California Dreaming: Sequoia National Park

This is the fifth post in a series about our recent vacation/adventure to California. Feel free to read the first post about Calaveras Big Trees State Park, or check out the secondthird, and fourth posts about our 3 days in Yosemite National Park.

I’m back!  Today I’m going to share our first day spent in Sequoia National Park. Before I dive into all that, I want to share a sneak peak of an on-going project that was partially inspired by this part of our trip…

As I mentioned in my last post, we were staying in Three Rivers, California, which is right outside of Sequoia National Park. Compared to the 3 days we had just spent in the lush greenery of Yosemite, this area was quite different.  The hills were golden brown and dotted with dark green – a landscape similar to Calaveras’ wine country.
DSC07460Sequoia National Park sign

Considering the fact that the mountains of Sequoia National Park were just as green as Yosemite, it  was surprising how arid the lower elevations were.  There were even a couple of palm trees downtown!
Palm tree!Happy Cactus

The place we stayed at, The Buckeye Tree Lodge, had potted cacti all around the premises, and they have been sitting in my brain ever since. So, I finally answered the call of the cacti muse, and carved a couple of cacti stamp sets:

Handcarved cacti stamps

Handcarved cactus & flowerpot stamps

I actually have more to share (and more to make), but I’ll post about them after the California Dreaming series wraps up.

Let’s get back to today’s topic, shall we?

Our first day in Sequoia National Park included a loooong (and windy) drive into the park, with great views of the river valley and Moro Rock.

Kaweah River Valley

Kaweah River Valley. 

One of the first features we saw was Tunnel Rock.  The main road used to go beneath it, but they eventually had to close it as cars got larger.

Tunnel Rock & Moro Rock

Tunnel Rock with a Moro Rock in the distance.

Moro Rock

Moro Rock.  Notice the 3 lines near the middle of the picture, that is the road winding back and forth.

Eventually we entered The Giant Forest, and I was back in another Treehugger Heaven!!! This forest rivaled Calaveras Big Trees State Park in awesomeness!  After getting some good advice and buying a Giant Forest map from the Visitor Center, we decided to park at the General Sherman Tree parking lot and then hike 3ish miles south to Crescent Meadow (where we could then take the free shuttle back to our car).

Giant Sequoia's in Sequoia NP Giant Sequoia's in Sequoia NP

The first must-see of our hike was the General Sherman tree, which is “recognized as the as the world’s largest tree”.  I think the caveat is that it’s not necessarily by height or width (I think there are wider and taller trees), but by mass.  Nevertheless – it was still tough to get a picture of the giant.  But here is one from afar, up close, and also looking up from below it.

The General Sherman tree The General Sherman tree

The General Sherman tree

The General Sherman tree is one of the most popular trees in the park, and is surrounded by paved paths, so that area was pretty crowded – but once we got on the Congress Trail and continued on with our hike, it quickly became desolate.

Sequoia National Park

The fallen sequoias really refresh your perspective on how tall these trees are, as they span for yards through the woods.

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park

Eventually we made our way to the McKinley Tree.  Perpendicular to the tree & the trail was a path that went up a small hill, and led you to this stunning view of this massive tree:

The McKinley Tree, Sequoia National Park

The McKinley Tree, Sequoia National Park.  Can you see me??

At one point the sunshine’s golden rays were pouring in between the trees and we came to my favorite grouping of trees: The Founders Group. It was perfect:

The Founders Group, Sequoia NP

Entering The Founders Group

The Founders Group, Sequoia NP

You’ll have to take my word for it: lots of Founders Trees were hugged.

Not far from here, the forest was broken up by wide areas of meadows that used to be for grazing (domestic) sheep in the early 1900s:

A meadow within the Giant Forest

As it turns out, some animals still like to graze here, because this is when we came across 3 bears!  Yes, BEARS!!  Eek!!!

Black bears in Sequoia National Park

I should mention, a couple years ago we went to Rocky Mountain, Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks.  There, you are strongly advised not to hike if you don’t have Bear Spray.  Yes, Bear Spray – that’s a real thing.  It’s super strong pepper spray that shoots about 10-20 feet away, so you can spray and then RUN LIKE HELL (at least, that’s what I would do).  That’s because those parks have Grizzly bears, which are large and (therefore) not scared of humans. Thankfully, we never had to use our Bear Spray.

