Surreal: (adj) having the disorienting, hallucinatory qualities of a dream; unreal; fantastic
We just returned from two days in Yosemite National Park, and it was, by definition, surreal! You know that feeling when something so wonderful happens so fast that it hardly seems like it happened at all? When you arrive on the other side of something beautiful and know you feel immensely blessed, but also can’t quite remember the beautiful thing even being real enough to have happened?
That’s how I feel about Yosemite. How wrong I was in thinking two days would be enough!
The west entrance to the park is about three hours from us, and we headed out around 6:00 a.m. to make the most of our time. It was a beautiful drive through the agricultural country that surrounds us, and I wish we could have stopped at every peach and cherry farm along the way. The weather was a perfect low-70s and sunny, perfect for heading straight to Yosemite Valley.
Yosemite Valley is only 6 miles long and very narrow, but it’s where most of the park’s “highlights” are located. Imagine about 12 natural wonders you’d drive hours just to see on their own all crammed into the most glorious six mile stretch on earth.
(above: Tunnel View, from which you can see El Capitan granite formation on the left, Half Dome granite formation peeking out the back, Three Brothers formation on the right with Bridalveil Falls. This is only about a quarter of what there is to see in the Valley.)
We made the winding trip down to the valley floor and stopped on the banks of the picture-perfect Merced River to freak out a little that we were actually here. After composing ourselves, we drove up to Tunnel View which offers an incredible “big picture” view of the valley. We took an endless amount of pictures here before heading to Bridalveil Falls, so named because of how the wind blows the water out from the mountain, resembling a bride’s veil flowing behind her.
From there it was just a short ride to Cook’s Meadow. I loved it here and really wished we’d spent more time just sitting here, soaking it all in. It was like God put this meadow at the center of His natural playground – everything around it was designed to bring joy and we only had to turn our heads slightly to see the next thing He made for us to marvel over.
We enjoyed a picnic under one of the big trees and then walked over to Yosemite Falls (I can’t stress enough how close everything is!). Yosemite Falls is one of the highest in the world, made up of Upper Yosemite Falls which breaks slightly before flowing into Lower Yosemite Falls. Throughout our stay, we could look up from anywhere in the valley and see these falls crashing down with El Capitan in the background. Needless to say, it was beautiful!
(at the footbridge of Lower Yosemite Falls)
After our walk through the central part of the valley, we hopped on the shuttle to the Vernal Falls trail. This three mile trail takes you right to the top of Vernal Falls, and the last section of the hike has been dubbed the Mist Trail for obvious reasons. The hike began with us winding our way through the trees along the Merced River before crossing the Vernal Falls footbridge. After that, we hiked directly parallel to the fall itself, which covered us in a fine, chilly mist the entire way. The sun through the mist caused a beautiful double rainbow near the base of the waterfall and, honestly, I think we could have just died right there and been satisfied.
Waiting for us at the top of the hike was a warm, sunny spot where we sat to dry off and, again, freak out that we were at the top of a waterfall in California. I mean, really, who gets to spend their Thursday afternoons like this?
We made our way back down and headed to an early dinner so that we’d be free again to watch the sun set. After spending all day on the valley floor, we headed thirty minutes south to Glacier Point to watch the sun go down from above the valley.
(And now, a bear story! On our way to Glacier Point, all the cars in front of us started slamming on their brakes and people were jumping out and running past us like their lives depended on it. Charlie immediately says, “It’s a bear – I can feel it!” and pulls the fastest parallel parking job ever before joining the fray. It was indeed a black bear roaming through the woods, probably trying to get away from the 50 of us who were freaking out and trying to get a good shot of him. Just thirty minutes prior, we had come within petting distance of five deer grazing in the meadow, so I’d say our wildlife count was definitely good this trip!)
Glacier Point sits high above Yosemite Valley and looking down on everything we had just been looking up at was definitely a cool experience!
(above: The lower waterfall is Vernal Falls, which we had just hike three hours before)
We watched the waning sunlight bounce off the sheer granite face of El Capitan and then headed out the south entrance to our inn, Sierra Sky Ranch (not before staring down a wild coyote in the parking lot though!). The ranch was formerly the largest cattle ranch in California and still uses the original homestead as its main lodging. We stayed in “Sarah’s Room.” Sarah was a nurse who lived in that room for five years in the 1930s when the ranch was used as a tuberculosis hospital (the original cattle ranchers had lost it in the Depression). It was the perfect place to end our adventurous day and we were so happy to crawl into bed.