Yosemite National Park: the fleeting adventure that almost wasn’t.
Who goes on a road trip of the United States, visits 28 national parks in three months and doesn’t go to Yosemite? We obviously couldn’t be those people, but things weren’t looking good.
Days 56 – 58
I knew that booking a campsite at Yosemite was chaos. I was aware that it’s cut throat, every man for himself, and the mayhem for staking summer claim starts in January. I knew all of these things. Why did I think that for some reason we would have it easy? To be honest, it’s because often times, things just kind of fall into place for us. It’s a blessing and I definitely shouldn’t live by it, but much of our road trip was a vague idea with a timeline plus a healthy dose of flying by the seat of our pants. And 95% of the time, that worked out.
But I’m foolish. Yosemite is in the 5%. Who am I kidding – it’s in the .001%. This place is a freaking zoo, people. We didn’t hear as many foreign languages anywhere else this summer. We didn’t face traffic and a race for parking inside the park barriers this badly at any other national hot spot. I thought we surely could secure a campsite in the “no reservations” category if we simply arrived early enough in the day. But that was when I was still so naive.
As our dates to visit Yosemite were finalized and began to steadily approach, I took to the research a bit more seriously. That’s when I learned the truth. Have any of you ever heard of Camp 4? It’s the only campsite at Yosemite where there are no reservations, so if you show up early enough, you might get a spot. It’s also on the National Register of Historic Places, because it’s recognized as the birthplace of modern rock climbing. There are massive boulders right in the camping area where climbers would hang out, and many of the most famous climbers in the world would gather here and practice together. Oh, and it’s only $5 per person per night. Perfect spot for us, right?
How perfect does this sound: You arrive in line before 5AM to be one of the first ten people waiting. Three and a half hours later at 8:30, the ranger shows up at the payment booth. By this point, there is most likely thirty to fifty people in line behind you. The ranger then passes out slips of paper, and not everyone in line will get one – guaranteed. Depending on the number of people in line, sometimes preference is given to those who are not sleeping in a tent – those opting to sleep on the ground in the open, or in a hammock. The reason to conserve space is because you are guaranteed to be sharing a roughly 12×12 plot of land with strangers. Six people to a site sharing a fire pit, and you simply can’t fit many tents in that space. Oh, this is also a campsite known to attract a raucous crowd, so don’t expect quiet until well after 11PM. And some of the loud folks just might be your campsite mates – there’s no way to guard against it.
There are four metal food lockers for each campsite, which are shared and obviously need to serve six people. We also weren’t simply carrying food and supplies for a few days of camping at Yosemite – we had months of provisions and toiletries. You absolutely must keep your food in the metal lockers however and not in your car, because the bears roam through the area and demolish cars when they smell anything in them. Your car isn’t near your tent so you can keep an eye on it either – it’s parked in a parking lot which would take a few minutes to access. Basically, even if the car next to yours had food inside and a bear went at it, it’s likely your car would be damaged in the process just be being nearby. I don’t think car insurance covers bear damage. Since your car is not right near your tent, you also need to schlep all of your food and gear to your site. Your site neighbors (since they are raucous and eager to party) are also likely to leave food out over night, because they’re drunk and just want to go to bed. Our bear friends are then excited that they’ve struck gold, and meander through the campsites to see what they can muster. Hearing growling and rummaging in the night is not too infrequent of an occurrence. Check out this video. [source]
Yosemite Bear Video
So what do you think?! Are you sold on Camp 4? Is this for real? People do this and call this fun? I hate to be a fuddy-duddy, but no thanks. Maybe another time, but without jobs to pay for extreme damage to our stuff, we were not feeling it. It felt like way too big of a risk to take our car to a campground where it might be demolished, too ridiculous to surround ourselves with people who don’t care enough to be bear-aware, while waking up well before sunrise to drive and sit in line to do all of this.
With our decision pretty set against Camp 4, we were starting to wonder if we were seriously going to miss visiting Yosemite on our cross-country venture. That would just be insane!
Then, an absolutely saving grace kind of thing happened. Remember the distant cousins of Will’s in Eugene, Oregon? They have a cabin in Yosemite and offered it to us for a few nights! What?! This was the hugest blessing we could ever conjure up. They obviously rent this place out for a pretty penny, but they extended it to us for nothing. Thank you, Cooleys, for giving us an amazing experience we would have otherwise missed! They had a nephew staying there for two weeks at that time already, but they were willing to call him and ask if we could join them for two nights, simply to aid in giving us a Yosemite experience. How unbelievably thoughtful is that? I’m still in awe.
So we shared the cabin with another couple close to our age for two nights – which of course wasn’t as luxurious as two weeks – but it was long enough to give us one solid day of exploring Yosemite.
When we venture back to Yosemite some day, we will definitely hike Half Dome. We’d love to do some rock climbing – it was staggering just laying our eyes on El Capitan. We’d love to chill in the river by the cabin. This particular day, we only had enough time to do a drive-through of the park with a bunch of stops for viewpoints and photo opportunities. But man, was it gorgeous. Let’s just say, we understand what all of the fuss is about.
However, this place was crawling with people. That’s probably my main hesitation about our someday-return trip. I much prefer a woodsy environment where we feel a bit isolated, and Yosemite is not that place. You can definitely get lost wandering on trails and feel alone, but your camping experience will most likely not feel that way. It will be great to have a more in-depth experience of the park, but when the day comes, I can’t say that it won’t be stressful.
This time around, although brief, we really did enjoy ourselves. It was sensational to be in such an iconic place.
written by: Cassie