Yosemite Revisited: More Tips, Less Snark

You may recall that I had less than charitable things to say about our visit to Yosemite last July. The park is spectacular; it’s our timing that was all wrong.

Emily “You Can Embroider That Shit on a Toss Pillow” Rohrer

But with summer travel planning season upon us, I thought it might be a good idea to offer up some information that campers might find a little more helpful than my pissy rant of 2016. So here ya go:

If you’ve got your RV pointed toward California this summer for a swing through Yosemite National Park, be aware of three things:

  1. You’ll never forget the scenery,
  2. Unless you’re a photography genius, you won’t be able to capture all that majesty in pixels, and
  3. It’s gonna be crowded — really, really distressingly and disproportionately crowded, to DisneyWorld-esque levels. 1200 square miles is not big enough for all the people, because every single one of them spent significant time, effort, and money to spend part of their summer vacation there, and they are going to have their Experience of a Lifetime, visiting the same top 5 park attractions as you are.

For information on RV camping at Yosemite, click on Visiting Yosemite With an RV, but be aware that even the folks in charge recommend staying outside the park, and shuttling in using public transportation.

From the NPS web site, “Since parking for RVs and trailers is limited in Yosemite, we strongly encourage you to park your RV outside Yosemite and use YARTS to travel into the park if you’re not staying the night in Yosemite.”

If you do want to try to stay in the park, first make sure your RV will fit, and that you can survive without hookups for the duration of your visit. There aren’t any. However, dump stations with fresh water are available at 3 of the 10 RV-accessible campgrounds, and generator use is allowed, but only at posted hours.

Yosemite campground map
(Source: NPS.gov)

It probably goes without saying that you’ll want to make your reservation as far in advance as possible, or, if you’re feeling lucky and adventurous, you can try for a first-come/first-served spot.

When we visited Yosemite last year, we set up The Toad in a private RV park in Lee Vining, CA, which is about 12 miles east of the westernmost entrance at Tioga Pass, and a nearly 2-hour drive to the main visitor’s center in Yosemite Valley. (Be aware that Tioga Pass/Hwy 120 closes from October-May due to snow, so using Lee Vining as your home base is not always a good option.)

Source: Google Maps

We had to visit in the summer because my husband and our younger son were hiking the John Muir Trail, and that’s something you want to accomplish when there’s little or no snow. And if you’re hiking the whole 211-mile thing, like my husband did, you have to go through Yosemite.

But now that we know what the Yosemite crowds are like in the summertime, we will never do that again. Our schedule is no longer bound by school calendars, and we will use that to our advantage by visiting the more popular national parks at off-peak times in the spring and fall.

How bad was it? Imagine crowds of tourists from all over the planet, hollering to each other in umpteen different languages, trying to enjoy the exact same spot you are, stopping to consult their maps right in your path, posing for selfies in front of everything, dealing with children who have obviously just had it, and/or driving slowly with one arm out the window to shoot video that nobody will ever want to view.

Lower Yosemite Falls, and a very small portion of the day’s tourists

By about 2:00 p.m., I was eyeballing the bear lockers in the parking lot. You’re supposed to put your food items in there, rather than leaving them in your car for bears to tear apart while you’re off exploring. But by mid-afternoon, I was ready to take all the food out, and put half the tourists in.

These are bear lockers. Big enough for tourists, yes?

That said, I found the park to be most enjoyable in the early morning hours. If you can get in and get some sight-seeing and hiking done before what seems to be the Witching Hour of 10:00 a.m., you’ll have a lot more space and breathing room to take in and truly appreciate some of the most eye-popping scenery in the country.

And hey, if you’ve only got one day to spend in the park, try this itinerary from Oh, Ranger!, one of my favorite resources. Be warned: everyone with one day to spend is going to be trying to see the same list of attractions as you are.

There will be crowds.

You will need patience.

Good luck!


Author’s note: Portions of this article appeared previously at OwnLessDoMore, and a version of this post is published at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.

Home is… where the cave is?

Two days before Christmas, we took a 30-mile road trip from our RV park in Pahrump, NV, to the old mining town of Shoshone, CA, established in 1910, and boasting a population of 31 people according to the 2010 census.

