It was one of those Christmas gifts that doubles as a birthday gift... an IOU of sorts. Mrs. Smith wrapped up some national park maps with a note suggesting a few days surrounding my April birthday. I'm not into making a big deal of my birthday, but I do like the idea of getting away. Trip planning is usually a pleasant process for us, and thus gave this Christmas/Birthday gift a long-lasting feeling. We decided to squeeze three national parks into a five day retreat early in April; and chose a combination of car, train and bus transportation to accomplish it. We considered tent camping until it became obvious that the snow wouldn't be melting off just for us. We were fairly sure the roads would be clear; but we wanted to maximize the site seeing, and minimize the driving.
We (Mrs. Smith and I) drove to Hanford, California where a nicely restored historic train station was our launching point into Yosemite Valley. The train ride to Merced was our first in quite some time. We had taken a train into Grand Canyon National Park when the kids were younger. That was a much different experience; snow covered the canyon; fog clouded the view. Comfort wasn't mentioned in the advertising for that "package vacation", and it certainly wasn't built into the train ride to the canyon. I've taken the train to work several times, and fortunately this trip didn't have the feel of commuting for duty.
The train offers a look at the backyards of America, and that brought back a lot of memories. About all I can say about that is that it was nice to see people still use clothes lines. There was something comforting about that, I have to admit. I recall the smell and the feel of sheets and shirts on the clothes line as my mother pinned them up and pulled them down. It may be less a recollection of the feel and smell as it is a memory of the backyard never being without a clothesline. It's in every picture I have of my childhood backyards. And I remember running through the hanging linens. It must have been a stage curtain on many occasions as well.
Clotheslines haven't been an option for Mrs. Smith and I since we moved in 1986 to this community in the Inland Empire where they aren't allowed. Neighbors have full view of the backyards here, and clotheslines were deemed an eyesore. Unbelievable. All these many years later, I'm tempted to break that rule. It will remind me of this trip.
Through the train window I watched some of the activity in what looked like a very well organized tent community under the freeways in Fresno. We all have the poor. Some of us are or are close to it ourselves. I thought about just how close we really are to being homeless in these economic times. Mrs. Smith has dedicated her adult life to making a modest stable home for me and our children; but it could easily be reduced to a shopping cart in the California we live in now. The San Joaquin Valley feeds much of this country, and a good many other countries. Not that I ever thought of Fresno as a community I would equate with "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous", but it seemed ironic to me that people would be homeless and hungry in the middle of the most productive agricultural land in the world. This state exports so much food across the country and overseas, it's incomprehensible to me that anyone within it's borders would be hungry or couldn't afford a roof and four walls.
Fields, orchards and vineyards filled the landscape on that first leg of the journey. I hadn't expected to see many others traveling into the snow in Yosemite, but after leaving the train in Merced we were a couple in a fairly large group ready to ride the bus bound for the greater Yosemite area. Once the bus was underway the scenery transitioned into hillsides covered with livestock. We stopped in small towns, and at bus stops at crossroads. As the road began to follow the Merced River, the elevation and the view began to change. But it wasn't until we entered the Yosemite Valley that I understood why John Muir thought this needed to be a National Park. Muir once wrote, "Everybody needs beauty... places to play and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike." He helped define Yosemite's boundaries, and Co-founded the Sierra Club in an effort to protect it. I had never seen it before. It was stunning. The view of the towering granite walls and the high waterfalls simply have to be preserved for as many generations as possible.
Once in Yosemite we checked into the Curry Village Tent Cabins. Curry Village was established in 1899, nine years after the national park was created. John Muir despised this development within the Yosemite Valley; and though the sheer number of tents and vehicles that blanket the valley is extreme, Curry Village remains. The white tents blend rudely into the winter snow; and the limited duration of our stay required that we quickly accept the circus-like crowds, and concentrate on experiencing the better side of the park. The scenery was new to us both, and the snow was high at the edge of the walkways. Park Service employees were clearing pathways as we explored the shops and eateries.
Nights were cold, but with extra bedding provided, we slept comfortably. The second day was the highlight. We found the trail head to Upper Yosemite Falls and set out with hiking shoes, water and lunch. A hike of three to four miles to the top sounded easy enough at the trail head, but my lack of conditioning got us as far as half way... the first sight of the upper falls. We started early enough in the day, but families in street shoes and toting a single water bottle in the hands of a five year-old were passing us. We trudged on to the Ice Cone at the base of the upper falls, and snapped as many pictures as we could.
In my most humble of egotistical ways I explained to the woman I adore that it would be best for her if we turned around and returned to the valley below. On the way back, nearly a dozen college-age downhill trail runners, who had passed us on the way up, did so politely going down. That sport looks awesome... and yet I think I'll stick to improving my hiking abilities. It was a great accomplishment to make it as far as I did. Some day I'll confess to Mrs. Smith that the height of the narrow trail was the most difficult for me. Hiking with fear wore me down quickly.
On to Sequoia and Kings Canyon
The return to the valley was the first step out of Yosemite. We had made it as far as we were destined to reach on the trip, and the next day began the second leg of the extended weekend. A hot morning shower and a fresh change of clothes preceded our bus trip back to the train station in Merced. We looked at pictures and talked about our adventure. Back in Hanford, we ate a fast-food lunch, texted the children, rearranged the "cargo hold" and drove to the town of Three Rivers at the entrance to Sequoia National Park.
There we spent two nights in a bed & breakfast called the Sequoia Riverdance, and drove into Sequoia and Kings Canyon during the day. We took pictures the second day... snow, snow and then more snow. Souvenir shopping, a comfortable bed and good food were the highlights of that leg of the trip. The snow made the driving difficult, and hiking was limited to the lowest elevations with most of the higher trails being closed. After unsuccessfully fishing the Kaweah River, I capped our final day away with a halfway hike to Marble Falls. It wasn't a particularly difficult hike, but it was a hot day and I drank most of our water early on. Once again my lack of conditioning (and skills) kept us from the goal.
Time To Go Home
The drive home was exceptionally long. Some of that is perception based on the dread of returning to work. We always push the drive too hard when home is at the end. I had to stop for coffee and the restroom only 45 minutes from home. I bought Mrs. Smith a chocolate cream pie to take home; and we shared a piece at the restaurant before finishing the trip.
In the days since the extended weekend, I've worked on my conditioning with some local hikes, the effectiveness of which may someday lead to another attempt at Yosemite Falls... planning has not yet begun for that trip.
© 2011 Mr. Smith
Mr. Smith (author) from Indiana on May 02, 2011:
The scenery did all the work. I actually have several more pictures. I'll drop them out there. Thanks for checking in.
Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on May 02, 2011:
The pictures look great.