Yosemite National Park, CA

Wednesday, October 8

We sneak in through Yosemite’s back door.

Actually, Yosemite has at least five and possibly six entrances, but the “front” side of the park is considered to be the western side, in particular Yosemite Valley which is lower in elevation and closer to the more populated parts of California. It’s probably also what you think of when you think of Yosemite because that’s where most of the promotional photos are taken: picturesque waterfalls cascading down from gray granite peaks into a forest of pine that changes to various species of softwood in the valley proper.

But as it turns out the park is very large and has many facets. Our path in from Death Valley is much more remote, up interstate 395 and then hanging a left at Mono Lake.

Do you see them?

Do you see them?

Highway 120 (Tioga Road, closed December – May) climbs right up the steeper eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Yet again I put Bertha to the test hauling Cas up a high altitude alpine pass doing a passable Little Engine that Could impression (slow, but sure and steady).

It's fall!

It’s fall!

This side of the park is much more rugged. There are no deciduous trees here and there are less amenities and visitors, a product of the shorter season. You would be wise to fill up on gas on 395 before making the turnoff on 120. Toiyabe National Forest is actually the first, steepest part of the drive up 120, before entering Yosemite proper, and by this time of year the Visitor’s Center on the eastern side of the park is already closed for the season.

Little did we know upon arrival that this is the last weekend most of the campgrounds in Yosemite will be open, and many locals come out camping for the last hurrah of the season.

After following the twisting but scenic Tioga Road for about 45 minutes, we stumble upon the first campground. It’s a first come first served rustic campground at 8,100 ft. called Porcupine Flat, which is extremely difficult to find information about online. Contrary to the name it’s not very flat, and the largest RVs allowed inside are 20 ft, and even then there are limited spaces. There are many sites still available at 1 pm, but the camphost thinks the lows for the next few nights will be in the mid to upper 20’s. That’s awfully uncomfortable without electric or a propane heater, and we have Julie’s geriatric cat to think about as well as our own comfort.

Nope, no way to miss Giant Sequoias in a crowd

Nope, no way to miss Giant Sequoias in a crowd

The next campgrounds are over an hour away, on the lower elevation western side of the park. What the NPS website doesn’t tell us is that they’re all by reservation. By the time we get there at 2:30 every single site is spoken for for Thursday night, so we’d get at most one night and by then the first come first serve places would all be filled up for the weekend. So it’s back to Porcupine Flat.

By the time we get back after 4 pm the campground has nearly filled. In fact, there’s only one site I think I can squeeze Cas into now and it’s quite unlevel, but I make it work, phew! Who would have thought it would be this busy here this late in the season.

Towering overhead

Towering overhead

With our limited daylight left there’s not time to go far today, but we hit the first mile or so of Five Lakes Trail, and quickly get distracted by all of the downed pine trees. Free firewood! We haul two armfulls back to Bertha for use tomorrow night.

Thursday, October 9

The dome is the leftmost peak, Nevada Falls is barely visible next to the right peak

The dome is the leftmost peak, Nevada Falls is barely visible next to the right peak

We kind of fail at the getting up early thing. I blame the cold, which hangs around inside the RV in the morning after the sun has come up and started warming up things outside. I’m not convinced it made it down to freezing, but it must have been close.

Nevada Falls

Nevada Falls

So, guess what Yosemite has? If you’ve watched my YouTube videos and read previous posts, you’ll know I love big trees, and this park has three strands of Giant Sequoias which I’ve never seen before. I persuade Julie that this is the hike we need to do today (she doesn’t argue hard) and then we’re off.

The Tuolumne grove is the closest to where we’re camping, on Tioga Road not far from the Crane Flat campground, but it’s still an hour and a half away. The hike is just over 4 miles round trip.

As Julie and I start walking, we ask ourselves if we’ll be able to recognize the trees when we see them, Yosemite in general has really tall impressive trees of all sorts and what if we miss them?

And then we see one. There’s no possible way to miss a Giant Sequoia in a crowd of pine, fir, and cedar. And let me tell you, they are massive. Giant Sequoias are one of the fastest growing trees in the world. By 500 years old, they’re almost at their full height, and from there the trunks just get wider. They can live to 3,000 years old or more.

Julie and I make the loop and peer up at them. These magnificent trees once covered a large part of north America, but now only survive in isolated strands in the Sierra Nevada. They require fire to survive, the heat cracks open the small, unassuming pine cones on the ground and gets rid of underbrush so the seeds can find bare soil to grow on.

We have a lunch on top of a fallen dead giant and are more or less alone on the hike. Mariposa grove is the largest and most popular of Yosemite’s Sequoia strands and has road access right up to it, so these smaller ones don’t get as much attention. That’s just fine with me.

