Morning Light on El CapitanThe morning light illuminates the eastern face of El Capitan and reflects into the Merced River in Yosemite National Park, California I just got back from visiting Yosemite National Park for the first time.
When I was recently interviewed for GoRVing.com, the writer asked me what was top on my bucket list for my travels.
It is an interesting question because this trip – adventure – isn’t supposed to be about my bucket list. This adventure is about building up my photo inventory, finding stories to tell about wildlife, and teaching others about photography, wildlife, and the importance of saving and treasuring our open spaces.
But I had to admit I did have a place I have always wanted to see for a variety of reasons – and surprisingly none of the reasons were to photograph wildlife. That place was Yosemite National Park.
This park is considered the crown jewel of the national park system. It was made famous by Ansel Adams, John Muir and countless other photographers, writers and naturalists who found peace in its granite peaks, babbling rivers, and serene meadows.
The last few days have been wearing on me. I love what I am doing but I do worry that as a business and career decision it may not be the wisest. I don’t fear the challenge, but living the reality is a different story.
That became evident when I stopped at a WalMart near Stockton, California.
I was recently reminded that if I keep paying for camping fees each night – no matter how cheap – it still adds up to be close to a mortgage payment – but like rent where there is no benefit of paying towards an asset. So I decided I would strive to boondock each night until I reached my next destination in six days.Sequoia_and_DogwoodThe leaves of the western dogwood trees in the Tuolumne Grove bring some color in fall to the grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park, California. I had not planned on being in Yosemite at this time of year so I was very pleasantly surprised to see the fall colors.
After frazzling my nerves by driving through narrow, old, curvy streets in Marin County in the RV in the dark and realizing this area was nowhere near acceptable for a wide RV, I pulled into the first remote yet large enough parking area I could find. Unfortunately it turned out to be posted (I still never saw a sign) that there was no overnight parking. I thankfully was honest with the ranger about being there for a while so he let me off with a warning rather than the $125 ticket, but the point had been made – it was cheaper to pay for camping than pay for a ticket.
So I looked to another option for the next night.I thought I would try a WalMart parking lot. They are always open for overnight parking as long as you follow the “implied” rule of purchasing something. I needed groceries anyway – and a new chock block (I have driven over and basically exploded two already).
After hiking, photographing and driving all day, I arrived late again to my destination. It was about 11:30 p.m. when I strolled into the WalMart outside of Stockton on a Friday night. I should have known this wasn’t going to be a good idea when I saw the car show going on in the lot at that time of night.Golden_Glow_in_Yosemite_ValleyThe golden glow of the late afternoon sun on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California. I added an extra day to the trip because there was a forecast of an approaching winter storm that was going to bring 19 inches of snow to the higher elevations. Although I couldn't stay long enough to see the storm clear I did think it would bring some nice clouds for sunset. It didn't quite work out as I had hoped but I was still very happy to get the extra time in this beautiful park.
I picked up my bananas, cereal, milk and chock block and headed for the line. Only two lanes were open and each lane had about four people already standing there. This wasn’t going to be fast.
Coyote_Yosemite_2015_2A coyote (Canis latrans) stops for a portrait while watching a bobcat behind him near the road in Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California. Although Yosemite is known more for its grand vistas than its wildlife, I had a few great encounters with some critters, such as this coyote and a bobcat. As I patiently waited, the guy who was two people ahead of me in line was declined on his card when he attempted to pay. He tried several more methods – all declined. Then he decided he would call his bank – all while we were standing there. He had the phone on speaker and the line on the other end just kept ringing and ringing and ringing. I thought that was odd for a business. Even on a Friday night there would still be some sort of message.
His transaction was suspended while he fiddled with whatever he was trying to do or whomever he was trying to call. He kept asking for the receipt saying the bank would need it but the cashier wouldn’t give it to him. There must be some sort of scam where thieves steal the receipt so they can show the receipt on the way out of the door. Mule_deer_fawn_Yosemite_2015_2A curious mule deer fawn (Odocoileus hemionus) comes up over a ridge and pauses while walking through the woods in Yosemite National Park, California
The next person in line was a woman with an odd assortment of items – Christmas decorations, fuzzy sleepwear, a few t-shirts, knit hats, some make-up. She held cash in her hands and asked the cashier to start removing items because she didn’t have the money to cover it. She paid with her cash but was promptly asked to leave because one of the bills turned out to be a fake $100 bill. She didn’t put up an argument and quickly left the store.
