After much debate, we decided to press on with our Spring Break plans. That meant braving one of the COVID-19 “hot spots” in California’s bay area. The bulk of our plans were well outside the metro area, but clearly the insanity is spreading to every corner of the nation.
We visited some long-time friends in the south bay before heading up to Yosemite National Park on Sunday morning. In another bout of incredibly timing, we caught northern California in a major winter storm. Rain was pouring the entire drive, and by the time we entered the park it was a full-on snow storm.
Our goal was to see the sequoia trees in the Mariposa Grove on the south side of the park. The road was still closed for the winter, so we had to park at the visitor center and hike the entire way in. Luckily, we were prepared for variable weather. Still, the dense “Sierra Concrete” snow soaked us through by the time we were done. The hike was roughly 6 miles round trip, but we all really wanted to see the big trees. The “Grizzly Giant” was one of our primary goals. As you can see in the pictures, we made it, but it was tough to even look up towards the tops of the trees with the snow coming down in buckets.
The snow turned to rain by the time we reached the Yosemite Valley, but turned back to heavy snow overnight. We awoke to a winter wonderland, which could have been pretty were it not for the incredibly limited visibility. We took a few of the shorter walks to see Bridalveil Fall, Lower Yosemite Fall, and a few other sites around the valley. We could barely spy El Capitan, and couldn’t even find a trace of Half Dome.
To make matters worse, the Park Service decided to close down lodging and restaurants within the park as of noon on Tuesday. The good news is that we had planned to check out anyway. The bad news is that the vast majority of park visitors would be leaving en mass at the same time as us. Still, if that was the biggest impact of the current panic, we have no complaints.
I woke up early to catch some sunrise pictures. The snow and clouds finally cleared around 6:00. That didn’t give me time to take any of the hikes I was hoping for, but I at least had a chance to find a nice viewpoint on the valley floor to watch the sun come up over a magical scene. The valley was covered in snow. The trees were caked in frost. And the light was incredible. The scene was well beyond my meager photography skills, but I was still excited by some of the shots I was able to capture.
Once the rest of the family was up and ready to go, we took one more lap around the valley so the boys could finally see the grandeur of the park. The wait was worth it. The views were amazing, and the combination of weather and national chaos kept the crowd to an extreme low for a national park. As we left, we all vowed to come back soon.
Our next stop is Calistoga, in Napa Valley. This will take us a step back towards the social firestorm. More to come in the next chapter of our adventure, but for now, all is well…