California, on the other hand, has Black Bears (although, their fur ranges from blonde to cinnamon to brown and black) which are smaller and more likely to be scared of humans.  Don’t get me wrong – I was still pretty nervous when we saw them…but I still took the time to put the zoom lens on and snap some pics, from afar.

Black bear in Sequoia National ParkAfter we snapped some shots, Paul found some branches to bang together so we could make our presence known and not startle the bears.  Then, we went off trail to give the bears plenty of space.  We weren’t about to test the “they’re more scared of you than you are of them” theory.  From that point on, we picked up our pace and hoped we would see some people soon.

But, instead of people, we saw marmots, which was a little surprising.  Being in such a thick forest with very few overlooks, we forgot how high we actually were (about 6,500 feet).

Marmot, Sequoia NP

Marmot, Sequoia NP

And then, we saw ANOTHER bear. Thankfully this one was much further away, so it was less scary – but it still had us wondering (for the first time on our trip)…where are all the humans??

Bear, Sequoia NP

Again, we continued our expedited pace…but I’m glad Paul snapped this picture:

The Giant Forest in Sequoia NP

This Giant Forest is magical :)

We (finally) started to see some people as we neared Crescent Meadow, and before long, made it to the parking lot.  Since we had time to kill before the next shuttle, we decided to eat lunch at the picnic tables.  While we were eating, a family of 4 deer emerged from the woods, no more than 10 feet from us!  We were wildlife magnets!

The weather had become pretty overcast at this point, with a definite threat of rain.  After the shuttle brought us back to our car, we headed over to the post office and gift shop and killed some time before deciding what to do next.  We had planned on climbing up to the top of Moro Rock to see the sunset, but that didn’t look too promising.

So, we had decided to just head back to town, have a good dinner, and a nice relaxing night.  Evidently, Sequoia had different plans for us….

First, when we left the gift shop, we saw ANOTHER bear!  This time, I was thrilled to be within the confines of our car.

Bear, Sequoia NP

As we made our way back through the park, we started to see peeks of sunlight through the clouds.


At the last minute, we decided to get ourselves to the top of Moro Rock to try and catch the sunset.  By the time we parked, I was a little (okay, a lotta) frantic because I was sure that we were getting there too late & were going to miss it, so I practically ran the 350 steps to the top.

The path up to Moro Rock

I’m glad I had to stop periodically to catch my breath, because I would also snap some pictures.  The views, combined with the twilight lighting, were in-credible!

Climbing Moro Rock, Sequoia NP

Views from Moro Rock, Sequoia NP

See the lines to the left? That is the super windy road that I mentioned at the beginning of this [epic-length] post

Views from Moro Rock, Sequoia NP

Sunset from the top of Moro Rock

Although this hike was made a million times easier because of the steps – there were definitely some parts that made my palms sweat…

DSC07377 DSC07388

After we finally made it to the top, and the sun took a solid 20 minutes to actually set, so – all the rushing was for nothing.  At least I got a good workout.  Even better, we had plenty of time to take in all of this:

The top of Moro Rock, Sequoia NP

Sunset from the top of Moro Rock

I love how you can see precipitation in the distance to the right of this picture.

I am so (so, so, so) thankful we decided to get up to the top of Moro Rock.  This sunset was unforgettable.

Sunset from the top of Moro RockAfter the sun had completely set, we got our flashlights out and headed down to the car.  It took us about an hour to drive out of the park and get back to our lodge.  At that point, all the restaurants in town were closed.  So, we ate sandwiches that we had bought for the next day, I wrote out some postcards, we kept talking about the bears, and we ended up having that nice relaxing night.

I should be wrapping up this series in 3 more posts.  I hope you’re all still enjoying it!


California Dreaming: Saying Goodbye to Yosemite

This is the fourth post in a series about our recent vacation/adventure to California. Feel free to read the first post about Calaveras Big Trees State Park, or the second and third posts about our first 2 days in Yosemite National Park.

Hiiii friends!  Sorry I went MIA on you here.  Same story as usual: work.  We released a new product (click that link if you’d like to see some of my design handywork) which caused a restructuring of our product line & lots of changes on the website.  Oof.

So – if there were ever a time I wanted to do nothing but talk about & look at pictures from vacation – it’s now!  So let’s pick up right where we left off: day 4, our last day in Yosemite.

We knew we had a LOT to see on this day, before leaving the park and heading down to Three Rivers, California, which is about 130 miles south.  So, the agenda…

1. Soak up every last bit of Camp Curry:

Goodbye tent cabin 478

Goodbye tent cabin 478! And goodbye bear bin – thank you for protecting us & being the perfect lunch-making-surface!

