Retrospecticus- Yosemite: Day 1

Since I don’t have any trips to update live, I’m going to begin looking back on some recent trips in what I’ll call the “Retrospecticus Series”. Yes, I stole that from The Simpsons. And yes, you could argue that my last posts should fall into this too, but we aren’t going to split hairs…


My birthday falls in March, and I usually take the week off to try and do a trip of some sort. My mom had mentioned wanting to travel with me one of these days, so a couple days up in Yosemite was the plan. Neither of us had been in over 20 years, which meant we were due.

Thursday morning my alarm went off at 2:30, and after snoozing it a bit, I finally dragged myself out of bed. I stayed at my parent’s house since we were planning the early start time, and gave me those precious minutes extra of sleep. Only a few minutes after our planned departure, we were on the road. At that hour we didn’t really hit any traffic, and the little we did wasn’t too bad, and a little over an hour into the drive we were already at the Grapevine.

Once over the mountains and into the Central Valley we started to encounter a little more of two things: traffic and fog. They both sort of came in patches. Luckily neither were too bad and were more of a nuisance than a threat. The sun started to illuminate the landscape as we approached Fresno, and finally made it’s appearance as we made our way up into the foothills.  At Oakhurst we decided to stay on CA-41 so we could enter the valley through Tunnel View.


The road wound it’s way through the forest, and I drove without any sense of urgency. When we hit the ranger station for Yosemite National Park, there was some excitement, until I looked down at my phone and realized there was still around 45 minutes until we made it to the valley. Oh well, the scenery getting there was beautiful nonetheless.

Before we knew it we rounded a curve that gave us a glimpse of the valley before we entered the tunnel. Driving through was like unwrapping a gift that you knew was going to be great, you just had to get through the process, and within a minute or so I was greeted to my first view of Yosemite Valley since I was a teen. Tunnel View was our first proper stop at around 9:30, as we soaked it all in on a beautiful, clear blue skied day. There was a chill in the air, but it’s March in the Sierras, that’s to be expected. What we weren’t expecting was the complete lack of snow! They had some snowfall about a week prior, but there was little to no trace of it unless you looked high and far.


From Tunnel View we sort of let the road dictate where we went. A little road-weary, our next stop was Bridal Veil Falls. Down in the shadow of the valley, and soon in the mist of the fall, we realized it was pretty cold! Not just the chill we felt earlier in the sun. With no real agenda my mom and I would pile back into the car and drive until we hit a scenic meadow, or turnout that offered a view of something. That meant we were stopping the car every minute or so. It would have been frustrating if it wasn’t so worth it.


By this point we had some semblance of a plan. We decided to park at Curry Village, er, excuse me, Half Dome Village, and we would hike to Mirror Lake. We got there, parked, and then started walking towards the lake, only to realize a couple of things: it was a little further than we thought, and we could have taken the shuttle part of the way there. That would not be our only mistake of the hour.


We made our way up along the road before hitting the trail that would get us over to Mirror Lake. The trail separated from the road a bit and my mom was getting a little worried at the lack of people. I had to reassure her that we were not terribly far from the road, and that many people also consider the lack of people a good thing. We started to see some people, as well as a bridge that crossed the river, and a sign pointing towards the lake that did not use the bridge. Figuring we’d be able to walk around the lake we followed the sign.


The trail was scenic, but there were lots of ups and downs. Far from a strenuous hike, it was tiring for a 58 year old mom, and her out of shape son. The lake made it’s appearance, as well as views of the people walking on the other side. By this point we had invested too much to turn around. When we hit the sign that designated “Mirror Lake”, we didn’t see anything that indicated we could get to the other side. That was the side we wanted the view of, and in hindsight it was a little foolish to go opposite the side we wanted, but we assumed.


Realizing that doubling back to get to the other side was not an option, we kept going hoping that there was a way to cross the other side. I’m sure late in the summer the river is low and you can probably walk across at points, but this was March, and that didn’t look like an option, especially with mom. We left the main trail and crossed into a meadow that had a worn trail and we followed that, asking everybody we saw if they knew of a crossing. Nobody knew. At one point I got service and saw a crossing on the map over a mile away. It was far, so we decided to walk 15 more minutes and if we didn’t get there we’d turn around. Our journey included crossing water on some wobbly tree branches laid across which was a little sketchy. When I looked at the map again, we had barely made a dent, so we turned around. On the way back we met a guy that kept going on the main trail and said it was impassable. There was some comfort in knowing that we were doomed from the start.


A little defeated, in a weird sense since we were still treated to some great views, we trudged back to the tram stop. We were tired and we weren’t walking back to the car. Back at Half Dome Village I could tell Mom was tired, but she didn’t scoff at the suggestion of stopping to check out Lower Yosemite Falls. I’ve only travelled with my mom a few times as an adult, so sometimes I’d have to slow down for her, while other times she would push herself a little to accommodate me. I’m aware that I got the easier of the two.


We drove over to Yosemite Village and caught the tram to the falls. Figuring this was going to be our one time there, I kept stopping for pictures, though I could tell my mom just wanted to check it out then head back. It’s a short hike to the lower falls, so I got my pictures and we were back at the tram to get back to the car. It crossed our minds to walk to the car, but it was a little too far given the circumstances. The tram arrived, got us to the car, and we were soon saying our goodbyes to the park for the day.


It was a long day that started at 3:00 AM, and we still had an hour drive to Mariposa and our hotel. We had a lot of daylight left as we made our way along CA-141. At one point the road hits a detour from a rockslide several years ago. The road is diverted across the river in a single lane controlled by a stoplight. Kind of interesting. The drive to the hotel was nice, and we made it to the Miner’s Inn. It was a hotel we stayed at long ago, and although we had vague memories of it, the place was very different than we thought. That went for Mariposa in general. I know for a fact I had been there before, but it was like visiting for the first time.

Pizza was mentioned earlier in the day, so after we checked in and settled, we drove the mile into town to a pizza place. It was St Patrick’s Day, so I indulged in a pitcher of beer to go along with my pizza. Mom didn’t judge, and let me do my thing. A large group of Asian tourists provided some entertainment for us, mainly because we watched the thirty or so of them hardly even touch all of the food that was ordered for them. Oddly it made me think of how exciting it must be to see a place like Yosemite, as well as a small town like Mariposa, through the lens of a foreigner. The excitement of the mundane that I experience when I’m in a foreign country.


Ah, but I digress. Mom and I finished up, and I surrendered the keys for the mile drive back to the hotel. The rest of the night was spent watching some tv before calling it a night. Another big day at the park was in store for us.


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