Two Views on Yosemite

This blog comes to you from two perspectives. Oliver has kindly just sat at the foot of the bed and recounted his thoughts on our visit to Yosemite National Park. Interspersed with Oliver’s account I have added some gap filling commentary.

So first I read my book from 6.00 (am) to 7.00 (am) then we did school work for two hours then we drove away and drove and drove and drove and did we stop anywhere?

The night before entering Yosemite we camped on a hill overlooking the expansive and picturesque Mono Lake. It was one of the nicest places we have pulled up, nestled at the foot of the Sierra Nevada range which we would climb into Yosemite on the morning Oliver describes. The park entrance is at the summit of the Tioga pass (9945 feet). We did stop occasionally to take in the view and to take photos of the autumn colours.

On the way to Yosemite

We walked along and took photos of squirrels on the ground and in the trees and in all the nooks and crannies and they were hard to take photos of. Then we walked along some more and saw the Soda Springs and the John Muir club hut thingy and we saw a coyote bolting down the river. Then we walked back doing the same thing and some rock hopping was involved.

Our first stop inside the park was for a short walk just near the edge of the Tuolumne Meadows, an alpine grassland surrounded by evergreen forest and massive granite boulders and mountains. Oliver’s recollections blend two walks together.

The first one involved a good deal of rock hopping along a river, something that both he and Amy love. Amy, Granny and I did go to great lengths trying to take photos of squirrels (or were they chickarees or chipmunks??) but they’re skittery little fellows and not overly given to posing.

Beautiful rock pools
Literal rock hopping
A skittery critter
Tuolumne Meadows

The second walk took us to the Soda Springs on the meadows themselves. This is one of the nicest spots in Yosemite. The Soda Springs still baffle scientists. The water is full of minerals but they don’t know where it comes from. There were huts built by the Sierra Club in dedication to John Muir along the way and we did see a coyote. After our walks lunch was served from the motorhome and consumed on camp chairs with views of the Lembert Dome.

The Soda Springs
Our lunch spot

We drove down a big windy hill through Yosemite with canyons and rocks and stuff. We stopped to take photos at, what was that place called?

Olmstead Point.

Yeah, and climbed up this big rock slab and the lake with trees around it. We drove down some more windy road with me reading my book and Amy listening to her story then we stopped to take photos down a deep valley canyon thing.

The road across Yosemite is very windy and very scenic. It’s around 40 miles long. Mid way along, Olmstead Point offered our first view of the iconic Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley. On the other side of the road to the carpark was a huge gently sloping granite slab which called to me. So Amy and I climbed it. I think Oliver went back to his book. The lake Oliver mentions was further down the road. I’m not sure what he was getting at with the Canyon but suspect he was thinking about the next morning when we drove into Yosemite Valley for the first time.

The Sierra Nevada mountains are nothing like other mountain ranges we have explored. The forest seems to grow straight out of the granite with trees and rock present in almost equal measure. As we descended from the heights of the pass the trees got bigger and stunning autumn, I mean fall, colours started to emerge. It was not hard to see how Yosemite helped inspire the National Parks movement.

On the western side of the park you can’t help but notice the number of dead trees. We would later learn that an estimated 6 million trees in the park have succumbed to fire and the bark beetle – a natural and ever present critter that is having a devastating impact because the winters are becoming too warm to halt them in their tracks and because the trees have already been weakened by drought.

Olmstead Point

Then we eventually showed up at this expensive campground with easy mini-golf. Me and daddy were tied for ages until he gave up because it was cold.

The campground was the closest to Yosemite that we could find. So many people visit Yosemite every year that the campsites book out within a minute of opening – 6 months in advance! I guess I must have moaned about the price if that’s what Oliver recalls. It did have a rustic mini-golf course and we did play when he and Amy should have been in bed and the game did go on seemingly forever and I did eventually send everyone to bed. It was cold and sometimes enough is enough.

