It is a very early start this morning, we have to be ready for pick up at 6.10am. Breakfast is not on until 7am, but they have opened the kitchen and we can help ourselves to anything we want. Brilliant! So many of places we have been to have said no to this request. There are bagels, muffins, bread and spreads available, and Tony finds instant porridge in the cupboard. For some reason coffee is only available at breakfast time, and it is not ready yet, but we have our own so Tony gets his fix. We didn’t think so much would be here for us, so we didn’t allow a lot of time for breakfast, we grab a couple of muffins and fillings and take them with us. It will be a long day today, taking about four hours to get to Yosemite, we expect to return after 8pm and will travel over 600km. Included in the cost of the tour (US348, NZ$438) is a trip to Alcatraz tomorrow.
The weather has turned, it is fair hosing down as we wait on the street for the tour bus. We are a bit sad about the weather, we have had such a good run with it, and would have liked today to be good for the trip to Yosemite. It is ten minutes past the pick up time (oh heck, here we go again, we double checked those tickets yesterday, and rang the tour company). Tony heads back down the alley to reception, and they ring the tour company for us. They are running a bit late, we are told. Back on the street we watch as a couple of cop cars pull up outside the massage parlour across the road, then a third arrives and drives down the narrow alley. We wonder what is going, and hope there is not going to be a shoot out or anything terrible. (yeah, the mind was working overtime a bit there). They leave soon after, with no incident. A taxi bus turns up, but the driver was just cruising for fares.
We are picked up about twenty minutes late, our driver/guide apologises for the delay and with one last pick up we are off, travelling over the Oakland Bay Bridge. It is very misty and the rain continues, but we are told the good news is that as soon as we get out of the area, the weather is fine. We live in hope!
The Bay Bridge is actually a pair of double decker bridges linking San Francisco and Oakland, meeting in an island in the middle of the bay. Traffic on the top deck travels a different direction to that on the lower deck. A new bridge is being built to replace this one after an earthquake in 1989 collapsed a section of the top deck on the eastern span, and the bridge was closed for about a month.
There is one more pick up to make at a Park ‘n Ride near Dublin. Our guide is in touch with the passenger, he is here somewhere, but not where we are waiting for him, so he heads off on foot to find him. It takes a few minutes, but he eventually finds the passenger and we can carry on. As promised the day has improved, the rain, mist and cloud have been left far behind, and we have a stunning day.
The countryside that we are travelling through is lot like Central Otago in places. There are a huge number of wind power turbines, these have been here for a number of years, early experiments in alternative power generating. They are not particularly efficient compared to modern turbines. We had not realised that such large-scale wind farms had been around for so long. After a couple of hours travel we have a pit stop in Oakdale, about 150km from San Francisco. We call in at a supermarket to get fruit and bread rolls for lunch, as there is no general store at Yosemite, and some find the restaurants and cafes expensive.
We pass through a small town near the park (name has been forgotten) and see many buildings wrapped in tin foil. Some just have a couple of posts or banisters wrapped, others have gone all out and even wrapped tree trunks. There are some great works here, tin foil must be cheap! There is a competition for the town that does the best. (Tony tried to find more about this strange contest on the Internet later, but nothing came up in the search). We are treated to some terrific scenery, and are told to be on the lookout for wild animals. Tony thinks he sees a small bear, but we are going too fast for a proper look. A coyote runs across the road in front of the bus and we also see some deer in the woods.
Our first stop in the park is just before 11am, we have arrived at the Tuolumne Grove trailhead near the southern entrance, one just three giant sequoia groves in Yosemite. There is another, bigger, grove a couple of miles away at Mariposa, but it is usually overrun with tourists. We have a bit of a hike from the carpark to the grove, around 2km, partly on an old road that is now closed to vehicles. It is quite steep in places, and our time is limited, so Cynthea and one or two others stay at the bus. There is a “drive through” tree on the way, the tree itself is dead and the top section is long gone. The hole in the trunk was cut as a tourist attraction, at the time the road was a toll road, and we are not sure if the tree was dead at that time or not. We also pass by a fallen tree, the root system is huge, much higher than Tony by quite a big margin.
We come to the sequoia grove and are in awe of these giant redwoods, up to 85m high, 8m in diameter, and hundreds of years old (the oldest is around 3500 years old). We make our way back, and everyone comments how quite it is, there is hardly any bird song, we assume that is due to the time of year, being late autumn. Tony’s group is one of the last back to the car park where everyone is enjoying the sunshine. There are huge black ravens hanging around looking for handouts, they come quite close to us, but will not let us get to close. If we try to approach too close they move away, with a funny half hop, half skip.