On the long drive back home we pick up firewood at a little convenience store/gas station and have hotdogs over a campfire for dinner. It’s a hard life, but someone’s got to live it.

Emerald Pool

Emerald Pool

Friday, October 10

Today we drive all the way to Yosemite Valley for some hiking. The trees in the valley are starting to turn yellow, and it’s a beautiful winding drive… until we get to the flashing lights.

At the junction to head into the valley, there are police cars parked. The turnoff for highway 140 is blocked with cones. We’ll later discover that it’s closed due to a wildfire (the Dog Rock Fire) that has also cut off power for all of Yosemite Valley – the Visitor’s center, campgrounds, and shops are all being run off of diesel generators, which must be pretty pricy. The showers are not being run on generators, which means we won’t get to have one until we leave here, yikes. As of now, the fire is not expected to force an evacuation of the park.

Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls

Today’s goal is to see waterfalls, and this time of year that pretty much means we’re hiking up to see Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, the only two with water right now.

Our route to get to them is a little convoluted, there are a couple ways to do it. We opt for the longer route that loops around so that we never walk on the same trail twice. At shuttle stop 16 we get off and climb up a paved trail to an impressive looking bridge. Vernal Falls is right upriver of the bridge to the left, but instead we take the longer and less trafficked right fork onto the John Muir trail which is mostly switchbacks. This trail allows horses, and we see evidence of their recent presence, but never see a horse in person.

John Muir climbs right on past Vernal to an impressive overlook of Nevada Falls. The back side of White Dome is also readily visible from here, a rounded peak of granite which can only be climbed by special permit. That trail uses chains and is considered to be quite strenuous, much like Angel’s Landing was at Zion.

My spot at Porcupine Flat campground, beyond the "no RVs" sign. ;)

My spot at Porcupine Flat campground, beyond the “no RVs” sign. 😉

Julie and I sit at the overlook and have our lunch. A Steller’s Jay hops down and peers at us expectantly. It’s pretty clear that he’s use to getting fed. We resist his charming ways and enjoy the ample sunshine and light breeze. It’s a comfortable temperature here in the valley, not too hot and not too cold.

Later on, the trail crosses right over the mouth of the falls on a bridge. The water is clear and very cold, and it’s cut swirls and hollows into the rock that it’s flowing over. What a neat place. From here it’s all downhill.

Off of the John Muir trail, the descent changes from switchbacks to steps. Hundreds of them, and some of them quite steep. They lead down past the Nevada Falls offering several picture taking opportunities, then dive off into the woods. Farther down, the woods gives way to the Emerald Pool. An interesting water feature, one side of the small lake is large tumbled boulders, and on the other side is a continuous large slab of smooth rock. Swimming isn’t allowed, not that I would have this time of year anyhow. But it’s a good place for a snack break. Then it’s back to the Steps.

After one particularly harrowing set through a narrow gorge, the steep rock walls give way on the right to Vernal Falls.

We’ve arrived here at the absolute perfect time of day. The late afternoon sun is shining directly on the sheer wall the falls is tumbling over and lighting up the grass that hugs the slope we’re walking on. The falls roars into a basin of rock below, and sends rainbow mist over the pine trees on the other slope. As we watch, shadows creep up the falls, we’re losing daylight. Luckily we’re almost done with the loop and it doesn’t take long to get back to the bottom.

Last light over Yosemite Valley

Last light over Yosemite Valley

Wow, what a day of hiking. How long was it? Well that’s a good question, and one I still don’t have a good answer too. According to the maps, it was somewhere around 6 or 6 and a half, Julie’s exercise app proclaimed it more like 8. But however long it was, the new pair of tennis shoes I bought for Amazon still feel comfortable, I think I can consider them broken in now.

Saturday, October 11

My vacation time is nearing an end. Today we pack up the RV and head back east on Tioga Road out of the Sierra Nevada. I want to get Cas all cleaned and polished before arriving at our next destination: Sparks Marina RV Park in Sparks, NV. It’s the place we’ll be calling home while we work at Amazon the next 10 weeks.

Heading out of Yosemite and back to interstate 395, we make one last stop.

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake is a clear, cold, and sizable alpine lake that Tioga Road scoots right along the side of. It’s a hard place to take a bad picture of, and an easy place to spend a day lazing around. We see kayaks in the water, folks with hammocks strung up near the shore, and picnics aplenty. There is a trail that goes all the way around the lake and up into the mountains behind it, but there’s not time to do it all today.

