On our Thanksgiving trip to Dry Tortugas National Park, we decided to stop in at Everglades National Park and, because it is only 30 minutes east of Everglades NP, we shot over to Biscayne NP too so we could stamp our passports and get a basic firsthand impression of the place.
National Park Passports
Since it is the 100th anniversary of our national park system I was reminded that you can get a “passport” to the national parks. When you visit a national park, there will be a cancellation station in at least one of the visitor centers where you can stamp your passport with the date of your visit. Cool!
*** I am running an old story I wrote about our trip to Yosemite in 2008 for the next couple of weeks. I enjoyed reading it again and looking at the pictures. If you’ve seen it before, I hope you enjoy the encore presentation as much as I did. ***
After some careful planning and reservations a year in advance, we made it out to Yosemite National Park. Being such a highly photographed location we felt like we knew it well but were really excited to get out, hike in it and see it with our own eyes. If we learned nothing else from the Grand Canyon, we learned that seeing these spectacular places in person is so much more than a photograph can convey.
Other folks that had visited before recommended that we go in the spring to see the waterfalls and to avoid some of the crowds. We knew that this would limit our hiking opportunities somewhat because much of the park would still be inaccessible due to snow.
Yosemite has some pretty drastic geography (which is a pretty big part of why it is so beautiful). The bulk of the touristy stuff rests on the valley floor which is a small portion of the park nestled in a drastic V-shaped slot of granite. The remainder of the park is on top of this granite where Little-House-on-the-Prairie-style alpine meadows perch waiting for summer flowers so small girls in pigtails and bears can romp and play. In addition, mountains rise from these meadows creating a breathtaking backdrop (even from the valley floor).
Because of this tremendous change in elevation in such a relatively small area, you get some big differences in weather. Most of the time that we spent in the valley the temps ranged from the 70’s to the upper 80’s. The higher elevations that we climbed to were typically 20 degrees cooler than this but in some instances they got even colder (and much windier). In one car drive or hike you could go from shorts and sunscreen to every layer of clothing you had and snow on the ground. It was warmer than usual when we were in the park but not warm enough for the northernmost road (Tioga Pass to Reno, NV) to be open. This cut our day hiking choices in half and eliminated the possibility of flying in to Reno and driving by Lake Tahoe on the way to the park.
We got a guidebook succinctly titled “Yosemite” from Moon Handbooks. I looked at several before settling on this one and I heartily recommend it. If Rick Steves did US guidebooks, they would be like this. It strongly recommended staying in the park if we could afford it. Our friends also cautioned us against staying outside the park. Yosemite is not a small place but even more importantly it is a slow moving place. The roads are small and very twisty and the speed limit is 20 mph in many places but I imagine that during most of the year when traffic is bad you can’t even go that fast. Trying to commute to the park every day would have been terrible. I really think it would have ruined the trip for us. It would have been like staying in Ponte Vedra and driving downtown via rush hour JTB and I-95 every day of the trip. No thank you! For you non-Jaxvillians that is a slow 45 minute drive.
So step one was reserving a room. After reading the reviews from Moon it was obvious that we wanted the Yosemite Lodge. Real beds. Real walls (not a tent). Not as expensive as the outrageous super duper high end hotel. I got online and looked at availability. It was almost exactly a year before our trip to the day and there was only one availability for one week for the spring season left! It turned out to be the perfect time to go. It would be the week leading up to Memorial Day. Sane people did not want to visit anytime around then. We would be getting out of the park on Friday morning. Hopefully this would keep us out of the clutches of the angry horde of summer tourists. We would also potentially have the warmest weather possible when the waterfalls were still cranked to 11. Most folks choose to wait until after Memorial Day because most of the summer-only amenities open that weekend such as the swimming pools, snack shacks, etc.
Step two was figure out our path to the park. Initially we thought Fresno made sense. We’d never been there and it was the closest bigger city. After checking ticket prices it became apparent we’d be going via Sacramento. We’d been to Sacky before for a wedding but the cost difference made this a no brainer. Maybe we’d be able to find something else to do besides tour the capital (which we’d done previously).
We chose to stay at the Governor’s Inn for a night on the way in and out of the park. The guidebook highly recommended this place. We thought it was decent but nothing special. Ok price. Good newer Hampton Inn-ish room. Good location. Pretty crappy breakfast bar. I can forgive no make-your-own-waffles and no hot items like eggs or biscuits, but no cereal?! Come on! If generic Tang and a generic Svenhard count as a continental breakfast they must be thinking a sub-Australia-sized fictitious continent.