The beauty of the United States National Parks

Visiting the National Parks is an experience like no other. Our family has traveled to Europe and stood in awe of history from previous civilizations that date five to six thousand years ago. However, when you visit the National Parks out west you are looking back in history millions, millions, of years ago. It is nature on steroids, geology in motion and a sanctuary from our fast-paced- technology-laden society. In this post, we will share our experience exploring Sequoia National Forest and Yosemite National Park.

COMING SOON! The collaborative and creative juices are flowing here at Rockonliving and we are excited to announce that we are working on creating travel guides for the places we visit with more detailed information. For example, does the Octagonal home below interest you? In our Yosemite Guide, we will provide booking, contact information, pricing and things to consider booking this home in California. These guides will also include feedback and input from all the members of the Rockonliving family! We hope to share our lessons learned and make it easier for you to begin your Adventures! We are excited! The blog with be evolving soon – Stay Tuned!

Adventure! One of our family’s favorite words!
The was hung on wall pointing towards the door at our Squaw Valley Air B&B.
We took this as a good “sign”

As we shared in our previous post, our adventure to California started a little rocky with the theft of three of our five backpacks within 20 minutes of our arrival. If you want to hear more about that experience and our Top Ten list of things to do when you are robbed on vacation we would invite you to visit our website for the article, “Visiting Yosemite National Park – and being robbed within 20 minutes of arrival to California. Good Times.” If there was a “good time” to be robbed, for us it was nice timing in that we had a cushion of 4 days at the front end of our journey to Yosemite where we had rented a way cool octagonal home in Squaw Valley.

Each one of us had a different experience and were processing the robbery in our own way. This home and location provided us with a feeling of safety, beauty and space to discuss, cry and reflect on what occurred in Oakland. We used this time to rest, recover and replace stolen items. We felt so fortunate the owner of the home was kind, sympathetic and helpful to our situation.

Below are some pictures of the home and location. The closest town or shopping was about one hour away. If we had not been robbed, our original plan was to shop upon arrival on the way to the house and then other than a trip to the Sequoia National Park, enjoy the views, local hikes and evenings of family connection.

However, due to the need for us to replace entire wardrobes, glasses, contacts, toiletries, and electronics we ended up spending a couple of our days “in town” handling business.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park

Sequoia National Park,”The Land of Giants” was the balm our family needed. The trees in this park are larger and older than you can imagine. The tallest tree being some 300 feet tall. If you know me, you know I am a forest bather and lover of all things trees. Walking among the giant trees and taking in all the scents of cedar, pine and the forest was intoxicating.

I have an essential oil named “Hinoki” recommended in the book, “Forest Bathing – How Trees can Help you Find Health and Happiness” (beautiful book, highly recommend) by Dr. Qing Li that I recognized immediately upon entering the forest.

This park was super easy to navigate. Our family takes our time during exploration and if a guide book recommends 2-4 hours, you can bet we will take the full four hours (and then some.) With that said, our visit lasted about 3 hours. While the park was “busy” we never felt crunched or rushed. To describe the time in this park as a sacred moment with Mother Nature would be an understatement.

ROCKONLIVING TIP: WiFi is terrible in National Parks. But, that is good, right? Even in the “WiFi Lounges” we were not able to secure reliable service.

Yosemite National Park was by far the most beautiful park we have ever visited. While I feel like I am cheating on Yellowstone National Park making this proclamation of love, let me explain. Yellowstone National Park (see previous posts), to me, was an experience of time travel and natural geological experiences you cannot even begin to imagine. I felt like Yellowstone had so many cool “things” to see – mudpots, valleys, geyers, animal life.

But, Yosemite, my word…breathtaking motion picture dream-like “experiences.”

Every single time I looked up I could not believe what I was seeing! It felt like being on a movie set, unreal. Huge boulders, stunning light, winding water, reflection pools, hikes to die for , the Milky Way, and thundering waterfalls. When I say thundering waterfalls, I mean it! If you have visited Niagara Falls, you know what a large waterfall can look like. Yosemite? Multiply, magnify times 100! They may not be as wide as Niagara Falls, but their height and sound dwarfs them. If you have never visited, it is hard to describe the strength and sound of a incessant thundering waterfall – it a natural white machine of cracking, thunderous roaring sound. Luckily for us, due to record-breaking precipitation the previous year, many waterfalls that had not “run” for years were in their full glory. For perspective, one guide stated runoff this spring was up 300%!

