The morning was cool, outside the camper was in the 50’s, low 60’s inside. I guess mountain mornings are just a little cooler than down in the flat lands. The extra blanket did the trick and I was warm through the night (thank you $11.00 Walmart fleece blanket) and Mabel seemed OK as well. After breakfast we explored the campsite heading down past the fire pit and picnic table eventually crossing over the small stream. Mabel hesitated a little but eventually found a path to her liking and joined me on the opposite side. The ranger had mentioned a dirt road that, if followed, would lead to another grove of giant sequoias but their location sounded farther than we wished to travel. The road, at a minimum, provided a direction and we set off, Mabel eager to explore.
We were probably gone about 90 minutes and walked through nice scenery. I let Mabel off the leash and she took advantage of her freedom, following trails of scent that took her through the woods. She would return, eventually, when I whistled and I could see her grow increasingly dirty and with burrs in her fur. She was happy being a dog. I climbed up a hill, just off the road and was afforded a nice view of the park, especially when I climbed up on one of the giant rocks that littered the woods. It was peaceful there as we had the place all to ourselves, the only evidence of man being the road we strolled up on. A lot of the pines we passed looked to be dying, their brown branches a contrast to the green. But I could still smell the perfume of the live trees and mixed with the low buzzing of the bees reminded me I was smack dab in the middle of nature. The warming morning seemed to energize Mabel and she pushed her boundaries until at times I couldn’t see or hear her tags jingling. I whistled and called, and then threw in a few loud claps until she burst out of the woods, tongue hanging, and the glimmer of happiness in her eyes. It was her last escape as I put her on the leash for the walk back.
She seems to remember the way and her pace quickens, which is usual on most of the return portions of our walks. There is a pull on the leash the closer we get to the current night’s home. We are close to the campsite, I can see vehicles, but not the path we need to return on so we proceed until Mabel stops abruptly. She looks into the woods, toward the stream, and will not move forward. I follow her stare and see the obstruction which also turns out to be the source of last night’s mooing. A very large, black cow is just grazing off the road and in the direction we need to go. I am also startled and wonder what is on the cow’s mind, a man and small dog that looks predatory now at her side. I feel large animals such as cows and horses are best viewed from the opposite side of a fence. Now I stand closer than I like with no barrier to prevent any ill intentions from the cow. Thankfully, Mabel was baffled but not curious and we moved slowly down the road to pick a path back to the site. Back across the stream, Mabel retracing her path, and we are soon breaking camp.
One last visit to the Giant Sequoias, not all the way in, but far enough to enjoy a view of the big guys.
HWY 190 is closed so we head out of the park on HWY 42 travelling through the Tule River Indian Reservation (*I incorrectly listed the route in the Day 58, September 8 blog post. The post has been corrected and the actual route taken is listed in this post). We pass through valleys lined with fields the color of sand. A quick look and you might think you were on the beach looking far in the distance at dunes and not hills. The grass and Mabel share the same color and I think how easy it would be for me to lose her here. The road is winding and we accelerate and decelerate through the hills in what becomes a rhythm. The trailer follows the car’s lead as it must because there is no choice in the matter. Any insubordination on the trailer’s part would be bad, especially out here.
We exit the hills into a valley that was lush with fruit trees. The orchards become more concentrated around Porterville, in places they line both sides of the road. The operations are big but don’t seem attended, the fields vacant, their fruit silently growing.
Highway 65 takes us North and I cut over to Visalia. Sheri has shipped her camera for me to use in place of mine which is now inoperable. I do a small scouting trip and find the post office which looks to be a New Deal era red brick building. It is closed so I can’t see if the camera came in early, but I do know where it is now for Monday’ retrieval. The iPhone takes decent pictures but I miss the Nikon, even if it constantly slips off my shoulder. Both cameras have been by my side the entire trip and it feels weird to rely on my phone for pictures. I like the Nikon better. It is a D3300, a starter digital SLR that I purchased at Target but picked up a better 18-300 mm lens for the trip at Best Buy. It does everything I need and when you throw in some editing creates decent photos.
