Get Out of Town!
A Yosemite Weekend
July, 2017 - Issue #154

"While the experts discuss whether the drought truly is over, there's NO DEBATE about Yosemite's current grandeur. It must be seen."
While summer's heat has evaporated our memories of California's record-setting winter in Santa Clarita, the precipitation lives on in Yosemite.

What fell there as snow is melting fast, creating a spectacle that hasn't been seen in years. The often-meandering stretch of the Merced River in Yosemite Valley bulges. Waterfalls that dribbled now dominate the scenery; great plumes of white plunge off the valley's dark, towering walls.

The display seems to celebrate an end to long years of drought in California. While the experts discuss whether the drought truly is over, there's no debate about Yosemite's current grandeur. It must be seen.

In search of the spectacle, we headed for the park on a recent Saturday. We thought a 5am departure would put us in the valley early enough to park with minimal trouble. We thought wrong.

We optimistically circled lots and followed detours around much-needed road repairs. Finally, after two hours, we found a spot in the El Capitan Picnic area. We celebrated with lunch and then walked two miles along the Merced River back to Yosemite Valley Lodge to do what we originally intended - rent bikes and pedal to the valley's sites.

After several visits to Yosemite, we've learned that bikes are the ideal alternative to congested parking lots and shuttle bus stop waiting. Spending $30 on an all-day bike rental gives us the freedom to explore the valley at our speed.

Yosemite Falls was our first destination. I felt myself growing smaller and smaller as we neared the base of the lower falls, which drop 320 feet. We stood on the bridge over Yosemite Creek, tracing the flow of water that exploded from the lip of the cliff 2,425 feet above, cascaded down the two upper sections of the fall and culminated in a roiling white froth and driving mist ahead of us.

Standing so near to such raw power is intimidating. We paused for pictures, but eventually surrendered, turning from the cold air, relentless spray and daunting roar.

Navigating bike path detours, we dodged traffic and headed for Mirror Lake. The road was closed to cars past Happy Isles. It was here that we were rewarded with a few treasured moments of solitude in the valley. We raced the Merced River on our left, a carefree downhill coast on our own private stretch of smooth asphalt free of cars or pedestrians.

We had to share Mirror Lake, of course. But we found a boulder to claim as our own and stopped to savor a snack and the iconic views in the shadow of Half Dome.

Given the crowds, spending Saturday night in the valley - or anywhere in the park - was out of the question. But we managed to find a reasonably-priced room at Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal, about three miles west of the park's entrance on Highway 140.

It was the ideal overnight stop for a quick trip like ours. A decent pizza place on site for a late dinner. A room with two queen beds large enough to comfortably sleep five. A fridge to unload the cooler. Four pools for the kids. And ice cream in the lobby grocery store for a treat after dinner.

Best of all, we could sleep in, but still beat the traffic back into the park the next morning. We followed the churning Merced River back up the canyon, rolled past the ranger station with minimal delay and easily found parking at Bridalveil Fall.

Standing at the base of the falls was oddly reminiscent of Santa Clarita in February. Spray from the 620-foot falls fell like rain, leaving us cold, drenched, and wishing for umbrellas, but thankful for the continued gifts of a wet winter.
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic, where you can still find water in the mountains if you know where to look.

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