Day 2 (June 16, 2017 – Yosemite West, California): “Chillaxing Kind Of Day”
It was about 4:45am when I awoke. It was still dark outside but from my days of having to get to work early, I knew that it wouldn’t be that way for long; especially since the Summer Solstice was coming in a few days (so we’d be experiencing the longest days of the year).
Mom and I wasted no time in getting ready while everyone else was sound asleep. We had a quick meal of oatmeal while I also added some bought kefir. And after ensuring we had enough water, we then loaded up Julie’s car at 5:35am. By that point, it had already been pretty bright.
Since I knew that Carlon Falls would take a while to do, I decided to punt that for tomorrow. So we headed out to Foresta Falls, which was also probably best done in the afternoon from a lighting standpoint, but knowing that the rest of the family would be moving slow, this seemed like the only logical time to fit it in without being impacted by the inevitable slower pace of traveling with a larger group.
Aside from driving by a deer grazing along Henness Ridge Road on the way to the Hwy 41, the drive down to the valley and then up the Big Oak Flat Road was pretty uneventful. I guess what was eventful was the amount of road construction that was going on along the left lane of Northside Drive essentially blocking off the viewing spots of Bridalveil Fall with Leaning Tower across the Merced as well as the Valley View.
We knew that this would be a congested traffic spot later in the day so it was a good thing that we got our early start.
Eventually at about 6:20am, we made it to Foresta, where we followed the road into the burned community. There were a handful of lodgings and private residences that appeared to still be in operation though the majority of the community had been decimated by the A Fire a while ago, and we could totally see the effects of that big fire as there were still dead and bare trees standing with little to no forest cover there.
At first I was worried about not knowing when to make a left turn to get onto the road leading down to the Foresta Falls, but shortly after passing over a bridge that was surely traversing Foresta Creek, it then became obvious to turn left at the first opportunity, which then led to the familiar unpaved road. A sign there said that there was a bridge washout which made me a bit concerned that we might not be able to get a good view of the falls.
So we slowly drove the unpaved road as it got narrower and a bit rougher. There was some kind of campervan or mini-RV that was parked at a pullout, and as we continued further, the road really got rough. Eventually, it got to the point where I felt it would damage Julie’s car (it was already damaged from the southwest trip over Spring Break by taking it on 4wd roads) so I had to back up to that pullout that was already occupied.
Eventually after making it back there, we then parked the car and proceeded to walk that rough stretch. There was another guy in a beat up van, but I told him that the road was pretty bad up ahead which was why we were walking it. He thanked us for the heads up, and then Mom and I promptly started our morning walk.
As expected, the lighting was pretty nice was we looked downslope, but it was totally against the sun whenever we looked over to Foresta Creek or anywhere upstream. The road bent to our right where the terrain was even rockier and narrower. It was definitely a good thing that we opted not to push our luck by driving further. I didn’t recall if we took my parents’ car all the way to the switchback that I knew we were approaching the last time we were here some 13-14 years ago or so.
Anyways, as we made our way down to the switchback, Mom and I were amazed to see a low-clearance BMW parked at the switchback. We thought whoever drove down here really beat up their car. Still, we pushed on as we then descended in the morning shadows towards the familiar Foresta Falls, which was still in the early morning shadow.
Eventually, we got to the bridge which appeared to be still intact though the railings looked like they were burned off. I wasn’t sure if another fire had swept through here because this bridge looked a bit more beat up than the last time we were here. Still, we were enjoying our time alone here as we took several photos of the familiar falls.
The guy and his dog from that van eventually made it down to us before continuing his walk well past the bridge. I still didn’t know where this trail led to, but I had no intention of pursuing it since we had to get back to the condo so they wouldn’t be waiting on us to get started on what a surely going to be a hectic day competing with the crowds in Yosemite Valley.
There was another guy that also came by from the other side before passing us just as Mom and I were leaving the falls. So I guess we weren’t totally alone here even at around 7am. This was surprising considering just how unknown this falls was, but I guess this just went to show us that even the most unknown of spots in Yosemite could still attract people.
As we hiked back up the rough road, we saw that the guy that had passed us earlier had gotten into that BMW and proceeded to drive out up that road. We both thought the guy was nuts of doing that to his car, but we didn’t seem to have any qualms about doing it, and he seemed pretty skillful in his navigation of the rocky surface with some undergrowth that was surely scraping the underside of the car.
