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The Perfect Storm

This weekend we decided to take advantage of the record-breaking temperatures with a day trip to Yosemite. The only problem? So did the rest of Northern California.... In the five times that we've been out to Yosemite, we have never seen crowds anywhere near what we saw last weekend. I'm not saying it never happens, but it certainly was new to us.

We woke up and got what we thought was an early start. We had left the house by 9am, which, for us on a Saturday morning, was pretty good. We didn't take my favorite route to the park, but we were treated with a nice surprise along our drive...the cherry trees are beginning to bloom! It wont be long until they are at full bloom and soon after the SFO airport will be swamped with exporters shipping out cherries all over the world. For now, it made an otherwise boring drive a little more enjoyable.

 A little after 12:30 we pulled into the line of traffic waiting to get into the park (our first indication of the madness to come as we have never had traffic at the gates). Upon, entering the park, we made the 25 mile (or so) journey to the valley and headed for our first hike of the day, Lower Yosemite Falls. On the way down we came across a beautiful waterfalls and pulled over for a few minutes to enjoy it. The main reason we decided to visit Yosemite this weekend was because a large storm came through the park last week dumping a lot of water and all the falls were going strong, It was something we had yet to see and coming across the first waterfall only increased that excitement.

As we came upon a number of valley trail heads that is when we started to realize just how bad it was, parking was impossible, cars were backed up for miles, and traffic was crawling at a snails pace. As we pulled around (for over an hour) looking for somewhere, anywhere to park, we realized a number of things had come together on this day to create the perfect storm of masses to Yosemite. Since we had well over an hour in the car to think about it, here is what we decided came together to create such chaos;
  • A long holiday weekend (for some people at least)
  • Free entrance to the park ($20 per car is the normal entrance fee)
  • Record breaking weather (60's in the valley in February)
  • All the falls going strong (usually doesn't happen until winter)
  • People wanted to get out in the middle of winter (not everyone visiting lives in the warm places)
  • Closure of the high roads meant all park visitors were confined to the valley floor where they could drive
Call us naive, but before we witnessed the masses, it didn't even occur to us everyone else would be there as well. For one, I figured on Valentine"s Day, people would be going out to fancy dinners and not spending the day getting sweaty at a park. Neither of us were off on Monday so we didn't consider people might be traveling more over their long weekend. We are season pass holders, so the free days don't appeal to us. Yes, we came to see the falls too, but we live in an area where the weather is nice year round so we were not looking for an excuse to get out of the house. We didn't even consider people living the same three hour distance in a different direction are dealing with lots of snow and freezing temperatures this time of year. As we drove and drove, looking a place to park, all of our spirits started to fall a bit. All we wanted to do was go out and explore and I could tell our well laid out plans for the day were going to have to be drastically altered. In Landon's words, (one of his favorite phrases too!) "This is taking FOR-E-V-E-R!" and it was. Just as were all about to give up, we finally found a parking spot and our spirits jumped right back up. We hopped out of the car as quickly as we could and made a beeline for...the bathrooms. haha! Five hours in a car will do that to you.

After our detour, we headed to in the direction of Yosemite Falls. Originally, we had planned to hike Lower Falls first, grab some lunch, then spend our afternoon on the more strenuous Upper Falls hike. We knew when we got out of the car that we wouldn't have time to do both so we opted to do the easy one mile hike to Lower Yosemite Falls and see if we could manage to squeeze in something else afterwards. The hike to Lower Yosemite Falls is flat and easy. There is a large path that leads directly there and I think it is even considered wheelchair accessible. The easiness of the hike means everyone goes. I mean, everyone. I couldn't believe the number of people at the base of the waterfall once we got there.

People were everywhere, tour groups with matching shirts, families hollering at each other, and everyone taking pictures of themselves at the falls. As much as I was disappointed to have so many other people around, making all kinds of noise, and distracting from the setting, it was hard to over power the waterfalls. This 400ft lower drop of Yosemite Falls was simply breathtaking. I couldn't believe how powerful it was seeing as it has always been dry in our previous visits.

There is no doubt that the defining feature of Yosemite is the granite rocks that have made this park famous. Yosemite Falls is the perfect compliment of the rocks. Showcasing their texture and highlighting their vastness. As you sit at the edge of the creek, the waterfall sends over a cool mist. Some people ventured over to the pool at the base of the falls, but we were content just enjoying the view from a little ways back. 

