Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Yosemite Day 5

The mountains were gorgeous as we drove into Yosemite. 
We didn’t sleep in much, but we were glad to get a little later start today. By the time we finished a meager breakfast at the hotel it was a little after eight o’clock. Since most of the day was driving, we knew that it might be a long one.

We drove back toward Yosemite to do one more hike. This one was called the Soda Springs hike at Tuolomne Meadows. We stopped at the ranger station and turned in the Junior Rangers first. The ranger was really excited that the boys had seen two bobcats and bear. He was really cute with them saying their pledge, and afterward he had everyone in the Visitor’s Center give them a round of applause.
The entrance station is at a pretty high elevation.
The hike was 1.5 miles roundtrip out to a small cabin and spring. We didn’t push the boys too hard, but we let them stop and look in each of the streams we crossed. They enjoyed spotting fish, playing pooh sticks, and throwing rocks in the water. The hike was across a wide flat meadow, and we saw three huge bucks browsing on the prairie grass. When we got to the spring, Dad decided to try the water. The ranger had called it the Perrier of Yosemite, and it was slightly carbonated. Of course, all the boys tried it, too, but Dax was the only one who dared to like it.
The Tuolomne Meadows was a beautiful part of Yosemite. 
Mark and Dad spotted an Osprey.
The boys have been great hikers on this trip. 
Yosemite was amazingly beautiful. Mom couldn't get enough!
We have to play Pooh Sticks at every bridge we cross now. 
Dad makes Mom show up in pictures every now and then. 
We saw 4 bucks and a doe while we were walking through the meadow.
We watched them from across the river for quite awhile. 
There are a few different bubbling spots in this natural spring.
Dax took lots of sips!
We made the long drive across Yosemite for the third and final time. Then we headed up Glacier Point Road. We weren’t really sure what to expect, but we knew we’d have to ride the shuttle to the three stops we wanted to make. But by some miracle, the ranger waved us through and then set up cones behind us. We stopped at Summit Meadow and took some pictures of Mom in the wildflowers. Then we drove out to Washburn Point, which gave us a pretty nice view of Nevada and Vernal Falls. Finally, we drove to the very end of the road at Glacier Point. Mom whipped up a quick lunch in the van as it was nearly noon, and then we walked over to see what all the fuss was about. Glacier Point stands high above the Yosemite Valley. There is a 270 degree view of the valley, and you can see it all. Tiny cars crowded around the buildings, Half Dome, Upper Yosemite Falls, Lower Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, Nevada Falls, and Vernal Falls. One felt a little like God looking down on His creations from the crowds. We looked for a long time and took dozens of pictures.
Glacier Point was stunning. The lower waterfall is Vernal Falls that we hiked to yesterday.
We spent a lot of time admiring the scenery.
It was awesome to look down at the roads that we drove yesterday.
We loved being able to get such an amazing view of Half Dome.
This is a panorama shot from Glacier Point. I didn't quite get the waterfalls in this shot. 
Dad took lots of pictures of Mom today. 
Mom loves the wildflowers.
The next leg of the drive was the big one. We drove all the way back to the north end of the park and then turned west toward San Francisco. After a little while, we turned north and Mom began to recognize the towns and landscape from when she was a little girl. Part of the reason we came to this part of the country is that Mom lived in the area from ages six to twelve. She was excited looking at the map and winding roads. Finally, we turned up into the hills of Calaveras County toward Big Trees where she spent so much time as a child. We didn’t get checked in at our cabin until after 6 o’clock, and it was seven by the team we finished dinner, which was pasta and meatballs. The cabin was really nice. It had two big bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, and large living room, but it still maintained the feel of a cabin. There was also a large backyard where the boys played stick baseball. We ate on a nice picnic table outside. About the only problem was the heat, as there was no air conditioning.
Mom was so excited to be back in Calaveras County to show her boys where she grew up.
Mom jumped frogs at the county fair every year.  
Mom has a lot of fond memories of Big Trees. 
The boys love camping. Pinecone baseball is their absolute favorite camping game. 

We weren’t quite ready for bed, so we drove down to the North Grove of the Big Trees. The boys were astounded at the massive stump of Discovery Tree, which was used as a dance floor in the early 1900s. Mark spotted a white-faced woodpecker, which means this is his new favorite place. Everything was just as Mom remembered it, and she was really glad the boys loved it, too. After reading stories and eating cookies and milk in the cabin, we finally put the kids to bed late. They deserve to sleep in a bit tomorrow, too. We might even let them!
It's so hard to capture how tall the trees really are! 
Big Trees was just as awesome as Mom remembered.  
She remembers the dancing tree stump and loved that the boys were excited to play on it.
Walking through the grove was the perfect evening activity.
We walked along one of the fallen trees. 
Mark identified this bird correctly as a White-Headed Woodpecker.
Watching the boys run, play, and love Big Trees made Mom really happy. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Yosemite Day 4

We are early risers!!
Since we're staying all the way on the other side of the park from Yosemite Valley, we decided to get up early and drive over the Tioga Pass. Early for us was 5:10 am, but the boys were real troopers. We were able to eat breakfast and leave town by around quarter to six, but since the drive is over two and a half hours, we were worried about arriving after all the parking was taken. He also hoped to see some animals in the early morning, which would slow us down even more.

