One of my earliest memories is driving around in a big station wagon with my Grandma Ginna as we sang this song:
California, here I come
Right back where I started from
Where bowers of flowers
Bloom in the spring
Each morning, at dawning
Birdies sing and everything
A sun-kissed miss said, “Don’t be late”
That’s why I can hardly wait
Open up that woodland gates
California, here I come
-Al Jolson (click for audio recording)
It was a show tune from the 1920’s and I’m pretty sure we sang it 1/2 a million times. The funny thing was that we were not in California; we were in Bloomington, Illinois. I had never been to California. But the song made me dream about California and big trees.
Pining for Yosemite
So I grew up and I moved to California. Actually I moved to California twice. The first time I moved to Berkeley for a year but then I decided to go back East for grad school. Four years later I moved to Los Angeles. At this point I have been in California for almost 12 years.
In all those years I never made it out to Yosemite. Maybe I wasn’t ready. It was a mythical place. I imagined that Yosemite was the beating heart of California and that I hadn’t really arrived in California if I hadn’t entered Yosemite. I didn’t really know what Yosemite looked like exactly. But I knew it was where I would eventually need to go in order to become a Californian.
To further complicate the issue, I felt like I needed to go to the Grand Canyon before I visited Yosemite — you know, I have to work my way west. So in 2011 Jonathan and I used some free tickets that we got when we were bumped off a flight and we flew to Flagstaff, Arizona. From there we rented a car and drive to the Grand Canyon. It was big and impressive. We mostly stood at the rim and took selfies with our SLR and pondered the scale.
Now I was ready to go to Yosemite.
Jonathan drinking water out of the river in Yosemite Valley.
There are signs everywhere telling you NOT to do this.
Yosemite Here I
Finally, last month, Jonathan and I took our long anticipated road trip to Death Valley and Yosemite. Jonathan had been to these places as a child with his dad. But for me it was all new. One of my friends recently got his Green Card. I feel like I got my California Card. I have driven all the way around the Sierras. I stood at the lowest point in Death Valley. I climbed snowy trails. I hiked in ancient forests. I feel like I am a Californian. The wilds of California are not terra incognita to me anymore.
The tops of the pine trees look like a green shag rug blanketing the valley.
Yosemite Valley is a Cathedral
We primarily stayed in Yosemite Valley on this trip. It only accounts for 1% of the park, but it is the main attraction for most visitors. The Valley is smaller than I expected, about 7 miles long and surrounded by 3000′ tall granite cliffs. It is about a mile wide. And there are a bunch of huge water falls come crashing down into the valley. It is one of the few places in the world that lives up to the hype.
I have been to big epic landscapes before, like the Death Valley, Grand Canyon and Patagonia. They are amazing and impressive. But I kind of think of Yosemite Valley as a garden scale version of those big landscapes. It is epic but it is somehow on the upper limits of human scale. I am able to comprehend Yosemite Valley in a way that I can’t understand or see those other places. The valley walls create a huge room like space that felt architectural to me, like a huge cathedral. I woke up in the middle of the night in the dark and realized that I was in Yosemite Valley and I could almost sense the stone walls of the valley around me. It was both intense and comforting.
Native Manzanitas in the foreground
For a long time I had been thinking about Yosemite was a destination at the end of a road for me. It was symbolic of my move out west, my desire to travel and inventing a new life for myself. But when I got there, that all seemed unimportant. What I found was this crazy, amazing landscape and I fell in love. It is one of my most favorite places in the world. I’m really excited about going back again (and again) and dragging along friends and family. We are already planning the next trip…
Have you been to Yosemite? What are you favorite hikes?
What should we do on our NEXT trip to Yosemite?