Visiting California

We made our third trip to California last month for the GSoC Doc Camp and took the opportunity to travel around a bit, as we always try to do.

Capitol Reef

In 2011, we did a trip around the National Parks over 13 days which included driving down Highway 1, finding out that it fell into the ocean, getting stopped at a border control point near Mexico and a 2.5 day stint (with three magnificent hikes) in Yosemite. All of this only happened thanks to Chris‘s awesome help in planning it out.

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We were unable to take holiday in 2012, so only visited Yosemite for the weekend as it is only a 3.5 hour drive from San Francisco. We finished off pretty much all the possible day hikes from the valley and visited the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. We rather enjoyed the circular hike past Vernal Falls, along the Panorama Trail and down the Four Mile Trail so decided to do a two day hike on our next visit, and camp at the top of the valley.

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This year was our first autumn visit to California, but the weather was great, so we decided to see if Highway 1 had been fixed (indeed it had) and to drop by Yosemite again.

Now the thing about the Big Sur area of Highway 1 is that it passes through a whole bunch of national and state parks. There’s also not much in the way of places to stay unless you’re camping. Of course, most of the camp grounds are run by the parks… which is a bit inconvenient if all the national parks are “closed” because the rangers are not getting paid. We ended up staying at San Simeon State Park in a “primitive” camp ground (it had running water, toilets, fire rings and parking spaces).

Things to see down Highway 1 are… (mostly) the coastal countryside, the McWay Falls (I found it underwhelming, although the history is quite interesting), very cute elephant seals, Sequoia forests, windy roads (which are quite fun to drive down), “historic” (1930s) bridges and Morro Rock, a volcanic plug. If you’re out of things to do, then the Mill Creek Trail is pretty flat and ends in a nice Sequoia forest. The trail head is very easy to miss, so you’re unlikely to meet hordes of tourists up there.

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Skipping a week ahead, we camped at the Hodgdon Meadow entrance to Yosemite, which surprisingly allows camp fires. Surprising because the Stanislaus National Forest, which borders Yosemite, was still on fire at the time. The wildfire started on August 17th and was only put out on October 24th after it had burnt through 402 square miles (1041 square km) of woodland. Suffice to say, the drive in looked quite surreal with a white-leafed and black-trunked forest… and that was where there was anything more than blackened stumps left.

We were originally planning to go hiking around Toloumne Meadows, off the Tioga Pass, but it was too late in the year to park overnight up there as the risk of snow is quite high by mid-October. Instead, we grabbed a Wilderness Permit in the valley and headed up the Snow Creek Trail for a circular hike around to Yosemite Point and down past Yosemite Falls on the other site. We managed to lose the trail at the top of Indian Ridge, camped there for the night, had an easy walk across to Yosemite Point, lost the trail again (it’s quite difficult to follow on solid rock without markers) and managed to miss the black bears on the way down.

We did manage to find some snow for the third year in a row, and the autumnal colours made a bit of a change from the usual greenery. The streams were quite low on water, so there were no visible waterfalls, but there was enough to top up water bottles.

Things to see in Yosemite are‥ lots of rocks, wildlife (bobcats, small deer, large deer, friendly rodents, not black bears), waterfalls (overflowing in spring, almost non-existent in autumn) and steep trails out of the valley. Maybe next year, we’ll get a chance to do one of the hikes outside the valley.

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