We zipped across the pass, though, only stopping twice, both times to see deer. Right at the Tuolumne Meadows, we saw several large bucks. There were actually a few dozen far out on the grass, but three or four big ones that weren't too far from the road. Farther up the road, we came across a doe and her two fawns that couldn't have been more than a few weeks old. There were so pretty. Seth declared, "I could hold one of those!"
The morning light was beautiful on these deer.
By driving fast, we arrived at our first stop, Bridal Veil Falls, and there was plenty of parking. We did the short hike, and the boys literally ran up the entire trail to the base of the falls. There were amazed that it was so huge, plunging off the granite cliff at a height of over 600 feet! We didn't spend too long, though, because we were still worried about parking in Yosemite Valley. If we could just get the van in a stall, we could ride the shuttle for the rest of the day.
Bridal Veil Falls was beautiful. We love when we get a family picture.
We needn't have worried, as there was tons of parking at the Visitor's Center. Unfortunately, it wouldn't open until 9 o'clock. Mom made lunch and packed it away, and we said goodbye to the van around 8:30. Then we headed for our first hike, which was to be Lower Yosemite Falls.

They call it Lower Falls because you hike to the base of it, but you can see Upper and Lower Falls together. In fact, you can see them from almost anywhere in the valley. Upper Falls plunges more than a quarter of a mile off the cliff! It's height is listed at 1430 feet. It pools at the bottom and then drops a few smaller cascades that you can't view without a long hike. Then Lower Falls drops another 320 feet. From top to bottom, the water drops well over 2000 feet. We loved the short hike, and at the end there is a beautiful bridge to view the falls. Dad insisted on heading back the way we'd come, even though everyone else wanted to loop around, and we were glad we turned around. Just a little ways down the road Mom spotted a bobcat! He was slinking along the trail looking for a place to lay down. Luckily, he stopped about 25 yards from the trail. We watched him for a half hour while hundreds of people hiked obliviously past. Only a few stopped to see what we were so excited about. Dax said that this was the greatest sighting of his entire life. We were all thrilled to have seen something so unique, not to mention so nearby and for so long.
Seeing these two waterfalls together was amazing! 
We hiked closer to Lower Falls. Mark hates looking into the sun. 
Seth was mesmerized by the beauty of this waterfall!
Mom stopped to see what people were looking at and she spotted the bobcat!
We watched him move around the rocks until he finally settled down.
It was amazing to see this magnificent cat so close.  
He/She was so beautiful. 
The trail was beautiful heading back, too. 
After the bobcat finally got tired of us we danced back down to the shuttle stop. We decided to take another short hike called Cooke's Meadow. This one was very short and ran across a small meadow to an adjacent shuttle stop. We were met with plenty of things to see on this hike, too. We kept hearing a keening cry from the towering pine trees, so we went to check it out. There was a hawk, which Mark declared was a red-shouldered hawk (the ranger later confirmed this), so we watched him for a while. We also saw a tarantula hawk lugging a paralyzed wolf spider, some really cool blue milkweed beetles, and a few monarch butterflies. There were also countless squirrels and Stellar's Jays hoping around. Though we didn't see anythings as exciting as a bobcat, we were still having a fabulous time.
Half Dome can be seen from almost anywhere in the park.
The hawk let us get pretty close.
What are those blue beetles on the milkweeds? Obviously blue milkweed beetles.
This picture is taken from Cooke's Meadow with Upper Falls in the background.
Seth saw a penny and really wanted it!
We decided to take a little longer hike to a large waterfall called Vernal Falls. After a short shuttle ride, we got off at the trailhead with another hundred or so people. This trail was slightly less busy than Disneyland, which was surprising because it was the hardest trail we've ever done. It started out climbing almost straight up like a staircase, and it continued doing that for the first mile until it came to an actual staircase for the last half mile. Mom had the divorce papers all written up by the end of the first quarter mile. But then we saw a cute little bear cub tearing bark off a tree and looking for grubs. He was only about 30 yards down the hill, and he'd stick his claws under the bark and rock back and forth against the trunk trying to rip off large portions of bark. The boys laughed pretty hard as he'd climb up, bounce back and forth, and then sift around for food. We watched for a long time and then continued up the trail. Eventually, we came to a bridge and took some great pictures, but the waterfall was still pretty far away, and everyone had been worn out for awhile. The boys were awesome, though, and we continued up the a little farther. When we reached the staircase almost no one groaned because we could hear the massive roar and see the mist of it rising up the mountainside. We climbed a little farther up and saw the huge 250 foot cascade. The mist was so heavy that it was difficult to even get a picture, and we were very wet by the time we started back down the trail. Everyone agreed that it was a good hike, though. About halfway down Seth found a nice rock, and we all sat down and had lunch. That gave us just enough energy to get back to the trailhead. We were at the shuttle stop right near the bathroom when a coyote ran out of the trees just a few yards away. The volunteer ranger shouted, "Stay back 100 feet!" but we would have to run 85 feet in the opposite direction in order to do that, so we just watched him slink away into the trees again.