Curry Village vs. Half Dome Village? While we were visiting Yosemite there was quite a bit of confusion over some of the names in the park. We showered, rented bikes and shopped at at Half Dome Village which was formally known as Curry Village. While the actual village has new banners with the “Half Dome Village” name over the prior name, many signs throughout the park and in guide books do not! This lead to some confusion with tourists and we found ourselves helping others reorient numerous times. Other changes in names of iconic landmarks in the park led to increased confusion. For example, the historic Ahwahnee Hotel became the Majestic Yosemite Hotel.

We also sensed a little bitter/sarcasm with employees over the name changes as many felt it was most likely temporary while Yosemite National Park settled a 12 million dollar trademark lawsuit with a company called Delaware North which previously had served the parks concessions and had lost the contract.

After our return home to North Carolina, and upon the writing of this blog I am happy to report a settlement was reached and Yosemite has been allowed to reinstate all prior names in the park! Hooray!

The People. During our week at the park, we experienced peak crowd times and then moments where there wasn’t another soul for hours. Generally, during the day in the main areas, where there is public parking it can get quite congested and the shuttles (free) can get sardine-ish. However, if you just rent a bike, hike off the main roads just a wee-bit you can find yourself in peace and quiet. Our family’s favorite time was when we rented bikes and could explore and get around without crowds or need for shuttles.

When planning your adventure to Yosemite two huge factors to consider are peak tourists times and California’s winter weather. Ideally, a wet winter will increase the Spring runoff and waterfall action!

Yosemite offers free public transportation (shuttles) around the park. If you are driving into the park, I would highly recommend parking your vehicle and walking, biking or using shuttle to get around. At the beginning and end of day we noticed a line of traffic at both times. Most times, you can hop on and off shuttles pretty easily. There were a few times we had to wait for a couple shuttles until we could board.

DEATH in Yosemite. I know in my post about Yellowstone National Park we discussed the number of deaths that occur in Yellowstone. Almost all deaths are ALWAYS due to poor decisions and not following the rules or using common sense. However, people if you take anything from this semi-cautious mother, Yosemite’s death potential completely, 100% eclipses Yellowstone. NO joke. If you don’t believe me, just google the number of of deaths that have occurred in Yosemite this month, that’s right folks, this month. And other than a rock slide at El Capitan it was the VISITORS FAULT . 9/10 times their deaths are due to trying to capture a selfie or an amazing “shot” that ends in death – not injury, death.

ROCKONLIVING TIP: While I think every single person (if they can) should visit Yellowstone and Yosemite National Park, I can not underscore, highlight or emphasize safety! Even my husband, who many times view “rules” as “recommendations” heeds caution.

Many of the mid-level to strenuous hikes have components that if caution and common sense are not exercised it can end in death. As a matter of fact, two days before we hiked Vernal Falls (strenuous, scary and AMAZING) 3, THREE people died in a tragic, unwise decision for a photograph that resulted in a domino effect of death.

The National Park Rangers are straight up Rockstars of Earth and will not, do not, babysit or micromanage the parks. They post signs of caution and there are some handrails and guardrails in the most dangerous areas to encourage good decision making, but there are no rangers stationed in all the areas of the park yelling, cautioning or keeping people from doing dumb things….so dumb things happen. People die in Yosemite – a lot. So, my point? Follow the rules in the National Parks and exercise good judgement when visiting or serious death or injury will/can occur.

ROCKONLIVING TIP: BE SAFE KIDS! If you are careful , Yosemite National Park is an experience like no other. I hope you visit there someday – put it on your bucket list today! For a point in case on safety, see the photo my daughter took at Moro Rock Trail (below) and witness the young girl that made my family so scared and nauseous at her decisions we had to leave. (And, yes, agree it is an amazing pic, but DON’T do it.) The granite on the boulders is slick – smooth – and unforgiving. Don’t be this girl and you will have an amazing experience.

If you should get injured out on trails or while exploring, there is a onsite clinic open from 9am-5pm. However, if you are in a remote area of park you most likely would need to be extracted by a helicopter. The closest real medical facility to Yosemite is about 1.5 hours away in Fresno.

We rented an RV for the first time and camped inside the park. While I had major reservations about renting, driving, handling, maintaining, dumping and hooking-up the RV, I wish I hadn’t. While it is a big vehicle to handle and navigate, it was not as difficult as I anticipated.