By 7:30am, Mom and I made it back to the car, which was just in time for that RV to make its way out. With our early morning excursion out of the way, we then promptly drove back to Yosemite West. We were quite amazed at how many cars we were seeing going into Yosemite Valley along the Hwy 41 at the time, so that got me anxious about things like finding parking in the Valley. It also reset my expectations in terms of trying to fit in the usual excursions like Lower Yosemite Falls, then Mist Trail, then Bridalveil Fall, and finally Tunnel View.
Well, when we got back at around 8:10am, the family took its time to get ready so it wouldn’t be until around 9:10am when we were finally back in the car ready to go. By then, the parking lot was pretty empty. And so that mentally made me think that we probably have to nix Mist Trail today given our late start.
As we drove down into the valley, we sure enough had to be behind slower cars where not many were using the pullouts to let faster traffic pass. I guess this was to be expected.
At 9:45am, we finally made it down to the parking area for the Swinging Bridge. Unfortunately, there was no parking at this spot as there were a few spaces that were closed. However, we really lucked out when one car on the far side of the parking area was pulling out. So we naturally took that spot and counted our blessings that we at least got a spot to enjoy this best-spot-to-photograph-Yosemite-Falls at this time.
Naturally, we all went down to the Swinging Bridge, which was really a sturdy bridge over the Merced River. Just before reaching the bridge, I noticed a spot to the right where there was a real calm part of the river that provided mirror-like reflections with a nice view towards Yosemite Falls. So I took advantage of this spot and got quite a few shots noting to myself to let the rest of the family know about this spot when we’re done with this break.
Once I got onto the bridge to join the rest of the family, I got the tripod set up in the hopes of getting that familiar family portrait right in front of Yosemite Falls. It was tricky because both Tahia and Joshua weren’t terribly cooperative. Plus, there was a lot of bike and foot traffic going across the bridge as we were doing this.
Still, we managed to get what we could before the kids and parents promptly went all the way to the other side where they spotted another calm part of the river that was shallow enough for them to play in. Meanwhile, I still had the tripod set up so Julie and I could take some couple shots just like old times before we had Tahia.
We then spent some more minutes watching both Joshua and Tahia getting their clothes all wet from all the splashing. We were now fretting that they might have a change of clothes, but with today being a hot day, perhaps it wouldn’t be much of an issue.
Julie and I were conversing with some family from Rhode Island where they also had a daughter playing in the water. They were apparently at the end of a week in the park. Of course they were recommending the usual Yosemite Valley spots that I was quite familiar with though we politely indulged them in their recommendations because we knew that just about everyone who visits this place does so leaving with the enthusiasm of having just acquired some precious moments and were willing to share them with total strangers.
After having our fill of the water play (little did we realize just how much the kids would start to look for every opportunity to play in the water from this point forward), we then took some photos at the reflective spot just on the front side of the bridge. Then, at 10:40am we were back in the car just as some other lucky person was about to claim our spot (though we did notice someone parked in one of the closed off spots behind us).
Next, we went looking for the next photo spot, which I thought would be the Cook Meadow view of Yosemite Falls, but when I saw that the long pullout along the Southside Drive was completely full, I knew that I had to shift my thinking from driving from place to place to just picking a spot to park for the rest of the day then walk and shuttle to everywhere else in Yosemite Valley.
Having to deal with crazy crowds was one of the primary reasons why I generally didn’t like visiting Yosemite Valley in Summer, but now that we had kids involved, we had to adapt to constraining our trips to Summer vacations, Spring Break, and Winter Breaks. And that meant doing things at the same time as just about everyone else.
So at 10:45am, we were fortunate to have found a parallel parking spot somewhere between Yosemite Village, Cook Meadow, and the Yosemite Visitor Center. The latter was a place that I don’t think we had ever stepped foot in after all these years (now nearly 16+ years) of visiting Yosemite National Park.
Sure enough after parking the car, we then haphazardly walked towards the Yosemite Visitor Center. Again, when it came to kids though, we now had to do things we had never imagined doing. And now we found ourselves spending quite a bit of time checking out the displays while indulging the kids with the Junior Ranger booklets. The forecast here said that it was going to be 90F today and 93F tomorrow!
