A lucky break for us this morning: After packing up our gear and heading to the campground exit, we asked the ranger what the odds were of finding another available campsite in Yosemite for the night (the one Mike found us yesterday was good for only one night), and he said they just had a cancellation in the same campground, so we were in luck. We turned around, paid our $20 fee, and pitched our tents at the new campsite. Then the four of us packed into Michael’s Saaburu (it’s a Saab 9-3, based on a Subaru platform) and headed out of the campground for some hiking.
We drove into the Yosemite Valley, where we spotted the famed Yosemite Falls, only to find that it was (they were?) totally dry — because the snowpack in Yosemite this winter was only half the normal amount. Quite disappointing, as I didn’t know when I would be coming back to see the tallest waterfall in the United States. But the views were still astounding, with the granite cliffs of El Capital and Half Dome (among other sites) jutting up from the valley floor.
After parking in Yosemite Village, we caught a free shuttle bus to the Happy Isles nature center, where we started a 6-mile hike up toward Vernal and Nevada Falls, with vertical gain of 1,500 feet or more. I was amazed by the numbers of people; the trail was packed with thousands of hikers, from young children (whose numbers dwindled as we got further along on the hike) to old folks like me, and even older. It seemed that foreigners accounted for about half of all the hikers/tourists, and I was particularly surprised by the large number of Europeans, particularly French.
It took us about four-and-a-half hours to complete the hike, including stopping for lunch, water breaks, photo ops…and swimming (in our underwear; we hadn’t brought bathing suits) in Emerald Pool, a small lake atop Vernal Falls. (Only after I got out of the water did I find out that swimming was prohibited there, and our timing was lucky – less than 2 minutes after putting our shorts back on a park ranger strolled by.)
We finished our hike at around 5pm and caught a shuttle bus to Curry Village, where we scarfed down two pizzas for dinner (a large with mushrooms, garlic, onions, bell peppers and tomatoes for the adults, and a medium cheese for Aytan, because he loves vegetables and refuses to eat them). Curry Village sits at the base of some enormous granite cliffs, which I assumed/estimated were about 1,000 feet high. I was shocked to learn that Glacier Point, which sits at the top of one of those cliffs, was 3,000 feet above us!
After ice cream at Curry Village (for the others; I opted out), we caught a shuttle bus back toward Yosemite Village, where we left the car. On the drive back to our campsite we stopped to take some more photos; at one point we parked outside a car tunnel through the cliff, where Toby told us there was a passageway halfway down the tunnel that went out to the cliffs. So we walked down to the end of the “secret” passageway, and Toby, Mike and I slipped through the bars at the end to go out to the edge and take some more photos (I made Aytan stay on the inside of the bars, as I didn’t want him out on the ledge). It was pretty amazing, looking a thousand or more feet down to the valley below.
We turned in shortly after driving back to our campsite (taking photos of the granite cliffs and a beautiful sunset along the way), as we were pooped after an active day. Not too long after getting in to our tent, we looked up through the mesh (we didn’t put the rainfly on) and saw some shooting stars…absolutely amazing.