But that’s okay. One of the best things about being a full-timer is that I can always come back here again someday and see more. America has a lot of wonderful places to experience, and I’ve still only scratched the surface. Until next time, Yosemite.

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  1. Ed @ Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets on October 29, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Hi Becky (and Julie)! Glad you made it to Yosemite. We love the high country, the “back door” as it were. A comment was made regarding the threat of losing the “Tuolumne Grove” to fire. That would not have been likely since Sequoias are essentially fire-proof. The bark has a fire retardant make up and is two feet thick. There might be damage to outer branches and certainly pine cones, but as you mentioned, that’s how Sequoias re-seed. Of course, everything AROUND the grove would be destroyed, but not the Sequoias. They would survive. Nevertheless, it’s good that the fires were kept at bay. And It’s good that you got to see them. Sometime you should get to Sequoia Nat’l Park for the LARGEST of them. And as you mentioned you DO need to see the Coast Redwoods of NW California. Really large AND tall.

    How’s Amazon treating you?
    Ed @ Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets recently posted..Bogie and Other ThingsMy Profile

    • Becky on October 31, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      I’m looking forward to seeing more of California’s beauty on future trips for sure.

      Amazon’s going well so far, if making me a bit short on time. 🙂

  2. Pleinguy on October 27, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Tioga Pass was closed when I went up the 395 in April, so I missed Yosemite this year. Definitely want to visit another time.

    • Becky on October 31, 2014 at 9:39 pm

      Early or late in the season is the time to go to avoid the crowds Plein. Hope you get the chance to next year!

  3. Katsus on October 27, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    Thanks for the beautiful pics, Becky – they brought back wonderful memories of the first time we visited Yosemite in 1970. We’ve been back 4 times and have seen many changes in the roads and campgrounds, most of which were necessitated by the huge increase in summer visitors – you were smart to go in October!
    May I suggest you go north next summer to Glacier National Park in Montana – I was there this summer and its (relatively) uncrowded beauty reminded me of the 1970s Yosemite. A continuation north will bring you to Banff, Alberta Canada — also not to be missed!!
    Pleasant journeys……Kat

    • Becky on October 31, 2014 at 9:38 pm

      I fondly remember a family road trip when I was 14 out west, we hit Glacier National Park, drove on Going To The Sun road, and went horseback riding, it was a really neat place. It’s certainly a possibility for next summer, time will tell. 🙂

      Safe travels and happy trails to you as well.

  4. Furry Gnome on October 26, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    Reading your blog is like travelling to some of the best places on the continent! Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Becky on October 29, 2014 at 4:37 pm

      You’re very welcome Gnome!

  5. Maura on October 26, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    You did well to see Yosemite during less traffic time, being from California its not some place I go only because of the crowds, so its better to go before or after summer. The Big Trees never get old! Enjoy your time at Amazon. Looking forward to further posts.
    Maura recently posted..Blast on The BayMy Profile

    • Becky on October 26, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      Tioga road was so skinny and winding, I bet it would be a nightmare to drive with a lot of traffic around. I can’t imagine how people find a place to camp there in the summer, was hard enough in October!

  6. Jodee Gravel on October 26, 2014 at 8:29 am

    Lived my whole life in CA and have never been to Yosemite. It’s like a joke in my family – a bad one! But I’m definitely going to see it when we hit the road. The Tuolumne Grove was saved by firefighters during last year’s big fire – it was a huge deal that the grove was threatened and we all were relieved when it was saved. I’m actually very surprised you were able to have a campfire in the Sierras with the severe dry conditions – maybe the cooler temps make a difference. So glad you got to see the falls and Half Dome and the amazing big trees – your pics are great. Hope you’ve settled in comfortably in Sparks.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..So Slow and Then Really, Really Fast!My Profile

    • Becky on October 26, 2014 at 3:59 pm

      Wow, yeah loosing that grove would have been tragic! We saw signs of that fire that made it close, one year later the trees all still have their needles but they’ve turned brown. It’s kinda eerie seeing a forest of trees with brown needles.

      I was kinda surprised too by the campfire thing, but wasn’t going to complain. I hope you get the chance to see Yosemite when you hit the road Jodee, you’ll like it. 🙂

  7. Dawn on October 26, 2014 at 7:39 am

    One of my favorite parks. We went a couple of years ago, but only had one day there. We’ll go back too someday.

    • Becky on October 26, 2014 at 3:54 pm

      One day only? That’s sad, I hope you get to go back soon Dawn!

  8. Vincent Goetz on October 26, 2014 at 7:18 am

    Half Dome, not White Dome…although we used to call it Half Rubble.

    Three different kinds of Redwoods, Yosemite has Sequoiadendron Gigantea. There is the coastal redwood, Sequoiadendron Sempivirens. The other is the Dawn Redwood, in China.

