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Beyond the Pale - A 'pale' is a fencepost. The English Pale was a boundary in Ireland marking out the part of Ireland under direct English rule circa 1450 (which included Dublin and environs). Those that lived 'beyond the pale', outside of English rule, were considered out of control and uncivilised. You decide...

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Yosemite - What's Buzzin Cuzin

Ain't she purty

YO-YO-YO-YOSEMITE IN DA HOUSE!

My favourite form of nature is woodlands so for me getting to visit Yosemite is a little slice of tree heaven. I also hoped I would meet Yogi Bear but that turns out to be Jellystone Park, which according to google maps does not exist (pah, what do they know BooBoo).
Don't go chasing waterfalls

If you’re a visitor to San Francisco you can join a day tour to Yosemite National Park, which involves an early start, a long bus journey, and a train ride. When my Dad was visiting we took a chance on this and it’s not as bad as it sounds, bring a book or just sit back and take in the passing fields of sugar cane, the rows of swaying corn, the slender almond trees and the graceful grape vines.  

Or, a group of you can pile in a car, slap on some music, get lost together (hard to get lost separately when you’re in the same car) and discover little dinky towns for pitstops, picture snaps and poking good natured fun e.g. Copperopolis – a genuine mining town but with a comic book name.


If you go the tour option you’ll catch a train in Modesto, it is agriculture central and is famous globally, apparently. California, in case you didn’t know, grows more crops than anywhere else in the world. All I can remember was that it was mighty hot and smelt of manure. Oh and the guide told us it has high unemployment, very high poverty rate and an extremely high rate of incarceration. I’m probably not going to scope out a summer house there but I’m sure it’s not all bad and is probably quite charming, it’s where the director George Lucas grew up.

When I travelled to Yosemite in a car with a group of friends we took a different route and stopped in a one horse town called Murphys for lunch. It’s got some winery action going on, which I must come back for someday, something tells me it’s not used to international visitors. We were nicely asked by three people at the place we had lunch “D'ye mind me asking, what brought ya here?”

Oh, important thing to note, when you’re outside of main towns it’s very hard to get radio reception. We spent most of our trip listening to the only two channels we could tune in: Christian Rock and some Cowboy FM carry on that had the wonderful slogan “What’s buzzin’ cuzin?” -it’s my new greeting of choice.

You’ll notice as you get closer to Yosemite that the grass looks different. Ok, you won’t notice this cos who the hell does, but apparently it is different. Many moons ago when the Spanish colonised this area they brought their own cows over from Spain. The cows pooped (I can’t think of a more delicate way to say it) on the US soil having eaten the grass in Spain, therefore the seeds from the Spanish grass were sown. I know what you’re thinking… sounds like bullsh**. Ba-dum-tish!

As you enter your approach to the park you’ll notice little pockets of tiny roadside dwellings. Approximately 90,000 people moved to California during the goldrush, most of them men. The hills around Yosemite would have been dotted with goldmine tents.

There is a story of one lady who ran a supply station for the miners back in the day. On the day her husband died she received 60 proposals of marriage. I wonder how many of them had their own teeth! The chap she eventually chose had the surname Priest, you’ll see the Priest Station on the roadside.

The fact Yosemite exists as a state park is largely down to a Scotsman  – John Muir. He was a naturalist (hope I spelt that right!) and believed strongly in the preservation of the wilderness. He essentially created the park as we know it. As the story goes, in the 1800s he decided to walk from San Francisco to Yosemite, yes walk, with just teabags and flour for provisions (I’ll avoid any jokes about tight Scotsmen or comments on their cuisine. I’m sure he used the tea and flour to whip up a gorgeous feast for all).

One of the main reasons people go to parks in California is surely to see a bear. Don’t mind people talking about the trees and the hikes, that’s all lies, they want to tell everyone back in suburbia that they went to Yosemite and had a Gangnam Style dance-off with Yogi Bear himself.

Something to bear in mind

As I was navigator extraordinaire on the group trip I had spent the 4 hour journey with my eyeballs unflinchingly trained on the road. Then, for one leeetle mili second I flick them back to my map and the car explodes with roars “DID YOU SEE IT?? DID YOU SEE THE BEAR?? IT RAN RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE CAR!”

