Home » 2020 Yosemite During Covid

Yosemite Valley, CA

Monday, November 9, 2020 - 10:00am by Lolo
245 miles and 5 hours from our last stop - 6 night stay


Day 1 - Arrival in time to catch the alpenglow

Arriving just in time to catch the alpenglowArriving just in time to catch the alpenglowWhenever we drive to Yosemite with the motorhome, we take the more southern route up through El Portal on Highway 140 as it is a bit more gentle an approach than Highway 120 through Groveland. That being said, Google Maps decided to automatically change our route to the slightly faster (by 5 minutes) 120 route and we didn’t notice that until we had driven about an hour beyond the decision point.

We were in no mood to turn back so we continued onto Groveland. Hmm...there seemed to be a little snow on the ground here. When we got to the Park Entrance, we were told that we could not continue without chains because the roads between here and Crane Flat were not yet plowed. She said that Highway 140 up through El Portal was clear. Great. This made our stupid mistake, even stupider. I felt largely responsible, because I am the navigator and am supposed to be paying attention, but I still blame Google Maps for changing our selected route. Herb was taking this extremely (almost frighteningly well).

Catching the last bit of light by Sentinel BridgeCatching the last bit of light by Sentinel BridgeNot having chains with, and not wanting to deal with snowy, nail-biting roads, we asked the Ranger how we could best recover from our mistake and go around to the El Portal entrance without going all the way back to Stockton. She gave us a route that went back through Groveland and down the Priest Coulterville Road, which she said was perfectly fine for motorhomes such as ours. Besides adding another hour and a half to our trip, she was right.

We got into the Valley around 4:30, just in time to catch the Alpenglow on Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge - and to make it even more perfect, the meadows and peaks (but fortunately not the roads) were covered with a lovely blanket of snow.

Day 2 - El Cap Meadow, Cathedral Beach, Valley View, and chasing the alpenglow

More El Cap ReflectionsMore El Cap ReflectionsHaving been to Yosemite Valley so many times, we didn’t feel compelled to rush around seeing all the sights, incredible as they may be. Instead, we took a leisurely drive around the Valley Loop in the motorhome, stopping at various favorites along the way. We used it as a base camp for making lunch, taking naps, getting warm, etc.

One of our favorite things to do is park near El Cap Meadow where the unobstructed view of El Cap in all its massiveness is humbling. I still can’t believe that our son Tommy and his now fiancee Erin, climbed the Nose, spending 3 nights sleeping on narrow ledges on its face. My palms still sweat at the thought of it.

From the meadow, we like to wander across the road and along the Merced River over to Cathedral Beach, where the reflections of El Cap in the river are astounding. No matter how many times we come to this spot, this view always takes our breath away.

Valley ViewValley ViewOur next stop along the loop road was the very popular Valley View near the end of the Northside Drive, where El Capitan, on the left, and Cathedral Rocks, on the right, frame a magnificent valley view. Usually there is a crowd here, but because of Covid there were no big tour buses in the parking lot today.

I had been so enamored with the alpenglow last night that I told Herb I wanted to be positioned well for tonight’s show. Back in 2018, I had experienced a very beautiful alpenglow on Sentinel Dome so I wanted to see if I could repeat that tonight.

Maybe some alpenglow?Maybe some alpenglow?We parked along the Southside Drive near Swinging Bridge and set off on foot. I made Herb come with me to show him the spot where we could watch Sentinel Dome light up during Alpenglow. Not wanting to just stand there in the hopes that it would do a repeat performance, he set off to wander about on his own.

After about a half hour, a couple came up to me and asked what I was looking at. I explained to them that I was waiting for the Alpenglow to hit Sentinel Dome, fully assured that this was a phenomenon that occurred every night.

Herb capturing alpenglow reflectionsHerb capturing alpenglow reflectionsI waited and waited and finally an orange-red glow lit up the top of the ridge. Oh, here it comes I thought, as I waited for it to move down the face and paint the entire rock a bright red, just like last time. But, poof. It just went out. What?

