Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Great American Roadtrip Part 3

I saw a report on ABC news about a week before Andy and I left on our vacation. Apparently, a university study was just completed on maximizing the enjoyment of a family vacation. I don't know how you'd go about making a scientific research project of such a thing but some psych students somewhere did, and they had some pointers to share with the audience of ABC news with Diane Sawyer. One of their major points was that around day 3 or 4, you are at your most tired, after traveling and trying to adjust to new surroundings, so days 3 and/or 4 are the least enjoyable days of your trip. When I woke up on Monday morning, after a very cold night's sleep (did I mention it was COLD at night!?) I could say I was in complete agreement with the report.

I was not the only one caught off guard by the chilly temps. Daisy, my baby girl, was shaking from the time the sun went down until she crawled in the tent with us. I intentionally left the doggies hair long, which was miserably hot on them while we were in Texas, but well worth it when we got up to Yosemite (they usually have a very short summer haircut). Even so, Daisy was shivering, even after she curled up in her fleece bed. Daisy is a baby for a reason- I've spoiled her rotten. So of course I couldn't let her lay down at my feet shivering all night. I actually let her get in the sleeping bag with me, where she immediately curled into a ball somewhere between my knees and fell fast asleep. But I was afraid she would suffocate under there, so I kept waking up every hour or so to check and make sure she was breathing. I've had better nights of sleep.

Gatsby was eating up the entire adventure experience. The prospect of living outdoors where he can play ball pretty much nonstop was an absolute thrill, and I'm pretty sure that he believed he was helping Andy in any sort of man-duty like chopping wood or starting the fire. Not shivering at all, he spent the night in his fleece bed like a big boy.

We were a bit slow getting started that morning. We had some eggs and bacon and then finally got on our way to the Valley. We paused again on our way down, and took some shots of the Valley in the morning mist.

Our objective was to obtain permits for hiking Half Dome. Backstory: Up until a few years ago, hikers have been free to hike the 8 mile trail up to Half Dome without having to obtain a permit. But as more and more visitors began to take up the challenge of Half Dome, which includes a challenging hike up steep, sometimes soaking wet trails and concludes with a precipitous ascent up some very scary looking cables (pictures of the cables will be in another post), the park decided to start requiring those interested in ascending the cable route to have a permit. Up until this year, a permit was only required for weekend hikes, but in 2010, even weekday foot-traffic on Half Dome was so heavy, that the Park decided to require a permit for every day of the week.

The problem with the permits is that, like campground reservations, they were"sold out" almost immediately after being released this winter. I say "sold" because the Park does not actually charge anything for the permits. They just have to be registered for online. But I did learn later on, however, that somebody out there was trying to profit from the permits. Apparently, when the permits were available back in the winter months, people registered for them online and then began to sell them on ebay. Maybe some folks got permits thinking they would make it out to Yosemite this summer, but then their plans changed. For whatever reason, in mid-July, the Park realized that not as many people were showing up for Half Dome as had signed up for all those online permits. So, to our advantage, starting at the end of July, Yosemite's mountaineering office began to release fifty permits daily at 7AM for those hikers who were already in the Park and would be ready to hike Half Dome the very next day. I'll blame it on hubris of the young, but Andy and I mozied down to the Valley around 10AM on Monday, half expecting to obtain one of those permits. We had no idea how intense it was to get one of the early-morning release permits, but we would soon find out... What we did learn Monday morning was that we would need to come down to the Valley early Tuesday morning and sign into the Yosemite mountaineering website just before 7AM to try to obtain a permit. We had discovered that Curry Village was a good place to receive 3G service, so we devised a plan to come down to Curry Village early Tuesday morning and try to get the permit. With that, we had, more or less, accomplished our mission for Monday. But it had taken some time. We had fought crowds in Yosemite Village and Andy had stood in line for quite some time at the Mountaineering Office to obtain information about the permits while I waited outside with the dogs. Feeling weary and frustrated, we decided to get out of the crowded valley and take a leisurely drive up the Tioga Road.

The roads you can drive through Yosemite sort of take on the shape of four fingers. If you hold out your left hand, palm facing you, and look at your four fingers, these are basically the options you'd have to explore Yosemite by car. If your pinky was much longer and pointed down (Southward) it would be the Wawona Road, which is actually 30 some odd miles long and takes visitors from the South Entrance up to the Valley. But before the Valley, the Wawona Road intersects with Glacier Point Rd., the road that led Andy & I to our perfect campsite at Bridalveil Creek. Following Glacier Point Road to its end, brings visitors to a (as we are told, we ran out of time and never visited) spectacular vista with beautiful views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley. Glacier Point Road would be like your ring finger, but again, longer. If you decided to bypass the Glacier Point Road and continue up Wawona Road, going North from the South Entrance (which was the tip of your pinky), then you would, within about 15 miles or so, come directly into Yosemite Valley. Here's where the finger thing sort of fails, because the road that leads into the Valley is not the longest road, like your middle finger is your longest finger, and, in fact, it actually loops around, so that as you drive through the Valley, you are traveling in one-way traffic the majority of the time. So, I guess if you can use your imagination, form a "loop" with your middle finger, which would make it about half the length, and there you have the road that takes you into Yosemite Valley, which is where there are lots of places of interest including Curry Village, Yosemite Village, several campgrounds, the famous Awhanee Lodge, a chapel, even a U.S. District Court. But, as Andy & I were in our 4th and crankiest day of vacation, we wanted to escape the crowds in the Valley, which made the Tioga Road, the index finger, but much, much longer and more remote, the perfect place to cruise on Monday afternoon.

The Tioga Road leads to a lesser-known Yosemite, but I don't think it was any less beautiful. The "end point" (although the road does continue on and leads visitors out of the park at the Northernmost entrance/exit) is a beautiful place called Toulumne Meadows. Of all of the places in Yosemite that I am most excited to go back and explore, Toulumne Meadows tops the list. Not only does the Tioga Road lead up, as in a Northerly direction, it also leads up in elevation, making the Toulumne Meadows area some of the highest country in the Park. It's cool and serene and beautiful up there, but I'll shut up now and just show you some pictures.

This is Tenaya Lake, a crystal clear mountain lake surrounded by impressive granite rock formations. We saw several groups of climbers taking on some of the rocks and Andy was thrilled. He's determined to come back and climb Yosemite!

Gatsby, not impressed with climbing, only wanted to swim. :)

Even Daisy joined in. I can't imagine how cold that water must have been, but both doggies were wild after their swim! We chased them around on the rocks along the shore to warm them up.

I was impressed with all of it!

On our way back South on the Tioga Road, we stopped at Olmsted Point, which affords a unique view of Half Dome.

At Olmsted Point, we met some young British guys (we met a lot of Brits on this trip- turns out the Great American Roadtrip is actually taken by a lot of Europeans!) who were goofing off taking pictures that made it look like they were struggling to climb up some of the rocks. We had a good laugh over their silly shots and then tried to take some ourselves. We felt as goofy as we look. :)

Back at camp, we relaxed, much refreshed by our visit to the high country. Andy helped me make some pancakes and we turned in pretty early, knowing we would have to be down at Curry Village before 7 the next morning to try to get the Half Dome permits. This was also the eve of Andy's 29th birthday. Little did we know the present God would graciously give to Andy the next morning...

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