Friday, 28 June 2013

A couple of walks in Yosemite

We have decided to walk the Panorama Trail down from Glacier Point back to our camp site. There is a very good website here which describes the walk and provides a map and a download to a phone. Their description of the walk is:

There is no better hike in Yosemite National Park which offers the amazing views of Half Dome, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, Illilouette Fall, Yosemite Fall, and the entire Valley than the Panorama Trail. This 8.5-mile hike will take you on an adventure from Glacier Point, high above the valley, down to the Mist Trail where you will hike next to both Nevada and Vernal Falls. The hike ends near Curry Village where you can grab a bite to eat or take the free shuttle to anywhere in the park.

While this hike loses 2,800ft in elevation, it is not an easy hike; some would even rate it as strenuous. After the initial climb down to Illilouette Fall you will hike back up 800ft of steep switchbacks before hiking down the same distance immediately after. The Mist Trail can be especially tough on the knees, especially the section from the top of Nevada Fall to Vernal Fall, which is almost exclusively made up of small stone steps.

But don’t let that discourage you, the views of the Falls, the Valley, and the surrounding area more than make up for the aches and pains you may keep with you the next few days.

The distance is around 8.5 miles (the longest figure we have seen is 8.9) and it is graded as Difficult (or even Strenuous) but we think we can cope with this – after all, we have walked a number of sections of the Great Wall of China and the northern section of The Pennine Way!

One way bus tickets are available to take you up to Glacier Point – we purchased ours over the phone a few days before hand and collected them the day before hand. We found out when we were in the queue for the bus that they oversell tickets and therefore you need to make sure of your place towards the front of the queue otherwise you will get left behind with no compensation other than your money back.

An hour on the bus gets you to Glacier Point

Glacier Point Map

from where the view down into the valley

GP View

and of the mountains around

GP View-1

is absolutely amazing.

GP VIew-2

The waterfall in the middle of this picture is Yosemite Falls

GP View-3

and the one on the right of this picture is Nevada Falls, across which we were due to walk.

GP Panorama Marker

The start of the downward trail actually goes upwards for a bit

Panorama View

but then there is a gentle downhill section for a mile or so – at this point we thought “this is not to bad at all”

Panorama Nevada Falls

The view constantly changes as you walk down the valley

Panorama View-2

and we got to sea Half-Dome from all sides.

Panorama Trail

The track starts off quite easy

Panorama Typical Marker

until you pass Illilouet Falls when there is a hard upwards section that seems to go on for ever (at least it did in the 35C sun)

Panorama Deer

although our spirits were raised by this deer which was resting under a tree and then slightly worried by some Bear droppings we found in the middle of the track.

Panorama View-1

The views are long and large throughout the walk.

Nevada FallsNevada Falls-1

By the time we got to Nevada Falls we were quite tired but little did we know that the worse was yet to come. The steps down from the picture on the left to the picture on the right are very hard on the knees and very uneven and seemingly unending.

Vernal Falls

Then there are yet more difficult and slippery steps down to Vernal Falls and a long walk back to the bus stop.  It was a fabulous walk with fantastic views but we were exhausted when we got back to the van. Would we do it again? Yes but only when we are younger!

The next day we decided to do an easy 1 mile round trip on the flat down in the valley to see Yosemite Falls. This is the walk which practically everyone does because it is on the flat and even those for whom exercise is not the norm can cope with it.

To get to the start of the walk, we used the extremely


efficient Yosemite Free Shuttle Bus service – there are buses every 10 minutes during the main part of the day and every 20 minutes at other times (early and late in the day). The bus service is slow but you do not have to find anywhere to park.

People at the base of lower falls 

If you walk to the official viewing point at the bottom of the falls,

Lower Falls

you can enjoy the lower falls along with hundreds of other people and you can see them climbing over the rocks to get to the bottom of the falls. You can also get them in your pictures so you have them as a souvenir of your visit when you get home.

Alternatively, if you walk anti-clockwise around the loop and look for a small sign saying “Falls View”

Falls View-2

you can go along a cul-de-sac and sit on a bench at exactly the spot where John Muir built himself a cabin in the late 1800s and see both the lower and upper falls in total peace, quiet and isolation. We had the bench to ourselves because everyone else wanted to be as close as possible to the water.

