The first time I visited Yosemite National Park was in July 2017. It was only a three-day trip, but it’s worth writing about! When I told people I had been living in California for four years but had never gone to Yosemite, they gasped!
Here was the problem though. I thought accommodation would be a barrier. My parents and I thought that we had to get accommodation inside the park. My Mum worked at Yosemite a long time ago and she said that back then you had to book accommodation a month in advance. Nowadays, you have to book it a year in advance. When I explained the issue to a friend, he told me a pro-tip that I have held sacred, and this is the thing to do if you are travelling from out of state and don’t know this. Get accommodation nearby and drive into Yosemite for the day. I know lots of people in the Bay Area who love to impulsively go to Yosemite for the weekend, so I realized, “Oh! That’s how they do it!” My friend said the cheapest place for accommodation is Merced, and he’s right about that.
Armed with this information, I practically BEGGED my parents to take me to Yosemite! Mum said that summer is not the best time to go to Yosemite. I didn’t care though. Begging was the thing to do. I wore her down in the end.
We planned a 3 day trip to Yosemite in July. I had to “fit it into my busy schedule”. Read: I had been working myself half to death as a badge of self-martyrdom and also doing counselling to deal with deeply rooted mental health problems while still pretending life was fine. I did need to decompress for a bit, and I was just starting to learn how to take care of myself and prioritize my well-being. It’s hard to believe I was terrible at that a long time ago.
Even though the trip wasn’t really long enough, it was okay because we did go on a trip to see the solar eclipse reach totality a month later. That was another trip where I learned a lot about how to prioritize my well-being! I did a post about my eclipse trip, so if you want to read that, click here.
This was our first time getting a motel in Merced and driving into Yosemite for the day. We were eager to see how that went. Merced has a good range of motels for whatever you need and good food for whenever you have spent a day at Yosemite!
Of course, some things hardly ever go to plan.
Friday, July 21:
Off to Yosemite! It’s approximately a 5-hour drive from the Bay Area to Merced. If you leave on a Friday, you need to take into account that a lot of other people in the Bay Area (Hereafter known as Bay Aryans. Thanks Dad for that joke! Get it?) are also trying to get away from the city for the weekend. Additionally, getting away from the Bay Area for the weekend is not JUST getting away from the Bay Area for the weekend! You have to drive several hours before getting to an area that even remotely resembles the country. The worst part is before you get on 580 and then it gradually clears up.
One feature to look out for on 580 is the Altamont Pass. There is a wind farm there. As much as I support greener energy alternatives, the problem is that golden eagles nest in the Altamont Pass. For 40 years, golden eagles have been injured or killed by wind turbines. Animal rights activists have been advocating for safer practices since its inception. Recently, the Audobon Society sued the project. My parents once went to a wildlife centre open night. They had a golden eagle who had been too severely injured by the turbines to survive in the wild. I’m hoping there’s an update on wind turbines that doesn’t harm birds that use the same air currents that the turbines too.
Right before we left, we heard there was a wildfire near Yosemite by the town of Mariposa. You can read more about it here. We thought it had cleared up when we left. That turned out not to be the case. When we got to Merced, my Mum talked to some firefighters. They said Yosemite was open, but Highway 140, which is the best route from Merced to Yosemite was closed off because it goes through Mariposa. At the time, I didn’t have a smartphone, so I couldn’t keep up with traffic conditions. I don’t recommend travelling to Yosemite, or anywhere in California without a smartphone, especially during wildfire season. Anyway, we decided to drive to Tuolumne Meadows the next day, since that would avoid most of Highway 140.
Random Trip to Chowchilla:
We got to Merced early enough to go exploring. Mum got nostalgic for Chowchilla. She spent her summers at her great-aunt and uncle’s farm there and she wanted to show it to me. It was great to see a lot of the things were still standing. Mum’s great-uncle is long dead, but he refused to sell the place to someone who was in the lap of Big Ag. For those of you who aren’t Californians, even though agriculture is our biggest industry, it can be a Devil’s Bargain. They have been detrimental to smaller family farms. Obviously, Mum’s great-uncle saw the way the wind was blowing and refused to go along with it. Respect! If you see smaller farms in California during your travels, it’s because you have gone off the beaten path.
