Fastball’s voice assured me that Anyone can see the road that they walk on is paved in gold as we snaked up a mountainside somewhere in California. Our tiny trinket of a car chugging ever up at a steady speed of 15 miles an hour; 35 and we’d be airborne. I’ve been known to cry on roads half as scary as this one due to a decades-old fear of heights, but with a 90’s voice on the radio calling me into the past, my friend’s head stuck out the backseat window, and Carl grinning away in the driver’s seat, I was comforted knowing that if we didn’t fall thousands of feet below that this would be an absurdly fond memory.
Two separate cars had set out for Yosemite National Park earlier that June day from San Francisco. We were to meet at a rented cabin in Groveland about 30 minutes outside the park, for an evening full of beers, whisky, and hot dogs, while reclining on our dark and wooded wrap-around porch. Caravan number one though, our caravan, had left before the morning rush-hour, and nearing the park in early afternoon whizzed right past Groveland and into Yosemite.
Graceland was on repeat when half dome first came into view. There are no experiences comparable to that, so expressing that feeling properly is impossible.
I could spend thousands of words and many hours trying to describe what that experience was like, but the fact is it’s like nothing else. When I think of that moment now it’s inextricably linked to Paul Simon’s voice crooning out And she said looosing love is like a window into your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart. Everybody sees the wind blow. I’m going to Graceland. So I guess if I had to describe that feeling I’d say, well, it’s like going to Graceland. Duh.
As soon as you’re officially inside of the park grounds you stop at Bridal Veil Fall. The popularity of the trail is due to its location (it’s on the drive in), sheer beauty (a wispy thin fall that floats away in the breeze — hence it’s name) and it’s remarkably short distance (½ mile total). This was an obvious choice for us, but sadly and understandably, it’s an obvious choice for everyone else too. The brief paved trail is chock full of middle aged men with white socks pulled up to their shins and toddlers running in and out of strangers’ legs. When the trail abruptly ends much of this action continues onto the craggle of rocks surrounding the fall. It’s a complete danger zone, and the further down the rocks you’re willing to go the smaller the crowd gets. To disappear from the mob entirely you have to go deep, so far that you can feel the last lingering mists on your face.
Carl and I plopped down shortly after the trail ended, lunching on cheese and sausage as we watched our friend leap frog from boulder to boulder. Everything was lovely and that feeling of loveliness carried on throughout the Yosemite weekend; a little bluebird of happiness just perched on my shoulder, carrying in its flapping wings a feeling of absolute wonder. “500 Miles” by The Proclaimers seemed like the appropriate choice for this moment, and after loading back up in the car and popping that song on, the front and back seats echoed with Da lat da (Da lat da)–da lat da (Da lat da)–Da-da-da dun-diddle un-diddle un-diddle uh da.
Following the fall we made a brief stop at the visitor center where we learned it was currently a balmy 95 degrees and tomorrow would be 98, the day we planned to journey up a mountain; “Huzzah!” said no one. Ever. It was still mid-afternoon, so we decided to use the remaining day on an easy trail, as we’d spent our whole day thus far sitting in a car, and were unprepared both physically and equipment-wise for any long distance hikes.
Mirror loop trail fit the bill at about 5 miles round trip and level throughout. If you’re short on time and don’t feel like any hardcore elevation gains then I’d recommend this trail; but if you’re not short on time and don’t need to avoid elevation gain, then I would indeed avoid this trail. It’s still more beautiful than most things you’re likely to see in life, as you’ll pass a picture-perfect lake and a shrine of cairns, but it does happen to be covered in horse shit (as it’s one of the few trails that allows horseback riding in the park), which is buzzing with flies this time of year. There’s just so damn much to see in Yosemite that I do believe you’ll find better ways to spend 5 miles.
Coming out of the park after our shit-steeped hike we noticed something odd: snow was dusted on the roadsides. This couldn’t be possible we told ourselves though, as we had just wandered around the park in 90+ degree heat. Needing to Sherlock the situation a bit we pulled over and realized this wasn’t snow, this was hail. Big, massive, honkin’ hunks of hail. Each piece roughly the size of a dime. We spent the next ten minutes wandering throughout the forest whelping and wheeing, looking at one another and asking the not-so-serious yet ever-so-serious question, “are you seeing this?” The sun was just beginning to go down, so everything was cast in that witching hour glow, steam slowly rising, caught in the heat just a few feet off the ground. The Wallflowers sang our farewell song as we left the park that evening, One Headlight blaring, fitting with the line So cold, feels like Independence Day …hail melting outside the windows.
