Van Camping! Kern River to Yosemite, California!
What are you going to do this weekend? Spend another night at the bar you go to every Saturday? Or maybe you’ll find a new bar to go to and get annoyed by the gentrification going on in your previously super cool and quiet neighborhood? Aww, there’s nothing to do, you think. But what if I told you, especially you, fellow Los Angeleans, that you can stand under the tallest waterfall in the country this weekend…you just need a little gas money and a creative place to crash. I may be able to help you with that.
We had no idea where we were going when we started out on Thursday noontime. We just knew that it was the middle of summer and we wanted to find a river to swim in. We drove towards the Kern River. It started getting dark and we saw a campground off the side of the road (Sandy Flat Campground), and that’s where we’d stay…right on the river.
In celebration, we went straight for the water with some libations to enjoy the rest of dusk and the start of complete darkness. As we sat on the side of the river, we heard some people stumbling down to our spot. We couldn’t see who they were, but they were locals who had come to get a quick swim in before heading home. We sat there for hours talking to our new friends in the black of the night. They promised to come back the next morning to take us to their favorite hot springs down the road.
The next morning they showed up on the dot and took us on so many adventures! We visited some hot springs a mile down the road, jumped on a rope swing, met some river rafters, learned the hot spots where the locals hang out, and they had a barbecue for us at one of their houses! What great people! They were so excited to show us around, and for the first 2 hours of our friendship we had no idea what they even looked like!
That night we decided to drive up to Bishop. My guy knew a cool spot where we could camp on the side of the road for free and wake up to wash off in some natural hot springs. When we got there we laid on the ground and looked up to the stars. I was a little nervous. What about snakes? and bugs? We laid out a little while and pointed out every shooting star we saw.
The next morning we jumped in the hot springs. The locals love this spot, and there was one middle aged local that had trouble keeping his towel around his bare waist with us around. He kept tearing it off for us to see! He was a good guy. He was pretty interesting, but very naked.
We went into town and ended up at the Bishop City Park to get our bearings. That’s when we found the information about Indian Petroglyphs on the Volcanic Flatlands. The petroglyphs were made 8,800 years ago on top of an area of land developed by a volcanic eruption 760,000 years ago. They don’t provide maps online (you can get them at Park and Recs), but we found the starting point and drove and drove so far along on a scary, long, dirt road until we found something. Here’s a link to a nice description of them.
After trying to decipher the messages on the rocks, we started back on the road to modern civilization. We headed out of the desert and into the trees. Mind you, we had NO IDEA where we were going when we first started on this trip. Now we were headed to Yosemite National Park.
The entrance to the park on the eastern side where we arrived wasn’t too bad on a Saturday nearing dusk. We waited in a short line and paid our $30 to enter. Every single campground was full. If you’re going to camp in or near Yosemite, plan far ahead. Also, because of the drought we weren’t allowed to build any fires. There were fire restrictions everywhere we had been so far. We drove a few miles into the park and looked around. On the way out, it was nearing dark and we could see the deer pop out all the way around the park. Next, we drove around for a few hours looking for a place to camp. We wanted to find a spot to pull off the road, but there wasn’t anything really. In the middle of this drive, we stumbled upon Mono Lake. We couldn’t see it, but we could see some crazy rock formations that we knew we needed to return to the next day.
We drove up and down this dirt road and realized it was a lost cause. We did hit a nice spot down a side road that was flooded at the end, but a man was already cocooned up in a sleeping bag on the ground next to his truck.
Now we were really frustrated. We started driving north. We just drove and drove until we saw a sign for a campground. We were outside of Yosemite National Forest now and prayed for a spot. We were starving and in a terrible mood at this point. This campground had a few spots left! And there were no fire restrictions! We were going to eat! But we had to be careful. There are bears in these woods. So, again, I was scared because it was dark and I was concerned that big momma bear was around the corner just ready to grab some of my vegan sausages. We made some food and stored everything in the bear container. No food is allowed in the cars!
The next day we headed straight for Mono Lake and realized that the interesting rock formations were creations naturally formed from limestone. The water looked warm and a few people were swimming, but there was no way I was setting foot in that calcium carbonate filled lake. There were hordes of black bugs breeding along the edges and I wasn’t about to share my wading spot with them. The tufa was beautiful. It was beautiful enough to have even been featured in Pink Floyd’s 1975 Wish You Were Here album cover. It definitely looked like a scene out of a science fiction movie.
We were back on the road to Yosemite. We waited for an hour or more to even get into the park because the line into it was so long on a Saturday mid-morning. We drove straight through, stopping here and there to walk around and enjoy the various climates of the park. Because of the elevation, the temperatures varied from the low 70s to the high 90s.
Yosemite Valley was way too crowded but worth it. The views were breathtaking. The last place we visited was Yosemite Falls, which is the highest waterfall in the United States. We walked up to the bridge in front of it and I though that was it. But my guy told me we should climb the slippery rocks and actually go all the way up to the waterfall. We did it. It was a bit treacherous but totally worth it. The water was so cold. It felt like we were being baptized by nature. It was the perfect end to the trip…other than the asthma attack that I had from the trees. Yes, I’m allergic to trees.
When we started out on Thursday, we had no idea of where we were going, the friendships that we would make, of the amazing things we would see, and the super cool things we would learn. Get off your butt and do something new. It only took a weekend! Yay for Firsts!