Two conferences coming up (in Hawaii and San Diego). Two talks to prepare. Deadlines to meet. All immediately after the year turns. I decided to spend Christmas Weekend at Yosemite National Park to relax and cleanse my mind. (It has not escaped my notice that I'm writing this instead of doing the science I'm supposed to be doing.) I had a blast!
We took my RAV4 (now equipped with personalised (read: narcissitic) license plates with the above view of Yosemite in the background with the letters "RAMDOM") on Friday morning and arrived at Yosemite at around four.
We had a reservation for a suite at the Yosemite Four Seasons Vacations Rentals, which is located just a few miles south of Yosemite Valley. We had some idea of what to expect, based on the pictures of the Autumn and Spring Wonderland, but it was a great surprise when we got there: the place had three bedrooms (five beds total), two floors, a pool table, two TV/VCR sets, a full kitchen, fireplaces, huge beds and best of all, a fairly large hot tub! We were also able to pick up a few complementary items from the office, including some games and a few movies. This was my third time to Yosemite and while I have stayed in pretty comfortable conditions in the park before (the equivalent of a good four-star hotel) I never knew you could live in such luxury so close to the park.
After a great meal and spending a fair amount of time in the hot tub, we went to bed with the intention of catching the sunrise the next day. The next morning, we woke up early and saw the sun rise behind trees while casting its initial rays of light on the valley. This isn't the most spectacular sunrise I've seen, because the view was blocked by trees, but it definitely was one of the more interesting ones.
We then went back to sleep and in the afternoon, took the Tioga Pass Road (which was open for the first time in December since 1976) across the park to Mono Lake (the largest natural lake entirely in California). Along the way, we got to see some spectacular views of famous sights such as Half Dome, Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, and Tuolumne Meadows.
We arrived at Mono Lake just as the sun was setting which made for some breathtaking scenery. The lake is currently 1945.9 metres (or 6384.1 feet) above sea level, down 0.52 metres (1.7 feet) since I last visited.
Then we headed back to our temporary home, trying to watch out for black ice and driving as carefully as possible, to once again have a great meal and relax in the hot tub. We ended up watching The Mask of Zorro and My Fair Lady.
The next morning, we reluctantly checked out and headed out to see El Capitan (believed to be the largest single piece of exposed granite in the world at 1,078 metres (3,593 feet) above the Valley which is a good 1,193 metres above sea level)), Bridalveil Falls (189 metres/620 feet) where I climbed up close to the base of the falls (enough to feel the mist of the falls on me). It was a lot of fun scrambling over the rocks. Then we headed off for a somewhat strenuous 3 mile hike to the top of Vernal Fall (95 metres/317 feet) and Emerald Pool which was also a lot of fun (the view just got better as we climbed more). It was fun crossing the river on rocks instead of using the bridge (I got one of my feet wet the first time but conquered it on the way back).
We headed back as the sun was setting, stopping at the Iron Door Saloon in Groveland, a quaint little town, for dinner (the Buffalo Burgers are great).
My previous two visits to Yosemite were in the Winter of 1994 and the summer of 1997 when I did a cross country trip. While I think that there is a certain charm that is added when it is completely snowed in (makes it look like a winter wonderland, especially with the falls frozen) experiencing Yosemite when the weather was so great (and perfect for hiking) during the winter season when it's not crowded was extremely blissful.
It was an awesome trip that came together extremely well, despite my reservations of having more than two people (I generally prefer to go alone or be with one other person, but there five of us). I can't right now think of a better way to spend the Christmas weekend.