San Francisco to Yosemite National Park
Protected since 1864, Yosemite National Park is located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains and boasts a plethora of natural wonders including ancient, giant sequoia trees, deep valleys and grand meadows and enchanting waterfalls. There are granite cliffs at El Capitan and Half Dome and Yosemite village hosts shops, restaurants, the Yosemite Museum, and the Ansel Adams Gallery. This vast wilderness is breathtakingly beautiful and was the next stop on our Trek America tour. After leaving San Francisco we arrived at Yosemite Lakes, our campground, just in time for a hike to observe the mighty, giant sequoia trees.
Yosemite National Park’s giant sequoia trees live in three main groves in the park – Tuolumne Grove, Merced Grove and Mariposa Grove. We explored the giant sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove which is located near the South Entrance of Yosemite National Park and is the largest grove in the park. It is home to over 500 mature giant sequoia trees. A shuttle is needed between Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza and the Mariposa Grove but from here there are a range of trails. The trail we followed was relatively easy as time was restricted.
The first thing you inevitably do when you are confronted with a giant sequoia tree is look up and try to gaze at the top to get a sense of how tall they are. Some of my fellow travellers also decided to give the tree a hug and see if they could fit their arms around the tree – of course they could not! The giant sequoia trees really are magnificent, and some can live more than 3,000 years. Yosemite’s Grizzly Giant is estimated to be around 3,000 years old plus or minus a few centuries. However, giant sequoias often owe their size to rapid growth rather than age so an old, giant sequoia will not necessarily be the largest specimen.
Everyone was excited about hiking in Yosemite and so the next day we decided to buy a one-way bus ticket from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point which is where the Four Mile Trail began. As the shuttle took us to the top the hike was all downhill and although it was still absolutely baking hot it did help to be hiking downhill! However, there was not much shade, so you needed plenty of rest and plenty of water to avoid overheating and dehydration. The hike took around four hours to complete and followed a series of switchbacks down the south wall of Yosemite Valley. The views were dramatic and outstanding of El Capitan and the Cathedral Rocks towered in the west and Yosemite Falls plummeted in the north with Half Dome looming in the east. The path was dry and sandy which made it slippery under foot. One person in our group kept slipping over and to be honest I came close on several occasions; relying on my cat-like reflexes to stay upright! These spectacular balancing acts were met with admiration from the rest of the group, who I think secretly wanted me to fall! The trail ended about a mile west of Yosemite Village. We decided to head that way as there was a swing bridge which crossed the Merced River. We all stopped to cheer on a little girl who was trying to gather the courage to jump the six feet from the bridge into the river below. Her family were cheering her on and as she was only about eight-years-old so did we. We all cheered and applauded her when she finally gathered the courage to jump and she looked thrilled afterwards having overcome her fears in a moment which was touching to watch.
After our main hike we all fancied a bit of a swim, so we headed to Mirror Lake which was just a big pool in Tenaya Creek. It was a pleasant walk and was in the shadow of Half Dome. Mirror Lake is one of Yosemite’s most popular swimming holes and so there were quite a few people swimming in the lake. Well. Cooling off I would say! The pool at Mirror Lake and the view of Mount Watkins were the scenic highlights and it was easily accessible as you could take the shuttle bus directly to the trailhead. After I had changed into my swimming shorts, I realised that everyone else in my group were already in the water and had swam across to a bit of a beach. They encouraged me to swim over to them but of course I was not prepared for the water. I dipped my feet in, and it was very cold. However, this problem was solved quickly for me when I slipped off the rocks and fell in and it was at that point, I realised it really was very cold! I swam across shivering and although it was very refreshing considering how hot it was, I was still keen to get out as quickly as possible! A couple of people were using a slippery rock as a makeshift water slide and a couple of the guys on my tour had used it to plunge into the icy water. One guy seemed to rotate 360 degrees and plunge in which made the rest of us laugh and also the American teenagers nearby who were also enjoying cooling off in the icy water. After the swimming we headed to the Curry Village Pizza Patio and enjoyed some delicious pizza! This was great for several reasons. Firstly, the outdoor deck provided great views of Glacier Point and Royal Arches. Secondly, because the pizza was amazing and finally because it was our groups turn to do the cooking and eating out at the Curry Village Pizza Patio had relieved me of camp cooking duty!
As we were driving back to the campsite, we were privileged to observe another wonder of nature – a family of black bears. There was a mother bear crossing a stream with a couple of her cubs. We all scrambled to get photographs of the bears but all I succeeded in doing was getting a picture of someone’s arm as they were on the opposite side of the bus from where I was seated! I was not impressed! However, it was great to see the bears in the wild. During the summer bears are typically active at dawn and dusk and spend their time napping in the shade or hanging around in berry patches during the day. They are very shy and quiet and so they are not seen very often – so we were lucky! About 300 to 500 American black bears live in Yosemite National Park. ‘Black Bear’ is misleading as the colour of each bear varies slightly in shading and colour ranging from blond to cinnamon brown to black. Adult males can weigh up to 350 pounds and the females weigh up to 250 pounds. Bears have a powerful sense of smell, are highly intelligent and excellent learners. Our bear sighting rounded up a superb stay in the wilderness of Yosemite and we made the most of it as we were due to hit the Las Vegas strip next!