Evolution suggests we’re wired to conserve energy needed to sustain life. Basically, beyond securing food, water, and shelter (and a healthy dollop of whoopee now and then), everything else is up for debate.
I debated doing my homework before our trip to Yosemite; considered researching park options; thought about devising a plan for maximizing our visit; fell victim to the frenzy (and excitement) of here and now at the expense of tomorrow. Yep! I lost the debate; the retired teacher who believed homework was as crucial to learning as teens were to angst failed to come through. All I can say is I wasn’t alone.
I learned a very valuable lesson taking on Yosemite National Park so unprepared.
We came, we saw, we did not conquer. Nobody conquers Yosemite in two days, homework or otherwise, not with 840 miles of scenic trails calling; not with 747,956 extraordinarily glacially-sculpted acres of landscape harboring the largest granite monolith in the world and some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world; not with 1,600 miles of streams and rivers feeding countless waterfalls. Info, by the way, I’d yet to absorb prior to my visit.
Yosemite in two days? What were we thinking!
Here are my 7 Things to Know Before You Go to Yosemite, gleaned from a world of experience (okay, two days of experience, but when you factor in regret, we’re talking a lifetime) and very little homework.
Yosemite National Park is approximately the size of the state of Rhode Island. That’s 1,169 square miles of iconic landscape that attracts over 3 million visitors a year from all over the world. Some come to hike, some to climb, some to walk, all to see the extraordinary beauty.
Yosemite is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Despite being in the midst of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation (the Yosemite Grant) to conserve the park on June 30, 1864. It was the first park set aside by the U.S. government for preservation and protection.
Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in North America and the third highest in the world, plunging 2425 feet as it merges into waterfalls originating below.
Mountains at Yosemite National Park are growing at a rate of 1 foot per 1,000 years.
Ribbon Falls in Yosemite National Park is 9 times larger than Niagara Falls.
El Capitan is the largest granite block in the world.
Eighty-nine percent of Yosemite’s vast region is designated wilderness area.
Yosemite is open 365 days a year. A $20 entrance fee (per car) provides 7 consecutive days of visitation. If you arrive on foot, motorcycle, bicycle, or horseback, the entrance fee is $10 per person with the same 7 days of visitation. Active military are admitted free of charge. Entrance fees are scheduled to be waived on six days during 2015. This link provides details regarding those days.
Yosemite National Park’s sister park is the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine in Patagonia, Chile.
From Yosemite’s valley floor to the top of Mt. Lyell, Yosemite’s highest peak, the change is elevation is a staggering 9,114 feet. Yosemite Valley sits at an elevation of 4,000 feet. Mt. Lyell rises to an elevation of 13,114 feet above sea level.
The walls of Yosemite Valley are draped with world renowned waterfalls (link to the list of waterfalls). That being said, a September visit during the driest season at Yosemite usually means those falls are nonexistent or reduced to a trickle. I was sorely disappointed we didn’t see a single waterfall. Late spring is the best time of year to visit Yosemite if waterfalls are your thing. Waterfalls in Yosemite Valley are the result of snowmelt in the spring at higher elevations.
Access to Yosemite’s high country (Tioga Pass in east Yosemite and Glacier Point in south Yosemite) is often limited in spring depending on the amount of winter snowfall. For a very brief period, Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite’s high country is a wonderland of wildflowers following the spring thaw. Tuolumne Meadows was our first stop in Yosemite given we’d entered the park from the east, via CA HWY 120. Needless to say, higher elevations in the park have a very short growing season, usually peaking in July. No wildflowers to speak of the day we hiked Tuolumne Meadows (early September). I lamented having missed the chance to see and photograph this amazing display of color, but made do with the magnificent mountain scenery.
Backpacking, hiking and rock climbing (some serious rock climbers come from all over the workd to tackle the best of Yosemite) are obvious summer favorites given the lure of 840 miles of hiking trails and amazing monoliths like El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock and Cathedral Rocks, although these iconic granite gods are good for viewing any time of the year. I can’t imagine devoting time to fishing, swimming, or rafting in Yosemite with so much of nature to see, but to each his own. There's horseback riding, too.
Aside from the fact Yosemite has 747,956 acres of natural wonders to impress, to see the park in all her glory means at least three visits during different seasons: winter, spring/summer, and summer/fall.
