When I planned our road trip itinerary in California and started studying what to see, I immediately listed the Yosemite National Park. The panoramic photographs of El Captain and the Half Dome have always been part of me perhaps since when, about twenty years ago, I installed Webshots Desktop on my PC for the first time.
Many Italian tourists instead drop Yosemite from the list of parks to see, because they consider it similar to our Dolomiti alpine landscapes and prefer to head towards the red parks of Utah and Arizona.
I love the mountains very much but I live at the opposite end of the Dolomites so I thought it was important to schedule Yosemite with its millionaire granite rocks and I allocated almost two whole days to this park. For lovers of trekking or climbing, two days will be of little use, Yosemite National Park is enormous and infinite, same as its offer of trails from the simplest accessible also to wheelchairs and bicycles to the most demanding to travel in different days requiring a permit from the park rangers.
Our visit took place in mid-October, a period of climatic uncertainty; there have been years when the temperature was still mild and others in which the snow had already made the landscape completely winter. For this reason, at the first snowfall in September, I preferred to put myself in the worst situation. We got to know about the closure of Tioga Road, the magnificent panoramic road that climbs up to the Tioga Pass and crosses the Park from west to east, from Big Oak Flat to Lee Vining although statistically the final closure for the winter of the pass was quite unlikely (on the park site you will find the opening and closing dates of the road for the last thirty years).
Another reason to leave this beautiful scenic drive aside was the closure of the Mariposa Grove, the part of the Yosemite park where secular redwoods grow closed for redevelopment until June 15th 2018.
Wanting to see the oldest and tallest trees on the planet we therefore had to also plan to visit the Sequoia National Park and remain therefore to the west of the Sierra Nevada, the rocky chain that divides California from Nevada.
When visiting Yosemite, we chose to stay in Mariposa, a very pretty town about 60 miles from the park entrance.
This settlement dating back to the early 1800s owes its foundation to a Spanish expedition engaged in the Gold Rush.
Even after the peak of the gold rush of the mid-nineteenth century, Mariposa continued to remain crucial for the maintenance of the roads, the railway and for its many farms built over the years.
From the last decades of the 19th century, its vocation completely changed towards tourism, which in those years began to become important after the construction of some hotels within the Park.
We spent two nights in Mariposa, had two dinners and two typical American breakfasts but we immediately fell in love with this town, the first one met after being in big cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles to make us feel truly in the most authentic United States!
The flip side of the stay in Mariposa is certainly the distance from the Park, about 30 miles to reach El Portal and about 45 to reach the Yosemite Village main car park without the queues, which seems to be utopy during summer months especially during weekends.
The Visitor Center, right in the center of Yosemite Valley, is the starting point for many of the new visitors to the park while those who are already used to it are certainly trying to avoid it given the chaos that reigns there. Unfortunately, not knowing it, we slipped into this big mess only taking advantage of the services that are found in many other places in the park.
From the parking of the Visitor Center we decided to go through the “Valley Loop Trail”, a simple trail, without great elevation but quite immersed in nature. As reported on the website, this trail is sometimes not well signposted and it is better to take the map with you, available online and at the Visitor Center. We obviously didn’t, and in fact we got lost and then found ourselves on the “Mirror Lake Loop” path that we decided to follow without knowing how long it would be. All of course without having anything to eat with us, as it is strictly forbidden to bring food without special bear containers inside the park.
However, we have been rewarded twice for our perseverance: the first with the sight of a nice little bear running along our path in the opposite direction.
A face to face encounter which fortunately the bear decided to end by changing direction and venturing into the woods.
For a moment, in fact, despite having read all the guidelines to be followed in the event of bears meeting, my legs stiffened while my heart was beating wildly. So much emotion, but also a certain agitation: we certainly did not expect to meet him there, a few tens of meters from the paved road and above all with the appearance of wanting to go right in the direction from which we arrived … the photos are witnesses of my agitation, all blurry !!!
Another fantastic gift from Yosemite was the view of the Mirror Lake that appeared almost like a mirage after several hours of walking! Beautiful lake, or rather place, in fact the lake is dry for most of the months of the year. An almost desert landscape that emerged from a forest and lush vegetation.
The lake is of glacial origin and once occupied almost all of the Yosemite Valley. Now it is disappearing due to the sediments that are filling the depression.
To return to the parking lot we could have taken one of the park’s shuttles, but now on the competitive wave we continued to walk past the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, a large granite complex with more than 100 rooms, totally immersed in the park but unapproachable for us economically.
So we arrived at the car quite exhausted at 3.30pm without having eaten anything. Fortunately Arianna has dozed a little in the baby carrier and has not paid much attention to the empty tummy.
The next day, happy for having already met the bear and admired the majesty of the mountains from below, we decided to dedicate it to reach the Glacier Point. This is a magnificent view point at about 2,200 m asl with a spectacular view of the Half Dome and over much of Yosemite Valley.
This pass can only be reached from June to October when the road is cleared of snow or possibly on foot with a challenging 4-mile trail that starts from Yosemite Valley. The view point, reachable from the car park with a very short path, is located right on the ashes of the ancient Glacier Point Hotel opened in 1918 and destroyed by a fire in 1969.
Unfortunately the views and our photographs are characterized by a thick mist caused by the numerous fires that broke out all summer in the Valley.
According to some Americans, knowing the Glacier Point very well, the landscape we admired was the ugliest view ever seen, disfigured by this haze.
Our interpretation of Yosemite as we have described it was the result of some choices and some constraints due to the season, the closure of the Mariposa Grove and the consequent choice to see the oldest trees on the planet at the Sequoia National Park.
I am perfectly aware that we have seen only a small part of the park and the most notable street of the Park is missing according to many: the Tioga Road, which reaches 3,000 meters above sea level.
Surely visiting the park out of season has its advantages. I had in fact heard of real traffic jams inside the Park which is very popular and frequented even by the locals (it is the third most visited park in America) while we did not have any traffic problems, we parked lot nearer the Visitor Center and not a minute queue to enter or exit the park.
What is certain is that autumn is also the least suitable season to enjoy the shows that water, another protagonist element of the park together with the rocks, can offer. Almost all the falls were in fact semi-dry and we did not admire any play of reflections of those seen in the pictures that usually you can find online.