Shoshone is easy to visit if you’re touring the southern end of Death Valley National Park. If you’re coming from Nevada, it’s about an 80-minute drive west of Las Vegas; from CA it’s about a 2.5-hour drive northeast of the Barstow area.

The miners and prospectors who lived here back in the 1920’s didn’t have access to a lot of building materials, so they dug cave apartments into the surrounding clay hills. The guide we picked up at the local museum reports that this area, called Dublin Gulch, has been uninhabited since the 1970’s. It definitely felt a little spooky, and reminded me of my trip to California’s Bodie Ghost Town in July.

I’m gonna let my photos tell my story; if you’d like a little more history, go here.

Condos in the cliffs.
Hello, Fred Flintstone?

Close-ups of some of the doorways

This one had a little shrine outside, containing lots of objects that are full of sentimental value — and probably tetanus.

There was even a 1-car cave garage at the end of the row.

You can peer inside the abandoned dwellings. Several still contain old bed springs, rusted stove pipes, and other evidence of habitation.

The miners were messy. But I guess if you don’t have weekly trash pick-up, you create your own garbage dump by tossing your pork-n-beans cans out the door when you’re done with ’em.

Meanwhile, in downtown Shoshone…

Don’t blink because you’ll miss it, but do park your car and get out to explore. The museum is free (donations gratefully accepted), and the walking tour can be done in less than an hour, depending on how long you like to linger.

This old thing?
It sits in front of the Shoshone Museum, which served as the town’s general store and gas station back in the day.

This structure was built from adobe brick made on site, although the year is not given on the walking tour hand-out.
The original building, a restaurant, burned down in 1925, so it was sometime after that.
Now it’s used by the Inyo County sheriff and the BLM.

Heading east of town just half a mile, you’ll come to another canyon with a few more cave condos. Watch for the dirt pull-out on the north side of Hwy 178, and tread carefully, as the sandy-pebbly surfaces are a bit slippy.

This former home is called “Castle in Clay,” and boasts what appears to be two stories of living space. Potential real estate description: rustic 1BR, 0BA, EIK with sedimentary rock countertops, natural HVAC, no HOA, no need for lawn mower.

We thank our friends, Dan & Lisa, for alerting us to this place. They’ve got a blog too; check them out at Always On Liberty.

Looking into the canyon from the highway…

… and looking out toward the highway from the canyon

We were able to climb up the loose hillsides to peer into some of the caves.
That upright shrub below the cave is actually Tim on his way back down.

Of course our 19-year-old, who was visiting us on his winter break from UT-Austin, had to go to the tippy top. If you’re humming, “All by myself… don’t wanna be… all by myself, anymore…” I’m right there with ya.

To put it all in historical perspective, Fred Flintstone and his friends in Bedrock were out of production by 1966. Those caves in Dublin Gulch? Abandoned four years later. Guess it took a while for news to reach Shoshone that stone age living was no longer trendy.

How I know my husband loves me: he got video full of marmot!

Also, he returned to us from the John Muir Trail, having hiked all 211 miles over 17 days. You’ll see from his photos why he may have considered staying there. The world looks a little different from 10,000 feet.

 

Proud of this kiddo. Our son hiked the first section of the trail with his dad (about 62 miles in 6 days), and started on the second segment, but despite multiple means of prevention and treatment, was so plagued with painful blisters from his shoes and chafing from his pack, that he just couldn't continue.

Proud of this kiddo.
Our 19-year-old son hiked the first section of the trail with his dad (about 62 miles in 6 days), and started on the second segment, but despite multiple means of prevention and treatment, was so plagued with painful blisters from his shoes and chafing from his pack, that he just couldn’t continue. And now he has a hitchhiking story to go with his hiking story!

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Due to jumping a little late into the permitting process, my guys had to start their hike there inside the yellow circle at Red's Meadow last weekend and go north. Next week, I'll drop them off at Red's Meadow again, and they'll complete the southern part of the trail.