Half  Dome from Camp Curry

Goodbye amazing view of Half Dome [from the parking lot]

2. Find the U.S. post office in Yosemite, to mail some more postcards:

Yosemite National Park, 95389

3. Get over to the meadow across from El Capitan to see the crazies climbers scaling the side:

Looking for climbers scaling El Capitan

Found some!  You could barely see them with your naked eye, and even through the binoculars & camera’s zoom lens, they looked like ants:

Climbers scaling El Capitan

4. Check out Bridal Veil Falls:

Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite NP

It was pretty breezy by the top of the falls, so we got to see the Falls in all their “bridal veil” glory.

Closeup: Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite NP

5. Finally see the most well-known view of Yosemite Valley, Tunnel View:

Tunnel View, Yosemite NPIf you’ve known anyone who’s been to Yosemite, and they showed you any pictures – I bet this was one of them.  It’s the quintessential view of Yosemite Valley, with spectacular views of Yosemite’s most famous landmarks: El Capitan (left), Half Dome (back, middle) and Bridal Veil Falls to the right.

To be honest – my brain could barely process the magnificence before me. Everything was just SO massive…and so still.  A lot of parts of this trip (the big trees, the massive granite walls) kept reminding me how tiny, and in turn insignificant, we humans really are.  This beauty would be here with or without us.  Although, I guess our contribution is to appreciate and find awe in it?  I don’t know… Alright – back to the agenda!

6. Drive Glacier Point Road to…Glacier Point!

But first we stopped at Washburn Point:

The view from Washburn Point

Wow – I’m so glad we stopped here.  First of all – this was the 5th perspective we got to see of Half Dome.  Secondly – see the waterfalls to the right?  Those are Vernal (bottom) and Nevada Falls – the same ones we hiked up to on our first day!  Ha – we thought we were up high when we were looking down at Vernal Falls on our way up to Clark Point – but this vantage point was spectacular!  And not too crowded either.

Then it was another couple of minutes through some windy roads to Glacier Point.  This (crowded) area had about 3 different spots connected by easy trails to take in different views.  The actual Glacier Point had great views of the lush Yosemite Valley floor.  We got to see another set of waterfalls from way up high: Yosemite Upper and Lower Falls (below, left) and yet another vantage point of Half Dome (below, right).

Upper & Lower Falls from Glacier Point Half Dome from Glacier Point

Glacier Point is directly above Curry Village, so it was really neat to look down and get a bird’s’ eye view of where we had just spent the last 2 days/3 nights:

Yosemite Valley from Glacier PointIt was neat to see how the Merced River snakes through the valley.

We snapped a couple more pics, and then hopped back in the car to go to a small pull out we had passed that is in between Washburn & Glacier Points.  We had the whole spot to ourselves, so we decided to have our standard lunch of PB&J and trail mix.  We set up the tripod and snapped a couple of shots:

Lunch with a view :)

Lunch with a view :)

We enjoyed our lunch & the spectacular view while watching the occasional hiker appear below us, emerging from the Panorama Trail.  It was perfect.  But, we had “more to see” and an over an hour of driving, so I had to do everything short of physically dragging Paul away from this spot so that we would have time for the last stop on our agenda:

7. See more giant sequoias in Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove:

Mariposa Grove

While we definitely saw some magnificent trees, I was a little underwhelmed by Mariposa Grove.  I’m sure there were a lot of causes for this, the biggest one being that we were too spoiled by Calaveras Big Trees State Park.  There were a lot of trees here that you couldn’t get close to like you could in Calaveras.  We also saw a lot less sequoias then we did in Calaveras – but that could be because we only had enough time to do the Lower Grove – and the Upper Grove has MUCH more trees.  Plus, the weather quickly became overcast after we got there. Lastly, there was a LOT of fire damage.  And although forest fires are essential to the reproduction of Sequoias, we just found that there were large stretches of trail where you wouldn’t see any sequoias or any sequoias without fire scars.

BUT – they are closing Mariposa Grove for 2 years to move the parking lot (which is currently right next to the large trees in the picture above).  So, I’m glad we got to see it before it closes, and I hope that the 2 year hiatus will be a healthy break for the forest.

And again, despite everything I just said, we DID see some cool things:

Roots of a giant sequioa

Giant Sequoia, Mariposa Grove

Giant Sequoia, Mariposa Grove

Peek-a-boo! Can you see me?