The next morning we got up and me and Amy did two hours of school. We drove into Yosemite but I didn’t see any of it cause I was reading my book. Then we most annoyingly stopped for lunch and tried to spot climbers climbing up El Capitan. Then we walked over to the two guys who had two telescopes and we saw the climbers up close on the cliff and we tried to figure out where they were on the cliff without the telescope. There was this red dude who had a red rope and red gear and he was just sitting relaxing in a red chair enjoying the view… and taking photos probably. 

I think Oliver did see some of the drive into the Yosemite Valley, hence the reference to the canyons earlier. It must also be said that he probably did miss most of it because he was reading his book. Oliver has read in excess of 48 books this year and he may well remember many of them more than where we’ve been.

The two hours of school work is true. Emma and I recently instigated a new school work regime in an effort to eliminate any and all debate about the matter. This is no longer vacation style schooling. Breakfast is served from 7.00 each morning and school starts at 8.00. No one goes anywhere until two hours of concentrated work follows. The new regime is working really well – at least from Emma and my perspective. Oliver says he doesn’t like it.

I really don’t like the new school work regime because I don’t get to read my book enough in the morning.

Upon entering the Yosemite Valley proper for the first time we took a short walk to the Bridal Veil falls before stopping for lunch along the Merced River at the foot of El Capitan. I can’t begin to imagine why Oliver found stopping for lunch annoying… we were all hungry. Maybe he just wanted to keep reading his book?

Our lunch spot was stunning. There was hardly anyone else around and we sat gazing up at the thousand metre face of El Capitan. We had heard you could see people climbing it but couldn’t see anyone until we came across a lovely husband and wife from Texas who pointed them out. There were in fact many climbers though they could scarcely be seen.

So big you can’t fit the whole reflection in

A short walk down the river, the National Parks Service organises a ‘talk to a climber’ program. We wandered through the forest until we found the relevant spot which included a couple of telescopes. Through the telescopes we could follow the climbers in great detail as they hung on their ropes, hauled bags of gear up behind them and as they climbed. It takes most people four to five days to climb the 1000 vertical metres. We stayed and watched for at least an hour.

It was harder than Where’s Wally
There’s a few
They have a stack of gear to haul up the rock
Our first good look at Half Dome
Up close – Half Dome

Where did we go next? Oh yeah, then we drove to the visitor centre where Daddy dropped me, Granny and Amy off and we got junior ranger things so we could have something interesting to do. Then we waited for you and then we went to the Ansell Adams Gallery where you guys looked at prints of the Ansell Adams photos that costed thousands of dollars and were only prints. There were heaps of prints as you would expect in a gallery’.

We made a special effort to get to the visitor centre to pick up the junior ranger booklets for Amy and Oliver. Amy has taken a real liking to these booklets and eagerly sets out in pursuits of all the information required to complete them and earn another badge. The Yosemite Visitor Centre however is tucked away in a corner of the valley that is probably easily accessed in a Smart Car but which presents certain difficulties and challenges to the driver of a 28-foot motorhome.

Emma and I ended up parking several kilometres away and catching the Yosemite shuttle back to the visitor centre. The Ansell Adams gallery next door did have prints of his work on sale, the most expensive of which was priced at US$83,000!

Didn’t we then wait at the place with the deer while you went to get the motorhome and Amy and Granny took about a thousand photos of a deer that was just grazing about 50 feet away?

Yep. Neither Amy, Oliver or Granny were up for the walk back to get the motorhome so they waited on the edge of a meadow with gorgeous views across the valley and looking straight at the face of Half Dome. To complete the scene there was a deer, complete with impressive looking antlers, grazing a matter of metres away.

Deer paparazzi

After that we drove from Yosemite to a campground where there was a guy with an American flag on his tent, then we made a fire from our faithful fire lighters and we made chocolate damper til 9.00 (pm) and then we went to bed and slept until tomorrow.

