One of my very favorite memories of California was our camping trip in Yosemite National Park. Before this trip, I had never been to the West Coast, let alone to any National Parks outside of the East Coast. My experience of mountains lies primarily with having lived smack dab in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those gorgeous, smokey ranges with their iconic mistiness and layers upon layers of variegated blue hold a special place in my heart, but their impact in terms of size are nothing in comparison to the Sierra Nevada’s. Breathlessly hiking up the treacherous trails within Yosemite is an experience like none other. The sheer height of these gargantuan giants makes your soul feel like it’s spinning. I kept imagining what it must have been like to live in this region hundreds of years ago, climbing these ridges alone, or with a solitary pack animal, and seeing the endless waterfalls, fed ceaselessly by the melting snow. I haven’t painted in years and have never enjoyed painting scenery, but I kept wishing I had a fist full of soft brushes and a palette of fragrant oil paints. I wanted to sit and soak up the views, all the brilliant colors, and smells of spring.
Our hike in Yosemite National Park was anything but easy.
Having lived in the flat Midwest for the past five years made it even more challenging, but oh-so-worth-it. The trail we chose was open, but ended up having multiple areas blocked off by snow and melting snow. Several times, we had to get creative and find ways of climbing around the blocked path. I’m not the biggest fan of heights, so I felt my heart catch in my throat multiple times and might have wanted to smack Vincas each time he’d enthusiastically detail how hurt we’d get from falling (especially since the soliloquies tended to happen right when I was trying to cross over a perilous section of non-trail). Eventually, however, we made it to a grand view of this stunning waterfall. Since we were slow to start and were already eyeing the afternoon sun, we didn’t hike the extra hour or so to stand directly over the falls. Instead, we plopped down right where we were and ate a scrumptious lunch while admiring the views.
I was trying to pack light, so I didn’t bring a wide-angled lens. This waterfall was too epic to pass by without attempting at least one recreation of the vista, so here’s what I’ve got.
Camping was less about roughing it and more of a delightful glamping experience (glamerous camping). Gaja, Vinco sister, and her husband, Dan, camp frequently and have perfected the art of building a campsite. As a result, we had everything from twinkly lights and phone chargers, to a hammock and hot water bottles for our feet. Vincas and I have decided now that he’s done with school and (almost done with) his residency, camping more frequently needs to happen. We’re both incredibly psyched about taking Povi on his first big camping and hiking trip and to just get outside more often. Vincas spent a summer living in the wilds of Alaska during college and any time he has the opportunity to get out of cities, he gets as excited as a kid in a candy shop. I haven’t gotten to camp much as an adult, but I always love the opportunity.
The more stunning the landscape, the more I find myself obsessed with the teeny tiny details. The richly colored but uncomfortably spiky pinecones, the bubbling and frothy water rushing by in the creeks, tiny pops of green poking through everywhere, and how the grass bends where the melting snow has flooded the grass.
We had the good fortune to spend mostly midweek and off-season days in Yosemite, meaning that the park was unbelievably empty when we got there. By the time we left on Saturday, however, it lived up to the unfortunate “Disney Land” feel that Gaja had promised. Swarms of people walking and talking everywhere, cars clogging up all the roads, and tents popping up faster than mosquitoes in the summer. I was relieved that our entire experience hadn’t involved all of that, even as I was aware I was just as much of a visitor and tourist as the rest of the folks trying to enjoy Yosemite National Park.
Driving into or leaving Yosemite is just as exciting as actually being there. The roads are unbelievably twisty and steep, beautiful mountain views are around every corner, and beauty is just there, waiting for you.
What’s your favorite National Park? I’m starting a list of parks I need to visit next and am eager for great recommendations!