Rooms and campgrounds fill up fast in Yosemite; prices are steep, at least for those accommodations that come with a roof and a private bath in Yosemite Valley, a 7-square-mile area at the heart of this famed park. Our budget didn’t allow two nights in the famed Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley, although we did visit the landmark, 4-star hotel .
Of the 13 campgrounds available, seven offer a reservation option, although according to my research, within minutes of availability online, all are filled. Not all campgrounds offer showers; most do have running water and flush toilets.
We settled for a vintage cabin at the rustic Evergreen Lodge 50 miles northwest of Yosemite Valley. Our daily commute did impact our ability to see all that we wanted to see.
There are five distinct areas (check out each area via this link) inside Yosemite National Park. Each offers something unique, from the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove to the high country of Tioga Road and Tuolumne Meadows to Glacier Point. All offer views of one or more of Yosemite’s iconic domes. Glacier Point offers an extraordinary eagle’s-eye view of Yosemite Valley.
Remember, in a park the size of Rhode Island, travel times between those areas can sometimes eat away at your best intentions. We had every intention of making it to Glacier Point during our Yosemite visit. It didn’t happen. I was hoping for a few stellar sunset pictures, too; maybe next trip.
There are 11 different hikes (check out available hikes via this link) to consider just within Yosemite Valley alone, 13 more throughout Yosemite National Park ranging from easy (Bridalveil Fall, Lower Yosemite Fall, and Mirror Lake) to very strenuous (top of Half Dome and 4-mile trail to Glacier Point). All told, 840 miles of trails await visitors.
I’ve come to the conclusion I get more out of my travels with an itinerary and/or tour guide than left to my own devices. I blame all those years of teaching, of living by the bell in 50 minute increments following an early start to the day; without the structure, I succumb to evolution/laziness. I’ve extolled the virtues of serendipity via this blog, but I’m learning serendipity only works in small doses.
Hindsight being what it is, consider booking a park ranger tour to your top destination in Yosemite or just to get an overall picture of the place, then work around that tour with remaining time. Yosemite offers upwards of a dozen tours (check out available tours at this link) covering everything from an all-day grand tour of Glacier Point and the giant sequoias at Mariposa Grove to a stargazing tour at Glacier Point or a 2-hour, 26-mile tour of Yosemite Valley.
Yosemite Valley is the hub of this natural wonder. As such, it’s a busy place. All points of interest within Yosemite Valley (a 7-square mile area) are accessible via Hybrid Park Shuttles. The free shuttles run year round and also includes select points beyond Yosemite Valley. Bikes rentals are available spring through fall at shuttle stops 8, 13a, 14, 20 and 21. That’s right; reduce your carbon footprint via the 12 miles of bike paths that cover all the key sights within Yosemite Valley. Scooters and hand-crank bikes are available for the physically impaired. Like lodging, bike reservations are highly recommended.
My brother worried I would suffer adverse effects of the high altitude at Yosemite (headache, nausea, insomnia, irritability, shortness of breath, general malaise and fatigue) after I became dangerously ill within hours of arriving in Colorado's Winter Park (elevation 10,000 feet above sea level) during a ski trip ten years ago. The high altitude had served to kick my run-of-the-mill common cold into high gear; my lungs were operating at 40% by the time I made it to the local clinic the morning following our arrival. I'd developed a double ear infection, bronchitis, and a sinus infection. I was instructed to get off the mountain if antibiotics didn't turn things around within 24 hours or risk pulmonary edema (my lungs filling with fluid). Who knew?
Fortunately Yosemita was a completely different story. We eased into the higher elevations at Yosemite (and I arrived sans cold), devoting a full day of driving between Death Valley (elevation 282 feet below sea level) and Mono Lake in Lee Vining just east of Yosemite’s Tioga Pass entrance (elevation 10,000 feet).
Now you know, too. Altitude sickness is real. The best cure: descend to a lower elevation; allow more time to acclimate.
In fact, you know tons more than I knew my first time visiting Yosemite. Aren't you glad I finally did my homework? If you'd care to do some of your own, here's the link to the official Yosemite National Park website. And yes; this will all be on the upcoming test!
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