Unfortunately, you cannot see the entire falls from this point. Upper Yosemite Falls, does however come into view the further away from the falls you get. As you hike back on the other end of the trail, you spend more time looking back than you do walking forward.

Perfectly framed by the trees, this view is quite stunning and I couldn't help but wish we had the area all to ourselves so we could sit in the middle of the path and soak it all in. I had to keep dreaming though and focus on the scenery not the crowds around us. We walked over to the cafe and grabbed a sandwich (by now it was after 4pm) as we plotted what we could possibly do next. On our walk, we continued to get full shot views of the waterfalls. 

We grabbed a quick bite and decided to head over to try and catch the sunset on half dome. This meant getting back into our car and, while traffic wasn't as bad in the direction we were headed, we pretty much watched the sunset from our car.

As we got out and walked into the field, the sun had just left the rock face. What we saw was stunning, but our setting wasn't what we were hoping for. So, we hoped back into the car and decided we'd start making our way Tunnel View so Adam could take some nighttime pictures. And we didn't have to figure out how to waste time waiting for the stars to come out, because we sat in traffic for well over an hour just trying to make it to the other side of the valley. 

By the time we finally arrived at Tunnel view, Landon was asleep in the car and I had a new problem, I wasn't feeling very well. Adam got out and spent some time taking pictures. We've never lived anywhere with such a dark sky. From the car, I could look out and automatically see the Milky Way. As your eyes adjust, the millions of stars turn into billions. I cannot describe how breathtaking of a sight it is. From the picture below, you can tell that even at night, people find ways to enjoy Yosemite. That dot of light on the cliff face of El Capitain are people by the way. In the full size picture, you can even see a dot of light on the top of Half Dome, more people must be camping out on top having climbed up with the cables down.

 Adam spent some time practicing astrophotograhpy, something that is impossible not to become more interested in out here. This is an 8 minute exposure of star trails over half dome (stars moving within the night sky).

Happy with what we got and wanting to learn more, he got back in the car and we started the long drive home. I spent all day Sunday sick, only for Adam to get sick Sunday night and spend all day Monday sick. Between the crowds, time wasted in traffic, and ending the day falling under the weather, it wasn't the day we had planned for. That being said, it was still an awesome day. Any day is in Yosemite. It's beautiful and worthwhile. I'm so glad that we got to see the waterfalls gushing which alone was worth the 12 plus hours we spent in the car. 

We did learn a few lessons though, things we are going to apply when visiting Yosemite from now on in an effort to always get the most of our trips there. I have a feeling, in the past, we've been fortunate to avoid the crowds, but the crowds are probably more common than not especially during the Spring and Summer. Since we already have an annual parks pass, from now on we are going to try and avoid the free days. With only a handful a year, it should be pretty easy to find something else to do those times. We've decided moving forward we need to beat the crowds. That way, by the time the rush of people are bearing down, we can be a few miles into a nice, peaceful walk, oblivious to the insanity on the roads. Our main way of doing this is going to be to come into the park, or nearby areas the night before. Mainly. we will leave after work on Friday and camp (usually) or rent a hotel somewhere nearby. Although, the camp spots in Yosemite fill up quickly, the entire area surrounding Yosemite is the park of Stanislaus National Forest and there are a ton of places to camp and stay nearby. That being said, we are also going to start booking this years upcoming camping trips now. We have a lot of weekend trips planned as well as one trip home to Louisville and another to Oregon this year. We found some great people in our complex to help us with Kaiser so now we feel like we can really get out and explore our area beyond a few day trips. Not having much vacation time this year, we plan to maximize long holiday weekends and pack other outings into our regular two days weekends. I'm looking forward to the end of busy season so we can start getting out more. It's time to start planning!

Yosemite, is one of our favorite places (do I say that a lot?) in California and we have a few camping trips planned there this year, but I also think the shoulder seasons might be our most enjoyable times in the park. Not only that, but there are so many places around and beyond the park we cannot wait to explore and are due some of our time. There's no doubt, we will be visiting Yosemite again, I think Adam already mentioned going back this weekend (ain't going to happen), but from now on we will be smarter about it. I don't know if it was the perfect storm or if this is a glimpse of things to come, but at least when we do go back we will be more prepared. It was still a wonderful, well spent day with my favorite boys and a great way to enjoy Valentine's Day. 

As a note, when we took this picture, Landon asked why he couldn't be in too. We told him, it was the blue coat club picture and he agreed, his coat was red and he liked it better anyway so it was ok.

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