This trip was very educational for us.  I mentioned above that forest fires are [surprisingly] essential for Sequoia reproduction.  This is because the heat helps open up Sequoia pinecone, which lets the seeds out so new Sequoias can grow.  Plus, they clear smaller trees and brush so Sequoias have the space & soil nutrients to grow.  Unfortunately, early settlers didn’t know any of this, so when lightening would strike and a fire would start, they would immediately try to put the fire out to save the forest.  Although well intentioned, this was detrimental to the Sequoia groves.  It wasn’t until the 1950s that scientists started to see the necessity of forest fires.

Many Sequoias live to be hundreds of years old, surviving numerous fires in their lifetime because they have special, fire-resistant tannins in their bark:

The magical bark of a SequoiaAnother thing we learned is that as the trunk of a fallen Sequoia breaks down, it becomes a sort of “planter box” for new plants to grow:

A natural planter boxI love that!

The highlight of Mariposa Grove was getting to see The Grizzly Giant, one of the world’s largest giant Sequoias:

The Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Grove

You had to stand this far back to fit it into the picture!  And – can you see me?  I’m the tiny green & black figure to the left of the picture.  To say this tree is massive feels like an understatement.  Also, note the large fire scar in the front of the tree, yet this giant still lives.  One thing that blew our minds was to realize that the limbs of a sequoia have the diameter of a regular tree trunk!  Incredible.

It was getting dark by the time we made it back to our car and left Mariposa Grove and, in turn, Yosemite.  Unfortunately, we had 134 mile trip to our lodge in Three Rivers California.  After stopping for dinner, we didn’t get there until midnight.  And, once again, all food and scented toiletries had to be removed from the car and brought into our room.  But at least this room had real walls and a real door.

By the time we found our room, unloaded the car, took showers (in our private bathroom!) and eagerly plugged in all of our electronics, it was about 2 AM.  That was rough – but worth it considering all of the amazing things we managed to squeeze in, in one day!

Next post: Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks (SeKi for those in the know :P)!  I hope you stay tuned :)

California Dreaming: Tioga Road & a Full Moon Over Yosemite

This is the third post in a series about our recent vacation/adventure to California. Feel free to read the first post about Calaveras Big Trees State Park, or check out the 2nd post about our first day in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite National Park has been #1 on our “Must Visit” list for years. However, I was always determined to go at the ideal time: mid Spring when there’s no snow, less crowds and amazing waterfalls….so, April. Unfortunately, another April was coming up fast and we (once again) had no plans, so I started to get a little anxious.  Some might even say I got a smidge cranky.  But I couldn’t help it – I was not going to miss out on Yosemite for another year!

Since we didn’t start planning until late March, we decided to try & shoot for late Spring, early June, instead.  Luckily, we were able to book 3 nights in a tent-cabin in Curry Village (which is IN Yosemite Valley)!  We happened to be visiting my parents when we actually booked our stay, so we all celebrated the fact that it was official – Amy & Paul were finally officially going to Yosemite this year!

Clearly this called for celebratory shots & a celebratory snap sent to friends and family:

A reason to celebrate!

We're going to Yosemite!

Right after we made our reservations, my Mom read in one of our Yosemite books that we’d have a full moon on one of the nights we had booked. How amazing is that?!  That sheer stroke of perfect timing really made it feel like this trip was meant to be!

For our second day in Yosemite, we decided to leave the Valley & head north to Tioga Road.  This decision was made after the helpful employee at the information desk told me that this is where all the employees go on their days off.

Before leaving the Valley, we went to see Upper & Lower Yosemite Falls.  This is when we realized we had already seen the Upper Falls the night we had arrived, as they are visible from the road near Curry Village.

Upper Yosemite Falls in twilight

A shot from our first evening in Yosemite: Upper Yosemite Falls in twilight.

Upper Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls in the morning.

To see the Lower Falls, we drove west a little and then parked along the road.  We took the Lower Yosemite Falls trail (a super easy path) through the woods.  Near the beginning of the trail, you can take a slight detour to the left that leads to an incredibly picturesque spot of both falls:

Upper & Lower Yosemite Falls

Upper & Lower Yosemite Falls. There is a plaque on the rock describing how John Muir, one of the forefathers of America’s National Park System, had a sugar pine log cabin here from 1869-1871. Talk about a room with a view!

