When I first visited Yosemite I couldn’t stop swiveling my head around and around, trying to catch a glimpse of all the different towering rocks above the valley floor. El Capitan and and Half Dome’s size colossal faces felt familiar but the Ansel Adams posters hanging in my childhood home couldn’t even do them justice.
My mom and I visited Yosemite in October 2012 to celebrate my twenty-fifth birthday. I had spent a year living in San Francisco, rarely leaving the city and worn down from staring at a computer for eight hours a day. Yosemite reawakened some part of me that had been asleep. Ron Kauk, a rock climber featured in the documentary “A Return to Balance” talks about how exploring the nature in Yosemite is spiritual, connecting him to something larger. Those few days reminded me of some deep connection to nature that makes confusing big questions about my life feel momentarily much clearer.
We spent four days exploring, hiking to the top of Vernal Falls, watching sunset from Glacier Point, eating lunch at the Ahwahnee, touring the sequoias at Mariposa Grove and visiting Hetch Hetchy, the reservoir where I get my drinking water hundreds of miles away in San Francisco. We drove by the tiny lights of rock climbers sleeping while hanging off of the face of El Capitan overnight.
Although I love hiking, I had been avoiding it because an old knee injury didn’t allow me to keep up with friends. But my mom and I made it to the top of Vernal Falls, feeling like champions when we made it to the top and sprawled out on the warm rocks above the falls. Throughout the trip my mom was repeatedly tickled by a sign that said “Speeding Kills Bears” and would giggle every time we passed one, intentionally misreading it as “Speed Kills Bears”.
Those four days in Yosemite simultaneously relaxed and exhausted me, leaving me with a deep sense of peace. One of my favorite parts of the park is the accessibility of the place for everyone. The first bit of the Vernal Falls trail is paved; I saw a woman in jeans pushing a baby stroller up a fairly steep hill. There are buses to bring people around to all the major lookouts and trails. And the camp grounds, while extremely popular, are also extremely cheap. Yosemite embodies the best of the mission to make U.S. National Parks accessible to all Americans. And yet, I didn’t get it until I visited. All the glowing descriptions in the world couldn’t compare to gazing across at Half Dome, seeing the light move across the rock face at sunset. I dream about going back, but don’t think anything will compare to that first view when entering Yosemite.
“Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” -Ansel Adams