On Saturday, May 28, we broke camp at Hodgdon Meadow Campground after four nights in Yosemite National Park. It was time to return to Patrick’s apartment in Los Angeles, and then on to other adventures in Channel Islands National Park the next day. Saying goodbye to Yosemite for the second time, I knew it would not be the last time. But likely our next visit will be with our kids someday.
We took our time packing up, both because Sean was still sick and also because it gave us a few more minutes in the midst of a Sierra Ponderosa Pine forest. We said goodbye to our fun neighbors and wished them well on their travels. A Steller’s Jay visited camp searching (hopefully in vain) for any crumbs we may inadvertently have dropped.
On the way down Big Oak Flat Road toward Yosemite Valley, we finally stopped and looked at the severely fire-scarred areas that we had been driving through for the past five days. The damage was from the enormous Rim Fire, which had been started in Stanislaus National Forest on August 17, 2013 and wasn’t declared out until November 4, 2014. The fire burned over 257 thousand acres. It was caused by a hunter’s illegal campfire.
Despite the literal forest of dead trees, a standing testament to the fire’s ferocious intensity, life was returning, most obviously in the blanket of the shrub, Mountain Misery, which carpeted the floor of the gray-black forest in bright green foliage and white blossoms.
Onward toward the valley, we stopped briefly at the Cascades, which we had also been passing each day as we motored along Big Oak Flat Road. The cascades tumble from the top of the South Rim near the entrance to Yosemite Valley. Big Oak Flat Road crosses them with a bridge about two-thirds of the way down (at least judging from what is visible), allowing visitors to look both up and down at the waterfalls.
A thick growth of Lupine lined the bank of the Cascades below the bridge.
We continued on, turning west onto El Portal Road just as Big Oak Flat Road reached Yosemite Valley.
The road hugged the Merced River just to its north as it descended through its gorge.
At Arch Rock Entrance (the Park’s western entrance on El Portal Road), exiting automobiles were being flagged through a bypass so that all of the entrance/exit stations could manage the hundreds of cars entering Yosmite for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. We were getting out just in time before a major onslaught of visitors.
Video: Sean M. Santos
Farther down Merced Canyon, as the elevation steadily dropped, the ecosystem shifted solidly into foothill chaparral.
A rockslide had destroyed the road, so we had to wait at a one-lane bridge. The line of cars and busses going the other way, toward the park, was insane at the bridge. Meanwhile, our Jeep was filled with the fragrance of the sage that we’d picked along the road in Lee Vining.
Before long, we had reached California’s hot, dusty, drought-stricken Central Valley and begun the long drive south toward Los Angeles. Still making our way to the freeway, we encountered the Central California Women’s Facility (prison). And also an Amtrak train, which Sean captured video of.
Video: Sean M. Santos
We stopped for lunch at an In’n’Out Burger that was literally overrun by servicemen and servicewomen who had been bussed in from their base. It was not unamusing and we didn’t mind waiting.
And then after several hours we began the climb on I-5 into the Sierra Pelona Mountains and then the descent into the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles beyond.