“Why isn’t this one of wonders of the world I pondered?” as I sat atop a rock three quarters away from the top of the majestic Bridalveil Fall at Yosemite Valley. I get it, the 7 Wonders of the World are man-made. But why not give Mother Nature her due? After all, how many places can you visit and unsuspectedly have a spiritual experience? Maybe the wonders of the world do elicit the same feeling. I wouldn’t know because I haven’t been to any of them. I’m left to wonder and hope that maybe one day we will have a list of the “7 Wonders of Mother Nature” and Yosemite Valley will be one of them. Side note – there is an unofficial 7 Natural Wonders of the World but Yosemite Valley still didn’t make the cut. 🤷🏾♀️
Our trip to Yosemite almost didn’t happen. It was the last week of June, which is late for anyone to plan a meaningful vacation. Most people, including us, organize their summer getaways way in advance. But the unpredictable nature of life sometimes forces you to do things last minute.
Here we were wondering what to do. We needed to decide fast because the only time slot available for our vacation was approaching in a couple of weeks. Yikes! Should we go glamping? Should we go somewhere familiar or to a new place? Should we not go at all and just plan day trips to the beach or the mountains?
In the end, we settled on going somewhere familiar and close by. Our options included Yosemite Valley, Mt. Shasta, and Mendocino County. I had been to Yosemite and Mt. Shasta in my 20s but my kiddos hadn’t. We choose Yosemite Valley because there were so many kid-friendly things to do. Also, our memories of our visit were nothing short of spectacular!
The challenge now that we had settled on where to go was finding an affordable place to stay with such short notice. Yosemite is one of the most popular tourist destinations, welcoming a whopping 5 million visitors a year (latest statistic as of our visit!)
Undeterred by the timing, we were determined to find a beautiful and cost-effective place to stay. As usual, after two days of relentlessly searching, Google came through.
Juniper Springs Resort is a massive hotel in Mammoth Lakes nestled in what were still snow-capped mountains and pine trees, two and a half hours from Yosemite Park. It features fully contained studio-like apartments perfect for families.
It would be easy to see the distance to and from Mammoth to the park as a disadvantage but that’s where perspective kicks in. Yes, 5 hours driving to and from the park could have been spent exploring the valley, but we would have missed out on all the beautiful landscapes, lakes, meadows, and majestic views we experienced along the way. (More of these later.)
After we checked into the resort, we discovered the main pool had just broken down and was not accessible. Not a good way to kick off our vacation considering how much my little one loves water! She had been discussing how getting into the pool would be the first thing she was going to do on arrival. Luckily, to our relief, disaster was averted upon finding a second, albeit, smaller pool and jacuzzi in our apartment complex.
We quickly dropped off our bags, snapped some studio pics, changed into our swimsuits and headed out for a soak in the jacuzzi and a swim in the pool. There were a few guests around the pool area and in the jacuzzi. Not surprisingly, most of the guests were tourists. We met a family from Germany, a couple from Austria, another family from Sweden, and overheard a few more speaking in different languages. It was literally the UN…okay maybe we’re exaggerating a bit! It was super cool to hear about their adventures and perspectives on Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite, and other places they had visited while in the U.S.
After about an hour, we turned in for the night. We wanted to make sure we got enough rest for our first valley tour the next morning.
Thursday morning started off uneventfully with the usual – breakfast, coffee/tea, taking in the beautiful mountain views from our tiny balcony, reading, and some relaxation – before heading out to our first adventure, The Yosemite Valley Floor Tour.
It’s a 2-hour guided open-air tram ride showcasing breathtaking and unforgettable panoramic views of the valley’s main attractions including El Capitan, Tunnel View, Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall, and more. Our tour guide narrated the valley’s history as we meandered through trees, amazing rock formations, and falls in the glaring summer sun. We learned many fascinating facts about the park, which was awesome, especially for my girls.
For instance, Did you know in the 1930s, the park encouraged bears to eat human food so they could attract visitors to the detriment of both bears and humans? (Yeah, we know!) Thankfully, through research and bear management efforts, this practice was abandoned and there have been fewer incidences of bears interacting with humans at the park.
While one may think a daily two and a half-hour drive from Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite Park is insane (and at first we did too!) One would be mistaken! There is so much beauty along the way, such as the gorgeous Tenaya Lake, beautiful Tuolumne Meadows, fascinating saltwater, Mono Lake, and much more. Because we needed to get to our destination as quickly as possible, we vowed to make stops to enjoy these breathtaking places on our way back home on the last day of our vacation. (Keep on reading to see gorgeous photos and videos of all three.)
