…takes a moment to watch the mist-covered tops of the highest mountains, she’ll be thoroughly bewitched. Yosemite National Park is perhaps the most beautiful national park in the US. Turquoise lakes appear among ancient rocks, looking like mirrors reflecting the sky. I’ve been there three times, and I’ve always felt something different. Something pleasant. The first time I was simply bewitched by the green. I didn’t like going to the mountains in Italy, I always felt trapped and restless. I believed I was a seaside person. Then, on my first and unforgettable journey to the US, a coast-to-coast that I had been dreaming for years, I discovered the beauty of nature. In the Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park.
Falling in love with nature
A few years later, I visited Yosemite National Park again with a group of friends, and I remember taking a picture of the giant sequoia and feeling like I was in a magic kingdom. Again, I wondered how everything could be so green. I was used to the hustle and bustle of the big city, and I realized how much I missed the colours and sounds of nature.
On my third visit I was with a girlfriend, and we were talking about books when we entered Yosemite National Park. My first thought was, “this landscape reminds me of The Lord of the Rings.” I’m quite obsessed with Tolkien’s saga, especially after the films were released. Watching the profiles of the mountains, I thought of the moment when the Fellowship reaches the Argonath – which is one of my favourite scenes. Sometimes I watch the movie just to see the landscape. Although it was shot in New Zealand, I keep looking for places similar to the ones I see on the screen everywhere in the world.
The visit starts at Yosemite Valley, home to cliffs and waterfalls, sunny meadows and groves of pine trees. It’s customary to stop at the Visitor Center to take a map, ask for information and buy something to eat and drink, since there’s no other place where you can buy it in the park. There are several trails that start from here, leading to scenic viewpoints and waterfalls.
One is the Valley Loop Trail, which goes through the valley and allows you to see El Captain, a granite monolith that was explored by the Mariposa Battalion in 1851. El Captain was a loose translation of the Native American name for it, which probably meant “rock chief”. Apple users like me must be familiar with the desktop depicting the cliff…
The other trails you don’t want to miss are the Four Mile Trail and the Yosemite Falls Trail. Each of them takes a whole day; if you have to choose, think of what attracts you most. The powerful view of water coming down the high mountains or the quiet beauty of the Half Dome, the ancient granite rock formation that rises above the valley floor?
I did the first and saw the Dome from Glacier Point, an overlook with a wonderful view of the Valley, Half Dome and the Falls accessible by car (May through October).
One cannot leave Yosemite National Park before seeing the giant sequoias. They live in three groves, one of which is Mariposa Grove near the park’s South Entrance. While admiring those impressive trees, I felt the wisdom of nature. They were giants from the past, old wise creatures who know everything about the world and its inhabitants. I felt very little and I thought I saw their benevolent smile, addressed to the humans who consider themselves so important and powerful. Nature is powerful, but we tend to remember it only when an earthquake or a hurricane occurs. So I hugged my sequoia and promised I would love trees forever.
The blue beauty of Tenaya Lake
In summertime, when the Tioga Pass is open, it’s easy to stop by Tenaya Lake for a picnic. It was always cold when I went there, so I had no picnic but I definitely fell in love with the place. Take five minutes to simply watch the peaceful blue surface of the small, perfect lake, with the snow-topped mountains in the background and silence to keep you company.
Mirror Lake is Yosemite Valley is also a beautiful spot, and it’s known for reflecting the Half Dome and Mount Watkins.
Dawn in Mammoth Lakes
We left the park in the afternoon and headed to Mammoth Lakes for the night. The road climbs up through forests and uplands, fields and rocks looming in the distance with their blueish color. In fact reality and imagination blur in my memories, but one detail never changes: the crystal clear light of dawn on the mountains, as we leave our hotel at 6 o’clock in the morning after having breakfast by the fireplace. As far as I know, it might be coming from another universe.
I loved our hotel, by the way, the Sierra Nevada Resort & Spa. We had such a big room, it looked more like a mountain cabin than a hotel room – I immediately made tea with oatmeal cookies, enjoying the sunset over the mountains. Dinner and breakfast are served in a relaxing room with wood everywhere. I find wood so warm and cozy. That’s what I look for in the mountain resorts – wood, fireplace and silence.
St Joaquin Valley, or the Hobbitshire
On the sweet hills separating Yosemite National Park from San Francisco, the landscape changes quickly, as you reach the valleys where wine and fruit are produced. And I was reminded of the Hobbitshire, where earth forms hills and plains, yellow after harvesting, green when left for pasture.
The local specialities are the vegetarians’ treat: dried fruit, plums, figs and berries; hazelnuts and pecans, veggie chips, creamy organic yogurt, oranges and homemande granola, and fresh maple syrup.
The national salad bowl
Not far from the small town of Mariposa, we reach a bunch of houses among which we find the coziest shop I’ve ever seen. Fruit, vegetables, honey, dairy products as well as straw baskets, mugs, bells and tons of quirk objects invite you in. We are in the St Joaquin Valley, known as “the nation’s salad bowl”. In fact the great array of fruits and vegetables make this region one of the country’s top agricultural producing lands.
Depending on your route, you can either head north and visit the green Sonoma Valley, home to some of the earliest vineyards and wineries in California, or go to San Francisco. And the journey continues.