them from him. He walked a little more than a quarter of mile before he wanted “uppy” into the carrier. The trail meandered through tall trees, over little bridges, and past boulders which lead us to the rushing waterfall. B was mesmerized by the loud whooshing sound and giggled when his face got misted by some of its spray. We walked back across the Sentinel Meadow boardwalk and a mule deer stotted across our path. The boys were fascinated to see him right before their eyes! Tuckered out, we took the boys into the village for some ice cream and souvenirs and took the shuttle back to the car.
By the time we turned onto Evergreen Road, the boys were asleep so we continued past the Lodge and drove to Hetch Hetchy Valley. Described by John Muir as “one of nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples,” it was said to be one of the most spectacular landscapes on earth until the Raker Act of 1913 authorized the city of San Francisco to construct a dam. Preservationists led by John Muir wanted the valley to remain untouched. Today, Restore Hetch Hetchy is dedicated to restoring the valley while protecting San Francisco’s use of the Tuolumne River for water supply. In this area, gray pine, incense-cedar, and California black oak grow in abundance. We saw the distinctive red-barked manzanita bush growing along the road in addition to brightly colored wildflowers that grow during this time of year. Seventeen species of bats inhabit this area of the park and we could see them flying overhead. On the drive out at dusk, we saw the cutest little surfeit, or group of about eight striped skunks.
We squeezed in a visit to Tuolumne Grove on our last day in Yosemite. The hike was paved and downhill so B walked some of the way. Wind loudly soughed through the trees and beautiful wildflowers were scattered along the path. My favorite ones were the white Pacific dogwoods. When B caught a glimpse of the first Giant Sequoia he pointed and said, “Look! Big tree! Wowww.” It’s true, the ancient trees were incredibly humbling. One of the trees, known as the Dead Giant was the first to be tunneled. Through research and experimentation, it was discovered that fire actually promotes reproduction of these giant trees by clearing away competing firs and cedars and exposing bare mineral soil for the tiny seeds to take root. The hike back up was steep and J needed a little encouragement. We were surprised that B walked a considerable amount on the way back. The boys and I were pleased to find some walking sticks which proved to be helpful.
There was much more of Yosemite we wanted to explore like Mirror Lake and Glacier Point but we will make a plan for another visit. As we exited the park, we agreed this trip was the perfect escape from technology and city living and an amazing family experience in one of nature’s most awe-inspiring settings.