Now I was getting nervous about what kind of area I decided to stop. I had planned on climbing into bed after purchasing my items but was now so nervous that I decided it would be best to avoid the area. The time had rolled on to 12:30 a.m.
There was another WalMart a littler further down the highway that seemed to be in a better neighborhood. I slept there for five hours and made an early morning purchase of cat food (which I forgot the night before) so that I honored the “parking lot for shopping center customers only” rule, and headed for the highway.
It is a reminder that moving around in a 44-foot rig is not easy. It is physically difficult to find parking lots large enough where I can turn around. It is difficult to be inconspicuous about wanting to just park and sleep for a few hours in the back of your RV. Pulling into an RV park or campground certainly seems easy enough, even if you are trying to keep your costs down, but even those can be tight, unknown locations because you can’t tell how big or easy it will be to maneuver through the sites in the dark. And there is always the safety factor of being a woman traveling on her own in areas she is unfamiliar.
So after two nights of boondocking, I was a nervous wreck about where I was going to wind up next. So I decided to head to Yosemite National Park as a last minute idea. Sleeping_on_El_CapitanA climber hangs on the rock wall face of El Capitan in the late afternoon sun in Yosemite National Park, California. Climbing is one outdoor adventure that has never peaked much of an interest for me. After seeing how small this person was even at 700mm as they hung on the wall in the setting sun (meaning that was their bed for the night) it convinced me I wasn't missing much. Hope they succeeded and safely made it back down.
Aeric went to Yosemite a year or two before he died. I was going to go with him but yet again I put work before time with him. That was my first regret about Yosemite. But over the last few years I have started plans to travel to Yosemite in February to photograph the firefall. Every year I have had to change my plans for one thing or another.
So when I started this adventure, I put the park on the list but only if I could spend a large amount of time in the park to really explore its potential.
So here I was, just a couple of hours away from Yosemite, and needed a place I felt would be accepting of an RV. What better place than a national park. So I went online to book a campsite. Sold out. Wait, what?? Sold out? It was the last weekend of October!
Ultimately I just pulled into the first place within a reasonable distance to Yosemite that had an RV sign. It wound up being Pine Mountain Lake Campground. It was early enough in the day that I could check it out in the light and not worry about getting myself stuck. (Remember Sylvan Lake State Park?) It was also early enough that I could get a site and take a much-needed nap. It was a very quiet park – only two other campers. That would probably be a nice thing from the hustle and bustle in a sold-out campground. Dawn_and_huskies_YosemiteI posed with my huskies for the obligatory tourist shot in front of the sign for Yosemite National Park, California
After my nap, I headed into the park, still a little stressed. But within minutes I could see why Ansel Adams conveyed such beauty in his photos from Yosemite and why John Muir wrote beautiful words about this area. It was serene, breathtaking, and inspiring.
My initial, but last minute, plan was to just spend one night in the area to photograph sunset and sunrise. I had not completed any research about where to go for either time of day or what locations were best for photography. I had not even looked at a map of the park.
For most of the national parks where I spend, or plan to spend, a significant amount of time I will pick up a book or two about the park – photo book with great captions detailing locations or a pure cheat book like the one I found for Yosemite.
In the bookstore was exactly what I needed – The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, by Michael Frye. I highly recommend this book especially if you will only be in the park for a few days. It saved a lot of time. And at $12.95, it was a lot cheaper than hiring a guide.
I left, after photographing the warm colors of sunset on El Capitan, feeling much more focused, optimistic and positive about the road ahead. I don’t regret coming to my top bucket list location on a whim, without any specific plans, and no research. It actually felt good.
So, to the original point of this entry, Yosemite is still top on my bucket list. There are still many locations and scenarios I want to photograph in the park. Ansel Adams made a career of it and I don’t know if he ever felt like he captured it all. But I am glad I allowed nature to invite me in and open her heart to soothe mine. El_Capitan_in_FallFall colors flank the Merced River as the sun illuminates El Capitan in the late afternoon in Yosemite National Park, California