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Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

When my kids were younger, they got really excited any time we decided to take a road trip.  After a decision to take a road trip, I began the process of preparing us for the drive.  I researched the route, being mindful of the places we could stop for food and gas. I mapped the course, including the estimated travel time, to ensure that I had  enough snacks and activities for the duration of the ride.  Before the invention of portable electronic devices and vehicles with built-in video capabilities, we packed books, games, and a small television that had a VHS tape player.  I even had a music playlist for the car, including music I purchased that was kid and car ride friendly.  Our playlist were first housed on cassette tapes, then on CD’s, and then on flash drives.   I always had enough movies and activities to keep the kids busy during the course of the ride and those same provisions came in handy at the destination to entertain them during idle times.  Now cell phones absorb most of their time and energy during the car rides whether they are texting, tweeting, snapping, or shopping for new shoes.  Sometimes it seems their only concern is agreeing on what percentage of battery life means you get to use one of the chargers in the car.  When they are not asleep, they spend their time playing backseat DJ’s.  The invention of bluetooth means they can link their own playlists to the car and really practice their DJ skills.  (This wasn’t supposed to be a blog about technology, but I am realizing how much technology has changed the family travel game.)

With that as a backdrop, let’s turn to the day someone with a lively, enthusiastic tone announced, “We are going to Yosemite!”  The young adults looked up at the excited one from their devices and replied, “Really?!” and “Well, ok, why?”  Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of a family trip to Yosemite, but I supported the idea because 1. I respect natural wonders and 2. I wanted to support the family member whose bucket list included a trip to Yosemite National Park.  I wanted to “see” Yosemite National Park, but my want did not rise to the excited anticipation expressed by the family member with the bucket list wish.  So, I tried to offer encouragement by saying how cool it would be to see the park, but those dang cell phones and that internet provided the young ones with access to the park in seconds and they were both looking at me like they knew the only reason this was happening was because I wanted to support the excited one’s bucket list wish.  Despite the side eyes and sighs, I put on the mama, planner hat and thought, “Well, ok then.  Let’s do this.”

The dreamer in the house with the Yosemite National Park fantasy was not a planner.  Therefore, it was up to me to figure out how to make this dream a reality.  I took to the internet and I did a little research about the park.  My research was primarily related to lodging since I knew that this adventure would require at least a night’s stay somewhere and I knew where we were not sleeping – in the car or outside.  My investigation into lodging at Yosemite revealed that the park offered a variety of options for lodging from plush hotels to outdoor camping.  Well, I quickly ruled out anything that did not include running water, electricity, beds, and onsite dining.  Once I limited the search to hotels with the desired amenities, there were no rooms at any hotel in the park for the weekend we planned to visit.  In fact, there were no hotel rooms in the park for months after our planned visit.  Who knew that there were people who actually planned visits to the park more than six months prior to their visits?  I couldn’t imagine that people loved the outdoors that much.

We moved from the south to the west coast about three years ago.  It seemed that the people in this western town looked forward to any chance to go camping or hiking.  I was accustomed to people going to the beach or enjoying a boat ride or a fishing excursion during holiday weekends, but in this part of the country folks pack it up and take to nature for their breaks.  For some reason, somebody thought that we family members who loved portable electronics and hotels with beds, electricity, and running water would run enthusiastically toward the park.  I will just say that we all gave it a gallant effort.  We packed an overnight bag, pulled out a cooler, bought some snacks, collected our chargers, and loaded the car for the trip.

The drive down was beautiful.  We drove through some small towns and took in picturesque views.  My neighbor suggested the route and she told me what a great experience it would be for us.  She also agreed to Swaggy-sit while we were away.  She is the forever optimist and she loves the outdoors so she helped talk up the wondrous adventure we were embarking upon.  I laughed and accepted her advice about the trip.  I felt certain she kept talking because she knew I had those young adults to convince that this was a grand idea.  Her laughing eyes and her snickering told me that her empathy was blended with some amusement at the forced excitement of most of the folks in my house.

