There’s a reason why 3.5 million people visit Yosemite National Park every year. That reason, however, is different for each of those 3.5 million visitors who stream through Yosemite’s entrances. Nature ties all those reasons together, whether it’s to camp out under the stars, marvel at the facades of Half Dome and El Capitan, climb those two iconic rocks, or catch a glimpse of the deer, coyotes, birds and bears that make Yosemite their home.
My daughters, Maddo and Little Sis, were very much into the nature of Yosemite on a recent family outing to the park. Only the nature they were most-interested in was anything that involved running away my wife and me. This included, but was not limited to:
–The other tourists, which Maddo and Little Sis spent much time charging maniacally into the knees, and photos of.
–The areas off the main pathways, which had signs with directions such as “Please don’t walk here. New trees are trying to grow.”
–Big rocks, about six feet tall, which our little future alpinists tried their best to climb onto. This situation led my wife and I to probably trample over some of those newly planted Sequoia seedlings as we sprinted to catch our daughters before they fell and split their heads open.
And all of that was before we got to within even a John Muir-whisker’s length from any of the water showering down from more than 2,400-feet above us and onto the lower base of Yosemite Falls, visiting which was the main reason for our impromptu trip to the park. An impromptu trip inspired by a desire to do something that would keep the girls from bouncing off the walls of our house for a day. We thought it better they bounce off of Mother Nature’s walls, instead.
There really is no bad time to visit Yosemite National Park. With spring comes the renewal of the greenery and foliage and the numerous waterfalls start running in all their majesty. Summer means the weather’s getting warmer and that’s when the campers really take over the place. In fall, you might get lucky enough to see a stag relaxing in a bed of freshly fallen golden leaves. And in winter, well, if you ask for a wonderland, a wonderland is what you’ll get, with the aforementioned falls often freezing up and occasionally breaking loose with giant cracks of thunder. And the bar at the Ahwahnee Hotel serves up great Irish Coffees, too. There really is something for everyone no matter when you show up.
That is, as long as that something doesn’t include slides, swings or gargantuan play structures. Or, in other words, everything that Maddo and Little Sis associate with the word “park.”
“Daddy? Can I go on the swing at the park?” Maddo asked me from the backseat, and between handfuls of Goldfish.
“Yeah!” chimed in Little Sis. “Swing at the park!”
My wife, The Thoroughly Awesome Ms. Crums, tried to answer this one:
“Girls, it’s not that kind of a park. This park doesn’t have swings and slides. You go to this park to see nature.”
“Nature?” asked Maddo.
“Yeah. Trees. Mountains. Birds. Even bears!”
This got Little Sis excited.
“A BEAR? WHERESABEARDADDY?”
“Well, we haven’t seen any yet,” I said, and…”
“AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!” Maddo shouted out her window.
“…now, we’ve probably scared them all away.”
Maddo’s voice notwithstanding, the odds of actually seeing a bear in Yosemite are rather small. I’ve probably been to Yosemite a couple of dozen times over the past eight years, and I have only seen a bear once. And that was a time when we were leaving the park and we just happened to see him about 20 yards ahead of us, running across the road, up a hill, and into the trees.
I’m sure the bear was getting away from us, and I couldn’t blame him. This is because if you know anything about Yosemite, it’s that since there really is no bad time to visit Yosemite, everyone else also knows this, and thus fills Yosemite with crowds that are nearly as annoying as the Parrotheads that go to Jimmy Buffett concerts.
This is most-prevalent on the Valley Floor. Buses full of Korean tourists play chicken with bike riders who pedal like they don’t know there’s a bus on their tail. Mumbai-amounts of Indians wander around, leading you to believe they might be about to give up their parking space, only to flip open the back of their SUV and set up a Tandoori Chicken picnic. And then there’s me, calling upon my wife to activate her parking powers while I drive around and stalk some poor folks visiting from Italy before asking them if they are about to kindly get the hell out so I can finally park my quad-cab truck and get my daughters some ice cream. Which by this point was the only thing in Yosemite they were interested in.
After finally getting the girls some ice cream, we headed off to see Yosemite Falls. Apparently, so did everybody else. It was getting late in the day for Yosemite, and the Magic Hour that Terrence Malick often uses to light his films was coming up. If we were going to see the Falls, we had to hop to it. We first had to get across a short bridge that spanned a small, but easily drownable creek, should a little four-year-old named Maddo fall into it. Which is why I insisted that she hold my hand as we walked across.
This, she didn’t want to do.
“Come on, honey,” I said. “You have to hold my hand across the bridge.”
“NO, DADDY! I’M A BIG GIRL! I CAN WALK MYSELF!”
Granted, I may have bee a bit paranoid, but I know how crazy this kid can be. And I had this vision of her running manically across the bridge, bashing into someone and then tumbling into the creek.
“No, sweetie. You need to hold my hand. Come on, this will just take a second.”
You can probably guess what happened next.
“NO! I. DON’T. WANNA. HOLD. YOUR. HAND!”
I then did what comes natural to any parent of little kids. I used fear and threats.
“Well…OK…Mommy and Little Sis and I are going to go to the BEAUTIFUL WATERFALLS. If you’re not going to hold my hand, you’ll have to stay here!”
Maddo responded as I knew she would.
We wrangled back and forth for a good five minutes, all the while with other families watching this scene and, I assume, feeling sorry for either myself or Maddo. Eventually, through a vale of tears, I finally got her across the bridge and we were on our way to get sprayed by the runoff from the highest waterfalls in North America.
And along with a few hundred other visitors, that’s just what we did. And like them all, we had to wait out turn to get the obligatory family photo in front of the Falls. Unlike all of them, we had two squirming kids to try to get to look in the same direction at the same time. This was only slightly more difficult than finding our initial parking space,
Maddo is four so, on occasion, she will actually do what we tell her. She’s a natural ham, and when we tell her to smile or say, “CHEESE!” she’s usually good for a picture or two. She knows she’s going to be the star of the shot. Getting Little Sis to smile in tandem with Maddo, however, is another matter entirely.
We gave my iPhone to some other tourist who had just finished taking her own “I Went To Yosemite” photo in front of the Falls. As she lined up our family photo, Little Sis put on a kickboxing clinic, delivering several rib-bruisers to my mid section and clawing at my wife’s hair, face and neck. Maddo, not missing a chance to note her sister’s not-so-great behavior, shouted one of her favorite expressions:
“SOMEONE’S MADDER THAN FIRE!”
This only got Little Sis, um, madder, and wriggled around like a wet cat in a bag. Eventually, our photographer got off a shot that was decent enough, with 75% of us actually looking at the camera at once. And, of course, since this was at Yosemite Falls, no family photo would be complete without the stereotypical cowboy-hat-and-boots-wearing foreign tourist just on the edge of the picture, now would it?
We eventually headed home, a few minor meltdowns notwithstanding. On the way, I picked up six-pack of General Sherman IPA to ease into the evening upon our return. I wondered what Mr. Naturalist, John Muir himself, had to think about Yosemite. He might have been describing my daughters as well as the Park’s trees here:
“A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease.”
And with that, Little Sis climbed upon Maddo’s back and attempted to ride her sister like a horse. Maddo’s reply was more like a cry for help than a song of bliss: