50 shades of grey, Yosemite style

Engulfed by cool crisp air, granite cliffs, pine trees, and a trickling brook in Yosemite National Forest during mid-October is breathtaking.  Going for a morning run in this forest, simply divine. Unlike the camping I did in my youth, we stayed at a decent hotel just minutes outside the park, along the Merced river.  My jog paralleled the river and the road, an easier choice than running up a trail, and a wiser one for this flat land runner accustomed to Florida terrain. My challenge would come later in the trip.  Leaving my i-pod behind, I listened to nature and the slight sound of trickling water.  The rising sun hit granite cliffs  reveling a spectrum of colors.  Fifty shades of grey played off the granite, mottled with yellow, green and chocolate hues.  A scene I could capture in my mind but not in a photo.

I stumbled upon a historic railroad station with a single caboose resting for a half-century on the rail. Stopping in awe, I briefly contemplated this great area within the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Driving through Yosemite and the Tioga Pass flashbacks  flooded my thoughts. Passing El Capitan and Half Dome I recalled my first camping trip with my best friend at the time, Lynda.  I was twenty-two years old and had just returned from China.  My BFF wanted to visit Yosemite prior to moving to Utah, a decision she’d made while I was exploring her part of the world.  Still dazed from my international travels we set out to rent a tent and camp the following day in Yosemite Valley.  Arriving with no permit, no plans and just a few pillows and sheets we learned quickly what camping in the mountains was about.  Nothing like learning the hard way, first hand.  Struggling to assemble our tent, a nearby camper offered a helping hand.  Once assembled, he glanced in our tent and snorted.  “Don’t you have sleeping bags?”

Lynda and I glanced at each other, “No.” We responded in unison with not a care in the world.

“Well, you’re going to need them,”  he said with confidence.  “It gets down to 30 degrees here at night.  I used to be a ranger here, so I know what I’m talking about.”

I smiled at the stranger, not realizing what that meant then unconsciously winked at my friend.  “Hey let’s try out our tent.”

We giggled while testing our pillows and sheets, then joined the ex-ranger near the picnic bench for a cold beer and some snacks we packed.  “I’m serious about the weather.”  He pointed to his Honda Civic, “I have extra blankets if you want them.”

Once the sun had set the air-cooled, and we needed blankets as our newfound friend warned us.  Over that weekend we hiked many trails.  I fell at Yosemite Falls fracturing  my tailbone and bruising my entire left butt cheek. We videotaped the bruise, the visiting coyote at the campground and the silliness we were back then.  We were fortunate to watch a major meteor shower in the strawberry fields with hundreds of other campers including ex-ranger.  Friendships and great memories were made that continue to this day. Years later, I was briefly engaged to the ex-ranger, and Lynda is still my friend although we are thousands of miles apart.  It’s amazing what nature can bring together including everlasting relationships, unparalleled memories lasting a lifetime, and desirable innocence combined with inexperience.  Simply heavenly with earthly splendor and all its blemishes.

My husband and I left Yosemite Valley on our eastward journey as my fascination continued.  Redwoods lined the road along with dwarf yellow and green beauties. I tried to read some park brochures but the flashing sun shining through the trees was like a strobe light.  I felt like I was trying to study in a nightclub.  A spontaneous lake appeared encircled by mountains winding through Tioga Pass.  Suddenly, cliffs appeared dropping thousands of feet without vegetation.  An instantaneous sweat covered my hands and feet, an unwelcome and uncontrollable response.  A drop-off immediately to my right with no rails.  I used to twist around these mountains in my convertible with no worries, I remembered.  I couldn’t control the sudden onslaught of sweat as I tried to admire the splendor without fear.  I yearned for my youth.

“Slow down,” I blurted out.  The pine trees transformed into a moonscape with an elevation difference of about 2,000 feet.  The cliffs subsided as did my instant sweating.   Fifty shades of grey continued as the cliffs and boulders transformed the landscape from green to dramatic rock.  Granite, I concluded from my distance education at UCLA.

A sign informed us that we were in the Inyo National Forest.  I’ve been here before, I recalled.  But when and why do I know this National Park? I soon realized it incorporated the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Mono Lake, Mt. Whitney and Mammoth Lakes.  It’s considered the “dwelling place of the great spirit,” and my old play grounds with the ex-ranger.

My week had just begun.

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