If you have ever been around people who care about you and you have asked them to do something that only you are excited about, you can respond in one of two ways.  You might say “Well, I know you don’t want to do this, but this is on my bucket list and it would make me so happy if you would share this experience with me.  I hope that something about it will be awesome for you too” or you can get frustrated with your people and let them plan the whole trip for you as they dream of cozy amenities and cell phone connectedness.  Well, the excited one took the later course and if you choose the later course with young adult children this is what you will get: “Mama, you have to drive the entire time because he will be looking all around and drive us off of a cliff.”  “Will you plan this so that we can stop at Chic-Fil-A on the way back home?” “Will you make sure we only have to be in the park for that day?” “We will look at the main attractions and figure out how to take him to see those sites so that we can get out of there sooner?”  Word to the wise: Don’t trust the resistant crew to plan your bucket list experience. Plan it yourself or hire someone to do it for you.

We arrived at the Park’s Tioga Pass entrance and the sign read “Elevation 9945” and we had to admit that was pretty cool.  When we got to the gate to pay the attendant the entry fee, she gave us a map and said, “This pass is good for a week.  Keep it visible on your dash.”  I said, “Thank you,” but the thought bubble in my head and the heads of the young ones said, “Who stays in the park for a week?!” I knew what they were thinking because they chuckled as I said, “Thank you” and began to raise the driver door window.  While we sat in sheer amazement that people actually arrive there with the intention of staying in the park for a week, the excited one felt affirmed and welcomed by kindred park spirits.  The excited one grew more impassioned and believed he could do the impossible – convince grown people that the idea was a genius move because other people agreed with him.  Hmmm.  That “Oh kids look at what they are doing, it must be really cool” logic and strategy only works on little kids. It does not work on almost grown kids with some independent life experiences.  So, the mission of the travel savvy kids in the car began – to scope out an information center to obtain a more useful map and actually have a conversation with a person knowledgable about the park to learn about “the things we shouldn’t miss.”

We located the information center and spoke to a really nice lady about the park.  Good thing we stopped there first because we learned some valuable information that outdoor enthusiasts probably already knew like:

  1. We should have packed food that was substantial in nature and not just snacks.
  2. The restaurants in the park were far apart.
  3. We should expect long lines at restaurants in the park or an ask about whether or not we had a reservation for dining.
  4. The nearest restaurant was the convenience store/gas station/food joint we passed about twenty minutes ago.
  5. It would take us at least three and half hours to drive through the park.

Suddenly, the panic of being in the park after night fall was real as were the quick eye movements and head sways that communicated a need to formulate a new course of action.  It really wasn’t that hard to discretely develop another strategy for surviving what we were still intent on making a day trip to Yosemite because the excited one was taking in all of the sites and not really paying us any attention.  Thank goodness for all of those fliers, artifacts, placards, and trees at the information center.

Since we were all hungry, we decided it best to back track, in the car of course, to the combo store/gas station/food joint.  We ordered food and I used my history of loving to explore more deeply any opportunity to shop as an excuse to go to the store to buy us more drinks and snacks since we now understood this was going to take a bit longer than we expected.  We also knew that we were definitely under prepared for this day trip.  The excited one would never have supported the idea of buying more snacks because he was feeling as if we could live off the grid and off the land at that moment.  Not!

With our bellies full and the cooler restocked, we forged onward through the park.  The kids had taken the kind lady’s advice and determined the course we should take in order to see all of the things we shouldn’t miss.  They did a phenomenal job navigating and we stopped at the most scenic spots for picture opportunities.  We “climbed” to the top of some really big boulders and posed as if we had climbed Mt. Everest.  We even found a guy to take a picture of the whole family enjoying the experience.  While the excited one was experiencing an adrenaline rush and a hurried excitement to get to the next scenic spot, we were methodically checking things off of the list and watching the clock.  Through text messaging and side bars we had a scripted time limit for each stop that would enable us to see all of the sites and exit the park before sunset.  The roads were narrow and there were no street lights so visibility would surely be limited at night.  Since I remained the designated driver and would be for the entire trip, I knew that exhaustion might be a real issue the later it got so we had to stay on schedule.

