September 2023 | Yosemite National Park, California
In my previous post I spoke about how Claudia and I were on a "highlights tour" of the Sierra during our 3 week road trip along the Sierra Nevada range in California this September. Well, what better way to cap off a Sierra highlights tour than to visit the most famous highlight of them all - Yosemite National Park! No backpacking or even any particular plans this time; just a few nights at one of the campgrounds and a couple days to mosey around with all the other tourists.
We drove from Mammoth over Tioga Pass, then once we came around the corner into Yosemite Valley and saw our first glimpse of the giant granite walls... w o w... And it just got more impressive as we entered the valley and gaped up at the sheer walls towering overhead (while trying not to drive off the winding, one-way racetrack of a road that circles the valley). Soon enough we got a taste of the full spectrum of the national park experience when we got stuck in a traffic jam for about an hour. But eventually we finally got situated at the our campground shortly before dark.
On our first full day there, in the afternoon the clouds were building up unexpectedly so we made a spontaneous change of plans and drove up to Glacier Point, the famous high viewpoint that overlooks Half Dome and the valley. The clouds looked promising for a glorious sunset, and sure enough the sky exploded with color above Half Dome!
We hung around soaking in the enormous vista until twilight, then walked back to the truck and joined the train of cars driving back down to the valley. By the way, I think it's pretty cool that so many people hung around up there for sunset - and not just photographers.
In the morning we woke to the lullaby of RV generators, then joined the throngs of people hiking up the never-ending paved switchbacks to Vernal Falls. Along the way up we passed quite a few shell-shocked backpackers heading down (some likely encountering their first mass of humanity after weeks of relative solitude on the John Muir Trail).
In the evening I wanted to photograph El Capitan, the biggest granite wall of all, so we found a solitary and somewhat random spot along the Merced River and posted up with our camp chair and a bottle of wine while I took photos of the afternoon and sunset light on El Cap. We didn't have binoculars but we could pick out about four groups of climbers on the wall and watched them slowly progress up their routes.
After sunset I stuck around a half hour longer to keep photographing El Cap in the after-glow light, and that's when we started seeing dozens of headlamps spread over the wall - many more climbers than we could see in the daylight! So I stayed there even longer after dark taking "star" shots of the constellation of climbers on the wall! Such a cool and unexpected experience.
And that was it! What a fine way to cap off our six week road trip through the mountains of Idaho and California! The next morning we drove out of the valley, back over Tioga Pass, and out east into the Nevada desert on our long drive back home to Colorado.
Interestingly, a few days later I read in the news that on the same day we left Yosemite a storm rolled in and a bunch of hikers got stuck on top of Half Dome in a thunderstorm - and a few of them actually got struck by lightning!!! You can read about that harrowing misadventure here.