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Half Dome - Yosemite National Park, California

California: Yosemite National Park

Our first morning in the Sierra Nevadas was absolutely splendid – the sun was shining brightly, there was not a solitary cloud to be seen and the temperature was pleasantly warm. What more could you ask for. We were some 35 miles from the centre of Yosemite Valley, but on this day it was a wonderful ride through the foothills of the Sierras. The road wound along the banks of the Merced River, and its’ white foaming water was illuminated by the bright sunlight. After passing through the entrance to the National Park area we made our first stop at Bridal Veil Falls. These falls leap off the edge of a precipice and fall down 620 feet to the valley floor. You cannot exactly stand underneath the fall but you can get pretty close to the pool at the base and the stream that flows from there. The effect of the water tumbling over the cliff resulted in a light spray through which the sun shone creating a wonderful rainbow effect. The tiny droplets fell down dousing us. Fortunately, we were prepared for this in our waterproofs.

Getting soaked at Bridal Veil Falls
The crushing power of Bridal Veil Falls

Now it was time for the main event – continuing down the valley towards the Visitors Center we drove by the massive granite monolith El Capitan, its 3000-foot vertical cliffs a favourite challenge with the climbing communities. It was first conquered in 1958 by Warren J Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore in 47 days (6 years after Everest was first climbed). Nowadays the improvement in equipment means people take 2 or 3 days to summit this peak. Today, we were here just to observe its grand magnificence and take a few pictures. It was such a beautiful day and the first signs of spring were all around with the forests and meadows brimming with the yellows, oranges and blues of blooming spring flowers, which seem all the more finely set among the granite spires and deep greens of the forest. No wonder people have referred to the Yosemite Valley as a cathedral. The Visitor Center is located among the sprawling buildings of Yosemite Village and has the splendid backdrop of the Yosemite Falls. These falls are powered by the meltwaters from the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada, and cascade down the granite cliff from 2425 feet to the valley floor, making these the highest measured falls in the United States. The best time of year to see these falls is the spring as in the summer the snow has disappeared, ending the source for these magnificent falls. Also visible from the Visitor Center is the other great symbol of Yosemite, Half Dome, its striking granite crest rising more than 4,737 ft above the valley floor.

A tunnel carved from granite
El Capitain
Yosemite Falls
Emily poses infron of El Capitain
Yosemite Falls, closer up.
A distant view of Yosemite Falls
Half Dome
The Merced River running through Yosemite
The shallow Merced River

Our timing was perfect as there was a Ranger-led nature tour from the Visitors Center. Our guide was the wonderful Eric who introduced us to the fauna and flora of the valley. He explained how to distinguish between corvids (the genus of crows, ravens and rooks) and gave us a jolly good impression of their calls. We nearly all knew the name for a group or collective of crows; “a murder” of crows, but no one knew the term for ravens. As it turns out it is called an “unkindness” of ravens. Unfortunately, it was spring break in parts of California so hanging around the Visitor Center in the middle of the day was not the best place for seeing too much wildlife, but we did get introduced to the acorn woodpecker who work in packs (the collective term for woodpeckers is “descent”) to peck holes in dead trees and fill them with acorns. Another common spotting in the area included the Stellars Jay and ground squirrels. Nothing too exciting but still we learnt some more information about these common animals that we would not normally turn our heads for.

Before leaving we took the trail to where the Yosemite Falls finally reaches the valley floor. The final section of the falls is a mere 320 feet but was still quite spectacular, and we ignored the signs like everyone else and climbed across the rocks to get a closer view. A truly wonderful place and a truly wonderful day.

On our final day in Yosemite, we decided to do something slightly different – a watercolour class. As a part of the National Park education program, the Arts Center just down the way from the main Visitor Center runs free art classes. All you have to pay for is the materials; brushes, paints and paper. The course on this day was watercolour landscapes, run by the artist Steve Curl a resident of the bay area. The course lasted for four hours inside the Art Center, starting with learning the fundamentals of watercolours. Never having painted with watercolours before we definitely needed this instruction. By lunchtime we were veritable experts and had painted the Yosemite Falls from a photograph – our first attempts were not so bad. For the afternoon session, we were “on location” which meant sitting outside on the path near one of the park ranger buildings and painting the classic view of Yosemite Falls. Having practised our techniques in the morning it was quite simple to translate these to the real-life subject and overall our paintings turned out to be very credible. Steve was a wonderfully patient teacher and we learned so much – perhaps a hobby we could carry on.