All fairly self-explanatory. The campground was in fact just inside the park and was secured by showing up at 8.30 am that morning and reserving a spot just as another camper was leaving. The guy behind us did string an American flag before he pitched his tent. I’m not sure there was much ‘we’ in the making of the damper. This was Amy’s sole endeavour though we all happily wrapped it in foil to cook and eat the fruit of her labour. It was good. Really good. Especially drowned in honey.

Maybe that is what you do in the USA?

The next day we drove into Yosemite village and hired bikes which was a little bit tedious because the lady at the counter said that if we weren’t back in thirty minutes after it started raining they would lock up your license or something. Then we rode up to the bottom of Half Dome where there was supposed to be a lake called Mirror Lake but all there was, was a dry lake bed with big boulders sticking out of it.

Bikes seemed like a great way to get around the Yosemite Valley so we hired some, which did entail leaving Emma’s drivers’ licence behind as a sort of deposit. I was a little rankled however when told that if it rained (as was forecast) we had to be back from wherever we were within 30 minutes or they would close for the day and we would have to come back the next day to retrieve our deposit.

This is the sort of thing that gets under my skin and I guess I’m not that good at hiding it. History has shown that I can get quite petty over such matters despite their being well beyond my influence. In any case, ‘tedious’ may not be quite the right word but Oliver’s recollection is fair. The Mirror Lake thing is also true. There was no water. It was bone dry. There were great views of Half Dome though. From our vantage point right at its base we looked heavenward to the peak of the rock face 1500 metres overhead.

Bike fun
Half Dome view from Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake
Silliness on after the bike ride

When we turned around and went back (from the half way point on our ride) it started sprinkling and we only just got back before our hour was up. Then we went on a ranger talk that took us around and told us about animals and cool stuff then he got all excited about a helicopter rescue where the helicopter went down into a gorge about five times and came up with people. Then Amy and me got our ranger thinga-me-jiggies signed and got our junior ranger badges.

As part of the junior ranger program, we all had to attend one of the talks by the National Parks staff. We decided to join Ranger Eric on the ‘Wildlife Walk’. Ranger Eric was excellent, full of information on Yosemite’s ecology. Our walk was however interrupted by the thrum of a helicopter streaking down the valley and we did all have to chase after Eric when he stopped speaking mid-sentence and ran off excitedly to see where the chopper was going.

Turns out it wasn’t going far and we spent the next hour alternately watching wildlife and the helicopter as it disappeared into a gorge at the Yosemite Falls before finally emerging with some poor soul strapped to a stretcher hanging from the end of a winch and winging rapidly off towards medical assistance.

‘More that 4.5 million people visit Yosemite National Park every year’, Ranger Eric explained. ‘This sort of thing happens all the time. Search and rescue personnel come from all over the world to learn from our crews’.

This all made for an eventful afternoon after which we did return to the visitor centre for Amy and Oliver to submit their booklets. The Parks staff take these very seriously and the Ranger went through each question, stopping with a furrowed brow at the question asking which President was responsible for the protection of Yosemite National Park.

Amy and Oliver had written Theodore Roosevelt at my instruction. Needless to say I was a little, nay a lot, embarrassed to be informed it was Abraham Lincoln. I was just starting to rehearse a rationale as to why Amy and Oliver should not be denied their junior ranger status because their dad got cocky about the history of the National Parks Service when the ranger seemed satisfied that it was indeed my error and not theirs. Amy and Oliver followed the Ranger in a pledge to help protect the park and we were on our way.

Ranger Eric
Not wildlife
Can you see the person hanging?
There was wildlife – a young mule deer buck
The meadow in Yosemite Valley was good for wildlife spotting

And now I think it’s time for me to go to bed.

It was, and he has, and so it falls to me to finish the story. On our final day in Yosemite we took a walk down into one of three groves of Giant Sequoia’s in the park. Giant Sequoias are the same species as the coastal redwoods. They are larger in girth but not as tall. There were around 20 trees in the grove and they were fantastic but what really took me were the autumn colours of the undergrowth.

