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"You never know what the day will bring!"
JoAnna's family has a wonderful tradition of camping in Yosemite each year. This tradition started with JoAnna's mom, Olga, going with her family when she was a little girl. I was excited when JoAnna invited me and Ryan to come along on this summer's excursion. I hadn't been tent camping since before Ryan was born and I hadn't been to Yosemite since running camp right before my freshman year of college in 1991. Ryan had never been tent camping so I thought it would be a good experience for him.
Ryan and I met up with JoAnna's parents early Sunday morning, August 3rd. We caravanned, which made the trip up a lot easier. There was a light drizzle when we left the Antelope Valley which stayed with us until McFarland (about halfway there).
Because it had been so long since I'd been to Yosemite, I didn't realize how vast the area was. It was another 50 miles past the park's entrance before we got to our campsite. The drive there was beautiful, though. There's a long tunnel (which Ryan loved going through) which pops out to a viewing area aptly called Tunnel View (click to read more about this and other iconic Yosemite views). That's when I had my first, "Oh my God," moment. There had been a fire in the area so there was residual smoke in the air in addition to the sky being slightly overcast. However, this didn't detract from the view's initial impact. To say it was incredible is a serious understatement. Seeing El Capitan and Half Dome right there was stunning. Unfortunately, we didn't stop but luckily someone got a photo, which I included in the album below.
As we headed toward our campsite, I was trying to explain to Ryan just how amazing our surroundings were. I said, "There's nowhere else like this on Earth!"
His response was, "Other places have mountains and forests."
I shook my head. "BUT THEY DON'T LOOK LIKE THIS!!!!"
I lost phone service shortly after Oakhurst, which is a few miles outside Yosemite National Park. From that Sunday through the following Thursday, I could only use my phone as a clock and a camera. It was actually really nice to unplug for a while.
Our first afternoon and evening there was spent setting up (a special thanks to Izzy for helping me set up our tent!). We stayed in the Upper Pines camping area. JoAnna loaned me and Ryan a four-person tent as well as an air mattress while Larry had sent along a couple of sleeping bags with Ryan. The entire party consisted of - besides me and Ryan, and JoAnna and her parents - Monica (JoAnna's sister), her kids Sebastian (Sabby) and Isabel (Izzy), Ryan M. (Monica's fiance) and his son, Blake. JoAnna also brought her dogs, Egg and Sunny, a rotweiler and golden.
Our campsite wasn't far from a placid section of the Merced River, so once we were all settled our group took an evening stroll over to it. Unfortunately California is in a drought (again) so there wasn't as much water around as there has been in the past. However, there was still enough to wade around in and enjoy.
After dinner we had s'mores by the fire - a camping must! We had those huge marshmallows, which made the s'mores extra gooey and messy.
Later on in the evening a light drizzle began to fall which carried on throughout the night. It was soothing and relaxing to hear the soft patter of rain on our tent.
By morning the rain had stopped and any residual smoke had been washed away. It was still overcast though, but that kept the temperature down. JoAnna, her parents, Ryan and I went to breakfast at Curry Village (click here to read about Curry Village Pavilion and other dining options there). While the ambiance was enjoyable, the food was overpriced and not that great. We should have stayed at our campsite and had the chorizo and egg burritos Monica made! Live and learn.
We spent much of that Monday moving campsites. Apparently this is a pretty common occurrence. We had a reservation for one night in one spot then the rest of the nights were in another spot. There were a lot of other people nearby playing musical campsites. While moving again was a pain, it was well worth it because our new site was a lot nicer. There were fewer people around us and it was closer to just about everything - amenities, trails, etc. It was a little farther from the bathrooms but that was actually a good thing, as the bathroom lights go on at night and blare into your tent.
In the afternoon, Monica, Ryan M., and I took the boys to the river. It was still overcast and threatening rain so no one else was there. It was fun wading in the river while the boys played. There were little minnows in the river as well as a couple of ducks that came by in hopes of handouts. The only downside was there were a ton of flies. The only bite I got the entire time I was in Yosemite was from one of those flies. They didn't bother us while we were in the river but as soon as we sat down, it was fly central.
When we got back to the campsite, Ryan and I sacked out for a while. The last couple of days caught up to us and we were wiped. Later on we had dinner at the campsite. I have to say a huge, "Thank you!" to Monica, Olga, Ryan M., Walter and JoAnna for bringing all the cooking and eating utensils and for doing all the cooking. While I brought food to share as well, everyone shared their food (and drink!) with me and Ryan, and made sure we had plenty to eat. It's greatly appreciated!
