This was the second National Park that my husband, Venkat, and I visited after we immigrated to the United States. It was here that I grew captivated with bears. My enjoyment of long hikes also started with my first visit to Yosemite.
In the summer of 1985 Venkat and I decided to visit my cousin Satyan in San Jose. We were living in Boston at that time. Satyan asked us to come prepared for camping and we did. This was the era where we could check in suitcases for free and the airlines had a very generous weight and size allowance. It was also the time when they fed us good free airline food 🙂 On this trip we were able to check in a large suitcase with our two person tent and modest camping gear.
A few days after our arrival the three of us started on our camping trip to Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. On arriving in the valley at Yosemite, we first went to the campground and pitched our tent. After which we had dinner and attended a Ranger talk on bears in the park. Later that night as I lay in my sleeping bag, under the blanket of a pitch black night, I pondered over the information about the bears that I had just learned. As I was dozing off I was awakened by a grunt. I was still, listening intently. I heard it again this time it seemed nearer. A few minutes later I thought I heard not only the grunt but also the rustling of leaves. I lay there paralyzed with fear and wondering how my husband was sleeping so peacefully beside me. Did he not hear the sound? As another grunt came I imagined a dark shape suddenly looming beside the tent. I was petrified. Without moving I softly tried to wake up Venkat. When he moved I asked him urgently “Listen! Can you hear that sound? I think a bear is outside our tent.” Venkat listened and pat came the response “Praveena, it is someone snoring in the neighboring campsite. Listen to how rhythmic the sound is.” The next morning as we were packing the tents, Satyan casually asked “Praveena, how was the bear last night?” I could have cheerfully wrung his neck. Lucky for him warm thoughts of us growing up together surfaced just in time.
We ended our first trip to Yosemite with a ranger led hike to Glacier Point. On the way she chatted about the bear that visited her house in the park a day before and asked us the keep a lookout for bears on the trail. My search for bears started then. Until then I had only seen them in zoos. During one of my visits as a child to the Bombay zoo I remember seeing a bear eating a banana. What struck me was the way it peeled the banana, ate the fruit and then calmly proceeded to eat the peel. And now I might be able to see them face-to-face in the wild without going on a safari!
However we did not see any bears that day but learned a lot about pine trees, how to identify the variety with the help of the pine needles and cones. At the end of the hike at Glacier Point we were treated to the most awe inspiring views of the valley, Half Dome and El Capitan.
Speaking of El Capitan, many years later author/illustrator Daniel San Souci (you can read the anecdotes and story of my meeting with Dan in the author category) introduced me to “Two Bear Cubs“. This book was a retelling of a Miwok Legend by Robert San Souci and Dan had illustrated it. The story is set in the Yosemite Valley and is about two bear cubs who after playing fall asleep on a rock and while they sleep the rock grows and becomes El Capitan.
By this time in our life we had two children and had moved to California. Travelling with children has its own charm and challenges. Before our travel I always tried to get a book with a story set in the place we were visiting. This got my kids excited about seeing the place they had read about and it made the story real for them. This time all three of us (my kids and I) read the Two Bear Cubs before our next visit to the park. When we reached Yosemite I now saw the valley and the rocks through the eyes of the bear cubs. Imagining them playing in the Merced river, looking down from the top of El Capitan, seeing us as little ants running around, while their fellow animals were out there searching for them and trying to rescue them for Mother bear. I encourage all of you who are young and young at heart, to read this story before your next visit to Yosemite National Park.
In subsequent visits we hiked various trails and visited Yosemite Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Vernal falls. During one of those visits we stayed at Curry Village. a week before our visit there had been a rockslide and there were rocks and debris very near our cabin. That day as we drove around the valley we saw rock climbers on the face of El Capitan. One of the rangers told us that the climbers sleep on a platform against the rock face at night before resuming their climb. That night we heard big booming sound. There had been another rockslide in the valley. We prayed and hoped the climbers were safe.
On a recent visit in 2016 Venkat and I visited Yosemite to celebrate his 62nd birthday and get his senior pass to the National Parks. The senior pass costs $10 and gives you lifetime access to all the National Parks in the United States. During this visit we camped (getting a campsite for 2 days on the day of our arrival) at the back of our minivan and enjoyed it thoroughly. We hiked up the trail and saw the reflections of Mt Watkins and Half Dome. We also went on a night hike with a ranger across a meadow. In this hike we did not have lights and used our night vision to walk across the meadow. We saw a deer family and a mole and heard various birds including a hooting owl. It was fun and we encourage you to go on this hike on your next visit.
The highlight of our visit though was the Hetchy Hetchy Reservoir and the hike along its banks to the Wapama Falls. As we approached the falls we experienced its splendor as it tumbled down the mountain. Standing right at its base we felt the spray as it emptied into the reservoir. We were the only ones there. No jostling crowds competing for a space.
We know we have more exploring to do and hike farther than the Wapama Falls to reach other remote falls in the parkland. And we still have to see the elusive Yosemite Bear.
I look forward to reading about your experience in this park as well!