We escaped Nevada, crossing into California at Reno, and then winding through a tiny, snow-packed pass on our way to the western entrance of Yosemite, which Mark and I agreed was probably the most beautiful stretch of road either of us had ever seen, and then proceeded to have our one and only bitter disagreement of the trip. Which is absolutely the way I would recommend enjoying the most beautiful stretch of road you've ever seen.
First lesson: a trip to Yosemite is a commitment, no matter where you are starting out from. There are no major highways anywhere close to the park and the surrounding area is hilly and twisted, so travel is slow at best and at times, tortuous.
And although the park is vast, the area most people visit - the valley floor - is constricted and filled with other people. So a 1-nighter is not really the way to see Yosemite.
Having said that, however, John Muir's lifelong love is nothing if not majestic and breathtaking. We finally left the entrance behind and made our way down to the valley floor around 7:30PM. The light played on El Capitan and the gushing waterfalls everywhere.
Like the other places we'd visited, Yosemite is experiencing an abundance of moisture so the main waterfalls were twice their normal size and spontaneous waterfalls had sprouted up all over.
We hit Camp Curry, a well-run National Park machine, only to discover at 8:30PM that all the food we'd packed in our cooler and bags would earn us a $5000 fine if left in our car.
Bears. Bears bears bears. If there's a theme to Yosemite it's bears and fines. Staying at Yosemite is a little like joining the army, with frequent and helpful reminders of the severe penalties for going AWOL.
So, before collapsing into our wall tent after 13 hours of driving, or eating dinner, or throwing back a shot of tequila, we had to pack up two weeks' worth of provisions and lug it to the Bear Box outside our tent. To say that Mom was a little crabby at this point would be somewhat of a wee understatement.
But the next day was magic. We all slept great, got up early, and headed out to the trail. After an awesome hike and about 1000 photos, we explored the Valley Floor by shuttle, taking our time and stopping off in lots of places and finally re-packing up the car to head out for San Francisco in late afternoon.
With only 4 hours of driving scheduled, we settled in and enjoyed the twisting, turning 2-lane blacktop through beautiful, sun-drenched country and even found Mark Twain's mostly-overlooked cabin. It's a humble little thing, sitting at the end of long shared driveway with some houses, but it's where Twain lived when his writing finally caught folks' attention - with a little frog story he heard down at the local tavern.
And then it was westward ho! once more, for a night in San Francisco and a good-bye to our Aussie cousin.