There are three Valley Floor Tours throughout the day. Ours was at 3:00 p.m. Since we were two and half hours from the park, we made sure to arrive at the park an hour earlier to give us time to pick up our tickets and check-in for our ride.
Unfortunately, even with our meticulous planning, things did not go as expected. Let’s just say everything that could go wrong happened on that day. We could hardly find parking! One of us had to stay behind to look for parking while the rest of us headed off to pick up our tickets. Upon arriving at the check-in counter, we found out we were at the wrong location. We had to walk 15 minutes to the pickup and tram boarding location.
I was starting to get nervous because it was 2:25 p.m., we were short one person who was further away from us, plus we didn’t have time to grab lunch at the park’s store! I calmly (but nervously inside) let my kiddos know we needed to walk fast to get our tickets, assured them we would make it on the tram on time but they would have to wait until after the tour to eat something. I’m still proud of their ability to survive for the 2-hour tour without complaining of hunger (thank goodness for a hearty breakfast!)
We barely made it! 15 minutes prior to boarding time, hungry and a little out of breath from our fast-paced walking, we picked up our tickets (had to politely get ahead of a family who was trying to figure out what they wanted to do) and boarded the tram still short one person. I pleaded with the tour guide and boarding attendant to wait for one more person but once 3:05 p.m. happened, we took off. 30 seconds later, we saw him hailing the tram to stop but due to the protocol, the driver couldn’t stop.
Needless to say, my kiddos, notably, my little one, were devastated! She couldn’t believe her dad had been left behind and was going to miss the tour. I tried to comfort her as best as I could but she was not having it. She didn’t smile throughout the tour!
Looking back, it was a lesson for her in dealing with disappointment, recovering from it, and charging along with life no matter what happens. She did let it be known that she was not happy with the whole situation, though. She’s not fond of talking about it now either.
Despite the rough start, the tour ended up being awesome! We experienced some of the most breathtaking and unforgettable valley views. And even though my little one looked noticeably sad, I could still see the awe in her eyes as we passed through all the mind-blowing valley highlights. She even cracked a smile when the tram driver jumped in to take a photo with her and her sister at the end of the tour.
After a much needed late lunch (more like early dinner), and a treat from Starbucks to make up for our mishap, we headed back to the resort.
It had been a long day! We grabbed dinner on our way home, relaxed in the jacuzzi, and headed to bed anticipating our adventures the next day. We needed some rest ahead of what was going to be a hiking day to get a closer look at two majestic Yosemite Park waterfalls.
We were in for the most exhilarating time of our lives. This year, the valley had experienced significant snow during the winter. You could still see hints of the season on the mountains, in the woods, and on the roadside. The best part, though, was the falls. We highly recommend planning your visit to the park either in late spring or early summer when the falls are the most dazzling.
Our first hike was to Bridalveil Fall. It’s a short, easy, 0.5-mile hike for just about anyone, young or old. The hiking trail is surrounded by tall trees and to the left of it, a picturesque stream running from the falls.
As we approached the waterfall, we could hear the sound of the water coming down the rock. As the fall revealed itself, we could hardly contain our excitement and sense of wonder! We stood below it among other tourists in as much awe as they were.
Standing there, feeling the fall’s water spray on our faces and bodies was the most refreshing experience of the trip. There were people who had climbed up the rocks to get even closer to the fall. We were calculating whether we should make an attempt to do the same and how safe it would be to do it, especially for the kids.
I was the first to take the leap. It was too irresistible. I asked my little one if she wanted to come with me but she was hesitant. I told her if she changed her mind, I would return to get her. She also had the option to come up with her dad or sister. Knowing her, I was convinced she would find the courage to climb up but it would only be in her own time and on her terms.
Off I went, partly scared I would slip and fall because of the slippery rocks or traffic going up and down the rocks, and exhilarated because I could sense the power of what I was about to experience.
The closer I got to the fall, the louder the sound of the water coming down the rock and stronger the shower from the falls. Halfway up, I stopped, sat atop the highest rock, looked up and savored the moment. I can only describe what I felt as spiritual! As the water showered my face and body, I felt so alive and awake I couldn’t help but close my eyes. It was magnificent!
