Shane and I visited so many beautiful places on our trip, but one of my all-time favorites was Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. The park is beyond beautiful, which is certainly part of its appeal, but I felt drawn to it in a way that was hard to explain. We had planned to stay for just a few days, but I suggested "one more day" at least twice, and I was glad when Shane agreed. We spent enough time in Yosemite that the park began to feel like MY park, which sounds silly since millions of people pass through the park each year, and others have known the park much more intimately. I think, though, that I felt more personally connected to it than to the other parks that we passed through more quickly. The layout of the valley floor became familiar to us, and we enjoyed a variety of hikes throughout the park, all of which offered different views of the stunning landscape - peaceful fields, giant sequoias, cascading falls, flowing rivers, and sheer, granite cliffs.
Two short and easy trails that we enjoyed were the Bridalveil Fall Trail and Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, which lead to the base of waterfalls. Yosemite's indigenous Ahwahneechee tribe believed that inhaling the mists of the Bridalveil Fall would improve one's chances of marriage (the wind wasn't in our favor, but we enjoyed the view!). Lower Yosemite Fall graced us with a rainbow:
Photo credit: Shane
Another easy trail that we enjoyed was the Mirror Lake Loop, which leads to a small but peaceful lake. The area surrounding the trail was serene and great for spotting wildlife, especially deer. We walked past the lake, which I would recommend doing if you'd like to avoid the crowd of visitors that tends to gather near the lake. We had hoped to go further, but we decided to turn back when the sun started to set and we were concerned about finding our way in the darkness.
We also hiked the more strenuous Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls (we took the John Muir trail on the way back down). The view from directly across from Vernal Fall was one of the most spectacular I've seen. We had hiked about 1,000 feet, climbing the stairs cut into the side of the cliff, and we could see both the mountains in the distance, gradually fading out of sight, and the waterfall cascading across from us. The grass and trees surrounding the waterfall were vibrantly green, and birds soared among the mist. The whole scene reminded me of something out of Avatar (which I have yet to see - I'm basing my comparison on the amazing Avatar ride at Disney!).
Our last hike included Taft Point followed by Sentinel Dome for sunset, but I don't remember our exact route … I do remember that we parked somewhere along Glacier Road and that the hike was strenuous but well worth the view.
If hiking isn't your thing, you can access some of Yosemite's most splendid views by car. Tunnel View on State Route 41 offers a view of some of the park's most famous features, including El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall. You can also drive to Glacier Point and enjoy the fabulous view from there!
Shane and I also enjoyed a trip to the Ansel Adams Gallery, which features the photography of Ansel Adams (his photos do much more justice to the park than mine!). I would also recommend Degnan's Kitchen, a comfortable and casual café with a fireplace and great space for blogging ;)
We loved the areas of Yosemite that we visited (part of the park was inaccessible due to snow!), and we're hoping to return again one day. Maybe we'll see you there!
P.S. If you'd like some further descriptions of Yosemite, here is a link to the words of John Muir, whose activism helped preserve the park and whose writing captures its splendor: