Following a marathon of 14 National Parks in USA, Yosemite was the last one before we started a more urban visit from San Francisco to San Diego, mostly via California State Route 1.
Stunning, breathtaking and surreal can describe the superb views of granite cliffs, meadows and waterfalls of Yosemite National Park. It was a different beast altogether, a huge park where we got the chance to explore a fraction of it, the Yosemite Valley.
The experience was definitely one of the highlights of our expedition. We were not only welcomed by impressive landscapes but with unexpected gestures of generosity from a young American couple when we needed most…
After camping amid Giant Sequoias at Sequoia National Park we departed towards Yosemite National Park, which is located 200 km distance from Sequoia via California State Route 41.
As we entered the park via its east end we were greeted by an outstanding first sight at Tunnel View. Here we had an overview to the massive granite cliffs looking like giant protectors of Yosemite Valley. It was truly amazing to see the El Capitan, Half Dome and the Bridalveil Fall for the first time and in one single shot!
With such a grand entrance we were excited to explore more. We were happy to arrive couple hours before the sunset, having the opportunity to walk around and observe the impressive nature before it would get dark. We stopped for a short walk at the Bridalveil Fall and soon after we rushed to the visitor center to find a camping spot for the night.
The nearest wild camping spot was 1 hour away from where we were as boondocking is not allowed inside the park. So, it looked like this time it would make more sense to pay to camp inside park limits and get the most of the following day.
We continued towards the Yosemite Valley Visitor center in the hope to secure a good spot to camp at one of the paid campsites. Whilst JP waited inside the truck I left towards the camping reservation office quite relaxed. As I was approaching the office I saw a very large queue and at first just wondered what a busy place was but could not imagine what was about to follow.
When I started queueing a park ranger approached me and kindly asked me how could she be of assistance. I thought: Oh! So nice of her! When I finished explaining we were after a camping spot and that we had no reservation she braced herself not to laugh in my front. She said that the queue was actually the waiting list for the cancelations, and had started at 8am that day, adding there is nothing left right now. I couldn’t believe it. We were willing to pay the camping spot and not finding one single spot in the whole Yosemite Valley was pretty much not a situation we were expecting.
The night was approaching and it would have been a pain to leave the park to find a spot one hour away out of the park premises.
I could not accept her response, that was not a solution for us. Therefore I insisted and explained her that we were traveling for the past four months, crossed the whole Canada and Alaska and now we finally reached Yosemite. It is a one lifetime opportunity to see the park and we need a place to sleep to explore it the following day. She answered with an unimpressed tone that people here are making bookings five months in advance and she doesn’t believe there is any chance for us, especially that this is a national holiday weekend in USA.
I went back to the truck to tell JP what was going on and he started to get tensed and nervous. He asked me to find a solution, to solve the problem. So I went back. I was determined to stay in the queue and to insist again to the rest of the rangers to help me out, basically trying my luck.
If there is one thing I learned during my years working in Africa is that resilience is key. I don’t take a no for an answer that easily. Where there is a will, there is way.
When I reclaimed my place at the back of the queue there was one couple in front of me with a booking paper in their hands. After some time waiting they turned and asked me where I was from. They probably heard my accent while I was talking to the ranger and were curious where it that accent coming from.
When I explained I was from Romania and that we were driving an expedition truck through the Americas all the way down to Patagonia they were intrigued, and we got into a nice conversation. They were so nice and told me if we want they can share with us their camping spot. I couldn’t believe that they were offering this. It was like… OMG… is this really happening to us? How lucky can we be?
Indeed, it was the last camping spot available and we were invited to share it with this lovely and kind young couple!
We double checked with another ranger if it would be okay to share, we checked the vehicles' sizes and it worked out. They allowed us two vans in one camping spot.
We followed them to the Upper Pines Campground and happily both trucks fitted well on the designated space. Everyone was super happy 😊
At the campground we observed so many people, mostly Americans with their campers, vans, tents, barbecues and beers enjoying Yosemite’s nature and fresh air. Our truck immediately attracted a lot of attention: the type, the design and the foreign registration was a curiosity for them.
By the time we unfolded our gear and got the bikes out to go and buy some fire wood there were a group of people around us asking us questions. They were fascinated by the truck, by our expedition and our decision to take a sabbatical to overland the Americas. They just couldn’t believe it and they kept asking tons of questions from: which were the places we liked most on the road, to how it is life on the road, how do we shower, if we have a microwave, how do we manage the van life without a microwave, how do we cook, where is our toilet, the route we chose. We were under serious interrogatory. They found intriguing and inspiring what we were doing. It was a beautiful feeling to inspire other people. It was one of those moments we felt we are doing something special and meaningful.
