2010 Travel Writing Contest
HONORABLE MENTION

“Sunday’s your birthday. We can do whatever you want,” coaxed my husband.

All accommodations within two hours of Yosemite were already booked for Labor Day weekend. Driving seven hours round trip from our home in San Jose, California on Sunday would eliminate lodging concerns and avoid most holiday traffic.

Could we do Yosemite in a day?

I wasn’t getting any younger and Yosemite is a place to experience before you die so…

Our trek began at 3:45am. Deer looked up as we passed on the dark and winding mountain road. We sailed through the Yosemite entrance as color began filtering into the sky. The morning light exposed breathtaking granite towering behind evergreen silhouettes.

No competition in Yosemite Valley visitor lots had us parked and walking toward Yosemite Lodge by 7:15am. We shared the trail and crisp morning air with only a couple early joggers, another deer, and a bright blue Stellar’s Jay.

The rising sun illuminated more of the surrounding cliffs revealing dry stains where waterfalls plunge earlier in the season. In my head I was planning a trip back to see the falls when we arrived at the Lodge.
After picking up Glacier Point bus tickets at the tour desk, satisfying omelets and coffee at the Lodge’s cafeteria-style restaurant provided fuel for hiking later. Now 8:20am, it was time to board the bus outside.
Note: Don’t board the bus until instructed. You may get a great seat, but will be thoroughly scolded by the driver.

After the scolding, our driver Manny became an informative storyteller identifying trees and narrating Yosemite’s history.

First stop: A meadow in front of El Capitan to watch rock climbers making the three- to seven-day ascent up the sheer granite face.

Second stop: Valley View. Here, Merced River snaked past our feet continuing on through Yosemite Valley. Directly ahead, Bridalveil Fall still flowed down one of the glacially-carved cliffs surrounding the valley.

Back on the bus, Manny talked about night star-gazing programs, winter adventures in the park, beneficial forest fires, and legendary Half Dome.

He then recounted the life of Galen Clark, early founder and guardian of Yosemite and its giant sequoia groves. At 39, Clark was diagnosed with tuberculosis and given six months to live. He stayed in Yosemite to spend his final days with nature and fresh air, educating others while protecting the land and trees. Miraculously, Clark outlived his doctors’ prediction by 54 years, passing away at 96.

“Clark’s story,” Manny continued, “inspired me to retire here in Yosemite. If I live 54 more years like Clark, I’ll die happy at 109.”

Could Yosemite hold a fountain of youth? Yosemite’s giant sequoias live more than 2000 years. Another year older, I also sought the youthful peace and happiness that nature provides.

“Keep watch for bears and other wildlife, folks. We’ve seen bears in these meadows.”

No bears in the meadows.

“Watch for marmots on the rocks up ahead.”

No marmots on the rocks.

“I stop for any wildlife except squirrels.”

Many squirrels. No other wildlife during the ride.

Hopefully we’d experience nature and wildlife on the 4.7-mile hike back down.

Final destination: Glacier Point, elevation 7,214 feet. First stop, bathrooms.

Away from scenic views for our pit stop, we noticed an odd amount of activity ahead.

Bears!

Down the hill, a mother bear leisurely ate berries while her two cubs circled her playfully. One cub chased the other past their mother and up a nearby tree. Their fur puffed out as their young claws dug into aging red fir bark. A glance toward Mama Bear sent them back off trailing behind her. Time stood still while they frolicked in the forest clearing until finally disappearing into the brush.

I felt younger already.

We left the excited tourist chatter behind and proceeded the short distance up to Glacier Point. Under blue skies, the panoramic vistas of rock formations, waterfalls, and Yosemite Valley 3,200 feet below were just icing on the birthday cake after our bear encounter.

I felt like skipping as we headed down Four-Mile Trail into the woods. Lizards and squirrels scurried into the bushes with our passing footsteps. New views of the picturesque scenery appeared at every switchback. Majestic birds soared out over the valley below. When the trail finally flattened out, we passed enormous boulders that had also completed the journey down from towering cliffs above – although probably about three hours faster.

Aching thighs and blistered feet made me feel like an old lady, but a dip in the Merced River below Swinging Bridge refreshed my body and invigorated my spirit. Late lunch with a cold beverage outside Degnan’s Deli and a stop at the Visitor Center for a souvenir wrapped up the afternoon.

The setting sun highlighted a completely different valley as we strolled back toward our car.
Yosemite National Park was close enough for a day trip, yet miles from daily stresses. Whether a day at Yosemite extends your life or simply enriches it, the visit will leave you feeling as young as a bear cub in the woods.

What and Where:
Yosemite National Park Open 24 hours, 365 days a year. http://www.nps.gov/yose/
Bus to Glacier Point Departs Yosemite Lodge at 8:30am, 10:00am and 1:30pm. One way adult ticket is $25. Reservations recommended, (209) 372-4386. http://www.yosemitepark.com
Yosemite Four-Mile Trail Hike (Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley) http://www.yosemitehikes.com