Meanwhile, I looked to the left off in the distance and saw Half Dome fully aglow. Darn it! That’s where Herb had headed. I started running that direction but didn’t get there in time. Herb said he had met the couple I had been explaining alpenglow to. They made the connection between the two of us because of his tripod and camera equipment.

Lessons learned. Apparently, a really spectacular alpenglow only occurs during certain atmospheric conditions.

Day 3 - Church Bowl, Ahwahnee Hotel, Ahwahnee Meadow, and more wanderings

Ahwahnee MeadowAhwahnee MeadowThe days are pretty short in November, especially when you are in a Valley with those tall rock cliffs blocking the sun on both ends of the day. The campground doesn’t get sunlight until late morning, so we usually like to get out of there early and drive it over to the Church Bowl Picnic Area along the Ahwahnee Drive, where there is lots of morning light. From there we could make breakfast, have coffee, read, and venture out whenever we felt like it.

Ahwahnee MeadowAhwahnee MeadowCoffee done, we headed out on the path that ran alongside the meadow towards the Ahwahnee Hotel, just a half mile away. The morning light was already streaming through the trees and onto the snow-covered grasses of the meadow. What a lovely morning to be in the Valley.

Whenever we are in the Valley, I always feel a yearning to stop in at the beautiful historic Ahwahnee Hotel, with its rustic wooden-beamed ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Royal Arches. We have so many wonderful memories here of nights spent playing cards and reading books by the fire or in one of its many nooks and crannies.

It was much quieter due to Covid. We debated whether we should get take-out dinner some night and eat it in one of the sitting areas in the Grand Lounge, but when we mentioned that to our overprotective sons, they said, “Are you crazy!” Darn.

As we usually do, we strolled out behind the hotel and walked along the path to the Merced River before returning back across the meadow. By this time, much of the Valley was lit, so we took a drive and parked on the other side of the Valley near the cute little church, which served as our base camp for the remainder of they day.

The rest of the day was spent wandering, taking photos, more wandering, more photos, etc. Not a bad life.

Day 4 - Hike up to Glacier Point

Glacier Point after hiking up from the ValleyGlacier Point after hiking up from the ValleyThere aren’t any hikes in and from the Valley left that we haven’t already done, but doing them in different seasons sort of makes them new again. We decided to do the Four Mile Trail up to Glacier Point, with a 3,200-foot elevation gain. I have a bone to pick with the person who named this trail. If they can rename the Ahwahnee Hotel the Majestic, I can rename this 4.8-mile hike the Five Mile Trail.

This is a great hike, but a very strenuous one as well. We started from the Valley Floor and after a brief flat area wandering through some boulders, which we had played around on with the boys in visits past, we began to climb. In fact, from that point on, all we would do is climb, as we had a lot of vertical feet to gain.

There were already some patches of snow on the trail before we started the climbing part, so we sat on a log and put on our Microspikes. We used to use Yaktrax but Herb likes Microspikes better because they have better grip and they pack down smaller. They are kind of like the chains you put on your car tires and just as hard to put on.

Hiking down from Glacier PointHiking down from Glacier PointThey really do work though. Everyone we passed on the trail was half our age, but we were passing them. I felt like the little engine that could, steadily plugging away up that hill, while the young’uns were slipping and sliding all over the place. Very empowering.

The scenery started slowly, since we had to get above the Valley trees first, but once we did, all the icons of the Valley come into view - Yosemite Falls, Cathedral Rocks, El Cap, Half Dome, Clouds Rest, North Dome, and more. It was like a tour of Yosemite’s greatest hits. The tremendous views were a great distraction from the fact that we were climbing and climbing along a continuous series of switchbacks.

Hiking down from Glacier PointHiking down from Glacier PointAt about 3 miles we came to the turnoff for Union Point, where there is a great viewpoint. Many hikers use this as a good turnaround point, but not us - we were going all the way!

As we came around to the northeast side of the valley wall, Half Dome came into view. The switchbacks were now done and the trail became less steep. One more mile to go.

Once we came off the Four Mile Trail, we continued left down a paved trail to what is one of the best views in Yosemite, and we pretty much had it all to ourselves. So different from summer when bus loads of tourists line up for selfies.

