Very, very late on Friday night in flew my lovely friend, Margaret and her dashing Law School boyfriend, Jeff all the way from Ithaca. The plan: Leave Saturday morning for a long weekend in Yosemite.
Yosemite is an incredibly special place for me and Kamel. It’s where I feel in love with him, and where we went right after we were engaged. And taking Margaret and Jeff was something we had been looking forward to for months! Even when the forecast looked threatening, even while we debated and debated and debated going at all the entire week before. What really got Kamel and I on board with making the drive: The Ranger’s assurances that it would be stunning, that there would be hardly any other people in the park, and that we would be one of the, maybe, 1% of people who see Yosemite this way. We were hooked.
Saturday morning we were up, packed and heading out the door by 10am. We got across the Bay Bridge in our rental SUV (there was no way that my Corolla was going to make it up any mountain roads with even a dusting of snow) when a warning popped up on the dash: Low Tire Pressure. Oh Shit. So! We pull into a gas station to check the tires. Tires 1 through 3 were perfect, tire 4 was down by 1/2. Then, the mechanic on duty scouted out a screw jammed into our tire. Oh shit was right. Back into the car we climbed, back into the city we went, back back back to Dollar Rent-A-Car. Where, though the business is totally shady and the wait was super long, they upgraded us to a Jeep Liberty for only 10 bucks more a day, and off we headed again. Now only about 3 hours behind our previous schedule.
Let me just say, thank god for day light savings time, because it afforded us an afternoon/evening in the park that ended up being priceless. We rolled into Groveland (a town just outside of the park) at about 3:30 and by 4:30 were dressed in snow gear and on the road again for the drive into the valley. It was snowing and breath taking and was everything a winter post card promises it to be. It was also Kamel’s first time in snow. Real, honest to god, fresh snow.
I have seen the park in the heat of summer and in the first budding of spring, and every time we’ve driven in, it has been a completely different scene. This time was remarkable, and the Ranger was so, so right.
We eventually made it down to the valley, walked to Bridalveil Falls, saw the raging rivers, the mist from Yosemite Falls turning into snow and piling up at its base, and strolled along with grazing deer. We stayed until dusk, until we felt we had to leave.
Driving back to our hotel, as the light faded until pitch blackness, as the snow fell in a mesmerizing swirl in the beams of our headlights, as the trees loomed on either side of us, as Mumford and Sons played off my ipod, as we all sat silently, listening to the music and the whoosh of the tires on wet and snowy cement, I felt the undeniable magic of the place.
The next morning, the day we would spend fully in the park with no rush to get anywhere else, we woke up and discovered it had snowed – all night. We spent the next hour or two searching the town for affordable snow chains. Did we need them? Probably not, we thought. But! If asked, we had to have them in the car, so we spent the money, we got the chains, we headed (again) for the park entrance.
See the photo above? That was when we first got to the park on day one. The snow then was already over our feet. By day two, when we drove past that sign, we all gasped because the snow was all the way up to the bottom of the word YOSEMITE, meaning, it was nearly all the way up to my butt. And the snow had not yet stopped falling.
That entrance to the park was closed. The Ranger told us they had tried to get a few cars through earlier in the morning and they had all gotten stuck. We could take a two hour detour if we wanted and try another entrance. But we opted out. We had already spent the morning in the car and didn’t feel like taking a 4 hour round trip drive. Especially since the night before? We got back too late to have any dinner. Groveland stopped serving food at 9, in every establishment. On day two we weren’t going to risk not getting a meal.
When we finally made it back to our hotel for a nap, some reading, a shower, etc. we were informed the power had gone out and it was widespread. Also, the water wasn’t running because it operated through a pump. No heat, no lights, no water, no cell service and now internet in the middle of the woods, during a snowstorm. Hm. We thought about going home, but we had come this far and not yet seen all of the park that we wanted to see. We decided to stick it out, focus our attention on day three when we would take the two hour detour to the other entrance and finally spend a few more hours in the park.
That night we piled up blankets on each of our beds, lit candles, spread out the bottled water in different containers, and tried to stay warm. On Monday we jumped out of bed at 7:00am, packed up our stuff, and headed out to entrance #2, trying to squeeze in enough park time before we had to head home.
The theme of this weekend was driving and then disappointment. Without fail. Things continued to not work out and not work out and not work out. Little things even, things it doesn’t make sense to mention here, but piled up over the weekend. We figured we had earned enough good karma by sticking it out, not giving up, pushing through, that something had to turn around, we had to have some kind of pay off, right?
Wrong. We drove the 1.5 hours to a different town, to a different road that would take us to a different entrance. And that road was closed, too. Not because of snow, but because of massive mud and rock slides, down power lines, trees, and severe damage to the road itself.
We learned that those who had made it into the park the day before were now trapped. No one was allowed to come or go. And they had no idea when the road would open again. If we had not had that blown out tire and gotten that upgrade, there was no way we would have had the driving power we did have. That Jeep Liberty saved our asses on multiple snowy occasions. Never getting stuck, never needing chains, when other cars were abandoning ship, ours just kept on going. If we had made it into the park on sunday morning, we realized we would have been trapped for days. Our only option would have been to take a bus convoy out of the park late on Monday evening, leaving our rented car behind, and only being transported as far as the town we had made it to on Monday before deciding to finally head back to San Francisco – a 3 hour trip.
It wasn’t at all what we had anticipated it being. It was majorly disappointing, I’m not going to lie. But it was a full on adventure. Full of ridiculousness and good stories. And, as the Ranger put it, we are part of the 1% who ever see the park covered in snow, so I’ll take it.