Sunday, July 08, 2007

Looking for Elmer? (Yosemite National Park)

Big Dog and I thought we were being so clever by avoiding the 4th of July week, but this is the height of summer vacation! So it's maybe not the crush of the past week, but it's still a zoo out here.

With the back seat of our Toyota Tacoma packed with camping gear, food, camera gear, audio gear and our personal stuff, and with Big Dog complaining about how much junk we were traveling with, we left the ranch. There was still a thick layer of fog around Morro Bay that drifted into Los Osos Valley, but a patch of blue, as always, above our ranch.

"Maybe the heat wave is over."
"Wishful thinking."
"So tell me again, why are we leaving the ranch now?"
We bantered as we drove towards 101. We were on it only until Santa Margarita where we turned east, going through Creston…(getting warmer now)…Shandon…(yep, it's hot out here)…into the San Joaquin Valley….(Bake-o-rama!) Searing, brain-shriveling heat.

"Isn't it amazing that in front of us is a mountain range with the highest point in the contiguous US and we can't even see a shadow of it?" marveled BD as we kept driving towards Fresno. Heat, haze, dust, smog…who knows what it is, but all I could see was a huge expanse of ag land that just disappeared into the distance. No hint of a mighty mountain range beyond.

You know you're approaching Yosemite when you are in a long convoy of vehicles. Once inside the park, it's even more congested. I've been here many times as a child so I was looking forward to revisiting our favorite vacation spot but somehow I am distracted by the sheer number of visitors…and the size of the vehicles today.

From an overlook, you can see how the valley was carved out of glaciers. Sheer silver cliffs all around and a lush, forested canyon floor spread out in front of you. What was it like before the first illegal immigrants arrived from the east? Were the Ahwahnee Indians welcoming? Friendly? Did they have misgivings? Were there debates at night about what to do with the Illegal Immigrant Problem? Did they ever wish they'd killed every newcomer so no word of this beautiful land could ever reach beyond the valley? Who knew there were SO MANY others? Who knew it would turn into this flood of people!

July in Yosemite is overrun. When we finally make it to our campsite after several wrong turns, I'm shocked by the density of vacationers. Luckily, we were on the edge of the campsite and not boxed in by giant RVs. The spot next to us was vacant and our neighbors on the other side were two women and a man with tents, a guitar, a drum and a harp. Thank god we were in the Mellow Zone. Everywhere else monster sized RVs, small campers, vans, generators and screaming kids filled up spaces not designed for so much.

Packing and unpacking seems to aggravate Big Dog.
"I'm never packing this much stuff again!" he steams as he pulls out our camping gear from the car. "We are carrying way too much food!" he yells as he carries two boxes of food and cooking utensils, a shopping bag with more food and a small cooler to the bear box, a metal bear-proof locker to store your food.

Happy Hour in Yosemite:
Margaritas on the rocks
Watermelon chunks
Queso fresco

Strange combo, but it calmed BD down some, as did our little walk to the stream at the other end of the campsite. The water dancing over fallen logs, covered in velvety moss, was clear and cool. I splashed some on my face. Ahhhh. That did as much for my hot, grubby face as it did for my frazzled soul.

Hamburgers grilled on a funky 10 dollar fold out grill
Baked potato
Roasted bell pepper & broccoli in olive oil
Tomato slices
Apricot-granola bars

I'd like to say how peaceful it was, how awesome to be in the stillness of Yosemite, how moving it was to be so quiet you could almost hear the twinkling of the stars, but that was probably back in John Muir's days. It certainly wasn't that way in mid-July. Instead, there was a cacophony of kids yelling "Elmer!" "Elmer!!" "Where's Elmer?" "Elmer's gone!" "Have you seen Elmer?" "Elmer's not here!!" Their chants were contagious and kids all over Yosemite Valley were screaming about the mysterious Elmer. I wanted to shout "Elmer's here!" and gag every kid who came to our site. The generators, too, were a horrid distraction, but eventually, the kids were put to bed, the generators were silenced and it was very quiet, very still…almost like John Muir's days.


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