We then went back to the main trail and walked less than a mile in to see the Lower Falls, up close and personal:

Lower Yosemite Falls

This area was SUPER crowded so we didn’t stay too long.  We walked back to the car and continued driving west on Northside Drive.  We caught a glimpse of Ribbon Fall (below, left) and we also stopped at the Valley View Overlook (below, right) before continuing north to Tioga Road:

Ribbon Falls, Yosemite National ParkValley View Overlook, Yosemite National Park

Tioga Road crosses the Sierra Nevadas from east to west.  What was really neat is that you drive through 4 different elevations: Lower Montane (3-6,000 ft), Upper Montane (6-8,000 ft), Sub-Alpine (8-9,500 ft) & Alpine (9,500-13,000 ft).  This meant we got to experience a variety unique vistas and terrains.

The beginning was pretty woodsy.  Below is a picture of the serene (and appropriately named) Siesta Lake.  It reminded both of us of the lakes in Acadia National Park (in Maine).Siesta Lake, Yosemite National Park

As we climbed higher and higher, rocky mountain peaks (with snow!) began to appear in the distance.

Climbing Tioga RoadEventually we pulled over at an overlook that had a lot of neat rocks to walk around and (of course) great views – so we decided to eat lunch here.  I thought this spot was great, but soon enough Paul was reminding me “more to see!” – so we hopped back in the car and continued driving to Olmstead Point:

Random boulders left by glaciers

When we went to Acadia NP we learned that when you see random large (loose) boulders like this – they likely got placed by glaciers.

Olmstead Point, Yosemite National Park

Ho-ly Mo-ly!  This overlook was amazing!  As if the awesome flat/cracked rocks, complete with marmots & lizards playing hide and seek weren’t cool enough…

A marmot A Western Fence lizard (I think)

…there was also a pretty easy trail that lead to this stunning view of Half Dome:

Half Dome from Olmstead Point

The view from Olmstead Point, Yosemite Park. Elevation: 8,400 ft.

We were also able to see Tenaya Lake to the the northeast, which is where we were headed next:

Tenaya Lake from Olmstead Point

Tenaya Lake (the deep blue in the center of the photo) from Olmstead Point…

Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park

…and Tenaya Lake up close.

We took some time to sit by the lake and take in the crystal clear water and serene mountain backdrop.  No swimming though – Tenaya Lake is at 8,150′, just the beginning of the Sub-Alpine elevation, so the temperature was pretty cool.  After this, we hopped back in the car to continue west, which meant climbing even higher, to check out a Tuolumne Meadows, a Sub-Alpine meadow.

Toulomne Meadows

After walking around the perimeter of Tuolumne Meadows, we decided to it was time to head back to Yosemite Valley, since we had a solid hour of driving back down Tioga Road.  Plus, we wanted to go back to Olmstead Point to see how Half Dome and the other mountains looked in the evening light.

Olmstead Point at twilight

We made it back to Curry Village and grabbed some dinner at the very crowded Pizza Patio.  Then, we went to our tent cabin, bundled up, and grabbed our flashlights, 2 beers, the camera and the tripod, because this was the night of the full moon!

We headed over to the meadow where you can see Upper Yosemite Falls from the road (see the third picture in this ginormous post).  As we were walking along the wood plank path that crosses the meadow, we paused to look at the moon rising behind us.  While we were standing there in admiration, a guy headed in the opposite direction told us that we were looking the wrong way because “the real show” was down by the river where the granite walls were glowing.  Oh yeah?  Well then that’s where we would head!

We walked past a handful of people that had decided to enjoy the moon from the walkway and entered the woods.  We weren’t exactly sure where we were going, but there was a path & we could hear the Merced River as we got closer to it.

After about 5 minutes, we found the river – and we were thrilled to see that the guy was right – the rock walls above the river looked awesome.  And even better, we had the area all to ourselves!  We sat and enjoyed the rushing water and stunningly bright river-edge for a while.  Then, we set up our tripod and had a mini-photoshoot in an effort to try and capture this moment.  When you consider our staggering lack of nighttime photography knowledge (and experience), we actually got some decent shots:

Yosemite at night Yosemite at night

Of course I don’t think these pictures do our actual experience any justice – but I’m still glad we took them.  Then we tried to take a picture of ourselves in the moonlight.  It was nice that no one else was around as we had a lot of trial and error to get this right (including a couple of shots that look like they were taken in daylight – strange)!  But we did get one:

Moonlight portrait

Again – this pic doesn’t convey how bright it actually was!  But the fact that this was taken without a flash should give you some idea.  I’ll never forget our crystal clear our shadows were.

