The week of April 18- 26, 2015 is National Park Week. Entrance fees to all the 400 national parks are waived during opening weekend Week, Saturday, April 18 and Sunday, April 19! That’s a good deal so be sure to visit one.
One of the best senior travel bargains anywhere is a low-cost lifetime national park pass that admits seniors free of charge to most U.S. national parks, forests, refuges, monuments and recreation areas. U. S citizens or permanent residents who are at least 62 years old can purchase a Senior Pass for a one-time processing fee of $10. This Senior Pass to national parks and lands offers benefits to you and your traveling companions.
After a lifetime of wishing to see Yosemite National Park in California, I finally got there back in December. I drove in so early, the entrance gates were not even manned. (I own a Senior Pass.) I then stopped in the Mariposa Grove, the southernmost area, to see a preserve of giant sequoia trees. This area becomes quite distant once you make it down into Yosemite Valley and the center of the park. Talk about feeling small and humble…these behemoths are magnificent megatrees, a species whose trucks soar skyward nearly 300 feet and boast a base circumference over 90 feet. Their branches don’t begin to sprout until high overhead and seem undersized by comparison. The grove makes a grand statement and you find yourself wanting to stop. As I took it all in, I listened to the forest and it surely has much to say.
Stroll along and pass the Bachelor and the Three Graces whose roots are all intertwined before reaching the Grizzly Giant, a tree that’s probably 2,000–2700 years old. It’s one of the largest in the world. A sign shows a photo of President Teddy Roosevelt, John Muir and others in front of the tree in 1903.
A little further on, you come to the California Tunnel Tree- cut in 1895 to allow stagecoaches to pass through and as a marketing scheme to attract visitors. No vehicles are allowed today, but it is fun to walk through the opening in the tree.
I returned to my car and drove further into the Park gaining elevation on a very windy stretch until I passed Glacier Point Road, and saw a “sneak peek” of El Capitan. The road continues through the long Wawona Tunnel and my excitement grew. I parked after I exited and found myself standing at the famous Tunnel View vista: the spot where the first Euro-Americans “discovered” the valley, and one of the most photographed places in the world. Woo-hoo! Ahead, I could see the entire valley, the sheer rock wall of El Capitan and the renowned Half Dome. I’ve found when I actually come to a place that I’ve seen photos of for years, I’m rarely disappointed. There is something special about being there and this is one of my real joys in travel. I pinched myself and marveled at the view.
Afterward, I continued driving down into Yosemite Valley and spent the next two days trying to capture waterfalls rainbows, and reflections. I managed to catch a rainbow in the upper section of the falls one morning. That evening, I hiked a trail to the bottom of the two-tiered Yosemite Falls and as I was returning and nearing the meadow, the top quarter of Half Dome was ablaze in what is called Alpenglow: an optical phenomenon that occurs when is sun is just below the horizon and reflects light upward. It’s surreal and gorgeous.
Unlike Yellowstone, wildlife is not the main attraction in this National Park. Visit Yosemite to stand in awe of nature. Its beauty inspires contemplation of your place in the universe, similar to peering into the Grand Canyon. You’ll also feel the presence of so many who have previous trod the sacred grounds.
If possible try to book lodging within Yosemite Valley as the drive in and out takes over an hour on difficult terrain – especially difficult for those prone to motion sickness. The granddaddy of National Park resorts, the Ahwahnee Lodge is a jaw-dropping luxury, if you can afford. I couldn’t but made a reservation and enjoyed dinner there.
Early December was an ideal time to visit as snow had not yet fallen, but the summer crowds were gone. I suspect early November might be even better to catch some of the lingering fall foliage.
I flew in and out of Fresno, California which requires a drive of two hours – one to Oakhurst and one more within the Park. Two days and nights is not enough to keep a photographer happy but certainly allowed me time to appreciate the splendor of this historic National Park.