California’s Yosemite National Park is truly one of the most breathtaking places on Earth. We chose it as our first destination on our very first RV trip, back in December 2014–when we ended up driving a rented 30-foot Class C motorhome up a narrow, winding mountain road into the Yosemite Valley, climbing into the clouds on the way, arriving after dark, and then parking in the pouring rain, without a flashlight.
Yeah, we’ve learned a lot since then.
Although we got to explore the valley on that trip, the road up to Glacier Point on the valley’s south rim was closed for the winter. So that location was at the top of our list of places to explore during our month-long stay at Park of the Sierras, a beautiful Escapees co-op park in the Sierra foothills. And being there in October allowed us to miss most of the crowds that tend to choke Yosemite during the summer, as well as the winter weather that will inevitably close Glacier Point for the season within the next few weeks.
A 90-minute drive from Park of the Sierras brought us into Yosemite through the south entrance near Wawona, and then up the narrow and twisting Glacier Point Road. Along the way, we passed a large area of the park, south of the valley, that has been smoldering for weeks, filling the air with smoke. Because fire is now understood as an important part of the forest lifecycle, the Park Service allows naturally-caused fires to burn out on their own, as long as they don’t threaten people or property.
Just before the end of the road at Glacier Point, we stopped at Washburn Point for our first exhilarating views into the Yosemite Valley below. (Click any of the following images to see them full size.)
From Washburn Point, we could see Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls far below us. Their flow was merely a trickle compared to what it will be in the spring when they’re fed by melting snows.
From there, we drove the rest of the way up to the end of the road. A quarter-mile walk brought us to Glacier Point and this commanding view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Yosemite’s high country. The valley floor was more than 3,200 feet below us.
We spread out our picnic blanket on the rocks and enjoyed one of the most spectacular lunch stops ever.
After lunch, we crept to the edge of the granite cliff, and had another visitor take our picture. It really was an almost sheer drop straight to the valley floor just a few feet behind us.
We spied this squirrel sitting perfectly still nearby. I guess he was admiring the view into the valley just as we were.
In one of the visitor’s centers, we saw an old (1910s) photo of two women standing on Overhanging Rock. Having seen it in person now…um, no thanks.
Across the valley, Yosemite Falls was still flowing, although it was merely a trickle compared to when we saw it on a warm-ish winter day a few years ago. When the Merced River originally cut this valley, it left Yosemite Creek hanging high up on the north side, creating the falls.
Through a telescope or a long telephoto lens, we could just barely make out a pair of climbers scaling the southwestern face of Half Dome. Again: no thanks.
On the other hand, if you hike up through the Little Yosemite Valley, it’s possible to actually walk up the northern side of Half Dome along a pair of cable handrails. I assume that’s how these brave people ended up standing near the very tip of Half Dome’s overhang.
We could have easily spent several more hours drinking in the breathtaking view from Glacier Point–the magnificence is so vast that you just can’t absorb it all. But we wanted to get a hike in, so we drove about two miles back down Glacier Point Road to the Sentinel Dome trailhead. The 1.1 mile (each way) trail climbs steadily through the thin forest and across open granite slopes toward the massive granite dome.
We were definitely feeling the effects of the thinner air at our 7,800-foot altitude, which made for slow going. And Cheryl tripped on the rocky trail and banged up her knee, so she decided to wait below the dome itself while I made the final ascent to the top.
Another quarter-mile or so brought me to the bottom of the dome. From here, there was no real trail, and it was just a matter of scrambling up the last 200 feet of granite.
By the time I got to the top, smoke from the fires south of the valley and the raging wildfires in Napa and Sonoma Counties had infiltrated the valley below me. But despite the smoke and the low angle of the afternoon sun, I was still able to make out the sheer cliff of El Capitan in the lower part of the Yosemite Valley.
By walking around the top of the dome, I had a 360-degree view of the landscape below.
Finally, I started back down to meet up with Cheryl. Going down the side of the dome was a bit more unnerving than going up. I chose my footing carefully as I zigzagged downwards to rejoin the marked trail below.
A few minutes later, I rejoined Cheryl, and we made the much easier (and faster) downhill hike back to the truck. And about an hour later, we were in the town of Oakhurst (12 miles north of Park of the Sierras), enjoying a well-earned dinner at a local micro-brewery.
There is just so much to explore in Yosemite National Park. I hope we’ll be able to get back there for another day trip while we’re in the area.