Falls View Falls View-1 

From this peaceful point, we saw the water in the Upper Falls move around in the wind, sometimes falling straight down, sometimes blowing sideways. If you go closer to the falls, you cannot see the Upper Falls at all.

Now you know the best spot to go to – do not tell anyone else.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Getting to Yosemite

Going to Yosemite is on the must do list for many people, “too many people” some would say and perhaps over 4 million a year is a lot.

The challenge for the “plan ahead RVer” who does not want to risk turning up for one of the small number of “first come first served” pitches which might be available is to reserve a site in one of the 13 official camp sites around the park (don’t even think of trying to park up and camp anywhere but an official park). Booking has to be done through the official website Recreation.Gov or by phone and can only be done when the booking window opens for the date you wish to stay – we wanted a late June date and the window opened at 7 am PST on Friday February 15th. When you research the booking process, you rapidly learn that all pitches are likely to be booked within minutes of the 7 am opening and that your chances of making a phone booking are slim. There is even a warning on the official website that every pitch is likely to be booked within a few minutes. There are only 1445 pitches of all categories in the whole park and this is not enough to satisfy demand.

So we:

  • opened our official account and practiced before hand by trial booking pitches on one of the few dates in the coming months when there were vacancies;
  • researched various camp sites to work out which were our preferred pitches (although if it came to it, we would take whatever was available anywhere)

and an hour before the magic 7 am PST (3 pm in the UK):

  • logged three computers into the website;
  • selected our preferred pitches in three different camp sites
  • opened a PST countdown clock on one screen

and waited for exactly 7 am PST when on the second, we clicked all three mice and after a very long five seconds, we saw that we had been lucky enough to get not only our

Booking Yosemite

preferred camp site (North Pines) but also our preferred pitch. At that point, we could breath a sigh of relief because we had 15 minutes to complete the purchase. Subsequently it turned out that all of the central sites were booked by 7.08 PST and every site in Yosemite was booked by 7.15 PST.

Mariposa Grove

We are approaching Yosemite from the south and hence our first destination in Mariposa Grove. Having paid our entry fee (we chose the America Pass for $80 because taking into account the number of parks we are visiting, it will work out cheaper in the long run) we were allowed to drive to the Grove – allowed because vehicles over 25 ft are not allowed to go there and if you do not get there within a hour or so of its opening time, you will not be able to park.

Mariposa Grove Map 

The Grove contains is one of a small number of places where California Redwoods and Giant Sequoias still grow

MG Fallen Monarch 

Tree lovers have a habit of naming trees and so the above is named “Fallen Monarch” – I show this picture because it illustrates the foot structure of the trees here – they have

MP Fallen Monarch

fairly shallow roots (about 2 metres) but the roots spread out around 50 metres from the tree in order to gain enough water.

MG Tall Redwood MG Tall Redwood-1 MG Batchelor and Three GracesRedwoods can grow to over 100 metres tall and whilst there are no really large specimens here, those that are growing are pretty impressive.

Again following the naming theme beloved of tree enthusiasts, this clump are called “The Bachelor and Three Graces”.

Nearby is another large specimen – not as tall as others because it has lost its top, it is still impressive in its girth.

MG Grizzly

when one says not as tall as others, the Park Authorities

MG Grizzly size

have helpfully provided a comparison chart.

 MG Tunnel Tree Picture MG Pat in Tunnel Tree

When trees get as big as this, everything gets scaled up

MG large cone

as this cone shows – it is about 25cms long.

There are not many trees left standing which can (or were ) driven through because cutting a large enough hole in the base (a pretty stupid thing to want to do in the first place) usually irreparably damages the tree. However there is one left here which is now restricted to walking traffic.

MG Pat under burnt tree

Fires spreading across the forest floor are an essential part of the management of a healthy forest. Sometimes it kills a growing tree (as in the above picture),

MG a faithful couple

sometimes it damages the tree slightly but has no long term effect. The above pair of trees are known as The Faithful Couple” because two trees have grown from one base. The couple sitting at the base of the trees are remembering that today is the 43rd anniversary of them meeting at around 1345 at Victoria Coach Station in London on June 25th 1970 – obviously they are still travelling!

