Back in April, the Other Half was scheduled to take an additional licensing exam in California (which he passed!). He had his choice of several sites, but he chose to take his test in the community of Visalia, a quiet city whose morning scent of cattle reminds you of its agricultural origin.
Visalia is probably better known as a gateway city to another national park, Sequoyah, but most of the roads were still closed for the spring in that area. Instead, we were intrigued by the possibility of hiking around the Yosemite Valley, only a ridiculously scenic but lengthy 2-hour drive to the north.
After a day-long test, no one wants a hike where they need to do more than walk and view the scenery. We chose to do the Yosemite Valley Loop Hike as the perfect combination of a trail that would allow us to see many of the park’s natural features as well as to have a relaxing stroll for most of the day.
We reached Inspiration Point just before sunrise. Though we are usually some of the first people in parks, there were already a few dozen people with cameras set up to capture the first rays of light as they passed over Half Dome.
After driving into the valley itself, we had to drive around to find a parking spot near the trailhead. The maps on the national park website are somewhat difficult to read since they are black and white. They are also outdated, so if you arrive before the visitor’s center is open, make sure to check the maps at the shuttle stops for any recent changes.
Even though the trail runs parallel to the road, it is easy to feel like you’re isolated on the Loop Trail. It took until we were near the bridge at the far end of the valley to realize just how many people were pouring into the park for the opening weekend of National Parks Week. Just crossing the street, there were thousands of people picnicking, playing in the several ice-melt streams, parking in the road to enjoy the scenery, and walking the short spur trails to the bases of several waterfalls.
I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. It was a completely unexpected turnaround from the otherwise peaceful areas of the park, where birds, lizards, and mule deer were calmly crossing the trail. After only a half-mile, the roar of cars was replaced once again by the mist of the waterfalls and the rapids as they tumble to the valley below. The Other Half felt the opposite: he was excited that so many people were coming out to enjoy the parks and casually mentioned how much of an old coot I’m turning into (admittedly, accurate).
After hiking for several extra miles, we were wondering why this 11-13 mile trail had us going 15+ miles, and we finally spied a shuttle stop sign that informed us that we had actually gone too far for the loop trail and would need to head to the hospitality camp to cross the river if we didn’t want to walk the perimeter of the entire valley.
It turned out to be ok, because as we were walking back to the car, footsore and fulfilled, we crossed paths with a group of Boy Scouts who were out wildlife watching at one of the lakes. They hadn’t yet seen a deer until we pointed one out, and though they, too, were tired from their morning, the light in their eyes was well worth it. Well, maybe having so many people to enjoy the park with us wasn’t so bad…