ROCKONLIVING TIP: Reserving a campsite in Yosemite is NO JOKE! Reserving spaces at this park is equivalent to trying to score tickets to the best rock concert on the planet. YOU MUST PLAN TO MAKE YOUR RESERVATIONS FIVE MONTHS AHEAD ON THE 15TH DAY OF THE MONTH AHEAD OF YOUR VISIT. So if I was going to camp in Yosemite December 12th-19th, I would need to be on my computer on July 15th at exactly 10am Pacific Time sharp.

Even knowing this and having all our research done – 20 potential campsites selected, four computers and our fingers ready to pounce at 10am sharp – we were grateful, grateful y’all, to have finally secured sites for our visit – and this meant we had to move sites every single day.

ROCKONLIVING TIP: If you are going to camp, you must do your research early, formulate a plan and be ready to roll FIVE MONTHS AHEAD OF YOUR VISIT ON THE 15TH DAY OF THE MONTH AHEAD OF YOUR VISIT.

We were told that sometimes there are spots they keep open for visitors on a first-come-first-serve basis, but being we were traveling from the entire other coast of the U.S.A in a RV this was a risk we could not take.

ROCKONLIVING TIP: If you are camping at Yosemite, you must learn the Legend of Elmer. Trust us.

In addition, there are ‘rustic” cabins and tents on raised floors available for reservation as well. Because we were RV’ing it, we did not explore this option or process, but may in the future. While we were grateful to have campsites for our entire visit, not moving every day would be nice.

ROCKONLIVING TIP: Yosemite has AWESOME washers and dryers available for use at Housekeeping Village. At the time of our visit a wash was $3.00 and the dryer was $0.50/10 min (took us 45 minutes to dry a load). They sell boxes of detergent at laundry mat for $0.75/box and if you want softner you can snag some sheets at the general store adjacent to the laundromat. There are a TON of machines for use and nice area for folding. The shuttle has a stop at Housekeeping.

If you are camping you are going to want to shower. Yosemite has nice shower houses and generally are about $5.00 per shower/towel.

ROCKONLIVING TIP: While we are not saying this is what you should do, but after we paid for our initial towel, we may or may not have received advice from a young pool employee we will call “Gene Fowler” and we may or may not have reused that towel multiple times to go in and out of shower. Once you know the code to the shower house, at least for us, it stayed the same all week…your bath towel and code are your ticket to warm water people.

Normally, I am the driver in our family. I would describe Quinn as a “Buddha-drive.” He drives in the moment with little regard or anticipation of what is coming next – much like he lives. It’s an admirable way to be. He merges at the last minute and always trusts all will work out….and, it does…

I, to keep it short and sweet, would describe myself as the best driver. I will leave it at that (and NOT an admirable way to be.)

Based on the facts above, it was assumed I would be the one driving the RV– until we got to the rental place and I panicked and it was unanimously agreed 100% I would not be driving!

This is what I discovered on this trip. While I am the best driver (I credit this being taught to drive in Cleveland where I think the best drivers on planet reside.) I discovered on this trip, Quinn is far braver than me (better equipped to drive the RV) and should be the one teaching our children to drive. Not me. The “best” in an area are not always the best teachers, just sayin’. Ask my kids.

ROCKONLIVING TIP: Mosquitoes & Bees. If you know me, you know I FREAK out at the thought of stings or bites from our little friends. In all fairness, I am allergic, ok? The guide books indicated that depending on the time of year mosquitoes can be quite a nuisance and to pack spray at all times. Our experience was surprisingly delightful. At our campsite we had no difficulties with bees or wasps. And, due to the huge runoff from mountains during our visit there was little to no stagnant water and zero mosquitoes. If you are planning on visiting, I would just keep this in mind.

The campgrounds are surprisingly quiet at night! There are generator hours from 7-9am, 12-2pm & 5-7pm. There are quiet hours and NO FIRES after 10pm and they enforce these rules strictly.

To recap, if you are ever given the chance, please visit Yosemite National Park! Rockonliving’s favorite excursions were: El Capitan hike, Glacier Point Stargazing experience, Mist Trail/Vernal Falls Hike (very strenuous), Half Dome (we did not do the hike), Cook Meadow, Mariposa Grove & Mirror Lake Hike. Consider renting bikes for the week to allow for quick, easy exploration around park and best way to avoid too many people.

Until our next adventure, RockonLIVING Friends!Vickie