As a child I always felt Kansas was the most painful state to drive across when we were traveling cross country. The endless flat topography and acres of cornfields left little to stimulate the senses. It always felt like that trek across Kansas was the longest part of the trip.
But that is only because we never made it as far west as Nevada!
Thursday we traveled 11 hours from Provo, Utah to Yosemite National Park, California. This was our view all day long as we drove Route 6 across the middle of the state.
It was unreal. At one point we drove 3 1/2 hours without seeing a single building, just miles and miles of sage brush and rabbits.
On our drive across the entire state we only saw 9 other cars.
I was grateful we had a full tank of gas and no mechanical issues because there was no way to get help if we broke down. Across the entire 10 hour stretch on Nevada we had no cell phone service. If we would have had mechanical issues we would have been stuck until some lone traveler eventually passed our way.
We finally made it to Tonopah, Nevada where we once again met up with civilization. While there we filled up the diesel tank, ever grateful for the 128 gallon tank Toby replaced the original 38 gallon tank with from a junk yard find. The boys got out and ran off some energy after being trapped inside the bus all day, and the girls took on the task of cleaning the bus windows while I boiled water for spaghetti.
Then we were on the road again. We drove two more hours, crossing into California, to get as close to Yosemite as we could before we pulled over to the side of the road to sleep for the night.
In the morning we headed into Yosemite. This was everyone’s first time visiting Yosemite, but we had heard so many friends express a love for Yosemite National Park that we decided to make a point of visiting..
Established: October 1, 1890
Size: 747,956 acres
“In a high-country meadow two hikers crouch near the edge of a mirroring lake and watch a pika as it harvests blades of grass for a nest deep within a huge rock pile. When they resume walking, there is no other person in sight for as far as they can see. And on this sparkling summer’s day, the view seems endless.
In the valley’s crowded mall, families stroll by, eating ice cream, dodging bicycles. People pile in and out of buses. Shoppers hunt for souvenirs. Kids hang around a pizza place. Rock climbers, coils of rope slung over their shoulders, swap stories. On a summer’s day about 14,000 people are in Yosemite Village
Both the solitude of the alpine ridge and the throngs of the valley are part of the experience when you visit Yosemite National Park. “No temple made with human hands can compare with Yosemite,” wrote John Muir, whose crusading led to the creation of the park. To this temple come 4 million visitors annually. And about 90 percent of them go to the valley, a mile-wide, 7-mile-long canyon cut by a river, then widened and deepened by glacial action. Walled by massive domes and soaring pinnacles, it covers about one percent of the park. In summer, the concentration of autos brings traffic jams and air pollution.
Beyond the valley, some 800 miles of marked trails offer hikers easy jaunts or grueling tests of endurance in the High Sierra wilderness. Even the casual visitor can explore this solitude without getting outfitted for a backpack expedition.
This park, roughly the size of Rhode Island, is a United Nations World Heritage site. Here, in five of the seven continental life zones, live the mule deer and chipmunks of the valley and the marmots and pikas of the heights; the brush rabbit and chaparral of the near desert; the dogwood and warblers of mid-elevation forests; the red fir and Jeffrey pine of mile-high forests; the dwarf willow and matted flowers of Yosemite’s majestic mountains.”
Did You Know?
Towering more than 350 stories above Yosemite Valley, El Capitan is the largest exposed granite monolith in the world.
We found Yosemite to be one of the prettiest national parks we have visited but also one of the most challenging to navigate. The climb into Yosemite National Park, through the Tioga Pass, proved to be the most stressful and trying drive of our entire trip so far. We put our bus through its paces as we slowly climbed from 6000 to 10,000 feet, through miles of switchback turns, to get to the entrance of Yosemite.
Like Yellowstone National Park, we were amazed by Yosemite’s vast size. It took us 1 1/2 hours to get from the Toulmne Visitor Center to Yosemite Valley.
