By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 1/20/2020
Occurred: 6/14/1995
Posted: 7/29/2010
Topics/Keywords: #California #Travel #YosemiteNationalPark #Mt.DiabloStatePark Page Views: 3524
I recall the trip taken with my son, John, to Yosemite National Park and other California locations in 1995.

My wife of 20 years and I separated in 1992. That year, I took my oldest daughter on a trip, just the two of us, to Grand Canyon. The next year I took my second daughter to Canada; the following year I took my youngest daughter to Key West. Finally, in June of 1995, I took my youngest, 19-year-old John, on a week-long tour of California (with Grand Canyon thrown in for good measure). I met him in Virginia, where he lived, and we flew together to San Francisco for our first-ever major trip together, with just the two of us.

John in the air.

Although his sisters sometimes claim that, of the four kids, John was my "favorite", that isn't really true. I've always cherished each of my kids for their own unique traits. But with that in mind, certainly I've always had a special admiration for John's cleverness, empathy, humor, and maturity while at the same time sometimes finding his stubbornness (which he inherited entirely from his mother) frustrating.

But the kids were so close together in age, and my time with them so precious and hard to come by, that when I did almost anything with them, I did it with all of them. I can only remember one occasion, when John was about 12, that he and I went on a father-son camping trip, that I was able to spend time with him without his sisters being present. So this trip, seven years later, was to be a chance for me to get to know the young man my son had become, and for him to get to know me as a person and not just "dad".

This was also to be a chance for me to get to know Yosemite better. I had visited once before, about 14 years earlier, and the memory of it had enchanted me ever since.

Yosemite is almost a straight shot east of San Francisco International Airport, but except for in the Bay Area itself, major highways don't take you there. Most of the route, then and now, is followed on California State Road 120 and is about a four-hour drive.

We had flown in reasonably early; and when I saw a sign for Mt . Diablo State Park, I impulsively went for it. The road went right to the top of this solitary peak and afforded us a spectacular view.

John looking over California from Mt. Diablo.

It was getting late in the day by the time we reached the park's gate, and spent the night at a campground just outside the park. Remembering the issues I'd had with the high altitude 14 years earlier, I thought it would be a good idea for us to sleep as high as possible before our planned hike—retracing the steps I'd take with my friends Dick and Rick on the earlier visit.

In the morning, we broke camp and headed into the park.

This time, however, I was awake. (I'd been asleep while Rick drove, on the first trip.) And when we came to the intersection where the road split between the northern high country and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, I turned right. This brought us, for the first time ever, to the "popular" sections of the park I hadn't known existed.

John at the rim of the Grand Canyon of Yosemite.

As we drove we passed by a large section of forest that had burned a couple of years earlier. Later, when my mom saw the below picture, she went on about what a "tragedy" the fire had been. She came from that generation that never seemed to be able to wrap their heads around the Circle of Life, that fires are a natural part of the life cycle of a forest and, to be healthy, there must be periodic fires to clear out the brush and make room for fresh, new life.

Recovering section of previously-burned forest.

Fortunately, John did get it.

John overlooking the burnt forest in Yosemite.

But then we came in sight of Half Dome, the huge monolith at the far end of the canyon. This monument is one of the two most distinctive features of the park, and everyone comes to see it; yet, I'd never heard of it. Even so, our eyes were instantly drawn to it and we made sure it was featured in our travel photo commemorating our visit.

John and me in Yosemite.

As we continued to ride along the rim, we were treated to a fantastic view of the Tuolumne River below.

The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River.

The road led us into the canyon proper; there were many small but vigorous streams and rivulets pouring into the Tuolumne, adding to its not inconsiderable volume. We started out on the north bank of the river but a bridge crossed over to the south side and we saw a sign directing us to Bridalveil Fall. We parked and followed an easy if damp and slippery trail alongside a rushing stream. There was no mistaking our goal, an over 600-foot waterfall that could be seen from almost anywhere in the canyon.

Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite.

Part of the fun about traveling with John is that he is as adventurous as I am (almost!). And since I am okay with that, there was no problem with John's getting his feet wet.

John at the foot of Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite.

Although the signs told us Bridalveil Fall was a year-round feature, it seemed to me that an unusual amount of water must be flowing from it, judging by the trees whose roots were being inundated by the flow.

High water in Yosemite.

After touring the canyon, John and I followed the route around toward the intersection of CA 120. Just before reaching it, we came upon Yosemite's second-most identifiable feature, of which I had also never heard: El Capitan, a 3,000-foot rock formation that is a favorite with climbers and had been featured in Star Trek: The Final Frontier, which I had seen—but which had not identified the think Captain Kirk was climbing at the film's opening scene.

3,000 foot El Capitan, one of Yosemite's most easily-identifiable features.

After stopping to admire this monster, we then headed onto CA 120 and made our way into the reaches of Yosemite's high country where, to my surprise, there were still patches of snow.

Yosemite's high country: Snow in June.

As we gained altitude, we lost temperature. John and I were still in our summer traveling shorts—I'm not sure we'd even brought long pants—and had to don pullovers to deal with the brisk air.

John in Yosemite's high country.

John managed to get a shot of me I liked so well, that I used it a couple years later as the label photo for my CD, The Man Who Isn't There.

Me in Yosemite's high country.

The northern half of the park is (relatively) untraveled. Except for people who actually use CA 120 as a way to get to the other side of these mountains, there are few visitors. And so we were able to drive slowly, and stop and take photos whenever we wanted, without fear of inconveniencing other motorists. We pretty much had the road to ourselves.

Yosemite's high country.

Finally we got to Tuolumne Meadows, a gentle, dome-studded sub-alpine meadowy section of the Tuolumne River, in the eastern section of Yosemite National Park. This was where, 14 years earlier, my friends Dick and Rick and I had begun our overnight hike, and where I intended to take John.

Tuolumn Meadows in Yosemite's high country.

However, to my astonishment…the general store and campground were closed. Even though it was June, summer had not yet come to Tuolumne Meadows. The campground (and trailhead) were not only closed, they were flooded. The previous winter's snows had been unusually deep, and were taking an unusual amount of time to melt.

So, our overnight hike on the John Muir Trail had to be cancelled. We hadn't really brought clothes for the weather; certainly no winter boots or sleeping bags appropriate for the temperatures we'd experience. Fortunately, John didn't mind. Camping has never been his very favorite thing, anyway. And he did appreciate the beauty we'd both been privileged to enjoy.

So we continued East on CA 120, heading out of Yosemite and down a very steep, switchbacked road that brought us to the next, unplanned, day of our vacation.