When you have family that live a short 2hr drive from one of the most beautiful places in the country, you hop on plane and take a trip.
First stop on our whirlwind Northern California adventure was Sonora. A classic Sierra Nevada town built in the 1850’s during the Gold Rush. The downtown area is one of those nostalgic main streets lined with brick buildings, a large stucco hotel, and historic houses hidden behind iron fences and beautiful gardens. I loved wandering in and out of the antique shops looking for treasure. And, in true toddler mom form, I realized I never snapped a picture of this quaint town that I hope to return to soon.
The next morning, we enjoyed breakfast with family before heading out to play tourist. Again, I failed at getting any good pictures, but did snap this gem of Samuel drinking creamer to distract him from throwing crayons. Clearly, I’m on top of things.
First on our agenda was a hike to let the warmth of the Ca sun soak into our cold PNW bones. We were directed to the Natural Bridges, just a short drive from Sonora in Calaveras county. We set out on the trail, not really knowing what to expect. The dirt trail led down to a limestone cavern that has been carved out by the Coyote Creek, creating a tunnel under the earth. We scrambled down to walk along the waters edge and creep as far into the cavern as we could. The sunshine and fresh air were just what I needed after weeks of rain at home.
After our refreshing hike, we decided to stop in the town of Columbia. Columbia is quite the tourist destination, with its brick paved sidewalks, historical buildings housing authentic mining town shops, and even a place to try your hand at gold panning. We strolled the streets, and stopped for fresh baked pastries, and watched the blacksmith in his shop shaping horse shoes. We spent most of our time in Columbia down at the park letting Samuel run and climb on the boulders near the display of old mining equipment.
Loading back up to let Samuel nap, we realized it was still early enough in the day to change plans, and drive to Yosemite a day early. We put our destination in the GPS, and seeing that the main road into the park was closed due to snow, we chose the next shortest route. Hwy 49. What started out as a normal backcountry highway, quickly turned into the windiest road I have ever driven. Im sure there are worse drives out there, but for someone prone to motion sickness, I hope to never find out. For 40 miles we wound around curves, up and down hills on a steep canyon side road with no guard rails. And for 40 miles we sang, joked, and made plans to distract me from the constant feeling of nausea.
Finally, 2 hours later we reached the entrance of Yosemite National Park, and immediately I was in awe of everything around us. Towering trees, snow capped mountains, rushing rivers.
We arrived at the park just in time for a sunset hike. After talking to the Ranger at the gate, we drove to the trail he had suggested and quickly gathered our gear. Strapping Samuel to my back, and tossing in our jackets, water, and some snacks in the pack, we set out on the Inspiration Point trail head. The 2mile trail starts out with a steep climb, but starts to even out about 1/2 way up, and the views at the top are well worth the climb.
After hiking down in the dark, we drove back to our hotel in the nearby town of El Portal to get some sleep. The next morning we drove back into the park and straight to our first destination. We choose a classic tourist stop, and an easy .5 mile walk to Bridal Veil Falls. I was very thankful we had the foresight to toss our micro spikes in the pack since half the trail was covered in a sheet of ice. I stood in complete wonder of the rushing falls before me. After snapping a few pictures (this time I remembered), we ambled back and let Samuel stretch his legs on stable ground.
We had decided that we would try to get in at least 3 hikes while in Yosemite, so off we went to explore another of the parks mighty falls. Parking in Half Dome Village we took the shuttle to Vernal Falls trail head. Vernal Falls trail is the gateway trail to Half Dome, with plenty of side trails along the way such as Nevada Falls, and the John Muir trail. The trail is paved all the way to the footbridge, and then turns to dirt. If you decide to visit the park in late winter/ early spring I highly recommend packing some traction for your shoes, as most of the higher elevation trails, and those near water were still covered in ice. We hiked to the top of the fall via the mist trail, a 1.2mi strenuous climb up snow and ice covered stone stairs.
After climbing back down, and somehow not falling on my butt, we decided to skip the shuttle and enjoy the park a little more on our feet. We walked back to the car along the Valley floor trail, and loaded up to go check out Yosemite Village.
Heading straight to the visitor center we pick up the Junior Ranger activity packet. My hope is to visit all of our Nations National Parks, and collect a badge as we go. We toured the the museum gathering information about the native flora and fauna, and reading about how the park was started. I had read and watched documentaries about John Muir’s discussions with Roosevelt about preserving the park, but learned it was actually President Lincoln in 1864 that signed the Yosemite act, making this magical place protected for future generations. We then headed over to the Native American cultural exhibit and admired the displays of woven baskets, beaded dresses, and hunting tools. We spoke with the docent of the center and watched him shaping arrowheads. After completing our activities we headed back over tho the visitor center where Samuel was signed in as an honorary Junior Ranger.
After a full day of exploring we ambled back to the car and prepared for our windy drive back to Sonora. We were heading home the next day and had to start early to catch our flight in Sacramento but, before leaving the park I had to snap this last picture. The iconic view of El Capitan and Half Dome in the distance rising over the valley floor.