Monday, June 6, 2011

- Marmot Hunting

This trip to California was built around a trip to Yosemite.  As soon as I found out Karen would be working there this summer I started hinting that I would like to visit and experience Nature.  Nature is not normally Karen's cup of tea, so I gently introduced this idea.  When discussing it I called it "fake" Nature because it would require no camping, no going to the bathrooms outdoors and in fact, it would involve mostly being chauffeured around in a car and then every now and then stopping to look at something pretty.  When I was home for Graduation Karen said these magic words to me:
"Laurie, I will do nature for you".
One of the best graduation presents ever.

Anyways, I didn't exactly think Nature would be occurring so soon, but sometimes you just can't fight the way things cosmically fall into place.  A 3 day holiday weekend = a theoretically perfect time for Nature.

After spending the day in Sonoma we watched The Girl Next Door, drank our Tar-jay box de vino and I looked up weather conditions in Yosemite.  Now this was a bit more difficult than you would think.  While in Sonoma we both used the Weather Channel app on our phones to see how long the rain would last.  Except according to the Weather Channel - it was NEVER raining in was always partly cloudy with a 30% chance of rain.  This was slightly inaccurate since it rained the whole 5 hours that we were there.  So, when the Weather Channel said that Yosemite would be 50 with a 30% chance of rain/snow (up to a 1/2" of snow accumulation) I was skeptical that it wasn't painting the full picture.  The National Park Service referred me to a weather site that showed a high of 41 but made that rain/snow thing seem a bit more imminent.

Still - we were going to be in the car, so if it was cold we could deal because we had heat!  And if it was wet, that heat would dry things out.  I might have glossed over the chance of snow when relaying this info to Karen.

This was such a foolproof plan that I then focused my attention to what kind of wildlife is thriving in Yosemite at this time.  Black bears?  Meh.  Mountain lions?  Whatevs.  Marmots?  Adorable.
New life goal: find a marmot in Yosemite.

I woke up early because I was all excited about the awesomeness of Nature.  It took us like forever to get there because well 1) it wasn't that close anyways (~3.5 hours according to Google Maps) and 2) the last 20 miles looked like this:
From here.

And I mean that sign was very accurately used.  For the ride up the weather was perfecto.  To prove it here is a picture taken at an overlook shortly before the park entrance.
Our hair looks nice.

But then we get here:
And it automatically started to rain.  The drive in is really pretty and we see some amazing things...
Sweeping canyon view
Same river, view with waterfall in the back.
PS - Waterfalls are at their best in late May because of all the snowmelt.  Also, how do you stand in front of a waterfall and not look gooberish?  What do you do with your hands?

The rain is steadily increasing.  Mountain views are hidden behind deep layers of fog.

We decide that we're going to go all the way south past Yosemite Valley to see the big trees (Giant Sequoias) in Mariposa Grove first.  This waterfall is at the fork in the road:
For some reason this waterfall is called Bridalveil and I remember that.  The first view is from a distance, the second is after a walk up that goes closer than this even, but also drenches you from the spray and we were already wet enough.

On our way down the rain continues and we start to see snow on the ground.  Enough snow that some people have pulled over and children are building small snowmen and throwing snowballs.  It starts to become more prevalent and is covering the evergreen trees and it's quite beautiful to be in the midst of a winter wonderland.  Then the rain turns to snow.  Heavy snow.  Wet snow with big flakes.  And they just don't stop.  It starts to accumulate on the car and all I can do is laugh because - I mean, really?

We are almost to the big trees when we run into trouble.  There's a T intersection at the southern entrance.  We needed to go straight to get to the trees.  But Park Ranger #1 stops us and only gives us the option to go right - which is exiting the park.  So I stop and tell Park Ranger #2 that I don't want to leave the park, I want to see trees.  She makes me pull over and comes to tell me that there are too many people in the park and they are making people leave...but 10 minutes ago she heard there were 36 parking spaces at Mariposa Grove and we could try to enter and see what Park Ranger #3 says.  Park Ranger #3 just waves us on in like it's a party and everyone is invited.  There are like 87 free parking spaces when we get there and it is still snowing pretty heavily by the time we get out of the car.
Within 5 minutes we are soaked and our hair is all lank and we look like drowned rats.  Allow me to demonstrate:
Notice that I changed my shoes.  My poor Toms got absolutely soaked on the short walk up to bridalveil because the uphill path was somewhat of it's own waterfall.  Plus a lack of socks is unacceptable when it's snowing.

