Picture this: team mates working on a year-long project come together after a gap of around six months in a different location. It’s one of those “chalo na kuch karte hain” (“come on, let’s do it”) inspiring moments.
An animated team discussion gathered around the lunch table on a Thursday afternoon in May revolved around this topic. Several places were suggested and ruled out almost at the same time. Just then another name popped up and the loud tones mellowed down as everybody seemed to agree with this beautiful suggestion – Yosemite National Park in California.
Me: (as I quickly resolved to Google the place and with my thoughts oscillating like the pendulum of a tic-toc clock) Okayyy...so first time out with the whole team. What will it be like? You know, what if we are a bunch of “North-East-West-South” travelers; each with our own style and travelling agenda! But then on second thoughts, how bad could it be? After all, this is our office team and with a destination as awesome as Yosemite, it will definitely be worth it!
After diligent planning and tons of grocery shopping (for a vegetarian traveler and a kid, aka my daughter and myself) we loaded ourselves into two cars on a Friday evening and left for the sojourn. After a crazy 8-hour drive on deserted roads and dark by-lanes which experience itself called for several “AALL IZZ WELL!” moments; we finally entered the National Park at 11pm.
Yosemite is 95% wilderness, but there are all sorts of staying options available right in the centre of the park near Half Dome in Curry Village; a very popular destination for tourists with easy accessibility to all tourist points. On the other hand, there are several vacation rentals that offer options to stay in individual log huts and cottages around the outskirts of the national park. We deliberately decided to stay in the woods and experience the wilderness at Redwood log huts which was inside the park but still close enough to the outskirts to be away from the crowds.
Sunlight sieving through the tall sequoia trees and knocking gently through the French windows of our log hut…what a way to start the day!
This is a good juncture to state that our group was clearly divided: one group that had their “list of spots to be covered” with approximate scheduled times etc, almost exhibiting FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), while the other, i.e ours, which was more the “lets experience and explore” type whose itinerary somehow also seemed to revolve around food! Anyway, here’s the places we visited which should also be on anyone’s itinerary when in Yosemite:
TUNNEL POINT VIEW
We drove through the sky-kissing misty mountains as if driving on clouds. Although I secretly wished that the sun god didn’t play peek-a-boo with us and perhaps stayed out much longer. Anyway, we soon reached “Tunnel View” – a scenic point providing the expansive view of the iconic Yosemite Valley – with El Capitan on the left, Half Dome in the center and Bridal Veil Falls to the right. While I stood there looking at this spectacular panoramic view, I couldn’t help thinking how miniaturised we all seemed. It felt like being on the sets of a Harry Potter movie – pint-sized humans amidst the gigantic rocks and tall trees!
BRIDAL VEIL FALLS
From there it was on to the mighty Bridal Veil Falls – a very intriguing place and true to its name. There is a very interesting tale behind its nomenclature but I have a scientific and more believable version of it. The waters gushing down from the mountain in a silky silhouette with the sunlight adding to the shimmer look just like the veil of a bride. The beautiful light and picturesque surroundings can make anyone trigger happy (talking about cameras not guns!). If you spend time here, be assured that you will get completely soaked in the experience – literally! Soaked and slightly drenched with the water mists and spray of the waterfall as it hits the ground.
LUNCH PIT STOP AT BIG TREE LODGE
One “must have” in your travel plan is to have at least one meal in a local restaurant or coffee shop at Yosemite. It is a window to the culture, people and all those small things that make up the place. Now, while Yosemite may not have its local inhabitants; it is an eclectic mix of folks coming in from various regions of USA itself or even other countries. Hence experiencing the local food and enjoying the ambience of the coffee shops had to be a part of my trip here.
We were fortunate enough to find this place Big Tree Lodge – again slightly outside of the main touristy areas but it promised some great food and had very high reviews on Trip Advisor. Generally speaking, finding something vegetarian on the menu in some countries is like looking for a needle in the haystack. You’d be lucky if you got a bite of a cheese sandwich! Ahh..but there it was ornately written in a corner of the menu card…”hot lentils served with steaming rice and salads on the side” (aka “Khichdi”!!!) Believe you me, even that was like heaven to me in this far off land of wilderness. After a sumptuous meal we were ready and raring to set off for our next destination-the Half Dome.
Half Dome is a granite dome at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park. It is a well-known rock formation in the park, named for its distinct shape. One side is a sheer face while the other three sides are smooth and round, making it appear like a dome cut in half. Once considered inaccessible, the dome can now be ascended in several different ways and there are various hiking trips to do so. The weather was cloudy and misty due to which the hiking trips were stalled for a few days. Instead, we chose to have a good piping cup of tea/coffee at the Half Dome village with its unrivaled location just below Half Dome and Glacier Point.
It was evening by then and we decided to head back to our cottages. I am a big fan of staying in vacation rental homes rather than hotels. This is because evenings can be as much fun and as ‘happening’ as your day. We cooked together with some cool conversations around the kitchen counter, and really “hung out” as a bunch of friends. And if your log hut provides the firewood experience then the place feels all the better.
Our Day 2 was short, with only Hetch Hetchy dam on the itinerary. Early risers like myself and two other friends tip-toed out of the log hut at 6am and decided to take the nature trail in the true spirit of just exploring the place. Who knows, the place might just surprise you! We came across this beautiful stream flowing gently besides our neighborhood – what a serendipitous find! We all sat there listening to the crooning stream in silence and witnessing the scattered rays of the sun as it rose from behind the trees. The silence of nature and the beguiling light was sketched in our memory – this was evident as we walked back silently to our cottages.
HETCH HETCHY DAM
When in the Yosemite area, do NOT MISS the scenic Hetch Hetchy Dam – a treasure worth visiting in all seasons. It is the name of a valley, a reservoir and water system in California. It’s an awesome sense of openness and wide spaces with the thundering Wapoma waterfalls all around. It had a totally different vibe to it from the valley with more relaxing trails and the cool wind blowing across our faces! The explanation of the water system and the conservation project were installed in various places which was a good tutorial for my daughter who was less excited to read those but more excited to remember to tell (aka “show off” to) her friends about her newly gained knowledge!
As we spent time there –we were even lucky to spot a never-before-seen phenomenon; a rainbow in water! Yes – you got it right – a rainbow in water!! While the photo below doesn’t do justice to this phenomenon still it’s worth sharing it here.
Hetch Hetchy Dam was the last spot on our itinerary. A few other must-visit places in Yosemite include the following which also make for good hiking trips and nature trails: Lower Yosemite Falls, Upper Yosemite Falls, Vernal Falls and Glacier Point.
Before we knew it, our GPS maps were set and we were already enroute to California.
Both the cars were tailing each other and I could see that folks in our car were tired but not fatigued; the sweet smile on their faces was testimony to the wonderful trip they were returning from.
As I sat there next to my friend in the front seat, I couldn’t help but think how uncluttered my mind was all this while. No office presentations, no bothering thoughts of cleaning the house or the unfinished school homework. It was a clean sheet. Blank. NOTHING on it. Just trying to soak in each and every moment as much as possible. Doing NOTHING suddenly felt cool. Maybe the YoseMIGHTY mountains have that effect. The “connect” with nature as some call it appeared to make sense to me, somehow.
Here’s to many more such trips with friends. Amen!
Read also: When Everest Called
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