(tunnel view of El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall at twilight)I feel much better getting this last post off my chest. It feels good to be honest and open about the icky stuff as well as the good stuff. Thank you for all of your kind, insightful and encouraging comments. They truly mean the world to me. And so now that we've established that it was not all rainbows and unicorns in Yosemite, we can move onto the good stuff, the stuff I want to hold onto.
Leading up to our trip, quite honestly I didn't really know much about Yosemite. I had heard the names Half Dome and El Capitan before but had no idea of the sheer magnitude of size and beautify I'd encounter. I also didn't really have much of a concept of what the park was like and how it was situated. So much so that when we reached the gates of Yosemite Park I thought to myself "Woohoo, we're here", and quickly texted Miranda to tell her we would be there in a few minutes. Little did I know it was a 35 mile ascent then descent into actual the Yosemite Valley, and it would take us over an hour to get to our camp site.
Housekeeping Camp. The camp was nestled right next to a slow moving stream/river and was at the foot of both Yosemite Falls and Half Dome, which created some pretty picture perfect scenery. Now I realize that staying here at Housekeeping Camp is not true "camping" for some purists, but when you're traveling with a group of 10 families (20 adults and 20 kids-yowza!), it's nice to have the luxury of warm running water in the bathroom, showers and electrical outlets. An added bonus were the 3 wall structures that stood atop a concrete slab, with a canvas roof and plastic privacy curtains. No need to pitch a tent and each structure had twin bunk cots and a double cot so you just spread out your sleeping bags and had an instant bed. Each "camp" also had it's own fire pit and covered picnic area with table. Since Yosemite is a National Park, there are very few lodging options available, but you could research the other options here. *Important note added: You REALLY need to book Yosemite lodging about a year in advance, so if you want to go this time of year next year, BOOK NOW!
(waiting for our bus!)
Another popular mode of transportation were BIKES. Next year we're figuring out a way to borrow a bike rack so we can take ours. And don't fret, no need for a mountain bike here. The roads are all pretty much flat enough to allow you to easily bike around in just a beach cruiser. Even if you don't have a bike rack, bring some sort of a bike or scooter to occupy the kids and strap it to the top of the car!
We did a lot of hanging out at camp, eating, chatting, sitting by the campfire and just playing. With such a large group it was easy for the kids to find someone to play with, but surprisingly enough, each family seemed to also find a way to get down-time together as well. A few people have asked and yes, traveling with such a large group can be very overwhelming. At times I got a bit stressed feeling the need to be on the schedule of the group, but we usually worked it out and had just enough time hanging out together, as well as hanging out alone with just the four of us. Hard to explain, but overall it seemed to just work itself out.
Someone also asked about BEARS. We saw no bears, and were told by a camp groundskeeper that they were still hibernating for a couple more weeks, but we still took every precaution and kept all our food locked up in the bear lockers. The only wildlife we did see were LOTS of squirrels, some deer and many beautiful birds. The kids were very disappointed we didn't see a bear, but I was relieved that our timing was a bit premature for bear watching ;)
There are so many things to see and do in Yosemite, but keeping our length of stay and young traveling companions in mind, this is what we did:
LOTS Of HIKING!
The Yosemite Visitors Center
The visitors center plays a kid friendly 20 minute video every half hour that was neat to watch, and the actual center had lots of cool things to look at and was interesting for both the kids and us adults. We did the Visitors Center on our last day in the Valley since we were all feeling a little tired from all the hiking.
Hammock Swing Rides
If you want to occupy kids for hours on end, bring a hammock and let them swing in it
Syd turned four while we were in Yosemite and he thought this was the coolest.
Since kids seem to have no sense of temperature and how cold it is, they found lots of opportunity to play in the water, throwing rocks, playing sink or float across bridges, skipping in and out, and climbing huge piles of drift wood and washed up logs.
Camping Sanity Tips From a Rookie:
Our friends Jeff and Cathy are expert campers, and are very familiar with Yosemite Valley. If it weren't for their expertise, we (okay maybe just me), would have been fumbling around like a bit of a fool. Art has done a lot of camping, but always on his own as a young kid. It was helpful to get some guidance from a fellow woman and mom in tune with what it would take to camp as a family, particularly with young kids. I am very thankful to Cathy and all her organization prowess for keeping us on track and sane! A few tips that I can pass along are:
- If you're camping with a group, make a meal plan to divide up the meals. For example Family A - breakfast (pancakes, eggs & sausage). Packed Lunch on own (PB & J and King's Hawaiian Rolls with deli meat, small bags of chips and fruit were our lunch everyday). Family B - Dinner (Vodka pasta, French roll and salad, brownies for dessert). You have to cook for a larger group, but not having to cook every single meal was a life saver! And it was fun trying every family's different meals. We even had a vegan meal on Saturday night.
- Electricity was a life saver! It allowed us to plug in convenience items such as space heaters at night (it got really cold at night), radios and electric griddles for cooking. I'm not sure I'd like to experience camping with young kids without electricity :)
- Timing is everything. Cathy and Jeff nailed the timing of our trip. Great weather and limited crowds. Apparently if you go too far into summer, a yucky layer of dust settles all over the camp, getting the kids beyond filthy and the mommas cranky. A few of the waterfalls also dry up come Summer. And if you go too early, you run the chance of getting rained out, like our group did two years ago. And like I said above, you need to book a year in advance!
- Convenience Items such as electric tea kettle for heating dish water, radios and space heaters made the trip a lot easier and more enjoyable.
- Ambiance Lifters sound silly, but things like little radios, outdoor rugs for inside the tent, outdoor twinkly lights, tiki torches and/or candles made camp a lot homier and comforting. They don't really take up much space but add a lot of impact.
- Don't Forget little things like tissues, flashlights, sheets for covering cots, extension cords and surge protectors for plugging in multiple items, and games, coloring books and markers to keep the kids occupied and give them some much needed down time.
So tell me, if you've been to Yosemite, are there some sights we've gotta see next year, and any tips you can share to make camping even greater?
P.S. Big thanks to Miranda of M.Shanti Photo for sharing some of the pics you see above