Ironically, we didn’t take any pictures of the actual full moon.  After about an hour we had decided we should head back, and felt like “meh, we know what the moon looks like.”  Silly – we should’ve snapped a shot.  Oh well…next time ;)

Whew – this post took forever to write – so I hope it didn’t feel like it took forever to read.  I still want to write about the rest of our trip which includes: our third & final day in Yosemite (that’s next), 2 days in Sequoia & Kings Canyon NPs, Santa Cruz/Big Basin Redwoods and then 1 day (my birthday!!) in Napa Valley.  I really hope you’ll stay tuned :)

California Dreaming: Yosemite National Park

This is the second post in a series about our recent vacation/adventure to California. Click here to read the first post about Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

Paul and I have the lofty goal of going to every single National Park in America (according to this site, there are 58 parks). Since setting this goal back in 2011 (after visiting Acadia NP in Maine) we’ve been to 9 parks, including THREE in this recent trip: Yosemite, Sequoia & King’s Canyon National Parks.  Yosemite has been at the top of our list for years – so that’s where we headed first.

Despite the fact that we didn’t start planning this trip until late March, we were very fortunate to book 3 nights IN Yosemite Valley! Granted, it wasn’t the Awahnee (you need to book that many months in advance…and have some deep pockets), rather it was an unheated tent cabin (with shared restrooms) in Curry Village. Nevertheless, staying IN the park is a HUGE advantage. You don’t have to make the time to drive the meandering 45 minutes IN and OUT of the park. You’re there, even soaking it in while you sleep :)

Camp Curry

We arrived at Curry Village around 8:30 PM. The parking lot was pretty full, and it almost seemed more like an amusement park than a campground.  While waiting on a lengthy line to check in (normal for a Sunday night), we had to watch a looped video on how bears will destroy your car if you have ANY food (or even scented toiletries) in it. We had rented a soft top convertible…so with every loop, I was getting more & more nervous. To avoid being one of the car’s featured in next year’s video, all bear bait had to be placed in a bear-proof bin which was outside of your not-bear-proof tent cabin.

The tent cabins in Curry Village

Paul, sitting on the bear bin, in front of our tent cabin: #478 :)

After watching the bear video about 53 times, we finally got access to our tent cabin and realized it was in a really good spot: a short walk to the common areas (food, store, lounge with wifi & electrical outlets) and even closer to the bathrooms & showers (but not too close). Plus – we had booked 2 twin beds (the only option left), but they had changed it to 1 fullsize bed – lucky us for the 40ish degree nights!

Once our bear contraband was safely stowed away, we beat the crowds at Pizza Patio for some dinner, made some loose plans for the next day & then called it a night.

When we woke up the next morning, we could really appreciate where we were. When you came out from the tree-covered tent area & looked up, you realized you were surrounded by magnificent walls of granite (and bright blue skies beyond that) – it was incredible!

The granite walls of Yosemite Valley

Our accommodations included a meal voucher for a buffet breakfast at the pavilion. They had a good variety of options, so we fueled up for a day full of hiking. I also wrote out postcards to our parents and my brother & sister-in-law as well as to ourselves. Pro-tip: Sending yourself a postcard is a good way to get a souvenir and also remind yourself of some trip details. ;)

After breakfast, we went to the information desk to ask about the Panorama Trail, which was recommended to us by a nice family at the winery the day before. It sounded perfect – an 8ish mile hike from Glacier Point (directly above us at the top of the valley) down to Yosemite Valley (where we were staying). Unfortunately, the bus that you take up to Glacier Point was booked for the next 3 days! Whaaat? Therefore, Paul and I have resolved that we will go back to Yosemite to do the Panorama Trail.

Instead we chose to do the Mist Trail, the valley’s most popular hike. That meant it was a little crowded, but less so the further (and higher) you go.  We took the free shuttle about a mile to Happy Isles, where the Mist trailhead was. The trail started after we crossed the Merced River, which we then paralleled for a while until we started an uphill climb. We took our time as the grade was pretty steep and it was only our second day at elevation (over 4000 feet).  Eventually, we came to a bridge and crossed the Merced River again.  This is where we got our first glimpse of Vernal Falls:

Our first glimpse of Vernal Falls

We were headed to the TOP of Vernal Falls, 1,000 feet higher than the trailhead.  After the bridge, the trail went into the woods, and was back to paralleling the Merced River.  Eventually we emerged from the woods and it was time to start climbing:

The climb up to Vernal Falls

As we climbed, we soon understood how the Mist Trail got it’s name.  We got SOAKED:

The Mist Trail's namesake

Oh, and I’m happy to report that despite it being late Spring and California’s (unfortunate) drought, the falls were definitely flowing!

