Just back from a brief family vacation in Yosemite National Park. Somehow, I’d never managed to visit this gem of the park system, and have long been eager to do so. John is interning in silicon valley this summer so it provided the perfect excuse for the rest of us to hop out there to spend three days in the park. We were fortunate to have clear, sunny weather throughout – though it was hot (over 90° every day) and crowded. It was nonetheless a great place for me to test a new batch of camera gear. Read on for the full story – and photos!
The scenery is so stunning I’ve left the pictures full-width for this post. It was hard to pick just one per day! Scroll past them for the story.
Saturday. After a long drive through the Central Valley, past rows of almond trees and stopping at roadside fruit stands, we arrived at the south gate and stopped immediately at the recently re-opened Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia trees. Incredible! These trees are the largest living thing on the planet, by volume, and can live for over 3,000 years. NPS has done a lovely job designing the trails and arranging visitor services. We dropped our bags at a cabin we rented on the western slopes of the park, and drove up to the Glacier Point overlook for sunset. The jaw-dropping scenery appears suddenly as you round the sharp curves of the access road; once at the point, the entire Yosemite valley is spread out for a fantastic view: Halfdome, Yosemite Falls, Nevada Falls, Vernal Falls, and more. We could visually plan out the rest of our stay, from this point.
Sunday we drove down into Yosemite Valley, joining the hordes of summer visitors in search of parking. Fortunately, the shuttle-bus system works well. We hiked a loop trail up to Lower Yosemite Falls, stopped for lunch in Yosemite Village, then up to Vernal Falls via the Mist Trail. Wow! This hike begins on the John Muir Trail, a 215-mile walk from Yosemite to Mount Whitney. The trail is paved for the first mile, because of the intense number of waterfall visitors like us. We then turn off the JMT and onto the steep Mist Trail, an impressive half-mile stretch of granite steps, bathed in the mist from Vernal Falls. Exciting! The roar of the waterfall echoes off the cliffs as you climb, step by step, toward the top. Grateful for the mist in this 95-degree intense sunshine, we top the falls and look back over the valley below.
Monday. Pam dropped us off at Glacier Point so we could walk down the Panorama Trail, past Illilouette Falls, Nevada Falls, and Vernal Falls; meanwhile she walked the Mirror Lake loop. Although the Panorama Trail was sunny, hot, and dry, it was a spectacular traverse of high terrain, the open scrub providing wide views of Halfdome, Yosemite Valley, Illilouette creek valley, and numerous waterfalls. The trail passes by the top of Illilouette Falls, Nevada Falls, and Vernal Falls, and descends via the Mist Trail beside Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls. Yes, a repeat of the descent from Vernal Falls, but wow! it is so worthwhile. After some shopping and dinner in the village, we stopped at Tunnel view for the classic sunset view.
Tuesday morning I departed before sunrise for the drive back into the valley, aiming for a roadside pullout known as Valley View. From here, El Capitan loomed large on my left while Bridalveil falls roared down the cliffs opposite, all reflected in the Merced River. As the sun rose directly up the valley, its intensity gave me a real challenge in exposing for the beautiful scene in front of me. I bracketed the exposure and used HDR in post to obtain what may be my favorite photo of the trip:
Later we visited Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite Chapel (for its view of Yosemite Falls), Sentinel Bridge (for its view of Halfdome, below), and Valley View (for a mid-day look at the scene above).
We made the long drive back to San Francisco via the winding curves of Route 120, struck by the shift from 90-degree heat in the mountains to the 60-degree chill of the coastal city. We wrapped up our visit with an excellent dinner at one of my favorite Indian restaurants, Amber.
Don’t miss the full photo gallery – I recommend slideshow view – which includes a few brief video clips of the falls.