Although we were retracing our steps on the way down, the views were completely different in this direction - Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, those miles of switchbacks, and finally to my favorite view of all looking out over El Capitan and the western Yosemite Valley during Golden Hour.

I would like to give my special thanks to my Microspikes, that allowed me to hike up like a little tractor and hike down without slipping and sliding and hurting myself.

Day 5 - Reflections

Reflections of Half DomeReflections of Half DomeToday was all about reflections: reflections of rock formations in the Merced River and reflections of life during Covid.

I’ll start with reflections of life during Covid. I think it would be safe to say that we will all in some way be changed by the experience of 2020, hopefully for the better -- more compassionate and generous to others, more introspective and thoughtful, and definitely more appreciative of what we used to take for granted.

Secondly, I think it has taught us that we are not just individuals responsible for ourselves, but part of a vast network of family, friends, neighbors, and strangers who are healthier, happier, and stronger because of each other.

Reflections of North DomeReflections of North DomeThirdly, I think I, anyway, have learned to treat life’s simple moments as precious times to be savored: a hug from our grown-up children, a glass of wine with friends, a trip to a museum, and on and on.

So today I was thankful that Herb and I were healthy and once again in Yosemite Valley together, a place that has been so special to us over the years, and to still be able to get so excited about experiencing its beauty.

Enough with the waxing philosophically. Here are two images of reflections of Yosemite in the Merced River, one taken by each of us. Both of them are shot directly down into the water. Mine (the second one) became much more interesting when I flipped it upside down, revealing a watery sky filled with leaves.

Final Day - Ahwahnee Meadow, El Cap Meadow, and Inspiration Point

Nature's ornaments in the treesNature's ornaments in the treesOur last day in the Valley had arrived. As with every other morning, we left the dark campground early to find a spot in the sun. There are so many good choices, but we decided to return to El Cap Meadow and wander around there. We took off towards the river where the morning light was streaming through the trees.

We met a guy about our kids age, just sitting in a beach chair staring up at El Cap. He told us that he was going to climb it tomorrow and that he had done it three times in the past. Of course I had to tell him that our son had done it as well.

During our wanderings,we came across a large log which we swore was the one we had sat on during our first visit to Yosemite back in 1986. Maybe not, but close enough. Herb set up the tripod and we took a photo of the two of us with El Cap as a backdrop. We looked so tiny.

We look so tinyWe look so tinyWe needed to get some exercise, so we decided to do the hike up to Inspiration Point, which started from the Wawona Tunnel overlook parking lot. We had done this hike in the past, but then again we pretty much had done every hike in the Valley at least once, but they are all worth a repeat.

As usual, the parking lot was busy, but not as much as pre-Covid when tour buses dispense dozens of camera-clad tourists at the overlook to capture this iconic view of the Valley. It is a phenomenal view, rivaled only by the view from Glacier Point overlook, which we had hiked up to the other day. We had to work much harder for that one.

Feeling the need to earn our photo, we set off on the Inspiration Point trail, which started right from the parking lot. It’s pretty steep, gaining over 1,100 feet in just a little over a mile.

Once again, we learned that Yosemite secret: you only have to hike about a mile from the road to leave the crowds behind. And, if the trail is steep, as this one was, you will practically have it to yourselves within the first 100 yards.

The trail was a bit snow-covered, but not enough to warrant putting on our Microspikes. At 1.3 miles we reached “Old Inspiration Point,” which is where the road to Yosemite Valley used to go in the days before the Wawona Tunnel was built.

View from Inspiration PointView from Inspiration PointThe views are now mostly obscured by trees, but as we discovered in the past, if you just hike a short distance down to a lower granite shelf, the views of El Cap, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls are unobstructed and breathtaking. In fact, this was the site of our 2013 Gaidus Family Christmas Photo.

The views might not have been objectively better than those from the parking lot, but it certainly felt like they were from the solitude of this ridge.

Our escape to Yosemite Valley had been a wonderful break from the confinement at home, because it was so easy to socially distance and feel safe when traveling in the motorhome. For the past week, life had felt almost normal.

Goodbye for now Yosemite. We will be back!

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