Vernal Falls, Yosemite Park

I worried about the camera getting wet, so I kept covering it with the flannel shirt I had been wearing that morning. But, of course, I kept uncovering it to take pictures – it just kept getting more magnificent with every step! Plus, there was a rainbow in the mist! A rainbow! Too cool.

The rainbow within Vernal Fall's spray

We hiked approximately 70 billion (or so ;)) wet granite steps to the top of Vernal Falls:

The view from the top of Vernal Falls

If you look suuuuper closely, you can see itsy-bitsy people on the path (in the green) in the lower left. Hopefully this helps you appreciate the scale of this photo!

This was a popular lunch spot, but we chose to just quickly snack on some trailmix as there was “more to see” (this became the motto of our trip). To escape the crowds (and the overzealous squirrels) we hiked further (and higher) to see Nevada Falls: also flowing!

Nevada Falls

We had planned on going to the top, but I wasn’t too convinced that was necessary. Waterfalls always look best from the bottom anyway. Instead, we back tracked a little and took the John Muir Trail to Clark Point. On our way we came to an incredible overlook where you could look down at the top of Vernal Falls – look how tiny the people look:

Top of Vernal Falls

Eventually we made it to Clark Point, where we could see Nevada Falls in the distance, with Liberty Cap directly to the left.  This is where we finally decided to eat lunch.The view from Clark Point

Then we continued on the John Muir Trail, which eventually lead us back to the Mist Trail.  The rest of the hike was a series of switchbacks, through the woods.  And best of all, it was all downhill!

Hiking down the John Muir Trail

I like this candid shot Paul snapped :)

Tree love

A filtered pic that I had posted on Instagram

We made it back to Happy Isles around 7:00 (after about 9 hours of hiking [and picture taking]) but decided we had just enough time and energy to try and catch the sunset.  We took the shuttle over to Mirror Lake and hiked about a mile in to what was supposed to be Mirror Lake.  Unfortunately, Mirror Lake was pretty dry.  That was a let down.  Plus – there was no good view of the sunset.  Double let down.  We did see some deer though…a small consolation…


Pretty sure this is where Mirror Lake is supposed to be…

After hiking back to the road, we took the shuttle to Curry Village and rewarded ourselves with plates full of carbs at the Pavillion.  Afterwards, I grabbed a hot tea to go since it got pretty cool once the sun had set. Then, after showering in the suprisingly-not-terrible common showers, we headed over to the lounge to play some cards, drink some beer and charge our camera batteries for the next day.  And that’s what I’ll be sharing in my next post: day 2 in Yosemite!

California Dreaming: Treehugger Heaven

Hello there!  I’m back and I’m ecstatic to say that our trip to California was amazing!  Honestly, it feels like a dream.

I’ve been meaning to take some time to journal about our trip so that I don’t forget a single part of it – but I also wanted to come here and share some pictures.  So, I plan on writing a series of posts about our 10 day trip in an effort to kill 2 birds with one stone.  That being said, these posts are sure to be lengthy, so you might want to grab yourself a snack & a beverage – go ahead, I’ll wait :)

For now, I’ll just be sharing a small fraction of our pictures.  We snapped a ridiculous 2,665 pictures – but I have yet to pare those down to a more reasonable reasonable number.  This blog post is undoubtedly a not-so-subconscious exercise in procrastination.  But nevermind that…let’s get started!

First up, we flew from Baltimore to Dallas/Fort Worth to Sacramento.  I can never resist the urge to take pics of the fluffy clouds:

Air shot

We actually had a bit of a scare on our second flight.  About 20 minutes prior to landing, the pilot announced that the system was indicating a malfunction with our hydraulics, but he felt everything would be fine.  Umm, yikes.  Then he came on again to say that the system was indicating TWO malfunctions so, just as a precaution, emergency crews would be waiting for us on the runway.  Double yikes.  Then the flight attendants came around and made sure we all reviewed how to brace for impact, again, just as a precaution.  Infinity yikes!