It takes about half an hour to reach the lookout where we have an impressive view of El Capitan and Half Dome. The countryside has changed a lot in this short time, we have seen vast open areas with very little growing, to heavy woods.
Half Dome rises about 1400m above the valley floor, but we are told the half dome shape is merely an optical illusion from the viewpoints in the valley. On the opposite side of the valley is El Capitan, a 900m vertical rock face favoured among climbers from around the world.
We are soon on the move down the valley, our next stop is Bridalveil Falls, at an impressive 188m high these falls are the most prominent falls in the valley. They flow year-round, unlike many that dry up, or freeze, depending on the season. There has been a lot of rain recently, so there are plenty of waterfalls. The snow from a couple of weeks ago has all but gone. There is a track to the base of the falls, but we haven’t got time to go the whole distance. Tony and a couple of others walk part of the way in search of a better photo. There is a good view by an arched bridge, and Tony heads down by the stream to get a different camera angle. He is crouched down behind a rock to get the shot when he slips backwards, and rolls down the bank, nearly landing in the water. It gave the others a bit of a scare, but all that is hurt is his pride and his backside, there will be a bit of a bruise there come morning! At least the water there was shallow, so there was no danger of getting too wet. We are heading back to the bus when others meet us, they have sent out a search party because we were too long away.
The drive along the valley is beautiful, the autumn (oops, “fall”) colours are stunning. We arrive at the village at the base of the Yosemite Falls around 2pm. There is a lodge, several accommodation blocks, a restaurant and a café, and not much else, apart from the hordes of tourists. Tony is surprised how many are visiting at this time of year, but hen given the beauty of the area, any time would be a good time to go. Our guide gives us directions on where to go, we have to be back at the bus by 3.15 or we will get left behind. A few of our fellow passengers are staying in the area. There are road works being carried out in front of hotel reception, the area is all cordoned off, but there are no signs showing where people should go to reach the hotel, so we all just cross at that point anyway. The asphalt is still hot underfoot, and the staff are waving wildly at us as we cross in front of the big roller (but they still don’t tell us where we should be crossing from, the road works area is quite some length). We did make sure the roller wasn’t travelling at speed, and some waited until it has passed by before crossing.
It takes us a bit of time to find the path to the falls, the signposts are plentiful, but not entirely helpful, and we take the long way there. At 739m (2,425 feet) from the top of the upper falls to the base of the lower falls, Yosemite Falls is the highest measured waterfall in North America. Tony leaves Cynthea at the lodge to take to the trails in the short time we have here. There are plenty of mule deer about, they are happily feeding in the meadows close to accommodation buildings, and make no effort to move on when anyone passes by. Tony chooses the trail that follows the Merced River to the Shaky Bridge, a great walk on a beautiful day, and there are some stunning photos taken. It is a little cool out, but not cold. The bridge is not that shaky, they must have replaced it?
One or two campers are in the meadows, well away from the water and a safe distance from the rock faces, two hazards of camping out in the valley. One hopes they have a decent sleeping bag and plenty of bug spray.
We are set to leave when a coat and cell phone are discovered on the back seat of the bus. They belong to the Asian chap we picked up in Dublin (the one that couldn’t find the bus). Our guide takes the gear to hotel reception and hopes the guy has enough clues to go there looking for it. The bus company head office is called to let them know where the property was left, so he should get it back. You do have to wonder about some people though…
Not far down the road we are in for a treat. A fog is forming over the meadow across the river as the sun goes down, we are all fascinated with it. It is very eerie. There is a reminder of how wild and dangerous the river can be as a flood level indicator dwarfs Tony, it must be a good 3 to 4 metres, maybe more. The height is not recorded, just the date (Feb 1997), this was the worst flood in the living history of the park.
We enjoy a stunning sunset as we drive to Oakdale for a tea break. We had a meal at a Mexican diner our guide recommended, indeed he raved about the great food and how big the servings were. We were not impressed that the staff did not tell us sauces and condiments were available, and that we were to help ourselves to these. We had assumed that these were extra an extra cost, and we didn’t take the time to ask (this was not a long stop), so the meal was unimpressive. It was very filling though. We found the table of sauces at the back of the restaurant, after we had eaten, when we used the bathroom before we left.
We stopped at Yerba Buena Island at around 8pm, the island that is the halfway point between Oakland and San Francisco. We have an amazing view looking back to the city, especially now the rain and mist have cleared away.
We are dropped off at the hostel around 9pm. There is a free wine and cheese night on at Dakota, it is probably still going but we are shattered from a long day. We have a trip to Alcatraz in the morning, so we have to be up early to check out before heading down to the pier.