Faux Winter at Yosemite National Park

I’d have to say that I was severely disappointed by my first trip to this world-renowned national park. Yes, of course the landscape was awe-inspiring and magnificent and all that, but that is highly expected from a place designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The problem was, going there in mid-February, I also expected zero degree temperature, snow-capped peaks, icy road conditions, or even warning signs to carry snow chain on the road. At least that would have given you the feel of going up on a mountain in the peak of winter. Instead, we were met with temperature averaging between the high 60s and low 70s. On the day we hiked up the trail towards Lower Yosemite Falls, it was so hot I nearly couldn’t resist stripping down to my sport bras. As for the snow and ice, they existed only in your imagination.

I’ve always considered myself quite an expert at making myself believe whatever my mind wants me to believe, regardless of whether it’s real or not. I jokingly call it inward reality distortion field. But even with this expertise of mine, it was impossible to convince myself that we were actually in the midst of winter up on a mountain range that is supposed to have an alpine climate. It doesn’t help at all that whenever you google “winter in Yosemite”, you’re bound to see pictures of a completely white landscape, people skiing and hiking on snow-covered grounds. Damn you, global warming. And to think that some people (like the Republicans, for example) are still vehemently denying that it’s real….

Disappointment aside, snow or no snow, how can one not be awed and humbled by this place? It’s almost as if the various landscapes are competing with one another. Everywhere you turn, you’ll see something new that dwarfs the other view that you just left behind.

Welcome to Yosemite National Park. We pulled over to admire this view shortly after entering the national park area.

Welcome to Yosemite National Park. We pulled over to admire this view shortly after entering the national park area. The harsh afternoon sun did not do the picture justice. But even the best photography equipments and skills could never sum up the total beauty of Yosemite.

Pine trees basking in the warm afternoon sun. It's almost as if we're living in a picture storybook.

Pine trees basking in the warm afternoon sun. The valley is full of one jaw-dropping view after another.

How interesting! A quaint little church in the middle of the forest. Catholic mass is said every Sunday at 10am in case anyone's interested to know.

A quaint little church in the middle of the forest. Catholic mass is said every Sunday at 10am in case anyone’s interested to know.

I could almost believe that I was a part of a picture storybook.

With a view like this, it’s almost as if I was part of a picture storybook.

Believe it or not, despite the National Geographic worthy views, the highlight of the trip (at least for me) was meeting Joan, our AirB&B host. She lived in Mariposa, about an hour’s drive south of the national park along Highway 140. We ran out of camping ground to book inside the valley, partly because I planned this trip in a rather last-minute fashion and because not all camping grounds were open in winter. But now that we’ve seen Joan’s place, I don’t think we would ever want to stay anywhere else the next time we visit the national park.

Joan lived in the kind of house that I’ve always dreamed of owning but would never want to because it would be too much of a hassle just to maintain it. Talk about being contradictory, huh? Her 5-acre property consisted of a beautiful 3-bedroom house complete with a wrap-around porch that overlooked the mountains and a grassy backyard big enough for her horse (yes, horse) to roam around. Oh, did I mention that she had an outdoor jacuzzi pool too?

From top left & counter clockwise: Joan's house seen from the driveway, the wrap-around porch, view from the porch, and just 2 of the numerous animals she keeps.

From top left counter-clockwise: Joan’s house as seen from the driveway, the wrap-around porch, view from the porch, and just 2 of the numerous beautiful animals she kept.

The interior is a combination of country style and Victorian style. Despite being neither an architect nor an interior designed, Joan designed and decorated everything by herself. She casually called it her 'knack'.

The interior is a combination of country style and Victorian style. Despite being neither an architect nor an interior designer, Joan designed and decorated everything by herself. She casually called it her ‘knack’ (I rolled my eyes upon hearing it).

Joan herself was like a long-lost grandmother. Warm, welcoming, completely no-fuss and no-nonsense. She answered your questions straight to the point, no beating about the bush and no long-winded stories. She didn’t linger around and was not imposing at all, but at the same time was always there for us. She even let us use her driveway for me to repeatedly practice backing up the car and turning around. Honestly AirB&B just gets better and better with each booking. Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly get a better host and place to stay than the last one, they managed to top it and give me a better one.

On our last night in Yosemite, we were caught in a massive jam coming out of the national park. It was nearing the end of a long weekend and I suppose every visitor planned to leave at the same time as us. It took us more than an hour just to exit the parking lot, let alone get out of the valley. But it gave us a glimpse of what would await us in the summer if we chose to return then. It won’t be just the heat that we’d be battling, but the crowd and the traffic too.

Looking down from Colombus Rock, the halfway point of Lower Yosemite Falls trail that we hiked that day.

Looking down from Colombus Rock, the halfway point of Lower Yosemite Falls trail. That’s the famous Half Dome, the imposing peak you see at 11 o’clock. There’s a trail going up there that is only open in the summer.

Bliss and tranquility. Right at the backyard of the fancy Ahwanee Hotel.

Bliss and tranquility. Right at the backyard of the fancy Ahwanee Hotel.

At the first hint of civilisation on our way home, my phone alerted me to a warm-hearted message from Joan. Already she was welcoming us back again for our next visit to the Yosemite. And she ended her note by saying that after all those practices, hopefully I would be the one driving the car there next time. I sighed at the thought of it.

As much as it is a necessity when you live in America, the thing about driving is that it also poses a certain degree of agony for me. I am a control freak; I like to plan everything; and I always think things through ahead of time. And right before I execute my plan, I double and triple-check everything to make sure I don’t end up with something unanticipated. For that reason, I am uncomfortable with the unknown, I don’t like surprises, and I don’t usually play things by ear either. I’m boring, I know.

The problem with driving is that you can never anticipate in advance exactly what’s gonna happen on the road; how the cars, the cyclists, and the pedestrians are going to move. At least not as far in advance as I would have liked it to be. For example, I know that if I see a pedestrian standing on the edge of the crosswalk, he will likely start crossing soon. That is anticipated. But I won’t know beforehand at which crosswalk I’m going to encounter a pedestrian and at which crosswalk I’m not. It’s true that when you drive you must always be on the lookout for pedestrians. But I would feel much more comfortable if I could know beforehand at which junction I’m going to encounter a pedestrian and at which junction I’m not. Obviously I would also feel much more comfortable if I could know beforehand at which particular part of my trip I’m going to encounter a car cutting into my lane or coming out of a parking area without signing.

It always drives me crazy not being able to anticipate what’s going to happen and plan my reaction beforehand. And to make matters worse, it is also against my nature to make decisions based on instincts. Simply because I find instincts inexplicable and that it will be difficult if I have to rationalise or justify my decision later on. I’ve been behind the wheel for one and a half months now and I realise that the capacity to rely on instincts and react to things as they come along are the two major survival skills when it comes to driving. I’d very much hope that these are just reasonable concerns which will go away after lots of practice.

We are now in mid-March and pretty soon I would have been living here for 3 whole months. I wish I could say something cliché like “how time flies”, but I couldn’t. Because I don’t feel as if time flies at all. And neither do I feel as if time crawls or drags on with no respite. I think time simply moves at the speed that I expect it to move. We have ticked off the boxes for new car and new apartment, and I’m now working hard to tick off my own box for driver’s license. Just a few more boxes to go before life can closely resemble what we used to have back home. Speaking of resemblance to home, despite the fact that we are still officially in winter, I was out and about running errands in shorts, sleeveless shirt, and (gasp) flip-flops today. Yes, it was that warm. I guess moving to California means that I won’t need to overhaul my wardrobe, huh? I don’t know if I should be happy or disappointed about it.