I looked down, to see where my girls were and to encourage them to come up. I didn’t want them to miss out. Happily, my older daughter was halfway up to where I was already. The biggest surprise though was my little one! She had begun to come up with her dad closely following behind her. She chose a path completely different from mine or her sister’s. I was so delighted to know that my girls were about to have a similar experience as mine. They were beaming with excitement as they got closer and closer to me.
Once they got to me, I was surprised to learn my little one wanted to continue further ahead. Whoa! I was not prepared for that! Truthfully, I was a bit scared to go higher. Her enthusiasm and confidence convinced me to go for it. It was well worth it.
Later when I mentioned to her how proud I was of her for overcoming her fear and having the courage to come up the rocks, she responded: “Oh I was not afraid, I was just figuring my strategy (yes she used this word) on how I wanted to come up.” I was even more proud of her now! Also, the look on her face was like “can mom stop assuming she knows what I’m thinking!”
We couldn’t stop talking about the fall as we headed to our next destination, the Lower Yosemite Fall, the tallest waterfall at the park.
On our way, we stopped by a man-made “rock park,” a collection of rock structures created by park visitors. We built our own rock tower and wondered if it would be there when we returned for another visit in the future. Who can resist leaving their footprint in this memorable place?
The Lower Yosemite Fall seemed to be more packed with tourists than Bridalveil Fall. The view was just as amazing! The biggest difference between the two was height. Once again, we couldn’t resist climbing our way closer to the fall. The water spray was much stronger and louder than the Bridalveil Fall. We ended up getting wetter from it than from Bridalveil.
One of the most gratifying things about visiting both falls was watching my older daughter extend her hand a couple times to help out younger children at Bridalveil and a grandma at Lower Yosemite Fall. They were such proud moments.
After snapping a few pics, we were ready to head back to our resort. What we didn’t know as we came down the fall was that we were in for a big and pleasant surprise.
As we approached the middle of the trail, we noticed a group of people huddled in one spot with a park ranger standing close by. As we got closer, we noticed they were all talking very quietly. I asked one of the gentlemen aiming the camera towards the berry bushes what was happening and he said there were a brown bear and her cub frolicking in plain sight.
Sure enough! There she was popping her head in and out of the bushes with her cub behind. Eventually, she and her cub were in full view for all of us as they moved towards the trail path. Both my girls were ecstatic! As mama bear moved closer to the path and crossed the road, her cub was left behind still playing in the bushes.
The park ranger implored everyone to stand back as mama bear got nervous about her cub, turned around, and seemed to head towards us! After a moment of anxiety for all of us, she moved towards her cub, edged her along, and both disappeared into the woods.
What a moment! If our day before to the Valley Floor Tour was off, this day by far made up for it! I mean, how often do you get to experience such wonder and randomly ran into a bear on the same day! It was a fantastic way to end the day and we were truly grateful!
It’s safe to say after a day filled with thrilling adventure and quite a bit of hiking, we were exhausted! We returned to the resort, grabbed some take out dinner on our way there and prepared for our last day. We made one last stop to the jacuzzi where we met a delightful and quite chatty teen named Josh (name changed for privacy) whose curiosity and friendliness was quite charming.
He wanted to know where we were from, how long we’d been here, where we had visited, our favorited adventures, and more. He struck a conversation with my teen inquiring about her school, what she was studying and what type of activities she enjoyed. His demeanor, manners, and kindness were a breath of fresh air. Surprisingly, when we run into him on our way out the next day, he remembered my daughter’s name, which is not an easy name to remember. Turns out he was a great listener too!
We wanted to make our last day and journey back home as memorable as the previous three days in the valley. We planned to end our vacay with a few hours relaxing at the beach.
After breakfast and check out, we decided to take a different route out of Mammoth to see what gems we could discover along the way.
Our gamble did not disappoint! Our first discovery was Silver Lake, a delightfully fish-rich lake with a mountainous background. Despite the freezing water temperatures, we couldn’t help but dip our toes in the water for a minute before heading out to our next destination.
Having spotted Mono Lake on our way to Mammoth, we were intrigued by the saltine formations spread out like mini mountains floating on the lake. We vowed to stop by on our way home. Turns out, the formations were as fascinating close up as we imagined them to be.
We squeezed our way through the narrow path surrounded by what looked like tall grass. Not even the annoying flies buzzing around our faces or the pungent stench as we approached the lake could keep us away. It reeked of dead fish! It certainly was not your dip your toes kind of lake (unless you didn’t mind being covered with dead flies.)