    • Becky on October 26, 2014 at 3:53 pm

      I’ll update the wording, thanks!

      So, clearly I need to go see the other kind of redwood in California, so I can compare the two. 😉

  9. Jerry Minchey on October 26, 2014 at 6:16 am

    Becky, since you’ve been on the road for over two years, it would be interesting to know what your parents, siblings and friends think about your lifestyle now.

    By now they realize that you’re not going to “come to your senses” and come back to the real world (as they see it) — at least, not anytime soon.

    Maybe you coudl write an article about this topic sometime or include it in your book.

    Just a thought,

    • Becky on October 26, 2014 at 3:51 pm

      They’ve gotten use to it Jerry, it’s become normal. Some still think it’s neat and ask questions, but most just shrug and go on with their lives, it’s no longer new news. 😉

  10. Marcia GB in MA on October 26, 2014 at 5:38 am

    What great pictures! They make me want to travel there right now! Judy is right about Jedidiah Smith and the Grove of the Titans. We were lucky enough to visit there a few years ago while staying with family in Southern Oregon. It is an amazing place; there are no words or pictures that can do it justice.

    • Becky on October 26, 2014 at 3:47 pm

      Glad you liked the pictures Marcia. If you haven’t been to Yosemite yet, I hope you get the chance to someday.

  11. Judy Sims on October 25, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Some other Ca. Locations you can put on your list; Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon National Park. McKinley Grove in Sierra National Forest. Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek and Redwood National Park. And the crown jewel in my opinion, hands down, the best place on earth, Jedediah Smith Redwoods. And search for the hidden Grove of the Titans.
    I can give you directions if you don’t want to do the research, but I felt making the discovery was half the fun. And take Julie. All these places are best to share with someone else.

    • Becky on October 26, 2014 at 2:46 am

      Thanks for the tips Judy! I’ll add them to my list. 🙂 I’ve gotta say you’ve piqued my interest with that Grove of the Titans thing.

      • Judy Sims on October 26, 2014 at 9:20 am

        Oregon has not been as rainy last couple of years, like California they are experiencincing drier then normal weather. I have traveled the Pacific Coast Highway extensively the last 2 years, in fall and spring. Has been beautiful. Summer on the coast can be foggy. Winter you can hit snow on the higher passes. Rain is all part of the experience. Big Sur and the Northern Pacific Coast Highway is also a must do. I am not a fan of Southern Ca. especially in an RV.
        Also, plan some time in Portland Oregon. A good RV park is Jantzen Beach. Explore the Columbia River Gorge. Amazing waterfalls to rival those in Yosimite and Hawaii.

        • Becky on October 26, 2014 at 3:45 pm

          I’ll mark them down Judy. 🙂

  12. Rene Kipp on October 25, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    I’ve been to Yosemite a few times and haven’t seen some of these areas myself (yet). Thank you for sharing. Love the photos of the giant redwoods, especially the one looking up toward the sky. There are some groves along the coastal mountain range if you get a chance to see them after your Amazon gig is over.
    Rene Kipp recently posted..It’s Coming Along For The RideMy Profile

    • Becky on October 26, 2014 at 2:45 am

      I’ll definitely be seeing more of them someday Rene, they’re so majestic. 🙂

      I’m a little confused though. It sounded to me like Giant Sequoia wasn’t the same thing as a redwood. Is a sequoia a kind of redwood, or the other way around?

      • Rene Kipp on October 26, 2014 at 10:09 am

        So apparently I don’t know my trees very well 🙂 Yes, the trees in Yosemite are giant sequoias.
        I found a link from NPS describing the differences between the giant sequoia and the redwood. It’s quite interesting: http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/cook/sec2.htm
        There are two places I’ve been to over the years. One is Big Trees SP in Arnold, CA. It’s home to the giant sequoia. The second is Muir Woods SP near the coast and home to the redwood.
        I know you’d enjoy both parks.
        Rene Kipp recently posted..It’s Coming Along For The RideMy Profile

        • Becky on October 29, 2014 at 4:27 pm

          I’ll do my best to get out and see redwoods someday. 🙂

  13. Dave on October 25, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    Tenaya Lake. Beautiful. And blue skys! Rain, rain, rain in southern Oregon.

    • Becky on October 26, 2014 at 2:43 am

      I think the people of California would be excited to see some rain, especially with the wildfires going on.

      I’ve thought about traveling the coastal NW in fall/winter when the weather is starting to get cold elsewhere, but everyone agrees with you that it’s really rainy.

      And yes. Stop at Tenaya lake sometime. And bring a kayak.

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