I don’t friggin believe it. I missed the bleedin bear, ggggrrr. I have seen bears in Canada so that was of some comfort to me, but damn you Californian cuddle monster, we shall never know how beautiful our connection may have been.

Contrary to popular belief there are no grizzly bears in California, only black bears. Contrary to popular belief black bears are not black (don’t be silly) they are in fact brown. On the bus tour the guide advised us not to feed the bears if we came across them – yeah, I’m thinking that’s a given.
 
Can't believe I took this photo with my phone!
The descent into the majestic Yosemite valley is long and winding and will leave you gawping in wonder at it’s almost unparalleled magnificence. While on the tour bus the guide said “What animals do you expect we’ll see in the park?”, one of the English tourist gleefully yelped “Mice, Mice, oh I do hope we see some mice”. WHAT?! Mice? This is America, go big or go home….mice… this isn’t Wind in the Willows. If you want to see mice go to any London tube station. I was personally mortified for them. Instead, what you can expect to see are bears, deer, coyotes, mountain lions, falcons, ravens, and rattlesnakes. Mice? Give me strength.

If you want to stay in Yosemite there are lots of ways you can do it but whatever you choose you have to remember to book it well in advance. I would say give it 2-3 months if booking a hotel or a site for your RV, and if camping you’re looking at a booking up to a full year in advance. If you don’t have luck securing accommodation in the park there is always the option of staying just outside the park and driving in everyday, people do it.

If you do camp remember to put your food in a bear locker. A bear will rip a car door off in 5 seconds with its claws. I heard a story of someone who left just one candy bar in their car and a bear tore the car apart to get at it (understandable, sometimes you just need yo candy!).

Dad outside Yosemite Lodge

We stayed in the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, which was basic accommodation but not cheap. It’s easy to find the trails from the hotel and you can do as much or a little as your fitness level will allow. Definitely check out the Yosemite Falls trails, the Lower Falls trail is not difficult, and to see the volumes of water belching out of the side of the mountain with such power is compelling.

There are moderate hikes you can do like the Columbia RockTrail which will bring you into the wilderness so the trees grow closer around you and the squirrels run across your toes. There is something about the innocent smell from trees and the gentle sounds of wildlife that brings a deep serenity to your soul and renews your zest for life. I’d recommend getting up early to maximize your alone time with nature but even with other folks trickling through the park it’s easy to tune into mother earth. That’s why everyone’s there!

Then there are vicious hikes like the 4 Mile Trail that go up and up and will have you sweating and sucking on your camelback, but with rewarding stunning views over the valley.
 
North Face logo
If you are a total headbanger and want to scale the Half Dome or El Capitan you can do so, but I think you need to get a permit to climb the first of those; It’s nearly 5,000 feet high and interestingly is the basis for the logo you see on all North Face products. El Capitan is about 3,000 feet high and is a favourite for rock climbers.

And, in my recollection, while you hike you will often spot the rock climbers; I don’t know how they do it! On a previous hiking holiday inPeru I remember some Californian girl on the trip banging on and on about how she had conquered El Capitan. At the time it went over my head, I thought she was bragging about her sordid past with some Mexican dude, now I get it, very impressive indeed.

heigh-ho heigh-ho it'ss off to hike we go

If you want to make sure you see everything, or if you’re not in the mood for a hike, do a Floor Tour of the valley. The open air bus picks you up outside the Yosemite Lodge hotel and takes a couple of hours. There will be some cringey moments when the driver will make you do Y.O.S.E to the tune of Y.M.C.A. But they will make up for it by playing Johnny Cash music, legend.

You’ve hiked, you’ve taken in the view, you’ve been up close and personal with nature, you’ve exchanged stories about trees and wildlife, you’ve got some blisters, you’re a little sunburnt, you reckon you’re Grizzly Adams and feeling pretty awesome… what next.

Well, if you fancy eating somewhere other than the campfire (which is usually your best bet) try the posh Ahwahnee hotel. We went there as a group, and the hall you dine in is straight out of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. It is almost church like, with drop down gigantic windows that frame the wonderous nature you just left. The food isn’t as posh as you’d expect but it’s plentiful, and I hear the brunch Bloody Marys are a hikers staple.  

I adored Yosemite and think it’s a must see for anyone who makes it to California. It has totally inspired me to try and see as many national parks as I can. Plans are already afoot to visit the Utah wilderness. 

But first, for something completely different… Texas!

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