Good news: we survived!  Firetrucks did meet us on the runway, and we couldn’t taxi until they said the coast was clear:

Firetruck from plane

I didn’t start snapping pics until the firefighters got back in the truck and the coast seemed clear. And no, we didn’t get to use the emergency slides. Bummer, I know.

We landed around 7:30 PST (10:30 according to our East Coast bodies).  After grabbing our luggage and picking up our rental car (a Mustang Convertible #bestdecisionever!) – we didn’t get to dinner until close to 9.  We continued a tradition that we started on our trip to Michigan: sushi on the first night.  Unfortunately, my anxiety/exhaustion caught up with me, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would’ve liked.

Around 10 PM, we started an hour and a half drive to Murphys California.  What’s in Murphys, you wonder?  The quick answer is “wine” – but that’s not what lured us there.  A friend of our’s who is originally from California highly recommended going to Calaveras Big Trees State Park which is about 20 minutes north of Murphys.  So, we figured we’d knock the drive out that night so that our first full day in California could be all about the big trees.

Mission accomplished:

Giant Sequoia, Calaveras Big Trees State Partk

This park was amazing: the forest was FULL of giant sequoia’s that you were able (and encouraged) to get up close and personal to.  We got there around 10 in the morning, so the sunlight was streaming through these majestic giants in a way that I can only describe as magical.  Plus, specs of pollen and (lots of) ladybugs were flying through the air, reflecting the sunlight and making it all even more mystical.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

All my life I’ve been both a metaphorical and literal treehugger.  I went to California planning to wrap my arms as far around these massive trees as I could, sharing as much positive and grateful energy as I could muster.  I got to hug SO many trees…and every single one hugged me right back! :)

Hugging a giant Sequoia, Calaveras Big Trees State Partk

The Giant Sequoia’s … incredible.

I’m SO thankful our friend recommended this park to us – we only had time to do the North loop, but we made the most of it by savoring every moment.

Walking among giants

Pictures just don’t seem to do any of this justice!

Fallen Sequoia

We learned that a fallen Sequoia serves as a “planter box” for new plants to grow.  They also make good seats.

Looking up at a giant Sequoia

In addition to Sequoia’s, there were also Ponderosa & Sugar pines.  Check out how massive the Sugar pinecones are:

Sugar pinecone

While Sugar pines are very TALL trees, they’re still not as tall as Sequoia’s.  Yet, ironically, Sequoia’s have much smaller pinecones:

Sugar pinecones

A Sequoia pinecone



After taking close to 400 pictures (I’m not kidding, I just checked) – we left to grab lunch and lunch supplies for the week.  From Calaveras we were heading about 80 miles down to Yosemite National Park, where we’d be staying IN Yosemite Valley (in a tent cabin!) for 3 nights.

But, we couldn’t quite leave this area of California without doing a little wine tasting first.  So, we picked a winery at random: Twisted Oak Winery.  They are definitely NOT a traditional winery (one of their wines is named “*%#&@!”) – but the wines were good, the atmosphere was fun (lots of laughter) and the views weren’t too shabby either:

Beautiful Calaveras County countrysideAfter getting some tips on must-do hikes in Yosemite, we purchased some wine and hit the road through beautiful rolling hills of golden grass dotted with dark green trees & shrubs. As we neared the entrance to Yosemite, the landscape changed, and we started to climb a windy road up a lush green mountain. I wish I had gotten a better picture, but there weren’t any good spots to pull over & Paul was having a little too much fun with the Mustang…

Windy mountain road

At just around 8PM, we reached the North entrance to Yosemite National Park. Then it was another 18 or so miles down to Yosemite Valley. Despite evidence of forest fires, the drive down toward the valley was beautiful, especially as the moon rose over the surrounding mountains.

The rising moon

Then, we stopped at a pull off, and saw our first glimpse of one of Yosemite’s most distinct features: Half Dome.

Our first glimpse of Half Dome

We also saw 3 waterfalls on our way in, but at that point we weren’t sure which ones they were nor did we stop to investigate as we were eager to get checked in before dark.  Even so, it was just before 9 PM that we got on the long check-in line for our tent cabin in Camp Curry.

Camp Curry

It was still somewhat light while we were waiting on line, but night fell by the time we were done checking in. That’s when I took this picture.

More on Curry Village, our tent cabin & our Yosemite adventures in my next California Dreaming post. I hope you come along and enjoy this virtual vacation with me :)