« The 36 and a Half Dome Tour, Sunday »

Sunday had that Saturday feel, actually. Waking up in that tent at the Housekeeping Camp was done to the sounds of kids out playing and yelling. It was eight in the fuggin' morning. Give it a rest, you monkeys! But alas, I realized that if it was Sunday morning, they were probably all on their way out in time for checkout and were getting some last kicks in before the check out time and ultimately, before school started the next day, maybe bringing their summers to a close if they had not been in school for the week prior.

Kelli and I made our way about a half mile over to Yosemite Village where the most familiar kinds of facilities were: restaurants, store, services, and among all that, things like the Ansel Adams photography gallery and the visitor's center with the interpretive displays demonstrating what the park has to offer. We milled around there and then availed ourselves of the free shuttle that works the path around the valley destinations and campsites. I had camera in hand and got a few snapshots.

Our big destination for the day was the Mariposa Grove of the supersized sequoia trees. There was a very scenic drive that is only about 30 miles along a very winding path on CA-41. It is very serpentine and scales a few thousand feed so it actually takes about an hour to do the relatively short path. As the road climbs out of the valley there is a gorgeous vista point that looks back on the valley. At the time we thought it was cool but we had yet to do the drive to Glacier Point: the destination for Monday, nor had we done the Tioga Road. But on the way to the Mariposa Grove, this was quite a sample of what we were in store for.

Despite going on the weekend AFTER Labor Day, the place was still rather busy for my taste. Of course I realize that even my being there is part of the problem. Arriving at the Mariposa Grove, able to take the humbling place among the largest of the living things upon the Earth, there were some moments of powerful emotions. Getting to the grove at just before 3 pm, and finding it a very hilly place we could never cover in the next three hours of daylight, we opted to take the tram at $18 apiece. The vehicle itself was a natural gas burning tractor truck (sort of like a drinking water truck) with an open air passenger trailer. It had a pretty good PA system with narration of the tour and comments from historians, botanists, park rangers, and the like. All the trees along the path had railing around them. There was no pavement, only a dirt path for the shuttle route and then other foot paths with railings along them.

You see, the completely amazing thing about these trees is that even though they are the largest living things, standing nearly 300' tall, they have a fragile, shallow root system. They spread out pretty wide, at about 100' around, but never very deep. We're talking about 6' or less for these towering giants. All the fences attempt to keep people from trampling that fragile root system, but it's probably too little since it's not really possible to cultivate a love for these trees by keeping people 100' away, especially where there are some trees that are close together along the path. While you can stand at a distance and marvel, the real powerful experiences come from standing at the bases of these magnificent, almost sentient beings, craning your neck to look up. One particular tree, the Grizzly Giant, looks almost grotesquely huge. A relatively short example at just 209', it has a ginormous trunk diameter of 28', and its primary branch has a diameter of 6' (with a staggering 96' circumference!) —larger than many trees most of us would commonly see.

It's an amazing thing, even taking the cursory two hours or so in the grove. It doesn't seem like that could possibly be enough. But I was ever aware that it's probably too much. For the trees, I mean. Too much for those trees to have hordes of humans stomping and driving around in a place that only the lightly-treading native population and just a scant few Westerners ever saw in its completely natural state. The park services are in an odd place, making these precious groves open to so many people. Even though the place naturally provokes reverence, anything being done up there is by definition a disruption of things. It's easy to look about the parking lot and to see just two hours' worth of crowds and to imagine this going on all day every day for a couple seasons a year could not be beneficial. And that is today's reality with a generally progressive conservation effort going on. Seeing what constituted tourism in the days of old could be rather disturbing. The one remaining tree with a car-sized path cut through its trunk is one such case. Yes, it's novel and exhilarating to stand within the core of a tree like this. But really, it's uncalled for to have paths cut through them. It just seems like a barbaric and unenlightened thing to do. But in 1895 when the cut was made, it must have made some sense. (This was the second giant tree we'd visited in our California tours. The first was during our honeymoon tour, stopping at the Chandelier Tree in Leggett over in the Redwoods up near Fort Bragg. That time we did drive our PT Cruiser rental car through it.)

Kelli had a rather peculiar experience that afternoon in the Mariposa Grove. A week or so before, a beloved and personally supportive member of her church (formerly mine too) had died. We'd not be able to get to the memorial which coincidentally happened about the same time as we got to the grove of the giants. Kelli, a bit sour that this great trip caused her to miss the memorial, blogged that she had an epiphany that she belonged among the trees that day:

I had already planned to be out-of-town the day that was scheduled for Antonia’s memorial service, so I did not get to share the impact she had on my life with her family at that time. I was in a grove of grand Sequoia trees at the time of her memorial. Minutes after I expected her service was over I felt the undeniable feeling of her hug surrounding me and I knew I had made the right choice in not changing my plans–that I needed to be surrounded by trees that were growing when Jesus walked the earth to continue my path of ministry. She knew this and knew right where I’d be.

The great wilderness can do that to a person.

Alas, all we had was about two and a half hours and we had a half cooked plan to bail on the grove and head out, up the road to the turnoff to get to Glacier Point. It was 5 pm as we were leaving the Sequoias, and with the forest being tall and dense, it looked later still since the sunlight didn't permeate the canopy. As we got onto the road, we did the math and had to admit that with the miles to the turnoff and then 16 more miles of this curvy and speed-controlling road, we'd get there but too late to see much of to take pictures. Just as well. There was tomorrow too, and it was getting time to take it easy. Not being avid hikers and hoping for some down time while on vacation, we opted to get back to the valley and get some dinner.

On the way down we were able to snap a few more pictures at the touristy vista point that we visited on the way up. It was more touristy, as everyone and his brother were there with cameras, ready for shooting all during the sunset period, with Half Dome and its peers bathed in the orange glow. We got our snapshots and bailed.

We stopped in at the little old wooden church in the valley, not too far from our campsite, and to our surprise, there was a small service in there. It was sunday night after 6 pm and there were about six people in there when we sneaked in like, well, church mice. Inside, the construction was quite nice for what amounted to a country church. The preacher was dressed casually and the few who were there even more so. The preacher man had his guitar laid over its case which in turn was laid upon the piano. That was the worship music, I guess. It was pretty casual. We were unimpressed in the five minutes or so we sat there. Preacher man was hopscotching his way through this text or that and doing some weird associations that didn't suit us. So we ducked out and headed to the campsite, but not before spying a few deer in the meadow near the church.

We retreated to our campsite after stopping in at the store and getting some fresh food. After the road snack kinds of food we'd been having, a salad was as refreshing a treat as the mist that we wish we'd been able to have upon us at one of the falls. Fresh fruit too. We had along with a 1.5 liter bottle of wine that we'd tackle a bit each night but to be honest, the drowsiness from the wine was uncalled for since those days, with altitude, heat, and walking around, were enough to make a person tired. For as primitive as the accommodations were, the beds, dressed in our own blankets and pillows, were comfy enough to put us to sleep. Sunday night was far quieter after all the families left. The opposite half of the concrete/tent structure was empty that night and the campground was also with many vacancies. The lack of noise and smoke suggested this wasn't such a bad place to be after all. It hadn't seemed that way on the first night, but now it was turning out to be okay.

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