Sunday, July 10
Up early for breakfast in the lodge, then a short drive to see the largest tree in the world, the General Sherman Tree, 2,200 years old, 275 feet tall, and a circumference of something like 150 feet. This involves a 30 minute walk, a 150 foot change in elevation, a lot more big trees and probably 150 or so other people, a good number speaking languages we understand—French, German, Spanish—and a lot that we don’t—probably Korean, Japanese and Chinese. It turns out that Sequoia is no longer a best kept world secret, not that it ever really was.
When you look at a map, Sequoia/Kings Canyon and Yosemite appear to be only a few miles apart occupying prominent spots in the Sierra Nevada. Because no roads connect them, however, you have to go down the mountain all the way to Fresno, about 80 miles, before heading northeast to Yosemite, another 50 miles before entering the park, and then 40 more miles to the famous Yosemite Valley. By the time we reached the Village we had traveled over 200 miles much of it on winding, precipitous roads with spectacular views and no guard rails.
When you say “Yosemite,” what do you picture in your mind? Half Dome? El Captain? The meadows with wild flowers and bubbling streams in the valley, the waterfalls, some dropping over 200 feet? Has anyone not seen the iconic Ansell Adams photo of the valley as you emerge from the Highway 41 tunnel? I have been to Yosemite twice and am a big fan of Ansell Adams. So I think I know Yosemite. Hardly. I am not prepared for what we see when our car emerges from the long tunnel, and there is the valley below with enormous granite cliffs on three sides rising straight up almost a mile above the valley floor. The stone mountains are gray, shining in the late afternoon sun. The valley is all shades of green. You can see winding blue streams meandering through the meadows. The cloudless sky is Carolina blue. The temperature is in the mid 80s with very low humidity and gentle breezes. Could this be the Garden of Eden?
Worth the price of admission, as they say. You can turn around right now and go home and will have experienced a thrill of a life time.
Now there are many dimensions to Yosemite. It is a complicated place. On one hand it represents the closest thing we humans have to experiencing absolute beauty and at the same time is Exhibit A of how we humans tend to screw everything up.
Our first challenge is finding our campground, which Embry booked over my objections. (The historic hotel sounded pretty nice to me and we eventually compromised with two nights each place.) We are meeting our daughter, Jessica, along with Jasper and Josie (Peter had to return to work.) who have been visiting friends in San Francisco. Embry correctly thought it would be good to be near them and they are supposed to arrive at Curry Village about the same time we do. The first question is where is Curry Village.
After descending from the viewing area to the valley floor, we suddenly find ourselves in stop and go traffic, complete with traffic cops, madly trying to direct confused tourists, and who are not pleased when you go in the wrong direction on a one-way road as we did. We holler at one cop, asking where Curry Village is and he points back to the way we just came. I study the map for the tenth time and see Curry Village distinctly marked. We must have passed by it several times. How could we have missed it?
Surrendering, we dart into the registration parking area for Half Dome Village, a place we had passed at least a half dozen times to witness 50 or 60 people waiting patiently in line to register. Embry remarks that she is not going to wait in line for an hour at Half Dome Village only to be told we have to go to the other side of the valley or wherever. So off we go again until we return out of desperation to the Half Dome Village parking lot where there is now a huge sign which reads, “All Parking Lots Full in Yosemite. No Additional Parking Allowed.”
“Well, this is interesting,” I remarked.
Embry spots a young woman, rolls down the window and asks if she knows where Curry Village is. She tells us that this is Half Dome Village. We tell her we know that, but where is Curry Village, to which she answers casually that there is no Curry Village. When we ask what she means by that, she says there used to be a Curry Village, but they changed the name in March to Half Dome Village.
Things now start looking up. The registration line is down and it only takes about 20 minutes to get checked in. The clerk is sympathetic and supportive, commenting that no one knows why the maps have not been changed. Apparently most everyone drives a an hour or so desperately searching for Curry Village before figuring it all out, arriving despondent and angry. We find a space in the no-spaces-available parking lot, drag our luggage to our tent, just as Jessica turns into the parking lot. She did know of the name change, learning about it when searching on line for park information. Since we are all starved and it is now approaching eight p.m., we go straight to the jam-packed pizza house, our third pizza in a row, but this one is actually hot and pretty good.
We collapse after dinner, wondering what the next three days will bring.