MG Clothespin tree

This tree is known as “The Clothes Pin” (which is American for a Clothes Peg). The hole through the tree is also due to the effects of a forest fire.

One of the unfortunate effects of so many visitors is that many of the native animals have lost their shyness and beg for food from visitors.

MG Wildlife

MG Wildlife-1

Here we have an American Squirrel successfully begging for a biscuit from a tourist (not us) – biscuits are not part of their normal diet and do not provide the appropriate nutrients.

North Pines in Yosemite Valley

Having seen the Grove, we set off for our camp site some 30 miles away down a long and winding road. As one approaches The Valley (as it is called), the scenery gets more and more stupendous. We have been to many beautiful places in the world and are used to fantastic scenery and therefore our scoring chart has a very high entry level.

Yosemite second view

Eventually you go through a a long tunnel and when you come out, in front of you is the above and below scenes -

Yosemite third view

Jaw dropping to say the least. Listening to those around us

Yosemite sharing the view

(and many of the four million were there), everyone was astonished at what was in front of them.

North Pines pitch

Eventually we get to Pitch 524 at North Pines. At the camp ground entry kiosk were are asked to show our identity papers to prove we were the same names as on the reservation (this stops people reselling their reservations at higher prices) and then told that 524 was one of the really good ones. Actually we knew this because we had done our research before hand but it was nice to have it confirmed.

North Pines Pitch-1 North Pines Pitch-2

It is a tight pitch (as are all of them) and manoeuvring a 25ft vehicle that we had been driving for only four days into it was a challenge

North Pines Pitch view

but it was worth it – the view from our camp chair with an obligatory very cold beer and crisps (for any American readers - potato chips) was wonderful. The quietly flowing River Merced (River of Mercy) was immediately in front of our van windows, we had introduced ourselves to a very nice family on the neighbouring pitch and we were ready to enjoy the park – all for $20 a night.

Monday, 24 June 2013


A few miles from Monterey is Salinas which has fame from its days during the depression and is now surrounded by enormous fields tended to by large machines and lots of immigrant labour.

Cinema Salinas

Whilst the outskirts of the town are quite horrible, the old inner core remains reasonably untouched and there has

Shops Salinas 

been at attempt to give it a new life as a tourist / night life quarter

Cinema Salinas-1 Cinema Salinas-2

There are three old cinemas in the street and their art deco style is obvious and is reflected in the tiles decorating the building.

Tiles Salinas

Shop Salinas 

This shop seems not to have changed its window display since the 1930’s.

Shop Salinas-2 

Some have been modernised a little unsympathetically

Office Salinas 

whilst others look unchanged other than

Office Salinas-1 

Store Sainas

having had a good re-decoration.

The John Steinbeck Centre has been created at the end of the street and is totally out of keeping with the buildings around it.

John Steinbeck Centre

Inside they show a film about his life and a less than interesting film about vegetable growing (although you will know that the area produces 70% of the nation’s lettuce when you have watched the film).


There is also a rather good exhibition hall about his life and works and the time in which they were set  – good means you have to work at reading the information about the exhibits.

Steinbeck-5 Pat Steinbeck

There are also some of the original handwritten drafts of his books


numerous cinema posters of the films made of the books


and copies of newspaper articles which were vehemently


against him and his writing – so strongly written in fact that he stopped writing novels.


His writing did however have the effect of getting Eleanor Roosevelt to come to the area to see how bad the living conditions of the workers were, much to the annoyance of the farmers.

Steinbeck House

A few blocks away is the house within which he was born –

Steinbeck House-1

this is now a restaurant open 6 days a week. The front door

Steinbeck House-2

was open when we pulled up outside and so we nipped inside and took a few photographs without anyone noticing. 

And as we drive east towards Yosemite, one of those

Classic Road Picture

classic road trip pictures appears ahead of us – a long straight stretch of black tarmac with nothing else in sight.