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Yosemite – a bit of Americana

Instead of inviting friends over for a barbeque and fireworks, I spent my Fourth of July in one of America’s natural wonders – Yosemite National Park.Yosemite, which embraces a spectacular tract of mountain-and-valley scenery in the Sierra Nevada and spans 747,956 acres, was set aside as a national park in 1890.From the park’s south entrance, expect at least an hour and a half drive before reaching the main part of the park or Yosemite Valley. The park also offers free shuttle rides from the entrance of the park to the valley.According to National Geographic’s “Guide to the National Parks,” about 3.5 million visitors are expected to visit Yosemite each year, and 90 percent of them go to the valley, which is a mile wide and seven miles long. The valley is a canyon that was created by a river and deepened and widened by glacial movements. The visitors’ first glimpse of the valley can be found by stopping at Tunnel View. Contrary to the overlooks name, you can see for miles, including a spectacular view of the infamous El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls, with Half Dome in the background.Once arriving in Yosemite Valley, we took a short hike to get a closer look at Yosemite Falls, which is made up of three separate falls: Upper Yosemite Fall (1,430 ft), the middle cascades (675 ft), and Lower Yosemite Fall (320 ft). The hike to Lower Yosemite Falls is easy on the feet and the eyes. The trails are paved, winding among the tall sequoia trees and trickling brooks. On this hot summer day, many tourists sat on rocks at the base of the falls and cooled their feet, myself included.Our second day, we decided to take “the road less traveled” into the park. We wanted to check out the northern part of the park and Tuolumne Meadows. The trip is 124 miles round trip, and it takes about two hours to get there from the park entrance. Tenaya Lake, which is beautiful and cold, is located about half way to the park. Snowfall prevents some of the roads from opening until mid-summer.Upon arrival, it’s breathtaking to view the meadows, with an unending area of green grasses sheltered by flat and domed shaped rock formations. With just one look, I wanted to run across the field like Maria from the scene in “The Sound of Music.”There were advantages to being some of the first tourists to visit the meadows for the season. Not as many people visit the meadows as they do in the valley, so there is plenty of room to park and explore. But there were also a few downfalls. Many tourist books boast about the abundance of wild flowers throughout the meadows, perfect for picture taking. But, because of colder temperatures and the recent snowmelt, the wildflowers had yet to bloom.Remember to bring snacks or a picnic lunch. After driving four hours, we arrived around the lunch hour looking for a place to eat. The locals told us we would find a restaurant. However, because of the late opening, they were not ready for business for another week. We did find the only grocery store (actually an oversized tent with a limited selection of high priced food items).We ended our second day by making our way back to Yosemite Valley where both the people and the temperatures had increased.We signed up for a rafting trip down the Merced River, which starts near Yosemite Village, where the shops are located. The water was calm and crystal clear, and the scenery was magnificent. Rafters float right past Yosemite Falls.You can rent rafts, but many people bring their own inflatable rafts, kayaks or canoes to float down the river. Others meander along the shoreline and take a dip in the cool waters or take in the incredible views.If given the choice again to spend the Fourth of July watching fireworks or gazing at the beauty of Yosemite National Park, I would take the park. But don’t take my word for it. John Muir, naturalist and author who wrote several books about his adventures in Yosemite, probably described this park’s natural beauty best when he wrote, “No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite.”

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