Category Archives: National Parks

A Day of Rest and Relaxation in Yosemite

After a strenuous hike along the Panorama Trail, a day of rest and relaxation was exactly what the vacation ordered.

We said goodbye to our friends Jason and Robyn after breakfast on our second full day in Yosemite. We knew that we would be taking it easy, because our legs were in pain. We hobbled out to our car and decided to drive up towards Tenaya Lake. We just wanted to find a good spot to sit and do nothing. And there is no better place to do nothing than in one of my favorite spots in the whole park.


We claimed a great slab of granite and broke out our lunch snacks. And we just sat. It was perfect.




We hung out at Tenaya Lake for about an hour, and then we headed further up the Tioga Road to Tuolumne Meadows. Once again, we found a hunk of granite and just sat.


We enjoyed the peace of Tuolumne Meadows and watched a rainstorm slowly roll in. We were actually pretty pumped to experience a storm in Yosemite. In two previous trips, we had never had a rainy day.

The second we saw lightening, though, we headed for the car. We started the drive back to Yosemite Valley, and caught a few cool glimpses of the passing storm.



We also saw our second bear of the trip, and it was a big one! We managed to get some of our best bear pictures ever before the inevitable crowds arrived.


Even though we didn’t do much, it was one of the most perfect days I’ve spent in Yosemite.

* Patagonia might be my new favorite brand after this trip. I am in love with the “plaid” shirt I wore this day. I also picked up their MiniMass Messenger Bag for the trip, in hot pink of course. I love it, too! A gear review is in order soon.

Panorama Trail in Yosemite National Park

Every time we visit Yosemite, we tackle a big hike. This year, we had a couple of awesome hiking buddies! One of Jason’s best friends from high school, Jason, and his wife, Robyn, moved from Wisconsin to the Los Angeles area a few years ago. We were so happy when our friends were able to spend our first day in Yosemite with us!

Since Robyn and Jason had never visited Yosemite before, they left the plans for the day up to us. We suggested a hike, and we set out to find a new-to-us trail that would also give them a good glimpse of the magnificence of Yosemite. After a little research, we chose the 8-mile Panorama Trail from Glacier Point to the Valley floor.




The first highlight of the hike was coming upon a grouse. We assumed he was courting a lady (who we never saw), because he paid no attention to us. The Jasons were in awe of how close we could get to the bird, because they’re normally very flighty.


The first two miles of the hike were absolutely incredible! There were great views all around us – I guess they don’t call it the Panorama Trail for nothing. I soaked it all in. It was one of those instances of being completely in the moment and appreciating being right were I was, being with great people, and doing something that I love to do.





Eventually, we hit our first major landmark: Illilouette Fall. We didn’t get much of a look at the waterfall, but we enjoyed a short snack break along the banks of Illilouette Creek.


Little did we know that the “easy” part of the hike was over. The hike had been all downhill up to this point, but you have to hike up out of the creek valley. A series of steep switchbacks take you up 800 feet again. They are no joke! I definitely struggled, and I felt like a total wuss when another hiker ran – yes, ran – past us to catch back up with his group. Of course, the group was full of super fit, built men.

The climb seemed to go on forever, but we finally made it to the top and started going downhill again. But now, the downhill was the problem. It wasn’t the smooth, easy downhill of the first part of the hike. Our legs took a beating on the final stretch.

Since it was our friends’ first time to the park, we added the short trip to the top of Nevada Fall. For as difficult as the hike is whether hiking up along the Mist Trail, like we did the first year, or hiking down from Glacier Point, I never thought I would find myself at the top of Nevada Fall again. I savored the whole thing.



We hiked the John Muir Trail down to the Valley. I totally didn’t remember that stretch being so rough. Either I was way more fit three years ago (which isn’t out of the question) or it was so bad, I blocked it. That last couple of hours were excruciating.

Despite how bad my legs hurt, I loved every minute of it. I felt like I really accomplished something. And when you are surrounded by the beauty of Yosemite and you’re with people you love, it’s just the best thing ever.


Driving Through Death Valley

We had a nice time during our two days in Vegas, but finally it was time to get on with the trip. In keeping with our goal of visiting all the US national parks, we decided to shoot through Death Valley National Park en route to Yosemite. It added a little time to our drive, but it was right there. It only made sense to make a quick visit.


(You can pick up a “I ♥ Parks” t-shirt and more fun items to share your love of the parks from the National Park Foundation shop.)

It took just about two hours to drive from Las Vegas to the park. When we stopped at the pay station, we noted how isolated we were. No other cars. No sound. It was eery, yet kind of nice.



We really just drove through the park, making only two quick stops. The first stop was at Zabriskie Point. This area reminded us of Badlands National Park, but I dare say it was more beautiful. I never thought I would find Death Valley beautiful, but it really does have it’s own magical qualities.


Our second stop was the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. In addition to picking up a few souvenirs (not knowing if we’ll ever be back), I had to get a picture with the big thermometer.


Wait! It changed!


99 degrees at 9:00am. Ouch!

Death Valley was not only hot, it was quiet. If you go, you have to be smart. Carry plenty of water with you, even if you’re just driving through. Pay attention as you drive. Death Valley was more mountainous than we anticipated, and the roads up through the mountains are no joke. We only saw a couple of other cars as we drove out of the park. You don’t want something to happen to you when not many people are driving by.




The other thing to be prepared for if you’re just driving through are the dips in the road. The whole road. My stomach is super sensitive to dips, so it made for a long ride.

We were probably out of the park by 10:00/10:30am. It was a very quick visit, but enlightening all the same. Death Valley is a harsh environment during the summer, but I can see how it would be a neat place to visit in winter, when the temperatures are milder. Returning for a stay at the Inn at Furnace Creek is not out of the question.

National park #8 – Done and done!

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