Our caravan of six met up that night in the ultimate reunion (some from San Francisco, some from Philadelphia, and Carl and I from Seattle). We feasted like kings on macaroni & hot dogs, washed down root beer & bourbon floats for dessert, then beers for second dessert, and went to bed like kids on Christmas Eve.
Groveland is an enchanting place, but the town has little to no internet anywhere you go. Because of this, we had a bit of difficulty getting to breakfast in the morning. Caravan number two had passed an enticing bakery the day before and told us to meet at the intersection of 120 and Ferretti road. We knew where that was, easy peasy. After sitting for fifteen minutes at a diner with the slowest service known to man, no coffee and no second car in sight, we knew something must be wrong as our cars had left within minutes of each other. Internet was lost to all at this point, so we left our crappy diner and found nearby the loveliest of cafes in the world.
Mountain Sage cafe has a sunny garden that’s growing basil and tomatoes where you can sip coffee, and breakfast wraps that come with a side of honey mustard. I’m immediately relieved by all this, and although we’ll never see our friends ever again (NO INTERNET ANYWHERE) am able to relax with an americano. Our ombre-haired barista was gabbing with her coworker about how little sleep they got the night before after Cayden’s party. She was chipper and pretty as can be, which lead to our wily Philadelphia friend asking the adorable and hung over lady:
“Do you know a place called the tangled heart bakery?”
“Course I do, it’s Bertha and Paul’s joint!”
“Do you have a phone here? Can you call them for us and ask if our friends are there?”
“Sure!” she chirps
**dialing landline noises** **bring bring**
“Hiya Paul! It’s Pearl here, we’re wonderin’ if you’ve got some people over there”
“Wha’do your friends look like?”
“One has a big beard and is wearing a fur vest–and another’s a 6’5’’ guy with viking hair”.
Apparently this works, as we found both our friends and driving directions. Turns out there were two intersections of highway 120 and Ferretti. Lesson learned: trust your landline wielding friends. They’re the ones who’ll truly make it through the zombie apocalypse.
After reconvening for the briefest of moments our groups got back into their respective cars and drove into the park. Rusted Roots “Send me on my way” blared out, whose lyrics I’ve always interpreted (and sung aloud) something like I whooold like to reach out my lihhhtle hand. We wihhl run, we wihhl, we wihhl craaahhhwl. Umbusay, um-buh-tell you to run. No matter. We were feeling unstoppable and were about to round the corner towards half dome for the second time, and we couldn’t help but grin feverishly for what was ahead.
Nevada Falls was the hike of choice. It’s 2,000 feet of elevation gain would keep the crowds away on this extremely hot day, but our choice would also entail a six mile journey through the blaring sun with little tree cover. The National Forest service website recommends 4-6 quarts of water per person for this climb. Trust that estimation — Yosemite is trying it’s hardest to save your dumb ass. The hike up will include views of rushing falls, and seemingly peaceful pools, but the trail is also speckled with signs warning not to go swimming in the fall; whose graphics include stick figures falling to their doom and captions like: “If you go over the fall, you will die”. This makes your peaceful hike a bit ominous, but if those signs weren’t posted so frequently I’m sure I’d see people bring floaties on the trail.
Our traveling caravan was quite varied and upon reaching the path’s zenith we all took in the view and accomplishment in different ways. One of our companions chain smoked under a bush (he kept the butts with him on the trip down, we’re not monsters), another dangled his feet over the ledge for a few minutes surveying the fall below, while Carl would take a few steps and giggle he was so overwhelmed by his surroundings, take a few more steps and giggle…
He grabbed me for a second saying there was something I needed to see, then he brought me to a small fence on the fall’s precipice, telling me it would be terrifying but that I needed to lean over and just see.
So as for me at this part in the hike, I stood for a bit, seemingly at the end of the world, overlooking our voyage. There were no songs in my head during this time, just the sound of water flowing, flowing, then falling into nothing.