After dinner we went to Curry Village for ice cream. They don't stint you, that's for sure. I ordered a double scoop thinking scoops were like you usually get. One scoop there is worth at least two normal scoops anywhere else! Ryan wanted cookies and cream but they ran out, so they gave him extra of the vanilla he chose instead. He didn't even get through half of it!
That night everyone went to bed fairly early. Ryan M., Blake, Sabby, Ryan and I stayed up a little while telling scary stories before going to be ourselves.
The next morning, Walter, Sabby, Ryan, Monica, Izzy, and I got up early to take showers. We saw a couple of bucks (deer) on the way.
I didn't realize how dirty I was until I got clean. It felt good to wash up. When we were done we got some coffee at Curry Village. They serve Peet's and I got something called a Mayan Mocha. It was pretty good - chocolate coffee with a hint of cinnamon and chili.
Ryan M.'s mom, Karen, joined us for the day and we all took the tram over to Yosemite Village where we checked out the visitor's center and the Indian Cultural Exhibit (click here to read more about each). After wandering around we watched the half-hour Spirit of Yosemite film about the history of the area. It was interesting and I was surprised to discover Ryan actually found it interesting as well. (Did you know: Yosemite was the inspiration for our National Parks system?)
Later on, everyone went to the Ahwahnee Hotel for drinks. The place is extremely nice and we got friendly service at the restaurant, even though we weren't guests. The waitress even told me how cute Ryan was and what nice manners he had. :)
That afternoon JoAnna and Izzy took the dogs for a walk to the river. Karen and I tagged along. Izzy wound up getting immersed up to chest level in the river while I managed - with Izzy's help - to keep it to ankle level. :) After dinner, Karen, Monica, Ryan M., Blake, and Ryan and I took off for a moonlit walk to Mirror Lake. After a while, Monica and Karen turned back. The rest of us kept going. The moon was nearly full but it still was pretty dark when the trees blocked the moonlight. Unfortunately, when we got to the lake we discovered it was dry. Because the moon was so bright, we couldn't see as many stars as I'd been hoping - though at least it wasn't overcast anymore so you could see some stars.
Ryan was concerned about water coming back into the lake, even though I assured him that wasn't going to happen. I was more concerned with not being able to see what was in the forest around us. It was nice to be out for a moonlit stroll but Ryan and I were definitely happy to get back to the campsite.
Around 1:45am we were awakened by a park ranger warning everyone there was a bear in the area. We had to make sure every food item was properly stowed in bear-proof food lockers. They take bear-proofing extremely seriously in Yosemite. When we were sure everything was good to go, we were able to go back to sleep.
That brings us to Wednesday, our last full day at Yosemite. In the morning, Ryan and I went for a short walk just the two of us. That was nice. That morning was the first morning it wasn't overcast. Seeing the golden sunlight filtering through the trees in the morning was amazing. The place is gorgeous no matter what, but when the sun is out it's like everything is suddenly in Technicolor!
The sun being out also meant it was quite a bit warmer than it had been; however, it wasn't unbearably hot.
After breakfast everyone but Olga and Walter went on an extended hike from the campsite to the bridge at Vernal Falls. The views were incredible! Ryan was a trooper but was not happy with all the uphill and the warmer weather. He told me, "Hiking is annoying." Oh well...
Later in the afternoon Ryan and I went with JoAnna to pick up her dogs from doggy day care, then we met up with everyone else at Curry Village for pizza. The pizza was delicious! After pizza, we wandered over to the amphitheater to see what was going on. There was a live children's/comedy show about Yosemite's history that really caught Ryan's fancy. He absolutely LOVED it! He kept saying, "This is definitely worth it!" We wound up staying for the whole thing. I was amazed at how into it Ryan was but was thrilled he was enjoying himself so much.
After the show, we headed back to the campsite. JoAnna and I walked back to Curry Village for some ice cream while Ryan stayed at the campsite with everyone else. On the way back, we say a juvenile bear up in an apple tree and then got within touching distance of a buck.
The next morning was spent packing up and getting ready to head out. I have to say Ryan and I had a great time! I was worried that Ryan wouldn't do well unplugged (and he did manage to squeeze some playing time out of his DS) but overall he had fun riding his Razor scooter and playing with the other boys.
For me, I loved being out in nature. There is something spiritual and humbling about being in Yosemite. My thoughts cleared and I felt a sense of peace and calm that I can't remember having in a long time. I'm so thankful to JoAnna and her family for having me and Ryan along on their camping trip!
Below are photos from the trip. Be sure to check out the captions. :)