We decide that if you've seen one big tree, you've kind of seen them all and head back to the car to get warmed up and move our party to Yosemite Valley.  As we get close to the car the snow stops and the sun peeks out.  Go figure.
At the T intersection Park Ranger #3 waved us straight ahead to Park Ranger #1 who turned out to be one of those miserable people that obviously hates her job and extends that hate to all others in her vicinity.  She basically jumped in front of my car to stop me and told me that I had to leave the park.  When I asked why she told me that there had been an accident and that the pass was closed ahead and they were only letting people in that had reservations to stay in the park.  I sensed she was impossible so I left the park and pulled over to the side to see what Park Ranger #2 had to say.

She tells me that the pass won't re-open until "hopefully tomorrow".  I find it a bit hard to believe that an accident could shut a national park down for a whole day.  But since there is no way in from this entrance we are faced with a completely new predicament.  We are exiting the park about 50 miles south of where we entered it and there doesn't seem to be a clear path back to where we started.  Park Ranger #2 has printed out maps to help people like us and she suggests a path that that will take us near another entrance to the park farther north.  I decide to take the detour and when we get closer see if I can call someone and figure out if that entrance is open.

Then I proceed to get grouchy and launch into full on complainy mode.  I mean this is all quite unfair.  I built this trip around a visit to Yosemite and now I'm here and I've been kicked out because they let too many people in and the way I see it, that's not my problem.  I am being unfairly punished and I feel like the rangers were completely insensitive to the fact that not everyone who visits is there for several days.  I didn't have the option of coming back tomorrow, I had TODAY, and I wanted to see Yosemite TODAY.  Whine whine whine.  Talk schmack about Park Ranger #1 (and #2 for good measure).  Whine whine whine.  Realize I'm whining a lot and shut up and sit quietly so Karen can take a nap.

As I near the fork in the road that leads to the other entrance I tune into the radio station on the signs to see if I can get any info.  It is completely unhelpful.  I notice there is a Visitor's Center so I pull over.  On my phone's browser I manage to find a phone number for Yosemite that has a recording saying all entrances are currently open.  I go into the center to check what information they have.  As of 45 minutes ago the entrance we are near was closed.  When I ask why she informs me that there is a lot of traffic "because it's a holiday weekend".  Her tone suggests that maybe I didn't know it was a holiday weekend - so I tell her that I understand it's a holiday weekend and there are a lot of people there, but that I don't think it's fair for me to admitted into the park and then be kicked out through no fault of my own.  At this point I am quite whiney and might nearly cry over the thought of it ending like this so I ask if they have a direct number to a ranger station because I would like to call and complain.  They do and they actually give it to me.

Park Ranger #4 says that the entrance is open and we are welcome to come, but there might be a wait to get in.

I drive like the wind and there is no wait.  Park Ranger #5 at the entrance tells us that because of all the people in the park it could take up to an hour and a half to get to Yosemite Valley, but we have come this far and battled for this long, so we decide it's worth the 'ole college try.

There is no traffic.  I guess these Park Ranger scare tactics and the weather deterred a lot of people.  But by this time, the rain has stopped and there are patches of blue sky showing.

The sun even starts to shine and it the light bounces off the rocks in this completely magnificent way and it's like the Yosemite I always dreamed it would be.
We never found an info center and the maps they give at the entrance aren't as detailed as I would have liked.  Neither is the signage within the park, so it's not always obvious what you're looking at.  This is what I could figure out:

Upper and Lower Falls.
This is Sentinel Dome.
Here is El Capitan.
Here is a Bear Trap.
This is pretty.
This is the money shot picture I took of us.
This looks like a different day entirely with all the blue sky.
I'm not quite sure where Half Dome is, so we missed that.

This is the same river from the beginning of our trip, but in the evening sunlight.
The fog is covering the waterfall.  

At around 8:00 we called it a day and exited the park from the same entrance we originally entered.  We stopped at Buck Jackson's - one of those awesome side of the road diners where everything is greasy and delicious and ate a ridiculous amount of food plus coffee because we were tired and there was still quite a long drive back.

And that is the epic story of how I left Minnesota at the end of May and went to California and still got snowed on.

Also, I never saw a marmot.  Karen and I figured that those little buggers are smart and they took one look out their burrows and saw the rain/snow and decided to hole up with a six pack, a roaring fire, and a Criminal Minds marathon.


Mams said...

To my eldest sounds like a wonderful time was had in spite of things!!

Anonymous said...