Heading to California was a total spur of the moment decision for us. And it was the best call that we had made on our two week trip that was intended for Utah and Arizona. We found ourselves in Zion, Utah one morning. It was the place we had been looking forward to the most for it’s hiking and slot canyons. Unfortunately we got there at the wrong time. The crowds were swarming the place and it felt more like an amusement park rather than a National Park. (It was early May. Apparently high season starts beginning of March).
So we ditched it and gunned it north with Yosemite in mind. Driving through Nevada was really surreal. It was basically a straight road all the way. The mountains in the distance were beautiful and we were on the road for around 5 hours and basically met nobody besides a few cows. That morning we had left Bryce Canyon and I drove roughly 11 hours until we arrived in Mammoth Lakes, California. The road became a lot more windy in Cali. The one drive we’ll never forget was a road with endless dips. It actually resembled a total rollercoaster ride, to the point where we couldn’t really see the road as we got to the top of the dip.
It was beautiful to see all the trees and lakes in California after spending a week in dry desert and canyon-land. I’m pretty sure that most people drive up through the California side instead of the Nevada route. But I really recommend driving through Nevada if you wanna have a more relaxing ride. Just put the car on cruise and keep straight for hours :)
The drive from Mammoth Lakes to Sonora is also really worthwhile. We crossed the mountain range, at times climbing 25% grade hills with extremely windy turns. It was definitely a long journey from Zion to Yosemite, but as soon as we descended into Yosemite, we just knew that we had made the right decision.
Yosemite is a park I had long been waiting to visit. I had heard a lot of great things about it from other people and we had looked at all the great hiking potential here before this trip. Half dome was a hike that we really wanted to do, but it’s extremely difficult to get in, because of a lottery system that only allows 300 hiker per day to climb the cables to the summit. Usually the cables are up at the end of May. The fact that we drove up when we did, must have been some act of fate.
We arrived in Yosemite on Tuesday, May 8th and the cables were scheduled to go up on that Friday. They were going up 3 weeks early because of a mild winter. So we took a chance and applied to hike it for the first day of the season. Thursday morning we scored our passes to climb Half dome! We were really stoked it all came together.
The hike was incredible. It was a tough 8.5 hour hike with an elevation gain of 2500ft (suggested time was 10-12 hours). Fortunately a lot of the trail is shaded and it takes you past two beautiful waterfalls that will actually soak you pretty good depending on the wind.
Climbing the last 300m with the cables was so much fun. Cecilia was a bit freaked out as she is slightly scared of heights. She almost turned around at one point, but I encouraged her to push on. In her defense, it was pretty steep in some sections and we weren’t clipped in (some people brought gear). You really had to use your arms to pull yourself up with the cables. Our arms were definitely feeling it at the end of the ascend.
The view on top of half dome was incredible. Some people had camped near the base of half dome and caught the sunrise. We were among the first 30 people to climb it this year and we still can’t believe we managed to score permits!!
Yosemite is truly an incredible park. We both loved the fact that they kept the shops and cafes very subdued and elegant. There is nothing flashy about the park and it’s not trying to sell a lot of things. They just want you to enjoy the beautiful trees and mountains.
You can rent bicycles and ride the endless bike lanes, which Cecilia was pretty happy about! We rode around on the mellow beach cruisers for a good three hours one day and just soaked it all in. Even though the park is busy, you don’t really sense the crowds because it’s very spread out (unlike Zion). We camped about 45 minutes outside of the park at the “Lost Claim” campground. It’s a nice and quiet, tent only campground. The only drawback was the distance to Yosemite, but you need to reserve far in advance to get a spot in the park.
We spent 4 days in Yosemite and could definitely have stayed longer. Personally, it was my favorite National Park so far and I know I will be back.
The next stop was Sequoia National Park. I had been to BC, Canada and could never get the beautiful trees out of my head. So the thought of the massive Sequoias was pretty exciting. Sequoia National Park sits quite a bit higher than Yosemite and has respectively cooler temperatures. But it made for perfect hiking weather. The trees were just out of this world. Hiking beneath them had such a calming effect - it was pretty special. It was interesting to learn that these massive trees have a root system that is only about 3ft deep and that they are basically fire resistant. The park actually schedules controlled fires to create a healthier forest in the future (the ash is very rich in nutrients). Because of these controlled burns, a lot of trees had actual ‘scars’ at the bottom of the trunk. Huge open gaps in the trees made you wonder how these trees could still stand. The bark of the Sequoias felt really interesting. Very layered and textured
Oftentimes we could spot the fire retardant sap they produce, keeping them so safe. The incredible size of these trees will always stay in our memories.
Unfortunately we had a bit of an incident before we left the park. When we got up in the morning, we noticed that the campsite next to us had a lot of garbage spread across it. We immediately realized that a bear must have been at their site. The couple that was next to us had slept in their car, but left their garbage from the night before outside. When we approached them about it, a woman from another campsite came over and confirmed that she had heard the growling around 1am.
There had been a lot of warnings of bears near campsites in Yosemite and Sequoia. They warned even of the bears breaking into cars. Luckily nobody was harmed with this incident. Unfortunately it confirmed that you really have to watch who is around you. In the future I will definitely talk to people near our site, to make sure people remove their food and garbage. You would think that anyone staying at a campground understands nature, but there are a lot of people that are very blind to the reality of animal behavior. The sad thing is that bears have to be put down once they start coming to campsites repeatedly. So people that act this way do not only put other people in danger but also the bears. We were definitely pretty shaken by the fact that a bear had been basically right next to our tent. Even though we have black bears in Cape Breton, we have never come that close to one. The bears in California are brown bears. Apparently they were quite aggressive in their search for food at the time as it had been a very short winter. We saw several warning videos of bears climbing into vehicles to get food. That is not something we had heard of around home before, but I am sure it does happen. People are just not careful enough.
After the bear incident, we went on a beautiful long hike through the Sequoia forest. It really helped to calm us down again. We decided to leave the campsite, because of the likelihood of the bear returning and we headed towards Death Valley. It was a pretty long drive, but we finally arrived at a place where we could pitch a tent. We were now at sea level and it was a roasting 35 degrees at midnight.
The heat in Death Valley was unbelievable. Two days later, our campground was actually closing because it just gets too hot to camp. Driving through Death Valley is definitely worthwhile. The scenery reminded us of Iceland quite a bit. One of the coolest parts was the walk through “Mesquite Dunes”. We wandered through the sand for quite a while and it was definitely bringing back memories of the Middle East for Cecilia.
California was really good to us. It just gave us the balance we needed after a week in canyon-lands. We were craving trees, mountains, rushing water and shade. Yosemite was an absolute gem and we really hope to come back to see the Redwoods National Park and more of Northern California.