On Sunday we went for our first big trip: 4 hours drive each way to Yosemite National Park. This park is incredibly beautiful, with huge granite cliffs and forests. (See the slideshow of photos from Yosemite.)
We left just after 5am, and drove through the San Joaquin Valley. It was distinctly rural (smelled like chickens). The horizon stretched a long way ahead and the road was very straight for around 40 miles... signs advertised "Dickey Petroleum Farmers Oil" and "John Deere Tractors".
We stopped at Mariposa, the last small town about an hour's drive from Yosemite, to have a nap. We ended up having two naps of half an hour each in a vain attempt to sleep in the car, throwing our still-forming new sleeping patterns out. Just a bit uncomfortable.
So slightly bleary-eyed, we drove into the park. The hills mostly consisted of yellow hillsides with patchy scrub. The Merced River flowed swiftly and deeply on one side of a narrow, two-lane highway, while the other side was a rock face with pale purple wild flowers growing. Hawks circled on the breeze. There were no fences.
Here and there, stone walls and bridges hinted at Yosemite's history as a tourist destination for 100 years. Temporary Bailey bridges crossed the river where a large rockslide had wiped out the road.
We stopped at an area where the river fell impressively down some huge boulders. When we drove off, a rattling alerted Brendan to the fact he'd left the sunscreen and his sunglasses on top of the car. Stopping on the narrow highway, we quickly reversed back into the spot and grabbed them from the road, although the ruins of the sunscreen lid was spotted as we left much later, crushed completely.
Driving through the park, huge walls of granite rose on either side of forest on the valley floor. Suddenly the forest gave way to a broad, grassy meadow with El Capitan, a rock formation, on the left. Brendan said, "Stop the car!" and I screeched off the road and onto the gravel siding, heavily thumping the car as I did so. When I stopped, I noticed a little Asian couple standing on the side of the road, staring at me with mouths open in unison. They did this for so long that I thought maybe I'd broken the car and got out to check!
So just a bit up the road was Bridalveil Falls, and more views of El Capitan. It's a very recognizable landmark in the valley, being one of the first things you see as you enter from our end. We walked up the short path that lead to the waterfall. Spray blew everywhere, and we and the camera were drenched. Spring is the best time to see the waterfalls here, and we weren't disappointed.
Another place we went was supposed to be a swing bridge, but we never saw that. Just a wooden bridge across the water. The Merced River was calm here, shallow,and very bright green. Kids waded out to the sandbar to swim, and others rafted. Brendan and I saw a thin little eel in the water - it looked and moved like a snake because it was so long and thin. The water was sparkling and clear.
We also checked out the visitors centre very very quickly with the interactive musuem there which reminded me of Te Papa, and the Ansel Adams Photography Gallery - he did some amazing pictures. I wanted to stay there longer, but it was getting late and we needed to find a place for our 1pm nap. But we do now have another ridiculous squashed penny for our collection.
So we napped at YellowPine, a small wooded area away from the crowds of tourists and the road. I woke up around 2, and it was so peaceful and quiet in the trees away from everyone else. The birds were singing, the river was a very short distance away... heaven. I wish we had much longer in the park, it was so calm.
We had lunch there - Brendan was very naughty and fed the squirrels that came begging, even though you're not allowed to! They took food right of his hands and ran a short distance away, nibbling it. Oh well, at least we got our squirrel photos. And these squirrels knew exactly what to do!
After lunch we had to park the car and take a shuttle bus to the back part of the park. We walked to "Happy Isles", a series of small islands linked by bridges between two rivers which joined and split at different points, and "Mirror Lake" which is a seasonal stream. In summer, it turns into a meadow. It's very calm in places and the reflections are amazing, so I was keen to go there.
It was too late to go to Taft Point, a great lookout of several hours walk, so instead we did the quick walk to Lower Yosemite Falls. This was pretty amazing - the sun was setting in the valley, and the mountains were all lit up. Brendan and I climbed up the slippery wet rocks to the bottom of the falls, which roared down with incredible spray - in no time at all we were saturated.
We stopped to take one last photo. I walked into the centre of the meadow, and walked out again. When I got to the car, Brendan told me there was a bear in the meadow! Luckily it was on the other side though, about 100 m from me. We watched it loping along for a while.
Bears are dangerous - they can kill you. There are anti-bear rubbish bins everywhere, and signs warning people not to feed them or leave anything that smells in their cars. Bears can peel back a car door easily to get to the food inside, and sometime the rangers have to shoot them if they are too used to humans.
Lastly we saw a mule deer on the side of the road. We got back around 12.30. All in all, a fantastic trip! I can't wait to go again and bring some friends. :)