Yosemite – C’est pas vrai

Sarvepalli’s were no exception as we stood mesmerized with other local and global tourist at almost every turn of the road in this mythical national park – Yosemite. The Forest Fires of July 2022 added an extra layer of beauty to the already captivating scenery – the allure of the glowing red sun and the ethereal whispers from the misty waterfalls. But the trip did not exactly start that way, so let the tale begin.

Our planned trip for Yosemite National Park had come July 19, 2022 and we were getting ready to travel. On my way to the airport, I read in the National Park Services (NPS) announcement “July 19, 2022 : Due to high fire danger and enhanced risk to the public, employees, and first responders, Yosemite National Park (YNP) is enacting park-wide fire restrictions below 8,000 feet elevation to reduce the threat of human-caused wildfires.” Surreptitiously I got a quick view of the fire map from NPS, which showed Mariposa, one of our planned visits was closed for public and a number of roads were closed to the south and the west side of the park. Trying to keep optimism high, I didnt bring it up with the family. Given Erica’s Aerophobia, it was time to first handle the flight ordeal of flying from east to west coast of the US. As soon as we started the drive, we manage to get a quick bite at Burger King. Fresno, CA. Rajiv managed the GPS through the pitch dark drive full of windy turns to climb up and down the mountainous road to Yosemite Valley. It was only another 5-hour drive to get our Airbnb so well-situated inside the national park. However on the upside our rented Airbnb was about 20 minutes drive from Yosemite Village and all the key trails of the YNP.

July 20, 2022: First Impressions

After crashing overnight, we woke up to actually see that our splendid Airbnb was like a spacious treehouse engulfed in nature. Pine trees surrounded the house with smell of a peaceful dwelling from ages past. After shrugging off our sleepy eyes, we made it to the park around 1100. A beautiful blue sunny sky and a very slight smell of smoke all gave us the required rigor to attempt our first hikes as planned by Kiran. Greeted on our way in with El Capitan from at least four angels, I had to stop to get a selfie with granite monolith posing eternally behind me.

Following the abundant French tourist around, we made our way to the Valley Loop Trail using the short path that is entirely rocky designed for Rock Scrambling workout. Kiran’s camera shuttered away , what felt like, a few hundred Ka-Chick sounds trying to capture angles of the faint Yosemite Falls with amazing rock formations. The sun stayed bright and clear moving through the rocks creating shadows, colors and their illusions. It felt like the Psalmist may have been here as he wrote “a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.” Our evening ended with a few more stops to explore a few potential trails and more photos of the unimaginable landscapes. After a stop at the YNP Village grocery store, we collected plenty of food for breakfast, hiking snacks and some ice-cream for dessert.

July 21, 2022: Ahwanhee trails

Being late morning people (except for Erica), we set out around 1100 back to Yosemite Valley’s main area and its busy surroundings. We started off and aimed at trying a number of trails to cover Vernal and Nevada Falls via Mist Trail for about 12 miles total for the day (about 6 hours). The sunshine was at its peak with comfortable temperature of 75F (22C or so) for the long hike. Turn-by-turn you were compelled to pause to look at the various monolithic emblems (Eagle Peak, El Capitan, Half Dome) raising to greet you with their various light reflections and grey shadows. Kiran did catch a baby Garter snake that was sunbathing among the nice rocks. The waterfalls and the lake near Yosemite Upper Falls were both magical in the collection of cold water. However, we ourselves were completely out of drinking water by the time we reached the drinking station. We had a splendid day, tired and ready to find our way to get food for our bodies and fuel for our rental van. There was the catch, no gas stations were open nearby Yosemite Valley and the road to Mimosa was closed because of fires. So we managed to get some food for ourselves at YNP Basecamp eatery right before it closed. On quarter tank, we drove back to our rental house a bit nervous of the fuel hunting needed the next days.

July 22, 2022: Lowland trails

We dedicated this day to do the the lowland trails as our lungs were tired (and so were the calf muscles) from the climb up and down the day before. So we started exploring multiple lowland trails that loop around Yosemite Valley, only seeing people here and there as we passed the picnic tables. We got what seemed to be another view of the same peaks at different angles and a view of several creeks and waterfalls. We were once again out of drinking water as we reached a small pond where Kiran got a hold of another little snake swimming quickly to escape the visitors. The trail looped us around for the full loop and dropped us off for a beautiful view of the Bridalveil fall which did keep up to its name with a beautiful long veil made of scattered water and mist.

As we were finishing the trail, a steady smoke was raising and by 6:00pm the sun was glowing red behind the smoke on the mountains. There was a slight smell of smoke in the air, however not threatening. The dusk walk along the Valley was not any less exciting with the sighting of a wild turkey, a bear and a deer within a few minutes. Finishing this day, we made the longer drive to El Portal to the next closest Exxon gas station and stopped at a River Restaurant which was packed with tourist waiting for food. After the pizza grabbing hustle, we drove back full of fuel (in more than one way) to our resting nest.

However the night was not over for Rajiv and Kiran, as they ventured out on a whim for an astrophotography from the famous Tunnel View. The parent’s anxieties of night time winding drive by two tired youngsters were quelled as they came back with some handcrafted souvenirs to remember the trip.

July 23, 2022: Smoke descends on Yosemite

As I woke up next morning, a bright blur sky was split horizontally as a smoke hung over it looking like a large cloud. The air smelled slightly smoky but still the day was bright and clear enough for another hiking adventure. All packed up with extra water we set off for Four-mile trail that will lead to Glacier Point. Along the way the smoke was already being blown towards Yosemite Valley. The hike itself started off without any risk of breathing unhealthy air. We went up ascending steady to about 5,000 ft when we started seeing signs of ash particles in the air. The two Italian tourist visiting the place were making the hike look easy. We continued our trail till we reached Union Point about 6,300 ft above sea level. The air quality now was starkly getting worse and we could not see any of the rocky formation which were visible only a few minutes before. The wind soon picked up also scattering small ash particles visibly swirling in the sky. As the smoke descended further, we also did taking the route back to the Valley where the air was still okay but slowly dark smoke was hovering over the peaks hiding the monolithic beauties and displaying what looked like Abaddon turning the sun light to a reddish glare.

We continued some short hikes inside the Valley exploring a few sites and collecting some gifts from the National Park gift stores as memory of this trip. Our final stop was the Valley grocery store to try to grill some sausages and hamburgers on the grill at our beautiful rental property. The grocery list was settled with little disputes and I even found two hats on sale, one that I sent to my sister in Singapore enticing her to come visit the US. The evening smoke descended with a non-stop slow rain of ashes that were blown over from Mimosa into Yosemite Valley. The grilling however went smoothly at our Airbnb rental with a good dinner and final assault on all the dessert items that we could not take back on our flight to Washington DC.

July 24, 2022 Nostos

Our day on this date was pretty much full of driving, flying, making it back home just in time to round up all of our pets. We had apologize to them and our pet’s caretakers for the ordeal and confusion caused by our outlandish vacation out west. Such adventures with Sarvepalli crew of five will probably get harder to coordinate, as Rajiv (22) and Kiran (20) will be off to their own apartments with thier own work/school schedules . Pori will also start her college by next year and unknown to us is where each one will be by the year 2024. Another memory was saved, Yosemite will likely remain an unforgettable trip in our family conversations for years to come.

PS: The title’s “C’est pa vrais” is the expression in French a lot like the American “No Way.” – an expression of surprise in this case. I heard this a lot as the French tourist (along with us) stood amazed at the various viewpoints of Yosemite’s beauty.