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The Sierras and Yosemite National Park

It's mid July. The time of year required to explore the Sierras, particularly the "high country," is finally upon us. At least most years that would be the case. This year, because of an exceptional snow pack, the campgrounds along Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park are still under snow or mud and the park can't predict when (or if) they'll open this season. So, campsites in the park are at a premium, especially for those, like us, without reservations. The bonus, though, is that the park is as beautiful as it gets; all the waterfalls in Yosemite Valley are flowing and absolutely amazing!

Our route to the Sierras from the coast crossed the agricultural valley just when the peaches were perfectly ripe. Yum! We traced Hwy 49 slowly south, allowing time for lots of stops to explore the pristinely preserved historic streets of old gold mining towns like Nevada City, Amador City, Sutter Creek, Murphys, and Jamestown. A lot of tourist appeal here - galleries, antique shops and restaurants abound.

Sutter Creek

Sutter Creek, one of many old gold mining towns along Hwy 49.

Near Placerville, we discovered a big difference between the large wineries of Napa Valley and the many small owner-operated vineyards scattered across California. First of all, the wine tastings are still free of charge. At DK Cellars, near Fairplay, not only was the wine exceptional but the winemakers themselves are the unpretentious face of the winery. Owners, Kim and Dave, were the perfect hosts. Kim extended the tasting hours for out late arrival and, in the evening, Dave, the winemaker and "farmer" as his wife calls him, showed us the winery. And that's not all - because we're members of Harvest Hosts, we spent the night camped (for free) in their parking lot, with a splendid sunset view over the vineyards into the distant Sacramento Valley.

DK Cellars

Kim at DK Cellars - our most generous and hospitable hostess.

DK Winery Vinyards

Camped overlooking the vineyards of DK Cellars

Hopeful that Yosemite's high country would open up sooner or later, we stalled our arrival by driving across the two mountain passes that cross the Sierras above the park. With the price of gas, this wasn't an economical way to spend a week, and most people wouldn't drive across one mountain pass just to return over another just for the fun of it but we ARE here to discover the best of what California has to offer, after all. Both Highway 4 (Ebbetts Pass) and Highway 108 (Sonora Pass) did not disappoint and gave us superb scenery, outstanding camping, and some amazing hikes.

Leavitt Falls

Leavitt Falls

Sonoran Pass

A view along Hwy 108, The Sonoran Pass


No doubt about it - still a lot of snow pack in the Sierras.

Sonoran Pass

More amazing scenery along these two high mountain passes.

We also found great paddling lakes. Bringing our kayak along on this trip has finally started to pay off in the last couple of months. Granite domes make for great, easy hiking. No trail is necessary but, just like in the kayak, our handheld gps prooved invaluable. Randy's been working on figuring out all the ins and outs of this new toy for the entire trip. I think he's almost got it but we haven't got to the point where we fully trust it (I mean our knowledge of using it) yet.

Granite Hiking

These giant granite domes provide great easy hiking.

Canada Geese

Fellow Canadians (Canada Geese) must recognize us as they swim up to greet our kayak.

And finally, Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite National Park

No matter how many times we visit, it's impossible to truly remember how it feels to be here in this glacier-sculpted landscape. Each visit, as magical as the first.

Yosemite National Park plays a big role in how Randy and I started traveling together. He spent a lot of time here in his youth and when we met, I asked him to take me to see "his" Yosemite someday. The plan that began to unfold turned into a year-long trip which entailed the purchase of a suitable vehicle - our first RV. That was in 1999. We got the bug, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Yosemite Falls

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls - combined forming one of the highest waterfalls in the world.

Tragically, The day before we arrived in the park, three young people were swept over Vernal Falls. The water level is so high, they can't retrieve the bodies which (unknown to us when we took this photo) were still swirling in the pool below the falls.

Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls

floating the Merced River in Yosemite

One of the highlights of our three days in Yosemite Valley: floating the Merced River through Yosemite Valley - what an experience!

We knew of free camping within a few miles of the entry gates but we hoped for a night or two at a campground in the Valley as well. Of course in this, America's favorite and busiest park, every campsite has been reserved for six months. But the gods of Yosemite shone on us and we got lucky enough to spend two nights camped in the valley. The first night because we were lucky - we arrived early in the morning and got on the waiting list. There were 16 cancellations and we were number 13 on the list. The second day we weren't as lucky so we had to resort to being brazen - we approached a lovely young couple, Audrey and Dave, offering to pay for the campsite if they would share it with us. I guess we looked innocent enough and they probably just took pity on us old folks :-)

 Audrey and Dave

Thanks Audrey and Dave!

Over the last couple of weeks, we also found my favorite free campsite of the trip so far: on a gorgeous lake with lots of inlets to explore, no motorized boats allowed, and a perfect kayak launch right from camp. And yep, it's accessible to larger RVs too. It was difficult to drag ourselves away from this one.

Perfect Campsite

View from Perfect Campsite

Sorry....I'm being a tease. You'll either have to guess where this is or wait for the Frugal Shunpiker's Guide to California Boondocking to find out exactly what lake we were camped on.

Days On The Road At Time Of Writing: 145
Camping Costs To Date: $294.00

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