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Ahhhh, Yosemite. Heart of my heart.

How does one begin to capture the magnitude of its magnificence? A park for everyone, for all time, indeed. One of the things we loved about Yosemite logistically is that you can truly spend as much or as little on your visit as you’d like. You can spend $600/night at the (now named) Majestic Yosemite, or you can spend $6/pp/night camping in Camp 4. You can spend $5 for a coffee from Degnan’s, or you can make your own, since potable water (and dumping) are available for free in the park. You can spend $90 and raft down the Merced, or $0 and climb up to Yosemite Falls. And then go get a free shower (if you bring your own towel) at one of the villages, and then go for a FREE hotel tour – soaking in the best of the nationally registered historic building while saving, well, $600 a night.

And then there are the sensory overloads. The avalanches of water you can hear from virtually anywhere in the park (“oh look, another waterfall”)…the beauty of the dogwoods in bloom…the rainbows in the waterfalls…I think I cried at least once a day at the splendor around me. I loved feeling small and humbled by nature. For whatever reason, landscape like this does not invoke in me the fear or loneliness that the ocean does, and it feels very natural to me to feel small in the midst of such grandeur. The light manipulates the environment with every cloud and every hour, leaving you enthralled with the next iteration of granite that will appear from the same space.

And of course, the history and historic buildings. Did you know that land for what would become Yosemite was actually initially designated in 1964 by Abraham Lincoln? Did you know the Majestic Yosemite used to be a hospital for soldiers in WWII? I am such a sucker for this kind of stuff. I recommend going to as many talks and walks as you desire; it is a great way to learn about the park and enhance your time there. All this from just a two week stint in the beginning of May 2017.

I only mention the timing because while Tioga Road was still closed this early in the year, the waterfalls were running full (full full), the road to Glacier Point was open, and the park was still not too crowded. For us, it was a great time to go and we highly recommend it to avoid the summer madness. During our stay, we experienced pretty much every type of lodging situation possible, with the exception of staying in one of the villages or hotels (or backcountry). We paid for a few nights in North Pines and Lower Pines campgrounds. We lined up at 5:30 a.m. and paid to stay in Camp 4 and camped in our hammocks (too cold; did not sleep; branches fell on our heads; the end). We did not line up at 5:30 a.m. because there was no need (due to the time of year) and paid to stay in Camp 4 and stayed in our van instead (one of 2 times in vanlife we have gotten knocked on in the morning. Oops). We illegally stayed at a trailhead in our van for one night*. We stayed just outside the park in El Portal on the side of the road (locals do not like it; they honk at you all night; I can’t say I blame them; the end). We stayed just outside the opposite side of the park at a free campsite that was beautiful and had amazing cell reception. So…lots of sleeping options. Interestingly, as I mentioned, we were there at the very beginning of May. We met a couple who had been there the last week of April into the first week of May. Their experience was that before the calendar flipped to May 1, the rangers and park personnel were very lenient on enforcing park regulations (particularly about camping). They said after May 1 more summer personnel arrived and typical regulations started being enforced more heavily. While we did break the rules a few times, we were lucky to get off with a warning; we met people who had incurred large fines for breaking the rules of park. We DO NOT recommend it.

Some random details that might help someone plan their stay:

  • Showering in the park (at Half Dome Village or Housekeeping Camp) was very easy, especially after we found out it was free if you are staying in the park and bring your own towel. We recommend going later in the day and not on a weekend so your wait time is the shortest. (By the way, this knucklehead literally thought “Housekeeping Village” was perhaps where the park’s summer housekeeping staff stayed. I was wrong. Do not be like me.)
  • I also recommend showering while you are doing your laundry if you need that – they are right next to each other and it’s a good way to kill two birds with one stone. Plus, you meet people from all over the world in the laundromat area – bonus!
  • The Upper Pines campground allows you to drive in and dump and get potable water for free, even if you are not staying there. Such an amazing amenity!
  • Cell reception was fairly good within the valley (we use an AT&T hotspot). I actually had to do a coaching session with a client and had no problem with lag time or internet speed from my parking spot.
  • I narrowly missed seeing a mountain lion on my solo walk to Mirror Lake; I was sad – Stephen was grateful. Just know, the warning signs are not for show-and-tell.
  • We had amazing hikes to Upper Yosemite Falls and Nevada Falls; people (regulars to Yosemite) on the trail said it was the edge of the best time to do these types of hikes; the trails get very crowded as the season progresses.
    • If you hike to Nevada Falls, we highly recommend hiking up the steps and down the other way (or vice versa), which offers amazing views of the falls from a different angle. We do not recommend hiking near a party containing a woman singing at the top of her lungs. Run away from her. She has no trail etiquette.
    • If you hike to Upper Yosemite Falls, enjoy watching all the teenagers in Chuck Taylors leap past you as you keep stopping to “take in the scenery” after ANOTHER set of granite steps and switchbacks.
    • Also if you do this hike, do not be dumb like us and plan to turn around at Columbia Rock but then decide to keep going with inadequate water and less food and then cry on the way down because you need water and almost scream at your husband were it not for the other people on the trail who would think you a crazy lady and oh your boot just broke at least you have your hiking medical kit to tape it and never in my life have I spent as much time descending as ascending we know better than to be this stupid I hate you I love you this hike was insane but oh so beautiful the end.

Revisiting Yosemite memories brings back such a flood of happiness, it makes me want to return. Since it’s now October, maybe it’s time for another visit on the opposite end of the tourist season.

*I am including this point for honesty’s sake. We are terrible people for doing it. It is illegal and I would not recommend it to anyone. Do not be like us.

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