Autumn colours
More Autumn colours
Even more Autumn colours
This one had an acorn

We then retraced our steps back over the Tioga pass the way we had come in. A light dusting of snow from the night before had transformed the high country and made for many more stops for photos, including Olmsted Point again where this time we all climbed the rock. Oliver may have read his book the rest of the time but I’m not sure. We re-joined Highway 395 headed south right where we left off, camping a short way down the road at the gorgeous Silver Lake.

The predicted storm really did hit that night and we later learned that the Tioga Road had been closed due to snow. We made it through with just a matter of hours to spare.

High above Olmstead Point with Half Dome in background
New banner shot – at Olmstead Point
Tuolumne Meadows on the way out of the Park
A light dusting
Silver Lake trees
On the road after Yosemite

Turning Ten in Tahoe

It’s hard to think just how it may have happened, but the end of our year away seems now to be looming large. We’re into the last quarter, almost the final stretch. With around 12 weeks to go, I feel like those days where a return to life at home was unimaginable are starting to be numbered.

In fact, thoughts of home seem to find their way into conversations increasingly often as we motor along in our motorhome. Amy and Oliver discuss what they would like to do to their rooms with relish and ponder what extra-curricula activities they would like to pursue. Oliver asked the other day if I thought there was anywhere in America that would be likely to sell a plastic cricket bat?

Talk of home however is a little too pre-emptive still. A more immediate question was what are we going to do after we drop off the motorhome in three weeks’ time? Where to next? Our trip beyond the USA was always so far off it had been dismissed with a simple ‘then we’ll go south to central or south America until time and money and run out…’ Time it seems is running out, fortunately in equal measure with money.

These thoughts occupied our mind as we made our way up and up and up into the Sierra Nevada mountains towards Lake Tahoe. We were off to visit our friends Ryan and Kami, who we met way back in Vietnam, on Halong Bay. We really like Ryan and Kami. A bit like Andrea and Peter from Canada and Britt and Morten from Denmark we found their company thoroughly enjoyable from the moment we met. We hope they feel the same and we jumped at the invitation to stop by.

Lake Tahoe is a huge lake of gorgeously clear water. It was formed many moons ago when a volcano formed a natural depression which ponded the waters of the Truckee River. Coming from the West, it is approached via the Donner Pass which overlooks Donner Lake. Donner Lake was the sight of a rather gruesome tale back in 1846.

Donner Lake viewed from Donner Pass

At the time, various family groups were trying to cross the Sierra Nevada into California. One fateful trip saw a whole bunch of them caught short here at Donner Lake by a vicious early winter storm. Most starved to death. A few ate a few of the others, or so the written records would suggest (no archaeological evidence has been found to confirm) in order to survive and overall only a few women and children made it out alive. The real saga was much more drawn out and detailed than that, but you get the gist. I bet they wish they had an V10 powered RV and a highway to drive on.

Ryan and Kami’s place was at Truckee, just a few miles from Tahoe. It is a lovely mountain town, made all the lovelier by the colours of the aspen trees in fall, I mean autumn. Ryan and Kami cooked us dinner (including chocolate fondue for dessert), took us for walks high in the mountains and skimmed rocks with us on the shores of Lake Tahoe.

Downtown Truckee
Ryan picked up a snake… as you do?!
If you walk up high enough you find snow… fight!
Having fun on the hike
At the top of Ellis Peak Trail
Some of the view at Ellis Peak
The shores of Lake Tahoe

Truckee is a really pretty mountain town like the other villages and ski resorts which call Lake Tahoe home. They have charm and character and ooze well-to-do. Ryan and his son Sage played spot the Bentley or Lamborghini as they drove Oliver and I around. It is, altogether a world apart from many other towns and small cities we have driven through which seem to forsake charm and character in favour of carpark acreage and store footprint size.