Hwy 63 takes us to HWY 180 where we go through Fresno. I know it from an Air Force friend that lived here and I believe he went back after his enlistment was up. We exchange Christmas cards but his address is now in San Jose.
North of Fresno and the fruit trees are starting to be picked. It is still manual, nothing changed over the years except the faces doing the picking. I see a man lugging a large ladder to one of the trees, a straw hat providing shade, his sweat stained red shirt a testament to the 90-degree heat. I am glad I have air conditioning. As we continue I see signs advertising groves for sale and in some places the trees are dead. Their trunks and branches are now a weird shade of pale yellow. In other places I see acres of groves turned up, the pale-yellow trees lying on their sides, root bundles exposed to the sun. I am confused as I can’t imagine a reason, other than sickness, to destroy the fruit bearing trees. Is it a repurposing of the land or should I be worried about my orange juice because of disease?
HWY 41 takes us into the south end of Yosemite National Park after we cross through the Sierra National Forest. As we climbed through the forest, evidence of a recent fire line both sides of the road. There are road signs directing fire crews to assembly areas and I see a stray crew waiting by the side of the road. Small, puffs of smoke rise from ashes, but surprisingly the smoke smell is not overpowering. (*I erroneously noted the fire in the Day 58, September 8 blog post. It has been corrected.)
We continue up the road and suddenly face extreme grandeur. Others are mesmerized by the rising rock’s beauty and feel the need to pull over for pictures. It is amazing to see, the rock so large and distinct. Eventually the s-curving road brings us to Yosemite’s entry gate which is empty, no ranger like we saw in the Grand Canyon. I proceed into the park without a map, we are just winging it and hoping for the best. A sign for camping pops up and I pull a hard right down the road. It’s narrow and escape routes are on my mind, mainly the lack of them. We continue past private residences tucked back in the woods and eventually pull into the dirt parking area but find it is closed due to the fire. Thankfully I can turn around and we go back the way we came, I wonder what the locals are thinking as I pass. The official campground at Wawana is full, or at least the sign says it is, so no need to stop but I am wondering where we will stay tonight. I was lucky at the Grand Canyon; would it prove to be here as well?
We come through the tunnel and exit into visual splendor. In front of us is the Park! Mountains rising to the sky with many pulled into the parking areas for pictures. The trailer doesn’t allow for quick movements so I continue down the road, a sharp turn awaiting me and then we start the rise onto the next peak. It starts to feel more like a park as we proceed, and a second entry point reveals itself, this time fully staffed. I show my card and we travel down the tree lined road, the typical national park fencing lining the way. Then we see it, and the people; the Yosemite Valley. I pull behind other cars and we get out to explore, heading to Bridalveil Fall, the trail roughly a half mile. There isn’t a lot of water flowing but you can make out the drop and many are standing on the rocks near the pool. We head back to the car and follow the others as we look up at El Capitan and Half Dome.
I am amazed at the beauty and the fact that I am actually in Yosemite. At first glance, I like it more than the Grand Canyon, smaller in scale it feels more real. I look up at El Capitan and remember the Netflix Movie Valley Uprising (a very interesting documentary on the early climbing scene) and wonder how anyone has the nerve to climb it. The commitment needed to climb something like this, you have to go all in or it just won’t happen. I am deathly afraid of heights and can’t understand the allure. But to be able to say you did it must be as exhilarating as the climb itself.
With a plan to come back tomorrow and to beat the impending darkness, we head out of the park to Mariposa and the KOA that sits just outside of town. The road is more s-curves and we flow on our way down, not quite like a Grand Prix diver but the rhythm is back as we descend.
Arriving late, the campground looks full but a few spots are listed as open on the board and we grab a gravel one close to the front entry. It is near the bathrooms, always a good thing and the neighbors appear quiet. There are woods behind us and the dog park a stone’s throw away. The camper is prepared for the night, Mabel is served her kibble, and I eat a PB&J, sometimes the simplicity of the sandwich is all you need.
Thankful tonight to witness the beauty that is Yosemite.