August 11th – Tuolumne Meadows

Waking up to the sounds of the forest is quite lovely. Birds chirp cheerfully as they fly between the trees and bushes. That woody, earthy, piney scent permeates the air, and the sunlight diffusely illuminates the tent. It’s nice to be woken up by the light, without being woke up by the heat. We made a second attempt at pancakes, and it turned out much like the first, which is to say not really resembling pancakes at all. No matter, after breakfast, it was time to go explore the Tuolumne Meadows region of the park.

We entered the park as before, though we took the left turn off to the Meadows instead of continuing straight to the valley. The meadows are under snowfall until as late as may or even June, but come July and August, the meadow undergoes a spectacular bloom. Though just a couple months ago this meadow was under thirty feet of snow, it is now an endless expanse of wildflowers and playful birds. Life in the meadows has adapted to the incredibly short growing cycle, with some species of bird laying 3 or 4 full nests of chicks in the 2 months of summer.

We charged our robots at the ranger station while we cooked some mac and cheese on their patio with our stove. An interesting thing all the national parks are doing these days is the “Junior Ranger” program. Basically, kids are given a booklet to fill out about their time in the park, including wildlife they saw, etc. When they fill it out, they can turn it in at a ranger station, and are then given a badge representing the park. I think it’s a pretty sweet way to get kids more involved with the parks program. They make a big deal out of the badge presentations, too, having everyone in the ranger station applaud the child receiving it. There’s even a swearing in ceremony where the child promises to protect nature. Gotta start that environmentalist path young. After lunch, we headed out for a decently long hike through the meadow, along the Tuolumne river. Though it isn’t necessarily as grand or majestic as Yosemite Valley, the meadows are still stunningly gorgeous, and contain a lot of really awesome hiking trails, including the famous John Muir Trail. We didn’t have time for a trek quite that long, but we did hike to some beautiful waterfalls. We smoked a bowl, and watched the steady flow of water over the broad ledge.

Like Zion, Yosemite makes use of a shuttle system throughout the park, but unlike Zion, you can still take your own vehicle on all the roads. What this is really nice for is the many non-loop trails. Park at one end, hike to the other, take a shuttle back to your vehicle. After several miles of hiking through the meadow and it’s adjacent woods, we popped out on a road fairly suddenly, with a shuttle stop just a few feet away. Once back at the ranger station, we began the hour long ride out of the park, and back to our campsite. I could spend a lifetime tracing the graceful curves of the park roads through this land of unrivaled beauty. I’m incredibly jealous of the rangers who actually get to live in cabins in the park. I don’t think you could have a bad day when Yosemite National Park is your front and back yard. It’s actually left me seriously considering a back-up career as a park ranger. Based on the number of park rangers we’ve caught smoking bowls or seeming really stoned, it seems as if the job doesn’t drug test particularly regularly. Of course, it is California, and I’m sure they all have their medical cards. Either way, if there’s a job that involves being paid to get stoned at Yosemite, sign me up.

Finally, we arrived back at camp, and it was time to refresh the coating of DEET on ourselves. Like the night before, it was a struggle to get the fire going, as it was all fairly fresh cut, and still somewhat wet. However, we eventually got it lit, and made more carrots and onion. This would have been a good time for sausages or something, but with the lack of refrigeration on the bike, it’s difficult to preserve any perishable goods like that. We were pretty much out of food, and the bike was getting very close to running out of gas, so we would have to leave in the morning. Instead of being sad to leave this magical place, I instead take comfort in the knowledge that I will return to spend much more time here in the future.

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