I stopped at the Tuolumne Meadows Visitors Center for a quick orientation to the park. I saw a notice posted about a ranger program scheduled for 2 PM. It sounded fun, so I decided to go to my campsite, set up my tent, and return to the Lembert Dome parking area for the program. That was before I realized how far away from the campsite I was. Yosemite is big! But eventually I did reach the road running to the campsite, and while I would be cutting it close I still thought I could make it back to Lembert Dome. But that was before I realized it would take a full thirty minutes to reach the campsite. See, the Yosemite Creek Campground is located at the bottom of an old mining road. It's only five miles from the top of the road to the bottom, but the condition of the road is, shall we say, poor. In fact, it's not so much a road as a series of potholes loosely connected by asphalt.
By the time I finally reached the campground, I knew there was no way I could possibly get back to Lembert Dome by 2, so I set up my tent and sat down at the picnic table to contemplate my next move. Then it started to rain again, so I moved into the tent to continue studying my copy of Yosemite Today -- which more accurately would have been called Yosemite Fortnightly, but never mind -- and my Frommer's guide to the park. Ultimately I decided to drive down into the valley and see some of the major attractions down in that part of the park, and once it stopped raining, that's what I did.
Again, the sheer bigness of the park caught me by surprise. The valley was at least 30 miles away. It was a nice drive, of course, but I hadn't really prepared myself mentally for how long it would take to get there.
Not counting a few brief stops along the way at vista points, my first stop was Bridalveil Fall. August, it turns out, is not the best time to visit Yosemite if you're really interested in waterfalls, because, well, there just isn't much water to fall. But none of the waterfalls were completely dry, as one person warned me might be the case. They were just sort of wispy. Still pretty though.
Next up: Yosemite Falls. Like Bridalveil, Yosemite Falls, especially the Upper Falls, were a little wispy. But there something impressive, even if only in a conceptual way, about seeing even a little water falling 2,700 feet. The interesting thing about Yosemite Falls, to me, was that from the viewing area, it was not immediately obvious where the water was falling to. There was a stream bed, but it appeared to be filled with nothing but rocks. Very large rocks that were very easy to climb. And climb them I did, clambering up to the base of the Lower Falls, where I could see a large pool of water. The reason I couldn't see or hear any water from the viewing area was that it was flowing beneath the large boulders. Interesting. Getting back down the rocks proved more challenging than getting up; by the time I got about halfway down, I found myself at a place where I go no further without getting wet, so I had to turn around and go about a third of the way back up to try another route down. Meanwhile, little kids a third my age were leaping from rock to rock like freaking mountain goats. Showoffs.
By that time, darkness was closing in, and while I was relatively close to my campsite as the crow flies -- it was about 15 miles north and 2,700 feet straight up -- I decided to head back to camp before I had to drive the entire route in pitch darkness. I made a quick stop at the gift shop to buy souvenirs, then drove back to Yosemite Creek. I ended the night writing postcards by lantern light at the picnic table.
The next morning was beautifully clear. I checked the map, and decided the best way to reach my next destination, Kings Canyon National Park, was to leave via the south entrance. I made record time up the mining road -- 23 minutes! -- and head back toward the valley. On the way, I stopped at Tuolumne Grove, one of three groves of giant sequoias in Yosemite, which was pretty nice aside from the walk back to the parking area which was in most spots an eight percent grade uphill. Yuck. After that, I drove straight to the Wawona exit, where I stopped to buy a drink and some stamps before making my way down the Sierra Nevadas to cross the Central Valley on my way to Kings Canyon.