We took our annual summer trip to Yosemite National Park last weekend and stayed in a tent cabin at Camp Curry. The park is celebrating its 125th Anniversary this year and is as breathtaking as ever. Here are a few of my favorite pics from the weekend and some thoughts about our experience.
The first thing we did after entering Yosemite Valley on Saturday morning was unshackle ourselves from our urban existence and hike to Vernal Fall Bridge. We were the only daredevils pushing strollers up the very steep, but paved Mist Trail and we got a lot of comments from other hikers. Most along the lines of, “This is hard enough without strollers.”
One of the best views in the park – heck, in the world – is the view of Yosemite Valley from the historic Tunnel View Overlook. If you drive into the park from CA-41, this is the first thing you see when you emerge from the Wawona Tunnel. It’s breathtaking the first time or the 50th time you see it. The massive rock formation on the left is El Capitan, the formation on the right is Bridalveil Falls, and in the far distance in the center of the picture is Half Dome. It always makes me wonder what the Native Americans and first European Explorers must have thought when they first laid eyes on Yosemite. Holy shit is probably close.
Bears are everywhere in Yosemite and the rangers devote a lot of time to managing them and avoiding conflicts with millions of humans who visit the park every year. This bear trap above is one of several located in campgrounds throughout the park. At night, it’s not uncommon to hear the loud boom of a ranger’s gun firing blanks to scare scavenger bears away from a campsite. There are bear-proof boxes at every tent and campsite in the park to store food and the rangers will issue extremely steep fines for anyone careless enough to leave food in their car or campsite. Bears will go to amazing lengths to get food and rangers will warn that you can’t even leave a tube of chapstick in your car without risk that a bear will slice open your car like a can of tuna to get to it.
The historic Ahwahnee Hotel was built in 1927 to attract wealthy visitors to Yosemite. It looks like it was constructed of timber but it’s actually stained concrete poured into forms to simulate wood. It’s one of the most popular spots for weddings in the park; Steve Jobs got married here in the 90s.
The inside of the Ahwahnee was Stanley Kubrick’s inspiration for the interior of the Overlook Hotel in the movie The Shining. It’s creepy to walk through the halls. You can almost feel the ghost of Scatman Crothers holding conversations with his grandmother without ever opening his mouth.
The deer are crazy in Yosemite and have no concern for you or your well being. They won’t think twice about walking right past you in the Curry Village parking lot on their way to find food. Most people don’t realize how dangerous the deer are and try to do stupid things like pet them or feed them. Because of this, far more visitors are injured each year by deer than bears.
The granite monolith, El Capitan, is widely considered the best rock climbing destination in the world. It extends 3,000 feet from the floor of Yosemite Valley straight up to the summit. If you have binoculars, you can spot tiny colored specs on the wall; these are climbers. Since it can take several days to reach the summit, they have to sleep thousands of feet in the air suspended in small hammock-like structures attached to the rock face. Sometimes their flashlights are visible at night high up on the wall.
This sign at the entrance to Camp Curry has been greeting visitors since 1914. The back side reads “Farewell.”
If you aren’t backpacking or tent camping in Yosemite, you should definitely stay in one of the historic tent cabins at Camp Curry. They’re furnished with cots, linens, electric lights and haven’t changed much since the 1920s. It’s rustic luxury. In this picture, you can see our open bear box and cooler to the right of the steps.
The beer selection at Yosemite is surprisingly good. They offer a lot of west coast craft brews as well as a fair number of beers from local Sierra breweries. In addition to several bars in Yosemite Valley, there are multiple carryout grocery stores that sell beers by the single bottle or can, making it fairly easy to enjoy a beverage in the valley. One of the things that blew my mind when I first visited is that you’re allowed to walk around almost anywhere in the park with a beer.
One of our favorite Yosemite traditions is beer and pizza on the Curry Village Pizza Patio. It’s not Little Star, but it’ll do the trick when you’re starved from a long day of hiking.
A gorgeous Yosemite Valley meadow framed by trees and rock formations. This is where we go at dusk to look for the bears.
At 2,400 feet, Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in North America (only the bottom half is visible in this picture), making it one of the most popular destinations in the park. For whatever reason, it also seems to attract the most foreign visitors in the park. While we were there this weekend, we didn’t hear anyone else speaking English. Mostly German and Arabic.
People go all-out while camping at Yosemite. This guy not only brought seven too many dogs, but had to bring his own kennel as well.
Even if you don’t think you’ve seen Half Dome before; you have. It’s better known as the North Face logo. When the park was first discovered in the mid-1800s, they declared Half Dome unclimbable and said no human would ever step foot on the summit. I’ve been up there. It’s scary as hell, but no longer inaccessible. In the late-1800s, they installed metal poles and chains on the back side of the dome, making it possible to climb to the top. The only problem is that it’s an extremely strenuous 12-hour hike to get to the top and back down in a single day. Not to mention the elevation difference is 5,000 feet between the valley floor and the summit, so you typically have to battle the effects of altitude sickness as well. It was the hardest hike I’ve ever done.
Every time we visit Yosemite Valley, we discover something new. This time we were wandering the grounds near the Ahwahnee Hotel and stumbled across the beautiful old Ahwahnee bridge, which we’d never seen before. It looks like it was originally built for automobiles, but now only carries a bike path through the forest.
Yosemite Valley is a magical place filled with dozens of world class attractions. Even with as little as two days in the park, you can experience more amazing things than most people would expect to see in a lifetime.