Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park is one of the jewels of the American parks system, boasting 3.7 million visitors per year, most of which (about 90%) spend all their time in Yosemite Valley gazing up at the towering cliffs and gushing waterfalls. Under the shadows of Eagle Peak 3,780 feet above, I watched a group of friends relaxing on a crash pad in the line front of us as the morning air lifted off the valley floor. A hipster rocking a ripped up, ‘vintage tee’ lay back on the mat, closing his eyes listening to Yosemite Falls half a mile away. The two girls he was with read through climbing books that looked like they had been read cover-to-cover at least a hundred times and they were noticeably excited, planning their climbs for the next week.
We had left San Jose around 3 a.m. to make it in time to stand in line for a chance to camp at the renowned Camp 4. Camp 4 had been the notoriously rowdy camp full of bell bottoms, free spirits, and just dead-broke climbers – An atmosphere of camaraderie based around the common element of climbing. Now, Camp 4 is filled with people from all walks of life, but a similar atmosphere exists in the air based around everyone’s acknowledgement of the splendor of this park. Everyone from all these different places in life, still had that common element.
Having not done any planning, Camp 4 was our option for spending the night, being a first-come first-served campground. By 7:30 a.m., we were already standing 26 people back in line and contemplating just leaving to wander the park and making our trip a day trip. A very, very long day trip. But glimmers of hope resonated each time someone walked past towards the parking lot with an armful of camping gear. Pretty much everyone in line turned to ogle them until they were out of sight – the more people out meant more people in…
As a Brit behind us was randomly telling a family from Chicago about his current hitch-hiking adventure across California, the park ranger finally made an appearance, walking down the line, pointing at each of us, and silently tallying each person. She then walked back to the front, announcing that there were 47 people currently in line waiting for a spot and there was absolutely no pause in her fluid announcement, but to all us in line, there seemed to be a dramatic 10 seconds before she said, “I have 49 camping slots available tonight.” And she just casually walked back into her little hut to begin taking names and payment. Each small group just turned to each other smiling and talking about how lucky we all were – an explosive moment of hushed celebration. A couple hours later (yes, ‘a couple’) we paid our $5 per person, chose site 25 (to share with 3 other people), and got that tent up as quickly as possible to just claim that small square of dirt before venturing into the park.
Being mid-May after a record-setting snowfall season, Tioga Road out the west entrance and Wawona Road out the south entrance were both still closed due to snow pack, we were “confined” to Yosemite Valley. I use “confined” loosely because the valley is still an incredible place to be. Had the rest of the park been accessible we probably would have spent a lot more time in the car going vista-to-vista as opposed to seeing what we did…