The bear cub was so cute, but no mama bear appeared.
He clung to the tree for quite a while.
He was working hard to find grubs.
We almost stopped at the bridge overlook.
On the way back, the trail cleared a little.
There was a pretty rainbow at the foot of the falls.
Vernal Falls was as nice as any waterfall we've ever seen.
It was so misty along mist trail!
The boys dipped their hats in this tiny reservoir.
The coyote quickly crossed the parking lot.
The camera wasn't even zoomed in for this one.
There was one last hike we wanted to do, but no one was ready for it. Instead, we rode the shuttle back around to the Visitor's Center. We got Junior Ranger booklets and found out that there was a nature walk that the boys could attend starting at two o'clock, which was just minutes away. Mom and Dad weren't thrilled to find out that we'd be walking back through Cooke's Meadow, but the boys didn't seem to mind. In fact, they had the time of their lives. They were assigned an animal and had to look for habitats, food, and water so it could survive. The ranger was really good with them, and the hour went by quickly. She showed them a wild raspberry bush and instructed everyone to look for the darkest raspberry they could find, as that would be the sweetest one. Each child picked one to try, and we had to drag Seth away from the bush by the wrist! Just before she signed the books at the last stop, we spotted another doe with two tiny fawns. The kids were all excited, but suddenly, another bobcat ran out of the meadow grass. It was carrying something in its mouth, and everyone was stunned that we saw a bobcat! Dax had been lamenting that it would be years until he saw another, so he was the most excited of all.
Mom was skeptical about Yosemite, but she loved it most of all!
The raspberries were very purple.
We saw a whole bunch of monarch butterflies.
At thend of the hike we saw these deer.
We were reasonably close to where we saw the first bobcat about 5 hours early,
and we wondered it it could be the same one.
The deer were pretty worried about the bobcat.
The National Parks have the best Rangers!
The boys received a Junior Ranger badge on the spot, but they were still working on their books because they wanted a patch, too. They'd been so good on that nasty, steep hike, and done the Junior Ranger hike with gusto, so we decided it was time for ice cream. We hopped back on the shuttle and made the quick trip to cafeteria. We'd read that they had really good ice cream there, and we weren't disappointed. Mom and Mark could have their daily chocolate, Dax got mint chocolate chip, and Seth finished almost all of his raspberry sorbet. It was nice to rest in the air conditioned building for a few minutes, too.
Ice cream is always a good stop!
Riding the shuttles wasn't so bad, even when they were crowded.
It had been a long, perfect day, but Mom still had her eye on the Mirror Lake hike. This trail was not quite as busy as Vernal Falls, but there were still plenty of people. Seth was fixated on seeing a mountain lion (apparently two bobcats wasn't good enough for him), so that's all he talked about the entire way. Mirror Lake wasn't much of a lake, but more like a wide spot in the river. There were quite a few swimmers and waders, though, and we decided to join them. We put our shoes in our backpacks and ventured out into the ice cold water. It felt wonderful on our aching feet. We walked down the river for a little ways with the boys looking for fish (and mountain lions). They did spot two fish before we climbed out of the river and dried our feet.
We got them all dried up and put shoes back on.
Seth posed in a dead stump.
Even though it was mid summer, we saw tiny baby deer.
Mirror Lake is not really a lake.
"Don't get wet! Don't get wet!" (They got wet.)
Ankle deep water is thigh deep for some.
It was such a great way to end the day, though.
The entire valley is really beautiful.
The drive back to Mammoth Lake was really long, and we stopped for a few overlooks at high alpine lakes, but no one even noticed that we didn't eat dinner. Only Seth fell asleep, and he made it through most of the two plus hours. When we finally got to the hotel it was nearly nine, but it had been a very memorable day.
Tioga Road goes through the high granite mountains.
This is right at the top of the pass. 
We let the boys throw rocks at dusk.
I love this picture of the two of us!
Dad wouldn't let Mom stop and take a picture of the bucks in the morning, but she was able to snap one in the evening on the way out. 

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