On the third day of our visit it was Oliver’s birthday. A special outing was organised down to nearby Reno to ‘Fly High’, a trampoline park. Kami brought Sage and Indy, their kids along, to help Oliver celebrate. Oliver says it was, ‘a whole lot of bouncy fun’. Which it was. Emma and I bounced too, and swung off the high trapeze to fall onto the mats below, and played dodge ball and through ourselves up the American Ninja Warrior style warped walls and climbed all over the monkey bars and roman ring courses. I felt like a ten-year-old again.

Oliver and Sage
The warped wall
Amy and Indy
Dodgeball action
Greg about to get pelted
Got him!!
After swinging from the trapeze
Ninja warrior style ladder monkey bars
Pizza dinner was had
Kami baked an awesome lemon cake

Staying in a house for a few days meant access to a television which allowed me to turn on and watch Donald Trump debate Hilary Clinton one evening. It was fascinating stuff. No one we have met in America is happy with the choice of candidates they are being asked to choose between although the choice still seems obvious to me. Amy and Oliver joined me in watching the debate of their own volition and actually stayed tuned for pretty much the full hour and a half.

It stimulated a fair bit of discussion afterwards, though we all agreed it was probably best to keep our opinion on American politics to ourselves. We seem to have travelled through predominantly Republican territory since leaving Seattle. ‘Trump. Pence’ banners have been a common sight whereas I don’t recall seeing a Clinton sign anywhere. In one town Trump banners were accompanied by enthused individuals who waved their views vigorously at the passing traffic. Others signs included in the mix read, ‘Free people have guns. Slaves don’t’.

This doesn’t happen at home

This sort of thing makes you feel like you really are in the USA. It is a fascinating place. Everything is big. The landscape, the mountains, the cars, the motorhomes, the shops, I mean stores. A big car in Australia would be a Landcruiser, a Hilux or other similar beastie. Parked next to the average American ‘pick-up truck’ these cars just don’t look big at all. It’s like seeing a 747 parked beside an A380. Most pick-ups can tow something like twelve tons and it seems like they comprise every second vehicle on the road.

We left Ryan and Kami’s after three very enjoyable days, headed for highway 395 which runs up and down the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. We were headed for Yosemite National Park and hoping to come at it from the east across the 9945 feet (3031 metres) Tioga Pass. It was a Tuesday and there was a storm forecast for Thursday which threatened to close the pass for the season.

Highway 395 is a very pretty drive, especially in the fall. Stops to take photos were numerous. I have totally given in to my urge to take photos lately. Scenery here in the US is a large part of the reason for my capitulation. The world continues to astound me and the taking of nice photos is little more than an expression of the powerful hold it has on me and the desire to take a little bit home.

It doesn’t help that Mum has become something of an amateur photographer or that Amy is showing strong signs of being photo obsessed as well. The three of us love little more than sharing our favourite photos from the day before over a coffee each morning – no coffee for Amy though.

Highway 395 scenery
Beautiful colours

In amongst all this, plans for our final 12 weeks have emerged. After we return the motorhome in Las Vegas on 1 November we propose to continue our US adventure for another week, trading the motorhome for something faster and nimbler in order to streak east across the desert in search of Canyonlands and Arches National Parks and perhaps a detour via Monument Valley.

After that we’ll hop a flight to LA for a few days at Disney… a payoff for our children who have so patiently, for the most part, accompanied Emma and I as we have sought to walk every path and trail we can find. Disney is to be followed by surfing lessons at Sayulita in Mexico and a couple of week’s snorkelling the coral reefs in Belize before we head north for Christmas with the Canadian relatives and spend our last week in Ottawa with the Douglas-Grants. We will fly home on 5 January, landing in Sydney on 7 January – exactly 365 days after we left.


Ambassadors from another time


‘The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time’. 

John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America.

I wrote three drafts to try and describe our time and experience visiting the redwood forests of northern California. All were a terrible disappointment to me. Then I started looking up what other people have said and found everything I wished to convey had already been said. Above and below you will find quotes that sum up what I felt.

