National Park in a Day: Yosemite

I like to think of STS as a Science Lifestyle Blog, or basically a mash-up of my two favorite types of blogs to read.  This is a slice of life, outdoor travel essay.  If you enjoy seeing this sort of content on the blog, please let us know!  

The end of spring is always a busy travel time for me.  The bulk of my dry season field work is done in July and August, so I often find myself traveling home or to fun destinations (thanks wedding season!) to celebrate and visit with friends and family in late May or early June.  This year has proved no exception, as my husband and I spent two weeks traveling for various family events, squeezing in visits with friends and working on projects remotely along the way.  If you’re interested in the full escapade, you can check the highlights on my Instagram.  We are both on the introverted side of the scale, and after nearly two weeks of almost constant social interaction, even though it was tons of fun, we decided a break to recharge our batteries was in order.  What better way to do that than to escape into the great outdoors?

Deer grazing near Lukens Lake

We had originally planned to take our first couple’s backpacking trip, as D has never been backpacking and we have plans to go during part of our honeymoon next summer.  However, by the time the end of our two week trip actually arrived, we were trashed tired.  We also decided we really needed to be adults and get home a day earlier than we had originally planned due to work concerns.  That left us only one night and a day.  In the end, we opted to visit Yosemite National Park.  D had never been, and I was itching to see the look on his face the first time we entered Yosemite Valley.Due to the last minute plan changes and the fact that it’s summer time in Yosemite, we weren’t able to get a camping spot in the park.  Luckily there are so many really beautiful camping areas within striking distance of Yosemite.  We ended up arriving at the Oh Ridge! campground above June Lake in the evening on Friday.  I highly recommend this spot and Inyo National Forest generally, if you ever find yourself in the the area.  The Owens Valley is so bizarre and dotted with Ghost Towns.  Then you start to climb, up, up, and suddenly you’re in the totally different ecosystem.  The Eastern Sierras are just really magnificent.

Sunset in the Inyo National Forest

I grew up camping, but D did not, so I always joke that I’m his Experienced Friend when we are out in nature.  I made a really good show of my experience by forgetting how to use the can opener on my Buck knife (figured it out in the end!) and only bringing enough fuel to heat our chili to an acceptably tepid temperature.  Can’t win them all, I guess.

I woke up bright and early the next morning and snuck out of the tent to take a stroll down to the shore of June Lake.  My dad always makes fun of me because I have to at least dip my toes into most any body of water I encounter. These sub-alpine lakes are so beautiful, but also so very cold.  Maybe the most effective way to wake up in the morning. (editor’s note: I have my own opinions about Rachel’s willingness to drag me through the  ice waters of National Parks…::harrumph::)

June Lake

After a lazy person’s camp breakfast of granola, peanut butter, and banana, which I paired with an overpriced but tasty soy latte from a diner, we started the 45 minute drive to the Tuolumne Meadows region of the park via Tioga Pass.  We didn’t show up with an exact plan about what hikes we wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do one hike that was a little bit longer before we got involved in the inevitable crowd around Yosemite Valley.  We consulted our park pamphlets and decided to hike up to Lukens Lake.  Life is so weird.  As soon as we got up to the lake, I realized I had been there with my parents in 2010, but we had approached from the other direction!  Due to the almost average water year we had in this area of California this winter, there was a lot more snow still on the ground than in 2010.  Again, I just love these sub-alpine lakes.  D and I had a fun conversation about how isolated lake ecosystems can be, or not be, depending on the time of year and how you conceptualize the system.

After making it back to our car, we headed down into the valley.  I really believe the glacier carved Yosemite Valley is one of the most breathtaking sights in the western United States.  I always wonder what the first native people to come across this gem must have thought of it.  We know what John Muir thought.

Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.

– John Muir; My First Summer in the Sierra (1911)    

Because of all the snow we had seen at higher elevations, we decided to make waterfall viewing the focus of our time in the Valley.  Our first stop was Bridal Veil Falls, so named, I assume, because the spray arches out from the granite face of the valley in a fine mist that looks like a delicate veil.  D is a SoCal kid who grew up in the desert, so he was extra jazzed about these really impressive water features nearer the valley floor.  

We got back in our car, aiming to make a quick jaunt down to the Valley Visitor’s Center, then on to more hiking, but we quickly remembered what being in Yosemite Valley during the busy summer season means.  Traffic.  Signs were calling for up to 2 hour delays to get down to the major parking areas in the Valley.  We ditched our car at the next available parking spot, near a picnic area, and hopped on the valley shuttle.  The two lane, one way loop around the valley floor is often congested and, in recent years, flow of traffic has changed so that the right hand lane is reserved exclusively for shuttles during peak hours.  The shuttle was convenient and quick.  I personally hope they move to a model like that of Zion National Park, where you cannot access the most popular parts of the park via personal car and must take a shuttle.  Who wants to sit in traffic in a park?

More Lukens Lake, because SNOW!

We exited the shuttle at Swinging Bridge and made our way toward Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.  We still had the 3.5 hour drive back to Davis ahead of us, so we skipped the long, tiring walk to Upper Yosemite Falls, and opted for the shorter trek to Lower Yosemite Falls.  This was the first thing we visited that I had never seen before during a previous visit.  I honestly don’t know what took me so long.  These falls are so tall and impressive!  I really want to make the climb to Upper Yosemite Falls next time!

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls

We packed in a lot in our 24 hour camping trip!  I think short trips are sometimes more tiring than restful, but when life is busy, you really have to squeeze in delight whenever possible.  I would absolutely do another quick trip in the Sierras, but having more time to really explore (and really plan around traffic) would be ideal.  One of my favorite life lessons is that you have to plan ahead for adventures.  I’m picking a date and putting it on the calendar for my next camping trip this evening!  


One thought on “National Park in a Day: Yosemite

  1. Hooray for micro-adventures! I’m totally down for slice of life, outdoor travel essays. 🙂 Yosemite is high on my USA travel bucket list. When I go, I need you to record an informative podcast with all sorts of science tid-bits for me to absorb. K? K! ❤


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