Planning your visit to Yosemite National Park

With a little planning, it’s easy to get to Yosemite National Park from anywhere in the world. Travellers that fly to California can rent a car in San Francisco (4 hours away) or Sacramento (3 hours away). The public roads are maintained year-round—except for the eastern entrance on Tioga Road (Highway 120 through the park). Tire chains may be required from October to April.

Cars are welcomed in Yosemite National Park, and visitors pay an entrance fee of $30 in summer and $25 in winter. There is free parking in Yosemite but it is limited. So arrive early if you want one of these parking spots. Once you’re at the Park there is an efficient shuttle bus system that’ll get you everywhere you need to go.

Coming From:

Address:306 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210
Website:https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm
Telephone:T: (209) 372-0200
Hours:

Yosemite National Park is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year

Admission Fees

Non-commercial car, pickup truck, RV, or van with 15 or fewer passenger seats
$35 per vehicle (no per-person fee).

Motorcycle
$30 per motorcycle (no per-person fee).

Foot, bicycle, horse, or non-commercial bus or van with more than 15 passenger seats
$20 per person aged 16 or older

Best time to visit Yosemite National Park

The best times to visit Yosemite are May and September, when the park is accessible, but not too crowded. It’s important to know that many roads and trails in Yosemite are closed for the majority of the year due to snow. Snow can come as early as October and arrives in full force in November, typically remaining until March. But just because the snowstorms stop in March doesn’t necessarily mean closed parts of the park suddenly swing their doors open. Depending on conditions, all seasonally closed roads and trails don’t open until May or June.

Seasonal park closures are precisely why so many travelers visit during the summer months, making it the park’s busiest time of year (think packed trails, road traffic, sky-high hotel rates and more). To avoid this, the best time to visit is before or after the summer crowds come, which is typically late May and September. Late May and early June is the best time to view waterfalls, roaring from freshly melted snow, and September offers cooler temperatures ideal for hiking (summer temps can reach the 80s). If the only time you can visit is during the summer, be sure to book several months in advance. Campsites are known to reach capacity the moment they become available for booking. If you’re looking for a bargain on accommodations, winter is the best time to visit Yosemite.

Where to stay near Yosemite National Park

1. AHWAHNEE

The Ahwahnee shines as the crown jewel of the national park lodges. Known for its stunning interior design and architecture, The Ahwahnee was specifically designed to highlight its natural surroundings, featuring Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Glacier Point. The hotel holds a historic heritage as it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. The destination of queens and presidents alike, this distinctive Yosemite hotel offers a perfect balance of history, hospitality and elegance.

The Ahwahnee offers a gift shop with a focus on local artisans, a decadent sweet shop, a comfortable bar and a heated outdoor swimming pool. The Ahwahnee Dining Room is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

2. YOSEMITE VALLEY LODGE

Open all year Yosemite Valley Lodge is a favorite choice for families and large groups. Its close proximity to Yosemite Falls makes it the perfect base camp for exploring Yosemite National Park. Its glass and wood architecture work in unity with the surroundings and the ample windows allow in the bright mountain sunshine while providing remarkable views. Yosemite Valley Lodge includes 245 available accommodations with rooms ranging from traditional, family size, and ADA accessible options

3. CURRY VILLAGE

Curry Village Operating Schedule:
Winter 2022: Open for weekends only (Friday/Saturday nights). Curry Village lodging is available Friday, Saturday, Sunday nights during Presidents’ Day holiday weekend.

Spring 2022: Lodging and guest services are scheduled to open daily from mid-March

Beneath the grandeur of Glacier Point, Curry Village is known for the same warm, hospitable feeling that was instilled by its founders, David and Jennie Curry in 1899. Curry Village features standard hotel rooms, wood cabins and canvas tent cabin accommodations. Numerous dining options and activities are available at Curry Village.

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