After San Francisco, the next stage of our journey took us inland to Yosemite National Park. We picked up a rental car in San Francisco and the journey took about three hours in total. Initially it was boring interstate highways, with no features of interest at all, but as we got closer to the park, the drive got more interesting, there was less traffic and there were more forests. I took over the driving at this point, not knowing that the roads were about to get really bendy (with speed limits apparently enforced by aircraft!)! Luckily we made it to the hotel before dark, as I wouldn’t fancy negotiating those mountainous roads at night.
We stayed at Cedar Lodge in El Portal, about ten miles from the National Park entrance. Cedar Lodge was a bit odd, being staffed almost exclusively by teenage boys and with motel-style rooms that were extremely dated. That said, there isn’t exactly a great deal of choice when it comes to accommodation in this area, and it was still greatly preferable to camping.
We left the hotel at about 9am the next day and stocked up on lunch supplies from the tiny village shop before entering the park, but we needn’t have bothered, as it turns out that there’s a small but well-stocked supermarket next to the main Yosemite Valley visitor center. If you’re not going to be visiting Yosemite Village, however, you’ll definitely be needing to buy lunch before you go in.
On the drive from El Portal to the park entrance you see all sorts of impressive scenery; the road runs alongside an all-but-dried-out river bed, which is strewn with the most enormous boulders you can imagine. The ones in this photo are tiny compared with some of the ones we saw.
We were delighted to find, on reaching the park entrance, that the usual $30 entry fee was waived for the day because it was National Parks Day, so we got in free! The rest of the time, the $30 entry fee is per car, not per person, so it’s still very affordable. You enter the park through two boulders propped against each other, which is pretty cool:
The actual area covered by Yosemite National Park is MASSIVE, but the most famous parts are concentrated into an area easily covered in a day, known as Yosemite Valley. The great thing about the Valley is that there are loads of places to stop, and the most famous things – El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridal Veil Falls – are easily seen from these stopping places. You can spend as much or as little time at each place as you want to, and you don’t have to hike if you don’t want to.
El Capitan is the first thing you come to, and it would be difficult to over-estimate just how impressive this thing is in real life. In common with the rest of what we saw that day, photos just don’t do it justice or give you an idea of the sheer scale of it.
Sadly it turned out that September is the wrong time of year for viewing the famous Yosemite waterfalls, which were virtually dry; you could just see where they would normally be when the snow melts in the spring.
This one, the Bridal Veil Falls, had more than the others, but it was only a wisp of water right at the top. I’d imagine they’re really impressive in the spring. It was a short, manageable hike from a carpark to get to the base of this one.
Continuing into the park, you see more of the amazing granite domes. In a clearing in these woods we chanced upon some hang glider pilots, who were just packing away their hang gliders having taken off from the top of the rocks, which must have been a breathtaking experience.
I tried to get a sense of the scale here, but once again a mere camera cannot do justice to seeing it in real life!
When we were admiring the lovely scenes below, a delightful Californian couple approached us and the lady said how much she loved my dress, and that she’d worn something similar on her honeymoon 50 years ago. We said we were on our honeymoon, and they warmly congratulated us and said that they’d been to England for theirs, and visited Stratford-upon-Avon! Throughout our time in California, I was struck by how many lovely older Californian couples just randomly came up to us, complimenting me on my dresses (at least one compliment a day from strangers) or saying how good we looked together. That would just never happen in the UK!
It’s hard to put into words how beautiful the park is, with its great expanses of bare rock juxtaposed with the trees and clear water.
This formation is called the ‘Half Dome’, the most famous of all Yosemite’s granite domes.
Squirrel! There were a few warnings about not touching them because some have been found to be carrying the Plague. Yep. The disease you thought died out in the Middle Ages is alive and well and living in Yosemite National Park!
And Black Death-spreading squirrels aren’t the only danger in Yosemite.
We didn’t see a bear, but we did see a coyote wandering around near the visitor centre in Yosemite Village – and it seemed completely oblivious to the human bystanders! Incidentally, the visitor centre is worth a visit, as there’s a little museum all about the geology and history of the area, and a reconstructed Indian village. I was shocked to learn about horrible fate of the native Indians, who were unjustly forced out of their homes in Yosemite by Spanish settlers and gold-hunters – their story, and photographs of them, was even more interesting than learning about how the rock formations came into being.
Another interesting thing to look out for in the park is the rock climbers. As you can imagine, the park is a bit of a mecca for them, and they apparently spend days trying to get up El Capitan, even sleeping while perched precariously on the side of the rock. Rather them than me! They’re so tiny compared to the rock that they’re hard to spot, but we found that zooming in on the big camera gave us a better view.
We saved the best bit for last: Tunnel View is so called because it’s right next to a short tunnel, and it offers the most breathtaking views over the most famous bits of the park – El Capitan, the Half Dome and the Bridal Veil falls are all visible from this picturesque lookout point. You can’t see any roads from here, as they’re all hidden by the trees, so you almost have the sense that you’re the first person to discover this secret landscape.
Well, you would have that sense were it not for the scores of other people with their cameras out waiting to photograph it! We didn’t mind too much though, as it meant there was someone to take a photo for our honeymoon photo book.
Finally, this video that I took out of the car sunroof gives you a good impression of what it’s like driving around Yosemite Valley.
As you can see, it’s a very easy drive, and only becomes more challenging when you leave the valley, when it gets more twisty and mountainous, with no barriers between you and some very long drops. Like so:
You don’t have to go up there, though!
From Yosemite National Park, we drove back to the coast to begin the real ‘road trip’ portion of our honeymoon, and that’s what I’m going to talk about in my next post.