After leaving Smith Rock, the road pretty much did not take a single turn in hours – just passed plain plateaus of Oregon. We took a more inland route, going through Klamath Falls, Modoc National Forest park, Susanville and Reno. Most of the small towns we were passing did not have much food choice, with only Subway, Wendy’s, TacoBell, and some obscure dinners available. I happen to be a bit of a “fresh veggie person”, and truly cannot stand fast-food burgers, pizzas, and other processed bread-fat combinations, while Andrew is “gluten-free proper”. Hence, we ended up buying bunch of carrots, celery, rice crackers, humus, nuts, apples and other treasures at the first Safeway we saw, and did not eat much else throughout the road-trip.
On the way, we passed a few obscure casinos for loo and WiFi missions. It was quite bizarre to observe the phenomenon of empty ghost towns, with nothing else but a few houses and maybe – a petrol station, with giant casino-hotel complexes completely filled with people. The insides were soaked with thick cigarette smoke and flashing lights. The customers were of mainly older age, often severely overweight, and looked genuinely bored, hunched over their “game-machines” completely ignoring each other. It was a very unpleasant view to observe. I am not even trying to discuss the gambling part of it, but just the very suffocating, unhealthy experience in a form of a pseudo-community made me feel very upset about these people. I am not trying to be judgmental here; to each – it’s own. There aren’t many alternatives in small towns for people to spend time at, and this probably is the sad part.
We passed a few of these Casinos through the road-trip, and they all looked the same – depressing, unhealthy, and just somewhat imposing and inappropriate. People need communities, whether it’s a church, gardening competition or, in the case of small US towns we passed – casinos.
There were very few services of any sorts for hundreds of kilometers, so ensuring having a full tank of gas, and some food is definitely a good idea. Since it was getting very late, we decided to crash in a motel at Susanville, and proceeded towards Reno, Nevada the next morning.
The weather got warmer and the landscape sandier. Once we entered Nevada, Andrew immediately bought a pair of pseudo-aviator glasses – for some additional inspiration.
I’ve never driven trough such vast emptiness before, and hence the last few days provided me a very unique experience – mildly frustrating meditation. As we reentered California, passing Carson city, the landscape became more featured and colorful. Blue hills, yellow tussock, and occasional deep green trees. It was interesting to observe the noticeable increase in vegetation in the places with any type of water source; even small creeks did the trick.
And then the Mono lake came into vision, and we could suddenly justify sitting in a car for three days – such a spectacular view. Shortly after a scenic lookout, we descended into Lee Vining town, where we had a snack at a cozy hippie cafe/garden. We were then informed that there no food stores in 50 miles radius. Hence, we stocked up on eggs, bananas and nachos – the only reasonable price foods in a local convenience store, and finally departed to Yosemite.
So a tip to anyone coming this way, and planning to have a budget trip – get your food in some more major town beforehand. There is a small food store in Lee Vining and a bigger one in Yosemite valley itself, but the selection is smaller and it is more expensive. There are food stores in Mammoth Lake and Mariposa, but the driving around can be avoided with some planning.
Things got way more exciting as we made that magic turn towards Yosemite valley, and got on a windy road climbing up towards the Tioga pass (9,943 feet or 3,031 meters elevation). This road got closed just a few days after we arrived to Yosemite valley due to a heavy snow dump (is usually closed for the entire winter), and we were super lucky to make this wonderful drive. Descending into the valley, the entire amazing granite sea unfolded in front of our eyes. It really does look like a sea – polished granite walls and domes round and waving through the horizon with prominent block of Half dome crowning the valley. Quite an incredible view to see! It’s all so massive! Sweet sweet granite oasis we reached after 3 days of traveling through flats and deserts.
We passed some notable areas such as Tuolumne meadows, and pretty much kept on stopping in every single lookout to get immersed in the view, and take some compulsive pictures in an attempt to hold on to the beauty. We were descending into the night, and as if the scenery was not perfected enough, we were greeted by an amazing full moon hanging above the valley lighting up the Half Dome and El Cap.
I had a small cry of happiness when we finally entered the valley – beautiful forest with delightful meadows offering glimpses of the famous walls.
Yep, finally seeing the famous El Cap covered in sprinkles of torch lights – climbers camping on port-ledges, or pushing climbs into the night under clear starry sky. Complete overflow of emotion; hoping one day this is going to be me.
We finally arrived to the legendary Camp4, and I bumped into my Australian friend Rene, I hadn’t seen for 5 years, and had to meet up with. After a quick share of news and dinner, we were finally able to crash. Night, El Cap…