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Yosemite N.P. to Big Trees State Park, Calaveras County, California – Part 1
After eight months of towing our trailer across the country and leaving the idea of reservations in God’s hands, we ran out of luck – again. We had decided during the planning stage for this trip that we wanted to be free to stop and stay at whatever place caught our interest and not have to be bound to the calendar; having to be in a certain place at a certain time. What we did, though, was call Reserve America hours or days before our expected arrival time and try to pick-up on any cancellations or open sites that might be available. This procedure had served us well so far, although we did have to patch together several different sites in order to lengthen our stays at the more popular parks, like Bahia Honda in the Florida Keys and the Grand Canyon.
This procedure didn’t work this time, though. We lost cell phone service shortly after leaving Las Vegas, Nevada and were incommunicado for over 200 miles of desert along Route 95 to Tonopah, Nevada. The cell phone blackout continued as we headed west on Route 95/6 to Nevada’s western border and into California. And so, as we began the climb up to Mono Lake and beyond on route 120, we had already given up on any hope of reserving a site in Yosemite National Park.
After so many miles of desert driving, it was a delight to finally reach the foothills in the Inyo National Forest just east of Yosemite. At one point we drove through a beautiful pine forest that flanked the road. After over 200 miles of desert and grassy foothills, it was the first real forest that we had seen all day. An intoxicating potpourri of pine and wildflowers wafted in through our open windows and took our breath away. It was wonderful. We were still raving about the delightful smells when we rounded a bend and spied Lake Mono coming up on our right. Beautiful! Outstanding! Now this is why we go RVng, we agreed. So far on our cross-country trip, we had spent hour after hour driving through unbelievably beautiful terrain, amazed by the sheer variety of America’s landscape. Even the drudgery of hundreds of miles of seemingly endless desert can be relieved by, as we saw, a herd of pronghorn antelope standing not 20 feet from the side of the road. We really are blessed; living in a country so big and varied in geology, climate and flora and fauna.
We entered Yosemite’s eastern portal via the Tioga Pass, after a lengthy crawl at 30 MPH to the top of the 10,000 pass. The portal ranger’s station warned us that the park was full, but said that we could try again to find a site at the Tuolumne Meadows campground and ranger station just up the road. As we suspected, the ranger there told us the same story; the park was fully booked. Not having anywhere else to go and not wanting to head back down toward Nevada, we continued on into the park and went scouting for someplace to spend the next night or two in the valley. We hoped that something would become available that would allow us to stay in the park. The last time we visited Yosemite, over 20 years ago, we had been able to get a site by queuing up early in the morning at a ranger’s booth in the valley. But not this time.
In the end, we spent our first and last night in Yosemite camped in the parking lot at the Ahwahnee Lodge. We decided to risk a night in the parking lot versus a very long drive in the pitch dark up and out of the valley to find somewhere outside of it to camp.
And so we spent a mostly restless and cold night hiding in plain sight; parked among the hotel guest’s vehicles (please note that such overnight parking is officially not allowed, but it was an emergency; I couldn’t drive another mile without risking an accident). It was one of those times that we were thankful that our trailer was only 18 feet long and our 6-cylinder SUV was small and agile enough to help us maneuver into tight spots that larger RVs would be forced to pass up. That night in the parking lot we slept fitfully, waiting for an expected knock on our door by a ranger on patrol. Thankfully that didn’t happen, but we decided the next morning that we didn’t need that kind of stress or potential drama during our trip. Planning to leave the park that day, we left early and drove to a nearby riverside pullover with a dynamite view of Bridalveil Falls. It was a fantastic place to have our breakfast before saying a sad good bye to Yosemite by heading west and out of the park.
We had hoped to spend up to one week in Yosemite before moving out and up to the village of Arnold, California, where family and their friends would be gathering at the friend’s cabin. The problem we faced was that we were several days early and had to find somewhere to camp until the rest of the group arrived. We decided to go looking for a campsite near the cabin, which we found while driving 4 miles north of Arnold on Route 4: the Calaveras County’s Big Trees State Park. And what an unexpected pleasure it turned out to be.
(Come back again for the next installment; Part 2 -
Calaveras County – Big Trees State Park)
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