It was there in Yosemite Valley that we found the bulk of the visitors in the park. The crowds increased as we got closer to Yosemite Village. Add to that the fact that half the roadways and parking lots in the valley were closed for road construction, we found Yosemite Valley to be a crowded, chaotic mess.
In addition to many road closures we also found out that the Mariposa Grove was closed for a two year restoration project, so we spent the remainder of the day in the Yosemite Valley.
Determined to not let the stressful, chaotic start to our day sour our experience at Yosemite, we began looking for a parking spot. This was challenging for even a small car, much less a 43 foot school bus. After an hour of driving from one filled parking lot to another we finally found an open spot next to the side of the road.
It was only 11:00am, we had been navigating Yosemite for 3 hours, and we were exhausted.
We decided to hit the restart button with a picnic lunch before we began seeing Yosemite. Everyone needed to decompress, and we knew full bellies would put everyone in a better state of mind, so we began our visit with lunch.
From there we head over to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.
Around Yosemite Valley there is free shuttle service that takes visitors from one part of the valley to another. By utilizing the shuttle service you can move about the valley floor easily with 20+ different shuttle stops. We took the shuttle over to the visitors center.
Here the kids met with a park ranger to get their junior ranger booklet to work on and attend a ranger led program.
The kids learned about some of the wildlife found in Yosemite, particularly the foxes found in the park. They were able to touch the pelts of a red fox and a grey fox, and feel how much softer and lush the pelt of the red fox was. This beautiful fur is what almost led to the extinction of the red fox by fur traders before they became protected. In the park there are hundreds of grey fox, which were the less desired species, but only around twenty red fox are still alive in Yosemite.
They also learned that the squirrels, so abundant in Yosemite, had a special adaptation that was specific to squirrels in that area. They learned that the squirrels there were immune to rattle snake venom.
It was fascinating to learn about the conservation efforts made by the National Parks Service and how mistakes made in the past are being remedied. We learned how the parks are fixing mistakes made twenty years ago that killed off the turtle population in the park. The ranger shared how in the 1980s and 1990s, when white water rafting became popular in the area, the park went through and removed all the trees and debris from the rivers to make rafting safer. In doing so they mistakenly removed the habitat that the turtles needed for survival. Those branches and logs were used by the turtles to hide under and sun themselves on. That simple mistake led to the destruction of the turtle population. They are now trying to remedy that mistake by bringing in turtles from outside the park to repopulate. She told us if we keep our eyes open along the waters edge we just might see them, walking along with a tracker antenna attached to the top of their shell.
While we didn’t spot any bionic turtles we did see many of these cute little lizards,
and a crayfish or two.
From there we hiked our first of three trails for the day. We decided to hike the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail. This time of year there are no waterfalls falling in Yosemite. Created by winter snow melt, they are dried up by mid summer, but it was still a beautiful hike.
Along the way Toby taught Tyler how to whistle using an acorn top. What a wonderful skill to teach Tyler, Toby! 😉
As we moved about the park, riding the shuttle and hiking the trails, we could see why Yosemite is a favorite park for so many people. The towering pines and enormous granite mountains have a way of making you feel small and in awe of nature’s impact.
We walked a trail over to El Capitan, where we were able to see climbers working their way up the smooth, granite face.
There were telescopes set up for visitors to get a closer look at the climbers,
and a park ranger on site that was answering questions about rock climbing in Yosemite. It was fascinating to see him demonstrate the climbing gear used by the climbers to propel themselves up the cliffs, and to learn about the logistics of the multi-day climb it takes to get up El Capitan, like eating and sleeping on the side of a cliff.
In addition to being in awe of the side of the granite monoliths, the kids were also in awe of the size of the trees in Yosemite. We told them to just wait until tomorrow’s visit to Sequoia National Park. We won’t be able to reach around the circumference of those trunks as a family!
It was a beautiful day.
We were able to salvage our day, which started so stressfully, and enjoy and appreciate one of the prettiest parks we have seen so far.
This is what a good day at a National Park looks like:
Next stop: Sequoia National Park