What America lacks in history (USA America I mean) it more than makes up for in ridiculous landscapes. I didn’t see how Niagara Falls, The Grand Canyon or Monument Valley could be surpassed for awe inspiring-ness; but then we got on a Yosemite Area Regional Transport bus in Merced and started rolling towards the distant hills we could see from our motel. After about half of our journey we came up alongside the Merced river and followed it all the way into Yosemite Valley (skipping the entry toll kiosk, sweet!) to find that America can clearly keep bettering itself. We were driven into our camp site at half dome village and promptly shown to our tent which would be our home for the next 4 nights. We went for the most basic tent in the camp which meant no heater, I thought it was fine Suzanne was apprehensive and didn’t agree with me that an extra $5 a night for a heater was extortionate but let it go and accepted her icy fate for the next week. Across the road from our tent was a lodge h ouse that has internet and beyond that a food court with a pizzeria, a bar and a restaurant so we would only have to sleep in the tent. A tent, pizza and a bar: what more do you need in the world?!
Once we were settled in we had about 4 hours left of day light so decided to explore just the valley floor and leave the hiking trails that go up into the mountains for the days that were left. We followed a trail that took us out to Mirror Lake, despite the crick in my neck from constantly looking up at the towering peaks I had already decided this was the most spectacular natural area I had seen. We passed a sign that said if you get attacked by a mountain lion: fight back! Right, slightly different advice than we’d been given for some of the inner cities, luckily our fighting skills were never out to the test. The mountains tops were still capped with snow but the valley floor was warm enough to explore without a jacket and so we followed a trail loop around the lake and across its feeding river and back down the other side. Like the majority of our time away we were lucky to have incredible weather and so all our photos pictured the deep blue sky as a backdrop to the rock formations and pine forests. As the sun started to set we headed back to our camp for pizza and a slumber, it was getting quite cold and so to add to the 3 and a half blankets on the bed Suzanne tucked herself up in 4 layers and a woolly hat. To her credit though, not a grumble about the lack of heater in our tent and we seemed to get a decent nights kip, actually the biggest problem we had wasn’t the cold but the dodgy springs in our mattress.
We’d chosen the two trails we would spend the forthcoming days hiking up on our first evening- the mist trail, which takes you close enough to the foot of two of the valleys largest waterfalls to get drenched by the water rebounding after its fall, and the upper Yosemite Falls trail, which takes you to the top of North America’s highest waterfall a mere 768m drop to the rocks below. On both days the hikes were much more technical and challenging than we’d experienced at the Grand Canyon, but the views along the way and at the top were well worth it. The mist trail absolutely lived up to its name, ascending alongside two waterfalls gave you a cool shower as you scrambled over the wet rocks while trying to get pictures of the magnificent falls. Quite an art form that we were still trying to master! We stopped for lunch between the two falls enjoying the views and a bit of warm sunshine before completing our ascent and turning round to descend the same way. We thought we were going quite well until I lost my feet from beneath me and landed flat on my bum. Nothing hurt other than a bit of pride, particularly as the family had just stopped to let us past then preceded to use me as an example to their kids to take it easy. Coming down gave us more great views of the valley although the legs began to ache a little especially after the morning run we’d done before breakfast. A bigger pizza and more beer and wine back at the camp to refuel was definitely in order.
The second trail, up to the top of Yosemite Falls, was even more spectacular the following day. Fresh legs before definitely helped as we skipped the morning run and opted just for the 10 mile round trip to 1600m plus above sea level. The switch back rammed trail was definitely worth it as you were constantly rewarded with views of the waterfall (ran out of superlatives) eking closer and closer. About half a mile from the top we suddenly hit the snow line and had to scramble through shin deep snow, in places, to get to the edge of the falls. The views were incredible and the snow wasn’t present over the crest of the hill leaving lovely flat rocks to bask on and enjoyed a well deserved packed lunch. After enjoying the views for a while and getting the obligatory photographs we decided to head back down as, after seeing what we did in the Grand Canyon, watching the daredevils (or idiots as we’d taken to calling them) pushing limits of gravity to get a selfie became a bit too much. The snow made the start of the descent more like skiing than hiking and despite a few hilarious hairy wobbles we got back below the snow line and enjoyed the views of the valley for pretty much all of the 90 min walk back down.
After having some incredible weather over the last few weeks we were probably due some rain, we were certainly in need of an easier day, and so the weather that rolled in over night wasn’t that unwelcome. It was the 91st day of our trip which meant we were halfway through this over indulged journey. With 91 days left and the rain falling we were in no rush to get on with anything, although it wasn’t quite warm enough to lie in bed all morning (that $5 dollars starting to seem quite good value for money) but we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the lounge. The sun reappeared around lunch time and Suzanne set off for a late birthday treat: a 4 hour photography lesson by the professionals at the valley’s Ansel Adams Gallery. Look out for even better photos for the second half of our trip! After surviving one last night in the tent we had until 5pm to take in as much of the scenery as we could. Miscalculating the distance out to a bridge was a good way to start so we ended up with a longer morning run that we had planned but found some nice trails winding round the forests on the valley floor. After some travelling admin we hopped on the shuttle bus out to another waterfall a bit further down the valley where you could walk very close to the base and get drenched in its mist. Guaranteed to bring out the 5 year old in you! To finish our epic Yosemite adventure we hiked the 5 miles back to camp to get our bags and wait for our ride out only regretting not seeing any bears.
Now on the bus leaving Yosemite we have 11 nights left in the USA, trying to work out what has been the best experience we’ve had so far and what adventures could possibly be waiting for us in the next 90 days!