Due to jumping a little late into the permitting process, my guys started their hike there inside the yellow circle near Red’s Meadow on July 9, and went north, finishing at Happy Isles in Yosemite on July 14, Tim’s 50th birthday. I wrote about that here
On July 20th, I dropped them off near Red’s Meadow again, and they started heading south. Dane hitched a ride home on the 22nd, and Tim continued hiking for another week, summiting Mt. Whitney and completing the trail on July 31.

Next up for us: we’re heading back to Texas for about a month. We’ve got a Longhorn to get settled back in at UT, we’ve got some medical appointments to take care of, and we need to reconnect with family, friends, Tex-Mex and BBQ!

Wanna turn a 5-mile hike into an 11-mile hike? Follow me!

I’m an idiot, I can’t read a map, I parked at the wrong resort, and I now humbly apologize for all the people-hating I did in this post, because several people saved my ass today by helping me find the trail when I thought I was lost, and one of those groups also gave me a ride back to that wrong resort where I’d parked the BFT.

Sigh.

Y’all enjoy these photos I took along the Twenty Lakes Loop. Only two have captions, because I’m out of adjectives for hiking in the Eastern Sierra.

I’ll just be sitting here for a few more hours, popping ibuprofen and sipping electrolyte-infused beverages.

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Yep. Had to cross some snow!

Yep. Had to cross some snow!

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I knew the water taxi was a mileage-saving option (1.5 each way). I did not use it to get out to the trail head, nor did I buy a ticket for my return. Which is why, as I limped down to the dock after completing the loop, I had to ask the hottie boat driver, "Um? Do you give pity rides to overzealous hikers?" Affirmative. He let me buy my ticket after I got off at the other end of the lake. Worth. Every. Penny.

I knew the water taxi was a mileage-saving option (1.5 each way).
I did not use it to get out to the trail head, nor did I buy a ticket for my return.
Which is why, as I limped down to the dock after completing the loop, I had to ask the hottie boat driver, “Um? Do you give pity rides to overzealous hikers?”
Affirmative. He let me buy my ticket after I got off at the other end of the lake. Worth. Every. Penny.

There was no mail at the Devil’s Postpile, and the Ansel Adams Wilderness is in color

IMG_7335The boys are back on the John Muir Trail, to complete the approximately 150-mile portion from Mammoth Pass south to Mount Whitney. (Last week, they hiked the approximately 60-mile portion from Mammoth Pass north to Happy Isles, and I picked them up in holy-shit-is-this-place-crowded Yosemite.)

So while they’re backpacking, I’m day-hiking, but on trails that are designated “popular,” “easy to follow,” “heavily trafficked,” or any combination thereof. I’ve not been blessed with a very accurate sense of direction, so when I’m hiking solo, I do what it takes to keep myself safe and un-lost.

ranger station

Today I put in 5-6 miles, hiking from the Ranger Station (6) to Devil’s Postpile to Rainbow Falls (You Are Here) to the Lower Falls (bottom center), and back up to Red’s Meadow (10).

Since I was in the Ansel Adams Wilderness for most of my time on the trail, I took the liberty of using black & white filters on some of my photos as an homage. They’re nice, but definitely not of the same caliber as Mr. Adams’ artwork.

This is the Devil's Postpile. See? Not a letter or package in sight, just columnar basalt.

This is the Devil’s Postpile. See? Not a letter or package in sight, just columnar basalt. I will now try to inject the phrase “columnar basalt” into casual conversation at every possible opportunity.

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Columnar basalt down!

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I crossed right the heck over the JMT! Tim and Dane would have walked through here on the first day of their northbound hike last week.

I crossed right the heck over the JMT! Tim and Dane would have walked through here on the first day of their northbound hike last week.

It was a long way down...

It was a long way down…

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls

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5th arrow down: MT WHITNEY. That's where I'll pick up my guys in about two weeks. Also, I find it curious that SHOWERS are designated as mandatory, but COLD BEER is not?

5th arrow down: MT WHITNEY. That’s where I’ll pick up my guys in about two weeks. Also, I find it curious that SHOWERS are designated as mandatory, but COLD BEER is not?

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Saved the best sign for last. I’d been hiking for 3 hours by the time I got to it, and I was ready for that bus ride back to the parking lot!