I’ve never stayed anywhere with a ‘Bear Policy’ before, but since our accommodation was in the middle of Yosemite National Park it seemed like a sensible precaution. They take Bear Policies seriously in these parts. Leave even a crumb of food, or anything that may resemble food to a bear (soap, sunscreen, unopened bottles), in your car and it may be towed, and you may be fined up to $5,000 for the privilege.
That may seem a bit draconian, but it’s probably a bargain compared to having a bear smash its way into your car. I’m pretty sure ‘bear invasion’ invalidates the insurance. The average black bear (there are no Grizzlies left in California) needs around 20,000 calories each day. Basically they’re hungry all the time. We made certain that there was nothing in our car that might convince a 300 pound black bear to break and enter.
The Bear Policy may have been to blame for the fact that every time I saw, or thought I saw, something moving in the undergrowth, I assumed a bear was about to jump out on me. In reality, that’s a bit fanciful. Having learned the hard way, bears tend to avoid humans, and you’d be quite lucky to spot one while walking in the park. What isn’t hard to spot is the majestic, utterly sublime landscapes of Yosemite.
Our first proper sight of Yosemite came thanks to the spectacular views to be had from Glacier Point. The viewing area stands some 3,214 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley, the sweeping vistas take in Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Vernal Falls and Yosemite’s high country. It’s magnificent and I could have spent hours drinking in the views. I have about a million photos to prove the point.
The California of the popular imagination is often defined by its cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento. The reality is that almost half of all the land in the state is owned by the Federal Government, much of it protected as national parks or national preserves. This remarkable fact is driven home when trying to decide which parks to visit on a short trip
Yosemite is, however, a ‘must see before you died’ destination. I say that with some confidence, it’s spectacular. A pre-dawn start from San Francisco saw us driving over the Bay Bridge in the dark and watching the sun rise in the Central Valley en route to Merced. We were on our way to Yosemite Valley, and a log cabin at one of the few accommodations in the park, but first we made a detour.
Knowing we didn’t have time to appreciate the glories of Sequoia National Park, but wanting to see some of the Sierra Nevada’s legendary Sequoias, we got our ‘big tree fix’ at the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (currently closed for restoration). It’s all in the name really, but this is a fantastic area that contains the largest sequoia grove in Yosemite.
There are trees here that are over 1,800 years old, including the famous Grizzly Giant. There are trails that make big tree spotting easy, and which take you through the middle of the California Tunnel Tree. Yet another giant Sequoia, it had a hole carved into it in 1895 that allowed horse drawn carriages to pass through. Today you can walk through the gap.
When we finally descended into Yosemite Valley it was a little like entering a dream world. This is a remarkable place, a lush green valley surrounded by vast granite monoliths and vertical valley walls. At the far end of this Wonderland was our home for the next couple of days, a log cabin (equipped with bear-proof everything) in Half Dome Village.
We arrived in daylight and the valley floor was beautiful bathed in sunshine. We took a walk on a nearby trail to take a look around the neighbourhood. Soon though, the sun dipped behind the surrounding mountains. The temperature plunged sending us scuttling back to our cabin to wait for the morning and a chance to explore a bit more…