We started our redwood journey in the north at the Jedediah State Park. We camped beneath these massive trees in a campground with roads scarcely wide enough to manoeuvre our oversize vehicle. We also wandered along the banks of the Smith River, the last remaining undammed river in California.

Jedediah State Park – Greg’s fav photo
Jedediah State Park
The Smith River
We were dwarfed

On our second day we headed south along the Newton Drury Scenic Drive to Elk Prairie. We walked the Trillenium Falls walk and the Prairie Creek Trail. Amy and Oliver loved the ‘Ed-Venture Quests’ provided by the Parks Service and the cloth badges they received from undertaking them successfully. Emma also went to great lengths to entertain them in the forest leaving mum and I in peace to soak up our surrounds. Amy also took a 20 metre rope on our walks. A rope than only made it three quarters of the way around the base of the larger trees we came across.

Elk Prairie – alas no elk to be seen
Entertaining Amy on the Trillium Falls walk
The trail to Trillium Falls
Measuring trees

On day three in the redwoods we drove the Avenue of the Giants, a little old road that parallels highway 101 and is infinitely more beautiful and wondrous. We left the redwoods heading for Lake Tahoe and leaving me contemplating whether this may be my favourite place in the world.

“The redwood is the glory of the Coast Range. It extends along the western slope, in a nearly continuous belt about ten miles wide, from beyond the Oregon boundary to the south of Santa Cruz, a distance of nearly four hundred miles, and in massive, sustained grandeur and closeness of growth surpasses all the other timber woods of the world.”

John Muir

 “It is difficult to imagine the size of a sierra redwood. You often hear stories like the fact that a sierra redwood may contain enough wood to build 40 five room homes; a tree may weigh 4,000 tonnes; they are as tall as the Statue of Liberty. However, these stories do little to convey the actual size of these trees.
Many sierra redwoods are between 250 and 300 feet tall, the tallest being about 325 feet high. While their height is impressive, the real wonder of a sierra redwood lies in its bulk. Many of these giants have diameters in excess of 30 feet near the ground, with a corresponding circumference of over 94 feet!”

California Department of Parks and Recreation (

“But more impressive than the facts and figures as to height, width, age etc., are the entrancing beauty and tranquillity that pervade the forest, the feelings of peace, awe and reverence that it inspires.”

George McDonald, Dollarwise Guide to California and Las Vegas

“We seek their companionship with quiet satisfaction, for in striking contrast with the heavy shade and gloomy depths of our great pine forests, the shadows in the densest growth of redwoods are made soft and semi-luminous by rays of sunlight piercing the feathery foliage, glistening through the pillared glades, illuminating the warm brown and somber gray trunks of these grand trees and ‘awakening to more vivid tints of green the swaying branches sweeping the clear blue sky’. And this comingling of light and shade gives to daylight in the redwoods a peculiar softness in keeping with the stillness of the scene.”

FH Clark, ‘Forestry; Redwoods Annual Report of the State Board of Horticulture of the State of California for 1891′.

“The size of the trees is, however, only the beginning of this magical place. The colours are rich and vibrant, with bark and moss of greens, reds and browns. The air is thick with moisture a hint of pine. It is fresh and clean and deep, heavily laden with oxygen from the surrounding trees. Creeks and running water play out in the background and the wind moves breezily through the canopy of trees way above. In the wet, mist swirls. In the sunlight individual beams of light can be seen piercing like fingers between the thick foliage and in the sun, shadow and light mix in equal measure.”

Me, from my first draft of this blog post

So even though it is impossible to capture in photos – I tried.  With thanks to Granny for a few of these.

Smith River
Wandering among giants
It was huge!
Climbing the roots
Fallen giant
Cuddles with Granny
Forest wandering 
Some of them were 2000 years old
Forest family
Inside the roots
Such colours to photograph!
Cool fence at Elk Prairie
Elk Prairie
Awesome trails
Oliver commented ‘we would have had to climb this on the West Coast Trail’
Just one???
Sunlight and moss