The Short, Abortive Story of Our Yosemite Visit

So, for the first time in our trip, we are more or less entirely cutting a destination out of the schedule. To my great disappointment and mild relief, that destination is Yosemite National Park.

Slight background. Our original plan was to schlep west across the Southwest until we reached L.A., then to turn north through the Sierra Nevada parks: Sequoia National Park, Kings’ Canyon, Muir Woods, and finally Yosemite, before continuing triumphantly to Modesto, CA to see my grandmother.

A bunch of things interfered to gronk this plan. First, Rebecca was ill for most of our stay in L.A., and was still feeling a little shaky; I’d also had a very brief bout of it, and so we weren’t super eager to spend a lot of time in the woods. Second, our stove broke; the regulator, a metal tube that connects the propane bottle to the stove and admits the desired amount of gas, decided that any gas was bad gas and we shouldn’t have it. Facing the prospect of six more days in the woods with no hot food, and with no reservations to honor or break, we more or less looked at each other and said “Fuck that”.

We went instead to San Francisco (which is on another planet than the rest of California; it never dipped below 104 degrees during our trip across the San Joaquin Valley, but when we got to Cousin Jerry & Judy’s house, people were wearing jackets and pants in the streets!), to Oakland for a day (see Rebecca’s post on the Athletic Playground), and then on to Modesto for several days. The revised plan was then to camp in Yosemite for a few days before hopscotching on to Reno.

The great advantage of our trip thus far has been that we don’t have a fixed schedule. We’re staying almost exclusively with friends and family members in the cities we go to, and when camping, we’ve so far gotten away with just showing up and finding campsites. With some planning, it worked at the Grand Canyon; it worked at Joshua Tree, and it worked in Sequoia National Forest. This allows us to change our schedule on a whim—if we want to spend an extra day at the Grand Canyon, or to go to Sedona, AZ, or skip Albuquerque, or randomly go to San Francisco. It’s freeing and fun.

The big ‘ol disadvantage is that it’s a pain in the neck to find campsites on minimal notice, especially if you’re trying to secure a spot in one of America’s three most popular national parks, on one of the three biggest holiday weekends of the year.

We tried to find a spot in the camp’s only currently open walk-in campground, getting up at 5:45 this morning and schlepping up the mountains to Yosemite. Nothing doing. No open spots; even the three families who were leaving already had people to take their spots. We drove entirely through the park, stopping for a 20-minute nap because we were both exhausted, and out the Tioga Pass to the town of Lee Vining. We’d heard that we could find spots outside the park near Lee Vining, but the local ranger station said, no way; they’re full. There are some at Lundy Canyon a few miles up the road, though. So we went a few miles up the road and into the canyon. Nope; no free spots. (You’re not allowed to camp at random places in Yosemite, because bears.)

By this point we had both pretty much given up hope that there would be anything available within 100 miles of Yosemite. We discussed options; get a motel and try again tomorrow, go to a nearby town and try again tomorrow, go to Reno and try again later, or simply give up.

Obviously we picked “simply give up”. Which I’m okay with, but for a weird reason. I’ve never had any particular attraction to Yosemite. I went to the Grand Canyon when I was little with Oma and Opa; I wanted to go there again. I’ve been reading about Lassen Peak and Yellowstone and Crater Lake in volcano books since I was a little kid. But Yosemite—nope.

That was before we started talking about going there. But Rebecca’s father had lent us a National Geographic that was completely about Yosemite, and that spoke about it in the most spiritual terms. The articles were written by people who loved the park and whose families had been around it for literally generations. And, you know, I began to get the idea that we couldn’t half-ass this park. I could show up at the Grand Canyon and see it, spend a few days there, hike it somewhat, and not feel like I had missed out on any fundamental experiences. But I felt very strongly that if we couldn’t take our time, get a good campsite and really experience Yosemite, that it was a different animal than most of the other parts; that we were better off leaving and coming back later to really grok it than trying to get only part of the experience.

So we are now in the car (or will have been in the car, when this posts), on our way to Reno, where we will at the first available moment spend our time booking reservations at all the remaining parks we will go to. There’s obviously the ability to go to the bloody things, but there’s also the allure of less stress. We schemed and plotted and got a night at a random campsite in Flagstaff and woke up bloody early to get to the Grand Canyon and get to the Desert View campsite in time to snatch one of the walk-in spots. That stresses me out. So we’re going to sacrifice a little flexibility in order to have guaranteed spots, or at least as guaranteed as we can get, from now on.