Saturday, September 11, 2010

You can't go back, but beauty is eternal

2008 picture of Walter and Linda and Half Dome 

It is said, you can never go back.

When it comes to revisiting a highly enjoyable camping location, I have learned, in most cases, that the second or third time around just isn't the same, with rare exception.

There are all kinds of reasons why this is so. It could be the time of year. The age we were. Our expectations. The weather. The changing demographics. And also the growing popularity of the location.

It is with the utmost affection I remember my first trip as an adult to what some consider the prettiest valley in the country which is in Yosemite National Park in California.

The year was 1978. My wife and I and five-year-old son were on a year-long odyssey of seeing as much of the U.S. that we could. We had quit our jobs the previous August and had been traveling on and off in our old long-wheel-base van.

Linda at Tioga Pass entry on east side of Yoseite

Looking back, it was pure dumb luck that caused us to have probably the best two-and-a-half week camping experience ever in one location.

We had been on the road from our south Mississippi home for about a month and a half, having headed west in late January. Our schedule, on a Thursday night, put us about 100 miles from the park. The next morning I told my wife I wanted to hurry and get to Yosemite early in the afternoon so that we would have better luck at obtaining a campsite.

At that time, there wasn't a reservation system.

We arrived sometime around 1 p.m. and easily secured a campsite in the only campground that was opened in Yosemite Valley. Although the normal nightly fee was $4, the rangers said they weren't charging anything.

As the afternoon progressed, camping vehicle after vehicle after vehicle went rolling by our campground. Ours filled up and I guess by midnight, rangers had opened the other campgrounds. I hadn't check the calendar. How was I to know that it was Easter Week?

And my, there were a lot of people there.

Yosemite Falls

The valley was a virtual city. Banks, eateries, restaurants, clothing stores, motels and riding stables. You could get pizza and ice cream. To the north was cross-country skiing in Crane Meadows. To the south, downhill skiing at Badger Pass.

Free shuttle buses ferried visitors to all areas of the valley floor. There wasn't any evidence of recent snowfall except for some piles of snow that had been bulldozed out of the way.

We set up camp and made ourselves at home. An old tarp help keep rain off the picnic table the few days for which it was needed. Some campers who left early gave us a couple "California style" camping chairs that we held on to for a number of years.

Temperatures were comfortable and the scenery was extraordinary. 

We had our first experiences with cross-country and downhill skiing.

Our son Walt took a ride on a donkey which we named "Persnikitus" for obvious reasons. We enjoyed our campfires, walks along the trails and valley floor. There was Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, El Capitan and Mirror Lake.

The Tioga Pass Road was still closed, so we didn't venture into the high country. 

The valley was virtual heaven. I even talked to a park representative about employment, but didn't follow through. 

On Sundays, when people headed back home, they often left things. My son and I scavenged, not only finding some firewood, but grocery size sacks filled to the brim with both apples and oranges. It was quite a find.

The morning we were scheduled to leave, we awoke to a thumping sound on the top of our van. It seems that every minute or so it happened again. I though maybe that it was an animal on the roof. 

Looking outside, we faced a winter wonderland.

It was snowing. 

For residents of Mississippi who only see snow at home about every 10 years, it was a joyous time. We romped in it, threw snowballs and took plenty of pictures. We enjoyed what it offered, but since we were on our way out, we didn't have to put up with the dampness of having to traipse through and live in it for a few days.

The memories of that jaunt linger. Oh, to live it just like that once again. But, well, you know.

We've been back to Yosemite a few more times over the years. We experienced the best campfire program ever during a stop at Tuolumne Meadows. We spent time at Tuolumne on another occasion, and in early June of 2008, the campground wasn't opened  because it hadn't been cleaned up after the winter snow.

On two occasions we drove into the valley during the summer seeking a campsite, but to no avail.

From what I understand there are a lot of people competing for campsite reservations. It is nearly impossible to show up in Yosemite Valley and get a site. Because of the summer population in the valley, I have read that campfires, for whatever reason, are now only allowed from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Times sure have changed. 

But there is one thing that never changes -- the eternal beauty of Yosemite National Park. 

Next post: Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010

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