DM and MM's USA and Canada 2004 Trip Diary

Day 6 - Yosemite to Gilroy

Thursday, 1 April, 2004

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Today was a very full day! We got up a little late, around 08:00. Opening the curtains of our rom to the patio out the back revealed a glorious morning, with inquisitive squirrels right outside our room, approaching to within centimetres of the door as we watched. Looking up, of course, gave us an impressive view of the sheer granite walls of the valley rising above us, a view repeated out the front door, with the addition of the thundering stream of Yosemite Falls cascading down, high up the wall.

Steller's Jay
Stellar's jay, outside our room at Yosemite Lodge

After showering and eating some cereal for breakfast, we packed the car and checked out of Yosemite Lodge. We left a backpack full of all our spare food (including three bags of Jelly Belly belly flops!) in the luggage storage room at reception and then we went to the Lodge gift shop to buy some water for our walk and some cheap ponchos to protect us from the waterfall mist we would encounter.

We drove through the valley to Happy Isles where we parked and set off on the Muir Trail to Vernal Falls. After ten minutes of walking we found ourselves at some buildings and a map indicating we had just walked through the Happy Isles Fen, and the Muir Trail started further along, on the other side of the river!

Furry thing
Rock squirrel

So we crossed at the road bridge and started walking at about 10:30. The guide book said the walk to the top of Vernal Falls and back took two to three hours. We started uphill on a paved path along the bank of the Merced River, a swift-flowing tumble down rocks and huge boulders of granite that had fallen off the cliffs on either side. The path quickly climbed well above the river and revealed magnificent views of the higher cliffs above.

The climb to Vernal Falls
Climbing up Muir Trail

After a while we reached the bridge over the river which afforded our first view of Vernal Falls - not nearly as tall as Yosemite or even Bridalveil Falls, but still an impressive vertical sheet of flowing water, and emitting a thunderous roar. We stopped for a rest and some photos, then continued up the other bank of the river.

Soon after the bridge, the path demonstrated the trails other name of the Mist Trail, as we donned our ponchos to avoid being soaked to the bone by the pervasive spray from the ever-closer waterfall. The climb up became steeper, with cut granite steps set into the slope of the granite cliff wall, that needed some careful negotiation as they were slick with water. Throughout the walk we saw quite a few people, both walking back past us and travelling in our direction. Insanely, some were clad in nothing more protective against the wet and cold than shorts and T-shirts.

Vernal Falls
Vernal Falls

As we approached the top of Vernal Fall the steps became steeper and more tiring on the legs, but eventually we rose above the mist and removed our ponchos. However, as the path turned a corner under a tall overhang of granite, we were showered with drops falling off the rock far overhead - but this was not as wettening as the earlier mist.

Just past this we topped the rising staircase and emerged on a shallowly sloping shelf of bare rock that led gently down to the river and the spot where it tumbled over the edge as Vernal Falls. We were warmer out of the mist and valley below, but as we sat and rested the clouds closed in and sent a chill overcast over us.

Water and Gravity
Bottom of Vernal Falls

Needing to make time, we didn't tarry long and soon set off on the walk back down, this time donning our ponchos before the dripping overhang and keeping them on until past the misty section further below. We went more slowly on the wet rock steps as the danger of slipping seemed greater treading downhill, but we made it without mishap.

We stopped again at the bridge and then continued the relatively easy remainder of the way to Happy Isles and eventually the car. The time was just after 15:00, so we had taken four and a half or so hours.

Moon over Rock
Moonrise over Bridalveil Fall

Our next stop was to park at Yosemite Village and get some lunch and break for a toilet stop. We parked at a small parking area a short walk from the village proper and had to walk over. The first toilets we found had the women's closed for cleaning so we had to walk even further to find some, doing so at Dignan's Deli and Restaurant. The restaurant was closed - a sign indicated it was closed for "the season" and would re-open in spring. But the deli was open and Michelle got a veg roll with pesto spread on wheat bread while I got a pastrami on marble rye. The sandwiches went down well and quickly after our strenuous walk and considering the time since brekky.

After eating, we checked the Yosemite Village Store quickly, and Michelle bought some dark chocolate coated coffee beans. Then we drove over to the Ahwahnee Hotel to have a look at the famed interior decor. We walked into the lobby and I thought this was nothing special. But then we wandered around a bit and saw the huge, high-ceilinged lounge room and two of the dining rooms - absolutely amazing! They were an old colonial American style fused with native designs and all done in an antique style (presumably because they were genuinely old!). Simply stunning and well worth the effort to make the trip to the hotel to see.

Finally we went back to Yosemite Lodge to claim our food bag and left Yosemite Valley, stopping one last time for a gorgeous afternoon view of the whole valley from the river level.

We drove along highway 140 to Merced and then took 59 south to 152 east. I missed the exit from 99 northbound for 59 south and had to try the next one and backtrack, but ended up lost until we stopped at a petrol station for directions.

We stopped in Los Banos for dinner at a roadside diner/restaurant called Ryan's. Michelle ordered the only meatless dish on the menu - a fettuccine with portobello mushrooms and red capsicum in a garlic butter sauce - while I decided to indulge my curiosity and try my first ever chicken-fried steak. Michelle got a salad with hers while I chose a Portuguese soup with my meal - it was like a chunky vege soup with bits of some sort of sausage in it - nice. The steak arrived with some sort of white sauce (bechamel?) on top in a thick and unhealthy looking layer, while the veges had hollandaise sauce in them and the waitress looked at me funny when I asked for not butter or sour cream on my baked potato, and had to double check to make sure I wanted it "dry" when she brought it out. We also got some garlic bread included, which seemed to have parmesan on it too. I scraped off most of the white sauce and hollandaise, and the steak was like an oily schnitzel. Michelle's pasta was swimming in butter and after a couple of bites she decided to subsist on the dry potato and salad. No wonder so many Americans are overweight! I think we left 80% of the calories on our plates, and were still stuffed and feeling extremely greasy and unhealthy.

Dinner over, we drove on in the evening darkness to Gilroy, where we stopped for petrol and directions to a motel. They led us to a Motel 6, where we checked in, unpacked, and settled in for the night.

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