We're wrapping up the job in the Fresno area, and the project manager gives the flight crews a day off and the use of a vehicle, so we drive to Yosemite National Park. It was right there in the airplane but our vehicle is land-based, so we have a couple of hours drive up to the park. For some reason I never think of mountains when I think of California, but this park is on top of a mountain.
We keep driving until we reach the park gate, where there is a $20 per-carload admission fee. I notice that the fee is $10 per cyclist, and can't help wondering why they charge four people on bicycles twice as much as four people in a car. I wonder what they would charge a carload of people with four bikes in a rack on the back. Were I ever to cycle up this mountain to this park, accompanied by more than one other cyclist, once I had recovered from the effort, I would ask the park ranger to please pretend we had a car, as much to make the point as to save the money.
This happened the first week of April, and the continuing road was closed due to snow. We parked just beyond the park gates, and walked up Mariposa Grove Road, over the snow drifts. It was maybe three or four kilometres up the road to the trailhead. We were impressed by the volume of snow that was packed on the road. It clearly snows a lot here. In California. It's not all Baywatch. Walking up the road I was thinking to myself, "and if I have to pee, I can just go behind a tree!" I've spent so many hours this week strapped in the cockpit that being able to pee any time I like is a notable luxury. I'm laughing at myself for this, when another crewmember mentions exactly the same thing. I remember when I added "and you don't need to go to the bathroom" to my list that defines when life is good. (The rest of the list is: food in your belly, not too hot or too cold, not in pain, contact with people who appreciate you, and a safe place to sleep).
Before we got to the end of the access road we started seeing the giant sequoia trees. They're not the same as giant redwoods; California has more than one kind of giant tree.
From the parking area at the top of the road there was a trail continuing through the snow among the trees. It was meticulously signed with the short distances to the various trees indicated in tenths of a mile. I get the idea there a lot of people who visit this park can't walk very far at all. It's very accommodating for the park to set it out so clearly so people with no experience reading maps or walking in the woods can choose something at their level of ability. I wouldn't recommend that someone for whom 0.3 miles is more achievable than 0.5 miles come here in this season. The snow on the trails makes it interesting, and in other places there are giant puddles that we variously skirt, leap, ford and wade right through, depending on our shoes and leg length. And obviously anyone daunted by a mile walk hasn't walked up the snowbound road. In fact, so far, no one has. We were the only ones we saw on the way in. (The closed road was only closed to cars, and we saw a number of people coming the other way on our way out, so I guess we're just early risers).
The really old trees had fences around them to protect them from people walking on the ground near them and damaging their roots. I thought that concept was a little fantastic, but we kept our distance. We could walk up to some of the younger trees. The bark was very thick and quite soft. I think I could have punched it full strength with my knuckles and not hurt myself, because of the sponginess. Most of the giant trees had fire scars on their bark. One of the reasons for their longevity is resistance to fire. In fact, the park service used to protect the trees from fire, but then researchers discovered that they needed fire in order to reproduce, so now they set controlled fires.
This is a somewhat superficial post, "We went to the park; we saw big trees," because the third part,"we learned interesting things about big trees" was abruptly cut off. We'd just reached the Grizzly Tree, apparently the oldest one in the forest, when someone's cellphone decided that now was the time to deliver supernatural reception. We're in a forest in a national park and there's cellphone coverage. Bah. It was a message from company. There had been a miscalculation and we were needed back at the airport. That's the way it goes in aviation.
So we all walked back down the snowy trails, back along the road, and drove down out of the mountain. We just got a tiny taste of the park. Yosemite is a huge park, mostly wilderness, with lots of opportunity to camp and hike, and actually take responsibility for yourself. The brochure said that people drown every year from swimming upstream of waterfalls. I'm not glad to know people drown, but I'm glad to know there is a wild place here where people can come and experience the real world, hazards and all. I was afraid that California had been turned entirely into a foam-padded theme park where people were completely protected from themselves.
As we drive back out of the park, everyone's cellphone comes alive with text messages. They are glad to have us reply that we are on our way because they didn't expect to be able to reach us in the park. We could have pretended they didn't, but we're responsible. We don't go swimming upstream of waterfalls, either.