After we finished our interviews :))) we were free to explore with our new friends, Evan and Chelsie the surroundings of Yosemite Valley by bicycle and buy the wood for the fire.
Chelsie and Evan leaded the way and showed us around. It was a really pleasant ride with a beautiful overview to the granite cliffs and gorgeous meadows by sunset. Truly genuine and wonderful ride.
After we got what we went for we returned to the camp and started to prepare the fire and dinner. Each couple cooked something so we could share and spent some time together by the fire. For the first time I tried the traditional American marshmallows on the fire 😊 We talked about life in California, climbing, outdoor activities, politics, international affairs. We shared each other’s experiences and perceptions of the world. It was wonderful to coincide in Yosemite with special people like Evan and Chelsie. They are beautiful people, passionate about climbing, outdoor sports and driven by a healthy lifestyle. They try as much as they can to spend their weekends outdoors, driving long distances if they have to, enjoying nature either climbing, hiking or surfing. We were inspired to meet such a young, open, forward thinking and free spirit couple.
The following day we woke up early and prepared some oats with fruits to share with Chelsea and Evan. They gave us good tips about how to combine different trails in a 6-hour hiking route that would give first-timers a good insight of Yosemite, while they would go for a full day of rock climbing. Although Chelsea and Evan invited us to join them climbing the steep cliffs of Yosemite, I was trembling only at the idea of hanging on a rope on a sharp cliff. So I had to pass this opportunity 🙂
We were happy choosing the classic Mist Trail taking in a loop on John Muir trail. The Mist Trail is one of the most popular short hikes in Yosemite. The hike follows the Merced River, passes the Vernal Falls and Emerald Pool, up to Nevada Falls. Combining the Mist Trail with John Muir Trail would make a good day hike, totaling about 15km with 700m elevation. After saying goodbye to our new friends promising we will pay them a visit in Santa Barbara, we departed towards the trailhead for our hiking adventure.
At the beginning the trail was quite busy yet as we advanced it became less and less populated. We hiked mostly along the Merced River, which runs from the Sierra Nevada Mountains through a U-shaped valley. From the trail we could see enormous boulders dwarfed by the sheer faces of the massive granite walls rising 1000m from the river.
As we hiked up we started seeing some of the most stunning, breathtaking, and surreal views of our expedition, with huge granite rocks and cliffs standing in the valley, dramatic waterfalls, untouched nature and beauty everywhere.
It was probably one of the most beautiful trails we ever hiked. It was not an easy ride as it was quite steep and full of steps, but the view from the top worth all efforts. Something so majestic, so grandiose and beautiful one can rarely see.
We returned on our loop trail circuit taking John Muir Trail, which offered us a different perspective of Nevada Falls and the valley but added as well extra miles zig-zagging our way down. By the end of the descent we could clearly feel our hips, knees and joints. It was obvious a physical stretch.
We were back by 4pm after a long, strenuous, but beautiful day! It was one of the highlights of our trip. Truly amazing nature! It was simply there, pure, green, vivid, lots of fresh air and energy.
We were exhausted by the time we returned but we had to get ready to exit the park before sunset. We had about one hour to reach our boondocking spot on Stanislaus National Forest on Highway 120. We needed to be in San Francisco the following day to meet my lifetime friend, Monica, so we were on a mission once again.
We arrived exactly at 5pm, five minutes before the darkness settled in. It’s very important to reach an overnight place before it gets dark, so you can see better your surroundings. It gives you more security and a sense of orientation. When we reach a place in the dark it can be scary not knowing what is around into the wild.
That night we prepared a nice dinner and celebrated the end of our National Parks marathon in USA. We visited 14 parks, with Yosemite being the last one. We felt blessed, not only having the opportunity to see all these nature wonders, but meeting extraordinary and inspiring people. JP’s dinner menu was pasta Bolognese paired with a good prosecco we had saved for a special moment. We were exhausted but happy. We felt fulfilled and ready to treat ourselves with a great meal. What a lovely day, what a lovely evening, and what a great finish of our National Parks adventure in USA! We simply loved the parks! One of the best choices we could make for our USA expedition!