That Guy … or, My First Day in Yosemite Valley

Half Dome Yosemite National Park CaliforniaWhen I first travel to a national park, I have little choice but to be That Guy. I don’t know the lay of the land, I am unfamiliar with the famous landmarks and I yearn to learn about the biggies that make a park worthy of national park designation.

Hence my day as That Guy in Yosemite Valley. An estimated four million people visit Yosemite National Park every year, and most of them squeeze into the approximately two percent of the park that makes up the Yosemite Valley. To say that Yosemite is too crowded is an understatement. The bad news is that being That Guy requires taking my place among those four million in that two percent worth of space.The good news is that once I’m done being That Guy in Yosemite, I can say that I’ve seen all the main sites and can move on to the backcountry wilderness and less-visited trails.

Being That Guy in Yosemite means the following:

* I walked through the visitor’s center museum, which was interesting though the experience would have been enhanced with information on the climbing history in the park. I was interested to learn that Camp 4 has been designated on the National Historic Registry as home to modern mountaineering techniques, but nothing was noted about the world records and personalities that have made Yosemite and El Capitan famous.Merced River Yosemite National Park California

* I checked out Yosemite Valley’s most famous sites from the comfort of a raft as we lazily drifted down the Merced River. Though there are definitely a fair share of rafts on the water, this is a great way for That Guy to get a feel for the lay of the land and admire some of the Valley’s stunning scenery without fighting for a parking spot.

* I rubbed elbows with the masses at Lower Yosemite Falls. Both the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls are spectacular with their massive drops from the rocks into the pools below, but the only good way to get a picture standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other people is to aim for the top half of the waterfall only or take pictures in black and white, so that the critters crawling around the rocks don’t stand out so drastically.

* I took the interpretive walk through Cook’s Meadow, a guided trail explained the ecology and history of the area. I am a huge fan of these interpretive trails, which are enhanced with the purchase of an inexpensive of guide available at the trail entrance. Even a couple hours on one of these short trails goes a long way in providing the basic foundation for understanding the basics of a national park. An interpretive hike is a must for That Guy.Yosemite Falls Yosemite National Park California

* I stopped to check out Bridalveil Falls, which was also a crowded mess. Also beautiful though not as high as Yosemite Falls, it was worth the stop to say I’d seen it.

* I watched rock climbers inch their way up El Capitan. When I say “inch,” I mean that. In the half hour of watching the four tiny specks on the wall that we spotted, they barely moved. It was fascinating to marvel at the enormity of El Cap compared to these little tiny people. Climber spotting on El Capitan is a must, whether a person is That Guy or not.


And so it is. Now that I’ve spent That Day as That Guy, I can move on. Now the real exploration begins.

Disclaimer: The raft trip I took in Yosemite National Park was comped but all opinions are my own.

5 Responses to “That Guy … or, My First Day in Yosemite Valley”

  1. Pat the Digital Vagabond

    It sounds like rafting on the river would be an ideal way to see Yosemite – especially for individuals like myself who like to sit on their butt and watch it all roll past. Thanks for the great account and photos.

  2. Pete Bell

    Local knowledge is crucial…
    There are a few really cool things you can do in Yosemite Valley to get away from the crowds and really capture the magic there.

    Try to find the trail to Sierra Point. This is a true hidden gem. It’s a quick scramble up an old rock fall, just past the sign at Happy Isles that gives the mileage to Half Dome, Tuolomne, Whitney…etc
    here is a link to some details on how to find this spot.

    Also, wake up early. A lot of people sleep through the most magical time of the day.
    You can get free coffee at the office near Curry Village.

    Thanks for the post! Hope to wander across your path someday!

    • JoAnna

      Thanks for the tips, Pete! We’ll have to look for Sierra Point next time. We know that we’d like to go back, but next time we want to concentrate on the Tuolumne Meadows area. There were a lot less people there than in the valley. Plus, of course, we want to hike the John Muir Trail, which will give us an entirely different perspective of the park as well.

  3. pam || @nerdseyeview

    This made me laugh! We were “that couple” when we were there, only we’d come in from the east side of the park. That meant before tackling the highlights, we’d been out where there was… nobody. Really, there were no crowds, the trails were empty, it was spectacular. Not that we didn’t enjoy the busy part of the park, but we were sort of ready for it and not frustrated by it because we’d had perfect silent nature time in the days before we arrived in the “shopping mall” parts of the park.

    • JoAnna

      I definitely wish we’d tackled the park from a different entrance. By the time we were done with the Yosemite Valley, I just wanted to leave. We drove through the meadows, but honestly, by that point, I just wanted out.

      Next time, I’m skipping the Valley altogether and heading straight for the parts with empty trails and no crowds!


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