I just returned from an epic 12-day journey, my longest continuous stay so far, in Yosemite National Park. First night (a Tuesday in July) at Crane Flat Campground — lucky to get the one open campsite reservation online. Next five days/four nights in the backcountry. Entering at Porcupine Creek trailhead, camping on North Dome, then top of Yosemite Falls with a day hike to El Capitan, then back to Indian Ridge (near North Dome) for the final night. The final seven days were spent in Yosemite Valley Yellow Pines campground as volunteers with Yosemite Conservancy. This was our fifth year of service as volunteers with YC, and my first time as Assistant Cook, helping with preparation of hot breakfasts and dinners for the work crew of twelve volunteers all week long. I loved it!
I have just finished gathering and photographing/scanning all of the art images I created during my twelve days. A total of forty-six images, each with a mini story that will allow me to retrace my steps, one day at a time, and share each episode with you, in twelve, bite-sized portions. Each post will go up at 10:00am Pacific Time. At the end of the twelve days of posting, I will post the entire body of work on the front page of this website, as one project.
In the meantime, sit back and take a walk with me through one of our nation’s finest treasures.
Day 1: Pack the car, and get into high country
The transition from foggy, 55-degree July morning weather on the coast to the mustard-yellow fields of Tracy, and then the rolling straw-colored foothills of the Sierra, dotted with low trees that always remind me of John Steinbeck, is always shocking. But as the hot, dry mountain air seeps into my bones, and the relentless sun soaks into my bare arms and starts to melt the ice in the cooler, my body begins to take on the rhythm of real summer. The slow afternoons ringing with the sounds of cicadas, where nothing moves too quickly, if at all.
The first order of business when we arrive at our campground is lunch, which consists of the few remaining fresh vegetables from our CSA box that we didn’t manage to finish before leaving. Celery with Justin’s almond butter. Carrot sticks. Cherry tomatoes. Sunflower sprouts. Half of a green pepper. I pile these high onto a tortilla, stacked with some pieces of prepackaged lunch meat, which I never eat in real life but seems to be a default when I am on camping trips.
After gulping down the food before it cooks any more in the fierce midday sun, it is time to climb into the hammock. I recall the technique that my eleven-year-old niece, Chloe, taught me earlier this summer when I visited her in Minneapolis. No sooner had I stepped onto her driveway from the airport than she ushered me to the park across the street from her house, where we were to go “mocking”. As in, “hammocking”, which is apparently a thing in Minneapolis. With the help of her father (my brother), we set up two hammocks in double-decker fashion between the same two trees. First she and I plus their Bichon-Frise mix, Lily, piled into the first hammock. Then, Chloe demonstrated her signature technique for entering the hammock on the second level. Instead of climbing in from above, she positions herself on the underside, tucking her feet and hands into the folds of the hammock. Then, using her bodyweight, she flips over like a sausage on the barbecue, ending up face up and resting inside the hammock.
Naturally, at Yosemite, I wanted to try my hand at this technique. The hammock was slightly too high for me to comfortable get in from the top. So I flipped it over, tucked first my hands in and then one foot at a time. With one motion (the trick that Chloe emphasized was the key to success), I flipped myself over, landing in perfect ‘mocking position. Just at that moment, a ranger walked by our campsite and said, “Wow! I thought you were going down for a minute there! Impressive.”
I know who the experts are when it comes to ‘mocking. Listen to the eleven-year-olds!
Our afternoon excursion is day hike in Tuolumne Grove, a nearby 2-mile roundtrip hike to a giant sequoia grove. Our last visit here was on snow shoes three years ago. This time the parking lot has been expanded to accommodate large tour buses, the number of vault toilets has doubled to four, and the wildflowers are in bloom.
I notice that the most common language spoken on the trail is not English. Spanish, French, and German are the predominant sounds I hear. Whether the English speakers are not as talkative while hiking, or whether the proportion of foreign visitors is truly that high, my own way of beginning to settle in to the Yosemite experience is by closely observing flowers and trees.
See the entire Yosemite sketch and story series here.