On Sunday I headed back into Yosemite National Park to spend five nights in the valley. Two nights with Glenn at North Pines Campground and three nights with my friend Melanie at Upper Pines Campground.
90% of the visitors to Yosemite limit their stay to the seven square miles that comprise the valley, leaving the other 90% of the park relatively uncrowded. The campgrounds were full when I was there and the place looked pretty crowded to me. I could not imagine what it must be like in the summer. I heard stories of traffic jams that rival the ones in Los Angeles. Your best bet would be take advantage of the extensive free shuttle service.
I entered heading east on the 120 and after turning right on Big Oak Flat Road I soon had my first glimpse of Half Dome.
You can barely see it in the middle. I got a little closer.
Cool. After passing through a few tunnels I emerged on the valley floor at the foot of El Capitan. But just before that was this sign.
I was not the only one who stopped to stare at this big hunk of granite rising more than 3000 feet from the valley. It actually is the largest granite monolith in the world and attracts rock climbers from all over the planet.
My next stop was Swinging Bridge, a day use area on the Merced River.
The picnic area has tables and grills as well as bathrooms. I drove to North Pines Campground and set up camp.
The picture above was taken late in the afternoon as the sun was going down. I had arrived around noon and the campground was a whole lot less crowded so I decided to walk it then while waiting for Glenn. It has good sites and bad sites like most campgrounds. My favorites will be listed on it's campground page on the website but if you can snag site #504 you are in for a treat. It is at the tip of the campground and is huge.
The best thing about it, however, is the swimming hole right behind.
You can book five months in advance and this is a well known spot so good luck. Glenn finally arrived and we had a campfire and hit the sack. The next morning we hopped on our bikes to tour the area. We drove across the Merced River, got a glimpse of Half Dome, and wound up at the post office so he could mail a package to his mom (how sweet).
The post office is located in Yosemite Village which is the hub of the valley. Let me take you on a tour of it.
To the left of the post office is the Wilderness Center where you can pick up backcountry and climbing permits.
Next to that is the Ansel Adams Gallery, the Visitor Center (which also houses a theater and bookstore), and the Yosemite Museum.
Glenn and I just walked past all these places but a few days later Melanie dragged me into each of them and I highly recommend that you take the time to do so. Fascinating stuff. Next to the Museum is the old cemetery.
This tombstone caught my eye.
The little guy was less than four when he passed away. Sad. Looping back towards the post office we found the courthouse.
The marshal came out to say hello and pointed out a rock formation above us called Lost Arrow.
He told us that crazy people climb to the tip and throw a rope across to their buddies on the main rock. They tighten the rope up and take turns tight roping across the chasm. I told you they were crazy. Back at the main part of Yosemite Village we find Degnan's Deli and the Village Store.
The store has pretty much everything thing you need but bear in mind that a seven pound bag of ice costs $4.50. They also have a nice selection of micro-brews. At least that is what I heard.
Rounding out the amenities here is the Grill, Sport Shop, and Art Activity Center.
Near Yosemite Village is the Yosemite Lodge.
As you can see from the sign above, this lodge has pretty much all the fixin's.
But if you need a little pomp to go with your circumstance (or your million dollar Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing) do not fret. Yosemite has you covered with the Ahwahnee Hotel (or Lodge or whatever they call it).
Glenn and I hopped on our bikes to check it out.
We followed the bike path through the trees.
For some reason they wouldn't valet park our rides next to the 300 SL.
I put on my shades and my Brad Pitt smile and walked in like I owned the place.
First stop was the lounge where I had a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.
Then I walked out back where the light was better to take another photo of the building.
Heading back inside I passed through the Great Room and lobby.
With a wink and a nod to the paparazzi, Glenn and I left for our campsite with another look at Half Dome on the way.
After a big taco feast and campfire, we retired for the night. Our plan for Tuesday was to check in to my spot in Upper Pines and then drive to Glacier Point before Glenn has to leave. We did that and it will be in the next (and last) post from this trip. But fear not, I will leave you with a couple of teaser photos.
This is what The Ahwahnee looks like from 3000 feet up at full lens zoom.
And our boy Glenn discovers an interesting rock...
Regards, Park Ranger