Anyway, here are some other Chowchilla highlights!
We paused to be entertained by some cows. They mooed at us, but when we started mooing at them, they didn’t moo back. 🐮😂
We drove by a lot of cornfields and wondered how tall they were. Eventually, our curiosity got the better of us. My Dad is over 6 feet tall and I’m about 6 inches shorter than him, so we decided to measure ourselves in relation to the cornfield.
Conclusion: The corn is at least 8 ft tall. We passed some areas that were probably 10 ft.
First Evening in Merced:
Since Merced is a farming town, we decided to go for some nice steak. After driving around, we found Bar BQ Pit. We ended up going there for dinner a lot the second time we did a trip to Yosemite! I love the way they cut their fries, and they pride themselves on their unique steak flavour! They aren’t lying about that! After dinner, we decided to get an early night. We didn’t know how long we would have to be driving thanks to most of Highway 140 being closed. Normally, if you go straight along Highway 140, from Merced, you’re at Yosemite pretty quickly. We were prepared for the fact that it would be tough to find parking in Yosemite if we got there too late.
Friday, July 22:
We woke up at 6:30 and left for Tuolumne Meadows. Since I didn’t have a smartphone, I couldn’t check any road updates on Highway 140. We didn’t immediately see any signs announcing any closures, so we proceeded down Highway 140 thinking we were okay. Right before we reached Mariposa, we started seeing the wildfire damage. A hush fell over the car as we saw what had happened. Dad said it was like seeing Turkey during the Gulf War. I didn’t take photos. That wouldn’t have been respectful. It was nice to see so many signs from Mariposa residents thanking the firefighters.
Side Note: I have some other wildfire stories during this trip, but I thought it best to put them in my next post. That post will also include tips on travelling in California during wildfire season.
Eventually, we came up to a roadblock and the officer said we would have to go back the way we came and told us how to get to enter Yosemite another way. We decided that we would go as far as we could before we had to go back to Merced. If we made it to Tuolumne Meadows, fine. If not, that was fine too.
How the Day Played Out:
We got into the park, but we didn’t make it to the valley, which is where all the popular parts are. Yosemite Valley is only 1 mile by 4 four miles, but there is so much more around it! We knew that it would take about five hours to drive back to Merced, not counting the detour we took earlier, so we decided to make the best of what we could do.
There was one place we stopped at where we could get photos of Half Dome. For the life of me, I couldn’t get a good photo! It was too smoky and there were too many tourists trying to do the same thing and being a little too loud about it. That’s when Mum taught me this term that employees at Yosemite use to describe tourists who disturb the peace. That term is “Turkeys”. Mum was despondent over the Turkey Problem being worse than when she worked there. There are a lot more tourists and the vast majority of them have smartphones now. She said to me, “That’s why I don’t recommend going to Yosemite in the summer!”
I did manage to get some photos of the landscape though. I’m deliberately not editing these images so you can see how smoky the air is.
We stopped at Lake Tanaya and waded around in it for a bit. The water was the perfect temperature and had that mountain snowmelt freshness! What is it about mountain areas and producing the perfect water in their lakes and rivers?
Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass:
Tuolumne Meadows reminded me of the Alps, but less rocky! I’m glad there wasn’t a Turkey Problem there, especially since alpine meadows are fragile. Plus, we needed some quiet time after all that driving. This is a case where you really MUST stick to the paths! I feel like the paths give you some great views and a good amount of exercise, which satisfies whatever healthy needs and desires you may have.
As you can see, I went crazy with the camera. You must know by now that I LOVE mountains!
We got as far as Tioga Pass, but we couldn’t go over it because we had to head back to Merced. There wouldn’t have been any problems with that in July. It opens in June after the winter thaw. Next time!
Sunday, July 23:
We left the motel by 6 am because we found a way to get to the Yosemite Valley from the south. We stopped after this place called Tunnel View and took some photos of El Capitan and Half-Dome. Tunnel View had too many Turkeys, so we went to a viewpoint past it.
For those of you who have a burning desire to climb Half-Dome, I would say research safety and the rock fall that occurred in 2015 to be sure it’s okay. Even though the rockfall was a natural occurrence, there is speculation that rock falls will happen more often because of the drought and wildfires.