The lake is not only one of the oldest lakes in North America, but it also has one of the richest ecosystems including migratory birds, algae, flies, fish, brine shrimp, flora, and butterflies. We even spotted a butterfly that camouflaged itself when it hit the ground. Basically, it was light purple while in flight and the same color as the ground (grayish/brown) when resting. Super cool, especially for my little one and I who are obsessed with butterflies!
We were starting to get hungry. Also, we wanted to make sure we had enough time to spend at our next destination before heading home. We made a quick stop at The Mobil, a Tioga Gas Mart, with surprisingly delicious Angus beef burgers and impressive souvenir collection. After picking up a glass bear for my little one and a couple of t-shirts, we headed out to our final spot, the beach at Tenaya Lake.
Once at high enough elevation, we stopped roadside to take one last glimpse of the valley. While snapping a few pics, we were surprised to witness a backpacker (and obviously someone familiar with the valley trails) casually walk down the very steep valley and seemingly disappear from sight!
Fascinated by snow-covered patches along the way in early summer, we couldn’t resist making another quick stop and engaging in an impromptu snow fight. Only in California could you enjoy the snow, surf, and sun all on the same day! It reminded us how lucky we were to live in such a beautifully diverse state.
If we thought our experience in the valley was sensational, we were about to be even more stunned! Tenaya Lake was our icing on the cake and the best way to end our summer vacation. Located between Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows, and surrounded by snow-capped hills, it’s a breathtaking and picturesque body of water that looks like something straight out of a travel magazine. The blue/green hue of the water, the massive rock formations around it, the clean, light brown sparsely populated beach, and the backdrop of trees made it the perfect spot to chill. The approximately half-mile walk to the lake was pleasantly serene. The path was nestled in between tall trees. The silence of the woods and bright afternoon sunshine illuminating the path gave us an awesome sense of calm and peace.
Once settled on the beach, my kiddos were quick to jump into the freezing cold water! There was no way I was going to follow suit! I didn’t even bring my swimsuit along with me from the car. My apprehension quickly vanished after seeing how much fun they were having. I walked back to the car, changed into my swimsuit and braved the cold water. It turned out to be a wonderful decision! Not only was the water super calming, looking out into the beautiful surroundings was a spiritual experience! After 3 hours of blissfulness, we headed to the scenic Tuolumne Meadows.
Unfortunately, we run out of time and couldn’t stop to enjoy the meadows because it was getting late. We didn’t want to get caught up driving in the dark. We were able to snap a few quick photos from the car.
As we walked through the path back to our car, I couldn’t help but reflect on life and my experiences of the past 8 months. You see, smiling and laughter have always come easy for me. But in the past few months, it’s been a struggle and a new territory for me. Disappointment, rejection, and fear of the unknown have brought on anxiety, despair, and mental anguish. Where I’m typically a happy and optimistic person, I found myself wallowing in sadness, self-pity, and negativity. I allowed myself to sometimes lose sight of all the good things happening in my life; family, friends, health, community, and much more.
This mini-vacation served as a turning point for me.
Listening to the giggles and laughter of my kids in the back seat as we made our way back home; watching my little one strategize how to climb the rocks to get to the top of the waterfall and my teen offering a helping hand to a grandma making her way up the waterfall; seeing the joy and awe in my little one’s eyes as we spotted butterflies, and finally, hearing my teen declare that one of her dreams was to travel and discover the world with friends when she becomes an adult – gave me the jolt I needed. They reminded me to relish in the simple things because they bring the most joy.
As the valley faded away in the background and I indulged in my latest summer read about leadership and success, I was thankful for the valley and all its beauty and wonder for allowing me to come back to myself; to find my smile and laughter; to discover peace, and most importantly, the healing I desperately needed to get me through the rest of the year. That’s what mother nature has the power to do.
25 years ago, I visited Yosemite, a youthful and carefree woman. This time around, I came back older, with more responsibilities, and rougher around the edges. I left with a little bit of youthful exuberance, a reawakening of myself, and renewed zest for what’s to come. I came full circle.
I hope our Yosemite adventure will inspire you to visit the valley…and maybe even petition to have it become one of the wonders of the world. 🙂
Here’s to gratitude for surviving and thriving through the summer and a warm welcome to the fall season.
What did you do for summer? Please share. We’d love to hear your adventures.