While we orchestrated the guided tour, the excited one was looking out the window pointing and commenting on things like a little kid in an amusement park and that phone camera was just clicking away.  We were all humored because his bucket list experience was living up to his expectations.  The only thing that probably could have made it better was the excited one being on this journey with a group of tourist yearning to explore the park for a few days.  I wish we had thought of that during the planning stages at home.  We could have paid for the excited one to stay in the park for a few days with more dreamers and come back to get him.  I am sure we could have found some things to do in California for a few days.  Plus, we had that parking pass to get us back into Yosemite without an additional charge.  It was a extraordinary plan, but too late to save us that day.

All seemed to be going well until we spotted a waterfall that appeared within walking distance.  We decided to stop in a restricted area for a quick picture.  The excited one got out of the car and eased closer to the tree line for a better picture.  Ok.  All was still going fine until the excited pronounced that the water fall seemed to be in walking distance and the optimal location for a photographer and lover of nature would be at the base of the waterfall.  “Oh no!” exclaimed the crew, “He will mess up the plan!” As we were trying to assess what just happened and how this happened, he vanished into the woods.  Visions of darkness and cautious driving to avoid animals and people walking in the road in dark clothes danced in my head.  The crew began to vocalize their concerns about the delay in reaching a location for dinner and free wifi.  Heck, consistent cell phone service would have been nice.

Just before the excited one drifted into the woods he said, “I will be right back.  This won’t take long at all.”  Famous last words, right.  Right! After about twenty minutes, the car dwellers started debating about who could reach out to him without him getting upset with us for suggesting that he speed up his dream experience.  We selected a missionary and waited for a response.  After about fifteen more minutes, someone got out of the car to see if there was any sight of our resident explorer.  He was seen far in the distance moving closer and closer to the waterfall.  We began to do the math.  If it took forty minutes to get to the location, we could only hope that it would take about thirty to get back because he would be so excited to tell us about his encounter with the water.  Meanwhile, the park ranger kept driving by our car that was still in the restricted area.  We knew we couldn’t get out of the car and leave it, but we were also beginning to feel like this didn’t look like a temporary situation after an hour of sitting in a restricted area waiting for someone to jump out and take the quick picture.

In order to avoid the uncomfortable feeling I got every time the park rangers drove by, I moved the car into a parking lot that required special permissions and we sat there hoping not to be asked to move. We waited and we waited and we grew more tired, hungry, and frustrated as we waited.  We were certain that the excited one was exacting his revenge on us for the collaborative spirit of resistance shown on this day trip.  We imagined that the excited one was determined to take the entire day to meditate and soak in the aura that was Yosemite.  As we neared what must have a been a beautiful sunset that we couldn’t see because of the vastness of the trees, someone said, “There he is.” Finally! We were physically and emotionally beat down and there was the excited one still pumped up, smiling and talking to some people he met on the journey.  He was all bonded and gearing up for the argument that it really didn’t take him that long and that it was worth the time it took to see that amazing site.  I tried hard to give a smile and an “Oh really.  That WAS pretty amazing” because  I wanted so badly to keep the vibe of support alive, but concern about the darkness and the my growling tummy occupied all of my brain cells.

What he didn’t know is that the focus of the crew shifted while he was on his merry journey.  We made a plan that involved the backseat DJ’s alternating turns playing music or talking to me to help me stay focused and alert.  They vowed to be my eyes as we moved toward the exit.  We debated about whether one of them could take over the driving, but we all knew that the excited one would call rank and take the wheel.  The thought of him driving and exploring was real so I maintained my role as driver and the crew held up their end as the navigational squad.  The last thing we needed to do was miss a turn and be in the park maze an additional hour or two.

We successfully made it to the exit and to interstate.  We located the hotel and considered the blessing of having a restaurant with an open kitchen in the parking lot adjacent to the hotel.  While the excited one went to check on the room reservation, we ran across the parking lot, into the restaurant and ordered take out.  We happily ate our food in the room that welcomed us with wifi, beds, a bathroom, and a television while the excited one basked in the glorious memories and beautiful pictures he took during his day at Yosemite and all was right with the world.





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