Bridal Veil Falls:
You can hear the majestic roar of the water of Bridal Veil Falls which prepares you for an equally majestic sight. I could see why it got its name. The water is as misty as lace and the wind blows it into ethereal patterns. Think of the most beautiful bridal veils you have ever seen (for me, it’s Princess Diana’s veil and Princess Grace of Monaco (aka Grace Kelly)). I’ll bet you that you will find the falls more beautiful than that! I kept taking photos in hopes of getting the sunshine at the top of the falls.
The information board about Bridal Veil Falls said that it is the 5th highest waterfall in the world. The board mentioned Angel Falls in Venezuela, which is featured in the movie Point Break. Bridal Veil Falls is the tallest waterfall I have seen so far, but after seeing it, the scene in Point Break that features Angel Falls made more sense. The Vista Point for Bridal Veil Falls was being restored at the time, so there weren’t too many Turkeys getting too close.
A Parking FYI:
If you are driving into Yosemite for the day, you have to keep your eyes peeled for a parking place and think ahead about where you can park next! There were times we couldn’t find a parking place, and that was usually around lunchtime. Another reason why we woke up early was to get good parking at Yosemite. There is a shuttle in Yosemite Valley, so you don’t have to drive everywhere. You still have to park your car somewhere and have a strategy.
Curry Villiage and the Ahwahnee Hotel:
Curry Villiage is Mum’s old stomping grounds! She also wanted to show me the Ahwahnee Hotel. It’s the crown jewel of Yosemite accommodation. She was showing us around and regaling us with her stories of working at Yosemite. We were quite annoyed by the fact they changed Curry Villiage to Yosemite Villiage and the Ahwahnee to “The Majestic Yosemite Hotel”! Some dumb company that doesn’t know anything about anything changed the classic names of things in Yosemite Valley because they think it will attract more customers. We know we are in Yosemite! We don’t need tasteless advertising thrown in our faces! That made me want to hurl!
I did notice that when you book accommodation that the classic names are still there, but when you’re in the Valley, your eyes are being assaulted by overkill Yosemite advertising. I prefer to refer to them by their classic names and hopefully, someday they will get changed back!
Glacier Point, Half-Dome, Yosemite Falls:
This is where we used the shuttle. We first went where we could get good photos of Glacier Point and Half-Dome.
We then took the shuttle to Yosemite Falls Trail. Dad and I walked along the Yosemite Falls Trail to get closer. Mum hurt her knee tripping over Dad’s foot on the way to the trail, so she let us go while she waited for us and took care of her knee. Mum had told us about a bridge you can stand on in front of Yosemite Falls and encouraged us to go that far.
I loved the trail and the falls! These were the two best photos I could get up close. I have to figure out how to not get spray on my camera!
A lot of Turkeys were getting too close to the falls for that perfect selfie, which is incredibly dangerous. You can never tell exactly how slippery the rocks are. I was happy with the photos I got and I didn’t risk my life for it. I can’t tell you how many times I got photobombed! When I edited the photos later, I had the Turkey Version and the non-Turkey Version. I’m putting the Turkey Version here so you can see how bad the Turkey Problem is.
To the Turkeys:
Those of us who respect our national parks know who you all are. Rest assured, we and park employees make fun of you behind your backs. I wish you well as you work through why you feel entitled to nature. Hopefully, you won’t have any accidents thanks to your entitlement. On the other hand, you had better not run into my mother because she’s scary if she sees you doing something very wrong! She’s scarier than any accident you could possibly have!
Time to go home😢:
I kept hoping I would get asked, “When do you want to leave?” so that I could say “Never!” By 3 pm, we hit the road to go back to the Bay Area. Right before we left, we found out Highway 140 reopened. Darn it!
I wanted to mention that in the Bay Area we say we are going “up to Yosemite” since it’s in the Sierras. So don’t get weirded out if you hear someone say that.
Mum said to me, “Promise me we will come back here in six months when you’re off from school!” I said something extreme would have to happen to keep me away. It did. I got appendicitis right before Christmas. We went back to Yosemite the following Christmas, so I will be writing about that soon.
Have you ever been to Yosemite? Let me know your stories in the comments!
Next post: California Wildfire Travel Tips