We then checked out the displays where we had read about the various aspects of the park from glaciers to Native American life here to the fateful Mariposa Battalion that forever changed Native American life as they were unceremoniously killed and evicted from their lands all the way to the mission of restoration and education through the National Park Service.
We even spent some time watching the end of a movie in the theater, which turned out to be an excerpt of one of the Ken Burns documentary about Yosemite and its relationship to the start of the entire National Parks system. We happened to catch the part about Hetch Hetchy. I guess for people who haven’t seen this before, it was probably a very moving and very convincing presentation of the park, but since I had seen this before, I was ready to get moving.
Next, we promptly walked through some re-creation of Native American villages before walking over to the Lower Yosemite Falls. Although there were paths leading directly to the base of the Lower Falls, I knew that it would be more atmospheric to take the path right across the street from the Yosemite Lodge (now the Yosemite Valley Lodge).
On the way there, at 11:45am we spotted some picnic tables so we promptly went there to eat a picnic lunch while some of the tables still had some shade (though I knew it wouldn’t be shady for much longer). That helped to lighten our load knowing that we couldn’t leave any foodstuffs in the car nor bring a cooler as we knew bears breaking into cars would be a problem otherwise. So at least after this picnic lunch, we wouldn’t have to carry as much footstuffs around the park on this hot day.
At 12:25pm, we were finally going to the base of the Lower Falls. Sure enough, the atmospheric walk provided views of both the Upper and Lower Falls together between the tall trees flanking the paved walkway. The walkway itself was crowded with loads of people from individual parties to giant tour groups from all over the world. Of course it was next to impossible to get those signature views without people in them at this time of year, but these folks served as subjects to convey the scale of the big falls.
During the walk, the kids had found another play area where the water was shallow enough. But we wanted to get to the falls first before finding a spot to chillax in. So we continued further eventually getting to the base of the Lower Falls where we were getting sprayed. Not surprisingly, there were loads of people here, but it was the spray that was making taking photos a bit on the difficult side.
We were also a bit too late to catch a rainbow at the base of the lower falls as I knew that we had to be here in order to see the rainbow at a more reasonable enough angle. The only other opportunity to see rainbows at this time of day was to hike towards the Upper Falls and look down at the mist thrown up by the Middle Cascades. But there was no way we’d be doing that on this hot day.
So we didn’t spend much more time at the Lower Falls and we promptly headed back. Along the way, we found a quieter spot to chillax while letting the kids do some more water play at 1pm. Now, we were just sitting on some flat rocks while keeping a watchful eye on the kids to ensure they didn’t hurt themselves.
Indeed, we were just chillaxing. It was something that felt a bit foreign to me because my focus would usually be to seize the moment and spend it doing as much as we could to get the full experience. But with the kids, even chillaxing under the hot Summer weather was sinking in and becoming equally as valid. As sometimes it’s more about the experience and the precious family moments than hitting the bucket list like a grocery shopping list.
After having our fill of this little play area for the kids, we then walked across the Cook Meadow in search of a few more photo spots. However, with this being the height of a pretty hot day, even this flat walk was taking a bit out of us. That said, along the way, we got nice meadow views towards Half Dome and North Dome as well as looking back at the Yosemite Falls. We also looked ahead towards the Sentinel Rock as we eventually got to a bridge over the Merced River.
The water on the river was running quite high as we could see quite a few inundated trees. I’m sure with a day like today, there was a lot more snowmelt and this was probably the weekend where the snow was rapidly depleting.
By about 2:15pm, we found ourselves near the Yosemite Chapel, where we then walked over along the Southside Drive looking back towards Yosemite Falls across the meadow. We didn’t go all the way to the cars because we didn’t think the views would improve. So we then headed back the other way towards the Sentinel Bridge.
Along the way, the kids had some trouble keeping right so it would frequently frustrate people on bicycles. In one instance, Tahia almost got run over. Anyways, we’d eventually make it to the Sentinel Bridge where Julie got her views of the iconic Half Dome fronted by the Merced River running high.
Next, we then walked back towards the parking area for Cook Meadow where we then got the views over the meadow with both the Upper and Lower Falls looking separated. Once we finally were done with this view (and overhearing some people incorrectly believe it was impossible to make it to the top of Yosemite Falls), we then promptly walked back towards the parked car along the Northside Drive.
