Categories: CampingDestinations

Old Yosemite Magic

As we sat perched on a rock atop Glacier Point, our eyes glued to the fading light on Half Dome, Ranger Adam stood before the group that had gathered at the lookout and “provided a soundtrack for our sunset viewing experience.” He pointed out the peaks that were still being illuminated by the receding sunlight and gave us the history of their namesakes. He told tales of Yosemite pioneers from decades past; about covered wagons and Teddy Roosevelt sleeping on a bed of pine needles and John Muir trekking to the park from Oakland. “All of these people did something that had never been done. Maybe you can be a pioneer too!” It all made our modest outfit at Camp 4 and the SUV that got us there seem a bit extravagant.

My girlfriend and I had driven up from Texas by way of New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada. Even though we reached Yosemite within the first three days of our two weeks on the road, our time in the park felt like the apex of the trip. From first light in the valley on Wednesday morning to the last remaining embers of our campfire on Thursday night, each passing moment, even if it was just passing, was better than the last. The more time we spent in hiking the falls or watching the sunset or communing with like-minded outdoors people over a fire at Camp 4, the more we felt akin to the pioneers enshrined in the park’s museum and the more we fell in love with the park itself. By Friday morning, we were far from ready to leave our cozy new home at 30A. Surely life outside the park could never be as good. We prolonged breakfast until the coffee got cold and we packed our things at a snail’s pace. Eventually though, check-out time came and went and we began our slow, reluctant departure from the Yosemite Valley towards the town of Oakhurst.

Just an hour drive from the valley and nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Oakhurst is an unassuming little town, but it was just the spot we needed after 3 days in the park. Oakhurst was the perfect middle ground between the grandeur of Yosemite and the hustle and bustle of city life. Life moves pretty slow in Oakhurst – slower than park life and at a virtual standstill compared to San Francisco. The scenery is not quite as imposing either, but the incorporated city is packed full of people who genuinely love the outdoors and care deeply for the culture that the park has fostered. You won’t catch too many franchises or chain businesses around town. Instead, the city is rich with family owned restaurants, produce stands, inns, and boutiques. If you’re one of the 2,800 people that live there, you probably know the person who grew your strawberries and brewed your morning coffee, assuming you didn’t do all that yourself.

We couldn’t help but miss the park, but the night we spent in Oakhurst was like a rehabilitation from three days in Yosemite. The people were quiet and kind and there was plenty of room to roam and get back out into nature. Our campsite at Summit Morning was tucked away in a wooded 6 acres outside of town, just across the road from Bass Lake and the trailhead for Lewis Creek National Scenic Trail. The sunset was just as fiery orange as it was in the valley and once the sky got dark, the stars shone just as bright too. The next morning, we woke up smelling like woodsmoke, ready to tackle city life again; ready for a few more comforts of home – namely showers. We were brand new people, able (but not as much ready) to return to “normal” life.

Ranger Adam concluded his lecture up at Glacier Point just as the sun dipped below the horizon with an anecdote about Galen Clark. “Clark was 39 when he got sick. The doctors gave him 6 months to live, so he packed his things and came to Yosemite. Clark spent the rest of his life here and died at the age of 96. That’s what the rangers like to call Yosemite Magic.” The park has a way of getting you back in tune with nature and, in turn, yourself. It’s no doubt that Yosemite Magic overflows far outside the boundaries of the National Park, and that little dose of it in Oakhurst was just what we needed before our return to city life.

Matthew is a photographer, writer, and transient car-dweller with a backlog of adventure plans. Follow along on Instagram @mthwhntr.

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