As we made this walk, we could see the traffic jam right where we were parked so I wasn’t exactly looking forward to that experience. Still, we finally made it back there at about 3:10pm. Even with the shade up and the windows cracked open, the interior of the car was still scorching hot.
Just as we pulled out, another lucky person held up traffic waiting for us to leave. So that allowed us an opening to get into the flow of traffic. And it wouldn’t be until about 3:35pm when we finally made it to the main car park for the Bridalveil Fall. Now we were about to sit and wait for one of the limited spots, but instead, we backed out and went across the street to park in a rather precarious spot where there was a blind turn.
Once we did that, we then walked right up to the base of the Bridalveil Fall where we were getting sprayed by the falls. We came prepared with raincoats and rain ponchos as well as a GoPro, but it turned out that the GoPro wasn’t good because its cover got lots of waterspots on it, and I learned right then and there that the GoPros were only good for being underwater and not so much for being sprayed above water.
After having our fill of this misty spot, the kids then found another calm part in the Bridalveil Creek so they could play. In the mean time, I walked the half-mile towards the Southside Drive where I got views of Ribbon Falls and El Capitan. Unfortunately at this time of the afternoon, Ribbon Falls was starting to become half in shadow so the photos of it didn’t turn out anymore.
It wouldn’t be until about 4:40pm when we returned to the car. Luckily the cars parked next to us had already vacated so I could reorient the car and make it easier to leave. Next, we drove up to the Tunnel View where there were some available spots to park the car and proceed over to the obligatory view of the Gates of Yosemite. We had gotten there about 4:45pm
The sun was almost in a perfect spot though the harsh lighting of the Summer sun ensured we wouldn’t get the soft glow that would normally come in the Winter months. At least Silver Strand Falls was still flowing though it definitely looked like it was well past peak flow.
So we didn’t linger here for long, and after getting back in the car at 5pm, we proceeded to drive back into Yosemite Valley as we were now headed to Yosemite Lodge for our 6pm reserved dinner. The traffic going back to the valley wasn’t as bad as apparently most of the visitors were now on their way out of the park.
At about 5:20pm, we parked right at the Yosemite Lodge now that there were a lot more open spots. We then promptly walked over to this spot called the Mountain Room Restaurant, which was where Julie had made her reservations. But since we ultimately wound up getting there at around 5:30pm, we’d have our dinner a little early.
It turned out that the dining room had an obstructed view of the top of Yosemiten Falls, which made for a nice dining experience. It turned out that the food was decent as the ribeye steak and kids’ burgers were not good, but the trout, salmon, and cider brined pork chop were quite good.
So we shared another precious family moment as we basked in the not-so-packed yet fulfilling chillaxing day. And eventually by around 7pm, we finally finished the dinner where we then drove over to the Yosemite Village so Julie could pick up some bacon and pancakes so the kids could have brekkie tomorrow. Of course, getting there was a bit tricky as most of the roads going directly there were closed.
Instead, we had to drive a bit of a U before finally reaching the familiar Village Store. By 7:10pm, we parked the car and waited for Julie and Mom to do their errand while Dad and I were trying to keep the kids in check in the car. It turned out that Julie had to wait in a bit of a long line before checking out with her produce.
Anyways, we headed back to condo afterwards, and by about 8:15pm, we finally made it there. But just before making it to Yosemite West Condos, there was a bear that had run across the road right in front of us! I commented aloud that there was a bear, but only Mom and I saw it. Everyone else weren’t paying attention and they missed out.
That was the first time I had seen a bear in many years, and it was the first time we had seen one in Yosemite since around 2004 or 2005. So that was quite a treat. But it was too bad we didn’t get a chance to take a picture of it. That would have been the holy grail!
So back at the apartment, we spent the rest of the evening relaxing and getting cleaned up. Julie took the opportunity to make mug cake as dessert, which also went well with the ice cream that we had bought from Sprouts in Fresno last night. Indeed, it was a great way to wind down this eventful day. But tomorrow, we were going to divide and conquer as Mom and I would be doing a couple of hikes while the rest of the family would be taking it easy playing in the water somewhere while also visiting Glacier Point.
For the point of tomorrow was to avoid Yosemite Valley knowing it was a Saturday in the Summer. If Friday was already as busy as it was, then we shuddered to think how much worse tomorrow would be. And hence, we mentally prepared ourselves to be going against the grain…